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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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2019 Jaguar I-PACE: Driving the Future

by Tod Mesirow

The Future of the Automobile is electric.

The gasoline powered car will battle it out with electrics until all the ice on earth melts and we’re just scrabbling as a species to find food and shelter.

That could happen. If there is a future.

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But for now, billions and billions are being spent by every major automobile manufacturer on electric cars. Think of all that investment like a ship-destroying iceberg. Even if the icebergs are melting, that’s not the kind of momentum you turn around for hydrogen, or diesel. Unless Tony Stark lets everybody in on his super-secret glowing blue power source, we’re looking at an electric wheeled future for all our mobility options.

Sure the purists will hold on to gasoline-powered cars the way Charlton Heston held on to his guns. But he’s gone, and soon, so will the majority of the gasoline-powered vehicles.

And really – what’s to be missed?

Well, I will admit, plenty. The throaty grumble turned to a roar as small explosions power the piston – say, eight of them – up and down as the gears are manually engaged one at a time through the power curve, the wind whipping in the windows or over the windshield, the peripheral view a blur as the world is altered with a sense of certain power and the sensation of speed. I’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy those moments in spectacular cars, and hope to have more such experiences before it becomes completely out of reach for the non-billionaire.

An apparent 180 from those rarefied gasoline infused realms, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to get behind the wheel of a 2019 Jaguar I-PACE all-electric SUV.

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One of the early challenges to Tesla’s dominance from a major manufacturer of the upper echelons of electric vehicles – with a nod to the Leaf, and the Bolt, and others – the I-PACE from Jaguar looks like a car, by which I mean a gasoline powered car, unlike the Teslas, which feel more like high end display booths at a technology trade show, or the cockpit of a shuttle one might find on the starship USS Enterprise. The Teslas are wide open, with minimal controls, and a massive touch screen – like a computer tablet – that replaces every knob and dial on an old-fashioned car.

And that’s part of the appeal. Tesla owners embrace their journey to the future every time they open the door and climb in to their cars. More power to them. But their numbers after the initial stampede seem to have plateaued, and the brass ring of a giant best-selling all electric vehicle has yet to be grasped by any company riding the scary not merry go round. Huge fortunes have to be committed to bring about the electric vehicle future, and there is no way that everyone in the car manufacturing world is not terrified and consistently tense about when the future will arrive.

Meanwhile, the I-PACE.

I walked to the NY garage where I was to pick up the car. It was parked on the street in front of a garage. Passersby stopped and gawked, a few inquiring about it. Being orange helped it stand out from the other cars, but the design was the major factor. It looks sleek, with the signature Jaguar nose, scoops to either side, low to the ground, powerful haunches over the rear wheels. Appealing slope to the roof line, which becomes glass, leading to straight rear, 90 degrees from the ground. Overall, a successful first impression, of refined aggression, that looks commanding and potentially fast.

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The instructions from the representative were brief but thorough – the interfaces all very intuitive.

I was ready to hit the road.

My destination was Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.

As I sat in the car, and the display told me I had a full charge, and 231 miles of range, I wondered how much of a fool I was.

Rehoboth was 210 miles. That gave me a 21 mile cushion. Or so I thought.

My friend Brett Burke, automotive writer, gave me some helpful advice. Download the apps, he said, that will tell you where there are charging stations. You’ll need them.

He was right.

Jaguar included a small piece of plastic attached to the key chain with an RFID and their account. Radio Frequency Identification. It was linked to a Charge Point account. Which was one of the apps that Brett suggested I download.

Off I went. My iPhone linked easily with the I-PACE, not just because they both use the “I” naming architecture. I had my route plotted.

jipace19mystudioimage01031814Helpfully, the map also displayed Charge Point stations along the route.

One thing that everyone says about electric cars is that there is no power curve. All of the energy is immediately available.

What this means is that when you put your foot on the gas, and press it to the floor, the acceleration is fantastic. Rocket launch amazing. The battery sends all the power the wheels can handle to them in an instant, and that’s why electric cars routinely get to 60 from zero in 4.5 seconds. With a weight close to 5,000 pounds that’s impressive. The lowest priced level I-PACE, the S, has an MSRP of $69,500. Which is part of its appeal.

The First Edition I-PACE I drove has an MSRP of $85,900.

But all that speed comes at a price. The faster you drive, the faster the batteries are drained.

Which is why of the Mode choices, I chose Economy. My goal wasn’t speed, as much as I enjoy speed whatever the power source, my goal was to arrive at my destination without stopping.

Good luck with that, I can imagine some of you saying. And you would be correct.

Because the modern electric cars – there were actually many electric cars built and sold and happily owned by Americans from the late 1890’s through the 19-teens but they lost out at that time to gasoline powered cars – are new, the calibration of power, and speed, and distance, and battery life are not an exact science.

jipace19mystudioimage01031817Which means that as I’m driving south from New York to Delaware, I’m watching the number of miles I have left – my range – reduce at a rate greater than the miles traveled.

In other words – when the display indicated I had 183 miles left, and I drove ten miles, which would, in a perfectly calibrated world, result in 173 miles of range left on the display – the display instead said 161 miles. I was losing energy faster than the display had indicated that I would.

And – this is based on highway driving, in Economy mode, with Cruise Control engaged, so I wasn’t using energy in a reckless, foolhardy or fun manner.

This was serious. I wanted to avoid a charging stop.

Driving the I-PACE is superb. It’s quiet inside, comfortable, all the elements one expects to find in a luxury car. But less the Starship Enterprise and more what all modern cars have become – sleek with touch screens – but with some functions performed by buttons knobs and dials, and not just the touch screen. Awesome sound system. Huge panoramic moonroof.  Seats with many adjustable areas. The automatic systems function well, and are easy to turn on and off. The lane reminder includes haptic feedback – the steering wheel shimmered when the car went over a lane line without signaling first. Super handy for these days of distracted driving. The cruise control includes an automatic braking system that reads cars in front of you, and adjusts speed and braking accordingly. The I-PACE will stop itself when the car in front stops. And the distance from the car in front – when following someone on the highway – can be adjusted depending on the driver’s preferences.

jipace19mystudioimage01031818But range anxiety is real. I’m not the first, and won’t be the last, to experience the concern of running out of power.

“What happens if you run the battery down to zero?” someone asked me.

The car stops, I told them. Time to call the Three A’s. As my Mom calls them.

So running out of power, out of charge, out of energy, is something to be avoided.

The Charge Point app has a location function built in, among other helpful tools, so it knew where I was. And I knew where I was going. I searched along the route and found a Level 3 charger at a Royal Farms in Smyrna Delaware.

Royal Farms are like 7 Elevens for people who have not been to one, but better in my opinion. The sell gasoline, and all manner of food and snacks. And they sell giant drinks for $1.00. Including unsweetened iced tea. Or if you want a sugared fizzy soda beverage – they have that too, of course. They also had two chargers, and both were available.

Entering the Royal Farms at a destination and doing some elementary school level math I figured I had 40 miles to spare. Which felt like a big enough cushion. I wasn’t trying to run the car to zero. That would not be pleasant.

But from the time I realized I had to make that stop, and actually arriving at the Royal Farms, with less than the 40 mile buffer, I was a tad anxious.

IMG_4910Electric car chargers cost money. The price differs from station to station. The amount of charge per time on the charger varies as well. Level 3 chargers are the fastest. The app said in an hour it would yield 180 miles of range. More than enough.

So I put the car on charge, and went for a walk around Smyrna.

Which is an interesting many hundreds of years old town. Brick sidewalks. 19thand 18thcentury houses. A great small public library. And a really delicious falafel at a small restaurant that seemed to be run by a husband and wife in a shopping center named Freedom Plaza. Every now and then America can still offer up surprises.

Back at the car, all was well, and the display indicated many more miles of range than I needed.

Because the Level 3 charging stations seemed to be a bit scarce, and because I had to return to New York in a few day’s time, I used the I-PACE sparingly around Rehoboth, mindful every time I turned it on, I was using energy, and of my upcoming trip.

Why not plug it in to the house current? The rate of energy gain from the 110 outlets available were not worth buying or finding the long extension cords. Again – the infrastructure, out on the road and at home – needs to be built out to reduce or remove the range anxiety.

IMG_4815When it was time to head back to NY, I had more than enough range to reach my Smyrna charger – mine, because it had served me well before, and therefore was my friend – and with a full charge there, more than likely enough range to reach the garage where I was to drop it off.

Pulling in to the Royal Farms, I was happy to see the Charge Point available. Even though the app indicated it was free, part of the modern world is that technology is often less than reliable – it fails us in unpredictable ways, which is worse, and why range anxiety falls under an entire umbrella of technological dread – not just fear of Terminators, but fear of internet connected toasters and microwaves, of all of IoT in general, and the people or robots watching everything we do.

I plugged the I-PACE in, used the RFID, heard the buzz of electricity flowing into the car, saw the % start to climb, and headed out on another walking tour of Smyrna.

When I returned after an hour plus I was confronted with the unhappy fact that for whatever reason the charging had not happened as it had before. Or as I had wanted it to. I was 4% more charged than when I had arrived at Royal Farms. Not good.

There was no need for immediate panic – no one was injured, it wasn’t a disaster – but it wasn’t ideal. I called the Charge Point people, and a nice woman on the line was able to link her system up to the car, and the Charge Point station, and confirmed that what I was seeing was correct – the charge hadn’t happened as planned. She didn’t know why. We both came to the genius conclusion that I should move the car to the other Charge Point right next to the one that had failed – which luckily was unoccupied – and try again. She stayed on the line as I moved the car, and plugged in the other charger. Again I heard the buzz, the charge started, and it seemed as if all would be well. I waited a few more moments with her on the line, as the battery began to fill up, and after passing 4% gain, was assured enough to thank her for her help, hang up, and head out for more walking around Smyrna.

IMG_4826Happily – luckily? – upon my return after another hour – I found the batteries had reached 98% charge. The range stated was quite a bit more than the number of miles from Smyrna to NY – a good 50 or so – and I thought if I had to stop again I would, but that 2% more wouldn’t make much of a difference. So off I went.

As I drove past all the rest stops on the New Jersey Turnpike – and stopped at one for coffee, where I saw wild mushrooms growing next to the parking lot trash can – why do these not have charging stations? None of them do.

And that’s the big problem with electric cars – today – and was the problem around the turn of the 20thcentury when they were battling it out with gasoline engines. The infrastructure just isn’t here yet. Why haven’t state governments taken steps to combat greenhouse gasses by mandating more electric charging stations? One positive aspect of the horrific illegal and deeply evil scheme promulgated by Volkswagen to cheat everyone on the planet by rigging their emissions testing of diesel engines – for which they were caught and prosecuted – is that as part of the settlement they’re required to spend two billion dollars to install fast charging stations nationwide that work for all electric cars over the next decade. But that’s probably not enough to eradicate the range anxiety that almost any owner of an all-electric vehicle has felt, especially for now.

And yet.

The I-PACE is amazing to drive. It won’t be alone for long among major manufacturers – there are a bunch on the way. The Audi e-tron SUV is due this year, with a base MSRP of $74,800, the Mercedes EQC Crossover arriving in the U.S. supposedly after the start of 2020, has a price for its UK release this July, at £65,640, or $83,625 give or take a few based on currency fluctuation, and the Aston Martin Rapide E with no announced price but a 2020 sale date projection.

IMG_4825Electricity generation itself is not always a climate change plus. If the electricity comes from burning coal, then in all likelihood there is no net gain over gasoline. But if the electricity comes from renewable resources like solar wind or hydroelectricity then bring it on. California is faced with a glut of renewable energy – and storage is becoming the key issue.

We’re facing a future that in some ways looks exactly like the past. And in other ways, looks and feels a whole lot better.

I will miss the visceral pleasure of gasoline powered internal combustion engines, but I will enjoy the crisp clean and pleasingly shocking speed of electric cars.

The 2019 Jaguar I-PACE is a nice entry point.

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Specifications:

  • Zero to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds
  • 90 kwH battery
  • 234-mile maximum range

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Photos (c) Tod Mesirow

I-PACE interior photos (c) Jaguar USA

2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The 2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio is a rarity. It is among a few crossover sport utility vehicles that openly disdain their category because they are all about extremist performance.

Yet because of the public infatuation with crossovers, it is almost a given that increasing, and increasingly expensive, numbers of them will be equipped almost like road-racing cars. Think Mercedes-Benz AMG models, BMW M crossovers and Audi’s Sport Division offerings.

2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio

The Stelvio Quadrifoglio goes bumper-to-bumper against those as well as more expensive exotics like the Aston-Martin DBS and Lamborghini Urus,

Italy’s Alfa Romeo is part of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. It has been working to build the brand in the U.S., starting with the 4C coupe and roadster, which were more suited to a race course than cityscapes. Then the company followed with the exciting Giulia compact sedan.

For the 2018 model year, FCA delivered the Stelvio, which basically was a crossover version of the Giulia. The name is taken from the highest pass in the Italian Alps mountains, where there are 48 hairpin turns over 12 miles of highway.

2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio NRING

The Stelvio comes in six trim levels, starting with the base rear-wheel drive model at just shy of $42,000, and advancing through the Stelvio Sport RWD, Ti all-wheel drive, Ti Lusso AWD, Ti Sport and the tested Quadrifoglio (the name is Italian for four-leaf clover). The Ti Sport and Quadrifoglio come only with all-wheel drive.

What distinguishes the Quadrifoglio from its lesser brethren is its twin-turbocharged 2.9-liter V6 engine, which delivers 505 hp and 443 lb-ft of torque. It enabled Car and Driver magazine, in an instrumented test, to nail 60 mph in 3.4 seconds and 100 mph in 8.8 seconds, with a governed top speed of 176 mph.

Though there’s hardly anywhere you can do that — at least without ending up in a jail somewhere — Alfa Romeo thoughtfully provided a race mode and Brembo racing brakes for weekend track use. There also are driver adjustable dynamic, normal and advanced efficiency (economy) modes.

2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio NRING

There’s a stop-start system, ostensibly to improve fuel economy, rated by the EPA at 17/23/19 mpg in city/highway/combined driving. Fortunately, it can be turned off.

The track mode must be set up separately. If you switch to it while plying the public roads, it defaults to dynamic, which provides performance shift mapping with suspension and shock absorber tuning. It delivers a stiffer ride, punishing on some surfaces, especially combined with the hard and well-bolstered sport seats. Best to use the normal mode, a good combination for everyday driving.

An eight-speed automatic transmission sends the power to all four wheels, where the all-wheel drive system is rear-wheel biased for better handling and cornering, although it can also send up to 60% of the power to the front wheels, depending on conditions.

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The transmission can be shifted manually with large paddles mounted on the steering column. Because they are fixed, the driver always knows where they are, even when the steering wheel is cranked one way or the other. It’s so efficient it’s a wonder that all shift paddles are not so located.

Inside, the Quadrifoglio is all about the business of driving. With the racing seats and some plastic trim here and there, it comes up a bit short on luxury. But it is as well-equipped as any sport/luxury vehicle.

2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio

The base price of $81,390 includes full safety and power equipment, though the cruise control is not of the adaptive type. Few would take it off road, yet it comes with hill descent control. Options that included a special $2,000 paint job, along with Apple Car Play and Android Auto, brought the tested price up to $84,890.

There is adequate seating for four passengers with decent head and knee room for the outboard rear passengers. There is a center seat but forget about it. With a giant floor hump and intrusion of the center console, it is not usable.

One drawback: the backseat headrests block visibility to the rear  quarters through the inside mirror, so it’s important to get the side mirrors adjusted properly to eliminate blind spots. For those who don’t or won’t do that, blind-spot warning is standard.The cargo area, with 19 cubic feet of space, is nicely upholstered and includes adjustable tie-downs to secure luggage during the inevitable temptation to engage in spirited driving.

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Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.9-liter V6, twin turbochargers; 505 hp, 443 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 5 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 6 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 97/19 cubic feet. (57)
  • Weight: 4,360 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 17/23/19 mpg. Premium fuel required.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $81,390.
  • Price as tested: $84,890.

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

2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio NRING

Photos (c) Alfa Romeo

2019 Lexus RX 350L: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

When you produce the 2019 Lexus RX, the best-selling luxury crossover sport utility vehicle, it never hurts to up the ante.

That’s the reason for the RX 350 L model, a slightly stretched version of the original with three rows of seats. RX sales in 2018, including the L, totaled 111,641 nation-wide, more than any other luxury model and all of Land Rover’s or Cadillac’s SUVs.

2018_RX_350L_01_1854DDD44F40A20159D5FB2E679DBF11CF655689In the Lexus lineup, the RX — the name originally was intended to signify “Radiant Crossover”—slots dead center among the SUVs: above the subcompact UX and compact NX but below the GX and LX. The latter two are full-fledged SUVs, with truck-like body-on-frame construction. The others are crossovers, built with unit bodies like automobiles.

The 350 L is built on the same platform with the same wheelbase — the distance between the centers of the front and rear wheels — as the standard RX. Overall, however, it is four inches longer.

That enabled the Lexus designers to squeeze in that third row, which ostensibly seats two. But it was not enough. Even though the second row has about eight inches of fore-and-aft travel, it’s not enough to divvy up and provide enough knee room for passengers in either the second or third rows.

2018_RX_350L_19_544D1BB8ACAB86AAC1D207684F272EE8A4395A5FAdjust the second row for decent space and the third row becomes a storage place for backpacks or watermelons. Moreover, even if you set it up for a teeny bit of knee room, it’s a chore to twist and turn to crawl back there. Forget grownups and reserve the area for agile small children.

With the second row all the way back, there’s sumptuous comfort for four. Both the front bucket seats and the outboard back seats are supportive with cozy bolstering. Upholstery is ventilated leather with the front seats heated and cooled, and the back seats heated.

As usual in almost every vehicle on the market, the center-rear passenger is disrespected, though in the RX 350 L, he or she need not be. The floor is flat, and the center console intrudes only slightly. But the seat cushion is high and hard.

2018_RX_350L_17_C591F9A39AAC9742668074F4D7B952976997110BThe classy surroundings include a wood and leather steering wheel and wood trim. A jewel-like analog clock resides in the center of the dash, topped by a large center screen that displays infotainment and other functions.

There is much that is familiar. The shift lever has traditional slots and the cruise control stalk on the lower right side of the steering wheel would be familiar to any Toyota or Lexus owner.

Shorter drivers will appreciate the Lexus decision to mount the outside mirrors on the doors. That leaves a small pane of glass forward of the mirrors, which enables a view of the ground and vehicles approaching from the sides.

2018_RX_350L_15_D8C0267CB3C528EA3342A7BBB82CD615B35826C9The RX 350 L is powered by a 290-hp, 3.5-liter V6 engine that develops 267 lb-ft of torque, enough propel this luxury critter to 60 mph in less than eight seconds, which is respectable in any company. An eight-speed automatic transmission sends the power to all four wheels, which automatically adjust traction depending on conditions.

There are driver-selectable drive modes: eco, normal and sport. The modes adjust shock absorbers and shift mapping for fuel economy, more aggressive acceleration or everyday driving.

2018_RX_350L_21_EDEC9ADB65343041C6CD3386355726C32D9F2D53The normal setting will do fine for most drivers. This is not a vehicle for rapid flogging around hilly curves. Laid-back cruising in lavish surroundings with silent running exceeded only by an electric car is its forte.

Handling is capable, though not what any enthusiast would regard as sporting, and straight-line tracking is fatigue-free with minimal corrections needed. Augmenting the comfort equation is a supple suspension system that keeps everything planted and also delivers a creamy ride.

2018_RX_350L_12_34677EBDE98217061B58D281215B1EE07AD983BAStandard equipment, as part of the base $50,195 price, included pre-collision braking with pedestrian detection, dynamic adaptive radar cruise control, lane-keeping assist, automatic headlight high beams, rain-sensing windshield wipers, tri-zone automatic climate control, power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, memory settings for seats and outside mirrors, and SXM satellite radio.

Options on the tested RX 350 L included the wood and leather steering wheel, rear camera with a panoramic view, parking assist with automatic braking, blind-spot monitor, a color head-up display, touch-free power rear tailgate, navigation system, Mark Levinson 15-speaker premium audio package, auto-leveling LED headlights with washers, and LED turn signal lights and rear combination lights. All of that brought the suggested delivered price up to $60,579.

2018_RX_350L_20_BA2ADF9A8AE9C9310258B2970A2DB0685106A11ESpecifications

  • Model: 2019 Lexus RX 350L AWD four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 3.5-liter V6; 290 hp, 267 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 5 inches.
  • Height: 6 feet 3 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 121/19 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,387 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 3,500 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 18/25/21 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $50,195.
  • Price as tested: $60,579.

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

2018_RX_350L_08_CC77938F17406CC47991BE560BAC65BCCCDB53D6Photos (c) Lexus

2019 Hyundai Elantra Limited: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

As other manufacturers have done, Hyundai has designed its compact Elantra to bridge the divide between buyers looking for economy with comfort and those more focused on entertainment and sport.

The former is represented quite capably with the 2019 Elantra Limited four-door sedan and the latter by the 2019 Elantra GT N-Line four-door hatchback.

Large-34143-2019ElantraFor reference, think of the Volkswagen Golf and Volkswagen GTI. Or the Honda Civic and Civic Si or R-Type. In both cases, the base cars are oriented toward economy and everyday duty, while the others promise excitement.

Usually, the base cars come with less powerful engines and automatic transmissions while the performance variants are equipped with manual gearboxes exclusively or a choice of automatic or manual.

Both Elantra versions were driven for this review at the annual Spring Rally of the Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA) at the Road America racetrack in Elkhart Lake, Wis. Manufacturers provided 80 cars and light trucks for driving by about 100 automotive journalists. Some vehicles were designated for track use and autocross; others for street driving and off-roading.

Large-34144-2019ElantraThe Hyundai Elantra Limited four-door is powered by a 147-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 136 lb-ft of torque. It acquitted itself well as an economical and comfortable tourer that never felt short of passing power. Quiet on smooth asphalt highways, road noise intruded on rougher surfaces. It rode comfortably but needed frequent steering corrections.

Averaging 43.8 mpg of regular gasoline over 140 miles of highway driving at speeds up to 75 mph, the tester beat its EPA city/highway/combined fuel economy rating of 28/37/32 mpg.

It had a base price of $23,485, including the destination charge. The price included forward collision and blind spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert and lane keeping assist, as well as dual-zone automatic climate control, SXM satellite radio, Android Auto and Apple Car Play, power driver’s seat with lumbar support, leather upholstery with heated front seats and hands-free trunk opening.

Large-33684-2019ElantraThe tester also came with a $3,350 option package that included adaptive cruise control, navigation system, collision avoidance with pedestrian detection, motorized sunroof, and memory settings for outside mirrors and driver’s seat. All that brought the bottom-line tested price to $26,960, or about $10,000 less than the current average price of a new car.

Though marketed as a compact, the Elantra sedan qualifies as a midsize according to the EPA’s definition, though just barely. The back seat is a bit tight but can accommodate two average-sized adults. However, the center-rear fifth passenger sits on a cramped and uncomfortable perch.

At the other end of the Elantra spectrum is the N-line. Hyundai has chosen N as the designation for its line of high-performance variants, not unlike BMW’s M vehicles or the AMG models from Mercedes-Benz. The N badge comes from Hyundai’s research and development facility in Namyang, South Korea, and also refers to its testing at the famed Nürburgring track in Germany.

Large-33665-2019ElantraAs a four-door hatchback, the 2019 Elantra N-Line is nine inches shorter than the sedan but has more room inside: 97 cubic feet for passengers and 25 cubic feet for cargo under the hatch, compared to 96 cubic feet for passengers and a trunk of 14 cubic feet in the sedan.

The N-Line also has a smaller 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine, more powerful than the base 2.0-liter at 201 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque because it is turbocharged. It comes standard with a slick, easy-shifting six-speed manual gearbox, though a dual-clutch automatic is optional.

Equipped with full basic safety equipment but few of the frills on the Limited sedan, the Elantra N had a bottom-line sticker price of $24,195, or $2,775 lower than the Limited. For any enthusiast, what’s not to like?

Large-33966-2019ElantraThe base price included heated sport seats upholstered in sturdy cloth that hold the torso in place in hard cornering, pushbutton starting, dual-zone automatic climate control, 18-inch alloy wheels with summer performance tires, Apple Car Play and Android Auto, LED headlights and taillights, audio system with SXM satellite radio, and Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity.

Some estimates put the number of U.S. drivers who know how to shift for themselves at something like 2%. It’s a shame because that other 98% would not experience the joy of driving the Elantra GT N-Line or, for that matter, a stick-shift Mazda3, Volkswagen GTI or Honda Civic Si.

The shift linkage of the Elantra N-Line’s six-speed gearbox and clutch action are so easy-going that shifts up and down seem to happen almost by thought control.

Large-33686-2019ElantraSpecifications

  • Model: 2019 Hyundai Elantra Limited four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder; 147 hp, 136 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 2 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 96/14 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 2,844 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 28/37/32 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $23,485.
  • Price as tested: $26,960.

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

Large-34119-2019ElantraPhotos (c) Hyundai

2019 Lexus RC300 F Sport: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

It was an arresting bright yellow. But the 2019 Lexus RC300 F Sport probably should have come in salmon orangey-pink because, like the tasty fish that battles to procreate, it is swimming upstream.

2019_Lexus_RC_F_019_404CDC473CF6D513DE13E0FF95A19B18EE03A8DEThis Lexus, from the upscale division of Japan’s Toyota, is a sports coupe outfitted like a luxury car. But it is a type that is falling out of favor in an era when almost every luxury manufacturer, Lexus included, is laser-focused on crossover sport utility vehicles. Bentley, with the Bentayga, and Rolls-Royce, with its Cullinan, sell crossovers. Aston-Martin has shown a concept.

Lexus markets a full lineup of crossovers and traditional SUVs from the subcompact UX to the big truck-like LX. Its best-seller is the RX crossover, which had 111,641 sales in 2018, up 3,334, or 3%, from 2017.

2019_Lexus_RC_F_001_1EF6549C8CB33C9C501FCC75E5E3AE748596D449In the same period, however, the RC models, which include the RC300 and RC350 in standard and F Sport versions, dropped 54% from 7,363 in 2017 to 3,358 in 2018. Lexus says the RC stands for “Radical Coupe.”

It’s not convincing. The RC300 F Sport is a pleasant conveyance but not what many would consider to be a high-performance car. Though other versions are available with a choice of two V6 engines of 260 and 306 hp, the test car came with the base turbocharged 241-hp four-cylinder engine with 258 lb-ft of torque.

2019_Lexus_RC_F_017_D59DD6ABAA91250F1B59659F1F178BFF8E968221Power gets to the rear wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission. It’s enough to romp to 60 mph in the neighborhood of seven seconds so you won’t be embarrassed in the stoplight sprints. But it’s best to think of the RC300 F Sport as a comfortable boulevardier.

On the road, especially in the cut and thrust of commuter traffic and short spurts on freeways, the RC300 shines with a responsive throttle and comfortable ride, unexpected in a subcompact car. The steering is responsive with tactile feedback, and the adaptive suspension system keeps the wheels planted in cornering and straight-line cruising.

2019_Lexus_RC_F_012_4E77B19B9819AC67D4D848779D13B65537F952DCThough rear-wheel drive usually is the choice among enthusiasts for handling prowess, customers in areas with nasty weather might choose all-wheel drive. In the F Sport trim, that tacks on an extra $2,930 but it also includes the 260-hp V6 engine. However, the all-wheel drive version uses a six-speed automatic transmission in place of the eight-speed.

Though there are seats for four, the RC300 F Sport basically is what used to be called a plus-two — essentially a two-seat sports coupe with two vestigial back seats installed mainly to reduce insurance premiums.

2019_Lexus_RC_F_023_3DBBBC7D093AD433B91ED960B6F3BF8D9D8F83C3The RC300’s back seats look comfortable enough but there’s no space for knees and feet unless the front seats are adjusted full forward. But that, of course, wipes out any space for the folks in the front seats. Also, the fastback coupe styling results in a small trunk of just 10 cubic feet — again, probably enough for luggage for two. So think of the back seats as a convenient place to toss purses, small backpacks and cantaloupes.

Though it’s a relative youngster with just five years on the market, the RC300 shows some gray hairs. The test car had a base price of $48,885 and, with options, topped out at $53,580. Yet it still used an old-fashioned step-on parking brake instead of one of the new switch-controlled electronic brakes.

2019_Lexus_RC_F_026_65DC19AAC3465F43EC0317A0443CDE8358BD433CMoreover, the console-mounted touchpad, which controls infotainment and other functions displayed on the center screen, is imprecise and difficult to master. It’s not the sort of convenience that you want to be fiddling with while driving. Get the adjusting done before you drive off.

Despite its relatively tame power, the RC300 F Sport doesn’t  lack chops. It has the adaptive variable suspension system with a half-dozen driver selectable drive modes, ranging from Eco to Sport Plus, snow and custom. The front seats are supportive, heated and ventilated, and well-bolstered for spirited driving on curvy roads.

2019_Lexus_RC_F_025_0A0232B3FD2FC91300477E5F817579C41FE14AEBThere’s automatic pre-collision braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive radar cruise control, blind-spot monitor with rear cross traffic alert, power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, and lane-keeping control. Also: memory setting for the driver’s seat, outside mirrors and steering wheel, Apple Car Play and Amazon Alexa, SXM satellite radio, and Siri Eyes Free and Google voice control.

Options on the test car included a voice-activated navigation system with premium Mark Levinson audio, triple-beam LED headlights, motorized glass sunroof, limited-slip rear differential, premium paint, and an all-weather package of headlight washers, windshield de-icer, water-repellent front door glass and a fast-response interior heater.

2019_Lexus_RC_F_022_530C508CD852890AD76D5354C6F0EC328EEF1CD2Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Lexus RC300 F Sport two-door coupe.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 241 hp, 258 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and rear-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 5 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 82/10 cubic feet.
  • Curb Weight: 3,748 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 21/30/24 mpg. Premium fuel recommended.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $48,885.
  • Price as tested: $53,580.

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

2019_Lexus_RC_F_006_569A8E436FB6584B4091E96293E06E544890B597Photos (c) Lexus.

2019 Chevrolet Blazer Premier: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

So it turns out that metamorphosis is not limited to lizards, insects or Gregor Samsa in the 1915 Franz Kafka novella. The 2019 Chevrolet Blazer stands out as a product of the process.

The Blazer had its gestation in 1969 as the big K5 Blazer, a precursor sport utility vehicle built on a body-on-frame truck chassis. It went through a number of transformations — call it a metamorphosis — over the years in various sizes and configurations until it hibernated a decade ago.

Now it re-appears in full butterfly mode as an all-new crossover SUV that mimics sedan-like unit-body construction, nestled between the compact Chevrolet Equinox and the large three-row Traverse. It is important for the brand because Chevrolet, like perennial adversary Ford, is bailing out of traditional sedans to focus on hot-selling crossovers.

As a competitor to the likes of the Honda Passport, Nissan Murano, Ford Edge and Hyundai Santa Fe, the Blazer adheres to the current formula of a tall, roomy, front-wheel drive station-wagon style vehicle with gobs of space for people and stuff, as well as the option of all-wheel drive for those places with nasty weather days. 

There’s 101 cubic feet of space — about what you’d find in a midsize sedan — for up to five passengers, with a capacious 31 cubic feet for cargo behind the back seat, augmented on the tested Premier model by a movable divider on tracks to segregate different stuff. Fold the rear seatbacks and the cargo area expands to 64 cubic feet.

Front seats and outboard back seats are mostly flat, okay comfortable but with little bolstering to hold the torso in cornering. The floor in back is nearly flat so you’d think that the designers could fashion a center-rear seat with minimal comfort. But no. As is usual these days, it’s a high, hard, uncomfortable cushion.

The Blazer comes in six trim levels with four-cylinder or V6 power and front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. The base L model with front-drive and nine-speed automatic transmission has a starting price of $29,995, including the destination charge. It is powered by a 193-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with 188 lb-ft of torque and a city/highway/combined fuel consumption rating of 22/27/24 mpg.

Only two models — the L and the $33,495 front-drive 1LT — come with the four-cylinder engine. The others are 2LT at $34,495; 3LT at $38,695; RS at $41,795, and Premium at $43,895. All have V6 engines and front- or all-wheel drive. The latter costs an additional $2,700 or $2,900, depending on the version.

The Premier tested for this review was the top of the line with all-wheel drive and a full load of equipment that required no options. Its starting price, $46,795, is the same as its delivered price.

Power is delivered by a 308-hp, 3.6-liter V6 engine that delivers 270 lb-ft of torque, enough to propel the Blazer to 60 mph in less than seven seconds. The juice gets to the front or all four wheels through the easy-shifting nine-speed automatic transmission. It has a manual-shift mode but likely won’t get used much because it’s controlled by a button on the shift lever.

The interior has a quality look and feel with soft-touch surfaces all around. Some of the design touches are obtuse but clever. For example, you can’t find a button or switch to change the temperature for the automatic climate control. A search reveals that twisting the ring around the circular center air outlets changes the temp setting.

There’s a big, deep console between the front seats with plenty of storage space. On many vehicles, that’s where you have to search with your smart phone flashlight to find a USB port. But on the Blazer, there are a couple of ports right in plain sight on the center stack. Nice.

The center screen is intuitive and easy to read. It controls the Bose premium audio system, SXM satellite radio, navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. There’s also a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot.

On the road, the Blazer is competent, quiet and comfortable with responsive handling to negotiate clogged freeway minuets, and full safety equipment like automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection to rescue even an inattentive driver. 

The tested Blazer Premier also came with adaptive cruise control, blind-spot warning and a stop-start system to enhance fuel economy, which the EPA rates at 18/25/21 mpg in city/highway/combined motoring.

Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Chevrolet Blazer Premier AWD four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine:3.6-liter V6; 308 hp, 270 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission:Nine-speed automatic with all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length:15 feet 11 inches.
  • Height:5 feet 7 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume:102/31 cubic feet. (64)
  • Weight:4,246 pounds.
  • Towing capability:4,500 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 18/25/21 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge:$46,795.
  • Price as tested:$46,795.

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

Photos (c) Chevrolet

2019 Audi A8 L Quattro: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

With its six-figure price tag and mild hybrid power train, you could argue that the 2019 Audi A8 L represents economical basic transportation for the wealthy. 

Or you could just forget about that and enjoy a quality all-wheel drive luxury sedan — if you can afford to buy, lease or finance it. The re-designed A8 L, which qualifies as a large car by U.S. government definitions, is a limousine-like conveyance with a base price of $84,795, including the destination charge.

The tested A8 L came with a bottom-line sticker price of $101,095, which is out of the league for most of us, but which validates the old adage that you get what you pay for.  

That’s despite the fact that this reviewer believes that most high-end vehicles marketed by European manufacturers are overpriced compared to those from companies around the rest of the world, regardless of where they are actually made.

It’s hard to imagine anyone not enjoying the Audi A8 L Quattro’s overall attributes. It combines admirable performance and handling with tomb-like silence on the highway, and a supple ride that encourages long-distance jaunts. 

Start with the power train. The A8 L opens with a turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 engine, then adds a small 48-hp electric motor — a so-called mild hybrid, to provide a bit of boost when needed and a wee dollop of additional fuel economy because it enables a sophisticated engine stop-start system.

Altogether, the system delivers 335 hp and 369 lb-feet of torque, enough to propel this 4,751-lb Audi to 60 mph in about five seconds, according to independent tests, with a top speed — not that you’ll use it — of 130 mph. The EPA rates city/highway/combined fuel consumption at a respectable 19/27/22 mpg.

All the while, you are cosseted in supportive and comfortable seats with plenty of bolstering should you decide to play rally driver on twisting mountain roads somewhere, although it’s hard to imagine many A8 L owners doing that. 

However, for those who are so oriented, Audi includes an adaptive air suspension system that reads the road ahead and adjusts for irregularities. 

Despite its aggressive capabilities, this is a classy boulevardier that easily could be chauffeur-driven for drop-offs at the Metropolitan Opera in New York or the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

You actually might need the chauffeur to puzzle out the  complicated and initially confusing infotainment system displayed on the center screen. Though it is the sort of modern computerized convenience found everywhere that owners eventually will master, it is not as intuitive as it should be. 

For example, setting and finding pre-sets on the radio takes about three steps, where other systems are simpler. Also, the touch screen requires a distractingly good aim and a firm touch.

If you were driven by a chauffeur, you would ride in the back seats, which are at least as comfortable as the fronts, with plenty of head room and stretch-out space. But don’t try to put three people back there. The center position is a narrow, hard cushion with a tall, square hump in the floor. It’s a wonder there’s even a fifth seatbelt back there.

Aside from that, the driver and passengers sit or recline on soft leather seats with massage, power lumbar support, heating and ventilation; an ionizer that vents fragrances into the cabin; navigation with voice control, drop-down lighted vanity mirrors in back, and even a rear seat remote control for the infotainment system.

The trunk, while not overly large, holds a full-size spare wheel and temporary tire. It also is carpeted, and the contents are protected from the trunk lid’s C-hinges.

Also, a motorized panoramic sunroof with opaque shade, powered sunshades for the rear window and side windows, heated steering wheel, power door closers, automatic trunk opening and closing, premium Bang & Olufsen audio system with 3D sound, SXM satellite radio, and four-zone automatic climate control.

Curiously, the A8 L comes up short on storage space up front. The glove compartment is oddly shaped and the center console is shallow, divided between an inductive smart-phone charger and a cubby for small change, lipsticks and maybe something with which to powder milady’s nose.

Of course, the A8 L comes with all modern safety equipment, active and passive, including low-speed collision avoidance with occupant protection,  head-up display, 11 airbags, brake assist, adaptive cruise control, parking assist, LED running lights and taillights, and electronic stability control.

Specifications

  • Model:2019 Audi A8 L Quattro four-door luxury sedan.
  • Engine:3.0-liter V6, turbocharged, with mild hybrid electric motor; 335 hp, 369 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission:Eight-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length:17 feet 5 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume:111/13 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,751 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption:19/27/22 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge:$84,795.
  • Price as tested:$101,095.

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

Photos (c) Audi

2019 MINI Cooper SE Countryman PHEV: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

With substantial numbers of electric cars still on the far horizon, the dominant trend in the industry is toward gasoline-electric hybrids, including semi-sporting vehicles like the 2019 MINI Cooper SE Countryman ALL4 PHEV.

P90240566_highRes_mini-cooper-s-countrThat’s a mouthful but no surprise because Britain’s MINI is owned by BMW, the Bavarian Motor Works, which has a habit of naming its vehicles with what look like technical job descriptions. An extreme example was the 2016BMW Individual M760i xDrive Model V12 Excellence THE NEXT 100 YEARS.

On the MINI, the ALL4 designates all-wheel drive, Countryman the model, SE the trim level and PHEV stands for plug-in hybrid electric vehicle.

Nomenclature aside, the Countryman PHEV qualifies as a crossover sport utility vehicle, built like a car with a unibody.  It is fairly large for a MINI, stretching nearly 16 feet long and weighing almost two tons.

P90240568_highRes_mini-cooper-s-countrWith 94 cubic feet of space for passengers and a cargo area of 17 cubic feet, it has as much interior space as a midsize car. But it also fits the government’s classification of a small station wagon.

It uses a 134-hp 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine to drive the front wheels and an 87-hp electric motor to drive the rear wheels. Together, the system makes 221 hp and 284 lb-ft of torque.

The power gets to the pavement through a six-speed automatic transmission for the front wheels and a one-speed direct drive for the rear wheels.

P90240747_highRes_the-new-mini-countryCity/highway/combined fuel consumption in gasoline-only mode is rated by the Environmental Protection Agency at 27/28/27 mpg. In hybrid operation, the mpg equivalent works out to 65 MPGe. As a plug-in, it can travel a maximum of 12 miles purely on electric power, but it takes a feather foot on the throttle.

With its BMW and British heritage, the MINI delivers good performance and handling but with some English eccentricities. It can nip off zero-to-60 mph stoplight sprints in about six seconds. But road noise intruded on some less than ideal surfaces.

Handling, especially in the Sport driving mode, is precise with the front wheels obedient to the driver’s steering wheel inputs. With the suspension system biased toward handling, the ride tends toward stiff rather than cushy. However, the John Cooper Works (JCW) sport seats, upholstered in “carbon black Dinamica/cloth,” are supportive and comfortable with solid bolstering for spirited driving in the twisties. They also are heated; a redundancy with cloth.

P90240708_highRes_the-new-mini-countryThe Countryman PHEV also came with a BMW-like base price of $37,750, including the destination charge. With options that included PHEV Sport and Special Edition packages, touchscreen navigation package and John Cooper Works appearance package, the bottom-line sticker price came to $45,750.

The JCW package also included a leather-wrapped steering wheel, synthetic suede headliner, a rear spoiler and 18-inch alloy wheels. A PHEV Sport package included power folding outside mirrors and a panoramic sunroof.

P90240596_highRes_mini-cooper-s-countrA glance at the instruments shows a group of circular gauges, including the center touchscreen. The design harks back to the mid-20thcentury, when MINIs came with a giant center-mounted speedometer.

There was no missing the tested MINI on the road. It had a classy charcoal paint job, with outside mirrors and badges done up a sort of chartreuse color.

Two outboard passengers in back get plenty of head and knee room. But the center-rear passenger gets disrespected by a large floor hump, narrow and hard cushion, and intrusion from the center console. The power tailgate, part of the PHEV Sport package, provided access to the cargo area.

P90240656_highRes_the-new-mini-countryThe MINI came with an odd mix of equipment. It included a navigation system, automatic climate control, wireless smart phone charging and Apple CarPlay but FM radio without SXM satellite radio. An AM band could not be found. There also were no power seats. The seats up front had six-way manual adjustments.

Moreover, the sun visors did not slide on their support rods to adequately block sun from the side. And the sunshade for the panoramic sunroof was made of a perforated cheesecloth-like material that admitted too much sunlight. Sunshades should be opaque.

MINI Countryman sales in 2018 totaled 17,565, up 2,700 from 2017 at a time when total MINI sales declined by 3,421 to 43,684.

P90240573_highRes_mini-cooper-s-countrSpecifications    

  • Model: 2019 MINI Cooper SE Countryman ALL4 PHEV four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine/motor: 1.5-liter three-cylinder gasoline, turbocharged; 134 hp, 122 lb-ft torque; AC electric motor, 87 hp, 122 lb-ft torque; combined 221 hp, 284 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic front wheels; one-speed direct drive rear wheels.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 10 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 1 inch.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 94/17 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,915 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 27/28/27 mpg. Gasoline/electric combined miles per gallon equivalent: 65 MPGe.
  • Electric only range: 12 miles.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $37,750.
  • Price as tested: $45,750.

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

P90240672_highRes_the-new-mini-countryPhotos (c) MINI

 

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