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Driving at a Social Distance in the 2020 Audi Q3

by Jason Fogelson

Driving has become one of my calming tools during the COVID-19 pandemic. I am quite familiar with the social isolation we’ve all been experiencing, since I work by myself in my home office in the suburbs of Detroit. But still, there’s a big difference between working at home and sheltering in place. Every so often, the walls begin to close in, and I’ve got to get out. When I’ve got a special new crossover vehicle like the 2020 Audi Q3 S line 45 TFSI quattro in the driveway, the temptation to escape is even greater than usual.

My wife works in the public schools, so she’s been here at home this month as well. We’ve holed up in our respective corners of the house, each accompanied by a dog to keep us company. I always invite her to go for a ride with me – she’s very smart about cars, and often notices things from the passenger’s seat that I miss as a driver.

Right off the bat, we both admire the new exterior of the Q3, which has just entered its second generation of production. Q3 is now slightly bigger than before, and more crisply edged than before, giving it a more grown-up, executive feel that ties in nicely with the rest of the Audi lineup. Our test vehicle wears a striking coat of Turbo Blue paint, a bold choice that works well. 

Inside, Audi’s well-deserved reputation for classy interior design is on display. The dash is layered, with strong horizontal lines that help the cabin feel wide and expansive. All of the materials are precisely fit and of high quality. There’s a unity of design that matches the feel of the outside of the Q3. Our Q3 is a top-of-the-line example, fitted with the $6,900 Prestige package and the $500 Sport Interior package of options. The Prestige package includes technology upgrades galore: Alarm; HomeLink garage door opener; three-months of SiriusXM; Audi advanced key; Audi side assist with rear cross-traffic alert; Audi parking system plus; Lane departure warning; Aluminum inlays; wireless phone charging; full LED headlights; adaptive cruise control with stop & go; park steering assist; top-view camera; LED interior lighting plus package; stainless steel trunk sill and more.

Perhaps most significantly for the new Q3, the Prestige package includes the latest version of the Audi MMI touch response system with a 10.1-inch touchscreen (up from the standard 8.8-inch unit) and the 12.3-inch Audi virtual cockpit (up from the standard 10.25 inches). Virtual cockpit has been a marvel since it was released in the flagship Audi models several years ago, and is no less remarkable now that it has trickled down to the compact Q3. From a simple layout of tachometer and speedometer to a live Google Maps satellite view, the virtual cockpit is customizable and flexible. It works in coordination with the MMI and voice control for infotainment and telematics.

The new MMI now incorporates a haptic touchscreen. That means that you get tangible feedback when you use the touchscreen, as it seems to push back against your fingertip when you change settings or make selections. Executing functions and changing settings is very intuitive, especially to smartphone users (isn’t that just about everybody by now?). You can also trace letters and numbers with your fingers on the screen in certain situations, making for another easy way to interact with the system. I spent several hours in the driveway exploring the system, putting it through its paces and getting comfortable with its operation – a very rewarding distraction. I also spent time listening to the excellent Bang & Olufsen 3D surround sound system with 680 watts of amplification and 15 speakers. 

How about actually driving? Yes, I did that, too. Q3 uses a small displacement (2.0-liter) turbocharged four-cylinder gasoline engine that produces 228 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, which Audi says can get it from 0 – 60 mph in 7.0 seconds, which feels right. It uses a quick-shifting Tiptronic automatic transmission with eight speeds, and quattro all-wheel drive is standard. The EPA estimates fuel economy at 19 mpg city/27 mpg highway/22 mpg combined. Suspension is five-link independent front and rear. Audi doesn’t make a big deal out of it, but Q3 handles well, with a low center of gravity and a direct steering feel. The quattro system enhances cornering in all road conditions. Solid build quality and ample sound deadening control makes for a serene ride on the highway, and an all-around big-car ride quality for such a small crossover vehicle. 

Both my wife and I were pleasantly surprised at how much we enjoyed spending time in the Q3, and at how much we found to admire about its interior over time. 

This compact luxury crossover category has gotten crowded with great choices in the past few years, attracting more downsizing sedan and SUV owners than expected as car makers make high-end features available across lineups. Compare Q3 to the BMW X1, Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class, Lexus NX, Infiniti QX50, Cadillac XT4, Volvo XC40, Land Rover Range Rover Evoque and others. 

Starting at $34,700 ($44,745 as tested), the 2020 Audi Q3 has what it takes to compete in the big leagues – and is a great way to get out of the house without violating any social distancing guidelines. 

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

Photos (c) Audi

2020 Mercedes-AMG CLA35 4MATIC: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

With its tongue-twisting moniker of 2020 Mercedes-AMG CLA35 4MATIC, this new four-door coupe heralds what Mercedes-Benz calls a new era of “dynamic and awe-inspiring vehicles” from its high performance division.

As most Mercedes enthusiasts know, Mercedes-AMG is the company’s hot rod arm. It originally was an independent company that modified and tuned existing vehicles from the German manufacturer, including race car engines, to squeeze out and enhance every dollop of speed and excitement available.

Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 4MATIC (2019)

The two eventually signed cooperative agreements to take advantage of Daimler Benz’s world-wide reach and, in 2005, AMG became part of the Daimler empire, named Mercedes-AMG.

Mercedes is a luxury/performance brand, so you could view Mercedes-AMG as an ultra-luxury/super-performance brand, as attested  to by the higher prices of Mercedes vehicles that carry the AMG escutcheon.

Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 4MATIC (2019)

The company says the new CLA35 is the first of half a dozen upcoming new AMG vehicles in varying body styles and performance parameters that will function as gateways to the Mercedes-AMG brand.

So it’s likely no surprise that the AMG CLA35 four-door makes its debut at the entry level of a car that, in the version tested here, tips the money scales at $65,765. No way can it be considered as an automotive dog door.

Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 4MATIC (2019)

It is called a coupe according the current notion that low-slung, streamlined cars can use the description regardless of whether they have two or four doors. In the AMG lineup, it is an opening bet — classified as a subcompact by the U.S. government, with 89 cubic feet of space for passengers and a trunk of 12 cubic feet. That’s smaller than a Nissan Versa or Hyundai Accent.

Still, it’s decently accommodating for four. The front seats are supportive and comfortable, though back support is intrusive. In back, there’s knee-and head-room for average-sized adults in the outboard seats, although narrow lower door openings make it difficult to enter and exit. There’s a seatbelt, but forget the hard and cramped center-rear position.

Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 4MATIC (2019)

The AMG CLA35 is not about spacious comfort. It’s a sports sedan, powered by a 302-hp, turbocharged 2.0-liter four cylinder engine that develops 295 lb-ft of torque, delivered to all four wheels through a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission with manual shifting via steering-wheel paddles. Zero-to-60-mph acceleration is rated at 4.6 seconds with a top speed of 155 mph.

If you try anything close to that, things get raucous. Though the AMG CLA35 is an exciting car to drive, it’s also very noisy. Unless the road is pool-table smooth with asphalt paving, the road noise announces itself rudely at freeway speeds. It’s as if the AMG engineers had stripped out  the sound-deadening insulation to lop a few tenths of a second off the race track lap time.

Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 4MATIC (2019)

On curving roads, the tires grab the road surface, and the supple suspension system and accurate steering keep the AMG CLA35 planted with almost no body lean. It’s a bit of a different story in modest driving on urban streets and freeways, where the aggressive lane-keeping assist and collision avoidance systems combine to deliver enough hiccups to warrant constant driver attention.

As with many European cars these days, which have to contend with nosebleed gasoline prices, the AMG CLA35 comes with an idle stop-start system, which chokes off the engine at stoplights and re-starts when you lift of the brake.

Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 4MATIC (2019)

It’s OK if you’re just noodling around but if you like to get a jump off the line, it’s annoying. On the AMG CLA35 it can be turned off but sometimes there’s still a bit of a hesitation as the turbocharger spools up. Sometimes you can’t win.

Like every modern vehicle, this sports sedan makes every effort to satisfy the techies among us. There are five driver-selectable driving modes that use computer software to modify engine, transmission, steering and exhaust system settings. On some models — not the test vehicle — you can change the settings with optional steering-wheel buttons while keeping your hands on the wheel.

Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 4MATIC (2019)

The 2020 AMG CLA35 also comes with a state-of-the-art infotainment system with voice activation (“Hey, Mercedes”) and touch screen capability. It enables the driver to change the look — and information displayed — on the instrument panel.

Truth be told, there are not many subcompact sedan/coupes that could keep up wheel-to-wheel with this Mercedes-AMG. However, one scintillating, more than worthy competitor is the German subcompact four-door with another kinky name: the Audi RS3 2.5T Quattro S tronic. Sweet.

Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 4MATIC (2019)

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Mercedes-AMG CLA35 4MATIC four-door coupe.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 302 hp, 295 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Seven-speed twin-clutch automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 5 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/trunk volume: 89/12 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,505 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 23/29/25 mpg. Premium fuel.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $47,895.
  • Price as tested: $65,765.

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

Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 4MATIC (2019)

Photos (c) Mercedes-Benz

When is a Coupe Not a Coupe? When It’s a 2020 Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 Coupe

by Jason Fogelson

I have to rethink everything I’ve said over the years about the word “coupe.” I’m a traditionalist, and cling to the definition “a two-door hardtop car.” In my head, I picture a 1969 Chevy Nova two-door notchback – that’s my Platonic ideal of a coupe. The four-door version is a sedan. In my head, both of these cars are brown, by the way.

Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S 4MATIC+ Coupé (2019)

Mercedes-Benz began to tinker with the word “coupe” when it brought the 2004 CLS-Class. It was a four-door sedan with coupe-like styling, and it was gorgeous. And Mercedes called it a coupe, despite the fact that it was empirically a sedan. The CLS-Class caught on, and spawned a flock of coupe-styled four doors, so it wasn’t a big surprise when the coupe-styling craze jumped across to SUVs, notably first on the BMW X6. Coupe-like styling gave the X6 a visual boost over the X5, but actually reduced the utility of the utility vehicle. Still, BMW did it again with the X4, a four-door liftback SUV that they call “the Sports Activity Coupe.” I shake my old man fist at the X4, and insist that it turn down its loud music and gets off my lawn.

Profile Left Blue

Now, I may have to eat my words. I spent a week test-driving the 2020 Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S Coupe, and I fell in love. I no longer care whether they call it a coupe, an SUV, or a phaeton. Call it whatever you like – I call it fantastic.

As with all AMG vehicles, it all starts with the engine. This one gets a twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V8 that’s rated to produce 503 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque, and uses an AMG Speedshift MCT nine-speed automatic transmission. The engine sings its siren song through a perfectly tuned exhaust, delivering a throaty note that rumbles in the pit of your stomach. The transmission can be operated manually via paddle shifters, or automatically, where it does a great job. The power comes on in a rush, and just keeps coming. Mercedes states a 0-60 mph time of 3.6 seconds, and top speed is quoted at 174 mph (electronically limited). 4MATIC all-wheel drive is standard.

Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S 4MATIC+  (2019)

Six dynamic driving modes are available in a new suite called AMG Dynamics. The modes (Slippery, Comfort, Sport, Sport+, Individual and Race) select parameters for throttle response, transmission behavior, steering feel, suspension settings, all-wheel drive torque distribution, locking differential action, and stability control – in other words, just about every aspect of driving. Cruising around, I tended to leave the Coupe in Comfort. When I wanted to romp a bit, I switched to Sport+, which stiffened up the ride and steering substantially, and put the Coupe on its toes – a real jolt of caffeine. If I had more time with the car, I would have invested time in dialing in an Individual setting for my favorite roads.

Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S 4MATIC+ Coupé (2019)

GLC’s interior is elegantly tailored. It has a subtle mix of materials, and uses carbon fiber to great effect, trimming it with polished metal and accenting with piano black. The dash is simple, sturdy, and perfect – one of my favorites. The landscape-oriented 10.25-inch infotainment screen sits above the center stack, close to the driver’s line of vision, which is great. It’s loaded with a new MBUX infotainment system, which is easy to navigate. The information is spread across the big screen, and supplemented or echoed in the 12.3-inch instrument cluster above the steering wheel. A head-up display is available ($1,100), and would be a smart addition for the safety-minded driver. I’m a big fan.

Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S 4MATIC+  (2019)

Outside, I love the lines of the Coupe. I have trouble thinking of it as an SUV, because it really doesn’t have the stance or proportions that I have come to expect of an SUV. It’s somewhere between a fastback and an SUV. If you’re looking for a vehicle that maximizes cargo capacity, this is not the one for you. But, if you need a bit more usable interior room than a traditional sedan, and still want a sleek profile and a sporty-looking vehicle, the GLC delivers. It’s athletic and taut, and really quite gorgeous, especially with Mercedes-AMG-level fit-and-finish.

All this beauty comes at a price. The base price for the 2020 Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S Coupe is $84,100. My test vehicle with options came with an as-tested price of $96,425. Compare this to a base Mercedes-Benz GLC Coupe, which starts at $50,000, and it’s a little bit of a jolt.

Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S 4MATIC+ Coupé (2019)

You should also compare the GLC 63 S to the Porsche Macan, BMW X4, Acura RDX, Infiniti QX60 and Land Rover Range Rover Velar before making a decision.

I’ll be the one over here eating my words, and scratching out the definition of “coupe” in my dictionary.

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

Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S 4MATIC+ Coupé (2019)

Photos (c) Mercedes-Benz

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

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