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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

2018 Mercedes-Benz AMG E43: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Everybody needs a hug sometimes, but the 2018 Mercedes-Benz AMG E43 embraces you every time you drive it.

The E43 is a version of the Mercedes E-Class, enhanced by AMG, the company’s high-performance engineering division. It comes only as a four-door sedan with all-wheel drive and a nine-speed automatic transmission that can be shifted manually.

With its 396-hp, 3.0-liter V6 engine, boosted with twin turbochargers, it makes 384 lb-ft of torque to scoot to 60 mph in slightly more than four seconds. Top speed is limited at 131 mph.

2017 AMG E43 Sedan

Even at that, it is not the hottest Mercedes E-Class. It slots between the 241-hp E300 and the faster 603-hp AMG E63 S.

Completing the E43’s performance package are precise steering with a hefty feel, an air suspension system and, on the tested model, 20-inch alloy wheels with sticky performance tires.

Hugging is one feature of the multi-endowed drivers’ seat, upholstered in black Nappa leather with red stitching and red seatbelts. When you hustle around corners and curves, even at modest speeds, sensors activate the seatback bolsters. Turn right and the left-side bolster pushes against the torso. Turn left and the right-side bolster activates.

2017 AMG E43 Sedan

It’s a weird sensation at first but it soon becomes a friendly assistant and you look forward to it. It can be deactivated if you choose and other adjustments can be made to suit your seating preferences.

The E43 exhibits multiple personalities. At light throttle inputs around urban areas, it is as effortless as a comfort-oriented luxury car. Enriching the experience is an optional ($1,100) acoustic comfort package that includes additional cabin insulation, and windshield and side glass with acoustic and heat-absorbing membranes.

Punch the throttle, and the turbo V6 lights up instantly and presses you into the seatback. Yet even under full-scream acceleration the sounds are muted and musical, never assaulting the eardrums.

2017 AMG E43 Sedan

The nine-speed automatic transmission shifts quickly and smoothly, always appearing to select the correct gear for the circumstances. You can shift it manually with paddles on the steering wheel but the Mercedes engineers don’t trust you. If the onboard computer decides it’s time to shift, the transmission shifts no matter what gear you’ve selected.

Overall, the AMG E43 drives and feels smaller than earlier E-Class cars, and it is. With a total of 111 cubic feet of interior volume — 98 for passengers and 13 for cargo in the trunk — the E43 barely squeaks into the midsize category. As defined by the federal government, the midsize class starts at 110 cubic feet of interior volume.

There’s plenty of room and comfort for the driver and front passenger but the outboard back seats are barely adequate for average-sized humans. The center-rear position is compromised by a hard bottom cushion and large floor hump. A fold-down center armrest, with flimsy and hard to use cup holders, divides the outboard seats.

2017 AMG E43 Sedan

Bucking a trend in luxury cars, the E43’s motorized glass sunroof shade is opaque except for a few small louvers to admit light. Many other luxury cars these days use shades made of a sort of perforated cheesecloth that admit too much sunlight.

Door-mounted power seat controls continue as a stubborn Mercedes-Benz feature despite the fact that they are awkward to use compared to the intuitive controls on the sides of the front seats in most other cars.

The 2018 AMG E43 comes with a starting price of $72,595, slightly lower than the nearly identical 2017 model. With $18,350 worth of options, the test car had a bottom-line sticker price $90,945, so this is not a machine for the masses. On the test car, options included a $4,550 Burmester High-End 3D surround sound system.

2017 AMG E43 Sedan

Standard and enhanced safety equipment included active emergency braking and crosswind assist, LED headlights and taillights, a predictive occupant protection system, blind-spot warning, adaptive headlights, Distronic adaptive cruise control, active lane-keeping and steering assist, an around-view rear camera, and a head-up display.

One welcome safety feature: If the driver inadvertently stops the engine while the transmission is still in the Drive mode, the transmission instantly shifts into Park, preventing the car from rolling away.

Given its price tag, the AMG E43 obviously is not a car for everyone. But for those who can afford either the cash or long-term payments, it delivers a triple play: family sedan with room for four or occasionally five; athletic sports car, and comfortable, quiet and luxurious town car.

2017 AMG E43 Sedan

Specifications

  • Model: Mercedes-Benz AMG E43 four-door sedan.
  • Engine:0-liter V6, twin turbochargers, 396 hp, 384 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 3 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 98/13 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,290 pounds
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 18/25/21 mpg on premium gasoline.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $72,595.
  • Price as tested: $90,945.

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

2017 AMG E43 Sedan

Photos (c) Mercedes-Benz.

2018 Mercedes-Benz GLC300 4MATIC: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The 2018 Mercedes-Benz GLC300 4MATIC forges a strong link in the longest chain of luxury sport utility vehicles in America.

In a move that was prescient but a gamble in 1997, the German manufacturer introduced the first luxury SUV, the 1998 ML320, at a surprisingly low price of $34,545.

Following the practice of the era, the ML320 was built like a truck, with the body mounted on a welded steel frame. As such, it had significant off-road chops but also delivered great highway handling from an independent suspension system and decent performance from a 215-hp, 3.2-liter V6 engine mated to a five-speed automatic transmission. Moreover, it was American-made in a brand-new Mercedes plant in Alabama.

2016 Mercedes-Benz GLC300

The ML320 was an immediate hit, with some customers waiting as long as eight months for delivery, and soon Japan’s Lexus countered with its RX, which was manufactured with a passenger-car unit body. That configuration now is called a crossover. Mercedes switched to a unit body for the second-generation ML-Class in 2005.

The company’s prescience paid off and it expanded its lineup as buyer interest remained steady, then soared for crossover SUVs in every price class, especially in recent years.

With two decades of experience, Mercedes now sells five models, starting with the subcompact GLA. It also has re-named others in the lineup to match their size classes. The tested compact GLC300 used to be called the GLK; the old midsize ML now is the GLE and the full-size GLS used to be the GL. Also in the lineup is the G-Class, based on a Mercedes military vehicle.

_AS_0724-source

As a compact, the 2018 GLC300 is a solid contender in its luxury category, available with almost every modern safety, driver involvement and infotainment feature. Many come as options, which inflated the base price of $42,975 to $62,795.

Power is delivered by a responsive 241-hp, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 273 lb-ft of torque. A nine-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode controlled by steering-wheel paddles sends the power to all four wheels. If you don’t need all-wheel drive, the GLC300 can be ordered with standard rear-wheel drive at a saving of $2,000.

The GLC300 is two inches longer and nearly 500 lbs heavier but with less interior room than the best-selling compact Honda CR-V, which has 106 cubic feet of passenger volume and 39 cubic feet for cargo. The GLC’s passenger volume is 98 cubic feet with 19 cubic feet for cargo.

2016 Mercedes-Benz GLC300

The two-ton weight and an air suspension system translate into a hefty, planted and comfortable ride on the highway with good road feedback through the steering wheel. Likely the acceleration would be better if a few pounds were extracted but the GLC300 is no slouch, reaching 60 mph in 6.4 seconds, according to Mercedes’s specifications.

Some of that weight obviously has gone into insulation and other sound-deadening materials. This is a quiet highway cruiser with little intrusion of road, mechanical and wind noise.

There are five driver-selectable driving modes: Eco, Comfort, Sport, Sport Plus and Individual, which adjust shift points and suspension settings to maximize fuel economy and move up from there to enhance performance.

2016 Mercedes-Benz GLC300

Seats on the test car were upholstered in perforated leather, heated and cooled up front. There are three memory settings for the front seats and mirrors. Outboard back seats are similarly accommodating and even the center-rear position, hampered by a large floor hump, offers room and some comfort. The seatbacks fold flat with a finger pull on a switch.

There’s additional hidden space for small items under the cargo floor because the GLC300 now comes with run-flat tires. The under-floor space comes with a nice touch: two small bags that hold bright yellow vests to wear in an emergency.

A few criticisms are in order. Though there’s an easy-to-use fingertip shifter, if you turn off the engine and forget to put the transmission in Park, the GLC300 will roll forward or backward. Infotainment functions require learning and attention, and should not be attempted underway. The sunshade for the panoramic sunroof is flimsy and admits sunlight. Also, the window controls on the door would be more intuitive placed on the sides of the front seats.

Still, if you have interest and the money for luxury surroundings, state-of-the-art driving and safety features — all in a tidy package — the 2018 Mercedes-Benz GLC300 strongly hints at the self-driving technology of the future.

2016 Mercedes-Benz GLC300

Specifications

  • Model: 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLC300 4Matic four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine:0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged, 241 horsepower, 273 pound-feet torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 3 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 98/19 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,001 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 21/28/24 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $42,975.
  • Price as tested: $62,795.

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

2016 Mercedes-Benz GLC300

Photos (c) Mercedes-Benz.

2018 BMW 230i xDrive Coupe: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

With automobiles, especially an expensive sport coupe like the 2018 BMW 230i xDrive, it’s all about the return on investment.

It is the same in business as well, but there the focus is on profits measured in dollars. With cars, it’s about the tangibles and intangibles they deliver.

Buy a minivan and you get practicality for family vacations. Buy a BMW 230i xDrive and practicality flies out the window. The return on that investment comes in driving enjoyment, preferably with two people on board.

This compact two-door coupe, though it delivers strong performance, capable handling and decent fuel economy, has a cramped back seat. And because the front seatbacks move minimally forward, it requires athletic ability to access.

Offsetting that is a large trunk of almost 14 feet that can swallow a couple’s luggage for a week. If the trip is longer or you have a lot of stuff, the rear seatbacks fold to expand the cargo-carrying capability to 53 cubic feet.

Arguably, the 230i xDrive, which is the lowest-price sedan in the BMW lineup, is the lineage successor to the 1967 BMW1600-2, which had a bigger and more accommodating back seat. Car and Driver Magazine  trumpeted it as “the World’s Best $2,500 Car.” It was a boxy two-door with a cavernous trunk that in this writer’s family was big enough to conceal all of Santa Claus’s gifts for four children.

It had an 84-horsepower, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that drove the rear wheels through a four-speed manual gearbox. Its independent suspension system and rack-and-pinion steering delivered great handling and the capability to hammer steadily over railroad tracks at 100 mph, all while delivering fuel economy in the mid-20s.

P90258121Contrast the 1600-2 (later joined by the more powerful 2002) with the tested 2018 230i xDrive and you see a great deal of price creep. The writer’s 1600-2, with options, had a $2,850 price tag, which has inflated over the years to $20,920 in 2017. The 2018 230i—the lowest-priced sedan in BMW’s expensive lineup—starts at $34,145, much of the difference because of modern emissions, safety and convenience requirements.

The tested xDrive, which is BMW-speak for all-wheel drive, started at $37,795. With $12,520 in options, it ended up with a $50,315 price tag.

Whether that investment delivers a substantial return depends on the individual owner’s delight and involvement, and whether he or she concludes that it merits the “ultimate driving machine” label. But the 230i xDrive is a sweet piece of machinery.

Its tidy size—three inches shy of 15 feet long—and quick steering makes for confident moves in city and freeway traffic. Need to make a quick lane change or dodge a clueless and careless driver intruding into your lane? A flick of steering and tap on the throttle and the troubles are gone.

Open highway cruising is relaxing. A supple ride, supportive sport seats with good seatback bolstering and a quiet interior means you can put on many miles without fatigue.

The engine is a 248-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes 258 pound-feet of torque, or twisting force. Power gets to all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission that can be shifted manually with paddles on the steering wheel. For traditionalists, the 230i xDrive can be ordered with a six-speed manual gearbox.

Though the engine slurps premium gasoline, city/highway/combined fuel consumption with the automatic works out to 24/33/27 mpg.

The test car was well equipped with optional leather upholstery (leatherette is standard), navigation system, rear-view camera, adaptive cruise control, motorized glass sunroof, power front seats with memory settings, SXM satellite radio, wireless smart phone charging, WiFi hot spot and Apple CarPlay. A $2,300 track handling package included an adaptive suspension system, sport brakes and variable steering.

Still, there were shortcomings. On the automatic settings, the air conditioning could not keep up on a hot day. Fortunately, BMW included a knob that delivered a manual maximum air conditioning blast. However, with a capable system it should not be needed.

In addition, the infotainment system is needlessly complicated, sun visors did not slide on their support rods to fully block sunlight from the side, and there was no blind spot warning, though it is not needed if the outside mirrors are properly adjusted.

For those drivers who value a car for visceral entertainment as opposed to pedestrian competence, the 230i xDrive returns a bonus on the investment.

P90258118Specifications

  • Model: 2018 BMW 230i xDrive two-door coupe.
  • Engine:0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged, 248 hp, 258 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual shift mode.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 7 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 90/14 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,483 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 24/33/27 mpg. Premium fuel required.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $37,795.
  • Price as tested: $50,315.

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) BMW.

2017 BMW 540i xDrive: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer 

BMW rides the crest of the crossover sport utility wave, but persists in making certain it continues to anchor at least one model in nearly every market cove, as witness the 2017 BMW 540i xDrive sedan.

It is an expensive midsize four-door, nearly full-size by the government’s description, that has been substantially revamped to hang on in the face of declining sales — some of them lost to BMW’s own lineup of crossover SUVs.

P90237218_highResOverall, the Bavarian Motor Works offers six sedans and coupes, five crossovers, two sports cars — one of them a hybrid — and an electric car, the i3, with an optional gasoline range extender. Different trim levels and power trains broaden the choices.

Though BMW has always emphasized performance and handling, this new machine tilts more toward extravagance than some of its predecessors. It is quiet and lavishly appointed, though it retains power and solid driving dynamics.

BMW calls the 540i xDrive a “business sedan.” But it is a business steeped in comfort and luxury. With 98 cubic feet of passenger volume, there’s plenty of stretch space for four people in the front and back. A seatbelt is installed for a center-rear passenger but, as with most vehicles these days, the position is compromised by a hard cushion and floor hump.

P90237212_highResOut back, there’s a trunk of 19 cubic feet that would do justice to a larger car. It can easily swallow luggage for a long trip or golf bags for a foursome.

The engine is a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline 6-cylinder that makes 335 hp and 332 lb-ft of torque, delivered to all four wheels through an 8-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode controlled by paddles mounted on the steering wheel.

The 540i xDrive has both Sport and Comfort modes that alter suspension settings and shock absorbers automatically depending on inputs from the driver. Slow and easy activates the comfort setting; it switches to Sport when the driving is aggressive.

P90237235_highResIn keeping with its German heritage, the 540i xDrive oozes electronic and engineering wizardry, including a launch control system that enabled Car and Driver Magazine to record a zero-to-60 mph acceleration time of 4.5 seconds. Top speed is governed at 128 mph.

If that’s not enough, BMW is releasing the 2018 M550i xDrive model  in the second half of 2017. It is powered by a twin-turbo V8 engine that delivers 445 hp and 456 lb-ft of torque. BMW says the M550i will get you to 60 mph in 3.9 seconds — six-tenths of a second quicker than the 540i xDrive. But its starting price is more than $13,000 higher.

P90237271_highResIn keeping with BMW practice, an extensive options list augments standard safety and convenience equipment. Some of it, including automatic evasive steering, lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control and collision mitigation, brings the 540i xDrive closer to the eventual goal of the self-driving car. That prompted Consumer Reports to include an alert to buyers to make certain they heed all warnings and keep their hands on the wheel.

The tested 540i xDrive had a starting sticker price of $59,745, including the destination charge. Options tacked on an additional $22,615 for a bottom line price of $82,360. More than $8,000 of the options related to driver assistance and handling functions.

Another option, priced at $750, allows for remote control parking. It only works in straight-line forward and back movements, as in backing into a parking space or garage. The driver controls the movements from outside with a special remote control. It is mainly useful in a space so narrow a driver would not be able exit or enter the car.

P90237268_highResFor another $190, tested 540i came with gesture control, which enables the use of gestures, as well as a controller and voice commands, to activate various functions.

At the higher end of the options spectrum, the test car was equipped with a Bowers & Wilkins high-performance audio system with a price tag of $4,200. An M-Sport package, at $2,600, included suspension system modifications and appearance items.

With a curb weight of more than two tons, the 540i has the heft and feel common to expensive luxury sedans. That, of course, goes to the bottom line of fuel economy. Its city/highway/combined gasoline consumption, as published by the EPA, works out to 20/29/23 mpg — not daunting for anyone who can pay the price or make the lease payments.

P90237216_highResSpecifications

  • Model: 2017 BMW 540i xDrive four-door sedan.
  • Engine:0-liter six-cylinder, turbocharged, 335 hp, 332 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 3 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 98/19 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,170 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 20/29/23 mpg. Premium fuel required.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $59,745.
  • Price as tested: $82,360.

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

P90237229_highResPhotos (c) BMW.

2018 Volkswagen Tiguan SE: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Volkswagen ups its game in the crossover SUV arena with a triple-double by a new player, the 2018 Tiguan.

It has nothing to do with points, rebounds, assists or blocked shots in a basketball game, though the German manufacturer would be delighted if the Tiguan managed some steals from competitors.

To that end, it has doubled its overall warranty to 72,000 miles and six years from the standard 36,000 miles and three years. It also has added a third row of seats to all Tiguans, standard on front-wheel drive models and a $500 option on all-wheel-drive models.

2018_tiguan_-_sel_premium_7316It’s all part of VW’s effort to win over new fans and rebuild trust among existing ones who were angered and disillusioned by the company’s cheating on diesel-engine emissions. Not surprisingly, the new Tiguan is powered by a gasoline engine, though a gasoline/electric hybrid could eventually follow.

The Tiguan’s triple-double certainly enhances its appeal, although the South Korean Hyundai and Kia brands currently offer an overall warranty of 60,000 miles and five years, as well as 10 years and 100,000 miles on the engine and transmission.

For now, the Tiguan’s power comes from a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder turbocharged engine that delivers 184 hp and 221 lb-ft of torque through an 8-speed automatic transmission. City/highway/combined fuel economy is 21/27/23 mpg.

2018_tiguan_-_sel_premium_7283The Tiguan plays in the current automotive version of March Madness, in which crossover sport utility vehicles of all sizes are knocking sedans out of the game. That’s particularly true in the compact cluster where the Tiguan competes against such proven competitors as the Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, Toyota RAV4, Kia Sportage, Nissan Rogue, Hyundai Tucson and Mazda CX-5.

With the new Tiguan, VW reckons that it now can brag that it is a family-oriented full-line company. It joins the midsize Touareg and new full-size Atlas, along with the Golf Sportwagen, Golf hatchbacks, Beetle, and Jetta, CC and Passat sedans.

The new Tiguan is nearly 11 inches longer than its predecessor, now stretching to 15 feet 5 inches in length. That delivered enough space for the third row, which increases the passenger capacity to seven. However, the third row should be reserved for athletic small children and forbidden to senior citizens of any age. It takes a gymnast’s twists and turns to get back there, where there’s barely enough space for backpacks and watermelons.

2018_tiguan_-_s_7268Likely most owners will reserve the third row for dire emergencies and simply leave it folded to expand the cargo area, which in two-row versions has 38 cubic feet of space, about triple what you find in compact sedans.

The Tiguan comes in four trim levels with a starting price of $24,245 for the base S and ranging up to $38,450 for the all-wheel-drive top-of-the-line SEL Premium. The focus here is on the two-row all-wheel-drive SE, which carried a price tag of $31,280.

To get all the goodies like navigation, lane departure and collision mitigation, blind-spot warning, rear camera, SXM satellite radio and other safety, connectivity and convenience items, you must order one of the more expensive versions.

2018_tiguan_-_sel_premium_7325Accommodations vary with cloth seats on the S, leatherette on SE and SEL, and leather on the SEL Premium. The choice here was for the comfortable and supportive cloth seats on the S, which look durable enough to survive many years. The leatherette should be durable as well, though it is less comfortable for long distances, especially in summer.

The Tiguan has a character that owners often refer to as its German feel. It tracks cleanly down the road, has a suspension system that absorbs bumps and, with accurate steering, handles curving roads without fuss. In addition, the ride is comfortable and very quiet with little intrusion of mechanical, road or wind noise.

2018_tiguan_-_sel_premium_7290A couple of quibbles are in order. The CD changer, in a nod to the past, resides in the glove compartment. Also, on models with the panoramic sunroof, the shade is made of a flimsy material that mimics cheesecloth and allows too much sunlight to intrude. Sun shades should be opaque.

Another cheesy item that saves a couple of bucks: The driver’s side sun visor slides on its support rod to fully block sun from the side; the passenger does not get the same courtesy because that visor is rigidly fixed.

Overall, this is an improved and more competitive Tiguan in a tough fight.

2018_tiguan_-_s_7266Specifications

  • Model: 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan SE four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine:0-liter 4-cylinder, turbocharged, 184 hp, 221 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: 8-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 5 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 101/38 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,858 lbs.
  • Payload: 970 lbs.
  • Towing capability: 1,500 lbs.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 21/27/23 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $31,280.
  • Price as tested: $31,280.

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

2018_tiguan_-_s_7265Photos (c) Volkswagen.

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