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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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2019 Audi A8 L Quattro: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Specifications

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

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

Photos (c) Audi

2019 Volkswagen Atlas: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2019_Atlas-Large-8755Specifications

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

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

2018_Atlas-Large-7510Photos (c) Volkswagen

 

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

by Frank A. Aukofer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or simply cruise serenely and enjoy the scenery.

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

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

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

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

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

by Frank A. Aukofer

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

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

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

2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS450

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

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

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

2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS450

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

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

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

2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS450

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

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

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

2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS450

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

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

2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS450

Specifications

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

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

2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS450

Photos (c) Mercedes-Benz

2018 Audi S5 Sportback 3.0 quattro: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

President Trump’s rejoinder to North Korea’s Kim Jong-un that he has a bigger button illustrates the reason why we will always have cars like the 2018 Audi S5 Sportback.

With Trump, it was all about the superior U.S. nuclear arsenal; with Audi it’s about engine dominance and performance. No matter what, especially among luxury makes, vehicle manufacturers surely will market more powerful versions of perfectly capable cars, crossover SUVs and trucks.

2018 Audi S5 Sportback

In the Audi lineup, there are A cars and S cars, even RS cars, as well as Q and SQ crossovers. Over at BMW, there are extra-powerful M models, and at Mercedes-Benz they are labeled AMG, a company that once was an independent performance tuner of Mercedes cars but now is part of the company.

Similarly, In the U.S. there are SRT, R/T, Scat Pack and Hellcat versions of various Dodge Challengers and Chargers, along with GT and Bullitt Ford Mustangs, Cadillac V performance models, Chevrolet Corvette Z06 and ZL1, and Camaro SS and ZL1 versions.

You get the picture, which is to stretch the boundaries in automotive design and performance, while also maximizing buyer devotion and profits—this in spite of choking traffic and near-universal speed limits that thwart any actual performance driving desires.

Audi is particularly adept at the dance with over 30 distinct versions of sedans, crossovers, sport hatchbacks, coupes, convertibles and sports cars. And more are on the way.

2018 Audi S5 Sportback

The A5 Sportback and its more powerful sibling, the S5, are particularly welcome because they punctuate a return to an automotive design that was once popular but faded away. That was the so-called torpedo body, used on various cars in the early 20thcentury but most familiar on cars like the Tucker ’48 and the 1941 Buick, where the roofline was an unbroken sweep from the windshield header to the rear bumper.

At Audi, the design is called a Sportback, and it also incorporates a hatchback body that doesn’t look like one. American buyers never developed much affection for hatchbacks that looked like small station wagons, although that changed when manufacturers jacked them up a bit, added all-wheel drive in some cases and called them crossover SUVs.

The advantage of Sportbacks like the Audi A5 and S5 is utility. Plus, they don’t look like station wagons. They have cargo areas of 22 cubic feet, which expands to 35 cubic feet if you fold the rear seatbacks. As a sedan with a typical trunk, the cargo volume could be as little as 12 cubic feet in the same size car.

2018 Audi S5 Sportback

With a 252-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine connected to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission and all-wheel drive, the A5 should provide plenty of driving thrills for almost any motorist. It has a starting price of $43,575.

If that’s not a fit, any enthusiast can plunk down an additional $11,800 for the tested S5 Sportback 3.0 quattro Tiptronic. Yes, that’s its official title. As indicated, it comes with a turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 engine that makes 354 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque, transferred to all four wheels through an eight-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission with manual-shifting paddles.

The tested S5’s price started at $55,375 and, with options, ended up at $63,975. For that, you get a midsize rocket that will surge from rest to 60 mph in 4.3 seconds with a governed top speed of 155 mph, according to Audi — and there’s no reason to question the claim.

2018 Audi S5 Sportback

The S5 comes with five drive modes that can be selected with the touch of a button: Efficiency, Comfort, Dynamic, Auto and Individual. They customize engine, transmission, steering and suspension settings to suit the driver’s mood and conditions. For example, Efficiency enhances fuel economy during sedate cruising while Dynamic is the choice for fast driving on curving mountain roads.

Though the tester came with $8,600 worth of options, they did not include the $1,800 Audi driver assistance package, which covers such items as adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist and automatic headlight high beams. It did have pre-collision sensing and other safety equipment.

There’s a seatbelt for a third passenger in back, but the seat is hard and compromised by a huge floor hump and center console.

The S5 has one of those oddball shifters that require a push on a button for “park.” If you push the shifter forward it lands in reverse. Happily, it automatically goes into “park” when you shut off the engine.

2018 Audi S5 Sportback

Specifications

  • Model: 2018 Audi S5 Sportback 3.0 quattro Tiptronic four-door hatchback sedan.
  • Engine: 3.0-liter V6, turbocharged; 354 hp, 369 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 7 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 93/22 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,015 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 21/30/24 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $55,375.
  • Price as tested: $63,975.

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

2018 Audi S5 Sportback

Photos (c) Audi

2018 BMW X2 xDrive28i: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

BMW, the Bavarian Motor Works of Germany, has been masterful at plugging holes in its high-performance luxury lineup, especially with crossover sport utility vehicles. Now, with the 2018 X2 xDrive28i, it’s even filling a small gap where there was no hole.

The company, somehow sensing that crossovers would be the next big thing, already marketed the X1, X3, X4, X5 and X6 crossover SUVs, plus higher-performance M versions of the X5 and X6. Most are built in the company’s plant in Spartanburg, SC, and exported around the world.

P90278977_highResNow it has slipped the X2 between the smallest X1 and compact X3. But unlike its garage mates, it is more of an amalgamation of a crossover and small hatchback or wagon.

Though built on the same front-wheel drive platform as the X1 and BMW’s Mini Countryman, it is shorter than the X1 with a lower roofline, giving it a sleeker, more sporting appearance while maintaining a crossover look.

For those who haven’t been paying attention, a crossover is an SUV built like a sedan with unit-body construction. A pure SUV, which doesn’t appear anywhere in the BMW lineup, is constructed like a pickup truck with a separate body and frame.

No BMW comes cheap, and the new X2 is no exception. Its performance and quality dictate a high price compared to other, similar vehicles. The tested X2, with xDrive — meaning all-wheel drive — came with a base price of $39,395 and, as tested with a load of expensive options, checked in at $50,920.

P90278987_highResOn the performance side, it is powered by a 228-hp turbocharged four-cylinder engine, mounted crosswise under the hood like most front-drive based vehicles. The engine makes 258 lb-ft of torque, sent to all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode controlled by steering-wheel mounted paddles.

The combination is enough to propel the X2 to 60 mph in 6.3 seconds with a top speed of 143 mph, according to the manufacturer’s specifications.

Given BMW’s heritage dating back to the remarkable 1600-2 in 1967, it’s no surprise that the X2 handles beautifully, responding rapidly to steering inputs, cornering with minimal body lean and tracking ruler-straight on the highway. The tradeoff is a harsh ride, especially on the increasingly pockmarked roads all over the country.

Some of the harsh ride likely could be traced to the hard run-flat tires, which eliminate the need for a spare. The X2 also was noisy, with engine and road sounds transmitted into the cabin.

P90278949_highResBut there’s a practical side as well. Passenger volume is 93 cubic feet, which means a couple of adults can sit comfortably in the back seat, though as usual any center-rear passenger gets dissed by a high, hard cushion and a big floor hump.

Augmenting the passenger pod is a cargo area of 22 cubic feet behind the rear seat, which expands to 50 cubic feet with the rear seatbacks folded. Total interior volume of 115 feet would place the X2 in the midsize class if it were a sedan.

The biggest items among the $11,525 worth of options were the $5,050 M SportX packages, which included an upgraded automatic transmission and sport suspension, panoramic sunroof, SXM satellite radio, power folding outside mirrors, garage-door opener, sport seats with lumbar support, 19-inch alloy wheels and M Sport exterior and interior trim pieces.

P90278955_highResAlso, the test car came with its most controversial feature: $550 “Galvanic Gold” metallic paint. Comments ranged from people who though it stood out beautifully to others who said it looked hideous. It reminded a few of early BMWs that came with orange paint jobs.

Other features included a power tailgate, LED cornering headlights and fog lights, automatic climate control, a Wi-Fi hotspot, wireless smart phone charging, Apple CarPlay and a high-zoot Harman Kardon audio system.

In today’s marketplace, it’s not difficult to find a crossover roughly the same size as the X2. With customers and manufacturers abandoning sedans, there are many good choices across the board, from small  vehicles like the Honda HR-V and Jeep Renegade to big, three-row crossovers like the Chevrolet Traverse and Audi Q7.

However, if you can afford it and your choice is a sports car in semi-crossover guise, the BMW X2 certainly is worth a test drive. The only drawback from an enthusiast’s point of view is that there is no manual shifter available.

P90278961_highResSpecifications

  • Model: 2018 BMW X2 xDrive28i four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 228 hp, 258 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 4 inches.
  • Height: Five feet (60.1 inches).
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 93/22 cubic feet. (50)
  • Weight: 3,685 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 21/31/25 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $39,395.
  • Price as tested: $50,920.

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

P90278958_highResPhotos (c) BMW

2018 Mercedes-Benz E400 Cabriolet: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

With convertibles shrinking in number and their owners becoming older and richer, it’s no surprise that Mercedes-Benz continues to field models like the 2018 E400 4MATIC Cabriolet.

This E400, a classy and expensive boulevardier with all-weather all-wheel-drive capability, is marketed as a midsize car alongside its E-Class coupe, sedan, station wagon and crossover SUV garage-mates. But it is more of a sports car in concept and size.

Though two inches shy of 16 feet long, its interior volume — the way the U.S. government classifies automobiles — is just a touch shy of the compact definition, so it dips just barely into the subcompact category.

_F8A9252-1200x800To qualify as a compact, a car must have 100 to 109 cubic feet of interior volume, which includes both the passenger and trunk space. The E400 has 89.9 cubic feet of passenger room, most of it up front, where the total is 55.2 cubic feet. The back seat has 34.7 cubic feet.

The trunk’s capacity is 9.5 cubic feet, which puts the total interior volume at 99.4 cubic feet. And that’s as good as it gets with the top up. If you lower the beautifully upholstered and finished soft top, an expansion boot drops into the trunk area to accommodate the folded top and robs the trunk of about one-third of its space.

Two adults can sit in the back seat if the folks up front co-operate by moving their seats forward. But it’s very tight and crawling back there takes some athletic ability. The motorized right front seat automatically moves forward to ease access when you tilt the seatback, then reverses back into place.

_F8A9893-1200x794So, the conclusion is that the E400 Cabriolet works better as a conveyance for two people, who can use the back seats for some of their luggage, especially handy if they want to enjoy top-down motoring. It also likely should see some open car parade duty with a Santa Claus or congressman perched on the boot with feet planted on the back seat.

The Cabriolet’s elegant touches include gorgeous natural grain light brown elm wood trim and a headliner so deftly padded that the interior looks and feels like a coupe. Sumptuous perforated leather upholstery and the Mercedes air curtain that warms necks through the front seat headrests contribute to the luxury ambiance.

_F8A9921-1200x800The test car came with a so-called AMG Line appearance package that mimics some of the styling and other visual touches of the Mercedes higher performance AMG models.

Other standard comfort and convenience items include dual-zone automatic climate control, pushbutton starting, navigation system, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, power front seats with lumbar support and memory, and a12-inch touch screen for audio, navigation and other functions.

As with many of these sophisticated infotainment functions, the Mercedes COMAND (Cockpit Management and Data) system requires a bit of learning because it is not intuitive. It’s best to take time to read the owner’s manual or get lessons from experts at the dealership.

_F8A9928-1200x788With all the luxury touches, this convertible also has some sports car moves. It is powered by a 329-hp 3.0-liter V6 engine with twin turbochargers that makes 354 lb-ft of torque, which Mercedes says enables it to accelerate to 60 mph in 5.3 seconds.

The power goes to all four wheels through a nine-speed automatic transmission that can be shifted manually with paddles mounted on the steering wheel. It shifts smoothly for the most part but is prone to occasional hiccups at lower speeds.

There are driver-selectable driving modes that provide adjustments for ride, transmission shifting and throttle response. Of those, the Sport Plus mode is biased toward handling, delivering a tauter ride.

_F8A9277-1200x800This is a Mercedes-Benz, after all, so don’t expect any bargains. Where the South Korean and some other manufacturers make a lot of desirable equipment standard, on the E400 Cabrio much is optional, including the Cardinal Red Metallic paint job at $1,000 extra.

The same goes for the $9,350 Premium 3 package, which includes adaptive cruise control and active assists for steering, lane keeping, blind spot warning and automatic emergency braking. Also in the package are a stop-start system, Burmaster premium surround-sound audio system, SXM satellite radio, inductive wireless charging, adaptive headlight assist and even systems to purify inside air and inject gaseous fragrances.

Options totaled $14,930, which brought the base of $69,795 up to the tested price of $84,725. Nice work if you can afford it.

_F8A8510-1200x833Specifications:

  • Model: 2018 Mercedes-Benz E400 4MATIC two-door convertible.
  • Engine:0-liter V6, twin turbochargers, 329 hp, 354 lb-ft of torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 10 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 90 and 10 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,332 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 20/25/22 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $69,795.
  • Price as tested: $84,725.

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

_F8A9750-1200x800Photos (c) Mercedes-Benz.

2018 Audi SQ5 3.0T Quattro: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

As if their customers weren’t already spending plenty on perfectly good vehicles like the Audi Q5, there’s a recurring imperative among luxury manufacturers to deliver ever more powerful, luxurious and expensive models.

Reigning among them is 2018 Audi SQ5, continuing as a member of a class that includes AMG models from Mercedes-Benz, BMW’s M performance variants, V versions from Cadillac and Quadrifoglio (Four-leaf Clover) models from Alfa Romeo.

Small-2018-Audi-SQ5-2821The Q5 and its SQ5 sibling account for a quarter of all Audi sales in the U.S., no surprise given the current buyer infatuation with crossover sport utilities of all sizes in every price class.

With Audi’s quattro all-wheel drive and a full complement of safety, comfort and convenience features, the Q5 is the sort of vehicle that could satisfy a broad range of buyers seeking a two-row compact or midsize crossover.

It is powered by a 252-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine and a snap-shifting dual-clutch seven-speed automatic transmission. With modern computerized technology, this 2.0-liter turbo, along with others like it that are becoming ubiquitous, has enough hustle to get you arrested anywhere.

The starting price tag is $42,475 and, with the sorts of options ordered by folks who shop in this price range, can top out at $52,700. That gets you a tasteful, luxurious, comfortable and quiet interior that almost anyone would welcome for a day-long drive, along with most of the convenience and infotainment functions most buyers want these days.

Small-2018-Audi-SQ5-2818But no. That’s not enough karma for some customers with deep pockets. So, Audi obliges with the SQ5, which is way over the top for any driving on the public highways. It is the same size as its Q5 garage mate with 102 cubic feet of space for passengers — about what you get with a midsize sedan — plus a cargo area behind the back seat of 27 cubic feet, or about double that of a midsize sedan trunk.

It is listed as a five-passenger crossover. But that’s optimistic because the center-rear seat is compromised by a hard cushion, a hidden pull-down center armrest and a giant, square floor hump. The outboard seats, however, are fine and nearly as comfortable as the front seats.

Under the SQ5’s hood lurks a 354-horsepower, turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 engine that delivers 369 pound-feet of torque to all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission that can be shifted manually.

That and a bunch of other high-performance stuff bumps the SQ5’s base price to $55,275, or $12,800 more than the Q5. With options, the SQ5 driven for this review had a bottom-line price of $65,800.

2018-Audi-SQ5
2018-Audi-SQ5

According to Audi, that gets you a zero-to-60 time of 5.1 seconds, or eight-tenths of one second quicker than the A5’s 5.9-second time. That’s a bunch of bucks that won’t amount to much of a difference in daily driving.

In Drive, there’s a slight bit of hesitation off the line as the turbocharger spools up. It goes away if you tap the shifter into Sport. There, the SQ5 feels even faster than it is, delivering that rush of excitement that devotees presumably covet.

Start-stop technology, which thankfully can be switched off, contributes to decent SQ5 city/highway/combined fuel economy of 19/24/21 mpg. However, the Q5 saves some bucks with a rating of 23/27/25.

Of course, the SQ5’s higher sticker price also confers bragging rights about how much you can afford to pay for your compact crossover SUV. And the options cover a lot of nifty stuff: air suspension system, torque-vectoring sport rear differential, performance brakes with red calipers, Nappa leather upholstery, 21-inch wheels with sticky summer tires, and Bang & Olufsen audio with 3D sound and a head-up display.

2018-Audi-SQ5
2018-Audi-SQ5

That’s in addition to the standard full safety equipment, rear-view camera, LED headlights and taillights, three-zone climate control, rear-view camera and SXM satellite radio. Curiously for a vehicle in this category, the test car did not have adaptive cruise control.

Also, though the tested SQ5 came with a roof-size panoramic sunroof, the sunshade was made of a perforated cloth that admitted too much sunlight. Sunshades should be opaque.

The SQ5’s tidy size — 15 feet four inches long — and the air suspension system contribute to sporty handling on twisting roads. There are selectable driving modes that adjust performance parameters but most owners likely will stick with the comfort setting, which is fine for daily motoring. However, the dynamic mode awaits for hustling around curves.

Small-2018-Audi-SQ5-2782Specifications

  • Model: 2018 Audi SQ5 3.0T Quattro four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 3.0-liter V6, turbocharged; 354 hp, 369 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 4 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 102/27 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,430 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 19/24/21 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $55,275.
  • Price as tested: $65,800.

Disclaimer: This test drive was based on a loan of the vehicle from the manufacturer. It was driven by the author in circumstances similar to everyday driving by consumers.

Photos (c) Audi USA.

Small-2018-Audi-SQ5-2830

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