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Frank A. Aukofer

2020 Lexus GX460 Luxury: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Although it is beginning to show its age, the 2020 Lexus GX460 has managed to stay relevant and even desirable among midsize premium sport utility vehicles.

The GX460 comes from the luxury brand of Toyota, with all the expectations of quality and durability that entails. But unlike most other new SUVs in its class, it is an older design that harks back to the days when most SUVs were built like pickup trucks, with body-on-frame construction.

Front 3q Left Snow

Though Lexus also produces crossover SUVs, which have unit-body construction like conventional sedans, it has stuck with the truck-like architecture for both of its top-line models: the GX460 and the LX570.

With that, it is out of sync with the avalanche of crossover SUVs in every price class that are taking over the market in the United States. Yet the LX460 is not alone. There still are quite a few truck-based SUVs struggling against the crossover onslaught.

The basic design has roots in the depths of the Great Depression when manufacturers started building tall station wagon-style vehicles dubbed Carryalls or Suburbans. Chevrolet’s Suburban made its debut 85 years ago, in 1935.

Front 3q Right

Modern SUVs came along in the latter part of the 20th century with vehicles like the Jeep Cherokee and Wagoneer, and what became the most popular of its genre, the Ford Explorer, which made its debut in 1990 and soon became a best seller. Over the years, it alternated between a truck-based SUV and a unit body crossover and also provided the basis for the Lincoln Navigator.

The first clue that the Lexus GX460 is no longer a fully realized modern SUV comes when you give the turn signal lever a brief click, expecting the three flashes of the lights to indicate a lane change — a longstanding feature on European cars and now nearly universal. There’s no response. You have to click the lever all the way and then turn it off after you change lanes.

Dashboard

Then there’s the lane departure warning, another safety feature especially aimed at inattentive driving. However, the GX460’s system does not include an assist feature to steer the wandering vehicle back in its lane.

Then there’s the so-called “refrigerator door.” Instead of the ubiquitous tail gate that opens overhead, the GX460 has a side-swinging door—not unlike the original Honda CR-V in the 1990s — that opens on the left side. Anyone loading cargo on the street has to stand in traffic. You could also argue that the 4.6-liter V8 engine with 301 hp and 329 lb-ft torque is also something of a relic in an age of powerful, turbocharged, small displacement engines. But there’s nothing like the Lexus V8’s surging, silky power, delivered to all four wheels through an unobtrusive six-speed automatic transmission.

Second Row

On or off the road, the GX460 is never out of breath or lacks power for the task at hand. It is a comfortable, serene highway cruiser with capable handling on curving roads, as well as one of the few vehicles of its size with a reputation for capability to negotiate serious off-road terrain.

Despite the fact that the Lexus GX460 last had a complete redesign a decade ago, it has kept up on safety equipment, off-road capability and luxury amenities. There are three rows of seats. On the tested GX40, there were captain’s chairs in the second row for a total of six-passenger seating. Mostly, owners likely will leave the tiny third-row seats folded flat to expand the stingy cargo space of 12 cubic feet. But to use the seats you must remove a big, clumsy cargo cover shade and re-install it.

Cabin Cutaway

With the third row folded, there’s 47 cubic feet of space and, if you also fold the second row, a total of 65 cubic feet.

No surprise, the 2020 GX460 has most of the equipment and features any customer would expect of a modern luxury SUV with a base price of $65,290, including the destination charge. And, as equipped for this review, an as-tested price of $71,240.

There’s automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind-spot warning with rear cross-traffic alert; automatic headlight high beams; radar adaptive cruise control; headlight washers; LED lighting for headlights, fog lights, running lights and brake lights, intuitive parking assist, auto-leveling rear air suspension and trailer sway control.

On the amenities list, there’s plenty of posh luxury items that include power everything, perforated, heated and cooled leather upholstery, and a rear entertainment system, among others.

Rear 3q Left

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Lexus GX460 Luxury four-door sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 4.6-liter V8; 301 hp, 329 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic with full-time four-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet.
  • Height: 6 feet 2 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 129/12 cubic feet. (47, 65)
  • Weight: 5,260 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 6,500 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 15/19/16 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $65,290.
  • Price as tested: $71,240.

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

Rear 3q RightPhotos (c) Lexus

2020 Fiat 500X Trekking AWD: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Whether someone becomes a fan of the 2020 Fiat 500X depends more on what the customer wants than the vehicle itself.

If the person’s orientation is toward a small crossover sport utility vehicle with some Italian styling panache, the 500X — especially in the Trekking trim tested for this review — would be a decent starting point.

2020 Fiat 500X Trekking Plus

If, on the other hand, the customer is seeking a small crossover with more versatility, including moderate off-road capabilities, the choice likely would be the 500X’s fraternal twin: the Jeep Renegade.

If off-roading, or even all-wheel drive, are not in the equation, there are many small crossovers at reasonable prices to check out, including the Toyota C-HR, Honda HR-V, Buick Encore, Subaru Crosstrek, Nissan Kicks and Rogue Sport, Hyundai Kona and Venue, Kia Niro and Seltos, and Mazda CX-3 and CX-30.

2020 Fiat 500X Trekking

The Renegade and 500X, products of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, share engines and transmissions, and are built in an FCA factory in Melfi, Italy. They also are similarly priced, though the Jeep is a bit more expensive because of its all-terrain equipment.

But the 500X, depending on the trim level, is not a bargain either. There are four trim levels: Pop, Trekking, Sport and Trekking plus. Tested for this review was the Trekking, which had a starting price of $27,490, including the destination charge. With options, it topped out at $34,550. Other models’ base prices range from $26,085 to $30,990.

1.3-liter direct-injection turbocharged inline four-cylinder engine 

All use the same engine and transmission combination: a small displacement, 1.3-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine that nevertheless makes 177 hp and 210 lb-ft of torque. All-wheel drive is standard, with a nine-speed automatic transmission — the same as the Jeep Renegade.

For such a tiny mill, the tested 500X felt strong on acceleration, though it was an illusion. There was some turbo hesitation off the line even with the standard idle stop-start turned off. Independent tests put the zero to 60 miles an hour acceleration in the eight-second range.

2020 Fiat 500X Trekking

Not particularly porky at 3,505 lbs, the 500X Trekking had respectable, though not outstanding, city/highway/combined fuel economy of 24/30/26 mpg.

With a fairly stiff suspension system and three adjustable modes — Auto, Sport and Low Traction — for  light off-roading, the 500X Trekking cruises fairly quietly on the public roads. But the ride is choppy unless the highway surface is pool-table smooth. However, the rigid underpinnings help the handling somewhat around curves.

2020 Fiat 500X Trekking Plus

There was no opportunity to evaluate the 500X Trekking off-road, though the all-wheel drive would come in handy in wintry and other nasty weather. However, the 500X doesn’t come across as an ideal road car for a long trip. The front seats are hard, with little bolstering and aggressive seatback cushions that could contribute to driver fatigue.

Outboard seating in back has adequate headroom for average-sized adults, although knee room is in short supply. As with many modern vehicles, the center-rear seat is a hard, uncomfortable perch compromised by intrusion of the front console and a prominent floor hump that leaves no space for feet so they must be widely splayed.

2020 Fiat 500X Trekking

Behind the rear seat is a cargo area that is small even by subcompact crossover standards. It measures just 14 cubic feet, about the same size as the trunks in some compact sedans. However, folding the rear seatbacks nearly flat expands the area to 32 cubic feet. Rear seatbacks are divided two-thirds and one-third.

The tested 500X came with an optional double-pane glass sunroof. However, following a current fad even in some expensive European cars, the sunroof shade was made of a sort of perforated cheesecloth, which allowed the admission of too much hot sunlight. Sunroof shades should be opaque.

2020 Fiat 500X Trekking

As it should be for its $34,550 sticker, which included a pricey $1,495 destination charge, the tested 500X Trekking came with a high equipment level. Standard items included SXM satellite radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, FCA’s U-Connect infotainment system with a seven-inch center screen, Bluetooth connectivity with voice command, passenger-seat height adjuster (it pleases shorter companions), automatic headlights and fog lights.

Options included a $1,395 an advanced driver assistance group with forward collision avoidance, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot warning, adaptive cruise control, cross-path warning, rain-sensing windshield wipers, front and rear parking assist and automatic high headlight beams.

Italian cars have always come with a certain indefinable appeal, more traced to styling and flair than deadbolt reliability. Most of the world’s renowned super cars — Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini, Alfa-Romeo — come from the land of pizza, gelato and Vespa motor scooters.

2020 Fiat 500X Trekking Plus

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Fiat 500X Trekking AWD four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 1.3-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 177 hp, 210 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic.
  • Overall length: 14 feet.
  • Height: 5 feet 3 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 100/14 cubic feet. (32)
  • Weight: 3,505 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 24/30/26 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $27,490.
  • Price as tested: $34,550.

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

2020 Fiat 500X Trekking Plus

Photos (c) FCA

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.

Front 3q Left

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 Nissan Titan SL Crew Cab: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Pickup trucks, especially those that are similar to the 2020 Nissan Titan SL 4X4 Crew Cab, are as much a phenomenon as utilitarian work vehicles.

Think about it. How often do you see a pickup loaded with furniture, cabbages, appliances or potted palm trees? And how often do you see empty pickups with only the driver threading his or her way through urban rush-hour traffic?

2020 Nissan TITAN SL

Of course, much depends on where you live. If you’re commuting in a big city, the pickups you see are likely substituting for the subway or bus. If you live in a rural area in Texas or the Central Valley in California, you’re likely to see them loaded with hay, cabbages or lettuce.

Americans love pickups. Around the world, they are small work trucks for people who need to haul stuff and can afford something more than a skinny-tired motorcycle on crowded streets, piled high with goods—and maybe even mom and one of the kids.

2020 Nissan TITAN SL

In the U.S., pickups are mostly giant vehicles that can carry a ton of cargo and tow motor homes or boats on trailers. They are undeniably popular with buyers, many of whom have no real need to haul trash to the dump or sod for the back yard. They are often family cars used occasionally to haul lawn chairs and kayaks to the beach.

In 2019, a banner year for motor vehicle sales, Americans bought 17,108,156 cars, pickups, SUVs, crossovers, vans and assorted specialty vehicles. Of that number, six full-size pickup nameplates accounted for 2,550,659 sales — or 14.9% of the total.

2020 Nissan TITAN SL

Leading the exclusive pack of six, as it has for nearly 40 years, was the Ford F-Series with 896,526 sales. It was followed by Ram at 703,023, Chevrolet Silverado at 575,600, GMC with 232,323, Toyota Tundra at 111,673 and the subject here, the Nissan Titan with 31,514.

Note that the sales statistics include all versions of a particular pickup. For example, the Ford F-Series includes the light duty F-150 as well as Super Duty models F-250, F-350 and F-450. The same goes for the other nameplates.

2020 Nissan TITAN SL

Unless you are a pickup enthusiast, you might scratch your head over why a buyer might choose a Chevy Silverado 1500 or Ford F-150 over the Nissan Titan SL that is the subject here. After all, they’re all about the same size with plenty of power — in the Titan’s case a 400-hp, 5.6-liter V8 engine that makes 413 lb-ft of torque.

The Titan is 19 feet long with four doors and 98 cubic feet of passenger space, along with a payload rating of 1,697 lbs and the capability to tow 9,240 lbs, according to Nissan’s specifications.

2020 Nissan TITAN SL

Competing pickups obviously can match or exceed that so perhaps the clincher has to do with price. The Titan is not particularly cheap, with a sticker price of $61,160. But the tester was the top-of-the-line SL with four-wheel drive and options that would do justice to a luxury car, including such items as automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, Nissan’s comfortable “zero gravity” seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, panoramic sunroof, around-view rear camera, memory settings for the power seats and steering wheel, blind-spot warning, SXM satellite radio, and Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Bluetooth connectivity, among others.

The interior was as luxurious as it was accommodating, with perforated leather upholstery and wood grain trim. The back seat offered generous room for three with a center-rear seat that was almost as comfortable as the outboards.

2020 Nissan TITAN SL

So the question might be: Why does the Nissan Titan sit in sixth place among full-size pickup trucks with sales in five digits, way behind the other brands? There are many reasons, but a prominent one is loyalty. U.S. pickup buyers are notoriously loyal to their chosen brands.

Still, to some non-pickup people, pickups are basically alike. They all do pretty much the same thing, so there’s little reason not to shop around and pick what suits you, never mind that your family has always driven GMCs or Rams.

The tested Titan, driven empty, had the choppy ride typical of heavy-load carrying pickups. But it cruised nicely at freeway speeds, with only the muted drone of its mighty V8 engine. The nine-speed automatic transmission shifted easily and the Titan’s handling, even on curving roads, was capable and secure — as long as you didn’t go too fast.

2020 Nissan TITAN SL

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Nissan Titan SL 4X4 Crew Cab four-door pickup truck.
  • Engine: 5.6-liter V8; 400 hp, 413 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with four-wheel drive and two-speed transfer case.
  • Overall length: 19 feet.
  • Height: 6 feet 4 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 98/47 cubic feet (estimated).
  • Weight: 5,603 pounds.
  • Payload: 1,697 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 9,240 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 15/21/18 mpg. Premium fuel required.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $58,785.
  • Price as tested: $61,160.

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

2020 Nissan TITAN SL

Photos (c) Nissan

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.

Front 3q Left Static

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

2020 Ford F-250 4X4 Diesel: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

So they say you’re not a real pickup truck person unless the $72,955  price tag  on the Ford F-250 Super Duty doesn’t faze you — even the $10,495 extra for the 6.7-liter turbo diesel engine.

Pickup fans are special, not like the rest of us, and many dote on oil-burning compression-ignition engines because of the torque, which translates into ginormous power. The Ford F-250 Super Duty’s V8 diesel conjures 1,050 lb-ft of the stuff, likely enough to pull down your grandfather’s barn or uproot that oak tree in the front yard.

2020 F-250 King Ranch

On the tested Crew Cab pickup, the torque, along with 475 hp, makes its way to all four wheels — if you wish — through a lusty 10-speed automatic transmission. A transfer case allows you to select two-wheel drive or even low range four-wheel drive for maximum grunt in the boonies.

You likely wouldn’t want to test your diesel F-250 in some trackless terrain, however, because it is one huge mother. Despite its 8.5 inches of ground clearance, this cookie is nearly 21 feet long and as tall as an NBA point guard, with all that implies for getting hung up on a rocky hump somewhere. Make sure you have a chase vehicle — a Land Rover Defender or Jeep Wrangler diesel.

2020 F-250 King Ranch

They would be there for minor repairs — changing a tire or refreshing the SXM satellite radio. But forget dragging it out of the muck or riprap. It weighs 6,568 pounds — and that’s empty — and though you probably wouldn’t venture off-road with a load of up to 7,850 lbs, it would be daunting. Maybe try a lift out with a CH-53K chopper from the U.S. Marine Corps, which can carry four Humvees.

No. The F-250 Super Duty likely will find its niche somewhere else, perhaps providing bragging rights at the local truckers’ saloon, or hauling some rich guy’s $300,000 Sea Ray fishing boat to the local marina for an afternoon of grouper fishing with the guys and gals from the corporate Presidents’ Club.

2020 F-250 King Ranch

For some, it likely will be all about image and a certain amount of practicality. The F-250, for all of its capabilities, can function as a family conveyance — as long as the parents and kids can handle the climb up into the cab. Don’t bother bringing the oldsters unless you’re willing to shoulder-boost their fannies.

Once inside, things get commodious. Unlike luxury cars, with their bulbous floor humps, the F-250 has a flat floor, especially important in back, where there are three actual comfortable seats with airy head room and plenty of stretch-out space for knees. Up front, the driver and passenger are similarly accommodated, with a smartly designed console that likely could accommodate a newborn calf but more likely a laptop and a box of decent Dominican cigars for rest stops.

6.7L Power Stroke diesel V8 third-gen

Except for some bouncing around from the choppy ride when empty, the Super Duty F-250 will carry five of you to the beach house in North Carolina’s Outer Banks, with everything you need or want tucked safely away in the cargo box, protected if you’re smart by the old shower  curtains in case of rain — or a custom bed cover if that’s your preference.

On the road, despite its bulk, the Super Duty cruises without curious behavior. There’s some drone from the diesel engine but not as much as you might expect. It tracks cleanly in a straight line and, if you don’t get silly about chasing Mazda MX-5 Miatas or Toyota Supras, handles curves without anxiety.

10-Speed Transmission

You won’t get killed at the gas pumps. Diesel engjnes are way more economical than our usual gasoline chuggers. Though the government doesn’t require economy numbers for machines in the F-250’s class, a test run of city, freeway and twisting roads for this review showed 18.5 mpg.

Though it’s a puzzle to many automobile enthusiasts, who value performance — and especially the tactile handling of sports-oriented roadsters, sedans, GTs and super cars — pickup trucks have much to recommend them.

Sure, they’re big, ponderous, usually thirsty and, by car standards, crude and clunky. But they obviously have a place in the automotive firmament, especially in the United States, their birthplace and nationality. Like Ford’s Super Duty F-250 4X4 Crew Cab pickup truck, they deserve their place, regardless of whether some of us get it.

2020 F-250 King Ranch

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Ford Super Duty F-250 4X4 Crew Cab pickup truck.
  • Engine: 6.7-liter V8 diesel, turbocharged; 475 hp, 1,050 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: 10-speed automatic with four-wheel drive high and low range.
  • Overall length: 20 feet 10 inches.
  • Height: 6 feet 10 inches.
  • Ground clearance: 8.5 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 132/65 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 6,568 lbs.
  • Payload: Maximum 7,850 lbs.
  • Towing capability: 24,200 to 37,000 lbs., depending on equipment.
  • Combined city/highway fuel consumption (observed): 18.5 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $53,710.
  • Price as tested: $72,955.

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

2020 F-250

Photos (c) Ford

2020 Hyundai Kona EV Ultimate: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

As electric vehicles go in 2020, the Hyundai Kona motors at or near the front of the pack.

The Kona EV is a small crossover sport utility vehicle, similar in many respects to the Kia Niro, no surprise because Hyundai owns almost one-third of Kia and the South Korean sister companies share engines and transmissions, though they do their own styling, other engineering and tuning.

Large-37051-2020KonaElectric

The Hyundai engineers have squeezed about as much power and range as possible from the Kona’s electric motor, which makes 201 hp and 291 lb-ft of torque, sent directly to the front wheels. There’s no need for the torque multiplication of a conventional automatic transmission because electric motors deliver maximum torque the instant they are switched on.

Unlike Kona gasoline-engine models, the EV comes only with front-wheel drive. All-wheel drive is not available. Still, independent tests have demonstrated that the EV is slightly quicker off the line than the Kona with the 175-hp, 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder gasoline engine.

Large-37020-2020KonaElectric

With a base curb weight of 3,750 lbs, that amount of power enables the Kona to scamper to 60 mph in the six-second range — not bad for what is described as a subcompact sport ute that has interior space of 111 cubic feet. That’s as much as a midsize sedan, though the back seat has a shortage of knee room.

Moreover, it is stingy with natural resources. With no fossil fuels directly involved — the electricity comes off the same grid as the juice that feeds your TV set and kitchen range — the Kona EV is rated by the Environmental Protection Agency as equivalent to 132 mpg fuel economy. And that’s around town. On the highway, the so-called MPGe is 108 and overall the happy owner gets 120 MPGe.

Large-37031-2020KonaElectric

Better yet, this little scooter is a joy to drive. The 64 kW hour battery pack, which enables an advertised range of 258 miles on a charge, is located under the floor. The lower center of gravity makes for a more stable set around curves, though the weight and suspension tuning makes for a choppy ride on rough surfaces. Of course, the Kona is blissfully silent at any speed.

Part of the reason for the decent range is an aggressive regenerative braking system. When the driver lifts off the throttle, the Kona immediately slows down, feeling as if the brakes had been applied. The energy produced goes right into the battery pack.

Large-36970-2020KonaElectric

The driver can control the system’s regeneration with paddles on the steering wheel, to the point where so-called one-pedal driving is possible. Much like the BMW i3, the Kona can be carefully driven without ever using the brake pedal.

There are three selectable drive modes: normal, sport and eco. Normal enhances the regenerative braking and eco shuts down some systems like the heating and air conditioning to extend battery life. Sport puts more power on tap, similar to higher engine revs on a gasoline-engine vehicle.

Large-36989-2020KonaElectric

Though there’s an onboard charger and a cord to plug into a standard 110-volt household outlet, it’s not anybody’s first choice because it would take a couple of days to get a full charge from a depleted battery pack. Better to use a 240-volt Level 2 charger at home, which can do the trick in about 9.5 hours overnight. If you have access to a commercial Level 3 DC charger, you can top up the Kona’s battery pack in about an hour.
Kona EV prices start at $38,310, including the destination charge, for the SEL trim level. Others are the Limited, at $42,920 and the top-line Ultimate, tested here, at $46,520. All versions get automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection and lane departure warning with lane keeping assist.

Large-36961-2020KonaElectric

The Ultimate also came with blind-spot warning, rear cross traffic collision alert, DC fast charging capability, navigation system, SXM satellite and HD radio, head-up display, leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, motorized glass sunroof, adaptive cruise control with stop and go, Apple Car Play and Android Auto connectivity, LED lighting and rain-sensing windshield wipers.

In the current panoply of electric sedans and crossovers, the Kona EV stands out in a group that includes the Nissan Leaf, Chevrolet Bolt and, of course, its garage-mate Kia Niro. But it also looks capable against  such higher-priced machines as the Jaguar E-Pace, Audi E-Tron and even the Tesla Model 3.

Large-36979-2020KonaElectric

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Hyundai Kona Electric Ultimate four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Motor: 356-volt electric; 201 hp, 291 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Single-speed direct drive automatic with front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 13 feet 9 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 1 inch.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 92/19 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,750 lbs.
  • EPA Miles Per Gallon Equivalent city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 132/108/120 MPGe.
  • Advertised range: 258 miles.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $46,295.
  • Price as tested: $46,430.

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

Large-36981-2020KonaElectricPhotos (c) Hyundai

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