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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

All About Electric Motorcycles

by Jason Fogelson

Electric motorcycles are here, and soon they’ll make sense for many riders. In order to understand the latest crop of electric motorcycles, I think you have to look backward to the development of batteries, electric motors, the bicycle, and the motorcycle itself, which takes us back to the 19thcentury (and even earlier).

A battery is a device that generates and stores electrical energy through a chemical reaction. The first wet cell battery was created in 1800. In 1859, Gustave Plante invented the rechargeable lead-acid wet cell battery that was used in just about every motorcycle until the 2000s. Dry cell batteries were invented by Carl Gassner in 1886, and are used in flashlights, portable electric tools, and now in electric motorcycles. 

Michael Faraday image (c) Wikimedia Commons

Michael Faraday described the theory of electrons and magnets creating motion in 1821, which led to the development of the first electric motor by Thomas Davenport in 1834.

Gustave Trouvé’s 1881 Electric Tricycle

The pedal bicycle was put into commercial production in 1868, and bicycles took the world by storm. Of course, innovators wanted to up the ante, and immediately began to explore the idea of adding an electric motor to a bicycle. Louis-Guillame Perreaux filed the first patent for a motorcycle in 1868. The first functional motorcycles were steam-powered. In 1869 patents were filed for electric motorcycles, though batteries and motors were not well-suited to two-wheelers. Gustave Trouve demonstrated the first working electric vehicle in 1881, a tricycle with rechargeable batteries and an electric motor. 

Butler Petrol Cycle of 1888

Most sources say that the first commercial design for a self-propelled bicycle was the Butler Petrol Cycle of 1888, a three-wheeler. The first production two-wheeler to be called a motorcycle was 1894’s Hildebrand & Wolfmüller. The first production motorcycle in the United States was the Orient-Aster, built in Waltham, Massachusetts beginning in 1898. Indian Motocycle (sic) followed in 1901, and Harley-Davidson began production in 1903. 

1894 Hildenbrand & Wolfmüller image (c) Mecum

Electric motorcycle development receded into a niche as petrol bikes took off. The big challenge has always been the power source, as wet-cell batteries are bulky and difficult to integrate into a two-wheeled motorcycle. Fuel-cell bikes were developed and built as prototypes, beginning in 1967, and various low-powered, short-range production vehicles began to emerge in the last decades of the 20thCentury.

The 21stCentury has seen a rapid expansion in the production of electric motorcycles. Harley-Davidson has announced production plans for the LiveWire, an all-electric motorcycle, and has teased us with further electric plans. Polaris, Indian’s parent company, bought an electric brand, Brammo, and has hinted at the eventual arrival of electric bikes. Zero Motorcycles currently produces and sells a lineup of five models. Many more brands are working on products to follow.

Harley-Davidson LiveWire image (c) H-D

Why electric? 

There are several very good reasons to go electric. First of all, electric bikes use no gasoline (obviously), and are cheap to operate. The maintenance on an electric bike is minimal – there’s no oil, no transmission, no radiator. It’s a breeze to keep an electric bike running. Just keep the battery charged. 

An electric motorcycle is nearly silent, which makes it somewhat less offensive to non-riders. This silent operation is good for ear health, and good for situational awareness. You can hear more of what’s going on around you on an electric bike.

MotoE image (c) Ego Electric

Electric motors excel at delivering torque, the twisting force that bikes use to accelerate. Peak torque is available as soon as you open the throttle and continues to be delivered throughout the rev range. On a gasoline-powered bike, you have to wait as torque builds with RPM, and then shift to the next gear as torque tails off, and begin the climb again. One of the bigger challenges with an electric bike is modulating torque so that it doesn’t overcome available traction. Manufacturers accomplish this with electronic intervention, and it gets better and better all the time.

Like any good thing, there are downsides.

2017 Zero S image (c) Zero Motorcycles

The big concern with an electric motorcycle is range. Even the best production electric motorcycles right now are rated for range under 130 miles per full charge. That doesn’t seem so bad, until you factor in charge time, which can extend to 10 hours or more using 120-volt household current. Level 2 (240-volt) chargers can cut that down significantly, and some Fast-Charge-capable bikes can be returned to a full charge from “empty” in 45 minutes or less. But even the fastest charges available take much longer than a gas-station fill-up, and charger availability varies greatly, depending on where you’re riding.

CSC City Slicker image (c) CSC Motorcycles

While I see silent operation as an advantage, many riders are concerned that without sound, they’re invisible to other traffic and pedestrians. While I don’t agree with the “Loud Pipes Save Lives” crowd, there is some legitimate concern that an extremely quiet bike might not get noticed on the road. 

The biggest barrier to widespread adoption of electric motorcycles today is cost. The least-expensive worthy examples at present start at about $9,000. Harley-Davidson’s LiveWire has been announced with a starting price of $29,995, and there are many bikes in between. New gasoline-powered motorcycles of similar capability and range can start as low as $4,000, and used bikes can be even cheaper than that. 

As more people explore and buy electric motorcycles, the technology will continue to develop, and prices are bound to fall. The big question isn’t whyconsider an electric motorcycle – it’s whento consider an electric motorcycle. 

Fuell image (c) Fuell Motorcycles
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2019 Chevrolet Blazer Premier: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

So it turns out that metamorphosis is not limited to lizards, insects or Gregor Samsa in the 1915 Franz Kafka novella. The 2019 Chevrolet Blazer stands out as a product of the process.

The Blazer had its gestation in 1969 as the big K5 Blazer, a precursor sport utility vehicle built on a body-on-frame truck chassis. It went through a number of transformations — call it a metamorphosis — over the years in various sizes and configurations until it hibernated a decade ago.

Now it re-appears in full butterfly mode as an all-new crossover SUV that mimics sedan-like unit-body construction, nestled between the compact Chevrolet Equinox and the large three-row Traverse. It is important for the brand because Chevrolet, like perennial adversary Ford, is bailing out of traditional sedans to focus on hot-selling crossovers.

As a competitor to the likes of the Honda Passport, Nissan Murano, Ford Edge and Hyundai Santa Fe, the Blazer adheres to the current formula of a tall, roomy, front-wheel drive station-wagon style vehicle with gobs of space for people and stuff, as well as the option of all-wheel drive for those places with nasty weather days. 

There’s 101 cubic feet of space — about what you’d find in a midsize sedan — for up to five passengers, with a capacious 31 cubic feet for cargo behind the back seat, augmented on the tested Premier model by a movable divider on tracks to segregate different stuff. Fold the rear seatbacks and the cargo area expands to 64 cubic feet.

Front seats and outboard back seats are mostly flat, okay comfortable but with little bolstering to hold the torso in cornering. The floor in back is nearly flat so you’d think that the designers could fashion a center-rear seat with minimal comfort. But no. As is usual these days, it’s a high, hard, uncomfortable cushion.

The Blazer comes in six trim levels with four-cylinder or V6 power and front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. The base L model with front-drive and nine-speed automatic transmission has a starting price of $29,995, including the destination charge. It is powered by a 193-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with 188 lb-ft of torque and a city/highway/combined fuel consumption rating of 22/27/24 mpg.

Only two models — the L and the $33,495 front-drive 1LT — come with the four-cylinder engine. The others are 2LT at $34,495; 3LT at $38,695; RS at $41,795, and Premium at $43,895. All have V6 engines and front- or all-wheel drive. The latter costs an additional $2,700 or $2,900, depending on the version.

The Premier tested for this review was the top of the line with all-wheel drive and a full load of equipment that required no options. Its starting price, $46,795, is the same as its delivered price.

Power is delivered by a 308-hp, 3.6-liter V6 engine that delivers 270 lb-ft of torque, enough to propel the Blazer to 60 mph in less than seven seconds. The juice gets to the front or all four wheels through the easy-shifting nine-speed automatic transmission. It has a manual-shift mode but likely won’t get used much because it’s controlled by a button on the shift lever.

The interior has a quality look and feel with soft-touch surfaces all around. Some of the design touches are obtuse but clever. For example, you can’t find a button or switch to change the temperature for the automatic climate control. A search reveals that twisting the ring around the circular center air outlets changes the temp setting.

There’s a big, deep console between the front seats with plenty of storage space. On many vehicles, that’s where you have to search with your smart phone flashlight to find a USB port. But on the Blazer, there are a couple of ports right in plain sight on the center stack. Nice.

The center screen is intuitive and easy to read. It controls the Bose premium audio system, SXM satellite radio, navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. There’s also a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot.

On the road, the Blazer is competent, quiet and comfortable with responsive handling to negotiate clogged freeway minuets, and full safety equipment like automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection to rescue even an inattentive driver. 

The tested Blazer Premier also came with adaptive cruise control, blind-spot warning and a stop-start system to enhance fuel economy, which the EPA rates at 18/25/21 mpg in city/highway/combined motoring.

Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Chevrolet Blazer Premier AWD four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine:3.6-liter V6; 308 hp, 270 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission:Nine-speed automatic with all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length:15 feet 11 inches.
  • Height:5 feet 7 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume:102/31 cubic feet. (64)
  • Weight:4,246 pounds.
  • Towing capability:4,500 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 18/25/21 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge:$46,795.
  • Price as tested:$46,795.

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

Photos (c) Chevrolet

2019 Audi A8 L Quattro: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

With its six-figure price tag and mild hybrid power train, you could argue that the 2019 Audi A8 L represents economical basic transportation for the wealthy. 

Or you could just forget about that and enjoy a quality all-wheel drive luxury sedan — if you can afford to buy, lease or finance it. The re-designed A8 L, which qualifies as a large car by U.S. government definitions, is a limousine-like conveyance with a base price of $84,795, including the destination charge.

The tested A8 L came with a bottom-line sticker price of $101,095, which is out of the league for most of us, but which validates the old adage that you get what you pay for.  

That’s despite the fact that this reviewer believes that most high-end vehicles marketed by European manufacturers are overpriced compared to those from companies around the rest of the world, regardless of where they are actually made.

It’s hard to imagine anyone not enjoying the Audi A8 L Quattro’s overall attributes. It combines admirable performance and handling with tomb-like silence on the highway, and a supple ride that encourages long-distance jaunts. 

Start with the power train. The A8 L opens with a turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 engine, then adds a small 48-hp electric motor — a so-called mild hybrid, to provide a bit of boost when needed and a wee dollop of additional fuel economy because it enables a sophisticated engine stop-start system.

Altogether, the system delivers 335 hp and 369 lb-feet of torque, enough to propel this 4,751-lb Audi to 60 mph in about five seconds, according to independent tests, with a top speed — not that you’ll use it — of 130 mph. The EPA rates city/highway/combined fuel consumption at a respectable 19/27/22 mpg.

All the while, you are cosseted in supportive and comfortable seats with plenty of bolstering should you decide to play rally driver on twisting mountain roads somewhere, although it’s hard to imagine many A8 L owners doing that. 

However, for those who are so oriented, Audi includes an adaptive air suspension system that reads the road ahead and adjusts for irregularities. 

Despite its aggressive capabilities, this is a classy boulevardier that easily could be chauffeur-driven for drop-offs at the Metropolitan Opera in New York or the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

You actually might need the chauffeur to puzzle out the  complicated and initially confusing infotainment system displayed on the center screen. Though it is the sort of modern computerized convenience found everywhere that owners eventually will master, it is not as intuitive as it should be. 

For example, setting and finding pre-sets on the radio takes about three steps, where other systems are simpler. Also, the touch screen requires a distractingly good aim and a firm touch.

If you were driven by a chauffeur, you would ride in the back seats, which are at least as comfortable as the fronts, with plenty of head room and stretch-out space. But don’t try to put three people back there. The center position is a narrow, hard cushion with a tall, square hump in the floor. It’s a wonder there’s even a fifth seatbelt back there.

Aside from that, the driver and passengers sit or recline on soft leather seats with massage, power lumbar support, heating and ventilation; an ionizer that vents fragrances into the cabin; navigation with voice control, drop-down lighted vanity mirrors in back, and even a rear seat remote control for the infotainment system.

The trunk, while not overly large, holds a full-size spare wheel and temporary tire. It also is carpeted, and the contents are protected from the trunk lid’s C-hinges.

Also, a motorized panoramic sunroof with opaque shade, powered sunshades for the rear window and side windows, heated steering wheel, power door closers, automatic trunk opening and closing, premium Bang & Olufsen audio system with 3D sound, SXM satellite radio, and four-zone automatic climate control.

Curiously, the A8 L comes up short on storage space up front. The glove compartment is oddly shaped and the center console is shallow, divided between an inductive smart-phone charger and a cubby for small change, lipsticks and maybe something with which to powder milady’s nose.

Of course, the A8 L comes with all modern safety equipment, active and passive, including low-speed collision avoidance with occupant protection,  head-up display, 11 airbags, brake assist, adaptive cruise control, parking assist, LED running lights and taillights, and electronic stability control.

Specifications

  • Model:2019 Audi A8 L Quattro four-door luxury sedan.
  • Engine:3.0-liter V6, turbocharged, with mild hybrid electric motor; 335 hp, 369 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission:Eight-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length:17 feet 5 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume:111/13 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,751 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption:19/27/22 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge:$84,795.
  • Price as tested:$101,095.

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

Photos (c) Audi

2020 Jeep Gladiator Sport: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

You can almost hear the cheering from far-flung outposts of off-road and truck country, welcoming the 2020 Jeep Gladiator, the famed brand’s first pickup truck in 28 years.

2020 Jeep® Gladiator Launch Edition

The original Jeep — a name derived from GP, for general purpose military vehicle, made its debut in 1941 for duty in World War II. It was originally built by Ford and the Willys-Overland vehicle manufacturers. Eventually it became the Willys Jeep and, later, was owned by American Motors and Chrysler, and now by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

From 1947 to 1992, Jeep marketed a variety of trucks, the last of which was the Comanche pickup. Now, after years of entreaties from both Jeep owners and truck enthusiasts, especially those with off-road interests, the Gladiator arrives as a complete package that can be customized for almost any motoring taste.

2020 Jeep® Gladiator Rubicon

But the Jeep folks are not catering only to the faithful. They expect that the Gladiator will attract new customers for midsize pickup trucks like the Ford Ranger and Chevrolet Colorado, and especially those who have gravitated toward the most popular midsize, the Toyota Tacoma.

The Gladiator slots in firmly as a competitor of the Tacoma TRD Off-Road, which comes in standard and long bed versions. It is 18 feet 2 inches long, four inches longer than the Tacoma standard bed and eight inches shorter than the long bed.

Its 3.6-liter V6 engine delivers 285 hp with 260 lb-ft of torque compared to the Tacoma’s 278 and 265. The Gladiator’s automatic transmission is an eight-speed; the Tacoma’s is a six-speed.

2020 Jeep® Gladiator Rubicon

The new Gladiator inevitably will be compared to the four-door Jeep Wrangler Unlimited, which has become Jeep’s best-selling model. But the Gladiator is bigger, stronger and more capable in many ways with a heftier payload, towing capability and price tag.

There are four Gladiator models, each of which is available with a six-speed manual gearbox as well as the eight-speed automatic transmission. Base prices range from $35,040, including the destination charge, for the base Sport model, to $38,240 for the Sport S, $41,890 for the Overland and $45,040 for the top-line Rubicon.

2020 Jeep® Gladiator – interior

But those are starting points. At the Gladiator’s national introduction, Jeep officials estimated that a Rubicon loaded with options could easily top $60,000. And that doesn’t include the many extras from the Mopar aftermarket company to tempt well-heeled enthusiasts.

Chosen for this review was the base Sport with the six-speed manual gearbox and four options: trailer towing package ($250), anti-spin rear differential ($595), SXM satellite radio ($295) and Mopar rubber slush floor mats ($150). That brought the tested price to $36,330, which is about the average price of a new car in the U.S. these days and a lot of truck for the bucks.

2020 Jeep® Gladiator – interior

But don’t expect much in the way of frills. Though it had all of the fundamentals for serious off-roading, this Gladiator came with comfortable cloth upholstery but without power locks, seats, windows and mirrors, and automatic climate control. But, so what? You have to hand-crank the windows but you can remove the doors anyway. Reach out the windows to adjust the outside mirrors and fiddle with the air conditioning and heating controls to get comfortable.

Many Jeep adventurers don’t bother with that anyway. The Gladiator’s doors all can be removed and the windshield folded down for open-air adventures in the boondocks. Same for the fabric roof, which can easily be flipped back to open to the sky. The framework and truck bed are steel but the doors, fenders, hood and tailgate are aluminum.

2020 Jeep® Gladiator – interior

With solid axles front and rear, and an array of off-road assists, including a grille-mounted forward camera, the Gladiator easily conquered a serious off-road course at a ranch near a town with the neat name of Cool, California. Its disadvantage is size; a two-door Jeep Wrangler would do better. The course was complicated by mud with a peanut butter consistency from heavy rains.

The Gladiator also performed admirably on paved roads, except for light steering that required frequent corrections to keep a straight line. That was the price of a compromise to handle difficult off-road maneuvers. Instead of the ubiquitous rack-and-pinion steering, the Gladiator uses a recirculating-ball setup.

The surprise was the low intrusion of mechanical and road noise with the soft top. Though there was more wind noise than in a closed truck, the Gladiator was reasonably and amiably quiet at highway speeds.

2020 Jeep® Gladiator Launch Edition

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Jeep Gladiator Sport midsize pickup truck.
  • Engine: 3.6-liter V6; 285 hp, 260 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed manual with four-wheel drive, high and low range.
  • Overall length: 18 feet 2 inches.
  • Height: 6 feet 3 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume:103/36 cubic feet.
  • Cargo box length: 5 feet.
  • Weight: 4,650 pounds.
  • Payload: 1,600 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 7,650 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 16/23/19 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $35,040.
  • Price as tested: $36,330.

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

2020 Jeep® Gladiator Overland

Photos (c) FCA North America

2019 MINI Cooper SE Countryman PHEV: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

With substantial numbers of electric cars still on the far horizon, the dominant trend in the industry is toward gasoline-electric hybrids, including semi-sporting vehicles like the 2019 MINI Cooper SE Countryman ALL4 PHEV.

P90240566_highRes_mini-cooper-s-countrThat’s a mouthful but no surprise because Britain’s MINI is owned by BMW, the Bavarian Motor Works, which has a habit of naming its vehicles with what look like technical job descriptions. An extreme example was the 2016BMW Individual M760i xDrive Model V12 Excellence THE NEXT 100 YEARS.

On the MINI, the ALL4 designates all-wheel drive, Countryman the model, SE the trim level and PHEV stands for plug-in hybrid electric vehicle.

Nomenclature aside, the Countryman PHEV qualifies as a crossover sport utility vehicle, built like a car with a unibody.  It is fairly large for a MINI, stretching nearly 16 feet long and weighing almost two tons.

P90240568_highRes_mini-cooper-s-countrWith 94 cubic feet of space for passengers and a cargo area of 17 cubic feet, it has as much interior space as a midsize car. But it also fits the government’s classification of a small station wagon.

It uses a 134-hp 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine to drive the front wheels and an 87-hp electric motor to drive the rear wheels. Together, the system makes 221 hp and 284 lb-ft of torque.

The power gets to the pavement through a six-speed automatic transmission for the front wheels and a one-speed direct drive for the rear wheels.

P90240747_highRes_the-new-mini-countryCity/highway/combined fuel consumption in gasoline-only mode is rated by the Environmental Protection Agency at 27/28/27 mpg. In hybrid operation, the mpg equivalent works out to 65 MPGe. As a plug-in, it can travel a maximum of 12 miles purely on electric power, but it takes a feather foot on the throttle.

With its BMW and British heritage, the MINI delivers good performance and handling but with some English eccentricities. It can nip off zero-to-60 mph stoplight sprints in about six seconds. But road noise intruded on some less than ideal surfaces.

Handling, especially in the Sport driving mode, is precise with the front wheels obedient to the driver’s steering wheel inputs. With the suspension system biased toward handling, the ride tends toward stiff rather than cushy. However, the John Cooper Works (JCW) sport seats, upholstered in “carbon black Dinamica/cloth,” are supportive and comfortable with solid bolstering for spirited driving in the twisties. They also are heated; a redundancy with cloth.

P90240708_highRes_the-new-mini-countryThe Countryman PHEV also came with a BMW-like base price of $37,750, including the destination charge. With options that included PHEV Sport and Special Edition packages, touchscreen navigation package and John Cooper Works appearance package, the bottom-line sticker price came to $45,750.

The JCW package also included a leather-wrapped steering wheel, synthetic suede headliner, a rear spoiler and 18-inch alloy wheels. A PHEV Sport package included power folding outside mirrors and a panoramic sunroof.

P90240596_highRes_mini-cooper-s-countrA glance at the instruments shows a group of circular gauges, including the center touchscreen. The design harks back to the mid-20thcentury, when MINIs came with a giant center-mounted speedometer.

There was no missing the tested MINI on the road. It had a classy charcoal paint job, with outside mirrors and badges done up a sort of chartreuse color.

Two outboard passengers in back get plenty of head and knee room. But the center-rear passenger gets disrespected by a large floor hump, narrow and hard cushion, and intrusion from the center console. The power tailgate, part of the PHEV Sport package, provided access to the cargo area.

P90240656_highRes_the-new-mini-countryThe MINI came with an odd mix of equipment. It included a navigation system, automatic climate control, wireless smart phone charging and Apple CarPlay but FM radio without SXM satellite radio. An AM band could not be found. There also were no power seats. The seats up front had six-way manual adjustments.

Moreover, the sun visors did not slide on their support rods to adequately block sun from the side. And the sunshade for the panoramic sunroof was made of a perforated cheesecloth-like material that admitted too much sunlight. Sunshades should be opaque.

MINI Countryman sales in 2018 totaled 17,565, up 2,700 from 2017 at a time when total MINI sales declined by 3,421 to 43,684.

P90240573_highRes_mini-cooper-s-countrSpecifications    

  • Model: 2019 MINI Cooper SE Countryman ALL4 PHEV four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine/motor: 1.5-liter three-cylinder gasoline, turbocharged; 134 hp, 122 lb-ft torque; AC electric motor, 87 hp, 122 lb-ft torque; combined 221 hp, 284 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic front wheels; one-speed direct drive rear wheels.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 10 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 1 inch.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 94/17 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,915 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 27/28/27 mpg. Gasoline/electric combined miles per gallon equivalent: 65 MPGe.
  • Electric only range: 12 miles.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $37,750.
  • Price as tested: $45,750.

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

P90240672_highRes_the-new-mini-countryPhotos (c) MINI

 

2019 Volkswagen Atlas: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

As with the 2019 Volkswagen Atlas, sometimes the lesser of two choices makes all the difference — in this rendering, the $37,000 version versus the one north of $50,000.

2019_Atlas-Large-8753You might say that about many new vehicles. Sure, it seems everybody would like the one loaded with every option for safety, performance, comfort, convenience and even luxury surroundings.

But there’s a school of thought, endorsed by this reviewer, that even base automobiles and light trucks can be appealing — and not only for their parsimony. After all, every car must have an engine, transmission, tires, brakes, steering, seats, controlled climate and safety equipment mandated by the U.S. government.

Moreover, though the manufacturers like to tout the superiority of their lavishly-equipped products, the truth is there is no junk out there any more. Ask most experts what kind of new vehicle you should buy and many would simply say, “What do you like?”

2018_Atlas-Large-7501Ratings nowadays are informed not by engines that gobble oil or wheel bearings that fail, but more by whether there’s too much wind noise or a baffling infotainment system — not so much by things that put you on the side of the road at midnight.

Which brings us to the 2019 Volkswagen Atlas SE. It is a full-size, three-row, seven-passenger crossover sport utility vehicle that can satisfy  minivan-averse customers, though it comes up short with 21 cubic feet for cargo space behind the third row.

It can accommodate seven adults with head-room comfort, though the second-row passengers must give up some of their generous leg room for the folks in the third row. It is easily done because the second row has about eight inches of fore-and-aft travel to divvy up, as well as seatbacks that flip forward so even creaky oldsters can get back to the third row.

2018_Atlas-Large-6591On the SE model, everyone sits on VW’s V-Tex leatherette upholstery, which is about as comfortable as real leather and likely will last way longer, though the preference here would be for a durable cloth that is soothing in all climates.

The SE is a bottom-dweller, just one step up from the base S in a line of seven trim levels topped out by the SEL Premium. So, the SE doesn’t come with such amenities as leather upholstery, panoramic sunroof, 20-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, park assist, ventilated front seats and heated rear seats, a Fender premium audio system and captain’s seats in the second row, which reduces the passenger accommodations from seven to six.

But the SE does have forward collision monitoring with emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring and rear traffic alert, hill start assist, pushbutton starting, 10-way powered and heated driver’s seat, Bluetooth connectivity, three-zone automatic climate control, SXM satellite radio, and LED headlights and daytime running lights.

2018_Atlas-Large-6604The base price of the tested SE came to $36,490, including the destination charge. With an optional towing package, it topped out at $37,040. One reason for the reasonable price is that it came with front-wheel drive instead of the optional all-wheel drive, which accounts for an $1,800 difference.

For most customers, except for those in severe snow belt areas, there’s no need to spend the extra money for all-wheel drive. Independent tests have shown that front-drive vehicles accelerate, brake and turn as well as all-wheel drive models in most circumstances except for low-speed maneuvering in heavy snow and other slippery conditions.

2018_Atlas-Large-6597The tested SE came with Volkswagen’s 276-hp 3.6-liter V6 engine that makes 266 lb-ft of torque, mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. The base engine is a 235-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 258 lb-ft of torque.

Though the four-bangers, both turbo and naturally aspirated, are becoming ubiquitous everywhere in the motoring industry, there’s still nothing like the silky power delivery of a six-cylinder engine, either inline or with a V configuration.

With the easy-shifting eight-speed automatic, the Atlas is an elegant and quiet conveyance that has a supple ride, tracks cleanly in a straight line and, if you don’t push it too hard, easily handles curving roads.

2018_Atlas-Large-6613Though the Atlas feels smaller than its length of 16.5 feet and height of nearly six feet, maneuvering in traffic and on ramps inside parking garages requires attention and care.

But for anyone who needs to carry seven passengers—or five passengers with 56 cubic feet of cargo space—the Atlas SE comes with a decent price and city/highway/combined fuel economy of 17/24/19 mpg of regular gasoline.

2019_Atlas-Large-8755Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Volkswagen Atlas V6 SE four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 3.6-liter V6; 276 hp, 266 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 6 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 10 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 154/21 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,343 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 17/24/19 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $36,490.
  • Price as tested: $37,040.

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

2018_Atlas-Large-7510Photos (c) Volkswagen

 

Book Review: Restorations by Charles Strickler

by Jason Fogelson

A lot of car and motorcycle-related books cross my desk. Most are non-fiction, either historical accounts of significant events, biographies of major industry figures, memoirs of drivers, mechanics or restorers, detailed tributes to brands or models, or elogies to bygone marques. Occasionally, I’ll receive a novel set in and around the automotive world – and I eat those up.

The pitch for Restorations by Charles Strickler (March 20, 2019, Koehler Books) caught my interest. It was billed as “a fast-paced thriller that puts the pedal to the metal from page one,” centering around a 1928 Stutz Black Hawk Boattail Roadster. Okay – I’m in.

Stutz Blackhawk Boat Tail Speedster 071The story begins with a brief prologue detailing a failed 1930 bank robbery in Decatur, Illinois, and a criminal named Lefty Webber. Flash forward to Spring 2018 in Wachau, North Carolina to meet our main character, Miles West. He’s a man at the bottom of an emotional well. The recent death of his beloved wife, followed closely by the demise of his parents, has left him bereft. He’s left his high-powered Wall Street job and returned to the family farm in North Carolina to recover. A kind elderly neighbor coaxes Miles to attend a local estate auction, where he is stricken by two beauties: Auctioneer Bramley Ann Fairchild, and a 1928 Stutz barn find. He makes the winning $60,000 bid for the car, narrowly beating a phone bidder who claims to have had an equipment malfunction during the final call. Miles has the car transported to his farm to begin restoration, and Bramley volunteers to help research the car’s provenance.

That’s when the adventure begins. Turns out the phone bidder represented an aging New York City mob boss who has been searching for this specific Stutz for decades, because of secrets that it might conceal relating to the bank robber, Lefty Webber. Miles and Bramley become entangled in a high-stakes game of cat-and-mouse that leads across the Northeast and into New York City.

Stutz Blackhawk Boat Tail Speedster 103During the course of the chase, Miles proves to be incredibly brave and resourceful, and Bramley is a willing accomplice to his plans. Some of the plot machinations are difficult to swallow, as Miles takes incredible risks despite the involvement of the authorities. Certain late revelations and unlikely coincidences strain belief, but the fast pace of the action fit the genre.

Dialog is not Strickler’s strength, as the conversation between characters is a bit stilted and expositional. The main characters are reasonably well-drawn and likeable, if a little too pure and good to be believed, while the antagonists are suitably menacing, if somewhat two-dimensional.

As a car guy, I was a little disappointed that the Stutz is a MacGuffin in this shaggy dog story, just a plot device to set off the action. At least the car is accurately described, and suitably rare to serve its purpose.

The pitch I received said that Restorations would appeal to fans of Steve Berry, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, and that may be true. I’d encourage Charles Strickler to shoot a little higher – those authors are all capable of churning out page-turners, for sure, but they all suffer from similar weaknesses in characterization, dialog and convenient plot twists. I’m looking for a little more literary merit in my thrillers, and a little more car involvement in my automotive-related stories. StricklerRestorationsBack_(1_of_1)

1928 Stutz Black Hawk Photos (c) Revs Institute

Book Cover (c) Köehlerbooks

2020 Lincoln Corsair: A DriveWays First Look…

by Frank A. Aukofer

New York, N.Y. — Looking back and into the future, the luxury Lincoln division of the Ford Motor Co. unveiled its all-new technology and serenity cocoon, the 2020 Corsair, here at the New York Auto Show.

ImageIt is a luxury compact crossover sport utility vehicle that looks forward with innovations like smart phone control, as well as a return to its heritage of giving its vehicles glamorous names instead of sterile alphanumeric designations.

At a time early in the 20th century, Lincolns were revered as staunch competitors to the likes of luxurious and high-performing cars from Duesenberg, Packard and Cadillac. They were named Cosmopolitan, Lido and Capri, and especially Zephyr, arguably the most beautiful passenger car of its era.

But that fell into a ditch somewhere along the line, as this quintessentially American car company tried to emulate German luxury cars with confusing letters and numbers to identify them.

Image-3In the burgeoning category of crossover sport utility vehicles, the Lincolns became identified as MKC, MKS and MKT, although its full-size body-on-frame SUV received the more appropriate name of Navigator.

Now the company has come full circle with the 2020 Corsair. It says the name comes from the Latin “cursus,” meaning “journey.” But almost anyone with a memory of history will relate it to the World War II F4U Corsair, the gorgeous gull-winged fighter plane that heroic U.S. Marine Corps pilots flew off aircraft carriers in the Pacific.

Obviously, Lincoln has no intention of evoking devastating wartime battles. Nope. The new Corsair was designed to be a serene, welcoming, comfortable place for youthful 21stcentury achievers with the wherewithal to step up from a Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 or Mazda CX-5.

Image-4And guess what? All the old letter designations have gone to the junkyard. The Lincoln SUV lineup, in order of size, now starts with the Corsair and moves on in price and size steps to the Nautilus, Aviator and Navigator—in short, the alpha and omega of current SUVs, though a subcompact may be in the offing.

So what’s the new Corsair all about? There’s some old and much that is new. It replaces the 2019 MKC and shares its basic power plants, though the new engines have been recalibrated, or tweaked in common parlance.

New are two four-cylinder turbocharged engines. The base 2.0-liter in the front-wheel drive models delivers 250 hp and 275 lb-ft of torque. All-wheel drive models can be equipped with that engine or a 2.3-liter with 280 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque.

Image-9Power surges to the pavement through an eight-speed automatic transmission that can be shifted manually with paddles on the steering wheel. The previous MKC had a six-speed automatic.

There are five drive modes, similar to those on other vehicles, but Lincoln has chosen to give them descriptive names: Normal, Excite, Slippery, Deep Conditions and Conserve. In another place they might use aliases.

But the Corsair’s emphasis eschews the performance side of the equation to concentrate on exterior and interior design. Designers exult over the form, shapes and lines of the exterior, which is attractive even to a layperson but bears a passing resemblance to the Range Rover Evoque.

Image-10The interior is similarly elegant with attention to horizontal lines, modern design and quality materials. There’s also a manifest effort to isolate the driver and passengers from any unwanted sounds from outside or the engine compartment, isolated by extra insulation in the firewall.

Lincoln officials used the word “sanctuary” to describe the motoring experience. We already have sanctuaries in places of worship, as well as sanctuary cities. Now we have a sanctuary crossover. It even extends to warnings with “symphonic chimes” instead of beeps or buzzers.

Corsair’s kicker is its “phone as a key” technology, which enables owners to control and operate the luxury conveyance from their smart phones. Using the Lincoln Way app, drivers can lock and unlock doors, open the lift-gate, and start and drive their Corsairs.

Image-11For the more Luddite-inclined in the customer base, a standard key fob is included as a—whew!—substitute for the smart phone app.

If a smart phone’s battery dies, the owner can gain entry with the Corsair’s standard exterior keypad, then use the center touch screen to drive off. Also, if the phone is lost or stolen, “phone as a key” can easily be deleted.

The Corsair comes standard with driver assist features called Lincoln Co-Pilot 360. They include pre-collision emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind-spot warning, lane-keeping assist and automatic high-beam lighting. There’s also Wi-Fi and wireless charging for mobile devices.

Image-2An option, called “Lincoln Co-Pilot360 Plus,” adds adaptive cruise control with stop and go, lane centering, roadside speed sign recognition, emergency evasive steering assist, reverse braking assist, and active parking assist, which automatically parks the Corsair in parallel or perpendicular spaces.

No prices were announced, but an educated guess puts them in a range from about $35,000 for the base model, marching through trim levels to a top-of-the-line Corsair that could have sticker price of around $57,000.

The Corsair, built in a plant in Louisville, Kentucky, will arrive at dealerships in the fall.

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

Image-6Photos (c) Lincoln

2019 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

So, you have to ask yourself: Who in the world would want to spend nearly $100,000 on a square-bodied Jeep SUV that can nail 60 mph in about three seconds?

2019 Jeep® Grand Cherokee Trackhawk

Likely at least some people, or the folks at the Jeep Division of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) would not have equipped the Jeep Grand Cherokee with the Hellcat package heretofore restricted to the Dodge Challenger and Charger.

The most expensive Jeep, $96,230 as reviewed here, delivers a mere 707 hp and 645 lb-ft of torque from a supercharged 6.2-liter V6 engine that uses an ironman eight-speed automatic transmission to send that muscle to all four wheels.

Even at that, it’s not the most powerful package in the FCA’s lineup, where it has been bested by the Challenger with the Hellcat Redeye combination and ups the ante to 797 hp and 707 lb-ft of torque.

2019 Jeep® Grand Cherokee Trackhawk

Why not just tweak the tuning a bit and make it 800 hp? It’s a question that may not have an answer other than 797 is a more intriguing number. And who knows? The Redeye may eventually wind up in the Grand Cherokee Trackhawk as well.

Meanwhile, the GCT makes do with package Hellcat, around for about four years, which now makes it something of an also-ran in FCA’s super high-performance machinery.

Even so, the Grand Cherokee Trackhawk is almost frightening, depending on which driving mode you select. If you simply want to puddle around town, you can do that and perhaps maximize its dismal fuel economy numbers. Select the ECO mode and you may not even notice the explosive force under the hood.

Powering the 2019 Jeep® Grand Cherokee Trackhawk is a supercharged 6.2-liter V-8 engine delivering 707 horsepower and 645 lb.-ft. of torque

However, select the Sport or Track mode, plug in the launch control and you have a credible monster at the drag strip. Raise the engine revs to a scream, drop the foot from the brake pedal and blast off on the tarmac while trying to control your heart palpitations.

But where can you do that except on an airport landing strip or a deserted rural highway? Try it in city traffic and you’re likely to go airborne over that Chevy Spark up ahead.

So, no. If you hanker after pure adrenaline shots as if you were driving a Ferrari, Porsche or McLaren — only sitting up higher to look over that Spark and the rest of the line of traffic piddling along at 19 mph — you can get that from the Trackhawk in ECO.

2019 Jeep® Grand Cherokee Trackhawk

But better to find a private country club racetrack, where you and other enthusiasts — usually gals and guys with the big bucks to pay the membership fees — can get your juices flowing on weekends.

That’s about the only way you will get to enjoy the monstrous power of your Trackhawk. Forget daily commuting in traffic like that on Interstate 95 between Washington, D.C. and Richmond, VA, which often is little more than a slow-moving caravan not unlike the parking lot at Disney World.

On the plus side, though the Jeep Trackhawk doesn’t come across as a particularly luxurious vehicle, it is priced lower than some machines from Great Britain’s Land Rover, builder of the other high-performance on- and off-road vehicles that appeal more to luxury buyers than macho types who yearn to traverse the Serengeti in Africa.

2019 Jeep® Grand Cherokee Trackhawk

The Trackhawk could do some of that, though not at drag strip speeds. It comes with Jeep’s sophisticated four-wheel drive system, eight inches of ground clearance, and approach and departure angles that handle terrain that would be daunting for lesser four-wheel drive vehicles.

But it’s questionable whether off-road enthusiasts, who spend most of their boondocks time at around two to five mph over boulders, potholes and hummocks, would even find a use for the Trackhawk. More likely you would find at the drag strip or country-club racetrack. Or you could use your Trackhawk’s 7,200-lb towing capability to transport your race car.

2019 Jeep® Grand Cherokee Trackhawk

The best thing you can say about the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk is that it is special. There’s nothing quite like it anywhere. You have to be a person with a mindset that is quite different from the mainstream.

But if you are that person — one who is not into exotic super cars but loves incredible energy and power useful for everyday travels and occasionally for incredible heart-throbbing excitement and wilderness trudging, the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk could fit your matrix.

2019 Jeep® Grand Cherokee Trackhawk

Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk four-door sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 6.2-liter V8, supercharged; 707 hp, 645 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and full-time four-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 10 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 105/36 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 5,365 pounds.
  • Payload: 1,350 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 7,200 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 11/17/13 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $88,145.
  • Price as tested: $96,230.

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

2019 Jeep® Grand Cherokee Trackhawk

Photos (c) FCA North America

 

 

 

 

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