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SUV Reviews

2021 Lexus NX 300h Luxury: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Driving alone is one of those pleasant outings you can experience during the coronavirus pandemic, and even more so if your ride is the 2021 Lexus NX 300h crossover sport utility vehicle.

You don’t have to wear a mask and you can settle into and ogle the pleasant, quality interior, set off as in the tested NX with crème perforated leather upholstery and black accents. And even if you decide not to drive, you can simply sit in the comfortable, well bolstered seats, leave the automatic climate control running, keep the doors locked, lower the power seatbacks and maybe even take a nap.

In that case your fuel economy would be dragged down a bit from the NX’s excellent city/highway/combined EPA rating of 33/30/31 mpg — one result of the vast, established hybrid experience of luxury Lexus’s parent company, Toyota.

On the NX, it consists of a 2.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine mated to three electric motors dancing together to drive all four wheels through a continuously-variable automatic transmission (CVT). As many people now are aware, CVTs are smooth, smooth, with no shift points.

However, in case the NX owner wants a bit more verve, an easy selection of the Sport driving mode triggers an onboard computer that mimics a six-speed automatic’s shift points, controlled by paddles on the steering wheel. So you don’t have to be shiftless, although the system doesn’t entirely trust you and will shift for you if you butcher it.

Positioned a notch above the smaller entry-level Lexus UX SUV, the NX is a luxury competitor and is priced accordingly. In common parlance, it is referred to as a compact crossover. However, in the often confusing vehicle size designations it has the interior space of a midsize sedan. Competitors include the Acura RDX, BMW X1, Volvo XC40, Audi Q3, Cadillac XT4 and Mercedes-Benz GLB.

The tested NX 300h Luxury version came with a base price of $47,535, including the destination charge. With a fairly short list of options, the bottom line sticker price came to $52,434. With that, it had the stones of safety and luxury to match almost any luxury automobile.

Safety: Automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind-spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert, panoramic backup camera, lane-tracing with steering assist, road-sign detection, rain-sensing windshield wipers, all-speed dynamic radar cruise control and automatic high beam headlights.

Luxury: Perforated leather heated and ventilated front seats with memory, navigation system, premium Mark Levinson surround-sound audio, heated power-adjustable steering wheel, auto-dimming and heated outside mirrors, power motorized glass sunroof, power rear tailgate, SXM satellite radio, voice command with Siri Eyes Free and Google Voice, and Android Auto and Apple Car Play connectivity. 

The NX is not the quickest kid on the block. The total gasoline/electric system horsepower is 194, with 152 lb-ft of torque. Lexus lists the zero to 60 acceleration time at 9.1 seconds with a top speed of 112. But punch in the Sport mode and it feels faster than that. You’ll not be embarrassed at stop lights or freeway on-ramps.

It’s a quiet, comfortable long-distance runner, though you quickly realize that the suspension system delivers a stiff ride—no doubt because the engineers decided to dial in some extra handling prowess. On curving roads, it is stable at speeds with little body lean.

The windshield side pillars (called A-pillars in the industry) are cleverly angled so that the driver, with little effort on a two-lane tight corner, can see around the left one to check if a vehicle is coming in the opposite direction.

There is a bit of a visibility problem in back, however. The rear seat headrests are large and block part of the view to the rear. But there’s a thoughtful fix. The seatbacks on the tested NX Luxury are powered and can be dropped nearly flat with the touch of buttons—two in the cargo compartment and two on the dash, so a lone driver can fold them without leaving the front seat. However, they will not fold if the NX is moving.

Even with the seatbacks folded, the wide rear D-pillars block some of the rear view. The tester came with blind-spot warning but it’s still best to adjust the outside mirrors out far enough to enable a 180-degree  view to the rear. Outside mirrors are the original blind-spot warning but seldom are correctly adjusted.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Lexus NX 300h Luxury four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine/motors: 2.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline; three hybrid electric motors; total system output: 194 hp, 152 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Single speed continuously-variable automatic with stepped manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 3 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 5 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 97/17 cubic feet. 
  • Weight: 4,180 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 33/30/31 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $47,535.
  • Price as tested: $52,434.

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

Photos (c) Lexus

2021 BMW X1 xDrive28i: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

If it were a thinking creature, the 2021 BMW X1 xDrive28i likely would be befuddled by the different descriptions attached to it. 

The Bavarian Motor Works, which builds the X1 in a plant in Regensburg, Germany, calls it a sports activity vehicle and places it at the entry level of the company’s extensive lineup of what others call crossover sport utility vehicles.

Yet it actually is larger than the next step up in the lineup, the BMW X2. Both are described as subcompacts in the crossover realm away from BMW. But the Environmental Protection Agency, keeper of fuel economy ratings, classifies the X1 as a large car with a hatchback.

That’s because the EPA’s categories are based not on length, or weight, or wheelbase (the distance between the centers of the front and rear wheels), but on the inside space in cubic feet, including both the passenger and cargo room.

A car with more than 120 cubic feet of space for people and cargo gets a classification as large. The BMW X1 has a total of 128 cubic feet, with 101 for passengers and 27 for cargo behind the second row of seats. Like other crossovers, it has a rear hatch to access cargo.

The more expensive X2, on the other hand, has a total interior volume of 115 cubic feet, divided into 93 for passengers and 22 for cargo. It also is lighter, and shorter in length and height than the X1. Moving up the scale of  BMW’s SAVs are the X3, X4, X5, X6 and X7, some of which are built in the company’s U.S. plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

The one thing you always can count on with BMW is exceptional performance and excellent handling. It dates back to the superb 1967 BMW 1600, which Car and Driver magazine described then as the world’s best $2,500 car. It was the template for the brand, though it was overshadowed by the 1968 BMW 2002, which came with a bigger and more powerful four-cylinder engine dictated by U.S. anti-pollution requirements. 

Though BMW focused on performance sedans and the occasional sports car, it quickly recognized how buyers became entranced by crossover SUVs. In the first six months of 2020, 55% of BMW’s 154,204 U.S. sales were of crossovers.

The 2021 BMW X1 is mostly a carryover from the 2020 model. Though it operates in luxury/performance territory, it is not outrageously expensive, with a 2020 base price of $38,195, including the destination charge, which is only a few thousand dollars more than the current average price of a new automobile in the U.S.

However, like other European cars in the category, it has an options list that marches out to the horizon. The tested X1 came with $10,450 worth of extras that brought the bottom-line sticker price up to $48,645. But you’d hardly want any more.

Start with the power train. The tested X1 xDrive28i—the xDrive is BMW-speak for all-wheel drive—comes with a 228 horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 258 pound-feet of torque. The power is transferred via an eight-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode controlled by steering-wheel paddles.

It’s enough to propel the X1 to 60 miles an hour in about six seconds, with a top speed near 140 miles an hour and fuel economy that won’t break the bank. The EPA rates its city/highway/combined fuel economy at 23/31/26 mpg on the recommended premium gasoline. 

An idle stop-start system boosts the fuel economy somewhat but it causes hesitation off the line. It can be turned off but there still is some slight lag when you punch the throttle, and it happens in any of the three selectable drive modes: Eco Pro, Comfort and Sport. The last mainly holds the transmission shift points to higher engine revolutions before shifting and is the preferred setting for spirited motoring.

Meeting expectations of BMW, the X1 handles nearly like a sports sedan, tracking true with almost no body lean around curves. The tradeoff is a ride that nods toward stiffness. Sport seats hold the torso tightly, and the X1 cruises quietly at speed on freeways.

One annoyance. The panoramic glass sunroof on the test X1 came with a flimsy perforated sunshade that admitted too much heat and light—probably OK in northern Europe but it makes the air conditioning less effective in 90-100 degree heat in some areas of the U.S.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 BMW X1 xDrive28i four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 228 hp, 258 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 8 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 3 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 101/27 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,715 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 23/31/26. Premium fuel recommended.
  • Base price, including destination charge (2020): $38,195.
  • Price as tested: $48,645.

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

Photos (c) BMW

Drive After Drive in the 2020 Acura MDX

by Jason Fogelson

I have a friend whose sister Amy recently bought her fourth Acura MDX in a row. She owned a first-generation (2001 – 2006); a second-generation (2007 – 2013); and a third-generation (2014 – present) MDX, and just upgraded to a 2020 Acura MDX AWD A-Spec – just like the one that I spent a week test-driving recently. Amy is a medical professional in California, so she’s quite busy with serious business right now. But she did take the time to tell me what she loved about MDX, and why she’s stuck with the model over the past two decades.

Her family had always been luxury car buyers – her dad favored Mercedes-Benz vehicles, while her mom was a Jaguar driver. Her brother (my friend) has rarely been without a Porsche 911. When Amy started a family, she wanted to get a three-row SUV to accommodate her children. While she was accustomed to luxury vehicles, she didn’t want to fall into the European pattern that the rest of her family had followed, and stumbled across the MDX. She appreciated the build quality, the V6 engine, the standard all-wheel drive and the roomy interior of the MDX, and claims that each generation has built on the original’s promise. 

I’ve driven each generation of MDX, and I have to agree with Amy. And the latest iteration of the third generation is even better. 

Though MDX is bigger and roomier than before, it is also lighter and more powerful – which means that it performs and handles better. First- and second-generation MDX models weighed in at about 4,600 lbs, while the 2020 MDX AWD A-Spec (list price $54,900) comes in between 4239 – 4264 (depending on equipment). Its naturally aspirated (non-turbo) gasoline 3.5-liter V6 engine pumps out 290 hp and 267 lb-ft of torque through a nine-speed automatic transmission, and is rated to achieve 19 mpg city/25 mpg highway/21 mpg combined. 

The A-Spec package ($3,500) is a 2020 first for MDX. It includes A-Spec styling, sport seats with Alcantara inserts and contrast stitching, sport pedals, ventilated seats, 20-inch alloy wheels with all-season tires, and LED fog lights. Selecting the A-Spec package automatically includes the Technology package ($5,000), a comprehensive group of upgrades including navigation with voice recognition, AcuraLink Communication System, Acura ELS Studio Premium Audio System with 10 speakers, HD Radio, Blind Spot Information, remote engine start, rain-sensing wipers, power-folding side mirrors, LED puddle lights, rear cross-traffic monitor, and front and rear parking sensors. Add $400 for the premium exterior color (Apex Blue Pearl, worth every penny) and $995 for Destination and Handling, and the as-tested price for my 2020 MDX AWD A-Spec came out to $56,295. That’s substantially more than the average transaction price for a car in the United States right now, which hovers around $35,000, but actually a competitive price measured against other three-row luxury SUVs on the market right now, like the Lexus RX-L, Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class, BMW X5, Infiniti QX60, Audi Q7, Cadillac XT6 and Volvo XC90. MDX is also available in a front-wheel drive variant starting at $44,500, using the same V6 engine as the AWD version, and as an MDX Sport Hybrid Super Handling All-Wheel Drive starting at $53,000, using a 3.0-liter V6 and three electric motors.

Driving the MDX, I really appreciated the comfortable, yet sporty and nimble ride. The nine-speed automatic transmission is seamless, and does a great job of downshifting multiple gears when needed. The Integrated Dynamics System allowed me to easily select Comfort, Normal or Sport mode, shaping throttle response, shift mapping, AWD settings, steering response and Active Sound Control (noise cancelling) all at once for the desired effect. I wish I could have tested an MDX with the new Active Damper System, but that’s part of the Advance Package, not A-Spec. I always enjoy driving an Acura with SH-AWD (Super Handing All-Wheel Drive), which includes torque vectoring. Torque vectoring sharpens turn-in by directing power to the outside wheels in a turn, and Acura’s system is one of the best in its class.

Each MDX includes AcuraWatch active safety features. On A-Spec, the list includes Adaptive Cruise Control, Collision Mitigation Braking, Road Departure Mitigation, Forward Collison Warning, Lane Departure Warning, and Lane Keeping Assist System. For long drives on the (now wide-open) freeways, this combination of features and functions takes you part of the way toward autonomous driving. Set the cruise, keep your hands on the wheel, and AcuraWatch will help keep you between the lines. It makes a nice drive very relaxing. 

I know that my friend’s sister Amy appreciates all the relaxation she can get right now, and I hope that her new 2020 Acura MDX is helping. 

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

Photos (c) Acura

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

Driving at a Social Distance in the 2020 Audi Q3

by Jason Fogelson

Driving has become one of my calming tools during the COVID-19 pandemic. I am quite familiar with the social isolation we’ve all been experiencing, since I work by myself in my home office in the suburbs of Detroit. But still, there’s a big difference between working at home and sheltering in place. Every so often, the walls begin to close in, and I’ve got to get out. When I’ve got a special new crossover vehicle like the 2020 Audi Q3 S line 45 TFSI quattro in the driveway, the temptation to escape is even greater than usual.

My wife works in the public schools, so she’s been here at home this month as well. We’ve holed up in our respective corners of the house, each accompanied by a dog to keep us company. I always invite her to go for a ride with me – she’s very smart about cars, and often notices things from the passenger’s seat that I miss as a driver.

Right off the bat, we both admire the new exterior of the Q3, which has just entered its second generation of production. Q3 is now slightly bigger than before, and more crisply edged than before, giving it a more grown-up, executive feel that ties in nicely with the rest of the Audi lineup. Our test vehicle wears a striking coat of Turbo Blue paint, a bold choice that works well. 

Inside, Audi’s well-deserved reputation for classy interior design is on display. The dash is layered, with strong horizontal lines that help the cabin feel wide and expansive. All of the materials are precisely fit and of high quality. There’s a unity of design that matches the feel of the outside of the Q3. Our Q3 is a top-of-the-line example, fitted with the $6,900 Prestige package and the $500 Sport Interior package of options. The Prestige package includes technology upgrades galore: Alarm; HomeLink garage door opener; three-months of SiriusXM; Audi advanced key; Audi side assist with rear cross-traffic alert; Audi parking system plus; Lane departure warning; Aluminum inlays; wireless phone charging; full LED headlights; adaptive cruise control with stop & go; park steering assist; top-view camera; LED interior lighting plus package; stainless steel trunk sill and more.

Perhaps most significantly for the new Q3, the Prestige package includes the latest version of the Audi MMI touch response system with a 10.1-inch touchscreen (up from the standard 8.8-inch unit) and the 12.3-inch Audi virtual cockpit (up from the standard 10.25 inches). Virtual cockpit has been a marvel since it was released in the flagship Audi models several years ago, and is no less remarkable now that it has trickled down to the compact Q3. From a simple layout of tachometer and speedometer to a live Google Maps satellite view, the virtual cockpit is customizable and flexible. It works in coordination with the MMI and voice control for infotainment and telematics.

The new MMI now incorporates a haptic touchscreen. That means that you get tangible feedback when you use the touchscreen, as it seems to push back against your fingertip when you change settings or make selections. Executing functions and changing settings is very intuitive, especially to smartphone users (isn’t that just about everybody by now?). You can also trace letters and numbers with your fingers on the screen in certain situations, making for another easy way to interact with the system. I spent several hours in the driveway exploring the system, putting it through its paces and getting comfortable with its operation – a very rewarding distraction. I also spent time listening to the excellent Bang & Olufsen 3D surround sound system with 680 watts of amplification and 15 speakers. 

How about actually driving? Yes, I did that, too. Q3 uses a small displacement (2.0-liter) turbocharged four-cylinder gasoline engine that produces 228 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, which Audi says can get it from 0 – 60 mph in 7.0 seconds, which feels right. It uses a quick-shifting Tiptronic automatic transmission with eight speeds, and quattro all-wheel drive is standard. The EPA estimates fuel economy at 19 mpg city/27 mpg highway/22 mpg combined. Suspension is five-link independent front and rear. Audi doesn’t make a big deal out of it, but Q3 handles well, with a low center of gravity and a direct steering feel. The quattro system enhances cornering in all road conditions. Solid build quality and ample sound deadening control makes for a serene ride on the highway, and an all-around big-car ride quality for such a small crossover vehicle. 

Both my wife and I were pleasantly surprised at how much we enjoyed spending time in the Q3, and at how much we found to admire about its interior over time. 

This compact luxury crossover category has gotten crowded with great choices in the past few years, attracting more downsizing sedan and SUV owners than expected as car makers make high-end features available across lineups. Compare Q3 to the BMW X1, Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class, Lexus NX, Infiniti QX50, Cadillac XT4, Volvo XC40, Land Rover Range Rover Evoque and others. 

Starting at $34,700 ($44,745 as tested), the 2020 Audi Q3 has what it takes to compete in the big leagues – and is a great way to get out of the house without violating any social distancing guidelines. 

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

Photos (c) Audi

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

Don’t Ignore the 2020 Acura RDX

by Jason Fogelson

Ignoring Acura is a mistake. While the brand has had its ups and downs in terms of awareness and popularity, its cars have never lacked in quality and passion. As the luxury brand of the Honda universe, Acura has a tall order to fulfil. Honda’s reputation for dependability, efficiency and competence is well-established, and Acura shares in that regard. If Honda and Acura share a deficit, it might be excitement. Even when the brands come up with an exciting vehicle, like the Honda Civic Type R or the Acura NSX, the limelight seems to fade quickly after launch. Blame a fickle audience; blame the marketing department; blame the shock of the new; it doesn’t matter. The fact is that most of us buy or lease our vehicles for a long-term relationship, and we’d be wise to consider factors beyond popularity and infatuation before making a commitment.

Advance Action

If you’re in the market for a compact luxury crossover, I’m going to point you in the direction of the 2020 Acura RDX SH-AWD Advance. I might be behind the curve on this, as RDX has sold over 450,000 examples over three generations since its launch in 2006.

RDX was all-new for 2019, the first Acura vehicle to be designed and engineered in the United States. It rides on an Acura platform, rather than a shared Honda platform as previous generations did. RDX is built in East Liberty, Ohio.

In a sea of automotive sameness, there are a few cool features that help RDX stand out in the crowd of compact luxury crossover SUVs.

Advance Beauty & Details

For drivers, there’s a completely transparent feature called “Torque Vectoring Super Handling All-Wheel Drive.” Torque vectoring is not new, but when properly executed (as it is on RDX), it can be a revelation. Simply explained, torque vectoring directs the twisting force on the wheels to the outside wheels on a turn, which can enhance control and turn-in. You probably realize that the inside and outside wheels rotate at different speeds during a turning maneuver. This is managed by a differential, which allows the wheels to spin as needed. A torque vectoring system takes this one step further – pushing the power toward the outside wheels during a turn. This can be done passively, by applying brake pressure to the inside wheel, or actively. RDX’s SH-AWD system can send up to 70% of the available power to the rear wheels, and up to 100% of that power to the side that needs it. In practical terms, what that means is that when you mash the throttle from a standstill while turning the front wheel, perhaps trying to make a right turn at a red light and merging into cross-traffic, RDX simply bites in, applying the power just how you need it, and you get a smooth, powerful merge, not a scary, out-of-control power slide. It’s very impressive, and compelling enough that you’ll want to try it over and over again. Torque vectoring is usually very challenging to explain and demonstrate – not in the RDX. The benefits are apparent at every corner.

Advance Interior

In another cool feature, Acura has taken an evolutionary approach to its infotainment system with the True Touchpad Interface. Everything operates intuitively, and as expected. The cool evolution is how easy it is to customize the system, and how it expands the widely used concept of favorites from the confines of individual apps to the whole system operation. There are eight primary “tiles” on the home screen that can be moved around to the user’s preference, and programmed individually with a firm press for specific actions across multiple functions. For instance, you can program a tile to start navigation to your home; another to dial a frequently called phone number; another to play music from a favorite SiriusXM channel; another to set climate control to your preferred function. Place the tiles so that your most frequently used functions are at the corners, and you’ve got quick, no-look access. It’s smart, easy to use, and best of all, easy to set up – no programming degree required.

Advance Beauty & Details

Not everything is perfect in the RDX. While I liked the character of its turbocharged 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder direct-injected gasoline engine (272 hp/280 lb-ft of torque), I found that I needed to select Sport mode in order to wake up its lagging acceleration. Left in “D” mode, the ten-speed automatic transmission simply took too long to respond to an insistent application of throttle.

I had no complaints about the comfort or fit and finish of the RDX, which I found to be exemplary all around. Acura’s paint quality is always great, and my test car’s Fathom Blue Pearl was particularly stunning.

Advance Beauty & Details

The 2020 Acura RDX SH-AWD Advance carried a list price of $47,700. Including a Destination and Handling fee of $995, my test vehicle had an as-tested price of $47,695, right in line with its stated competitive set of BMW X3, Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class, Audi Q5 and Volvo XC60. Tough to make a bad decision in that group. The only mistake would be to leave RDX out of consideration before making your decision.

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

Advance Beauty & Details

Photos (c) Acura

2020 Lexus GX460 Luxury: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

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

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

Front 3q Left Snow

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

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

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

Front 3q Right

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

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

Dashboard

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

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

Second Row

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

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

Cabin Cutaway

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

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

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

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

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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

Attracting Xennials in the 2020 Lexus UX 250h

by Jason Fogelson

I still find it difficult to think about a $40,000 vehicle as “entry level,” but the 2020 Lexus UX 250h is actually that – a doorway into the Lexus family. Lexus says that “UX” stands for “Urban Crossover,” and that the UX was designed to attract a micro-generation of Americans that they call “Xennials.” Xennials were born in the mid-1980s (putting them in their mid-30s now). They were born before the proliferation of smart phones and the internet, but they have come to adulthood in a digital culture. The 25 million American Xennials are connected, and comfortable with tech – so their cars have to be, too.

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UX comes with Apple CarPlay, Lexus+Alexa, Google Assistant, Voice Command and Siri Eyes Free. It gets a seven-inch full color display as standard equipment, upgradable to 10.3 inches when factory navigation is selected. The Lexus Enform Remote app is standard with a three-year trial period, easily loaded on iOS and Android smartphones for access to vehicle information and control functionality. A three-month trial of Lexus Enform Wi-Fi is included. Four USB ports are standard in the cabin, and a QI wireless charging pad is available for just $75. That’s a load of tech, and up-to-the-minute.

When I first explored the UX during a launch event for the 2019 model, I got caught up in the distinction between a crossover and a hatchback. Ultimately, I’ve decided that there is no hard line, and it doesn’t really matter – it’s more marketing talk than it is an actual set of rules or measurements. I’ve always liked hatchbacks better than notchbacks anyway, and I have come to appreciate crossovers more and more as they’ve gotten better to drive and less tied to their SUV roots. UX isn’t concerned with looking rugged, or pretending that it can go off-roading with a flock of Jeeps. It’s right there in the name: Urban Crossover. UX is sized and shaped for the city. It is compact, yet roomy, with 17.1 cubic feet of storage space behind its second row of seats.

Dash

The interior is luxurious, but not overstuffed. It is tasteful, neatly tailored and still comfortable, with a nice material selection and great (Lexus-level) fit and finish. It’s got a Dwell flavor to it, rather than Architectural Digest – younger, more athletic and appropriate to a Xennial audience without pandering or losing the Lexus identity.

As a commuter/urban runaround, UX hybrid has the right powertrain and driving character. First of all, the EPA estimates that the crossover can achieve 41 mpg city/38 mpg highway/39 mpg combined – very respectable. It uses a 2.0- liter four-cylinder naturally aspirated (non-turbo) gasoline engine mated to an electric motor for a combined 181 hp, sent to the front wheels via a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) for maximum efficiency. Lexus estimates 0-60 mph times at 8.6 seconds, which will keep the UX 250h running with traffic, not ahead of it. The CVT can be a little monotonous and drone on the highway, but in everyday driving, it’s fine. Suspension and steering are similarly middle of the road, neither remarkably good nor bad. I wouldn’t want to take a long trip in the UX 250h, but that’s not what it’s built for. On a daily basis, it delivers exactly what it promises – a luxurious, pleasant, connected experience in a stylish, attractive conveyance.

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My test car was a 2020 Lexus UX 250h Luxury Hybrid with a suggested retail price of $39,550 ($43,625 as tested). That’s about 25% higher than the average price of a new car these days. The competition in the luxury compact crossover includes the BMW X2, Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class, Audi Q3, Volvo XC40, Acura RDX, Infiniti QX30, Cadillac XT4, and Land Rover Range Rover Evoque – none of which are hybrids. You also have to include the gasoline-only Lexus UX 200 as a competitor, running about $2,000 less than a similarly equipped UX hybrid.

Will the UX 250h draw Xennials the way Lexus hopes? Possibly. But low fuel prices on one side and increasing availability of EVs on the other side may put the squeeze on this urban contender.

Rear

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

Photos (c) Lexus

 

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