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Frank A. Aukofer

2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid LE: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Corolla_Hybrid_008_C12A8DE2AAB24DFD329CCCFB6A2A6CFEEBA9A403Specifications

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

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

Corolla_Hybrid_009_7AB3C30F7FDDA2997F5A75013AC0E9623044E8D0Photos (c) Toyota

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2019 Cadillac CT6 AWD: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

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

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

2017 Cadillac CT6

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

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

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

2017 Cadillac CT6

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

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

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

2017 Cadillac CT6

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

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

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

2017 Cadillac CT6

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

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

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

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

2017 Cadillac CT6

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

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

2017 Cadillac CT6

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

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

2017 Cadillac CT6

Specifications

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

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

2017 Cadillac CT6

Photos (c) Cadillac

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE450: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The redesigned 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE450 possesses a heritage that none of its sport utility siblings can claim.

It is the direct descendant of the 1998 Mercedes ML320, originally described as the M-Class All-Activity Vehicle. It astounded the motoring public as the first SUV from a luxury manufacturer with an affordable price tag of $34,545.

All-new Mercedes-Benz GLE SUV to start at $53,700

By the standards then and now, it was a midsize. It also was a true SUV with truck-like body-on-frame construction, and solid off-road capabilities with an all-wheel drive system that could get you out of trouble even if only one wheel had traction.

Moreover, it was a true five-passenger vehicle, with a flat floor and three separate and equal back seats. It was unlike most vehicles nowadays, most of which are crossover SUVs with unit-body construction like automobiles. They usually disrespect any center-rear passenger with a narrow, hard cushion and little if any comfort. The GLE450 follows that trend.

Over the 22 years since the ML320, Mercedes switched it to unit-body construction and designed additional crossovers, to the point where it now has four: small GLA, compact GLC, midsize GLE and full-size GLS. It also markets the G-Class, a military-style truck-like SUV.

Der neue Mercedes-Benz GLE, San Antonio 2018 // The new Mercedes-Benz GLE, San Antonio 2018

Interestingly, the 2020 GLE450 comes across as a modern iteration of the original — better in most ways but not as good as in some. Besides the lack of comfort for the third-row passenger, and despite the fact that it is more than a foot longer than the ML320, it has less interior room.

The ML320 had 105 cubic feet of space for passengers and a generous cargo area of 45 cubic feet. The new GLE has 102 cubic feet for passengers and 38 cubic feet for cargo.

Of course, the GLE has way more sophistication, safety equipment and power than its predecessor. With twin turbochargers, its new inline six-cylinder engine makes 362 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque, delivered to all four-wheels with a nine-speed automatic transmission that can be shifted manually.

Der neue Mercedes-Benz GLE, San Antonio 2018 // The new Mercedes-Benz GLE, San Antonio 2018

The 1998 ML320’s 3.2-liter V6 engine had a five-speed automatic transmission to handle 215 hp and 233 lb-ft of torque. Fuel economy was rated at 17 mpg city and 21 mpg highway. Now, using the EPA’s new system, the city/highway/combined rating for the GLE works out to 19/24/21 mpg.

Other than years, the biggest gap between the original and the new GLE450 is price. The ML320’s price of $34,545, including the destination charge, as tested by this reviewer, pretty much covered everything. The standard upholstery was a sturdy cloth trimmed with leatherette that usually outlasted the optional leather. You also could order such options as side-step rails and a multiple-disc CD changer mounted in the cargo area.

In today’s dollars, that ML320 would cost $53,890. The 2019 450GLE tested for this review had a base price of $62,145 and, with options, the bottom-line sticker came to a whopping $85,120.

Der neue Mercedes-Benz GLE, San Antonio 2018 // The new Mercedes-Benz GLE, San Antonio 2018

Of course, the standard equipment and $22,975 worth of options included items not dreamed of two decades ago: Automatic emergency braking, active lane-keeping assist, Distronic adaptive cruise control, rear cross-traffic braking, rear collision protection, idle stop-start technology, blind-spot monitor, navigation with voice control, Bluetooth connectivity, Apple Car Play and Android Auto, four-zone automatic climate control, heated and cooled cup holders and front seats, powered rear- and side-window sun blinds, and even a way to perfume the passenger pod. To name a few.

The instruments and infotainment center screen are combined in a broad display across the dash that looks something like a wide-screen video game. Functions are accessed by a controller for the screen and a tiny button on the steering wheel to change instrument views. Younger owners will adapt immediately; older folks will require lessons.

Der neue Mercedes-Benz GLE, San Antonio 2018 // The new Mercedes-Benz GLE, San Antonio 2018

On the road, the GLE450 exhibits everything you expect from a modern Mercedes. The steering has a substantial, heavy feel. The luxurious interior is isolated from almost all nasty environmental noises. Seats are designed for long-distance support and comfort.

Though it’s a tall, nearly 2.5-ton machine, the GLE450 comports itself well on twisting roads, though of course it’s no sports sedan. The optional air suspension system keeps the wheels planted and the ride supple, though there is some delayed pitching and bouncing on undulating roads.

Time marches on. The 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE450 incorporates way more performance, comfort and convenience than the original M-Class. But it’s an evolution. The ML320 was a game changer. Which is better?

Der neue Mercedes-Benz GLE, San Antonio 2018 // The new Mercedes-Benz GLE, San Antonio 2018

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE450 4Matic four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 3.0-liter six-cylinder; turbocharged, 362 hp, 369 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall Length: 16 feet 2 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 11 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: TBA/TBA.
  • Weight: 4,990 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 7,700 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 19/24/21 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $62,145.
  • Price as tested: $85,120.

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

Der neue Mercedes-Benz GLE, San Antonio 2018 // The new Mercedes-Benz GLE, San Antonio 2018

Photos (c) Mercedes-Benz

2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The 2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio is a rarity. It is among a few crossover sport utility vehicles that openly disdain their category because they are all about extremist performance.

Yet because of the public infatuation with crossovers, it is almost a given that increasing, and increasingly expensive, numbers of them will be equipped almost like road-racing cars. Think Mercedes-Benz AMG models, BMW M crossovers and Audi’s Sport Division offerings.

2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio

The Stelvio Quadrifoglio goes bumper-to-bumper against those as well as more expensive exotics like the Aston-Martin DBS and Lamborghini Urus,

Italy’s Alfa Romeo is part of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. It has been working to build the brand in the U.S., starting with the 4C coupe and roadster, which were more suited to a race course than cityscapes. Then the company followed with the exciting Giulia compact sedan.

For the 2018 model year, FCA delivered the Stelvio, which basically was a crossover version of the Giulia. The name is taken from the highest pass in the Italian Alps mountains, where there are 48 hairpin turns over 12 miles of highway.

2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio NRING

The Stelvio comes in six trim levels, starting with the base rear-wheel drive model at just shy of $42,000, and advancing through the Stelvio Sport RWD, Ti all-wheel drive, Ti Lusso AWD, Ti Sport and the tested Quadrifoglio (the name is Italian for four-leaf clover). The Ti Sport and Quadrifoglio come only with all-wheel drive.

What distinguishes the Quadrifoglio from its lesser brethren is its twin-turbocharged 2.9-liter V6 engine, which delivers 505 hp and 443 lb-ft of torque. It enabled Car and Driver magazine, in an instrumented test, to nail 60 mph in 3.4 seconds and 100 mph in 8.8 seconds, with a governed top speed of 176 mph.

Though there’s hardly anywhere you can do that — at least without ending up in a jail somewhere — Alfa Romeo thoughtfully provided a race mode and Brembo racing brakes for weekend track use. There also are driver adjustable dynamic, normal and advanced efficiency (economy) modes.

2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio NRING

There’s a stop-start system, ostensibly to improve fuel economy, rated by the EPA at 17/23/19 mpg in city/highway/combined driving. Fortunately, it can be turned off.

The track mode must be set up separately. If you switch to it while plying the public roads, it defaults to dynamic, which provides performance shift mapping with suspension and shock absorber tuning. It delivers a stiffer ride, punishing on some surfaces, especially combined with the hard and well-bolstered sport seats. Best to use the normal mode, a good combination for everyday driving.

An eight-speed automatic transmission sends the power to all four wheels, where the all-wheel drive system is rear-wheel biased for better handling and cornering, although it can also send up to 60% of the power to the front wheels, depending on conditions.

2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio NRING

The transmission can be shifted manually with large paddles mounted on the steering column. Because they are fixed, the driver always knows where they are, even when the steering wheel is cranked one way or the other. It’s so efficient it’s a wonder that all shift paddles are not so located.

Inside, the Quadrifoglio is all about the business of driving. With the racing seats and some plastic trim here and there, it comes up a bit short on luxury. But it is as well-equipped as any sport/luxury vehicle.

2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio

The base price of $81,390 includes full safety and power equipment, though the cruise control is not of the adaptive type. Few would take it off road, yet it comes with hill descent control. Options that included a special $2,000 paint job, along with Apple Car Play and Android Auto, brought the tested price up to $84,890.

There is adequate seating for four passengers with decent head and knee room for the outboard rear passengers. There is a center seat but forget about it. With a giant floor hump and intrusion of the center console, it is not usable.

One drawback: the backseat headrests block visibility to the rear  quarters through the inside mirror, so it’s important to get the side mirrors adjusted properly to eliminate blind spots. For those who don’t or won’t do that, blind-spot warning is standard.The cargo area, with 19 cubic feet of space, is nicely upholstered and includes adjustable tie-downs to secure luggage during the inevitable temptation to engage in spirited driving.

2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio NRING

Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.9-liter V6, twin turbochargers; 505 hp, 443 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 5 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 6 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 97/19 cubic feet. (57)
  • Weight: 4,360 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 17/23/19 mpg. Premium fuel required.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $81,390.
  • Price as tested: $84,890.

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

2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio NRING

Photos (c) Alfa Romeo

2019 Lexus RX 350L: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

When you produce the 2019 Lexus RX, the best-selling luxury crossover sport utility vehicle, it never hurts to up the ante.

That’s the reason for the RX 350 L model, a slightly stretched version of the original with three rows of seats. RX sales in 2018, including the L, totaled 111,641 nation-wide, more than any other luxury model and all of Land Rover’s or Cadillac’s SUVs.

2018_RX_350L_01_1854DDD44F40A20159D5FB2E679DBF11CF655689In the Lexus lineup, the RX — the name originally was intended to signify “Radiant Crossover”—slots dead center among the SUVs: above the subcompact UX and compact NX but below the GX and LX. The latter two are full-fledged SUVs, with truck-like body-on-frame construction. The others are crossovers, built with unit bodies like automobiles.

The 350 L is built on the same platform with the same wheelbase — the distance between the centers of the front and rear wheels — as the standard RX. Overall, however, it is four inches longer.

That enabled the Lexus designers to squeeze in that third row, which ostensibly seats two. But it was not enough. Even though the second row has about eight inches of fore-and-aft travel, it’s not enough to divvy up and provide enough knee room for passengers in either the second or third rows.

2018_RX_350L_19_544D1BB8ACAB86AAC1D207684F272EE8A4395A5FAdjust the second row for decent space and the third row becomes a storage place for backpacks or watermelons. Moreover, even if you set it up for a teeny bit of knee room, it’s a chore to twist and turn to crawl back there. Forget grownups and reserve the area for agile small children.

With the second row all the way back, there’s sumptuous comfort for four. Both the front bucket seats and the outboard back seats are supportive with cozy bolstering. Upholstery is ventilated leather with the front seats heated and cooled, and the back seats heated.

As usual in almost every vehicle on the market, the center-rear passenger is disrespected, though in the RX 350 L, he or she need not be. The floor is flat, and the center console intrudes only slightly. But the seat cushion is high and hard.

2018_RX_350L_17_C591F9A39AAC9742668074F4D7B952976997110BThe classy surroundings include a wood and leather steering wheel and wood trim. A jewel-like analog clock resides in the center of the dash, topped by a large center screen that displays infotainment and other functions.

There is much that is familiar. The shift lever has traditional slots and the cruise control stalk on the lower right side of the steering wheel would be familiar to any Toyota or Lexus owner.

Shorter drivers will appreciate the Lexus decision to mount the outside mirrors on the doors. That leaves a small pane of glass forward of the mirrors, which enables a view of the ground and vehicles approaching from the sides.

2018_RX_350L_15_D8C0267CB3C528EA3342A7BBB82CD615B35826C9The RX 350 L is powered by a 290-hp, 3.5-liter V6 engine that develops 267 lb-ft of torque, enough propel this luxury critter to 60 mph in less than eight seconds, which is respectable in any company. An eight-speed automatic transmission sends the power to all four wheels, which automatically adjust traction depending on conditions.

There are driver-selectable drive modes: eco, normal and sport. The modes adjust shock absorbers and shift mapping for fuel economy, more aggressive acceleration or everyday driving.

2018_RX_350L_21_EDEC9ADB65343041C6CD3386355726C32D9F2D53The normal setting will do fine for most drivers. This is not a vehicle for rapid flogging around hilly curves. Laid-back cruising in lavish surroundings with silent running exceeded only by an electric car is its forte.

Handling is capable, though not what any enthusiast would regard as sporting, and straight-line tracking is fatigue-free with minimal corrections needed. Augmenting the comfort equation is a supple suspension system that keeps everything planted and also delivers a creamy ride.

2018_RX_350L_12_34677EBDE98217061B58D281215B1EE07AD983BAStandard equipment, as part of the base $50,195 price, included pre-collision braking with pedestrian detection, dynamic adaptive radar cruise control, lane-keeping assist, automatic headlight high beams, rain-sensing windshield wipers, tri-zone automatic climate control, power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, memory settings for seats and outside mirrors, and SXM satellite radio.

Options on the tested RX 350 L included the wood and leather steering wheel, rear camera with a panoramic view, parking assist with automatic braking, blind-spot monitor, a color head-up display, touch-free power rear tailgate, navigation system, Mark Levinson 15-speaker premium audio package, auto-leveling LED headlights with washers, and LED turn signal lights and rear combination lights. All of that brought the suggested delivered price up to $60,579.

2018_RX_350L_20_BA2ADF9A8AE9C9310258B2970A2DB0685106A11ESpecifications

  • Model: 2019 Lexus RX 350L AWD four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 3.5-liter V6; 290 hp, 267 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 5 inches.
  • Height: 6 feet 3 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 121/19 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,387 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 3,500 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 18/25/21 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $50,195.
  • Price as tested: $60,579.

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

2018_RX_350L_08_CC77938F17406CC47991BE560BAC65BCCCDB53D6Photos (c) Lexus

2019 Hyundai Elantra Limited: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Large-33686-2019ElantraSpecifications

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

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

Large-34119-2019ElantraPhotos (c) Hyundai

2019 Buick Envision: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Some potential customers might hesitate because the 2019 Buick Envision is, in fact, a Chinese-made crossover sport utility vehicle with 86% of its parts made in China, not a quintessentially American vehicle.

Nowadays, almost everything you pick up is made in China: shoes, clothing, appliances, you name it. We haven’t minded much, even when the quality may not be great, because the prices are competitive. There’s also a soft spot because China was our ally in WWII, though not in the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

2019 Buick Envision

It’s an old story. After World War II, Japanese products started coming into the U.S. They were widely derided — cheap but of poor quality. Later, after the American reconstruction of Japan, the situation reversed, especially with automobiles, when Japanese cars like Toyota and Honda became quality benchmarks.

In recent years, South Korea followed Japan and delivers high quality cars and crossovers from Hyundai and Kia.

Now we’re seeing increasing numbers of vehicles made in China, which has become the world’s biggest market for cars and light trucks. In 2018, sales in China totaled more than 23 million, compared to more than 17 million in the United States. Chinese manufacturers are exploring exporting vehicles here.

2019 Buick Envision

We can visualize the Envision, Buick’s luxury compact crossover, as a bellwether for vehicles to come. Moreover, it is well designed and  has earned good quality and reliability ratings.

Tested for this review was the all-wheel drive Premium II trim level. It had a base price of $44,795 and, with options, a not-inexpensive sticker of $48,435.

It came with full safety equipment, some optional. Included were automatic collision mitigation braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, surround-vision rear camera, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, and a head-up display.

2019 Buick Envision

A full suite of connectivity features included OnStar services and Buick Infotainment with an eight-inch center screen, navigation with voice recognition, Bluetooth audio streaming, Apple Car Play and Android Auto, 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot and SXM satellite radio.

Though some other modern luxury cars have systems that are irritatingly complex, the Envision keeps things simple. For example, instead of going through a series of annoying steps to pre-set radio and satellite stations, in the Envision you simply find the station and touch the screen to save it.

Comfort and convenience features included tri-zone climate control, power tailgate, perforated leather upholstery with heated and cooled front seats, heated outboard back seats, memory settings for front seats and outside mirrors, panoramic sunroof with opaque sunshade and one-touch operation, and a Bose premium audio system.

2019 Buick Envision

The tested Envision was powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 252 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque A nine-speed automatic transmission sends the power to the pavement. A stop-start system contributes to city/highway/combined fuel economy of 20/25/22 mpg.

Though not as luxurious as some competitors like the Acura RDX and the as-yet untested 2020 Lincoln Corsair, the Envision has a well-designed interior. Front seats and outboard back seats are comfortable but without much bolstering. The floor is flat in back, but the center-rear seat has a hard cushion.

Outside mirrors are mounted on the doors with a small window pane forward so shorter drivers can see curbs and other obstacles. A nice touch: all four outside door handles have lock/unlock buttons.

2019 Buick Envision

Controls are intuitive and white on black backlighted instruments are easy to see and comprehend. One shortcoming: the nine-speed automatic transmission can be shifted manually but with a dinky button on the side of the shift lever. There are no steering-wheel paddles or a separate slot on the shift gate.

On the road, the Envision comports itself capably but without any sporting pretensions. The ride is compliant and comfortable, and the steering and handling feel secure under most circumstances, though you would not want to chase somebody in a sports sedan on twisting mountain roads.

2019 Buick Envision

The turbo engine delivers acceleration that will not be embarrassing in the urban stoplight sprints. Punch the pedal to the floor and you could hit 60 mph in the neighborhood of seven seconds. But the Envision is more endearing as a comfortable around-town and freeway cruiser, as befits its luxury orientation.

In the end, with this entry in the compact luxury crossover category, design and features trump country of origin. It may be built in China with Chinese parts but the Envision is a modern Buick through and through.

2019 Buick Envision

Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Buick Envision AWD Premium II four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 252 hp, 295 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 4 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 7 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 101/27 cubic feet. (57)
  • Weight: 4,083 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 1,500 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 20/25/22 mpg.
  • Based price, including destination charge: $44,795.
  • Price as tested: $48,435.

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

2019 Buick Envision

Photos (c) Buick

2019 Lexus RC300 F Sport: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2019_Lexus_RC_F_022_530C508CD852890AD76D5354C6F0EC328EEF1CD2Specifications

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

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

2019_Lexus_RC_F_006_569A8E436FB6584B4091E96293E06E544890B597Photos (c) Lexus.

2019 Chevrolet Blazer Premier: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

So it turns out that metamorphosis is not limited to lizards, insects or Gregor Samsa in the 1915 Franz Kafka novella. The 2019 Chevrolet Blazer stands out as a product of the process.

The Blazer had its gestation in 1969 as the big K5 Blazer, a precursor sport utility vehicle built on a body-on-frame truck chassis. It went through a number of transformations — call it a metamorphosis — over the years in various sizes and configurations until it hibernated a decade ago.

Now it re-appears in full butterfly mode as an all-new crossover SUV that mimics sedan-like unit-body construction, nestled between the compact Chevrolet Equinox and the large three-row Traverse. It is important for the brand because Chevrolet, like perennial adversary Ford, is bailing out of traditional sedans to focus on hot-selling crossovers.

As a competitor to the likes of the Honda Passport, Nissan Murano, Ford Edge and Hyundai Santa Fe, the Blazer adheres to the current formula of a tall, roomy, front-wheel drive station-wagon style vehicle with gobs of space for people and stuff, as well as the option of all-wheel drive for those places with nasty weather days. 

There’s 101 cubic feet of space — about what you’d find in a midsize sedan — for up to five passengers, with a capacious 31 cubic feet for cargo behind the back seat, augmented on the tested Premier model by a movable divider on tracks to segregate different stuff. Fold the rear seatbacks and the cargo area expands to 64 cubic feet.

Front seats and outboard back seats are mostly flat, okay comfortable but with little bolstering to hold the torso in cornering. The floor in back is nearly flat so you’d think that the designers could fashion a center-rear seat with minimal comfort. But no. As is usual these days, it’s a high, hard, uncomfortable cushion.

The Blazer comes in six trim levels with four-cylinder or V6 power and front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. The base L model with front-drive and nine-speed automatic transmission has a starting price of $29,995, including the destination charge. It is powered by a 193-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with 188 lb-ft of torque and a city/highway/combined fuel consumption rating of 22/27/24 mpg.

Only two models — the L and the $33,495 front-drive 1LT — come with the four-cylinder engine. The others are 2LT at $34,495; 3LT at $38,695; RS at $41,795, and Premium at $43,895. All have V6 engines and front- or all-wheel drive. The latter costs an additional $2,700 or $2,900, depending on the version.

The Premier tested for this review was the top of the line with all-wheel drive and a full load of equipment that required no options. Its starting price, $46,795, is the same as its delivered price.

Power is delivered by a 308-hp, 3.6-liter V6 engine that delivers 270 lb-ft of torque, enough to propel the Blazer to 60 mph in less than seven seconds. The juice gets to the front or all four wheels through the easy-shifting nine-speed automatic transmission. It has a manual-shift mode but likely won’t get used much because it’s controlled by a button on the shift lever.

The interior has a quality look and feel with soft-touch surfaces all around. Some of the design touches are obtuse but clever. For example, you can’t find a button or switch to change the temperature for the automatic climate control. A search reveals that twisting the ring around the circular center air outlets changes the temp setting.

There’s a big, deep console between the front seats with plenty of storage space. On many vehicles, that’s where you have to search with your smart phone flashlight to find a USB port. But on the Blazer, there are a couple of ports right in plain sight on the center stack. Nice.

The center screen is intuitive and easy to read. It controls the Bose premium audio system, SXM satellite radio, navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. There’s also a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot.

On the road, the Blazer is competent, quiet and comfortable with responsive handling to negotiate clogged freeway minuets, and full safety equipment like automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection to rescue even an inattentive driver. 

The tested Blazer Premier also came with adaptive cruise control, blind-spot warning and a stop-start system to enhance fuel economy, which the EPA rates at 18/25/21 mpg in city/highway/combined motoring.

Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Chevrolet Blazer Premier AWD four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine:3.6-liter V6; 308 hp, 270 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission:Nine-speed automatic with all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length:15 feet 11 inches.
  • Height:5 feet 7 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume:102/31 cubic feet. (64)
  • Weight:4,246 pounds.
  • Towing capability:4,500 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 18/25/21 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge:$46,795.
  • Price as tested:$46,795.

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

Photos (c) Chevrolet

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