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2019 Toyota Tacoma TRD 4X4 Off Road: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Toyota has not been able to scale the wall of buyer loyalty to full-size U.S. pickup trucks. But it perches at the pinnacle of the midsize class, of which its 2019 Tacoma is the latest example.

Among the big guys, the Toyota Tundra is an also-ran in sales behind the Ford F-Series, Chevrolet Silverado, Ram and GMC Sierra, besting only the last-place Nissan Titan.

2019_toyota_tacoma_off_road_001_46e6b73e2c3bfc00e65384bbb61115fcebe259ffBut against the slowly-increasing midsize nameplates, it is the unchallenged champion. In 2018, it was expected to sell more Tacoma pickups than nearly all of its competitors combined, including the Chevrolet Colorado, Nissan Frontier, GMC Canyon and Honda Ridgeline, although the Ridgeline is in a class by itself as a more car-like amalgam.

The curious trend in all of this is that the new crop of midsize pickups are nearly as big — or even bigger — than some earlier full-size pickups.

Bumper to bumper, the Tacoma 4X4 Double Cab Long Bed is nearly 19 feet long and it is six feet tall with a 6 feet 2 inch cargo bed. It weighs 4,840 lbs, can tow a trailer weighing up to 6,400 lbs and carry a payload of 1,120 lbs. A decade ago, the full-size 2008 Ford F-150 was 18 feet 1 inch long, 6 feet 4 inches tall, weighed 5,360 lbs, with a payload of 1,480 lbs and a towing capability of 6,200 lbs.

2019_toyota_tacoma_off_road_003_ef9b7576d7ba7efd9f2e7049634af8ee0bb87a2fMost big trucks back then got their grunt from large and thirsty V8 engines. Engineering advances over the years have squeezed ever more horsepower and torque from smaller-displacement power plants. The tested Tacoma gets its power from a 278-hp, 3.5-liter V6 engine with 265 lb-ft of torque. On the TRD Off Road 4X4, the power routes to all four wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission.

The tested Tacoma, with a base price of $38,120, came equipped for pasture and logging-road duty. It had a part-time four-wheel drive system with a two-speed electronically-controlled transfer case and an off-road tuned suspension system with special shock absorbers, a locking rear differential, hill-start assist and multi-terrain crawl control.

But because of its length and wheelbase — the distance between the front and rear axles — of 11 feet 5 inches, the Tacoma Off Road could not be expected to handle seriously pockmarked terrain as well as a smaller machine. However, the all-new 2020 Jeep Gladiator midsize pickup truck will have nearly the same shortcoming with a wheelbase of 10 feet 7 inches and an overall length of 18 feet 2 inches.

2019_toyota_tacoma_off_road_004_3a8248857bb7d0324f488932f4ab596d5d58f2afFull safety equipment, including pre-collision braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control and lane-departure warning are part of the standard equipment. The tested TRD Off Road also had options that included blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, sonar rear parking assist, leather-trimmed upholstery with heated front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, motorized glass sunroof, JBL premium audio system with integrated navigation, and a cover for the cargo bed.

All of that brought the bottom-line price to $42,430, which is not inexpensive but looks reasonable compared to the $60,000 and up sticker prices on many full-size pickups. Price is one reason manufacturers are closely monitoring the midsize pickup market. Ford recently reintroduced its midsize Ranger pickup.

2019_toyota_tacoma_off_road_007_331b22b457d747c6db5b552ac7cca61ecb8d9327On paved roads, the tested Tacoma mainly displayed its off-road characteristics. The ride was bouncy and stiff with seemingly direct connections between road irregularities and the driver’s lower back and bottom. It tracked decently in a straight line, but the beefy suspension system makes for problematical comfort on a long trip.

Mitigating that somewhat are front seats that are supportive and middling comfortable. Though they have only manual adjustments, there are enough to accommodate most body sizes. There’s space in back for three, though seating is upright and knee room is tight. The center-rear position is compromised by a floor hump, hard cushion and intrusion of the center console. Rear vision is limited by back seat headrests so it’s important to get those big outside mirrors properly adjusted.

2019_toyota_tacoma_off_road_006_ed9ebf5e42a922ed31dba8561df5a18e2f1414efThe V6 engine makes plenty of power but you have to slam the pedal to engage it. In ordinary driving, the throttle is stiff, making the engine/transmission combination feel sluggish. Engine drone is loud under hard acceleration.

Overall, don’t expect the Tacoma — especially in the tested trim — to be anything other than what it is: a rugged, solid truck with an enviable reputation for durability and reliability.

2016_toyota_tacoma_trdor_28_170ad64be7d4e750a886f7dc942f15fd173fb26bSpecifications

  • Model: 2019 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off Road 4X4 Double Cab Long Bed midsize pickup truck.
  • Engine: 3.5-liter V6; 278 hp, 265 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic with part-time four-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 18 feet 10 inches.
  • Height: 6 feet.
  • EPA passenger volume: 100 cubic feet.
  • Cargo bed length: 6 feet 2 inches.
  • Weight: 4,840 pounds.
  • Payload: 1,120 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 6,400 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 18/22/20 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $38,120.
  • Price as tested: $42,430.

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

2016_toyota_tacoma_trdor_31_07d7a0e69594c5d39805f91df23a6d5373bf81dePhotos (c) Toyota

2019 Audi RS 3 2.5T Quattro Sedan: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Every so often, a car like the 2019 Audi RS 3 arrives that can only be described with one word: sweet.

This subcompact sedan comes in a sweet size with sweet (if sometimes alarming) performance, sweet handling and even sweeter tactile feedback.

medium-2018-audi-rs-3-sedan-2649But whoa. The tester came with a $66,590 price tag. It doesn’t make it any less sweet but it sure activates a person’s pause button — and maybe for salivating but income-challenged intenders, the stop button.

Fortunately, there are some less expensive choices. In keeping with current German luxury-car philosophy, there always are pinnacle high-performance models to augment the regular lineup — as if any of these small Audi sedans could be considered regular.

Think Mercedes-AMG and BMW M Series. These are the ultra-performing and expensive top-liners for those marques. At Audi, such machines come from the Sport Division and the RS 3 is one of those creatures.

medium-2018-audi-rs-3-2589It is based on the Audi A3, a subcompact sedan, which itself is not what any enthusiast would consider mundane. Usually, subcompact denotes small, economical and low-priced. Not here. The A3 comes with a 220-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 258 lb-ft of torque and a price tag of $35,150 to $44,100, depending on the trim level.

Not believing that will satisfy some Audi-philes, the Sport division raises the ante with the S3, which also has the 2.0-liter four-banger but which pumps out 292 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque. Prices range from $43,850 to $49,350. Both the A3 and S3 use Audi’s six-speed automatic transmission with manual shifting, called the S tronic, and quattro all-wheel drive.

medium-2018-audi-rs-3-sedan-2507Climbing all the way to the summit, we find the subject here — the  RS 3, which goes up one cylinder to five and displacement to 2.5 liters. Also turbocharged, it hammers out 394 hp and 354 lb-ft of torque, enabling the tiny, 3,593-lb RS 3 to sprint to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds with a top speed of 174 mph. And that’s a governed, or limited, speed. It could go faster on a track with proper racing equipment.

All of this nestles in a low-slung, four-door sedan with 19-inch wheels, menacing dual exhaust pipes and ceramic racing brakes, but otherwise doesn’t exactly scream ultra high performance. Uninformed onlookers might see nothing more than a streamlined Toyota Corolla. The RS 3 is just 14 feet 9 inches long with a passenger volume of 87 cubic feet and a tiny trunk of 10 cubic feet.

medium-2018-audi-rs-3-sedan-2508But the design is clever enough to accommodate four passengers comfortably with adequate but not generous head or knee room in back. The rear doors swing wide so entry and exit are easy. There’s a seatbelt  for a fifth passenger in the middle but it’s a fiction. The space is impossible for anything but a two-foot tall capuchin monkey.

Inside design validates Audi’s reputation for classy, understated elegance with fine materials. The only jarring note is the so-called sunshade for the panoramic glass sunroof. In thrall to a current cliché in some luxury cars, the RS 3’s sunshade is made of a cheesecloth-like perforated cloth material, which admits hot sunlight and looks cheap next to the neighboring carbon-fiber and alcantara trim. Sunshades should be opaque.

medium-2018-audi-rs-3-sedan-2509The appeal of the RS 3 lies in the sweet driving experience. Settle into the driver’s seat, light up the engine and touch a button to choose from driving modes labeled Dynamic, Comfort, Auto and Individual. For an all-out run, you want to select Dynamic, which holds the shift points to higher revs to keep the engine on the boil for instant acceleration.

The transmission is a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, calibrated to shift up and down in milliseconds, always ready for the driver’s next whim. But it would be silly to stay in the Dynamic mode in highway cruising because there would be a cost in fuel economy, which the EPA rates at 19/28/22 mpg in city/highway/combined driving. In easy, around-town cruising, Comfort works, well, comfortably.

medium-2018-audi-rs-3-sedan-2491Don’t expect a floating, limousine-like ride. Almost nobody does that anymore. The Audi RS is, first and foremost, a sports car in sedan guise with the steering and suspension system biased toward precise handling and control. So, avoid the potholes if you can and enjoy the tactile feedback as you carve corners, win stoplight drag races and shoot holes in heavy traffic.

Or simply cruise serenely and enjoy the scenery.

large-2018-audi-rs-3-sedan-2543Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Audi RS 3 2.5 T Quattro S tronic four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 2.5-liter five-cylinder, turbocharged; 394 hp, 354 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 9 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 87/10 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,593 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 19/28/22 mpg. Premium recommended.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $57,195.
  • Price as tested: $66,590.

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

large-2018-audi-rs-3-sedan-2526Photos (c) Audi

2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature AWD: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

In an era when some vehicle designers equate complexity with desirability, the 2019 Mazda CX-5 rolls onstage as an easygoing, friendly travel companion.

Almost everything about it feels familiar, as if you’ve already had a relationship. It has comfort and available luxury, but without a goofy shift lever or an infotainment system where annoying fiddling is required just to set favorite radio stations.

2019_mazda_cx-5-6Climb aboard. In the tested top-of-the-line Signature model, you sit in a comfortable, well-bolstered perforated leather seat, heated and ventilated. Through the steering wheel you view bright white-on-black easy-to-read analog instruments.

The shifter has a traditional PRND shift pattern, though there’s a sideways M setting for manual shifting of the six-speed automatic transmission. Nearby is a switch for the parking brake — up for park, down for driving — next to a toggle switch that engages the sport driving mode, which enhances throttle response. You don’t have to look to operate them. Same for the radio volume knob.

2019-mazda-cx-5-signature-04-intStraight ahead, in your line of vision, is the head-up display. It delivers information about speed, road signs and the adaptive cruise control, which is easily engaged with buttons on the steering wheel.

In the center, at the top of the dash, is the infotainment screen. Sure, it’s small, not gigantic like the one on the Tesla Model 3. But it’s right where you can see with a quick glance what’s going on. No peering at it for anxious seconds.

2019-mazda-cx-5-signature-09-detailFunctions are operated by a knob on the console, which is more complicated than a touch screen but doesn’t require as much focused attention to the screen. Simple console buttons change what’s displayed.

The word for this is ergonomics, the science that seeks to adapt working conditions to the worker. It also applies to making the driving experience intuitive and transparent. Good ergonomics, of course, is not exclusive to Mazda. But the CX-5 is a particularly fine example of thoughtful design.

Yet for all of its old-shoe friendliness, the CX-5 is a thoroughly modern Millie. It is a compact crossover sport utility vehicle competing in a class that includes the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Subaru Forester, Ford Escape, and Chevrolet Equinox.

Because of Mazda’s current effort to move its models upscale, the CX-5, particularly in its luxury-equipped Signature version, sells for a few thousands of dollars more than the top-line CR-V and RAV4 models.

The tested CX-5 Signature had a base price of $37,885 and, with a few options, had a bottom-line sticker of $39,030. But its equipment and features rivaled those of luxury crossovers like the Cadillac XT4 and Infiniti QX50, both of which are more expensive, well into the mid-$50,000 range.

2019_mazda_cx-5-1Mazda is not a huge player among manufacturers, not even in the compact crossover category. Yet as part of the current onrushing trend toward crossovers, the CX-5 is Mazda’s best seller in the U.S., totaling more sales than all of the company’s other models combined.

Aware of its lagging sales compared to its competitive set, Mazda has set out to distinguish the CX-5 in multiple ways that contribute to the driving experience. In that, performance enhances ergonomics.

There are five trim levels, starting with the Sport at $25,345. Others are the Touring, Grand Touring, Grand Touring Reserve and the tested Signature. Only the last two get Mazda’s new 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, which makes 227 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque. The others use a naturally-aspirated 2.5-liter four-banger with 187 hp and 186 lb-ft of torque.

cx9engine-201-1The turbo motor delivers enough grunt to accelerate the Signature model to 60 mph in slightly over six seconds — more than respectable in this era. Though it can be accomplished simply by punching the pedal to the floor, the Sport mode facilitates it by holding the shifts to higher revs. You can shift manually but only with the shift lever. There are no paddles on the steering wheel.

Handling is sedan-like with no apparent lean on curves. Straight-line driving requires few steering corrections and the CX-5 cruises quietly with a bit of engine noise only on acceleration. With the suspension system biased toward handling, the ride gets a bit choppy on rough roads.

There’s plenty of head and knee room for four persons, though the fifth center-rear position is impossibly cramped. The rear seatbacks are split in three and fold nearly flat to almost double the cargo space of 31 to 60 cubic feet.

2019-mazda-cx-5-signature-02-extSpecifications

  • Model: 2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature AWD four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.5-liter four-cylinder; turbocharged, 227 hp, 310 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual-shift mode.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 11 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 5 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 102/31 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,825 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 2,000 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 22/27/24 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $37,885.
  • Price as tested: $39,030.

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

2017-mazda-cx-5-grand-touring-5Photos (c) Mazda

2019 Jeep Cherokee Overland: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

It doesn’t crumble and has plenty of frosting, but you could argue that the 2019 Jeep Cherokee is the automotive equivalent of having your cake and eating it too.

Most people think of Jeeps as Wranglers, rugged vehicles that can conquer any terrain anywhere but don’t offer much in creature comforts. In fact, Wrangler buyers want to be exposed to hardships, unprotected from the elements. That’s why roofs and doors can be removed, and modifications made to alter suspension systems to rock and roll over any obstacle.

2019 Jeep® Cherokee Limited

What is less noted about the current crop of Jeeps is refinement. The new-generation 2018 Wrangler Unlimited four-door wagon was remarkable for its coming-of-age as a family station wagon that handles well in traffic and around curves, tracks steadily in a straight line and delivers long-distance comfort that can eliminate complaints from the kids and other passengers. Yet it can still handle trackless terrain.

The same could be said, with more emphasis, about the 2019 Jeep Cherokee Overland tested for this review. This is a conventional compact crossover sport utility vehicle with pleasant styling, smooth and quiet operation, and the amenities that crossover buyers seek.

2019 Jeep® Cherokee Overland and Cherokee Trailhawk

Sure, the doors don’t come off and the windshield doesn’t fold down. But the Cherokee is, in its soul, a Jeep with off-road capabilities that other manufacturers would envy — if they even bothered.

Most crossovers in this category simply offer front-wheel drive or automatic all-wheel drive that responds to on-road and limited off-road conditions. Drivers of all-wheel drive models don’t have to think about anything; simply get in and drive.

But the Cherokee comes with Jeep’s Selec-Terrain system, which allows the driver to choose the system for disparate conditions — after which it operates automatically. They are labeled as Automatic, Snow, Sand/Mud and Sport. They give the Cherokee capabilities that most other crossovers lack.

2019 Jeep® Cherokee Limited

Still, it’s no Wrangler. If you are the sort whose idea of a vacation trip is bashing around trackless and boulder-strewn terrain at somewhere around two to five miles per hour, buy a Wrangler. The Cherokee can do some of that but is more of a multi-task machine, not great at everything but competent at most. On-road, it is the peer of most mid-priced compact crossovers like the Toyota RAV4 and even more expensive crossovers like the BMW X3 xDrive 3.0i.

The model tested for this review was the Cherokee Overland 4X4 model, which had a base price of $38,890, including the destination charge. The name prompts nostalgia because original Jeeps in World War II were built by the Willys Overland company.

As tested, it came with optional adaptive cruise control, panoramic motorized glass sunroof, collision warning with crash mitigation, brake assist, lane-departure warning, blind-spot and rear cross-path detection, leather upholstery and automatic high-beam headlight control.

2019 Jeep® Cherokee Limited

Standard equipment includes Apple Car Play, Android Auto, SXM satellite radio, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, and power front seats with memory for the driver’s seat. With other features, the bottom-line sticker came to $41,510.

Unlike many other crossovers powered by the now-ubiquitous 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, naturally aspirated or turbocharged, the Cherokee is motivated by a 271-hp, 3.2-liter V6 engine that delivers 239 lb-ft of torque. The power gets to all four wheels through a nine-speed automatic transmission, which gave Jeep problems and delayed the original launch of the Cherokee, but which now is as refined as the rest of the vehicle.

2019 Jeep® Cherokee Limited

Around town, the Cherokee has a responsive throttle that delivers sprightly acceleration. Highway cruising is comfortable and quiet with fatigue-free straight-line tracking. Curving roads are not daunting unless you have a lead foot on the go pedal.

As with other vehicles from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), it has one of the more intuitive infotainment interfaces, with a large center-mounted screen. Setting radio pre-sets, for example, is a simple matter of tuning to the station and touching the screen briefly — unlike some vehicles that force to you go through maddening steps.

Passenger space is about the same as in a midsize car, offering good head and knee space front and rear. Only the center-rear passenger gets disrespected by a hard cushion, large floor hump and intrusion of the center console. Better to think of the Cherokee as a four-passenger vehicle with a spot for a backpack or purse. Seatbacks recline but not much, and they fold almost flat for extra cargo if needed.

2019 Jeep® Cherokee Overland

 

Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Jeep Cherokee Overland four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 3.2-liter V6; 271 hp, 239 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with selective four-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 3 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 101/28 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,960 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 2,000 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 19/27/22 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $38,890.
  • Price as tested: $41,510.

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

2019 Jeep® Cherokee Limited

Photos (c) FCA North America

2019 Infiniti QX80 Limited: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Like people, sport utility vehicles operate at their best when they stick to the straight and narrow. That’s especially true for big guys like the 2019 Infiniti QX80.

The reason is that full-size SUVs often are the machines of choice for families that eschew minivans but need space and towing capability for vacation jaunts. For that, the QX80 has solid qualifications. Given its size — 17.5 feet long and 6 feet 4 inches tall — it is powerful, quiet and easy to drive.

2019 INFINITI QX80 LIMITED

However, it has a tendency to wander in straight-line freeway driving, requiring frequent small steering corrections to keep tracking true. That’s not much of a problem on short trips but can contribute to driver fatigue over long distances.

Though its gender has not been established, the QX80 is celebrating its quinceañerawith this model, which had its debut in 2004 as the QX56. It tops the SUV lineup at Infiniti, the luxury division of Japan’s Nissan.

Despite an age that matches a girl’s 15thbirthday in Spanish-speaking countries, the QX80 has something of the feel of a senior citizen. It uses a classic body-on-frame construction, not unlike that of all the big pickup trucks on the market. And though it is equipped with a modern suspension system and a full suite of computerized safety innovations, it has something of an old-fashioned feel.

2019 INFINITI QX80 LIMITED

Some clues: The parking brake is one of those step-on affairs, where you stomp on a pedal with your left foot, instead of modern electronic controls. Second-row captain’s chairs on the tested seven-passenger Limited models do not have fore-and-aft adjustments to improve third-row knee and foot space, and the seatbacks recline only a few inches.

The split third-row seats fold with the touch of button but you have to hold your finger on it until it gets where it’s going. No one-touch control here. And the seats don’t fold flat, leaving a bunny-hill incline to welcome your extra cargo.

Then there’s the matter of getting back to the third row. Though the second-row captain’s chairs on the tested Limited model flip up and out of the way, scrambling into the third-row seats should be reserved for teenagers and younger kids. Also, they should be skinny because there are three seatbelts back there.

2019 INFINITI QX80 LIMITED

There’s just 17 cubic feet of space behind the third row of seats, although the QX80 can carry a payload of 1,460 lbs and it can tow a trailer of up to 8,500 lbs.

One old-fashioned component is welcome. In an era when small turbocharged four-cylinder engines are taking over even in big pickup trucks, the QX80 soldiers on with a solid, burbling V8 engine. It delivers 400 hp and 413 lb-ft of torque from 5.6-liters of displacement.

It makes the driving experience feel effortless. Need to change a lane quickly without neck-snapping your passengers, simply step a bit forcefully on the loud pedal and crank the steering wheel. The power surges instantly and smoothly, with no hint of dreaded turbo lag.

2019 INFINITI QX80 LIMITED

The downside, of course, hits the purse or wallet. With nearly three tons of metal and other ingredients to move, the QX80 guzzled premium fuel like an elephant in a pool of spring water. City/highway/combined consumption is rated by the EPA at 13/19/15 mpg.

That likely won’t matter much to the buyers who can afford the tested Limited model. Though you can find a QX80 with a base price of $66,395, the Limited came with a $91,095 base price. With a few minor options, the bottom-line sticker came to $91,950.

No surprise, that amount of money brings a load of equipment, including the seven-speed automatic transmission with manual-shift control, all-wheel drive, self-leveling rear suspension system, 22-inch aluminum alloy wheels, leather upholstery, tri-zone automatic climate control, motorized steering wheel adjustments, adaptive LED lighting, Bose audio with navigation and SXM satellite radio, and adaptive cruise control.

2019 INFINITI QX80 LIMITED

Full safety equipment includes pre-collision intervention with pedestrian detection forward and back, lane departure prevention, blind-spot warning, active head restraints, electronic brake force distribution and pre-crash adjustable front seat belts.

Styling, of course, always lies in the eyes of the beholders. Suffice to say that the QX80 presents an imposing, almost intimidating appearance to other, smaller vehicles on the highways. It is, however, up against a host of similar three-row SUVs and even crossovers that span the utility segment from middle-class to luxury.

2019 INFINITI QX80 LIMITED

Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Infiniti QX80 Limited four-door sport utility vehicle
  • Engine: 5.6-liter V8; 400 hp, 413 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Seven-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 17 feet 6 inches.
  • Height: 6 feet 4 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 151/17 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 5,930 pounds.
  • Payload: 1,460 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 8,500 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption (premium gasoline): 13/19/15 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $91,095.
  • Price as tested: $91,950.

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

2019 INFINITI QX80 LIMITED

Photos (c) Infiniti

2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS 450 4MATIC: A Driveways Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

In an era when the prevailing trend is toward SUV-style vehicles that perch driver and passengers up high, the 2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS parks their butts down close to the pavement.

It’s been that way since Mercedes invented the so-called four-door coupe genre in 2004 — the idea being to deliver sensuous coupe styling with the convenience of a couple of rear doors for those occasional double dates.

If you are one who appreciates eye candy, the tested CLS 450 4MATIC Coupe — its official title — presents handsome and aggressive new styling that reinforces the kinship with its more expensive version from the Mercedes high-performance AMG division.

2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS450

On the other hand, the streamlined, low-slung body envelops a tight package. You must duck and twist to get in and out, especially in the back seat. There’s 93 cubic feet of space for passengers, with limited head and legroom, and a shallow trunk of just 12 cubic feet, which earns the CLS a compact car classification.

The new car now has seat belts for five with the fifth in the center-rear. But you wonder why the designers bothered. With its all-wheel drive, there’s a giant floor hump and a seat more suited to a small backpack than a person. Ground clearance is less than four inches, so watch those driveway entrance bumps.

The CLS returns to a Mercedes tradition with an all-new inline six-cylinder engine that replaces the previous twin-turbo V8. Inline sixes characteristically deliver exceptional smoothness, and the CLS obliges. The new turbocharged 3.0-liter makes 362 hp with 369 lb-ft of torque, sent to all four wheels through a nine-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode controlled by paddles on the steering wheel.

2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS450

Providing additional spurts of power is a 48-volt electric starter-generator that delivers 21 hp and also enables a sophisticated and unobtrusive engine stop-start system. Not that many CLS buyers would pay much attention, but the EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption is rated at 23/30/26 mpg of premium gasoline.

On the road, the CLS 4MATIC acts more like a sports car than a luxury cruiser. With its air-suspension system and precise steering, it carves corners like an expert butcher with a Thanksgiving turkey. There are five drive modes, each of which can be selected instantly underway with the touch of a button on the center console. There’s no need to take eyes off the road or the head-up display.

The modes are labeled Eco, Comfort, Sport, Sport Plus and Individual. The last can be tailored with the Mercedes COMAND (cq) system but it is best done while parked. In Sport and Sport Plus, acceleration is enhanced by holding shifts to higher rpms, and the suspension and steering tighten.

2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS450

In all the driving modes except for Sport and Sport Plus, the nine-speed automatic transmission starts in second gear to enhance fuel economy. If you need to get off the line quickly, select one of the Sport modes, which will get you to 60 mph in slightly more than five seconds, according to the manufacturer. Top speed is rated at 130 mph.

No Mercedes is bargain-priced, but the tested CLS makes a mockery of the sticker price. This one started at $72,695, including the destination charge, but after the options were added up the bottom line came to $100,730. The $28,035 worth of options could buy you a nice compact crossover SUV.

The tester had so-called “design” packages totaling $6,200 that included perforated leather upholstery in Macchiato Beige and Titian Red with piano black lacquer and wood interior trim. Also on the options list were a $5,400 Burmester surround-sound audio system, the $1,900 air suspension, and packages totaling  $2,150 to enhance warmth, comfort and acoustics.

2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS450

Standard equipment covered a full suite of safety measures, including the head-up display, pre-collision braking, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot warning, lane-keeping assist and active emergency stopping. The last brings the CLS to a stop if the system detects that the driver is not actively driving while using the adaptive cruise control and the active steering assist.

Though popular early on, with 14,835 U.S. sales in 2005, the CLS has been on a roller coaster since, dropping to just 1,839 sales in 2017. The 2019 model could reverse the skid if there are enough luxury car intenders with fat purses or healthy credit ratings who have not yet been bitten by the crossover sport utility bug.

2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS450

Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS 450 4MATIC Coupe four-door.
  • Engine: 3.0-liter six-cylinder, turbocharged; 362 hp, 369 lb-ft torque; with 48-volt, 21-hp starter-generator.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 4 inches.
  • Height: 4 feet 7 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 93/12 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,350 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 23/30/26 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $72,695.
  • Price as tested: $100,730.

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

2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS450

Photos (c) Mercedes-Benz

2018 Los Angeles Auto Show: A DriveWays Report…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Los Angeles, Calif. —Volkswagen and Volvo appeared as the Yin and Yang of Automobility LA, the curtain raiser for the annual Los Angeles Auto Show.

compressJeff-0873Volkswagen displayed a block-long clutch of 36 museum-quality and new Bugs dating from the early years after World War II until the 1970s, as well as to honor the final passing of the beloved Beetle. The 2019 models — a coupe and a convertible — are the last.

Volvo, on the other hand, staked out a large and almost empty space, bragging that it was a world first at the LA Show without a single car on the stand. The point was to demonstrate Volvo’s vision of what the future car might be. More on that later.

Volvo Cars at Automobility LA - This is not a car
Volvo Cars at Automobility LA – This is not a car

The two unusual efforts by the manufacturers summarized the multiple-personality character of this year’s show, as when Honda unveiled the Passport crossover alongside its new Talon, a side-by-side off-roader. The show runs through Dec. 9, 2018.

Another major effort: With the backdrop of a tiny house powered by a Nissan Leaf electric car, the company crammed a half-day of big picture views by knowledgeable speakers and panels on the future of what it calls Intelligent Mobility, with the goal of zero emissions and zero fatalities.

The discussions by the experts of a motorized electric future, adaptive technologies and innovations would fill a fat magazine. But it all seemed more of an altruistic education forum than a typical auto show sales pitch.

compressJIM_1858One example: a “fireside chat” about, and rides on, Lime Scooters, one of the companies producing the electric scooters that seem to be popping up everywhere in urban America as an alternative to standard and powered bicycles, skateboards, roller blades and Segways.

One intriguing notion: When self-driving vehicles are perfected and widespread—still a long way off—it could solve parking problems. Your car would drive you to the supermarket or store, drive itself back home and then return to pick you up.

For those interested, most of the information and discussions can be found at #NissanFuturesLA, @NissanUSA, @Nissan Electric and Nissan USA on Facebook.

To enhance that, stroll with us as we mosey through the LA Auto Show, including the Technology Center, which consisted of a very large tent covering a side street and a lineup of food trucks that served different ethnic breakfasts to assorted journalists and hangers-on.

compressJIM_9511The breakfasts were so-so but the array of old Volkswagens could bring tears to the eyes of the guys and gals who had never owned one but wished they had. It seemed as if anyone who ever had a Type 113 Standard or other Bug felt a personal connection to what one book called “Small Wonder.”

Walk to the South Hall at the Convention Center and pass Audi, Lincoln, Acura and Infiniti. Turn right into empty space with Volvo signs. What happened? Had the vehicles been in accidents?

Nope. At the back was an alcove with a small open pod for four people with reclining chairs and a table in between.

It was a mockup of the passenger area of a future self-driving automobile: no steering wheel, controls or instruments. Simply a quiet, climate-controlled space for relaxation and transportation.

compressJIM_1632Without an engine or wheels, this Volvo wasn’t going anywhere. But it wasn’t alone. Over in the West Hall was a large area for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, which included a customized Dodge Challenger, bright red, with no top and, instead of wheels, skis underneath.

This was a whimsical vision of the high-tech future of Santa Claus’s sleigh on Christmas Eve and Day, delivering gifts to millions of kids around the world.

But this one wasn’t going anywhere either. With no way to get that 800 horsepower to the ground — or snow — it looked as if Santa needed to hook up Dasher, Dancer, Vixen and the others anyway. The Dodge Boys had thoughtfully provided tow hooks on the skis.

compressJIM_1598There were several other head shakers. Kia displayed a version of its high-performance Stinger — except that it had right-hand drive and the colors of the Queensland, Australia, Police Service. Interesting but not many potential sales here.

Another was the humongous Karlmann King, looking something like a stealth bomber with a matte gray paint job, angled body panels everywhere and, at $2.2 million, billed as the world’s most expensive SUV.

There were plenty of more conventional machines as well, including a Hyundai Nexo, sitting almost unnoticed in the crowd as Hyundai did a glitzy introduction of the Palisade, its new midsize three-row SUV. The Nexo is a hydrogen powered SUV, not introduced yet.

compressJeff-6077Over at Hyundai’s sister company’s stand, Kia rolled out its version of the Palisade, called the Telluride. But it focused most of the presentation on the latest version of its quirky and popular Soul.

And Nissan was not completely altruistic. It used the LA Auto Show to introduce its new Murano Crossover and Maxima sports sedan, which of course it would like to sell in very large numbers.AutoMobilityLA_SAB-black

Images (c) Automobility LA

2019 Hyundai Veloster N: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Now fielding the 2019 Veloster N, Hyundai could be whistled for encroachment.

It has happened before. The South Korean manufacturer has been steadily and successfully insinuating its products into almost every space in the automotive firmament: sedans of various sizes and power trains, crossover sport utility vehicles and even luxury cars. The last, Genesis, became its own luxury brand.

Now Hyundai is intruding into the small but image-important “hot hatch” group of relatively inexpensive high-performance hatchbacks. There are only a few, the most familiar of which is the Volkswagen GTI, with competition from the Honda Civic Type R and the Ford Focus ST.

2019 Hyundai Veloster N

What these machines have in common is that they are based on practical runabouts for people on tight budgets. Emulating the kids who buy old Honda Civics and hop them up to be faster and more agile, the automakers do the same to create new excitements.

The GTI, for example, is based on the ubiquitous Golf, Volkswagen’s entry-level U.S. offering. Similarly, Hyundai already marketed the Veloster, a compact hatchback with two conventional doors in the front and a single third door in back on the passenger side. Despite its unusual layout, it has been reasonably successful, though slipping lately with 12,658 sales in 2017 and running at an annual rate of 10,581 in 2018.

Now it should get a boost as it vies for the “hot hatch” title with the N, which stands for Namyang, the site of Hyundai’s technology center in South Korea. The N also obliquely refers to the Nürburgring Nordschleife, the famed test track in Germany where some of the N’s development was carried out.

2019 Hyundai Veloster N

Under the tutelage of Albert Biermann, Hyundai’s head of vehicle performance, the Veloster was not simply given additional power. Biermann, formerly chief of BMW’s M performance group, took a holistic approach to give the Veloster a stiffer chassis, sophisticated racing suspension system, more accurate steering with enhanced feedback, tires with more grip and, of course, robust power.

The goal, Bierman says, was to give the Veloster “real racetrack capability” in a machine that is easy and entertaining for novices to drive on the track and in everyday environments.

Power comes from a gasoline direct injection, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes 250 hp with 260 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force. A six-speed manual gearbox — the only transmission available so far — sends the force to the front wheels.

2019 Hyundai Veloster N

To make things even easier for inexperienced drivers, the transmission comes with automatic rev-matching. On downshifts, the system raises the engine revolutions to match the speed of the car—particularly useful during braking on racetrack corners. Launch control also is included, which minimizes wheel spin on acceleration runs. Hyundai doesn’t publish zero-to-60 miles an hour times, but an educated estimate is in the five-second range.

Overall, the stick shift is delightful, with easy, short throws of the shift lever on both upshifts and downshifts. The rev-matching eliminates  jerkiness from sloppy shifting. Along with brake-induced torque vectoring to hasten maneuvers around corners, the system infuses the N with forgiving and delightful manners on a road-racing course.

Biermann says that’s what the Veloster is all about. He calls it accessible and affordable high performance for average drivers. To keep the cost reasonable, the N uses in-house brakes instead of something like Brembo racing brakes, although high-performance brake pads are available for serious racers.

Large-31055-2019VelosterN

Base prices for Veloster N will start at $27,785, including the destination charge. A special performance package tacks on an additional $2,000 and bumps the horsepower to 275. It includes a special “corner carving” differential, 19-inch alloy wheels, Pirelli P Zero performance tires, larger brake rotors and variable exhaust valves.

Standard equipment on all Velosters includes full modern safety equipment, 18-inch alloy wheels with Michelin Super Sport tires, LED headlights and taillights, automatic climate control, Apple Car Play and Android Auto connectivity, and premium audio with SXM satellite radio.

So no enthusiast will mistake the N from its lower-performing siblings, it comes with exclusive styling of the grille and front fascia, as well as special rear treatments, including a spoiler with brake light.

N prices are lower than those of the 306-hp Honda Civic Type R and the 220-hp Volkswagen GTI Autobahn, both of which have prices in the mid to high $30,000 range. More comparable to the N is the Ford Focus ST, which starts in the mid-$20,000 range.

Large-33464-2019VelosterNSpecifications

  • Model: 2019 Hyundai Veloster N three-door hatchback.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 275 hp, 260 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed manual with rev-matching and front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet.
  • Height: 4 feet 7 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 90/20 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,117 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 22/28/25 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $27,785.
  • Price as tested: $29,885. 

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

Large-31123-2019VelosterNPhotos (c) Hyundai

2019 Toyota RAV4 XLE: A DriveWays Review…

byFrank A. Aukofer

There’s no better indication of the relentless onslaught by crossover utility vehicles than the 2019 Toyota RAV4, which arrives with a medley of 13 stylish versions, including gasoline and hybrid powertrains with all-wheel or front-wheel drive.

As it teases the public with the all-new 2020 Toyota Corolla sedan — the company’s all-time best-seller with 45 million copies sold since its introduction in 1966 — the RAV4 has muscled its way to the top of the compact crossover category.

2019_Toyota_RAV4_Limited_FWD_MagneticGrayMetallic_02Last year it outsold the Corolla and the company’s onetime best-seller, the midsize Camry sedan. In 2018, the RAV4 is selling at an annual rate of about 424,000, outpacing the Camry’s 348,000 and the Corolla’s 309,000. The latter includes the new 2019 Corolla Hatchback.

With the buying public’s appetite for crossovers, that should continue for the foreseeable future. The RAV4’s major competitors — the Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue and Ford Escape — will be in the chase, though the Rogue is an anomaly because Nissan lumps two different vehicles — the Rogue and Rogue Sport — into a single sales statistic.

Other competitors, including the Subaru Forester, Mazda CX-5, Chevrolet Equinox, Jeep Compass, Dodge Journey, Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage, should continue strong but with lower numbers.

2019_Toyota_RAV4_Group_04The array of new RAV4 models starts with the front-wheel drive LE trim level at $26,545 and ranges up to the all-wheel drive Hybrid Limited with a base price of $36,745. However, options increase the prices on all versions, up to $40,375 for the top-line Hybrid Limited. Prices include a $1,045 destination charge.

All RAV4 trim levels come with Toyota’s second-generation Safety Sense suite of active safety capabilities and technologies, including pre-collision braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive radar cruise control, automatic headlight high beams, lane-departure warning and mitigation, and lane tracing and road sign assists.

Also standard on all RAV4s is Toyota’s Entune 3.0 multimedia system, which includes Wi-Fi with capabilities for Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, as well as Apple Car Play compatibility. The system uses a seven-inch touch screen.

2019_Toyota_RAV4_Limited_FWD_MagneticGrayMetallic_45Of the 13 RAV4 versions, four are hybrids: LE, XLE, sporty XSE and Limited. There also are four gasoline-engine models with front-wheel drive: LE, XLE, XLE Premium and Limited. The remaining nine versions, including all of the hybrids, come with all-wheel drive. That includes a separate, gasoline-only Adventure with a price tag of $33,945 that can tow up to 3,500 pounds.

Gasoline models are powered by a new 203-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 184 lb-ft of torque. They come with an eight-speed automatic transmission.

Hybrids use a different tune of the 2.5-liter engine with 176 hp and 163 lb-ft of torque working with an electric motor. Combined, the system delivers 219 horsepower. The transmission is a continuously-variable automatic. City/highway/combined fuel consumption is rated at 41/37/39 mpg.

2019_Toyota_RAV4_Limited_FWD_MagneticGrayMetallic_59Though other models were driven, the focus of this review is on the more economically-priced but well equipped XLE model with front-wheel drive. It has an EPA fuel economy rating of 27/34/29 mpg. The starting price is $28,345 and options boost the sticker to $31,545.

Standard equipment included a motorized sunroof, power rear lift gate, folding outside power mirrors with blind spot warning, Bluetooth connectivity, LED outside lights, dual-zone automatic climate control, pushbutton starting and 17-inch alloy wheels.

Option packages provided an upgraded Entune system with SXM satellite radio, eight-inch touch screen, eight-way power driver’s seat, rain-sensing windshield wipers, heated steering wheel and front seats, and five USB ports.

2019_Toyota_RAV4_Limited_FWD_MagneticGrayMetallic_47The RAV4 has passenger space that rivals that of a midsize sedan along with 38 cubic feet for cargo. The back seats are split 60-40 and recline as well as fold for additional cargo.

Inside, the tester delivered long-distance comfort and space for four passengers. The fifth person in the center-rear has a less comfortable seat but OK head and knee room. Seats all-around were upholstered in sturdy cloth with contrasting stitching. Armrests and trim were of soft-touch material.

On the road, the tested RAV4 exhibited more than adequate acceleration in passing, abetting an unscientific estimate of a zero to 60 mph acceleration time in the neighborhood of eight seconds. The more powerful hybrid was a bit quicker.

The cabin was quiet with little intrusion of mechanical or road noise on smooth roads, though rough pavement sounds reverberated inside. Handling was secure around curves with steady tracking in straight-line driving. The brake pedal felt a bit soft, especially on hybrid models, but stopping was not affected.

2019_Toyota_RAV4_Limited_FWD_MagneticGrayMetallic_08Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Toyota RAV4 XLE four-door crossover utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.5-liter four-cylinder; 203 hp, 184 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 1 inch.
  • Height: 5 feet 7 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 99/38 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,380 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 27/34/29 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $28,345.
  • Price as tested: $31,545.

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

2019_Toyota_RAV4_Limited_FWD_MagneticGrayMetallic_06Photos (c) Toyota

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