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2019 Volkswagen Arteon SEL Premium: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Volkswagen’s 2019 Arteon exudes streamlined styling and comes with an attribute that could entice customers attracted to the increasingly popular crossover sport utility vehicles.

Though it doesn’t look the part, the Arteon is a hatchback sedan with a cargo area of 27 cubic feet, which rivals that of many crossovers.  It also has passenger space of 98 cubic feet. Together, the total 125 cubic feet qualify it as a large car by the federal government’s definition.

2019_Arteon_SEL_Premium_R-Line-Large-9794Yet the dimensions and handling feel are those of a midsize car. In concept, it resembles — and can compete with — the smaller A5 and larger A7 Sportbacks from Audi, Volkswagen’s luxury division. They too are low-slung and sleek but more expensive hatchback sedans.

The Arteon resembles the acclaimed Kia Stinger, which also is a fastback sedan with a hatch. Both are powered by turbocharged, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engines with eight-speed automatic transmissions and available all-wheel drive. Horsepower is similar at 268 for the Arteon and 255 for the Stinger with zero to 60 mph acceleration times of about six seconds.

At 15 feet 11 inches, the Arteon is an inch longer than the Stinger and weighs 185 pounds more. With eight cubic feet less of interior space, the Stinger is classified as a midsize car. Its base price is about $4,000 less than the Arteon’s. (The Stinger also is available with a 365-hp, twin-turbo, 3.3-liter V6 engine; the Arteon has only the 2.0-liter four-cylinder).

2019_Arteon_SEL_Premium_R-Line-Large-9779But when it comes to luxury appointments, the Arteon — now VW’s flagship sedan — does not slouch. Though popularly priced, starting at $36,840 for the base SE version, the top trim level — the $45,940 SEL Premium 4Motion all-wheel drive model driven for this review — has plenty of luxurious accouterments as well as a full suite of safety enhancements.

Equipment includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-keeping assist, blind spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control with stop and go, overhead view rear camera, and VW’s intelligent crash response system. In an accident the system unlocks doors, shuts off the engine, disables electronics and turns on lights.

2019_Arteon-Large-7924Inside features include navigation, three-zone automatic climate control, Nappa leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, driver’s seat with massage and memory functions, heated outboard rear seats, AM/FM/HD and SXM satellite radio, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Bluetooth connectivity and a panoramic glass sunroof.

Mimicking a current cliché in European luxury cars, the sunshade for the Arteon’s sunroof was made of a perforated cloth that admitted sunlight and heat. Sunshades should be opaque.

The Arteon name incorporates “art” and “eon,” evoking a sort of timeless staying power. It is a descendant of the Volkswagen’s former CC model, so-called because VW christened it as a “comfort coupe” — that is, a sedan with a coupe profile. It was based on the VW Passat sedan and lasted nine years until it was axed after the 2017 model year.

2019_Arteon_SEL_Premium_R-Line-Large-9788Despite its striking low profile, the Arteon has plenty of head and legroom inside, both in the front and the rear outboard seats. As with almost every vehicle these days, the center-rear passenger gets punished with a hard cushion and a floor hump, and on the Arteon does not get a heated seat.     The rear seatbacks fold almost flat to expand the cargo carrying capability to 55 cubic feet.

On the road, the tested SEL 4Motion model is an amiable companion. Belying its $45,460 price tag, its ambiance is that of a luxury cruiser with little intrusion of mechanical or wind noise. In this era of lousy surfaces, however, it’s impossible to eliminate tire noise unless you’re driving on newly-paved asphalt.

2019_Arteon_SEL_Premium_R-Line-Large-9790Though it is turbocharged, the 2.0-liter engine is smooth and quiet with little turbo lag setting off from rest. The eight-speed automatic transmission is unobtrusive in around-town motoring but also snaps off rapid shifts under hard acceleration. On the tested SEL Premium 4Motion, there were steering-wheel mounted paddles for manual shifting.

Five drive modes are available: Eco, Normal, Comfort, Sport and Custom. They, too, are mostly unobtrusive except for the Sport setting, which delays upshifts to higher rpms than the other settings. Custom allows the driver to tailor personal preferences.

The front seats are supportive and comfortable, and with the Arteon’s adaptive shock absorbers, the ride is controlled and serene for the most part. Handling is confident with responsive, weighted steering.

German luxury cars are notoriously expensive. The Arteon delivers much of that amenity at a middle-class price.

2019_Arteon_SEL_Premium_R-Line-Large-9800Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Volkswagen Arteon SEL Premium 4Motion four-door hatchback sedan.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder; 268 hp, 258 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual shifting mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 11 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 98/27 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,835 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 20/27/23 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $45,490.
  • Price as tested: $45,940.

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

2019_Arteon_SEL_Premium_R-Line-Large-9774Photos: Volkswagen

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

by Frank A. Aukofer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Specifications

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

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

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

2019 BMW X5 xDrive40i: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

If “aggressive” is a word that gets your automotive juices flowing, and you’re in the market for a midsize luxury SUV, you might want to schedule a test drive in the 2019 BMW X5 xDrive crossover.

Now 20 years old, the X5 was the Bavarian Motor Works’s answer to the 1998 Mercedes-Benz ML 320, which had the distinction of leading the parade of modern luxury SUVs. They now have multiplied to the point where you can select from nameplates like Bentley, Porsche, Rolls-Royce, Acura, Audi, Volvo, Land Rover, Infiniti, Cadillac, Jaguar, Lincoln, Lexus and, of course, Mercedes-Benz.

P90325220-highResIn this company, as in other areas of the automotive firmament, the BMW X5 chooses to compete in a clique of vehicles oriented more toward performance than plush ride and comfort — hence the “aggressive” moniker.

Though it’s not up there in nosebleed price territory like the Rolls-Royce or Bentley, the X5 is aggressively priced. The tested X5 — the xDrive designation is superfluous because all of the 2019 models come with all-wheel drive — came with a base price of $61,695, including the destination charge.

As usual with European luxury cars — though the X5 actually is built in BMW’s U.S. plant near Spartanburg, S.C. — the devil is in the detailed list of options. The tested X5 was crammed with $12,285 worth, resulting in a bottom-line sticker price of $73,980.

P90325209-highResOptions included items that a customer might expect should be standard equipment in a vehicle in this price class—for example, the leather-trimmed dashboard, head-up display, Wi-Fi hotspot, wireless smart phone charging, rear camera with surround view, four-zone climate control and SXM satellite radio.

But BMW does focus on the performance gear, which is standard and not part of the options list. The silky in-line six-cylinder engine delivers 335 hp and 330 lb-ft of torque — enough, the company says, to accelerate to 60 mph in 5.3 seconds, with a governed top speed of 130 mph.

That aggressive power gets to all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission that can be shifted manually with paddles mounted on the steering wheel. Want to do some stoplight drag races with a Porsche Cayenne, Mercedes-Benz GLE or Audi Q7? Go seek them out and the likely result will have more to do with driver skills than  power under the hood.

P90325505-highResThe X5’s aggressive nature extends to its lane-keeping assist and adaptive cruise control. Though it cruises sedately in easy-flowing Interstate traffic, the X5 gets downright mean if the driver’s attention wanders. Drift out of your lane and the system nearly jerks the steering wheel out of your hands as it brings this 4,613-lb machine back on track.

As with other adaptive cruise control systems, the driver can select the following distance from the vehicle ahead. It’s best to allow some extra air for the X5. Set it to the shortest distance and it can scare the daylights out of the driver as it aggressively closes, then slams on the brakes before meekly matching the target’s speed.

Even with its responsive acceleration and handling, the X5 still is a tall SUV and would not compete on a twisting racecourse with its sibling sedans. Still, among luxury crossover SUVs, it stands out for steady tracking, steering feel and feedback, and the capability to negotiate mountain curves with aplomb and control.

P90325536-highResAside from its aggressive personality, the X5 comports with other luxury vehicles in designing its driver-interactive systems more for engineers and tech enthusiasts than average moderately-savvy drivers. It often seems that infotainment systems on luxury vehicles are needlessly complex to justify the high prices. The attitude seems to be that if the systems are simple, they must be cheap.

Not so. Almost anybody would happily and quickly learn an infotainment system from, for example, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) than try to dissect the owner’s manual on a BMW or Mercedes to figure out how to, say, set the pre-sets on the SXM satellite radio.

P90325526-highResThough there are capable midsize crossover SUVs available for way less money — the 2020 Kia Telluride, Subaru Outback and Hyundai Palisade come to mind — the X5 is a fine choice for those with the wherewithal and a taste for aggressive performance.

In addition to its road-going manners, the X5 boasts some off-road chops, though likely not in the same manner as Land Rovers and Range Rovers. The emphasis, as is traditional with BMW, is “ultimate” street driving.

P90325383-highResSpecifications

  • Model: 2019 BMW X5 xDrive40i four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 3.0-liter six-cylinder, turbocharged; 335 hp, 330 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 2 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 9 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 105/34 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,613 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 6,503-7,209 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 20/26/22 mpg. Premium fuel.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $61,695.
  • Price as tested: $73,980.

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

P90325519-highResPhotos:  BMW

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

You might come up short with a big family, but the 2019 Mazda CX-9 works smartly for a couple of couples on a cross-state jaunt of hundreds of miles and many hours behind the wheel.

Of course, that’s if you fold down the third-row seat to stash the luggage. If your couples came with a couple of kids to sit in that third row, there wouldn’t be room for but a few suitcases or carry-ons.

MY16 Mazda CX-9Such are the compromises inherent in the tested CX-9 Signature, Mazda’s top-of-the-line three-row crossover sport utility vehicle.

Though it has those three rows of seats for seven-passenger accommodations, it is smaller inside than similar brands. It has 135 cubic feet of space for passengers with just 14 cubic feet for cargo behind the third row — not enough with kids exported back there.

Fold that third row, as that couple of couples did for a trip across Wisconsin to the Green Bay Packers shrine at Lambeau Field, and you realize an ample 38 cubic feet of space for the baggage to carry home Wisconsin-only Spotted Cow beer, and green and gold clothing and artifacts from the Packers Pro Shop.

2016_cx9_016Now that we’ve established that the CX-9 can be useful for hauling half a dozen grade-school kids to soccer practice but would require a top carrier for a family beach outing, fairness demands an assessment of other attributes.

It turns out there are many, starting with the inescapable conclusion that this is what colleagues at the enthusiast magazines like to anoint as a driver’s car. The chassis is stiff, the electric power steering precise and responsive, the independent suspension system compliant, the turbo engine powerful and the six-speed automatic transmission unobtrusive.

About the only gripe heard on the trip came from one of the drivers, a large and muscular male who said the cockpit width at thigh level was uncomfortably narrow for his chunky legs. This reviewer had no problem.

CX9ENGINE-201The power train starts with a touch of a pushbutton to wake up the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. It is turbocharged to deliver 227 hp and the surge of 310 lb-ft of torque, the twisting force that pins the spine against the seatback when you punch the pedal when the light changes.

That’s with Mazda’s recommendation to use regular 87-octane gasoline. If you are the sort who values a bit of extra punch, dump in premium fuel and you’ll get 250 hp, though the torque rating doesn’t change.

Either way, your zero-to-60 mph acceleration time will come up either slightly north or south of seven seconds, according to independent tests. Though there are any number of cars out there that could beat you in a drag race, that’s more than respectable for a crossover that measures 16 feet 7 inches long and weighs 4,383 lbs.

2019_-CX-9_US_IN_P7_20180719Moreover, the CX-9 manages the sprint effortlessly. The Mazda engineers have used their talents to wipe out any hint of the dreaded turbo lag, that hesitation that causes some turbo-engine cars to hiccup before they belch their power. City/highway/combined fuel economy is respectable at 20/26/23 mpg.

Though front-wheel drive is standard, the tested Signature model came with all-wheel drive, useful for areas with nasty weather. But if you don’t expect to battle snowstorms or visit ski areas you can operate nicely with the front-drive and save some money.

Mazda, the Japanese manufacturer that has given us exciting cars like the MX-5 Miata and the Mazda3 hatchback, has been on a campaign to upgrade its vehicles to premium and perhaps luxury status. It shows on the CX-9 Signature, with features a cut above the ordinary and a bottom-line sticker of $46,660.

2019_-CX-9_US_IN_P4_20180719Full safety equipment includes adaptive cruise control, brake assist, blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist, rear cross-traffic alert and rear parking assist.

Inside, there’s three-zone automatic climate control, motorized glass sunroof to put wind in and sun on the hair, aluminum and wood trim, perforated leather upholstery with heated front seats, power driver’s seat with lumbar support, 12-speaker Bose audio system, an eight-inch touch screen that displays navigation, SXM satellite radio, HD radio, Apple Car Play and Android Auto, Bluetooth streaming audio, and apps for Pandora, Stitcher and Aha internet radio.

Exterior features, in addition to the attractive sheet metal, include 20-inch alloy wheels with all-season tires, rain-sensing windshield wipers with windshield de-icer, power rear tailgate, heated and powered outside rear-view mirrors, and aluminum roof rails.

2019_-CX-9-16-G-US-LOC-004_R10_20170616Specifications

Model: 2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.

Engine: 2.5-liter four-cylinder; 227 hp, 310 lb-ft torque.

Transmission: Six-speed automatic with all-wheel drive.

Overall length: 16 feet 7 inches.

Height: 5 feet 8 inches.

EPA passenger/cargo volume: 135/14 cubic feet.

Weight: 4,383 pounds.

EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 20/26/23 mpg.

Base price, including destination charge: $46,360.

Price as tested: $46,660.

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

2019_-CX-9_Exterior_003-1_R5Photos:  Mazda

 

2019 Ford Ranger SuperCrew Lariat: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

In all the hoopla around the new Ford Ranger midsize pickup truck, what few people mention is that it is a decent long-distance road runner.

Except for the buckboard ride over rough surfaces at lower speeds — expected of an empty pickup truck with load-carrying leaf springs in back — the 2019 Ranger SuperCrew Lariat 4X4 driven for this review delivered a comfortable, fatigue-free ride on Interstate highways over hundreds of miles.

2019 Ford RangerThe front bucket seats could have used a bit more support, but the softness was welcome during hours at the wheel. Few steering corrections were needed as the Ranger tracked steadily with a steering feel more akin to that of a European luxury car than a Yankee pickup.

With plenty of power from the four-cylinder turbocharged EcoBoost engine, operating through a smooth-shifting 10-speed automatic transmission, the Ranger never felt challenged in high-speed maneuvers. The adaptive cruise control held a steady speed up and down hills, also slowing and speeding up in heavy rubber-band traffic.

Though the Ranger name has defined a number of Ford products since the ill-fated Edsel Ranger back in 1958, the midsize Ranger pickup truck has not been marketed in the U.S. since it was discontinued after the 2010 model year. It had a 27-year run from 1983.

2019 Ford RangerGiven the growth of pickups in the last decade, it’s hard to think of the new Ranger as a midsize, though that’s where it is parked in today’s market. In 2008, the full-size 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. It offered a choice of two V-8 engines of 4.6 and 5.4 liters with 248 and 300 hp and 294 or 365 lb-ft of torque. The transmission was a four-speed automatic.

The 2019 Ranger is 17 feet 7 inches long, 6 feet tall, weighs 4,441 lbs, with a payload of 1,560 lbs and a towing capability of 7,500 lbs. Its 2.3-liter EcoBoost turbocharged four-cylinder engine delivers 270 hp and  310 lb-ft of torque to the pavement through its 10-speed automatic transmission.

City/highway fuel consumption for the old V-8 F-150 was 13/17 mpg. The 2019 Ranger, using a subsequent stricter EPA measurement, has a city/highway/combined rating of 20/24/22 mpg.

2019 Ford RangerThe tested SuperCrew Lariat 4X4 is the top-of-the line with a base price of $39,580, including the destination charge. Equipment included pre-collision assist with automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, reverse sensing with rear-view camera, idle stop-start, tire-pressure monitoring, capless fuel filler (though the cover does not lock), leather-trimmed seats (heated in front), dual-zone automatic climate control, Wi-Fi hotspot, SXM satellite radio, power front seats (though seatback adjustments are manual), heated and powered outside mirrors, tow hooks, trailer sway control, and LED headlights, taillights and running lights.

Options were few and included the adaptive cruise control, composite cargo bed liner, an off-road package and a trailer tow package. With the options, the suggested sticker price came to $44,960 — not cheap but way less than what some full-size pickup trucks go for these days.

2019 Ford RangerWith its four-wheel drive setup, the tested Ranger was fairly tall, so not easy to load from the sides, and it takes a bit of athletic ability to hoist oneself up over the tailgate.

Except for the rear bumper, there are no side- or rear-side steps to help climb into the bed. The remote control automatically locks and unlocks the tailgate with the doors, but it seems superfluous unless the cargo area has a cap or cover.

There was no opportunity to take the all-wheel drive Ranger off-road. It has favorable approach and departure angles for rugged terrain, though its sheer length is a limitation. The wheelbase measures 10 feet 7 inches, not optimal for hump and rock crawling.

2019 Ford RangerThe competition in midsize pickup trucks has started to heat up. Most recent, in addition to the Ranger, is the new Jeep Gladiator, which is oriented more toward off-roading than any competitors. At the other end of the midsize spectrum is the Honda Ridgeline, which leans more toward passenger car ride and handling, though it has load-carrying and off-road attributes as well.

Other Ranger competitors are the similar Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon models, the best-selling Toyota Tacoma midsize, and the Frontier from Nissan. There are enough variations to satisfy the inclinations of any midsize intenders.

2019 Ford Ranger

Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Ford Ranger SuperCrew Lariat 4X4 four-door pickup truck.
  • Engine: 2.3-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 270 hp, 310 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: 10-speed automatic with four-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 17 feet 7 inches.
  • Height: 6 feet.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 98/43 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,441 pounds.
  • Payload: 1,560 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 7,500 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 20/24/22 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $39,580.
  • Price as tested: $44,960.

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

2019 Ford Ranger

Photos: Ford

2019 Mazda3 Hatchback AWD: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The 2019 Mazda3 Hatchback epitomizes the company’s goal of developing vehicles that punch above their weight.

This a slinky, stylish, fully-realized four-door for four (though there’s a seatbelt for a hapless soul in the cramped center-rear seat) that has the appointments and feel of luxury compacts costing thousands of dollars more.

2019-Mazda3-Hatchback_01It leans more in that direction and away from the so-called “hot hatch” category characterized by machines like the Hyundai Veloster N, and Volkswagen GTI and R models. But slotting between those two categories makes it more versatile for enthusiasts as well as people who value quality transportation that does not require a second mortgage.

The first impression is the styling. Nobody buys a car that is unattractive; something they would not want to be seen in. The Mazda3 is a beauty with artistic lines that belie its hatchback configuration.

2019-Mazda3-Hatchback_04That, of course, requires compromises — in the Mazda3 a low roofline that dictates a fanny-down seating position and limited headroom in the back seat. If you want something higher and airier for Uncle and Grandma, check out the Mazda CX-5 crossover.

The Mazda3 Hatchback AWD satisfies on multiple fronts: With 186 hp and 186 lb-ft of torque from its 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, operating through a snap-shifting six-speed automatic transmission, it can nail zero to 60 mph in whiff more than seven seconds, with a factory-limited top speed of 131 mph.

2019-Mazda3-Sedan_44That’s respectable these days but not outstanding. Nevertheless, it’s just one aspect of a car that handles effortlessly, delivers a comfortable ride over most surfaces and cruises quietly on smooth freeways (though defeated by the many pimple-faced roadways around the country). City/highway/combined fuel consumption is rated at 24/32/27 mpg.

A die-hard enthusiast might not choose the Mazda3 Hatchback with all-wheel drive because it comes only with the six-speed automatic transmission, although there are manual-shift paddles mounted on the steering wheel. If you’re one of those, you can save $1,400 by ordering the front-wheel drive model with the six-speed manual gearbox.

2019-Mazda3-Sedan_46The tested Mazda3 Hatchback AWD came with a Premium package incorporated in the base price of $29,920, including the destination charge. With options, the bottom-line sticker came to $31,245 — not inexpensive but about $5,000 less than the current U.S. average price of a new car.

This is the fourth generation Mazda3, which comes as a standard four-door sedan as well as the tested Hatchback. In both cases, Mazda has been concentrating on upgrades intended to transform the 3 into a premium compact.

14_Mazda3_5HB_INT_2The list of equipment, including standard and optional items, testifies to the effort. There’s hardly anything missing that you might find on more expensive European cars of a similar size.

Safety-related items on the tester included Mazda’s Smart Brake Support, which uses a laser sensor to detect the risk of a low-speed collision, prepares the system for maximum braking and, if the driver does not brake, automatically brakes and slows the engine.

Other safety equipment: rear cross-traffic alert, radar adaptive cruise control, blind-spot warning, lane departure warning and lane-keeping assist, rain-sensing windshield wipers, LED headlights and taillights, and tire-pressure monitoring.

2019-Mazda3-Hatchback_28Not to be outdone on the luxury front, the tested Mazda3 Hatchback came with “Polymetal Gray Mica” paint, red leather upholstery, heated front seats, power driver’s seat with lumbar support, memory settings for outside mirrors and driver’s seat, dual-zone automatic climate control, 18-inch black alloy wheels, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bose premium audio, SXM satellite and HD radio, and Bluetooth connectivity.

If you were new to the Mazda3 and had not been briefed, you’d likely be unaware that it is now available with all-wheel drive (front-wheel drive is standard). The system is unobtrusive in normal driving. However, dive at speed into a tight curve on a winding road and the tires take a bite with good steering feel. The all-wheel drive is biased slightly toward the rear wheels for improved cornering.

2019-Mazda3-Hatchback_15The Mazda3, as noted, also can be ordered as a standard four-door sedan. Of the two, however, the Hatchback is the choice here. Though it is four inches shorter than the sedan, it has a total interior volume of 111 cubic feet, with 20 of those for cargo and 91 for passengers. The sedan has a total of 108 cubic feet with 96 for passengers and a trunk of just 12 cubic feet.

Competitors include the hatchback versions of the Honda Civic, Subaru Impreza, Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte, Toyota Corolla, Chevrolet Cruze and Ford Focus, as well as the Volkswagen Golf.

2019-Mazda3-Hatchback_05Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Mazda3 AWD w/Premium Package four-door hatchback.
  • Engine: 2.5-liter four-cylinder; 186 hp, 186 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual-shifting mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 91/20 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,228 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 24/32/27 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $29,820.
  • Price as tested: $31,245.

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

2019-Mazda3-Hatchback_08Photos: Mazda

2019 Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

As a new trim level, the 2019 Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek arrives as the least truck-like sport utility vehicle in the Pathfinder lineup during its more than three-decade history in the United States.

This is a fully realized midsized crossover SUV in the current idiom that leans more toward family transportation and long-distance cruising  than off-road bashing around in bush country. It is neither expensively luxurious nor barefoot economical but a decent performer at a competitive price.

Nissan at Chicago Auto Show

There are three rows of seats for seven passengers, so this Pathfinder can substitute for a minivan, though overall it is not as commodious, especially for beach-vacation cargo. The second-row seats slide fore-and-aft, allowing a division of knee room that enables third- and second-row adult passengers enough space for moderate comfort.

Original Pathfinders were built like Nissan’s Hard Body compact pickup trucks, with body-on-frame construction. As used vehicles, they were sought after by rock climbers and mountain bikers without the wherewithal to purchase expensive Jeeps or Land Rovers. Their main competitor was the Toyota 4Runner and the short-lived Isuzu Trooper.

Nissan at Chicago Auto Show

There was some indecision along the way. From 1996 to 2004, the Pathfinder became a crossover with unit-body construction, though it retained the looks of a truck. Then it was redesigned again as a body-on-frame SUV, where it remained until 2013, when it returned to a car-like unit-body.

Today, competitors include the Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, GMC Acadia and Mazda CX-9.

Customers familiar with Washington, D.C., will immediately associate the Rock Creek Edition with the creek and park of the same name that runs up the spine of the city. But Nissan says the name was chosen to connect the vehicle’s rugged heritage to outdoor-adventure minded families.

Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek-24-sourceThe Rock Creek Edition package is available on the Pathfinder’s midlevel SV and upscale SL trim levels, in both front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive configurations. Tested for this review was the SV with all-wheel drive. It had a base price of $37,005 and, with the Rock Creek package and a few other options, topped out at $39,675. Both prices include the destination charge.

Rock Creek items include special tires on 18-inch alloy wheels with a smoky patina, and black mesh grille, roof rails, door handles, outside rearview mirrors and fender details. Inside are unique two-tone seats (upholstered with comfortable cloth on the SV tester), metallic trim and high-contrast stitching on seats, doors, console lid and steering wheel.

The Rock Creek comes with adaptive cruise control and safety equipment that includes automatic emergency braking, rear cross-traffic alert and tire-pressure monitoring along with basic traction control , rear camera and electronic brake-force distribution.

Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek-20-sourceOptional equipment included Nissan Connect infotainment with a navigation system, SXM satellite radio, and heated front seats, outside rearview mirrors and steering wheel.

Controls are intuitive and consist of a touch screen, large knobs and buttons. There even are redundant radio pre-set buttons in addition to those on the screen. However, USB and charge ports are so far back in a center stack cubby they are nearly inaccessible. Fortunately, there are extras ports in the console.

The Pathfinder is powered by 284-hp, 3.5-liter V6 engine that makes 259 lb-ft of torque. On the tested all-wheel drive SV, the power travels to all four wheels via Nissan’s Xtronic continuously-variable automatic transmission (CVT). Both two-wheel drive and all-wheel drive versions can tow up to 6,000 pounds.

Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek-8-sourceSome critics routinely bash CVTs, which multiply torque with systems of belts and pulleys or, in some cases, with gears. Their main characteristic is a lack of shift points, so acceleration is smooth and seamless. However, some CVTs feel and sound as if they are slipping.

That’s not the case with the Pathfinder and other CVTs from Nissan, which arguably has more experience with them than other manufacturers. Moreover, the transmission on the Pathfinder incorporates a kick-down passing gear that mimics a conventional automatic.

Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek-12-sourceWith ample power from the smooth-running V6, the Rock Creek Pathfinder is an amiable highway companion. It cruises quietly and effortlessly with few steering corrections needed in straight-line driving. Of course, it is no sports sedan but handles curves capably as long as it’s not pushed too hard.

A twist knob allows the driver to select two-wheel drive for economy, automatic all-wheel drive and locking all-wheel drive for gooey or gravelly conditions. Though marketed as a rugged vehicle, the Pathfinder is not equipped for serious off-roading.

Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek-19-sourceSpecifications

  • Model: 2019 Nissan Pathfinder SV Rock Creek Edition four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 3.5-liter V6; 284 hp, 259 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nissan Xtronic continuously-variable automatic with all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 7 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 10 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 138/16 (47, 80) cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,448 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 6,000 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 19/26/22 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $37,005.
  • Price as tested: $39,675.

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

Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek-21-sourcePhotos (c) Nissan

2019 Ford Mustang Bullitt: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Nostalgia and heroic performance come wrapped in a pretty, pulsating package called the 2019 Ford Mustang Bullitt.

The Bullitt is not unlike one of those Beatles tribute bands, except it makes different music from exhaust pipes. It also comes from the same source — Ford Motor Co. — that birthed the star of the 1969 movie. The other star was actor Steve McQueen as Lt. Frank Bullitt of the San Francisco police department.

2019 Mustang Bullitt

Ford delivered two 1968 Mustang fastbacks for the filming, which included a storied episode of McQueen chasing bad guys in a 1968 Dodge Charger, who came to a fiery end. The Mustangs — one still survives — were modified with stronger springs, Koni racing shock absorbers and modest customizing by removing identifying badges.

So goes the 2019 model. It has smooth, flowing lines that make you want to caress it like a newborn, accented by a black hole of a grille. The event horizon paint is the original 1968 Highland Green, the only color offered and only on the Bullitt.

Bullitt’s sensuous body is bereft of ornamentation. Not a Mustang or Ford emblem mars the curvy surface. Only the Bullitt name, in a circle that evokes a target, graces the backside and beckons followers.

2019 Mustang Bullitt

The 1968 Bullitt Mustang was powered by a 320-hp, 6.4-liter V8 engine that made 427 lb-ft of torque. The four-speed manual gearbox and clutch were heavy-duty parts from Borg Warner, and the steering wheel came from a Shelby Mustang.

Contemporary tests put the zero-to-60 acceleration time at just over five seconds with a quarter-mile time of about 13 seconds. Top speed was well into three digits, depending on the tester.

Over the years after the turn of the millennium, Ford produced optional Bullitt packages to somewhat mimic the original. But the 2019 Bullitt, 50 years after the movie if you can imagine that, is the monument on the mountain top.

2019 Ford Mustang Bullitt

No automobile is perfect or flawless, but any high performance machine should be true to its purpose. The 2019 Bullitt is such a machine in conception and execution.

Its 5.0-liter V8 engine spits 480 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque with a cacophony of sounds through the minimally restrictive exhaust system, making certain that the occupants understand what it is about. The muscular clutch and six-speed manual gearbox require strength and finesse that become relaxed and easy with familiarity. This is a machine that grows on you and you on it.

The 2019 Bullitt Mustang shaves about a second off the 1968’s zero-to-60 time, in the four-second range, with a top speed over 160 mph. But that’s not the point in modern traffic. In the famous daylight chase in the movie, San Francisco’s streets were mostly empty. Now you’d be unlikely to duplicate that at 3 a.m. on a weekend.

2019 Mustang Bullitt

Yet even in traffic, the Bullitt delivers tactile sensations: the smooth feel of the round ball on the shift lever, the progressive uptake of the clutch, the positive moves of the shift linkage aided by uncanny automatic rev-matching on downshifts, the blasting exhaust notes.

When the road clears, punch the pedal in second or third gear and experience the adrenaline rush as the Bullitt takes hold of your body and pins you in the seat. Too bad you can’t do it every time because of traffic.

But the Bullitt is docile enough to be perfectly happy noodling along around town in second, third or fourth gears. You know the hammer is there if you want or need it.

2019 Mustang Bullitt

With its tidy dimensions, honking V8 power, quick steering, compliant suspension system and performance tires, the Bullitt delivers joyful feedback any time you can find a twisting mountain road with minimal traffic. Think Skyline Drive in Virginia or the Blue Ridge Parkway. You don’t even have to go very fast to enjoy the moments.

Though the Bullitt Mustang has seats for four, it’s best to think of it as a two-seater — or what used to be called a “plus two” with mostly useless back seats. The rear seatbacks fold down to augment the trunk space, which is surprisingly generous considering the fastback design.

2018 NAIAS

As a high-performance sports car, the Bullitt delivers something of a bargain. The base price of the test car was $47,490, including the destination charge. With a few options, including Ford’s MagneRide shock absorbers, which deliver a comfortable ride but stiffen up for quick maneuvering, the bottom-line sticker came to $51,920.

Ford markets more powerful Mustangs. But none with the character and appeal of the Bullitt.

2019 Mustang Bullitt

Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Ford Mustang Bullitt two-door sports coupe.
  • Engine: 5.0-liter V8; 480 hp, 420 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed manual.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 9 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 83/14 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,850 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 15/24/18 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $47,495.
  • Price as tested: $51,920.

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

2019 Mustang Bullitt

Photos (c) Ford

2019 Cadillac CT6 AWD: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

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

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

2017 Cadillac CT6

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

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

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

2017 Cadillac CT6

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

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

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

2017 Cadillac CT6

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

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

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

2017 Cadillac CT6

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

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

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

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

2017 Cadillac CT6

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

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

2017 Cadillac CT6

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

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

2017 Cadillac CT6

Specifications

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

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

2017 Cadillac CT6

Photos (c) Cadillac

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