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The Review Garage

Rating the best and worst in cars, SUVs, trucks, motorcycles, tools and accessories.

Welcome to The Review Garage!

Garages provide shelter for cars, bikes, tools and overflow from your household. They can also be meeting places, project centers, studios and dream catchers.

The Review Garage will gather car, truck, SUV and motorcycle reviews from several experienced writers. We’ll also feature photographs, travel stories, driving advice and auction reports. If we see a cool car on the road, we’ll share a photo and a story. We’ll gather accessories, tools and garage gadgets, put them through their paces and tell you what we think.

Mostly, we’ll talk about cars, the automotive lifestyle, and anything else that you might talk about in your garage with your friends.

Join us. Make yourself comfortable. Hand me that wrench, and grab yourself a beer. Let’s hang out.

Featured post

2021 Kia K5 GT-Line: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

A first impression: It’s easy to mistake the Kia K5 GT-Line sedan, tested here at $28,400 in flashy Passion Red paint, for an Audi A7 fastback, which starts at $70,195. 

The K5 is a stone beauty with sleek lines, neck-twisting styling and a low profile that gives it the air of a sports car despite its four doors and a trunk. Its dimensions are within inches of the Audi. An example: The K5 is 4 feet 9 inches tall next to the Audi’s 4 feet 8 inches. The Kia also boasts an interior that has the look of luxury with upscale equipment despite its low price.

All-new for the 2021 model year, the K5 replaces the Optima sedan in the Kia lineup. With 121 cubic feet of interior space — one cubic foot more than the A7 — it is classified by the EPA as large sedan, though Kia markets it as a midsize against competitors that include Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima and the Sonata from South Korean sister company Hyundai, which shares its platform with the K5.

Of course, the Audi has a lot of equipment to justify its nosebleed price, including a turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 engine with 335 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque, seven-speed automatic transmission and Quattro all-wheel drive.

Though with less power, the K5 is no slouch. For the first time, it also offers all-wheel drive, a $3,700 option. Its engine is a turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 180 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque, mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode.

The K5 comes in five trim levels: LX at $24,455, LXS at $25,455, the tested GT-Line, which starts at $26,355, EX at $28,955, and the more powerful 290-horsepower GT at $31,455. All prices include the destination charge.

Standard equipment on the GT-Line included forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind-spot collision avoidance assist, rear cross-traffic collision-avoidance assist, lane-keeping and lane-following assist, and leading vehicle departure alert.

Other standard equipment included an eight-inch touch screen with Apple Car Play and Android Auto, Bluetooth connectivity, dual-zone automatic climate control, pushbutton and remote starting, LED headlights, fog lights and daytime running lights, power driver’s seat with lumbar adjustments, 18-inch alloy wheels, and a rear spoiler.

The tester also came with a $1,600 premium package that included forward collision avoidance assist with cyclist detection, adaptive cruise control with stop and go, panoramic sunroof with opaque power sunshade, wireless smart phone charger and LED interior lighting. The only notable item missing on the tested K5 was the optional SXM satellite radio, though HD radio was included.

Out back, there’s a roomy though shallow trunk of 16 cubic feet, augmented by knobs that, when pulled, drop the rear seatbacks to expand the cargo space. One negative: the trunk’s C-hinges are not isolated and could damage items in the trunk. A full-size compact spare  tire lies beneath the trunk floor.

Entering the K5 requires a bit of ducking and twisting, thanks to the low roof line. If you prefer to sit as high as possible, the head room feels a bit tight up front. It’s more than generous in back because the seats are mounted low and are not adjustable for height. As usual, the center-rear position offers a hard, high cushion, though there’s foot room thanks to a small center hump.

The GT-Line’s interior comfort up front and in the outboard back seats was first rate. Seats were upholstered in a breathable cloth with leatherette trim that, to this reviewer, ultimately delivers better long-distance comfort than leather. 

On the road, few would confuse the K5 with an all-out sports sedan. Even with its rakish looks, it presents itself as a capable, even sprightly, family hauler. But it’s no slouch in in traffic or on the open road. An educated guesstimate is that it can hit 60 miles an hour from rest in the seven-second range. 

Handling is secure and fuss-free even on twisting roads. In straight-line highway driving there is little need for steering corrections so long-distance cruising can be relaxing depending on traffic.

There are four driving modes: Normal, Sport, Smart and Custom. It doesn’t seem to make much difference which you choose. Sport makes the K5 feel a bit tighter but doesn’t alter shift patterns. Smart maybe enhances fuel economy. 

 The impression here conjured thoughts of the hip-hop musical “Hamilton.” Kia changed a name and upped its game. It now can reap new fame in the midsize sedan game. 

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Kia K5 GT-Line four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 1.6-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 180 hp, 195 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 1 inch.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/trunk volume: 105/16 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,230 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 27/37/31 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $26,355.
  • Price as tested: $28,400.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

Photos (c) Kia

2021 NACTOY Winners : A DriveWays Report…

by Frank A. Aukofer

With two out of three wins, the Ford Motor Co. dominated the awards Monday, Jan. 11, in the annual North American Car, Truck and Utility Vehicle of the Year honors.

The new all-electric Ford Mustang Mach-E was judged Utility of the Year, and the Ford F-150 pickup won Truck of the Year. The Car of the Year honor went to the all-new Hyundai Elantra from South Korea, a compact sedan that comes in economy, hybrid and performance models.

However, Hyundai’s luxury brand, Genesis, which had finalists in both Car of the Year with its new G80 sedan and Utility of the Year with its crossover SUV, the GV80, did not score a win — though in 2019 its G70 sedan won Car of the Year.

The awards were announced in a news conference from Detroit by officers of NACTOY, the North American Car of the Year organization.

Dating back to 1994, the awards are determined by votes from a panel of 50 automotive journalists, including this reviewer, from the United States and Canada. They are staff members for publications and web sites, as well as free lances. All told, they contribute to a variety of newspapers, magazines, websites, and television and radio stations. 

 Jurors are dues-paying journalist members of NACTOY, and they are required to drive and evaluate all of the nominated vehicles. The awards, according to NACTOY, are the longest-running new-vehicle accolades not associated with a specific newspaper or other publication, website, radio or television. 

It is not a competition as such because manufacturers do not enter vehicles. The NACTOY leadership determines the initial nominees—43 this year — which are required to be substantially new and potential leaders in their classes. 

They are graded on innovation, design, safety, handling, driver satisfaction and value for the dollar. NACTOY members this year winnowed the initial nominations down to 27 and then, in a second vote, named nine semifinalists, three in each category. The third vote determines winners. Votes are tallied by Deloittle LLP and kept secret. 

Finalists this year were the winning Hyundai Elantra for Car of the Year, along with the Genesis G80 four-door and the Nissan Sentra compact sedan. The Elantra garnered 176 votes to 173 for the Genesis G80. In third place was the Sentra with 151.

In the Truck of the Year category, besides the winning Ford F-150, were the Ram TRX, an off-road racer with a Hellcat V8 engine of 702 horsepower, and the Jeep Gladiator Mojave, also an off-roader with racing credentials.  The F-150 ran away with the lead with 340 votes to 130 for the Ram TRX and 30 for the Gladiator Mojave.

Besides the Ford Mustang Mach-E, an electric crossover SUV, finalists for Utility of the Year were the resurrected Land Rover Defender, a luxury SUV from the storied British manufacturer that has been producing all-terrain vehicles since World War II. The Mustang EV led with 265 votes to 136 for the GV80 and 99 for the Defender.

Photos © Ford, Hyundai

2021 Lexus IS 350 AWD F Sport: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

It could be asserted that the 2021 Lexus IS 350 AWD F Sport is the epitome of the compact sports sedan, though the description sometimes gets misconstrued as meaning the pinnacle.

It’s not that. In current usage, epitome means the embodiment or something that possesses the features of an entire class. That’s the Lexus IS. It runs fender to fender with four-door sports machines named BMW 3-Series, Cadillac CT4, Audi A4, Genesis G70, Alfa-Romeo Giulia, Kia Stinger and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. 

These are relatively expensive cars that may not be the most comfortable because of suspension systems and tires more oriented to performance in the twisties and maybe cornering on a race track. But they are also waiting in the wings for drivers who value response and handling that deliver tingles of excitement up and down the backbone. 

The Lexus IS F Sport satisfies those needs and desires. At just 15 feet 4 inches long and an empty weight of about 3,680 pounds, it comes loaded for combat with a 311-horsepower V6 engine with 280 lb-ft of torque. Power surges to all four wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode operated by steering-wheel paddles for control-oriented enthusiasts. 

Nineteen-inch lightweight alloy wheels augment an all-independent suspension with a stabilizer bar and coil springs. Up front is a double-wishbone design with a multi-link setup in back. Gas filled shock absorbers complete the system. 

The tested Lexus IS arrived with a base price of $45,925, including the destination charge. Tack on the inevitable options: $3,800 adaptive variable suspension system, navigation with $2,750 Mark Levinson audio, $1,100 motorized glass sunroof, automatic emergency braking with $1,400 pedestrian detection and panoramic rear-view monitor, $1,250 triple beam headlights with automatic high beams and a few other installations, and the bottom-line sticker came to $56,820.

That’s about 20 grand more than the current average price of a new car, so if the goal is economical transportation with a good dose of reliability, check out the 2021 Hyundai Elantra, Nissan Sentra, Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Mazda3, Kia Forte, Volkswagen Jetta and Subaru Impreza.

But the extra bucks, for those who can afford one of the performance/luxury machines like the Lexus IS F Sport, deliver driving enjoyment that goes beyond simply shuttling back and forth to the shopping center. 

This is a car that invites driving for its own sake. Nothing to do during the pandemic? Jump in for a drive in the traffic-free countryside where there are interesting corners to conquer, enjoy the acceleration when the light changes, bask in the feedback through the steering, and when braking feel some of the excitement of a pilot landing an FA-18 warplane on an aircraft carrier.

An axiom in the automobile business is that everything is a tradeoff. Want great handling? Give up some ride comfort. Want to go fast? Don’t worry about fuel economy. Under controlled tests that don’t involve rapid acceleration, the Lexus IS F Sport delivers an EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption rating of 19/26/22 mpg. Not bad for a hot car that can accelerate from rest to 60 mph in less than six seconds.

There are six driver selectable drive modes: Eco, Normal, Sport, Sport S, Sport S Plus and Custom. They adjust at what rpms the six-speed automatic shifts, as well as well as steering speed and effort, and shock absorber stiffness.

Comprehensive safety measures, including the automatic emergency braking and dynamic radar cruise control, are part of the standard equipment.

As taut as it behaves around curves, the F Sport also is tight. Though it has seatbelts for five, only four passengers will find comfortable accommodations — and getting there involves a bit of squirming. This is not a conveyance for large people. 

Some twisting and turning is required to access both the front and rear seats. Four average sized people in good shape will have no problems and, once inside, will be reasonably comfortable. The center-rear seat, no surprise, is almost impossible with a high, hard cushion and intrusion of a big floor hump. 

One negative surprise: Imitating some European luxury cars, the F Sport’s sun visors do not slide on their support rods to adequately block sun from the side. That was thought to be a thing of the past on all Toyota and Lexus vehicles. Also, the C-hinges in the small trunk are not isolated and could damage luggage.

But hey, you don’t buy an F Sport for its cargo-carrying capabilities.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Lexus IS 350 AWD F Sport four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 3.5-liter V6; 311 hp, 280 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 4 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/trunk volume: 90/11 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,680 pounds (est).
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 19/26/22 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $45,925.
  • Price as tested: $56,820.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

Photos (c) Lexus

2021 MINI Cooper SE Hardtop 2-Door: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. AukoferA vivid reminder of how far electric vehicles have progressed in a relatively short time is to compare the 2021 MINI Cooper SE Hardtop two-door with its predecessor.

It’s not widely known except by the cognoscenti, but Great Britain’s MINI delivered an electric MINI 11 years ago. The company brought one to the Los Angeles Auto Show and sponsored drives by journalists, including this one.

Though all of the driving was in LA’s traffic, the MINI had the moves of a fairly well developed electric car — instant torque, or twisting force, because electric motors deliver their maximum torque as soon as they are switched on, unlike internal combustion engines that need to build rpms to attain the same thing. It was the perfect bitty car for shooting holes in traffic.

The big drawback was that, given the state of the art of battery power then, the electric MINI hatchback was a two-seater. The battery pack, built up from more than 5,000 small batteries, weighed more than 550 pounds and took up the entire back seat space.

Called the MINI E, it was an experiment. Only 500 were built and leased in 2009 to selected individuals in California, New Jersey and New York.

The year before, the Tesla Roadster, from the company founded by Elon Musk, made its debut in the marketplace. It was followed by the Mitsubishi iMIEV and the Nissan Leaf. Since then almost every manufacturer on the planet has developed an electric vehicle, as well as hybrids and plug-in hybrids.

Now we have the 2021 MINI Cooper SE, introduced as a 2020. It’s a two-door hatchback, not unlike that 2009 model. But its lithium-ion battery pack lies under the floor, so there’s space for four passengers. However, it’s still a MINI that is just 12 feet 7 inches long with 80 cubic feet of space for passengers and 9 cubic feet for cargo under the rear hatch. 

The front seats are supportive and comfortable enough for a long trip, though folks in back likely would start squirming and protesting after awhile. Surprisingly, given its short subcompact stature, the MINI SE has a surprisingly supple ride, soaking up bumps and uneven pavement without getting out of shape.

Of course, it also carves corners with aplomb. But as with the 2009 E, the 2021’s forte is the cut and thrust of traffic, both on city streets and crowded freeways. It can nail 60 mph from rest in a less than seven seconds and the throttle response is instant. Punch the pedal at a stoplight and you’ll quickly be looking at the big-bore bad boys in your mirrors.

One electric motor powered by the 32.6 kWh battery pack makes 181 horsepower and 199 lb-ft of torque to drive the front wheels. The transmission is a single-speed automatic because electric motors don’t actually need transmissions.

The MINI SE’s system is nearly identical to the one in Germany’s BMW i3 electric — no surprise because BMW owns MINI. Like the i3, the MINI has an aggressive regenerative braking system that enables so-called one-pedal driving. Lift your foot off the accelerator and the MINI immediately slows down as if the driver had hit the brakes. Time it correctly and you can drive to a stop without touching the brake pedal.

On the MINI, however, you can use a toggle switch (what else on a British car?) on the dash to select low or high regenerative braking. Using either enhances the range. Still, the maximum range, according to the EPA, is 110 miles — not the worst nor best among current electrics—and gives the MINI a city/highway/combined miles per gallon equivalent (MPGe) of 115/100/108.

You can also select from four drive modes: Sport, Mid, Green and Green Plus. The Sport mode makes the MINI feel quicker and more responsive. Mid is a balanced setting and Green and Green Plus help battery charging in concert with the regenerative braking. The downside is that Green Plus switches off battery-depleting systems like automatic climate control. Charging up to 80% can take as little as 36 minutes with a high-speed charger.

Like its immediate 2020 SE predecessor, the 2021 model has an arresting look. The tester was done up with an off-white body and a black top with yellow accents that included the outside mirrors as well as front and rear trim. An older woman, unsolicited, pronounced it as the cutest car she had ever seen.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 MINI Cooper SE Hardtop 2 Door electric hatchback.
  • Motor: Single electric with 32.6 kWh battery pack; 181 hp, 199 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Single-speed automatic.
  • Overall length: 12 feet 7 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 80/9 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,153 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined miles per gallon equivalent: 115/100/108 MPGe. 
  • Range: Up to 110 miles. 
  • Base price, including destination charge: $30,750.
  • Price as tested: $37,750.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

Photos (c) MINI

2021 NACTOY Finalists: A DriveWays Report…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Genesis, the five-year-old luxury brand from South Korea’s Hyundai, scored two finalist positions in the 2021 Car, Truck and Utility of the Year awards, voted by an independent panel of automotive journalists from the US and Canada.

The Genesis G80 sedan was one of three finalists for Car of the Year. Also named were the new Hyundai Elantra sedan and the compact Nissan Sentra.

In the Utility of the Year category, the never-before Genesis GV80 joined the Ford Mustang Mach-E electric and the Land Rover Defender, a new luxury rendering of a storied SUV developed in the 1980s from the original 1948 Land Rover. The first Defender was discontinued in 2016.

Finalists for Truck of the Year are the new Ford-F150, the best-selling vehicle in the U.S.; the Jeep Gladiator Mojave, and the Ram 1500 TRX, both designed for high-performance off-roading.

The 50-member jury of automotive journalists, including this reviewer, work or free-lance for independent magazines, newspapers, television and radio stations, and websites. They are required to drive and evaluate the candidates.

The NACTOY — for North American Car of the Year (including trucks and utility vehicles) — awards are intended to honor excellence in innovation, design, safety, performance, value, technology and driver satisfaction.

There are three rounds of voting to winnow a list of eligible vehicles to smaller numbers in each category. This year there were 11 cars, 27 utility vehicles and four trucks. The jurors vote for three finalists and the winners. Ballots are secret and tabulated by the Deloitte & Touche LLP in Detroit. Winners will be announced January 11, 2021 at a location to be determined.

The finalists:

Car of the Year

Genesis G80: This classy full-size luxury sedan behaves more like a capable compact or a scrappy midsize sports sedan. It comes in nine versions, in rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive with a choice of engines: 2.5-liter four-cylinder, 300 horsepower; and 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6, 375 hp. 

Both have eight-speed automatic transmissions. Prices range from $56,475 to $68,675. They have the potential to usurp sales from existing luxury marques.

Hyundai Elantra: An all-new rendering of the South Korean manufacturer’s compact sedan, which competes against the Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic and Nissan Sentra. 

Exterior and interior styling are new from the tire treads up, though the standard engine is a repeat: 147-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder with a continuously-variable automatic transmission (CVT).

Also: a new gasoline-electric hybrid with139 hp, a six-speed automatic transmission and 50 miles to the gallon mileage. The performance model is the N-Line, with 201 hp and a six-speed manual gearbox or a seven-speed automatic. 

Sadly, the Elantra GT hatchback has been dropped for 2021, although there might be a few stick-shift 2020 GT N Lines still available.

Nissan Sentra: It was the surprise of the 2021 car crop. Previous models were undistinguished but the new one, as we wrote earlier, stands out as a desirable roomy, well-performing, affordable compact sedan with the bones to attract customers who could buy something more expensive.

It uses a new 149-hp four-cylinder engine with front-wheel drive and a continuously-variable automatic transmission. Base price is $22,355 and a loaded Premium came to $25,325. 

Utility Vehicle of the Year

Ford Mustang Mach-E: It’s got a Mustang badge and fine performance but this is all-electric with a crossover SUV hatchback and body style. There’s midsize 101 cubic feet of room inside for five, along with cargo space of 29 cubic feet under the hatch, plus another five cubic feet in a front trunk.

Rear drive is standard with all-wheel drive optional. The tested AWD Premium pre-production model had two electric motors, an extended range battery and delivered 346 hp. Its zero-to-60 acceleration time, Ford says, is 4.8 seconds. The top-line GT model, introduced later, is said to do it in 3.8 seconds.

The Premium’s range is listed at 270 miles with 300 miles for the GT. But a 19-hour charge on a 240-volt charger yielded 236 miles. The EPA city/highway/combined mpg equivalent is 96/84/90 MPGe. The tester had a starting price of $50,800 and $56,400 with options.

Genesis GV80: This is the crossover SUV version of the Car of the Year finalist G80. The GV80 uses the same motivation as the G80, with a 300-hp 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and a 375-hp 3.5T twin-turbocharged V6. An eight-speed automatic transmission is standard.

Like its sedan garage-mate, the GV80 comes with luxury interiors enhanced by fine materials and craftsmanship, good handling with communicative steering, silent running and long-distance comfort.

The 2.5 and 3.5T each come in three versions: Standard, Advanced and Prestige with rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. Prices start at $49,925 and can climb to $65,375. The GV80s have two rows of seats, though a 3.5T Advanced model can be equipped with a cramped third row.

Land Rover Defender: In some ways, it’s hard to defend the Defender. For many years, the Defender represented the epitome of Land Rovers that could handle hostile terrain anywhere.

The originals, with back-breaking ride, ear-shattering noise and turtle-like acceleration, are sought-after collector vehicles. But Land Rover, with its Range Rover and Evoque models, has transformed itself into a luxury manufacturer, though maintaining capable off-road capabilities.

Trading on that reputation, Land Rover brings the new Defender 110 X, which has the looks and capabilities of an African King of the Serengeti but a luxury personality. It’s a pricey—$85,750 as tested—three-row, four-door SUV. Next comes the smaller two-door Defender 90.

Truck of the Year

Ford F-150: It’s what you’d expect of Ford’s flagship but it is all-new from bumper to bumper. As with any pickup in this modern era, it can be equipped to satisfy almost any buyer.

The beauty of it is that this four-door 4X4 Super Crew pickup has gotten so refined that, except for its size — 20 feet 4 inches long, six feet six inches tall and 4,810 pounds — you’d be convinced you’re driving a much smaller vehicle. It’s quiet, handles capably in traffic and on curving roads, and has plenty of punch from the tester’s 5.0-liter V8 engine, which delivers 400 hp through a 10-speed automatic transmission.
Its attributes came with a base price of $47,985 and, as equipped, a bottom line of $56,990.

Jeep Gladiator Mojave: This new version of the much-anticipated Gladiator pickup truck is tricked out to validate those advertising videos showing Jeeps racing around dirt roads and going airborne off sand dunes. 

For 45 years until 1992, Jeep marketed a variety of trucks, the last of which was the Comanche. The 2020 Gladiator arrived as a traditional off-roader, equipped to handle even the famed Rubicon Trail in California and Nevada, so rugged it is driven mostly at walking speed.

Now comes the Mojave. Though can do some of the same rock crawling as other Jeeps, it can manage higher speeds in races through the rough outback.

The base Gladiator with a six-speed manual gearbox had a base price of $35,040 and, as tested, came to $36,330. The Mojave model came with a starting price of $45,370 and, with many options, climbed to $61,795.

Ram 1500 TRX: This brute starts out as a Ram 1500 pickup but gets a shape-shifting transformation into a mighty dune busting, rock climbing, Baja California racing truck. Its Dodge Hellcat V8 engine snorts out 702 hp through an eight-speed automatic transmission to all four wheels.

Despite its 6,866-pound curb weight, a test by Car and Driver magazine clocked the TRX at 0-to-60-mph acceleration in 3.7 seconds. Nicknamed “T-Rex” by its enablers, the TRX comes with a host off-road goodies that enable it to rocket off hills and sand dunes, and cushion its landings.

With a base price of $71,690 and $87,570 as tested, it has a classy interior with carbon fiber accents. A long list of standard and optional equipment includes full-speed collision warning and emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, and high-performance dampers and brakes.

Photos courtesy OEM.

2021 Lexus NX 300h Luxury: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Driving alone is one of those pleasant outings you can experience during the coronavirus pandemic, and even more so if your ride is the 2021 Lexus NX 300h crossover sport utility vehicle.

You don’t have to wear a mask and you can settle into and ogle the pleasant, quality interior, set off as in the tested NX with crème perforated leather upholstery and black accents. And even if you decide not to drive, you can simply sit in the comfortable, well bolstered seats, leave the automatic climate control running, keep the doors locked, lower the power seatbacks and maybe even take a nap.

In that case your fuel economy would be dragged down a bit from the NX’s excellent city/highway/combined EPA rating of 33/30/31 mpg — one result of the vast, established hybrid experience of luxury Lexus’s parent company, Toyota.

On the NX, it consists of a 2.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine mated to three electric motors dancing together to drive all four wheels through a continuously-variable automatic transmission (CVT). As many people now are aware, CVTs are smooth, smooth, with no shift points.

However, in case the NX owner wants a bit more verve, an easy selection of the Sport driving mode triggers an onboard computer that mimics a six-speed automatic’s shift points, controlled by paddles on the steering wheel. So you don’t have to be shiftless, although the system doesn’t entirely trust you and will shift for you if you butcher it.

Positioned a notch above the smaller entry-level Lexus UX SUV, the NX is a luxury competitor and is priced accordingly. In common parlance, it is referred to as a compact crossover. However, in the often confusing vehicle size designations it has the interior space of a midsize sedan. Competitors include the Acura RDX, BMW X1, Volvo XC40, Audi Q3, Cadillac XT4 and Mercedes-Benz GLB.

The tested NX 300h Luxury version came with a base price of $47,535, including the destination charge. With a fairly short list of options, the bottom line sticker price came to $52,434. With that, it had the stones of safety and luxury to match almost any luxury automobile.

Safety: Automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind-spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert, panoramic backup camera, lane-tracing with steering assist, road-sign detection, rain-sensing windshield wipers, all-speed dynamic radar cruise control and automatic high beam headlights.

Luxury: Perforated leather heated and ventilated front seats with memory, navigation system, premium Mark Levinson surround-sound audio, heated power-adjustable steering wheel, auto-dimming and heated outside mirrors, power motorized glass sunroof, power rear tailgate, SXM satellite radio, voice command with Siri Eyes Free and Google Voice, and Android Auto and Apple Car Play connectivity. 

The NX is not the quickest kid on the block. The total gasoline/electric system horsepower is 194, with 152 lb-ft of torque. Lexus lists the zero to 60 acceleration time at 9.1 seconds with a top speed of 112. But punch in the Sport mode and it feels faster than that. You’ll not be embarrassed at stop lights or freeway on-ramps.

It’s a quiet, comfortable long-distance runner, though you quickly realize that the suspension system delivers a stiff ride—no doubt because the engineers decided to dial in some extra handling prowess. On curving roads, it is stable at speeds with little body lean.

The windshield side pillars (called A-pillars in the industry) are cleverly angled so that the driver, with little effort on a two-lane tight corner, can see around the left one to check if a vehicle is coming in the opposite direction.

There is a bit of a visibility problem in back, however. The rear seat headrests are large and block part of the view to the rear. But there’s a thoughtful fix. The seatbacks on the tested NX Luxury are powered and can be dropped nearly flat with the touch of buttons—two in the cargo compartment and two on the dash, so a lone driver can fold them without leaving the front seat. However, they will not fold if the NX is moving.

Even with the seatbacks folded, the wide rear D-pillars block some of the rear view. The tester came with blind-spot warning but it’s still best to adjust the outside mirrors out far enough to enable a 180-degree  view to the rear. Outside mirrors are the original blind-spot warning but seldom are correctly adjusted.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Lexus NX 300h Luxury four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine/motors: 2.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline; three hybrid electric motors; total system output: 194 hp, 152 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Single speed continuously-variable automatic with stepped manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 3 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 5 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 97/17 cubic feet. 
  • Weight: 4,180 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 33/30/31 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $47,535.
  • Price as tested: $52,434.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

Photos (c) Lexus

2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E X Premium: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The intensely-awaited 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E has crept silently into the nation’s automotive consciousness. Even without the mighty roar of a Mustang Bullitt V8, it is fast, fast, fast.

But it’s a . . . what? An electric crossover sport utility vehicle? With a hatchback? And batteries under the floorboards to keep it planted? What happened to the sport coupes and fastbacks? 

They’re still there, spewing greenhouse gases from their internal combustion engines, contributing to global warming. The Mach-E does none of that — at least by itself, though its power is generated by fossil fuels.

Ford marketed a Focus battery-electric until 2018. When the company decided to go all-in on an electric vehicle, it decided to trade on the popular Mustang to deliver a cross between a high-performance sportster and a family four-door crossover.

There are six Mach-E versions with prices starting at $43,995, including the destination charge, for the base rear-drive Select, and working up to the high-performance GT. Driven for this review was the Premium trim with a $50,800 starting price and, as tested, a bottom-line sticker of $56,400.

Part of the additional cost was the optional all-wheel drive and an extended-range battery. Two electric motors, front and rear, deliver 346 horsepower and 428 lb-ft of torque. Ford and the EPA say that the Mach-E GT can travel up to 300 miles on a full charge. The tested Premium was rated at 270 miles, with a city/highway/combined mpg equivalent rating of 96/84/90 MPGe. As always, mileage can vary depending on the driver and how the vehicle is driven.

The range claim may be optimistic. After 19 hours of charging with a level 2, 240-volt charger, the tested Mach-E’s charging gauge showed a 100% charge with 236 miles of range. That’s about the same as the smaller 2017 Chevrolet Bolt, which advertised 238.

In its defense, the tested Mach E was a pre-production model used for testing. It will not be sold and ultimately will end up in a crusher. This tester had a couple of glitches. The most serious was a tendency to buck and pitch while highway cruising, almost as if the shock absorbers were beginning to wear. It didn’t seem to affect performance but watching the hood rise and fall was distracting.

It also had a cloth cover to hide cargo contents under the rear hatch. But it had flimsy connectors that had a tendency to disconnect when the Mach-E accelerated or was driven hard around corners. Again, the annoyance was likely to be corrected in saleable production models.

A mystery was a one-by-six inch blank instrument on top of the steering column. Ford spokeswoman Emma Bergg (sic) said it was a forward-facing camera for the company’s future hands-free driving system. It will be hooked up over-the-air later in 2021.

The Mach-E has an on-board charger which can deliver up to an 80 percent charge overnight with a 240-volt outlet. With a standard 120-volt household outlet, it can add up to 30 miles of range overnight. The Mach-E Premium also is equipped to handle a commercial DC fast charger with up to 800 volts. Ford is busy establishing what it says will be the largest network of 13,500 charging stations with 40,000 plugs in the U.S. and some areas in Canada. 

As you would find with almost any Mustang, gasoline or electric, the Mach-E is exciting to drive. Combine all that horsepower with instant electric torque and it jams the torso into the seat as it rockets away. The Prestige model is rated at 4.8 seconds to accelerate to 60 mph while the top-line GT is said to do the run in 3.8 seconds.

There are three drive modes in addition to a one-pedal drive system that dials in automatic regenerative braking, slowing the Mach-E while helping recharge the battery for extra range. With a bit of practice, a driver can go for many miles without touching the brake pedal.

The drive modes are named Whisper, Engage and Unbridled. They alter steering and pedal feel and even deliver different power sounds, though for the most part the Mach-E is commendably silent and comfortable. One-pedal driving and the other modes are selected from the iPad-like 15.5-inch center touch screen, which also controls navigation, audio and other functions.

2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E X Premium crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Powertrain: Two electric motors, front and rear: Extended range, 98.8 kWh (88 usable); 346hp, 428 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Single speed automatic with all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 6 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 3 inches.
  • SAE/EPA passenger/cargo volume: 101/29 (+5 front trunk) cubic feet (60 behind first row seats).
  • Weight: 4,838 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined miles per gallon equivalent: 96/84/90 MPGe.
  • Range: Up to 270 miles. (236 observed).
  • Base price, including destination charge: $50,800.
  • Price as tested: $56,400.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

Photos (c) Ford

2021 BMW X1 xDrive28i: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

If it were a thinking creature, the 2021 BMW X1 xDrive28i likely would be befuddled by the different descriptions attached to it. 

The Bavarian Motor Works, which builds the X1 in a plant in Regensburg, Germany, calls it a sports activity vehicle and places it at the entry level of the company’s extensive lineup of what others call crossover sport utility vehicles.

Yet it actually is larger than the next step up in the lineup, the BMW X2. Both are described as subcompacts in the crossover realm away from BMW. But the Environmental Protection Agency, keeper of fuel economy ratings, classifies the X1 as a large car with a hatchback.

That’s because the EPA’s categories are based not on length, or weight, or wheelbase (the distance between the centers of the front and rear wheels), but on the inside space in cubic feet, including both the passenger and cargo room.

A car with more than 120 cubic feet of space for people and cargo gets a classification as large. The BMW X1 has a total of 128 cubic feet, with 101 for passengers and 27 for cargo behind the second row of seats. Like other crossovers, it has a rear hatch to access cargo.

The more expensive X2, on the other hand, has a total interior volume of 115 cubic feet, divided into 93 for passengers and 22 for cargo. It also is lighter, and shorter in length and height than the X1. Moving up the scale of  BMW’s SAVs are the X3, X4, X5, X6 and X7, some of which are built in the company’s U.S. plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

The one thing you always can count on with BMW is exceptional performance and excellent handling. It dates back to the superb 1967 BMW 1600, which Car and Driver magazine described then as the world’s best $2,500 car. It was the template for the brand, though it was overshadowed by the 1968 BMW 2002, which came with a bigger and more powerful four-cylinder engine dictated by U.S. anti-pollution requirements. 

Though BMW focused on performance sedans and the occasional sports car, it quickly recognized how buyers became entranced by crossover SUVs. In the first six months of 2020, 55% of BMW’s 154,204 U.S. sales were of crossovers.

The 2021 BMW X1 is mostly a carryover from the 2020 model. Though it operates in luxury/performance territory, it is not outrageously expensive, with a 2020 base price of $38,195, including the destination charge, which is only a few thousand dollars more than the current average price of a new automobile in the U.S.

However, like other European cars in the category, it has an options list that marches out to the horizon. The tested X1 came with $10,450 worth of extras that brought the bottom-line sticker price up to $48,645. But you’d hardly want any more.

Start with the power train. The tested X1 xDrive28i—the xDrive is BMW-speak for all-wheel drive—comes with a 228 horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 258 pound-feet of torque. The power is transferred via an eight-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode controlled by steering-wheel paddles.

It’s enough to propel the X1 to 60 miles an hour in about six seconds, with a top speed near 140 miles an hour and fuel economy that won’t break the bank. The EPA rates its city/highway/combined fuel economy at 23/31/26 mpg on the recommended premium gasoline. 

An idle stop-start system boosts the fuel economy somewhat but it causes hesitation off the line. It can be turned off but there still is some slight lag when you punch the throttle, and it happens in any of the three selectable drive modes: Eco Pro, Comfort and Sport. The last mainly holds the transmission shift points to higher engine revolutions before shifting and is the preferred setting for spirited motoring.

Meeting expectations of BMW, the X1 handles nearly like a sports sedan, tracking true with almost no body lean around curves. The tradeoff is a ride that nods toward stiffness. Sport seats hold the torso tightly, and the X1 cruises quietly at speed on freeways.

One annoyance. The panoramic glass sunroof on the test X1 came with a flimsy perforated sunshade that admitted too much heat and light—probably OK in northern Europe but it makes the air conditioning less effective in 90-100 degree heat in some areas of the U.S.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 BMW X1 xDrive28i four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 228 hp, 258 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 8 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 3 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 101/27 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,715 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 23/31/26. Premium fuel recommended.
  • Base price, including destination charge (2020): $38,195.
  • Price as tested: $48,645.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

Photos (c) BMW

2021 Volvo XC40 Recharge P8: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

“Volvo” is Latin for “I roll,” and the Swedish manufacturer rolls into what it believes is its future with the 2021 XC40 Recharge P8, a purely electric small crossover sport utility vehicle.

But it’s more than the company’s first foray into what it calls “a new era of electrification.” There are quite a few all-electric cars already on the market from Nissan, Porsche, Hyundai, Chevrolet, Tesla, Audi, Honda, BMW, Kia, Jaguar, MINI and Volkswagen.

To Volvo, however, the new XC40 Recharge is its future. Moreover, it is more than just an economical, non-polluting conveyance like some of the others, it is a genuine high-performance luxury machine with a price tag to match. It starts at $54,985.

At the time of this writing, the XC40 Recharge had not yet been introduced. But Volvo made a few of them available for brief drives by automotive journalists who are members of the North American Car of the Year jury, including this one. There are 50 members and they drive and vote for car, utility and truck of the year awards. The Recharge was nominated for utility of the year.

From a size standpoint, the XC40 Recharge is classified by the Environmental Protection Agency, which handles fuel economy ratings, as a small SUV. Except for its electric motors, it is almost identical to the gasoline-fueled XC40, a substantial luxury crossover. However, its electric power earns it an EPA miles per gallon equivalent rating of 85/72/79 MPGe, compared to the city/highway/combined rating of 23/31/26 mpg for the gasser.

Though it doesn’t look the part, the Recharge also is a sneaky stoplight performer with the stuff to embarrass some snooty European marques. Volvo rates the zero-to-60 mph acceleration at 4.7 seconds with a top speed of 112 mph. 

With only an hour and about 35 miles of driving, there wasn’t enough time or distance to fully evaluate the XC40 electric’s bona fides. But it certainly left a solid impression.

Looking to the future, this cookie doesn’t even have an ignition keyhole or a pushbutton to get underway. The pressure of the driver’s tush on the seat and a touch of the loud pedal switches the motors on. There’s no feel to it; just a notation on the instruments that it’s ready. But it is disconcerting; the guess here is that most drivers will want the  sensation of touching a button to start.

After that, a push on the pedal activates two electric motors—one for each axle — the XC40 Recharge has all-wheel drive. The motors deliver 402 hp and 486 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force. There’s no need for a conventional automatic transmission because electric motors deliver maximum torque as soon as they are activated.        

On the road, the Recharge conjures a comparison to the celebrated Muhammad Ali, a heavyweight and one of the greatest boxing champions of all time. The steering feel is heavy, as befits a luxury car, but this XC40 is light on its tires and changes direction with a twitch of the steering wheel. Its suspension system also soaks up road irregularities without upsetting forward motion.

Like any electric, it cruises quietly, abetted by extra insulation for the compartment where the battery lives low in the chassis to enhance handling. It delivers 78 kilowatt hours of power, 75 of which is rated as usable. Unusually, the front electric motor leaves some space for a tiny trunk of about one cubic foot under the hood — a good place to stash valuables. Behind the rear seat, there’s cargo space of 16 cubic feet, expandable to 47 cubic feet if you fold the rear seatbacks.

The range on a fully charged battery is advertised as 208 miles, not in the high range for electric cars. It could have been better but for the high performance orientation. Fully recharging from empty takes about eight hours with a 240-volt charger. On a commercial so-called fast charger, the XC40 Recharge can top up to 80% in about 40 minutes.

On the center screen resides Volvo’s new UX infotainment system, which makes use of an Android Automotive operating system with Google Maps and Google Assistant. As with other luxury cars, this one takes more than a bit of casual learning, especially figuring out how to pre-set radio stations and fine-tune climate controls. 

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Volvo XC40 Recharge P8 four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Motors: Electric, on front and rear axles; 402 hp, 486 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Single speed automatic.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 6 inches.
  • Height: 4 feet 5 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 95/17 cubic feet. (one cubic foot in front trunk). 
  • Weight: 4,824 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 2,000 pounds.
  • Range: 208 miles.
  • Charging time (240-volt charger): 8 hours.
  • Miles per gallon equivalent: 85/72/79 MPGe.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $54,985.
  • Price as tested: N/A.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

Photos (c) Volvo

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