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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

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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 Golf GTI 2.0T Rabbit: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Light a few candles. The Volkswagen Rabbit GTI has been resurrected, though now it is called the 2019 Golf GTI Rabbit Edition. As ever, it is a hatchback performance model of what basically is an economy car.

2019_GTI_Rabbit_Edition-Large-9348The original, called the “Rabbit” in the United States, made its debut in 1975 as the replacement for the beloved Beetle with its air-cooled horizontally-opposed four-cylinder engine behind and driving the rear wheels.

It was a new direction for the German manufacturer. The Rabbit, named Golf in other world markets, came with front-wheel drive and a liquid-cooled inline four-cylinder engine mounted sideways up front as the gods of the era intended.

2019_GTI_Rabbit_Edition-Large-9351Most of the Rabbits were built in the U.S., in a plant in Westmoreland, PA. They were spunky little creatures with four-speed manual gearboxes but unfortunately were fragile compared to the anvil-like reliability of the Beetle.

Not long after the Rabbit’s introduction, Volkswagen introduced the GTI, a higher performance version with 110 horsepower, or 43 more horses than the standard version. Later versions also came with a five-speed stick. GTI stands for Grand Tourer Injection, referring to the engine’s fuel injection.

2019_GTI_Rabbit_Edition-Large-9336By today’s lights, those early GTIs were brittle and shaky. But they captured the imagination of small-car enthusiasts with limited incomes. It is fair to say that the GTI was the progenitor of what came to be known as the “hot hatch” niche in the market.

In the mid-1980s, the Rabbit name went away and the U.S. models adopted the world-wide name of Golf. From then on, the performance models, with two- and four-door versions, became the Golf GTI.

Now with the four-door only 2019 model, the Rabbit name is back, though now with one of those interminable names that decorate cars from German manufacturers. Its proper title is the “2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI 2.0T Rabbit Edition.”

2019_GTI_Rabbit_Edition-Large-9329The 2.0T, of course, describes its 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, which makes 228-hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. With its slick-shifting six-speed manual gearbox, it can nail 60 mph from rest in about six seconds. An even quicker seven-speed dual-clutch automatic is available for an additional $1,100.

The Rabbit Edition is a bit of a bare bones version of the GTI, slotted between the base S and SE, with more trim than the S but less equipment than the SE and top-line Autobahn model. There’s  also an all-wheel drive Golf R.

2018_Golf_GTI-Large-6700But with a price tag of $29,790 for the tested manual model, including the destination charge, and a city/highway fuel consumption rating of 27 mpg, it delivers a relatively low price and everyday economy commuting as well as that tingle of excitement when you hammer the throttle and snap-shift the transmission to poke into that traffic hole in the next lane.

On the road, handling is sharp with quick moves around curves and solid straight-line tracking. The suspension system soaks up road irregularities to deliver a ride that is stiff but supple. Road and engine noise are mostly muted for fatigue-free Interstate cruising.

2019_GTI_Rabbit_Edition-Large-9325Missing from the Rabbit are a sunroof, automatic climate control and SXM satellite radio, which is not available on any GTI trim level. That reflects the trend toward streaming audio. Equipment includes an AM-FM radio and one USB port for streaming capability.

The Rabbit comes with basic safety equipment, including a crash response system and electronic brake assist, but lacks such advanced features as adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert.

2019_GTI_Rabbit_Edition-Large-9322One of the more endearing features of the Rabbit Edition are its sport seats up front and accommodating passenger seats in back. The upholstery is a substantial cloth with an attractive plaid design that grips the torso. It is augmented by aggressive bolstering on the front seats that encourages spirited motoring on twisting mountain roads.

Too bad that if a customer decides to move up to the SE edition to get additional equipment, he or she gets leather upholstery, which in this case is inferior to the Rabbit’s beautiful plaid cloth, which should be available on every trim level.

2019_GTI_Rabbit_Edition-Large-9347In back, two passengers sit comfortably with generous head and knee room. There is a seatbelt for a third passenger, who deserves pity for sitting scrunched on a hard cushion straddling a big floor hump with knees banging on the intruding front console.

But hey. The Rabbit GTI is a sports car that delivers daily driving enjoyment with small family practicality.

2019_GTI_Rabbit_Edition-Large-9339Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI 2.0T Rabbit Edition four-door hatchback.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 228 hp, 258 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six speed manual with front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 10 inches.
  • Height: 4 feet 9 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 98/23 Cubic feet.
  • Weight: 2,965 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 24/32/27 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $29,790.
  • Price as tested: $29,790.

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

2019_GTI_Rabbit_Edition-Large-9350Photos (c) Volkswagen

2020 Kia Soul: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Not that anyone could have predicted it a decade ago, but the Kia Soul not only survived, it thrived. Competitors fell by the wayside. Now, as a new 2020 model, it is poised for a growth spurt.

There is nothing quite like the Soul. It is basically a box with streamlining and styling cues, something like a small cargo van with comfort, performance and handling—not to mention a funky personality.

2020 Soul X-Line

When it was introduced as a 2009 model, competitors included the Scion xB and the Nissan Cube. The Cube, with a sideways-opening rear hatch, never caught on and faded away. The xB, from Toyota’s youth-oriented brand, grew into a larger station wagon, then disappeared as well, and later even the Scion name was axed. But the Soul soldiered on and in 2018 U.S. sales totaled 104,707.

Now in its third generation, the Soul presents a new face — actually, three new faces — to a broad range of customers from across different age and income spectrums. There are seven gasoline-engine trim levels from the base LX, at $18,485, to the top-line GT-Line trim, which starts at $28,485. An all-electric model will be introduced separately.

2020 Soul GT-Line

The GT-Line is unique in the lineup. Compared to all of the other trim levels, it presents a different front-end treatment and headlight positioning, a more powerful turbocharged engine and a seven-speed twin-clutch automatic transmission. The electric model has a unique fascia as well.

At the national introduction, Kia showed the GT-Line and the $22,485 X-line. The latter, along with all the other gasoline Soul versions except the GT-Line, is powered by a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that delivers 147 hp and 132 lb-ft of torque through a continuously-variable automatic transmission (CVT). City/highway/combined fuel economy is rated at 27/33/30 mpg.

2020 Soul X-Line

However, Kia calls its transmission an IVT, for intelligent-variable automatic. CVTs use a system of belts and pulleys to seamlessly multiply engine torque on its way to the wheels. They typically have no shift points. Some are criticized for a sound and feel as if they are slipping, though some manufacturers use computer software to mimic set shift points.

The Kia IVT has different innards, including a chain drive that results in what might be called a more natural feel — that is, one that is more familiar to motorists used to traditional torque-converter automatics with smooth or sometimes jerky shift points.

Whatever. The X-Line’s IVT shifts unobtrusively and presents no annoyance to customers used to their previous 1959 Oldsmobile Rocket 88. On the GT-Line, however, the transmission is a dual-clutch automatic, which essentially works like a manual gearbox except with two clutches that are poised to anticipate the driver’s next up or down shift.

2020 Soul X-Line

That happens when the manual mode is selected and the driver uses the shift lever or paddles on the steering wheel. The transmission uncannily knows what the driver plans, so the twin clutches engage and disengage in milliseconds for rapid shifts.

Unfortunately, for true enthusiasts — they probably would be opting for a Mazda MX-5 Miata or Volkswagen GTI in any case —t he only manual gearbox available on the new Soul is on the base LX model. Kia makes an excellent six-speed manual gearbox available on models like the exciting Forte5, which would be welcome on the GT-Line Soul as well.

Soul GT-Line

Whatever. In its position in the marketplace, with all prices well below the $36,000 average price of a new car these days, the 2020 Soul delivers a range of satisfactory penny-pinching as well as enticing performance models.

Kia thinks that practical-minded customers, usually older, will opt for the X-Line for everyday practicality and even bumming around in moderately-challenging boondocks, even though no Soul can be ordered with all-wheel drive.

The GT-Line exists for those who want the torque of a turbo for stoplight sprints and a bit of excitement on those twisting mountain roads, although as mentioned the six-speed manual would be the choice if it were available.

Soul GT-Line

So, bottom line: The 2020 Kia Soul GT-Line, with its $28,485 price tag, delivers a good handling, nice riding, tidy package — just an inch shy of 14 feet long — that has midsize sedan passenger space, with full-size car luggage space, and rewarding throttle response and long-distance cruising on supportive and comfortable front bucket seats.

If you get your juices flowing only from $200,000-plus Italian exotics, the Soul is not for your soul. But if your orientation is toward a not-as-attractive complete package for not a lot of bucks, take a look.

2020 Soul GT-Line

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Kia Soul GT-Line four-door hatchback.
  • Engine: 1.6-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 201 hp, 195 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic.
  • Overall length: 13 feet 11 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 101/24 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,036 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 27/32/29 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $28,485.
  • Price as tested: $28,485.

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

2020 Soul GT-Line

Photos (c) Kia

Is a BEV in Your Future?

by Jason Fogelson

I recently reviewed the 2019 Nissan Leaf Plus for AutoTrader. It’s a fine vehicle in many respects. With an estimated 226 miles of range on a single charge, it can serve as an able commuter. It will require minimal maintenance over the course of its lifetime – just consumables like wiper blades and fluid, tires, brake pads and the like. No oil changes, transmission fluid, antifreeze, clutch adjustments – truly minimal routine maintenance. Perhaps best of all, it doesn’t use any gasoline, and can be charged in a reasonable amount of time on a 240-volt home outlet. But I still can’t recommend that you buy or lease a Nissan Leaf Plus, or any other current battery-electric vehicle (BEV), unless you are a committed early adopter.

That’s because some quick math has convinced me that the BEV equation still doesn’t work.

2019 Nissan LEAF e+

A Leaf Plus will start at around $37,000 – still a guess, until Nissan announces prices when it launches the vehicle to dealerships in March 2019, a few weeks from now. There’s still a Federal tax credit available (up to $7,500) and some states offer additional credits. So, let’s assume that Leaf Plus nets at about $30,000.

Compare that to a base 2019 Nissan Sentra, which starts at $18,480 with a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). That Sentra is rated by the EPA to achieve 32 mpg combined. If gasoline costs $2.50 per gallon (today’s average, according to the AAA, is $2.394), you’ll be able to buy 4,608 gallons of the stuff for the difference in price between a Sentra and a Leaf Plus – enough to travel up to 147,456 miles in a Sentra before you begin to recoup the difference in price between the Sentra and Leaf Plus. Of course, you’ll need to do some maintenance on the Sentra. Nissan recommends oil and filter changes every 5,000 miles/6 months. That’ll run about $60 a year at your local Jiffy Lube. You’ll need to replace the air filter every 30,000 miles/3 years for about $20 if you do it yourself. At 105,000 miles, you’ll need to replace all four spark plugs for about $7.50 each/$30.00 total. Let’s add in three batteries at $200 each, and a major service (timing belt, CVT fluid, radiator fluid, etc.) at the dealer every 50,000 miles, for about $500 a pop. We’ll ignore maintenance items that are common to the gasoline and battery vehicles, like tires, brakes, brake fluid and such.

2019 Sentra SR TurboHere’s a basic cost breakdown to keep the Sentra maintained for 147,456 miles, then:

Oil/Filters: 30 services @ $30 each: $900.00
Spark Plugs: 4 @ $7.50 each: $30.00
Battery Replacement: 3 @ $200 each: $600.00
Major Service: 3 @ $500 each: $1,500.00

Total: $3,030.00

Assuming that you drive somewhere near the national average of 15,000 miles, that’s just over $300 per year in maintenance for ten years of service.

2019 Nissan LEAF e+

Charging an electric car is not free. This is where my math gets really fuzzy and estimated, because electricity rates vary so widely based on a number of factors. Residential rates average about $0.12/kWh, but there are different rates for different levels of usage, times of day, and other factors. The best estimates that I’ve found assume that it costs about $2.50 to bring an average electric car (whatever that is) to a full charge from empty. Charging at commercial charging stations can be by kWh, by time, or flat rate, depending on the system. A Level 2 charge can be as little as $2.50, while a DC Quick Charge usually starts at about $10.00. To make the math really simple, let’s assume that the Nissan Leaf Plus can be charged for about $0.10 per mile. That’s probably a low estimate. So, over 147,456 miles, electricity will cost you at least $1,475.

2018 Nissan Sentra

There are other factors to consider. The Leaf Plus battery is going to degrade over the course of use. Nissan’s warranty covers it for eight years or 100,000 miles against defects and excessive capacity loss, so those last 47,456 miles will be uncharted territory. My assumption is that it will take more electricity to get the same distance over time – and higher electrical costs as a result.

You might have access to free charging at work, or at a public station in a liberal metropolis. But if BEV adoption rates increase at predicted rates, those resources will become harder to come by as competition for charging stations intensifies.

You may be considering the installation of solar panels, which would benefit both your general home electricity bill and your vehicle charging. I can’t even begin to do the math on that.

But the basic math between a Nissan Sentra and a Nissan Leaf Plus does not provide a definitive answer.

Here’s my basic breakdown for ten years/150,000 miles of ownership:

2018 Nissan Sentra

2019 Nissan Sentra:
$18,480.00 purchase price
$ 3,030.00 unique maintenance costs
$11,718.75 gasoline (150,000 miles @ 32 mpg X $2.50/gallon)
$33,228.75 Total

2019 Nissan LEAF e+

2019 Nissan Leaf Plus
$30,000.00 net purchase price
$ 0.00 unique maintenance costs
$ 1,500.00 electricity (150,000 miles @ $0.10 per mile)
$31,500.00 Total

This is back-of-the-envelope stuff, and not entirely scientific. The Leaf Plus would appear to pay off – but just barely. And there are tons of variable here. Gas prices could vary wildly over the next ten years. So could electricity prices. We don’t really know how well the Leaf Plus batteries will hold up over 10 years – Nissan warns that range will decrease with time and use, which means that costs will increase. We have a pretty good idea that a well-maintained Sentra is capable of 150,000 miles of trouble-free operation, though. According to Kelley Blue Book, a 2009 Nissan Sentra S with 150,000 miles on the clock lists at $4,799, while a 2011 Nissan Leaf (the first year of production) with 100,000 miles on the odometer lists at $5,290, so depreciation is also something to think about.

After reviewing my math, I still have a hard time recommending the purchase of a new Nissan Leaf Plus – for now. Stay tuned.

2019 Nissan LEAF e+

Photos (c) Nissan

2019 Volkswagen Beetle Final Edition: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Sniffles. After so many years it sounds so, well, final: the 2019 Volkswagen SE Beetle Final Edition, for this review the two-door convertible model. There will be waves of nostalgia.

This is a thoroughly modern automobile with all of the comfort and conveniences not dreamed of by owners of the originals in the middle of the 20th century. Think back on some of the differences.

2019_Beetle_Convertible_Final_Edition--8697The 2019 Final Edition convertible has a padded top, so tight and quiet you’d swear you were driving a luxury coupe. You can barely hear exhaust sounds. Old Bugs were raucous, with twin exhaust pipes that sometimes whistled while they worked.

Check out the automatic climate control. Set it and forget it. The reviewer’s ’65 Type 113 Bug came with little vents on the floor that carried warm air from the rear engine compartment into the passenger pod — maybe. Air conditioning? Swing the front vent windows all the way out to force that humid summer air inside. Notice the cranks on the doors? Open the windows and get a bit of exercise.

Grasp the 2019’s sturdy console lever that controls the six-speed automatic transmission. Totally not as engaging as the early Bugs’ fragile floor-mounted shifter with the tiny pancake shift knob for the four-speed manual gearbox. Truth be told, it was a delight to snick through the gears.

Historic_Beetle-Large-2284Sadly, the Final Edition’s engine is in the wrong place. It’s up front under the hood, where the trunk should be, instead of out back behind the wheels. Plus, it’s a 174-hp, turbocharged, upright four-cylinder engine, not a proper 40-hp boxer with its cylinders reclining like sunbathers.

The Final Edition comes with a small trunk of seven cubic feet. Bugs had their trunks up front plus a generous uncovered bin behind the rear seat.

That old ’65 Bug did have other advantages: Six-volt battery to keep the headlights so dim they would not blind oncoming drivers or light the road; windshield washers powered by air fed from the spare tire  in the trunk up front.

2019_Beetle_Final_Edition--8699Armrests? Padded beauties on the Final Edition. Nonexistent on many older Bugs because the German engineers decreed that owners should keep their hands on the steering wheels instead of elbows resting on armrests.

Though the Final Edition has that six-speed automatic transmission, you can order a six-speed manual if you want it. Some older Bugs came with a transmission called the Automatic Stick Shift, which one enthusiast magazine dubbed the A.S.S. It was so efficient, especially on the Bug’s big brother, the Microbus, that you could walk faster than it could accelerate from a stop sign.

Doggone it, Volkswagen finally went and did it. After all these years — nearly 80 overall and 70 in the United States — the rambunctious and familiar Bug, the modern New Beetle and, simply and finally, the Beetle, will be no more after the 2019 model year.

It actually was thought to be dead in an earlier time. After a slow start in the U.S. after World War II, it became wildly popular for its reliability and economy. More than 15 million of the little two-door sedans were sold from 1949 until 1955, beating out Ford’s model T as the best-selling single-model car of all time. It continued for two decades after that.

Historic_Beetle-Large-2295In 1975, the Bug ended its run, giving way to the Rabbit, called the Golf in other countries. But it was dead only in the U.S. It continued abroad in Brazil, Mexico and other places. Then, after selling 21.5 million cars overall, the last of the original Bugs rolled off the line in Mexico in 2003.

The U.S. Rabbit was different. Where the original Bug had an air-cooled, horizontally-opposed four-cylinder engine mounted behind and driving the rear wheels, the Rabbit had a conventional liquid-cooled four-cylinder engine driving the front wheels.

Timeline_1976-Large-3786Though more modern, the fragile Rabbit was not the reliable equal of the old Bug. It lasted only about a decade until it was replaced by other Volkswagen models. But there still were no Beetles sold in the United States.

Then VW showed a prototype of a thing called the New Beetle, with updated attractive styling that resembled the original. It was displayed at the North American International Automobile Show and was an immediate hit. Volkswagen wasted no time in bringing it to market and it lasted until from 1997 to 2010, when it was replaced by a new version simply called the Beetle. That is the car that we mourn now.

Produkte: New Beetle USA Version (1998)
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Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Volkswagen Beetle SE Final Edition two-door convertible.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder; 174 hp, 184 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 1 inch.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 81/7 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,239 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 26/33/29 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $28,190.
  • Price as tested: $30,690.

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

2019_Beetle_Convertible_Final_Edition--8701Photos (c) Volkswagen

2019 Fiat 500 Lounge: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Whether you see it on the wall at an Interstate rest stop or on a small car, the message is the same: For a good time, dial FIAT 500.

In this rendering, that would be the 2019 Fiat 500 Lounge model, an upscale version of the basic two-door Italian runabout, which if nothing else comes across as cute and spunky. It arrives from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), which also produces Jeeps, Chryslers, Dodges, Ram Trucks and high-performance marques Alfa-Romeo and Maserati.

2019 Fiat 500c

The 500 is quintessentially Italian, not much different in concept from the many tiny Fiat 500s of yore that have been romanticized in film and fiction. The idea was to be small enough to negotiate narrow Italian roads, economical enough to withstand outrageous gasoline prices, quick enough to handle urban traffic and maybe just roomy enough with a miniscule cargo area and constricted back seat suited mainly for groceries.

Not much of that has changed little with the 2019 model except that it’s more comfortable up front, with semi-exciting performance and entertaining handling, and modern amenities like satellite radio, automatic climate control, backup camera and turbocharged engines.

2019 Fiat 500c

The original 500 actually made its way to the United States, along with the Fiat 124 Spider convertible, rear-engine X/19 sports car and other models in the 1950s and 1960s. But the cars were plagued by rust and poor reliability, which prompted the recurring joke that FIAT stood for, “Fix It Again, Tony.”

In 1983, Fiat bailed out of the U.S. market. But after the merger that created FCA, the marque returned in 2011, and it’s been around since for fans of its bello design, recognized world-wide as the leader of automotive style, mostly on ultra-performing machines like Ferrari, Lamborghini and Maserati.

2019 Fiat 500c

The 500 Lounge tested here, of course, does not dance in that company. Nevertheless, it has styling that has delighted generations of motorists who consider it charming and endearing. Unfortunately, that hasn’t always equated with everyday reliability and durability. Even today Fiat ranks near the top in aggravation.

Still, ratings of reliability nowadays are not what they were. In earlier days, a low ranking meant a car that had transmission, electrical or engine problems that left an owner at the side of a rural road at midnight. Now a low ranking might include some of that as well, but more often traced to a loose gasoline cap, an unfamiliar automatic transmission shifter, wind noise at highway speeds or frustration in using an infotainment system.

All of that said, the 2019 Fiat Lounge prompts affection both for its driving traits and its idiosyncrasies. On the plus side, despite a paucity of power from its 135-hp turbocharged four-cylinder engine, which delivers 150 lb-ft of torque, it feels quick off the line with the six-speed automatic transmission. Acceleration at all speeds is enhanced if you punch the dash-mounted Sport button, which tweaks transmission shifting.

2019 Fiat 500c

Engine sounds, which deliver constant cabin noise during stoplight sprints as well as highway cruising, are pleasant to an enthusiast’s ears though annoying on a long drive. The shortage of cabin insulation also allows a tinny sound to the audio system no matter how the bass and treble are adjusted.

Negatives also include: Sun visors that are fixed forward with no way to swing sideways to block sunlight; the impossibly cramped back seat, a perforated cloth sunshade for the motorized glass sunroof which admits blistering sunlight in summer, a big adjustable steering wheel that tilts but does not telescope and no pushbutton starting, though the ignition key works as well as always.

2019 Fiat 500

The tested 2019 Fiat 500, with no increase in price, is essentially the same as the 2018 model, which introduced a number of mechanical and style improvements, including the standard turbocharged engine, performance braking and suspension systems, backup camera, rear spoiler and fog lights.

Interior appointments belie the 500 Lounge’s economy runabout classification. The tester featured white leather seats and steering wheel, and body-colored metal dashboard with matte black trim—altogether classy looking though there were no soft-touch surfaces.

Base price of the Lounge trim level is $21,240 and the bottom-line sticker came to $24,815. Options included the six-speed automatic transmission (a five-speed manual is standard), motorized glass sunroof, navigation system, 16-inch bright aluminum wheels and a Beats premium audio system, which as noted earlier could not manage a premium listening experience.

If what you need or want is a stylish, entertaining mini-car that also is OK for an occasional short trip, take a test drive.

2019 Fiat 500c

Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Fiat 500 Lounge two-door hatchback.
  • Engine: 1.4-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 135 hp, 150 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic.
  • Overall length: 11 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 76/10 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 2,375 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 24/32/27 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $21,040.
  • Price as tested: $24,815.

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

2019 Fiat 500c

Photos (c) FCA North America

2019 Audi RS 3 2.5T Quattro Sedan: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Every so often, a car like the 2019 Audi RS 3 arrives that can only be described with one word: sweet.

This subcompact sedan comes in a sweet size with sweet (if sometimes alarming) performance, sweet handling and even sweeter tactile feedback.

medium-2018-audi-rs-3-sedan-2649But whoa. The tester came with a $66,590 price tag. It doesn’t make it any less sweet but it sure activates a person’s pause button — and maybe for salivating but income-challenged intenders, the stop button.

Fortunately, there are some less expensive choices. In keeping with current German luxury-car philosophy, there always are pinnacle high-performance models to augment the regular lineup — as if any of these small Audi sedans could be considered regular.

Think Mercedes-AMG and BMW M Series. These are the ultra-performing and expensive top-liners for those marques. At Audi, such machines come from the Sport Division and the RS 3 is one of those creatures.

medium-2018-audi-rs-3-2589It is based on the Audi A3, a subcompact sedan, which itself is not what any enthusiast would consider mundane. Usually, subcompact denotes small, economical and low-priced. Not here. The A3 comes with a 220-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 258 lb-ft of torque and a price tag of $35,150 to $44,100, depending on the trim level.

Not believing that will satisfy some Audi-philes, the Sport division raises the ante with the S3, which also has the 2.0-liter four-banger but which pumps out 292 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque. Prices range from $43,850 to $49,350. Both the A3 and S3 use Audi’s six-speed automatic transmission with manual shifting, called the S tronic, and quattro all-wheel drive.

medium-2018-audi-rs-3-sedan-2507Climbing all the way to the summit, we find the subject here — the  RS 3, which goes up one cylinder to five and displacement to 2.5 liters. Also turbocharged, it hammers out 394 hp and 354 lb-ft of torque, enabling the tiny, 3,593-lb RS 3 to sprint to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds with a top speed of 174 mph. And that’s a governed, or limited, speed. It could go faster on a track with proper racing equipment.

All of this nestles in a low-slung, four-door sedan with 19-inch wheels, menacing dual exhaust pipes and ceramic racing brakes, but otherwise doesn’t exactly scream ultra high performance. Uninformed onlookers might see nothing more than a streamlined Toyota Corolla. The RS 3 is just 14 feet 9 inches long with a passenger volume of 87 cubic feet and a tiny trunk of 10 cubic feet.

medium-2018-audi-rs-3-sedan-2508But the design is clever enough to accommodate four passengers comfortably with adequate but not generous head or knee room in back. The rear doors swing wide so entry and exit are easy. There’s a seatbelt  for a fifth passenger in the middle but it’s a fiction. The space is impossible for anything but a two-foot tall capuchin monkey.

Inside design validates Audi’s reputation for classy, understated elegance with fine materials. The only jarring note is the so-called sunshade for the panoramic glass sunroof. In thrall to a current cliché in some luxury cars, the RS 3’s sunshade is made of a cheesecloth-like perforated cloth material, which admits hot sunlight and looks cheap next to the neighboring carbon-fiber and alcantara trim. Sunshades should be opaque.

medium-2018-audi-rs-3-sedan-2509The appeal of the RS 3 lies in the sweet driving experience. Settle into the driver’s seat, light up the engine and touch a button to choose from driving modes labeled Dynamic, Comfort, Auto and Individual. For an all-out run, you want to select Dynamic, which holds the shift points to higher revs to keep the engine on the boil for instant acceleration.

The transmission is a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, calibrated to shift up and down in milliseconds, always ready for the driver’s next whim. But it would be silly to stay in the Dynamic mode in highway cruising because there would be a cost in fuel economy, which the EPA rates at 19/28/22 mpg in city/highway/combined driving. In easy, around-town cruising, Comfort works, well, comfortably.

medium-2018-audi-rs-3-sedan-2491Don’t expect a floating, limousine-like ride. Almost nobody does that anymore. The Audi RS is, first and foremost, a sports car in sedan guise with the steering and suspension system biased toward precise handling and control. So, avoid the potholes if you can and enjoy the tactile feedback as you carve corners, win stoplight drag races and shoot holes in heavy traffic.

Or simply cruise serenely and enjoy the scenery.

large-2018-audi-rs-3-sedan-2543Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Audi RS 3 2.5 T Quattro S tronic four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 2.5-liter five-cylinder, turbocharged; 394 hp, 354 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 9 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 87/10 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,593 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 19/28/22 mpg. Premium recommended.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $57,195.
  • Price as tested: $66,590.

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

large-2018-audi-rs-3-sedan-2526Photos (c) Audi

2019 Nissan Maxima and Murano: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Even when you are fundamentally healthy like Nissan’s 2019 Maxima sedan and Murano crossover SUV, it never hurts to add some bling to enhance your appeal.

Usually it happens midway through a model run. In the automobile biz, they call it a refresh — changes that present a new face and personality to prospective customers.

2019 Nissan Maxima-7Both the sport- and luxury-oriented Maxima sedan and the Murano midsize crossover are marketed by Nissan as top-of-the line flagships. Though they do not compete in the luxury segment — that’s the job of the company’s Infiniti brand — the 2019 designs nudge them closer. They are intended to appeal to buyers who want luxury content without big price tags.

Of the two, the Maxima needs the most help. Reflecting the nation-wide trend among buyers toward crossovers and away from sedans, the Maxima’s sales have dropped precipitously in 2018. The Murano, on the other hand, is on a path to increase sales.

MikeDitzPhoto.com

The Maxima competes in the near-luxury, large car class, although like Toyota’s Avalon, it actually is classified by the government as a midsize car.

From a performance standpoint, the Maxima doesn’t need a thing. It is powered by a 300-hp, 3.5-liter V6 engine with 261 lb-ft of torque delivered to the front wheels through Nissan’s Xtronic continuously-variable automatic transmission (CVT). The combination earns a city/highway/combined fuel economy of 20/30/24 mpg.

Some critics deride CVTs, which have no shift points, as noisy and sluggish. But Nissan arguably has more experience with them than any manufacturer and it shows on the Maxima. Throttle response is quick, smooth and powerful. Also, the Maxima handles curving roads like a sports sedan. Straight-line cruising is quiet and effortless with few steering corrections needed.

2019 Nissan Maxima-16The new appeal is mostly about appearances, especially on the tested top-line Maxima Platinum with the Reserve package, though there are safety enhancements as well. With a bottom-line sticker of $43,835, it was loaded with the full 2019 package of safety and luxury enhancements.

One is Nissan’s new rear door alert. The system notes if you open a rear door to stash a package — or a child — in the back seat. At the end of the trip, if you leave without re-opening the back door, it will sound the horn.

Other freshening included Nissan’s V-Motion styling, which sends body lines flowing from the distinctive grille up and over the body. LED headlights and taillights punctuate the styling and augment interior color schemes and accents. The taillights give the impression of width and streamlining.

2019 Nissan Maxima-13The Maxima’s Reserve package, with a $1,140 price tag, includes heated rear seats, 19-inch aluminum alloy wheels, “Rakuda tan” leather upholstery with diamond-quilted seating areas, two-tone leather covered steering wheel, charcoal headliner and pillars, and satin bronze interior trim.

Similarly, the Murano moves closer to luxury territory with new colors like its rusty-shiny “Sunset Drift Chromaflair.”  Along with the Maxima, it also incorporates the company’s Safety Shield 360, which includes automatic emergency braking, rear braking, lane-departure warning, rear cross-traffic alert and blind-sport warning. One apparent shortcoming: there’s no mention of lane-departure assist.

2019 Nissan Murano_F1-10Though not as powerful as its sibling Maxima, the Murano contains enough oomph to avoid embarrassment in the stoplight sprints or on the freeways. Its 3.5-liter V6 engine makes 260 hp with 240 lb-ft of torque, delivered to the front wheels or all four wheels through the Xtronic CVT.

The version tested for this review was the mid-priced SV trim level with front-wheel drive. It had a base price of $35,485 and, with a modest list of options, checked in at $39,230. Add $1,600 if you want all-wheel drive. Fuel economy is rated by the EPA at 20/28/23 mpg.

2019 Nissan Murano_F1-24Handling, of course, is not as crisp as the Maxima’s but the Murano acquits itself well, with little body roll, on twisting mountain roads. Its forte, however, is more attuned to quiet, straight-line cruising with the audio cranked up and the kids on their video games with earphones.

The SV trim eschews leather upholstery in favor of a sturdy embossed cloth, which to some people — including this critic — is more comfortable over a wide range of temperatures than leather. On the Murano, the cloth covers a supportive seat structure that takes the fatigue out of long-distance cruising.

A nearly flat floor should enhance comfort in the center-rear seating position. Unfortunately, the cushion is high and hard, and knee room is compromised by intrusion of the center console.

2019 Nissan Murano_F1-11Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Nissan Maxima Platinum Reserve four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 3.5-liter V6; 300 hp, 261 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Xtronic continuously-variable automatic with manual-shift mode and front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 1 inch.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 96/14 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,676 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 20/30/24 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $42,335.
  • Price as tested: $43,835.

*   *   *

  • Model: 2019 Nissan Murano SV four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 3.5-liter V6; 260 hp, 240 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Xtronic continuously-variable automatic with front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 1 inch.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 103/31 cubic feet. (65)
  • Weight: 3,837 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 1,500 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 20/28/23 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $35,485
  • Price as tested: $39,230.

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

2019 Nissan Murano_F1-5Photos (c) Nissan

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