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2022 Volkswagen Taos SE: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

As crossover utility vehicles continue to insinuate themselves into the automotive market, manufacturers fill out their lineups to offer more sizes and styles, as Germany’s Volkswagen has done with its all-new 2022 Taos.

It now is the smallest crossover in the VW lineup, joining the Tiguan, Atlas Sport, Atlas, and the new all-electric ID.4 It is described as a small sport utility vehicle by the Environmental Protection Agency’s fuel economy website. There are no specific size categories for crossovers, but the Taos has more room inside than a sedan classified as large by the EPA.

It is four inches shorter than 15 feet long, 5 feet 4 inches tall and seats five in a passenger pod of 96 cubic feet, with a generous 28 cubic feet of space for cargo behind the back seat, some of it recessed into the floor. Fold the rear seatbacks and the cargo area expands to 66 cubic feet, though there’s a step up of more than six inches from the cargo floor.

The Taos, named for a town in north-central New Mexico, presents itself as an affordable and economical alternative to such established crossover SUVs as the Subaru Crosstrek and Hyundai Kona. The name derives from the American Indian Taos language and means “place of red willows.”

The Volkswagen red willow is powered by a turbocharged, 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 158 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque. That engine is mated to two different transmissions: a conventional eight-speed automatic in front-wheel drive models and a dual-clutch seven-speed automatic (DCT) in all-wheel drive versions.

On paper, that doesn’t look like a lot of juice to drive a 3,175-pound vehicle and its passengers. But the Taos delivers sprightly acceleration, though only after you suffer a second or three of turbo lag, that dreaded hesitation as the turbocharger spools up. Once past that, acceleration is strong. 

Highway cruising is mostly quiet except for some modest engine drone and tire noise. The latter is either pleasant or annoying, depending on the road surfaces, which these days have too many variations that need to be included in infrastructure improvements.

Handling is competent and secure with tactile steering feel. The tested Taos tracked true on turnpikes and twisting two-lane roads. Of course, even a small crossover is usually no match for a reasonably capable sports coupe or sedan.

Tested for this review was the front-drive SE, which is the middle of three trim levels. It was well-equipped, though lacking automatic climate control, and had a base price of $28,440, including the destination charge. The bottom-line sticker, with options, came to $31,325. Other versions are the base S, which starts at $24,190, and the top-line SEL, $32,685.

Given its relatively tidy size, the Taos was roomy inside with enough head room for all passengers and plenty of air for the knees of second-row passengers. As usual, the disrespected center-rear passenger has to contend with intrusions from the center console and a large floor hump. Front seats are supportive with prominent seatback bolstering to hold the torso around curves.

The seats on the SE were upholstered in a combination of cloth and faux leather, though Volkswagen got it backwards. The seating areas were done up in the leatherette, with cloth trim. The preference anywhere would be for breathable cloth seats with whatever else for trim.

An appreciated feature was the capability to change the view of the instrument cluster with the touch of a button. It was cool to display the speed as digital, with the tachometer surrounding the number. An eight-inch center touch screen handles infotainment functions. 

The center console consists of an open storage area with cup holders and a small storage area under the center armrest. The cup holders have spring loaded grippers to secure different sized cups — another appreciated feature.

 The Taos has full modern safety equipment, including forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection, blind-spot monitoring, lane-keeping assist, rear traffic alert and adaptive cruise control with distance settings.

The tested Taos SE also came with optional black alloy wheels and a panoramic glass sunroof, which opened at the front but not in back. But the motorized sunshade was made of a flimsy, translucent white cloth that admitted some welcome light but too much hot sunlight, straining the air conditioning.

With this new entry, Volkswagen gets another tire solidly into the deepening groove created by consumer demands for more and better vehicles that combine practicality and entertaining motoring.

Specifications

  • Model: 2022 Volkswagen Taos SE four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 1.5-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 158 hp, 184 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 8 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 4 inches. 
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 96/28 cubic feet. (66)
  • Weight: 3,175 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 28/36/21 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $28,440.
  • Price as tested: $31,325.

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

Photos (c) Volkswagen

2021 Mercedes-AMG GLA 35 4MATIC: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Some autophiles, likely including buyers and intenders for the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLA 35 4MATIC crossover sport utility vehicle, gravitate toward the best performing vehicle in the class. 

That attitude is what prompted the development of more expensive ultra-performance machines like the BMW M series, Audi S, Cadillac V, Lexus F, and, of course, Mercedes-AMG. The last started as an independent tuner outfit that massaged standard Mercedes automobiles and gave them supercar transplants.

Mercedes eventually bought AMG, and now it is the hot rod division of the German manufacturer, tweaking existing models and adding styling touches, some of which became options that made standard models look like AMGs but without the performance innards.

That’s what happened with the Mercedes GLA 250, the company’s entry-level crossover SUV. It was redesigned for the 2021 model year and can be ordered with a $2,240 AMG appearance package. 

The one reviewed here earlier had the AMG package, front-wheel drive, and a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 221 horsepower 258 lb-ft of torque. A quick-shifting eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission enabled a 0-to-60 acceleration time in the six-second range. It had a competitive base price of $37,280, including the destination charge and, with options, a bottom-line sticker of $48,620.

Moreover, the GLA250 had a sporting personality that made it a candidate for an AMG makeover, which has become a substantial niche for Mercedes. In 2020, the company sold 294,916 passenger cars and crossovers and 50,999 vans. AMG versions of the passenger vehicles totaled 34,079, or 12.4 percent.

The AMG GLA 35 and the GLA 250 are lookalike, fraternal twin athletes, about the same size but with different orientations — getting the performance job done with brute force instead of finesse.

The 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLA 35 4MATIC tested here came with all-wheel drive and a 302-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged engine with 295 lb-ft of torque, enough for a stated 0-to-60 acceleration time of five seconds. Its starting price of $48,600 is close to the as-tested price of the GLA250. A substantial list of options, including $1,500 for a panoramic sunroof and $1,450 for leather upholstery, brought the tested price to $54,455.

Standard equipment included blind-spot monitoring in a full suite of active and passive safety measures, as well as Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Bluetooth, dual-zone automatic climate control, SXM satellite radio,  LED headlights and taillights, digital instrument cluster and center display, heated front seats, and auto-dimming inside and outside mirrors.

A couple of negatives: the sun visors did not extend to block sunlight from the side entirely, and a flimsy cloth sunshade allowed too much sunlight inside.

Aficionados might argue that the $5,835 higher price for the AMG GLA 35 is acceptable, given its increased horsepower, faster acceleration, tighter suspension system, and luxury appointments. 

But unless you’re a buyer who craves the top of the line no matter what, you can easily justify choosing the less expensive GLA 250. It has exceptional handling for a small crossover and enough power for any situation on the nation’s increasingly traffic-choked and pockmarked streets and highways.

The AMG GLA 35 4Matic, on the other hand, acts more like an aggressive racer with distinct sounds from under the hood that loudly advertise the surplus of power. 

With its stiffer suspension system and bigger wheels and tires, the GLA 35 has a choppy ride, even in the Comfort driving mode, on all but pool-table smooth asphalt surfaces. Bumps and indents send shock waves directly to passenger tailbones. Seats are reasonably comfortable with good support and bolstering, though the lumbar adjustments could use improvement.

The GLA 35 has five drive modes: Slippery, Individual, Comfort, Sport, and Sport Plus. The last two tighten up an already stiff chassis and change the shift points for more aggressive acceleration. 

The outboard seats are supportive and comfortable in the back, with ample knee and headroom for averaged sized adults. However, think of the GLA 35 as a four-passenger vehicle. As usual in many vehicles these days, the center-rear seat is compromised by a high, hard cushion and intrusion of a big floor hump. There’s a cargo area of more than 15 cubic feet that expands to 51 cubic feet with the rear seatbacks folded.

From an economic standpoint — though who buys either machine for economy? — there’s not much difference. The GLA 250 front-driver has a city/highway/combined fuel consumption rating of 25/34/28 miles to the gallon compared to 23/29/25 for the GLA 35.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLA 35 4Matic four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 302 hp, 295 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed dual-clutch automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 7 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 3 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 98/15 cubic feet. (51)
  • Weight: 3,653 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 23/29/25 mpg. Premium fuel required.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $48,600.
  • Price as tested: $54,455.

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

Photos (c) Mercedes-Benz

2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA250: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Mercedes-Benz regards the all-new 2021 GLA250 as its entry-level crossover SUV, but for many motorists it could represent a dual-purpose icon on the mountaintop.

That’s because it delivers the practicality of a small crossover, with up to 51 cubic feet of cargo space (rear seatbacks folded) and an engaging, even sporting, personality — all at a price that likely is reasonable for some though out of reach for many.

That, of course, is the usual state of affairs with Mercedes and other European luxury brands. You can find many cars and crossovers at reasonable prices for the majority of the hoi polloi. But when you’re talking BMW, Audi, Jaguar, Volvo and Alfa Romeo, forget any bargain basement deals.

The GLA250’s starting price actually looks fairly reasonable. At $37,280 with front-wheel drive and including the destination charge that rarely is advertised but everybody must pay, it comes close to the average price of a new car these days.

When you start plumbing the options list, the amount inflates. On the tested GLA250, the extras came to $10,980, or nearly a third of the basic price. That’s not uncommon with many luxury brands, which have options lists that stretch to the horizon. They send the GLA250’s “as-tested” price to $48,620.

But it’s unlikely Mercedes even bothers to assemble any base vehicles, likely because its customers would not even consider what used to be called a stripper. So, what you see is what you get. 

In this case, it’s a well-equipped small luxury conveyance with a lot of desirable equipment — some of it superfluous — and a few shortcomings that anyone likely could live with unless they were terminally picky. 

Of course, this is Mercedes engineering and quality, so the fundamentals are present. The GLA250 is powered by a new 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes 221 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force. The power makes its way to the front wheels via an also new eight-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode triggered by paddles on the steering wheel. There’s also an all-wheel-drive 4Matic model for an additional $2,000.

City/highway/combined fuel economy is rated by the EPA at a decent 25/34/28 mpg, aided by a standard idle stop-start system. It’s not a favorite with this reviewer because of the re-start hesitation when there’s a need to accelerate quickly off the line. But on the GLA250, there’s an off switch directly below the start button so you can disable it without searching through touch-screen menus. 

Safety equipment includes forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking — now increasingly demanded for motor vehicles everywhere — as well as the Mercedes attention assist, which monitors driver behavior and issues warnings to take a break.

Standard equipment includes such amenities as Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and dual-zone automatic climate control. Options on the tested GLA250 included $2,240 for performance AMG body styling, including a classy black diamond grille, and perforated front disc brakes; panorama sunroof (with a flimsy perforated sunshade), navigation system, SXM satellite radio, digital instrument cluster and center display, heated front seats, and auto-dimming inside and outside mirrors.

However, the tested GLA250’s sun visors did not slide on their support rods to adequately block sunlight from the side, there was no adaptive cruise control, and the redundant steering wheel controls included tiny buttons that mimic the center touch pad. The buttons were too susceptible to inadvertently touch while driving and, among other things, change a radio station.

The main attraction of the GLA250, however, is the driving dynamics, and this is where this borderline luxury crossover SUV shines. Its tidy dimensions — six inches shy of 16 feet — along with a stiff but supple suspension system and accurate steering delivers handling on curving roads that can match or better some sports sedans. The tradeoff is a choppy ride on the many pockmarked surfaces on U.S. roads.

It also is a comfortable long-distance cruiser that tracks steadily with few steering corrections needed and a reasonably quite cabin. Front and outboard rear seats, though covered in MB-Tex faux leather, are supportive and comfortable. The center-rear seat, as usual in many vehicles these days, is compromised by a high, hard cushion and intrusion of a floor hump that is a full eight inches high.

Sales of the Mercedes GLA-Class have been slipping in 2020. COVID-19 permitting, the new models should help them regain some solid footing.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA250 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 front-wheel drive. 
  • Overall length: 14 feet 6 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 4 inches
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 98/15 cubic feet. 
  • Weight: 3,410 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 25/34/28 mpg. Premium gasoline required.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $37,280.
  • Price as tested: $48,620.

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

Photos (c) Mercedes-Benz

2021 Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S Coupe: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

At first glance, the 2021 Mercedes-Benz AMG GLE 63 S Coupe looks like a chubby fastback — something like a Kia Stinger or Audi A5 Sportback in need of laser liposuction.

But no. The porky look, like its extended proper name, identifies a high-performance luxury crossover sport utility vehicle that (gasp) carries an $87,110 price tag, including the shipping charge.

If that sounds deceptive, it is. This 5-foot-2 — no eyes of blue — is a rip-roaring rocket that can shoot to 60 mph in about 3.5 seconds, without even breathing hard. Governed top speed is 155.

It’s part of a relatively new breed of luxury crossovers that give up some functionality for perceived style — basically by lopping off part of the roof and tailgate to change the squared off SUV profile to something that resembles a sleek fastback. Think BMW X6, as one of the originals.

Though it has four doors and a hatchback, Mercedes prefers to call the AMG GLE 63 S a coupe, even as the company works to remove at least seven slow-selling traditional two-door coupes and convertibles from the U.S. market. 

At least as important as its shape from a sales standpoint is this machine’s guts. The AMG designation tells the tale: it means this stellar performer has been massaged by the Mercedes extra high-performance division. 

In this rendering, the brute power comes from an AMG tuned 4.0-liter V8 engine with twin turbochargers — a so-called biturbo — that delivers 503 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque to all four wheels through a nine-speed automatic transmission with manual-mode paddle shifters.

Lest anyone think that the AMG GLC 63 S is simply a powerful boulevardier, there are selectable driving modes that activate its range from Slippery through Individual, Comfortable, Sport, Sport Plus and Race. So, despite its crossover designation, it’s the sort of daily driver that wealthy owners can take on weekends to private, country-club racetracks like Monticello in New York State, where they can shred the tires to their hearts’ content.

Despite its arrest-inspiring power, the AMG GLC 63 S can function as your grand-aunt’s docile daily driver. Punch up the Normal driving mode and the throttle response softens for tootling around the suburban shopping malls. 

As a daily driver, this Mercedes delivers functionality with its posh luxury. It has about the same interior space as a midsize sedan with 99 cubic feet of space for up to five passengers and 18 cubic feet of cargo space, which expands to 36 cubic feet if you drop the rear seatbacks — easy with the touch of a button. However, manually wrestling them back up is a bit of a chore.     

The outboard back seats have plenty of head- and knee-room, and even the center-rear position has decent headroom, though the seat bottom is hard, and feet must be splayed beside a huge floor hump. The front seats are the place to settle, with giant seatback bolsters to grip your body in constant-radius racetrack sweepers.

For more routine entertainment, dial up the Sport, Sport Plus or Race settings and everything tightens up. The steering gets more responsive, and the transmission holds its breath until the engine rpms become unbearable, then it snaps off to the next gear. 

Of course, if your preference is a weekend at the track, there also are settings within the settings to challenge your abilities: Basic, Advanced, Pro and Master. Among other things, they allow you to disconnect the traction control, which no novice driver should ever do but which can help an experienced racer to hustle around the track.

The GLC 63 S Coupe, no surprise, is uncommonly well endowed, with as much standard active and passive safety equipment as you can cram into a modern automobile, as well as a host of luxury features. 

One that Mercedes should keep to itself is a couple of tiny touchpads — no more than a quarter-inch square — mounted on the steering wheel, which provide redundant controls for infotainment functions accessed from the center screen or touchpad.

They are located close to the steering wheel rim where your fingers and thumb rest if you use the recommended 9 and 3 o’clock hands position on the steering wheel. As often as not when you make a turn, a finger or thumb brushes one and changes a radio station or some other setting. It’s distracting and unnecessary.

Everything else is great.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S Coupe four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 4.0-liter V8, bi-turbo; 503 hp, 516 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and 4Matic all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 7 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 2 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 99/18 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,548 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 16/22/18 mpg. Premium fuel.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $85,095.
  • Price as tested: $87,110.

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

Photos (c) Mercedes-Benz

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