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2021 Genesis G80 3.5 AWD Prestige: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

There’s a new boss luxury car in town. It’s called the 2021 Genesis G80, an all-new full-size four-door that behaves more like a capable compact or a scrappy midsize sports sedan. 

Depending on which of nine versions you select, you can drive off in a relatively inexpensive near-luxury rear-wheel drive family car well suited to long-distance motoring. Or if you have more bucks to slap on the table, a dazzling twin-turbo performer with all-wheel drive and the bones to challenge luxury/high-performance European marques.

In automotive terms, Genesis is still in kindergarten, just five years old. It started as the top model in the Hyundai lineup from South Korea. In 2015, the company established it as Genesis Motor LLC, a separate luxury brand, not unlike Acura issued from Honda and Lexus begat from Toyota.

Now it has moved from a company with a few sedans to rudely intruding with its GV lineup into the luxury crossover sport utility territory, threatening competitors from Cadillac, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Lincoln, Acura and Lexus. The GVs likely have the potential to follow in the tire tracks of the G70, G80 and G90 sedans, as well as the acclaimed new Hyundai Palisade and Kia Telluride midsize crossover sport utility vehicles. 

The 2021 Genesis G80 was one of 10 semifinalists for North American Car of the Year. They were selected by a panel, or jury, of 50 automotive journalists from the United States and Canada, of which this reviewer is one. Competitors come from Acura, BMW, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, MINI, Nissan and even Hyundai, the Genesis parent company.

Two of the nine Genesis models — called trim levels in the industry — were evaluated. One was the G80 all-wheel-drive Advanced, a step-and-a-half up from the base Standard. It’s a classy near-luxury car with a turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that delivers 300 horsepower and 311 lb-ft of torque via an eight-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode. The EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption rating is 22/30/25 mpg.

The Advance comes with 19-inch alloy wheels, a panoramic sunroof, ventilated faux leather seats, three-zone automatic climate control, a power trunk-lid, and a 21-speaker audio system. All G80s come with rear-wheel drive standard but all-wheel drive is available for $3,150.

The other Genesis was the top-line 3.5 AWD Prestige model, with a twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 engine, delivering 375 hp and 391 lb-ft of torque, also with an eight-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel drive and a manual-shift mode. Its EPA fuel economy is 18/26/21 mpg.

Starting prices range from $56,475, including the destination charge, for the 2.5 Advanced to $68,675 for the 3.5 Prestige. As tested, the 2.5 had a bottom-line sticker of $56,475 and the 3.5’s came to $69,075.

Either way, the G80 is a lot of a car. With 122 cubic feet of interior space — divided into 107 cubic feet for passengers and 15 cubic feet in the trunk – it is classified as large by the EPA. It can carry five comfortably with four commodious seats and a fifth center-rear seat that is less accommodating but not as onerous as those in many other cars.

Both models give you a sumptuous interior, including perforated Nappa leather upholstery on the 3.5, beautiful Matte finish interior wood trim that would not look out of place on a Bentley or the stock of a bespoke Holland and Holland shotgun, and a host of state-of-the-art safety features, including automatic emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, evasive steering torque assist, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot warning, lane-keeping assist and rear cross-traffic braking.

On the performance side, both G80s have much to recommend them. The all-wheel drive Prestige delivers rocket acceleration, estimated here in the five-second range for zero to 60 mph. The 2.5 is not as quick but won’t be embarrassed anywhere, more in the seven-second range. Both are quiet cruisers with straight-line stability and capable handling on twisting mountain roads.

In this era, infotainment simplicity is becoming increasingly important. It seems that luxury manufacturers make their systems needlessly puzzling — perhaps thinking that customers equate complexity with the pricey drain on their pocketbooks. Yet infotainment systems on inexpensive cars are often more intuitive than those on luxury cars. The Genesis G80 mostly falls into the ease-of-use category, though a few functions can be frustrating. 

But, hey, we said at the outset that the Genesis G80 is the new boss in town. Get over it.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Genesis G80 3.5 AWD Prestige four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 3.5-liter V6, twin turbochargers; 375 hp, 391 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 5 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/trunk volume: 107/15 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,500 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 18/26/21 mpg. Premium fuel required.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $68,675.
  • Price as tested: $69,075.

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

Photos (c) Genesis

2021 Cadillac CT4 Premium Luxury: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Driving the 2021 Cadillac CT4 Premium Luxury sports sedan brought back memories of when the General Motors flagship brand started its move to a new neighborhood, mainly German.

It was a national press introduction of an all-new 2003 Cadillac, the CTS, at the storied Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey County, California, then sponsored by Mazda and now by aftermarket manufacturer WeatherTech. 

It was Cadillac’s first foray into performance-oriented sedans that bore little resemblance to the plush but mushy land-yacht Fleetwood and De Ville models that had characterized the brand. The idea was to butt bumpers with the Germans and co-opt some of their customers.

The CTS came first. It had sharp, edgy styling, solid performance and rear-wheel drive, reversing years of Cadillacs with front-wheel drive. Earlier, of course, all American cars had rear-wheel drive, and the conventional wisdom was that rear drive was superior to front-wheel drive for sports sedans. 

Although the CTS was a bit bigger, its intended targets were the compact luxury sports sedans: BMW 3-Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Audi A4 — and even the Lexus IS, as well as the larger Lincoln LS/Jaguar S-Type, which shared platforms and some parts.

The Laguna Seca press introduction was an eye-opener for some of the automotive journalists, including this reviewer. So capable was the CTS on and off the track it stirred feelings of chauvinism that an American sports sedan could compete so handily with the best of the Europeans.

Some of those same impressions surfaced recently driving the 2021 Cadillac CT4 Premium Luxury sedan. It is among eight automobiles voted as semifinalists for the North American Car of the Year, nominated by an independent 50-member jury of automotive journalists from the United States and Canada (including this writer).

Like its predecessor CTS, the new CT4 also comes in a V Blackwing version, designed to competed with the ultra-performance BMW M models, the AMG versions from Mercedes-Benz and S models from Audi. The CT4-V comes with a price tag that starts around $58,000. 

However, the tester here is the midlevel Premium Luxury model. It comes with a turbocharged 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine that delivers 325 horsepower and 380 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force. It also comes with a lower base price of $38,590, including the destination charge, and a bottom-line sticker of $44,990. 

To borrow from a popular movie candy, it’s good and plenty. With its 10-speed automatic transmission, the tested CT4 can nail 60 mph in about five seconds, with a top speed of 165 mph, according to tests by Car and Driver magazine. There’s a manual-shift mode with paddle shifters but you’re not likely to do any better shifting for yourself. The onboard computer works best.

As with its European and Japanese competitors, the CT4’s other strong suit is handling. Though it rides on self-sealing, all-season tires (there’s no spare), it has a firm grip on curves, abetted by a tightly snubbed suspension system and accurate steering. Of course, that means it lacks a traditional cushy Cadillac ride. On some surfaces, it gets shaky but overall, the CT4 does a decent job of absorbing road chop without getting unsettled.

There’s a raucous bark under hard acceleration and some engine drone during highway cruising, though not enough to overcome Taylor Swift on audio and discourage long-distance traveling. Front seats, upholstered in perforated leather, are comfortable with good seatback bolstering for rapid driving. Outboard back seats, tight on head and knee room, also are supportive, though getting back there takes some agility through the small door opening. The center-rear seat is a bummer with a hard perch, giant floor hump and crunching head room.

Out back, there’s a smallish trunk that is fairly deep and nicely finished with C-hinges that are isolated to not damage contents. With no spare, activate the OnStar if you blow a tire.

The tested CT4 Premium Luxury came with full safety equipment, including forward collision alert and automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind spot alert, lane departure warning with lane-keeping assist, and rear parking assist. 

Comfort and convenience items, some optional, included a navigation system with Bose premium audio, SXM satellite radio, wireless smart phone charging, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated and ventilated front seats, heated steering wheel, power lumbar support for front seats, Apple Car Play and Android Auto connectivity, OnStar emergency services, HD radio and LED headlights.

Though the CT4 is a driver’s car, you can also order SuperCruise, Cadillac’s semi-autonomous driving system.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Cadillac CT4 Premium Luxury four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 2.7-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 325 hp, 380 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: 10-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and rear-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 7 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/trunk volume: 90/11 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,615 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 20/30/24 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $38,590.
  • Price as tested: $44,990.

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

Photos (c) Cadillac

2021 BMW 330e Sedan: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Electrification. It’s the current buzzword for the future in the automotive industry. There’s a lot to embrace in the various approaches so far, including the 2021 BMW 330e plug-in hybrid sedan.

There are at least four avenues so far: electric motor, where you plug in to charge the battery pack; hybrid, with an electric motor working in concert with a gasoline engine; plug-in hybrid, which combines the first two, and hydrogen fueled from a service station pump or manufactured onboard from a fuel cell.

The bottom line from whatever source is electric power, which is non-polluting, fuss-free mechanically and delivers instant torque, or twisting force, as soon as it is switched on. 

Eventually, as the technology advances, battery electric likely will take over with quick charging that takes no longer than fueling a gasoline or diesel engine vehicle. 

The simple hybrid is the method of choice now. Hybrids, led by Toyota’s popular Prius, have delivered millions of economical, reliable vehicles to owners all over the world.

Then there are the plug-ins, epitomized by the tested BMW 330e. The concept has merit. Hook up the 330e to a 240-volt charging station — there are many all over the country — and in three hours the battery pack is charged. 

When you engage, the first thing it does is to enable BMW’s so-called XtraBoost, which conjures up an additional 40 horsepower when you punch the hot pedal off the line. It only lasts a few seconds but enables the 330e to accelerate to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds, BMW says.

If that hasn’t sucked the juice from the batteries, you can then cruise about 22 miles on pure electric power. After that, your 330e becomes a regular hybrid, toggling back and forth between and in concert with the gasoline engine until you either plug in again or fill up the tank.

All this folderol earns the 330e a miles per gallon equivalency rating from the EPA of 75 MPGe. If you don’t bother to charge it, the 330e’s city/highway/combined fuel consumption on mainly gasoline power comes to 25/38/28 mpg.

It works, too. On a 100-mile round trip, the tested 330e’s gasoline gauge pointer barely moved off the “full” peg. But it’s not all honey in the tea or toddy. The tested 330e’s base price is $45,545. A standard 330i costs $2,000 less and, curiously, delivers slightly better gasoline-only fuel economy of 26/36/30 mpg. 

So, if spending a couple of grand more to plug in and get up to 22 miles on pure electric power is your thing, go for it. Truth is, with this BMW you hardly detect the difference between all-electric and hybrid driving anyway, so seamless does the system switch back and forth.

Until you do a bit of schooling, either by yourself with the owner’s manual or with a BMW instructor, you do have to puzzle over the scattershot of numbers on the instrument panel. With some of these systems, especially with premium cars, it seems as if infotainment functions are made deliberately complicated to justify the higher prices.

For example: On other models, BMW has a simple button below the instruments to re-set the trip odometer. On the 330e, you have to search through a bunch of menus to find a display that gives you that information, along with your fuel economy. Sometimes it doesn’t pay to ask.

But if a performance/luxury plug-in hybrid activates your synapses and you can spend about 60 large, you won’t be disappointed. This is a BMW, after all, which telegraphs that you will inherit driver involvement in a sweet-handling and easygoing transporter in any driving situation.

This tester carried $14,100 worth of options, bringing its as-tested price to $59,645. That, of course, made it uncommonly well equipped with such items as adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist. 

Both, by the way, are uncommonly aggressive — no doubt because of their BMW genes — so don’t get too spooked when you appear to be headed for a collision with that 18-wheeler before the adaptive cruise brakes slam on, or the lane keeping almost jerks the steering wheel out of your lazy hands.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 BMW 330e PHEV four-door sedan. 
  • Engine/motor: 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline, turbocharged, 181 hp, 258 lb-ft torque; paired with 107 hp, 77 lb-ft torque electric motor and 12.0 kWh lithium-ion battery; total system 288 hp, 310 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and rear-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 6 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/trunk volume: 98/13 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,039 pounds.
  • Electric-only range: 22 miles. 
  • Charging time (@ 240 volts): Three hours.
  • EPA combined miles per gallon equivalent (MPGe): 75. Gasoline only: 28 mpg. Premium fuel required.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $45,545.
  • Price as tested: $59,645.

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

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Photos (c) BMW

2021 Polestar 2 EV: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer      

There’s another new sparkly from Sweden’s Volvo: the Polestar 2, a fully electric, midsize performance/luxury fastback/hatchback that can more than hold its own with many of the electrics that now are popping up like shoots in a garden.

It can compete handily with another all-new electric from Volvo, the XC40 Recharge, a small crossover SUV. That’s because they share power sources — separate electric motors for the front and rear wheels to enable all-wheel drive. 

There are minor differences. The Polestar’s motors together make 408 hp with 487 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force. The XC40’s make 402 hp and 486 lb-ft of torque. But the vehicles bear little physical resemblance to each other. 

Each also claims to be the first on the market with Volvo’s new UX infotainment system, which makes use of the Android Automotive Operating System with Google Maps, Google Voice and Google Assistant. As on the previously reviewed XC40 Recharge, the system can be frustrating to use without detailed instruction and practice.

Like the XC40 Recharge, the Polestar has a small trunk of one cubic foot under the hood — a good place to store charging cables.

Yet they are both essentially Volvos, from the company that pioneered the three-point seatbelt and other safety innovations. It held up during some difficult times, including a decade when it was owned by  Ford. Now the owner is Geely Holding, a Chinese company based in Gothenburg, Sweden. 

Wisely, the owners let Volvo be Volvo, with the result that the new Polestar 2 delivers Scandinavian flavor with classy but minimalist design. Though Nappa leather upholstery is an option, everything else inside, the company says, is “sustainable, vegan materials, like a fully vegan interior with the new WeaveTech fabric and reconstructed wood.”

The test car provided for this review had the vegan interior. Though the WeaveTech cloth has previously made an appearance on Volvo cars, it continues to be cozily comfortable and supportive — superior to leather, in this view. Besides, the Nappa leather option comes with a $4,000 price tag.

Like the XC40, the Polestar 2 is something of a dragster, with a zero to 60 miles an hour acceleration time, according to the manufacturer, of 4.45 seconds and a top speed of 125. The XC40 Recharge is only marginally slower with a zero to 60 time of 4.7 seconds and a top speed of 112 mph.

With its powerful electric motor and a 75-kWh battery, the Polestar gets a rapid jump off the line. Because electric motors deliver maximum torque, or twisting force, as soon as they are activated, there are no shift points — and no engine roar. Silent running is the mode for acceleration and cruising. The suspension is biased toward sharp handling, which sometimes makes for a choppy ride.

The Polestar’s range is about 200 miles when fully charged. But it can be enhanced with regenerative braking. There are Low and Standard settings. Both enable one-pedal driving. When you lift off the throttle the Polestar automatically starts braking and will come to a stop without touching the brakes. It takes practice but is not difficult. 

There’s also creep mode that allows the Polestar to keep moving in slow traffic without much intervention from the driver. All of the drive modes, including another that determines steering effort, are controlled from the center touch screen.

One feature shared with the XC40 that likely will lead to lively discussion: There’s no Start button. Simply unlock the car, sit in the driver’s seat, pull the shift lever back to the Drive setting and the Polestar can go. When you leave, it all shuts down.

The Polestar seats four comfortably. There’s a fifth seatbelt for the center-rear position. But it is compromised by a large floor hump, intrusion of the center console and a high, hard seat cushion. 

Rear vision also is restricted by large headrests in back. So it’s important to get the side view mirrors properly adjusted to eliminate blind spots.

There’s a full panoramic glass moon roof that does not open and lacks a sun shade, though it has automatic light dimming. And the front sun visors do not slide on their support rods to adequately block sunlight from the sides.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Polestar 2 four-door hatchback sedan.
  • Electric motors: Two permanent-magnet synchronous AC; total system 408 hp, 487 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: direct-drive automatic with full-time all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 1 inch.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 96/15 plus one cubic foot in front trunk. 39 plus one cubic foot with rear seatbacks folded.
  • Weight: 4,715 pounds.
  • City/highway/combined miles per gallon equivalent: 96/88/92  MPGe.
  • Range: Up to 200 miles.
  • Charging time: Eight hours with 240-volt, level 2 charger; 22 hours with household 120-volt current; 40 minutes to 80% capacity with DC fast charger.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $60,000.
  • Price as tested: $66,200.

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

Photos (c) Polestar

2021 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Many enthusiasts regard the 2021 Mazda MX-5, also called the Miata, as the direct descendant of the classic British sports cars of the 1950s and 1960s — enjoyable two-seaters with names like MG, Lotus, Triumph, Jaguar, Morgan, Sunbeam, and Austin-Healey.  

The question is whether any of them would have evolved into the  MX-5 Club RF tested here. RF stands for “retractable fastback,” which describes the folding hard top that morphs the MX-5 from an open roadster to a closed grand touring car.

Sure, it’s been 60 years or so but some of us still remember the agony that went with the ecstasy of owning a mid-20th century British roadster, especially when the weather got nasty.

A fun favorite here was the mid-1960s Lotus Elan, a stellar performer with great handling, which set British sports cars apart from brutish American cars with honking big V8 engines that were great only in a straight line.

British convertibles and roadsters had fabric tops that were masterpieces of Rubik’s Cube complexity. The Elan’s, in particular, was so complicated that it featured a decal on the inside of the panel that covered the top when it was folded. 

The decal had step-by-step instructions on how to remove the cloth top and its frame and fold them properly. However, hewing to the British quirkiness of the era, when you folded the top according to the first step, it covered the decal — and, of course, the instructions. 

The owner’s manual also had about a dozen pages of instructions describing how to manipulate various switches to turn interior lights on and off in different combinations. But that’s another story.

So now we have the 2020 Mazda MX-5 Club RF, which converts from a closed coupe to an open convertible in a matter of seconds with the touch of a switch, and it’s not even British. Japan’s Mazda introduced the MX-5 Miata back in 1990 as a modern clone of some of the English classics. Among other things, it had an easy-folding convertible top.

You can still get one of those and even buy a removable hard top. But it must be stored in the garage while you buzz about with the fabric top dropped. The RF, however, is self contained with a cleverly designed top that disappears into the bodywork behind the driver in about about a dozen seconds. It ends up looking like a roadster with a roll bar. There’s even a built-in transparent rear wind blocker.

The top’s bin doesn’t even intrude into the tiny trunk, which has less than five cubic feet of space, enough for some soft overnight luggage and a few small items. However, the top must be up or the trunk won’t open. 

Tested for this review was the midlevel Club model. The 2021 RF Club comes with a price tag of $34,635, including the destination charge. There’s also a lower-priced Sport and a top-line Grand Touring version. 

That’s for a fully equipped car. There were no extra-cost options on the tested Club. Equipment included automatic emergency braking, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning and tire-pressure monitoring. Also: Apple Car Play and Android Auto, Bluetooth connectivity, and SXM satellite and HD radio.

Under the hood and driving the rear wheels is a 181-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 151 lb-ft of torque. With a relatively light weight of 2,452 pounds, the zero-to-60-mph acceleration time is less than six seconds. Two transmissions are available: a six-speed manual and, on the tested RF, a smooth-shifting six-speed automatic with a manual-shift mode operated by paddles on the steering wheel.

As might be expected of a balanced rear-drive sports car, the RF had exceptional handling on curving roads with good feedback through the electric power steering. The tradeoff, as usual, is a ride that can get unsettled on pockmarked surfaces, though the MX-5 has a supple, forgiving suspension system with front and rear stabilizer bars that subdues some of the choppiness.

Inside, the comfortable cloth sport seats have plenty of adjustments for different body types and seatbacks with substantial bolstering. The combination keeps the torso in place during spirited driving. The RF also cruises fairly quietly with the top up except for occasional blatting from the exhaust system.  

Top up or stowed, this affordable Miata is a first-class contender in sports motoring.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Mazda MX-5 Club RF two-door, two-seat retractable hard top roadster.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder; 181 hp, 151 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and rear-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 12 feet 10 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/trunk volume: 48/5 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 2,452 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 26/35/30 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $34,635.
  • Price as tested: $34,635.

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

Photos (c) Mazda

2021 Kia K5 GT-Line: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

A first impression: It’s easy to mistake the Kia K5 GT-Line sedan, tested here at $28,400 in flashy Passion Red paint, for an Audi A7 fastback, which starts at $70,195. 

The K5 is a stone beauty with sleek lines, neck-twisting styling and a low profile that gives it the air of a sports car despite its four doors and a trunk. Its dimensions are within inches of the Audi. An example: The K5 is 4 feet 9 inches tall next to the Audi’s 4 feet 8 inches. The Kia also boasts an interior that has the look of luxury with upscale equipment despite its low price.

All-new for the 2021 model year, the K5 replaces the Optima sedan in the Kia lineup. With 121 cubic feet of interior space — one cubic foot more than the A7 — it is classified by the EPA as large sedan, though Kia markets it as a midsize against competitors that include Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima and the Sonata from South Korean sister company Hyundai, which shares its platform with the K5.

Of course, the Audi has a lot of equipment to justify its nosebleed price, including a turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 engine with 335 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque, seven-speed automatic transmission and Quattro all-wheel drive.

Though with less power, the K5 is no slouch. For the first time, it also offers all-wheel drive, a $3,700 option. Its engine is a turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 180 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque, mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode.

The K5 comes in five trim levels: LX at $24,455, LXS at $25,455, the tested GT-Line, which starts at $26,355, EX at $28,955, and the more powerful 290-horsepower GT at $31,455. All prices include the destination charge.

Standard equipment on the GT-Line included forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind-spot collision avoidance assist, rear cross-traffic collision-avoidance assist, lane-keeping and lane-following assist, and leading vehicle departure alert.

Other standard equipment included an eight-inch touch screen with Apple Car Play and Android Auto, Bluetooth connectivity, dual-zone automatic climate control, pushbutton and remote starting, LED headlights, fog lights and daytime running lights, power driver’s seat with lumbar adjustments, 18-inch alloy wheels, and a rear spoiler.

The tester also came with a $1,600 premium package that included forward collision avoidance assist with cyclist detection, adaptive cruise control with stop and go, panoramic sunroof with opaque power sunshade, wireless smart phone charger and LED interior lighting. The only notable item missing on the tested K5 was the optional SXM satellite radio, though HD radio was included.

Out back, there’s a roomy though shallow trunk of 16 cubic feet, augmented by knobs that, when pulled, drop the rear seatbacks to expand the cargo space. One negative: the trunk’s C-hinges are not isolated and could damage items in the trunk. A full-size compact spare  tire lies beneath the trunk floor.

Entering the K5 requires a bit of ducking and twisting, thanks to the low roof line. If you prefer to sit as high as possible, the head room feels a bit tight up front. It’s more than generous in back because the seats are mounted low and are not adjustable for height. As usual, the center-rear position offers a hard, high cushion, though there’s foot room thanks to a small center hump.

The GT-Line’s interior comfort up front and in the outboard back seats was first rate. Seats were upholstered in a breathable cloth with leatherette trim that, to this reviewer, ultimately delivers better long-distance comfort than leather. 

On the road, few would confuse the K5 with an all-out sports sedan. Even with its rakish looks, it presents itself as a capable, even sprightly, family hauler. But it’s no slouch in in traffic or on the open road. An educated guesstimate is that it can hit 60 miles an hour from rest in the seven-second range. 

Handling is secure and fuss-free even on twisting roads. In straight-line highway driving there is little need for steering corrections so long-distance cruising can be relaxing depending on traffic.

There are four driving modes: Normal, Sport, Smart and Custom. It doesn’t seem to make much difference which you choose. Sport makes the K5 feel a bit tighter but doesn’t alter shift patterns. Smart maybe enhances fuel economy. 

 The impression here conjured thoughts of the hip-hop musical “Hamilton.” Kia changed a name and upped its game. It now can reap new fame in the midsize sedan game. 

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Kia K5 GT-Line four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 1.6-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 180 hp, 195 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 1 inch.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/trunk volume: 105/16 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,230 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 27/37/31 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $26,355.
  • Price as tested: $28,400.

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

Photos (c) Kia

2021 Lexus IS 350 AWD F Sport: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

It could be asserted that the 2021 Lexus IS 350 AWD F Sport is the epitome of the compact sports sedan, though the description sometimes gets misconstrued as meaning the pinnacle.

It’s not that. In current usage, epitome means the embodiment or something that possesses the features of an entire class. That’s the Lexus IS. It runs fender to fender with four-door sports machines named BMW 3-Series, Cadillac CT4, Audi A4, Genesis G70, Alfa-Romeo Giulia, Kia Stinger and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. 

These are relatively expensive cars that may not be the most comfortable because of suspension systems and tires more oriented to performance in the twisties and maybe cornering on a race track. But they are also waiting in the wings for drivers who value response and handling that deliver tingles of excitement up and down the backbone. 

The Lexus IS F Sport satisfies those needs and desires. At just 15 feet 4 inches long and an empty weight of about 3,680 pounds, it comes loaded for combat with a 311-horsepower V6 engine with 280 lb-ft of torque. Power surges to all four wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode operated by steering-wheel paddles for control-oriented enthusiasts. 

Nineteen-inch lightweight alloy wheels augment an all-independent suspension with a stabilizer bar and coil springs. Up front is a double-wishbone design with a multi-link setup in back. Gas filled shock absorbers complete the system. 

The tested Lexus IS arrived with a base price of $45,925, including the destination charge. Tack on the inevitable options: $3,800 adaptive variable suspension system, navigation with $2,750 Mark Levinson audio, $1,100 motorized glass sunroof, automatic emergency braking with $1,400 pedestrian detection and panoramic rear-view monitor, $1,250 triple beam headlights with automatic high beams and a few other installations, and the bottom-line sticker came to $56,820.

That’s about 20 grand more than the current average price of a new car, so if the goal is economical transportation with a good dose of reliability, check out the 2021 Hyundai Elantra, Nissan Sentra, Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Mazda3, Kia Forte, Volkswagen Jetta and Subaru Impreza.

But the extra bucks, for those who can afford one of the performance/luxury machines like the Lexus IS F Sport, deliver driving enjoyment that goes beyond simply shuttling back and forth to the shopping center. 

This is a car that invites driving for its own sake. Nothing to do during the pandemic? Jump in for a drive in the traffic-free countryside where there are interesting corners to conquer, enjoy the acceleration when the light changes, bask in the feedback through the steering, and when braking feel some of the excitement of a pilot landing an FA-18 warplane on an aircraft carrier.

An axiom in the automobile business is that everything is a tradeoff. Want great handling? Give up some ride comfort. Want to go fast? Don’t worry about fuel economy. Under controlled tests that don’t involve rapid acceleration, the Lexus IS F Sport delivers an EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption rating of 19/26/22 mpg. Not bad for a hot car that can accelerate from rest to 60 mph in less than six seconds.

There are six driver selectable drive modes: Eco, Normal, Sport, Sport S, Sport S Plus and Custom. They adjust at what rpms the six-speed automatic shifts, as well as well as steering speed and effort, and shock absorber stiffness.

Comprehensive safety measures, including the automatic emergency braking and dynamic radar cruise control, are part of the standard equipment.

As taut as it behaves around curves, the F Sport also is tight. Though it has seatbelts for five, only four passengers will find comfortable accommodations — and getting there involves a bit of squirming. This is not a conveyance for large people. 

Some twisting and turning is required to access both the front and rear seats. Four average sized people in good shape will have no problems and, once inside, will be reasonably comfortable. The center-rear seat, no surprise, is almost impossible with a high, hard cushion and intrusion of a big floor hump. 

One negative surprise: Imitating some European luxury cars, the F Sport’s sun visors do not slide on their support rods to adequately block sun from the side. That was thought to be a thing of the past on all Toyota and Lexus vehicles. Also, the C-hinges in the small trunk are not isolated and could damage luggage.

But hey, you don’t buy an F Sport for its cargo-carrying capabilities.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Lexus IS 350 AWD F Sport four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 3.5-liter V6; 311 hp, 280 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 4 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/trunk volume: 90/11 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,680 pounds (est).
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 19/26/22 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $45,925.
  • Price as tested: $56,820.

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

Photos (c) Lexus

2021 MINI Cooper SE Hardtop 2-Door: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. AukoferA vivid reminder of how far electric vehicles have progressed in a relatively short time is to compare the 2021 MINI Cooper SE Hardtop two-door with its predecessor.

It’s not widely known except by the cognoscenti, but Great Britain’s MINI delivered an electric MINI 11 years ago. The company brought one to the Los Angeles Auto Show and sponsored drives by journalists, including this one.

Though all of the driving was in LA’s traffic, the MINI had the moves of a fairly well developed electric car — instant torque, or twisting force, because electric motors deliver their maximum torque as soon as they are switched on, unlike internal combustion engines that need to build rpms to attain the same thing. It was the perfect bitty car for shooting holes in traffic.

The big drawback was that, given the state of the art of battery power then, the electric MINI hatchback was a two-seater. The battery pack, built up from more than 5,000 small batteries, weighed more than 550 pounds and took up the entire back seat space.

Called the MINI E, it was an experiment. Only 500 were built and leased in 2009 to selected individuals in California, New Jersey and New York.

The year before, the Tesla Roadster, from the company founded by Elon Musk, made its debut in the marketplace. It was followed by the Mitsubishi iMIEV and the Nissan Leaf. Since then almost every manufacturer on the planet has developed an electric vehicle, as well as hybrids and plug-in hybrids.

Now we have the 2021 MINI Cooper SE, introduced as a 2020. It’s a two-door hatchback, not unlike that 2009 model. But its lithium-ion battery pack lies under the floor, so there’s space for four passengers. However, it’s still a MINI that is just 12 feet 7 inches long with 80 cubic feet of space for passengers and 9 cubic feet for cargo under the rear hatch. 

The front seats are supportive and comfortable enough for a long trip, though folks in back likely would start squirming and protesting after awhile. Surprisingly, given its short subcompact stature, the MINI SE has a surprisingly supple ride, soaking up bumps and uneven pavement without getting out of shape.

Of course, it also carves corners with aplomb. But as with the 2009 E, the 2021’s forte is the cut and thrust of traffic, both on city streets and crowded freeways. It can nail 60 mph from rest in a less than seven seconds and the throttle response is instant. Punch the pedal at a stoplight and you’ll quickly be looking at the big-bore bad boys in your mirrors.

One electric motor powered by the 32.6 kWh battery pack makes 181 horsepower and 199 lb-ft of torque to drive the front wheels. The transmission is a single-speed automatic because electric motors don’t actually need transmissions.

The MINI SE’s system is nearly identical to the one in Germany’s BMW i3 electric — no surprise because BMW owns MINI. Like the i3, the MINI has an aggressive regenerative braking system that enables so-called one-pedal driving. Lift your foot off the accelerator and the MINI immediately slows down as if the driver had hit the brakes. Time it correctly and you can drive to a stop without touching the brake pedal.

On the MINI, however, you can use a toggle switch (what else on a British car?) on the dash to select low or high regenerative braking. Using either enhances the range. Still, the maximum range, according to the EPA, is 110 miles — not the worst nor best among current electrics—and gives the MINI a city/highway/combined miles per gallon equivalent (MPGe) of 115/100/108.

You can also select from four drive modes: Sport, Mid, Green and Green Plus. The Sport mode makes the MINI feel quicker and more responsive. Mid is a balanced setting and Green and Green Plus help battery charging in concert with the regenerative braking. The downside is that Green Plus switches off battery-depleting systems like automatic climate control. Charging up to 80% can take as little as 36 minutes with a high-speed charger.

Like its immediate 2020 SE predecessor, the 2021 model has an arresting look. The tester was done up with an off-white body and a black top with yellow accents that included the outside mirrors as well as front and rear trim. An older woman, unsolicited, pronounced it as the cutest car she had ever seen.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 MINI Cooper SE Hardtop 2 Door electric hatchback.
  • Motor: Single electric with 32.6 kWh battery pack; 181 hp, 199 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Single-speed automatic.
  • Overall length: 12 feet 7 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 80/9 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,153 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined miles per gallon equivalent: 115/100/108 MPGe. 
  • Range: Up to 110 miles. 
  • Base price, including destination charge: $30,750.
  • Price as tested: $37,750.

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

Photos (c) MINI

2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E X Premium: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The intensely-awaited 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E has crept silently into the nation’s automotive consciousness. Even without the mighty roar of a Mustang Bullitt V8, it is fast, fast, fast.

But it’s a . . . what? An electric crossover sport utility vehicle? With a hatchback? And batteries under the floorboards to keep it planted? What happened to the sport coupes and fastbacks? 

They’re still there, spewing greenhouse gases from their internal combustion engines, contributing to global warming. The Mach-E does none of that — at least by itself, though its power is generated by fossil fuels.

Ford marketed a Focus battery-electric until 2018. When the company decided to go all-in on an electric vehicle, it decided to trade on the popular Mustang to deliver a cross between a high-performance sportster and a family four-door crossover.

There are six Mach-E versions with prices starting at $43,995, including the destination charge, for the base rear-drive Select, and working up to the high-performance GT. Driven for this review was the Premium trim with a $50,800 starting price and, as tested, a bottom-line sticker of $56,400.

Part of the additional cost was the optional all-wheel drive and an extended-range battery. Two electric motors, front and rear, deliver 346 horsepower and 428 lb-ft of torque. Ford and the EPA say that the Mach-E GT can travel up to 300 miles on a full charge. The tested Premium was rated at 270 miles, with a city/highway/combined mpg equivalent rating of 96/84/90 MPGe. As always, mileage can vary depending on the driver and how the vehicle is driven.

The range claim may be optimistic. After 19 hours of charging with a level 2, 240-volt charger, the tested Mach-E’s charging gauge showed a 100% charge with 236 miles of range. That’s about the same as the smaller 2017 Chevrolet Bolt, which advertised 238.

In its defense, the tested Mach E was a pre-production model used for testing. It will not be sold and ultimately will end up in a crusher. This tester had a couple of glitches. The most serious was a tendency to buck and pitch while highway cruising, almost as if the shock absorbers were beginning to wear. It didn’t seem to affect performance but watching the hood rise and fall was distracting.

It also had a cloth cover to hide cargo contents under the rear hatch. But it had flimsy connectors that had a tendency to disconnect when the Mach-E accelerated or was driven hard around corners. Again, the annoyance was likely to be corrected in saleable production models.

A mystery was a one-by-six inch blank instrument on top of the steering column. Ford spokeswoman Emma Bergg (sic) said it was a forward-facing camera for the company’s future hands-free driving system. It will be hooked up over-the-air later in 2021.

The Mach-E has an on-board charger which can deliver up to an 80 percent charge overnight with a 240-volt outlet. With a standard 120-volt household outlet, it can add up to 30 miles of range overnight. The Mach-E Premium also is equipped to handle a commercial DC fast charger with up to 800 volts. Ford is busy establishing what it says will be the largest network of 13,500 charging stations with 40,000 plugs in the U.S. and some areas in Canada. 

As you would find with almost any Mustang, gasoline or electric, the Mach-E is exciting to drive. Combine all that horsepower with instant electric torque and it jams the torso into the seat as it rockets away. The Prestige model is rated at 4.8 seconds to accelerate to 60 mph while the top-line GT is said to do the run in 3.8 seconds.

There are three drive modes in addition to a one-pedal drive system that dials in automatic regenerative braking, slowing the Mach-E while helping recharge the battery for extra range. With a bit of practice, a driver can go for many miles without touching the brake pedal.

The drive modes are named Whisper, Engage and Unbridled. They alter steering and pedal feel and even deliver different power sounds, though for the most part the Mach-E is commendably silent and comfortable. One-pedal driving and the other modes are selected from the iPad-like 15.5-inch center touch screen, which also controls navigation, audio and other functions.

2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E X Premium crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Powertrain: Two electric motors, front and rear: Extended range, 98.8 kWh (88 usable); 346hp, 428 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Single speed automatic with all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 6 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 3 inches.
  • SAE/EPA passenger/cargo volume: 101/29 (+5 front trunk) cubic feet (60 behind first row seats).
  • Weight: 4,838 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined miles per gallon equivalent: 96/84/90 MPGe.
  • Range: Up to 270 miles. (236 observed).
  • Base price, including destination charge: $50,800.
  • Price as tested: $56,400.

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

Photos (c) Ford

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