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The Review Garage

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

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Frank A. Aukofer

2020 Ram 1500 Limited Crew Cab 4X4: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Comparing the 2020 Ram pickup truck to a luxury car is tempting, but it’s something like putting a manatee in the same tank as an Atlantic salmon.

The manatee is big, lovable and graceful but slow moving, like the Ram 1500 Limited Crew Cab 4X4 that is the subject here. A smaller Atlantic salmon has quick, fluid moves — not unlike the 2020 Mercedes-Benz CLS450 4MATIC Coupe four-door reviewed here earlier.

2020 Ram 1500 Laramie Longhorn EcoDiesel

That Mercedes had a starting price of $73,445. The Ram tested for this review, with options, checked in at $74,910. So the only thing these two vehicles have in common is a nosebleed price tag.

That’s becoming increasingly common as fans of pickup trucks seek out the most expensive, well-equipped models. They do double duty for hauling, towing and formal nights at the opera — or black tie and boots at the rodeo.

If there were any doubts that this Ram truck is a luxury vehicle, start with the gleaming paint job: “Diamond Black Crystal Pearl Coat.” Follow that inside to the black, leather trimmed seats with the red and black designer inserts.

2020 Ram 1500 Laramie Longhorn EcoDiesel

At its starting price of $58,660 the Ram Limited Crew Cab comes with four-wheel drive and a load of standard safety and convenience equipment: blind spot warning and cross-path detection, air suspension system, pushbutton and remote starting, and remote tailgate release.

Inside: Apple Car Play and Android Auto connectivity, SXM satellite radio, wireless smart phone charging, dual-zone automatic climate control, wood and leather wrapped heated steering wheel, power adjustable pedals with memory, heated and ventilated front seats, and heated rear seats.

About those seats. There are five supportive and comfortable spots for almost any torso. Unlike most luxury cars, which have seatbelts for five but an impossibly uncomfortable center-rear seat compromised by a hard cushion and prominent floor hump, the Ram 1500 has a flat floor and a center-rear seat that is as roomy as the outboards.

2019 Ram 1500 Limited

The rear seats are divided two-thirds and one-third. Seatbacks fold for extra cargo carrying capability. There also were cargo box dividers under the optional tonneau cover on the test truck.

Where the price starts to climb comes with the optional $4,995 diesel engine. It is a 3.0-liter V6 that makes 260 hp and a whopping 480 lb-ft of torque to enable effortless towing. Power gets to the rear wheels or all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission.

This diesel Ram can tow up to 12,560 lbs and carry a payload of 2,040 lbs. Its EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption is rated at 21/29/24 mpg—not bad for a nearly 20-feet long monster that weighs 5,735 lbs.

2020 Ram 1500 Limited

It’s also tall so it should satisfy drivers who like to sit up in the stratosphere and look down at smaller humans in lesser machinery. The tested Ram makes it easy even for height-challenged owners with running boards that automatically deploy when the doors are opened.

Besides the diesel engine, the tested Ram came with a load of luxury options that included: black aluminum wheels and exterior trim, premium audio, a tri-fold cargo tonneau cover, tow hooks, adaptive radar cruise control with stop and go, lane-keeping assist, forward collision warning, surround-view rear camera, perpendicular and parallel parking assist, multifunction tailgate and a dual-pane panoramic sunroof. It also had a 33-gallon fuel tank, which could give it a range of nearly 800 miles.

2020 Ram 1500 Limited

For the driving experience, go back to the manatee comparison. Sure, the gentle marine mammal is sometimes referred to as the sea cow. But it is as graceful under water as a mermaid ballet dancer, though in slow motion.

The Ram 1500 Limited 4X4 fits that template. Its size limits anything that resembles pinpoint handling. Though the steering is responsive, full attention is required on twisting roads to avoid any quick moves. With the air suspension system, decent insulation and good seats, the ride is quiet and comfortable, even without a load. Braking is capable, and the adjustable pedals and steering wheel make it easy for most people to find a comfortable driving position.

The diesel engine delivers strong and steady power, especially for towing, even managing a zero-to-60 mph acceleration time of less than eight seconds. Moreover, most people would be surprised to know there was a diesel engine clattering under the hood because of the engineered-in silence and sound deadening materials.

2020 Ram 1500 Limited

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Ram 1500 Limited Crew Cab 4X4 four-door pickup truck.
  • Engine: 3.0-liter V6 diesel; 260 hp, 480 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with four-wheel drive high and low range.
  • Overall length: 19 feet 5 inches.
  • Height: 6 feet 6 inches.
  • EPA passenger volume: 126 cubic feet.
  • Payload: 2,040 lbs.
  • Towing capability: 12,560 lbs.
  • Weight: 5,735 lbs.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 21/29/24 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $58,660.
  • Price as tested: $74,910.

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

2020 Ram 1500 3.0-liter V-6 EcoDiesel engine

Photos (c) FCA

2021 Hyundai Elantra: A DriveWays Preview…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Historians may one day view the 2021 Hyundai Elantra as America’s first coronavirus car.

It’s possible because of the unusual global introduction of the all-new sedan. The event had been scheduled as a glitzy Hollywood production for a group of automotive journalists from around the country.

The novel coronavirus changed all that. Close to the event on Mar. 17, the South Korean manufacturer was forced to disinvite the entire press corps because of the COVID-19 pandemic that has gripped the nation.

Large-40594-2021ElantraBut the show went on anyway, via YouTube from the Lot Studios in West Hollywood and headlined by José Muñoz, Hyundai’s president and CEO, along with other company heavyweights.

The Elantra is Hyundai’s best-seller, though its sales slipped from 200,415 in 2018 to 175,094 in 2019 amid the surging popularity of crossover sport utility vehicles. It dates back to 1990 and has had 3.4 million total sales in the U.S., according to Muñoz.

Large-40585-2021ElantraAll new from the tire patches up, the seventh-generation Hyundai sedan is longer, lower and wider than its predecessor, but only by inches or fractions of an inch so interior space has actually increased slightly.

It is 15 feet 4 inches long and 4 feet 8 inches high.

The lower profile gives the Elantra a passing resemblance to cars like the low-slung $73,445 Mercedes-Benz CLS450, a four-door that the German company calls a Coupe. Muñoz said the Elantra was aimed at “young disrupters” or people with a disruptive spirit.

Large-40602-2021ElantraThough marketed as a compact, the Elantra likely will be classified as a midsize by the government based on its total interior volume. Without a sunroof, it has 116 cubic feet of interior volume, divided into 102 cubic feet for passengers and a trunk of 14 cubic feet. With a sunroof, the passenger space drops to 99 cubic feet but it is still comfortably in the midsize category.

The Elantra  comes both as a standard gasoline model or, for the first time, as a gasoline-electric hybrid. Standard on the gasoline SE, SEL and Limited models is a 147-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 132 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force. It is mated to Hyundai’s IVT, a continuously variable automatic transmission that electronically mimics the shifting behavior of a standard automatic.

Large-40584-2021ElantraThe Elantra Hybrid uses a 1.6-liter gasoline engine with a 32-kW electric motor. Together they deliver 139 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque. Mated to a six-speed dual clutch automatic transmission, the Hybrid is projected to deliver a combined city/highway fuel economy rating of more than 50 mpg.

Hyundai’s Smart Sense safety equipment includes forward collision avoidance with pedestrian detection, lane-keeping and lane-centering assist, automatic headlight high beam switching, driver fatigue detection, safe exit warning of a vehicle approaching from behind, emergency backup braking and a rear-view camera with guidelines.

Large-40580-2021ElantraOptional equipment includes adaptive radar cruise control, rear cross-traffic collision avoidance and blind-spot warning. Other new available features include a navigation system, natural voice control for a multitude of functions, Hyundai’s digital smart-phone key with wireless charging, wireless Apple Car Play and Android Auto, and dual Bluetooth connectivity so a phone can be used simultaneously with streaming audio.

At the introduction, there was no word on whether the Elantra would continue to be available as a hatchback or as a high-performance N model. No prices were announced.

Large-40588-2021ElantraPhotos (c) Hyundai

 

2020 Nissan Sentra SR Premium: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Every so often, an automobile rolls onto the national stage and surprises the critics. The 2020 Nissan Sentra has done that — certainly in this reckoning.

It’s a compact sedan from the Japanese manufacturer that has been around for 32 years, usually undistinguished and an also-ran competing with the compact class leaders — the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla.

2020 Nissan Sentra_O-10-sourceBut the all-new version bears no resemblance to its predecessors. The step up is a good thing because Sentra sales have been dropping, mainly because of the surge in popularity of small crossover sport utility vehicles like Nissan’s own Rogue, Kicks and Rogue Sport. Between 2018 and 2019, the Sentra’s U.S. sales dropped by 28,428 to 184,618.

The 2020 model not only will have to overcome that but also will be hobbled by Nissan’s intention, reported in Automotive News, the industry Bible, that the company initially will not offer the Sentra for sales to rental car companies and other fleets.

It will have to stand on its own merits with the general buying public. Well, guess what? If you have any doubts, take a test drive, as we did.

2020 Nissan Sentra_O-12-sourceIt’s short of astounding but it is an eye opener. This new Sentra stands out as a desirable, roomy, well-performing compact sedan that  bunches of people can afford to buy and operate. Moreover, it has the bones to attract customers who could easily buy something more expensive.

Take the Sentra SR Premium tested here. The starting price, including the destination charge, is $22,355. Loaded with every option, the bottom-line sticker price came to $25,325. That’s somewhere around $12,000 less than what the average new car sells for these days.

The Sentra’s starting price for the base S version is $20,015. There’s also a midlevel SV version. Previous SR Turbo and performance Nismo models are not available — at least for now.

2020 Nissan Sentra_O_s-sourceLike all the 2020 Sentra models, the base S and SV come with full safety equipment, including automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, rear cross-traffic alert with automatic rear braking, lane-departure warning, blind-spot warning and tire pressure monitoring. In addition, all Sentra examples have rear-door alert to prevent a driver from forgetting a child or pet in the back seat.

The tested SR Premium also came with pushbutton starting and remote locking, leatherette seats (heated in front), a motorized glass sunroof, automatic climate control, six-way power driver’s seat with power lumbar adjustments, rear camera with around-view monitor, LED headlights and fog lights, heated steering wheel, 18-inch alloy wheels, rear trunk-mounted spoiler, premium Bose audio system, SXM satellite radio, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability.

Besides the pleasantries on the pricing and equipment lists, the tested 2020 SR Premium presented itself well on the highway stage. With all-new styling, it had the signature Nissan V-Motion grille, which to the eyes of this viewer has a sort of sad-sack look.

2020 Nissan Sentra_O-3-sourceNever mind. The tester was done up in two-tone Monarch Orange and Super Black exterior colors, with the now familiar Nissan floating roof design. The color scheme would do justice to a BMW, Lexus or Audi.

According to the U.S. government, the Sentra straddles official size classes. With the sunroof, as on the tested SR, it is classified as a compact. But without that amenity, it creeps just barely into the midsize category.

Either way, there’s plenty of room and comfort for four, with good bolstering on the front seatbacks for spirited driving on curving roads. Rear seat head and knee room are adequate, though getting in and out of the back seat requires a bit of agility. Even the center-rear seat can carry a fifth passenger because the cushion is not too hard and the floor hump not too tall.

2020 Nissan Sentra_O-5-sourcePower gets delivered to the front wheels from an all-new 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 149 hp and 146 lb-ft of torque. That may not sound like much to hot rodders, but in everyday driving it’s plenty. With the responsive Xtronic continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), the Sentra is rapidly responsive to throttle inputs.

Some critics deride CVTs but Nissan has vast experience with the transmissions, which are buttery smooth without shift points except when you punch the pedal to pass. Then the Sentra’s kicks down like a standard passing gear.

Handling on twisting roads is flat with little body lean. The suspension system soaks up most road irregularities for a decent ride under most circumstances and the interior is reasonably quiet except for  tire noise that varies with road surfaces.

2020 Nissan Sentra_O-14-sourceSpecifications

  • Model: 2020 Nissan Sentra SR Premium four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder; 149 hp, 146 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Xtronic continuously variable automatic and front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 3 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/trunk volume: 94/14 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,084 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 28/37/32 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $22,355.
  • Price as tested: $25,325.

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

2020 Nissan Sentra_O-13-sourcePhotos (c) Nissan

2021 Kia Seltos S Turbo AWD: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

With a few caveats, it looks as if the 2021 Kia Seltos follows the winning ways of its siblings from the South Korean manufacturer, especially the critically acclaimed Telluride.

A small crossover sport utility vehicle, the Seltos teeters in size between subcompact crossovers like the new Hyundai Venue and compacts like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. In fact, it’s almost the same size as the compact Kia Sportage — just four inches shorter with four fewer cubic feet of space inside.

2021 Seltos

But it has some of the same appeal of the new Telluride, where the Sportage, in SUV and crossover guise, has been around since 1998. The Seltos has rugged, SUV-stylish looks, a well-designed interior and, in the tested S model, outstanding driving dynamics and performance.

However, there are a few shortcomings, mainly owing to the fact that the only way to get some equipment is to choose which of five versions, or trim levels, fits your desires.

For example, on the tested S Turbo version with the 175-hp 1.6-liter engine, which delivers 195 lb-ft of torque, there is no pushbutton starting, exterior-touch locking, automatic climate control or SXM satellite radio. It has a starting price of $26,610, including the destination charge.

2021 Seltos

To get those items you must move up $2,400 in price to the top-line $29,010 SX all-wheel drive model, which has the same turbocharged engine and seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. But then you must give up the S version’s excellent and comfortable cloth upholstery and seat yourself on leatherette.

Lower trim levels somewhat make up for the lack of satellite radio by including Apple Car Play and Android Auto so people can play music and navigation from their smart phones.

The S Turbo and SX are the only models with the upgraded engine and transmission. Others, including the base S with front-wheel drive, have a 145-hp, 2.0-liter engine with 132 lb-ft of torque and a continuously-variable automatic transmission.

2021 Seltos

All versions come with all-wheel drive except for the base S, which has front-wheel drive. Its starting price is $23,110 — the same as the LX with all-wheel drive. The S also can be ordered with all-wheel drive.

All Seltos versions come with basic safety equipment, including rear occupancy alert, tire-pressure monitoring, hill start assist and downhill braking control. But the LX does not have forward collision mitigation with pedestrian detection. To get that, you must order one of the upper trim levels.

Also, some of the more sophisticated safety and convenience items like blind-spot warning, lane keeping assist and rear cross traffic alert, are not available on the LX. If you want adaptive cruise control, it’s available only on the top-line SX model.

2021 Seltos

One very unusual oversight on the tested S Turbo, the sun visors did not slide on their support rods to fully block sunlight from the sides. The South Korean manufacturers Kia and Hyundai have been in the forefront of including such items, as well as other convenience and safety equipment, even in base models.

Carping aside, the Seltos S Turbo — there was no opportunity to drive the lower powered versions — delivers an entertaining, even exciting, driving experience with handling more akin to a sports sedan than a small crossover. It is rabbit-quick off the line with little or none of the dreaded lag as the turbocharger spools up. Zero to 60 miles an hour happens in the six-second range but it feels quicker, especially with rapid throttle response for passing or jumping lanes in traffic.

2021 Seltos

The Seltos name is an adaptation of Celtus, a character in Greek mythology who was the progenitor of the Celtic people. But Kia changed the spelling to better connect it to “speed” and “sport.”

At 5 feet 4 inches including the roof rails, the Seltos is not particularly tall. But it has the look of a serious crossover SUV, unlike its funky smaller sibling, the Kia Soul.

In a smaller, less expensive package, the Seltos, especially in the top-line SX trim, has some of the same appeal as the Telluride, which was voted Utility of the Year by an independent group of 50 automotive journalists from around the United States and Canada, including this reviewer.

It would help its case if, as needed on the tested S Turbo version, a few additional stand-alone options like pushbutton starting and SXM radio were available. And Kia, please equip the Seltos with proper sliding sun visors.

2021 Seltos

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Kia Seltos S Turbo AWD four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 1.6-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 175 hp, 195 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 4 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 4 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 99/27 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,317 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 25/30/27 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $26,610.
  • Price as tested: $26,740.

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

2021 Seltos

Photos (c) Kia

2020 Mercedes-Benz CLS450 4MATIC: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

If your heart desires and your finances can handle the slinky 2020 Mercedes-Benz CLS450 4Matic Coupe, figure on two things: Learning how to duck and sometimes getting annoyed.

The former is needed because this compact luxury/sport car possesses a stature that is hunkered down and menacing, with a low roofline, forcing almost everyone to duck way down just to enter the driver’s seat — or any door, for that matter — lest a noggin gets cracked. That vertically squished profile likely is the reason Mercedes formally refers to the four-door CLS450 as a Coupe.

2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS

A periodic annoyance occurs when the radio jumps to a different station than the one you’re enjoying. An in-depth investigation revealed that it happens while turning and accidentally bumping buttons on the steering wheel.

It happens when you use the recommended nine and three o’clock position for hands on the wheel. That places the thumbs in close proximity to the switches and buttons on both sides of the wheel. The culprit is a button that returns to previous settings.

If you’re listening to the SXM radio, brushing the button will send you back to a previous station — classical music to country, for example. If that’s not annoying enough, it’s a distracting four-step process to return to your original station: Use the control knob on the console to select presets, press, then scroll to your station and press again.

2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS

Though a minor annoyance, it doesn’t detract from this entertaining, superbly performing, comfortable and quiet sports sedan/coupe that lives up to its $73,445 base price. With options, it swells to $81,575

As noted, it’s low down, just four feet eight inches tall, so even your five-foot tall friend can see over the top. With 105 cubic feet of space inside, divided into 94 for passengers and 12 in the trunk. it is classified as a compact by the Environmental Protection Agency. It seats four in reasonable comfort, though without much extra space in back.

_F8A8877-sourceThere is a seatbelt for a fifth passenger in the center-rear but don’t try putting anyone there unless it’s an emergency. A hard cushion and a big floor hump rudely intrude.

Where the CLS450 shines is in the driving experience. It is a 4Matic, Mercedes-speak for all-wheel drive, and it is powered by a 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine that is turbocharged and boosted by a 48-volt electric motor. The system makes 362 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque, the twisting force that enables rapid acceleration off the line.

It’s heartening to see inline sixes returning in an era of V6s and four-cylinder turbo engines. Inline sixes are renowned for their smooth and linear delivery of power.

_F8A8906-sourceThe addition of the electric mild hybrid motor, called Eco Boost, does two things: It eliminates any hint of turbo lag, that hesitation off the line as the turbocharger spools up. It also enables an idle stop-start system that is so unobtrusive you hardly know it’s there. The stop-start contributes marginally to the EPA’s city/highway/combined fuel economy rating of 24/30/26 mpg.

Power travels to the wheels through a velvety nine-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift mode controlled by paddles on the steering wheel. It’s nice if you like to shift for yourself, especially to hold gears in mountainous driving, but you hardly need it. The onboard computer precisely handles the automatic shifting.

_F8A9057-sourceMercedes rates the CLS450 4Matic’s zero-to-60-mph acceleration time at 4.8 seconds,  with a governed top speed of 130 mph.

Specifications are important, of course, but the proof is in the driving. There are five selectable driving modes: Eco, Comfort, Sport, Sport Plus and Individual. They vary shift points, as well as steering and suspension settings. But the truth is, the CLS450 is as capable as almost anyone might want even in the Comfort setting, which enhances the ride and overall smoothness.

2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS

The six-cylinder engine emits a satisfying growl, especially under hard acceleration, but settles down to just enough of a drone in cruising to let you know it’s poised there under the hood to growl again on demand.

There’s tactile feedback through the steering wheel and cornering is accurate with little body lean around curves. Though the CLS450 lacks a spare wheel and uses tougher run-flat tires, they don’t seem to affect the comfortable ride.

Anyone who enjoys driving for its own sake will embrace this cookie, even with the ducking in and out. Now, about those steering- wheel buttons…

2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Mercedes-Benz CLS450 4MATIC Coupe four-door.
  • Engine: 3.0-liter V6, turbocharged; 362 hp, 369 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 4 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/trunk volume: 93/12 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,300 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 23/30/26 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $73,445.
  • Price as tested: $81,575.

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

2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS

Photos (c) Mercedes-Benz

2020 Toyota Avalon TRD: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Wait. Hold on. Toyota’s Racing Development team took the 2020 Avalon and massaged it for better performance? That Avalon? The one they used to call Toyota’s Buick?

Turns out it’s true. But they took the new Avalon TRD only part of the way. It has a host of suspension and tire modifications, as well as extra body braces, an earthy exhaust sound and lots of snazzy interior and exterior visual enhancements. But the engine and transmission are the same as in other Avalon models.

20_AvalonTRD_CelestialSilverMetallic_002That’s actually not shabby because the Avalon’s standard power plant is a 301-hp, 3.5-liter V6 that develops 267 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force, enough to propel it to 60 mph in about six seconds.

The Avalon has come a long way since its introduction in 1995 as Toyota’s flagship. For years, a main distinguishing characteristic was that it was one of the few sedans anywhere that could seat three adults comfortably in the back seat, thanks to a flat floor and a real center-row seat.

It was classified as a large car by the federal government, defined by the EPA as an automobile with 120 cubic feet or more of interior volume, which includes the passenger and trunk space.

20_AvalonTRD_CelestialSilverMetallic_001In 2013, the Avalon joined the masses when was downsized to its current state as a midsize car with a center-rear seat that featured a small, uncomfortable seat cushion and a big floor hump — pretty much like almost every other car, and even some SUVs, on the market. It continues in that configuration for 2020, now barely larger than its popular — and lower-priced — sibling, the Toyota Camry.

The 2020 Avalon TRD, with 119 cubic feet divided into 103 for passengers with a trunk of 16 cubic feet, misses the large car mark by just one cubic foot, though Toyota markets it as a full-size automobile. The Camry is close as well, with 114 cubic feet, divided into 99 for passengers and 15 cubic feet in the trunk.

20_AvalonTRD_SupersonicRed_002The TRD is not the most expensive Avalon. Its base price of $43,255, including the destination charge, slots it beneath the more luxury-oriented Touring trim line. The tested TRD, with options that included a navigation system and a high-performance JBL audio system with 14 speakers, checked in at $45,410.

Full safety equipment is standard, including pre-collision braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive radar cruise control, lane departure warning with steering assist, blind spot monitoring, automatic headlight high beams and rear cross-traffic alert.

It takes only a glance to discern the Avalon TRD’s intention to  advertise its performance personality. The grille is huge, black and menacing, and the lightweight 19-inch alloy wheels are painted black with red brake calipers showing through.

20_CamryTRD_Interior_005The theme carries through inside with black leather upholstery trimmed in bright red. There’s red stitching on the steering wheel, TRD emblems embossed on the headrests and the floor mats, and bright red seatbelts — standard equipment here but on some other sporting cars — a Porsche, say — would be an extra-cost option costing hundreds of dollars.

There are eight-way powered and heated front seats with lumbar support on the driver’s side; seat memory settings, automatic climate control, SXM satellite radio, hands-free Bluetooth connectivity, Apple CarPlay and wireless smart phone charging.

20_AvalonTRD_Interior_003Front seats are a bit flat, with little bolstering, but nevertheless are supportive and comfortable. The outboard back seats deliver ample head and knee room, with decent comfort, although that center-rear seat — well, you know.

Out back, the truck is large, and well-shaped and finished. One negative: The large, C-shaped trunk hinges are not isolated or protected and could damage contents in a fully loaded trunk.

20_AvalonTRD_Interior_001Despite the TRD’s lack of engine modifications, the Avalon TRD is a stellar performer. The horsepower, torque and braking are more than adequate in the push, pull and rapid lane-changing of modern clogged freeway traffic, and the eight-speed automatic responds quickly to throttle inputs. There are paddles to manually shift but not worth the bother in traffic. Better to save manual shifting to hold gears on twisting mountain roads.

Despite its midsize rating, the Avalon’s length of 16 feet 4 inches has the look of a big car. But it epitomizes the old adage that a small car should drive big and a big car drive small. Its strong suit is small-car quick handling.

Except for the intentional raucous exhaust sounds, especially under hard acceleration, the Avalon TRD cruises serenely with a somewhat stiff but supple ride.

20_AvalonTRD_SupersonicRed_001Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Toyota Avalon TRD four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 3.5-liter V6; 301 hp, 267 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual shift mode and front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 4 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 103/16 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,700 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 22/31/25 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $43,255.
  • Price as tested: $45,410.

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

20_AvalonTRD_CelestialSilverMetallic_0031Photos (c) Toyota

 

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLB250 4MATIC: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

If one were needed or wanted, you could label the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLB250 4MATIC as the bargain luxury crossover sport utility vehicle from the storied German manufacturer.

It’s an all-new entry in the compact luxury category. With a starting price of $39,995 and a bottom-line sticker of $51,875, the tested vehicle is not exactly cheap but priced more like a near-luxury than a full-on luxury crossover.

_F8A4424-sourceIn the Mercedes SUV lineup, the GLB250 slots in between the entry-level GLA and the more expensive GLC. Mercedes uses European letter designations for its vehicle classes. In addition to the GLA, GLB and GLC, it offers the midsize GLE and full-size three-row GLS crossovers.

Curiously, the new GLB250 is nearly a carbon copy of its garage-mate, the GLC300. The latter is nearly an inch longer but has slightly less interior space. The GLB has 102 cubic feet for passengers and 20 cubic feet for cargo behind the second row. Also unusual, it offers the $850 option of a small third-row seat, which the tester did not have.

_F8A4400-sourceThe GLC, on the other hand, has 97 cubic feet of passenger room and 19 cubic feet for cargo. An older design, it does not offer a third row seat. All the foregoing numbers are for the all-wheel drive 4MATIC versions.

Power trains also are similar. Both have turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engines. The GLB’s makes 221 hp with 254 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force. The GLC’s delivers 255 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque.

The GLB comes with a dual-clutch eight-speed automatic transmission and the GLC uses a nine-speed conventional automatic. EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption is 23/31/26 mpg for the GLB and 22/29/24 for the GLC.

_F8A4417-sourceAt least in the versions tested here, the GLC is more expensive than the GLB. The GLC starts at $43,495, or $3,430 more than the GLB. A loaded GLC noted earlier had a sticker of $63,615 with options, or $11,740 more than the GLB tested here.

Not to unduly muddle the discussion, we need to take note of a second, even more expensive GLC300 4MATIC. It’s the stylish Coupe version with a sloped roofline and the same engine/transmission combination as the crossover GLC. Tested previously, it had a base price of $50,995 and, with options, a delivered price of $67,615 — or $15,740 more than the GLB250 tested here. It makes the GLB250 look like even more of a bargain.

_F8A4482-sourceOf course, there are differences in equipment among all three. The tester lacked some items that are almost routinely expected in a Mercedes. For example, it had standard cruise control rather than the company’s excellent Distronic adaptive cruise control. There was no lane departure mitigation or a head-up display.

However, the tester had other safety equipment, including brake assist and blind-spot warning. It also was paragon of luxury with soft, dark-brown leather upholstery trimmed in black, sparkling interior trim and such items as a navigation system, dual-zone automatic climate control, Apple Car Play, Android Auto, Bluetooth connectivity, SXM satellite radio, power tailgate and a panoramic sunroof. Unfortunately, the sunshade was made of a flimsy cloth that admitted too much sunlight.

_F8A4508-sourceAll of that aside, the GLB250’s strength is in the driving experience. It’s not super fast, but respectable with the zero to 60-mph acceleration at less than seven seconds. But it is mostly hesitation-free. Even the idle stop-start system mostly works smoothly, although the preference here is to simply turn it off.

There’s tactile feedback through the steering while the GLB250 negotiates curving roads without much lean. Highway cruising is fatigue free and the cabin remains quiet enough for whispered conversation. Overall, it would be a vehicle of choice for long-distance travel.

_F8A4560-sourceExcept for any poor soul relegated to the center-rear seating position, which consists of a hard seat cushion and a floor hump to nag the feet, the driver and three other passengers are cosseted in large, supportive and comfortable seats. Rear seatbacks fold flat to expand the cargo area to 62 cubic feet. The GLB250 came with winter tires but no spare wheel.

There’s some fussiness. The infotainment functions and instruments are integrated into one wide video screen. Functions can be controlled by touch, a haptic pad on the center console or buttons on the steering wheel. More than once, a minor touch on one of them while turning the wheel changed a satellite radio station.

_F8A4491-sourceSpecifications

  • Model: 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLB250 4MATIC four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 221 hp, 258 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed dual-clutch automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 2 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 5 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 102/20. (62)
  • Weight: 3,759 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 23/31/26 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $39,995.
  • Price as tested: $51,875.

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

_F8A4259-sourcePhotos (c) Mercedes-Benz

2020 Ford Escape AWD Hybrid: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Though not faring badly in the crossover sport utility wars, the 2020 Ford Escape enhances its chances with new weapons that include two hybrid versions — one standard and the other a plug-in.

In 2019, the compact Escape, a Ford mainstay since the 2001 model year, settled into fourth place among compact crossovers behind the best-selling Toyota RAV4, the second-place Honda CR-V and the third place Chevrolet Equinox. Escape sales bested those of the other prominent competitors: Jeep Cherokee, Mazda CX-5, Hyundai Tucson, Volkswagen Tiguan, GMC Terrain and Kia Sportage.

2020 Ford Escape

Ford, using a hybrid system similar to that of the best-selling Toyota Prius, was the first to introduce the fuel-saving technology into a crossover in 2005, then let it slide away.

Now it returns with the two hybrids. Front-drive Escape models are available as standard hybrids and plug-ins. The company says the latter can travel up to 30 miles on electric power alone. It has a city/highway/combined fuel consumption rating of 44/37/41 mpg.

If you order the Escape with all-wheel drive, the plug-is not available. But its standard hybrid power train, with a stingy 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine combined with an electric motor integrated into the transmission, delivers a combined 200 hp. The EPA fuel economy rating is 43/37/40 mpg, enough to give it an estimated range of 568 miles.

2020 Ford Escape

The all-wheel drive Titanium model, tested here, came to the market before the plug-in. Though expensive for a vehicle in this category, it exhibits characteristics that rival some near-luxury and luxury crossovers.

It has classy exterior styling, borrowing cues from the Ford Mustang, the new electric Mustang Mach-E and Ford’s GT super car. The last has a price tag of nearly half a million dollars. Elements transfer to the Escape, which presents clean, fuss-free lines.

Inside, the driver and passengers are cosseted in soft leather seats, surrounded by trim, materials and workmanship that would not be out of place in a Lincoln or Cadillac. No surprise, then, that the tested Titanium trim had a $35,995 price including the destination charge and, with options, topped out at $37,990. As an American Motors executive said years ago, “Americans want fuel economy, and they’ll pay anything to get it.”

2020 Ford Escape

It could be argued that this Ford Escape represents the epitome of what U.S. buyers currently are seeking in a compact crossover SUV. At 15 feet 1 inch in length and passenger space of 104 cubic feet with 35 cubic feet for cargo behind the second row, it exceeds the EPA’s definition of a large sedan like the Bentley Flying Spur.

Of course, it comes up short of the Lincoln Aviator from Ford’s luxury division, a three-row crossover that has 150 cubic feet of passenger space and 18 cubic feet for cargo, or 42 cubic feet if you fold the third row, which cuts the passenger room to 126.

2020 Ford Escape

Nevertheless, the Escape can carry up to five passengers and most of their stuff on a beach or ski vacation, assuming the snowboards and skis are tied down somewhere on the roof.

As with most modern hybrids, the only clue that this is not a standard gasoline-engine vehicle is the silence that results when you punch the start button. It simply announces that everything is “ready.” Then you drive it as you would any automobile.

Except for some tiny lag off the line, the Escape accelerates smartly and holds its own in any stoplight sprint or freeway on-ramp. There’s no hint of a transition between electric and gasoline power; they simply work in concert. Plus as a conventional hybrid, you never have to plug it in.

2020 Ford Escape

To help boost the fuel economy, the hybrid Escape boasts four hybrid settings: Auto EV, in which the onboard computer decides the mix of gasoline and electric power; EV Now, which delivers all-electric driving; EV Later, which switches to full gasoline-fueled driving to conserve electric power for later use, and an all-new EV Charge mode in which the battery charges continually for eventual use.

All Escape models, including the hybrids, also are equipped with five driver-selectable settings that adjust transmission shifting and other  functions to enhance fuel economy and performance under different conditions. They are labeled Normal, Eco, Sport, Slippery and Snow/Sand driving.

And, by the way for duffers, Ford brags that the Escape can carry a foursome and their golf bags.

2020 Ford Escape

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Ford Escape Titanium AWD hybrid four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine/motor: 2.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine with 14.4 kw electric motor; combined 200 hp.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 1 inch.
  • Height: 5 feet 9 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 104/35 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,706 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 1,500 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 43/37/40 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $35,995.
  • Price as tested: $37,990.

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

2020 Ford Escape

Photos (c) Ford

2020 Hyundai Venue SEL: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Hyundai sagely developed a grasp of Americans’ preference for crossover sport utility vehicles and now has extended its reach with the 2020 Venue.

The South Korean manufacturer has a lineup of six SUVs: Venue; Kona, available as a hybrid and an electric; the hydrogen-fueled Nexo, sold only in California; compact Tucson, midsize Santa Fe and three-row Palisade. They cover the size spectrum of the currently most popular vehicle type in the U.S.

Large-40000-2020Venue-MiamiWith a starting price of $18,550, including the destination charge, the entry-level Venue is aimed squarely at some of the buyers of 41 million used cars in 2019. The target group is younger people who are into urban night life — whatever that means. The idea is to provide them the opportunity to own an affordable new car with all the latest safety and infotainment equipment.

In a tidy package that measures 13 feet 3 inches in length and 5 feet 3 inches tall, the Venue instantly reminds an onlooker of the Kia Soul, the best seller of Hyundai’s sister company. Though classified as a subcompact crossover, the Venue boasts the interior volume of a midsize sedan with plenty of passenger space for four and a seatbelt for a squished fifth person in the center-rear.

Large-36140-2020VenueHowever, unlike the funky Kia Soul, which has 125 cubic feet of interior volume, 14 more than the Venue’s 111, the Venue has a more conventional crossover profile. Like the Soul, it comes only with front-wheel drive but it looks the part of an attractively styled small SUV. That along with the low price should easily attract buyer attention.

But despite what appears to be a paucity of power on paper, the Venue is a sprightly and economical performer. Its 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine delivers 121 hp and 113 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force, not exactly the stuff of drag racers.

Large-36141-2020VenueHowever, the Venue makes up for any shortcomings in performance with outstanding city/highway/combined fuel consumption of 30/34/32 mpg in a vehicle that weighs 2,732 pounds. That betters the Soul’s 27/32/29 with a curb weight of 3,036 pounds.

Nevertheless, the Venue feels quick off the line and responsive in the cut and thrust of urban traffic, as well as passing on rural two-lane roads. Credit some of that to what Hyundai calls its “intelligent” continuously-variable automatic transmission (CVT).

Large-40047-2020Venue-MiamiCVTs use a system of belts and pulleys to multiply engine power, usually without shift points. But the Venue’s CVT uses a durable chain instead of a belt and is programmed to operate like a conventional automatic transmission with stepped shift points. Drivers used to the feel of upshifts will not notice anything different.

There are three driver-selectable drive modes with the CVT: normal, sport and snow. The two former settings adjust acceleration shift points and steering feel, while the snow setting feathers the throttle on start-ups to avoid wheel spin on slippery surfaces.

Large-36146-2020VenueThe Venue also offers a six-speed manual gearbox. There was no opportunity at the national introduction to drive the stick shift but if it is anything like the manuals on Hyundai’s other vehicles like the Elantra and Veloster, it should be delightfully manipulative.

There are just two Venue trim levels: SE and SEL. The SE comes standard with the six-speed manual, with the intelligent CVT as an option. The SEL comes with the CVT as standard equipment.

Driven for this review was a top-line SEL with a premium package that had a starting price of $20,245 and a bottom-line sticker of $23,280, which is somewhere around $13,000 less than the average price of a new car these days. Take heed, urban night lifers. That buys a lot of mojitos and manhattans.

Large-39995-2020Venue-MiamiBoth trim levels come with advanced safety equipment that includes forward collision avoidance with pedestrian detection, stability and traction control, lane-keeping assist, driver attention warning, tire-pressure monitoring, and a full suite of airbags and a rear-view camera.

Also, the SEL had blind-spot warning and rear cross-traffic collision warning.

Other options: Power sunroof, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, pushbutton starting, Apple Car Play and Android Auto, SXM satellite radio, Bluetooth, heated front seats and outside mirrors, LED lighting, navigation system, and 17-inch alloy wheels.

Among potential buyers of late-model used cars, there is an increasing appetite for the peace of mind of driving a car that, for example, will slam on the brakes when a driver is distracted. With that comfort ambiance on an affordable car, it’s a slam dunk.

Large-36130-2020VenueSpecifications

  • Model: 2020 Hyundai Venue SEL four-door hatchback.
  • Engine: 1.6-liter four-cylinder; 121 hp, 113 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously-variable automatic with front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 13 feet 3 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 3 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 92/19 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 2,732 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 30/34/32 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $20,245.
  • Price as tested: $23,280.

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

Large-36142-2020VenuePhotos (c) Hyundai

 

 

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