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performance sedans

2020 Toyota Avalon TRD: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Wait. Hold on. Toyota’s Racing Development team took the 2020 Avalon and massaged it for better performance? That Avalon? The one they used to call Toyota’s Buick?

Turns out it’s true. But they took the new Avalon TRD only part of the way. It has a host of suspension and tire modifications, as well as extra body braces, an earthy exhaust sound and lots of snazzy interior and exterior visual enhancements. But the engine and transmission are the same as in other Avalon models.

20_AvalonTRD_CelestialSilverMetallic_002That’s actually not shabby because the Avalon’s standard power plant is a 301-hp, 3.5-liter V6 that develops 267 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force, enough to propel it to 60 mph in about six seconds.

The Avalon has come a long way since its introduction in 1995 as Toyota’s flagship. For years, a main distinguishing characteristic was that it was one of the few sedans anywhere that could seat three adults comfortably in the back seat, thanks to a flat floor and a real center-row seat.

It was classified as a large car by the federal government, defined by the EPA as an automobile with 120 cubic feet or more of interior volume, which includes the passenger and trunk space.

20_AvalonTRD_CelestialSilverMetallic_001In 2013, the Avalon joined the masses when was downsized to its current state as a midsize car with a center-rear seat that featured a small, uncomfortable seat cushion and a big floor hump — pretty much like almost every other car, and even some SUVs, on the market. It continues in that configuration for 2020, now barely larger than its popular — and lower-priced — sibling, the Toyota Camry.

The 2020 Avalon TRD, with 119 cubic feet divided into 103 for passengers with a trunk of 16 cubic feet, misses the large car mark by just one cubic foot, though Toyota markets it as a full-size automobile. The Camry is close as well, with 114 cubic feet, divided into 99 for passengers and 15 cubic feet in the trunk.

20_AvalonTRD_SupersonicRed_002The TRD is not the most expensive Avalon. Its base price of $43,255, including the destination charge, slots it beneath the more luxury-oriented Touring trim line. The tested TRD, with options that included a navigation system and a high-performance JBL audio system with 14 speakers, checked in at $45,410.

Full safety equipment is standard, including pre-collision braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive radar cruise control, lane departure warning with steering assist, blind spot monitoring, automatic headlight high beams and rear cross-traffic alert.

It takes only a glance to discern the Avalon TRD’s intention to  advertise its performance personality. The grille is huge, black and menacing, and the lightweight 19-inch alloy wheels are painted black with red brake calipers showing through.

20_CamryTRD_Interior_005The theme carries through inside with black leather upholstery trimmed in bright red. There’s red stitching on the steering wheel, TRD emblems embossed on the headrests and the floor mats, and bright red seatbelts — standard equipment here but on some other sporting cars — a Porsche, say — would be an extra-cost option costing hundreds of dollars.

There are eight-way powered and heated front seats with lumbar support on the driver’s side; seat memory settings, automatic climate control, SXM satellite radio, hands-free Bluetooth connectivity, Apple CarPlay and wireless smart phone charging.

20_AvalonTRD_Interior_003Front seats are a bit flat, with little bolstering, but nevertheless are supportive and comfortable. The outboard back seats deliver ample head and knee room, with decent comfort, although that center-rear seat — well, you know.

Out back, the truck is large, and well-shaped and finished. One negative: The large, C-shaped trunk hinges are not isolated or protected and could damage contents in a fully loaded trunk.

20_AvalonTRD_Interior_001Despite the TRD’s lack of engine modifications, the Avalon TRD is a stellar performer. The horsepower, torque and braking are more than adequate in the push, pull and rapid lane-changing of modern clogged freeway traffic, and the eight-speed automatic responds quickly to throttle inputs. There are paddles to manually shift but not worth the bother in traffic. Better to save manual shifting to hold gears on twisting mountain roads.

Despite its midsize rating, the Avalon’s length of 16 feet 4 inches has the look of a big car. But it epitomizes the old adage that a small car should drive big and a big car drive small. Its strong suit is small-car quick handling.

Except for the intentional raucous exhaust sounds, especially under hard acceleration, the Avalon TRD cruises serenely with a somewhat stiff but supple ride.

20_AvalonTRD_SupersonicRed_001Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Toyota Avalon TRD four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 3.5-liter V6; 301 hp, 267 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual shift mode and front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 4 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 103/16 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,700 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 22/31/25 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $43,255.
  • Price as tested: $45,410.

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

20_AvalonTRD_CelestialSilverMetallic_0031Photos (c) Toyota

 

2018 Audi S5 Sportback 3.0 quattro: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

President Trump’s rejoinder to North Korea’s Kim Jong-un that he has a bigger button illustrates the reason why we will always have cars like the 2018 Audi S5 Sportback.

With Trump, it was all about the superior U.S. nuclear arsenal; with Audi it’s about engine dominance and performance. No matter what, especially among luxury makes, vehicle manufacturers surely will market more powerful versions of perfectly capable cars, crossover SUVs and trucks.

2018 Audi S5 Sportback

In the Audi lineup, there are A cars and S cars, even RS cars, as well as Q and SQ crossovers. Over at BMW, there are extra-powerful M models, and at Mercedes-Benz they are labeled AMG, a company that once was an independent performance tuner of Mercedes cars but now is part of the company.

Similarly, In the U.S. there are SRT, R/T, Scat Pack and Hellcat versions of various Dodge Challengers and Chargers, along with GT and Bullitt Ford Mustangs, Cadillac V performance models, Chevrolet Corvette Z06 and ZL1, and Camaro SS and ZL1 versions.

You get the picture, which is to stretch the boundaries in automotive design and performance, while also maximizing buyer devotion and profits—this in spite of choking traffic and near-universal speed limits that thwart any actual performance driving desires.

Audi is particularly adept at the dance with over 30 distinct versions of sedans, crossovers, sport hatchbacks, coupes, convertibles and sports cars. And more are on the way.

2018 Audi S5 Sportback

The A5 Sportback and its more powerful sibling, the S5, are particularly welcome because they punctuate a return to an automotive design that was once popular but faded away. That was the so-called torpedo body, used on various cars in the early 20thcentury but most familiar on cars like the Tucker ’48 and the 1941 Buick, where the roofline was an unbroken sweep from the windshield header to the rear bumper.

At Audi, the design is called a Sportback, and it also incorporates a hatchback body that doesn’t look like one. American buyers never developed much affection for hatchbacks that looked like small station wagons, although that changed when manufacturers jacked them up a bit, added all-wheel drive in some cases and called them crossover SUVs.

The advantage of Sportbacks like the Audi A5 and S5 is utility. Plus, they don’t look like station wagons. They have cargo areas of 22 cubic feet, which expands to 35 cubic feet if you fold the rear seatbacks. As a sedan with a typical trunk, the cargo volume could be as little as 12 cubic feet in the same size car.

2018 Audi S5 Sportback

With a 252-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine connected to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission and all-wheel drive, the A5 should provide plenty of driving thrills for almost any motorist. It has a starting price of $43,575.

If that’s not a fit, any enthusiast can plunk down an additional $11,800 for the tested S5 Sportback 3.0 quattro Tiptronic. Yes, that’s its official title. As indicated, it comes with a turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 engine that makes 354 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque, transferred to all four wheels through an eight-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission with manual-shifting paddles.

The tested S5’s price started at $55,375 and, with options, ended up at $63,975. For that, you get a midsize rocket that will surge from rest to 60 mph in 4.3 seconds with a governed top speed of 155 mph, according to Audi — and there’s no reason to question the claim.

2018 Audi S5 Sportback

The S5 comes with five drive modes that can be selected with the touch of a button: Efficiency, Comfort, Dynamic, Auto and Individual. They customize engine, transmission, steering and suspension settings to suit the driver’s mood and conditions. For example, Efficiency enhances fuel economy during sedate cruising while Dynamic is the choice for fast driving on curving mountain roads.

Though the tester came with $8,600 worth of options, they did not include the $1,800 Audi driver assistance package, which covers such items as adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist and automatic headlight high beams. It did have pre-collision sensing and other safety equipment.

There’s a seatbelt for a third passenger in back, but the seat is hard and compromised by a huge floor hump and center console.

The S5 has one of those oddball shifters that require a push on a button for “park.” If you push the shifter forward it lands in reverse. Happily, it automatically goes into “park” when you shut off the engine.

2018 Audi S5 Sportback

Specifications

  • Model: 2018 Audi S5 Sportback 3.0 quattro Tiptronic four-door hatchback sedan.
  • Engine: 3.0-liter V6, turbocharged; 354 hp, 369 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 7 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 93/22 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,015 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 21/30/24 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $55,375.
  • Price as tested: $63,975.

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

2018 Audi S5 Sportback

Photos (c) Audi

2018 Mercedes-Benz AMG E43: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Everybody needs a hug sometimes, but the 2018 Mercedes-Benz AMG E43 embraces you every time you drive it.

The E43 is a version of the Mercedes E-Class, enhanced by AMG, the company’s high-performance engineering division. It comes only as a four-door sedan with all-wheel drive and a nine-speed automatic transmission that can be shifted manually.

With its 396-hp, 3.0-liter V6 engine, boosted with twin turbochargers, it makes 384 lb-ft of torque to scoot to 60 mph in slightly more than four seconds. Top speed is limited at 131 mph.

2017 AMG E43 Sedan

Even at that, it is not the hottest Mercedes E-Class. It slots between the 241-hp E300 and the faster 603-hp AMG E63 S.

Completing the E43’s performance package are precise steering with a hefty feel, an air suspension system and, on the tested model, 20-inch alloy wheels with sticky performance tires.

Hugging is one feature of the multi-endowed drivers’ seat, upholstered in black Nappa leather with red stitching and red seatbelts. When you hustle around corners and curves, even at modest speeds, sensors activate the seatback bolsters. Turn right and the left-side bolster pushes against the torso. Turn left and the right-side bolster activates.

2017 AMG E43 Sedan

It’s a weird sensation at first but it soon becomes a friendly assistant and you look forward to it. It can be deactivated if you choose and other adjustments can be made to suit your seating preferences.

The E43 exhibits multiple personalities. At light throttle inputs around urban areas, it is as effortless as a comfort-oriented luxury car. Enriching the experience is an optional ($1,100) acoustic comfort package that includes additional cabin insulation, and windshield and side glass with acoustic and heat-absorbing membranes.

Punch the throttle, and the turbo V6 lights up instantly and presses you into the seatback. Yet even under full-scream acceleration the sounds are muted and musical, never assaulting the eardrums.

2017 AMG E43 Sedan

The nine-speed automatic transmission shifts quickly and smoothly, always appearing to select the correct gear for the circumstances. You can shift it manually with paddles on the steering wheel but the Mercedes engineers don’t trust you. If the onboard computer decides it’s time to shift, the transmission shifts no matter what gear you’ve selected.

Overall, the AMG E43 drives and feels smaller than earlier E-Class cars, and it is. With a total of 111 cubic feet of interior volume — 98 for passengers and 13 for cargo in the trunk — the E43 barely squeaks into the midsize category. As defined by the federal government, the midsize class starts at 110 cubic feet of interior volume.

There’s plenty of room and comfort for the driver and front passenger but the outboard back seats are barely adequate for average-sized humans. The center-rear position is compromised by a hard bottom cushion and large floor hump. A fold-down center armrest, with flimsy and hard to use cup holders, divides the outboard seats.

2017 AMG E43 Sedan

Bucking a trend in luxury cars, the E43’s motorized glass sunroof shade is opaque except for a few small louvers to admit light. Many other luxury cars these days use shades made of a sort of perforated cheesecloth that admit too much sunlight.

Door-mounted power seat controls continue as a stubborn Mercedes-Benz feature despite the fact that they are awkward to use compared to the intuitive controls on the sides of the front seats in most other cars.

The 2018 AMG E43 comes with a starting price of $72,595, slightly lower than the nearly identical 2017 model. With $18,350 worth of options, the test car had a bottom-line sticker price $90,945, so this is not a machine for the masses. On the test car, options included a $4,550 Burmester High-End 3D surround sound system.

2017 AMG E43 Sedan

Standard and enhanced safety equipment included active emergency braking and crosswind assist, LED headlights and taillights, a predictive occupant protection system, blind-spot warning, adaptive headlights, Distronic adaptive cruise control, active lane-keeping and steering assist, an around-view rear camera, and a head-up display.

One welcome safety feature: If the driver inadvertently stops the engine while the transmission is still in the Drive mode, the transmission instantly shifts into Park, preventing the car from rolling away.

Given its price tag, the AMG E43 obviously is not a car for everyone. But for those who can afford either the cash or long-term payments, it delivers a triple play: family sedan with room for four or occasionally five; athletic sports car, and comfortable, quiet and luxurious town car.

2017 AMG E43 Sedan

Specifications

  • Model: Mercedes-Benz AMG E43 four-door sedan.
  • Engine:0-liter V6, twin turbochargers, 396 hp, 384 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 3 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 98/13 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,290 pounds
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 18/25/21 mpg on premium gasoline.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $72,595.
  • Price as tested: $90,945.

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

2017 AMG E43 Sedan

Photos (c) Mercedes-Benz.

2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Talk about polar opposites. The 2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia is everything its previously introduced garage-mate, the 4C, is not.

First, however, we must stipulate that the two models from the storied Italian manufacturer share one thing: gorgeous styling. Italian designers always have had a flair for sensuous curves.

Beyond that the two cars are way different. The 4C is a two-seat, rear-drive sports coupe or convertible that fills the cabin with raucous noise, rides hard, is strenuous to enter and exit, with manual steering that delivers darting handling, and no amenities like pushbutton starting or cruise control.

2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia Ti

Yet despite its near $70,000 price tag, it is loved by some enthusiasts for its looks and performance on smooth racetracks.

The new Giulia—at least in the top-line Quadrifoglio trim, could not be more different. It is the essence of sophistication and stirring performance: a four-door sports sedan in the mold of the BMW M3, Cadillac ATS-V and Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG.

Alfa Romeo, part of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, is attempting a comeback after more than two decades absent from the U.S. market. It started with 4C and now brings the Giulia, which is being offered in two versions: the $38,990 standard and the tested Quadrifoglio, which starts at $73,595.

2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia Ti

For those who care about translations, Giulia is Italian for Julia and Quadrifoglio means four-leaf clover. You can’t miss the big green clover emblem on the flanks of the front fenders. Alfa stands for Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili, which translates into Lombard Automobile Factory, Public Company, which was founded in 1910.

The main distinguishing characteristic of the Quadrifoglio is its refinement. Slide into its well-bolstered driver’s seat, which hugs the torso for spirited high-speed driving around curves, slip it into gear in the normal driving mode and you can traipse about town as if you were lazily cruising in a Hyunda Elantra, Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla.

But just forward of your feet lurks explosive power from a 505-horsepower V6 engine with twin turbochargers that delivers 443 pound-feet of torque to the rear wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission. It can be manually shifted with two giant paddles mounted on the steering column—not the wheel itself—so you always know where they are.

2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia

That means you can, as they used to say, suck the doors off almost anything on the road in a drag race. Top speed, according to the company, is 191 miles an hour, and Car and Driver Magazine, in an instrumented test, clocked the acceleration time to 60 miles an hour in 3.6 seconds.

However, that’s under test conditions where the driver gets the turbochargers spooled up before punching the throttle. If you simply floor it away from a stop sign, there’s hesitation as the engine re-starts from the stop-start system and the turbo power lags. It helps to switch off the stop-start.

2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia (European spec)The Quadrifoglio manages speed runs with aplomb and crackling exhaust sounds—music to the ears of any enthusiast. There are four driver-selectable modes—Dynamic, Natural, Advanced, Efficiency and Race—that customize performance parameters, including transmission shift points, steering response and suspension settings. They are augmented by a rear differential that incorporates torque vectoring to enhance sharp handling on curves.

It wouldn’t do to have the rapid acceleration and highway speeds without a way to arrest them so the Quadrifoglio stops with authority. Though the disc brakes are superb, track-bound aficionados likely will order the optional $5,500 fade-minimizing carbon ceramic brakes.

2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia (European spec)Despite its Italian flair, the tested Quadrifoglio displayed a few shortcomings. The interior was thoughtfully designed but the knobs and buttons looked as if they had been copied from an economy car. The buttons on the outside door handles for keyless entry did not work and the lane departure warnings sounded as if someone were loudly burping or gassing through a megaphone.

The Giulia is a quiet long-distance cruiser with relaxed straight-line steering that requires few corrections. Comfort is first rate for the driver and up front passenger. Though the outboard back seats have decent head room, knee room is in short supply and, as usual in most cars, the center-rear seat should be studiously avoided.

With an overall length of 15 feet 3 inches and a total of 107 cubic feet of interior space—13 cubic feet of that in the trunk—the Giulia is classified by the U.S. government as a compact car. Regardless of the numbers, it is right-sized for exciting sports sedan duty.

2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia Ti

Specifications

  • Model: 2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio four-door sedan.
  • Engine:9-liter V6, twin turbochargers, 505 hp, 443 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual-shift mode.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 3 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 94/13 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,822 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 17/24/20 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $73,595.
  • Price as tested: $79,195.

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

2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia Ti

Photos (c) FCA

2017 Mazda6 Grand Touring: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Faced with stiff competition and an onslaught by crossover sport utility vehicles, the 2017 Mazda6 perseveres as a solid choice for anyone who values driving enjoyment along with the traditional virtues of a midsize four-door sedan.

The Mazda6 enjoys a reputation for reliability and, in the current climate, you might even add exclusivity. Among the 10 best-selling midsize sedans, it ranks last behind the Subaru Legacy and Volkswagen Passat.

2016_mazda6_1-1024x683In 2016, the Mazda6 garnered 45,520 sales, about 12% of the 388,618 sales of the Toyota Camry, the leader in the United States. Second and third were the Honda Accord (345,225) and Nissan Altima (307,380). The Legacy finished with 65,306 sold, while the Passat managed 73,002 even with the scandal about Volkswagen cheating on emissions tests with its now discontinued diesel engines.

Interestingly, Mazda has confirmed that it will offer a 2.2-liter four-cylinder diesel engine in its 2017 CX-5 compact crossover SUV. There was no indication of whether it would also be offered in other models like the Mazda6.

mazda6_09_297-1024x683The 2017 Mazd6 has one power plant for three trim levels: Sport, Touring and the version tested for this review, the Grand Touring. It is a 184 horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that delivers 185 pound-feet of torque.

A six-speed manual gearbox is standard on the Sport and Touring models with a six-speed automatic transmission optional. The Grand Touring comes with the six-speed automatic, which has a manual-shift mode operated by paddles on the steering wheel.

Mazda6 prices start at $23,845, including the destination charge, for the Sport model, which comes with a decent level of equipment: 17-inch alloy wheels, air conditioning, comfortable cloth upholstery, audio system with Bluetooth streaming, Mazda Connect infotainment with voice control, high definition radio, cruise control, rear camera, remote locking and electronic parking brake.

2016_mazda6_19-1024x690The Touring model, at $26,145, adds 19-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone automatic climate control, leatherette trimmed cloth seats, six-way power driver’s seat, seven-inch touch screen, blind spot warning, pushbutton starting, rear cross-traffic alert, rain-sensing windshield wipers and Mazda’s smart city brake support. The last operates under 20 mph and automatically applies the brakes to stop the car if a laser detects an imminent collision.

The Grand Touring version has all that, along with adaptive radar cruise control, lane keeping assist, rear cross-traffic alert, a motorized glass sunroof, rear trunk-mounted spoiler, fog lights, heated outside mirrors with auto-dimming on the inside and driver’s side mirrors, navigation system, head-up display that shows a variety of functions, including the current speed limit, leather upholstery, and eight-way power driver’s seat with six-way power for the front passenger.

2016_mazda6_28-1024x683With options, the test car had a $34,395 price tag. It starts at $32,595. That’s a couple of thousand dollars less than the average price of a new vehicle these days.

The Mazda6 takes full advantage of the company’s SkyActiv technology, a term that was confusing to some onlookers at first but is become more well known. It’s a philosophy that takes a holistic approach to designing a vehicle, examining every aspect to ensure that it contributes to overall performance. An extreme example: it takes a few ounces out of the inside rearview mirror as a contribution to overall weight reduction.

Immediately apparent on a test drive is the Mazda6’s supple suspension system, which has an uncanny knack for soaking up road irregularities that would result in sharp jolts to passengers in many other cars.

2016_mazda6_23-1024x683That suspension system — independent front and rear with stabilizer bars — also contributes to the Mazda6’s strong suit: precision handling. It tracks confidently in a straight line and takes a confident set around curves with tactile steering feedback.

On the road, the Mazda6 cruises quietly with modest road and wind noise, and just enough engine sounds to let insiders know there’s a free revving engine under the hood.

2016_mazda6_28-1024x683Long-distance jaunts are comfortable. The front seats offer support and side bolsters hold the torso in place during cornering. Out back, the outboard seats also deliver comfort with plenty of knee and head room for most adults. The center position unfortunately is almost useless, with hard, high cushion and a big floor hump that wipes out foot space.

The Mazda6 is not the quickest off the line unless you engage the sport mode, which holds the automatic’s shifts until the engine builds to higher revolutions. You also can enhance acceleration by manually shifting with the steering wheel paddles.

Bottom line: the Mazda6 earns standing as a premier sports sedan.

2016_mazda6_31-1024x683Specifications

  • Model: 2017 Mazda6 Grand Touring four-door sedan.
  • Engine:5-liter four cylinder, 184 hp, 185 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual shift mode; front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 100/15 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,305 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 26/35/29 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $31,595.
  • Price as tested: $34,395.

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

Photos (c) Mazda.

2016_mazda6_8-1024x683

 

2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Hyundai crowns its compact car lineup with an exciting new high performance model, the 2017 Elantra Sport, which is destined for stardom—especially with enthusiasts of modest means.

The Sport joins three other Elantra versions introduced earlier: the entry-level SE, economy-oriented Eco and luxury-outfitted Limited. Though not the least nor most expensive, the new Sport overshadows its siblings with capabilities unmatched by them and other compacts.

The most expensive Sport sells for around $9,000 less than the current average price of a new car. It comfortably carries four people—five if that unfortunate doesn’t mind a perch in the middle of the back seat.

2017 Elantra Sport
2017 Elantra Sport

There are two versions. With a six-speed manual gearbox, the base price is $22,485. Add $1,100 for the dual-clutch seven-speed automatic transmission. The automatic delivers the better fuel economy: an EPA city/highway/combined rating of 26/33/29 mpg, compared to the manual’s rating of 22/30/25 mpg.

Enthusiasts likely will save the $1,100 and opt for the delightful manual, one of the best anywhere. The clutch engagement is smooth and progressive, with no hint of grabbing, and the shift linkage is so slick and easy you don’t mind shifting in heavy traffic. In fact, the gears engage almost by thought control so you barely notice doing it.

Hyundai product people project that 30% to 40% of Sport buyers will choose the manual gearbox, way higher than almost anything on the U.S. market. Germany’s BMW formerly sold manuals in that range, but has since moved mostly to automatics.

2017 Elantra Sport
2017 Elantra Sport

The Sport gets its zest from a turbocharged 201-hp 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that develops 195 lb-ft of torque. It’s the same engine as in Hyundai’s sporty Veloster three-door hatchback. The company did not provide acceleration times but the guesstimate here is less than seven seconds to 60 mph.

Hyundai introduced the Sport in Las Vegas during the gigantic Specialty Equipment Manufacturers Association (SEMA) show, an annual exhibition of custom vehicles and aftermarket parts that overflows the city’s convention complex with exhibits and humanity.

2017 Elantra Sport
2017 Elantra Sport

The locale provided automotive journalists with an opportunity to drive the Sport for 280 miles on lightly traveled highways in sparsely populated areas of Nevada and California’s Death Valley.

The Sport proved itself more than proficient on those roads, most of which were not in top condition. It cruised lazily at 90 miles an hour, and easily absorbed road undulations and imperfections.

In a couple of bursts, the Sport was steady and solidly planted at three-digit speeds up to 120 mph. It could have gone faster but that was judged enough. In Germany, it would compete easily on areas of the autobahn that have no speed limits.

Credit a stiffer body structure, now constructed with 53% high strength steel and 394 feet of structural adhesives, compared to 10 feet in the 2016 Elantra.

The Sport also features a sophisticated multi-link independent rear suspension system, a notable upgrade from the other Elantra models, which use a rear torsion-beam system. With the new suspension and steering tuned for handling and steady straight-line cruising, the Sport can handle any road-going task.

2017 Elantra Sport
2017 Elantra Sport

It also is uncommonly well equipped, even in its base version. The $22,485 model comes with pushbutton starting, leather upholstery, well bolstered and heated front seats, 18-inch alloy wheels with performance all-season tires, cruise control, audio system with SXM satellite radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto controlled through a seven-inch center screen, air conditioning, a flat-bottom leather covered sport steering wheel, and alloy pedals with rubber inserts.

Only a few items betray the Sport’s competitive price. The front seats use manual adjustments; power is not available. There’s no spare wheel—an air pump substitutes—and the trunk lid has exposed C-hinges that could damage contents in the roomy trunk.

The test car came with a $2,400 premium option package that included blind spot warning, rear cross traffic alert, lane change mitigation, dual-zone automatic climate control, motorized glass sunroof, premium audio system, hands-free trunk opening, garage door opener, compass and auto-dimming inside mirror.

2017 Elantra Sport
2017 Elantra Sport

From the outside, the Sport is distinguished from other Elantra models by a unique grille, high-intensity headlights with LED daytime running lights, side door sill extensions, aerodynamic rear deck, dual exhaust outlets and LED taillights.

In an extremely competitive segment with the likes of the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla, Elantra sales have diminished through the first three-quarters of 2016. The new Sport, along with the other new Elantra models, each of which has its own charm, should give the brand a shot of adrenaline.

2017 Elantra Sport
2017 Elantra Sport

Specifications    

  • Model: 2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport four-door sedan.
  • Engine:6-liter four cylinder, turbocharged 201 hp, 195 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed manual.
  • Overall length: 15 feet.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 96/14 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,064 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 22/30/25 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $22,485.
  • Price as tested: $24,885.

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

Photos (c) Hyundai.

2017 Audi S3 quattro: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

With its 2017 A3 and S3 models, Germany’s Audi redefines the meaning of “entry level.”

Yes, they are the first-step introduction to the company’s extensive lineup of luxury/high performance sports cars, sedans and crossover sport utility vehicles. But they are anything but base.

Their only nod to the entry label is their classification as subcompact cars. With a total of slightly more than 96 cubic feet of interior volume, they reside in the U.S. government’s subcompact range of 85 to 99 cubic feet. That includes 86 cubic feet for passengers and 10 cubic feet of trunk space.

That has both advantages and disadvantages. The advantage is a tidy footprint. At 14 feet 8 inches long, they exhibit quick and precise handling, especially in the all-wheel-drive quattro models, along with a capability of doing rapid U-turns almost anywhere.

news-2017-audi-s3-10The main disadvantage is a small trunk and a back seat that anyone over 6 feet tall likely would find challenging, with restricted knee and head room. As with most sedans these days, the outboard rear seats are comfortable but the center-rear position—with a hard cushion and big floor hump—should be reserved for backpacks or watermelons.

The A3 was introduced to plaudits as a 2016 model. Now, for 2017, there’s a family of four: A3 in sedan and convertible (Cabriolet) models with either front-drive or all-wheel drive; high-performance S3 sedan with quattro all-wheel drive, and the e-tron plug-in hybrid four-door hatchback.

Audi chose the new S3 as the 2017 launch vehicle. With standard all-wheel drive, it is powered by a turbocharged four-cylinder engine that delivers 292 horsepower and 280 pounds-feet of torque. That considerable power gets to the pavement through a snap-shifting six-speed twin-clutch automatic transmission that also can be manually shifted with paddles on the steering wheel.

news-2017-audi-s3-9Audi says the S3’s zero-to-60 mph acceleration time is 4.7 seconds, with a top track speed of 155 mph (or 130 with all-season tires). It’s unlikely anybody would try that on a regular basis, but the confidence of instant power is always present.

The A3, with a new 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, comes with 186 horsepower and 221 pounds-feet of torque. That’s with front-wheel drive and a starting price tag of $32,150. Order it with Quattro all-wheel drive, and the 2.0-liter four-cylinder delivers 220 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. The sticker is $35,100.

None of the prices are in economy car territory and options boost the stickers even higher. The tested S3 had a starting price of $43,850 and when the extras were added the bottom-line cost came to $51,325.

news-2017-audi-s3-24Leather upholstery is part of the standard equipment, unlike the man-made faux leather on some other luxury cars. It also includes full safety equipment, automatic climate control, panoramic sunroof, satellite and HD radio, smart phone interface with Apple Car Play and Android Auto, and a seven-inch infotainment screen that hides in the dash and rises majestically when the S3 wakes up.

Among the options were a navigation system, Bang & Olufsen premium audio system, 19-inch custom wheels with high-performance summer tires, magnetic ride control, cross traffic alert, sport seats and soft Nappa leather upholstery. Curiously for a car in this price class, all the S3’s front seat controls are manual, although they offer a myriad of adjustments to accommodate almost anyone.

One minor annoyance is the shade for the panoramic sunroof, which is made from a perforated cheesecloth-like material that allows way too much sunlight to intrude. This is a current fad embraced by too many luxury cars. Sun shades should be opaque.

news-2017-audi-s3-23But driver satisfaction and entertainment is the bottom line on the S3 sedan. Under any circumstance you might imagine—short of rough off-roading, which you would never do anyway—the S3 accelerates strongly, shifts swiftly, brakes strongly, handles with intuitive competence, tracks cleanly on straightaways, promises reliability and delivers a ride that is sporting stiff but compliant and not uncomfortable.

The only thing some owners in areas of foul weather might do would be to swap out the 155-mph summer tires for the 130-mph all-season tires. As much grip as they deliver in handling and stopping on dry surfaces, the summer tires get tricky in messy circumstances.

Because of its price, the S3 is not a car for everybody. However, you can order a lightly optioned A3 with front-drive and almost as much driving satisfaction—at a price near what an average new car sells for nowadays.

news-2017-audi-s3-11Specifications

  • Model: 2017 Audi S3 quattro four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four cylinder, turbocharged, 292 hp, 280 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed dual-clutch automatic.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 86/10 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,462 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 21/28/24 mpg. Premium recommended.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $43,850.
  • Price as tested: $51,325.

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

Photos (c) Audi.

 

2017 Audi A4 2.0T quattro S tronic: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

To those with more than a passing interest in automobiles, sports sedans like the 2017 Audi A4 represent the epitome of automotive excellence.

Though more expensive in most cases than midsize and even near-luxury cars, they do everything well and more than meet expectations.

They can carry four passengers—five in a pinch, with luggage—and deliver outstanding performance, handling and braking with a comfortable enough ride.

Most of all, they provide a high level of driver satisfaction of the sort that prompts owners to go for a drive for the pure pleasure of it.

They are a fairly rare breed. Besides the Audi A4, they include the Jaguar XE, BMW 3-Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Lexus IS, Acura TLX and Cadillac ATS. They are not exactly the same size, classified both as compact and midsize by the U.S. government. But they’re close enough.

news-2017-audi-a4-l-16In such company, it is enough simply to be competitive. It takes a lot more to stand out and, when that happens, it’s usually by a narrow margin.

Such is the case with the tested Audi A4 2.0T quattro S tronic. That’s a nomenclature mouthful, but it aptly describes the compact A4 with the turbocharged 252 hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. “quattro” is Audi’s name for its renowned all-wheel drive system. The S tronic is the company’s seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.

For traditionalists, especially those who enjoy shifting for themselves, Audi also will offer a six-speed manual gearbox. That’s unusual in an era when stick shifts are vanishing from the scene even in ultra high performance sports cars.

The vast majority of customers, however, will order and enjoy the S tronic automatic, which has a manual shift mode controlled by paddles on the steering wheel. It’s entertaining on twisting mountain roads, where you want to hold the transmission in a gear to keep the engine revs up.

news-2017-audi-a4-interior-3-wBut as with most of these setups, the onboard computer uncannily computes when shifts up or down should be triggered, and can nearly always shift faster and more accurately than any human.

The A4’s S tronic does that, though occasionally there is an almost imperceptible slip when accelerating off the line—a characteristic of some twin clutch automatics. Mostly, you don’t notice anything and the A4 rockets to 60 mph in slightly more than five seconds, according to Audi and independent tests. Top speed is rated at 130 mph.

The A4 has selectable drive modes—automatic, comfort, dynamic and individual—but even in the softest setting it exhibits athletic moves. It also delivers enviable fuel economy. The EPA rates the city/highway/combined fuel consumption at 24/31/27 mpg.

news-2017-audi-a4-interior-4-wThe base A4 quattro, designated as Premium in Audi-speak, starts at $40,350, including the destination charge. If you don’t want or need the all-wheel drive, you can knock $2,100 off the sticker by ordering the front-wheel drive version.

Standard equipment includes three-zone automatic climate control, motorized glass sunroof, rearview camera, leather upholstery, xenon headlights, eight-way power front seats, pushbutton starting with engine stop-start, 17-inch wheels, and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.

The heavily optioned test car, with a $54,275 sticker, added 18-inch wheels, Bang & Olufsen audio system, memory power seats, head-up display, digital gauge cluster, cooled and heated front seats, heated rear seats, adjustable suspension system, and an option package that included navigation, blind-spot warning and rear-end collision warning.

Also on the tester was a $1,800 driver assistance package that included adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist and traffic sign recognition. The combination enables the A4 to drive itself for short distances but should not be mistaken for a fully autonomous vehicle. Those are still way down the road.

news-2017-audi-a4-l-8The A4 provides supportive and comfortable seating for four passengers, with manual front seat thigh support extensions. It has five seatbelts but the center rear seating position is hopelessly compromised by a giant floor hump and a center console that intrudes into the back seat. It’s best to simply pull down the center armrest with the two small cup holders and leave it there.

Another negative is the automatic transmission shifter, which requires the driver to press a separate button on the back side to engage “park.” You can get used to it over time but, following longstanding habit, most drivers push the shifter forward, think they’re in “park” and wind up in “reverse” instead.

Overall, the Audi A4 stands out in a group of standout sports sedans.

news-2017-audi-a4-l-13Specifications

  • Model: 2017 Audi A4 2.0T quattro S tronic four door sedan.
  • Engine:0-liter four cylinder, turbocharged and intercooled, 252 hp, 273 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Seven-speed twin clutch automatic with manual shift mode.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 6 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 94/13 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,670 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 24/31/27 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $40,350.
  • Price as tested: $54,275.

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

Photos (c) Audi.

 

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