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2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid LE: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

When Toyota unveiled the redesigned 2020 Corolla sedan to a group of automotive journalists in November 2018, the shining examples showed like compact luxury cars.

Now that this all-new Corolla has arrived, the emphasis is not on luxury but economy. Instead of top-line trim levels, the spotlight is on the 2020 Corolla Hybrid LE, which among its other attributes gets 52 miles to the gallon of regular gasoline.

Corolla_Hybrid_013_E8752A42C66E156C23136C861E7A6BAF9B59801DMoreover, it has a base price of $23,880, including the destination charge. With a few minor options, the Corolla Hybrid tested for this review had a bottom-line sticker price of $24,524. Get one each for mom and pop.

Where the gasoline-engine model has six variants over five trim levels, the Hybrid comes one way: mid-level LE with a 1.8-liter gasoline engine and a 71-hp electric motor. Together, they make 121 hp and 105 lb-ft of torque transferred to the front wheels through a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT).

Gasoline-engine models are the base L, LE and XLE along with the more sporting SE and XSE. The SE can be ordered with the CVT or a six-speed manual gearbox for those who like to shift for themselves.

Corolla_Hybrid_016_F877FFF1D0CC1E9E62B2B38F35CDC86320654023With more than 43 million sales world-wide, the Corolla is the best-selling nameplate in history, although it has gone through many different versions, including multiple configurations with rear-wheel drive and front-wheel drive.

Throughout, however, it has maintained a reputation as among the more durable and reliable cars available. Now with its first hybrid version, it adds stellar fuel economy to the package.

Ironically, its main competitor is Toyota’s own Prius, the best-selling hybrid in the world. Unlike the Prius, with its funky controls and instrument displays, the Corolla comes across more like a regular car with familiar surroundings. Both use the same 121-hp hybrid power package and CVT, and compete in similar price brackets.

2020_Corolla_LE_Hybrid_BlueCrushMetallic_015_5FFD7C54695C1A21AE859CADDF038ABAB6B6B57AOther competitors are the Hyundai Ioniq, Honda Insight and Chevrolet Volt, as well as a number of hybrid crossover sport utility vehicles, including the Kia Niro, Hyundai Kona, Nissan Rogue and Toyota RAV4.

The U.S. government classifies cars by total interior volume, which includes the space for passengers and cargo. By that definition, the Prius is classified as midsize, bordering on full-size, while the Corolla is classified as a compact.

Much of that has to do with the Prius’s hatchback design, which gives it 27 cubic feet for cargo and 93 cubic feet for passengers. The Corolla is a standard sedan design with a trunk of 13 cubic feet and 89 cubic feet for passengers. If extra cargo space is needed, the split rear seatback folds 2/3 and 1/3.

2020_Corolla_LE_Hybrid_BlueCrushMetallic_037_6DFA2E153484B87955A00735E0FC37737A513E2CThe Corolla’s design delivers ample head, leg and knee room for four, though as usual in most vehicles, the center-rear passenger gets squished with limited room, a hard cushion and a big floor hump.  Seats are covered in an attractive, comfortable cloth that looks long-lasting — preferable, in this view, to leather or leatherette.

Equipment on the LE Hybrid — as noted the only trim level — covers full safety equipment, including collision mitigation with pedestrian detection, lane-departure alert with steering assist, adaptive radar cruise control and automatic high headlight beams.

Other equipment: stop-start idle system, pushbutton starting, automatic climate control, hill start assist, electronic parking brake, LED headlights and taillights, and power windows and outside mirrors.

2020_Corolla_LE_Hybrid_BlueCrushMetallic_039_B5761486DC80A4597CAB1C0917650157427F8CD3An eight-inch center touch screen provides access to the audio system and infotainment functions. However, it does not include SXM satellite radio, though it is compatible with Apple Car Play and Siri Eyes Up.

Given its modest power, the Corolla Hybrid gets a good jump off the line, boosted by the electric motor. The CVT has no shift points so delivers uninterrupted acceleration with little or none of that annoying sensation of slipping or roaring that are characteristic of some CVTs.

2020_Corolla_LE_Hybrid_BlueCrushMetallic_059_0198C3BB115B28B00655AF19B368D7D5EE2AF5ADHandling is competent and secure, and the Corolla tracks true in a straight line, requiring few steering corrections. The main downside is road noise. It could use additional sound-deadening insulation, which likely is included in higher trim levels with gasoline engines.

In this era of electrification, a standard hybrid is the best bet. Plug-in hybrids are more expensive with limited electric range, and pure electrics have no backup if batteries are depleted.

Then there’s the matter of money. The Environmental Protection Agency, which oversees fuel economy ratings, estimates that a Corolla Hybrid owner will save $3,500 in fuel costs over five years compared to the average new vehicle.

Corolla_Hybrid_008_C12A8DE2AAB24DFD329CCCFB6A2A6CFEEBA9A403Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid LE four-door sedan.
  • Engine/motor: 1.8-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine with 71 horsepower electric motor; total system 121 hp, 105 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously-variable automatic.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 2 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 89/13 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,050 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 53/52/52 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $23,880.
  • Price as tested: $24,524.

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

Corolla_Hybrid_009_7AB3C30F7FDDA2997F5A75013AC0E9623044E8D0Photos (c) Toyota

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2019 Cadillac CT6 AWD: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The 2019 Cadillac CT6 comes with Super Cruise, the most sophisticated automated driving experience on the market so far. But its basic technology actually incorporates old stuff.

Fundamentally, the system combines adaptive cruise control with lane-keeping assist. Both have been around awhile.

2017 Cadillac CT6

In 1999, Mercedes-Benz introduced Distronic cruise control, generically called adaptive or radar cruise control, which automatically maintains a set distance from the car ahead. It was ground-breaking because it slowed the Mercedes S-Class to a stop and, when the car ahead started off, would move with it.

Other manufacturers soon adopted the system, more or less. On the less side, some would maintain a distance but would cut out at a low speed of 20 mph or so, forcing the driver to brake manually.

The lane-keeping assist came from a different locale and time. In 2004, Nissan’s luxury Infiniti brand introduced lane-departure warning, which called an audible when the driver wandered across a lane marker. In 2007, the upgraded system brought M-Line models back into the lane by pulsing the brakes on the opposite side of the lane marker being crossed.

2017 Cadillac CT6

In 2013, on the Infiniti Q50, the company introduced the world’s first active lane control, which uses cameras and sensors to steer the wheels and keep the vehicle centered in the lane.

At the national press introduction, this reviewer drove a Q50, engaged the lane-keeping assist and adaptive cruise control, and motored about 15 miles on a divided freeway with hands off the wheel and feet off the pedals.

Other manufacturers later incorporated similar systems. But for safety’s sake, they installed systems that required the drivers to keep their hands on the steering wheel. If you removed your hands for about 15 seconds, lights and warning sounds activated.

2017 Cadillac CT6

Cadillac’s Super Cruise allows you to motor continuously with hands and feet off the wheel and pedals. Other current systems require the driver to keep hands on the steering wheel. But the Caddy system is unique.

Driving in Super Cruise, a steering-column camera monitors the driver’s face to make certain that he or she has eyes on the road. A prerequisite is that the driving must be done on freeways that Cadillac engineers have mapped and included in the software. On rural byways and city streets, the system does not engage, though the standard adaptive cruise control will work.

In a test run on Interstate Highway 95 between Washington, D.C., and Richmond, VA — one of the most congested freeways in the country — the Super Cruise control functioned as promised — with one exception.

2017 Cadillac CT6

If conditions are correct for Super Cruise, activate the adaptive cruise control and, when the system assents, engage the Super function.

It works, keeping you in the lane. A light bar at the top of the steering wheel glows green when everything is functioning. The driver can take over to change lanes but then the light turns blue, resuming green in the next lane.

As long as I looked ahead at traffic and monitored the inside and outside mirrors to maintain a 360-degree view around the Cadillac CT6, it motored along effortlessly. To test the system, I turned my head fully to the left and right, and within five seconds warnings went off.

But the exception came when I acted as if I were dozing off, eyes fluttering and head bowing down. Even after several tries, no warning came.

2017 Cadillac CT6

All of this tells us that autonomous driving still is in its infancy, though of the systems currently available, Cadillac’s Super Cruise is the state-of-the-art. Consumer Reports tested half a dozen systems and concluded that Caddy’s Super Cruise now is the best.

So also take a look at the rest of the 2019 Cadillac CT6 with Super Cruise. It is a consummate, full-size luxury sedan that owes no apology to any of the more expensive Europeans in performance, handling and comfort. Not that the CT6 is inexpensive. The base price is $87,790 and, as tested for this review, the bottom-line sticker came to $88,490.

2017 Cadillac CT6

It is powered by a 335-hp, twin-turbocharged V6 that delivers 284 lb-ft of torque to all four wheels through a silky-shifting 10-speed automatic transmission.

When you approach, the CT6 lights up, as if it’s happy to see you. Settle in, and you are treated to sumptuous coddling, including seats in front and back that will deliver selectable massages while you are motoring. It is as good as it gets if you can afford it.

2017 Cadillac CT6

Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Cadillac CT6 Platinum AWD four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 3.6-liter V6, twin-turbochargers; 335 hp, 284 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: 10-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 17 feet 2 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 113/16 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,226 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 18/26/21 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $87,790.
  • Price as tested: $88,490.

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

2017 Cadillac CT6

Photos (c) Cadillac

2019 Hyundai Elantra Limited: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

As other manufacturers have done, Hyundai has designed its compact Elantra to bridge the divide between buyers looking for economy with comfort and those more focused on entertainment and sport.

The former is represented quite capably with the 2019 Elantra Limited four-door sedan and the latter by the 2019 Elantra GT N-Line four-door hatchback.

Large-34143-2019ElantraFor reference, think of the Volkswagen Golf and Volkswagen GTI. Or the Honda Civic and Civic Si or R-Type. In both cases, the base cars are oriented toward economy and everyday duty, while the others promise excitement.

Usually, the base cars come with less powerful engines and automatic transmissions while the performance variants are equipped with manual gearboxes exclusively or a choice of automatic or manual.

Both Elantra versions were driven for this review at the annual Spring Rally of the Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA) at the Road America racetrack in Elkhart Lake, Wis. Manufacturers provided 80 cars and light trucks for driving by about 100 automotive journalists. Some vehicles were designated for track use and autocross; others for street driving and off-roading.

Large-34144-2019ElantraThe Hyundai Elantra Limited four-door is powered by a 147-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 136 lb-ft of torque. It acquitted itself well as an economical and comfortable tourer that never felt short of passing power. Quiet on smooth asphalt highways, road noise intruded on rougher surfaces. It rode comfortably but needed frequent steering corrections.

Averaging 43.8 mpg of regular gasoline over 140 miles of highway driving at speeds up to 75 mph, the tester beat its EPA city/highway/combined fuel economy rating of 28/37/32 mpg.

It had a base price of $23,485, including the destination charge. The price included forward collision and blind spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert and lane keeping assist, as well as dual-zone automatic climate control, SXM satellite radio, Android Auto and Apple Car Play, power driver’s seat with lumbar support, leather upholstery with heated front seats and hands-free trunk opening.

Large-33684-2019ElantraThe tester also came with a $3,350 option package that included adaptive cruise control, navigation system, collision avoidance with pedestrian detection, motorized sunroof, and memory settings for outside mirrors and driver’s seat. All that brought the bottom-line tested price to $26,960, or about $10,000 less than the current average price of a new car.

Though marketed as a compact, the Elantra sedan qualifies as a midsize according to the EPA’s definition, though just barely. The back seat is a bit tight but can accommodate two average-sized adults. However, the center-rear fifth passenger sits on a cramped and uncomfortable perch.

At the other end of the Elantra spectrum is the N-line. Hyundai has chosen N as the designation for its line of high-performance variants, not unlike BMW’s M vehicles or the AMG models from Mercedes-Benz. The N badge comes from Hyundai’s research and development facility in Namyang, South Korea, and also refers to its testing at the famed Nürburgring track in Germany.

Large-33665-2019ElantraAs a four-door hatchback, the 2019 Elantra N-Line is nine inches shorter than the sedan but has more room inside: 97 cubic feet for passengers and 25 cubic feet for cargo under the hatch, compared to 96 cubic feet for passengers and a trunk of 14 cubic feet in the sedan.

The N-Line also has a smaller 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine, more powerful than the base 2.0-liter at 201 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque because it is turbocharged. It comes standard with a slick, easy-shifting six-speed manual gearbox, though a dual-clutch automatic is optional.

Equipped with full basic safety equipment but few of the frills on the Limited sedan, the Elantra N had a bottom-line sticker price of $24,195, or $2,775 lower than the Limited. For any enthusiast, what’s not to like?

Large-33966-2019ElantraThe base price included heated sport seats upholstered in sturdy cloth that hold the torso in place in hard cornering, pushbutton starting, dual-zone automatic climate control, 18-inch alloy wheels with summer performance tires, Apple Car Play and Android Auto, LED headlights and taillights, audio system with SXM satellite radio, and Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity.

Some estimates put the number of U.S. drivers who know how to shift for themselves at something like 2%. It’s a shame because that other 98% would not experience the joy of driving the Elantra GT N-Line or, for that matter, a stick-shift Mazda3, Volkswagen GTI or Honda Civic Si.

The shift linkage of the Elantra N-Line’s six-speed gearbox and clutch action are so easy-going that shifts up and down seem to happen almost by thought control.

Large-33686-2019ElantraSpecifications

  • Model: 2019 Hyundai Elantra Limited four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder; 147 hp, 136 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 2 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 96/14 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 2,844 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 28/37/32 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $23,485.
  • Price as tested: $26,960.

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

Large-34119-2019ElantraPhotos (c) Hyundai

2019 Lexus RC300 F Sport: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

It was an arresting bright yellow. But the 2019 Lexus RC300 F Sport probably should have come in salmon orangey-pink because, like the tasty fish that battles to procreate, it is swimming upstream.

2019_Lexus_RC_F_019_404CDC473CF6D513DE13E0FF95A19B18EE03A8DEThis Lexus, from the upscale division of Japan’s Toyota, is a sports coupe outfitted like a luxury car. But it is a type that is falling out of favor in an era when almost every luxury manufacturer, Lexus included, is laser-focused on crossover sport utility vehicles. Bentley, with the Bentayga, and Rolls-Royce, with its Cullinan, sell crossovers. Aston-Martin has shown a concept.

Lexus markets a full lineup of crossovers and traditional SUVs from the subcompact UX to the big truck-like LX. Its best-seller is the RX crossover, which had 111,641 sales in 2018, up 3,334, or 3%, from 2017.

2019_Lexus_RC_F_001_1EF6549C8CB33C9C501FCC75E5E3AE748596D449In the same period, however, the RC models, which include the RC300 and RC350 in standard and F Sport versions, dropped 54% from 7,363 in 2017 to 3,358 in 2018. Lexus says the RC stands for “Radical Coupe.”

It’s not convincing. The RC300 F Sport is a pleasant conveyance but not what many would consider to be a high-performance car. Though other versions are available with a choice of two V6 engines of 260 and 306 hp, the test car came with the base turbocharged 241-hp four-cylinder engine with 258 lb-ft of torque.

2019_Lexus_RC_F_017_D59DD6ABAA91250F1B59659F1F178BFF8E968221Power gets to the rear wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission. It’s enough to romp to 60 mph in the neighborhood of seven seconds so you won’t be embarrassed in the stoplight sprints. But it’s best to think of the RC300 F Sport as a comfortable boulevardier.

On the road, especially in the cut and thrust of commuter traffic and short spurts on freeways, the RC300 shines with a responsive throttle and comfortable ride, unexpected in a subcompact car. The steering is responsive with tactile feedback, and the adaptive suspension system keeps the wheels planted in cornering and straight-line cruising.

2019_Lexus_RC_F_012_4E77B19B9819AC67D4D848779D13B65537F952DCThough rear-wheel drive usually is the choice among enthusiasts for handling prowess, customers in areas with nasty weather might choose all-wheel drive. In the F Sport trim, that tacks on an extra $2,930 but it also includes the 260-hp V6 engine. However, the all-wheel drive version uses a six-speed automatic transmission in place of the eight-speed.

Though there are seats for four, the RC300 F Sport basically is what used to be called a plus-two — essentially a two-seat sports coupe with two vestigial back seats installed mainly to reduce insurance premiums.

2019_Lexus_RC_F_023_3DBBBC7D093AD433B91ED960B6F3BF8D9D8F83C3The RC300’s back seats look comfortable enough but there’s no space for knees and feet unless the front seats are adjusted full forward. But that, of course, wipes out any space for the folks in the front seats. Also, the fastback coupe styling results in a small trunk of just 10 cubic feet — again, probably enough for luggage for two. So think of the back seats as a convenient place to toss purses, small backpacks and cantaloupes.

Though it’s a relative youngster with just five years on the market, the RC300 shows some gray hairs. The test car had a base price of $48,885 and, with options, topped out at $53,580. Yet it still used an old-fashioned step-on parking brake instead of one of the new switch-controlled electronic brakes.

2019_Lexus_RC_F_026_65DC19AAC3465F43EC0317A0443CDE8358BD433CMoreover, the console-mounted touchpad, which controls infotainment and other functions displayed on the center screen, is imprecise and difficult to master. It’s not the sort of convenience that you want to be fiddling with while driving. Get the adjusting done before you drive off.

Despite its relatively tame power, the RC300 F Sport doesn’t  lack chops. It has the adaptive variable suspension system with a half-dozen driver selectable drive modes, ranging from Eco to Sport Plus, snow and custom. The front seats are supportive, heated and ventilated, and well-bolstered for spirited driving on curvy roads.

2019_Lexus_RC_F_025_0A0232B3FD2FC91300477E5F817579C41FE14AEBThere’s automatic pre-collision braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive radar cruise control, blind-spot monitor with rear cross traffic alert, power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, and lane-keeping control. Also: memory setting for the driver’s seat, outside mirrors and steering wheel, Apple Car Play and Amazon Alexa, SXM satellite radio, and Siri Eyes Free and Google voice control.

Options on the test car included a voice-activated navigation system with premium Mark Levinson audio, triple-beam LED headlights, motorized glass sunroof, limited-slip rear differential, premium paint, and an all-weather package of headlight washers, windshield de-icer, water-repellent front door glass and a fast-response interior heater.

2019_Lexus_RC_F_022_530C508CD852890AD76D5354C6F0EC328EEF1CD2Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Lexus RC300 F Sport two-door coupe.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 241 hp, 258 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and rear-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 5 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 82/10 cubic feet.
  • Curb Weight: 3,748 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 21/30/24 mpg. Premium fuel recommended.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $48,885.
  • Price as tested: $53,580.

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

2019_Lexus_RC_F_006_569A8E436FB6584B4091E96293E06E544890B597Photos (c) Lexus.

2019 Audi A8 L Quattro: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

With its six-figure price tag and mild hybrid power train, you could argue that the 2019 Audi A8 L represents economical basic transportation for the wealthy. 

Or you could just forget about that and enjoy a quality all-wheel drive luxury sedan — if you can afford to buy, lease or finance it. The re-designed A8 L, which qualifies as a large car by U.S. government definitions, is a limousine-like conveyance with a base price of $84,795, including the destination charge.

The tested A8 L came with a bottom-line sticker price of $101,095, which is out of the league for most of us, but which validates the old adage that you get what you pay for.  

That’s despite the fact that this reviewer believes that most high-end vehicles marketed by European manufacturers are overpriced compared to those from companies around the rest of the world, regardless of where they are actually made.

It’s hard to imagine anyone not enjoying the Audi A8 L Quattro’s overall attributes. It combines admirable performance and handling with tomb-like silence on the highway, and a supple ride that encourages long-distance jaunts. 

Start with the power train. The A8 L opens with a turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 engine, then adds a small 48-hp electric motor — a so-called mild hybrid, to provide a bit of boost when needed and a wee dollop of additional fuel economy because it enables a sophisticated engine stop-start system.

Altogether, the system delivers 335 hp and 369 lb-feet of torque, enough to propel this 4,751-lb Audi to 60 mph in about five seconds, according to independent tests, with a top speed — not that you’ll use it — of 130 mph. The EPA rates city/highway/combined fuel consumption at a respectable 19/27/22 mpg.

All the while, you are cosseted in supportive and comfortable seats with plenty of bolstering should you decide to play rally driver on twisting mountain roads somewhere, although it’s hard to imagine many A8 L owners doing that. 

However, for those who are so oriented, Audi includes an adaptive air suspension system that reads the road ahead and adjusts for irregularities. 

Despite its aggressive capabilities, this is a classy boulevardier that easily could be chauffeur-driven for drop-offs at the Metropolitan Opera in New York or the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

You actually might need the chauffeur to puzzle out the  complicated and initially confusing infotainment system displayed on the center screen. Though it is the sort of modern computerized convenience found everywhere that owners eventually will master, it is not as intuitive as it should be. 

For example, setting and finding pre-sets on the radio takes about three steps, where other systems are simpler. Also, the touch screen requires a distractingly good aim and a firm touch.

If you were driven by a chauffeur, you would ride in the back seats, which are at least as comfortable as the fronts, with plenty of head room and stretch-out space. But don’t try to put three people back there. The center position is a narrow, hard cushion with a tall, square hump in the floor. It’s a wonder there’s even a fifth seatbelt back there.

Aside from that, the driver and passengers sit or recline on soft leather seats with massage, power lumbar support, heating and ventilation; an ionizer that vents fragrances into the cabin; navigation with voice control, drop-down lighted vanity mirrors in back, and even a rear seat remote control for the infotainment system.

The trunk, while not overly large, holds a full-size spare wheel and temporary tire. It also is carpeted, and the contents are protected from the trunk lid’s C-hinges.

Also, a motorized panoramic sunroof with opaque shade, powered sunshades for the rear window and side windows, heated steering wheel, power door closers, automatic trunk opening and closing, premium Bang & Olufsen audio system with 3D sound, SXM satellite radio, and four-zone automatic climate control.

Curiously, the A8 L comes up short on storage space up front. The glove compartment is oddly shaped and the center console is shallow, divided between an inductive smart-phone charger and a cubby for small change, lipsticks and maybe something with which to powder milady’s nose.

Of course, the A8 L comes with all modern safety equipment, active and passive, including low-speed collision avoidance with occupant protection,  head-up display, 11 airbags, brake assist, adaptive cruise control, parking assist, LED running lights and taillights, and electronic stability control.

Specifications

  • Model:2019 Audi A8 L Quattro four-door luxury sedan.
  • Engine:3.0-liter V6, turbocharged, with mild hybrid electric motor; 335 hp, 369 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission:Eight-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length:17 feet 5 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume:111/13 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,751 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption:19/27/22 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge:$84,795.
  • Price as tested:$101,095.

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

Photos (c) Audi

2019 MINI Cooper SE Countryman PHEV: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

With substantial numbers of electric cars still on the far horizon, the dominant trend in the industry is toward gasoline-electric hybrids, including semi-sporting vehicles like the 2019 MINI Cooper SE Countryman ALL4 PHEV.

P90240566_highRes_mini-cooper-s-countrThat’s a mouthful but no surprise because Britain’s MINI is owned by BMW, the Bavarian Motor Works, which has a habit of naming its vehicles with what look like technical job descriptions. An extreme example was the 2016BMW Individual M760i xDrive Model V12 Excellence THE NEXT 100 YEARS.

On the MINI, the ALL4 designates all-wheel drive, Countryman the model, SE the trim level and PHEV stands for plug-in hybrid electric vehicle.

Nomenclature aside, the Countryman PHEV qualifies as a crossover sport utility vehicle, built like a car with a unibody.  It is fairly large for a MINI, stretching nearly 16 feet long and weighing almost two tons.

P90240568_highRes_mini-cooper-s-countrWith 94 cubic feet of space for passengers and a cargo area of 17 cubic feet, it has as much interior space as a midsize car. But it also fits the government’s classification of a small station wagon.

It uses a 134-hp 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine to drive the front wheels and an 87-hp electric motor to drive the rear wheels. Together, the system makes 221 hp and 284 lb-ft of torque.

The power gets to the pavement through a six-speed automatic transmission for the front wheels and a one-speed direct drive for the rear wheels.

P90240747_highRes_the-new-mini-countryCity/highway/combined fuel consumption in gasoline-only mode is rated by the Environmental Protection Agency at 27/28/27 mpg. In hybrid operation, the mpg equivalent works out to 65 MPGe. As a plug-in, it can travel a maximum of 12 miles purely on electric power, but it takes a feather foot on the throttle.

With its BMW and British heritage, the MINI delivers good performance and handling but with some English eccentricities. It can nip off zero-to-60 mph stoplight sprints in about six seconds. But road noise intruded on some less than ideal surfaces.

Handling, especially in the Sport driving mode, is precise with the front wheels obedient to the driver’s steering wheel inputs. With the suspension system biased toward handling, the ride tends toward stiff rather than cushy. However, the John Cooper Works (JCW) sport seats, upholstered in “carbon black Dinamica/cloth,” are supportive and comfortable with solid bolstering for spirited driving in the twisties. They also are heated; a redundancy with cloth.

P90240708_highRes_the-new-mini-countryThe Countryman PHEV also came with a BMW-like base price of $37,750, including the destination charge. With options that included PHEV Sport and Special Edition packages, touchscreen navigation package and John Cooper Works appearance package, the bottom-line sticker price came to $45,750.

The JCW package also included a leather-wrapped steering wheel, synthetic suede headliner, a rear spoiler and 18-inch alloy wheels. A PHEV Sport package included power folding outside mirrors and a panoramic sunroof.

P90240596_highRes_mini-cooper-s-countrA glance at the instruments shows a group of circular gauges, including the center touchscreen. The design harks back to the mid-20thcentury, when MINIs came with a giant center-mounted speedometer.

There was no missing the tested MINI on the road. It had a classy charcoal paint job, with outside mirrors and badges done up a sort of chartreuse color.

Two outboard passengers in back get plenty of head and knee room. But the center-rear passenger gets disrespected by a large floor hump, narrow and hard cushion, and intrusion from the center console. The power tailgate, part of the PHEV Sport package, provided access to the cargo area.

P90240656_highRes_the-new-mini-countryThe MINI came with an odd mix of equipment. It included a navigation system, automatic climate control, wireless smart phone charging and Apple CarPlay but FM radio without SXM satellite radio. An AM band could not be found. There also were no power seats. The seats up front had six-way manual adjustments.

Moreover, the sun visors did not slide on their support rods to adequately block sun from the side. And the sunshade for the panoramic sunroof was made of a perforated cheesecloth-like material that admitted too much sunlight. Sunshades should be opaque.

MINI Countryman sales in 2018 totaled 17,565, up 2,700 from 2017 at a time when total MINI sales declined by 3,421 to 43,684.

P90240573_highRes_mini-cooper-s-countrSpecifications    

  • Model: 2019 MINI Cooper SE Countryman ALL4 PHEV four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine/motor: 1.5-liter three-cylinder gasoline, turbocharged; 134 hp, 122 lb-ft torque; AC electric motor, 87 hp, 122 lb-ft torque; combined 221 hp, 284 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic front wheels; one-speed direct drive rear wheels.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 10 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 1 inch.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 94/17 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,915 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 27/28/27 mpg. Gasoline/electric combined miles per gallon equivalent: 65 MPGe.
  • Electric only range: 12 miles.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $37,750.
  • Price as tested: $45,750.

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

P90240672_highRes_the-new-mini-countryPhotos (c) MINI

 

2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI 2.0T Rabbit: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2019_GTI_Rabbit_Edition-Large-9339Specifications

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

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

2019_GTI_Rabbit_Edition-Large-9350Photos (c) Volkswagen

2020 Kia Soul: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

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

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

2020 Soul X-Line

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

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

2020 Soul GT-Line

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

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

2020 Soul X-Line

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

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

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

2020 Soul X-Line

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

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

Soul GT-Line

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

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

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

Soul GT-Line

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

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

2020 Soul GT-Line

Specifications

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

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

2020 Soul GT-Line

Photos (c) Kia

Is a BEV in Your Future?

by Jason Fogelson

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

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

2019 Nissan LEAF e+

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

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

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

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

Total: $3,030.00

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

2019 Nissan LEAF e+

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

2018 Nissan Sentra

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

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

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

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

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

2018 Nissan Sentra

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

2019 Nissan LEAF e+

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

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

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

2019 Nissan LEAF e+

Photos (c) Nissan

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