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Avalon Hybrid Generates Grins

by Jason Fogelson

Through five generations of production since the 1995 model year, Avalon has been the flagship of the Toyota lineup in the United States. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it has been given a lot of respect or attention on the sales floor. Though it shares a platform, TNGA (Toyota New Global Architecture), with sibling Camry, Avalon sales in 2019 were one-tenth the number of Camry sales. Looking at Avalon Hybrid sales versus Camry Hybrid sales reveals a different balance. In 2019, Toyota sold 26,043 Camry Hybrid sedans, while selling 6,552 Avalon Hybrid sedans, about a 4:1 ratio – much closer than the overall numbers. What’s going on here?

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I decided to take the 2020 Toyota Avalon Hybrid for a week-long test drive to see if I could figure it out.

My test vehicle was a Limited trim level with a list price of $43,150. With options ($1,150 Advanced Safety Package; $259 Carpet Mat Package) and a $950 Delivery Processing and Handling Fee, my Parisian Night Pearl Avalon Hybrid carried an as-tested price of $45,489.

Front

Avalon spent its first four generations cloaked in blandness, but the new generation, which launched with the 2019 model year, is much more interesting and attractive. Sharper lines, a bolder snout, and, dare I say, sportiness to the exterior have livened up the big sedan. Still on the conservative end of the spectrum, but much better than before.

Inside, Avalon manages to achieve Lexus levels of luxury, but with a flair that matches Avalon’s newly spruced exterior design. I particularly like the way that the center stack is set off from the dashboard, putting the standard nine-inch touchscreen display at the top. My Limited model also included a 10-inch head-up display, which beamed information into my line of sight in the driver’s windshield – a very desirable safety feature, well-executed.

Dash

Avalon is roomy and comfortable, notably so in the second row. The flexible TNGA platform has allowed engineers and designers to stretch the wheelbase by two inches over Camry, and to put that additional space to use in the second row of the Avalon, almost to executive sedan level.

Under the hood, Avalon Hybrid uses a 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder gasoline engine (176 hp/163 lb-ft of torque) and a pair of electric motors. One motor operates as a generator, engine starter and hybrid battery charger, while the other drives the front wheels and captures braking energy during regeneration. The drive motor has a maximum output of 118 hp. A continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) directs power to the front wheels, with a net system horsepower rating of 215. The hybrid battery pack is a sealed Nickel-Metal Hydride (Ni-MH) type with a nominal voltage of 244.8. Systems that are designed to deliver extensive EV-only range have mostly switched over to Lithium Ion battery packs, which are more energy-dense (and more expensive) than Ni-MH. Avalon Hybrid is engineered for overall fuel efficiency, not pure electric range or operation – Toyota doesn’t even provide information on EV range, though there is an EV button on the center console. In practice, I found that it was nearly impossible to keep the Avalon Hybrid in EV mode, as the faintest push on the accelerator pedal kicked the car back into hybrid operation. In any event, Avalon Hybrid Limited is rated to achieve 43 mpg city/43 mpg highway/43 mpg combined – very impressive for a roomy five-passenger sedan with a 16.09 cubic-foot trunk and a 3,715-lb curb weight.

Center StackThe TNGA platform reaps big benefits for Avalon Hybrid when it comes to handling. While Avalon Hybrid isn’t exactly sporty, it is a sharp-handling, connected car that responds precisely to inputs, turns in sharply, and delivers a comfortable, controlled ride. Past generations of Avalon have been correctly criticized for being a little too floaty and cushioned, but those are voices of the past. While enthusiastic drivers will wish for quicker acceleration (get the gas-only V6 for that), few will complain at Avalon’s overall competence and comfort.

The big reveal for the Avalon Hybrid, and maybe its secret weapon, is the fact that choosing the Hybrid over the gasoline-only Avalon only adds $1,000 to the suggested retail price.

Second Row

The competition for a vehicle this size with a hybrid gasoline-electric powertrain is thin in this price range, from $37,000 for Avalon Hybrid XLE to $39,500 for Avalon Hybrid XSE to $43,300 for the 2020 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited.

I’d be very comfortable recommending the Avalon Hybrid to anyone who is looking for an efficient, luxurious, pleasant to drive and relatively affordable five-passenger sedan.

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

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Photos (c) Toyota

2020 Honda Civic Sport Touring: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Anyone who thinks that the sales-surging crossover sport utility vehicles have ripped the wheels off hatchbacks should take a look at the 2020 Honda Civic Sport Touring.

Though hatchbacks, as well as station wagons, have been disrespected over time by U.S. buyers, there still are a number of very good and relatively popular examples available. Moreover, there still exists a cadre of customers who recognize the advantages they offer over traditional sedans with trunks.

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That’s certainly the case with the Honda Civic, which currently is the biggest selling compact automobile in the United States, with 430,248 total sales in 2019 and through May of 2020. Of that number 22% were hatchbacks — a total of 94,655 — certainly a respectable showing.

The big news in recent years, if you haven’t noticed, is the insurgent takeover of the vehicle marketplace by crossovers, which essentially are tall hatchbacks — often, but not always, with optional all-wheel drive.

Front 3q Right

They are distinguished from SUVs because they usually have unit bodies, built like automobiles, instead of using body-on-frame construction like pickup trucks. (Of course, in the olden days even cars were built with bodies dropped onto frames).

Different manufacturers at various times in the late 20th and early 21st centuries tried marketing new station wagons and hatchbacks to U.S. buyers, usually without much success as motorists stuck to traditional sedans, big wagons and minivans. Then SUVs showed up and became popular, led by Jeeps and the Ford Explorer.

2017 Honda Civic Hatchback Sport Touring

So the manufacturers finessed the situation. They built competing SUVs, then redesigned hatchbacks and wagons, jacked them up somewhat for a taller profile and baptized them as crossovers. Subaru, for example, which did not have a truck-based SUV, simply elevated its Legacy station wagon for more ground clearance and created the popular Outback, later joined by the dedicated crossovers Forester and Crosstrek.

Honda joined the crossover revolution with its compact CR-V, midsize Passport and three-row Pilot. The Accord started out as a wildly sought-after two-door hatchback in 1976 but morphed into a conventional sedan and, at various points, a station wagon and the Crosstour hatchback, both of which ran into a ditch of buyer indifference.

Dash

The Civic soldiered on and expanded its reach and popularity, now with a lineup of sedans and coupes with performance Si versions of each, as well as the hatchback Type R, a paragon of performance offered only with a six-speed manual gearbox for dedicated enthusiasts.

The thing is, you can get some of the Type R kicks without paying its current $37,255 price. That’s where the tested 2020 Civic Sport Touring Hatchback comes in. Sure, the Type R has a 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo motor that delivers 306 hp and 225 lb-ft of torque.

Center Stack

There are not many places short of a racetrack where you can put that sort of power to the pavement and be held harmless. But you can spend $7,475 less for a $29,780 Civic Sport Touring, with a 180-hp, 1.5-liter turbo that delivers 162 or 177 lb-ft of torque and find almost as much joy behind the wheel on the public roads.

The conundrum for this review is that the tested Sport Touring came with Honda’s continuously-variable automatic transmission (CVT), which uses belts and pulleys to multiply its engine’s162 lb-ft of torque. Though it has a computerized manual-shifting mode with steering-wheel paddles that mimics a seven-speed manual, it is nowhere near as entertaining as the six-speed manual gearbox, which by the way gets the engine with 177 lb-ft of torque.

Center Console

Most customers, however, likely will be happy with the CVT, which goes about its shifting duties unobtrusively and without hiccups. In manual mode, you can hold selected gears on hilly and twisting roads, though the computerized system doesn’t totally trust the driver. If you don’t select the correct gear, it simply shifts for you.

The Sport Touring is no Type R, but is satisfying and comfortable to drive, though the preference here would be for the six-speed manual gearbox. The front seats are supportive with good seatback bolstering to hold the torso in hard cornering. In back, there’s head- and knee-room for two, though the center-rear passenger contends with a big floor hump and a hard perch.

Second Row

The hatchback advantage shows up behind the rear seats. There’s 23 cubic feet of space for cargo (compared to 15 cubic feet in the Civic sedan’s trunk). A clever sideways-sliding shade hides the cargo and the space grows to 46 cubic feet if you fold the rear seatbacks.

CargoSpecifications

  • Model: 2020 Honda Civic 1.5T Sport Touring four-door hatchback.
  • Engine: 1.5-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 180 hp, 162 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously-variable automatic with manual-shift mode.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 10 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 95/23 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,012 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 29/35/32 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $29,780.
  • Price as tested: $29,780.

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

2018 Honda Civic Hatchback

Photos (c) Honda

2020 Mercedes-AMG CLA35 4MATIC: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

With its tongue-twisting moniker of 2020 Mercedes-AMG CLA35 4MATIC, this new four-door coupe heralds what Mercedes-Benz calls a new era of “dynamic and awe-inspiring vehicles” from its high performance division.

As most Mercedes enthusiasts know, Mercedes-AMG is the company’s hot rod arm. It originally was an independent company that modified and tuned existing vehicles from the German manufacturer, including race car engines, to squeeze out and enhance every dollop of speed and excitement available.

Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 4MATIC (2019)

The two eventually signed cooperative agreements to take advantage of Daimler Benz’s world-wide reach and, in 2005, AMG became part of the Daimler empire, named Mercedes-AMG.

Mercedes is a luxury/performance brand, so you could view Mercedes-AMG as an ultra-luxury/super-performance brand, as attested  to by the higher prices of Mercedes vehicles that carry the AMG escutcheon.

Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 4MATIC (2019)

The company says the new CLA35 is the first of half a dozen upcoming new AMG vehicles in varying body styles and performance parameters that will function as gateways to the Mercedes-AMG brand.

So it’s likely no surprise that the AMG CLA35 four-door makes its debut at the entry level of a car that, in the version tested here, tips the money scales at $65,765. No way can it be considered as an automotive dog door.

Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 4MATIC (2019)

It is called a coupe according the current notion that low-slung, streamlined cars can use the description regardless of whether they have two or four doors. In the AMG lineup, it is an opening bet — classified as a subcompact by the U.S. government, with 89 cubic feet of space for passengers and a trunk of 12 cubic feet. That’s smaller than a Nissan Versa or Hyundai Accent.

Still, it’s decently accommodating for four. The front seats are supportive and comfortable, though back support is intrusive. In back, there’s knee-and head-room for average-sized adults in the outboard seats, although narrow lower door openings make it difficult to enter and exit. There’s a seatbelt, but forget the hard and cramped center-rear position.

Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 4MATIC (2019)

The AMG CLA35 is not about spacious comfort. It’s a sports sedan, powered by a 302-hp, turbocharged 2.0-liter four cylinder engine that develops 295 lb-ft of torque, delivered to all four wheels through a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission with manual shifting via steering-wheel paddles. Zero-to-60-mph acceleration is rated at 4.6 seconds with a top speed of 155 mph.

If you try anything close to that, things get raucous. Though the AMG CLA35 is an exciting car to drive, it’s also very noisy. Unless the road is pool-table smooth with asphalt paving, the road noise announces itself rudely at freeway speeds. It’s as if the AMG engineers had stripped out  the sound-deadening insulation to lop a few tenths of a second off the race track lap time.

Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 4MATIC (2019)

On curving roads, the tires grab the road surface, and the supple suspension system and accurate steering keep the AMG CLA35 planted with almost no body lean. It’s a bit of a different story in modest driving on urban streets and freeways, where the aggressive lane-keeping assist and collision avoidance systems combine to deliver enough hiccups to warrant constant driver attention.

As with many European cars these days, which have to contend with nosebleed gasoline prices, the AMG CLA35 comes with an idle stop-start system, which chokes off the engine at stoplights and re-starts when you lift of the brake.

Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 4MATIC (2019)

It’s OK if you’re just noodling around but if you like to get a jump off the line, it’s annoying. On the AMG CLA35 it can be turned off but sometimes there’s still a bit of a hesitation as the turbocharger spools up. Sometimes you can’t win.

Like every modern vehicle, this sports sedan makes every effort to satisfy the techies among us. There are five driver-selectable driving modes that use computer software to modify engine, transmission, steering and exhaust system settings. On some models — not the test vehicle — you can change the settings with optional steering-wheel buttons while keeping your hands on the wheel.

Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 4MATIC (2019)

The 2020 AMG CLA35 also comes with a state-of-the-art infotainment system with voice activation (“Hey, Mercedes”) and touch screen capability. It enables the driver to change the look — and information displayed — on the instrument panel.

Truth be told, there are not many subcompact sedan/coupes that could keep up wheel-to-wheel with this Mercedes-AMG. However, one scintillating, more than worthy competitor is the German subcompact four-door with another kinky name: the Audi RS3 2.5T Quattro S tronic. Sweet.

Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 4MATIC (2019)

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Mercedes-AMG CLA35 4MATIC four-door coupe.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 302 hp, 295 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Seven-speed twin-clutch automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 5 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/trunk volume: 89/12 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,505 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 23/29/25 mpg. Premium fuel.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $47,895.
  • Price as tested: $65,765.

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

Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 4MATIC (2019)

Photos (c) Mercedes-Benz

2020 Volvo V60 T5 AWD Cross Country: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

So smitten are American motorists with sport utility vehicles and crossovers it’s a wonder that a smart station wagon like the Volvo V60 Cross Country is even offered on these shores.

It helps that it’s an all-wheel drive version of the midsize V60 wagon, which attracts customers in snow and ice country. Also plotting against its own creation, Sweden’s Volvo also offers a comprehensive lineup of tall crossover SUVs more palatable to current Yankee tastes.

New Care by Volvo Additions

At one time, station wagons — especially the big ones — ruled the family roosts. Ours was a 1970 Chevrolet Kingswood Estate with applique wood-grain doors and fenders, three rows of seats with the third row facing backward, a 400-cubic-inch (6.6-liter) V8 engine with 265 hp mated to a three-speed automatic transmission, and rear-wheel drive.

It was 18 feet long, weighed 462 lbs more than two tons, got 11 mpg (14 if you feather-footed it on the highway), but gasoline was around 36 cents a gallon, similar to the 2020 pandemic price of $1.75 in some places.

MY2020 Volvo Model Program - Banff Location

The Chevy was ideal for a family with four kids under 10 years old who traveled 800 miles back and forth between Washington, D.C., and Milwaukee, Wis. Pile all the stuff on the top carrier in a waterproof cargo storage bag, flop the rear seatbacks flat, and toss in blankets and pillows. Put the kids in pajamas, scold them for arguing until they fall asleep and drive all night.

That was life on vacations and travel, and it worked dandy for multitudes of families in the days before you’d get arrested for not strapping the kids in car seats. But the thirsty big wagons soon fell out of favor and sport utility vehicles started encroaching in the 1990s. Now SUVs and their tall car-based crossover companions are the hottest sellers in the market, taking over not only from wagons but sedans as well.

New Volvo V60 Cross Country exterior

It’s mainly an American phenomenon. Station wagons like the tested Volvo with the tongue-twisting name of V60 T5 AWD Cross Country are popular in other parts of the world, particularly in Europe, where wagons often are regarded as upgrades from sedans.

Volvo would not need such a long title for its wagon because the V60 T5 AWD is the only Cross Country model sold in the U.S. It’s a midsize by the U.S. government’s definition with 93 cubic feet of space for passengers and 19 cubic feet for cargo behind the second row seat.

New Volvo V60 Cross Country interior

That’s shy of what you get in the XC60 crossover, which is taller and more powerful with 100 cubic feet for passengers and 30 cubic feet for cargo. But it’s also more expensive, heavier and craves premium gasoline.

The tested V60 T5 comes with Volvo’s ubiquitous 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. In this application, it makes 250 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, delivered to all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission that can be manually shifted.

New Volvo V60 Cross Country interior

There are four driver-selectable drive modes: eco, comfort, dynamic and off-road. The last activates the new hill-descent control and alters the computer programming for the all-wheel drive. To enhance its modest off-road capability, the Cross Country has been jacked up on its suspension system by about three inches. However, this is not a vehicle for serious bashing back country bashing.

The advantage of a wagon over a crossover is maneuverability, although differences are becoming narrower with more sophisticated suspension system tuning. But the V60 Cross Country handles more like a sedan, with a lower center of gravity. However, the suspension is biased toward handling so the ride in some circumstances is a bit choppy.

New Volvo V60 Cross Country interior

The eight-speed automatic transmission shifts crisply, though it occasionally gets a bit confused by hiccups from the turbo engine in automatic drive. If you’re in a hurry on a twisting road, best to shift manually in dynamic or comfort mode.

As with most Volvos, the interior is beautifully designed, with supportive seats front and rear. But center-rear seat comfort is compromised by a large floor hump.

2020 Volvo V60 Cross Country - Banff

The infotainment center screen, which requires swipes as well as touches, gets fussy but practice helps. One complaint: the sunshade for the panoramic glass sunroof is made of perforated cloth, which allows too much intrusion of sunlight.

The V60 Cross Country comes equipped with most everything found on a premium European automobile. It starts at $46,095, including the destination charge. As tested here, the bottom line came to $56,990.

2020 Volvo V60 Cross Country - Banff

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Volvo V60 T5 AWD Cross Country four-door station wagon.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 250 hp, 258 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 93/19 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,950 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 22/31/25 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $46,095.
  • Price as tested: $56,990.

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

New Volvo V60 Cross Country exterior

Photos (c) Volvo

2020 Genesis G90 RWD 5.0 Ultimate: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

A knowledgeable onetime editor of automobile reviews thought the 2020 Genesis G90 “looks like a Chrysler.”

That person shall remain nameless, having actually mentored a famous reviewer, who sadly is not among us any more but who learned the craft from the editor, now retired.

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It can be viewed as a tribute to the infant Genesis brand, to be thought of in the same breath as some of the famed Chrysler and Imperial models of yore, which were right up there in prestige with Lincoln, Duesenberg and Cadillac in the homeland.

The Genesis G90 follows a modern trend in which popular automobiles have spun off their own luxury brands, taking the good will the manufacturers have developed from providing interesting, reliable and even exciting cars and developing new models to command higher prices and prestige.

Genesis G90

Photo: James Lipman

Prominent in this concept are Japan’s Lexus, the luxury brand of Toyota, and Acura, gestated from Honda. In an earlier era, Ford begat Mercury and Lincoln, and now we have used-to-be humble Hyundai beguiling us with Genesis.

It’s just getting started. Originally introduced as the top-line Hyundai Equus from the South Korean manufacturer, the G90 became the pinnacle of a separate luxury brand in 2017. It is now on its way to becoming its own special entity with a lineup of premium sedans and upcoming crossover sport utility vehicles. Up first is the 2021 Genesis GV80 later this year.

Genesis G90

Photo: James Lipman

For now, the G90 stands as the flagship, offering the performance, luxury orientation and reputation as established marques that include Mercedes-Benz, Lexus,  BMW, Jaguar, Acura, Audi, Cadillac, Lincoln and even Volvo — but with the South Korean basic principle of offering more bang for the bucks.

Sure, if keeping up with and exceeding the Joneses at snazzy cocktail  parties is your thing, prattling on about owning a Genesis G90 will not score as many conversational points as talking about your daily driver with the Mercedes three-pointed star or the leaping Jaguar on the hood.

Genesis G90

Photo: James Lipman

The Genesis G90, as of now, doesn’t have that sort of panache. But if you’re in interested in a slick, smooth luxury car and you are without unlimited financial resources, you can substitute — in your psyche, at least — a G90 for that BMW 7-Series or Mercedes S-Class and pocket about 20 grand in savings.

The best part, except for the status that goes with the blue and white spinning propeller or the three-pointed star, is you won’t be short-changed from the feel behind the wheel. The G90 is as capable as any sedan in the large luxury class, with all the accouterments you might specify.

Genesis G90

Photo: James Lipman

The tested Genesis G90 RWD 5.0 Ultimate four-door comes with a velvety 420-hp, 5.0-liter V8 engine that delivers 383 lb-ft of torque. The power gets to the rear wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission. Also available is a turbocharged 3.3-liter V6 with 365 hp. All-wheel drive is an option with either engine.

The G90, with its imposing new grille, is an inch more than 17 feet long with 113 cubic feet of space for passengers and a trunk of 17 cubic feet. City/highway/combined fuel economy of 16/24/19 mpg is not outstanding but, hey, this is a luxury car, not a Chevy Spark.

Genesis G90

Photo: James Lipman

With luxury cars, it’s about feedback and ambiance. The Genesis G90 communicates tactile sensations from the steering wheel that is characteristic of premium sedans. It’s also mausoleum silent in highway cruising, nearly as quiet as an electric, though there’s some muted growl under hard acceleration.

The ride is creamy but controlled and the handling on curving roads is competent and confidence inspiring. But don’t mistake the G90 for a sports sedan. Its forte is sedate motoring, even at extra-legal speeds.

Genesis G90

Photo: James Lipman

The G90 Ultimate is set up for maximum comfort and serenity for four. Surroundings are done up with premium wood trim and soft, perforated leather seats with heating and cooling all around. In back, the outboard passengers get sun shades on the windows and power seat adjustments, along with infotainment screens mounted on the front seatbacks.

The center armrest in back houses climate and other controls, and can be tucked up to accommodate a fifth unfortunate passenger, who gets relegated to a hard, uncomfortable perch. There are seatbelts and headrests for three persons in back, as well as a pass-through into the trunk for skis or other long objects.

The suggested price for the G90 Ultimate came to $76,695, not for everybody — but in this snooty class it’s a bargain.

Genesis G90

Photo: James Lipman

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Genesis G90 RWD 5.0 Ultimate four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 5.0-liter V8; 420 hp, 383 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with rear-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 17 feet 1 inch.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/trunk volume: 113/16 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,850 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 16/24/19 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $76,695.
  • Price as tested: $76,695.

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

Genesis G90

Photo: James Lipman

Photos (c) Genesis

The 2020 Volvo V90 T6 AWD Cross Country is Hot Stuff

by Jason Fogelson

Gothenburg, Sweden is at 57.7 degrees north of the equator, just 7.8 degrees below the Arctic Circle. It also happens to be the hometown of Volvo – and those two facts are closely related to my review of the 2020 Volvo V90 T6 AWD Cross Country.

I live in the suburbs of Detroit, Michigan (42.3 degrees north of the equator), an area famous for its winter weather. Most winter nights have freezing temperatures, which means that a car that sits outside collects a heavy coating of frost and the interior can be downright frigid when morning hits.

New Volvo V90 Cross Country Studio

The V90 has the best defrosting and quick warming system I’ve found to date. The wagon’s heated front seats (standard) and optional ($425) heated rear seats start providing warmth in minutes, while the assertive front and rear defrosters attack the ice on the glass in a hurry. Winter weather features have got to be important to the folks in Sweden, and they’ve got them down to an art in the V90. Impressive.

New Volvo V90 Cross Country Studio

This latest V90 variant is a continuation of Volvo’s popular Cross Country trim level, which has been applied to select models over the past few generations. More than just a layer of cladding (which it does have), the Cross Country includes all-wheel drive, a raised ride height and ground clearance, Off-Road mode, front and rear skid plates, exclusive 19-inch wheels, and Black Walnut inlay interior trim pieces. Added to the already sexy and sophisticated full-size four-door V90 wagon, the V90 Cross Country is a great-looking package at the top of the line.

New Volvo V90 Cross Country Studio

Available only in T6 trim with a 2.0-liter turbocharged and supercharged four-cylinder engine (316 hp/295 lb-ft of torque) with an eight-speed automatic transmission, V90 Cross Country is an eager performer (0 – 60 in 6.0 seconds). Double-wishbone front suspension and integral link rear do a great job of smoothing the way in many conditions. Multiple drive modes are available, controlling steering feel, throttle, transmission shift points and other factors. Don’t expect your V90 Cross Country to become a rock crawler when you select Off-Road mode – but prepare to be impressed with its stability on dirt roads and trails. I’m confident that swapping in a set of winter tires (all-season radials are standard) will make the V90 Cross Country into a great choice for those snowy February Michigan mornings – no SUV required.

 

Volvo V90 Cross Country Volvo Ocean Race

In case you missed the memo, wagons are cool. It’s a shame that there are so few to choose from, but there are some very solid choices out there. Whether or not they’re called wagons, I’d include the Subaru Outback, Jaguar XF Sportbrake, Mercedes-Benz E-Class Wagon, Audi A6 allroad and Volkswagen Golf Alltrack– a wide spread, which should also include the compact Volvo V60 Cross Country.

Volvo V90 Cross Country Volvo Ocean Race

The 2020 Volvo V90 T6 AWD Cross Country starts at $54,550. My test vehicle, which included the Advanced Package ($2,450), Metallic Paint ($645), 20-inch alloy wheels ($800), Bowers and Wilkins Premium Sound ($4,000), heated rear seats ($425), Park Assist Pilot ($200), Premium Air Suspension in rear ($1,200), and a $995 Destination price, came with an as-tested price of $65,265 – definitely luxury territory. But with the included safety and driver assistance features, along with Volvo’s excellent and intuitive Sensus infotainment interface, the price feels about right.

New Volvo V90 Cross Country Studio

Especially when it’s cold outside, and the prospect of scraping a windshield and sitting down on freezing seats looms in the driveway. Did I mention that Remote Start is included as part of Volvo’s free mobile app?

Sweden knows winter, and the V90 Cross Country Wagon can handle it.

Volvo V90 Cross Country Volvo Ocean Race

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

Cross Country Range

Photos (c) Volvo

Badges? The 2020 Genesis G70 Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Badges

by Jason Fogelson

The 2020 Genesis G70 has a lot going for it. Great looks, lusty performance, sharp handling and superb build quality. It’s no wonder that G70 accounted for over half of the Genesis brand sales in 2019. G70 captured accolades from multiple automotive press organizations in its debut year, and carries on with minor updates for 2020.

Front 3:4 Right

G70 also has plenty going against it. While it has to be considered a relative sales success, it sits in a showroom with two languishing luxury sedans, G80 and G90, each awaiting updates. And worse, it sits in a showroom devoid of SUVs or crossover vehicles, with no hybrids, plug-in hybrids or EVs to draw traffic.

Front 3:4 Left Red

It’s challenging to review G70 without thinking about the big picture.

Korean manufacturing giant Hyundai broke off Genesis as a standalone luxury automotive brand in 2015, and despite good reviews for its limited product line, Genesis has lurked in the shadows of the luxury marketplace. Perhaps I’m looking back with rose-tinted glasses when I remember the launch of Lexus as the luxury arm for Toyota, or the rise of Acura as Honda’s luxury brand, or the emergence of Infiniti from Nissan; but I remember a more visible splash, and not such a subtle ripple.

Profile Right

Based on purely anecdotal evidence from driving the G70 around the Detroit area for a week, among people who noticed the car, none were familiar with the Genesis brand. I had to explain it to them every time. Of course, Genesis will be happy to read that people frequently approached me to admire the G70 and to compliment me on its good looks – Detroiters are always happy to offer their (unsolicited) opinions in a parking lot.

Badge

And I agreed with them. The G70 is a really attractive sports sedan; a low, sleek four-door with a great stance, an assertive face, and crisp details. The Genesis logo sits proudly on the hood and trunk, a crest flanked by wings, reminiscent of Bentley’s logo (a happy accident, surely). Fit and finish are first rate all around.

Dashboard

Inside, crisply tailored luxury abounds. This is not the overstuffed luxury of early Lexus; this is the modern, elegant luxury of Audi. The supple leatherette (real leather is optional) on the seats is a particular highlight, but the dashboard and center console are also commendable for simple, uncluttered design. The driver’s cockpit is nicely arranged, and the alloy pedals are a great touch.

Genesis G70

Photo: James Lipman / jameslipman.com

My test car was a G70 RWD 2.0T Sport M/T, equipped with a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder engine with a six-speed manual transmission and rear-wheel drive. I’m one of those guys who can’t take a sport sedan seriously if it doesn’t have three pedals, though I recognize that I’m part of a dying breed. Still, I appreciate Genesis considering the “sport” part of “sport sedan” and making this option available. Now, if they’d just tweak the transmission a little bit – perhaps with a short-throw shifter – to make it a little better, I’d be in love. Still, running the 2.0T through its paces was fun, and never grew old during my week with the G70. A bigger engine, a turbocharged 3.3-liter V6 is available; so is all-wheel drive. If you choose the V6 or AWD, you can’t have a manual transmission, which is a bummer. EPA fuel economy estimates for the G70 RWD 2.0T Sport M/T are 18 mpg city/28 mpg highway/22 mpg combined.

Genesis G70

Photo: James Lipman / jameslipman.com

If you’re considering a G70, you’re probably weighing it against some stiff competition. The BMW 3 Series is the gold standard in the class, followed closely by the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Audi A4, Lexus IS, Infiniti Q60, Volvo S60, and Cadillac CT5.

Genesis G70

Photo: James Lipman / jameslipman.com

Like Hyundai, Genesis bundles a ton of desirable standard features in with its cars, making the value proposition a very good one. The 2020 Genesis G70 RWD 2.0T Sport M/T that I tested came with an as-tested price of $39,495, including just about every luxury feature I would want in a sport sedan. The base car starts at $35,450; and the full zoot, 3.3T AWD A/T comes in at $46,650.

So, if you test the competition and you like the G70 and its pricing, you’ll have to decide whether the badge on the hood is one that you’ll be proud driving behind.

Engine

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

Rear 3:4 Right RedPhotos (c) Genesis

2020 BMW M340i xDrive Sedan is the Leader of the Pack

by Jason Fogelson

If you listen to some BMW fans, the last great 3 Series was the E36 (1991 – 1999). Or maybe it was the E46 (1998 – 2006). All I know is, the 2020 BMW M340i xDrive Sedan that I had during a recent week-long test drive is a great car that owes apologies to no one.

Front 3q LeftThe history of the BMW 3 Series is well-known. First introduced as a 1975 model to replace the model 2002 coupe, 3 Series is a front-engine/rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive car that has been built in various configurations over seven generations of production. There have been two-doors and four-doors, notchbacks and liftbacks, hardtops and convertibles. The 3 Series has been loved and reviled, praised and damned, both by its supporters and detractors. BMW drivers can sometimes be the punchline in jokes about rude drivers, but the brand’s longtime advertising tag, “The Ultimate Driving Machine,” has stuck for a reason – and the 3 Series has worn it well.

Front2019 marked the beginning of 3 Series’ seventh generation. For 2020, there are four models, all four-door sedans: 330i rear-wheel drive (starting at $40,750); 330i xDrive (starting at $42,750); M340i rear-wheel drive (starting at $54,000); and M340i xDrive (starting at $56,000). My test car was an example of the all-wheel drive M340i xDrive with a host of extras, including Tanzanite Blue Metallic paint ($1,950); Oyster Vernasca Leather ($1,450); Drivers Assistance Package ($500); Drivers Assistance Pro Package ($1,700); Premium Package ($1,400); Executive Package ($2,100); Remote Engine Start ($300); 19-inch M wheels ($400); Adaptive M Suspension ($700); Power Tailgate ($250); Ambient Lighting ($250); Wireless Charging ($500); Harman Kardon surround sound ($875); and a $995 Destination Charge for an as-tested price of $69,570. Take a knee. Breath deeply. Let’s discuss.

NoseThe M340i is gorgeous, for one thing. The proportions of this sedan just work, with a great profile and long dash-to-front-axle distance. The BMW signature twin-kidney grille is flanked by expressive squinting-eye LED headlights, and the car’s face is determined and confident. The sleek roofline looks windswept. The M340i does what a sports sedan must do – it looks fast standing still.

Dash

The interior is almost as successful as the exterior. Leather, polished metal trim, great textures and smart repeated hexagonal shapes bring an elegant simplicity that 3 Series has been missing in the latest generations, and a 10.25-inch touchscreen is perfectly placed at the top of the center stack. iDrive 7.0 and BMW Live Cockpit deliver all the latest tech with an intuitive interface – I never thought I’d be able to say that about an iDrive system. The 14-way power leather seats are insanely comfortable, especially for the long-legged among us, thanks to long travel and extendable thigh support, which makes a big difference on long drives.

Cabin

If you’re going to keep calling yourself “The Ultimate Driving Machine,” you’d better have the goods under the hood, and M340i does. A 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged inline six-cylinder direct-injected gasoline engine sends 382 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque to the wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission with an M Sport limited-slip differential. The M340i xDrive is the quickest of the 3 Series models, capable of going from 0 – 60 mph in 4.2 seconds on the way to a top speed of 130 mph. The EPA estimates fuel economy at 22 mpg city/30 mpg highway/25 mpg combined.

Live Cockpit

I’m sad that there’s no manual transmission available for the M340i, but it’s a sign of the times. Even among the buyers of a sporty brand like BMW, three-pedal fanatics are few and far between. The automatic is a very good one, with quick shifts and a manumatic mode accessible via paddle shifters.

Engine

Driving the M340i is very compelling. It sounds great, feels great, and handles great. Every cloverleaf is an opportunity to feel some g-forces. Every stoplight can be an arm-stretching launch. If you need to spend a lot of time behind the wheel, M340i will reward you with constant enjoyment, and a collaboration with technology that will make your drive easier and safer.

Chassis

The mid-size sport sedan market caught up with the 3 Series, with some very good competitors like the Audi A4/S4, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Infiniti Q50, Lexus IS, Volvo S60, Jaguar XE, Alfa Romeo Giulia, Genesis G70, Kia Stinger and others.

Rear 3q LeftThe 2020 BMW M340i xDrive shoots back into the lead. It’ll be fun to see the others try to catch up.

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

RearPhotos (c) BMW

The 2020 Nissan 370Z Offers No Apologies

by Jason Fogelson

Sorry, not sorry, but the Z is a throwback to love.

The year the Datsun 240Z debuted here in the United States, the top movie was “Love Story” with Ryan O’Neal and Ali McGraw. The top-selling fiction book was “Islands in the Stream” by Ernest Hemingway. The top-selling single on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart was “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” by Simon & Garfunkel. Now, five generations later (with a brief sales hiatus here in the U.S. from 1997 – 2002), the 2020 Nissan 370Z arrives as a 50th Anniversary edition. And for all the changes the Z (and the United States) have undergone – things are very familiar.

2020 Nissan 370Z 50th Anniversary Edition

The sixth-generation Z has been sold since the 2009 model year with incremental upgrades along the way. Like the 1970 U.S.-spec 240Z, the 370Z is a naturally aspirated (non-turbo) six-cylinder, rear-wheel drive GT sports coupe. In a world of high-tech cars, the 370Z comes across as a bit of a throwback – and that’s a big part of its appeal.

2020 Nissan 370Z 50th Anniversary Edition

My test vehicle was a 2020 Nissan 370Z Sport with a special 50th Anniversary package of options ($2,600) that included special two-tone paint, commemorative decals and badging, logos and kickplates, leather four-way power seats, and other goodies. While this much self-congratulation could easily tip toward the tacky, on this Z it looked super cool.

2020 Nissan 370Z 50th Anniversary Edition

Inside, the Z’s cabin is compact, but comfy. What’s missing on the Sport model is a feature that has become ubiquitous on modern cars, even basic economy models – there’s no touchscreen display on the dash, just a collection of conventional gauges, buttons and knobs. It took me a while to figure out how to pair my Bluetooth smartphone to the car, but I finally regained my old-school pairing chops for an effective connection for both audio and hands-free operation. Concealed storage in the cabin is limited, but there’s a good amount of space under the liftback behind the seat, accessible from inside the cabin. Mid-generation Z-cars have been criticized for losing their edge and slipping toward bloated luxury, but this Z is tight and trim.

2020 Nissan 370Z 50th Anniversary Edition

My test Z came with a welcome throwback feature – a manual six-speed transmission (a seven-speed automatic is available to spec, but don’t do that, please). The Sport trim and above comes with SynchroRev Match, a synchronized Downshift Rev Matching feature that simplifies operation, mitigating the need to do the heel-toe dance on the pedals. It works beautifully. While purists might balk at this electronic assistance, it makes an average driver (like me) sound like a pro.

2020 Nissan 370Z 50th Anniversary Edition

Under the hood, the six-cylinder in this Z is a 3.7-liter V6 – the 240Z used a 2.4-liter inline six – that sends a healthy 332 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels. Thanks to the Z’s low seating position, the sensation of speed and sharp handling is amplified – and the car is a lot of fun to drive.

Nissan will be happy to help you upgrade many components on the Z with Nismo parts to improve handling and performance if you want to track your car, and there’s a healthy aftermarket to supply tweaks and gizmos to soup up every aspect of the coupe. Have at it, and have fun.

2020 Nissan 370Z 50th Anniversary Edition

Out of the box, the Z is a blunt instrument that delivers driving enjoyment. The more refined Mazda MX-5 Miata is its closest competitor, representing a different approach to the equation.

Z prices start at $30,090 for the base model and go up to $39,490 for the top-of-the-line Sport Touring 7AT model. My test car was a Sport model with a base price of $33,820 and an as-tested price of $37,605, and represented the sweet spot in the lineup.

2020 Nissan 370Z 50th Anniversary Edition

The 2020 Nissan 370Z is a throwback, and I love it. As Ali McGraw famously said in the top-grossing film of 1970, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”

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

2020 Nissan 370Z 50th Anniversary Edition

Photos (c) Nissan

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