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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

2021 BMW M440i xDrive Coupe: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

For as long as anyone can remember, twin kidney-shaped grilles identified the vehicles from the Bavarian Motor Works. That continues with the redesigned 2021 BMW M440i xDrive Coupe, but you may have to look at least twice.

The kidney grilles are still there but swollen as if someone had slapped them around. Instead of their former familiar mien, they look like large, side-by-side maws aiming to gobble up anything in their path.

They also incorporate a system of automatic shutters that adjust airflow to the radiator. Unfortunately, the innovation appeared to have been crippled because the test car’s front license plate was mounted dead center across the two grilles, partly over a hidden bumper crossbeam but restricting at least some of the airflow. Plus, it looked ugly.

There doesn’t appear to be any other convenient place to mount a license-plate bracket and frame. So serious enthusiasts who hanker after this stylish high performer may want to move to Georgia or some other state that only requires rear license plates.

A few years back, BMW changed its nomenclature to distinguish its compact sedan from the coupe better. The 3 Series sedan may be the best known and loved of the entire lineup but take away two doors, and it is now a 4 series. Except for the number of portals, the 3 Series and 4 Series are mechanically identical and similarly equipped.

Moreover, this test car’s model designation starts with an M, which is BMW’s extra-high-performance moniker, similar to the AMG Mercedes-Benz, the S models from Audi, and Cadillac’s V versions. 

Given the excellence of modern sports sedans, it’s a mystery to some observers that coupes survive, even as crossover sport utility vehicles eclipse sedans. The question is, why bother with the inconvenience of a two-door automobile. But preferences in motor vehicles are a varied as the people who buy and drive them.

Unlike some other coupes that look more like fastbacks, the M440i has a traditional coupe profile, which enables decent headroom in the two back seats, as long as the passengers are not Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks or some other National Basketball Association skyscraper. There’s also enough knee room for average-sized adults, but only if the driver and front passenger don’t run their seats back too far.

As with any compact coupe, settling into the back requires some agile ducking and twisting, and there are no inside roof-mounted assist handles to hang onto. It’s best to reserve the back seats for kids, athletes, or frustrated flagellants.

The M440i has sports car bones. Silky feeling and powerful, though noisy under hard acceleration, its turbocharged inline six-cylinder engine makes 382 horsepower and 364 pound-feet of torque, or twisting force, enabling this nearly two-ton machine to accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 3.8 seconds, with a governed top speed of 157.

On the tested xDrive model (BMW-speak for all-wheel drive), the power gets to the wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift mode controlled by paddles on the steering wheel. The drive system also includes a mild hybrid setup with a 48-volt electric motor-generator that provides a boost off the line and helps avoid turbo lag.

There are four selectable drive modes: Sport, Comfort, Eco Pro, and Adaptive. This test stuck to Sport and Comfort. They were not sharply different from a handling standpoint with variable sport steering, which was secure but more oriented toward comfort. The Sport setting also held shifts to higher revs with ensuing cabin noise. The ride was supple but unsettled on rough roads.

Out back, there’s a decent-sized and well-finished trunk of nearly 16 cubic feet. There’s no spare wheel and tire; the M440i has run-flat tires on 18-inch alloy wheels, as well as adaptive shock-absorbers.

Equipment on the test car, some optional, included automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, leather upholstery, Arctic Blue metalling paint, head-up display, automatic climate control, heated front seats and steering wheel, Apple Car Play and Android Auto, navigation, gesture control of functions, Wi-Fi hot spot, wireless smartphone charging, SXM satellite radio, Bluetooth connectivity, and a premium Harman Kardon surround-sound audio system.

The M440i xDrive Coupe’s starting price came to $54,495, including the destination charge. Options brought the tested price up to $70,470. 

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 BMW M440i xDrive Coupe four-passenger two-door.
  • Engine: 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder, turbocharged: 382 hp, 364 lb-ft torque. With 48-volt electric motor-generator.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/trunk volume: 90/16 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,985 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 22/31/26 mpg. Premium fuel required.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $59,495.
  • Price as tested: $70,470.

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

Photos (c) BMW

2021 Chevrolet Bolt EV Premier: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The 2021 Chevrolet Bolt EV follows in the tire tracks of historic automobiles like the original Volkswagen Bug and Ford’s Model T and Model A. But not in the way you might think.

In the early to mid-20th century, cars were evolving so quickly that sometimes people would buy a new car and then find out that next year it was obsolete as the manufacturer made extensive changes.

Part of the appeal of cars like the Model A and the VW Bug was that they retained their essential goodness from year to year. For some buyers annoyed by obsolescence, that clinched the deal. Over the years since, the industry has subtly returned to the changes for change’s sake in a highly competitive market.

But not the Chevy Bolt. A friend of this reviewer bought a new 2017 Bolt — the first model year it was on the market — and has driven it since. So, when the 2021 model came up for a review, she agreed to drive it and share her impressions.

Except for a slightly more comfortable driver’s seat, her conclusion was that the new Bolt was the same as the 2017. That has all sorts of implications for buyers. But first, a check of the specifications, which have barely changed, bears her out.

The two four-door hatchbacks are the same length — 13 feet 8 inches — have the same passenger and cargo space — 94/17 cubic feet — and weigh within a few pounds of each other. Each has an electric motor that delivers 200 horsepower and 266 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force. Because electric motors develop maximum torque from rest, there is no need for a transmission, so call it a single speed automatic. The 0-60-mph acceleration is in the six-second range, with a top speed of about 93 mph.

There is some refinement in the 2021 model. For example, its stated range is 259 miles on a full charge, where the 2017 model advertised 238. But charging times are similar: About 9.5 hours on a 240-volt charger, nearly 60 hours on standard 120-volt house current. An overnight charge of 15 hours delivers about 60 miles of driving. Figure four miles of range per hour of charging. 

However, a welcome major change on the 2021 Premier model is an added system that enables commercial DC fast charging, which can deliver up to 90 miles of range in 30 minutes. 

Even after four years, the Bolt’s prices have not changed much. In 2017, the top-line Premier had a starting price of $41,780, including the destination charge. That has increased $115 to $41,895 for the 2021 model. With options, the 2017 started at $41,780 and had a bottom-line sticker of $42,760. The bottom line for the 2021 Premier is $43,735.

Standard equipment on the Premier included lane-change alert with blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, pedestrian safety signal, leather upholstery, front and rear heated seats, automatic climate control, SXM satellite radio, wireless smartphone charging, remote starting, roof rack with side rails, and aluminum alloy wheels with all-season tires.

The friend said her 2017 Bolt had been utterly reliable, though she doesn’t put many miles on it — about 8,000 so far. But she said her only maintenance had been checking the tires and pumping them up when needed.

So, the implication here is if you hanker after an all-electric car and can find a clean Bolt with at least average mileage, you can save a pocket full of money and still have the nearly the same advantages of a new one. An added incentive: Early on, the Bolt qualified for a $7,500 federal tax credit, which now has expired. 

Chevrolet actually had a solid competitor that preceded the Bolt.

It was called the Volt, a plug-in hybrid that could run up to 50 miles or so on pure electric power, then switch to hybrid operation, eliminating the so-called “range anxiety” that accompanies purely electric vehicles.

It was a stylish hatchback that had a run from 2011 to 2019, when Chevrolet dropped it as sales of crossover sport utility vehicles soared and sedan sales tumbled. 

The company toyed with a hydrogen-fueled electric platform that could have underpinned any number of electric cars. Instead, it introduced the Bolt as a 2017 model, which is about as good as any of the other sparkies out there.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Chevrolet Bolt EV Premier four-door hatchback.
  • Motor: Electric, 200 hp, 266 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Single speed automatic with front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 13 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 94/17 cubic feet. 
  • Weight: 3,575 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined miles per gallon equivalent: 127/108/118 MPGe.
  • Range: 259 miles.
  • Charging times: Nearly 60 hours on 120-volt household current; 9.5 hours on 240-volt charger.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $41,895.
  • Price as tested: $43,735.

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

Photos (c) Chevrolet

2021 Genesis G80 3.5 AWD Prestige: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Specifications

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

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

Photos (c) Genesis

2021 Cadillac CT4 Premium Luxury: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Specifications

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

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

Photos (c) Cadillac

2021 BMW 330e Sedan: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Specifications

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

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

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Photos (c) BMW

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