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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

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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

 

2019 Volkswagen Atlas: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

As with the 2019 Volkswagen Atlas, sometimes the lesser of two choices makes all the difference — in this rendering, the $37,000 version versus the one north of $50,000.

2019_Atlas-Large-8753You might say that about many new vehicles. Sure, it seems everybody would like the one loaded with every option for safety, performance, comfort, convenience and even luxury surroundings.

But there’s a school of thought, endorsed by this reviewer, that even base automobiles and light trucks can be appealing — and not only for their parsimony. After all, every car must have an engine, transmission, tires, brakes, steering, seats, controlled climate and safety equipment mandated by the U.S. government.

Moreover, though the manufacturers like to tout the superiority of their lavishly-equipped products, the truth is there is no junk out there any more. Ask most experts what kind of new vehicle you should buy and many would simply say, “What do you like?”

2018_Atlas-Large-7501Ratings nowadays are informed not by engines that gobble oil or wheel bearings that fail, but more by whether there’s too much wind noise or a baffling infotainment system — not so much by things that put you on the side of the road at midnight.

Which brings us to the 2019 Volkswagen Atlas SE. It is a full-size, three-row, seven-passenger crossover sport utility vehicle that can satisfy  minivan-averse customers, though it comes up short with 21 cubic feet for cargo space behind the third row.

It can accommodate seven adults with head-room comfort, though the second-row passengers must give up some of their generous leg room for the folks in the third row. It is easily done because the second row has about eight inches of fore-and-aft travel to divvy up, as well as seatbacks that flip forward so even creaky oldsters can get back to the third row.

2018_Atlas-Large-6591On the SE model, everyone sits on VW’s V-Tex leatherette upholstery, which is about as comfortable as real leather and likely will last way longer, though the preference here would be for a durable cloth that is soothing in all climates.

The SE is a bottom-dweller, just one step up from the base S in a line of seven trim levels topped out by the SEL Premium. So, the SE doesn’t come with such amenities as leather upholstery, panoramic sunroof, 20-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, park assist, ventilated front seats and heated rear seats, a Fender premium audio system and captain’s seats in the second row, which reduces the passenger accommodations from seven to six.

But the SE does have forward collision monitoring with emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring and rear traffic alert, hill start assist, pushbutton starting, 10-way powered and heated driver’s seat, Bluetooth connectivity, three-zone automatic climate control, SXM satellite radio, and LED headlights and daytime running lights.

2018_Atlas-Large-6604The base price of the tested SE came to $36,490, including the destination charge. With an optional towing package, it topped out at $37,040. One reason for the reasonable price is that it came with front-wheel drive instead of the optional all-wheel drive, which accounts for an $1,800 difference.

For most customers, except for those in severe snow belt areas, there’s no need to spend the extra money for all-wheel drive. Independent tests have shown that front-drive vehicles accelerate, brake and turn as well as all-wheel drive models in most circumstances except for low-speed maneuvering in heavy snow and other slippery conditions.

2018_Atlas-Large-6597The tested SE came with Volkswagen’s 276-hp 3.6-liter V6 engine that makes 266 lb-ft of torque, mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. The base engine is a 235-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 258 lb-ft of torque.

Though the four-bangers, both turbo and naturally aspirated, are becoming ubiquitous everywhere in the motoring industry, there’s still nothing like the silky power delivery of a six-cylinder engine, either inline or with a V configuration.

With the easy-shifting eight-speed automatic, the Atlas is an elegant and quiet conveyance that has a supple ride, tracks cleanly in a straight line and, if you don’t push it too hard, easily handles curving roads.

2018_Atlas-Large-6613Though the Atlas feels smaller than its length of 16.5 feet and height of nearly six feet, maneuvering in traffic and on ramps inside parking garages requires attention and care.

But for anyone who needs to carry seven passengers—or five passengers with 56 cubic feet of cargo space—the Atlas SE comes with a decent price and city/highway/combined fuel economy of 17/24/19 mpg of regular gasoline.

2019_Atlas-Large-8755Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Volkswagen Atlas V6 SE four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 3.6-liter V6; 276 hp, 266 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 6 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 10 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 154/21 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,343 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 17/24/19 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $36,490.
  • Price as tested: $37,040.

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

2018_Atlas-Large-7510Photos (c) Volkswagen

 

2019 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

So, you have to ask yourself: Who in the world would want to spend nearly $100,000 on a square-bodied Jeep SUV that can nail 60 mph in about three seconds?

2019 Jeep® Grand Cherokee Trackhawk

Likely at least some people, or the folks at the Jeep Division of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) would not have equipped the Jeep Grand Cherokee with the Hellcat package heretofore restricted to the Dodge Challenger and Charger.

The most expensive Jeep, $96,230 as reviewed here, delivers a mere 707 hp and 645 lb-ft of torque from a supercharged 6.2-liter V6 engine that uses an ironman eight-speed automatic transmission to send that muscle to all four wheels.

Even at that, it’s not the most powerful package in the FCA’s lineup, where it has been bested by the Challenger with the Hellcat Redeye combination and ups the ante to 797 hp and 707 lb-ft of torque.

2019 Jeep® Grand Cherokee Trackhawk

Why not just tweak the tuning a bit and make it 800 hp? It’s a question that may not have an answer other than 797 is a more intriguing number. And who knows? The Redeye may eventually wind up in the Grand Cherokee Trackhawk as well.

Meanwhile, the GCT makes do with package Hellcat, around for about four years, which now makes it something of an also-ran in FCA’s super high-performance machinery.

Even so, the Grand Cherokee Trackhawk is almost frightening, depending on which driving mode you select. If you simply want to puddle around town, you can do that and perhaps maximize its dismal fuel economy numbers. Select the ECO mode and you may not even notice the explosive force under the hood.

Powering the 2019 Jeep® Grand Cherokee Trackhawk is a supercharged 6.2-liter V-8 engine delivering 707 horsepower and 645 lb.-ft. of torque

However, select the Sport or Track mode, plug in the launch control and you have a credible monster at the drag strip. Raise the engine revs to a scream, drop the foot from the brake pedal and blast off on the tarmac while trying to control your heart palpitations.

But where can you do that except on an airport landing strip or a deserted rural highway? Try it in city traffic and you’re likely to go airborne over that Chevy Spark up ahead.

So, no. If you hanker after pure adrenaline shots as if you were driving a Ferrari, Porsche or McLaren — only sitting up higher to look over that Spark and the rest of the line of traffic piddling along at 19 mph — you can get that from the Trackhawk in ECO.

2019 Jeep® Grand Cherokee Trackhawk

But better to find a private country club racetrack, where you and other enthusiasts — usually gals and guys with the big bucks to pay the membership fees — can get your juices flowing on weekends.

That’s about the only way you will get to enjoy the monstrous power of your Trackhawk. Forget daily commuting in traffic like that on Interstate 95 between Washington, D.C. and Richmond, VA, which often is little more than a slow-moving caravan not unlike the parking lot at Disney World.

On the plus side, though the Jeep Trackhawk doesn’t come across as a particularly luxurious vehicle, it is priced lower than some machines from Great Britain’s Land Rover, builder of the other high-performance on- and off-road vehicles that appeal more to luxury buyers than macho types who yearn to traverse the Serengeti in Africa.

2019 Jeep® Grand Cherokee Trackhawk

The Trackhawk could do some of that, though not at drag strip speeds. It comes with Jeep’s sophisticated four-wheel drive system, eight inches of ground clearance, and approach and departure angles that handle terrain that would be daunting for lesser four-wheel drive vehicles.

But it’s questionable whether off-road enthusiasts, who spend most of their boondocks time at around two to five mph over boulders, potholes and hummocks, would even find a use for the Trackhawk. More likely you would find at the drag strip or country-club racetrack. Or you could use your Trackhawk’s 7,200-lb towing capability to transport your race car.

2019 Jeep® Grand Cherokee Trackhawk

The best thing you can say about the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk is that it is special. There’s nothing quite like it anywhere. You have to be a person with a mindset that is quite different from the mainstream.

But if you are that person — one who is not into exotic super cars but loves incredible energy and power useful for everyday travels and occasionally for incredible heart-throbbing excitement and wilderness trudging, the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk could fit your matrix.

2019 Jeep® Grand Cherokee Trackhawk

Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk four-door sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 6.2-liter V8, supercharged; 707 hp, 645 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and full-time four-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 10 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 105/36 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 5,365 pounds.
  • Payload: 1,350 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 7,200 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 11/17/13 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $88,145.
  • Price as tested: $96,230.

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

2019 Jeep® Grand Cherokee Trackhawk

Photos (c) FCA North America

 

 

 

 

2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI 2.0T Rabbit: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Light a few candles. The Volkswagen Rabbit GTI has been resurrected, though now it is called the 2019 Golf GTI Rabbit Edition. As ever, it is a hatchback performance model of what basically is an economy car.

2019_GTI_Rabbit_Edition-Large-9348The original, called the “Rabbit” in the United States, made its debut in 1975 as the replacement for the beloved Beetle with its air-cooled horizontally-opposed four-cylinder engine behind and driving the rear wheels.

It was a new direction for the German manufacturer. The Rabbit, named Golf in other world markets, came with front-wheel drive and a liquid-cooled inline four-cylinder engine mounted sideways up front as the gods of the era intended.

2019_GTI_Rabbit_Edition-Large-9351Most of the Rabbits were built in the U.S., in a plant in Westmoreland, PA. They were spunky little creatures with four-speed manual gearboxes but unfortunately were fragile compared to the anvil-like reliability of the Beetle.

Not long after the Rabbit’s introduction, Volkswagen introduced the GTI, a higher performance version with 110 horsepower, or 43 more horses than the standard version. Later versions also came with a five-speed stick. GTI stands for Grand Tourer Injection, referring to the engine’s fuel injection.

2019_GTI_Rabbit_Edition-Large-9336By today’s lights, those early GTIs were brittle and shaky. But they captured the imagination of small-car enthusiasts with limited incomes. It is fair to say that the GTI was the progenitor of what came to be known as the “hot hatch” niche in the market.

In the mid-1980s, the Rabbit name went away and the U.S. models adopted the world-wide name of Golf. From then on, the performance models, with two- and four-door versions, became the Golf GTI.

Now with the four-door only 2019 model, the Rabbit name is back, though now with one of those interminable names that decorate cars from German manufacturers. Its proper title is the “2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI 2.0T Rabbit Edition.”

2019_GTI_Rabbit_Edition-Large-9329The 2.0T, of course, describes its 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, which makes 228-hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. With its slick-shifting six-speed manual gearbox, it can nail 60 mph from rest in about six seconds. An even quicker seven-speed dual-clutch automatic is available for an additional $1,100.

The Rabbit Edition is a bit of a bare bones version of the GTI, slotted between the base S and SE, with more trim than the S but less equipment than the SE and top-line Autobahn model. There’s  also an all-wheel drive Golf R.

2018_Golf_GTI-Large-6700But with a price tag of $29,790 for the tested manual model, including the destination charge, and a city/highway fuel consumption rating of 27 mpg, it delivers a relatively low price and everyday economy commuting as well as that tingle of excitement when you hammer the throttle and snap-shift the transmission to poke into that traffic hole in the next lane.

On the road, handling is sharp with quick moves around curves and solid straight-line tracking. The suspension system soaks up road irregularities to deliver a ride that is stiff but supple. Road and engine noise are mostly muted for fatigue-free Interstate cruising.

2019_GTI_Rabbit_Edition-Large-9325Missing from the Rabbit are a sunroof, automatic climate control and SXM satellite radio, which is not available on any GTI trim level. That reflects the trend toward streaming audio. Equipment includes an AM-FM radio and one USB port for streaming capability.

The Rabbit comes with basic safety equipment, including a crash response system and electronic brake assist, but lacks such advanced features as adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert.

2019_GTI_Rabbit_Edition-Large-9322One of the more endearing features of the Rabbit Edition are its sport seats up front and accommodating passenger seats in back. The upholstery is a substantial cloth with an attractive plaid design that grips the torso. It is augmented by aggressive bolstering on the front seats that encourages spirited motoring on twisting mountain roads.

Too bad that if a customer decides to move up to the SE edition to get additional equipment, he or she gets leather upholstery, which in this case is inferior to the Rabbit’s beautiful plaid cloth, which should be available on every trim level.

2019_GTI_Rabbit_Edition-Large-9347In back, two passengers sit comfortably with generous head and knee room. There is a seatbelt for a third passenger, who deserves pity for sitting scrunched on a hard cushion straddling a big floor hump with knees banging on the intruding front console.

But hey. The Rabbit GTI is a sports car that delivers daily driving enjoyment with small family practicality.

2019_GTI_Rabbit_Edition-Large-9339Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI 2.0T Rabbit Edition four-door hatchback.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 228 hp, 258 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six speed manual with front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 10 inches.
  • Height: 4 feet 9 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 98/23 Cubic feet.
  • Weight: 2,965 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 24/32/27 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $29,790.
  • Price as tested: $29,790.

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

2019_GTI_Rabbit_Edition-Large-9350Photos (c) Volkswagen

2019 Honda HR-V Sport: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Like a fast-moving epidemic, subcompact crossover sport utility vehicles like the 2019 Honda HR-V are infecting the consciousness of buyers everywhere.

Compared to their compact brethren like the best-selling Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V, they are but a blip on the monitor so far. But they are coming on strong, as witness the increasing numbers of nameplates.

2019 Honda HR-V Sport

The HR-V arrived on the automotive scene in 2016, at a time when there were only a few other subcompact crossovers like the Jeep Renegade and Chevrolet Trax. Now there are many, including the Toyota C-HR, Nissan Kicks, Kia Niro, Mazda CX-3, Ford EcoSport, Fiat 500X, and the Hyundai Kona, voted 2019 North American Utility of the Year by an independent jury of automotive journalists.

Leading the cadre in 2018 sales was the Subaru Crosstrek, though the others are poised to strengthen as the automotive-buying public continues to abandon traditional sedans in favor of small crossovers because of their practicality, low prices and decent fuel economy.

2019 Honda HR-V Sport

The 2019 Honda HR-V embodies those virtues. In a tidy package just 14 feet 3 inches long, it houses 100 cubic feet of space for passengers with 24 cubic feet for cargo — more than that of some midsize sedans. For example, the best-selling midsize 2018 Toyota Camry, at 16 feet long, has 99 cubic feet for passengers and 15 cubic feet of trunk space.

Moreover, with its utilitarian design, the HR-V’s rear seatbacks fold to expand the cargo-carrying capacity to 59 cubic feet. Of course, that eliminates seats for three in back, which is unusually spacious for a small crossover, with generous head and knee room. However, as is usual in nearly every sedan or SUV nowadays, the HR-V’s center-rear passenger gets a hard perch while the outboard riders sit comfortably.

2019 Honda HR-V Sport

There are nine versions of the 2019 HR-V across five trim lines. All but the top-of-the-line Touring version are available with standard front-wheel drive or optional ($1,400) all-wheel drive. The Touring comes standard with all-wheel drive.

Prices range from $21,565, including the destination charge, for the base front-drive LX model to $29,585 for the Touring. Other trim levels are the Sport, EX and EX-L. Power comes from a 141 hp, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine with 127 lb-ft of torque. The only transmission available is a continuously variable automatic (CVT). All trim levels have EPA combined city/highway mileage ratings of 28 to 30 mpg.

2019 Honda HR-V Sport

Driven for this review was the $24,665 all-wheel drive Sport model, which essentially is a base LX gussied up to make it sportier and attractive. Of all the HR-V versions, it is the only one with classy 18-inch alloy wheels and lower profile tires. All of the others have 17-inch alloy wheels.

The Sport also comes with quicker steering, clever multi-adjustable cup holder, electric parking brake, cruise control, air conditioning, audio system, fog lights, sport pedals, leather-covered steering wheel and shift knob, roof rails, and gloss black outside mirrors and underbody spoilers. Basic safety equipment, along with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, is part of the package.

2019 Honda HR-V Sport

But the Sport does not include: collision mitigation braking, lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, road departure mitigation, blind-spot warning or Honda’s Lane Watch, which displays a picture of the right-side blind spot on the center screen. Also missing are pushbutton start, automatic climate control and SXM radio.

The HR-V Sport’s strong suit is chasing around in urban environments. Handling in traffic is almost intuitive, and the suspension and tires deliver a decent ride on all but the roughest surfaces. Acceleration from rest is not blistering but more than adequate for stoplight sprints and freeway merging. For a quicker launch, the CVT can be shifted manually with steering-wheel paddles to mimic a seven-speed transmission.

2019 Honda HR-V Sport

The surprise is the HR-V’s long-distance cruising. With cloth seats that are unusually supportive and comfortable, especially up front, there were no aches, pains or fatigue over a hundred miles or more.

But highway cruising also elicits the HR-V’s main fault. At 55 to 70-plus mph on Florida freeways, where most of the test was conducted, the combination of wind and road noise was so loud it overpowered the audio system.

Fortunately for customers who do a lot of long-distance driving, the HR-V’s upper trim levels contain additional insulation and other sound-deadening materials. So, it makes sense to pay a bit more for a quieter ride with the EX, EX-L and Touring models.

2019 Honda HR-V Sport

Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Honda HR-V Sport four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 1.8-liter four-cylinder; 141 horsepower, 127 pound-feet torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 3 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 100/24 cubic feet. (59)
  • Height: 5 feet 3 inches.
  • Weight: 3,096 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 26/31/28 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $24,665
  • Price as tested: $24,665.

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

2019 Honda HR-V Sport

Photos (c) Honda

Is a BEV in Your Future?

by Jason Fogelson

I recently reviewed the 2019 Nissan Leaf Plus for AutoTrader. It’s a fine vehicle in many respects. With an estimated 226 miles of range on a single charge, it can serve as an able commuter. It will require minimal maintenance over the course of its lifetime – just consumables like wiper blades and fluid, tires, brake pads and the like. No oil changes, transmission fluid, antifreeze, clutch adjustments – truly minimal routine maintenance. Perhaps best of all, it doesn’t use any gasoline, and can be charged in a reasonable amount of time on a 240-volt home outlet. But I still can’t recommend that you buy or lease a Nissan Leaf Plus, or any other current battery-electric vehicle (BEV), unless you are a committed early adopter.

That’s because some quick math has convinced me that the BEV equation still doesn’t work.

2019 Nissan LEAF e+

A Leaf Plus will start at around $37,000 – still a guess, until Nissan announces prices when it launches the vehicle to dealerships in March 2019, a few weeks from now. There’s still a Federal tax credit available (up to $7,500) and some states offer additional credits. So, let’s assume that Leaf Plus nets at about $30,000.

Compare that to a base 2019 Nissan Sentra, which starts at $18,480 with a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). That Sentra is rated by the EPA to achieve 32 mpg combined. If gasoline costs $2.50 per gallon (today’s average, according to the AAA, is $2.394), you’ll be able to buy 4,608 gallons of the stuff for the difference in price between a Sentra and a Leaf Plus – enough to travel up to 147,456 miles in a Sentra before you begin to recoup the difference in price between the Sentra and Leaf Plus. Of course, you’ll need to do some maintenance on the Sentra. Nissan recommends oil and filter changes every 5,000 miles/6 months. That’ll run about $60 a year at your local Jiffy Lube. You’ll need to replace the air filter every 30,000 miles/3 years for about $20 if you do it yourself. At 105,000 miles, you’ll need to replace all four spark plugs for about $7.50 each/$30.00 total. Let’s add in three batteries at $200 each, and a major service (timing belt, CVT fluid, radiator fluid, etc.) at the dealer every 50,000 miles, for about $500 a pop. We’ll ignore maintenance items that are common to the gasoline and battery vehicles, like tires, brakes, brake fluid and such.

2019 Sentra SR TurboHere’s a basic cost breakdown to keep the Sentra maintained for 147,456 miles, then:

Oil/Filters: 30 services @ $30 each: $900.00
Spark Plugs: 4 @ $7.50 each: $30.00
Battery Replacement: 3 @ $200 each: $600.00
Major Service: 3 @ $500 each: $1,500.00

Total: $3,030.00

Assuming that you drive somewhere near the national average of 15,000 miles, that’s just over $300 per year in maintenance for ten years of service.

2019 Nissan LEAF e+

Charging an electric car is not free. This is where my math gets really fuzzy and estimated, because electricity rates vary so widely based on a number of factors. Residential rates average about $0.12/kWh, but there are different rates for different levels of usage, times of day, and other factors. The best estimates that I’ve found assume that it costs about $2.50 to bring an average electric car (whatever that is) to a full charge from empty. Charging at commercial charging stations can be by kWh, by time, or flat rate, depending on the system. A Level 2 charge can be as little as $2.50, while a DC Quick Charge usually starts at about $10.00. To make the math really simple, let’s assume that the Nissan Leaf Plus can be charged for about $0.10 per mile. That’s probably a low estimate. So, over 147,456 miles, electricity will cost you at least $1,475.

2018 Nissan Sentra

There are other factors to consider. The Leaf Plus battery is going to degrade over the course of use. Nissan’s warranty covers it for eight years or 100,000 miles against defects and excessive capacity loss, so those last 47,456 miles will be uncharted territory. My assumption is that it will take more electricity to get the same distance over time – and higher electrical costs as a result.

You might have access to free charging at work, or at a public station in a liberal metropolis. But if BEV adoption rates increase at predicted rates, those resources will become harder to come by as competition for charging stations intensifies.

You may be considering the installation of solar panels, which would benefit both your general home electricity bill and your vehicle charging. I can’t even begin to do the math on that.

But the basic math between a Nissan Sentra and a Nissan Leaf Plus does not provide a definitive answer.

Here’s my basic breakdown for ten years/150,000 miles of ownership:

2018 Nissan Sentra

2019 Nissan Sentra:
$18,480.00 purchase price
$ 3,030.00 unique maintenance costs
$11,718.75 gasoline (150,000 miles @ 32 mpg X $2.50/gallon)
$33,228.75 Total

2019 Nissan LEAF e+

2019 Nissan Leaf Plus
$30,000.00 net purchase price
$ 0.00 unique maintenance costs
$ 1,500.00 electricity (150,000 miles @ $0.10 per mile)
$31,500.00 Total

This is back-of-the-envelope stuff, and not entirely scientific. The Leaf Plus would appear to pay off – but just barely. And there are tons of variable here. Gas prices could vary wildly over the next ten years. So could electricity prices. We don’t really know how well the Leaf Plus batteries will hold up over 10 years – Nissan warns that range will decrease with time and use, which means that costs will increase. We have a pretty good idea that a well-maintained Sentra is capable of 150,000 miles of trouble-free operation, though. According to Kelley Blue Book, a 2009 Nissan Sentra S with 150,000 miles on the clock lists at $4,799, while a 2011 Nissan Leaf (the first year of production) with 100,000 miles on the odometer lists at $5,290, so depreciation is also something to think about.

After reviewing my math, I still have a hard time recommending the purchase of a new Nissan Leaf Plus – for now. Stay tuned.

2019 Nissan LEAF e+

Photos (c) Nissan

2019 Volkswagen Beetle Final Edition: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Sniffles. After so many years it sounds so, well, final: the 2019 Volkswagen SE Beetle Final Edition, for this review the two-door convertible model. There will be waves of nostalgia.

This is a thoroughly modern automobile with all of the comfort and conveniences not dreamed of by owners of the originals in the middle of the 20th century. Think back on some of the differences.

2019_Beetle_Convertible_Final_Edition--8697The 2019 Final Edition convertible has a padded top, so tight and quiet you’d swear you were driving a luxury coupe. You can barely hear exhaust sounds. Old Bugs were raucous, with twin exhaust pipes that sometimes whistled while they worked.

Check out the automatic climate control. Set it and forget it. The reviewer’s ’65 Type 113 Bug came with little vents on the floor that carried warm air from the rear engine compartment into the passenger pod — maybe. Air conditioning? Swing the front vent windows all the way out to force that humid summer air inside. Notice the cranks on the doors? Open the windows and get a bit of exercise.

Grasp the 2019’s sturdy console lever that controls the six-speed automatic transmission. Totally not as engaging as the early Bugs’ fragile floor-mounted shifter with the tiny pancake shift knob for the four-speed manual gearbox. Truth be told, it was a delight to snick through the gears.

Historic_Beetle-Large-2284Sadly, the Final Edition’s engine is in the wrong place. It’s up front under the hood, where the trunk should be, instead of out back behind the wheels. Plus, it’s a 174-hp, turbocharged, upright four-cylinder engine, not a proper 40-hp boxer with its cylinders reclining like sunbathers.

The Final Edition comes with a small trunk of seven cubic feet. Bugs had their trunks up front plus a generous uncovered bin behind the rear seat.

That old ’65 Bug did have other advantages: Six-volt battery to keep the headlights so dim they would not blind oncoming drivers or light the road; windshield washers powered by air fed from the spare tire  in the trunk up front.

2019_Beetle_Final_Edition--8699Armrests? Padded beauties on the Final Edition. Nonexistent on many older Bugs because the German engineers decreed that owners should keep their hands on the steering wheels instead of elbows resting on armrests.

Though the Final Edition has that six-speed automatic transmission, you can order a six-speed manual if you want it. Some older Bugs came with a transmission called the Automatic Stick Shift, which one enthusiast magazine dubbed the A.S.S. It was so efficient, especially on the Bug’s big brother, the Microbus, that you could walk faster than it could accelerate from a stop sign.

Doggone it, Volkswagen finally went and did it. After all these years — nearly 80 overall and 70 in the United States — the rambunctious and familiar Bug, the modern New Beetle and, simply and finally, the Beetle, will be no more after the 2019 model year.

It actually was thought to be dead in an earlier time. After a slow start in the U.S. after World War II, it became wildly popular for its reliability and economy. More than 15 million of the little two-door sedans were sold from 1949 until 1955, beating out Ford’s model T as the best-selling single-model car of all time. It continued for two decades after that.

Historic_Beetle-Large-2295In 1975, the Bug ended its run, giving way to the Rabbit, called the Golf in other countries. But it was dead only in the U.S. It continued abroad in Brazil, Mexico and other places. Then, after selling 21.5 million cars overall, the last of the original Bugs rolled off the line in Mexico in 2003.

The U.S. Rabbit was different. Where the original Bug had an air-cooled, horizontally-opposed four-cylinder engine mounted behind and driving the rear wheels, the Rabbit had a conventional liquid-cooled four-cylinder engine driving the front wheels.

Timeline_1976-Large-3786Though more modern, the fragile Rabbit was not the reliable equal of the old Bug. It lasted only about a decade until it was replaced by other Volkswagen models. But there still were no Beetles sold in the United States.

Then VW showed a prototype of a thing called the New Beetle, with updated attractive styling that resembled the original. It was displayed at the North American International Automobile Show and was an immediate hit. Volkswagen wasted no time in bringing it to market and it lasted until from 1997 to 2010, when it was replaced by a new version simply called the Beetle. That is the car that we mourn now.

Produkte: New Beetle USA Version (1998)
Enter a caption

Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Volkswagen Beetle SE Final Edition two-door convertible.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder; 174 hp, 184 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 1 inch.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 81/7 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,239 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 26/33/29 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $28,190.
  • Price as tested: $30,690.

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

2019_Beetle_Convertible_Final_Edition--8701Photos (c) Volkswagen

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