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2020 Mercedes-Benz CLS450 4MATIC: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

If your heart desires and your finances can handle the slinky 2020 Mercedes-Benz CLS450 4Matic Coupe, figure on two things: Learning how to duck and sometimes getting annoyed.

The former is needed because this compact luxury/sport car possesses a stature that is hunkered down and menacing, with a low roofline, forcing almost everyone to duck way down just to enter the driver’s seat — or any door, for that matter — lest a noggin gets cracked. That vertically squished profile likely is the reason Mercedes formally refers to the four-door CLS450 as a Coupe.

2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS

A periodic annoyance occurs when the radio jumps to a different station than the one you’re enjoying. An in-depth investigation revealed that it happens while turning and accidentally bumping buttons on the steering wheel.

It happens when you use the recommended nine and three o’clock position for hands on the wheel. That places the thumbs in close proximity to the switches and buttons on both sides of the wheel. The culprit is a button that returns to previous settings.

If you’re listening to the SXM radio, brushing the button will send you back to a previous station — classical music to country, for example. If that’s not annoying enough, it’s a distracting four-step process to return to your original station: Use the control knob on the console to select presets, press, then scroll to your station and press again.

2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS

Though a minor annoyance, it doesn’t detract from this entertaining, superbly performing, comfortable and quiet sports sedan/coupe that lives up to its $73,445 base price. With options, it swells to $81,575

As noted, it’s low down, just four feet eight inches tall, so even your five-foot tall friend can see over the top. With 105 cubic feet of space inside, divided into 94 for passengers and 12 in the trunk. it is classified as a compact by the Environmental Protection Agency. It seats four in reasonable comfort, though without much extra space in back.

_F8A8877-sourceThere is a seatbelt for a fifth passenger in the center-rear but don’t try putting anyone there unless it’s an emergency. A hard cushion and a big floor hump rudely intrude.

Where the CLS450 shines is in the driving experience. It is a 4Matic, Mercedes-speak for all-wheel drive, and it is powered by a 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine that is turbocharged and boosted by a 48-volt electric motor. The system makes 362 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque, the twisting force that enables rapid acceleration off the line.

It’s heartening to see inline sixes returning in an era of V6s and four-cylinder turbo engines. Inline sixes are renowned for their smooth and linear delivery of power.

_F8A8906-sourceThe addition of the electric mild hybrid motor, called Eco Boost, does two things: It eliminates any hint of turbo lag, that hesitation off the line as the turbocharger spools up. It also enables an idle stop-start system that is so unobtrusive you hardly know it’s there. The stop-start contributes marginally to the EPA’s city/highway/combined fuel economy rating of 24/30/26 mpg.

Power travels to the wheels through a velvety nine-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift mode controlled by paddles on the steering wheel. It’s nice if you like to shift for yourself, especially to hold gears in mountainous driving, but you hardly need it. The onboard computer precisely handles the automatic shifting.

_F8A9057-sourceMercedes rates the CLS450 4Matic’s zero-to-60-mph acceleration time at 4.8 seconds,  with a governed top speed of 130 mph.

Specifications are important, of course, but the proof is in the driving. There are five selectable driving modes: Eco, Comfort, Sport, Sport Plus and Individual. They vary shift points, as well as steering and suspension settings. But the truth is, the CLS450 is as capable as almost anyone might want even in the Comfort setting, which enhances the ride and overall smoothness.

2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS

The six-cylinder engine emits a satisfying growl, especially under hard acceleration, but settles down to just enough of a drone in cruising to let you know it’s poised there under the hood to growl again on demand.

There’s tactile feedback through the steering wheel and cornering is accurate with little body lean around curves. Though the CLS450 lacks a spare wheel and uses tougher run-flat tires, they don’t seem to affect the comfortable ride.

Anyone who enjoys driving for its own sake will embrace this cookie, even with the ducking in and out. Now, about those steering- wheel buttons…

2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Mercedes-Benz CLS450 4MATIC Coupe four-door.
  • Engine: 3.0-liter V6, turbocharged; 362 hp, 369 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 4 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/trunk volume: 93/12 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,300 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 23/30/26 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $73,445.
  • Price as tested: $81,575.

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

2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS

Photos (c) Mercedes-Benz

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLB250 4MATIC: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

If one were needed or wanted, you could label the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLB250 4MATIC as the bargain luxury crossover sport utility vehicle from the storied German manufacturer.

It’s an all-new entry in the compact luxury category. With a starting price of $39,995 and a bottom-line sticker of $51,875, the tested vehicle is not exactly cheap but priced more like a near-luxury than a full-on luxury crossover.

_F8A4424-sourceIn the Mercedes SUV lineup, the GLB250 slots in between the entry-level GLA and the more expensive GLC. Mercedes uses European letter designations for its vehicle classes. In addition to the GLA, GLB and GLC, it offers the midsize GLE and full-size three-row GLS crossovers.

Curiously, the new GLB250 is nearly a carbon copy of its garage-mate, the GLC300. The latter is nearly an inch longer but has slightly less interior space. The GLB has 102 cubic feet for passengers and 20 cubic feet for cargo behind the second row. Also unusual, it offers the $850 option of a small third-row seat, which the tester did not have.

_F8A4400-sourceThe GLC, on the other hand, has 97 cubic feet of passenger room and 19 cubic feet for cargo. An older design, it does not offer a third row seat. All the foregoing numbers are for the all-wheel drive 4MATIC versions.

Power trains also are similar. Both have turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engines. The GLB’s makes 221 hp with 254 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force. The GLC’s delivers 255 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque.

The GLB comes with a dual-clutch eight-speed automatic transmission and the GLC uses a nine-speed conventional automatic. EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption is 23/31/26 mpg for the GLB and 22/29/24 for the GLC.

_F8A4417-sourceAt least in the versions tested here, the GLC is more expensive than the GLB. The GLC starts at $43,495, or $3,430 more than the GLB. A loaded GLC noted earlier had a sticker of $63,615 with options, or $11,740 more than the GLB tested here.

Not to unduly muddle the discussion, we need to take note of a second, even more expensive GLC300 4MATIC. It’s the stylish Coupe version with a sloped roofline and the same engine/transmission combination as the crossover GLC. Tested previously, it had a base price of $50,995 and, with options, a delivered price of $67,615 — or $15,740 more than the GLB250 tested here. It makes the GLB250 look like even more of a bargain.

_F8A4482-sourceOf course, there are differences in equipment among all three. The tester lacked some items that are almost routinely expected in a Mercedes. For example, it had standard cruise control rather than the company’s excellent Distronic adaptive cruise control. There was no lane departure mitigation or a head-up display.

However, the tester had other safety equipment, including brake assist and blind-spot warning. It also was paragon of luxury with soft, dark-brown leather upholstery trimmed in black, sparkling interior trim and such items as a navigation system, dual-zone automatic climate control, Apple Car Play, Android Auto, Bluetooth connectivity, SXM satellite radio, power tailgate and a panoramic sunroof. Unfortunately, the sunshade was made of a flimsy cloth that admitted too much sunlight.

_F8A4508-sourceAll of that aside, the GLB250’s strength is in the driving experience. It’s not super fast, but respectable with the zero to 60-mph acceleration at less than seven seconds. But it is mostly hesitation-free. Even the idle stop-start system mostly works smoothly, although the preference here is to simply turn it off.

There’s tactile feedback through the steering while the GLB250 negotiates curving roads without much lean. Highway cruising is fatigue free and the cabin remains quiet enough for whispered conversation. Overall, it would be a vehicle of choice for long-distance travel.

_F8A4560-sourceExcept for any poor soul relegated to the center-rear seating position, which consists of a hard seat cushion and a floor hump to nag the feet, the driver and three other passengers are cosseted in large, supportive and comfortable seats. Rear seatbacks fold flat to expand the cargo area to 62 cubic feet. The GLB250 came with winter tires but no spare wheel.

There’s some fussiness. The infotainment functions and instruments are integrated into one wide video screen. Functions can be controlled by touch, a haptic pad on the center console or buttons on the steering wheel. More than once, a minor touch on one of them while turning the wheel changed a satellite radio station.

_F8A4491-sourceSpecifications

  • Model: 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLB250 4MATIC four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 221 hp, 258 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed dual-clutch automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 2 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 5 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 102/20. (62)
  • Weight: 3,759 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 23/31/26 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $39,995.
  • Price as tested: $51,875.

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

_F8A4259-sourcePhotos (c) Mercedes-Benz

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 BMW 745e xDrive iPerformance: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

There is a lot to be said about plug-in luxury cars like the 2020 BMW 745e xDrive iPerformance sedan. But it has little to do with fuel economy or cost of operation.

Sure, the tested 745e is sumptuously luxurious, handles beautifully and has the bones to delight almost any driver even on a taxing cross-country trip. But you can get nearly the same results with a gasoline-only 740i xDrive and save about six grand in the process.

P90335746_highRes_the-new-bmw-745le-seOf course, most people who buy luxury cars that cost north and south of $100,000 likely do not worry about saving a few bucks here and there. And it is true that the 745e is slightly better for the dwindling health of our planet.

At a minimum as a plug-in hybrid rated at 56 mpg equivalent fuel economy by the government, it may make owners feel somewhat better about their locomotion choice, assuming they are not  climate change deniers.

The EPA estimates the annual fuel cost at $1,500 for the 745e xDrive compared to $2,150 for the 740i xDrive. It would take more than 10 years to recoup the $6,000 higher price for the 745e — assuming anyone would keep it that long. However, some customers might pay that premium for its sterling performance.

P90333059_highRes_the-new-bmw-7-seriesThe tested 745e, with a bottom-line price tag of $119,875, can only travel about 16 miles on purely electric power before the high-performance gasoline engine lights up. That short range is not uncommon among luxury plug-in hybrids.

As one result, according to published reports, some owners of luxury hybrid plug-ins like the 745e never even bother to hook up to a charger, driving them as if they were simply hybrids like the Toyota Prius or any number of other green machines.

So what’s the point? The current imperative throughout the world-wide automotive industry is electrification. That can mean purely electric power, as with a luxury crossover SUV like the Audi E-Tron, or any number of plug-ins and hybrids. Any manufacturer that wants to survive into the future has some electrification project going, often with self-driving technology as well.

P90333074_highRes_the-new-bmw-7-seriesMeanwhile, we have not-even-halfway-there measures like the 745e, which demonstrates that even a modest injection of electric power, properly done, can transform almost any vehicle into something superior to the gasoline-powered machines we all have loved and hated.

The electric Taycan threatens to eclipse all of the adrenaline-inducing sports cars that have borne the Porsche name since the 1930s. Electric motors can deliver enormous power instantly and quietly while gasoline engines must rev up to punch out their horsepower.

Sure, there’s nothing like the growl of a Detroit V8 in full cry that stirs the hearts of enthusiasts. But let’s face it: the days of screaming grand prix cars and fuel dragsters are numbered — though perhaps not in many of current adult lifetimes.

P90333075_highRes_the-new-bmw-7-seriesWhich brings us back to the subject here, the 2020 BMW 745e xDrive iPerformance sedan. It is, to be sure, a transition machine for a few who have the wherewithal to enjoy its many attributes.

It is, first and foremost, a BMW, which means that motoring performance is the starting point with the luxury added on, though endemic and expected by its customers.

The beauty is in the overall performance feel, especially when driving in the brief pure electric mode, when the 745e simply surges instead of rockets in acceleration. Even at highway speeds that can easily, though illegally, approach triple digits, it is silently powerful to the point where a glance at the speedometer is a surprise.

P90335203_highRes_the-new-bmw-745le-anBMW lists the zero to 60 mph acceleration time at 4.7 seconds, not bad for a car that weighs nearly 5,000 pounds. But this is not the sort of conveyance anyone would choose for stoplight drag races.

The 745e is a boulevardier, easily suited for chauffeur-driven duties. Inside, though it’s not a limousine, it has many of the same accouterments and ambiance. The design and materials are thoughtful and consistent, of high quality. Though a fifth passenger could squeeze in the middle, the focus is on the outboard passengers, with power reclining seats — though there’s not enough space for a full stretch-out.

The pull-down center console houses controls, including a computer tablet, for almost any convenience, and entertainment screens are mounted on the backs of the front seats.

Cocktails anyone?

P90333092_highRes_the-new-bmw-7-seriesSpecifications

  • Model: 2020 BMW 745e xDrive Performance four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 3.0-liter six-cylinder, turbocharged; 280 hp, 330 lb-ft torque; with AC electric motor, 111 hp, 196 lb-ft torque; combined output 389 hp, 442 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 17 feet 3 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/trunk volume: 115/15 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,970 pounds.
  • EPA miles per gallon equivalent: MPGe 56; gasoline only: 22.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $96,545.
  • Price as tested: $119,875.

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

P90333062_highRes_the-new-bmw-7-seriesPhotos (c) BMW

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

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

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