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SUV Reviews

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.

Rear 3q Left

Specifications

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

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

Rear 3q RightPhotos (c) Lexus

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.

Rear 3q Left

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

 

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

Palisade: The New Three-Row SUV from Hyundai

by Jason Fogelson

The 2020 Hyundai Palisade is an all-new three-row SUV, replacing the Santa Fe XL with a bigger, more powerful, more luxurious SUV. The new name is intended to connote strength, stability and style in a very competitive segment of the marketplace.

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Built in South Korea for the North American market, the Palisade rides on a new platform, and is longer, wider and taller by about three inches in each dimension than the Santa Fe XL that it replaces, and rides on a 114.2-inch wheelbase (four inches longer than Santa Fe XL). It uses a bigger, more powerful V6 engine and an eight-speed automatic transmission, adding two speeds to Santa Fe XL’s capability. Palisade’s interior is more spacious, including 4.5 additional cubic feet behind the third row and an additional inch of third-row legroom. Hyundai has simplified its packaging for Palisade, with a well-equipped base SE model and loaded Limited model bracketing a more configurable mid-trim SEL model, designed to address both value and aspirational buying trends.

Front 3q Right

My top-of-the-line Limited model test vehicle came a dual sunroof, heated and ventilated captain’s seats in the second row (no bench option), premium Nappa leather seating surfaces, a 630-watt Harmon Kardon premium audio system with 12 speakers, QuantumLogic Surround and Clari-Fi Music Restoration Technology, a 12.3-inch full digital display instrument cluster, a head-up display, surround-view monitor, blind-view monitor, and ambient lighting – all standard equipment on the Limited trim level, in addition to the arm-length list of other standard features and the Hyundai SmartSense safety suite. This sucker was loaded – and all of the features, except for an optional ($160) set of carpeted floor mats.

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Palisade soaks up miles with ease, remaining composed over rough surfaces and cruising nicely when the roads get twisty. Selectable driving modes include Smart, Normal, Sport, and Snow, adjusting front and rear torque distribution, throttle and shift patterns at the turn of a center-console mounted knob. A heavy foot on the gas pedal induces some thrashy noises from the V6, which is otherwise quiet and smooth. Handling is smooth and composed, and Palisade exuded competence in all situations it faced. It’s really a pleasure to drive, and would make a great family road trip vehicle.

Engine

All Palisade models come with a naturally aspirated (non-turbo) 3.8-liter V6 engine with gasoline direct injection and four valves per cylinder with variable valve timing. Running on the Atkinson Cycle, the V6 puts out 291 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque. An eight-speed shift-by-wire automatic transmission with front-wheel drive or available all-wheel drive puts the power to the ground. Front-wheel drive examples of Palisade are rated to achieve 19 mpg city/26 mpg highway/22 mpg combined, while my all-wheel drive model was rated to achieve 19 mpg city/24 mpg highway/21 mpg combined.

Dash

Palisade is available in three trim levels: SE (starting at $31,550 with FWD, $33,250 with AWD); SEL (starting at $33,500 with FWD, $35,200 with AWD); and Limited (starting at $44,700, $46,400 with AWD). Add $1,045 to each for freight charges. A $2,200 Convenience Package and a $2,400 Performance Package can be added to SEL models, along with some standalone options. My test vehicle was a 2020 Palisade Limited AWD with a list price of $46,400, and an as-tested sticker price of $47,605.

Second RowThe three-row crossover SUV category is very well-stocked right now, including fresh entries like the Ford Explorer, Subaru Ascent, Volkswagen Atlas, and Toyota Highlander. The Mazda CX-9, Honda Pilot, Nissan Pathfinder, GMC Acadia, Chevrolet Traverse, Buick Enclave are also worth consideration. And don’t forget the Kia Telluride, which shares a platform (but no sheet metal) with the Palisade.

Third Row

The 2020 Hyundai Palisade is an elegant, competent, mid-size three-row crossover SUV that is a worthy successor to the Santa Fe XL. If you’re in the market for a new family vehicle, add the Palisade to your list for consideration.

Cargo

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

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Photos (c) Hyundai

2020 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is the Underdog Hybrid

by Jason Fogelson

Every time I spend time in a Mitsubishi, I emerge perplexed. I pride myself on my ability to put aside my preconceived notions, and evaluate each vehicle I drive on its own merits. I don’t worry about brand, or market position, or any other external factor until I have given the vehicle a fair shake. That’s why the 2020 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV GT S-AWC that I drove recently left me in a cloud.

2019 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

On paper, Outlander PHEV should be a winner. It has a long list of impressive standard features, from comfort and convenience to safety and performance. It has a sophisticated hybrid gasoline/electric drivetrain that uses a 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine and a pair of electric motors, one on each axle for all-wheel drive. The EPA rates it at 74 mpg-e combined city/highway in hybrid operation, and 25 mpg in gasoline-only. It comes with a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty, 5-year/60,000-mile basic warranty, 7-year/100,000-mile anti-corrosion/perforation warranty and 5 years/unlimited miles of roadside assistance.

2019 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

Outlander’s 12 kWh Lithium-ion battery pack can be charged from empty in 8.0 to 13.0 hours at 120 volts, 3.4 hours at 240 volts, or up to 80% charge in as little as 25 minutes via its built-in  CHAdeMO DC Fastcharge port. EV range is estimated at 22 miles. Outlander PHEV gets a five-star overall vehicle safety rating from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.

With a suggested list price of $41,495 ($43,600 as tested), Outlander PHEV currently qualifies for a $5,836 Federal tax credit, and may qualify for state and local credits as well, depending on where you live.

2019 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

So, why was I perplexed?

It seems like Outlander PHEV is just what people are looking for – a stylish, efficient PHEV two-row SUV with tons of extras. There isn’t a lot of direct competition in the price range yet. There are plenty of hybrids, but not plug-in hybrids.

I can only guess that Mitsubishi’s struggles in the United States over the past decade or more have sapped buyer confidence. Mitsubishi has been expending great effort to rebuild its dealer network, and that will help.

2019 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

Additionally, Mitsubishi has been caught up in the debacle of Carlos Ghosn’s dethroning and flight from the Nissan-Renault-Mitsubishi Alliance, which Mitsubishi had only recently joined. Until those webs are untangled, uncertainty reigns over all three of the aligned companies.

2019 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

But I wasn’t thinking about that history while I was driving the Outlander PHEV. I was feeling the vehicle around me, and it didn’t have the rock-solid feel that I like in an SUV. In the process of designing an efficient SUV that is relatively light for its size at 4,222 lbs, Mitsubishi came up with an SUV that feels a little flimsy to me. The doors don’t close with a solid “thunk;” the touchpoints feel a little hollow. And despite that, the gasoline engine is a bit anemic at 117 hp and 137 lb-ft of torque. Hook that up to a single-speed gear box, and you’ve got a powertrain that sounds like it’s straining off the line.

Mitsubishi is definitely an underdog right now, and Outlander PHEV is arguably their flagship model. As much as I’m inclined to root for the underdog, I can’t recommend the 2020 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV GT S-AWC.

2019 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

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

2019 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

Photos (c) Mitsubishi

When is a Coupe Not a Coupe? When It’s a 2020 Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 Coupe

by Jason Fogelson

I have to rethink everything I’ve said over the years about the word “coupe.” I’m a traditionalist, and cling to the definition “a two-door hardtop car.” In my head, I picture a 1969 Chevy Nova two-door notchback – that’s my Platonic ideal of a coupe. The four-door version is a sedan. In my head, both of these cars are brown, by the way.

Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S 4MATIC+ Coupé (2019)

Mercedes-Benz began to tinker with the word “coupe” when it brought the 2004 CLS-Class. It was a four-door sedan with coupe-like styling, and it was gorgeous. And Mercedes called it a coupe, despite the fact that it was empirically a sedan. The CLS-Class caught on, and spawned a flock of coupe-styled four doors, so it wasn’t a big surprise when the coupe-styling craze jumped across to SUVs, notably first on the BMW X6. Coupe-like styling gave the X6 a visual boost over the X5, but actually reduced the utility of the utility vehicle. Still, BMW did it again with the X4, a four-door liftback SUV that they call “the Sports Activity Coupe.” I shake my old man fist at the X4, and insist that it turn down its loud music and gets off my lawn.

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Now, I may have to eat my words. I spent a week test-driving the 2020 Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S Coupe, and I fell in love. I no longer care whether they call it a coupe, an SUV, or a phaeton. Call it whatever you like – I call it fantastic.

As with all AMG vehicles, it all starts with the engine. This one gets a twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V8 that’s rated to produce 503 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque, and uses an AMG Speedshift MCT nine-speed automatic transmission. The engine sings its siren song through a perfectly tuned exhaust, delivering a throaty note that rumbles in the pit of your stomach. The transmission can be operated manually via paddle shifters, or automatically, where it does a great job. The power comes on in a rush, and just keeps coming. Mercedes states a 0-60 mph time of 3.6 seconds, and top speed is quoted at 174 mph (electronically limited). 4MATIC all-wheel drive is standard.

Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S 4MATIC+  (2019)

Six dynamic driving modes are available in a new suite called AMG Dynamics. The modes (Slippery, Comfort, Sport, Sport+, Individual and Race) select parameters for throttle response, transmission behavior, steering feel, suspension settings, all-wheel drive torque distribution, locking differential action, and stability control – in other words, just about every aspect of driving. Cruising around, I tended to leave the Coupe in Comfort. When I wanted to romp a bit, I switched to Sport+, which stiffened up the ride and steering substantially, and put the Coupe on its toes – a real jolt of caffeine. If I had more time with the car, I would have invested time in dialing in an Individual setting for my favorite roads.

Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S 4MATIC+ Coupé (2019)

GLC’s interior is elegantly tailored. It has a subtle mix of materials, and uses carbon fiber to great effect, trimming it with polished metal and accenting with piano black. The dash is simple, sturdy, and perfect – one of my favorites. The landscape-oriented 10.25-inch infotainment screen sits above the center stack, close to the driver’s line of vision, which is great. It’s loaded with a new MBUX infotainment system, which is easy to navigate. The information is spread across the big screen, and supplemented or echoed in the 12.3-inch instrument cluster above the steering wheel. A head-up display is available ($1,100), and would be a smart addition for the safety-minded driver. I’m a big fan.

Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S 4MATIC+  (2019)

Outside, I love the lines of the Coupe. I have trouble thinking of it as an SUV, because it really doesn’t have the stance or proportions that I have come to expect of an SUV. It’s somewhere between a fastback and an SUV. If you’re looking for a vehicle that maximizes cargo capacity, this is not the one for you. But, if you need a bit more usable interior room than a traditional sedan, and still want a sleek profile and a sporty-looking vehicle, the GLC delivers. It’s athletic and taut, and really quite gorgeous, especially with Mercedes-AMG-level fit-and-finish.

All this beauty comes at a price. The base price for the 2020 Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S Coupe is $84,100. My test vehicle with options came with an as-tested price of $96,425. Compare this to a base Mercedes-Benz GLC Coupe, which starts at $50,000, and it’s a little bit of a jolt.

Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S 4MATIC+ Coupé (2019)

You should also compare the GLC 63 S to the Porsche Macan, BMW X4, Acura RDX, Infiniti QX60 and Land Rover Range Rover Velar before making a decision.

I’ll be the one over here eating my words, and scratching out the definition of “coupe” in my dictionary.

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

Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S 4MATIC+ Coupé (2019)

Photos (c) Mercedes-Benz

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