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2022 MINI Cooper S Hardtop 2 Door: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The 2022 MINI Cooper S Hardtop 2 Door represents the culmination of more than 60 years of thinking — and designing — outside the box, inspiring a level of affection, and fame few automobiles have ever achieved.

The first Mini was conceived in Great Britain as a tiny, inexpensive, fuel-efficient two-door hatchback. Introduced in 1959, it could fit in a box measuring 4x4x10 feet and still carry four people. To do it, engineer Sir Alec Issigonis designed it with features outside the existing box.

Issigonis worked for the British Motor Corp., which initially sold the Mini as the Austin Seven and Morris Mini Minor. His concept was a small hatchback with caster-like 10-inch wheels out on the corners and equipped with a crosswise-mounted front engine and front-wheel drive to maximize passenger space.

The result was a little boomer with a 34-horsepower four-cylinder engine of less than one-liter displacement with a broad stance and low center of gravity that optimized handling. It soon won racing and rally victories, especially after racer John Cooper tuned it, while at the same time functioning as economical transportation for millions of the hoi polloi. 

It became so mesmerizing to people everywhere it was sold that, by the turn of the millennium from the 20th to 21st centuries, Mini sales were over five million, and a panel of 130 international automotive journalists had selected it “European Car of the Century.” It also was voted the second-most influential car of the 20th century, behind the Ford Model T but ahead of the Volkswagen Beetle. 

However, new anti-pollution regulations in 1968 kept the Mini pandemic from the United States — that is, until Germany’s BMW (Bavarian Motor Works) acquired the Mini name and some assets and introduced the modern MINI in 2002 to American buyers. 

MINI still assembles its cars in the United Kingdom (in Oxford), but the hot hatch is essentially a German car with British heritage. Almost a third of its parts, 32%, come from Germany, compared to 19% from the U.K. 

So, it’s okay to think of the 2022 MINI Cooper S Hardtop tested for this review as a British BMW, or maybe a German MINI. It exhibits characteristics of the automobiles of both countries, including some British eccentricities and German solidity.

But it’s no longer a minuscule mule for the masses. It still has its charms of small size for competent handling, shooting holes in traffic, ease of parking, and decent fuel economy. Although it has no direct competitors, it is relatively expensive — more like a Volkswagen GTI than a Nissan Versa or Sentra. 

The tester came with a starting price of $27,750, including the destination charge. With options that included a panoramic sunroof, dual-zone automatic climate control, touchscreen navigation, Apple CarPlay, and custom upholstery, the suggested delivered price came to $34,850. Automatic emergency braking and lane-departure warning are standard.

But it no longer can fit in the original Mini’s box. It is 12 feet 8 inches long, 4 feet 8 inches tall, and 5 feet 8 inches wide. That’s still small by U.S. standards, which classify it as a subcompact based on its interior volume, totaling 80 cubic feet for passengers with a scant 9 cubic feet for cargo.

With the injection of German technology, this new MINI S is more of a high-performance hatchback like the VW GTI, Hyundai Veloster, or Subaru WRX. MINI power emanates from a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with twin turbochargers that pumps out 189 hp and 207 pound-feet of torque. The grunt makes its way to the front wheels by way of a six-speed manual gearbox. An automatic transmission is optional.

Many enthusiasts, including this one, prefer the manual. But the six-speed, though it works well enough once you get used to it, is a bit of a disappointment. The shift linkage is stiff and somewhat bumpy shifting up and down through the gears. No snick-snick here. There’s also a steep learning curve to master the infotainment system housed in the big circle in the dash.

On the road, the tested MINI Cooper 2 Door delivered what its predecessors always have: driving entertainment. Punch the throttle, shift quickly, and you can hit 60 mph from rest in about six seconds, accompanied by engine roar as the revs build. Cruising, it all quiets down to a smooth surge of power with “go-kart handling” on curves.

Specifications

  • Model: 2022 MINI Cooper S Hardtop 2 Door subcompact hatchback. 
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, twin turbochargers; 189 hp, 207 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed manual with front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 12 feet 8 inches.
  • Height: 4 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 80/9 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 2,813 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 23/33/27 mpg. Premium fuel recommended.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $27,750.
  • Price as tested: $34,850.

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

Photos (c) MINI

2022 Honda Civic 1.5T Touring: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The 2022 Honda Civic marks the modern maturity of a tiny economy car that made its U.S. debut nearly half a century ago. Since then, the Civic has garnered worldwide sales of over 18 million, more than half of them in the United States.

In July 1972, it started out as a sedan and hatchback, each with two doors, front-wheel drive and a 1.2-liter two-cylinder engine. Later it morphed into the Civic’s famed 1200 four-cylinder CVCC engine, which delivered 50 hp and 68 lb-ft of torque through a four-speed manual gearbox.

The CVCC was a marvel, meeting U.S. emissions requirements without add-ons and tuned to run on leaded or unleaded gasoline while delivering fuel economy of over 40 mpg. It became sought after in the shortages of gasoline during the Arab oil embargo of 1973-‘74.

The Civic was 11 feet 8 inches long and weighed 1,450 pounds. Its base price was a dollar a pound, or $1,450, though you could spend up to $3,300 in 1974 dollars. In 2021, the equivalent dollar amounts would be $8,182 and $18,622.         

For 2022, the Touring model tested here delivers 180 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque from a state-of-the-art turbocharged 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine. Power makes its way to the front wheels via a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) with a step-shift feature making it feel something like a conventional automatic, though the faux shifts are very subtle. It also has a manual shift mode controlled by paddles on the steering wheel to mimic a seven-speed transmission.

The CVT is the only transmission available on the new sedans. Enthusiasts who prefer to shift for themselves will await the introductions of the 2022 hatchback, Si and Type R, which will offer Honda’s six-speed manual gearbox, one of the best sticks for front drivers.

The Civic Touring’s EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption is  31/38/34 mpg. Fully equipped, the tester came with a sticker price of $29,295, well below the current average price of about $40,000 for an automobile in the U.S. 

Honda Sensing, the manufacturer’s suite of safety equipment, came standard on the test car. It included automated emergency braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, and lane-keeping assist with road departure mitigation. Other safety features included blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic monitor, low-speed braking control, rain-sensing windshield wipers, knee air bags for the driver and front-seat passenger, electronic brake force distribution, and tire-pressure monitoring.

With its all-new styling, the Civic has it both ways: Though more generic, the fastback treatment makes it resemble other streamlined compact/midsize sedans, including its bigger sibling Accord and even some luxury machines like the Audi A5. 

Inside, the tested Touring featured perforated leather-trimmed upholstery, enhanced by wide front seats with prominent bolstering to keep the torso secure in fast corners. Comprehensive instruments, including a digital speedometer, are displayed white-on-black on an LCD screen, while a nine-inch center color touch screen handles navigation, SXM satellite radio, and wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

In back, the outboard seating positions deliver more than adequate head and knee room, and the doors open wide for ease of entry and exit. The center seating position, as usual, is inferior but in this application has a comfortable cushion, though feet must still be splayed on both sides of a large floor hump.

The trunk, which contains a temporary spare and the tools needed for a roadside tire change, is roomy and nicely finished, though the unprotected C-hinges could damage some contents.

On the road, the Civic Touring delivered adequate though not stirring performance, along with competent handling manners and a comfortable long-distance ride. Punch the throttle and it will accelerate to 60 miles an hour in the seven-second range, more than adequate for freeway ramps and passing on two-lane roads. 

There are three drive modes — Eco, Normal, and Sport — easily selectable without taking eyes off the road. Sport mainly affects shift mapping but you can drive in Eco and still grab better performance by simply flooring the throttle.

The only somewhat jarring note was that a good deal of road noise on rougher surfaces made its way into the cabin. On newer asphalt highways, the experience was more serene.

Given its affordable price, this new Civic stands out. From a bitty economy car five decades ago, it has grown into a fully realized sedan that can hold its own on performance, comfort, reliability and desirability in almost any company.

Specifications     

  • Model: 2022 Honda Civic 1.5T Touring four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 1.5-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 180 hp, 177 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with manual shift mode and front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 4 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/trunk volume: 96/14 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,038 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 31/38/34 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $29,295.
  • Price as tested: $29,295.

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

Photos (c) Honda

2022 Genesis G70 RWD 3.3T Sport Prestige: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

It’s becoming a truism that the South Koreans build great automobiles like the 2022 Genesis G70. But the impression in the U.S. is  based on only three closely associated brands.

They are Kia, partly owned by Hyundai, and Genesis, Hyundai’s luxury brand. Together, they deliver 29 different models, including sedans, hatchbacks, crossover sport utility vehicles and even a pickup truck, with a broad range of performance characteristics and prices from economy to luxury.

The newest brand is Genesis. It started out as a high-end trim level for Hyundai but became a separate brand in 2015. The 2022 lineup consists of the G70, G80 and G90 sedans, and the GV70 and GV80 crossovers.

Of those, the G70 has received the most plaudits from reviewers. It is a compact performance/luxury sedan — actually a bit smaller than the economy-oriented Hyundai Elantra. But the G70 competes directly, at lower prices, with the BMW 3-Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Audi A5 Sportback. It also rivals the Kia Stinger, with which it shares some components. 

There are six G70 versions, all with turbocharged engines. The two four-cylinder base models, 2.0T Standard and 2.0T Prestige, have 252 horsepower and carry price tags of $38,570 and $42,570, respectively. Both have eight-speed automatic transmissions and rear-wheel drive.

The other four, including the Sport Prestige model tested for this review, are powered by 3.3-liter V6 twin-turbo engines that make 365 hp and 376 lb-ft of torque. They also have eight-speed automatic transmissions with manual shift modes and rear-wheel drive. Add about $2,000 for all-wheel drive on all models.

The tested Sport Prestige had a base price of $43,125 and, with options, a tested price of  $51,945. Other 3.3 versions: Standard, $43,145; Sport Advanced, $47,445, and Launch Edition, $51,445.

Visuals are important, and the G70 grabs attention with sleek, fastback lines and new front and rear styling. Like an Olympic sharpshooter, this Genesis has competitors locked in its sights. 

The stylish look carries over to the interior, which features quality materials, design, and workmanship. Seats on the tester were upholstered in quilted and perforated Nappa leather. Front seats have good bolstering for spirited driving on curving roads and deliver support and comfort for long distance driving. The tester came with a power tilt and telescoping steering wheel, and  large glass sunroof with an opaque motorized sunshade. 

In back, there’s room and comfort for two smaller adults in the outboard seats, though getting in and out takes some agility because feet catch between the door frame and the seat. The center seat position is impossible because of a large floor hump, hard cushion, and intrusion of the center console. In fairness, this is not uncommon in many smaller sedans.

Where the tested G70 shines is in overall performance. The twin-turbo V6 engine and quick-shifting eight-speed automatic combine to hustle this beauty to 60 mph in the four-second range.

There are five easily dialed drive modes: Eco, Comfort, Sport, Custom, and Sport Plus. The last is a track mode and turns off the traction control. On twisting roads, the G70 stays planted with tactile steering feedback.

The Sport modes keep the engine on the boil for rapid response, though if you get your foot deep into the throttle it’s almost as if the other modes switch instantly to Sport, so you can putter around town in Eco knowing that the power is poised to respond quickly.

With the G70’s bias toward sporting performance and handling, the ride can get a bit choppy on pockmarked roads, though the adaptive shock absorbers do a decent job of canceling some of the rougher stuff. The different drive modes don’t seem to have much of an effect on the ride.

Genesis G70 Photo: James Lipman / jameslipman.com

Equipment on he tested Sport Prestige includes premium Brembo brakes, forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning and lane-keeping assist, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, rear occupant warning, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go technology, head-up display and a 360-degree view exterior camera. There’s also dual-zone climate control, rain-sensing windshield wipers and 19-inch custom alloy wheels.

A 10.3-center screen displays infotainment functions, including navigation, SXM satellite radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. In short, the G70 comes with nearly everything expected in a performance/luxury sedan. Though it doesn’t have the cachet of a BMW or Mercedes, it performs as well or better than other compact luxury/sport sedans at lower prices.

Specifications

  • Model: 2022 Genesis G70 RWD 3.3T Sport Prestige four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 3.3-liter V6, twin turbochargers; 365 hp, 376 lb-ft torque. 
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual shift mode and rear-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 4 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/trunk volume: 94/10 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,880 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 18/27/21 mpg. Premium fuel recommended.  
  • Base price, including destination charge: $43,125.
  • Price as tested: $51,945.

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

Photos (c) Genesis

2021 Audi RS 7: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

It’s tempting to describe the 2021 Audi RS 7 in disparate ways: a hair-trigger pistol in a silk holster. An explosive creampuff. An iron fist in a velvet glove.

They are all accurate, more or less. This four-door fastback, so low slung a five-footer can peer over the top, can be driven as softly as a cushy limousine or as harshly as a track or road racer without adjusting anything except the pressure of the right foot on the accelerator pedal.

It extracts gobs of power from its twin-turbo 4.0-liter V8 engine: 591 hp and 590 lb-ft of torque, enough to launch it to 60 mph north or south of three seconds. Top speed on the test car was 155 but the capability can be increased to 190 if you order the optional track-capable carbon ceramic brakes.

Power gets to all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission and Audi’s quattro all-wheel drive system. The transmission can be manually shifted with steering-wheel paddles, though there are likely few humans who could beat the automatic.

Even without the carbon-ceramic grabbers, Car and Driver magazine reported that its testers were able to haul the 4,947-pound RS 7 to a stop from 70 mph in 171 feet, which it judged as impressive. In short, this hatchback sedan is the whole nine yards.

Fuel economy, given the power available, is respectable. City/highway/combined EPA numbers are  15/22/17 miles to the gallon, though to get maximum performance and economy, premium gasoline is required.

There are no different versions, or trim levels. The one you get has a starting price of $115,045. With options, the tester’s bottom-line sticker came to $125,140. If you want something less intimidating, check out the Audi S 7 and A 7. 

What you get for the money, besides the scintillating performance, are luxury accouterments. The tested RS 7 had beautiful perforated and embossed leather upholstery covering supportive and comfortable seats with good bolstering to hold the torso in place. 

In back, the outboard seats are positioned way down to afford head room under the low roof, making it a bit awkward for some people to access. Comfort back there, however, is available only for two. The center-rear seat is a hard perch aggravated by a large floor hump, so the poor soul must splay feet on both sides. It’s not a place for even a short trip.

But there’s a modicum of practicality lurking among the luxurious appointments. Open the rear hatch and access 25 cubic feet of cargo space. Fold the rear seatbacks nearly flat and the cargo area almost doubles. However, despite the sharply angled backlight, there is no rear window wiper. 

The RS 7 comes with full safety equipment, as well as a comprehensive digital gauge cluster that includes instant readouts for power and torque. The infotainment system operates with touch screens that unfortunately require a firm touch to operate, which means the driver can be distracted to aim fingers accurately. But there’s also voice recognition. Navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are included, along with wireless smart phone charging. A subscription Wi-Fi hot spot  is available.

The RS 7 has impeccable manners, whether tootling around downtown, commuting to the suburbs or rocketing around curves on a deserted mountain roadway. As noted, the power is on tap for any circumstance, yet you can feather-foot the throttle for docile motoring in comfort.

Buttressing this package is an adaptive air suspension and four-wheel steering. Both contribute to the controlled ride and confident handling. The tester had an optional driver assistance package that included a head-up display, adaptive cruise control with lane-keeping assist, rear cross-traffic alert, traffic sign recognition and Audi’s intersection assist, which monitors cross traffic.

The tested RS 7 came with an optional exterior black optics package, black outside mirror housings, summer performance tires on 22-inch matte titanium wheels, and red brake calipers. There also was a $500 sport exhaust system, which this reviewer could have done without.

Fortunately, the exhaust notes are most raucous under hard acceleration. In more sedate motoring, the RS 7 runs quietly enough to allow easy listening to the 19-speaker Bang & Olufsen audio system and the SXM satellite radio.

Whether you’re entranced by the whole nine yards, the complete ball of wax or the full megillah, the Audi RS 7 will suit up.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Audi RS 7 four-door hatchback sedan.
  • Engine: 4.0-liter V8, turbocharged; 591 hp, 590 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 5 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 95/25 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,947 pounds.
  • Height: 4 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 15/22/17. Premium gasoline required.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $115,045.
  • Price as tested: $125,140.

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

Photos (c) Audi

2021 Infiniti Q50 Signature Edition: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Though it’s among the runners-up for pure driving pleasure, the 2021 Infiniti Q50 can satisfy almost anyone who enjoys driving for its own sake. 

Most of those enthusiasts likely would concede that the best vehicles for their preferred pursuit are sports cars. However, it’s a tradeoff because they have limitations of two seats and truncated luggage space.

The runners-up are compact and midsize sports sedans like the Q50 Signature Edition tested for this review. Many aficionadoes even prefer them for their additional space for up five passengers and the capability to accommodate luggage in a trunk or under a rear hatch.

Examples of the Q50’s competition are the Audi A4 and A5, as well as their higher performance S and RS models; BMW 3-Series and M versions; Mercedes-Benz C-Class and AMG models; Alfa-Romeo Giulia; Cadillac CT-4, CT-5, and Blackwing versions; Acura TLX; Honda Civic Type R; Genesis G70; Subaru BRZ, and Volkswagen Golf GTI/R.

There even are subcompacts that qualify as sports sedans, as witness the Audi A3, S3, and a current favorite here, the Audi RS3, about as sweet a driver as you’ll find anywhere. However, it has a price tag north of $65,000.

The 2021 Infiniti Q50 is not quite as dear. But the tested Signature Edition checked in at $52,800, which included $1,575 worth of options: exterior “welcome lighting,” rear USB charging ports, trunk area enhancements and premium paint.

Sports sedan qualifications start with the Q50’s 3.0-liter V6 engine with twin turbochargers that punches out 300 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. A seven-speed automatic transmission sends the power to all four wheels. There’s a manual shift mode, but curiously no steering-wheel paddles. You shift with the shifter.

Standard equipment includes most everything a customer might want. Safety items include emergency braking and collision warning, backup collision intervention, blind-spot and lane-departure warning, around-view camera with moving-object detection, adaptive cruise control and hill start assist. 

Convenience and comfort features include dual-zone automatic climate control, perforated leather upholstery, remote engine starting, motorized glass sunroof, rain-sensing windshield wipers, heated outside mirrors, and LED headlights and fog lights.

Inside, the Q50 displays a comfortable ambiance with quality materials and workmanship. The black dash is highlighted with yellow stitching. Over-and-under center touch screens handle navigation and infotainment functions. Buttons control climate functions. Instruments feature big analog displays that are easy to read day or night. 

On the road, the Q50 delivers a comfortable ride, which might be its main drawback. It seems as if the suspension tuning and tires were set up more toward the luxury than the sport side of the spectrum. That’s not to say it’s a slug on handling. It goes where you point it with good steering feedback; its turn-in on sharp curves at high speeds is not as quick as some of the competition. But it is  companionable as a daily driver.

Independent tests place the Q50’s zero-to-60-mph acceleration time in the five-second range — certainly acceptable in this era. The Environmental Protection Agency rates the city/highway/combined fuel consumption at 19/27/22 mpg.

Front seats deliver support and comfort for spirited driving, with good bolstering to hold the torso in place. The back seats offer welcoming accommodations for two in the outboard seats. But as usual in most cars with rear-wheel or all-wheel drive, the Q50’s center-rear seat—there to qualify it for five passengers — should be reserved for knapsacks or capuchin monkeys. Any comfort is compromised by a giant floor hump, intrusion of the center console and a cushion so hard and high the poor passenger’s noggin bumps the headliner-covered metal roof.

Though the Q50 looks like a compact, it has midsize interior space as defined by the EPA. There’s 100 cubic feet for passengers with a trunk of 14 cubic feet, well carpeted to avoid damaging any contents. There’s no spare so figure on calling for help if there’s a flat. 

The Q50’s design with a traditional trunk provides a template that enables stylists. Though not a neck-snapping head turner, this well-designed machine qualifies as eye candy. However, in this view it also could be an Audi-style fastback with a hatchback to enhance the utility side of the equation even further without affecting the performance personality.

Like other manufacturers, Infiniti concentrates on its crossover sport utility vehicles as sedans fade in the marketplace. The Q50 is the company’s sole surviving four-door sedan. But it’s still a worthy competitor.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Infiniti Q50 Signature Edition four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 3.0-liter V6, twin turbochargers; 300 hp, 295 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Seven-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 10 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/trunk volume: 100/14 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,025 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 19/27/22 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $51,225.
  • Price as tested: $52,800.

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

Photos (c) Infiniti

2021 Lexus LS 500: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Musing for a description of the 2021 Lexus LS 500 luxury sedan, a Sherpa fleece blanket comes to mind. It’s cozy comfortable and bereft of objectionable traits.

Introduced in 1989, the LS commands the top tier of Lexus automobiles. Early on, the upscale nameplate from Japan’s Toyota was a full-size sedan with V8 power and rear-wheel drive. It was designed to compete against the best of the world’s luxury cohort, including Mercedes-Benz, Cadillac, Jaguar, Audi, Maserati, Volvo, BMW, and Lincoln — but not such nosebleed-priced machines as Rolls-Royce or Bentley.

It has held steady in the U.S., though sales dropped in 2020 as increasing numbers of buyers chose crossover sport utility vehicles. But it’s way different from the original. It originally was classified as a large car by the Environmental Protection Agency, defined as having more than 120 cubic feet of interior space, including the passenger cabin and the trunk.

For 2021, it has sleek, attractive styling but no longer is a large car. With a total of 115 cubic feet of interior room, divided 98/17 for passengers and trunk, it is classified as a midsize, like the Toyota Camry. Moreover, it should be regarded as a four-passenger vehicle, even though there’s a fifth seatbelt in back if you fold the center console/armrest into the seatback.

But that middle position is an aggressively uncomfortable perch, with a hard cushion, a shortage of head room and a large floor hump. It contrasts sharply to the powered 18-way adjustable, heated and cooled reclining outboard back seats, which offer the same support and comfort as the front seats. 

The center seat aside, the LX 500’s interior could qualify in any showing of a luxury limousine interior, with airy passenger space, leather upholstery and armrests, premium wood trim, navigation system, four-zone automatic climate control, $1,940 Mark Levinson audio system, power rear window sunshades and a panoramic glass sunroof.

Much of that comes with the optional $12,710 luxury package. All told, options on the tested LS 500 tacked $21,055 onto the base price of $77,025, bumping the bottom-line sticker to $98,080. That’s daunting for many prospective buyers but it’s still less than some of its European competitors — the Audi RS 7, for example, which can easily top $125,000.

LS options also included an adaptive air suspension system for all four wheels, which helped deliver a creamy ride as well as sharp handling and good steering feedback. Add the active noise canceling system and you have a posh conveyance that can carry you across the country with Sherpa blanket comfort and minimal distraction or annoyance.

Other equipment included Apple Car Play, Android Auto, Amazon Alexa, a Wi-Fi hotspot, SXM satellite radio and HD radio, all controlled with a high-resolution 12.3-inch touchscreen, which offers relief from the still installed console-mounted Lexus track pad, which can sometimes be irritating.

The LS 500’s motivation comes from a 3.4-liter V6 engine with twin turbochargers that quietly — except when you floor it–delivers 416 hp and 442 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force. Power makes its way to the rear wheels by way of a 10-speed automatic transmission that, if the spirit moves you, can be manually shifted with paddles mounted on the steering wheel. But why bother? The onboard computer deftly and unobtrusively manipulates gear selections and the smooth shifts expected in a luxury sedan.

 There’s also plenty of punch off the line. Zero to 60 mph ticks off at less than five seconds with a top speed of 136 mph. Of course, nobody should attempt the latter on any public road or even a racetrack because this cushy beauty doesn’t come with racing credentials.

Lexus and Toyota are leaders in emphasizing standard safety equipment and the LS 500 doesn’t disappoint. The tester came with a pre-collision system that included automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, intersection turning assist, active steering assist, front lateral side pre-collision protection and a comprehensive head-up display. It also had front cross-traffic alert, lane changing assist and all-speed dynamic radar cruise control with curve speed reduction.

Over the years, the Lexus LS has proved its mettle. It competes on a stage with expensive luxury stars, many of which can satisfy customers with 100 grand to spend or finance. For some buyers, part of the attraction is the Mercedes three-point star or the four rings of Audi. Lexus uses a simple stylized “L” inside an oval but is no less attractive.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Lexus LS 500 four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 3.4-liter V6, twin turbochargers; 416 hp, 442 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: 10-speed automatic with manual shift mode and rear-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 17 feet 2 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/trunk volume: 98/17 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,740 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 18/29/22 mpg. Premium gasoline required.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $77,025.
  • Price as tested: $98,080.

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

Photos (c) Lexus

2021 Volkswagen ID.4: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Volkswagen’s all-new electric 2021 ID.4 shines competitively as a small crossover sport utility vehicle, with decent performance, range, inside space and ride comfort. But it requires a steep learning curve and a willingness to cuddle with the owner’s manual or sit through an extended class on operating it.

Perhaps it was the individual tested example. But rarely does a reviewer encounter a vehicle so confounding at first blush, some of it by design. Early puzzlements:

The start-stop button on the steering column didn’t seem to work. To get the ID.4 to the silent electric car “Ready” stage, you must twist a blob of a control behind the steering wheel to shift into “Drive,” “B” (for extra regenerative braking), or “Reverse.” 

Moving off, a view from the forward-facing camera sometimes shows up on the center screen, warning the driver to pay attention. It disappears after a few moments but it’s a distraction.

Underway, a message pops up in the instruments display, saying “Warnings and information not available. Drive with greater care.” There’s no answer to “What?” or “Why?” or how to correct the situation.

It takes a close reading of the owner’s manual to figure out the buttons to push or the digital displays to tap in order to crank up the automatic climate control. 

Trying to find the controls for the radio takes another trip to the owner’s manual and even then, it requires a flurry of fiddling to learn the SXM satellite radio doesn’t have an activated subscription. But you can get HD radio on FM.

Stop in a shopping center parking lot and touch the start-stop button to shut the ID.4 down. But the radio keeps playing — even when you open the door — and the air conditioning continues to blow cold air. Then suddenly, and for seemingly no reason, the center screen lights up and reads, “Goodbye.” Presumably that’s your cue to leave.

There’s an explanation. When you switch off the ID.4 and walk away, everything shuts down, although you might first get a message to turn the headlights off. If you don’t comply, they blink off after a few minutes.

It often seems that manufacturers of exotic or very different vehicles like electrics feel a snooty compulsion to make sure drivers are aware they are not driving a traditional internal combustion engine (ICE) machine. So, some of the functions operate differently and the instruments deliver unfamiliar information. 

It’s as if the designers and engineers have never heard of the old political adage of K.I.S.S. for getting candidates elected: “Keep It Simple, Stupid.” Yet there are hybrids and battery electric cars out there as familiar to operate as our old gassers. Examples are the Nissan Leaf, Chevrolet Bolt, and Toyota Corolla hybrid.

To be fair, complaints about the Volkswagen ID.4 may simply be traced to driver decrepitude. Likely a 17-year-old would have zero difficulty learning its eccentricities in minutes. But kids don’t buy these vehicles; adults do, and not everyone is savvy.

Gripes aside, the ID.4 (initials for “intelligent design”) is a worthy crossover utility vehicle. It handles well and cruises quietly. Five passengers can ride comfortably in 101 cubic feet of space, about the same as in a midsize sedan, though as usual the center-rear occupant gets disrespected. There’s 30 cubic feet of air for cargo behind the back seat, more than you find in a full-size sedan.

The ID.4 gets its motivation from an electric motor that delivers 201 hp and 229 lb-ft of torque, sent to the rear wheels. It’s plenty of power for the 4,700-pound conveyance but doesn’t provide that instant shot of power that characterizes many electric vehicles. As with any battery electric, the maximum torque — or twisting force — arrives as soon as you mash the pedal. But the ID.4’s zero-to-60-mph acceleration is in the seven-second range, respectable but not among the quickest.

Volkswagen ID.4 1ST

The ID.4, fully charged, has a range of up to 250 miles and a towing capability of 2,700 pounds. City/highway/combined miles per gallon equivalent is rated by the EPA at 104/89/97 MPGe.

There are three ID.4 versions: Pro at $41,190, including the destination charge; 1st Edition, $45,190, and Pro S, $45,690. The tester’s standard equipment included two otherwise optional packages so its tested price was the same as the base price.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Volkswagen ID.4 First Edition four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Motor: Mid-mounted electric, 201 hp, 229 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Single-speed direct with rear-wheel drive.
  • Battery pack: liquid-cooled lithium-ion, 77.0 kWh.
  • Range: Up to 250 miles.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 1 inch.
  • Height: 5 feet 4 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 101/30 cubic feet. 
  • Weight: 4,700 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 2,700 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined miles per gallon equivalent: 104/89/97 MPGe.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $45,190.
  • Price as tested: $45,190.

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

Photos (c) Volkswagen

2021 Toyota Prius XLE AWD-e: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

With the 2021 XLE AWD-e and other hybrid models, the Toyota Prius is coming of the age of majority. It is in its 21st year and continues as the favorite among gasoline-electric vehicles in the United States, with a total of 2.4 million sold.

When Toyota decided in the late 1990s that Americans were ready for a hybrid, the company gave automotive journalists a taste of the future by lending them right-hand drive Priuses built in Japan, where motorists drive on the left — or correct, as the British like to say — side of the road.

The 2001 Prius came with a 75-horsepower four-cylinder gasoline engine working in concert with a 44-hp electric motor. Together they delivered an EPA fuel economy rating of 52 miles to the gallon in the city and 48 on the highway. City numbers were higher because urban driving made more use of the electric motor.

As this column reported then, customers lined up in droves, with some waiting six months for delivery. Buyers included celebrities, environmental activists, and citizens looking for old-time virtues of cleanliness and economy.

It carried a fairly stiff price for an economy car then of $20,855. Even at that, Toyota at first lost money on every sale. It was one of only two hybrid cars on the market. The other was the Honda Insight, a streamlined two-seater that used a different hybrid system.

Over the years, the Prius proved its mettle, toting up solid credentials for quality of construction, low maintenance, long battery life, and anvil-like reliability.

Now, for 2021, Toyota adds all-wheel drive. It’s called the Prius AWD-e Hybrid. Tested for this review was the SEL trim level, which carries a base price of $30,570, including the destination charge. With an advanced technology package that included a color head-up display, adaptive front lighting, and auto-leveling headlights, the bottom-line sticker came to $31,629.

Standard equipment includes modern safety equipment of automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-keeping warning and assist, and adaptive cruise control.

The AWD-e still carries some of the funky styling and other touches that have always been a Prius characteristic. With its split rear window and additional busy styling, along with the rear headrests, the AWE-e has severely limited rear vision through the inside rear-view mirror. So it’s essential to adjust the outside mirrors correctly to eliminate the big blind spots.

Overall, however, the AWE-e now resembles a handsome fastback with a rear hatch that provides access to 25 cubic feet of cargo space. It also continues with the Prius signature instruments nestling in the top center of the dash, perhaps to make it easier to build this Prius with either left-hand or right-hand drive for different markets.

But most drivers would likely prefer not to have to look toward the middle of the dash while underway. On the tested SEL, the head-up display negated some of that with hybrid system information.

Despite the location, the instruments and the seven-inch center infotainment screen are easy to decipher. The tested SEL came with SXM satellite radio, Bluetooth capability, USB connectivity, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Amazon Alexa compatibility.

There’s plenty of space for four passengers, though as usual, the center-rear unfortunate gets disrespected. But the AWD-e has decent ride quality, so complaints from the back seat should be pretty rare.

The power train is quintessentially Prius: a 1.8-liter gasoline engine mated to a 71-hp electric motor. Overall, the system delivers 121 hp and 120 lb-ft of torque. A separate small electric motor drives the AWE-e’s rear wheels. Toyota’s smooth continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), which uses planetary gears instead of the more typical belts and pulleys, transmits the power.

On the highway, the tester cruised serenely, with little intrusion of mechanical, road, or wind noise. The exception was during hard acceleration, which elicited loud grating noises from the gasoline engine.

The AWD-e is no stoplight drag racer, taking nearly 10 seconds to reach 60 mph from rest. But it feels responsive in traffic and, likely because of the modest power common to most Priuses, encourages drivers to hammer their little hybrids to the limit. 

Every motorist has seen a Prius driver bolt from a stoplight, pedal to the metal, to stay ahead of traffic — and never mind the cost in fuel economy. That’s the way it goes.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Toyota Prius XLE AWD-e Hybrid four-door hatchback.
  • Engine/motor: 1.8-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine with 71 hp electric motor; total system 121 hp, 120 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 93/25 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,300 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 51/47/49 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $30,570.
  • Price as tested: $31,629.

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

Photos (c) Toyota

2021 Acura TLX SH-AWD Advance: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

For a quarter of a century, the Acura TL and its successor, the  TLX, now redesigned for 2021, have held court among the finest performing sports sedans on the market. 

Acura is the premium/luxury brand of Japan’s Honda, analogous to Toyota’s Lexus, Hyundai’s Genesis, and Nissan’s Infiniti. The brand dates back 35 years to 1986 when it introduced the Legend sedan. It became so popular that the manufacturer’s leadership feared that the Legend would overwhelm the Acura trademark, so after 10 years, it was re-named the 3.5RL.

The company also marketed the Vigor, and in 1995 Acura introduced the mid-size TL, followed by the smaller TSX. In 2014 the two cars were replaced by the current TLX. 

Some of the TL’s best years were in the decade after the turn of the millennium when it sold upwards of 70,000 cars a year. A particular favorite here was the 2006 model, a year when the extra performance TL S-Class was temporarily dropped in favor of a single model. 

It was as if the designers and engineers put everything they had into that single TL model, with a silky 258-horsepower V-6 engine that emitted a guttural roar under hard acceleration. It was available with a six-speed manual gearbox or a five-speed automatic transmission. Equipment included luxury touches like leather upholstery, automatic climate control, and a superb ELS audio system, custom-designed by famed sound engineer Elliot Scheiner.

For 2021, after the company dropped the large RLX, the TLX has become the company’s flagship sedan, where it competes against the BMW 3-Series, Audi A4, Volvo S60, Lexus IS 350, and Mercedes-Benz C-Class.

Those are all compact luxury/performance cars and, even though the TL earned its renown as a mid-size, the 2021 TLX model is classified as a compact, though it doesn’t look the part. 

It is longer, lower, and broader than its predecessor, with a fastback profile similar to automobiles like the Audi A7 and S7. However, its interior volume of 107 cubic feet, divided into 93 for passengers and 14 cubic feet in the trunk, places it in the EPA’s compact class, which covers cars with 100 to 109 cubic feet of interior volume.

The shortage of passenger space shows in the back, where the outboard seats have stingy knee and headroom, and you can mostly forget about the center-rear seat with its high, hard cushion and a large floor hump. With the TLX’s low profile and sleek lines, rear-seat passengers must duck and twist to enter and exit.

Up front, however, the two bucket seats are sturdy and comfortable with prominent bolsters to snug the torso in rapid motoring around curves on rural two-lane roads. 

Tested for this review was the TLX Advance model with SH-AWD, Acura’s Super Handling All-Wheel Drive system, which actively adjusts power to the wheels from side to side and front to rear. It makes attacking a twisting road a pleasurable pursuit. Balance is enhanced by mounting the battery under the trunk floor. There is no spare wheel and tire on any TLX model.

Power is provided by a 272-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 280 lb-ft of torque, transmitted by a 10-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode and, on the tester, all-wheel drive. Front-wheel drive is standard. Acceleration to 60 miles an hour is rated at 5.9 seconds, with a top speed of 131.

There are four trim levels for the four-cylinder models, of which Advance is the top of the line. Later in the model year, Acura will introduce the Type S, with a twin-turbocharged V6 engine and SH-AWD. Its twin-turbo, 3.0-liter V6 engine makes 355 hp and 354 lb-ft of torque, which the manufacturer says it is the most powerful sedan ever from Acura. (It also builds the NSX super car, with 573 hp).

On the road, the tested Advance cruised steadily and sedately, with a hint of engine noise attesting to the power under the hood. There are three selectable dynamic drive modes: comfort, normal and sport, controlled by a dial in the middle of the dash.

The center screen infotainment is operated by a touch pad that can be maddeningly frustrating to operate. Learn it well and don’t mess with it while driving.

Yet it’s the fine automatic transmission shifter that has been trashed by unwarranted criticism. But not here. It’s a vertical series of intuitive buttons high on the center console. Push for “drive” and “park,” pull for “reverse.” You can do it blindfolded.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Acura TLX SH-AWD Advance four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 272 hp, 280 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: 10-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 3 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/trunk volume: 93/14 cubic feet
  • Weight: 4,025 pounds. 
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 21/29/24 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $49,325.
  • Price as tested: $49,325.

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

Photos (c) Jason Fogelson

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