Wards Auto

Wards Auto picks 10 best vehicle user experiences

The Hyundai Sonata won accolades for its user experience.

Photo courtesy of Hyundai North America

Each year, Wards Auto evaluates each automaker's infotainment and safety system offerings, diving deep into the features they offer as well as evaluating the systems' ease of use. They test then score the systems based on the user experience in reference to each vehicle's touch screens, voice controls, connectivity, and driver-assistance technologies. They also took value into consideration.

This year, the fifth year for the Wards 10 Best UX Awards, the testers scrutinized 18 eligible vehicles. The list of nominees included:

  • Acura RDX
  • Cadillac CTS-V
  • Hyundai Sonata
  • Mercedes-Benz CLA
  • Toyota Highlader
  • Alfa Romeo Giulia
  • Chevrolet Trailblazer
  • Kia Seltos
  • Nissan Sentra
  • Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport
  • Audi Q7
  • Ford Escape
  • Lincoln Aviator
  • Ram 1500
  • BMW X7
  • Honda CR-V Hybrid
  • Mazda CX-30
  • Subaru Legacy

Here are the winners.

2021 Kia Seltos

2021 Kia SeltosPhoto courtesy of Kia Motors

Wards Auto: "Kia's all-new Seltos is packed with infotainment and technology features that give the small CUV a youthful energy that's hard to resist."

2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250

2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

Wards Auto: "Augmented-reality navigation, stellar ADAS, and a 64-color light show propel the $48,295 Mercedes-Benz CLA to UX leadership."

2020 Toyota Highlander

2020 Toyota HighlanderPhoto courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., Inc.

Wards Auto: "Toyota's redesigned Highlander three-row CUV is the only vehicle this year to win both Wards 10 Best Interiors and Wards 10 Best UX honors, thanks to an interior and tech overhaul that keeps it ahead of the competition."

2020 Hyundai Sonata

2020 Hyundai SonataPhoto courtesy of Hyundai Motor America

Wards Auto: "Big displays, tons of UX and ADAS features make 2020 Sonata unbeatable value proposition."

2020 Ford Escape

2020 Ford EscapePhoto courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Wards Auto: "The compact CUV is a 2020 Wards 10 Best UX winner for showing how it's done right in so many ways."

2020 Subaru Legacy

2020 Subaru LegacyPhoto courtesy of Subaru of America, Inc.

Wards Auto: "The '20 Legacy is another strong UX player and is the fourth consecutive Wards 10 Best UX winner for Subaru, following last year's award-winning Outback, the Ascent in 2018 and Impreza in 2017."

2020 Audi Q7

2020 Audi Q7

Photo courtesy of Audi AG

Wards Auto: "If owners take time to drill down into the immense customization content, they will be richly rewarded. In the realm of the automotive user experience, this is where the magic happens."

2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport

2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport

Photo courtesy of Volkswagen AG

Wards Auto: "The user-experience award for the five-seat Atlas Cross Sport comes on the heels of a 2019 honor for the Arteon sedan. Volkswagen is on a hot streak, and buyers of the value-driven brand are the clear winners."

2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer

2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer

Photo courtesy of Chevrolet

Wards Auto: "The Chevrolet Trailblazer wins a 2020 Wards 10 Best UX trophy for a long list of standard, user-friendly features, first-rate driver-assistance technologies and even wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, with a starting price below $20,000."

2020 BMW X7

2020 BMW X7

Photo courtesy of BMW

Wards Auto: "Voice controls and driver-assistance technologies work great, personal preferences are easily cued up and Munich's largest vehicle ever soothes the soul with a user experience beyond compare, able to "Vitalize" when drowsy or "Relax" when tense."

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The CX-50 is surpsingly capable off-road.

Mazda

I have driven all of the Mazda vehicles that have been sold in the US market over the past three decades. On everyday roads and on racetracks. I’ve appreciated their “zoom-zoom”. Good power. Punchy torque just where it was needed. Well-balanced and sporty handling. A bit of growl for the versions that called for it. Plus, tasteful-but-modest styling and more or less elbow room, depending on the model. Mazda’s have been made for sports-car enthusiasts and to ferry families. But, I had never known a Mazda called an “overlander”. Until now.

2023 Mazda CX-50Towing capacity extends to 2,000 pounds.Mazda

The 2023 Mazda CX-50 moves this traction-sophisticated automaker into the lands where the pavement ends and now takes the brand ‘off-track’. Although it’s not a new thing for many of today’s carmakers to add a backcountry model or two to their lineup, it’s new for Mazda. I traveled to Santa Barbara, California to check out this all-new crossover built on Mazda’s seventh-generation small SUV platform that is shared with the smaller CX-30. This 5-passenger utility is longer, lower and wider than the CX-5 that rides on the previous generation’s underpinnings. The CX-50 has been crafted with a roomier second row and more cargo room for the goods and gear that weekend warriors and adventurers want to carry.

The CX-50 comes with a choice of two engines: a 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder engine with cylinder deactivation that gets 187 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque, and Mazda’s Skyactiv-G 2.5-liter turbo-charged powerplant with 256 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque; both shift through a six-speed automatic transmission. The sport ute can tow up to 2,000 lbs. with the naturally aspirated motor and up to 3,500 lbs. with the turbo-charged mill and Intelligent Drive Select (Mi-Drive) that brings a tow mode as well as Normal, Sport and Off-Road. The newest Mazda model has been made for North America only and is built in Alabama. It is the first Mazda vehicle with auto start/stop that can be deactivated.

2023 Mazda CX-50Mazda is a master of upscale interiors. Mazda

The new crossover starts at $26,800 and comes in S, S Select, S Preferred, S Preferred Plus, S Premium, and S Premium Plus with the base motor. Turb-charged versions come in Turbo, Turbo Premium, and Turbo Premium Plus that tops out at close to $42,000. A long list of technology and safety features are standard or available. Mazda says that Meridian, a fourth turbo trim will arrive soon with even more off-road cred; it will be set up with 18-inch black wheels AT, hood graphics and other backcountry goodies.

When you look at the CX-50, the first thing you’ll notice is exterior styling that speaks to its adventure-ready mission. Muscular bodywork, such as extra cladding, wide fender flairs and larger, more aggressive tires mean that this crossover has been designed not only to give a nod to the looks of a rugged crossover but to provide enhanced traction and a tad more suspension stretch for motoring over uneven terrain and along bumpy dirt roads. Planted on its haunches with functional air vents, it eschews minivan styling with a low and wide footprint that allows owners to have easy access to high-strength roof rails for loading gear on top; the roof has been made stronger than other Mazda crossovers to accommodate heavier loads, such as a roof-top tent. A panoramic moonroof- a first for Mazda- and attractive antiglare hood graphics and are tasteful additions.

The interior is attractive and roomy, with horizontal lines and “cleanable” surfaces as a nod to outdoor endeavors. Our Turbo Premium Plus model had bright orange reverse stitching that popped the cabin that has been crafted with uplevel trims and materials and brought heads-up display. A 7-inch infotainment screen is standard, while the top models get a 10.25-inch version. A wireless charging pad and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard on all trims. Of note, is the rear power and programmable liftgate to the wide and deep rear cargo compartment, with a load floor that flush with the liftgate opening to help slide heavy items in and out of the back. An available line of cargo accessories makes stowage easier.

2023 Mazda CX-50The CX-50 is family roadtrip ready.Mazda

How did it handle over the 200-plus miles of our ride and drive? The Turbo Premium Plus CX-50 offers a lot like; many of its driving attributes are consistent with Mazda’s tuning and handling priorities across its product line. Traveling along coastal highways, carving mountainous twisties with tight turns and accelerating on flat and straight well-graded pavement, it has great Mazda manners: i.e., there is enough power and torque in the right bandwidth to move it well; precise steering with a slightly heavily-weighted leather-wrapped steering wheel and well-modulated brakes, especially with towing a 3,500-lb. load. We enjoyed using Sport mode for carving corners, as it brings elongated shifts from the six-speed automatic; a crisp response comes when sport shifting in “manual mode” and provides a quick throttle response.

We tried out the Off-Road mode on a course that included flat and uneven dirt roads, as well as hill climb and descent. Although there is no downhill descent control system, the brakes worked well, along with manual gearing. Of note, Mazda would be wide to add downhill descent engineering for steeper and slicker terrain. We were able to test the difference between Normal and Off-Road over a special section of the course with sandy corners and a winding track at a speed of 30 mph showing the improved traction in the Off-Road programming and the aid of Mazda’s G-Vectoring Control that brings a bit of magic to transfer torque to the wheels where it is needed to keep the intended track-think of it like an enhanced traction control program that helps with steering and yaw control.

2023 Mazda CX-50The CX-50 comes with off-road driving modes. Mazda

Other aids for off-road and backcountry travel are: the i-Activ All-Wheel Drive system that is standard equipment on all CX-50s, with a 50/50ish power transfer front to back; 8.6 inches of ground clearance; an 18-degree approach angle and a 24-degree departure angle; and an optional 360-degree camera system.

*EPA reports: base motor fuel economy 24 city/30 highway mpg, while the turbo option gets 23/29 mpg and can run on regular or premium fuel.

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New electric SUV

Honda teases its first EV

The Prologue will go on sale as a 2024 model.

Honda

Honda is nearing the unveiling of its first electric vehicle, the Prologue, and today the automaker gave us our first glimps of the new vehicle. It's just a sketch, but Honda did share some production details and information on its product roadmap.

Honda DealerHonda plans to sell half a million EVs by the end of the decade. Honda

Honda says the Prologue will be an adventure-ready SUV "capable of satisfying everyday driving and weekend getaways with a strong hint of the well-received Honda e in the front fascia." The SUV was developed in Honda's Design Studio in Los Angeles, and was designed with an eye on Honda's global EV models. Honda said it focused on aerodynamics and fine-tuning the body to reducelines and improve range.

The Japanese automaker developed the Prologue alongside GM, but it has other EVs coming to market by 2026. By 2030, Honda says it will release 30 new EVs globally with a production volume of two million units. The co-developed vehicle is the first, but the rest will be built on Honda e:Architecture. In 2027, the automaker will begin building and selling a line of affordable EVs using the architecture developed with General Motors. Honda says it plans to sell half a million EVs in North America by the end of hte decade.

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