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2019 Toyota Tacoma TRD 4X4 Off Road: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Toyota has not been able to scale the wall of buyer loyalty to full-size U.S. pickup trucks. But it perches at the pinnacle of the midsize class, of which its 2019 Tacoma is the latest example.

Among the big guys, the Toyota Tundra is an also-ran in sales behind the Ford F-Series, Chevrolet Silverado, Ram and GMC Sierra, besting only the last-place Nissan Titan.

2019_toyota_tacoma_off_road_001_46e6b73e2c3bfc00e65384bbb61115fcebe259ffBut against the slowly-increasing midsize nameplates, it is the unchallenged champion. In 2018, it was expected to sell more Tacoma pickups than nearly all of its competitors combined, including the Chevrolet Colorado, Nissan Frontier, GMC Canyon and Honda Ridgeline, although the Ridgeline is in a class by itself as a more car-like amalgam.

The curious trend in all of this is that the new crop of midsize pickups are nearly as big — or even bigger — than some earlier full-size pickups.

Bumper to bumper, the Tacoma 4X4 Double Cab Long Bed is nearly 19 feet long and it is six feet tall with a 6 feet 2 inch cargo bed. It weighs 4,840 lbs, can tow a trailer weighing up to 6,400 lbs and carry a payload of 1,120 lbs. A decade ago, the full-size 2008 Ford F-150 was 18 feet 1 inch long, 6 feet 4 inches tall, weighed 5,360 lbs, with a payload of 1,480 lbs and a towing capability of 6,200 lbs.

2019_toyota_tacoma_off_road_003_ef9b7576d7ba7efd9f2e7049634af8ee0bb87a2fMost big trucks back then got their grunt from large and thirsty V8 engines. Engineering advances over the years have squeezed ever more horsepower and torque from smaller-displacement power plants. The tested Tacoma gets its power from a 278-hp, 3.5-liter V6 engine with 265 lb-ft of torque. On the TRD Off Road 4X4, the power routes to all four wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission.

The tested Tacoma, with a base price of $38,120, came equipped for pasture and logging-road duty. It had a part-time four-wheel drive system with a two-speed electronically-controlled transfer case and an off-road tuned suspension system with special shock absorbers, a locking rear differential, hill-start assist and multi-terrain crawl control.

But because of its length and wheelbase — the distance between the front and rear axles — of 11 feet 5 inches, the Tacoma Off Road could not be expected to handle seriously pockmarked terrain as well as a smaller machine. However, the all-new 2020 Jeep Gladiator midsize pickup truck will have nearly the same shortcoming with a wheelbase of 10 feet 7 inches and an overall length of 18 feet 2 inches.

2019_toyota_tacoma_off_road_004_3a8248857bb7d0324f488932f4ab596d5d58f2afFull safety equipment, including pre-collision braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control and lane-departure warning are part of the standard equipment. The tested TRD Off Road also had options that included blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, sonar rear parking assist, leather-trimmed upholstery with heated front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, motorized glass sunroof, JBL premium audio system with integrated navigation, and a cover for the cargo bed.

All of that brought the bottom-line price to $42,430, which is not inexpensive but looks reasonable compared to the $60,000 and up sticker prices on many full-size pickups. Price is one reason manufacturers are closely monitoring the midsize pickup market. Ford recently reintroduced its midsize Ranger pickup.

2019_toyota_tacoma_off_road_007_331b22b457d747c6db5b552ac7cca61ecb8d9327On paved roads, the tested Tacoma mainly displayed its off-road characteristics. The ride was bouncy and stiff with seemingly direct connections between road irregularities and the driver’s lower back and bottom. It tracked decently in a straight line, but the beefy suspension system makes for problematical comfort on a long trip.

Mitigating that somewhat are front seats that are supportive and middling comfortable. Though they have only manual adjustments, there are enough to accommodate most body sizes. There’s space in back for three, though seating is upright and knee room is tight. The center-rear position is compromised by a floor hump, hard cushion and intrusion of the center console. Rear vision is limited by back seat headrests so it’s important to get those big outside mirrors properly adjusted.

2019_toyota_tacoma_off_road_006_ed9ebf5e42a922ed31dba8561df5a18e2f1414efThe V6 engine makes plenty of power but you have to slam the pedal to engage it. In ordinary driving, the throttle is stiff, making the engine/transmission combination feel sluggish. Engine drone is loud under hard acceleration.

Overall, don’t expect the Tacoma — especially in the tested trim — to be anything other than what it is: a rugged, solid truck with an enviable reputation for durability and reliability.

2016_toyota_tacoma_trdor_28_170ad64be7d4e750a886f7dc942f15fd173fb26bSpecifications

  • Model: 2019 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off Road 4X4 Double Cab Long Bed midsize pickup truck.
  • Engine: 3.5-liter V6; 278 hp, 265 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic with part-time four-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 18 feet 10 inches.
  • Height: 6 feet.
  • EPA passenger volume: 100 cubic feet.
  • Cargo bed length: 6 feet 2 inches.
  • Weight: 4,840 pounds.
  • Payload: 1,120 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 6,400 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 18/22/20 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $38,120.
  • Price as tested: $42,430.

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

2016_toyota_tacoma_trdor_31_07d7a0e69594c5d39805f91df23a6d5373bf81dePhotos (c) Toyota

Musings on the Detroit Auto Show

by Jason Fogelson

The 2019 North American International Auto Show press days are in the books. Some of my colleagues are calling it “The Last Detroit Auto Show,” because in 2020, NAIAS will move to June, avoiding the Michigan winter. The move promises to open up all kinds of new possibilities for ancillary events, like rides-and-drives, demos and other outdoor activities that are just not possible in January. Organizers claim Detroit’s downtown renaissance will support the timing, and it will be a big party. Or will it?

Rescheduling to June takes NAIAS out of the traditional auto show calendar, and indeed, out of the model year cadence. Will manufacturers see the show as a venue for early introductions of next year’s models? Or will they see the move as a return to the show’s roots as a regional event for the Detroit Auto Dealers Association to market cars to local consumers?

Looking at this year’s show, it was apparent that something had to be done. All of the European luxury brands, including Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, BMW, Land Rover, Jaguar, Aston Martin, Bentley, Rolls-Royce and others, were conspicuous in their absence. Only about a dozen new cars and concepts made their debuts at the show. As a journalist covering new cars, I only had to spend one day at NAIAS this year in order to catch all of the relevant press conferences and to see all of the unveilings. It wasn’t a dirge like 2009, but it was a definite down year.

Peering through the end-of-an-era cloud hanging over the Cobo Center, I saw signs of the future in the mist.

Yu-Jun-speech

The final vehicle reveal press conference of the first media day was held by GAC Motor (Guangzhou Automobile Group Motor Co., LTD), a Chinese company that is a subsidiary of GAC Group. GAC debuted its Entranze EV concept vehicle. The concept was the first public display of a product designed in GAC’s California-based design studio, which was established in 2018. The concept itself is fine, a futuristic minivan with sliding glass doors and 3+2+2 seating. It’s the kind of thing that will never get built, but may serve as a design inspiration.

img_1833The memorable aspect of the GAC presentation was not the concept or the products on display; it was the culturally tone-deaf presentation by GAC. Once the assembled press — about 200 – 300 participants, I’d estimate – settled in, a GAC spokesperson introduced a lineup of company executives and VIP guests, one by one. Each person stood and acknowledged the crowd’s polite applause. Then, the spokesperson introduced an officer of the Detroit Auto Dealers Association (DADA), who read a brief message from a script with the enthusiasm of a war hostage. The spokesperson then introduced Mr. Yu Jun, President of GAC Motor, who gave a transliterated speech in English that was as stilted as it was incomprehensible and self-congratulatory. Time to unveil the concept car – cue the modern dancers! A troupe of eight (four men, four women) dressed in chiffon and spandex, performed a two-minute dance to modern classical music, then whisked the silk off of the concept car to muted applause. Another executive from GAC stumbled through a speech with the details, and the press conference was mercifully concluded.

img_1846Audience members walked away with a gift bag containing a scale model of the company’s flagship SUV, the GS8, a fancy USB drive loaded with vehicle information, photos and GAC info, and two glossy brochures: one with vehicle photos, descriptions and features; and one entitled “The Road to Greatness: GAC Motor,” which is a 32-page photo essay/manifesto/propaganda piece extolling the virtues of the company. It opens with this poem:

The Road to Greatness

This is GAC Motor.

I say no to mediocracy,

and stay committed to my own path.

I never compromise of give in.

With fearless resolution,

I endeavor to make breakthroughs and strive forward,

To develop a brand that I take pride in.

GAC Motor believes greatness does not belong to the few.

Everyone has the potential to be great.

As long as you dare to dream, have courage and keep striving,

You are already on the path of greatness.

The Road to Greatness, GAC Motor.

Wow.

Now, this might have been a state-of-the-art presentation at the Shanghai Motor Show, but in Detroit in 2019, it was out of touch and a little sad. I have little doubt that Chinese vehicles will soon be sold in the United States under their own brand names, and the quality of the vehicles will rapidly improve to meet the marketplace standard. Look at how rapidly Hyundai and Kia vehicles have developed in the past decade as a model for assimilation.

img_1830Even better, look at Toyota Motor Company’s press conference this year as they revealed the 2020 Supra. No less an eminence than Akio Toyoda, TMC’s President, handled the presentation himself. In stark contrast to the GAC presentation, Toyoda was relaxed, joyous, poised and funny. His command of the English language isn’t a whole lot better than the Chinese executives, but it didn’t stand in the way of his passion and charm. Toyoda won the crowd over with his buoyant nature. It was a very American presentation, but still entirely appropriate to a Japanese product and executive.

GAC Motor can learn a lot from Toyota, Hyundai and other companies who have found the keys to conquering the United States. You don’t have to make the US bend to your will – you only have to slide into the openings that are always available, and make the most of the opportunities you find there.

Photos (c) Jason Fogelson, NAIAS, GAC Motor

2019 Car, Utility and Truck of the Year: A DriveWays Report…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Detroit, Mich.—South Korea’s Hyundai swept the honors Monday (Jan. 14), winning both the North American Car of the Year and Utility of the Year trophies for the Genesis G70 and Hyundai Kona.

The announcement came at the opening of the annual North American International Automobile Show (NAIAS) here.

large-1094-genesisg70The Genesis G70, the newest model from Hyundai’s separate luxury brand, was voted Car of the Year by an independent panel of 54 automotive journalists from the United States and Canada.

large-34508-2019konaelectricTaking the prize for North American Utility of the Year was the Hyundai Kona, a subcompact crossover sport utility vehicle that is available with a gasoline engine, as a plug-in gasoline-electric hybrid and as a pure electric with 248 miles of range.

2019 Ram 1500 Rebel 12A product of  Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, the Ram 1500 was voted Truck of the Year. It features a new system called eTorque that combines a belt-drive electric motor generator with a 48-volt battery, which provides short boosts of extra power for the gasoline engine. It also enables a sophisticated idle stop-start function for improved fuel economy.

The North American Car of the Year Organization (NACTOY) is composed of  automotive journalists from print, online, television and broadcast organizations who pay annual dues and are required to drive and evaluate nominated new vehicles, culminating in the vote for the winners. They are independent of NAIAS and have no connections or relationships with any of the vehicle manufacturers.

The Genesis G70 fared better than its fraternal cousin, the Kia Stinger, which was a finalist for Car of the Year in 2018 but lost the honor to the Honda Accord.

Hyundai owns about 38% of Kia and the two cars share engines and drivetrains. Both the Stinger and the Genesis G70 are four-doors except that the midsize Stinger is a hatchback and the compact G70 is a conventional four-door sedan with a trunk. Prices range from the low $30,000 range to the low $50,000 range.

Both come with rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive with turbocharged four-cylinder or V6 engines and eight-speed automatic transmissions. One  advantage for the G70 is that it also is available with a six-speed manual gearbox. The Stinger does not offer a manual transmission.

Hyundai’s Kona is a stylish subcompact crossover with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. It comes with a four-cylinder gasoline engine, as a plug-in hybrid and, most recently as a dedicated electric. Prices range from slightly more than $20,000 for the base gasoline model to nearly $40,000 for the electric, which can be reduced to around $30,000 with tax and other incentives.

Kona models offer such modern safety installations as forward collision warning and braking, lane-keeping assist, rear cross traffic alert, blind-spot collision warning and driver attention warning, as well as torque vectoring braking, which selectively applies the inside brakes to ease cornering.

There were three finalists in each category. Besides the Genesis G70, Car of the Year nominees were the compact Honda Insight hybrid and the Volvo S60 sedan and V60 station wagon, both midsize.

The Kona’s competition finalists consisted of the all-new luxury compact crossover, the Acura RDX, and the Jaguar I-Pace, an all-electric midsize luxury crossover. In the truck category, the Ram’s competitors were the Chevrolet Silverado and the GMC Sierra.

Chris Paukert, NACTOY’s vice-president, commented, “The Genesis G70 doesn’t just go toe-to-toe with segment mainstays like the BMW 3 Series, Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class—it beats them all in driver engagement while positively slaying them on value for the dollar.” Paukert is executive editor of Roadshow by CNET.

“The Kona Electric is the first mass-market electric car that truly works for the mass market,” said NACTOY juror Jamie Page Deaton, executive editor at U.S. News & World Report Best Cars. “A livable EV range, affordable price and practical cabin combine with lively driving dynamics to make the Kona EV a true pleasure.”

“Ram continues to lead the way in making a big truck double as a big family pleaser with as much attention paid to interior conveniences and ride comfort as to cargo hauling and towing,” said John Davis, executive producer at Maryland public television’s MotorWeek.

NACTOY President Lauren Fix, owner of the online The Car Coach, thanked the vehicle manufacturers for ‘taking the time and effort to work with us throughout the year as our jurors rigorously tested, evaluated and debated the best new vehicles on the market. Now in our 25th year, we are proud that both automakers and consumers recognize the value our awards provide to new car buyers.”

2019 Audi RS 3 2.5T Quattro Sedan: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Every so often, a car like the 2019 Audi RS 3 arrives that can only be described with one word: sweet.

This subcompact sedan comes in a sweet size with sweet (if sometimes alarming) performance, sweet handling and even sweeter tactile feedback.

medium-2018-audi-rs-3-sedan-2649But whoa. The tester came with a $66,590 price tag. It doesn’t make it any less sweet but it sure activates a person’s pause button — and maybe for salivating but income-challenged intenders, the stop button.

Fortunately, there are some less expensive choices. In keeping with current German luxury-car philosophy, there always are pinnacle high-performance models to augment the regular lineup — as if any of these small Audi sedans could be considered regular.

Think Mercedes-AMG and BMW M Series. These are the ultra-performing and expensive top-liners for those marques. At Audi, such machines come from the Sport Division and the RS 3 is one of those creatures.

medium-2018-audi-rs-3-2589It is based on the Audi A3, a subcompact sedan, which itself is not what any enthusiast would consider mundane. Usually, subcompact denotes small, economical and low-priced. Not here. The A3 comes with a 220-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 258 lb-ft of torque and a price tag of $35,150 to $44,100, depending on the trim level.

Not believing that will satisfy some Audi-philes, the Sport division raises the ante with the S3, which also has the 2.0-liter four-banger but which pumps out 292 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque. Prices range from $43,850 to $49,350. Both the A3 and S3 use Audi’s six-speed automatic transmission with manual shifting, called the S tronic, and quattro all-wheel drive.

medium-2018-audi-rs-3-sedan-2507Climbing all the way to the summit, we find the subject here — the  RS 3, which goes up one cylinder to five and displacement to 2.5 liters. Also turbocharged, it hammers out 394 hp and 354 lb-ft of torque, enabling the tiny, 3,593-lb RS 3 to sprint to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds with a top speed of 174 mph. And that’s a governed, or limited, speed. It could go faster on a track with proper racing equipment.

All of this nestles in a low-slung, four-door sedan with 19-inch wheels, menacing dual exhaust pipes and ceramic racing brakes, but otherwise doesn’t exactly scream ultra high performance. Uninformed onlookers might see nothing more than a streamlined Toyota Corolla. The RS 3 is just 14 feet 9 inches long with a passenger volume of 87 cubic feet and a tiny trunk of 10 cubic feet.

medium-2018-audi-rs-3-sedan-2508But the design is clever enough to accommodate four passengers comfortably with adequate but not generous head or knee room in back. The rear doors swing wide so entry and exit are easy. There’s a seatbelt  for a fifth passenger in the middle but it’s a fiction. The space is impossible for anything but a two-foot tall capuchin monkey.

Inside design validates Audi’s reputation for classy, understated elegance with fine materials. The only jarring note is the so-called sunshade for the panoramic glass sunroof. In thrall to a current cliché in some luxury cars, the RS 3’s sunshade is made of a cheesecloth-like perforated cloth material, which admits hot sunlight and looks cheap next to the neighboring carbon-fiber and alcantara trim. Sunshades should be opaque.

medium-2018-audi-rs-3-sedan-2509The appeal of the RS 3 lies in the sweet driving experience. Settle into the driver’s seat, light up the engine and touch a button to choose from driving modes labeled Dynamic, Comfort, Auto and Individual. For an all-out run, you want to select Dynamic, which holds the shift points to higher revs to keep the engine on the boil for instant acceleration.

The transmission is a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, calibrated to shift up and down in milliseconds, always ready for the driver’s next whim. But it would be silly to stay in the Dynamic mode in highway cruising because there would be a cost in fuel economy, which the EPA rates at 19/28/22 mpg in city/highway/combined driving. In easy, around-town cruising, Comfort works, well, comfortably.

medium-2018-audi-rs-3-sedan-2491Don’t expect a floating, limousine-like ride. Almost nobody does that anymore. The Audi RS is, first and foremost, a sports car in sedan guise with the steering and suspension system biased toward precise handling and control. So, avoid the potholes if you can and enjoy the tactile feedback as you carve corners, win stoplight drag races and shoot holes in heavy traffic.

Or simply cruise serenely and enjoy the scenery.

large-2018-audi-rs-3-sedan-2543Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Audi RS 3 2.5 T Quattro S tronic four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 2.5-liter five-cylinder, turbocharged; 394 hp, 354 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 9 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 87/10 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,593 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 19/28/22 mpg. Premium recommended.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $57,195.
  • Price as tested: $66,590.

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

large-2018-audi-rs-3-sedan-2526Photos (c) Audi

2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature AWD: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

In an era when some vehicle designers equate complexity with desirability, the 2019 Mazda CX-5 rolls onstage as an easygoing, friendly travel companion.

Almost everything about it feels familiar, as if you’ve already had a relationship. It has comfort and available luxury, but without a goofy shift lever or an infotainment system where annoying fiddling is required just to set favorite radio stations.

2019_mazda_cx-5-6Climb aboard. In the tested top-of-the-line Signature model, you sit in a comfortable, well-bolstered perforated leather seat, heated and ventilated. Through the steering wheel you view bright white-on-black easy-to-read analog instruments.

The shifter has a traditional PRND shift pattern, though there’s a sideways M setting for manual shifting of the six-speed automatic transmission. Nearby is a switch for the parking brake — up for park, down for driving — next to a toggle switch that engages the sport driving mode, which enhances throttle response. You don’t have to look to operate them. Same for the radio volume knob.

2019-mazda-cx-5-signature-04-intStraight ahead, in your line of vision, is the head-up display. It delivers information about speed, road signs and the adaptive cruise control, which is easily engaged with buttons on the steering wheel.

In the center, at the top of the dash, is the infotainment screen. Sure, it’s small, not gigantic like the one on the Tesla Model 3. But it’s right where you can see with a quick glance what’s going on. No peering at it for anxious seconds.

2019-mazda-cx-5-signature-09-detailFunctions are operated by a knob on the console, which is more complicated than a touch screen but doesn’t require as much focused attention to the screen. Simple console buttons change what’s displayed.

The word for this is ergonomics, the science that seeks to adapt working conditions to the worker. It also applies to making the driving experience intuitive and transparent. Good ergonomics, of course, is not exclusive to Mazda. But the CX-5 is a particularly fine example of thoughtful design.

Yet for all of its old-shoe friendliness, the CX-5 is a thoroughly modern Millie. It is a compact crossover sport utility vehicle competing in a class that includes the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Subaru Forester, Ford Escape, and Chevrolet Equinox.

Because of Mazda’s current effort to move its models upscale, the CX-5, particularly in its luxury-equipped Signature version, sells for a few thousands of dollars more than the top-line CR-V and RAV4 models.

The tested CX-5 Signature had a base price of $37,885 and, with a few options, had a bottom-line sticker of $39,030. But its equipment and features rivaled those of luxury crossovers like the Cadillac XT4 and Infiniti QX50, both of which are more expensive, well into the mid-$50,000 range.

2019_mazda_cx-5-1Mazda is not a huge player among manufacturers, not even in the compact crossover category. Yet as part of the current onrushing trend toward crossovers, the CX-5 is Mazda’s best seller in the U.S., totaling more sales than all of the company’s other models combined.

Aware of its lagging sales compared to its competitive set, Mazda has set out to distinguish the CX-5 in multiple ways that contribute to the driving experience. In that, performance enhances ergonomics.

There are five trim levels, starting with the Sport at $25,345. Others are the Touring, Grand Touring, Grand Touring Reserve and the tested Signature. Only the last two get Mazda’s new 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, which makes 227 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque. The others use a naturally-aspirated 2.5-liter four-banger with 187 hp and 186 lb-ft of torque.

cx9engine-201-1The turbo motor delivers enough grunt to accelerate the Signature model to 60 mph in slightly over six seconds — more than respectable in this era. Though it can be accomplished simply by punching the pedal to the floor, the Sport mode facilitates it by holding the shifts to higher revs. You can shift manually but only with the shift lever. There are no paddles on the steering wheel.

Handling is sedan-like with no apparent lean on curves. Straight-line driving requires few steering corrections and the CX-5 cruises quietly with a bit of engine noise only on acceleration. With the suspension system biased toward handling, the ride gets a bit choppy on rough roads.

There’s plenty of head and knee room for four persons, though the fifth center-rear position is impossibly cramped. The rear seatbacks are split in three and fold nearly flat to almost double the cargo space of 31 to 60 cubic feet.

2019-mazda-cx-5-signature-02-extSpecifications

  • Model: 2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature AWD four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.5-liter four-cylinder; turbocharged, 227 hp, 310 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual-shift mode.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 11 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 5 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 102/31 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,825 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 2,000 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 22/27/24 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $37,885.
  • Price as tested: $39,030.

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

2017-mazda-cx-5-grand-touring-5Photos (c) Mazda

2019 Jeep Cherokee Overland: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

It doesn’t crumble and has plenty of frosting, but you could argue that the 2019 Jeep Cherokee is the automotive equivalent of having your cake and eating it too.

Most people think of Jeeps as Wranglers, rugged vehicles that can conquer any terrain anywhere but don’t offer much in creature comforts. In fact, Wrangler buyers want to be exposed to hardships, unprotected from the elements. That’s why roofs and doors can be removed, and modifications made to alter suspension systems to rock and roll over any obstacle.

2019 Jeep® Cherokee Limited

What is less noted about the current crop of Jeeps is refinement. The new-generation 2018 Wrangler Unlimited four-door wagon was remarkable for its coming-of-age as a family station wagon that handles well in traffic and around curves, tracks steadily in a straight line and delivers long-distance comfort that can eliminate complaints from the kids and other passengers. Yet it can still handle trackless terrain.

The same could be said, with more emphasis, about the 2019 Jeep Cherokee Overland tested for this review. This is a conventional compact crossover sport utility vehicle with pleasant styling, smooth and quiet operation, and the amenities that crossover buyers seek.

2019 Jeep® Cherokee Overland and Cherokee Trailhawk

Sure, the doors don’t come off and the windshield doesn’t fold down. But the Cherokee is, in its soul, a Jeep with off-road capabilities that other manufacturers would envy — if they even bothered.

Most crossovers in this category simply offer front-wheel drive or automatic all-wheel drive that responds to on-road and limited off-road conditions. Drivers of all-wheel drive models don’t have to think about anything; simply get in and drive.

But the Cherokee comes with Jeep’s Selec-Terrain system, which allows the driver to choose the system for disparate conditions — after which it operates automatically. They are labeled as Automatic, Snow, Sand/Mud and Sport. They give the Cherokee capabilities that most other crossovers lack.

2019 Jeep® Cherokee Limited

Still, it’s no Wrangler. If you are the sort whose idea of a vacation trip is bashing around trackless and boulder-strewn terrain at somewhere around two to five miles per hour, buy a Wrangler. The Cherokee can do some of that but is more of a multi-task machine, not great at everything but competent at most. On-road, it is the peer of most mid-priced compact crossovers like the Toyota RAV4 and even more expensive crossovers like the BMW X3 xDrive 3.0i.

The model tested for this review was the Cherokee Overland 4X4 model, which had a base price of $38,890, including the destination charge. The name prompts nostalgia because original Jeeps in World War II were built by the Willys Overland company.

As tested, it came with optional adaptive cruise control, panoramic motorized glass sunroof, collision warning with crash mitigation, brake assist, lane-departure warning, blind-spot and rear cross-path detection, leather upholstery and automatic high-beam headlight control.

2019 Jeep® Cherokee Limited

Standard equipment includes Apple Car Play, Android Auto, SXM satellite radio, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, and power front seats with memory for the driver’s seat. With other features, the bottom-line sticker came to $41,510.

Unlike many other crossovers powered by the now-ubiquitous 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, naturally aspirated or turbocharged, the Cherokee is motivated by a 271-hp, 3.2-liter V6 engine that delivers 239 lb-ft of torque. The power gets to all four wheels through a nine-speed automatic transmission, which gave Jeep problems and delayed the original launch of the Cherokee, but which now is as refined as the rest of the vehicle.

2019 Jeep® Cherokee Limited

Around town, the Cherokee has a responsive throttle that delivers sprightly acceleration. Highway cruising is comfortable and quiet with fatigue-free straight-line tracking. Curving roads are not daunting unless you have a lead foot on the go pedal.

As with other vehicles from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), it has one of the more intuitive infotainment interfaces, with a large center-mounted screen. Setting radio pre-sets, for example, is a simple matter of tuning to the station and touching the screen briefly — unlike some vehicles that force to you go through maddening steps.

Passenger space is about the same as in a midsize car, offering good head and knee space front and rear. Only the center-rear passenger gets disrespected by a hard cushion, large floor hump and intrusion of the center console. Better to think of the Cherokee as a four-passenger vehicle with a spot for a backpack or purse. Seatbacks recline but not much, and they fold almost flat for extra cargo if needed.

2019 Jeep® Cherokee Overland

 

Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Jeep Cherokee Overland four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 3.2-liter V6; 271 hp, 239 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with selective four-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 3 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 101/28 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,960 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 2,000 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 19/27/22 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $38,890.
  • Price as tested: $41,510.

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

2019 Jeep® Cherokee Limited

Photos (c) FCA North America

2019 Nissan Maxima and Murano: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Even when you are fundamentally healthy like Nissan’s 2019 Maxima sedan and Murano crossover SUV, it never hurts to add some bling to enhance your appeal.

Usually it happens midway through a model run. In the automobile biz, they call it a refresh — changes that present a new face and personality to prospective customers.

2019 Nissan Maxima-7Both the sport- and luxury-oriented Maxima sedan and the Murano midsize crossover are marketed by Nissan as top-of-the line flagships. Though they do not compete in the luxury segment — that’s the job of the company’s Infiniti brand — the 2019 designs nudge them closer. They are intended to appeal to buyers who want luxury content without big price tags.

Of the two, the Maxima needs the most help. Reflecting the nation-wide trend among buyers toward crossovers and away from sedans, the Maxima’s sales have dropped precipitously in 2018. The Murano, on the other hand, is on a path to increase sales.

MikeDitzPhoto.com

The Maxima competes in the near-luxury, large car class, although like Toyota’s Avalon, it actually is classified by the government as a midsize car.

From a performance standpoint, the Maxima doesn’t need a thing. It is powered by a 300-hp, 3.5-liter V6 engine with 261 lb-ft of torque delivered to the front wheels through Nissan’s Xtronic continuously-variable automatic transmission (CVT). The combination earns a city/highway/combined fuel economy of 20/30/24 mpg.

Some critics deride CVTs, which have no shift points, as noisy and sluggish. But Nissan arguably has more experience with them than any manufacturer and it shows on the Maxima. Throttle response is quick, smooth and powerful. Also, the Maxima handles curving roads like a sports sedan. Straight-line cruising is quiet and effortless with few steering corrections needed.

2019 Nissan Maxima-16The new appeal is mostly about appearances, especially on the tested top-line Maxima Platinum with the Reserve package, though there are safety enhancements as well. With a bottom-line sticker of $43,835, it was loaded with the full 2019 package of safety and luxury enhancements.

One is Nissan’s new rear door alert. The system notes if you open a rear door to stash a package — or a child — in the back seat. At the end of the trip, if you leave without re-opening the back door, it will sound the horn.

Other freshening included Nissan’s V-Motion styling, which sends body lines flowing from the distinctive grille up and over the body. LED headlights and taillights punctuate the styling and augment interior color schemes and accents. The taillights give the impression of width and streamlining.

2019 Nissan Maxima-13The Maxima’s Reserve package, with a $1,140 price tag, includes heated rear seats, 19-inch aluminum alloy wheels, “Rakuda tan” leather upholstery with diamond-quilted seating areas, two-tone leather covered steering wheel, charcoal headliner and pillars, and satin bronze interior trim.

Similarly, the Murano moves closer to luxury territory with new colors like its rusty-shiny “Sunset Drift Chromaflair.”  Along with the Maxima, it also incorporates the company’s Safety Shield 360, which includes automatic emergency braking, rear braking, lane-departure warning, rear cross-traffic alert and blind-sport warning. One apparent shortcoming: there’s no mention of lane-departure assist.

2019 Nissan Murano_F1-10Though not as powerful as its sibling Maxima, the Murano contains enough oomph to avoid embarrassment in the stoplight sprints or on the freeways. Its 3.5-liter V6 engine makes 260 hp with 240 lb-ft of torque, delivered to the front wheels or all four wheels through the Xtronic CVT.

The version tested for this review was the mid-priced SV trim level with front-wheel drive. It had a base price of $35,485 and, with a modest list of options, checked in at $39,230. Add $1,600 if you want all-wheel drive. Fuel economy is rated by the EPA at 20/28/23 mpg.

2019 Nissan Murano_F1-24Handling, of course, is not as crisp as the Maxima’s but the Murano acquits itself well, with little body roll, on twisting mountain roads. Its forte, however, is more attuned to quiet, straight-line cruising with the audio cranked up and the kids on their video games with earphones.

The SV trim eschews leather upholstery in favor of a sturdy embossed cloth, which to some people — including this critic — is more comfortable over a wide range of temperatures than leather. On the Murano, the cloth covers a supportive seat structure that takes the fatigue out of long-distance cruising.

A nearly flat floor should enhance comfort in the center-rear seating position. Unfortunately, the cushion is high and hard, and knee room is compromised by intrusion of the center console.

2019 Nissan Murano_F1-11Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Nissan Maxima Platinum Reserve four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 3.5-liter V6; 300 hp, 261 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Xtronic continuously-variable automatic with manual-shift mode and front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 1 inch.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 96/14 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,676 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 20/30/24 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $42,335.
  • Price as tested: $43,835.

*   *   *

  • Model: 2019 Nissan Murano SV four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 3.5-liter V6; 260 hp, 240 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Xtronic continuously-variable automatic with front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 1 inch.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 103/31 cubic feet. (65)
  • Weight: 3,837 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 1,500 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 20/28/23 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $35,485
  • Price as tested: $39,230.

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

2019 Nissan Murano_F1-5Photos (c) Nissan

2019 Infiniti QX80 Limited: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Like people, sport utility vehicles operate at their best when they stick to the straight and narrow. That’s especially true for big guys like the 2019 Infiniti QX80.

The reason is that full-size SUVs often are the machines of choice for families that eschew minivans but need space and towing capability for vacation jaunts. For that, the QX80 has solid qualifications. Given its size — 17.5 feet long and 6 feet 4 inches tall — it is powerful, quiet and easy to drive.

2019 INFINITI QX80 LIMITED

However, it has a tendency to wander in straight-line freeway driving, requiring frequent small steering corrections to keep tracking true. That’s not much of a problem on short trips but can contribute to driver fatigue over long distances.

Though its gender has not been established, the QX80 is celebrating its quinceañerawith this model, which had its debut in 2004 as the QX56. It tops the SUV lineup at Infiniti, the luxury division of Japan’s Nissan.

Despite an age that matches a girl’s 15thbirthday in Spanish-speaking countries, the QX80 has something of the feel of a senior citizen. It uses a classic body-on-frame construction, not unlike that of all the big pickup trucks on the market. And though it is equipped with a modern suspension system and a full suite of computerized safety innovations, it has something of an old-fashioned feel.

2019 INFINITI QX80 LIMITED

Some clues: The parking brake is one of those step-on affairs, where you stomp on a pedal with your left foot, instead of modern electronic controls. Second-row captain’s chairs on the tested seven-passenger Limited models do not have fore-and-aft adjustments to improve third-row knee and foot space, and the seatbacks recline only a few inches.

The split third-row seats fold with the touch of button but you have to hold your finger on it until it gets where it’s going. No one-touch control here. And the seats don’t fold flat, leaving a bunny-hill incline to welcome your extra cargo.

Then there’s the matter of getting back to the third row. Though the second-row captain’s chairs on the tested Limited model flip up and out of the way, scrambling into the third-row seats should be reserved for teenagers and younger kids. Also, they should be skinny because there are three seatbelts back there.

2019 INFINITI QX80 LIMITED

There’s just 17 cubic feet of space behind the third row of seats, although the QX80 can carry a payload of 1,460 lbs and it can tow a trailer of up to 8,500 lbs.

One old-fashioned component is welcome. In an era when small turbocharged four-cylinder engines are taking over even in big pickup trucks, the QX80 soldiers on with a solid, burbling V8 engine. It delivers 400 hp and 413 lb-ft of torque from 5.6-liters of displacement.

It makes the driving experience feel effortless. Need to change a lane quickly without neck-snapping your passengers, simply step a bit forcefully on the loud pedal and crank the steering wheel. The power surges instantly and smoothly, with no hint of dreaded turbo lag.

2019 INFINITI QX80 LIMITED

The downside, of course, hits the purse or wallet. With nearly three tons of metal and other ingredients to move, the QX80 guzzled premium fuel like an elephant in a pool of spring water. City/highway/combined consumption is rated by the EPA at 13/19/15 mpg.

That likely won’t matter much to the buyers who can afford the tested Limited model. Though you can find a QX80 with a base price of $66,395, the Limited came with a $91,095 base price. With a few minor options, the bottom-line sticker came to $91,950.

No surprise, that amount of money brings a load of equipment, including the seven-speed automatic transmission with manual-shift control, all-wheel drive, self-leveling rear suspension system, 22-inch aluminum alloy wheels, leather upholstery, tri-zone automatic climate control, motorized steering wheel adjustments, adaptive LED lighting, Bose audio with navigation and SXM satellite radio, and adaptive cruise control.

2019 INFINITI QX80 LIMITED

Full safety equipment includes pre-collision intervention with pedestrian detection forward and back, lane departure prevention, blind-spot warning, active head restraints, electronic brake force distribution and pre-crash adjustable front seat belts.

Styling, of course, always lies in the eyes of the beholders. Suffice to say that the QX80 presents an imposing, almost intimidating appearance to other, smaller vehicles on the highways. It is, however, up against a host of similar three-row SUVs and even crossovers that span the utility segment from middle-class to luxury.

2019 INFINITI QX80 LIMITED

Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Infiniti QX80 Limited four-door sport utility vehicle
  • Engine: 5.6-liter V8; 400 hp, 413 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Seven-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 17 feet 6 inches.
  • Height: 6 feet 4 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 151/17 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 5,930 pounds.
  • Payload: 1,460 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 8,500 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption (premium gasoline): 13/19/15 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $91,095.
  • Price as tested: $91,950.

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

2019 INFINITI QX80 LIMITED

Photos (c) Infiniti

2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS 450 4MATIC: A Driveways Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

In an era when the prevailing trend is toward SUV-style vehicles that perch driver and passengers up high, the 2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS parks their butts down close to the pavement.

It’s been that way since Mercedes invented the so-called four-door coupe genre in 2004 — the idea being to deliver sensuous coupe styling with the convenience of a couple of rear doors for those occasional double dates.

If you are one who appreciates eye candy, the tested CLS 450 4MATIC Coupe — its official title — presents handsome and aggressive new styling that reinforces the kinship with its more expensive version from the Mercedes high-performance AMG division.

2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS450

On the other hand, the streamlined, low-slung body envelops a tight package. You must duck and twist to get in and out, especially in the back seat. There’s 93 cubic feet of space for passengers, with limited head and legroom, and a shallow trunk of just 12 cubic feet, which earns the CLS a compact car classification.

The new car now has seat belts for five with the fifth in the center-rear. But you wonder why the designers bothered. With its all-wheel drive, there’s a giant floor hump and a seat more suited to a small backpack than a person. Ground clearance is less than four inches, so watch those driveway entrance bumps.

The CLS returns to a Mercedes tradition with an all-new inline six-cylinder engine that replaces the previous twin-turbo V8. Inline sixes characteristically deliver exceptional smoothness, and the CLS obliges. The new turbocharged 3.0-liter makes 362 hp with 369 lb-ft of torque, sent to all four wheels through a nine-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode controlled by paddles on the steering wheel.

2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS450

Providing additional spurts of power is a 48-volt electric starter-generator that delivers 21 hp and also enables a sophisticated and unobtrusive engine stop-start system. Not that many CLS buyers would pay much attention, but the EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption is rated at 23/30/26 mpg of premium gasoline.

On the road, the CLS 4MATIC acts more like a sports car than a luxury cruiser. With its air-suspension system and precise steering, it carves corners like an expert butcher with a Thanksgiving turkey. There are five drive modes, each of which can be selected instantly underway with the touch of a button on the center console. There’s no need to take eyes off the road or the head-up display.

The modes are labeled Eco, Comfort, Sport, Sport Plus and Individual. The last can be tailored with the Mercedes COMAND (cq) system but it is best done while parked. In Sport and Sport Plus, acceleration is enhanced by holding shifts to higher rpms, and the suspension and steering tighten.

2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS450

In all the driving modes except for Sport and Sport Plus, the nine-speed automatic transmission starts in second gear to enhance fuel economy. If you need to get off the line quickly, select one of the Sport modes, which will get you to 60 mph in slightly more than five seconds, according to the manufacturer. Top speed is rated at 130 mph.

No Mercedes is bargain-priced, but the tested CLS makes a mockery of the sticker price. This one started at $72,695, including the destination charge, but after the options were added up the bottom line came to $100,730. The $28,035 worth of options could buy you a nice compact crossover SUV.

The tester had so-called “design” packages totaling $6,200 that included perforated leather upholstery in Macchiato Beige and Titian Red with piano black lacquer and wood interior trim. Also on the options list were a $5,400 Burmester surround-sound audio system, the $1,900 air suspension, and packages totaling  $2,150 to enhance warmth, comfort and acoustics.

2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS450

Standard equipment covered a full suite of safety measures, including the head-up display, pre-collision braking, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot warning, lane-keeping assist and active emergency stopping. The last brings the CLS to a stop if the system detects that the driver is not actively driving while using the adaptive cruise control and the active steering assist.

Though popular early on, with 14,835 U.S. sales in 2005, the CLS has been on a roller coaster since, dropping to just 1,839 sales in 2017. The 2019 model could reverse the skid if there are enough luxury car intenders with fat purses or healthy credit ratings who have not yet been bitten by the crossover sport utility bug.

2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS450

Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS 450 4MATIC Coupe four-door.
  • Engine: 3.0-liter six-cylinder, turbocharged; 362 hp, 369 lb-ft torque; with 48-volt, 21-hp starter-generator.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 4 inches.
  • Height: 4 feet 7 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 93/12 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,350 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 23/30/26 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $72,695.
  • Price as tested: $100,730.

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

2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS450

Photos (c) Mercedes-Benz

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