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2020 Lexus GX460 Luxury: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dashboard

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

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

Second Row

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

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

Cabin Cutaway

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

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

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

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

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Specifications

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

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

Rear 3q RightPhotos (c) Lexus

Attracting Xennials in the 2020 Lexus UX 250h

by Jason Fogelson

I still find it difficult to think about a $40,000 vehicle as “entry level,” but the 2020 Lexus UX 250h is actually that – a doorway into the Lexus family. Lexus says that “UX” stands for “Urban Crossover,” and that the UX was designed to attract a micro-generation of Americans that they call “Xennials.” Xennials were born in the mid-1980s (putting them in their mid-30s now). They were born before the proliferation of smart phones and the internet, but they have come to adulthood in a digital culture. The 25 million American Xennials are connected, and comfortable with tech – so their cars have to be, too.

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UX comes with Apple CarPlay, Lexus+Alexa, Google Assistant, Voice Command and Siri Eyes Free. It gets a seven-inch full color display as standard equipment, upgradable to 10.3 inches when factory navigation is selected. The Lexus Enform Remote app is standard with a three-year trial period, easily loaded on iOS and Android smartphones for access to vehicle information and control functionality. A three-month trial of Lexus Enform Wi-Fi is included. Four USB ports are standard in the cabin, and a QI wireless charging pad is available for just $75. That’s a load of tech, and up-to-the-minute.

When I first explored the UX during a launch event for the 2019 model, I got caught up in the distinction between a crossover and a hatchback. Ultimately, I’ve decided that there is no hard line, and it doesn’t really matter – it’s more marketing talk than it is an actual set of rules or measurements. I’ve always liked hatchbacks better than notchbacks anyway, and I have come to appreciate crossovers more and more as they’ve gotten better to drive and less tied to their SUV roots. UX isn’t concerned with looking rugged, or pretending that it can go off-roading with a flock of Jeeps. It’s right there in the name: Urban Crossover. UX is sized and shaped for the city. It is compact, yet roomy, with 17.1 cubic feet of storage space behind its second row of seats.

Dash

The interior is luxurious, but not overstuffed. It is tasteful, neatly tailored and still comfortable, with a nice material selection and great (Lexus-level) fit and finish. It’s got a Dwell flavor to it, rather than Architectural Digest – younger, more athletic and appropriate to a Xennial audience without pandering or losing the Lexus identity.

As a commuter/urban runaround, UX hybrid has the right powertrain and driving character. First of all, the EPA estimates that the crossover can achieve 41 mpg city/38 mpg highway/39 mpg combined – very respectable. It uses a 2.0- liter four-cylinder naturally aspirated (non-turbo) gasoline engine mated to an electric motor for a combined 181 hp, sent to the front wheels via a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) for maximum efficiency. Lexus estimates 0-60 mph times at 8.6 seconds, which will keep the UX 250h running with traffic, not ahead of it. The CVT can be a little monotonous and drone on the highway, but in everyday driving, it’s fine. Suspension and steering are similarly middle of the road, neither remarkably good nor bad. I wouldn’t want to take a long trip in the UX 250h, but that’s not what it’s built for. On a daily basis, it delivers exactly what it promises – a luxurious, pleasant, connected experience in a stylish, attractive conveyance.

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My test car was a 2020 Lexus UX 250h Luxury Hybrid with a suggested retail price of $39,550 ($43,625 as tested). That’s about 25% higher than the average price of a new car these days. The competition in the luxury compact crossover includes the BMW X2, Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class, Audi Q3, Volvo XC40, Acura RDX, Infiniti QX30, Cadillac XT4, and Land Rover Range Rover Evoque – none of which are hybrids. You also have to include the gasoline-only Lexus UX 200 as a competitor, running about $2,000 less than a similarly equipped UX hybrid.

Will the UX 250h draw Xennials the way Lexus hopes? Possibly. But low fuel prices on one side and increasing availability of EVs on the other side may put the squeeze on this urban contender.

Rear

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

Photos (c) Lexus

 

Palisade: The New Three-Row SUV from Hyundai

by Jason Fogelson

The 2020 Hyundai Palisade is an all-new three-row SUV, replacing the Santa Fe XL with a bigger, more powerful, more luxurious SUV. The new name is intended to connote strength, stability and style in a very competitive segment of the marketplace.

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Built in South Korea for the North American market, the Palisade rides on a new platform, and is longer, wider and taller by about three inches in each dimension than the Santa Fe XL that it replaces, and rides on a 114.2-inch wheelbase (four inches longer than Santa Fe XL). It uses a bigger, more powerful V6 engine and an eight-speed automatic transmission, adding two speeds to Santa Fe XL’s capability. Palisade’s interior is more spacious, including 4.5 additional cubic feet behind the third row and an additional inch of third-row legroom. Hyundai has simplified its packaging for Palisade, with a well-equipped base SE model and loaded Limited model bracketing a more configurable mid-trim SEL model, designed to address both value and aspirational buying trends.

Front 3q Right

My top-of-the-line Limited model test vehicle came a dual sunroof, heated and ventilated captain’s seats in the second row (no bench option), premium Nappa leather seating surfaces, a 630-watt Harmon Kardon premium audio system with 12 speakers, QuantumLogic Surround and Clari-Fi Music Restoration Technology, a 12.3-inch full digital display instrument cluster, a head-up display, surround-view monitor, blind-view monitor, and ambient lighting – all standard equipment on the Limited trim level, in addition to the arm-length list of other standard features and the Hyundai SmartSense safety suite. This sucker was loaded – and all of the features, except for an optional ($160) set of carpeted floor mats.

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Palisade soaks up miles with ease, remaining composed over rough surfaces and cruising nicely when the roads get twisty. Selectable driving modes include Smart, Normal, Sport, and Snow, adjusting front and rear torque distribution, throttle and shift patterns at the turn of a center-console mounted knob. A heavy foot on the gas pedal induces some thrashy noises from the V6, which is otherwise quiet and smooth. Handling is smooth and composed, and Palisade exuded competence in all situations it faced. It’s really a pleasure to drive, and would make a great family road trip vehicle.

Engine

All Palisade models come with a naturally aspirated (non-turbo) 3.8-liter V6 engine with gasoline direct injection and four valves per cylinder with variable valve timing. Running on the Atkinson Cycle, the V6 puts out 291 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque. An eight-speed shift-by-wire automatic transmission with front-wheel drive or available all-wheel drive puts the power to the ground. Front-wheel drive examples of Palisade are rated to achieve 19 mpg city/26 mpg highway/22 mpg combined, while my all-wheel drive model was rated to achieve 19 mpg city/24 mpg highway/21 mpg combined.

Dash

Palisade is available in three trim levels: SE (starting at $31,550 with FWD, $33,250 with AWD); SEL (starting at $33,500 with FWD, $35,200 with AWD); and Limited (starting at $44,700, $46,400 with AWD). Add $1,045 to each for freight charges. A $2,200 Convenience Package and a $2,400 Performance Package can be added to SEL models, along with some standalone options. My test vehicle was a 2020 Palisade Limited AWD with a list price of $46,400, and an as-tested sticker price of $47,605.

Second RowThe three-row crossover SUV category is very well-stocked right now, including fresh entries like the Ford Explorer, Subaru Ascent, Volkswagen Atlas, and Toyota Highlander. The Mazda CX-9, Honda Pilot, Nissan Pathfinder, GMC Acadia, Chevrolet Traverse, Buick Enclave are also worth consideration. And don’t forget the Kia Telluride, which shares a platform (but no sheet metal) with the Palisade.

Third Row

The 2020 Hyundai Palisade is an elegant, competent, mid-size three-row crossover SUV that is a worthy successor to the Santa Fe XL. If you’re in the market for a new family vehicle, add the Palisade to your list for consideration.

Cargo

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

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Photos (c) Hyundai

2020 Honda Civic Sport Touring: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Anyone who thinks that the sales-surging crossover sport utility vehicles have ripped the wheels off hatchbacks should take a look at the 2020 Honda Civic Sport Touring.

Though hatchbacks, as well as station wagons, have been disrespected over time by U.S. buyers, there still are a number of very good and relatively popular examples available. Moreover, there still exists a cadre of customers who recognize the advantages they offer over traditional sedans with trunks.

Front 3q Left

That’s certainly the case with the Honda Civic, which currently is the biggest selling compact automobile in the United States, with 430,248 total sales in 2019 and through May of 2020. Of that number 22% were hatchbacks — a total of 94,655 — certainly a respectable showing.

The big news in recent years, if you haven’t noticed, is the insurgent takeover of the vehicle marketplace by crossovers, which essentially are tall hatchbacks — often, but not always, with optional all-wheel drive.

Front 3q Right

They are distinguished from SUVs because they usually have unit bodies, built like automobiles, instead of using body-on-frame construction like pickup trucks. (Of course, in the olden days even cars were built with bodies dropped onto frames).

Different manufacturers at various times in the late 20th and early 21st centuries tried marketing new station wagons and hatchbacks to U.S. buyers, usually without much success as motorists stuck to traditional sedans, big wagons and minivans. Then SUVs showed up and became popular, led by Jeeps and the Ford Explorer.

2017 Honda Civic Hatchback Sport Touring

So the manufacturers finessed the situation. They built competing SUVs, then redesigned hatchbacks and wagons, jacked them up somewhat for a taller profile and baptized them as crossovers. Subaru, for example, which did not have a truck-based SUV, simply elevated its Legacy station wagon for more ground clearance and created the popular Outback, later joined by the dedicated crossovers Forester and Crosstrek.

Honda joined the crossover revolution with its compact CR-V, midsize Passport and three-row Pilot. The Accord started out as a wildly sought-after two-door hatchback in 1976 but morphed into a conventional sedan and, at various points, a station wagon and the Crosstour hatchback, both of which ran into a ditch of buyer indifference.

Dash

The Civic soldiered on and expanded its reach and popularity, now with a lineup of sedans and coupes with performance Si versions of each, as well as the hatchback Type R, a paragon of performance offered only with a six-speed manual gearbox for dedicated enthusiasts.

The thing is, you can get some of the Type R kicks without paying its current $37,255 price. That’s where the tested 2020 Civic Sport Touring Hatchback comes in. Sure, the Type R has a 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo motor that delivers 306 hp and 225 lb-ft of torque.

Center Stack

There are not many places short of a racetrack where you can put that sort of power to the pavement and be held harmless. But you can spend $7,475 less for a $29,780 Civic Sport Touring, with a 180-hp, 1.5-liter turbo that delivers 162 or 177 lb-ft of torque and find almost as much joy behind the wheel on the public roads.

The conundrum for this review is that the tested Sport Touring came with Honda’s continuously-variable automatic transmission (CVT), which uses belts and pulleys to multiply its engine’s162 lb-ft of torque. Though it has a computerized manual-shifting mode with steering-wheel paddles that mimics a seven-speed manual, it is nowhere near as entertaining as the six-speed manual gearbox, which by the way gets the engine with 177 lb-ft of torque.

Center Console

Most customers, however, likely will be happy with the CVT, which goes about its shifting duties unobtrusively and without hiccups. In manual mode, you can hold selected gears on hilly and twisting roads, though the computerized system doesn’t totally trust the driver. If you don’t select the correct gear, it simply shifts for you.

The Sport Touring is no Type R, but is satisfying and comfortable to drive, though the preference here would be for the six-speed manual gearbox. The front seats are supportive with good seatback bolstering to hold the torso in hard cornering. In back, there’s head- and knee-room for two, though the center-rear passenger contends with a big floor hump and a hard perch.

Second Row

The hatchback advantage shows up behind the rear seats. There’s 23 cubic feet of space for cargo (compared to 15 cubic feet in the Civic sedan’s trunk). A clever sideways-sliding shade hides the cargo and the space grows to 46 cubic feet if you fold the rear seatbacks.

CargoSpecifications

  • Model: 2020 Honda Civic 1.5T Sport Touring four-door hatchback.
  • Engine: 1.5-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 180 hp, 162 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously-variable automatic with manual-shift mode.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 10 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 95/23 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,012 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 29/35/32 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $29,780.
  • Price as tested: $29,780.

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

2018 Honda Civic Hatchback

Photos (c) Honda

2020 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is the Underdog Hybrid

by Jason Fogelson

Every time I spend time in a Mitsubishi, I emerge perplexed. I pride myself on my ability to put aside my preconceived notions, and evaluate each vehicle I drive on its own merits. I don’t worry about brand, or market position, or any other external factor until I have given the vehicle a fair shake. That’s why the 2020 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV GT S-AWC that I drove recently left me in a cloud.

2019 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

On paper, Outlander PHEV should be a winner. It has a long list of impressive standard features, from comfort and convenience to safety and performance. It has a sophisticated hybrid gasoline/electric drivetrain that uses a 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine and a pair of electric motors, one on each axle for all-wheel drive. The EPA rates it at 74 mpg-e combined city/highway in hybrid operation, and 25 mpg in gasoline-only. It comes with a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty, 5-year/60,000-mile basic warranty, 7-year/100,000-mile anti-corrosion/perforation warranty and 5 years/unlimited miles of roadside assistance.

2019 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

Outlander’s 12 kWh Lithium-ion battery pack can be charged from empty in 8.0 to 13.0 hours at 120 volts, 3.4 hours at 240 volts, or up to 80% charge in as little as 25 minutes via its built-in  CHAdeMO DC Fastcharge port. EV range is estimated at 22 miles. Outlander PHEV gets a five-star overall vehicle safety rating from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.

With a suggested list price of $41,495 ($43,600 as tested), Outlander PHEV currently qualifies for a $5,836 Federal tax credit, and may qualify for state and local credits as well, depending on where you live.

2019 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

So, why was I perplexed?

It seems like Outlander PHEV is just what people are looking for – a stylish, efficient PHEV two-row SUV with tons of extras. There isn’t a lot of direct competition in the price range yet. There are plenty of hybrids, but not plug-in hybrids.

I can only guess that Mitsubishi’s struggles in the United States over the past decade or more have sapped buyer confidence. Mitsubishi has been expending great effort to rebuild its dealer network, and that will help.

2019 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

Additionally, Mitsubishi has been caught up in the debacle of Carlos Ghosn’s dethroning and flight from the Nissan-Renault-Mitsubishi Alliance, which Mitsubishi had only recently joined. Until those webs are untangled, uncertainty reigns over all three of the aligned companies.

2019 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

But I wasn’t thinking about that history while I was driving the Outlander PHEV. I was feeling the vehicle around me, and it didn’t have the rock-solid feel that I like in an SUV. In the process of designing an efficient SUV that is relatively light for its size at 4,222 lbs, Mitsubishi came up with an SUV that feels a little flimsy to me. The doors don’t close with a solid “thunk;” the touchpoints feel a little hollow. And despite that, the gasoline engine is a bit anemic at 117 hp and 137 lb-ft of torque. Hook that up to a single-speed gear box, and you’ve got a powertrain that sounds like it’s straining off the line.

Mitsubishi is definitely an underdog right now, and Outlander PHEV is arguably their flagship model. As much as I’m inclined to root for the underdog, I can’t recommend the 2020 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV GT S-AWC.

2019 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

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

2019 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

Photos (c) Mitsubishi

2020 Mercedes-AMG CLA35 4MATIC: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

With its tongue-twisting moniker of 2020 Mercedes-AMG CLA35 4MATIC, this new four-door coupe heralds what Mercedes-Benz calls a new era of “dynamic and awe-inspiring vehicles” from its high performance division.

As most Mercedes enthusiasts know, Mercedes-AMG is the company’s hot rod arm. It originally was an independent company that modified and tuned existing vehicles from the German manufacturer, including race car engines, to squeeze out and enhance every dollop of speed and excitement available.

Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 4MATIC (2019)

The two eventually signed cooperative agreements to take advantage of Daimler Benz’s world-wide reach and, in 2005, AMG became part of the Daimler empire, named Mercedes-AMG.

Mercedes is a luxury/performance brand, so you could view Mercedes-AMG as an ultra-luxury/super-performance brand, as attested  to by the higher prices of Mercedes vehicles that carry the AMG escutcheon.

Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 4MATIC (2019)

The company says the new CLA35 is the first of half a dozen upcoming new AMG vehicles in varying body styles and performance parameters that will function as gateways to the Mercedes-AMG brand.

So it’s likely no surprise that the AMG CLA35 four-door makes its debut at the entry level of a car that, in the version tested here, tips the money scales at $65,765. No way can it be considered as an automotive dog door.

Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 4MATIC (2019)

It is called a coupe according the current notion that low-slung, streamlined cars can use the description regardless of whether they have two or four doors. In the AMG lineup, it is an opening bet — classified as a subcompact by the U.S. government, with 89 cubic feet of space for passengers and a trunk of 12 cubic feet. That’s smaller than a Nissan Versa or Hyundai Accent.

Still, it’s decently accommodating for four. The front seats are supportive and comfortable, though back support is intrusive. In back, there’s knee-and head-room for average-sized adults in the outboard seats, although narrow lower door openings make it difficult to enter and exit. There’s a seatbelt, but forget the hard and cramped center-rear position.

Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 4MATIC (2019)

The AMG CLA35 is not about spacious comfort. It’s a sports sedan, powered by a 302-hp, turbocharged 2.0-liter four cylinder engine that develops 295 lb-ft of torque, delivered to all four wheels through a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission with manual shifting via steering-wheel paddles. Zero-to-60-mph acceleration is rated at 4.6 seconds with a top speed of 155 mph.

If you try anything close to that, things get raucous. Though the AMG CLA35 is an exciting car to drive, it’s also very noisy. Unless the road is pool-table smooth with asphalt paving, the road noise announces itself rudely at freeway speeds. It’s as if the AMG engineers had stripped out  the sound-deadening insulation to lop a few tenths of a second off the race track lap time.

Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 4MATIC (2019)

On curving roads, the tires grab the road surface, and the supple suspension system and accurate steering keep the AMG CLA35 planted with almost no body lean. It’s a bit of a different story in modest driving on urban streets and freeways, where the aggressive lane-keeping assist and collision avoidance systems combine to deliver enough hiccups to warrant constant driver attention.

As with many European cars these days, which have to contend with nosebleed gasoline prices, the AMG CLA35 comes with an idle stop-start system, which chokes off the engine at stoplights and re-starts when you lift of the brake.

Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 4MATIC (2019)

It’s OK if you’re just noodling around but if you like to get a jump off the line, it’s annoying. On the AMG CLA35 it can be turned off but sometimes there’s still a bit of a hesitation as the turbocharger spools up. Sometimes you can’t win.

Like every modern vehicle, this sports sedan makes every effort to satisfy the techies among us. There are five driver-selectable driving modes that use computer software to modify engine, transmission, steering and exhaust system settings. On some models — not the test vehicle — you can change the settings with optional steering-wheel buttons while keeping your hands on the wheel.

Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 4MATIC (2019)

The 2020 AMG CLA35 also comes with a state-of-the-art infotainment system with voice activation (“Hey, Mercedes”) and touch screen capability. It enables the driver to change the look — and information displayed — on the instrument panel.

Truth be told, there are not many subcompact sedan/coupes that could keep up wheel-to-wheel with this Mercedes-AMG. However, one scintillating, more than worthy competitor is the German subcompact four-door with another kinky name: the Audi RS3 2.5T Quattro S tronic. Sweet.

Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 4MATIC (2019)

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Mercedes-AMG CLA35 4MATIC four-door coupe.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 302 hp, 295 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Seven-speed twin-clutch automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 5 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/trunk volume: 89/12 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,505 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 23/29/25 mpg. Premium fuel.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $47,895.
  • Price as tested: $65,765.

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

Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 4MATIC (2019)

Photos (c) Mercedes-Benz

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

by Jason Fogelson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos (c) Mercedes-Benz

2020 Volvo V60 T5 AWD Cross Country: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

So smitten are American motorists with sport utility vehicles and crossovers it’s a wonder that a smart station wagon like the Volvo V60 Cross Country is even offered on these shores.

It helps that it’s an all-wheel drive version of the midsize V60 wagon, which attracts customers in snow and ice country. Also plotting against its own creation, Sweden’s Volvo also offers a comprehensive lineup of tall crossover SUVs more palatable to current Yankee tastes.

New Care by Volvo Additions

At one time, station wagons — especially the big ones — ruled the family roosts. Ours was a 1970 Chevrolet Kingswood Estate with applique wood-grain doors and fenders, three rows of seats with the third row facing backward, a 400-cubic-inch (6.6-liter) V8 engine with 265 hp mated to a three-speed automatic transmission, and rear-wheel drive.

It was 18 feet long, weighed 462 lbs more than two tons, got 11 mpg (14 if you feather-footed it on the highway), but gasoline was around 36 cents a gallon, similar to the 2020 pandemic price of $1.75 in some places.

MY2020 Volvo Model Program - Banff Location

The Chevy was ideal for a family with four kids under 10 years old who traveled 800 miles back and forth between Washington, D.C., and Milwaukee, Wis. Pile all the stuff on the top carrier in a waterproof cargo storage bag, flop the rear seatbacks flat, and toss in blankets and pillows. Put the kids in pajamas, scold them for arguing until they fall asleep and drive all night.

That was life on vacations and travel, and it worked dandy for multitudes of families in the days before you’d get arrested for not strapping the kids in car seats. But the thirsty big wagons soon fell out of favor and sport utility vehicles started encroaching in the 1990s. Now SUVs and their tall car-based crossover companions are the hottest sellers in the market, taking over not only from wagons but sedans as well.

New Volvo V60 Cross Country exterior

It’s mainly an American phenomenon. Station wagons like the tested Volvo with the tongue-twisting name of V60 T5 AWD Cross Country are popular in other parts of the world, particularly in Europe, where wagons often are regarded as upgrades from sedans.

Volvo would not need such a long title for its wagon because the V60 T5 AWD is the only Cross Country model sold in the U.S. It’s a midsize by the U.S. government’s definition with 93 cubic feet of space for passengers and 19 cubic feet for cargo behind the second row seat.

New Volvo V60 Cross Country interior

That’s shy of what you get in the XC60 crossover, which is taller and more powerful with 100 cubic feet for passengers and 30 cubic feet for cargo. But it’s also more expensive, heavier and craves premium gasoline.

The tested V60 T5 comes with Volvo’s ubiquitous 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. In this application, it makes 250 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, delivered to all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission that can be manually shifted.

New Volvo V60 Cross Country interior

There are four driver-selectable drive modes: eco, comfort, dynamic and off-road. The last activates the new hill-descent control and alters the computer programming for the all-wheel drive. To enhance its modest off-road capability, the Cross Country has been jacked up on its suspension system by about three inches. However, this is not a vehicle for serious bashing back country bashing.

The advantage of a wagon over a crossover is maneuverability, although differences are becoming narrower with more sophisticated suspension system tuning. But the V60 Cross Country handles more like a sedan, with a lower center of gravity. However, the suspension is biased toward handling so the ride in some circumstances is a bit choppy.

New Volvo V60 Cross Country interior

The eight-speed automatic transmission shifts crisply, though it occasionally gets a bit confused by hiccups from the turbo engine in automatic drive. If you’re in a hurry on a twisting road, best to shift manually in dynamic or comfort mode.

As with most Volvos, the interior is beautifully designed, with supportive seats front and rear. But center-rear seat comfort is compromised by a large floor hump.

2020 Volvo V60 Cross Country - Banff

The infotainment center screen, which requires swipes as well as touches, gets fussy but practice helps. One complaint: the sunshade for the panoramic glass sunroof is made of perforated cloth, which allows too much intrusion of sunlight.

The V60 Cross Country comes equipped with most everything found on a premium European automobile. It starts at $46,095, including the destination charge. As tested here, the bottom line came to $56,990.

2020 Volvo V60 Cross Country - Banff

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Volvo V60 T5 AWD Cross Country four-door station wagon.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 250 hp, 258 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 93/19 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,950 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 22/31/25 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $46,095.
  • Price as tested: $56,990.

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

New Volvo V60 Cross Country exterior

Photos (c) Volvo

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

by Jason Fogelson

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

New Care by Volvo Additions

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

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

2020 Volvo XC60 - Banff

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

2020 Volvo XC90-R - Banff

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

2020 Volvo XC90 - Banff

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

2020 Volvo XC90 - Banff

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

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

2020 Volvo XC90-R - Banff

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

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

Photos (c) Volvo

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