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2021 Lexus NX 300h Luxury: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Driving alone is one of those pleasant outings you can experience during the coronavirus pandemic, and even more so if your ride is the 2021 Lexus NX 300h crossover sport utility vehicle.

You don’t have to wear a mask and you can settle into and ogle the pleasant, quality interior, set off as in the tested NX with crème perforated leather upholstery and black accents. And even if you decide not to drive, you can simply sit in the comfortable, well bolstered seats, leave the automatic climate control running, keep the doors locked, lower the power seatbacks and maybe even take a nap.

In that case your fuel economy would be dragged down a bit from the NX’s excellent city/highway/combined EPA rating of 33/30/31 mpg — one result of the vast, established hybrid experience of luxury Lexus’s parent company, Toyota.

On the NX, it consists of a 2.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine mated to three electric motors dancing together to drive all four wheels through a continuously-variable automatic transmission (CVT). As many people now are aware, CVTs are smooth, smooth, with no shift points.

However, in case the NX owner wants a bit more verve, an easy selection of the Sport driving mode triggers an onboard computer that mimics a six-speed automatic’s shift points, controlled by paddles on the steering wheel. So you don’t have to be shiftless, although the system doesn’t entirely trust you and will shift for you if you butcher it.

Positioned a notch above the smaller entry-level Lexus UX SUV, the NX is a luxury competitor and is priced accordingly. In common parlance, it is referred to as a compact crossover. However, in the often confusing vehicle size designations it has the interior space of a midsize sedan. Competitors include the Acura RDX, BMW X1, Volvo XC40, Audi Q3, Cadillac XT4 and Mercedes-Benz GLB.

The tested NX 300h Luxury version came with a base price of $47,535, including the destination charge. With a fairly short list of options, the bottom line sticker price came to $52,434. With that, it had the stones of safety and luxury to match almost any luxury automobile.

Safety: Automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind-spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert, panoramic backup camera, lane-tracing with steering assist, road-sign detection, rain-sensing windshield wipers, all-speed dynamic radar cruise control and automatic high beam headlights.

Luxury: Perforated leather heated and ventilated front seats with memory, navigation system, premium Mark Levinson surround-sound audio, heated power-adjustable steering wheel, auto-dimming and heated outside mirrors, power motorized glass sunroof, power rear tailgate, SXM satellite radio, voice command with Siri Eyes Free and Google Voice, and Android Auto and Apple Car Play connectivity. 

The NX is not the quickest kid on the block. The total gasoline/electric system horsepower is 194, with 152 lb-ft of torque. Lexus lists the zero to 60 acceleration time at 9.1 seconds with a top speed of 112. But punch in the Sport mode and it feels faster than that. You’ll not be embarrassed at stop lights or freeway on-ramps.

It’s a quiet, comfortable long-distance runner, though you quickly realize that the suspension system delivers a stiff ride—no doubt because the engineers decided to dial in some extra handling prowess. On curving roads, it is stable at speeds with little body lean.

The windshield side pillars (called A-pillars in the industry) are cleverly angled so that the driver, with little effort on a two-lane tight corner, can see around the left one to check if a vehicle is coming in the opposite direction.

There is a bit of a visibility problem in back, however. The rear seat headrests are large and block part of the view to the rear. But there’s a thoughtful fix. The seatbacks on the tested NX Luxury are powered and can be dropped nearly flat with the touch of buttons—two in the cargo compartment and two on the dash, so a lone driver can fold them without leaving the front seat. However, they will not fold if the NX is moving.

Even with the seatbacks folded, the wide rear D-pillars block some of the rear view. The tester came with blind-spot warning but it’s still best to adjust the outside mirrors out far enough to enable a 180-degree  view to the rear. Outside mirrors are the original blind-spot warning but seldom are correctly adjusted.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Lexus NX 300h Luxury four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine/motors: 2.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline; three hybrid electric motors; total system output: 194 hp, 152 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Single speed continuously-variable automatic with stepped manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 3 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 5 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 97/17 cubic feet. 
  • Weight: 4,180 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 33/30/31 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $47,535.
  • Price as tested: $52,434.

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

Photos (c) Lexus

Drive After Drive in the 2020 Acura MDX

by Jason Fogelson

I have a friend whose sister Amy recently bought her fourth Acura MDX in a row. She owned a first-generation (2001 – 2006); a second-generation (2007 – 2013); and a third-generation (2014 – present) MDX, and just upgraded to a 2020 Acura MDX AWD A-Spec – just like the one that I spent a week test-driving recently. Amy is a medical professional in California, so she’s quite busy with serious business right now. But she did take the time to tell me what she loved about MDX, and why she’s stuck with the model over the past two decades.

Her family had always been luxury car buyers – her dad favored Mercedes-Benz vehicles, while her mom was a Jaguar driver. Her brother (my friend) has rarely been without a Porsche 911. When Amy started a family, she wanted to get a three-row SUV to accommodate her children. While she was accustomed to luxury vehicles, she didn’t want to fall into the European pattern that the rest of her family had followed, and stumbled across the MDX. She appreciated the build quality, the V6 engine, the standard all-wheel drive and the roomy interior of the MDX, and claims that each generation has built on the original’s promise. 

I’ve driven each generation of MDX, and I have to agree with Amy. And the latest iteration of the third generation is even better. 

Though MDX is bigger and roomier than before, it is also lighter and more powerful – which means that it performs and handles better. First- and second-generation MDX models weighed in at about 4,600 lbs, while the 2020 MDX AWD A-Spec (list price $54,900) comes in between 4239 – 4264 (depending on equipment). Its naturally aspirated (non-turbo) gasoline 3.5-liter V6 engine pumps out 290 hp and 267 lb-ft of torque through a nine-speed automatic transmission, and is rated to achieve 19 mpg city/25 mpg highway/21 mpg combined. 

The A-Spec package ($3,500) is a 2020 first for MDX. It includes A-Spec styling, sport seats with Alcantara inserts and contrast stitching, sport pedals, ventilated seats, 20-inch alloy wheels with all-season tires, and LED fog lights. Selecting the A-Spec package automatically includes the Technology package ($5,000), a comprehensive group of upgrades including navigation with voice recognition, AcuraLink Communication System, Acura ELS Studio Premium Audio System with 10 speakers, HD Radio, Blind Spot Information, remote engine start, rain-sensing wipers, power-folding side mirrors, LED puddle lights, rear cross-traffic monitor, and front and rear parking sensors. Add $400 for the premium exterior color (Apex Blue Pearl, worth every penny) and $995 for Destination and Handling, and the as-tested price for my 2020 MDX AWD A-Spec came out to $56,295. That’s substantially more than the average transaction price for a car in the United States right now, which hovers around $35,000, but actually a competitive price measured against other three-row luxury SUVs on the market right now, like the Lexus RX-L, Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class, BMW X5, Infiniti QX60, Audi Q7, Cadillac XT6 and Volvo XC90. MDX is also available in a front-wheel drive variant starting at $44,500, using the same V6 engine as the AWD version, and as an MDX Sport Hybrid Super Handling All-Wheel Drive starting at $53,000, using a 3.0-liter V6 and three electric motors.

Driving the MDX, I really appreciated the comfortable, yet sporty and nimble ride. The nine-speed automatic transmission is seamless, and does a great job of downshifting multiple gears when needed. The Integrated Dynamics System allowed me to easily select Comfort, Normal or Sport mode, shaping throttle response, shift mapping, AWD settings, steering response and Active Sound Control (noise cancelling) all at once for the desired effect. I wish I could have tested an MDX with the new Active Damper System, but that’s part of the Advance Package, not A-Spec. I always enjoy driving an Acura with SH-AWD (Super Handing All-Wheel Drive), which includes torque vectoring. Torque vectoring sharpens turn-in by directing power to the outside wheels in a turn, and Acura’s system is one of the best in its class.

Each MDX includes AcuraWatch active safety features. On A-Spec, the list includes Adaptive Cruise Control, Collision Mitigation Braking, Road Departure Mitigation, Forward Collison Warning, Lane Departure Warning, and Lane Keeping Assist System. For long drives on the (now wide-open) freeways, this combination of features and functions takes you part of the way toward autonomous driving. Set the cruise, keep your hands on the wheel, and AcuraWatch will help keep you between the lines. It makes a nice drive very relaxing. 

I know that my friend’s sister Amy appreciates all the relaxation she can get right now, and I hope that her new 2020 Acura MDX is helping. 

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

Photos (c) Acura

Driving at a Social Distance in the 2020 Audi Q3

by Jason Fogelson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos (c) Audi

Don’t Ignore the 2020 Acura RDX

by Jason Fogelson

Ignoring Acura is a mistake. While the brand has had its ups and downs in terms of awareness and popularity, its cars have never lacked in quality and passion. As the luxury brand of the Honda universe, Acura has a tall order to fulfil. Honda’s reputation for dependability, efficiency and competence is well-established, and Acura shares in that regard. If Honda and Acura share a deficit, it might be excitement. Even when the brands come up with an exciting vehicle, like the Honda Civic Type R or the Acura NSX, the limelight seems to fade quickly after launch. Blame a fickle audience; blame the marketing department; blame the shock of the new; it doesn’t matter. The fact is that most of us buy or lease our vehicles for a long-term relationship, and we’d be wise to consider factors beyond popularity and infatuation before making a commitment.

Advance Action

If you’re in the market for a compact luxury crossover, I’m going to point you in the direction of the 2020 Acura RDX SH-AWD Advance. I might be behind the curve on this, as RDX has sold over 450,000 examples over three generations since its launch in 2006.

RDX was all-new for 2019, the first Acura vehicle to be designed and engineered in the United States. It rides on an Acura platform, rather than a shared Honda platform as previous generations did. RDX is built in East Liberty, Ohio.

In a sea of automotive sameness, there are a few cool features that help RDX stand out in the crowd of compact luxury crossover SUVs.

Advance Beauty & Details

For drivers, there’s a completely transparent feature called “Torque Vectoring Super Handling All-Wheel Drive.” Torque vectoring is not new, but when properly executed (as it is on RDX), it can be a revelation. Simply explained, torque vectoring directs the twisting force on the wheels to the outside wheels on a turn, which can enhance control and turn-in. You probably realize that the inside and outside wheels rotate at different speeds during a turning maneuver. This is managed by a differential, which allows the wheels to spin as needed. A torque vectoring system takes this one step further – pushing the power toward the outside wheels during a turn. This can be done passively, by applying brake pressure to the inside wheel, or actively. RDX’s SH-AWD system can send up to 70% of the available power to the rear wheels, and up to 100% of that power to the side that needs it. In practical terms, what that means is that when you mash the throttle from a standstill while turning the front wheel, perhaps trying to make a right turn at a red light and merging into cross-traffic, RDX simply bites in, applying the power just how you need it, and you get a smooth, powerful merge, not a scary, out-of-control power slide. It’s very impressive, and compelling enough that you’ll want to try it over and over again. Torque vectoring is usually very challenging to explain and demonstrate – not in the RDX. The benefits are apparent at every corner.

Advance Interior

In another cool feature, Acura has taken an evolutionary approach to its infotainment system with the True Touchpad Interface. Everything operates intuitively, and as expected. The cool evolution is how easy it is to customize the system, and how it expands the widely used concept of favorites from the confines of individual apps to the whole system operation. There are eight primary “tiles” on the home screen that can be moved around to the user’s preference, and programmed individually with a firm press for specific actions across multiple functions. For instance, you can program a tile to start navigation to your home; another to dial a frequently called phone number; another to play music from a favorite SiriusXM channel; another to set climate control to your preferred function. Place the tiles so that your most frequently used functions are at the corners, and you’ve got quick, no-look access. It’s smart, easy to use, and best of all, easy to set up – no programming degree required.

Advance Beauty & Details

Not everything is perfect in the RDX. While I liked the character of its turbocharged 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder direct-injected gasoline engine (272 hp/280 lb-ft of torque), I found that I needed to select Sport mode in order to wake up its lagging acceleration. Left in “D” mode, the ten-speed automatic transmission simply took too long to respond to an insistent application of throttle.

I had no complaints about the comfort or fit and finish of the RDX, which I found to be exemplary all around. Acura’s paint quality is always great, and my test car’s Fathom Blue Pearl was particularly stunning.

Advance Beauty & Details

The 2020 Acura RDX SH-AWD Advance carried a list price of $47,700. Including a Destination and Handling fee of $995, my test vehicle had an as-tested price of $47,695, right in line with its stated competitive set of BMW X3, Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class, Audi Q5 and Volvo XC60. Tough to make a bad decision in that group. The only mistake would be to leave RDX out of consideration before making your decision.

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

Advance Beauty & Details

Photos (c) Acura

2020 Lexus GX460 Luxury: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Although it is beginning to show its age, the 2020 Lexus GX460 has managed to stay relevant and even desirable among midsize premium sport utility vehicles.

The GX460 comes from the luxury brand of Toyota, with all the expectations of quality and durability that entails. But unlike most other new SUVs in its class, it is an older design that harks back to the days when most SUVs were built like pickup trucks, with body-on-frame construction.

Front 3q Left Snow

Though Lexus also produces crossover SUVs, which have unit-body construction like conventional sedans, it has stuck with the truck-like architecture for both of its top-line models: the GX460 and the LX570.

With that, it is out of sync with the avalanche of crossover SUVs in every price class that are taking over the market in the United States. Yet the LX460 is not alone. There still are quite a few truck-based SUVs struggling against the crossover onslaught.

The basic design has roots in the depths of the Great Depression when manufacturers started building tall station wagon-style vehicles dubbed Carryalls or Suburbans. Chevrolet’s Suburban made its debut 85 years ago, in 1935.

Front 3q Right

Modern SUVs came along in the latter part of the 20th century with vehicles like the Jeep Cherokee and Wagoneer, and what became the most popular of its genre, the Ford Explorer, which made its debut in 1990 and soon became a best seller. Over the years, it alternated between a truck-based SUV and a unit body crossover and also provided the basis for the Lincoln Navigator.

The first clue that the Lexus GX460 is no longer a fully realized modern SUV comes when you give the turn signal lever a brief click, expecting the three flashes of the lights to indicate a lane change — a longstanding feature on European cars and now nearly universal. There’s no response. You have to click the lever all the way and then turn it off after you change lanes.

Dashboard

Then there’s the lane departure warning, another safety feature especially aimed at inattentive driving. However, the GX460’s system does not include an assist feature to steer the wandering vehicle back in its lane.

Then there’s the so-called “refrigerator door.” Instead of the ubiquitous tail gate that opens overhead, the GX460 has a side-swinging door—not unlike the original Honda CR-V in the 1990s — that opens on the left side. Anyone loading cargo on the street has to stand in traffic. You could also argue that the 4.6-liter V8 engine with 301 hp and 329 lb-ft torque is also something of a relic in an age of powerful, turbocharged, small displacement engines. But there’s nothing like the Lexus V8’s surging, silky power, delivered to all four wheels through an unobtrusive six-speed automatic transmission.

Second Row

On or off the road, the GX460 is never out of breath or lacks power for the task at hand. It is a comfortable, serene highway cruiser with capable handling on curving roads, as well as one of the few vehicles of its size with a reputation for capability to negotiate serious off-road terrain.

Despite the fact that the Lexus GX460 last had a complete redesign a decade ago, it has kept up on safety equipment, off-road capability and luxury amenities. There are three rows of seats. On the tested GX40, there were captain’s chairs in the second row for a total of six-passenger seating. Mostly, owners likely will leave the tiny third-row seats folded flat to expand the stingy cargo space of 12 cubic feet. But to use the seats you must remove a big, clumsy cargo cover shade and re-install it.

Cabin Cutaway

With the third row folded, there’s 47 cubic feet of space and, if you also fold the second row, a total of 65 cubic feet.

No surprise, the 2020 GX460 has most of the equipment and features any customer would expect of a modern luxury SUV with a base price of $65,290, including the destination charge. And, as equipped for this review, an as-tested price of $71,240.

There’s automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind-spot warning with rear cross-traffic alert; automatic headlight high beams; radar adaptive cruise control; headlight washers; LED lighting for headlights, fog lights, running lights and brake lights, intuitive parking assist, auto-leveling rear air suspension and trailer sway control.

On the amenities list, there’s plenty of posh luxury items that include power everything, perforated, heated and cooled leather upholstery, and a rear entertainment system, among others.

Rear 3q Left

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Lexus GX460 Luxury four-door sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 4.6-liter V8; 301 hp, 329 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic with full-time four-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet.
  • Height: 6 feet 2 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 129/12 cubic feet. (47, 65)
  • Weight: 5,260 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 6,500 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 15/19/16 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $65,290.
  • Price as tested: $71,240.

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

Rear 3q RightPhotos (c) Lexus

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

by Jason Fogelson

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

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

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

Profile Left Blue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos (c) Mercedes-Benz

Setting Sail in Volvo’s Flagship SUV, the 2020 Volvo XC90 T8 E-AWD Inscription

by Jason Fogelson

We’ve been waiting a while for the 2020 Volvo XC90 T8 E-AWD to arrive here in the U.S. It’s the plug-in hybrid (PHEV) of Volvo’s flagship three-row SUV, combining the very best of Volvo’s design and engineering prowess in one vehicle. XC90 comes in three models: T5, which uses a direct gasoline-injected turbocharged 2.0-liter engine (250 hp/258 lb-ft of torque); T6, which uses a direct gasoline-injected turbocharged and supercharged 2.0-liter engine (316 hp/295 lb-ft of torque); and T8, which adds an 87-hp electric motor to the turbo/supercharged gas engine to produce a combined 400 hp and 472 lb-ft of torque.

New Care by Volvo Additions

The electrified part is what we’ve been waiting for. Like almost all automakers, Volvo has committed to electrifying its lineup over the next decade, adding hybrid and pure EV powertrains into the mix.

XC90 T8 is a PHEV, which means you can plug it in to power to charge up its onboard 10.4-kWh battery, and (in theory) drive for up to 17 miles without ever starting the gasoline engine. In practice, I discovered that the T8 charged up just fine when connected to my standard household 120-volt outlet with the vehicle’s included charging cable. I plugged in every time I parked at home, and kept the battery topped off. I could have gone to a commercial public charging station for quicker power-ups, but I didn’t need to. There’s no range anxiety with a PHEV like the T8. If you should happen to drain the battery, you might not every notice, because you’ve still got a powerful gasoline engine onboard. In normal operation, the SUV does all the work of selecting the most efficient mode of operation – gas only, electric only, or a combination of both. You can see what’s happening, if you wish, on an info screen in the Sensus system, or on a gauge on the instrument panel. But you don’t never need to worry about it.

2020 Volvo XC60 - Banff

EV mode, on the other hand, was a little more of a challenge to engage and sustain. In order to run the SUV on battery power alone, you first select EV mode, then gently, very gently, depress the throttle pedal. Stomp too assertively, and EV mode is cancelled. Exceed 37 mph, and EV mode is cancelled. And it doesn’t automatically re-engage if you slip below 37 mph again or let off the throttle – you have to re-select EV mode. In a week of testing, I never really mastered the fine art of EV mode.

2020 Volvo XC90-R - Banff

Full disclosure: On my very last drive in the XC90 T8, the dashboard alerted me to “Hybrid System Failure” upon startup. It also displayed an icon of a turtle, and said “Service Necessary.” I was only three miles from my house, so I drove home at 30 mph or slower, and parked in my driveway. I alerted to car delivery company about the issue, and they drove the car away the next day as usual. I’m not sure what the problem was, but it got me thinking about modern cars in general, and in complicated hybrid systems in specific.

2020 Volvo XC90 - Banff

Not to sound too much like an old guy (which I am, or will be soon), a few years ago if I got a “Check Engine” light or similar message, my first impulse would have been to open the hood and see if I could figure out what was wrong. I’d look for a loose wire, a leaking hose connection, or some other visual clue, and eight times out of ten, I could figure out what was wrong – and fix it quickly. Most car engine compartments are now shrouded with ABS plastic covers, nominally to help manage heat, airflow and noise. So, when you open the hood, there’s nothing to see. Add in the complex circuitry and electronic controls involved in a powertrain like the T8 – direct injection, turbocharged, supercharged, battery-powered and gasoline-powered – and the idea of looking under the hood is laughable. So is the idea of pulling into your trusty corner service station. If you’re considering an XC90 T8, you’d be wise to check out the service department of your closest Volvo dealership before closing the deal. I wouldn’t extrapolate about Volvo’s reliability from my isolated experience – that would be unfair, and meaningless. But awareness is important.

2020 Volvo XC90 - Banff

As a flagship SUV, the 2020 Volvo XC90 T8 E-AWD Inscription is something special. It is beautiful inside and out, extremely capable, fun-to-drive and luxurious. It benefits from Volvo’s traditional commitment to occupant safety, and can be fitted with the latest and greatest technology for driver assistance. It comes with a base price of $67,500. My test SUV had a long list of optional features that drove the as-tested price up to $86,990, which has the XC90 competing with luxury SUVs like the Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class, BMW X7, Audi Q8, Cadillac Escalade, Lincoln Navigator, Lexus RX L Hybrid, Acura MDX Hybrid and a few others.

XC90 would be on my list for a luxury family SUV because of its many merits, and in spite of its potential weaknesses. Your situation may vary – do some serious research and homework before buying.

2020 Volvo XC90-R - Banff

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

The New Volvo XC90 R-Design T8 Twin Engine in Thunder Grey

Photos (c) Volvo

Peak Luxury SUV in the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class

by Jason Fogelson

It looks like we’re approaching the end of the era of the full-sized gasoline-powered luxury SUV. Electric and hybrid gasoline-electric vehicles are closer than the horizon; they’re taking up parking spaces all around us. So, I’m glad that I’ve had a chance to spend a week in an SUV that may represent the peak of its genre – the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS 580 4MATIC – just before its genre begins to disappear.

Der neue Mercedes-Benz GLS Utah 2019 // The new Mercedes-Benz GLS Utah 2019

GLS is a three-row SUV, now entering its third generation of production. The first-generation (2007 – 2012) and part of the second-generation (2013-2019) vehicles were called “GL” until 2016, when the Mercedes SUV lineup underwent a change of nomenclature to correspond with its car-naming conventions. Instead of a disorganized set of class names, Mercedes now has GLA, GLB, GLC, GLE and GLS models (and the roguish G-Class), roughly corresponding to the A-, C-, E- and S-Class sedans, wagons, coupes and cabriolets (B-Class is not currently sold in the U.S.). If you think of the GLS as the S-Class of SUVs, you’ll have a good picture of where it fits into the Mercedes lineup.

Exterior

GLS is a big and beautiful SUV, with assertive, elegant styling that is not overwhelming or overstated. It is 205 inches long, 84.9 inches wide (with mirrors) and 71.8 inches tall, and weighs in at 5,699 lbs. Somehow, wearing 21-inch wheels and with a minimum of 7.9 inches of ground clearance, it still manages to have a great stance. Fit and finish are first-rate, as expected on a luxury car. My test vehicle wore a coat of optional ($720) Mojave Silver Metallic paint, the automotive equivalent of a grey flannel suit, and projected an air of executive competence.

Exterior

Inside, the GLS cabin is like a taller version of the S-Class cabin. Drivers who prefer a tall seating position and commanding outward view will love the GLS. The third row is easily accessible, and actually makes GLS a superior passenger conveyance over S-Class. With 17.4 cubic feet of luggage space behind the third row, it has almost as much capacity as the S-Class’s 18.7 cubic-foot trunk. Fold down the second row, and you’ve opened up 42.7 – 48.7 cubic feet of room. If both second and third rows are folded flat (which you can do with the push of a few buttons), 84.7 cubic feet of luxury goods can fit in the GLS.

Exterior

Luxury is a given in a Mercedes-Benz, and so is technology. GLS is loaded with it, from the ridiculous to the sublime. On the ridiculous side is a new Car Wash mode, which can be triggered to automatically fold in the side mirrors, close the windows and sun roof, turn on the forward-facing camera, and disengage all-wheel drive. If you’ve invested $100,000 in your GLS, I guess you’ll want to keep it clean. On the sublime side, a widescreen digital instrument cluster and widescreen infotainment display, along with optional ($1,100) head-up display provide clear, uncluttered information to the driver at all times. Mercedes-Benz’s interface has improved over the years, and is now intuitive and simple to navigate, responding to swiping gestures familiar to tablet and smartphone operators. The standard Burmester Surround Sound System is nothing short of magnificent. The leather seating is firm and comfortable, with standard massage, ventilation and heating for driver and front passenger, optional ($4,400) Executive Rear Seat Package Plus adding heat and ventilation to the second row. My test car also had the Energizing Package Plus ($2,100), which gilds the lily with Active Multicontour front seats and Air-Balance with fragrance – so you can add specially curated scents to your interior.

Interior

It would be easy to spend all day listing features on the GLS 580, none of which would matter if it weren’t for the beast of an engine that lurks under its hood. A 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V8 pumps 483 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque into a nine-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive (4MATIC). Mercedes estimates 0-60 mph times at 5.2 seconds, which is plenty quick for a car, and downright impressive for a 5,700-lb SUV. What’s even more impressive is the way that the GL handles and steers. Air suspension is standard, and my test vehicle came with $6,500 E-Active Body Control, which can actively alter control spring and damping forces at each wheel and even lean the vehicle into bends like a motorcycle (subtly, of course). A stereo camera is employed to scan the road surface ahead, so the suspension can be pre-loaded to compensate for bumps and dips. The result is a smooth ride, even over the winter-ravaged Michigan roadways that I had to contend with during my test period.

Exterior

Make no mistake, this is a high end, luxury conveyance with a big price tag. GLS 580 starts at $98,800, and my test vehicle was loaded with options, taking it to an as-tested price of $119,950. Compare it to the BMW X7, Cadillac Escalade, Audi Q8, Lincoln Navigator, Lexus LX, and Volvo XC90.

Until the Mercedes-Maybach GLS ultra-luxury SUV arrives for 2021, I think we’ve seen the peak of gasoline-only luxury SUVs in the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS 580 4MATIC.

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

Der neue Mercedes-Benz GLS Utah 2019 // The new Mercedes-Benz GLS Utah 2019

Photos (c) Mercedes-Benz

2020 Acura MDX AWD A-Spec: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

To paraphrase Erasmus: in the land of multiplying bitty crossovers, the luxury 2020 Acura MDX still reigns.

Desiderius Erasmus, in the 15th or 16th century, famously wrote, “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”

The maxim is interpreted to mean that even someone with limited abilities or opportunities can be dominant over and considered special by those who have fewer abilities and opportunities.

Front 3q Left WhiteIt is apt when considering the new MDX, and other luxury crossover SUVs, awash in a flood of subcompact, compact and midsize crossovers.

Many of the newer small crossovers have much to recommend them: low prices, practicality over any four-door sedan, good performance and handling, and decent fuel economy.

They are named Kicks, Corsair, GLA, C-HR, Venue, Enclave, QX-30, HR-V, Niro, Kona, X1, Renegade, Seltos, CX-3 and Trax, among others. Some are luxury; most are popular priced.

Front 3q Right RedAs good as most of them are, many buyers aspire to something bigger, more luxurious and comfortable, with better performance and, important to some, reputation and presence. Those sentiments are what gave rise to luxury crossovers — at a time when truck-based SUVs like the Ford Explorer and Jeep Wagoneer of the last century dominated what then was a tiny slice of the market.

Mercedes-Benz was the first to introduce a luxury SUV, the ML-320 in 1998, though then it was not a crossover but a proper body-on-frame hauler built like a truck. It was followed in short order by the Lexus RX and the Acura MDX, both built with unit-body construction like automobiles, which the ML-320 also morphed into. The MDX distinguished itself by starting out as the first three-row, seven-passenger crossover SUV.

DashIt remains that way in 2020 and fits the interpretation of the famed Erasmus admonition. It is not a perfect vehicle, meaning it has some limitations, but it has been dominant in the marketplace.

Acura brags that it was the retail sales champ among three-row luxury competitors in 2019, beating Lexus, Mercedes, BMW, Audi, Infiniti, Tesla and Volvo then and in every year since 2010. The claim gets some argument because it counts only sales to individual buyers and ignores fleet sales.

Nevertheless, Acura also says the MDX is the best selling three-row luxury SUV of all time, and has completed its eighth straight year of sales higher than 50,000.

Center ConsoleNo vehicle is perfect and the MDX A-Spec tested for this review is no exception, fitting the Erasmus definition of limited capabilities in some areas. The most obvious: It seats seven passengers, but only four of them comfortably.

The front bucket seats, done up in suede-like Alcantara cloth with leather trim, are supportive and comfortable for both long-distance cruising and challenging mountain curves. The same goes for the outboard rear seats.

Unaccountably, however, the center-rear seat, despite a flat floor, has a hard, uncompromising cushion that would be torture on a long trip. The second-row seats can be adjusted as much as five inches fore and aft, but there’s no way to divide the knee room to prove space for second- and third-row passengers.

2020 Acura MDX A-Spec

The third row is tiny, difficult to access for all but athletic youngsters, and without decent space for adults. So it’s best to think of the MDX as a two-row crossover with the third row folded to open a giant cargo area, usable mainly for extra passengers in emergencies.

So much for the MDX’s limited capabilities. In other respects, especially the driving experience, it is a superb performer despite its two-ton heft and length of 16 feet 4 inches.

WheelThere’s an old adage that says small vehicles should drive big and big vehicles drive small. The MDX, for all of its bulk, drives small. On curving roads, the MDX feels soft and flexible while also clipping corners with the composure of a smaller vehicle tuned for sporty handling.

Buttressing the handling is Acura’s integrated Dynamics System, which provides driver-adjustable settings for steering effort, throttle responses and, with SH-AWD (super-handling all-wheel drive), torque vectoring to tighten cornering. Settings are Comfort, Normal and Sport, but the differences are small and handling remains confident.

Under the hood lies Acura’s 3.5-liter V6 engine, as smooth a power plant as you can find anywhere. It makes 290 hp with 267 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force, delivered to Acura’s SH-AWD through a nine-speed automatic transmission with a manual shifting mode. It’s a personality any driver would embrace.

RearSpecifications

  • Model: 2020 Acura MDX AWD A-Spec four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 3.5-liter V6; 290 hp, 267 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 4 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 7 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 138/16 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,303 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 5,000 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 19/25/21 mpg. Premium fuel.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $55,895.
  • Price as tested: $55,895.

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

Rear 3q Left WhitePhotos (c) Acura

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