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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

2018 Audi TT RS Coupe: A DriveWays Review…

media.audiusa.com/gallery/videos/3126

by Frank A. Aukofer

There are cars, family cars, sports cars, utility cars, plain cars, fancy cars, big cars, little cars and, of course, light trucks. Then there are fantasy cars, of which the 2018 Audi TT RS Coupe is one.

It’s not as much of a fantasy as the new 1,500-hp Bugatti Chiron, priced at nearly $3 million. Or even of the McLaren P1 at $1.15 million. At just over $74,000, however, the TT RS can fulfill the fantasies of platoons of car nuts.

Audi TT RS Coupé

It is a tidy and powerful fastback sports coupe with all-wheel drive and a 400-hp 2.5-liter turbocharged five-cylinder engine that delivers 354 lb-ft of torque, enough to propel its 3,270-lb mass to 60 mph in about three and one-half seconds, with a top speed of 174.

The power gets to the pavement through a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. Unfortunately for some fantasizers, the TT RS no longer offers a six-speed manual gearbox. That deficiency is becoming more common as automatics continually improve.

Mollifying some of the discontent, this rapid-shifting Audi transmission can be shifted manually with paddles mounted on the steering wheel. But computer controlled dual-clutch automatics shift more expertly, depending on the conditions and driver input, than even professional drivers. In the end, the paddles are useful more for entertainment or holding a given gear on twisting mountain roads.

Audi TT RS Coupé

As might be deduced, the TT RS is not for everyone. At 4 feet 5 inches tall, the roofline is so low that you have to duck so you don’t bang your noggin crawling inside. Best to point the bum toward the seat bottom, fold yourself in half and back in.

Once there, you are treated to supportive and comfortable front seats with plenty of bolstering to hug the torso. They are upholstered in diamond-quilted, perforated leather with a three-position heating system that warms up quickly. However, the warming did not extend to the steering wheel.

Don’t bother to look for the now ubiquitous center screen that on most cars displays and controls navigation, vehicle information and entertainment functions. On the TT RS, Audi has located all of those functions, along with the speedometer, tachometer, backup camera, and power and torque readouts, on a 12.3-inch digital screen right in the driver’s line of sight behind the steering wheel.

Audi TT RS Coupé

It’s all very compact and easy to read without taking your eyes off the road as much as you must with a center screen. Moreover, there are different screens that you can choose to emphasize what you wish to see. But some displays are tiny and the spokes of the flat-bottom steering-occasionally block some of the readouts.

Overall, the TT RS is a cute and stylish little sportster with styling that hints at high performance but doesn’t come across as aggressive. To the uninitiated, it could simply be a small hatchback coupe that surprises other motorists when it rockets away from a stoplight.

At 13 feet 9 inches long, the TT RS has quick and athletic moves enhanced by Audi’s quattro all-wheel drive, a performance-tuned suspension system and sticky summer tires, though the tires are of dubious value in the cold and snowy weather much of the country experienced this winter. Better to have two sets of tires for winter and summer or good all-season rubber.

images-original-3139-2018+TT+RS+7With all its performance, the TT RS can be used as an unassuming daily driver. It is what used to be called a Plus Two, which means it has a vestigial back seat that is suitable mainly for backpacks and watermelons. There’s 12 cubic feet of space for cargo under the hatch and the rear seatbacks can be folded to more than double that.

Base price of the tested TT RS with subdued “Nardo Gray” paint was $65,875, which included basic safety equipment, the Audi virtual cockpit, automatic climate control, HD and SXM satellite radio, LED running lights and taillights, folding and heated outside mirrors with auto-dimming, and a garage-door opener, among other features.

Stand-alone extras and options packages brought the as-tested price up to $74,025. Included were Audi’s multimedia and navigation system, Bang & Olufsen audio, 20-inch forged alloy wheels, sport exhaust system, the summer performance tires, leather-covered console and armrests, carbon-fiber inlays and brake calipers painted red.

Overall, if you can live with the tight quarters and the high price, the Audi TT RS is what westerners would call an engaging little critter.

images-original-2458-HEROSpecifications

  • Model: 2018 Audi TT RS Coupe Quattro S tronic two-door sports hatchback.
  • Engine:5-liter five-cylinder, turbocharged 400 hp, 354 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 13 feet 9 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 74/12 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,270 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 19/29/22 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $65,875.
  • Price as tested: $74,025.

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

images-original-3138-2018+TT+RS+8Photos and video (c) Audi.

2018 BMW X3 xDrive 30i: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The most important and difficult thing in the automotive business is an institutional ability to predict the future. Bavarian Motor Works has actually managed some of that soothsaying, of which the 2018 BMW X3 xDrive 30i is a prime example.

Starting with the X5 in 1999, the German manufacturer has expanded its lineup of crossover sport utility vehicles to plug every size and power niche in the premium category—to the point where there are now seven distinct models: X1, new X2, X3 reviewed here, X4, X5, X6 and the upcoming X7, plus higher performance versions.

BMW_X3_Performance_Center-001Whether the company was reacting to a trend or sucking its collective thumb contemplating where the market was headed, it has caught the wave of buyer infatuation with crossover SUVs, which are proliferating in every price class.

It remains to be seen whether this is a passing fad, but no matter. BMW also has a garage full of sedans, coupes, convertibles and sports cars in case there’s a course correction. We’ll skip self-driving cars for now.

Meanwhile, the company, which manufactures many of its crossovers at its plant in Spartanburg, S.C., entices high-end customers with machines like the new X3 xDrive 30i and the higher-performance — and higher-priced — X3 M40i.

P90263768_highResA note about BMW nomenclature: a lower-case i identifies a sedan like the 330i or 550i, the i3 electric car, or even the i8 hybrid sports car. If a capital X precedes a number, it is what BMW calls a “sports activity vehicle,” known in the business as a crossover SUV. A lower-case x, as in xDrive, designates any BMW with all-wheel drive. Oh, there’s also the Z4 two-seat sports car. And if there’s an M somewhere in the title, it’s a higher-performance or better decorated model. Write it down.

The model numbers actually don’t mean much anymore. You might assume that the tested X3 xDrive 30i comes with a 3.0-liter engine. Nope. Because modern engines with turbocharging are getting smaller, this one actually delivers 248 hp and 285 lb-ft of torque from a 2.0-liter four-cylinder motor.

Step up to the higher-performance X3 M40i and the engine actually is a 3.0-liter V6 with twin turbochargers that makes 355 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque. Enough said.

BMW_X3_Performance_Center-003Back to the subject, the U.S.-built X3 30i. This is a nicely executed compact crossover with the power and features expected in this category. However, as with other automakers, BMW has an extensive options list and charges extra for equipment that is standard elsewhere.

For example: The $3,300 Premium package includes a heated steering wheel, navigation system and head-up display. Tack on another $350 for the heated front and rear seats. The $2,850 Convenience package gets you a panoramic sunroof, keyless entry, lumbar support and SXM satellite radio.

Continuing: The $1,400 Dynamic Handling package includes M Sport brakes, dynamic adaptive shock absorbers and variable sport steering, while the $900 Driving Assistance package covers blind spot and lane departure warning. The Parking Assist package covers a surround-view camera, active parking assist and distance control.

P90263747_highResThere also are individual options, including $1,700 for Vernasca leather upholstery, $875 for a premium Harman Kardon audio system, $300 for Apple CarPlay, $500 for wireless device charging and $550 for metallic paint.

You get the picture. All of that brought the test X3’s base price of $43,445 up to $57,620. Of course, there also were many desirable items that were part of the standard equipment, including the eight-speed automatic transmission, driver-selectable driving modes, hill-descent control, automatic stop/start, garage-door opener, dark oak wood interior trim, leather-covered steering wheel, tri-zone automatic climate control, 19-inch alloy wheels, LED low-beam headlights and fog lights, and a power tailgate.

P90263757_highResMuch of that, of course, is frosting that doesn’t affect the basic driving goodness of the X3, which hews to BMW’s traditional dedication to performance, handling and braking. The X3, however, also delivers a luxury ambiance enhanced by a quiet cabin. You hear the engine under hard acceleration but highway cruising at a steady speed is almost tranquil.

Overall, however, this is an inviting modern conveyance that delivers a competent, pleasurable and comfortable driving experience with a dose of excitement. With sales of 40,691 in 2017, it is BMW’s third-best selling model, behind the 3-Series compact sedan and midsize X5 crossover SUV.

X3 competitors include the Alfa Romeo Stelvio, Audi Q5, Jaguar F-Pace, Land Rover’s Range Rover Evoque and the Mercedes-Benz GLC.

BMW_X3_Performance_Center-006Specifications

  • Model: 2018 BMW X3 xDrive 30i four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine:0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged, 248 hp, 285 lb-ft of torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual-shift mode.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 6 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 101/29 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,156 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 22/29/25 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $43,445.
  • Price as tested: $57,620.

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

P90263762_highResPhotos (c) BMW.

2018 Chicago Auto Show

by Jason Fogelson

I went to the 2018 Chicago Auto Show last week as a guest of Nissan, and I covered the event for Autobytel.com. Here’s a link to my article for them, which was entitled “Must See Vehicles from the 2018 Chicago Auto Show.”

I love going to the Chicago Auto Show. Of the major US new car shows, it is always the most relaxed and easy to navigate. The event happens at McCormick Place, a massive convention center, and the lucky journalists stay in one of the high-rise hotels that are connected to the building — which means that the weather is not a factor during the day. And that was a good thing this year, as the weather was cold, snow fell constantly and there was no reason for man nor beast to be outside.

The trip in was a pleasure, as Nissan invited Detroit-area-based journalists to travel to Chicago with them via Amtrak. Getting to my closest train station in Dearborn was a bit of a struggle, as the big snow storm extended across the Midwest and dropped several inches of the white stuff on the roads during the night before my departure. I had planned to take a Lyft or Uber for the 10-mile trip to the station, but when I was ready to leave, there were no willing drivers available. I had to wake my wife, who donned her winter coat over her pajamas without complaint and drove me through the snow-covered streets. The train trip to Chicago took about four hours, most of which I spent chatting with other journalists. Nissan shuttled us to the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place, where warm rooms awaited.

On the first night, I attended Nissan’s welcome party in an adjacent hotel ballroom, and then took an Uber to the Lexus party in an event space on the other side of downtown. Lexus had a 10th Anniversary F-Sport RC-F on display, along with a West Coast Customs replica of the Black Panther’s LC. An Uber back to the hotel afterwards, and on to bed.

In the morning, I attended the Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA) breakfast, with a keynote address from Subaru of America’s CEO, Thomas Doll. Then, it was off to the show, running from press conference to press conference. At the end of the day, my dogs were barking, but I still found the energy to jump on a shuttle to Geno’s East for the annual Mazda Pizza Party. I’m not really a deep dish guy, but it was a very nice meal and a good time hanging out with Mazda PR folk and auto journalists. I had a ticket for a music event, Sweet Home Chicago, but chose instead to return to the hotel for some rest.

The next day, more press conferences, more snow, lots of writing. I made a quick swing through the show floor to take some photos (I’m sharing some here for your viewing), and prepared for my flight home. Unfortunately, the weather had other plans, as I got notices from Delta Airlines that my plane was delayed from a 4:45 pm departure to 9:00 pm. I decided to punt, and bought a ticket on the 5:40 pm Amtrak from Union Station back to Dearborn, because I was pretty sure I’d make it home — and it would be better than sleeping at O’Hare airport. I finally pulled in to Dearborn station at 1:00 am, and made it home by 2:00 am in an Uber.

All-in-all, an excellent trip, made a little bit frustrating by the weather. It could have been worse — I could still be sleeping at O’Hare.

Photos (c) Jason Fogelson.

 

2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

It’s hard to escape the notion that the 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk is an imposter. Sure, it looks like a Jeep and has off-road chops. But its price tag suggests it might be a high-end Land Rover in Jeep’s clothing.

The rhino gray ghost of a test vehicle with its intimidating black wheels arrived with a price tag just $35 shy of 100 grand. That’s right: one hundred thousand dollars.

That would not be particularly daunting to Land Rover and Range Rover customers, many of whom have fat bank accounts or credit lines longer than a California freeway. Though Land Rovers are more than capable of traversing trackless terrain, they often are bought as luxury cars that never go off the pavement. Six-figure price tags are not unusual.

2018 Jeep® Grand Cherokee Trackhawk

The tipoff for why this Jeep crawls into that territory is its name: Trackhawk, as in race track. It is powered by a 707-hp 6.2-liter supercharged V8 engine that develops 645 lb-ft of torque. It is connected to a sophisticated all-wheel-drive system through an eight-speed automatic transmission that can be shifted manually.

That setup not only would provide enough power for any off-road duty, it likely could enable the Trackhawk to claw its way out of a coal mine. But most off-roading, especially if you follow the more difficult escapades of Land Rovers and Jeeps, is done at single-digit speeds, sometimes with spotters on foot to direct the path.

So, as with any of these super- and hyper-powerful vehicles that occasionally make their way into the marketplace, it’s mostly about customers who, no matter what, just got to have the meanest machines available — even if they will spend the bulk of their time crawling along in heavy traffic fender-to-fender with a Toyota Yaris or Kia Rio.

Powering the 2018 Jeep® Grand Cherokee Trackhawk is a supercharged 6.2-liter V-8 engine delivering 707 horsepower and 645 lb.-ft. of torque

With a few minor alterations, the Trackhawk’s engine is the same one that powers the Hellcat versions of the Dodge Charger and Challenger from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (which also owns Jeep). With a launch-control system to mitigate wheel spin, the Grand Cherokee Trackhawk can accelerate to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds, only about a second slower than the new 1,500-horsepower, $2.6 million Bugatti Chiron, billed as the world’s fastest production car.

The Trackhawk’s edge over its Challenger and Charger garage mates is its sport-utility configuration, which means it can seat five people, four of them comfortably while the unfortunate in the center-rear position simply endures. It also has 36 cubic feet of cargo space behind the back seat and it can tow trailers weighing up to 7,200 lbs.

2018 Jeep® Grand Cherokee Trackhawk

However, it also weighs 5,260 lbs, partly because it had to be strengthened considerably more than other Grand Cherokees. That includes a competition suspension system and reinforced drive train components. A stronger transfer case and transmission handle the engine’s massive torque, or twisting force. Of course, all that beef affects fuel economy. On the EPA’s city/highway/combined fuel consumption chart, the Trackhawk manages just 11/17/13 mpg.

2018 Jeep® Grand Cherokee Trackhawk

Take to the public roads with moderate pressure on the throttle and the Trackhawk can seem as unassuming as a compact crossover SUV. It’s only when you punch the pedal that the supercharger gets the engine growling menacingly and your torso is shoved against the seatback.

The steering has a heavy feel, but the Trackhawk is obedient around curves. It rolls steadily in a straight line with no inclination to wander and require steering corrections. Brembo competition disc brakes, painted yellow, stop with authority. The ride is biased toward handling, but is not unduly rough.

2018 Jeep® Grand Cherokee Trackhawk

The Trackhawk has a starting price of $86,995, which includes such equipment as the competition suspension system and brakes, lane departure and collision warning, adaptive cruise control, blind spot and cross traffic detection, connections for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, SXM satellite radio, heated and powered tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, heated front and back seats, and ventilated front seats.

Options that brought the tested price to $99,965 included a leather wrapped interior package, rear-seat entertainment system, dual-pane panoramic glass sunroof, high performance Harman Kardon audio system with 19 speakers, and 20-inch alloy wheels.

One minor problem: For some unknown reason, whenever the ignition was switched off and on again, the climate system defaulted to the high settings for the heated front seats and the heated steering wheel. They had to be turned off manually.

Other than that, the beast performed flawlessly.

2018 Jeep® Grand Cherokee Trackhawk

Specifications

  • Model: 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine:2-liter V8, supercharged, 707 hp, 645 lb-ft of torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual-shift mode.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 10 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 106/36 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 5,260 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 7,200 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 11/17/13 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $86,995.
  • Price as tested: $99,965.

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

2018 Jeep® Grand Cherokee Trackhawk
2018 Jeep® Grand Cherokee Trackhawk

Photos (c) Jeep.

2018 Buick Enclave Avenir AWD: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The 2018 Buick Enclave Avenir may become as popular in its own way as its cousin, the GMC Yukon Denali, but it already was famous in typographical circles as a modern sans-serif typeface or font.

However, it may be that the Avenir name was chosen because it is the French word for “future.” Either way, it represents Buick’s effort to push its three-row crossover sport utility even more upscale to mimic the Denali versions in its GMC sibling division at General Motors.

Denali models, named for a mountain and national park in Alaska, have been an unqualified success for GMC, which is primarily a manufacturer of trucks and SUVs. It seems that many of its customers are eager to pay more for luxurious surroundings, so the Denali trim is available on six GMC models, including the Acadia Denali, a striver that is named for not one but two US National Parks, with Acadia located in Maine.

2018 Buick Enclave Avenir
2018 Buick Enclave Avenir

A luxury ambiance also is the purpose of the new Enclave Avenir, a new, upscale trim level of Buick’s seven-passenger crossover SUV. It delivers stylish, flowing lines and is roughly the same size as the Chevrolet Traverse but a bit larger than the GMC Acadia.

The Avenir doesn’t directly compete with the three-row Yukon Denali, which comes in two lengths and is a fully-realized SUV built like a burly pickup truck with a body-on-frame. But the Avenir, properly equipped like the one tested for this review, can tow up to 5,000 pounds and accommodate six adults in reasonable comfort. A seventh can squeeze into the third-row seat.

Unfortunately, access to that third row is difficult and only available through the right-rear door. Plus, it takes muscle to flip the right-side second-row seat forward for access to the third row. However, the second row consists of two captain’s chairs so more nimble family members can scurry between them and get back in steerage.

2018-Buick-Enclave-Avenir-016The immediate impression when first seated in the Enclave Avenir is the plush surroundings — soft and supportive leather seats, heated and ventilated up front with heated second row seats; memory settings for the driver’s seat; pushbutton starting with remote locking; powered third-row seat that folds with the touch of a button; tri-zone automatic climate control; power tilt-and-telescope steering wheel; dual-pane panoramic sunroof; full infotainment functions including navigation, Wi-Fi hotspot, inductive device charging; Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and SXM satellite radio.

2018-Buick-Enclave-Avenir-014The tested Avenir also came with 20-inch aluminum wheels and a $2,095 technology package that included adaptive cruise control and automatic emergency braking that augmented the standard safety equipment of lane-keeping assist, blind-spot warning, front pedestrian braking, rear cross-traffic alert and a 360-degree surround-vision camera.

However, the inside rear-view uses not a mirror but a camera, which makes for confusion because the driver’s eyes must constantly adjust for depth perception to see what’s going on. Better to stick with a standard mirror.

2018 Buick Enclave Avenir
2018 Buick Enclave Avenir

On the road, the Enclave Avenir feels like the big vehicle it is. At 17 feet long and weighing 4,565 lbs, it is more of an easy-riding rolling comfort zone than a frisky conveyance with quick moves. In that sense, it’s just the thing for a long family road trip, mostly on freeways. Though it doesn’t have the interior dimensions of a minivan, it comes close. Among its competitors are similar luxury crossover SUVs like the Acura MDX, Infiniti QX70 and the Volvo XC90.

There’s 24 cubic feet of space for cargo behind the third-row seat. Press a button to fold it and the space expands to 58 cubic feet. If you have to move something big like a side table, folding the second row as well opens 98 cubic feet of cargo space.

2018 Buick Enclave Avenir
2018 Buick Enclave Avenir

The Avenir’s 310-hp 3.6-liter V6 engine with 266 lb-ft of torque is more than adequate to any motoring task, from merging onto freeways or passing on two-lane roads. It runs on regular grade gasoline.

The Avenir is available with standard front-wheel drive or—as on the version tested here — all-wheel drive. Power gets to the wheels through an easy-shifting nine-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode. It is controlled by a new shift lever that requires some attention before you learn to use it without thinking about it.

Overall, the Enclave Avenir would work for anyone with a minivan aversion and a desire for luxury. The tester started at $56,690 with a bottom-line sticker of $59,435.

2018 Buick Enclave Avenir
2018 Buick Enclave Avenir

Specifications

  • Model: 2018 Buick Enclave Avenir AWD 1SP four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine:6-liter V6, 310 hp, 266 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with manual-shift mode.
  • Overall length: 17 feet.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 157/24 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,565 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 5,000 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 17/25/20 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $56,690.
  • Price as tested: $59,435.

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

2018 Buick Enclave Avenir
2018 Buick Enclave Avenir

Photos (c) Buick.

2018 Mercedes-Benz E400 Cabriolet: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

With convertibles shrinking in number and their owners becoming older and richer, it’s no surprise that Mercedes-Benz continues to field models like the 2018 E400 4MATIC Cabriolet.

This E400, a classy and expensive boulevardier with all-weather all-wheel-drive capability, is marketed as a midsize car alongside its E-Class coupe, sedan, station wagon and crossover SUV garage-mates. But it is more of a sports car in concept and size.

Though two inches shy of 16 feet long, its interior volume — the way the U.S. government classifies automobiles — is just a touch shy of the compact definition, so it dips just barely into the subcompact category.

_F8A9252-1200x800To qualify as a compact, a car must have 100 to 109 cubic feet of interior volume, which includes both the passenger and trunk space. The E400 has 89.9 cubic feet of passenger room, most of it up front, where the total is 55.2 cubic feet. The back seat has 34.7 cubic feet.

The trunk’s capacity is 9.5 cubic feet, which puts the total interior volume at 99.4 cubic feet. And that’s as good as it gets with the top up. If you lower the beautifully upholstered and finished soft top, an expansion boot drops into the trunk area to accommodate the folded top and robs the trunk of about one-third of its space.

Two adults can sit in the back seat if the folks up front co-operate by moving their seats forward. But it’s very tight and crawling back there takes some athletic ability. The motorized right front seat automatically moves forward to ease access when you tilt the seatback, then reverses back into place.

_F8A9893-1200x794So, the conclusion is that the E400 Cabriolet works better as a conveyance for two people, who can use the back seats for some of their luggage, especially handy if they want to enjoy top-down motoring. It also likely should see some open car parade duty with a Santa Claus or congressman perched on the boot with feet planted on the back seat.

The Cabriolet’s elegant touches include gorgeous natural grain light brown elm wood trim and a headliner so deftly padded that the interior looks and feels like a coupe. Sumptuous perforated leather upholstery and the Mercedes air curtain that warms necks through the front seat headrests contribute to the luxury ambiance.

_F8A9921-1200x800The test car came with a so-called AMG Line appearance package that mimics some of the styling and other visual touches of the Mercedes higher performance AMG models.

Other standard comfort and convenience items include dual-zone automatic climate control, pushbutton starting, navigation system, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, power front seats with lumbar support and memory, and a12-inch touch screen for audio, navigation and other functions.

As with many of these sophisticated infotainment functions, the Mercedes COMAND (Cockpit Management and Data) system requires a bit of learning because it is not intuitive. It’s best to take time to read the owner’s manual or get lessons from experts at the dealership.

_F8A9928-1200x788With all the luxury touches, this convertible also has some sports car moves. It is powered by a 329-hp 3.0-liter V6 engine with twin turbochargers that makes 354 lb-ft of torque, which Mercedes says enables it to accelerate to 60 mph in 5.3 seconds.

The power goes to all four wheels through a nine-speed automatic transmission that can be shifted manually with paddles mounted on the steering wheel. It shifts smoothly for the most part but is prone to occasional hiccups at lower speeds.

There are driver-selectable driving modes that provide adjustments for ride, transmission shifting and throttle response. Of those, the Sport Plus mode is biased toward handling, delivering a tauter ride.

_F8A9277-1200x800This is a Mercedes-Benz, after all, so don’t expect any bargains. Where the South Korean and some other manufacturers make a lot of desirable equipment standard, on the E400 Cabrio much is optional, including the Cardinal Red Metallic paint job at $1,000 extra.

The same goes for the $9,350 Premium 3 package, which includes adaptive cruise control and active assists for steering, lane keeping, blind spot warning and automatic emergency braking. Also in the package are a stop-start system, Burmaster premium surround-sound audio system, SXM satellite radio, inductive wireless charging, adaptive headlight assist and even systems to purify inside air and inject gaseous fragrances.

Options totaled $14,930, which brought the base of $69,795 up to the tested price of $84,725. Nice work if you can afford it.

_F8A8510-1200x833Specifications:

  • Model: 2018 Mercedes-Benz E400 4MATIC two-door convertible.
  • Engine:0-liter V6, twin turbochargers, 329 hp, 354 lb-ft of torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 10 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 90 and 10 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,332 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 20/25/22 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $69,795.
  • Price as tested: $84,725.

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

_F8A9750-1200x800Photos (c) Mercedes-Benz.

Chevrolet Truck 100th Anniversary: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Fort Worth, Tex. — Chevrolet celebrated 100 years of truck manufacturing here with snorting hot-rod pickup trucks screeching around an autocross course, high-speed cops and robbers chases, and a spectacular helicopter drop of the company’s 2019 Silverado onto the infield of the Texas Motor Speedway.

The event featured a folksy interview with retired champion stock car race driver Dale Earnhart Jr., who now is a NASCAR analyst with NBC Sports. As might be expected, he emphasized his preference for, and his family’s long relationship with, Chevrolet. He drove onto the stage in his personal 1988 Chevy S10, a replica of his first pickup truck.

Chevy100_(8_of_10)Hundreds of Chevrolet truck owners from the surrounding area attended the celebration Saturday (Dec.16) along with a gaggle of automotive journalists, who in addition to getting rides in antique Chevy pickups and the hot rod trucks with professional drivers, rode shotgun with police officers in simulations of high-speed chases.

The police chases took place at the Bob Bolen Public Safety Training Center, named for a former Fort Worth mayor. The sprawling facility, with several buildings each the length of six football fields, provides training for Fort Worth officers in tactics, high-speed driving, computers and firearms skills, among others.

Chevy100_(7_of_10)Journalists, equipped with helmets and anti-whiplash restraints, rode with officers in Chevrolet Tahoe Police Pursuit SUVs. In a bit of subliminal symbolism, two of the Chevys chased a fleeing “suspect” driving an old Ford Crown Victoria.

Officers explained that in a high-speed chase the object is not to catch the car but to keep it in sight and the pressure on until the suspect, preoccupied with his pursuers, inevitably makes a mistake that leads to a stop and an arrest.

Chevrolet also used the occasion to introduce the new Tahoe RST Edition with a performance package that included a 420-horsepower, 6.2-liter V8 engine, 10-speed automatic transmission, Brembo racing-type front brakes and Chevy’s Magnetic ride control.

Chevy100_(1_of_10)Later the journalists were given rides in a variety of older Chevrolet pickups, some modified. The trucks included a 1926 Chevy pickup, meticulously restored to better than its original condition. It had a top speed of about 35 miles an hour.

Again wearing helmets and anti-whiplash restraints, they also careened around the autocross course, tires lighting up and smoking, with the professional drivers at the wheels of the low-slung, modified pickups with powerful V8 engines.

Chevy100_(9_of_10)The event’s climax, following the Earnhart interview, came when a cargo helicopter bearing the Chevrolet “bow tie” emblem arrived overhead with a bright red 2019 Silverado LT Trailboss four-door pickup hanging from cables. It hovered and deposited the truck in the Texas Motor Speedway’s infield, where a driver jumped in and drove it onto the stage.

Alan Batey, president of General Motors North America, introduced the truck, saying it was being seen publicly for the first time. It will be formally introduced in January at the North American International Automobile Show in Detroit, Mich.
Speaking to the assembled Chevrolet truck loyalists, Batey said,

“We wanted to recognize the customers who have made Chevrolet part of their lives, and have them help kick off the next 100 years of Chevy trucks.”Chevy100_(2_of_10)

Photos (c) Jason Fogelson.

2018 Honda Clarity PHEV: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Honda enhances the dream of the future with its 2018 Clarity Plug-in Hybrid, latest in a triad of new electrified vehicles.

The future is electric power, alone or in conjunction with — at least for a while — fossil-fueled vehicles. With the introduction of this new Clarity, Honda has completed its initial quest.

Earlier, it introduced the hydrogen-powered Clarity, which uses the most abundant element in the universe to feed electric motors, although as of now the hydrogen must be manufactured from fossil fuels. The company also fields a pure electric Clarity.

2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid

You could argue that there’s a fourth electrified vehicle that could be in the mix: a standard hybrid that runs on electricity and gasoline or diesel fuel. But a plug-in, left to its own devices without being plugged in, operates the same way. Moreover, the company has a hybrid version of its popular Honda Accord.

Honda’s goal is to sell around 75,000 Clarity sedans over the next four years, with electrified vehicles constituting two-thirds of its global sales by 2030. The effort is becoming widespread in the industry as other manufacturers also concentrate on electrified cars, crossovers, sport utility vehicles and trucks.

Like its siblings, the new Clarity Hybrid exhibits classy styling, though without what a few critics regard as excessive gingerbread on some Civic models. The rear-wheel cutouts give it a streamlined look and incorporate air ducts to cool the rear brakes. LED lights adorn both the front and rear.

2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid

The powertrain consists of a 1.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine with 103 hp and 99 lb-ft of torque, mated to two electric motors. One delivers 181 hp and 212 lb-ft of torque for driving; the other generates electricity. The total system provides 212 hp and 232 lb-ft of torque.

Because electric motors deliver their maximum torque instantly when they are switched on, and the Clarity’s primary power is electric, there is no need for a conventional automatic transmission. It uses a fixed single-speed transmission.

Fully charged, the Clarity can be driven up to 47 miles on electricity alone. The range actually seems longer because the gasoline engine occasionally kicks on, saving battery power. The EPA rates city/highway/combined gasoline-only fuel economy at 44/40/42 mpg. Combined, the system is rated at the equivalent of 110 mpg.

2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid

Built into the Clarity is a 6.6 kilowatt, 32-amp charger, which enables a full charge in 2.5 hours using a 240-volt outlet. If you simply plug it into a standard 120-volt household outlet, full charging takes 12 hours.

One of the advantages of a plug-in hybrid is that you don’t necessarily have to plug it in. The batteries never fully discharge but reach a low point where they don’t power the electric motor and the Clarity runs on its gasoline engine. You can recover some electric power with careful regenerative deceleration and braking.

All three Clarity models provide a surge of acceleration off the line — an observed zero-to-60 mph time of about seven seconds. The electric and hydrogen models feel a bit quicker than the hybrid because its gasoline engine gets involved.

2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid

A pushbutton gets things going. Console-mounted buttons select Drive, Park and Neutral, and you pull up on one for Reverse. The selection system is becoming standard in Honda and Acura vehicles.

Cruising strictly on electric power is serene, with the only sounds intruding into the cabin coming from tires on the pavement. When the gasoline engine kicks on to boost the power, it engages so quietly and seamlessly that you barely know it’s there.

There are two versions of the Clarity PHEV, which stands for plug-in hybrid electric vehicle. The standard model, priced at $34,290, comes with Honda Sensing, a suite of safety technologies that includes collision and road departure mitigation, adaptive cruise control with low-speed follow and lane-keeping assist.

2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid

Other equipment includes dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats, Bluetooth connectivity, an eight-inch touch screen with a rear-view camera and Honda’s Lane Watch system, which shows a panoramic view of the right-side blind spot when the right turn signal is switched on.

Also available is the $37,490 Clarity PHEV Touring model, which adds a navigation system, leather-trimmed upholstery, leather-wrapped steering wheel, power front seats with memory and a fuzzy ultra-suede dashboard trim.

Clarity competitors include the Toyota Prius Prime, Chevrolet Volt and Ford Fusion PHEV.

2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid

Specifications

  • Model: 2018 Honda Clarity Touring PHEV plug-in hybrid four-door sedan.
  • Engine and Motor: 1.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline, 103 hp, 99 lb-ft torque; electric motor, 181 hp, 212 lb-ft torque. Combined system hp, 212.
  • Transmission: Fixed single speed.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 1 inch.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 102/16 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,059 lbs.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 44/40/42 mpg (gasoline only). System: 110 mpg equivalent.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $37,490.
  • Price as tested: $37,490.

Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.

2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid

Photos (c) Honda.

 

2018 Ford Mustang GT: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The 2018 Ford Mustang arrives with unprecedented power, lowdown styling, a new 10-speed automatic transmission and enough models and colors to satisfy any Mustang enthusiast.

There are 10 versions in all: Six fastback coupes and four convertibles with three engine and two transmission choices. All of them can deliver driving excitement and an adrenaline rush — even the tested model with the 2.3-liter EcoBoost (Ford’s synonym for turbocharged) four-cylinder, which makes 310 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque.

It now is the only alternative to the V8 engine in the Mustang GT. The previous V6 engine no longer is installed in the Mustang.

2018 Mustang Pony Package

The 5-0-liter V8 delivers 460 hp with 420 lb-ft of torque. Like other new Mustangs, it is available with a six-speed manual gearbox or the new 10-speed automatic transmission, which can be shifted manually with steering-wheel paddles.

Also offered are two fastback Shelby GT 5.0 V8 models with 526 hp and 429 lb-ft of torque. However, only Fastback 2.3-liter four-bangers and 5.0-liter GTs with performance packages were tested at the press introduction in the Malibu hills near Los Angeles, Calif. — the latter with both the six-speed manual and 10-speed automatic.

Dedicated enthusiasts likely will opt for the stick shift, which features a slick and positive linkage and easy clutch engagement. With all those horses pawing at the pavement, the GT manual can be driven in almost any gear in any circumstance. There’s enough power to tool around at modest speeds in 5th or 6th gear, and you can quickly get up to freeway speeds in first and second.

2018 Ford Mustang Interior

The 10-speed does as well, automatically. But it has a curious quirk. With the shift lever in “Drive,” it sometimes gets befuddled at modest speeds, hesitating then lurching. It overcomes that if you stomp on the throttle. The solution, Ford engineers said, is to drive it in the “Sport” mode. But then you have the engine on the boil constantly, with fuel-economy consequences.

However, that same transmission in Ford’s new aluminum-bodied 2018 Expedition full-size sport utility vehicle shifts almost as smoothly as a fidget spinner. Likely it uses different software, which should be adapted to the Mustang’s “Drive” mode.

The 10-speed’s paddle shifters are there for the entertainment value. But modern, computer-controlled automatic transmissions handle the shifts with more dexterity than humans. Even professional drivers on road-racing courses now often allow the computer to determine the shifting, especially when driving cars with rev-matching on downshifts. The GT has both rev-matching and drag-strip launch control.

2018 Ford Mustang GT

In spite of the GT’s zero-to-60 mph sprint at a hair shy of four seconds and a top speed of 155 miles an hour, the 2.3-liter is no slouch. It can reach 60 miles an hour in 5.9 seconds, with a top speed of around 140, and still manages a city/highway/combined fuel economy rating of 21/32/25 mpg compared to the GT’s 15/25/18. Premium gasoline is required for both engines.

Some enthusiasts might even prefer the 2.3 because its lighter front end delivers better cornering balance on curving mountain roads. But that’s at speeds of 40, 50 and 60 mph, dictated by the tightness of the turns. On a road racing course with long straightaways, you’d obviously prefer the GT for its massive power, or even one of the Shelby variants.

The Mustang’s membership in the high performance and handling club do not bar it from the grand touring class. With comfortable and supportive front seats, it celebrates long-distance motoring for two. Anyone relegated to the difficult to access back seats, however, will rebel.

2018 Ford Mustang Interior

Besides its slicker profile, the 2018 Mustang, depending on the model, comes with full safety equipment, including lane-keeping assist and a pre-collision system that can detect pedestrians. Other features include LED headlights, a dozen wheel options, 11 colors, customizable instrument cluster, and even an “active valve performance exhaust system” that allows you to drive your Mustang in quiet mode or bellowing like an agitated moose.

None of this, of course, comes cheap. The GT had a base price of US $39,095 and, with options, a bottom line of US $53,160.

The 2.3-liter Fastback Premium, also with the 10-speed, started at $30,600 and topped out at $39,880.

The Mustang has now been with us for nearly the double nickel — 55 yearsn— a long ways from the original 1965 model, introduced in 1964, with a 101-hp, 2.8-liter six-cylinder engine and a three-speed floor-mounted gearshift. Ain’t evolution great?

2018 Ford Mustang

Specifications

  • Model: 2018 Ford Mustang Fastback Premium two-door coupe.
  • Engine: 2.3-liter four-cylinder, 310 hp, 350 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: 10-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and rear-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 9 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 85/24 cubic feet
  • Weight: 3,535 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 21/32/24 mpg. Premium recommended.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $31,500.
  • Price as tested: $39,880.

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

Photos (c) Ford.

2018 Ford Mustang

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