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luxury sedans

2021 Genesis G80 3.5 AWD Prestige: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

There’s a new boss luxury car in town. It’s called the 2021 Genesis G80, an all-new full-size four-door that behaves more like a capable compact or a scrappy midsize sports sedan. 

Depending on which of nine versions you select, you can drive off in a relatively inexpensive near-luxury rear-wheel drive family car well suited to long-distance motoring. Or if you have more bucks to slap on the table, a dazzling twin-turbo performer with all-wheel drive and the bones to challenge luxury/high-performance European marques.

In automotive terms, Genesis is still in kindergarten, just five years old. It started as the top model in the Hyundai lineup from South Korea. In 2015, the company established it as Genesis Motor LLC, a separate luxury brand, not unlike Acura issued from Honda and Lexus begat from Toyota.

Now it has moved from a company with a few sedans to rudely intruding with its GV lineup into the luxury crossover sport utility territory, threatening competitors from Cadillac, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Lincoln, Acura and Lexus. The GVs likely have the potential to follow in the tire tracks of the G70, G80 and G90 sedans, as well as the acclaimed new Hyundai Palisade and Kia Telluride midsize crossover sport utility vehicles. 

The 2021 Genesis G80 was one of 10 semifinalists for North American Car of the Year. They were selected by a panel, or jury, of 50 automotive journalists from the United States and Canada, of which this reviewer is one. Competitors come from Acura, BMW, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, MINI, Nissan and even Hyundai, the Genesis parent company.

Two of the nine Genesis models — called trim levels in the industry — were evaluated. One was the G80 all-wheel-drive Advanced, a step-and-a-half up from the base Standard. It’s a classy near-luxury car with a turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that delivers 300 horsepower and 311 lb-ft of torque via an eight-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode. The EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption rating is 22/30/25 mpg.

The Advance comes with 19-inch alloy wheels, a panoramic sunroof, ventilated faux leather seats, three-zone automatic climate control, a power trunk-lid, and a 21-speaker audio system. All G80s come with rear-wheel drive standard but all-wheel drive is available for $3,150.

The other Genesis was the top-line 3.5 AWD Prestige model, with a twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 engine, delivering 375 hp and 391 lb-ft of torque, also with an eight-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel drive and a manual-shift mode. Its EPA fuel economy is 18/26/21 mpg.

Starting prices range from $56,475, including the destination charge, for the 2.5 Advanced to $68,675 for the 3.5 Prestige. As tested, the 2.5 had a bottom-line sticker of $56,475 and the 3.5’s came to $69,075.

Either way, the G80 is a lot of a car. With 122 cubic feet of interior space — divided into 107 cubic feet for passengers and 15 cubic feet in the trunk – it is classified as large by the EPA. It can carry five comfortably with four commodious seats and a fifth center-rear seat that is less accommodating but not as onerous as those in many other cars.

Both models give you a sumptuous interior, including perforated Nappa leather upholstery on the 3.5, beautiful Matte finish interior wood trim that would not look out of place on a Bentley or the stock of a bespoke Holland and Holland shotgun, and a host of state-of-the-art safety features, including automatic emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, evasive steering torque assist, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot warning, lane-keeping assist and rear cross-traffic braking.

On the performance side, both G80s have much to recommend them. The all-wheel drive Prestige delivers rocket acceleration, estimated here in the five-second range for zero to 60 mph. The 2.5 is not as quick but won’t be embarrassed anywhere, more in the seven-second range. Both are quiet cruisers with straight-line stability and capable handling on twisting mountain roads.

In this era, infotainment simplicity is becoming increasingly important. It seems that luxury manufacturers make their systems needlessly puzzling — perhaps thinking that customers equate complexity with the pricey drain on their pocketbooks. Yet infotainment systems on inexpensive cars are often more intuitive than those on luxury cars. The Genesis G80 mostly falls into the ease-of-use category, though a few functions can be frustrating. 

But, hey, we said at the outset that the Genesis G80 is the new boss in town. Get over it.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Genesis G80 3.5 AWD Prestige four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 3.5-liter V6, twin turbochargers; 375 hp, 391 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 5 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/trunk volume: 107/15 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,500 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 18/26/21 mpg. Premium fuel required.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $68,675.
  • Price as tested: $69,075.

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

Photos (c) Genesis

2021 Cadillac CT4 Premium Luxury: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Driving the 2021 Cadillac CT4 Premium Luxury sports sedan brought back memories of when the General Motors flagship brand started its move to a new neighborhood, mainly German.

It was a national press introduction of an all-new 2003 Cadillac, the CTS, at the storied Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey County, California, then sponsored by Mazda and now by aftermarket manufacturer WeatherTech. 

It was Cadillac’s first foray into performance-oriented sedans that bore little resemblance to the plush but mushy land-yacht Fleetwood and De Ville models that had characterized the brand. The idea was to butt bumpers with the Germans and co-opt some of their customers.

The CTS came first. It had sharp, edgy styling, solid performance and rear-wheel drive, reversing years of Cadillacs with front-wheel drive. Earlier, of course, all American cars had rear-wheel drive, and the conventional wisdom was that rear drive was superior to front-wheel drive for sports sedans. 

Although the CTS was a bit bigger, its intended targets were the compact luxury sports sedans: BMW 3-Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Audi A4 — and even the Lexus IS, as well as the larger Lincoln LS/Jaguar S-Type, which shared platforms and some parts.

The Laguna Seca press introduction was an eye-opener for some of the automotive journalists, including this reviewer. So capable was the CTS on and off the track it stirred feelings of chauvinism that an American sports sedan could compete so handily with the best of the Europeans.

Some of those same impressions surfaced recently driving the 2021 Cadillac CT4 Premium Luxury sedan. It is among eight automobiles voted as semifinalists for the North American Car of the Year, nominated by an independent 50-member jury of automotive journalists from the United States and Canada (including this writer).

Like its predecessor CTS, the new CT4 also comes in a V Blackwing version, designed to competed with the ultra-performance BMW M models, the AMG versions from Mercedes-Benz and S models from Audi. The CT4-V comes with a price tag that starts around $58,000. 

However, the tester here is the midlevel Premium Luxury model. It comes with a turbocharged 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine that delivers 325 horsepower and 380 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force. It also comes with a lower base price of $38,590, including the destination charge, and a bottom-line sticker of $44,990. 

To borrow from a popular movie candy, it’s good and plenty. With its 10-speed automatic transmission, the tested CT4 can nail 60 mph in about five seconds, with a top speed of 165 mph, according to tests by Car and Driver magazine. There’s a manual-shift mode with paddle shifters but you’re not likely to do any better shifting for yourself. The onboard computer works best.

As with its European and Japanese competitors, the CT4’s other strong suit is handling. Though it rides on self-sealing, all-season tires (there’s no spare), it has a firm grip on curves, abetted by a tightly snubbed suspension system and accurate steering. Of course, that means it lacks a traditional cushy Cadillac ride. On some surfaces, it gets shaky but overall, the CT4 does a decent job of absorbing road chop without getting unsettled.

There’s a raucous bark under hard acceleration and some engine drone during highway cruising, though not enough to overcome Taylor Swift on audio and discourage long-distance traveling. Front seats, upholstered in perforated leather, are comfortable with good seatback bolstering for rapid driving. Outboard back seats, tight on head and knee room, also are supportive, though getting back there takes some agility through the small door opening. The center-rear seat is a bummer with a hard perch, giant floor hump and crunching head room.

Out back, there’s a smallish trunk that is fairly deep and nicely finished with C-hinges that are isolated to not damage contents. With no spare, activate the OnStar if you blow a tire.

The tested CT4 Premium Luxury came with full safety equipment, including forward collision alert and automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind spot alert, lane departure warning with lane-keeping assist, and rear parking assist. 

Comfort and convenience items, some optional, included a navigation system with Bose premium audio, SXM satellite radio, wireless smart phone charging, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated and ventilated front seats, heated steering wheel, power lumbar support for front seats, Apple Car Play and Android Auto connectivity, OnStar emergency services, HD radio and LED headlights.

Though the CT4 is a driver’s car, you can also order SuperCruise, Cadillac’s semi-autonomous driving system.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Cadillac CT4 Premium Luxury four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 2.7-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 325 hp, 380 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: 10-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and rear-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 7 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/trunk volume: 90/11 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,615 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 20/30/24 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $38,590.
  • Price as tested: $44,990.

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

Photos (c) Cadillac

2021 Lexus IS 350 AWD F Sport: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

It could be asserted that the 2021 Lexus IS 350 AWD F Sport is the epitome of the compact sports sedan, though the description sometimes gets misconstrued as meaning the pinnacle.

It’s not that. In current usage, epitome means the embodiment or something that possesses the features of an entire class. That’s the Lexus IS. It runs fender to fender with four-door sports machines named BMW 3-Series, Cadillac CT4, Audi A4, Genesis G70, Alfa-Romeo Giulia, Kia Stinger and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. 

These are relatively expensive cars that may not be the most comfortable because of suspension systems and tires more oriented to performance in the twisties and maybe cornering on a race track. But they are also waiting in the wings for drivers who value response and handling that deliver tingles of excitement up and down the backbone. 

The Lexus IS F Sport satisfies those needs and desires. At just 15 feet 4 inches long and an empty weight of about 3,680 pounds, it comes loaded for combat with a 311-horsepower V6 engine with 280 lb-ft of torque. Power surges to all four wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode operated by steering-wheel paddles for control-oriented enthusiasts. 

Nineteen-inch lightweight alloy wheels augment an all-independent suspension with a stabilizer bar and coil springs. Up front is a double-wishbone design with a multi-link setup in back. Gas filled shock absorbers complete the system. 

The tested Lexus IS arrived with a base price of $45,925, including the destination charge. Tack on the inevitable options: $3,800 adaptive variable suspension system, navigation with $2,750 Mark Levinson audio, $1,100 motorized glass sunroof, automatic emergency braking with $1,400 pedestrian detection and panoramic rear-view monitor, $1,250 triple beam headlights with automatic high beams and a few other installations, and the bottom-line sticker came to $56,820.

That’s about 20 grand more than the current average price of a new car, so if the goal is economical transportation with a good dose of reliability, check out the 2021 Hyundai Elantra, Nissan Sentra, Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Mazda3, Kia Forte, Volkswagen Jetta and Subaru Impreza.

But the extra bucks, for those who can afford one of the performance/luxury machines like the Lexus IS F Sport, deliver driving enjoyment that goes beyond simply shuttling back and forth to the shopping center. 

This is a car that invites driving for its own sake. Nothing to do during the pandemic? Jump in for a drive in the traffic-free countryside where there are interesting corners to conquer, enjoy the acceleration when the light changes, bask in the feedback through the steering, and when braking feel some of the excitement of a pilot landing an FA-18 warplane on an aircraft carrier.

An axiom in the automobile business is that everything is a tradeoff. Want great handling? Give up some ride comfort. Want to go fast? Don’t worry about fuel economy. Under controlled tests that don’t involve rapid acceleration, the Lexus IS F Sport delivers an EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption rating of 19/26/22 mpg. Not bad for a hot car that can accelerate from rest to 60 mph in less than six seconds.

There are six driver selectable drive modes: Eco, Normal, Sport, Sport S, Sport S Plus and Custom. They adjust at what rpms the six-speed automatic shifts, as well as well as steering speed and effort, and shock absorber stiffness.

Comprehensive safety measures, including the automatic emergency braking and dynamic radar cruise control, are part of the standard equipment.

As taut as it behaves around curves, the F Sport also is tight. Though it has seatbelts for five, only four passengers will find comfortable accommodations — and getting there involves a bit of squirming. This is not a conveyance for large people. 

Some twisting and turning is required to access both the front and rear seats. Four average sized people in good shape will have no problems and, once inside, will be reasonably comfortable. The center-rear seat, no surprise, is almost impossible with a high, hard cushion and intrusion of a big floor hump. 

One negative surprise: Imitating some European luxury cars, the F Sport’s sun visors do not slide on their support rods to adequately block sun from the side. That was thought to be a thing of the past on all Toyota and Lexus vehicles. Also, the C-hinges in the small trunk are not isolated and could damage luggage.

But hey, you don’t buy an F Sport for its cargo-carrying capabilities.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Lexus IS 350 AWD F Sport four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 3.5-liter V6; 311 hp, 280 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 4 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/trunk volume: 90/11 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,680 pounds (est).
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 19/26/22 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $45,925.
  • Price as tested: $56,820.

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

Photos (c) Lexus

2020 Genesis G90 RWD 5.0 Ultimate: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

A knowledgeable onetime editor of automobile reviews thought the 2020 Genesis G90 “looks like a Chrysler.”

That person shall remain nameless, having actually mentored a famous reviewer, who sadly is not among us any more but who learned the craft from the editor, now retired.

Front 3q Left Static

It can be viewed as a tribute to the infant Genesis brand, to be thought of in the same breath as some of the famed Chrysler and Imperial models of yore, which were right up there in prestige with Lincoln, Duesenberg and Cadillac in the homeland.

The Genesis G90 follows a modern trend in which popular automobiles have spun off their own luxury brands, taking the good will the manufacturers have developed from providing interesting, reliable and even exciting cars and developing new models to command higher prices and prestige.

Genesis G90

Photo: James Lipman

Prominent in this concept are Japan’s Lexus, the luxury brand of Toyota, and Acura, gestated from Honda. In an earlier era, Ford begat Mercury and Lincoln, and now we have used-to-be humble Hyundai beguiling us with Genesis.

It’s just getting started. Originally introduced as the top-line Hyundai Equus from the South Korean manufacturer, the G90 became the pinnacle of a separate luxury brand in 2017. It is now on its way to becoming its own special entity with a lineup of premium sedans and upcoming crossover sport utility vehicles. Up first is the 2021 Genesis GV80 later this year.

Genesis G90

Photo: James Lipman

For now, the G90 stands as the flagship, offering the performance, luxury orientation and reputation as established marques that include Mercedes-Benz, Lexus,  BMW, Jaguar, Acura, Audi, Cadillac, Lincoln and even Volvo — but with the South Korean basic principle of offering more bang for the bucks.

Sure, if keeping up with and exceeding the Joneses at snazzy cocktail  parties is your thing, prattling on about owning a Genesis G90 will not score as many conversational points as talking about your daily driver with the Mercedes three-pointed star or the leaping Jaguar on the hood.

Genesis G90

Photo: James Lipman

The Genesis G90, as of now, doesn’t have that sort of panache. But if you’re in interested in a slick, smooth luxury car and you are without unlimited financial resources, you can substitute — in your psyche, at least — a G90 for that BMW 7-Series or Mercedes S-Class and pocket about 20 grand in savings.

The best part, except for the status that goes with the blue and white spinning propeller or the three-pointed star, is you won’t be short-changed from the feel behind the wheel. The G90 is as capable as any sedan in the large luxury class, with all the accouterments you might specify.

Genesis G90

Photo: James Lipman

The tested Genesis G90 RWD 5.0 Ultimate four-door comes with a velvety 420-hp, 5.0-liter V8 engine that delivers 383 lb-ft of torque. The power gets to the rear wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission. Also available is a turbocharged 3.3-liter V6 with 365 hp. All-wheel drive is an option with either engine.

The G90, with its imposing new grille, is an inch more than 17 feet long with 113 cubic feet of space for passengers and a trunk of 17 cubic feet. City/highway/combined fuel economy of 16/24/19 mpg is not outstanding but, hey, this is a luxury car, not a Chevy Spark.

Genesis G90

Photo: James Lipman

With luxury cars, it’s about feedback and ambiance. The Genesis G90 communicates tactile sensations from the steering wheel that is characteristic of premium sedans. It’s also mausoleum silent in highway cruising, nearly as quiet as an electric, though there’s some muted growl under hard acceleration.

The ride is creamy but controlled and the handling on curving roads is competent and confidence inspiring. But don’t mistake the G90 for a sports sedan. Its forte is sedate motoring, even at extra-legal speeds.

Genesis G90

Photo: James Lipman

The G90 Ultimate is set up for maximum comfort and serenity for four. Surroundings are done up with premium wood trim and soft, perforated leather seats with heating and cooling all around. In back, the outboard passengers get sun shades on the windows and power seat adjustments, along with infotainment screens mounted on the front seatbacks.

The center armrest in back houses climate and other controls, and can be tucked up to accommodate a fifth unfortunate passenger, who gets relegated to a hard, uncomfortable perch. There are seatbelts and headrests for three persons in back, as well as a pass-through into the trunk for skis or other long objects.

The suggested price for the G90 Ultimate came to $76,695, not for everybody — but in this snooty class it’s a bargain.

Genesis G90

Photo: James Lipman

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Genesis G90 RWD 5.0 Ultimate four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 5.0-liter V8; 420 hp, 383 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with rear-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 17 feet 1 inch.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/trunk volume: 113/16 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,850 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 16/24/19 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $76,695.
  • Price as tested: $76,695.

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

Genesis G90

Photo: James Lipman

Photos (c) Genesis

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

2019 Mercedes-Benz A220 4MATIC: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The Mercedes-Benz A220 4MATIC sedan, an all-new entry-level model from the German luxury manufacturer, turns heads and invites comments attesting to its striking styling.

It’s as if this small car, only a couple of inches shorter than the new economy-model Nissan Versa and with less interior room, surprises onlookers with its presence.

Mercedes-Benz A-Klasse Limousine, V 177, 2018 // Mercedes-Benz A-Class Sedan, V177, 2018Well, it should, if for nothing else than its price tag. While you can buy a satisfactory top-line Versa SR for about 20 grand, the A220 has a starting price of $35,495. With the customary European luxury-car list of expensive options, the test car checked the boxes with a sticker of $49,785. You can save $2,000 by skipping the 4MATIC all-wheel drive.

Though marketed as subcompacts, both cars barely sneak into the compact class by the U.S. government’s definition: a car with interior space of 100 to 109 cubic feet, including the trunk. The A220 4MATIC has 102, with 93 cubic feet for passengers and shy of nine cubic feet in the trunk. The Versa has 104 cubic feet, divided at 89 for people with a large trunk of 15 cubic feet.

But enough of size comparisons. The A220 and the Versa do not circulate in the same company. Though either will get you to where you are going, the valets who park the Mercedes will expect a way bigger tip. Versa owners likely will self-park or seek out a street space.

Mercedes-Benz A-Klasse Limousine, V 177, 2018 // Mercedes-Benz A-Class Sedan, V177, 2018Of course, few Mercedes customers would even deign to look at a Versa, much less drive one, and it’s likely most Versa customers would not have pockets deep enough to venture into a Mercedes showroom.

The new A220 should not be confused with the CLA, another compact sedan that Mercedes calls a “four-door coupe.” Though both cars are built off the same front-drive architecture, the CLA is three inches longer and boasts sleeker down-low styling with slightly less passenger space — 91.5 cubic feet compared to 93 for the A220. However, it has a larger trunk of 13 cubic feet versus nine cubic feet in the A-220.

Sophisticatedly motivating the A220 is a 188-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 221 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force. It gets the power to the pavement via a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, which delivers instant shifts up or down and can be manually shifted with paddles on the steering wheel.

Mercedes-Benz A-Klasse Limousine, V 177, 2018 // Mercedes-Benz A-Class Sedan, V177, 2018However you choose to do it, the engine-transmission combination will slingshot the A220 4MATIC to 60 mph in about six seconds. It does that with a remarkable lack of any dreaded turbo hesitation.

Despite its size and relatively light weight of 3,417 lbs, the A220 feels like a Mercedes-Benz, with handling responsive to the weighted steering. It tracks steadily in a straight line, cruises quietly, brakes smartly and its optional adaptive damping suspension system and tires mostly absorb the damnable road irregularities that increasingly plague U.S. roads.

So if nothing else, it’s a good thing for a car like the A220 to have  robust, quality underpinnings. At its price point, it also has many other desirable qualities, along with a few fluffs.

Mercedes-Benz A-Klasse Limousine, V 177, 2018 // Mercedes-Benz A-Class Sedan, V177, 2018Much of the desirable stuff comes with an additional price tag on the options list, including the comprehensive safety equipment: Distronic adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency stopping, lane-keeping and emergency steering assist, and blind-spot warning.

Also optional: combined digital instruments/center-screen cluster, head-up display, Burmester premium surround audio, navigation system, parking assist, surround-view rear camera, SXM satellite radio, heated front seats, auto-dimming inside and outside rear-view mirrors, and inductive smart phone charging

Mercedes-Benz A-Klasse Limousine, V 177, 2018 // Mercedes-Benz A-Class Sedan, V177, 2018

The head-up display is unusual in that it has a readout that displays the distance between the A220 and the car ahead, up to 300 feet. However, although it shows the speed of the car, it does not indicate the speed limit. For that, you have to glance down at the dashboard instruments.

The test car also had a curious intervention. On some cars, when you shut down the engine and open the door, the driver’s seat automatically moves back to facilitate exit and entry. On the A220, it does the opposite. The seatback pushes forward, as if to squash your chest into the steering wheel. It does not, fortunately.

Other fluffs: the shade for the panoramic sunroof is not opaque but made from a flimsy material that admits heat and sunlight. Sun visors do not slide to block sun from the sides. And there were no inside assist handles — only coat hooks combined with reading lights.

Mercedes-Benz A-Klasse Limousine, V 177, 2018 // Mercedes-Benz A-Class Sedan, V177, 2018

Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Mercedes-Benz A220 4MATIC four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 188 hp, 221 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Seven-speed twin-clutch automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 11 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 93/9 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,417 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 25/33/28 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $35,495.
  • Price as tested: $49,785.

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

Mercedes-Benz A-Klasse Limousine, V 177, 2018 // Mercedes-Benz A-Class Sedan, V177, 2018Photos:  Mercedes-Benz

2019 Cadillac CT6 AWD: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The 2019 Cadillac CT6 comes with Super Cruise, the most sophisticated automated driving experience on the market so far. But its basic technology actually incorporates old stuff.

Fundamentally, the system combines adaptive cruise control with lane-keeping assist. Both have been around awhile.

2017 Cadillac CT6

In 1999, Mercedes-Benz introduced Distronic cruise control, generically called adaptive or radar cruise control, which automatically maintains a set distance from the car ahead. It was ground-breaking because it slowed the Mercedes S-Class to a stop and, when the car ahead started off, would move with it.

Other manufacturers soon adopted the system, more or less. On the less side, some would maintain a distance but would cut out at a low speed of 20 mph or so, forcing the driver to brake manually.

The lane-keeping assist came from a different locale and time. In 2004, Nissan’s luxury Infiniti brand introduced lane-departure warning, which called an audible when the driver wandered across a lane marker. In 2007, the upgraded system brought M-Line models back into the lane by pulsing the brakes on the opposite side of the lane marker being crossed.

2017 Cadillac CT6

In 2013, on the Infiniti Q50, the company introduced the world’s first active lane control, which uses cameras and sensors to steer the wheels and keep the vehicle centered in the lane.

At the national press introduction, this reviewer drove a Q50, engaged the lane-keeping assist and adaptive cruise control, and motored about 15 miles on a divided freeway with hands off the wheel and feet off the pedals.

Other manufacturers later incorporated similar systems. But for safety’s sake, they installed systems that required the drivers to keep their hands on the steering wheel. If you removed your hands for about 15 seconds, lights and warning sounds activated.

2017 Cadillac CT6

Cadillac’s Super Cruise allows you to motor continuously with hands and feet off the wheel and pedals. Other current systems require the driver to keep hands on the steering wheel. But the Caddy system is unique.

Driving in Super Cruise, a steering-column camera monitors the driver’s face to make certain that he or she has eyes on the road. A prerequisite is that the driving must be done on freeways that Cadillac engineers have mapped and included in the software. On rural byways and city streets, the system does not engage, though the standard adaptive cruise control will work.

In a test run on Interstate Highway 95 between Washington, D.C., and Richmond, VA — one of the most congested freeways in the country — the Super Cruise control functioned as promised — with one exception.

2017 Cadillac CT6

If conditions are correct for Super Cruise, activate the adaptive cruise control and, when the system assents, engage the Super function.

It works, keeping you in the lane. A light bar at the top of the steering wheel glows green when everything is functioning. The driver can take over to change lanes but then the light turns blue, resuming green in the next lane.

As long as I looked ahead at traffic and monitored the inside and outside mirrors to maintain a 360-degree view around the Cadillac CT6, it motored along effortlessly. To test the system, I turned my head fully to the left and right, and within five seconds warnings went off.

But the exception came when I acted as if I were dozing off, eyes fluttering and head bowing down. Even after several tries, no warning came.

2017 Cadillac CT6

All of this tells us that autonomous driving still is in its infancy, though of the systems currently available, Cadillac’s Super Cruise is the state-of-the-art. Consumer Reports tested half a dozen systems and concluded that Caddy’s Super Cruise now is the best.

So also take a look at the rest of the 2019 Cadillac CT6 with Super Cruise. It is a consummate, full-size luxury sedan that owes no apology to any of the more expensive Europeans in performance, handling and comfort. Not that the CT6 is inexpensive. The base price is $87,790 and, as tested for this review, the bottom-line sticker came to $88,490.

2017 Cadillac CT6

It is powered by a 335-hp, twin-turbocharged V6 that delivers 284 lb-ft of torque to all four wheels through a silky-shifting 10-speed automatic transmission.

When you approach, the CT6 lights up, as if it’s happy to see you. Settle in, and you are treated to sumptuous coddling, including seats in front and back that will deliver selectable massages while you are motoring. It is as good as it gets if you can afford it.

2017 Cadillac CT6

Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Cadillac CT6 Platinum AWD four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 3.6-liter V6, twin-turbochargers; 335 hp, 284 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: 10-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 17 feet 2 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 113/16 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,226 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 18/26/21 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $87,790.
  • Price as tested: $88,490.

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

2017 Cadillac CT6

Photos (c) Cadillac

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 Lexus LS 500: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The best standard equipment on the 2018 Lexus LS 500 luxury sedan is its driver-oriented personality.

It’s interesting that a nameplate could produce such excellent products over its 28-year lifetime that it would get rapped for being too good. Polite people said a Lexus was done so well that it was unobtrusive — like a silent butler. Arch critics said it was boring, even sleep-inducing.

The executives, designers and engineers at Lexus, Toyota’s luxury division, eventually felt wounded enough that they decided to inject the LS 500 flagship with doses of automotive pheromones to get enthusiasts’ juices flowing.

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The effort went all the way to the top with final approval test drives by none other than Toyota’s chairman, Akio Toyoda, a well-known driving aficionado, who drove the LS 500 repeatedly. Photos of him in a helmet and racing coveralls at a test track were shown at the national press introduction.

In motoring circles, an article of faith for years has been that German luxury cars — Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi — were most prized by enthusiasts. Not only did they exhibit superb handling, performance and braking, you could actually hear the growl of the engine under hard acceleration and even cruising on the freeway.

The Lexus, on the other hand, was usually so quiet you had to listen carefully or check the tachometer to find out whether the engine was actually doing its thing or was possibly an electric.

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That’s now in the past. The new Lexus LS 500 takes on the Germans in a way that it has not done before, including actual engine sounds intruding into the passenger pod. Some items:

  • A new rugged platform with down-low engine accommodations for a lower center of gravity, better fore-and-aft balance, accurate steering for flat cornering, and responsive acceleration and braking.
  • An all-new 415-hp, twin-turbocharged V6 engine that delivers 442 lb-ft of torque, said to match the performance of competitors’ V8 engines. It is mated to a 10-speed automatic transmission with manual shifting via paddles on the steering wheel. Lexus says zero to 60 mph flashes by in 4.6 seconds with a top speed of 136.
  • A multi-stage hybrid model with a new 3.5-liter V6 engine and electric motors that delivers 354 system hp and 359 lb-ft of torque with EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption of 25/33/28 mpg in the rear-drive version.
  • An F Sport variant available with both the LS 500 and LS 500h hybrid, which is oriented toward improved handling with 20-inch wheels, an air suspension system and rear-wheel steering on rear-drive models.
  • A redesigned, striking Lexus “spindle grille” with 5,000 individual surfaces to catch the light. On the F Sport models, the grille has 7,000 facets.

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All three LS 500s can be ordered with all-wheel drive as well as the standard rear-wheel drive. All-wheel drive versions get slightly lower fuel economy ratings than the rear-drivers. With a starting price of about $76,000, sales start in February.

Because some buyers likely will employ chauffeurs, an optional package enables the right-rear seat to be reclined with a full footrest, while at the same time moving the right-front seat out of the way.

Surprisingly, this new Lexus is not a large car by the U.S. government’s definitions. With 98 cubic feet of space for passengers and 17 cubic feet of volume in the trunk — a total of 115 cubic feet – the LS 500 is classified as a midsize, which no doubt contributes to the excellent handling. However, it feels roomy on the inside, with surroundings that include soft leather upholstery, hand-pleated origami-style cloth, laser-cut wood-grain and jewel-cut glass.

2018_Lexus_LS500_0022_A766A0CEA9ED47F62FEC3A822B5607809AF15C46_lowContributing to its luxury/sport sedan feel is the exterior coupe-like styling. This is not new. Other luxury competitors have models with that bumper-to-bumper flow, which in the middle of the last century was called a “torpedo body” and has become widespread again.

Asked why they invested so much effort in a flagship sedan when the industry trend is toward crossovers and traditional sport utility vehicles, Lexus officials said they believed most of the LS 500 customers already owned SUVs. If not, they pointed to another top model: the LX SUV. There’s also the all-new LC 500 sports coupe.

When the discussion gets exhausted, the conclusion for the new Lexus LS 500 is that you can obtain the automotive equivalent of having your cake and eating it, too — that is, an extravagant luxury conveyance with sport-driving credentials.

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Specifications

  • Model: 2018 Lexus LS 500 four-door sedan.
  • Engine:5-liter V6, twin turbochargers, 415 hp, 442 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: 10-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and rear-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 17 feet 2 inches
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 98/17 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,707 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 18/27/21 mpg
  • Base price, including destination charge: $76,000 (est.)
  • Price as tested: $76,000-$105,000.

Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.

2018_Lexus_LS500_FSPORT_012_B5EE785F73ED6336B2A225A21B65F2C1419AB712_low

Photos (c) Lexus.

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