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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

2019 Hyundai Elantra Limited: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

As other manufacturers have done, Hyundai has designed its compact Elantra to bridge the divide between buyers looking for economy with comfort and those more focused on entertainment and sport.

The former is represented quite capably with the 2019 Elantra Limited four-door sedan and the latter by the 2019 Elantra GT N-Line four-door hatchback.

Large-34143-2019ElantraFor reference, think of the Volkswagen Golf and Volkswagen GTI. Or the Honda Civic and Civic Si or R-Type. In both cases, the base cars are oriented toward economy and everyday duty, while the others promise excitement.

Usually, the base cars come with less powerful engines and automatic transmissions while the performance variants are equipped with manual gearboxes exclusively or a choice of automatic or manual.

Both Elantra versions were driven for this review at the annual Spring Rally of the Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA) at the Road America racetrack in Elkhart Lake, Wis. Manufacturers provided 80 cars and light trucks for driving by about 100 automotive journalists. Some vehicles were designated for track use and autocross; others for street driving and off-roading.

Large-34144-2019ElantraThe Hyundai Elantra Limited four-door is powered by a 147-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 136 lb-ft of torque. It acquitted itself well as an economical and comfortable tourer that never felt short of passing power. Quiet on smooth asphalt highways, road noise intruded on rougher surfaces. It rode comfortably but needed frequent steering corrections.

Averaging 43.8 mpg of regular gasoline over 140 miles of highway driving at speeds up to 75 mph, the tester beat its EPA city/highway/combined fuel economy rating of 28/37/32 mpg.

It had a base price of $23,485, including the destination charge. The price included forward collision and blind spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert and lane keeping assist, as well as dual-zone automatic climate control, SXM satellite radio, Android Auto and Apple Car Play, power driver’s seat with lumbar support, leather upholstery with heated front seats and hands-free trunk opening.

Large-33684-2019ElantraThe tester also came with a $3,350 option package that included adaptive cruise control, navigation system, collision avoidance with pedestrian detection, motorized sunroof, and memory settings for outside mirrors and driver’s seat. All that brought the bottom-line tested price to $26,960, or about $10,000 less than the current average price of a new car.

Though marketed as a compact, the Elantra sedan qualifies as a midsize according to the EPA’s definition, though just barely. The back seat is a bit tight but can accommodate two average-sized adults. However, the center-rear fifth passenger sits on a cramped and uncomfortable perch.

At the other end of the Elantra spectrum is the N-line. Hyundai has chosen N as the designation for its line of high-performance variants, not unlike BMW’s M vehicles or the AMG models from Mercedes-Benz. The N badge comes from Hyundai’s research and development facility in Namyang, South Korea, and also refers to its testing at the famed Nürburgring track in Germany.

Large-33665-2019ElantraAs a four-door hatchback, the 2019 Elantra N-Line is nine inches shorter than the sedan but has more room inside: 97 cubic feet for passengers and 25 cubic feet for cargo under the hatch, compared to 96 cubic feet for passengers and a trunk of 14 cubic feet in the sedan.

The N-Line also has a smaller 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine, more powerful than the base 2.0-liter at 201 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque because it is turbocharged. It comes standard with a slick, easy-shifting six-speed manual gearbox, though a dual-clutch automatic is optional.

Equipped with full basic safety equipment but few of the frills on the Limited sedan, the Elantra N had a bottom-line sticker price of $24,195, or $2,775 lower than the Limited. For any enthusiast, what’s not to like?

Large-33966-2019ElantraThe base price included heated sport seats upholstered in sturdy cloth that hold the torso in place in hard cornering, pushbutton starting, dual-zone automatic climate control, 18-inch alloy wheels with summer performance tires, Apple Car Play and Android Auto, LED headlights and taillights, audio system with SXM satellite radio, and Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity.

Some estimates put the number of U.S. drivers who know how to shift for themselves at something like 2%. It’s a shame because that other 98% would not experience the joy of driving the Elantra GT N-Line or, for that matter, a stick-shift Mazda3, Volkswagen GTI or Honda Civic Si.

The shift linkage of the Elantra N-Line’s six-speed gearbox and clutch action are so easy-going that shifts up and down seem to happen almost by thought control.

Large-33686-2019ElantraSpecifications

  • Model: 2019 Hyundai Elantra Limited four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder; 147 hp, 136 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 2 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 96/14 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 2,844 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 28/37/32 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $23,485.
  • Price as tested: $26,960.

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

Large-34119-2019ElantraPhotos (c) Hyundai

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2019 Buick Envision: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Some potential customers might hesitate because the 2019 Buick Envision is, in fact, a Chinese-made crossover sport utility vehicle with 86% of its parts made in China, not a quintessentially American vehicle.

Nowadays, almost everything you pick up is made in China: shoes, clothing, appliances, you name it. We haven’t minded much, even when the quality may not be great, because the prices are competitive. There’s also a soft spot because China was our ally in WWII, though not in the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

2019 Buick Envision

It’s an old story. After World War II, Japanese products started coming into the U.S. They were widely derided — cheap but of poor quality. Later, after the American reconstruction of Japan, the situation reversed, especially with automobiles, when Japanese cars like Toyota and Honda became quality benchmarks.

In recent years, South Korea followed Japan and delivers high quality cars and crossovers from Hyundai and Kia.

Now we’re seeing increasing numbers of vehicles made in China, which has become the world’s biggest market for cars and light trucks. In 2018, sales in China totaled more than 23 million, compared to more than 17 million in the United States. Chinese manufacturers are exploring exporting vehicles here.

2019 Buick Envision

We can visualize the Envision, Buick’s luxury compact crossover, as a bellwether for vehicles to come. Moreover, it is well designed and  has earned good quality and reliability ratings.

Tested for this review was the all-wheel drive Premium II trim level. It had a base price of $44,795 and, with options, a not-inexpensive sticker of $48,435.

It came with full safety equipment, some optional. Included were automatic collision mitigation braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, surround-vision rear camera, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, and a head-up display.

2019 Buick Envision

A full suite of connectivity features included OnStar services and Buick Infotainment with an eight-inch center screen, navigation with voice recognition, Bluetooth audio streaming, Apple Car Play and Android Auto, 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot and SXM satellite radio.

Though some other modern luxury cars have systems that are irritatingly complex, the Envision keeps things simple. For example, instead of going through a series of annoying steps to pre-set radio and satellite stations, in the Envision you simply find the station and touch the screen to save it.

Comfort and convenience features included tri-zone climate control, power tailgate, perforated leather upholstery with heated and cooled front seats, heated outboard back seats, memory settings for front seats and outside mirrors, panoramic sunroof with opaque sunshade and one-touch operation, and a Bose premium audio system.

2019 Buick Envision

The tested Envision was powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 252 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque A nine-speed automatic transmission sends the power to the pavement. A stop-start system contributes to city/highway/combined fuel economy of 20/25/22 mpg.

Though not as luxurious as some competitors like the Acura RDX and the as-yet untested 2020 Lincoln Corsair, the Envision has a well-designed interior. Front seats and outboard back seats are comfortable but without much bolstering. The floor is flat in back, but the center-rear seat has a hard cushion.

Outside mirrors are mounted on the doors with a small window pane forward so shorter drivers can see curbs and other obstacles. A nice touch: all four outside door handles have lock/unlock buttons.

2019 Buick Envision

Controls are intuitive and white on black backlighted instruments are easy to see and comprehend. One shortcoming: the nine-speed automatic transmission can be shifted manually but with a dinky button on the side of the shift lever. There are no steering-wheel paddles or a separate slot on the shift gate.

On the road, the Envision comports itself capably but without any sporting pretensions. The ride is compliant and comfortable, and the steering and handling feel secure under most circumstances, though you would not want to chase somebody in a sports sedan on twisting mountain roads.

2019 Buick Envision

The turbo engine delivers acceleration that will not be embarrassing in the urban stoplight sprints. Punch the pedal to the floor and you could hit 60 mph in the neighborhood of seven seconds. But the Envision is more endearing as a comfortable around-town and freeway cruiser, as befits its luxury orientation.

In the end, with this entry in the compact luxury crossover category, design and features trump country of origin. It may be built in China with Chinese parts but the Envision is a modern Buick through and through.

2019 Buick Envision

Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Buick Envision AWD Premium II four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 252 hp, 295 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 4 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 7 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 101/27 cubic feet. (57)
  • Weight: 4,083 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 1,500 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 20/25/22 mpg.
  • Based price, including destination charge: $44,795.
  • Price as tested: $48,435.

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

2019 Buick Envision

Photos (c) Buick

2019 Lexus RC300 F Sport: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

It was an arresting bright yellow. But the 2019 Lexus RC300 F Sport probably should have come in salmon orangey-pink because, like the tasty fish that battles to procreate, it is swimming upstream.

2019_Lexus_RC_F_019_404CDC473CF6D513DE13E0FF95A19B18EE03A8DEThis Lexus, from the upscale division of Japan’s Toyota, is a sports coupe outfitted like a luxury car. But it is a type that is falling out of favor in an era when almost every luxury manufacturer, Lexus included, is laser-focused on crossover sport utility vehicles. Bentley, with the Bentayga, and Rolls-Royce, with its Cullinan, sell crossovers. Aston-Martin has shown a concept.

Lexus markets a full lineup of crossovers and traditional SUVs from the subcompact UX to the big truck-like LX. Its best-seller is the RX crossover, which had 111,641 sales in 2018, up 3,334, or 3%, from 2017.

2019_Lexus_RC_F_001_1EF6549C8CB33C9C501FCC75E5E3AE748596D449In the same period, however, the RC models, which include the RC300 and RC350 in standard and F Sport versions, dropped 54% from 7,363 in 2017 to 3,358 in 2018. Lexus says the RC stands for “Radical Coupe.”

It’s not convincing. The RC300 F Sport is a pleasant conveyance but not what many would consider to be a high-performance car. Though other versions are available with a choice of two V6 engines of 260 and 306 hp, the test car came with the base turbocharged 241-hp four-cylinder engine with 258 lb-ft of torque.

2019_Lexus_RC_F_017_D59DD6ABAA91250F1B59659F1F178BFF8E968221Power gets to the rear wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission. It’s enough to romp to 60 mph in the neighborhood of seven seconds so you won’t be embarrassed in the stoplight sprints. But it’s best to think of the RC300 F Sport as a comfortable boulevardier.

On the road, especially in the cut and thrust of commuter traffic and short spurts on freeways, the RC300 shines with a responsive throttle and comfortable ride, unexpected in a subcompact car. The steering is responsive with tactile feedback, and the adaptive suspension system keeps the wheels planted in cornering and straight-line cruising.

2019_Lexus_RC_F_012_4E77B19B9819AC67D4D848779D13B65537F952DCThough rear-wheel drive usually is the choice among enthusiasts for handling prowess, customers in areas with nasty weather might choose all-wheel drive. In the F Sport trim, that tacks on an extra $2,930 but it also includes the 260-hp V6 engine. However, the all-wheel drive version uses a six-speed automatic transmission in place of the eight-speed.

Though there are seats for four, the RC300 F Sport basically is what used to be called a plus-two — essentially a two-seat sports coupe with two vestigial back seats installed mainly to reduce insurance premiums.

2019_Lexus_RC_F_023_3DBBBC7D093AD433B91ED960B6F3BF8D9D8F83C3The RC300’s back seats look comfortable enough but there’s no space for knees and feet unless the front seats are adjusted full forward. But that, of course, wipes out any space for the folks in the front seats. Also, the fastback coupe styling results in a small trunk of just 10 cubic feet — again, probably enough for luggage for two. So think of the back seats as a convenient place to toss purses, small backpacks and cantaloupes.

Though it’s a relative youngster with just five years on the market, the RC300 shows some gray hairs. The test car had a base price of $48,885 and, with options, topped out at $53,580. Yet it still used an old-fashioned step-on parking brake instead of one of the new switch-controlled electronic brakes.

2019_Lexus_RC_F_026_65DC19AAC3465F43EC0317A0443CDE8358BD433CMoreover, the console-mounted touchpad, which controls infotainment and other functions displayed on the center screen, is imprecise and difficult to master. It’s not the sort of convenience that you want to be fiddling with while driving. Get the adjusting done before you drive off.

Despite its relatively tame power, the RC300 F Sport doesn’t  lack chops. It has the adaptive variable suspension system with a half-dozen driver selectable drive modes, ranging from Eco to Sport Plus, snow and custom. The front seats are supportive, heated and ventilated, and well-bolstered for spirited driving on curvy roads.

2019_Lexus_RC_F_025_0A0232B3FD2FC91300477E5F817579C41FE14AEBThere’s automatic pre-collision braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive radar cruise control, blind-spot monitor with rear cross traffic alert, power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, and lane-keeping control. Also: memory setting for the driver’s seat, outside mirrors and steering wheel, Apple Car Play and Amazon Alexa, SXM satellite radio, and Siri Eyes Free and Google voice control.

Options on the test car included a voice-activated navigation system with premium Mark Levinson audio, triple-beam LED headlights, motorized glass sunroof, limited-slip rear differential, premium paint, and an all-weather package of headlight washers, windshield de-icer, water-repellent front door glass and a fast-response interior heater.

2019_Lexus_RC_F_022_530C508CD852890AD76D5354C6F0EC328EEF1CD2Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Lexus RC300 F Sport two-door coupe.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 241 hp, 258 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and rear-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 5 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 82/10 cubic feet.
  • Curb Weight: 3,748 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 21/30/24 mpg. Premium fuel recommended.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $48,885.
  • Price as tested: $53,580.

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

2019_Lexus_RC_F_006_569A8E436FB6584B4091E96293E06E544890B597Photos (c) Lexus.

2019 Chevrolet Blazer Premier: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Specifications

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

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

Photos (c) Chevrolet

2019 Audi A8 L Quattro: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Specifications

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

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

Photos (c) Audi

2020 Jeep Gladiator Sport: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

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

2020 Jeep® Gladiator Launch Edition

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

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

2020 Jeep® Gladiator Rubicon

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

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

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

2020 Jeep® Gladiator Rubicon

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

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

2020 Jeep® Gladiator – interior

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

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

2020 Jeep® Gladiator – interior

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

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

2020 Jeep® Gladiator – interior

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

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

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

2020 Jeep® Gladiator Launch Edition

Specifications

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

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

2020 Jeep® Gladiator Overland

Photos (c) FCA North America

2019 MINI Cooper SE Countryman PHEV: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

P90240573_highRes_mini-cooper-s-countrSpecifications    

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

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

P90240672_highRes_the-new-mini-countryPhotos (c) MINI

 

2019 Volkswagen Atlas: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2019_Atlas-Large-8755Specifications

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

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

2018_Atlas-Large-7510Photos (c) Volkswagen

 

2020 Lincoln Corsair: A DriveWays First Look…

by Frank A. Aukofer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image-6Photos (c) Lincoln

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