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2020 Mercedes-Benz AMG E53 Coupe: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Coupes like the 2020 Mercedes-Benz AMG E53 are the outliers in the automotive firmament. Most are not sports or super cars, where you expect seating or comfort for only two. Coupes lack practicality with small trunks and two doors, some with back seats so tight they inhibit breathing.

At least, Mercedes makes no pretense that this is a five-passenger machine with a center-rear back seat impossible for anything but a purse or watermelon. No, this is a purely four-passenger with head and knee room in back for modest-sized adults — assuming  you can contort your body to crawl back there.

_F8A9049-sourceLuxury coupes do make a white-tie/red-carpet gown statement, especially all-out luxury machines like the AMG E53, which fairly shouts that it is intended for intimately personal use by someone with useful other vehicles and deep pockets.

Its combination of sumptuous surroundings with slam-bang performance and even some environmental green blended in sets this new Mercedes apart from its garage-mates as well as other unreasonable expensive conveyances.

Start with the price. It kicks off at $75,945, including the destination charge. Like most European luxury cars, it has a list of options as long as Giannis Antetokounmpo’s arms that includes such items as $750 for a Nappa leather wrapped “performance steering wheel,” $1,250 for a “performance exhaust system,” $1,600 for “Designo black DIN AMICA headliner,” $1,100 head-up display, and even $550 for a “cabin air purifier and fragrance system.”

_F8A9055-sourceOf course, it had all the so-called driver assistance features, in a $2,250 package, that included Distronic adaptive stop-and-go cruise control, automatic emergency braking, active steering, lane-change and lane-keeping assist, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert and rear collision protection, as well as a $1,290 active parking assist.

That brought the as-tested price to $95,545. The tested AMG E53 did look the part with a flawless paint job and a classy and tasteful interior themed by leather upholstery with black seating areas accented in red.

Mercedes-AMG E 53 4MATIC+ Coupe, rubellite red. Austin 2018

Not only were the front seats supportive and comfortable, they provided functions to massage the driver’s and front passenger’s backs while underway. The system includes selective massages described as relaxing, activating, classic and mobilizing — each available in standard or high intensity mode. Nice.

All of that is tasty frosting. Where the AMG E53 excels is its road manners. AMG, which once was an independent modifier that hot-rodded the performance of Mercedes-Benz vehicles, now is part of the Mercedes division of Daimler AG. Its sworn duty is to make high-performing Benzes into superstars.

The tested AMG E53 gets its power from a turbocharged 3.0-liter in-line six-cylinder engine that delivers 429 hp and 384 lb-ft of torque to all four wheels via a nine-speed automatic transmission and the Mercedes 4Matic system. It is augmented by a starter-alternator system dubbed EQ Boost that briefly delivers an additional 21 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque, which also charges an on-board 48-volt electrical system.

Mercedes-AMG E 53 4MATIC+ Coupe, rubellite red. Austin 2018

You’d never know it. Everything happens so seamlessly and quietly you’d swear you could be driving a pedestrian automatic-transmission Volkswagen Jetta. Where it really hits home is the way it operates the stop-start system.

In most cars, the fuel-saving stop-start, which shuts down the engine at stoplights, re-starts with hesitation and a shudder, which is annoying and even could be dangerous because of the hesitation — like a turbo lag. Let it be known that the system on the AMG 53 is the best ever tested by this reviewer. In fact, it is so quick, seamless and vibration free you barely know it’s there.

That aside, this AMG Coupe is an engrossing joy to drive. It’s fast — the company advertises a zero to 60 mph acceleration time of 4.4 seconds with a top speed of 130.

Mercedes-AMG E 53 4MATIC+ Coupe, rubellite red. Austin 2018

But what gets the juices flowing is the handling. There are five driver-selectable driving modes, operated with the touch of a rocker switch on the center console: Slippery, Individual, Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus. They adjust shift points and settings for steering and the standard air suspension system.

Even in the comfort mode, preferred here, this 2.2-ton Coupe corners as flat as yesterday’s beer. The steering is heavily weighted, as on most Mercedes-Benzes. But it provides tactile feedback and rapid response. However, because of the bias toward handling, the ride veers toward choppy on rough roads.

Gripes are few: the rough ride, obtuse infotainment functions and a flimsy sunroof shade that admits too much sunlight.

Mercedes-AMG E 53 4MATIC+ Coupe, rubellite red. Austin 2018

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Mercedes-Benz AMG E53 Coupe.
  • Engine: 3.0-liter in-line six-cylinder, turbocharged; 429 hp, 384 lb-ft torque. EQ Boost starter-alternator 21 hp, 184 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 11 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 87/10 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,429 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 21/28/23 mpg. Premium fuel required.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $75,945.
  • Price as tested: $95,545.

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

_F8A9057-sourcePhotos (c) Mercedes-Benz

 

 

2020 Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The big buzz word among manufacturers almost everywhere is “electrification,” but it doesn’t mean pure electric vehicles. As often as not, it refers to hybrid gasoline-electric cars like the 2020 Hyundai Ioniq.

The Ioniq, however, does have the advantage of being available not only with a hybrid power train but as a plug-in hybrid and a 100% electric. Honda does something similar with its Clarity, which comes as an electric, a plug-in hybrid and as a fuel cell model that uses on-board manufactured hydrogen fuel to generate electricity.

Large-39643-2020IONIQHybridThe strategies vary. But from a consumer standpoint, the basic hybrid still makes the most economic and convenience sense, as exemplified by the Toyota Prius, the most successful electrified vehicle in history. Although it now also offers a plug-in model, Prius hybrid sales since it started 20 years ago now total more than 2.3 million in the U.S.

Unlike hybrids, full electric vehicles still come with built-in “range anxiety,” meaning an owner must calculate a trip that includes locations and time to recharge the batteries.

Like pure electrics, plug-in hybrids are more expensive than standard hybrids, though their limited range on electric power — as little as 10 miles on some luxury plug-ins and 29 miles on the Ionic plug-in — is not a concern because they revert to regular hybrid gasoline operation as soon as the batteries run out of juice.

Large-39647-2020IONIQHybridFor 2020, Hyundai has redesigned the Ioniq with attractive fresh styling inside and out. It is still the same size and configuration, with similar power, as when it first was introduced as a 2017 model.

It’s a four-door hatchback sedan that is marketed as a compact but which qualifies as a large car as defined by the Environmental Protection Agency. It has 96 cubic feet of space for five passengers, though the center-rear individual gets squished, and 27 cubic feet for cargo under the rear hatch. The total of 123 cubic feet of interior volume beats the EPA’s definition of full-size as more than 120.

From the get-go three years ago, the Ioniq hybrid came across in all of its versions as a competent performer, easy-going in urban traffic or long-distance freeway driving. The transition back and forth from electric to hybrid motoring is so seamless a newbie might not realize that it’s a hybrid.

Large-39650-2020IONIQHybridFor 2020, the power train has not changed. It consists of a 1.6-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine paired with a 32 kilowatt electric motor, which together make 139 hp and deliver city/highway/combined fuel economy of 55/54/55 mpg on the tested Limited model. (The basic Blue model gets 58 combined).

On the road, the Limited delivered a taut feel with well-weighted steering and a quiet interior with little wind noise. The only unavoidable intrusion was tire noise from unruly highway surfaces. The front seats, though a bit flat on the bottom, nevertheless were supportive and comfortable.

Large-39653-2020IONIQHybridThe 2020 Ioniq — the name is a combination of ion, an electrically charged particle, and unique, or one of a kind — comes in four trim levels: the base Blue at $23,930, including the destination charge; SE $25,880; SEL $29,130, and the tested Limited. The last, with a price tag of $31,930, comes nearly as fully equipped as some luxury cars. The only option was $135 for carpeted floor mats.

The long list of the Limited’s safety equipment included forward collision avoidance with pedestrian detection, driver attention warning, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic collision avoidance, and adaptive cruise control.

Even longer was the list of comfort and convenience items, including leather upholstery, power driver’s seat with memory, heated front seats, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, SiriusXM satellite radio,  navigation, premium Harman-Kardon audio, and wireless smart phone charging.

Large-39654-2020IONIQHybridWith 27 cubic feet of space in the cargo area under the rear hatch, the Ioniq hybrid can do double duty as a compact crossover sport utility vehicle. The rear seatbacks fold to expand the load-carrying capability. However, there is no spare wheel under the cargo floor. An emergency tire-puncture repair kit substitutes — okay for leaks but useless in a blowout.

In that case, you use Hyundai’s Blue Link to call for roadside service. The system works with smart phones and smart watches as well as Google assistant and Amazon Alexa to perform a multitude of tasks. Among them: remote starting with climate control, finding destinations and locating your vehicle.

The Ioniq Limited hybrid has you covered.

Large-39644-2020IONIQHybridSpecifications

  • Model: 2020 Hyundai Ioniq Limited hybrid four-door hatchback sedan.
  • Engine/motor: 1.6-liter four-cylinder gasoline; 104 hp, 109 lb-ft torque. Electric 32 kW, 43 hp; 125 lb-ft torque. Combined 139 hp.
  • Transmission: Six-speed dual-clutch automatic.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 96/27 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,115 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 55/54/55 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $31,930.
  • Price as tested: $32,065.

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

Large-39648-2020IONIQHybridPhotos (c) Hyundai

2020 Infiniti Q60 Red Sport 400: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

If nothing else, the 2020 Infiniti Q60 Red Sport 400 qualifies as a beauty. It is one of those cars that invites unsolicited raves about its stylish lines from strangers and friends alike.

Yet this tidy coupe also shines as an adept performer that will not disappoint enthusiasts. However, some will fault it for not offering a manual gearbox to rely instead on a seven-speed automatic transmission that can be shifted manually with steering-wheel paddles. The transmission features automatic rev-matching on downshifts.

INFINITI Q60 RED SPORT 400

The Red Sport 400 is the high-performance version of the Q60 coupe from Infiniti, the luxury division of Japan’s Nissan. Its force surges from a 400-hp, 3.0-liter V6 engine with twin turbochargers that delivers 350 lb-ft of torque, the twisting force that boosts acceleration. Rear-wheel drive is standard with all-wheel drive optional for $2,000, as on the version tested for this review.

Though it sensuously stretches to 15 feet 4 inches long, the Q60 is a small two-door car with tight interior space and a small trunk. Classified as a subcompact by the Environmental Protection Agency, it has 85 cubic feet of passenger room and a trunk of just nine cubic feet — enough to hold a couple of roll-aboard suitcases and a few satchels.

However, if you don’t have to carry a couple of extra passengers, the back seat can hold a hefty load of cargo — a pile of gifts and other holiday or vacation stuff, for example. Loading all that is something of a chore, even with the passenger seatback as far forward as possible.

INFINITI Q60 RED SPORT 400

Inside, the appointments are stylish and the materials of high quality. The powered and heated front seats are comfortable and supportive, upholstered in soft leather, which also wraps the heated steering wheel. Also enhancing the environment: dual-zone automatic climate control, motorized glass sunroof, heated side-view mirrors with LED turn signal lights, and rain-sensing windshield wipers.

The tester came with sport brakes identified by red-painted calipers, 20-inch alloy wheels, and LED headlights, fog lights, turn signals and taillights.

All of that comes with the Red Zone 400 AWD’s $60,175 price tag, including the destination charge. Options included a $2,280 package of carbon-fiber enhancements of the rear deck lid spoiler, fender vents, outside mirror covers and fog lamps.

2020 INFINITI Q60 Edition 30

With options, the bottom-line suggested sticker price came to  $65,950. But curiously and unusual in a car in this price class, there was no adaptive cruise control or lane-departure mitigation. However, the standard equipment included forward collision warning and blind-spot monitoring.

Two people can sit in the back seat, but only if the driver and front passenger move their seats uncomfortably forward to produce knee room in back. Head room there also is in short supply, and entering and exiting the back seat requires athletic contortions.

But as a personal conveyance the Red Sport 400 is an amiable and adrenaline-inducing companion for an individual who doesn’t often need to haul passengers and cargo. There are plenty of sport utility vehicles and crossovers lined up for that duty.

2020 INFINITI Q60 Edition 30

Despite its stealthy profile and cozy interior, the Red Sport 400 is a comfortable long-distance cruiser. On the road, it is quiet to the point of snooze-inducing with a supple suspension system that adapts itself to road surfaces.

In straight-line freeway cruising the Red Sport feels like a larger car, fatigue-free with few steering corrections required. It validates the old adage that small cars should drive big and big cars should feel smaller. Its size, responsive steering and handling inspire confidence on fast curves. This is a driver’s car.

It’s also a point and shoot machine in urban driving, quick with athletic moves in traffic. Off the line, it can nail 60 mph in about 4.5 seconds, according to instrumented tests by Car and Drivermagazine.

2020 INFINITI Q60 Edition 30

Hammering it like that, however, will intrude on the Red Sport 400’s EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption rating of 20/27/22 mpg of premium fuel.

A switch on the console controls Infiniti’s drive mode selector, which provides settings that tailor engine, transmission, steering and suspension adjustments to the driver’s preferences. There are six: ECO, Snow, Standard, Sport, Sport + and Personal, as well as further settings within some of those choices.

The tested Red Sport came with a full suite of infotainment features, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, SiriusXM satellite radio, navigation system, voice recognition, Wi-Fi hotspot and Bluetooth hands-free phone and text-messaging assistant.

INFINITI Q60 RED SPORT 400

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Infiniti Q60 Red Sport 400 AWD two-door coupe.
  • Engine: 3.0-liter V6, twin turbochargers; 400 hp, 350 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Seven-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 4 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 85/9 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,862 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 20/27/22 mpg. Premium fuel recommended.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $60,175.
  • Price as tested: $65,950.

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

2019 INFINITI Q60

Photos (c) Infiniti

2020 NACTOY Winners: A DriveWays Report…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Detroit, Mich. — North American automotive journalists, voting in secret ballots,  revealed on January 13, 2020 that they had selected two quintessentially U.S. vehicles and one from South Korea — but built in the U.S. — as the best newcomers of the past year.

In an announcement at TCF Arena, usually the home of the North American International Auto Show at this time of the year but now moving to June, the journalists picked the all-new mid-engine Chevrolet Corvette Stingray as the Car of the Year and the Jeep Gladiator as Truck of the Year. The Gladiator is manufactured by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA).

2020 TellurideThe all-new Kia Telluride, a midsize three-row crossover sport utility vehicle from the South Korean company but built in a plant in West Point, GA, was awarded Utility of the Year.

The 50 professional automotive journalists who made the selections are dues-paying members of the North American Car of the Year organization. They represent newspapers, magazines and other publications, as well as television, radio and online outlets in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. All NACTOY officers and jurors are volunteers; there are no paid staff positions.

NACTOY describes itself as the premier independent organization that judges excellence in automotive design, technology safety, performance, driver satisfaction, technology and value. (The writer of this article is a member).

Voting is done by secret ballot. A starting list of eligible vehicles, substantially new or redesigned, is drawn up by the leadership. Members then vote for semi-finalists, finalists and winners in the three categories. Votes are tallied by Deloitte, world-wide financial and accounting firm.

2020 Chevrolet Corvette StingrayThe Corvette Stingray, the Car of the Year, is the first in the brand’s 65-year history to feature a mid-engine design. Its 490-horsepower, 6.2-liter engine is mounted in back, ahead of the rear axle. Previous Corvettes had front engines and rear-wheel drive. The transmission is an eight-speed automatic that can be manually shifted. Prices start at $67,495.

Runners-up for Car of the Year were the all-new 2020 Hyundai Sonata midsize sedan and the 2020 Toyota Supra sports coupe, which uses an engine and drive train from BMW of Germany.

The Utility of the Year, the Kia Telluride, beat its fraternal twin, the Hyundai Palisade, in the voting. Kia is partly owned by Hyundai and the two brands share engines and transmissions, though they operate independently and do their designs.

The Telluride’s prices start at around $32,000 and climb to more than $47,000. It is powered by a 291-hp, 3.8-liter V6 engine with an eight-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel or all-wheel drive.

Besides the Hyundai Palisade, the third nominee in the utility category was the 2020 Lincoln Aviator, a luxury three-row SUV with prices that range up to $83,540.

2020 Jeep® Gladiator North EditioThe Jeep Gladiator’s two competitors for Truck of the Year were the midsize 2020 Ford Ranger and 2020 Ram Heavy Duty, with the Gladiator all pickup trucks but different in personalities, design and execution.

NACTOY’s Best of 2020: DriveWays . . .

by Frank A. Aukofer

Besides singing “Auld Lang Syne,” the end of every year heralds a flowering of “best of” motor vehicle awards from consumer organizations, enthusiast publications, and web sites.

Except for Consumer Reports, which doesn’t permit advertising of its conclusions about the reliability and efficacy of cars, trucks and utility vehicles, it’s something of a business proposition. An enthusiast magazine that names one or more “best of” or “top rated” vehicles typically gets paid if the manufacturer publicizes the honor in its advertising.

CarUtilityTruck copyThat’s also the case with the premier awards from the North American Car of the Year (NACTOY) organization, whose membership consists of 50 professional automotive journalists from all over the United States and Canada. Their reviews appear in newspapers, magazines and other publications, as well as television, radio and  online.

However, those journalists do not personally benefit. They are dues-paying members who vote for what they consider to be the best car, utility vehicle and truck of the model year. Though the NACTOY organization can benefit from advertising charges, the money is used for operating expenses. All NACTOY officers and jurors are volunteers; there are no paid staff positions.

It is that and its widespread reach that leads NACTOY to describe itself as the premier independent organization judging excellence in automotive design, safety, performance, technology, driver satisfaction and value. (Full disclosure: the writer of this story is a NACTOY juror).

There are three rounds of voting. An initial list of new or substantially upgraded vehicles is compiled by the leadership. Members then vote to determine a list of semi-finalists, then finalists and winners in the three categories of car, utility and truck of the year.

The system works something like the movie Academy Awards. Votes are counted in secret by Deloitte, a world-wide financial and accounting firm. Winners will be announced in Detroit on Monday, Jan. 13, 2020.

For now, however, there are three finalists in each category, which have the distinction of winning the votes of the independent jurors. Following are brief descriptions of the vehicles.

Car of the Year

2020 Chevrolet Corvette StingrayChevrolet Corvette Stingray. This is the long-awaited C8 Corvette, the first in the brand’s 65-year history to feature a mid-engine design, with its 6.2-liter V8 mounted behind the driver’s shoulder blades and ahead of the rear axle. It sends 490 j[ and 465 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels through an eight-speed  automatic transmission. Starting price is $67,495.

Large-39629-2020SonataLimitedHyundai Sonata. Redesigned midsize sedan from the South Korean automaker that better competes against the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Nissan Altima. It has innovative blind-spot warning in the instruments and a self-parking system. Powered by a 180-hp, 1.6-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine with 195 lb-ft of torque and an eight-speed automatic transmission. Priced $24,530 to $34,365.

White Front 3q LeftToyota Supra. The resurrection of a storied sports/grand touring car that was produced from 1978 to 2002. In this new guise it features a power train from BMW of Germany with a 3.0-liter in-line six-cylinder engine that delivers 335 hp and 365 lb-ft of torque with an eight-speed automatic transmission. Prices start at $50,945.

Utility of the Year

Large-36538-2020PalisadeThis category is intriguing because two of the three finalists are fraternal twins: the Hyundai Palisade and Kia Telluride from South Korea. Kia is a subsidiary of Hyundai. The two brands share engines and transmissions, though they operate independently and do their own interior and exterior designs, as well as suspension system tuning and other components.

2020 TellurideBoth are critically acclaimed midsize, three-row crossover sport utility vehicles, powered by 3.8-liter V6 engines with 291 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque. Available with front-wheel or all-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic transmission, their prices range from about $32,000 to more than $47,000.

2020 Lincoln AviatorThe third finalist in the category is the all-new Lincoln Aviator, which competes in the rarified world of mid-size, three-row luxury sport utilities. Available with rear-wheel or all-wheel drive, it is powered by a 3.0-liter V6 engine with twin turbochargers that delivers 400 hp and 415 lb-ft of torque through a 10-speed automatic transmission.

Prices range from $52,095 for the base rear-drive model to as much $83,540 for the Black Label all-wheel drive version.

Truck of the Year

It would be difficult to find a category with more variety among the finalists, although all three are pickup trucks.

2020 Jeep® Gladiator Rubicon on the Rubicon TrailThe Jeep Gladiator is the first pickup truck in 28 years from the manufacturers that got their start building military general purpose, or GP, all-terrain vehicles in World War II. The last Jeep pickup was the Comanche, sold until 1992.

The midsize Gladiator comes in a variety of trim levels for on-road and off-road work and recreation. It is powered by a 3.6-liter V6 engine with 285 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque delivered via a six-speed manual gearbox or an eight-speed automatic transmission. Prices start at $35,000 and can range up to more than $60,000 for the top-line Rubicon model with options.

RangerFX2_01_HRFord Ranger. This is a new midsize pickup that reprises the name of Ford’s earlier midsize pickup, which had a 27-year run until it was discontinued in 2010. It is a comfortable long-distance highway cruiser, powered by Ford’s 2.3-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder turbocharged engine, which makes 270 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque. A 10-speed automatic transmission gets the power to the pavement with standard rear-wheel drive or optional four-wheel drive. Prices range from about $25,000 to $45,000.

2020 Ram Power Wagon Crew CabRam Heavy Duty. Though stylish and refined as pickups go, this full-size truck is the brute of the finalists. With three engine options, including two diesels, it is available as a three-quarter ton (2500) model or one-ton (3500) model and single or dual rear wheels.

The stunner is the 6.7-liter Cummins in-line six-cylinder diesel engine with 400 hp and a whopping 1,000 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force, making it capable of towing 35,100 pounds with a payload of 7,680 pounds. Prices start at around $30,000 and, depending on trim levels and equipment, go up to the sky.

Photos and Images courtesy NACTOY, Chevrolet, Hyundai, Toyota, Kia, Lincoln, Jeep, Ford, and Ram.

2020 Hyundai Sonata Limited: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

With midsize car manufacturers parachuting out of sedans altogether, South Korea’s Hyundai reckons it can reach new heights with its redesigned 2020 Sonata.

Though holding its own, the Sonata is aiming to fly higher. In 2018, for example, it ranked sixth among the top 10 popular-priced midsize sedans with 105,118 sales or 7.1 percent of the total.

Large-39713-2020SonataLimitedThat lagged behind the top-dog Toyota Camry, with 343,439 sales, or 23 percent. In the first three quarters of 2019, Sonata ranked seventh with 68,368 sales, or 6.5 percent, while the Camry totaled 258,456 sales, or 24.5 percent.

The goal is to peel off some of the sales from the top three Toyota, Honda Accord and Nissan Altima while also capturing customers from  others as they eliminate sedans.

Based on a drive of early production models, the Sonata looks as competitive as any. It’s an attractively styled vehicle inside and out, longer, wider and lower than its predecessor with wheels pushed out to the corners and shorter body overhangs.

Large-39708-2020SonataLimitedThe exterior sports striking styling elements, including front and rear LED light treatments and side body trim highlighted by an inch-wide chrome strip that runs from the headlights up and over the hood and window frames.

Inside, the Sonata Limited driven for this review displayed quality materials and workmanship with appealing and thoughtful design elements. For example, it had a unique blind-spot warning system. Instead of warning lights in the outside mirrors, it used cameras to show the left and right areas behind the car.

Click the left or right turn signal for a lane change, and either the tachometer or speedometer disappears and the display shows the blind spot area. The system is similar to one offered by Honda, but Honda’s only shows the right-rear area on the center screen.

Large-39693-2020SonataLimitedHowever, as wonderful as some drivers will find the Sonata blind-spot system, it would not be needed if motorists took the time and effort to correctly adjust the outside mirrors. Set properly with the inside mirror, the driver gets a 180-degree view to the rear.

The Sonata designers demonstrated imagination by designing the front-door armrests to double as storage areas for smart phones and other small objects. The Limited Sonata also came with a head-up display, wireless smart phone charging and an overhead surround-view rear camera.

Another Sonata feature that is likely to win converts is Hyundai’s  “remote smart parking assist.” It allows the driver to step out and, using the key fob, back the car into a parking spot so narrow that none but a snake or lizard could squeeze inside or leave. It would be particularly useful in crowded apartment garages or shopping center parking lots.

Large-39725-2020SonataLimitedThere’s also a so-called “digital key,” which allows an owner to operate the Sonata from a smart phone. So far, however, the system only works with Android phones.

The Sonata comes standard with a full suite of safety equipment: automatic emergency braking, blind-spot and parking collision avoidance, smart cruise control with stop-and-go and lane following assist, rear cross-traffic alert, driver attention warning and headlight high beam assist.

Two power trains are offered over four trim levels: SE, SEL, SEL Plus and the tested Limited. SE and SEL come with Hyundai’s 2.5-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine that makes 191 hp and 181 lb-ft of torque.

The SEL Plus and Limited get their power from a 180-hp, 1.6-liter four-banger that delivers 195 lb-ft of torque and EPA fuel consumption of 28/37/31 mpg. Power with either engine gets to the front wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission.

Large-39733-2020SonataLimitedOn the road, the tested Limited was a commendably quiet cruiser, aided by acoustic glass, sound-deadening insulation, and window and door sealing.  However, there was some unavoidable intrusion of tire noise prompted by rough road surfaces. Handling was crisp, acceleration was brisk, and passing on two-lane highways without anxiety.

During long-distance cruising, seats were supportive and comfortable up front and for outboard passengers in back. As usual, any center-rear passenger gets disrespected by a hard cushion, large floor hump and intrusion of the center console. The large trunk is compromised by C-hinges that are not isolated and could damage contents.

Prices were finalized after the national press introduction in Montgomery, Alabama, where the Sonata is manufactured in Hyundai’s sprawling plant in near-by Hope Hull.  The base SE model starts at $24,330, including the destination charge. The tested Limited came with  a bottom-line suggested delivered price of $34,365.

Large-39748-2020SonataLimitedSpecifications

  • Model: 2020 Hyundai Sonata Limited four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 1.6-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 180 hp, 195 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 1 inch.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/trunk volume: 101/16 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,336 pounds
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 27/36/31 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $34,230.
  • Price as tested: Est. $34,365.

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

Large-39696-2020SonataLimitedPhotos (c) Hyundai

2020 Bentley Continental GT V8: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Following tradition, Britain’s Bentley anoints its all-new 2020 Continental V8 coupe as a GT, which customarily denotes a two-door grand touring car with a back seat. Drive one, however, and you’d likely regard it as a pure high-performance sports car.

The Bentley engineers and designers went to a great deal of trouble to make that back seat useful, but failed. Insert any modest-sized adults comfortably in the front seats and there’s no knee room in back, despite accommodations that include armrest cup holders and USB ports.

Bentley Continental GT V8 1Sure, you can easily move the powered front seats fore and aft with a touch to divvy the space. But then the driver, chest against the steering wheel, must figure out a way to steer with his armpits. The front passenger might be able to squeeze knees under the dash—if he or she can climb in at all.

The new Continental GT is an inch shy of 16 feet long — the same as its immediate predecessor. But the wheelbase — the distance between the centers of the front and rear wheels — is about four inches longer. The engineers used that space to relocate the engine farther back and lower for improved balance. But it might have been better used for more rear cabin space.

Bentley Continental GT V8 3So it’s best to consider the Continental GT V8 as a “plus two,” distinguished from British “plus fours” — or knickers — and referring to such cars as older Porsche 911s with vestigial back seats suited mainly to cantaloupes and agile capuchin monkeys.

With two aboard, the Continental V8 stands out as a superb sports coupe with performance and handling that rivals almost anything you can find. In its milieu, it is eclipsed only by its garage-mate, the Continental W12, which is powered by a 626-hp, 6.0-liter 12-cylinder engine.

The tested Continental GT comes with a mere 542-hp, 4.0-liter V8 engine that delivers 568 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force, enough to propel it to 60 mph from rest in an estimated 3.5 seconds.

Bentley Continental GT V8 6Power makes its way to all four wheels via an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission, which essentially pre-selects the next gear for shifts up or down that happen instantly. The power surge feels as smooth as a Waterford crystal champagne flute — attested to by a door sill plate that says, “Hand Crafted by Bentley Motors Ltd., Crewe, England.”

If only the W12 will suffice — it was scheduled for introduction later in the model year — it will cost you an additional $16,100 over the $201,225 for the V8, and likely more than that depending on equipment and other extras.

Bentley Continental V8 Photo: James Lipman / jameslipman.comThe tested V8, with options that included lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, night vision, head-up display, ventilated front seats with massage functions, ambient mood lighting, pedestrian warning, top view rear camera and a $6,770 Bang & Olufsen audio system, came with a bottom-line sticker price of $236,345, including the destination charge.

On the test car seats, the hand-selected leather hides were done up in Camel and Imperial Blue, with the dashboard fascia and console trim highlighted by dark-stained burr walnut veneer. Almost everything about Bentleys can be owner bespoke — the British word for customized. Customers can bring in a favorite color — say, on an antique electric hair dryer — and the company will paint their Bentley to match.

Though it’s a 2020 model, the Bentley GT celebrates 2019, the company’s centenary year. The company was founded in 1919 by W. O. (for Walter Owen) Bentley and his brother, H. M. Bentley. A badge and puddle lamps on the new GT display 1919 and 2019. Bentley’s first car, designated the Three Litre, arrived in 1921.

After 1924, when the Three Litre Sport won the 24 Hours of Le Mans race in Europe, Bentley went on to win that race four more times up to 1930. Some of those nonagenarian Bentleys, lovingly maintained by collectors, still cement their reputation for reliability by motoring hundreds of miles on annual rallies sponsored by Bentley owners’ clubs in the UK, Australia and the U.S.

Bentley Continental V8 Photo: James Lipman / jameslipman.comFor 40 years, the Bentley name was entwined with that of Rolls-Royce. But the two parted company and Bentley now is owned by Germany’s Volkswagen.

Like other super-luxury makes, Bentley is not a major player in the U.S. market. In 2018, a total of !,972 Bentleys were sold here, including all models: Mulsanne and Flying Spur sedans, the Bentayga crossover sport utility vehicle and all versions of the Continental GT.

Bentley Continental V8 Photo: James Lipman / jameslipman.comSpecifications

  • Model: 2020 Bentley Continental GT V8 two-door coupe.
  • Engine: 4.0-liter V8, turbocharged; 542 hp, 568 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed dual-clutch automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 11 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/trunk volume: 86/13 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,773 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: Est. 13/19/16 mpg. Premium recommended.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $201,225.
  • Price as tested: $236,345.

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

Bentley Continental GT Convertible V8 10Photos (c) Bentley

2020 BMW 745e xDrive iPerformance: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

There is a lot to be said about plug-in luxury cars like the 2020 BMW 745e xDrive iPerformance sedan. But it has little to do with fuel economy or cost of operation.

Sure, the tested 745e is sumptuously luxurious, handles beautifully and has the bones to delight almost any driver even on a taxing cross-country trip. But you can get nearly the same results with a gasoline-only 740i xDrive and save about six grand in the process.

P90335746_highRes_the-new-bmw-745le-seOf course, most people who buy luxury cars that cost north and south of $100,000 likely do not worry about saving a few bucks here and there. And it is true that the 745e is slightly better for the dwindling health of our planet.

At a minimum as a plug-in hybrid rated at 56 mpg equivalent fuel economy by the government, it may make owners feel somewhat better about their locomotion choice, assuming they are not  climate change deniers.

The EPA estimates the annual fuel cost at $1,500 for the 745e xDrive compared to $2,150 for the 740i xDrive. It would take more than 10 years to recoup the $6,000 higher price for the 745e — assuming anyone would keep it that long. However, some customers might pay that premium for its sterling performance.

P90333059_highRes_the-new-bmw-7-seriesThe tested 745e, with a bottom-line price tag of $119,875, can only travel about 16 miles on purely electric power before the high-performance gasoline engine lights up. That short range is not uncommon among luxury plug-in hybrids.

As one result, according to published reports, some owners of luxury hybrid plug-ins like the 745e never even bother to hook up to a charger, driving them as if they were simply hybrids like the Toyota Prius or any number of other green machines.

So what’s the point? The current imperative throughout the world-wide automotive industry is electrification. That can mean purely electric power, as with a luxury crossover SUV like the Audi E-Tron, or any number of plug-ins and hybrids. Any manufacturer that wants to survive into the future has some electrification project going, often with self-driving technology as well.

P90333074_highRes_the-new-bmw-7-seriesMeanwhile, we have not-even-halfway-there measures like the 745e, which demonstrates that even a modest injection of electric power, properly done, can transform almost any vehicle into something superior to the gasoline-powered machines we all have loved and hated.

The electric Taycan threatens to eclipse all of the adrenaline-inducing sports cars that have borne the Porsche name since the 1930s. Electric motors can deliver enormous power instantly and quietly while gasoline engines must rev up to punch out their horsepower.

Sure, there’s nothing like the growl of a Detroit V8 in full cry that stirs the hearts of enthusiasts. But let’s face it: the days of screaming grand prix cars and fuel dragsters are numbered — though perhaps not in many of current adult lifetimes.

P90333075_highRes_the-new-bmw-7-seriesWhich brings us back to the subject here, the 2020 BMW 745e xDrive iPerformance sedan. It is, to be sure, a transition machine for a few who have the wherewithal to enjoy its many attributes.

It is, first and foremost, a BMW, which means that motoring performance is the starting point with the luxury added on, though endemic and expected by its customers.

The beauty is in the overall performance feel, especially when driving in the brief pure electric mode, when the 745e simply surges instead of rockets in acceleration. Even at highway speeds that can easily, though illegally, approach triple digits, it is silently powerful to the point where a glance at the speedometer is a surprise.

P90335203_highRes_the-new-bmw-745le-anBMW lists the zero to 60 mph acceleration time at 4.7 seconds, not bad for a car that weighs nearly 5,000 pounds. But this is not the sort of conveyance anyone would choose for stoplight drag races.

The 745e is a boulevardier, easily suited for chauffeur-driven duties. Inside, though it’s not a limousine, it has many of the same accouterments and ambiance. The design and materials are thoughtful and consistent, of high quality. Though a fifth passenger could squeeze in the middle, the focus is on the outboard passengers, with power reclining seats — though there’s not enough space for a full stretch-out.

The pull-down center console houses controls, including a computer tablet, for almost any convenience, and entertainment screens are mounted on the backs of the front seats.

Cocktails anyone?

P90333092_highRes_the-new-bmw-7-seriesSpecifications

  • Model: 2020 BMW 745e xDrive Performance four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 3.0-liter six-cylinder, turbocharged; 280 hp, 330 lb-ft torque; with AC electric motor, 111 hp, 196 lb-ft torque; combined output 389 hp, 442 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 17 feet 3 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/trunk volume: 115/15 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,970 pounds.
  • EPA miles per gallon equivalent: MPGe 56; gasoline only: 22.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $96,545.
  • Price as tested: $119,875.

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

P90333062_highRes_the-new-bmw-7-seriesPhotos (c) BMW

2020 Dodge Charger Scat Pack Widebody: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Call them the brute and the ballet master. They are the 2020 Dodge Charger Widebody models: the SRT Hellcat and the Scat Pack.

No tutus allowed, they were introduced in full roar in wine country, California, around Napa Valley and at the Sonoma Raceway near the city of the same name. It is 2.5 miles and a dozen of sometimes blind corners and 160 feet of elevation changes.

2020 Dodge Charger Scat Pack Widebody

Dodge has a Challenger lineup as well but nobody can challenge the fact that this automaker is the champion of mass-produced performance cars, including the Hellcat, the fastest four-door you can find.

Not that we have to tell Dodge enthusiasts, but the SRT Hellcat V8 pumps out 707 hp and can nail 60 mph in 3.6 seconds and the quarter mile in 10.96 seconds, with a top speed of 196 mph. Those are Dodge specs, but who’s to argue?

That’s the brute. The ballet master is the Scat Pack, powered by the 6.4-liter (392 cubic inches) Hemi V8 engine that delivers 485 hp and 475 lb-ft of torque, enough to hit 60 mph in 4.3 seconds and the quarter-mile in 12.4 seconds.

New aggressive and modern Widebody exterior, optional on Charger Scat Pack features new front and rear fascias with integrated fender flares, adding 3.5 inches of width over the wider wheels and tires.

It is the focus here as the most affordable and best handling of the two, though the tester had a base price of $41,490 and a bottom-line sticker price of $58,245. But never mind. There are plenty of other Chargers for other income brackets, including a basic SXT model that looks almost the same for $31,390, including the destination fee.

Both the $71,140 Hellcat and the Scat Pack came with the Widebody package, which adds fender flares and 20-inch wheels that are 11 inches wide. The treatment stretches the Widebody models to a width of 6 feet 6 inches at the haunches.

Powering the 2020 Dodge Charger Scat Pack Widebody is the naturally aspirated 392 cubic-inch HEMI® V-8 with best-in-class 485 horsepower

It’s reminiscent of 1959, when Pontiac introduced its Wide-Track models. The idea was to stress stability and handling, though there were few decent handling U.S. cars in the 1950s and 1960s. As race driver and entrepreneur Carroll Shelby once opined: “Great motors. Couldn’t turn, couldn’t stop.”

That cannot be said any more of American muscle cars, and the 2020 Charger Scat Pack Widebody is the prime example. Though it is nearly 17 feet long and weighs 385 pounds more than two tons, it is one of the sweetest handling machines you can find.

The 2020 Dodge Charger Scat Pack Widebody features an available new leather flat-bottom steering wheel

With the driver cosseted in well-bolstered suede sport seats that grip the torso, aided by well-weighted power steering, sport suspension upgrades and sticky tires on the 20X11-inch wheels, the Scat Pack Widebody calmly gobbles curves and corners on the road and race track.

Though you can use the steering-wheel mounted paddle shifters, there’s no need. The eight-speed automatic transmission picks the proper gear for the situation all by itself. And Brembo performance disc brakes engineered by Dodge stop the Scat Pack Widebody in 107 feet from 60 mph, according to the manufacturer’s specifications.

Beyond its menacing stance, the newly designed front fascia on the Charger Scat Pack Widebody includes a new mail-slot grille, providing the most direct route for cool air to travel into the radiator, to maintain ideal operating temperature even in the hottest conditions.

One principle behind all the Charger models, as expressed by the Dodge boys, is to provide a four-door sedan that a family can drive from coast to coast but also delivers exhilarating performance.

But if you do plan to undertake long-distance travel, the Scat Pack Widebody may not be the choice unless you enjoy the constant burbling of a powerful V8 engine. You can mitigate it somewhat because the Scat Pack has five selectable driving modes, the noisiest of which is the Sport setting, which holds transmission shifts to higher rpms. Better to select one of the more sedate, even economical, modes.

2020 Dodge Charger Scat Pack Widebody features Scat Pack Bee badge on the deck lid

Classified as a large car by the federal government because of its interior volume, the Scat Pack Widebody has 105 cubic feet for passengers and a big, well-finished trunk of 17 cubic feet. There was no spare wheel, likely to aid front to rear weight distribution. An air pump nestled beneath the trunk floor.

For traveling, the back seat is comfortable for only two. The center-rear passenger must contend with a hard cushion, giant floor hump and intrusion of the center console.

2020 Dodge Charger Scat Pack Widebody

The Widebody models are distinguished by a so-called mail slot grille with openings designed to enhance brake and engine cooling. The fender flares accommodate the wide tires.

Mark Trostle, Fiat Chrysler’s head of performance, passenger and utility vehicle design, described the new Hellcat and Scat Pack Widebody models: “The goal was to make them badass, intimidating and timeless.”

There’s no argument here.

2020 Dodge Charger Scat Pack Widebody

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Dodge Charger Scat Pack Widebody four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 6.4 liter (392 cubic inches) V8; 485 hp, 475 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and rear-wheel drive.
  • Overall Length: 16 feet 9 inches.
  • Width: 6 feet 6 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/trunk volume: 105/17 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,385 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: Est. 15/24/18 mpg. Premium fuel.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $41,490.
  • Price as tested: $58,245.

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

2020 Dodge Charger Scat Pack Widebody in F8 Green exterior color with Satin Black Painted hood, roof and deckli.

Photos (c) FCA North America

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