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Five Reasons To Buy A 2020 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter

by Jason Fogelson

I may never need a van like the 2020 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 3500XD Crew Van. But during my week test-driving one, I found myself thinking about why I should own a Sprinter. Here are my top five reasons to buy a 2020 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter.

Pressefahrvorstellung Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, Amsterdam 2018 // Press test drive Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, Amsterdam 2018

Reason #1: You can load most anything in the back, and still carry passengers. I drove a Sprinter with a 144-inch wheelbase, and it can hold 261.3 cubic feet of cargo. I’m six feet two inches tall, and I can comfortably stand in the back. The back doors open a full 180 degrees, and the door opening is over 72 inches tall and 60 inches wide. The floor is over 70 inches wide at its broadest points. I imagined stuffing a room full of furniture in the back, or a pair of motorcycles, or a pile of mattresses – all behind the removable second row bench seat.

The New Sprinter

Reason #2: It’s easy to drive, and even fun. My test car came with a 3.0-liter V6 turbo-diesel engine (188 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque) with a seven-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive. While those figures may seem modest, the Sprinter is sprightly off the line, and has no problem keeping up with traffic. The high seating position provides a great view of the road ahead, and there’s little chance that anyone’s going to miss seeing a Sprinter in traffic.

Weltpremiere Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, Duisburg 2018 // World premiere Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, Duisburg 2018

Reason #3: The Crew Van is a blank slate, perfect for upfitting. If you’ve got an idea for how to use a van, it’s likely that the Mercedes-Benz parts and accessories team has an assortment of workbenches, shelving and other modular parts designed to work inside the Sprinter to turn it into a mobile workshop, store or even kitchen.

The New Sprinter

Reason #4: Available 4×4 can turn the Sprinter into a go-anywhere base of operations. A high- and low-range 4×4 transfer case (part of a $7,800 package) can even be fitted on 3500 models like the one I test drove, which came with dual rear wheels. Just image the terrain you could cover.

Pressefahrvorstellung Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, Amsterdam 2018 // Press test drive Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, Amsterdam 2018

Reason #5: Maybe the best (and worst) reason of all to buy a Sprinter: It just looks cool. There’s something about the way the 4×4 Sprinter sits that just says “I’m ready for anything.” And that’s cool, and that inspires my fantasies about all the great things I could accomplish, if only I owned a Sprinter.

Pressefahrvorstellung Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, Amsterdam 2018 // Press test drive Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, Amsterdam 2018

The Sprinter comes in multiple configurations, starting at $33,790 for a Cargo Van. If you’re really ambitious, you could start with a Cab Chassis (starting at $39,790), and go the full custom route to create the exact vehicle you want. For me, the 3500XD Crew Van that I test drove hit the sweet spot, usable for up to five occupants, but still with enough configurable open space in the rear to be really useful. With an as-tested price of $71,496, the 2020 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 3500XD Crew Van will not an impulse buy for me – but it is a thoroughly capable, attractive and inspirational vehicle. If it fits your needs, I’d recommend checking it out.

Weltpremiere Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, Duisburg 2018 // World premiere Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, Duisburg 2018

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

 

Weltpremiere Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, Duisburg 2018 // World premiere Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, Duisburg 2018

Photos (c) Mercedes-Benz

Peak Luxury SUV in the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class

by Jason Fogelson

It looks like we’re approaching the end of the era of the full-sized gasoline-powered luxury SUV. Electric and hybrid gasoline-electric vehicles are closer than the horizon; they’re taking up parking spaces all around us. So, I’m glad that I’ve had a chance to spend a week in an SUV that may represent the peak of its genre – the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS 580 4MATIC – just before its genre begins to disappear.

Der neue Mercedes-Benz GLS Utah 2019 // The new Mercedes-Benz GLS Utah 2019

GLS is a three-row SUV, now entering its third generation of production. The first-generation (2007 – 2012) and part of the second-generation (2013-2019) vehicles were called “GL” until 2016, when the Mercedes SUV lineup underwent a change of nomenclature to correspond with its car-naming conventions. Instead of a disorganized set of class names, Mercedes now has GLA, GLB, GLC, GLE and GLS models (and the roguish G-Class), roughly corresponding to the A-, C-, E- and S-Class sedans, wagons, coupes and cabriolets (B-Class is not currently sold in the U.S.). If you think of the GLS as the S-Class of SUVs, you’ll have a good picture of where it fits into the Mercedes lineup.

Exterior

GLS is a big and beautiful SUV, with assertive, elegant styling that is not overwhelming or overstated. It is 205 inches long, 84.9 inches wide (with mirrors) and 71.8 inches tall, and weighs in at 5,699 lbs. Somehow, wearing 21-inch wheels and with a minimum of 7.9 inches of ground clearance, it still manages to have a great stance. Fit and finish are first-rate, as expected on a luxury car. My test vehicle wore a coat of optional ($720) Mojave Silver Metallic paint, the automotive equivalent of a grey flannel suit, and projected an air of executive competence.

Exterior

Inside, the GLS cabin is like a taller version of the S-Class cabin. Drivers who prefer a tall seating position and commanding outward view will love the GLS. The third row is easily accessible, and actually makes GLS a superior passenger conveyance over S-Class. With 17.4 cubic feet of luggage space behind the third row, it has almost as much capacity as the S-Class’s 18.7 cubic-foot trunk. Fold down the second row, and you’ve opened up 42.7 – 48.7 cubic feet of room. If both second and third rows are folded flat (which you can do with the push of a few buttons), 84.7 cubic feet of luxury goods can fit in the GLS.

Exterior

Luxury is a given in a Mercedes-Benz, and so is technology. GLS is loaded with it, from the ridiculous to the sublime. On the ridiculous side is a new Car Wash mode, which can be triggered to automatically fold in the side mirrors, close the windows and sun roof, turn on the forward-facing camera, and disengage all-wheel drive. If you’ve invested $100,000 in your GLS, I guess you’ll want to keep it clean. On the sublime side, a widescreen digital instrument cluster and widescreen infotainment display, along with optional ($1,100) head-up display provide clear, uncluttered information to the driver at all times. Mercedes-Benz’s interface has improved over the years, and is now intuitive and simple to navigate, responding to swiping gestures familiar to tablet and smartphone operators. The standard Burmester Surround Sound System is nothing short of magnificent. The leather seating is firm and comfortable, with standard massage, ventilation and heating for driver and front passenger, optional ($4,400) Executive Rear Seat Package Plus adding heat and ventilation to the second row. My test car also had the Energizing Package Plus ($2,100), which gilds the lily with Active Multicontour front seats and Air-Balance with fragrance – so you can add specially curated scents to your interior.

Interior

It would be easy to spend all day listing features on the GLS 580, none of which would matter if it weren’t for the beast of an engine that lurks under its hood. A 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V8 pumps 483 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque into a nine-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive (4MATIC). Mercedes estimates 0-60 mph times at 5.2 seconds, which is plenty quick for a car, and downright impressive for a 5,700-lb SUV. What’s even more impressive is the way that the GL handles and steers. Air suspension is standard, and my test vehicle came with $6,500 E-Active Body Control, which can actively alter control spring and damping forces at each wheel and even lean the vehicle into bends like a motorcycle (subtly, of course). A stereo camera is employed to scan the road surface ahead, so the suspension can be pre-loaded to compensate for bumps and dips. The result is a smooth ride, even over the winter-ravaged Michigan roadways that I had to contend with during my test period.

Exterior

Make no mistake, this is a high end, luxury conveyance with a big price tag. GLS 580 starts at $98,800, and my test vehicle was loaded with options, taking it to an as-tested price of $119,950. Compare it to the BMW X7, Cadillac Escalade, Audi Q8, Lincoln Navigator, Lexus LX, and Volvo XC90.

Until the Mercedes-Maybach GLS ultra-luxury SUV arrives for 2021, I think we’ve seen the peak of gasoline-only luxury SUVs in the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS 580 4MATIC.

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

Der neue Mercedes-Benz GLS Utah 2019 // The new Mercedes-Benz GLS Utah 2019

Photos (c) Mercedes-Benz

2020 BMW M340i xDrive Sedan is the Leader of the Pack

by Jason Fogelson

If you listen to some BMW fans, the last great 3 Series was the E36 (1991 – 1999). Or maybe it was the E46 (1998 – 2006). All I know is, the 2020 BMW M340i xDrive Sedan that I had during a recent week-long test drive is a great car that owes apologies to no one.

Front 3q LeftThe history of the BMW 3 Series is well-known. First introduced as a 1975 model to replace the model 2002 coupe, 3 Series is a front-engine/rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive car that has been built in various configurations over seven generations of production. There have been two-doors and four-doors, notchbacks and liftbacks, hardtops and convertibles. The 3 Series has been loved and reviled, praised and damned, both by its supporters and detractors. BMW drivers can sometimes be the punchline in jokes about rude drivers, but the brand’s longtime advertising tag, “The Ultimate Driving Machine,” has stuck for a reason – and the 3 Series has worn it well.

Front2019 marked the beginning of 3 Series’ seventh generation. For 2020, there are four models, all four-door sedans: 330i rear-wheel drive (starting at $40,750); 330i xDrive (starting at $42,750); M340i rear-wheel drive (starting at $54,000); and M340i xDrive (starting at $56,000). My test car was an example of the all-wheel drive M340i xDrive with a host of extras, including Tanzanite Blue Metallic paint ($1,950); Oyster Vernasca Leather ($1,450); Drivers Assistance Package ($500); Drivers Assistance Pro Package ($1,700); Premium Package ($1,400); Executive Package ($2,100); Remote Engine Start ($300); 19-inch M wheels ($400); Adaptive M Suspension ($700); Power Tailgate ($250); Ambient Lighting ($250); Wireless Charging ($500); Harman Kardon surround sound ($875); and a $995 Destination Charge for an as-tested price of $69,570. Take a knee. Breath deeply. Let’s discuss.

NoseThe M340i is gorgeous, for one thing. The proportions of this sedan just work, with a great profile and long dash-to-front-axle distance. The BMW signature twin-kidney grille is flanked by expressive squinting-eye LED headlights, and the car’s face is determined and confident. The sleek roofline looks windswept. The M340i does what a sports sedan must do – it looks fast standing still.

Dash

The interior is almost as successful as the exterior. Leather, polished metal trim, great textures and smart repeated hexagonal shapes bring an elegant simplicity that 3 Series has been missing in the latest generations, and a 10.25-inch touchscreen is perfectly placed at the top of the center stack. iDrive 7.0 and BMW Live Cockpit deliver all the latest tech with an intuitive interface – I never thought I’d be able to say that about an iDrive system. The 14-way power leather seats are insanely comfortable, especially for the long-legged among us, thanks to long travel and extendable thigh support, which makes a big difference on long drives.

Cabin

If you’re going to keep calling yourself “The Ultimate Driving Machine,” you’d better have the goods under the hood, and M340i does. A 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged inline six-cylinder direct-injected gasoline engine sends 382 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque to the wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission with an M Sport limited-slip differential. The M340i xDrive is the quickest of the 3 Series models, capable of going from 0 – 60 mph in 4.2 seconds on the way to a top speed of 130 mph. The EPA estimates fuel economy at 22 mpg city/30 mpg highway/25 mpg combined.

Live Cockpit

I’m sad that there’s no manual transmission available for the M340i, but it’s a sign of the times. Even among the buyers of a sporty brand like BMW, three-pedal fanatics are few and far between. The automatic is a very good one, with quick shifts and a manumatic mode accessible via paddle shifters.

Engine

Driving the M340i is very compelling. It sounds great, feels great, and handles great. Every cloverleaf is an opportunity to feel some g-forces. Every stoplight can be an arm-stretching launch. If you need to spend a lot of time behind the wheel, M340i will reward you with constant enjoyment, and a collaboration with technology that will make your drive easier and safer.

Chassis

The mid-size sport sedan market caught up with the 3 Series, with some very good competitors like the Audi A4/S4, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Infiniti Q50, Lexus IS, Volvo S60, Jaguar XE, Alfa Romeo Giulia, Genesis G70, Kia Stinger and others.

Rear 3q LeftThe 2020 BMW M340i xDrive shoots back into the lead. It’ll be fun to see the others try to catch up.

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

RearPhotos (c) BMW

2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport 2.0 SE: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The leaders at Volkswagen weren’t kidding when they tacked the “Sport” designation on the 2020 Atlas Cross Sport 2.0 SE.

Sure, it likely was dreamed up to boost sales of the company’s new midsize crossover sport utility vehicle. Throughout automotive history, the marketing gurus have worked to manipulate buyers’ brains into automatically applying certain attributes to their vehicles.

2020_Atlas_Cross_Sport_-_Tourmaline_Blue_-_SE_with_Technology-Large-10946Think Pontiac GTO, Dodge Hellcat, Ford Mustang Shelby GT, Chevrolet Corvette Stingray, Volkswagen Golf GTI, Honda Civic Si, Buick Grand National, Ford F-150 Raptor, Cadillac’s V models, Mercedes AMG, BMW M, Porsche Turbo and Subaru WRX STI, among others.

Mostly, the appellations denote actual performance. But sometimes they are simply slapped on in the middle of a model run to boost the inevitable lagging sales.

That’s not the case with the Atlas. It started out as a full-size, three row crossover sport utility vehicle that, for some families, could substitute for a minivan, though it is somewhat short on cargo space.

2020_Atlas_Cross_Sport_-_Tourmaline_Blue_-_SE_with_Technology-Large-10945Now Volkswagen has expanded the Atlas horizons with the Sport, which has an entirely different character from its three-row sibling and lives up to its “sport” designation.

It’s a midsize crossover SUV with 112 cubic feet of space for passengers in the first and second rows, with a generous cargo space of 40 cubic feet. Fold the seatbacks flat and the cargo area expands to 78 cubic feet, plenty to haul all the stuff for your kid’s freshman year in college.

You’d think that would satisfy a lot of customers. But VW also has infused this bulky crossover with performance bones. Though it is 16 feet 4 inches long, 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighs 4,228 pounds, it validates the old canard about “German feel” with responsive handling and a ride that won’t produce fatigue on a long trip.

2020_Atlas_Cross_Sport_-_Tourmaline_Blue_-_SE_with_Technology-Large-10951Belying its size, it attacks twisting roads with some of the aplomb of a sports sedan: capable 4Motion all-wheel drive and communicative steering with good feedback. Of course it’s no match for a Bullitt Mustang or a Mazda MX-5 Miata but it can hold its own with a host of other vehicles.

Power comes from a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 235 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, delivered through an eight-speed automatic transmission. City/highway/combined fuel economy of 18/23/20 mpg is not outstanding but that’s the tradeoff for the performance.

2020_Atlas_Cross_Sport-Large-10326The engine is turbocharged but you’d be hard-pressed to notice. There’s almost no turbo lag, although there is a hesitation if you use the idle stop-start system, which shuts down the engine at stoplights and then cranks it up when you take your foot off the brake. Fortunately, you can disable the stop-start with the touch of a button, as was the script for this review.

There also are driver selectable settings for different on- and off-road drive modes: Normal and snow, as well as off-road and off-road custom. Hill descent control is included for challenging boondocks courses.

2020_Atlas_Cross_Sport_-_Tourmaline_Blue_-_SE_with_Technology-Large-10937There’s no manual-shift mode for the automatic transmission — thus no steering-wheel paddle shifters — but it’s not needed. You can easily select “sport” instead of “drive” with the console mounted shifter and rocket off  with instant snap-shifts in the stoplight drag races simply by keeping your foot to the floor.

On the road, the Atlas Sport is mostly a quiet cruiser with enough engine drone to alert you to the power under the hood. The only time it gets annoying is when you hit the “max” button on the air conditioning. Then the engine and blower sounds become a racket that overpowers even loud audio.

2020_Atlas_Cross_Sport_-_Tourmaline_Blue_-_SE_with_Technology-Large-10935The Atlas Sport has a starting price of  $31,565, including the destination charge,18-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, full LED lighting, blind spot monitor, rear traffic alert, and Wi-Fi capability.

The test vehicle was a mid-level SE model with a technology package that included adaptive cruise control, forward emergency braking with pedestrian detection, wireless smart phone charging, park distance control, power lift gate and SXM satellite radio. Inside, the look leaned toward the austere, with perforated black leather upholstery and attractive gray faux wood trim.

But the price was reasonable, slightly more than  the average of a new car in this era. The base was $38,865, including the destination charge and, with an option of a special Aurora Red metallic paint job,  the bottom line sticker came to $39,495. It’s a decent hunk of a crossover for the money.

2020_Atlas_Cross_Sport_-_Tourmaline_Blue_-_SE_with_Technology-Large-10938Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport 2.0 SE w/ Technology four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 235 hp, 258 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with 4Motion all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 4 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 112/40 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,288 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 2,000 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 18/23/20 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $38,865.
  • Price as tested: $39,495.

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

2020_Atlas_Cross_Sport_-_Tourmaline_Blue_-_SE_with_Technology-Large-10933Photos (c) Volkswagen

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

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