Search

The Review Garage

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

2020 Mercedes-Benz AMG E53 Coupe: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Coupes like the 2020 Mercedes-Benz AMG E53 are the outliers in the automotive firmament. Most are not sports or super cars, where you expect seating or comfort for only two. Coupes lack practicality with small trunks and two doors, some with back seats so tight they inhibit breathing.

At least, Mercedes makes no pretense that this is a five-passenger machine with a center-rear back seat impossible for anything but a purse or watermelon. No, this is a purely four-passenger with head and knee room in back for modest-sized adults — assuming  you can contort your body to crawl back there.

_F8A9049-sourceLuxury coupes do make a white-tie/red-carpet gown statement, especially all-out luxury machines like the AMG E53, which fairly shouts that it is intended for intimately personal use by someone with useful other vehicles and deep pockets.

Its combination of sumptuous surroundings with slam-bang performance and even some environmental green blended in sets this new Mercedes apart from its garage-mates as well as other unreasonable expensive conveyances.

Start with the price. It kicks off at $75,945, including the destination charge. Like most European luxury cars, it has a list of options as long as Giannis Antetokounmpo’s arms that includes such items as $750 for a Nappa leather wrapped “performance steering wheel,” $1,250 for a “performance exhaust system,” $1,600 for “Designo black DIN AMICA headliner,” $1,100 head-up display, and even $550 for a “cabin air purifier and fragrance system.”

_F8A9055-sourceOf course, it had all the so-called driver assistance features, in a $2,250 package, that included Distronic adaptive stop-and-go cruise control, automatic emergency braking, active steering, lane-change and lane-keeping assist, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert and rear collision protection, as well as a $1,290 active parking assist.

That brought the as-tested price to $95,545. The tested AMG E53 did look the part with a flawless paint job and a classy and tasteful interior themed by leather upholstery with black seating areas accented in red.

Mercedes-AMG E 53 4MATIC+ Coupe, rubellite red. Austin 2018

Not only were the front seats supportive and comfortable, they provided functions to massage the driver’s and front passenger’s backs while underway. The system includes selective massages described as relaxing, activating, classic and mobilizing — each available in standard or high intensity mode. Nice.

All of that is tasty frosting. Where the AMG E53 excels is its road manners. AMG, which once was an independent modifier that hot-rodded the performance of Mercedes-Benz vehicles, now is part of the Mercedes division of Daimler AG. Its sworn duty is to make high-performing Benzes into superstars.

The tested AMG E53 gets its power from a turbocharged 3.0-liter in-line six-cylinder engine that delivers 429 hp and 384 lb-ft of torque to all four wheels via a nine-speed automatic transmission and the Mercedes 4Matic system. It is augmented by a starter-alternator system dubbed EQ Boost that briefly delivers an additional 21 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque, which also charges an on-board 48-volt electrical system.

Mercedes-AMG E 53 4MATIC+ Coupe, rubellite red. Austin 2018

You’d never know it. Everything happens so seamlessly and quietly you’d swear you could be driving a pedestrian automatic-transmission Volkswagen Jetta. Where it really hits home is the way it operates the stop-start system.

In most cars, the fuel-saving stop-start, which shuts down the engine at stoplights, re-starts with hesitation and a shudder, which is annoying and even could be dangerous because of the hesitation — like a turbo lag. Let it be known that the system on the AMG 53 is the best ever tested by this reviewer. In fact, it is so quick, seamless and vibration free you barely know it’s there.

That aside, this AMG Coupe is an engrossing joy to drive. It’s fast — the company advertises a zero to 60 mph acceleration time of 4.4 seconds with a top speed of 130.

Mercedes-AMG E 53 4MATIC+ Coupe, rubellite red. Austin 2018

But what gets the juices flowing is the handling. There are five driver-selectable driving modes, operated with the touch of a rocker switch on the center console: Slippery, Individual, Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus. They adjust shift points and settings for steering and the standard air suspension system.

Even in the comfort mode, preferred here, this 2.2-ton Coupe corners as flat as yesterday’s beer. The steering is heavily weighted, as on most Mercedes-Benzes. But it provides tactile feedback and rapid response. However, because of the bias toward handling, the ride veers toward choppy on rough roads.

Gripes are few: the rough ride, obtuse infotainment functions and a flimsy sunroof shade that admits too much sunlight.

Mercedes-AMG E 53 4MATIC+ Coupe, rubellite red. Austin 2018

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Mercedes-Benz AMG E53 Coupe.
  • Engine: 3.0-liter in-line six-cylinder, turbocharged; 429 hp, 384 lb-ft torque. EQ Boost starter-alternator 21 hp, 184 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 11 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 87/10 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,429 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 21/28/23 mpg. Premium fuel required.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $75,945.
  • Price as tested: $95,545.

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

_F8A9057-sourcePhotos (c) Mercedes-Benz

 

 

2020 Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The big buzz word among manufacturers almost everywhere is “electrification,” but it doesn’t mean pure electric vehicles. As often as not, it refers to hybrid gasoline-electric cars like the 2020 Hyundai Ioniq.

The Ioniq, however, does have the advantage of being available not only with a hybrid power train but as a plug-in hybrid and a 100% electric. Honda does something similar with its Clarity, which comes as an electric, a plug-in hybrid and as a fuel cell model that uses on-board manufactured hydrogen fuel to generate electricity.

Large-39643-2020IONIQHybridThe strategies vary. But from a consumer standpoint, the basic hybrid still makes the most economic and convenience sense, as exemplified by the Toyota Prius, the most successful electrified vehicle in history. Although it now also offers a plug-in model, Prius hybrid sales since it started 20 years ago now total more than 2.3 million in the U.S.

Unlike hybrids, full electric vehicles still come with built-in “range anxiety,” meaning an owner must calculate a trip that includes locations and time to recharge the batteries.

Like pure electrics, plug-in hybrids are more expensive than standard hybrids, though their limited range on electric power — as little as 10 miles on some luxury plug-ins and 29 miles on the Ionic plug-in — is not a concern because they revert to regular hybrid gasoline operation as soon as the batteries run out of juice.

Large-39647-2020IONIQHybridFor 2020, Hyundai has redesigned the Ioniq with attractive fresh styling inside and out. It is still the same size and configuration, with similar power, as when it first was introduced as a 2017 model.

It’s a four-door hatchback sedan that is marketed as a compact but which qualifies as a large car as defined by the Environmental Protection Agency. It has 96 cubic feet of space for five passengers, though the center-rear individual gets squished, and 27 cubic feet for cargo under the rear hatch. The total of 123 cubic feet of interior volume beats the EPA’s definition of full-size as more than 120.

From the get-go three years ago, the Ioniq hybrid came across in all of its versions as a competent performer, easy-going in urban traffic or long-distance freeway driving. The transition back and forth from electric to hybrid motoring is so seamless a newbie might not realize that it’s a hybrid.

Large-39650-2020IONIQHybridFor 2020, the power train has not changed. It consists of a 1.6-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine paired with a 32 kilowatt electric motor, which together make 139 hp and deliver city/highway/combined fuel economy of 55/54/55 mpg on the tested Limited model. (The basic Blue model gets 58 combined).

On the road, the Limited delivered a taut feel with well-weighted steering and a quiet interior with little wind noise. The only unavoidable intrusion was tire noise from unruly highway surfaces. The front seats, though a bit flat on the bottom, nevertheless were supportive and comfortable.

Large-39653-2020IONIQHybridThe 2020 Ioniq — the name is a combination of ion, an electrically charged particle, and unique, or one of a kind — comes in four trim levels: the base Blue at $23,930, including the destination charge; SE $25,880; SEL $29,130, and the tested Limited. The last, with a price tag of $31,930, comes nearly as fully equipped as some luxury cars. The only option was $135 for carpeted floor mats.

The long list of the Limited’s safety equipment included forward collision avoidance with pedestrian detection, driver attention warning, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic collision avoidance, and adaptive cruise control.

Even longer was the list of comfort and convenience items, including leather upholstery, power driver’s seat with memory, heated front seats, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, SiriusXM satellite radio,  navigation, premium Harman-Kardon audio, and wireless smart phone charging.

Large-39654-2020IONIQHybridWith 27 cubic feet of space in the cargo area under the rear hatch, the Ioniq hybrid can do double duty as a compact crossover sport utility vehicle. The rear seatbacks fold to expand the load-carrying capability. However, there is no spare wheel under the cargo floor. An emergency tire-puncture repair kit substitutes — okay for leaks but useless in a blowout.

In that case, you use Hyundai’s Blue Link to call for roadside service. The system works with smart phones and smart watches as well as Google assistant and Amazon Alexa to perform a multitude of tasks. Among them: remote starting with climate control, finding destinations and locating your vehicle.

The Ioniq Limited hybrid has you covered.

Large-39644-2020IONIQHybridSpecifications

  • Model: 2020 Hyundai Ioniq Limited hybrid four-door hatchback sedan.
  • Engine/motor: 1.6-liter four-cylinder gasoline; 104 hp, 109 lb-ft torque. Electric 32 kW, 43 hp; 125 lb-ft torque. Combined 139 hp.
  • Transmission: Six-speed dual-clutch automatic.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 96/27 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,115 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 55/54/55 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $31,930.
  • Price as tested: $32,065.

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

Large-39648-2020IONIQHybridPhotos (c) Hyundai

2020 Land Rover Range Rover Sport HST

Iconic vehicles carry both a benefit and a burden with each new iteration. Does it get harder to live up to the past with each successive model? Perhaps. And with the changing automotive landscape, as the realities of climate change begin to penetrate the obfuscation thrown up by short sighted financial interests of oil companies, and major manufacturers plan for a greener, more electric-focused power source for future offerings, the impediments to purchasing a large, heavy, SUV from a legendary manufacturer are not insignificant.

DSC_5238And yet, there is no denying the pleasure of driving a new 2020 Land Rover Range Rover Sport HST. The Land Rover company traces its roots back to 1948’s introduction of the second four wheel drive vehicle following closely behind the Jeep. Four doors, the normal hatch rear opening, and all the trimmings the six cylinder twin turbo with electric supercharger all-wheel drive panoramic moon roof British luxuriousness on full display. Carbon fiber dash and other interior and exterior appointments, smooth leather, not just any leather, but Windsor leather with suede cloth bolsters. Beautiful silver paint, black roof and wheels – the sizable car has that slightly menacing, definitely imperious, potentially fast appearance.

DSC_5246With a curb weight of 5,130 pounds the zero to 60 isn’t bad – 5.9 seconds – but the 40 to 60, given the twin turbos, is a bit of a blast. And when all of that weight gets up and going, the feeling of the speed combined with the heft of the vehicle gives one a sense of serious security, and the allure of being able to impose one’s automotive will on the other lesser vehicles on the road. Which can be a dangerous feeling if not tempered by good sense and an awareness of the necessity to be safe, first and foremost. Safety is helped by the large, red brake calipers, which are larger in the front than the rear. (Red is part of the HST package – which isn’t an acronym for anything, just the name of the trim package.) An interesting result of physics – the front brakes do more of the stopping than the rear. Which if you think about it makes sense – the car is moving forward, so the energy is in the front, which always gets there first, except when driving in reverse of course. But we’ll leave that to Tom Cruise and stunt drivers in the Fast and the Always Furious. It’s also why on older cars that are updated it’s not necessary to replace drum brakes with discs all around, if you’re being judicious with the dollars spent, and the front brakes are enough. Drums do work to slow vehicles – it’s just that discs do work better.

DSC_5250There are the anticipated multiplicity of settings on the Rover. Up and down, wet roads, snowy roads, hills. Sport mode, comfort mode, auto mode. The Millennium Falcon is easier to fly than figuring out all the buttons and knobs and modes on most modern cars. My move is to leave it all in auto, and not worry about it. I did play with the height adjustment to see what it looked like raised all the way up. It’s funny for me, as a person on the taller side, to have to step down from a vehicle. And it made the wheels look small – which is funny, because they’re 21 inches and not small at all.

I was helping someone move some things, which provided a perfect real-world test of the Utility of the sport utility vehicle. The back lift door opens high, and the opening is wide, which is great. But for some reason the rear seats don’t fold all the way flat. There’s a chance I was doing it wrong – but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t operator error. Even with the slight elevation of half of the cargo space there was still ample room to move all kinds of items in one trip.

DSC_5254Like most high end modern cars – and many modern cars period – the Range Rover Sport HST comes with all kinds of driver assist technology. There are cameras all over the place – front facing, rear facing – and the ability to see a cobbled together overhead view of the car. Sensors on all the corners providing warnings of things like curbs or cars or people in proximity to the vehicle. If the lane guidance is on, and you change lanes without signaling there’s haptic feedback – the steering wheel shudders, lights appear on the screen in front of you. When cruise control is on the automatic braking system is engaged. And turning on the blinker initiates an automatic lane change, which is still a bit nuts but worked flawlessly. The big issue with all of these systems designed to make driving safer for the passengers, other cars, and pedestrians is that they may be having the opposite effect. Recent studies by the three A’s (as we call AAA in my family) Foundation for Traffic Safety and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute have found that these systems are more a source of distraction for the driver than a source of safety for all concerned. A little smart evidently isn’t smart enough.

When it comes to the engine, the new technologies provide some serious power and return increased fuel efficiency, thanks to the new inline six cylinder engine, with twin turbos and an electrical supercharger that kicks on in a half a second. With the automatic system that turns the engine off when you’re sitting at a stop light, or you just haven’t turned your car off, these new systems allow for fuel efficiency numbers that aren’t bad given the size and weight of the vehicle – 19 MPG city, 25 highway, for a combined 21 MPG.

Range Rover Sport - Ingenium six-cylinder gasoline engineOne issue for me was legroom. I had plenty of legroom in the front. But when my seat was where I wanted it, only small children or diminutive adults would be comfortable behind me. Which for a car that is not small. In fact, it’s 192″ L x 78″ W x 71″ H, or 16 feet long, six and a half feet wide, and almost six feet tall. What I’ve always wondered about SUVs is why the rear seats don’t move back. Use some of the cargo space in the back to provide the option of more legroom for the rear passengers. Some minivans have rear middle row seats that slide back for enhanced legroom. It’s a serious deficiency in an otherwise super appealing vehicle.

DSC_5236The other impediment being the price. The base price is $82,950. Then add things like Driver Assist Package at $4k, Tow Package at almost $1.1k, Meridien Signature 1700 watt Sound System for just over $4.5k, Carbon Fiber Exterior Pack at $3.5k, On/Off Road pack for what sounds like a bargain $565, some of this and some of that and voila the sticker bottom line is $105,170. Which is a serious number. It’s hard to figure out comparable vehicles. Especially given the heritage that Range Rover brings to the category. But in the luxury world, the Bentley Bentayga with a 542 V8 that gets to 60 under four seconds stickers at $168,000. Of course the fuel economy isn’t as good. But really once you’re in the six figure range it doesn’t seem like fuel economy is a deciding factor. The Mercedes AMG-GLS63 is a three row SUV and stickers just about $126,000. It really becomes a matter of which badge you prefer. Any vehicle at this level will be pretty amazing, with some significant highlights, and some things one may like better or worse than other vehicles of this size, power, and price range.

DSC_5245We’ve reached that point in the creation of automobiles where there really aren’t any more Yugos – cars that may or may not work as intended – and it all becomes a matter of your personal preference, your pocketbook, and your proclivity for frugality versus frills.

I’ll admit I missed the imposing, sleek, powerful HST when I had to turn it back over to the nice people who loaned it to me and it pulled away, off to another lucky reviewer. DSC_5241

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

Photos (c) Tod Mesirow; Engine Image (c) Land Rover

2020 Infiniti Q60 Red Sport 400: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

If nothing else, the 2020 Infiniti Q60 Red Sport 400 qualifies as a beauty. It is one of those cars that invites unsolicited raves about its stylish lines from strangers and friends alike.

Yet this tidy coupe also shines as an adept performer that will not disappoint enthusiasts. However, some will fault it for not offering a manual gearbox to rely instead on a seven-speed automatic transmission that can be shifted manually with steering-wheel paddles. The transmission features automatic rev-matching on downshifts.

INFINITI Q60 RED SPORT 400

The Red Sport 400 is the high-performance version of the Q60 coupe from Infiniti, the luxury division of Japan’s Nissan. Its force surges from a 400-hp, 3.0-liter V6 engine with twin turbochargers that delivers 350 lb-ft of torque, the twisting force that boosts acceleration. Rear-wheel drive is standard with all-wheel drive optional for $2,000, as on the version tested for this review.

Though it sensuously stretches to 15 feet 4 inches long, the Q60 is a small two-door car with tight interior space and a small trunk. Classified as a subcompact by the Environmental Protection Agency, it has 85 cubic feet of passenger room and a trunk of just nine cubic feet — enough to hold a couple of roll-aboard suitcases and a few satchels.

However, if you don’t have to carry a couple of extra passengers, the back seat can hold a hefty load of cargo — a pile of gifts and other holiday or vacation stuff, for example. Loading all that is something of a chore, even with the passenger seatback as far forward as possible.

INFINITI Q60 RED SPORT 400

Inside, the appointments are stylish and the materials of high quality. The powered and heated front seats are comfortable and supportive, upholstered in soft leather, which also wraps the heated steering wheel. Also enhancing the environment: dual-zone automatic climate control, motorized glass sunroof, heated side-view mirrors with LED turn signal lights, and rain-sensing windshield wipers.

The tester came with sport brakes identified by red-painted calipers, 20-inch alloy wheels, and LED headlights, fog lights, turn signals and taillights.

All of that comes with the Red Zone 400 AWD’s $60,175 price tag, including the destination charge. Options included a $2,280 package of carbon-fiber enhancements of the rear deck lid spoiler, fender vents, outside mirror covers and fog lamps.

2020 INFINITI Q60 Edition 30

With options, the bottom-line suggested sticker price came to  $65,950. But curiously and unusual in a car in this price class, there was no adaptive cruise control or lane-departure mitigation. However, the standard equipment included forward collision warning and blind-spot monitoring.

Two people can sit in the back seat, but only if the driver and front passenger move their seats uncomfortably forward to produce knee room in back. Head room there also is in short supply, and entering and exiting the back seat requires athletic contortions.

But as a personal conveyance the Red Sport 400 is an amiable and adrenaline-inducing companion for an individual who doesn’t often need to haul passengers and cargo. There are plenty of sport utility vehicles and crossovers lined up for that duty.

2020 INFINITI Q60 Edition 30

Despite its stealthy profile and cozy interior, the Red Sport 400 is a comfortable long-distance cruiser. On the road, it is quiet to the point of snooze-inducing with a supple suspension system that adapts itself to road surfaces.

In straight-line freeway cruising the Red Sport feels like a larger car, fatigue-free with few steering corrections required. It validates the old adage that small cars should drive big and big cars should feel smaller. Its size, responsive steering and handling inspire confidence on fast curves. This is a driver’s car.

It’s also a point and shoot machine in urban driving, quick with athletic moves in traffic. Off the line, it can nail 60 mph in about 4.5 seconds, according to instrumented tests by Car and Drivermagazine.

2020 INFINITI Q60 Edition 30

Hammering it like that, however, will intrude on the Red Sport 400’s EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption rating of 20/27/22 mpg of premium fuel.

A switch on the console controls Infiniti’s drive mode selector, which provides settings that tailor engine, transmission, steering and suspension adjustments to the driver’s preferences. There are six: ECO, Snow, Standard, Sport, Sport + and Personal, as well as further settings within some of those choices.

The tested Red Sport came with a full suite of infotainment features, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, SiriusXM satellite radio, navigation system, voice recognition, Wi-Fi hotspot and Bluetooth hands-free phone and text-messaging assistant.

INFINITI Q60 RED SPORT 400

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Infiniti Q60 Red Sport 400 AWD two-door coupe.
  • Engine: 3.0-liter V6, twin turbochargers; 400 hp, 350 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Seven-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 4 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 85/9 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,862 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 20/27/22 mpg. Premium fuel recommended.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $60,175.
  • Price as tested: $65,950.

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

2019 INFINITI Q60

Photos (c) Infiniti

2020 NACTOY Winners: A DriveWays Report…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Detroit, Mich. — North American automotive journalists, voting in secret ballots,  revealed on January 13, 2020 that they had selected two quintessentially U.S. vehicles and one from South Korea — but built in the U.S. — as the best newcomers of the past year.

In an announcement at TCF Arena, usually the home of the North American International Auto Show at this time of the year but now moving to June, the journalists picked the all-new mid-engine Chevrolet Corvette Stingray as the Car of the Year and the Jeep Gladiator as Truck of the Year. The Gladiator is manufactured by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA).

2020 TellurideThe all-new Kia Telluride, a midsize three-row crossover sport utility vehicle from the South Korean company but built in a plant in West Point, GA, was awarded Utility of the Year.

The 50 professional automotive journalists who made the selections are dues-paying members of the North American Car of the Year organization. They represent newspapers, magazines and other publications, as well as television, radio and online outlets in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. All NACTOY officers and jurors are volunteers; there are no paid staff positions.

NACTOY describes itself as the premier independent organization that judges excellence in automotive design, technology safety, performance, driver satisfaction, technology and value. (The writer of this article is a member).

Voting is done by secret ballot. A starting list of eligible vehicles, substantially new or redesigned, is drawn up by the leadership. Members then vote for semi-finalists, finalists and winners in the three categories. Votes are tallied by Deloitte, world-wide financial and accounting firm.

2020 Chevrolet Corvette StingrayThe Corvette Stingray, the Car of the Year, is the first in the brand’s 65-year history to feature a mid-engine design. Its 490-horsepower, 6.2-liter engine is mounted in back, ahead of the rear axle. Previous Corvettes had front engines and rear-wheel drive. The transmission is an eight-speed automatic that can be manually shifted. Prices start at $67,495.

Runners-up for Car of the Year were the all-new 2020 Hyundai Sonata midsize sedan and the 2020 Toyota Supra sports coupe, which uses an engine and drive train from BMW of Germany.

The Utility of the Year, the Kia Telluride, beat its fraternal twin, the Hyundai Palisade, in the voting. Kia is partly owned by Hyundai and the two brands share engines and transmissions, though they operate independently and do their designs.

The Telluride’s prices start at around $32,000 and climb to more than $47,000. It is powered by a 291-hp, 3.8-liter V6 engine with an eight-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel or all-wheel drive.

Besides the Hyundai Palisade, the third nominee in the utility category was the 2020 Lincoln Aviator, a luxury three-row SUV with prices that range up to $83,540.

2020 Jeep® Gladiator North EditioThe Jeep Gladiator’s two competitors for Truck of the Year were the midsize 2020 Ford Ranger and 2020 Ram Heavy Duty, with the Gladiator all pickup trucks but different in personalities, design and execution.

2020 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited EcoDiesel: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

It’s, like, the new diesel engine in the 2020 Jeep Wrangler takes some of the fun out of off-roading. Hey, how can you impress the significant other with your boonie-bashing skills when your 12-year-old sister probably could do it?

With spotters, of course, especially if it’s in an area like Sand Hollow in southwest Utah, which attracts Jeepers from all over, along with other off-roadsters in all-terrain vehicles, side-by-sides and trucks — in fact, almost anything with four-wheel drive and the chops to take on prehistoric-looking country.

2020 Jeep® Wrangler Sahara

The spotters are the guys and gals working for Jeep to guide the off-roaders so they don’t crinkle the bodywork of the shiny new Wranglers as they hum their way around a trackless off-road course that you’d never find by yourself. Hum, that is, not chug. These diesels are muscular athletes with black tie and slinky gown manners.

Jeep aficionados, we are told at the national press introduction, have been agitating for years for two things: a pickup truck and a diesel engine for the Wrangler. Jeep slaked the first thirst with the 2020 Gladiator pickup and now satiates the appetite for diesel grunt — so far only in the four-door Jeep Wrangler Unlimited.

Besides the off-road experience, not as dramatic as expected, the event also included sedate scenic motoring through Zion National Park, next door to Springdale, Utah, as well as a bite of freeway driving from there to Sand Hollow.

2020 Jeep® Wrangler Sahara EcoDiesel

Jeep insists on calling its new model an EcoDiesel, no doubt to emphasize the inherent fuel economy of the 3.0-liter V-6 compression ignition engine, which runs on standard diesel fuel but likely would work as well with clean diesel made from algae or plants.

In addition to fuel economy, diesel engines are all about low-end torque, or twisting force. The Wrangler EcoDiesel makes 260 hp along with a whopping 442 lb-ft of torque that kicks in at about 1,400 rpm.

That’s barely above idle speed and is what gives this new Wrangler its spectacular off-road capability. In places, Sand Hollow is as challenging as the famed Rubicon Trail in the Sierra Nevada mountains between Sacramento, California and Lake Tahoe, Nevada. The Rubicon has many areas where spotters are always present to save drivers from trashing their vehicles — and blocking other off-roaders.

2020 Jeep® Wrangler Sahara

Contrary to the popular TV notion of Jeeps flying off sand dunes and cliffs at high speeds, true off-roading is a slow and sometimes grueling prospect. In some places in competitions around the world it entails  requiring drivers and companions to dig out of bogs and make roadside repairs.

That was not the situation at Sand Hollow with the Wrangler EcoDiesel, whose drivers were guided throughout by experienced spotters. Speeds seldom exceeded a couple of miles an hour and, of course, the Jeeps were designed with state-of-the-art off-road equipment, including automatically disconnecting sway bars and locking front and rear differentials.

But the most important aspect — and the inherent quality — that made even novices look experienced was the diesel engine. With gasoline engines on the Sand Hollow course, there would have been fits of stops, starts, jerking and slipping as drivers alternately punched and feathered the throttle and stabbed the brakes.

2020 Jeep® Wrangler Sahara

With the Jeep’s diesel engine’s massive torque, it was simply a matter of maintaining a light foot on the accelerator pedal to climb up, over, through and around boulders, depressions and berms along the course. It’s safe to say almost every driver came away feeling like an expert.

The other part of the story, not to be ignored because any Jeep owner must take to the highways and byways to get to the off-road skill areas. That means the new Jeep Wrangler EcoDiesel must perform as well as an everyday commuter vehicle.

2020 Jeep® Wrangler 3.0-liter V-6 EcoDiesel engine

It does that, and more, especially in the more family-oriented hard top station wagon configuration, which believe it or not is a comfortable cruiser on the highway to the beach or lake vacation. Cheap, too. Driving at more than 80 miles an hour (excuse, please, Utah highway patrol) the tested 4,737-lb Wrangler Sahara was clocking more than 30 mpg.

The only minor glitch was maintaining on-center steering and straight-line driving. There was some slop off-center, wiggling and frequent corrections required. Perfectly understandable, because the Wrangler has solid rear axles front and rear, which mandates traditional recirculating ball steering.

Got a problem with that? Not here.

2020 Jeep® Wrangler Sahara EcoDiesel

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited EcoDiesel Sahara 4X4 four-door sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 3.0-liter V6 diesel; turbocharged; 260 hp, 442 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with four-wheel drive, high and low ranges.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 8 inches.
  • Height: 6 feet 2 inches.
  • Ground clearance: 10-11 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 104/32 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,737 pounds.
  • Estimated city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 23/33/28 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $40,140.
  • Price as tested: $55,125.

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

2020 Jeep® Wrangler Sahara EcoDiesel

Photos (c) FCA North America

2020 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque First Edition: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Though it looks almost the same as its predecessor, the 2020 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque could be named the Evolve. It’s a more refined version of itself, as if it had attended finishing school.

On paved roads it is commendably quiet, comfortable and luxurious with understated agility and dignified road manners suited to royalty. Queen Elizabeth, who does some of her own driving, would be at home in an Evoque.

rrevq20mysilveroffroad007The Evoque comes from Great Britain’s storied Land Rover, which means its schooling included brawny feats of strength negotiating trackless wilderness. The Evoque has that, including the capability to motor through nearly two feet of standing water.

In the U.S., however, it’s doubtful that many customers would choose the Evoque — or its siblings — for anything other than the fashionable image of parking it outside the house or business. A hard-core off-roader likely would buy a used Land Rover or the all-new Defender.

The original Evoque arrived in 2012 and has been a steady presence in Land Rover’s lineup. It is the smallest of the Range Rovers, competing in a class of small crossover SUVs that includes the Porsche Macan, Audi Q3 and Lincoln Corsair.

rrevq20mystonestatic004Though the base Evoque comes with a price tag of $43,645, the version tested here was a First Edition, which translated into the fully loaded model with every option and a sticker price of $57,845.

The most striking thing about it was its 21-inch wheels, which stylishly filled out the wheel openings and improved the ground clearance, already more than eight inches. However, for tough going at the original Evoque’s debut, the front bumper was removed for a better approach angle. The same might be needed for the 2020 model.

The tester came with Land Rover’s Terrain Response: selectable settings for on-road fuel economy; comfort; grass, gravel and snow; mud and ruts, and sand. There also was an automatic setting and hill descent control for off-roading.

rrevq20myredstatic013Power comes from Land Rover’s 246-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, which delivers 269 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force. The engineers have done a masterful job of smoothing out inherent vibrations so this turbo four feels more like a smooth six-cylinder engine.

Turbo lag is almost nonexistent. The annoyance comes from the idle stop-start system, which shuts the engine down at stops, then takes a few seconds to restart before moving off. Fortunately, the stop-start can be turned off with the touch of a digital icon.

There are few buttons or switches controlling the Evoque. Almost everything operates digitally by touching a smooth surface. The equipment should include lessons in emoji reading to figure out what all the little symbols mean. Adjustments can be distracting and should not be attempted while underway.

rrevq20myinteriornd22111805The power gets to all  four wheels through a slick-shifting nine-speed automatic transmission that can be manually paddle-shifted. Besides the Drive position, there’s a sport setting that adjusts shifts to higher rpms for better performance.

Land Rover rates the zero to 60 mph acceleration at seven seconds, though the Evoque feels quicker and independent tests have put the acceleration in the six-second range. Top speed is rated at 143 mph.

But the proof is in the driving. Though the Evoque is a small, though not so tall, crossover SUV, it handles more like a sport sedan on twisting roads. Automatic torque vectoring divides the power side-to-side at the rear wheels to help hustle around curves and enhance the feeling of control.

rrevq20myinfotainments4422111801Inside, passengers are isolated from road, engine and wind noises in sumptuous surroundings that include dual automatic climate zones, supportive ventilated leather seats and quality trim materials.

As a small crossover, the Evoque does not offer generous space. Front-seat passengers have plenty and the back seat is barely accommodating of average-sized adults. But any poor soul relegated to the center-rear seat, with a hard cushion and big floor hump, should be a small child or gymnast. Rear vision is compromised by a small back window and large rear headrests. Behind the rear seat is a cargo area of 22 cubic feet.

Like some other European manufacturers, Land Rover doesn’t quite get a few things. The Evoque has a panoramic glass sunroof with an opaque sunshield. But it doesn’t open. The front sun visors do not slide on their support rods to adequately block sun from the sides. And there are no assist handles front or rear to help people enter and exit.

rrevq20myinteriornd22111822Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque First Edition four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 246 hp, 269 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 4 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 5 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 92/22 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,935 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 20/27/23 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $57,845.
  • Price as tested: $57,845.

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

rrevq20mysilverstatic013Photos (c) Jaguar Land Rover

NACTOY’s Best of 2020: DriveWays . . .

by Frank A. Aukofer

Besides singing “Auld Lang Syne,” the end of every year heralds a flowering of “best of” motor vehicle awards from consumer organizations, enthusiast publications, and web sites.

Except for Consumer Reports, which doesn’t permit advertising of its conclusions about the reliability and efficacy of cars, trucks and utility vehicles, it’s something of a business proposition. An enthusiast magazine that names one or more “best of” or “top rated” vehicles typically gets paid if the manufacturer publicizes the honor in its advertising.

CarUtilityTruck copyThat’s also the case with the premier awards from the North American Car of the Year (NACTOY) organization, whose membership consists of 50 professional automotive journalists from all over the United States and Canada. Their reviews appear in newspapers, magazines and other publications, as well as television, radio and  online.

However, those journalists do not personally benefit. They are dues-paying members who vote for what they consider to be the best car, utility vehicle and truck of the model year. Though the NACTOY organization can benefit from advertising charges, the money is used for operating expenses. All NACTOY officers and jurors are volunteers; there are no paid staff positions.

It is that and its widespread reach that leads NACTOY to describe itself as the premier independent organization judging excellence in automotive design, safety, performance, technology, driver satisfaction and value. (Full disclosure: the writer of this story is a NACTOY juror).

There are three rounds of voting. An initial list of new or substantially upgraded vehicles is compiled by the leadership. Members then vote to determine a list of semi-finalists, then finalists and winners in the three categories of car, utility and truck of the year.

The system works something like the movie Academy Awards. Votes are counted in secret by Deloitte, a world-wide financial and accounting firm. Winners will be announced in Detroit on Monday, Jan. 13, 2020.

For now, however, there are three finalists in each category, which have the distinction of winning the votes of the independent jurors. Following are brief descriptions of the vehicles.

Car of the Year

2020 Chevrolet Corvette StingrayChevrolet Corvette Stingray. This is the long-awaited C8 Corvette, the first in the brand’s 65-year history to feature a mid-engine design, with its 6.2-liter V8 mounted behind the driver’s shoulder blades and ahead of the rear axle. It sends 490 j[ and 465 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels through an eight-speed  automatic transmission. Starting price is $67,495.

Large-39629-2020SonataLimitedHyundai Sonata. Redesigned midsize sedan from the South Korean automaker that better competes against the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Nissan Altima. It has innovative blind-spot warning in the instruments and a self-parking system. Powered by a 180-hp, 1.6-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine with 195 lb-ft of torque and an eight-speed automatic transmission. Priced $24,530 to $34,365.

White Front 3q LeftToyota Supra. The resurrection of a storied sports/grand touring car that was produced from 1978 to 2002. In this new guise it features a power train from BMW of Germany with a 3.0-liter in-line six-cylinder engine that delivers 335 hp and 365 lb-ft of torque with an eight-speed automatic transmission. Prices start at $50,945.

Utility of the Year

Large-36538-2020PalisadeThis category is intriguing because two of the three finalists are fraternal twins: the Hyundai Palisade and Kia Telluride from South Korea. Kia is a subsidiary of Hyundai. The two brands share engines and transmissions, though they operate independently and do their own interior and exterior designs, as well as suspension system tuning and other components.

2020 TellurideBoth are critically acclaimed midsize, three-row crossover sport utility vehicles, powered by 3.8-liter V6 engines with 291 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque. Available with front-wheel or all-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic transmission, their prices range from about $32,000 to more than $47,000.

2020 Lincoln AviatorThe third finalist in the category is the all-new Lincoln Aviator, which competes in the rarified world of mid-size, three-row luxury sport utilities. Available with rear-wheel or all-wheel drive, it is powered by a 3.0-liter V6 engine with twin turbochargers that delivers 400 hp and 415 lb-ft of torque through a 10-speed automatic transmission.

Prices range from $52,095 for the base rear-drive model to as much $83,540 for the Black Label all-wheel drive version.

Truck of the Year

It would be difficult to find a category with more variety among the finalists, although all three are pickup trucks.

2020 Jeep® Gladiator Rubicon on the Rubicon TrailThe Jeep Gladiator is the first pickup truck in 28 years from the manufacturers that got their start building military general purpose, or GP, all-terrain vehicles in World War II. The last Jeep pickup was the Comanche, sold until 1992.

The midsize Gladiator comes in a variety of trim levels for on-road and off-road work and recreation. It is powered by a 3.6-liter V6 engine with 285 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque delivered via a six-speed manual gearbox or an eight-speed automatic transmission. Prices start at $35,000 and can range up to more than $60,000 for the top-line Rubicon model with options.

RangerFX2_01_HRFord Ranger. This is a new midsize pickup that reprises the name of Ford’s earlier midsize pickup, which had a 27-year run until it was discontinued in 2010. It is a comfortable long-distance highway cruiser, powered by Ford’s 2.3-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder turbocharged engine, which makes 270 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque. A 10-speed automatic transmission gets the power to the pavement with standard rear-wheel drive or optional four-wheel drive. Prices range from about $25,000 to $45,000.

2020 Ram Power Wagon Crew CabRam Heavy Duty. Though stylish and refined as pickups go, this full-size truck is the brute of the finalists. With three engine options, including two diesels, it is available as a three-quarter ton (2500) model or one-ton (3500) model and single or dual rear wheels.

The stunner is the 6.7-liter Cummins in-line six-cylinder diesel engine with 400 hp and a whopping 1,000 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force, making it capable of towing 35,100 pounds with a payload of 7,680 pounds. Prices start at around $30,000 and, depending on trim levels and equipment, go up to the sky.

Photos and Images courtesy NACTOY, Chevrolet, Hyundai, Toyota, Kia, Lincoln, Jeep, Ford, and Ram.

2020 Hyundai Sonata Limited: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

With midsize car manufacturers parachuting out of sedans altogether, South Korea’s Hyundai reckons it can reach new heights with its redesigned 2020 Sonata.

Though holding its own, the Sonata is aiming to fly higher. In 2018, for example, it ranked sixth among the top 10 popular-priced midsize sedans with 105,118 sales or 7.1 percent of the total.

Large-39713-2020SonataLimitedThat lagged behind the top-dog Toyota Camry, with 343,439 sales, or 23 percent. In the first three quarters of 2019, Sonata ranked seventh with 68,368 sales, or 6.5 percent, while the Camry totaled 258,456 sales, or 24.5 percent.

The goal is to peel off some of the sales from the top three Toyota, Honda Accord and Nissan Altima while also capturing customers from  others as they eliminate sedans.

Based on a drive of early production models, the Sonata looks as competitive as any. It’s an attractively styled vehicle inside and out, longer, wider and lower than its predecessor with wheels pushed out to the corners and shorter body overhangs.

Large-39708-2020SonataLimitedThe exterior sports striking styling elements, including front and rear LED light treatments and side body trim highlighted by an inch-wide chrome strip that runs from the headlights up and over the hood and window frames.

Inside, the Sonata Limited driven for this review displayed quality materials and workmanship with appealing and thoughtful design elements. For example, it had a unique blind-spot warning system. Instead of warning lights in the outside mirrors, it used cameras to show the left and right areas behind the car.

Click the left or right turn signal for a lane change, and either the tachometer or speedometer disappears and the display shows the blind spot area. The system is similar to one offered by Honda, but Honda’s only shows the right-rear area on the center screen.

Large-39693-2020SonataLimitedHowever, as wonderful as some drivers will find the Sonata blind-spot system, it would not be needed if motorists took the time and effort to correctly adjust the outside mirrors. Set properly with the inside mirror, the driver gets a 180-degree view to the rear.

The Sonata designers demonstrated imagination by designing the front-door armrests to double as storage areas for smart phones and other small objects. The Limited Sonata also came with a head-up display, wireless smart phone charging and an overhead surround-view rear camera.

Another Sonata feature that is likely to win converts is Hyundai’s  “remote smart parking assist.” It allows the driver to step out and, using the key fob, back the car into a parking spot so narrow that none but a snake or lizard could squeeze inside or leave. It would be particularly useful in crowded apartment garages or shopping center parking lots.

Large-39725-2020SonataLimitedThere’s also a so-called “digital key,” which allows an owner to operate the Sonata from a smart phone. So far, however, the system only works with Android phones.

The Sonata comes standard with a full suite of safety equipment: automatic emergency braking, blind-spot and parking collision avoidance, smart cruise control with stop-and-go and lane following assist, rear cross-traffic alert, driver attention warning and headlight high beam assist.

Two power trains are offered over four trim levels: SE, SEL, SEL Plus and the tested Limited. SE and SEL come with Hyundai’s 2.5-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine that makes 191 hp and 181 lb-ft of torque.

The SEL Plus and Limited get their power from a 180-hp, 1.6-liter four-banger that delivers 195 lb-ft of torque and EPA fuel consumption of 28/37/31 mpg. Power with either engine gets to the front wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission.

Large-39733-2020SonataLimitedOn the road, the tested Limited was a commendably quiet cruiser, aided by acoustic glass, sound-deadening insulation, and window and door sealing.  However, there was some unavoidable intrusion of tire noise prompted by rough road surfaces. Handling was crisp, acceleration was brisk, and passing on two-lane highways without anxiety.

During long-distance cruising, seats were supportive and comfortable up front and for outboard passengers in back. As usual, any center-rear passenger gets disrespected by a hard cushion, large floor hump and intrusion of the center console. The large trunk is compromised by C-hinges that are not isolated and could damage contents.

Prices were finalized after the national press introduction in Montgomery, Alabama, where the Sonata is manufactured in Hyundai’s sprawling plant in near-by Hope Hull.  The base SE model starts at $24,330, including the destination charge. The tested Limited came with  a bottom-line suggested delivered price of $34,365.

Large-39748-2020SonataLimitedSpecifications

  • Model: 2020 Hyundai Sonata Limited four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 1.6-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 180 hp, 195 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 1 inch.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/trunk volume: 101/16 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,336 pounds
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 27/36/31 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $34,230.
  • Price as tested: Est. $34,365.

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

Large-39696-2020SonataLimitedPhotos (c) Hyundai

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑