UPDATE 11/19/19, 4:20 p.m.: The National Transportation Safety Board has voted unanimously (3–0) that the likely cause of the crash between an Uber self-driving car and a pedestrian was the operator's failure to monitor the vehicle and the driving environment. Reuters reported that the NTSB, at its November 19 meeting, took Uber to task for "inadequate safety risk-assessment procedures and ineffective oversight of the backup driver." The agency recommends that NHTSA require self-driving-vehicle testing entities should submit safety self-assessment reports to the safety agency and that states pay more attention to oversight of autonomous-vehicle testing.

    Uber removed a critical safety feature that could have prevented the death of an Arizona pedestrian who was hit by one of the company's vehicles while its driver was watching The Voice on her phone, according to new information from Automotive News.

    The newspaper cited anonymous people who had worked on Uber's self-driving prototypes as saying the ride-hailing company chose to scrap an automatic braking feature from its 200 test vehicles operating in Tempe, Arizona, because it wasn't "smooth" enough. The information comes one day before the National Transportation Safety Board meets to discuss the accident that killed Elaine Herzberg, 49, as she crossed a street in Tempe, Arizona, on March 19, 2018.

    In its initial reports, the NTSB said the Uber-modified Volvo XC90 had detected Herzberg with its lidar and radar sensors for six seconds prior to impact while the driver, Rafaela Vasquez, was looking down at a phone at the time of the crash. Uber had also deactivated the Volvo's standard factory safety systems. Vasquez has not yet been charged with a crime.

    Uber was cleared of criminal misconduct by one of the state's county attorneys in March after the office found that the car's onboard video "likely does not accurately depict the events that occurred," according to the office's statement. The investigation remains in the hands of the Tempe police.

    AN reports that the feature Uber removed, called Reflex, was developed by Uber itself, designed to initiate hard braking out of an abundance of caution. While this feature was under development, the company also developed an "action suppression" that would "delay hard braking by one second to account for the possibility these frequent braking events were false positives." The Reflex system was considered a backup to this suppression system, according to AN, but it was then removed from the vehicles several months before the crash. Uber was more concerned with pleasing investors and its new CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, for its "ability to provide smooth rides," according to AN.

    More details will surely come out as a result of the NTSB meeting on Tuesday and a Senate Commerce Committee meeting on Wednesday.

    The campaign amounts to a significant effort for a vehicle that is being launched into an EV market that remains niche, despite much hype.

    Year-to-date, 175,350 electric vehicles have been sold in the U.S, which is less than 2 percent of all vehicle sales, according to figures provided by Kelley Blue Book sourced from insideevs.com. Tesla dominates EVs, selling 491,602 since 2010, compared with just 9,787 by Ford.

    But the Mach-E represents a mindshift for Ford, which had previously sold electrified versions of more economy-minded models, like Focus, rather than a brand like Mustang that is known for performance. “This is a huge play by Ford to get serious about EVs,” says Karl Brauer, executive publisher of Kelley Blue Book. It is as much of a corporate branding play as anything, he notes, driven by a desire to be perceived by consumers and analysts as “a forward-thinking, progessive company.”

    Ford’s push follows moves by other high-performance brands to take on Tesla, including Audi, which has poured significant marketing behind its new “e-tron” SUV, the first of three battery electric vehicles the luxury brand will introduce over three years. Jaguar, meanwhile, has run TV ads for its electric I-PACE SUV, including one that uses the phrase “roar silently.”

    But Brauer says Ford’s Mach-E fills a gap for U.S. buyers who prefer domestic brands and might be lured into buying an EV backed by an iconic brand such as Mustang that has been around a lot longer than Tesla.

    Still, he says that does not guarantee the Mach-E will be “an overnight success.” There “is not going to be a single model that comes out in one fell swoop and turns the world into an EV-buying world,” he adds. “It’s going to be a long process of knocking down barriers and knocking down resistance from various demographics one-by-one.”

    Ford is targeting a group of buyers it refers to internally as “lovers of the new,” which it refers to in internal documents as “LOTN.” 

    “These are folks who are younger, more educated, more affluent,” VanDyke says. “Most of them...have never shopped Ford before. So we are absolutely interested in expanding the audience and bringing new people into the brand.”

    Still, Ford wants to avoid turning off Mustang loyalists, some of whom might find anything resembling an SUV to be blasphemous for the pony car brand built on sports coupes. That is why Ford put an emphasis on reaching out to Mustang clubs, including flying members of the enthusiast groups to Detroit to get a behind the scenes look at the Mach-E. Some members of California-based Mustang clubs were scheduled to participate in Sunday’s reveal event.

    Ford is also trying to leverage its network of 2,000 dealers who are “certified, trained EV dealers,” VanDyke says, referring to the vast dealer network as a “competitive advantage” over Tesla. The dealers, he says, “are completely motivated to activate their active their loyal owner base.”

    Source link

    The current 2019 Jaguar XJ is effectively a lame duck, as we have previously reported production ended in July, 2019, and a new all-electric model is on the way. But before it's sent into the archives, Jaguar designed one last special-edition variant to celebrate the luxury sedan. It's called the XJ Collection Special Edition, and it's limited to 300 examples exclusively for the U.S. market.

    Matching the car's personality, the overall package is quite low-key. The exterior of the XJL can been draped in Yulong White, Santorini Black or British Racing Green (the obvious choice) and wears 20-inch five-spoke wheels with a satin gray finish. A "Collection" badge on the rear deck lid signifies the limited nature of the vehicle.

    The white or black models can be paired with Ebony/Ebony or Mineral/Ivory interiors, while the Green models can only be paired with an Ebony/London Tan interior. All examples will have door paneling in a gloss rich oak veneer with exclusive linear laser inlay. Jaguar also used "XJ Collection" branding on the metal tread plates, and an "XJ Collection One of 300" "intaglio" tags the dashboard.

    All 300 units start with the rear-drive long-wheelbase XJL Supercharged. That means all 300 have 470 horsepower and 424 lb-ft of torque, so its sleeper status remains. The XJ Collection Special Edition lists at $86,025, including destination.

     

    DETROIT -- Long before the pistons for General Motors Co. V-6 engines reach the automaker’s plant near Detroit in Romulus, Mich., they are seasoned international travelers.

    Powdered aluminum from Tennessee is shipped to Pennsylvania and forged at high temperatures into connecting rods for the pistons, which are then sent to Canada to be shaped and polished. They are then shipped to Mexico for sub-assembly and finally the finished pistons are loaded onto trucks bound for Romulus to become part of a GM V-6 engine.

    The parts make four international border crossings in all, without a single tariff levied.

    “They already have their passports,” said Jim Bovenzi, GM’s executive director of global supply chain on a recent tour of the Romulus plant. “We look at North America as a borderless region. We have parts and components coming back and forth across the border all the time.”

    GM’s V-6 engine is just one example of how GM and rivals Ford Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles have used the 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement to shift work to lower-cost facilities across the continent, cutting expenses and boosting returns from the region that represents the bulk of their global profits.

    U.S. President Donald Trump now seeks to replace NAFTA with the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, signed by the countries’ leaders last November, which he says will boost American jobs.

    U.S. automakers have lobbied hard for the new treaty to preserve NAFTA’s effective lack of borders, and say they can work with it because it does just that.

    However, if Trump follows through on his repeated threats to pull the United States out of NAFTA if the U.S. Congress does not ratify USMCA, automakers would be forced to pay a patchwork of tariffs under World Trade Organization rules.

    That would destroy the cost advantages of their cross-border supply chains -- which include U.S. companies employing American workers -- and would likely force automakers to redesign their manufacturing models and find cheaper alternatives elsewhere, industry experts say.

    The uncertainty means automakers and manufacturers are holding off on key investments.

    “A lot of our production is very, very capital intensive and when you’re deploying that much capital you want to have a clear sense of what the rules are,” said Everett Eissenstat, GM’s vice president for global public policy. “It’s quite important for us to get those (USMCA) rules in place so we can have some stability and predictability to continue to produce and invest here in the United States.”

    U.S. business investments fell 3 percent in the third quarter and 1 percent in the second quarter, due to concerns over mounting trade tensions, including the issue of NAFTA and tariffs worldwide.

    “Businesses are already becoming more cautious about investments,” said Michael Gregory, head of U.S. economics at BMO Capital Markets. “If we get to the point where the administration is actively talking about tearing up NAFTA, I think that would trump any concern about China.”

    Democrats, who are pushing for more labor and environmental protections in the new treaty, say they are making progress toward passing USMCA in 2019. But if that does not happen, it risks being postponed in 2020 ahead of the next presidential election, which would mean an extended period of uncertainty.

    Journey of a piston

    GM’s Romulus Powertrain plant makes about 400,000 V-6 engines a year for high-margin Cadillac SUVs, light pickup trucks and other GM vehicles

    The pistons that end their long journey there are only a small part of the 70-plus trucks bearing parts such as engine blocks or cylinder heads, that arrive there daily.

    The Romulus-built V-6 uses 235 parts from 100 primary suppliers. Sixty-seven ship from factories in the United States, 13 from Mexico, 8 from Canada and 12 from elsewhere in the world. Most of the electronics come from Asia.

    All told, GM spends $71 billion a year on materials, sourcing 133,000 different parts from 3,100 primary suppliers.

    At Romulus, five trucks daily carrying 288 100-pound engine blocks -- the heart of the V-6 engine -- each come from either a GM casting operation in Saginaw, Mich., or a supplier in Mexico.

    The Mexican parts are cheaper, GM’s Bovenzi said, but using dual suppliers reduces the risk of relying on one plant for a critical part like the engine block.

    The more labor intensive it is to make, the more likely a part is sourced from Mexico, according to James Rubenstein, a professor of geography at Oxford, Ohio-based Miami University who has studied the automobile industry and NAFTA.

    “Final assembly costs don’t affect the overall cost of a vehicle that much,” he said. “Focusing on labor-intensive parts further down the chain is what really makes a difference.”

    Marriage of parts

    When the V-6 engines -- now weighing around 500 pounds -- are unloaded at GM’s Spring Hill plant near Nashville, an even bigger marriage of components takes place.

    As individually labeled V-6 engines move down the line -- for Cadillacs and Acadias -- about 200 parts from 88 different suppliers are attached. Fifty-eight are American, 12 Mexican, 5 Canadian and 13 from elsewhere.

    Spring Hill workers install an automatic transmission from a GM plant in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, a starter and generator made in Tennessee by Japanese supplier Denso Corp., an air conditioning compressor made by Denso in Michigan, a drive belt made by Gates Industrial Corp. in Mexico, tensioners and a pulley made by Gates in Canada, converters made in Tennessee by Tenneco Inc. and battery cables from China.

    Ford and Fiat Chrysler, alongside other major automakers such as Japan’s Toyota Motor Corp. and Nissan Motor Co., all have built up similar international supply chains to support their North American assembly operations.

    The lower costs achieved by such diverse sourcing means better margins on higher-priced vehicles like the Cadillac XT6. The crossover retails for $55,490, almost $20,000 above the average U.S. new car price, and is one of GM’s higher-margin vehicles.

    The use of lower-cost countries for more labor intensive parts is now “part of the recipe to compete in the global market,” said Kristin Dziczek, vice president of industry, labor and economics at the Center for Automotive Research in Michigan.

    European automakers, for instance, have similarly moved production of parts to cheaper, tariff-free countries within the European Union.

    Tearing up NAFTA or imposing tariffs would hurt U.S. automakers’ competitiveness, according to Dziczek.

    CAR estimated in June that the average price of a U.S.-made vehicle would rise $1,100 if Trump carried out his threat of levying tariffs of up to 25% on Mexican imports over illegal immigration.

    North American tariffs would force automakers to move sourcing of lower-cost parts from Mexico to other cheap markets like Vietnam, Dziczek said.

    That would be bad for Mexican suppliers, but would also hurt U.S. suppliers and defeat Trump’s aim to boost U.S. jobs, as shuttling parts back and forth between Asia and the United States would not be cost effective.

    “If we weren’t getting it from Mexico, we’d be getting it from somebody else’s ‘Mexico,’” Dziczek said. “And the further away that ‘Mexico’ is, the less likely it is American suppliers would benefit from that business.”

    Source link

    There's something in the water at Aston Martin Red Bull Racing. Or in the Red Bull. This past weekend at the 2019 Brazilian Grand Prix, the pit crew at Red Bull beat their previous world record pit-stop time of 1.88 seconds. Their new time, set on lap 21 of 71, clocked in at 1.82 seconds, when race winner Max Verstappen came in to swap his red-striped soft-compound tires for a fresh set of rubber.

    In a sport that comes down to the thousandths of a second, quick pit stops are key in a driver's overall race strategy. A single extra second in the pit could mean the difference between staying in first place or dropping down to second.

    In an era of super-quick pit stops, this could very well be the last world record that's set. For the 2021 season, the wheel and tire setup will be getting heavier as F1 rules increase the diameter of the wheels to 18 inches. Red Bull beat the time the crew set at the German Grand Prix earlier this season, and this latest record is Red Bull’s third record-setting performance dating back to the British Grand Prix, when they set their first world record time of 1.91 seconds. That’s three world records, all set in a single season. This Red Bull pit crew is just like the car they work on: fast, efficient, and a lot of fun to watch. Check out this video of their amazing performance in Brazil:

    For reference, an average pit stop will take around 2.4 seconds. The reason that Formula 1 pit stops are so quick are a mix of human talent and superfast tools. Most pit stops only require the four tires to be changed; changes to the front wing are rare, and F1 cars have enough fuel to last the entire race.

    F1 Grand Prix of Brazil - Practice
    Pit stop during practice for Grand Prix of Brazil, November 15, 2019.Dan IstiteneGetty Images

    Even though only the tires need to be changed, a team has a total of 16 people ready to service the car when it stops. Each has a role: there are eight tire carriers, four to take off the old tires and four to put on the new tires. Then there are front and rear jack men, two car stabilizers, and four tire swappers, who use pneumatic wheel guns to unscrew and screw on the wheels. These pneumatic wheel guns are powered by compressed air or nitrogen and operate just like the ones in an average garage, except they spin at 10,000 rpm.

    China's Tianmen Road is the go-to, out-of-the-way spot for record-setting and demonstrations of vehicle prowess. Alternately called one of the most spectacular roads in the world and one of the most dangerous, its 6.8 miles of two-lane needs 99 hard turns to climb from 658 feet to 4,265 feet up the side of Tianmen Mountain. Red Bull used the road for its Drift King event in 2013 and 2014, Italian amateur Fabio Barone scooted his Ferrari 458 up the mountain to set the first speed record in 2016, which Land Rover broke with a Range Rover Sport SVR in 2018, which VW broke again this year with the ID.R electric race car. Ken Block is the latest to accept the challenge, roaring his 914-horsepower Ford F-150 Hoonitruck up the lush green hill for "Climbkhana Two."

    There are fewer diversions in this vid than there were in the first Climbkhana, the one where Block smoked his 1,400-hp Hoonicorn RTR V2 Mustang up Pikes Peak. However, no diversions are needed, because the road is the show, its narrow breadth and vertiginous edges providing all the emphasis of Block's skill that one gobsmacked viewer can handle. The slo-mo shots through the hairpins look like video games. There is a panda on a Segway-like contraption, though. Because China owns pandas and Ninebot, which owns Segway. Of course.

    After this, if you're game for more wild video-game-like action through narrow streets and more, check out BJ Baldwin's "Recoil 4" through Cuba. That, and "Climbkhana Two," are better than the last five "Fast & Furious" movies put together. There, I said it.

     

    Tonawanda's mark will live forever on the engine of the 2020 Chevrolet Corvette.

    Each midengine Corvette has a chrome placard on the valve cover reading, "Built by Chevrolet Tonawanda the number 1 team."

    The original small block V-8 engine was built at Tonawanda Engine Plant in Buffalo, N.Y., more than 60 years ago.

    General Motors President Mark Reuss had bought Tonawanda pride stickers for his personal engine restoration projects. Minutes before the Corvette engineering team began a July media event at the plant, announcing that Tonawanda would build the eighth-generation Corvette's engine, Reuss asked them to create a similar badge for each engine.

    "Mark was so insistent that we show off the American ingenuity and the pride that we have in this engine," said Mike Kociba, assistant chief engineer for small block engines. "He wants to call back to the heritage of Tonawanda from the '60s."

    An hour later, the team had a mock-up badge design to show Reuss at the event.

    "We're very proud of our heritage," said Kociba. "A lot of American pride goes into small blocks in general and of course with the Corvette, the LT2 engine, we're going to continue that heritage."

    Tonawanda has about 1,500 workers who build engines for the Chevy Corvette, Camaro, Malibu, Colorado, Equinox, Traverse, Impala, Silverado, Suburban and Tahoe, among other vehicles.

    Editor's note: Mike Kociba's name was misspelled in an earlier version of this story.

    Source link

    SAO PAULO — Red Bull’s Max Verstappen won Formula One’s Brazilian Grand Prix on Sunday for his eighth career victory in a race that ended disastrously for both Ferrari drivers. Verstappen controlled nearly all the race at Interlagos, which saw a dramatic late collision between Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc when they fought for the fourth position. Both failed to finish.

    Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly got his first F1 podium after finishing second ahead of six-time F1 champion Lewis Hamilton. The Mercedes driver was third but faces an investigation after an incident that caused Red Bull’s Alexander Albon to spin.

    Hamilton, who won at Interlagos in 2018, said Verstappen was “just quicker than us on the straights” and “there was nothing more we could do.”

    Dutch driver Verstappen said “Lewis was very quick so I had to keep pushing... we had two good moves with him, and from there onward I could control the race."

    McLaren’s Carlos Sainz was fourth, and could be promoted to third if Hamilton is punished.

    The Brazilian GP on Sunday was the penultimate race of the season, with only Abu Dhabi left on Dec.1.

    Hamilton had already secured the season title in the previous race in the United States. His Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas, who did not finish the race, had also secured the runner-up spot.

    If you ever find yourself shoulder to shoulder in a car with a disheveled bum who's belching the ABCs while clipping their toenails and swilling salsa straight out of the jar, chances are you know the person. It's possible you're even married to them. Until we can say the same about a ride in San Francisco's BART, we will continue to favor the four-wheeled version of mass transit, where at least the freaks are our loved ones.

    In mid-size-sedan form, this mass transit is affordable and efficient, with ample personal space for five, and—when you're the driver—always running on your schedule under your rules. With American automakers turning their attention to higher-margin crossovers, all five competitors in this test come from Asian manufacturers, although we feel compelled to point out that all are built here in the U.S.

    We aimed to test well-equipped models with entry powertrains and prices around $30,000. For the Honda Accord, that turns out to be a $31,050 EX-L. The middle-rung model has adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, and leather-wrapped cabin surfaces, and it draws power from a turbocharged 1.5-liter inline-four. Honda offers the only manual transmission in the segment, which we'd love to own, but instead we opted to test the continuously variable automatic for the sake of parity.

    The new 2020 Hyundai Sonata pairs a boosted 1.6-liter inline-four with an eight-speed automatic and what we mostly agree is sharp styling—up until someone mentions the polarizing chrome ribbon running from each headlight to the window trim. The roughly $33,000 Limited model shown here is easily the content king of the test, with a feature list that could fill a CVS receipt.

    In SR guise, the new-for-2019 Nissan Altima is on the lower end of the trim-level spectrum. A CVT and a 2.5-liter four are familiar from the previous generation, but they can now be partnered with an all-wheel-drive system that serves as a sort of vaccine against buying a crossover. Our test model skips many of the luxuries of the Hyundai and the Subaru and starts at $27,945. A handful of gratuitous accessories, such as splash guards and underbody lighting, lift the total price to $30,720.

    An all-wheel-drive Altima is a direct and almost personal attack on the new 2020 Subaru Legacy. For decades, Subaru has owned the all-wheel-drive mid-size-sedan segment—indeed, it has mostly been the segment in its entirety. Powered by a 182-hp 2.5-liter flat-four, a mid-level Sport trim with optional blind-spot monitoring, sunroof, and navigation comes out to $30,090. A CVT is standard here, too.

    Finally, we have the oddball of the group, a stripper of a Toyota Camry. At $26,183 with floor mats and door-edge protectors as its only options, this LE is about as basic as you can get. We asked Toyota if it wanted to field something just a touch flashier, and the company's reps were adamant that this value play was an intentional decision. The Camry is powered by a 2.5-liter inline-four driving the front wheels through an eight-speed automatic.

    We're missing one car. When we last ran a family-sedan comparison, in 2016, the Mazda 6 claimed a win over the Chevrolet Malibu and last-generation versions of the Accord and Camry. Mazda could provide only a pricey 6 with its uplevel 250-hp turbo 2.5-liter for this test, so we left it out. As a consolation, know that the Accord has earned a spot on our 10Best list for 22 years running. The Mazda's last win was in 2015.

    Enough with the introductions. Please set down the nail clippers and salsa and let's take a ride through the current mid-size-sedan pecking order.


    5th Place: 2020 Subaru Legacy

    Marc UrbanoCar and Driver

    Highs: Clear sightlines in every direction, better than riding the bus.
    Lows: Slow, noisy, and thirsty; like a bounce house without the fun.
    Verdict: Its driving dynamics leave us wanting more sportiness.

    Subaru sells a Legacy "Sport" in the same sense that Arby's sells "food." On the Legacy, Sport means nothing more than a decade-out-of-date cliché—black wheels and trim, a spoiler, some red stitching. "There's nothing here that's perceptibly sporty," observed testing director Dave VanderWerp. Quite the opposite, actually.

     

    It might not look all new, but the Legacy has been completely redesigned for 2020. Interior quality is much improved, but the touchscreen's responses are sluggish.

    It's like driving a trampoline. With springs and dampers this soft, the Legacy sops up even the biggest potholes before they can jolt the driver. It's not a particularly comfortable kind of soft, though. As the Subaru's body flops, bounces, and porpoises awkwardly over rough roads, the driver's head sways, bobs, and nods constantly. This is apparently what makes a Subaru a Subaru, because the Legacy drives with the same squishy apathy as the Ascent, the Forester, and the Outback.

    Marc UrbanoCar and Driver

    The boxer-four reluctantly does its work with a bellyache moan, and wind noise seeps into the cabin around 50 mph, earlier than in the competitors. The CVT is sometimes indecisive at part throttle; revs build, momentarily pause, resume climbing, pause again, then climb some more. Push the accelerator to the floor and the flat-four bellows as the Legacy plods to 60 mph in a slowest-in-test 8.0 seconds. The Subaru doesn't need all-wheel drive to harness its 182 horsepower, which means that extra driveline hardware is dead weight unless you're stuck in a snowbank. At 3540 pounds, the Legacy weighs 111 pounds more than the all-wheel-drive Altima, and it suffers a 3-mpg hit in observed fuel economy relative to the most efficient cars in this test.

    The Subaru does offer excellent outward visibility from the driver's seat. It's also a solid value, with a list of driver-assistance and convenience features to rival the Hyundai. But those small victories can't outweigh its dynamic shortcomings. Among the many better sedans, the Altima has erased the Legacy's all-wheel-drive advantage. That leaves the 11.6-inch touchscreen as the Subaru's single distinguishing trait, and even that is flawed. The graphics belong on a children's tablet, and the response time can be sluggish. The vertical orientation also means that the Android Auto and Apple CarPlay interfaces use only about one-third of the available real estate, appearing smaller than they do in the Honda and the Hyundai.

    Losing is never easy, Sport, but I know something that will ease the pain. Let me buy you a Beef 'n Cheddar.


    4th Place: 2020 Nissan Altima

    Marc UrbanoCar and Driver

    Highs: Holds its own in corners, CVT does a decent job mimicking a conventional automatic.
    Lows: Flinty ride, abysmal rearward visibility, light on convenience features.
    Verdict: An injection of character into the Altima gives us hope for Nissan.

    Yes, we're guilty of grading on a curve here, but second to last strikes us as a big win for the Altima. Notice that it nearly snuck into third, ahead of the sales-giant Camry. After years of pulse-lowering performance, the Altima is finally showing signs of life.

    There are shades of sports sedan lurking in the Nissan's chassis tuning. The all-season Hankooks hang on to the road with a tenacious 0.91 g of lateral grip. With its quick and light steering, the Altima turns eagerly into bends. And the firm brake pedal is easily modulated.

    Marc UrbanoCar and Driver

    The harder you push it, though, the more disjointed the Altima feels. It is faster than it is fluid. Some drivers found the steering too quick and darty. We all agreed the ride is brittle and needs more damping compliance.

     

    There's a lot of Maxima in the Altima's styling and some sports sedan in its handling. If its optional all-wheel-drive system stops the sale of a Rogue, we consider that a win.

    Nissan's stubborn devotion to the CVT finally pays off with some agreeable manners. At part throttle, the transmission executes almost convincing, simulated upshifts. They allow the revs to rise and fall as the car accelerates so that the 2.5-liter inline-four never lingers on a discordant note for too long. You have to dig in your spurs if you want the Altima to gallop. Unlike the lively chassis, the powertrain prefers to loaf. It's good at that, at least. Despite lugging and churning that all-wheel-drive hardware, the Nissan tied the Toyota and the Hyundai at 31 mpg. Still, the all-wheel-drive system is probably more trouble than it's worth. Opting for it hikes up the rear of the car, which, combined with the high parcel shelf and the large center brake light, gives the driver a perfect view of the sky behind them.

    With wind, engine, and road noise equally in check, the Altima is tranquil at highway speeds. Cushy front seats swallow you like the 40-year-old sofa in Mom's basement, although they don't offer much in the way of long-haul support. Everything you grab, push, pull, turn, and touch inside the cabin looks and feels right. It's the hard plastic expanses in between that make the Altima appear cheaper than it is. The Nissan is also missing a number of features expected at this price, such as heated seats. If a $26,183 Camry comes with adaptive cruise control, so should a $30,720 Altima. A little more stuff would go a long way here.


    3rd Place: 2020 Toyota Camry

    Marc UrbanoCar and Driver

    Highs: Assertive powertrain, competent cornering, as comfortable as ever.
    Lows: Gritty engine vibrations, cringe-inducing styling, makes a Michigan winter look cheery.
    Verdict: It drives better than you think, even if it is still a Camry in earnest.

    The Camry's beige phase is finally over. Newly edgy Toyota is now experimenting with 50 shades of Camry gray. We counted seven different grayscale finishes on the driver's door panel alone. The seats are upholstered with cinder bolsters, smoky inserts, and dark-steel stitching. Painted in complementary any-car silver, this particular Camry won't help Toyota shake the car-as-an-appliance stigma.

    That's a shame, because if you get intimate with a Camry on a winding road, you'll discover it's a freak. In a good way. The most powerful engine in the test revs with more verve and stretches higher on the tach, topping out at 6800 rpm. Compared with the labored exertion of the naturally aspirated Nissan and Subaru engines, the Toyota four-cylinder pulls assertively in around-town passing maneuvers. Graceful shifts from the eight-speed automatic make even the best CVTs feel gelatinous. And no matter how close you come to its limits, the Camry never loses composure. The heft of the steering doesn't waver, and the dampers always keep body motions in check.

    Marc UrbanoCar and Driver

     

    Owning the middle is what Camrys do, right? We're not crazy about the exterior. Or the interior, really. But like the best Camrys of the past, it just works.

    This is not the car's public persona, though. Drive it like an accountant would and the Toyota disappears around you thanks to pillowy damping, arrow-straight highway tracking, and comfortable seats. The Camry is the same reliably predictable transportation that it's always been to indifferent drivers. That's a good thing, because the Camry is a shining example that an enthusiast's desires and a commuter's needs aren't diametrically opposed. A car that handles well will always feel controlled, and a car that rides well will corner confidently over broken pavement.

    The Camry's unexpected competence isn't enough to spark any passion, though. We respect it, but we don't aspire to own one. And despite the stylists' best efforts to scare onlookers into noticing it, the Camry's design is no more suggestive than a Land's End shirt. Mostly, we just want to look away.

    The interior, awash in simple plastics, is even more disappointing. The urethane steering wheel is as inviting as the Bowflex in your spare bedroom. The screens in the center stack and instrument cluster are small, low-resolution things. And the engine emits a diesel-like grittiness at low rpm that becomes a thrashy buzz when pushed harder. For us, living with these flaws isn't worth the discount the Camry offers over the competitors that finished ahead of it.


    2nd Place: 2020 Hyundai Sonata

    Marc UrbanoCar and Driver

    Highs: Assertive, torquey engine; loaded with tech; big parking-lot presence.
    Lows: Awkwardly high seating, confused suspension tuning, a tornado of wind noise.
    Verdict: Despite constant improvement, Hyundai still does value better than dynamics.

    Looking almost Audi-esque in profile and stuffed with more tech and luxury than any of the other sedans, the Sonata gives off the impression that it's been entered into the wrong test. It hasn't. This is just typical Hyundai delivering more car than you pay for.

    It's fitting that the turbocharged cars placed first and second in this comparison test. By pumping more air into an otherwise meek four-cylinder, a turbo breathes enthusiasm into the car. Thanks to its heap of low-end torque, you'd never guess that the Sonata's 180-hp 1.6-liter engine is the least powerful of the five here. And while the Camry hits 60 mph in the same 7.3 seconds, the Sonata feels more refined and less strained in accomplishing the feat. Around town, the Hyundai's eight-speed automatic shuffles gears quickly and efficiently, with none of the sluggishness inherent in a CVT.

    Marc UrbanoCar and Driver

    The suspension dithers between too soft and too stiff, depending on what you're doing at the moment. Take a corner at speed and the Sonata rolls only slightly less than the Subaru. Drive over a patchwork asphalt repair and the Michelin tires thwack the road with short, hard hits.

    A small tornado's worth of wind noise makes its way into the cabin, which is surprising because the Sonata is the only car here with dual-pane glass in the front doors. Both tall and short drivers found the Hyundai's seating position too high. With no shortage of crossovers available for drivers who need to sit on a perch, why sully sedans with this clumsy flaw? The Sonata's rear seat is roomy for two people but not three. Strangely, Hyundai scallops the headliner only over the outboard seats.

    Marc UrbanoCar and Driver

     

    LED lights run up the fender and give the Sonata the penciled-in eyebrows of your sweet Aunt Mildred. Interior design and quality are class leading.

    The Sonata distracts from its rough edges with leather, screens, and dramatic styling to convince you the car costs another $5000. The list of features on our Limited model includes a digital instrument cluster, heated and ventilated front seats, a competent lane-centering system, and the ability to move the car into and out of a tight parking space with the key fob while the driver stands next to the car.

    This Sonata drives better and looks more fashionable than any prior generation, but its presiding strength is the same as any Hyundai's: value. That current strategy has vaulted Hyundai from bottom-rung fodder to front-of the-pack finisher, but it might be time to shift the focus. Comparo winners offer a level of polish that a value play rarely achieves.


    1st Place: 2019 Honda Accord

    Marc UrbanoCar and Driver

    Highs: Finely tuned control calibrations and responses, unnecessarily quick, a rational purchase.
    Lows: Sloppy active lane-keeping assist, there are quieter competitors.
    Verdict: A wholesome family sedan that knows how to cut loose.

    Honda's 3209-pound sedan drives nothing like a 3200-pound mid-engine Cayman. And yet, the Accord comes off as Porsche-like in its excellence. Similar to the Porsche, the Honda is the product of an all-encompassing vision. The major controls work in symphonic harmony, and the character of the machine is palpable in your every interaction with it.

    For a family sedan, the Accord is far more gratifying than it needs to be. It brakes with a progressive pedal, steers with verve, and motors away from a stoplight with authority. Pitch and roll are tightly controlled by a taut suspension, but the dampers deftly round off the sharp hits. "The chassis and steering are absurdly good for a car in this category," noted staff editor Annie White.

    Marc UrbanoCar and Driver

    Honda's CVT is smoother than George Clooney; the faux shifts never feel clumsy. Notch the shifter into Sport mode and the transmission response follows your right foot obediently. The Accord's 192-hp turbocharged 1.5-liter walked away from the other sedans when it hit 60 mph in a legitimately quick 6.6 seconds. Yet the Honda's appeal has little to do with the numbers. It netted 30 mpg in our drive, landed mid-pack in the skidpad and slalom, and posted a last-place 176-foot stop from 70 mph without shading our opinion of its aptitude—well, that braking number could be better. All this with the CVT. (Remember, there's an even more engaging manual-transmission model.)

     

    Think Olympic athlete dressed in pleated khakis. Think affordable sports sedan. Think about this: When something better than the Accord is built, chances are Honda will build it.

    It's a sensible thing, too. The Accord offers comfort on par with the Camry and outward visibility to rival the Legacy. There's plenty of storage for objects small and large, with smartly designed in-cabin cubbies and the largest trunk in the test. And while every sedan here offers generous legroom, the Accord is the complete package, with more elbowroom and overhead clearance than the others can boast.

    Marc UrbanoCar and Driver

    Our criticisms are few and trivial. The lane-keeping system is lousy, losing the scent in the gentlest highway curves. VanderWerp, reaching as deep as the Atlantic, pointed out that the Toyota's shift lever is better damped than the Honda's.

    If you want to drive a family sedan to work and back with the full suite of driving assistants active, you might want a softer and quieter car than this. But recalibrating the Accord to accommodate those desires would dilute the Honda's charm. The Accord is always ready to drop its family obligations and unwind a coiled road as though it's the only thing that matters. And that matters to us.

    From the December 2019 issue.