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NACTOY’s Best of 2020: DriveWays . . .

by Frank A. Aukofer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Car of the Year

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

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

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

Utility of the Year

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

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

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

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

Truck of the Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2020 Hyundai Sonata Limited: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Large-39748-2020SonataLimitedSpecifications

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

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

Large-39696-2020SonataLimitedPhotos (c) Hyundai

2020 Bentley Continental GT V8: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bentley Continental V8 Photo: James Lipman / jameslipman.comSpecifications

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

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

Bentley Continental GT Convertible V8 10Photos (c) Bentley

2020 BMW 745e xDrive iPerformance: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cocktails anyone?

P90333092_highRes_the-new-bmw-7-seriesSpecifications

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

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

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

2020 Dodge Charger Scat Pack Widebody: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

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

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

2020 Dodge Charger Scat Pack Widebody

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2020 Dodge Charger Scat Pack Widebody

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

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

There’s no argument here.

2020 Dodge Charger Scat Pack Widebody

Specifications

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

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

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

Photos (c) FCA North America

2020 Nissan Versa SR: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Any modern vehicle manufacturer can produce a good automobile if price is no object. The trick is to build a decent, affordable small car like the 2020 Nissan Versa.

The Versa has been around for more than a dozen years as Nissan’s entry-level economy car. Marketed as a subcompact but usually with the interior room of a larger car, it was offered as a four-door sedan and a hatchback, recently called the Versa Note.

Versa MMP4a-sourceIt has been consistently popular and in 2018 was the best seller  against the Hyundai Accent, Honda Fit, Kia Rio, Toyota Yaris, Chevrolet Sonic and Spark, and Ford Fiesta.

For 2020, it may have a tougher uphill route because Nissan has axed the Note in favor of shunting shoppers toward its subcompact Kicks crossover sport utility vehicle, which some argue is more of a hatchback anyway because it does not offer all-wheel drive.

The 2020 Versa sedan is all-new, longer, lower and wider than its  frumpy predecessor, with more of a family resemblance to the midsize Altima. It even mimics European luxury brands by offering extra-cost exterior paint jobs.

One was the focus of this review, a top-line SR model done up in “Scarlett Ember,” one of eight colors. It cost an additional $395. Even at that, however, the test car had a bottom-line sticker of $20,040, about 15 grand less than the current average price of a new car.

Versa MMP10a-sourceBut if you have a tighter budget, you can order an entry-level Versa S with a base price of $15,625, including the destination charge. That’s with a five-speed manual gearbox. Add Nissan’s Xtronic continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) and the price jumps to $17,295.

That price covers full basic safety equipment plus automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, rear automatic braking, lane departure warning, rear-view camera (without line markers) and high-beam headlight assist. It also includes Siri eyes-free Google assistant with voice recognition. All Versa models come with pushbutton starting.

The cool thing about the S is that, like cars everywhere, it is equipped with the basics anybody would need, including the 122-hp 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine with 114 lb-ft of torque that delivers a government city/highway/combined fuel economy rating of  32/40/35 mpg with the CVT.

Versa MMP7a-sourceThat doesn’t sound like a hot car on paper and it is not. But the S and its sibling SV and SR trim levels are quite comfortable in any driving situation anyone is likely to encounter on American’s increasingly clogged streets and freeways.

You won’t win many stoplight drag races, but acceleration is strong enough for urban traffic, freeway merging and passing on two-lane roads as long as you allow enough space. The CVT transmission, which ordinarily has no shift points, is one of the better units of its kind, and Nissan incorporates a system called D-Step that adds a kick-down shift for more responsive passing power.

2020 Nissan Versa SV-1-sourceSurprisingly, the base S model rides comfortably and is nearly as quiet a highway cruiser as the SR test car, perhaps benefitting from smaller 15-inch steel wheels with plastic wheel covers and fatter tires than the 17-inch alloy wheels with skinnier sidewalls on the SR trim. There was little mechanical and wind noise, and the main intrusion — as on the top-line SR — came from the tires on the variety of irregular pavements found everywhere.

The tested top-line SR adds blind-spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert, as well as automatic climate control, SXM satellite radio, remote starting, leather-wrapped steering wheel and LED headlights.

2020 Nissan Versa SV-2-sourceIt also came with Nissan’s back-seat warning system, which could save the life of a child or pet left in a closed car on a hot summer day. The system activates when you open a rear door to place a child or something else in back. Later, when you shut down the engine and leave the car, visual and audio warnings are activated to remind you to check.

With 89 cubic feet of space for passengers, the Versa SR delivered supportive and comfortable so-called “zero gravity” seats up front, with upgraded cloth upholstery, and adequate head and knee room in the outboard back seats for average-sized humans. However, as in most cars, the center-rear passenger gets an uncomfortable perch with a floor hump and intrusion of the center console.

The trunk is uncommonly large for a compact car, at 15 cubic feet, and the rear seatbacks fold for additional cargo. However, the trunk lid’s C-hinges are not protected and could damage luggage and other contents.

2020 Nissan Versa

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Nissan Versa SR four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 1.6-liter four-cylinder; 122 hp, 114 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: D-Step Xtronic continuously-variable automatic with front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 9 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 89/15 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 2,729 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 32/40/35 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $19,135.
  • Price as tested: $20,040.

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

Versa MMP2a-sourcePhotos (c) Nissan

2019 Volkswagen Arteon SEL Premium: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Volkswagen’s 2019 Arteon exudes streamlined styling and comes with an attribute that could entice customers attracted to the increasingly popular crossover sport utility vehicles.

Though it doesn’t look the part, the Arteon is a hatchback sedan with a cargo area of 27 cubic feet, which rivals that of many crossovers.  It also has passenger space of 98 cubic feet. Together, the total 125 cubic feet qualify it as a large car by the federal government’s definition.

2019_Arteon_SEL_Premium_R-Line-Large-9794Yet the dimensions and handling feel are those of a midsize car. In concept, it resembles — and can compete with — the smaller A5 and larger A7 Sportbacks from Audi, Volkswagen’s luxury division. They too are low-slung and sleek but more expensive hatchback sedans.

The Arteon resembles the acclaimed Kia Stinger, which also is a fastback sedan with a hatch. Both are powered by turbocharged, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engines with eight-speed automatic transmissions and available all-wheel drive. Horsepower is similar at 268 for the Arteon and 255 for the Stinger with zero to 60 mph acceleration times of about six seconds.

At 15 feet 11 inches, the Arteon is an inch longer than the Stinger and weighs 185 pounds more. With eight cubic feet less of interior space, the Stinger is classified as a midsize car. Its base price is about $4,000 less than the Arteon’s. (The Stinger also is available with a 365-hp, twin-turbo, 3.3-liter V6 engine; the Arteon has only the 2.0-liter four-cylinder).

2019_Arteon_SEL_Premium_R-Line-Large-9779But when it comes to luxury appointments, the Arteon — now VW’s flagship sedan — does not slouch. Though popularly priced, starting at $36,840 for the base SE version, the top trim level — the $45,940 SEL Premium 4Motion all-wheel drive model driven for this review — has plenty of luxurious accouterments as well as a full suite of safety enhancements.

Equipment includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-keeping assist, blind spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control with stop and go, overhead view rear camera, and VW’s intelligent crash response system. In an accident the system unlocks doors, shuts off the engine, disables electronics and turns on lights.

2019_Arteon-Large-7924Inside features include navigation, three-zone automatic climate control, Nappa leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, driver’s seat with massage and memory functions, heated outboard rear seats, AM/FM/HD and SXM satellite radio, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Bluetooth connectivity and a panoramic glass sunroof.

Mimicking a current cliché in European luxury cars, the sunshade for the Arteon’s sunroof was made of a perforated cloth that admitted sunlight and heat. Sunshades should be opaque.

The Arteon name incorporates “art” and “eon,” evoking a sort of timeless staying power. It is a descendant of the Volkswagen’s former CC model, so-called because VW christened it as a “comfort coupe” — that is, a sedan with a coupe profile. It was based on the VW Passat sedan and lasted nine years until it was axed after the 2017 model year.

2019_Arteon_SEL_Premium_R-Line-Large-9788Despite its striking low profile, the Arteon has plenty of head and legroom inside, both in the front and the rear outboard seats. As with almost every vehicle these days, the center-rear passenger gets punished with a hard cushion and a floor hump, and on the Arteon does not get a heated seat.     The rear seatbacks fold almost flat to expand the cargo carrying capability to 55 cubic feet.

On the road, the tested SEL 4Motion model is an amiable companion. Belying its $45,460 price tag, its ambiance is that of a luxury cruiser with little intrusion of mechanical or wind noise. In this era of lousy surfaces, however, it’s impossible to eliminate tire noise unless you’re driving on newly-paved asphalt.

2019_Arteon_SEL_Premium_R-Line-Large-9790Though it is turbocharged, the 2.0-liter engine is smooth and quiet with little turbo lag setting off from rest. The eight-speed automatic transmission is unobtrusive in around-town motoring but also snaps off rapid shifts under hard acceleration. On the tested SEL Premium 4Motion, there were steering-wheel mounted paddles for manual shifting.

Five drive modes are available: Eco, Normal, Comfort, Sport and Custom. They, too, are mostly unobtrusive except for the Sport setting, which delays upshifts to higher rpms than the other settings. Custom allows the driver to tailor personal preferences.

The front seats are supportive and comfortable, and with the Arteon’s adaptive shock absorbers, the ride is controlled and serene for the most part. Handling is confident with responsive, weighted steering.

German luxury cars are notoriously expensive. The Arteon delivers much of that amenity at a middle-class price.

2019_Arteon_SEL_Premium_R-Line-Large-9800Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Volkswagen Arteon SEL Premium 4Motion four-door hatchback sedan.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder; 268 hp, 258 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual shifting mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 11 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 98/27 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,835 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 20/27/23 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $45,490.
  • Price as tested: $45,940.

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

2019_Arteon_SEL_Premium_R-Line-Large-9774Photos: Volkswagen

2019 Mercedes-Benz A220 4MATIC: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The Mercedes-Benz A220 4MATIC sedan, an all-new entry-level model from the German luxury manufacturer, turns heads and invites comments attesting to its striking styling.

It’s as if this small car, only a couple of inches shorter than the new economy-model Nissan Versa and with less interior room, surprises onlookers with its presence.

Mercedes-Benz A-Klasse Limousine, V 177, 2018 // Mercedes-Benz A-Class Sedan, V177, 2018Well, it should, if for nothing else than its price tag. While you can buy a satisfactory top-line Versa SR for about 20 grand, the A220 has a starting price of $35,495. With the customary European luxury-car list of expensive options, the test car checked the boxes with a sticker of $49,785. You can save $2,000 by skipping the 4MATIC all-wheel drive.

Though marketed as subcompacts, both cars barely sneak into the compact class by the U.S. government’s definition: a car with interior space of 100 to 109 cubic feet, including the trunk. The A220 4MATIC has 102, with 93 cubic feet for passengers and shy of nine cubic feet in the trunk. The Versa has 104 cubic feet, divided at 89 for people with a large trunk of 15 cubic feet.

But enough of size comparisons. The A220 and the Versa do not circulate in the same company. Though either will get you to where you are going, the valets who park the Mercedes will expect a way bigger tip. Versa owners likely will self-park or seek out a street space.

Mercedes-Benz A-Klasse Limousine, V 177, 2018 // Mercedes-Benz A-Class Sedan, V177, 2018Of course, few Mercedes customers would even deign to look at a Versa, much less drive one, and it’s likely most Versa customers would not have pockets deep enough to venture into a Mercedes showroom.

The new A220 should not be confused with the CLA, another compact sedan that Mercedes calls a “four-door coupe.” Though both cars are built off the same front-drive architecture, the CLA is three inches longer and boasts sleeker down-low styling with slightly less passenger space — 91.5 cubic feet compared to 93 for the A220. However, it has a larger trunk of 13 cubic feet versus nine cubic feet in the A-220.

Sophisticatedly motivating the A220 is a 188-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 221 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force. It gets the power to the pavement via a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, which delivers instant shifts up or down and can be manually shifted with paddles on the steering wheel.

Mercedes-Benz A-Klasse Limousine, V 177, 2018 // Mercedes-Benz A-Class Sedan, V177, 2018However you choose to do it, the engine-transmission combination will slingshot the A220 4MATIC to 60 mph in about six seconds. It does that with a remarkable lack of any dreaded turbo hesitation.

Despite its size and relatively light weight of 3,417 lbs, the A220 feels like a Mercedes-Benz, with handling responsive to the weighted steering. It tracks steadily in a straight line, cruises quietly, brakes smartly and its optional adaptive damping suspension system and tires mostly absorb the damnable road irregularities that increasingly plague U.S. roads.

So if nothing else, it’s a good thing for a car like the A220 to have  robust, quality underpinnings. At its price point, it also has many other desirable qualities, along with a few fluffs.

Mercedes-Benz A-Klasse Limousine, V 177, 2018 // Mercedes-Benz A-Class Sedan, V177, 2018Much of the desirable stuff comes with an additional price tag on the options list, including the comprehensive safety equipment: Distronic adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency stopping, lane-keeping and emergency steering assist, and blind-spot warning.

Also optional: combined digital instruments/center-screen cluster, head-up display, Burmester premium surround audio, navigation system, parking assist, surround-view rear camera, SXM satellite radio, heated front seats, auto-dimming inside and outside rear-view mirrors, and inductive smart phone charging

Mercedes-Benz A-Klasse Limousine, V 177, 2018 // Mercedes-Benz A-Class Sedan, V177, 2018

The head-up display is unusual in that it has a readout that displays the distance between the A220 and the car ahead, up to 300 feet. However, although it shows the speed of the car, it does not indicate the speed limit. For that, you have to glance down at the dashboard instruments.

The test car also had a curious intervention. On some cars, when you shut down the engine and open the door, the driver’s seat automatically moves back to facilitate exit and entry. On the A220, it does the opposite. The seatback pushes forward, as if to squash your chest into the steering wheel. It does not, fortunately.

Other fluffs: the shade for the panoramic sunroof is not opaque but made from a flimsy material that admits heat and sunlight. Sun visors do not slide to block sun from the sides. And there were no inside assist handles — only coat hooks combined with reading lights.

Mercedes-Benz A-Klasse Limousine, V 177, 2018 // Mercedes-Benz A-Class Sedan, V177, 2018

Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Mercedes-Benz A220 4MATIC four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 188 hp, 221 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Seven-speed twin-clutch automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 11 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 93/9 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,417 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 25/33/28 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $35,495.
  • Price as tested: $49,785.

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

Mercedes-Benz A-Klasse Limousine, V 177, 2018 // Mercedes-Benz A-Class Sedan, V177, 2018Photos:  Mercedes-Benz

2019 Mazda3 Hatchback AWD: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The 2019 Mazda3 Hatchback epitomizes the company’s goal of developing vehicles that punch above their weight.

This a slinky, stylish, fully-realized four-door for four (though there’s a seatbelt for a hapless soul in the cramped center-rear seat) that has the appointments and feel of luxury compacts costing thousands of dollars more.

2019-Mazda3-Hatchback_01It leans more in that direction and away from the so-called “hot hatch” category characterized by machines like the Hyundai Veloster N, and Volkswagen GTI and R models. But slotting between those two categories makes it more versatile for enthusiasts as well as people who value quality transportation that does not require a second mortgage.

The first impression is the styling. Nobody buys a car that is unattractive; something they would not want to be seen in. The Mazda3 is a beauty with artistic lines that belie its hatchback configuration.

2019-Mazda3-Hatchback_04That, of course, requires compromises — in the Mazda3 a low roofline that dictates a fanny-down seating position and limited headroom in the back seat. If you want something higher and airier for Uncle and Grandma, check out the Mazda CX-5 crossover.

The Mazda3 Hatchback AWD satisfies on multiple fronts: With 186 hp and 186 lb-ft of torque from its 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, operating through a snap-shifting six-speed automatic transmission, it can nail zero to 60 mph in whiff more than seven seconds, with a factory-limited top speed of 131 mph.

2019-Mazda3-Sedan_44That’s respectable these days but not outstanding. Nevertheless, it’s just one aspect of a car that handles effortlessly, delivers a comfortable ride over most surfaces and cruises quietly on smooth freeways (though defeated by the many pimple-faced roadways around the country). City/highway/combined fuel consumption is rated at 24/32/27 mpg.

A die-hard enthusiast might not choose the Mazda3 Hatchback with all-wheel drive because it comes only with the six-speed automatic transmission, although there are manual-shift paddles mounted on the steering wheel. If you’re one of those, you can save $1,400 by ordering the front-wheel drive model with the six-speed manual gearbox.

2019-Mazda3-Sedan_46The tested Mazda3 Hatchback AWD came with a Premium package incorporated in the base price of $29,920, including the destination charge. With options, the bottom-line sticker came to $31,245 — not inexpensive but about $5,000 less than the current U.S. average price of a new car.

This is the fourth generation Mazda3, which comes as a standard four-door sedan as well as the tested Hatchback. In both cases, Mazda has been concentrating on upgrades intended to transform the 3 into a premium compact.

14_Mazda3_5HB_INT_2The list of equipment, including standard and optional items, testifies to the effort. There’s hardly anything missing that you might find on more expensive European cars of a similar size.

Safety-related items on the tester included Mazda’s Smart Brake Support, which uses a laser sensor to detect the risk of a low-speed collision, prepares the system for maximum braking and, if the driver does not brake, automatically brakes and slows the engine.

Other safety equipment: rear cross-traffic alert, radar adaptive cruise control, blind-spot warning, lane departure warning and lane-keeping assist, rain-sensing windshield wipers, LED headlights and taillights, and tire-pressure monitoring.

2019-Mazda3-Hatchback_28Not to be outdone on the luxury front, the tested Mazda3 Hatchback came with “Polymetal Gray Mica” paint, red leather upholstery, heated front seats, power driver’s seat with lumbar support, memory settings for outside mirrors and driver’s seat, dual-zone automatic climate control, 18-inch black alloy wheels, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bose premium audio, SXM satellite and HD radio, and Bluetooth connectivity.

If you were new to the Mazda3 and had not been briefed, you’d likely be unaware that it is now available with all-wheel drive (front-wheel drive is standard). The system is unobtrusive in normal driving. However, dive at speed into a tight curve on a winding road and the tires take a bite with good steering feel. The all-wheel drive is biased slightly toward the rear wheels for improved cornering.

2019-Mazda3-Hatchback_15The Mazda3, as noted, also can be ordered as a standard four-door sedan. Of the two, however, the Hatchback is the choice here. Though it is four inches shorter than the sedan, it has a total interior volume of 111 cubic feet, with 20 of those for cargo and 91 for passengers. The sedan has a total of 108 cubic feet with 96 for passengers and a trunk of just 12 cubic feet.

Competitors include the hatchback versions of the Honda Civic, Subaru Impreza, Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte, Toyota Corolla, Chevrolet Cruze and Ford Focus, as well as the Volkswagen Golf.

2019-Mazda3-Hatchback_05Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Mazda3 AWD w/Premium Package four-door hatchback.
  • Engine: 2.5-liter four-cylinder; 186 hp, 186 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual-shifting mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 91/20 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,228 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 24/32/27 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $29,820.
  • Price as tested: $31,245.

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

2019-Mazda3-Hatchback_08Photos: Mazda

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