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2019 Volkswagen Arteon SEL Premium: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Volkswagen’s 2019 Arteon exudes streamlined styling and comes with an attribute that could entice customers attracted to the increasingly popular crossover sport utility vehicles.

Though it doesn’t look the part, the Arteon is a hatchback sedan with a cargo area of 27 cubic feet, which rivals that of many crossovers.  It also has passenger space of 98 cubic feet. Together, the total 125 cubic feet qualify it as a large car by the federal government’s definition.

2019_Arteon_SEL_Premium_R-Line-Large-9794Yet the dimensions and handling feel are those of a midsize car. In concept, it resembles — and can compete with — the smaller A5 and larger A7 Sportbacks from Audi, Volkswagen’s luxury division. They too are low-slung and sleek but more expensive hatchback sedans.

The Arteon resembles the acclaimed Kia Stinger, which also is a fastback sedan with a hatch. Both are powered by turbocharged, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engines with eight-speed automatic transmissions and available all-wheel drive. Horsepower is similar at 268 for the Arteon and 255 for the Stinger with zero to 60 mph acceleration times of about six seconds.

At 15 feet 11 inches, the Arteon is an inch longer than the Stinger and weighs 185 pounds more. With eight cubic feet less of interior space, the Stinger is classified as a midsize car. Its base price is about $4,000 less than the Arteon’s. (The Stinger also is available with a 365-hp, twin-turbo, 3.3-liter V6 engine; the Arteon has only the 2.0-liter four-cylinder).

2019_Arteon_SEL_Premium_R-Line-Large-9779But when it comes to luxury appointments, the Arteon — now VW’s flagship sedan — does not slouch. Though popularly priced, starting at $36,840 for the base SE version, the top trim level — the $45,940 SEL Premium 4Motion all-wheel drive model driven for this review — has plenty of luxurious accouterments as well as a full suite of safety enhancements.

Equipment includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-keeping assist, blind spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control with stop and go, overhead view rear camera, and VW’s intelligent crash response system. In an accident the system unlocks doors, shuts off the engine, disables electronics and turns on lights.

2019_Arteon-Large-7924Inside features include navigation, three-zone automatic climate control, Nappa leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, driver’s seat with massage and memory functions, heated outboard rear seats, AM/FM/HD and SXM satellite radio, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Bluetooth connectivity and a panoramic glass sunroof.

Mimicking a current cliché in European luxury cars, the sunshade for the Arteon’s sunroof was made of a perforated cloth that admitted sunlight and heat. Sunshades should be opaque.

The Arteon name incorporates “art” and “eon,” evoking a sort of timeless staying power. It is a descendant of the Volkswagen’s former CC model, so-called because VW christened it as a “comfort coupe” — that is, a sedan with a coupe profile. It was based on the VW Passat sedan and lasted nine years until it was axed after the 2017 model year.

2019_Arteon_SEL_Premium_R-Line-Large-9788Despite its striking low profile, the Arteon has plenty of head and legroom inside, both in the front and the rear outboard seats. As with almost every vehicle these days, the center-rear passenger gets punished with a hard cushion and a floor hump, and on the Arteon does not get a heated seat.     The rear seatbacks fold almost flat to expand the cargo carrying capability to 55 cubic feet.

On the road, the tested SEL 4Motion model is an amiable companion. Belying its $45,460 price tag, its ambiance is that of a luxury cruiser with little intrusion of mechanical or wind noise. In this era of lousy surfaces, however, it’s impossible to eliminate tire noise unless you’re driving on newly-paved asphalt.

2019_Arteon_SEL_Premium_R-Line-Large-9790Though it is turbocharged, the 2.0-liter engine is smooth and quiet with little turbo lag setting off from rest. The eight-speed automatic transmission is unobtrusive in around-town motoring but also snaps off rapid shifts under hard acceleration. On the tested SEL Premium 4Motion, there were steering-wheel mounted paddles for manual shifting.

Five drive modes are available: Eco, Normal, Comfort, Sport and Custom. They, too, are mostly unobtrusive except for the Sport setting, which delays upshifts to higher rpms than the other settings. Custom allows the driver to tailor personal preferences.

The front seats are supportive and comfortable, and with the Arteon’s adaptive shock absorbers, the ride is controlled and serene for the most part. Handling is confident with responsive, weighted steering.

German luxury cars are notoriously expensive. The Arteon delivers much of that amenity at a middle-class price.

2019_Arteon_SEL_Premium_R-Line-Large-9800Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Volkswagen Arteon SEL Premium 4Motion four-door hatchback sedan.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder; 268 hp, 258 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual shifting mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 11 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 98/27 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,835 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 20/27/23 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $45,490.
  • Price as tested: $45,940.

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

2019_Arteon_SEL_Premium_R-Line-Large-9774Photos: Volkswagen

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2019 Mercedes-Benz A220 4MATIC: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The Mercedes-Benz A220 4MATIC sedan, an all-new entry-level model from the German luxury manufacturer, turns heads and invites comments attesting to its striking styling.

It’s as if this small car, only a couple of inches shorter than the new economy-model Nissan Versa and with less interior room, surprises onlookers with its presence.

Mercedes-Benz A-Klasse Limousine, V 177, 2018 // Mercedes-Benz A-Class Sedan, V177, 2018Well, it should, if for nothing else than its price tag. While you can buy a satisfactory top-line Versa SR for about 20 grand, the A220 has a starting price of $35,495. With the customary European luxury-car list of expensive options, the test car checked the boxes with a sticker of $49,785. You can save $2,000 by skipping the 4MATIC all-wheel drive.

Though marketed as subcompacts, both cars barely sneak into the compact class by the U.S. government’s definition: a car with interior space of 100 to 109 cubic feet, including the trunk. The A220 4MATIC has 102, with 93 cubic feet for passengers and shy of nine cubic feet in the trunk. The Versa has 104 cubic feet, divided at 89 for people with a large trunk of 15 cubic feet.

But enough of size comparisons. The A220 and the Versa do not circulate in the same company. Though either will get you to where you are going, the valets who park the Mercedes will expect a way bigger tip. Versa owners likely will self-park or seek out a street space.

Mercedes-Benz A-Klasse Limousine, V 177, 2018 // Mercedes-Benz A-Class Sedan, V177, 2018Of course, few Mercedes customers would even deign to look at a Versa, much less drive one, and it’s likely most Versa customers would not have pockets deep enough to venture into a Mercedes showroom.

The new A220 should not be confused with the CLA, another compact sedan that Mercedes calls a “four-door coupe.” Though both cars are built off the same front-drive architecture, the CLA is three inches longer and boasts sleeker down-low styling with slightly less passenger space — 91.5 cubic feet compared to 93 for the A220. However, it has a larger trunk of 13 cubic feet versus nine cubic feet in the A-220.

Sophisticatedly motivating the A220 is a 188-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 221 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force. It gets the power to the pavement via a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, which delivers instant shifts up or down and can be manually shifted with paddles on the steering wheel.

Mercedes-Benz A-Klasse Limousine, V 177, 2018 // Mercedes-Benz A-Class Sedan, V177, 2018However you choose to do it, the engine-transmission combination will slingshot the A220 4MATIC to 60 mph in about six seconds. It does that with a remarkable lack of any dreaded turbo hesitation.

Despite its size and relatively light weight of 3,417 lbs, the A220 feels like a Mercedes-Benz, with handling responsive to the weighted steering. It tracks steadily in a straight line, cruises quietly, brakes smartly and its optional adaptive damping suspension system and tires mostly absorb the damnable road irregularities that increasingly plague U.S. roads.

So if nothing else, it’s a good thing for a car like the A220 to have  robust, quality underpinnings. At its price point, it also has many other desirable qualities, along with a few fluffs.

Mercedes-Benz A-Klasse Limousine, V 177, 2018 // Mercedes-Benz A-Class Sedan, V177, 2018Much of the desirable stuff comes with an additional price tag on the options list, including the comprehensive safety equipment: Distronic adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency stopping, lane-keeping and emergency steering assist, and blind-spot warning.

Also optional: combined digital instruments/center-screen cluster, head-up display, Burmester premium surround audio, navigation system, parking assist, surround-view rear camera, SXM satellite radio, heated front seats, auto-dimming inside and outside rear-view mirrors, and inductive smart phone charging

Mercedes-Benz A-Klasse Limousine, V 177, 2018 // Mercedes-Benz A-Class Sedan, V177, 2018

The head-up display is unusual in that it has a readout that displays the distance between the A220 and the car ahead, up to 300 feet. However, although it shows the speed of the car, it does not indicate the speed limit. For that, you have to glance down at the dashboard instruments.

The test car also had a curious intervention. On some cars, when you shut down the engine and open the door, the driver’s seat automatically moves back to facilitate exit and entry. On the A220, it does the opposite. The seatback pushes forward, as if to squash your chest into the steering wheel. It does not, fortunately.

Other fluffs: the shade for the panoramic sunroof is not opaque but made from a flimsy material that admits heat and sunlight. Sun visors do not slide to block sun from the sides. And there were no inside assist handles — only coat hooks combined with reading lights.

Mercedes-Benz A-Klasse Limousine, V 177, 2018 // Mercedes-Benz A-Class Sedan, V177, 2018

Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Mercedes-Benz A220 4MATIC four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 188 hp, 221 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Seven-speed twin-clutch automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 11 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 93/9 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,417 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 25/33/28 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $35,495.
  • Price as tested: $49,785.

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

Mercedes-Benz A-Klasse Limousine, V 177, 2018 // Mercedes-Benz A-Class Sedan, V177, 2018Photos:  Mercedes-Benz

2019 BMW X5 xDrive40i: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

If “aggressive” is a word that gets your automotive juices flowing, and you’re in the market for a midsize luxury SUV, you might want to schedule a test drive in the 2019 BMW X5 xDrive crossover.

Now 20 years old, the X5 was the Bavarian Motor Works’s answer to the 1998 Mercedes-Benz ML 320, which had the distinction of leading the parade of modern luxury SUVs. They now have multiplied to the point where you can select from nameplates like Bentley, Porsche, Rolls-Royce, Acura, Audi, Volvo, Land Rover, Infiniti, Cadillac, Jaguar, Lincoln, Lexus and, of course, Mercedes-Benz.

P90325220-highResIn this company, as in other areas of the automotive firmament, the BMW X5 chooses to compete in a clique of vehicles oriented more toward performance than plush ride and comfort — hence the “aggressive” moniker.

Though it’s not up there in nosebleed price territory like the Rolls-Royce or Bentley, the X5 is aggressively priced. The tested X5 — the xDrive designation is superfluous because all of the 2019 models come with all-wheel drive — came with a base price of $61,695, including the destination charge.

As usual with European luxury cars — though the X5 actually is built in BMW’s U.S. plant near Spartanburg, S.C. — the devil is in the detailed list of options. The tested X5 was crammed with $12,285 worth, resulting in a bottom-line sticker price of $73,980.

P90325209-highResOptions included items that a customer might expect should be standard equipment in a vehicle in this price class—for example, the leather-trimmed dashboard, head-up display, Wi-Fi hotspot, wireless smart phone charging, rear camera with surround view, four-zone climate control and SXM satellite radio.

But BMW does focus on the performance gear, which is standard and not part of the options list. The silky in-line six-cylinder engine delivers 335 hp and 330 lb-ft of torque — enough, the company says, to accelerate to 60 mph in 5.3 seconds, with a governed top speed of 130 mph.

That aggressive power gets to all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission that can be shifted manually with paddles mounted on the steering wheel. Want to do some stoplight drag races with a Porsche Cayenne, Mercedes-Benz GLE or Audi Q7? Go seek them out and the likely result will have more to do with driver skills than  power under the hood.

P90325505-highResThe X5’s aggressive nature extends to its lane-keeping assist and adaptive cruise control. Though it cruises sedately in easy-flowing Interstate traffic, the X5 gets downright mean if the driver’s attention wanders. Drift out of your lane and the system nearly jerks the steering wheel out of your hands as it brings this 4,613-lb machine back on track.

As with other adaptive cruise control systems, the driver can select the following distance from the vehicle ahead. It’s best to allow some extra air for the X5. Set it to the shortest distance and it can scare the daylights out of the driver as it aggressively closes, then slams on the brakes before meekly matching the target’s speed.

Even with its responsive acceleration and handling, the X5 still is a tall SUV and would not compete on a twisting racecourse with its sibling sedans. Still, among luxury crossover SUVs, it stands out for steady tracking, steering feel and feedback, and the capability to negotiate mountain curves with aplomb and control.

P90325536-highResAside from its aggressive personality, the X5 comports with other luxury vehicles in designing its driver-interactive systems more for engineers and tech enthusiasts than average moderately-savvy drivers. It often seems that infotainment systems on luxury vehicles are needlessly complex to justify the high prices. The attitude seems to be that if the systems are simple, they must be cheap.

Not so. Almost anybody would happily and quickly learn an infotainment system from, for example, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) than try to dissect the owner’s manual on a BMW or Mercedes to figure out how to, say, set the pre-sets on the SXM satellite radio.

P90325526-highResThough there are capable midsize crossover SUVs available for way less money — the 2020 Kia Telluride, Subaru Outback and Hyundai Palisade come to mind — the X5 is a fine choice for those with the wherewithal and a taste for aggressive performance.

In addition to its road-going manners, the X5 boasts some off-road chops, though likely not in the same manner as Land Rovers and Range Rovers. The emphasis, as is traditional with BMW, is “ultimate” street driving.

P90325383-highResSpecifications

  • Model: 2019 BMW X5 xDrive40i four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 3.0-liter six-cylinder, turbocharged; 335 hp, 330 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 2 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 9 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 105/34 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,613 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 6,503-7,209 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 20/26/22 mpg. Premium fuel.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $61,695.
  • Price as tested: $73,980.

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

P90325519-highResPhotos:  BMW

2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI 2.0T: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The most tired cliché in the automotive world is “fun to drive,” used everywhere and on everything from kiddie cars to 18-wheelers. Still, Volkswagen is faithful to the original idea with its 2019 Jetta GLI 35thAnniversary Edition.

Just as the VW Golf GTI invented the so-call “hot hatch” and still is regarded as the benchmark for popular-priced practical performance cars, the Jetta GLI has long been regarded as the sedan version of the GTI.

2019_Jetta_GLI_35th_Anniversary_Edition-Large-9557The front fenders of the 2019 GLI bear an escutcheon that announces “GLI 35,” reminding us that it’s been around since 1984 as the notchback with the roomy trunk for American buyers who, until recently, treated hatchbacks as if they were coated with slime (actually attractive to 11-year old girls).

That changed with the geniuses who decided that hatchbacks could be jacked up for more ground clearance and re-named as crossover SUVs, usually with optional all-wheel drive. Now they are taking over the marketplace and sedans are dying off, as witness the impending demise of the Ford Focus and Fusion, and Chevrolet Cruze, Malibu and Impala.

That hasn’t happened at Volkswagen — at least in the U.S., where the Jetta sedans handily outsell the Golf hatchbacks, though the Tiguan crossover beats both.

2019_Jetta_GLI_35th_Anniversary_Edition-Large-9569The 2019 Jetta GLI comes in three trim levels: S with a base price of $26,890 including the destination charge, 35thAnniversary Edition at $27,890 and the top-line Autobahn $30,090. All of those prices are with the six-speed manual gearbox. Add $800 for a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.

What that means is that the highest sticker price you can find for a Jetta GLI is $30,890. That’s somewhere around $5,000 less than the current average price of a new car.

Die-hard enthusiasts will rejoice over the fact that all GLI models come with stick shifts, as well as selectable driving modes and what some like to call “German handling.” It’s a vague term, more felt than defined.

2019_Jetta_GLI_35th_Anniversary_Edition-Large-9556What it translates into is a compact sport sedan with athletic moves in traffic and on twisting mountain roads, and comfortable, straight-line cruising with few steering corrections needed. Also, with a fully independent suspension, the GLI also delivers a steady ride and plenty of insulation for a quiet cabin during freeway cruising.

Unfortunately, in an era when the vast majority of motorists have no clue how to drive a manual gearbox, only a select few will experience the pleasurable sensations of shifting for themselves. The GLI’s manual is a paradigm of slick, with effortless upshifts and downshifts, as well as easy clutch engagement. You have to be a real klutz to kill the engine on a bad shift.

2019_Jetta_GLI_35th_Anniversary_Edition-Large-9539However, there is a bit of a downside. In former times, manual gearboxes delivered better fuel economy than automatic transmissions, sometimes referred to as slush boxes. But the automatics have been improved to the point where many beat the manuals on fuel economy. That’s especially true of the dual-clutch types, as on the GLI, which essentially are manuals that shift automatically.

It turns out that the VW engineers have managed to deliver a six-speed manual that, in the hands of an economy-oriented driver, can equal the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. Both are rated by the EPA at 25/32/28 mpg in city/highway/combined driving. The GLI tested for this review consistently delivered nearly 30 mpg.

2019_Jetta_GLI_35th_Anniversary_Edition-Large-9544That’s remarkable given the reviewer’s heavy foot and the fact that the GLI is powered by a turbocharged 228-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that delivers 258 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force. That’s enough to hit 60 mph in around six seconds — no slouch by anybody’s definition.

Along with its other attributes, the Jetta GLI is a comfortable everyday companion. The tested 35thAnniversary Edition came with seats covered in an attractive, durable textured black cloth, preferable in this reviewer’s preference to sometimes cold or hot and sticky leather or leatherette. Even at that, the front seats are heated.

2019_Jetta_GLI_35th_Anniversary_Edition-Large-9545The front seats have well-bolstered seatbacks to hold the torso in cornering. Outboard back seats also are comfortable with adequate head and knee room. However, as on most cars these days, any center-rear passenger will have to suffer a hard cushion and splay his or her feet around a big, square hump.

Traditional on Jetta models, there’s a large trunk, though the hinges for the trunk lid are only partially isolated from the contents. You also have to pay more for the Autobahn model to get SXM satellite radio.

2019_Jetta_GLI_35th_Anniversary_Edition-Large-9562Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Volkswagen GLI 2.0T 35thAnniversary Edition four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder; turbocharged, 228 hp, 258 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed manual.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 5 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume:  95/14 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,217 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 25/32/28 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $27,890.
  • Price as tested: $27,890.

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

2019_Jetta_GLI_35th_Anniversary_Edition-Large-9560Photos (c) Volkswagen

 

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE450: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The redesigned 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE450 possesses a heritage that none of its sport utility siblings can claim.

It is the direct descendant of the 1998 Mercedes ML320, originally described as the M-Class All-Activity Vehicle. It astounded the motoring public as the first SUV from a luxury manufacturer with an affordable price tag of $34,545.

All-new Mercedes-Benz GLE SUV to start at $53,700

By the standards then and now, it was a midsize. It also was a true SUV with truck-like body-on-frame construction, and solid off-road capabilities with an all-wheel drive system that could get you out of trouble even if only one wheel had traction.

Moreover, it was a true five-passenger vehicle, with a flat floor and three separate and equal back seats. It was unlike most vehicles nowadays, most of which are crossover SUVs with unit-body construction like automobiles. They usually disrespect any center-rear passenger with a narrow, hard cushion and little if any comfort. The GLE450 follows that trend.

Over the 22 years since the ML320, Mercedes switched it to unit-body construction and designed additional crossovers, to the point where it now has four: small GLA, compact GLC, midsize GLE and full-size GLS. It also markets the G-Class, a military-style truck-like SUV.

Der neue Mercedes-Benz GLE, San Antonio 2018 // The new Mercedes-Benz GLE, San Antonio 2018

Interestingly, the 2020 GLE450 comes across as a modern iteration of the original — better in most ways but not as good as in some. Besides the lack of comfort for the third-row passenger, and despite the fact that it is more than a foot longer than the ML320, it has less interior room.

The ML320 had 105 cubic feet of space for passengers and a generous cargo area of 45 cubic feet. The new GLE has 102 cubic feet for passengers and 38 cubic feet for cargo.

Of course, the GLE has way more sophistication, safety equipment and power than its predecessor. With twin turbochargers, its new inline six-cylinder engine makes 362 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque, delivered to all four-wheels with a nine-speed automatic transmission that can be shifted manually.

Der neue Mercedes-Benz GLE, San Antonio 2018 // The new Mercedes-Benz GLE, San Antonio 2018

The 1998 ML320’s 3.2-liter V6 engine had a five-speed automatic transmission to handle 215 hp and 233 lb-ft of torque. Fuel economy was rated at 17 mpg city and 21 mpg highway. Now, using the EPA’s new system, the city/highway/combined rating for the GLE works out to 19/24/21 mpg.

Other than years, the biggest gap between the original and the new GLE450 is price. The ML320’s price of $34,545, including the destination charge, as tested by this reviewer, pretty much covered everything. The standard upholstery was a sturdy cloth trimmed with leatherette that usually outlasted the optional leather. You also could order such options as side-step rails and a multiple-disc CD changer mounted in the cargo area.

In today’s dollars, that ML320 would cost $53,890. The 2019 450GLE tested for this review had a base price of $62,145 and, with options, the bottom-line sticker came to a whopping $85,120.

Der neue Mercedes-Benz GLE, San Antonio 2018 // The new Mercedes-Benz GLE, San Antonio 2018

Of course, the standard equipment and $22,975 worth of options included items not dreamed of two decades ago: Automatic emergency braking, active lane-keeping assist, Distronic adaptive cruise control, rear cross-traffic braking, rear collision protection, idle stop-start technology, blind-spot monitor, navigation with voice control, Bluetooth connectivity, Apple Car Play and Android Auto, four-zone automatic climate control, heated and cooled cup holders and front seats, powered rear- and side-window sun blinds, and even a way to perfume the passenger pod. To name a few.

The instruments and infotainment center screen are combined in a broad display across the dash that looks something like a wide-screen video game. Functions are accessed by a controller for the screen and a tiny button on the steering wheel to change instrument views. Younger owners will adapt immediately; older folks will require lessons.

Der neue Mercedes-Benz GLE, San Antonio 2018 // The new Mercedes-Benz GLE, San Antonio 2018

On the road, the GLE450 exhibits everything you expect from a modern Mercedes. The steering has a substantial, heavy feel. The luxurious interior is isolated from almost all nasty environmental noises. Seats are designed for long-distance support and comfort.

Though it’s a tall, nearly 2.5-ton machine, the GLE450 comports itself well on twisting roads, though of course it’s no sports sedan. The optional air suspension system keeps the wheels planted and the ride supple, though there is some delayed pitching and bouncing on undulating roads.

Time marches on. The 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE450 incorporates way more performance, comfort and convenience than the original M-Class. But it’s an evolution. The ML320 was a game changer. Which is better?

Der neue Mercedes-Benz GLE, San Antonio 2018 // The new Mercedes-Benz GLE, San Antonio 2018

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE450 4Matic four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 3.0-liter six-cylinder; turbocharged, 362 hp, 369 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall Length: 16 feet 2 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 11 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: TBA/TBA.
  • Weight: 4,990 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 7,700 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 19/24/21 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $62,145.
  • Price as tested: $85,120.

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

Der neue Mercedes-Benz GLE, San Antonio 2018 // The new Mercedes-Benz GLE, San Antonio 2018

Photos (c) Mercedes-Benz

2019 Audi A8 L Quattro: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

With its six-figure price tag and mild hybrid power train, you could argue that the 2019 Audi A8 L represents economical basic transportation for the wealthy. 

Or you could just forget about that and enjoy a quality all-wheel drive luxury sedan — if you can afford to buy, lease or finance it. The re-designed A8 L, which qualifies as a large car by U.S. government definitions, is a limousine-like conveyance with a base price of $84,795, including the destination charge.

The tested A8 L came with a bottom-line sticker price of $101,095, which is out of the league for most of us, but which validates the old adage that you get what you pay for.  

That’s despite the fact that this reviewer believes that most high-end vehicles marketed by European manufacturers are overpriced compared to those from companies around the rest of the world, regardless of where they are actually made.

It’s hard to imagine anyone not enjoying the Audi A8 L Quattro’s overall attributes. It combines admirable performance and handling with tomb-like silence on the highway, and a supple ride that encourages long-distance jaunts. 

Start with the power train. The A8 L opens with a turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 engine, then adds a small 48-hp electric motor — a so-called mild hybrid, to provide a bit of boost when needed and a wee dollop of additional fuel economy because it enables a sophisticated engine stop-start system.

Altogether, the system delivers 335 hp and 369 lb-feet of torque, enough to propel this 4,751-lb Audi to 60 mph in about five seconds, according to independent tests, with a top speed — not that you’ll use it — of 130 mph. The EPA rates city/highway/combined fuel consumption at a respectable 19/27/22 mpg.

All the while, you are cosseted in supportive and comfortable seats with plenty of bolstering should you decide to play rally driver on twisting mountain roads somewhere, although it’s hard to imagine many A8 L owners doing that. 

However, for those who are so oriented, Audi includes an adaptive air suspension system that reads the road ahead and adjusts for irregularities. 

Despite its aggressive capabilities, this is a classy boulevardier that easily could be chauffeur-driven for drop-offs at the Metropolitan Opera in New York or the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

You actually might need the chauffeur to puzzle out the  complicated and initially confusing infotainment system displayed on the center screen. Though it is the sort of modern computerized convenience found everywhere that owners eventually will master, it is not as intuitive as it should be. 

For example, setting and finding pre-sets on the radio takes about three steps, where other systems are simpler. Also, the touch screen requires a distractingly good aim and a firm touch.

If you were driven by a chauffeur, you would ride in the back seats, which are at least as comfortable as the fronts, with plenty of head room and stretch-out space. But don’t try to put three people back there. The center position is a narrow, hard cushion with a tall, square hump in the floor. It’s a wonder there’s even a fifth seatbelt back there.

Aside from that, the driver and passengers sit or recline on soft leather seats with massage, power lumbar support, heating and ventilation; an ionizer that vents fragrances into the cabin; navigation with voice control, drop-down lighted vanity mirrors in back, and even a rear seat remote control for the infotainment system.

The trunk, while not overly large, holds a full-size spare wheel and temporary tire. It also is carpeted, and the contents are protected from the trunk lid’s C-hinges.

Also, a motorized panoramic sunroof with opaque shade, powered sunshades for the rear window and side windows, heated steering wheel, power door closers, automatic trunk opening and closing, premium Bang & Olufsen audio system with 3D sound, SXM satellite radio, and four-zone automatic climate control.

Curiously, the A8 L comes up short on storage space up front. The glove compartment is oddly shaped and the center console is shallow, divided between an inductive smart-phone charger and a cubby for small change, lipsticks and maybe something with which to powder milady’s nose.

Of course, the A8 L comes with all modern safety equipment, active and passive, including low-speed collision avoidance with occupant protection,  head-up display, 11 airbags, brake assist, adaptive cruise control, parking assist, LED running lights and taillights, and electronic stability control.

Specifications

  • Model:2019 Audi A8 L Quattro four-door luxury sedan.
  • Engine:3.0-liter V6, turbocharged, with mild hybrid electric motor; 335 hp, 369 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission:Eight-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length:17 feet 5 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume:111/13 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,751 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption:19/27/22 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge:$84,795.
  • Price as tested:$101,095.

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

Photos (c) Audi

2019 Volkswagen Atlas: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

As with the 2019 Volkswagen Atlas, sometimes the lesser of two choices makes all the difference — in this rendering, the $37,000 version versus the one north of $50,000.

2019_Atlas-Large-8753You might say that about many new vehicles. Sure, it seems everybody would like the one loaded with every option for safety, performance, comfort, convenience and even luxury surroundings.

But there’s a school of thought, endorsed by this reviewer, that even base automobiles and light trucks can be appealing — and not only for their parsimony. After all, every car must have an engine, transmission, tires, brakes, steering, seats, controlled climate and safety equipment mandated by the U.S. government.

Moreover, though the manufacturers like to tout the superiority of their lavishly-equipped products, the truth is there is no junk out there any more. Ask most experts what kind of new vehicle you should buy and many would simply say, “What do you like?”

2018_Atlas-Large-7501Ratings nowadays are informed not by engines that gobble oil or wheel bearings that fail, but more by whether there’s too much wind noise or a baffling infotainment system — not so much by things that put you on the side of the road at midnight.

Which brings us to the 2019 Volkswagen Atlas SE. It is a full-size, three-row, seven-passenger crossover sport utility vehicle that can satisfy  minivan-averse customers, though it comes up short with 21 cubic feet for cargo space behind the third row.

It can accommodate seven adults with head-room comfort, though the second-row passengers must give up some of their generous leg room for the folks in the third row. It is easily done because the second row has about eight inches of fore-and-aft travel to divvy up, as well as seatbacks that flip forward so even creaky oldsters can get back to the third row.

2018_Atlas-Large-6591On the SE model, everyone sits on VW’s V-Tex leatherette upholstery, which is about as comfortable as real leather and likely will last way longer, though the preference here would be for a durable cloth that is soothing in all climates.

The SE is a bottom-dweller, just one step up from the base S in a line of seven trim levels topped out by the SEL Premium. So, the SE doesn’t come with such amenities as leather upholstery, panoramic sunroof, 20-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, park assist, ventilated front seats and heated rear seats, a Fender premium audio system and captain’s seats in the second row, which reduces the passenger accommodations from seven to six.

But the SE does have forward collision monitoring with emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring and rear traffic alert, hill start assist, pushbutton starting, 10-way powered and heated driver’s seat, Bluetooth connectivity, three-zone automatic climate control, SXM satellite radio, and LED headlights and daytime running lights.

2018_Atlas-Large-6604The base price of the tested SE came to $36,490, including the destination charge. With an optional towing package, it topped out at $37,040. One reason for the reasonable price is that it came with front-wheel drive instead of the optional all-wheel drive, which accounts for an $1,800 difference.

For most customers, except for those in severe snow belt areas, there’s no need to spend the extra money for all-wheel drive. Independent tests have shown that front-drive vehicles accelerate, brake and turn as well as all-wheel drive models in most circumstances except for low-speed maneuvering in heavy snow and other slippery conditions.

2018_Atlas-Large-6597The tested SE came with Volkswagen’s 276-hp 3.6-liter V6 engine that makes 266 lb-ft of torque, mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. The base engine is a 235-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 258 lb-ft of torque.

Though the four-bangers, both turbo and naturally aspirated, are becoming ubiquitous everywhere in the motoring industry, there’s still nothing like the silky power delivery of a six-cylinder engine, either inline or with a V configuration.

With the easy-shifting eight-speed automatic, the Atlas is an elegant and quiet conveyance that has a supple ride, tracks cleanly in a straight line and, if you don’t push it too hard, easily handles curving roads.

2018_Atlas-Large-6613Though the Atlas feels smaller than its length of 16.5 feet and height of nearly six feet, maneuvering in traffic and on ramps inside parking garages requires attention and care.

But for anyone who needs to carry seven passengers—or five passengers with 56 cubic feet of cargo space—the Atlas SE comes with a decent price and city/highway/combined fuel economy of 17/24/19 mpg of regular gasoline.

2019_Atlas-Large-8755Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Volkswagen Atlas V6 SE four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 3.6-liter V6; 276 hp, 266 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 6 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 10 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 154/21 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,343 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 17/24/19 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $36,490.
  • Price as tested: $37,040.

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

2018_Atlas-Large-7510Photos (c) Volkswagen

 

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 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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