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Rating the best and worst in cars, SUVs, trucks, motorcycles, tools and accessories.

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Frank A. Aukofer

2021 Toyota Supra: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Automobiles have personalities that they transfer to their owners/drivers. With the 2021 Toyota Supra, it is all about pure driving joy, and never mind the buckboard ride. 

With enthusiasts breathing heavily, the fifth generation Supra materialized in 2020 after an absence from the U.S. market of 22 years. You could argue that it was as anxiously awaited among its fans as the first-ever mid-engine C8 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray was to its disciples.

Unfortunately for Toyota, the two cars arrived for the same model year and the Corvette beat the Supra for the North American Car of the Year award, which is voted on by a jury of 50 automotive journalists from the United States and Canada.

Nevertheless, the Supra remains one of the best driver-oriented cars you can find anywhere at a decent, somewhat affordable price. Moreover, it only gets better for 2021, with a stiffer chassis, more power and the addition of a lower-priced model with a four-cylinder turbo engine.

The four-banger is the 255-hp GR Supra 2.0, which has a starting price of $43,985, including the destination charge. Toyota says it can nail a 0-60 acceleration time of 5.0 seconds — no slouch in anybody’s book.

Tested for this review was the 2021 GR Supra 3.0, which gets a bump of 47 horsepower over the 2020 model, along with refined chassis tuning. Aluminum struts connect the shock absorber towers to the radiator supports for increased lateral rigidity. The dampers also have been newly tuned.

A note about the GR designation for Supra models. It stands for Gazoo Racing, Toyota’s international motorsports program. The Supra was the first model developed by the Gazoo Racing team.

It is no secret, however, that the Supra 3.0 gets its power and some engineering expertise from Germany’s Bavarian Motor Works. Its  turbocharged in-line six-cylinder engine is the same motor that powers the BMW Z4 M40i. In the Supra’s installation, it makes 382 hp with 368 lb-ft of torque.

The grunt gets to the rear wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode — also from a German manufacturer, ZF Friedrichshafen. It is the only transmission available so far, though many enthusiasts would climb the ramparts for the rumored manual gearbox.

Toyota says the 2021 setup enables 3.9-second runs to 60 mph. However, Car and Driver Magazine claims its track testers made it in 3.7 seconds with the 2020 six-cylinder model, likely enabled by the standard computerized launch control.

There’s no question that the 2021 Supra is a head-turner — more likely a neck cracker. The tester was done up in bright red with black accents, some of them faux air inlets. The graceful 10-spoke wheels beautifully alternated black and chrome, and the sweeping body curves and lines invited gawking.

Inside, the leather seats (there are two) had substantial bolsters to cocoon the driver and passenger in place for whatever rapid moves they might undertake. The sensuous styling dictated a roof that droops down over the side windows, which means you have to duck way down to get in and out else you bang your noggin. But it has the advantage of functioning as a side sun blocker. In fact, the sun visor does not even swing sideways.

From behind the steering wheel, the driving and handling joy is palpable, despite the engine and road noise that can drown out the audio system and the harsh ride. Almost like riding a powerful motorcycle, there’s a feeling of total control and near invincibility. While only a fool would test its limits on the public roads, the temptation is there. 

The Supra is a hatchback, which actually enhances what would be meager trunk stash space. It’s 10 cubic feet, added to 51 cubic feet for the passengers. A removable cargo cover hides the contents. 

As befits a sport/grand touring car with a bottom-line sticker of $56,720, the tested Supra was well equipped with standard and optional safety, performance and luxury equipment. 

They included automatic pre-collision braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning with steering assist, color head-up display, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, 8.8-inch touch screen, navigation, Apple CarPlay, Bluetooth connectivity, wireless smart phone charging and SXM satellite radio.

A frugal buyer could do without some of the optional equipment, and even forego the 3.0-six in favor of the lower-priced four-cylinder model. Either way, the Supra exudes excitement. If there’s any credence to it, maybe wait for the more entertaining stick shift.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Toyota GR Supra 3.0 Premium two-door hatchback coupe.
  • Engine: 3.0-liter six-cylinder, turbocharged; 382 hp, 368 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and rear-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 5 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 51/10 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,390 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 24/31/26 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $55.485.
  • Price as tested: $56,720.

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

Photos (c) Toyota

2020 Volvo S60 T6 AWD Inscription: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Despite its tiny share of the U.S. market, Volvo offers an almost giddy array of models, including the 2020 S60, which earns high marks as a competitive sports sedan.

Though it looks and feels like a luxury midsize four-door, it competes as a premium compact against the likes of the BMW 3-Series, Infiniti Q50, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Alfa-Romeo Giulia and Audi A4.

The Swedish manufacturer accounts for less than 1% of the automobile and light truck market in the U.S., yet it offers eight different sedans, crossover sport utility vehicles and station wagons, including a V90 cross-country wagon set up for off-roading. 

There also are multiple trim levels. The S60 has four with three different power trains, including the S60 highpoint, the Polestar Engineered plug-in hybrid. Driven for this review was the S60 Inscription model, slotted beneath the Polestar. Others are the base Momentum and the R-Design.

The tester was the T6, which included all-wheel drive. Base price was $41,545 and, with a long list of options, the Inscription checked the bottom-line box at $58,690. Models with the T5 designation have front-wheel drive.

Lurking under the Inscription T6’s hood is a turbocharged and supercharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 316 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque, delivered to all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode. 

The base Momentum model comes with a 250-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 258 lb-ft of torque, and the Polestar Engineered version makes 415 hp with 494 lb-ft of torque. Independent tests rated the Inscription T6’s acceleration to 60 mph in the five-second range, while the Polestar dipped into four-second territory.

There are three selectable drive modes with descriptive names: Eco, Comfort and Dynamic. City/highway/combined fuel consumption is rated by the EPA at 21/32/25 mpg. 

Handling is sharp and responsive in any of the three modes, though Dynamic tightens up the ride and responses, as well as keeping the engine on the boil through the gears. Shifts are slick either in manual or automatic mode. The latter is preferred by this driver except when driving on twisting, up and down roads where the idea is to lock onto a lower, more responsive gear.

The engine emits a throaty growl under hard acceleration, then settles down to an unobtrusive groan for leisurely highway duty. Cruising obviously is less entertaining than hustling on curving roads but Volvo makes it pleasurable with one of the most attractive and comfortable interiors anywhere.

Materials and workmanship are of a high quality, with seats that live up to Volvo’s reputation for long-distance support. Even the outboard back seats are neatly coved with decent bolsters  —as they must be because of modest knee room. The center-rear seat, however, is way less comfortable, with foot room severely compromised by a floor hump that measures eight inches square.

Volvo’s designers either overlooked or disdained two obvious interior enhancements. The sun visors do not slide on their support rods to adequately block sunlight from the sides. And the sun shade for the panoramic glass sunroof is made of a flimsy perforated cloth. It may be considered a big plus in Stockholm, which at some times of the year gets only about 5.5 hours of light a day, but in hot U.S. summers it admits too much heat and light. 

A minor annoyance until you learn and get used to it is the vertical center screen for the infotainment functions. You have to swipe to get different screens and touching icons can be fussy. Don’t fiddle with them while driving.

Standard and optional equipment on the tested Inscription was expansive. Volvo jealously guards its reputation for pioneering safety construction and equipment, though many manufacturers have caught up.

Nevertheless, the tested Inscription came with a full suite of confidence-inspiring security and safety gear, including: low and high speed collision avoidance and mitigation with pedestrian detection, automatic braking after a collision, rear cross-traffic alert with braking, road run-off mitigation, blind-spot warning with steering assist, automatic braking for oncoming vehicles, adaptive cruise control, an informative head-up display, lane keeping assist, and side collision and whiplash protection.

Luxury and convenience features abound, including a killer $3,200 Bowers and Wilkins premium audio system, quad-zone automatic climate control, driftwood interior trim, Nappa ventilated leather upholstery, and power folding rear headrests.

Some frosting: The S60 is the first Volvo ever built in the United States, in Ridgeville, South Carolina. Skoal and Helan Gar.

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Volvo S60 T6 AWD Inscription four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged and supercharged; 316 hp, 295 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.    
  • Overall length: 15 feet 7 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/trunk volume: 93/12 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,910 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 21/32/25 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $41,545.
  • Price as tested: $58,690.

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

Photos (c) Volvo

2021 Subaru Crosstrek Sport: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Minor changes to a vehicle during its periodic life cycles usually are called a freshen or refresh in the industry, though it looks as if the Subaru engineers and designers took the bit in their teeth and ran with the second-generation 2021 Crosstrek, a small crossover sport utility vehicle. 

Among the changes: A smooth and powerful new engine shanghaied from the larger Outback and Legacy models, Subaru Eye Sight technology with adaptive cruise control and lane centering, new wheels and exterior design cues, and new colors: Plasma Yellow Pearl and Horizon Blue Pearl. 

There’s also a new model, or trim level, called the Sport, which comes with a special X-Mode all-wheel drive with hill descent control. It  carries some of the feature content of Subaru’s larger Outback Onyx, including a polyurethane water repellent and breathable seat covering called Star Tex, set off by yellow piping and stitching.

Most notable is the Crosstrek’s new 2.5-liter horizontally opposed four cylinder engine, which generates 182 hp and 176 lb-ft of torque. It is mated to Subaru’s continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), which has been refined to the point where even CVT deniers can find little to complain about. It has a manual shift mode that mimics an eight-speed automatic transmission, controlled by paddles on the steering wheel.

Variations of the horizontally opposed power plant, also called a boxer or flat engine, were used in many generations of Volkswagens and Porsches. Japan’s Subaru now is the only manufacturer that installs them in all its vehicles. 

In a boxer engine, the cylinders lie flat on both sides of the crankshaft instead of standing upright or leaning at an angle, as with inline or V configurations. Because of its short vertical profile it can be mounted in the engine bay’s basement, giving the vehicle a lower center of gravity, which enhances handling and stability.

Older boxer engines, including those in Volkswagens and some in the Subaru lineup, emit a distinctive exhaust sound, caused by unequal length headers, which affect the exhaust pulses. But the 2.5-liter in the Crosstrek has equal-length headers.

The result is a quieter engine that doesn’t sound like an arrhythmic boxer at all. It delivers a strong surge of power and glassy smooth operation—a revelation when you first get in the new Crosstrek and step on the throttle. For do-it-yourselfers, the new design also mounts the oil filter on top of the engine, simplifying oil changes.

But it’s no drag racer. Subaru rates the zero to 60 mph acceleration 8.2 seconds, not exceptional these days. The Crosstrek’s forte is comfortable cruising in a mostly quiet cabin, and capable handling around the curves aided by active torque vectoring for the all-wheel drive.

Cabin comfort is first rate for four, with supportive seats and a suspension system that gobbles road shocks. As usual in most vehicles these days, the center-rear seat is an uncomfortable perch with a large floor hump that keeps feet apart.           

The Crosstrek boasts some off-road capability, enhanced by 8.7 inches of ground clearance. Subaru’s surveys show that many owners take their Crosstreks on excursions into tough unpaved terrain.

This vehicle can take it. It incorporates copious amounts of lightweight high-strength steel in the body. Among other things, it enables the rear hatchback opening to be shaped squarely for easier loading of cargo. Subaru also installs connecting posts in the lower back doors that gain strength from the body structure for less flexing and protection in side impact collisions.

Though there are higher priced Limited and Hybrid models, the tested Sport came well equipped, requiring few options. The starting price is $27,545, including the destination charge, and the tester had a $1,600 option package that included a motorized sunroof, blind spot detection, lane-keeping assist and rear cross-traffic alert. 

It also had Subaru’s Star Link Multimedia Plus system, which included Apple Car Play and Android Auto, HD radio and SXM satellite radio, Bluetooth connectivity with audio streaming, and hands-free phone calling. The bottom-line sticker came to $29,145. 

If that’s out of reach, there are two lower trim levels — Base at $23,295 and Premium at $24,345. They use a trusty 2.0-liter boxer engine and, for enthusiasts, come with a standard six-speed manual gearbox. The CVT is optional. But the 2.0-liter is less powerful, at 152 hp and 145 lb-ft of torque.

With more than 757,000 sold since its inception in 2012, the Crosstrek looks to continue among  the chosen.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Subaru Crosstrek Sport four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.5-liter horizontally-opposed four-cylinder; 182 hp, 176 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with a manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 101/21 cubic feet. 
  • Weight: 3,296 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 27/34/29 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $27,545.
  • Price as tested: $29,145. 

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

Photos (c) Subaru

2020 Toyota 86 Hakone Edition: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

In American slang, “86” means to get rid of, cancel, eject or bury something. In the Japanese automobile industry, 86 is the name of a nimble Toyota sports car that is actually built by Subaru.

The joint venture dates back to 2012, when Toyota introduced the two-door coupe as the Scion FR-S (then Toyota’s youth-oriented brand, now 86ed). The FR-S name went away with Scion. The FR-S and successor 86 also was — and still is — sold by Subaru as the BRZ. The two vehicles gave each manufacturer something it did not have.

For Toyota, it was the 200-hp, 2.0-liter horizontally-opposed four cylinder engine, also called a flat or boxer engine. In a boxer, the cylinders lie flat, feet to feet, on both sides of the crankshaft, instead of standing straight or leaning sideways as in-line or V engines.

Subaru is the only manufacturer that uses boxer engines in all of its models. The configuration is the same as that used in millions of Volkswagen Beetles and microbuses from the 1930s until the 1970s. 

The other manufacturer currently using boxers is Germany’s Porsche, in its Boxster, Cayman and 911 models. In those cars the engine is mounted amidships, forward of the rear wheels, or behind them in a rear-engine design.

That leaves the Subaru BRZ and Toyota 86 with a unique layout in which the boxer engine nests up front and sends its power to the rear wheels via a driveshaft. Nobody else does a boxer front engine, rear drive layout. It also is the only two-wheel drive model in the Subaru lineup; the others come standard with all-wheel drive.

The 2020 86 gets its name from its production numbers — hachi-roku in Japanese. It still uses the boxer engine, now with 205 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque. Tested for this review was the special Hakone Edition with a six-speed manual gearbox (a six-speed automatic is available). Hakone is the name of a famed curvy turnpike near Tokyo. It also is the name of the Hakone Edition’s deep green paint, similar to British Racing Green.

The Hakone Edition package also includes bronzed alloy wheels and smart-looking front seats done up with black suede cloth seating areas trimmed with tan leather. But the fancy stuff ends there; the two vestigial back seats are monotone.

That’s likely because Toyota doesn’t expect them to get much use. The 86 is what used to be called a “two-plus-two,” meaning a coupe with tiny back seats and no knee or leg room. In an emergency, you could squeeze two small humans back there but only if the front seat occupants run their seats as far forward as possible, likely compressing the driver’s chest.

So think of the 86 as a two-seater, not unlike a Mazda MX-5 Miata with a hard top and a bit of extra space in back for melons or capuchin monkeys. At least the 86’s back seat augments the meager seven cubic feet of trunk space.

Another way to consider the 86 is as the smaller, less powerful sibling of the resurrected Toyota Supra two-seater, which comes with a 382-horsepower in-line six cylinder engine from BMW. At $56,720 as reviewed here, it costs twice as much as the $28,015 base 86.

The Hakone Edition comes nicely equipped for $30,825 with the manual gearbox. Prices include the destination charge. The test car had Bluetooth connectivity but no Apple Car Play or Android Auto, though it was compatible with those apps. There was an AM-FM radio but no SXM satellite radio.

However, the 86 is a pure sports car so the entertainment comes from the driving. Engine noise intrudes harshly into the cabin any time the tachometer needle passes 3,000 rpms. The zero to 60 acceleration time is less than seven seconds (compared to less than four seconds for the Supra).

For enthusiasts, the stick shift is preferable to the automatic. But the 86’s clutch action can be a bit touchy, and the shift linkage is taut and even a bit bumpy changing gears. 

Handling is the 86’s forte. It corners flat, and the somewhat stiff steering provides good feedback. The tradeoff is a harsh ride on rough roads. Combine the ride with the echoing engine racket in the cabin and a long trip on freeways could become taxing.

Complaints include a hard-to-read, tiny backup camera mounted in the inside rearview mirror, and sun visors that do not slide on their support rods to adequately block sun from the side.

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Toyota 86 Hakone Edition two-door sports coupe.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder; 205 hp, 151 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed manual with rear-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 13 feet 11 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/trunk volume: 77/7 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 2,810 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 21/28/24 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $30,825.
  • Price as tested: $30,825.

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

Photos (c) Toyota

2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

It’s still a puzzle why any luxury manufacturer would produce a vehicle like the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe.

It must have something to do with the psyche of some of its customers — people who maybe have the same mindset of those who rushed out to buy the BMW X6 after it was introduced in 2008.

2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe

To some, it looked ridiculous. Take a tall midsize luxury sport utility vehicle, with all its attendant practicality, and shave the roof so at least the part above the beltline vaguely resembles a sleek fastback like an Audi A7.

Never mind that the effect is that of a clumsy effort to produce a stylish SUV with limited rear headroom and visibility, as well as truncated cargo space. Or, as a Car and Driver magazine critic wrote, it “proves that some people really do want a running shoe with a hiking sole attached.”

2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe

Mercedes gives ‘em the Old Razzle Dazzle by describing its new AMG GLE 53 as a four-door Coupe. It’s even part of the official name. The company has produced other so-called coupes with four doors but some are tempting designs with sensuous fastback styling—what was called a torpedo body in the World War II era.

Except for the odd body and nosebleed price, the AMG GLE 53 Coupe has solid Mercedes-Benz credentials, enhanced by the company’s high-performance AMG arm. It is a mild hybrid with a 48-volt electric supercharger that contributes 21 hp to get things going without discernible turbo lag, connected to a 429 hp, 3.0-liter turbocharged inline six-cylinder engine that makes 384 lb-ft of torque.

2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe

It could hardly have less given its high performance image and curb weight of 5,250 lbs. Mercedes-Benz says that the AMG GLE 53 can nail 60 mph in about five seconds, assisted by the mild hybrid system off the line, which also enables a sophisticated idle stop system that barely makes itself felt. Top speed is governed at 155 mph.

The transmission is a nine-speed automatic with a manual-shift mode controlled by paddles on the steering wheel. Mercedes 4Matic all-wheel drive and an AMG Ride Control air suspension system are part of the standard equipment.

2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe

There are seven selectable drive modes for on- and off-road motoring: Sand, Trail, Slippery, Individual, Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus. The last is intended only for race track duty, and the onboard computer informs the driver whether there are any race tracks — or none at all — in the neighborhood.

The AMG GLE 53 Coupe is an easy driver, obviously with plenty of power, though it is almost six feet tall and has the substantial, even somewhat ponderous, feel of a big vehicle, though the heavy steering and handling feel secure on twisting roads. Because of the bias toward handling, the ride is a bit stiff.

2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe

Despite the off-road equipment, this is more of a confortable road runner suited to long-distance travel on Interstate highways. It is uncommonly well dressed, and the price tag bears witness to the long list of standard and optional equipment and features.

The starting price of $77,495, including the destination charge, looks almost reasonable. But the tested Coupe also came with a whopping $27,829 worth of options — an amount that could buy you a nice compact crossover SUV.

2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe

The equipment is too extensive to fully list here, but includes a suite of safety features enhanced by one of the biggest head-up displays anywhere, along with Distronic adaptive cruise control, emergency braking, heated and ventilated seats, four-zone automatic climate control, navigation, Burmaster surround-sound audio, SXM satellite radio, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. A particular favorite for this review was the massage function built into the driver’s seat. Relaxing.

2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe

There’s a bewildering array of buttons, switches and icons on the  console, steering wheel and center screen, some of them redundant. They can be learned but it takes time and practice to get everything set up properly. Don’t fiddle with them while driving.

The AMG GLE 53 Coupe does come up short in a few areas. There are no assist handles inside for entering and exiting. Visibility to the rear is limited, with wide pillars flanking a small rear window that resembles a machine gun port in a military bunker. And the sunshade for the glass sunroof is made of a perforated cloth that admits too much light and heat.

2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 3.0-liter six-cylinder, supercharged and turbocharged; 429 hp, 384 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 3 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: NA/23 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 5,250 lbs.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 18/23/20 mpg. Premium fuel required.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $77,495.
  • Price as tested: $105,324.

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

2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe

Photos (c) Mercedes-Benz

2020 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Ultimate: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

If raucous high performance defines motoring excitement for you, consider the 2020 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Ultimate.

This is a compact, front-wheel drive hatchback with midsize room that is distinguished by three passenger doors. There’s a long door for the driver and two shorter doors on the right side. Having the third door is way preferable to squirming into the back seat of a two-door.

Three Doors Open

Though it’s far from a sales standout in Hyundai’s lineup, the Veloster, depending on the version, qualifies as an economy car or all the way up to what some observers like to call a “hot hatch” — that is, a sports car in hatchback metal.

The Veloster has been part of the South Korean manufacturer’s lineup for almost a decade. For 2020, it comes in five trim levels: The base model, at $19,430, including the destination charge, comes with a 147-hp, 2.0-liter engine with 132 lb-ft of torque and a five-speed manual gearbox. Next up is the 2.0 Premium for $23,730, which adds a six-speed automatic transmission and other equipment.

Front 3q Right Dynamic

Both fall into the economy end of the equation, though they offer standard Apple Car Play and Android Auto as well as a suite of safety enhancements. Among them: forward collision mitigation and lane-keeping assist. They are solid, dependable daily drivers.

Move up to the next level and you get the stick shift Turbo R-Spec, which has a sticker of $24,080 and is a blast to drive because of its 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 201 hp with 195 lb-ft of torque. Get the same power with a dual-clutch seven-speed automatic transmission and the price jumps to $26,380.

Front 3q Left Dynamic

Which brings us to the tested Veloster Turbo Ultimate. It has the same power train as the Turbo DCT but more equipment and a bottom-line sticker price of $29,215. It comes equipped with blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-keeping assist and automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection,

The dual-clutch seven-speed automatic transmission is part of the Ultimate package. This type of automatic operates something like a manual gearbox but with two clutches alternately poised to engage the next gear instantly, computer controlled unless the driver opts to shift for himself or herself. The advantage is quicker shifts and improved fuel economy.

Dash Daytime

The tested Veloster Turbo Ultimate was gorgeously gussied up with bright red paint topped by a glossy black top. You could argue that it had an arresting presence — likely attracting any police vehicle in sight.

Inside, the effect was similar, with light gray, perforated leather upholstery trimmed with red stripes. The front seats were supportive and comfortable, with seatbacks well bolstered to hold the torso in hard cornering on curving roads. Oddly, though the tester was well equipped, even with a head-up display, the driver’s seat had only manual adjustments.

Second Row

Once you awkwardly work your way through the narrow right rear-door opening, the back seat offered decent head and knee room for average-sized adults.

On the road, the Veloster Turbo Ultimate was a stellar performer. But it might be a good idea to bring along ear plugs or noise-canceling headphones. Combine the racket from the revving turbo engine and road noise stabbing into the cabin, ordinary conversation or listening to audio is off the table.

Profile Right

Still, there’s excitement. With the snap shifts from the dual-clutch transmission, the Turbo Ultimate can nail 60 mph from rest in about six seconds, according to a test by Car and Driver magazine.

The steering is precise and responsive, though with a heavy feel, and communicates what’s going on at the front wheels. However, the ride, on anything but smooth asphalt, is harsh and upsetting.

Hatchback Open

Equipment is extensive. As the top of the lineup, the Veloster Turbo Ultimate came with only one option: $135 carpeted floor mats. Included  were a motorized glass sunroof, 18-inch alloy wheels, navigation system, automatic climate control, premium audio with SXM satellite radio, wireless smart phone charging and LED headlights and tail lights.

Curiously, the Turbo Ultimate actually is not the ultimate Veloster. Hyundai has developed a new N high performance line for some of its models. The designation resembles F-Sport at Lexus, AMG at Mercedes-Benz, V at Cadillac, S at Audi, R-Type at Honda and M at BMW.

The Veloster N comes in two versions: Standard package for $28,530 and Performance package at $30,430. Both have 2.0-liter four-cylinder engines. The Standard makes 250 hp and the Performance has a 275-hp four-banger. That’s the ultimate.

Front Dynamic

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Ultimate three-door hatchback.
  • Engine: 1.6-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged with direct injection; 201 hp, 195 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic with manual-shift mode and front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 13 feet 11 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 90/20 cubic feet. (44.5).
  • Weight: 2,987 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 28/34/30 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $29,080.
  • Price as tested: $29,215.

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

Rear 3q Left Dynamic

Photos (c) Hyundai

2020 Nissan Leaf SV Plus: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Although Tesla gets most of the attention and expensive newcomers like the Porsche Taycan and Audi e-Tron get the praise, the almost-venerable 2020 Nissan Leaf continues as a decent, relatively inexpensive, alternative for anyone who wants an electric car.

We can give it the venerable title because the Leaf was the first modern mass-market electric car from a major vehicle manufacturer. Introduced in the United States in December, 2010, it was the best seller until recently, when the Tesla Model 3 passed it.

Front 3q Left

But best-selling as an electric doesn’t compare with the resurgence of small-displacement fossil-fuel engines, which now dominate the market, mostly in crossover SUVs.

In 2019, electric cars  accounted for 1.9% of the U.S. sales of cars and light trucks. If you skip trucks and you’re just talking cars, it’s about 6%. So, motorist acceptance likely will not arrive for some years to come as manufacturers scramble for battery and charging breakthroughs.

But electric cars possess a great deal of innate appeal: They don’t pollute, they’re fuel efficient, have low maintenance costs, are quiet and relaxing to drive, never have to visit a service station and, best of all for people who enjoy driving, are natural great performers.

Front 3q Right Action

The excitement common to all electrics comes from the nature of the electric motor, which produces maximum torque, or twisting force, immediately when they are switched on. That’s unlike gasoline or diesel engines, which deliver their maximum torque when they reach a certain revolutions per minute (rpm).

With the Nissan Leaf electric, you sit quietly at a stoplight as if the motor is switched off, though it’s still connected. The light changes and you punch the throttle pedal. Wham! You have full torque, enough with the nearly two-ton Leaf SV Plus to nail 60 mph in about seven seconds.

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You don’t even need a transmission to multiply the torque. The “force be with you” for acceleration and passing exists because of the motor itself. That’s why most electric cars list the transmission as “single speed automatic.”

Drive the around all day, even take a short trip — the advertised range is 215 miles with its 62 kilowatt-hour battery — then plug it into a 240-volt home or commercial charger overnight and it will be ready to boogie again the next day.

Of course, the downside of the Leaf and other pure electrics is the time required to recharge the battery. With a 240-volt charger, it takes about 11 hours, OK overnight. If you have access only to household current, figure on a couple of days. So long trips, unless meticulously planned  for charging stops and stays at rural motels, are likely out of the question.

Dash

That likely will change as battery technology and charging equipment improve. Until then, most people will stick with their gassers, which can be refueled in minutes at an Interstate truck stop.

All of that said, the tested Nissan Leaf SV Plus is a nifty, even endearing choice. First, it’s a standard four-door hatchback with midsize room for five (though the center-rear passenger is dissed as usual) and plenty of space in a deep cargo area.

Front

The surroundings are familiar. There’s a simple knob on the console for shifting into forward, reverse and park. It’s different but not goofy. Instruments, controls and infotainment are all intuitive and mostly easy to figure out. If not, consult the owner’s manual.

It’s all set up for careful drivers who want to extend their range—and it works. First, there’s a B setting to augment the D for drive. Simply shift the knob a second time. It switches from a coasting mode on deceleration to one that more aggressively slows the Leaf. The regenerative braking helps recharge the battery while you’re driving.

Center Console

There’s also a so-called e-Pedal mode, activated by a switch on the console, that delivers even more aggressive regenerative braking that allows what is called “one pedal driving.” If you learn how to use it, you can re-charge the battery even more and never use the brake pedal.

The Leaf comes in five trim levels, with a starting price for the S version of $32,525, including the destination charge. Tested for this review was the SV Plus, which had a suggested price with options of $42,670. Others are the SV, S Plus and SL Plus

The tested Leaf posted an EPA city/highway/combined miles per gallon equivalent fuel economy of 114/94/104 MPGe.

Motor

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Nissan Leaf SV Plus four-door hatchback.
  • Motor: AC Synchronous Electric; 214 hp, 250 lb-ft torque; 62 kWh lithium-ion battery.
  • Transmission: Single-speed automatic with front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 92/24 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,909 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined miles per gallon equivalent: 114/94/104 MPGe.
  • Range: Up to 215 miles.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $40,675.
  • Price as tested: $42,670.

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

Rear

Photos (c) Nissan

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.

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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.

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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

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