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The Review Garage

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

Welcome to The Review Garage!

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

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

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

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

Featured post

2021 Toyota Supra: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Automobiles have personalities that they transfer to their owners/drivers. With the 2021 Toyota Supra, it is all about pure driving joy, and never mind the buckboard ride. 

With enthusiasts breathing heavily, the fifth generation Supra materialized in 2020 after an absence from the U.S. market of 22 years. You could argue that it was as anxiously awaited among its fans as the first-ever mid-engine C8 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray was to its disciples.

Unfortunately for Toyota, the two cars arrived for the same model year and the Corvette beat the Supra for the North American Car of the Year award, which is voted on by a jury of 50 automotive journalists from the United States and Canada.

Nevertheless, the Supra remains one of the best driver-oriented cars you can find anywhere at a decent, somewhat affordable price. Moreover, it only gets better for 2021, with a stiffer chassis, more power and the addition of a lower-priced model with a four-cylinder turbo engine.

The four-banger is the 255-hp GR Supra 2.0, which has a starting price of $43,985, including the destination charge. Toyota says it can nail a 0-60 acceleration time of 5.0 seconds — no slouch in anybody’s book.

Tested for this review was the 2021 GR Supra 3.0, which gets a bump of 47 horsepower over the 2020 model, along with refined chassis tuning. Aluminum struts connect the shock absorber towers to the radiator supports for increased lateral rigidity. The dampers also have been newly tuned.

A note about the GR designation for Supra models. It stands for Gazoo Racing, Toyota’s international motorsports program. The Supra was the first model developed by the Gazoo Racing team.

It is no secret, however, that the Supra 3.0 gets its power and some engineering expertise from Germany’s Bavarian Motor Works. Its  turbocharged in-line six-cylinder engine is the same motor that powers the BMW Z4 M40i. In the Supra’s installation, it makes 382 hp with 368 lb-ft of torque.

The grunt gets to the rear wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode — also from a German manufacturer, ZF Friedrichshafen. It is the only transmission available so far, though many enthusiasts would climb the ramparts for the rumored manual gearbox.

Toyota says the 2021 setup enables 3.9-second runs to 60 mph. However, Car and Driver Magazine claims its track testers made it in 3.7 seconds with the 2020 six-cylinder model, likely enabled by the standard computerized launch control.

There’s no question that the 2021 Supra is a head-turner — more likely a neck cracker. The tester was done up in bright red with black accents, some of them faux air inlets. The graceful 10-spoke wheels beautifully alternated black and chrome, and the sweeping body curves and lines invited gawking.

Inside, the leather seats (there are two) had substantial bolsters to cocoon the driver and passenger in place for whatever rapid moves they might undertake. The sensuous styling dictated a roof that droops down over the side windows, which means you have to duck way down to get in and out else you bang your noggin. But it has the advantage of functioning as a side sun blocker. In fact, the sun visor does not even swing sideways.

From behind the steering wheel, the driving and handling joy is palpable, despite the engine and road noise that can drown out the audio system and the harsh ride. Almost like riding a powerful motorcycle, there’s a feeling of total control and near invincibility. While only a fool would test its limits on the public roads, the temptation is there. 

The Supra is a hatchback, which actually enhances what would be meager trunk stash space. It’s 10 cubic feet, added to 51 cubic feet for the passengers. A removable cargo cover hides the contents. 

As befits a sport/grand touring car with a bottom-line sticker of $56,720, the tested Supra was well equipped with standard and optional safety, performance and luxury equipment. 

They included automatic pre-collision braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning with steering assist, color head-up display, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, 8.8-inch touch screen, navigation, Apple CarPlay, Bluetooth connectivity, wireless smart phone charging and SXM satellite radio.

A frugal buyer could do without some of the optional equipment, and even forego the 3.0-six in favor of the lower-priced four-cylinder model. Either way, the Supra exudes excitement. If there’s any credence to it, maybe wait for the more entertaining stick shift.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Toyota GR Supra 3.0 Premium two-door hatchback coupe.
  • Engine: 3.0-liter six-cylinder, turbocharged; 382 hp, 368 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and rear-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 5 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 51/10 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,390 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 24/31/26 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $55.485.
  • Price as tested: $56,720.

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

Photos (c) Toyota

Coupe Love Affair with the 2020 Lexus RC F

by Jason Fogelson

Looking back on my history of car ownership, I realize I have ping-ponged between trucks/SUVs and coupes. I’ve owned very few sedans, and I haven’t kept them for long. I’m definitely in touch with why I love trucks and SUVs – it’s the utility. It’s the belt and suspenders part of my personality, the part that wants to be ready for anything, anytime. My love of coupes, though, has demanded more introspection. 

Luckily, I got a chance to spend a week behind the wheel of a 2020 Lexus RC F 2-Door Coupe recently, and I think I figured it out.

Let’s jump right in. 

RC F has great lines, with a sporty, elegant profile and an assertive stance, and the car is poised like a sprinter in the starting blocks. The wheel arches are filled with staggered width 19-inch wheels. Up front, the big, open “spindle” grille serves as a gaping mouth, while the bi-LED headlamps underlined by LED DRL. The roofline is fast, with a quick finish to a short decklid, housing a speed-activated rear wing which (thankfully, for the shy driver) defaults to a flush docked position. Quad chrome tips poke out of the lower rear fascia, ready to burble exhaust notes. 

Much of the front fascia seems devoted to aerodynamics and managing air flow. There are no external bumpers, per se, though you can see the structure behind the grille. I’d be really careful parking the RC F – a low-speed collision with a pole or garage wall could result in a very costly repair. The rear fascia is a little less detailed, and appears a little less fragile.

Coupe critics complain about coupe doors, which are generally six or more inches longer than sedan doors on comparably sized vehicles. You need more space to open coupe doors fully. Coupe doors are bigger and heavier than sedan doors, which puts more stress on hinges. Despite their greater length, coupe doors still require second-row passengers to squeeze in past the door frame and front seat. 

While I confirm the coupe critics’ complaints, I counter with compliments. 

A bigger front door makes it easier for the driver and front-seat passenger to enter and exit the vehicle. The weight of RC F’s doors is manageable and well-balanced, and there’s no obvious strain on the hinges. Getting in and out of the second row is mildly inconvenient, but at six-feet two-inches tall with creaky joints and size 14 barges for feet, I had no problem getting in and out without an assist (or a crane). Headroom was fine, though I could have used more legroom for a long ride. I rarely carry second-row passengers – maybe two or three times a year, at most — so the tradeoffs would be worth it to me. Call me a selfish aesthete, but the ease of entry and exit along with a gorgeous, genuine coupe silhouette make the two-door my car of choice.

Inside, RC F also hits the mark. It has a crisply tailored cockpit, with a beautifully trimmed dashboard and center console. I particularly like the perfectly aligned HVAC vents, which combine looks, function and location to break up the visual field of the dashboard. My test RC F came with an expensive ($11,400) yet stunning Performance Package, which included a host of carbon fiber trim and aero pieces on the exterior and interior, and after some heavy math (seven years of ownership = 2,555 days x $4.46/day = $11,400 more or less = less than $5/day to have the cool carbon fiber = sold?), I think I’d order that feature. 

Another option that required no math for me was the $2,725 Navigation System with Mark Levinson Audio. The 17-speaker, 835-watt sound system is one of the best car audio systems I’ve ever heard. I’m not a fan of the remote touchpad in the center console, which I can only ever get good results from when the RC F is at a complete stop. I suspect that time and practice would improve my interactions, but a week wasn’t long enough to make me a competent operator.

The biggest joy of the RC F, though, is the driving experience. A 472-hp, 5.0-liter V8 gasoline engine lurks beneath the long hood, ready to pump 395 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission. The powertrain comes as a pleasant surprise in the tidy RC F, as it sounds and feels like it belongs in a muscle car, not a Japanese luxury coupe. Which is not to imply that it’s unruly or sloppy – I’d have to describe it as lusty. That’s a compliment.

Driving around in the RC F is a blast. It corners like a shark, accelerates like a charging bull, and romps like a stallion. I had to keep a close eye on the speedometer, because RC F can cruise smoothly at deceptive speeds. 

There are other performance luxury coupes on the market that match up well with the Lexus RC F. The Mercedes-AMG C 63 Coupe, BMW M4 Coupe, Infiniti Q60 Red Sport 400 and Audi RS 5 Coupe are good examples. I’d also include non-luxury Dodge Challenger and Ford Mustang, lusty V8 muscle cars, in my coupe comparison. 

The 2020 Lexus RC F starts at $64,900 ($89,654 as tested). 

Does my preference for a coupe make me a selfish person, since I’d rather have everyday comfort and convenience as a driver than occasional comfort and convenience for my passengers? Does it make me shallow, since I value appearance over practicality? I don’t know.  I appreciate the coupe for its honesty. It’s not pretending to be a car for all people, for all purposes. And that makes sense to me. So does the RC F.

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

Photos (c) Lexus

2020 Volvo S60 T6 AWD Inscription: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Despite its tiny share of the U.S. market, Volvo offers an almost giddy array of models, including the 2020 S60, which earns high marks as a competitive sports sedan.

Though it looks and feels like a luxury midsize four-door, it competes as a premium compact against the likes of the BMW 3-Series, Infiniti Q50, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Alfa-Romeo Giulia and Audi A4.

The Swedish manufacturer accounts for less than 1% of the automobile and light truck market in the U.S., yet it offers eight different sedans, crossover sport utility vehicles and station wagons, including a V90 cross-country wagon set up for off-roading. 

There also are multiple trim levels. The S60 has four with three different power trains, including the S60 highpoint, the Polestar Engineered plug-in hybrid. Driven for this review was the S60 Inscription model, slotted beneath the Polestar. Others are the base Momentum and the R-Design.

The tester was the T6, which included all-wheel drive. Base price was $41,545 and, with a long list of options, the Inscription checked the bottom-line box at $58,690. Models with the T5 designation have front-wheel drive.

Lurking under the Inscription T6’s hood is a turbocharged and supercharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 316 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque, delivered to all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode. 

The base Momentum model comes with a 250-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 258 lb-ft of torque, and the Polestar Engineered version makes 415 hp with 494 lb-ft of torque. Independent tests rated the Inscription T6’s acceleration to 60 mph in the five-second range, while the Polestar dipped into four-second territory.

There are three selectable drive modes with descriptive names: Eco, Comfort and Dynamic. City/highway/combined fuel consumption is rated by the EPA at 21/32/25 mpg. 

Handling is sharp and responsive in any of the three modes, though Dynamic tightens up the ride and responses, as well as keeping the engine on the boil through the gears. Shifts are slick either in manual or automatic mode. The latter is preferred by this driver except when driving on twisting, up and down roads where the idea is to lock onto a lower, more responsive gear.

The engine emits a throaty growl under hard acceleration, then settles down to an unobtrusive groan for leisurely highway duty. Cruising obviously is less entertaining than hustling on curving roads but Volvo makes it pleasurable with one of the most attractive and comfortable interiors anywhere.

Materials and workmanship are of a high quality, with seats that live up to Volvo’s reputation for long-distance support. Even the outboard back seats are neatly coved with decent bolsters  —as they must be because of modest knee room. The center-rear seat, however, is way less comfortable, with foot room severely compromised by a floor hump that measures eight inches square.

Volvo’s designers either overlooked or disdained two obvious interior enhancements. The sun visors do not slide on their support rods to adequately block sunlight from the sides. And the sun shade for the panoramic glass sunroof is made of a flimsy perforated cloth. It may be considered a big plus in Stockholm, which at some times of the year gets only about 5.5 hours of light a day, but in hot U.S. summers it admits too much heat and light. 

A minor annoyance until you learn and get used to it is the vertical center screen for the infotainment functions. You have to swipe to get different screens and touching icons can be fussy. Don’t fiddle with them while driving.

Standard and optional equipment on the tested Inscription was expansive. Volvo jealously guards its reputation for pioneering safety construction and equipment, though many manufacturers have caught up.

Nevertheless, the tested Inscription came with a full suite of confidence-inspiring security and safety gear, including: low and high speed collision avoidance and mitigation with pedestrian detection, automatic braking after a collision, rear cross-traffic alert with braking, road run-off mitigation, blind-spot warning with steering assist, automatic braking for oncoming vehicles, adaptive cruise control, an informative head-up display, lane keeping assist, and side collision and whiplash protection.

Luxury and convenience features abound, including a killer $3,200 Bowers and Wilkins premium audio system, quad-zone automatic climate control, driftwood interior trim, Nappa ventilated leather upholstery, and power folding rear headrests.

Some frosting: The S60 is the first Volvo ever built in the United States, in Ridgeville, South Carolina. Skoal and Helan Gar.

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Volvo S60 T6 AWD Inscription four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged and supercharged; 316 hp, 295 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.    
  • Overall length: 15 feet 7 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/trunk volume: 93/12 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,910 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 21/32/25 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $41,545.
  • Price as tested: $58,690.

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

Photos (c) Volvo

Drive After Drive in the 2020 Acura MDX

by Jason Fogelson

I have a friend whose sister Amy recently bought her fourth Acura MDX in a row. She owned a first-generation (2001 – 2006); a second-generation (2007 – 2013); and a third-generation (2014 – present) MDX, and just upgraded to a 2020 Acura MDX AWD A-Spec – just like the one that I spent a week test-driving recently. Amy is a medical professional in California, so she’s quite busy with serious business right now. But she did take the time to tell me what she loved about MDX, and why she’s stuck with the model over the past two decades.

Her family had always been luxury car buyers – her dad favored Mercedes-Benz vehicles, while her mom was a Jaguar driver. Her brother (my friend) has rarely been without a Porsche 911. When Amy started a family, she wanted to get a three-row SUV to accommodate her children. While she was accustomed to luxury vehicles, she didn’t want to fall into the European pattern that the rest of her family had followed, and stumbled across the MDX. She appreciated the build quality, the V6 engine, the standard all-wheel drive and the roomy interior of the MDX, and claims that each generation has built on the original’s promise. 

I’ve driven each generation of MDX, and I have to agree with Amy. And the latest iteration of the third generation is even better. 

Though MDX is bigger and roomier than before, it is also lighter and more powerful – which means that it performs and handles better. First- and second-generation MDX models weighed in at about 4,600 lbs, while the 2020 MDX AWD A-Spec (list price $54,900) comes in between 4239 – 4264 (depending on equipment). Its naturally aspirated (non-turbo) gasoline 3.5-liter V6 engine pumps out 290 hp and 267 lb-ft of torque through a nine-speed automatic transmission, and is rated to achieve 19 mpg city/25 mpg highway/21 mpg combined. 

The A-Spec package ($3,500) is a 2020 first for MDX. It includes A-Spec styling, sport seats with Alcantara inserts and contrast stitching, sport pedals, ventilated seats, 20-inch alloy wheels with all-season tires, and LED fog lights. Selecting the A-Spec package automatically includes the Technology package ($5,000), a comprehensive group of upgrades including navigation with voice recognition, AcuraLink Communication System, Acura ELS Studio Premium Audio System with 10 speakers, HD Radio, Blind Spot Information, remote engine start, rain-sensing wipers, power-folding side mirrors, LED puddle lights, rear cross-traffic monitor, and front and rear parking sensors. Add $400 for the premium exterior color (Apex Blue Pearl, worth every penny) and $995 for Destination and Handling, and the as-tested price for my 2020 MDX AWD A-Spec came out to $56,295. That’s substantially more than the average transaction price for a car in the United States right now, which hovers around $35,000, but actually a competitive price measured against other three-row luxury SUVs on the market right now, like the Lexus RX-L, Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class, BMW X5, Infiniti QX60, Audi Q7, Cadillac XT6 and Volvo XC90. MDX is also available in a front-wheel drive variant starting at $44,500, using the same V6 engine as the AWD version, and as an MDX Sport Hybrid Super Handling All-Wheel Drive starting at $53,000, using a 3.0-liter V6 and three electric motors.

Driving the MDX, I really appreciated the comfortable, yet sporty and nimble ride. The nine-speed automatic transmission is seamless, and does a great job of downshifting multiple gears when needed. The Integrated Dynamics System allowed me to easily select Comfort, Normal or Sport mode, shaping throttle response, shift mapping, AWD settings, steering response and Active Sound Control (noise cancelling) all at once for the desired effect. I wish I could have tested an MDX with the new Active Damper System, but that’s part of the Advance Package, not A-Spec. I always enjoy driving an Acura with SH-AWD (Super Handing All-Wheel Drive), which includes torque vectoring. Torque vectoring sharpens turn-in by directing power to the outside wheels in a turn, and Acura’s system is one of the best in its class.

Each MDX includes AcuraWatch active safety features. On A-Spec, the list includes Adaptive Cruise Control, Collision Mitigation Braking, Road Departure Mitigation, Forward Collison Warning, Lane Departure Warning, and Lane Keeping Assist System. For long drives on the (now wide-open) freeways, this combination of features and functions takes you part of the way toward autonomous driving. Set the cruise, keep your hands on the wheel, and AcuraWatch will help keep you between the lines. It makes a nice drive very relaxing. 

I know that my friend’s sister Amy appreciates all the relaxation she can get right now, and I hope that her new 2020 Acura MDX is helping. 

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

Photos (c) Acura

2021 Subaru Crosstrek Sport: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Minor changes to a vehicle during its periodic life cycles usually are called a freshen or refresh in the industry, though it looks as if the Subaru engineers and designers took the bit in their teeth and ran with the second-generation 2021 Crosstrek, a small crossover sport utility vehicle. 

Among the changes: A smooth and powerful new engine shanghaied from the larger Outback and Legacy models, Subaru Eye Sight technology with adaptive cruise control and lane centering, new wheels and exterior design cues, and new colors: Plasma Yellow Pearl and Horizon Blue Pearl. 

There’s also a new model, or trim level, called the Sport, which comes with a special X-Mode all-wheel drive with hill descent control. It  carries some of the feature content of Subaru’s larger Outback Onyx, including a polyurethane water repellent and breathable seat covering called Star Tex, set off by yellow piping and stitching.

Most notable is the Crosstrek’s new 2.5-liter horizontally opposed four cylinder engine, which generates 182 hp and 176 lb-ft of torque. It is mated to Subaru’s continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), which has been refined to the point where even CVT deniers can find little to complain about. It has a manual shift mode that mimics an eight-speed automatic transmission, controlled by paddles on the steering wheel.

Variations of the horizontally opposed power plant, also called a boxer or flat engine, were used in many generations of Volkswagens and Porsches. Japan’s Subaru now is the only manufacturer that installs them in all its vehicles. 

In a boxer engine, the cylinders lie flat on both sides of the crankshaft instead of standing upright or leaning at an angle, as with inline or V configurations. Because of its short vertical profile it can be mounted in the engine bay’s basement, giving the vehicle a lower center of gravity, which enhances handling and stability.

Older boxer engines, including those in Volkswagens and some in the Subaru lineup, emit a distinctive exhaust sound, caused by unequal length headers, which affect the exhaust pulses. But the 2.5-liter in the Crosstrek has equal-length headers.

The result is a quieter engine that doesn’t sound like an arrhythmic boxer at all. It delivers a strong surge of power and glassy smooth operation—a revelation when you first get in the new Crosstrek and step on the throttle. For do-it-yourselfers, the new design also mounts the oil filter on top of the engine, simplifying oil changes.

But it’s no drag racer. Subaru rates the zero to 60 mph acceleration 8.2 seconds, not exceptional these days. The Crosstrek’s forte is comfortable cruising in a mostly quiet cabin, and capable handling around the curves aided by active torque vectoring for the all-wheel drive.

Cabin comfort is first rate for four, with supportive seats and a suspension system that gobbles road shocks. As usual in most vehicles these days, the center-rear seat is an uncomfortable perch with a large floor hump that keeps feet apart.           

The Crosstrek boasts some off-road capability, enhanced by 8.7 inches of ground clearance. Subaru’s surveys show that many owners take their Crosstreks on excursions into tough unpaved terrain.

This vehicle can take it. It incorporates copious amounts of lightweight high-strength steel in the body. Among other things, it enables the rear hatchback opening to be shaped squarely for easier loading of cargo. Subaru also installs connecting posts in the lower back doors that gain strength from the body structure for less flexing and protection in side impact collisions.

Though there are higher priced Limited and Hybrid models, the tested Sport came well equipped, requiring few options. The starting price is $27,545, including the destination charge, and the tester had a $1,600 option package that included a motorized sunroof, blind spot detection, lane-keeping assist and rear cross-traffic alert. 

It also had Subaru’s Star Link Multimedia Plus system, which included Apple Car Play and Android Auto, HD radio and SXM satellite radio, Bluetooth connectivity with audio streaming, and hands-free phone calling. The bottom-line sticker came to $29,145. 

If that’s out of reach, there are two lower trim levels — Base at $23,295 and Premium at $24,345. They use a trusty 2.0-liter boxer engine and, for enthusiasts, come with a standard six-speed manual gearbox. The CVT is optional. But the 2.0-liter is less powerful, at 152 hp and 145 lb-ft of torque.

With more than 757,000 sold since its inception in 2012, the Crosstrek looks to continue among  the chosen.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Subaru Crosstrek Sport four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.5-liter horizontally-opposed four-cylinder; 182 hp, 176 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with a manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 101/21 cubic feet. 
  • Weight: 3,296 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 27/34/29 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $27,545.
  • Price as tested: $29,145. 

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

Photos (c) Subaru

Driving at a Social Distance in the 2020 Audi Q3

by Jason Fogelson

Driving has become one of my calming tools during the COVID-19 pandemic. I am quite familiar with the social isolation we’ve all been experiencing, since I work by myself in my home office in the suburbs of Detroit. But still, there’s a big difference between working at home and sheltering in place. Every so often, the walls begin to close in, and I’ve got to get out. When I’ve got a special new crossover vehicle like the 2020 Audi Q3 S line 45 TFSI quattro in the driveway, the temptation to escape is even greater than usual.

My wife works in the public schools, so she’s been here at home this month as well. We’ve holed up in our respective corners of the house, each accompanied by a dog to keep us company. I always invite her to go for a ride with me – she’s very smart about cars, and often notices things from the passenger’s seat that I miss as a driver.

Right off the bat, we both admire the new exterior of the Q3, which has just entered its second generation of production. Q3 is now slightly bigger than before, and more crisply edged than before, giving it a more grown-up, executive feel that ties in nicely with the rest of the Audi lineup. Our test vehicle wears a striking coat of Turbo Blue paint, a bold choice that works well. 

Inside, Audi’s well-deserved reputation for classy interior design is on display. The dash is layered, with strong horizontal lines that help the cabin feel wide and expansive. All of the materials are precisely fit and of high quality. There’s a unity of design that matches the feel of the outside of the Q3. Our Q3 is a top-of-the-line example, fitted with the $6,900 Prestige package and the $500 Sport Interior package of options. The Prestige package includes technology upgrades galore: Alarm; HomeLink garage door opener; three-months of SiriusXM; Audi advanced key; Audi side assist with rear cross-traffic alert; Audi parking system plus; Lane departure warning; Aluminum inlays; wireless phone charging; full LED headlights; adaptive cruise control with stop & go; park steering assist; top-view camera; LED interior lighting plus package; stainless steel trunk sill and more.

Perhaps most significantly for the new Q3, the Prestige package includes the latest version of the Audi MMI touch response system with a 10.1-inch touchscreen (up from the standard 8.8-inch unit) and the 12.3-inch Audi virtual cockpit (up from the standard 10.25 inches). Virtual cockpit has been a marvel since it was released in the flagship Audi models several years ago, and is no less remarkable now that it has trickled down to the compact Q3. From a simple layout of tachometer and speedometer to a live Google Maps satellite view, the virtual cockpit is customizable and flexible. It works in coordination with the MMI and voice control for infotainment and telematics.

The new MMI now incorporates a haptic touchscreen. That means that you get tangible feedback when you use the touchscreen, as it seems to push back against your fingertip when you change settings or make selections. Executing functions and changing settings is very intuitive, especially to smartphone users (isn’t that just about everybody by now?). You can also trace letters and numbers with your fingers on the screen in certain situations, making for another easy way to interact with the system. I spent several hours in the driveway exploring the system, putting it through its paces and getting comfortable with its operation – a very rewarding distraction. I also spent time listening to the excellent Bang & Olufsen 3D surround sound system with 680 watts of amplification and 15 speakers. 

How about actually driving? Yes, I did that, too. Q3 uses a small displacement (2.0-liter) turbocharged four-cylinder gasoline engine that produces 228 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, which Audi says can get it from 0 – 60 mph in 7.0 seconds, which feels right. It uses a quick-shifting Tiptronic automatic transmission with eight speeds, and quattro all-wheel drive is standard. The EPA estimates fuel economy at 19 mpg city/27 mpg highway/22 mpg combined. Suspension is five-link independent front and rear. Audi doesn’t make a big deal out of it, but Q3 handles well, with a low center of gravity and a direct steering feel. The quattro system enhances cornering in all road conditions. Solid build quality and ample sound deadening control makes for a serene ride on the highway, and an all-around big-car ride quality for such a small crossover vehicle. 

Both my wife and I were pleasantly surprised at how much we enjoyed spending time in the Q3, and at how much we found to admire about its interior over time. 

This compact luxury crossover category has gotten crowded with great choices in the past few years, attracting more downsizing sedan and SUV owners than expected as car makers make high-end features available across lineups. Compare Q3 to the BMW X1, Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class, Lexus NX, Infiniti QX50, Cadillac XT4, Volvo XC40, Land Rover Range Rover Evoque and others. 

Starting at $34,700 ($44,745 as tested), the 2020 Audi Q3 has what it takes to compete in the big leagues – and is a great way to get out of the house without violating any social distancing guidelines. 

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

Photos (c) Audi

2020 Toyota 86 Hakone Edition: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

In American slang, “86” means to get rid of, cancel, eject or bury something. In the Japanese automobile industry, 86 is the name of a nimble Toyota sports car that is actually built by Subaru.

The joint venture dates back to 2012, when Toyota introduced the two-door coupe as the Scion FR-S (then Toyota’s youth-oriented brand, now 86ed). The FR-S name went away with Scion. The FR-S and successor 86 also was — and still is — sold by Subaru as the BRZ. The two vehicles gave each manufacturer something it did not have.

For Toyota, it was the 200-hp, 2.0-liter horizontally-opposed four cylinder engine, also called a flat or boxer engine. In a boxer, the cylinders lie flat, feet to feet, on both sides of the crankshaft, instead of standing straight or leaning sideways as in-line or V engines.

Subaru is the only manufacturer that uses boxer engines in all of its models. The configuration is the same as that used in millions of Volkswagen Beetles and microbuses from the 1930s until the 1970s. 

The other manufacturer currently using boxers is Germany’s Porsche, in its Boxster, Cayman and 911 models. In those cars the engine is mounted amidships, forward of the rear wheels, or behind them in a rear-engine design.

That leaves the Subaru BRZ and Toyota 86 with a unique layout in which the boxer engine nests up front and sends its power to the rear wheels via a driveshaft. Nobody else does a boxer front engine, rear drive layout. It also is the only two-wheel drive model in the Subaru lineup; the others come standard with all-wheel drive.

The 2020 86 gets its name from its production numbers — hachi-roku in Japanese. It still uses the boxer engine, now with 205 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque. Tested for this review was the special Hakone Edition with a six-speed manual gearbox (a six-speed automatic is available). Hakone is the name of a famed curvy turnpike near Tokyo. It also is the name of the Hakone Edition’s deep green paint, similar to British Racing Green.

The Hakone Edition package also includes bronzed alloy wheels and smart-looking front seats done up with black suede cloth seating areas trimmed with tan leather. But the fancy stuff ends there; the two vestigial back seats are monotone.

That’s likely because Toyota doesn’t expect them to get much use. The 86 is what used to be called a “two-plus-two,” meaning a coupe with tiny back seats and no knee or leg room. In an emergency, you could squeeze two small humans back there but only if the front seat occupants run their seats as far forward as possible, likely compressing the driver’s chest.

So think of the 86 as a two-seater, not unlike a Mazda MX-5 Miata with a hard top and a bit of extra space in back for melons or capuchin monkeys. At least the 86’s back seat augments the meager seven cubic feet of trunk space.

Another way to consider the 86 is as the smaller, less powerful sibling of the resurrected Toyota Supra two-seater, which comes with a 382-horsepower in-line six cylinder engine from BMW. At $56,720 as reviewed here, it costs twice as much as the $28,015 base 86.

The Hakone Edition comes nicely equipped for $30,825 with the manual gearbox. Prices include the destination charge. The test car had Bluetooth connectivity but no Apple Car Play or Android Auto, though it was compatible with those apps. There was an AM-FM radio but no SXM satellite radio.

However, the 86 is a pure sports car so the entertainment comes from the driving. Engine noise intrudes harshly into the cabin any time the tachometer needle passes 3,000 rpms. The zero to 60 acceleration time is less than seven seconds (compared to less than four seconds for the Supra).

For enthusiasts, the stick shift is preferable to the automatic. But the 86’s clutch action can be a bit touchy, and the shift linkage is taut and even a bit bumpy changing gears. 

Handling is the 86’s forte. It corners flat, and the somewhat stiff steering provides good feedback. The tradeoff is a harsh ride on rough roads. Combine the ride with the echoing engine racket in the cabin and a long trip on freeways could become taxing.

Complaints include a hard-to-read, tiny backup camera mounted in the inside rearview mirror, and sun visors that do not slide on their support rods to adequately block sun from the side.

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Toyota 86 Hakone Edition two-door sports coupe.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder; 205 hp, 151 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed manual with rear-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 13 feet 11 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/trunk volume: 77/7 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 2,810 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 21/28/24 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $30,825.
  • Price as tested: $30,825.

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

Photos (c) Toyota

What Would 1986 Think of the 2020 Hyundai Elantra?

by Jason Fogelson

I wish I had a time machine. Not so that I could go back in time, but so I could bring a car enthusiast from the past into our present and show them the 2020 Hyundai Elantra Limited. 

Imagine plucking some guy from 1986, the year that Hyundai began selling the Excel in the United States. Imagine this guy with his pleated pants, Hawaiian shirt with the collar popped, and the sleeves of his white linen jacket pushed up his forearms like Don Johnson on Miami Vice. He’s laughing at the Excel in a Hyundai showroom, giggling at the idea that any self-respecting car guy would be caught dead in a Korean car. Suddenly, a beam of light from above captures this guy – let’s call him Chad – and rearranges his molecules through space and time, reconstructing him in the driver’s seat of a 2020 Elantra.

Once the nausea from time travel wears off, Chad looks around the cabin of the Elantra Limited. He’s sure that he’s in a luxury car. I assure him that he’s in a Hyundai Elantra Limited with a list price of $22,800. He whistles at how expensive that is – until I tell him that the average transaction price on a new car in the United States right now is above $35,000, so this is quite clearly an economy car. (In 1986 where Chad is from, the average transaction price for a new car is around $12,500.)  Even with the options on our 2020 Elantra Limited ($3,350 Ultimate Package; $135 Carpeted Floor Mats; $930 Inland Freight and Handling), the as-tested price of the car he’s sitting in is $27,215 – way below average.

Chad nods, looks around and starts touching things. He’s impressed with the design, which is simple and elegant to his eyes. He’s impressed with the eight-inch infotainment touchscreen, and once I explain all of the technology that it gives access to, he nods as if he understands (he really doesn’t, because he’s from 1986). He loves the fact that there’s no key to insert or turn, just a button to push, because he thinks that a key fob will work better in his linen jacket pocket than some jangly keys. He’s thrilled with the controls available on the steering wheel, and when I describe some of the SmartSense safety systems that come with the Limited’s Ultimate Package – Smart Cruise Control, Forward Collision Avoidance Assist with Pedestrian Detection, Safe Exist Assist and Blind Spot Collision Warning with Rear Cross Traffic Alert and Lane Change Assist – he’s amazed and enthralled. It seems like science fiction, but I assure him that it’s science fact. 

As a car guy, he can’t wait to get a look under the hood. He’s a little disappointed by the engine’s size, a 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder gasoline unit. But when I tell him that the little 2.0 can produce 147 hp and 132 lb-ft of torque while achieving 30 mpg city/40 mpg highway/34 mpg combined, he’s ready to take a drive.

Elantra’s Intelligent Variable Transmission (IVT), a new Hyundai take on the continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), is transparent in operation for Chad, just like a conventional geared automatic transmission, but he’s a little flummoxed by the slightly sluggish performance in “D” mode. I reach over and push the gear selector lever in “S,” and the 2.0 engine perks up immediately, holding gear ratios longer, and livening up performance. Chad pushes the Elantra into curves, tries out the brakes, and puts the car through its paces, a wide grin breaking out on his face. Chad declares the Elantra a winner over all of the economy cars and most of the luxury cars of 1986 – and it’s even comfortable and quiet on the road. 

I have to agree with Chad (after all, I made him up for this story). But how does the Elantra stand up to the competition in 2020? Measure it against the Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Nissan Sentra, Mazda3 and Volkswagen Jetta to get an idea. I’d put it near the top rung for value and overall quality, in the lower end for overall driving experience. I prefer the Mazda3 and Jetta for pure driving enjoyment, but I like the Elantra’s packaging and available safety features a lot. 

If you, like Chad, have not experienced the current state of the art in economy/commuter cars, I encourage you to explore the landscape before buying. You’ll be wise to include the 2020 Hyundai Elantra Limited on your list for consideration.

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

Photos (c) Hyundai

2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

It’s still a puzzle why any luxury manufacturer would produce a vehicle like the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe.

It must have something to do with the psyche of some of its customers — people who maybe have the same mindset of those who rushed out to buy the BMW X6 after it was introduced in 2008.

2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe

To some, it looked ridiculous. Take a tall midsize luxury sport utility vehicle, with all its attendant practicality, and shave the roof so at least the part above the beltline vaguely resembles a sleek fastback like an Audi A7.

Never mind that the effect is that of a clumsy effort to produce a stylish SUV with limited rear headroom and visibility, as well as truncated cargo space. Or, as a Car and Driver magazine critic wrote, it “proves that some people really do want a running shoe with a hiking sole attached.”

2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe

Mercedes gives ‘em the Old Razzle Dazzle by describing its new AMG GLE 53 as a four-door Coupe. It’s even part of the official name. The company has produced other so-called coupes with four doors but some are tempting designs with sensuous fastback styling—what was called a torpedo body in the World War II era.

Except for the odd body and nosebleed price, the AMG GLE 53 Coupe has solid Mercedes-Benz credentials, enhanced by the company’s high-performance AMG arm. It is a mild hybrid with a 48-volt electric supercharger that contributes 21 hp to get things going without discernible turbo lag, connected to a 429 hp, 3.0-liter turbocharged inline six-cylinder engine that makes 384 lb-ft of torque.

2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe

It could hardly have less given its high performance image and curb weight of 5,250 lbs. Mercedes-Benz says that the AMG GLE 53 can nail 60 mph in about five seconds, assisted by the mild hybrid system off the line, which also enables a sophisticated idle stop system that barely makes itself felt. Top speed is governed at 155 mph.

The transmission is a nine-speed automatic with a manual-shift mode controlled by paddles on the steering wheel. Mercedes 4Matic all-wheel drive and an AMG Ride Control air suspension system are part of the standard equipment.

2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe

There are seven selectable drive modes for on- and off-road motoring: Sand, Trail, Slippery, Individual, Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus. The last is intended only for race track duty, and the onboard computer informs the driver whether there are any race tracks — or none at all — in the neighborhood.

The AMG GLE 53 Coupe is an easy driver, obviously with plenty of power, though it is almost six feet tall and has the substantial, even somewhat ponderous, feel of a big vehicle, though the heavy steering and handling feel secure on twisting roads. Because of the bias toward handling, the ride is a bit stiff.

2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe

Despite the off-road equipment, this is more of a confortable road runner suited to long-distance travel on Interstate highways. It is uncommonly well dressed, and the price tag bears witness to the long list of standard and optional equipment and features.

The starting price of $77,495, including the destination charge, looks almost reasonable. But the tested Coupe also came with a whopping $27,829 worth of options — an amount that could buy you a nice compact crossover SUV.

2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe

The equipment is too extensive to fully list here, but includes a suite of safety features enhanced by one of the biggest head-up displays anywhere, along with Distronic adaptive cruise control, emergency braking, heated and ventilated seats, four-zone automatic climate control, navigation, Burmaster surround-sound audio, SXM satellite radio, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. A particular favorite for this review was the massage function built into the driver’s seat. Relaxing.

2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe

There’s a bewildering array of buttons, switches and icons on the  console, steering wheel and center screen, some of them redundant. They can be learned but it takes time and practice to get everything set up properly. Don’t fiddle with them while driving.

The AMG GLE 53 Coupe does come up short in a few areas. There are no assist handles inside for entering and exiting. Visibility to the rear is limited, with wide pillars flanking a small rear window that resembles a machine gun port in a military bunker. And the sunshade for the glass sunroof is made of a perforated cloth that admits too much light and heat.

2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 3.0-liter six-cylinder, supercharged and turbocharged; 429 hp, 384 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 3 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: NA/23 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 5,250 lbs.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 18/23/20 mpg. Premium fuel required.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $77,495.
  • Price as tested: $105,324.

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

2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe

Photos (c) Mercedes-Benz

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