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2018 Chevrolet Tahoe RST Edition: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer 

In any automotive era, the hot-rodders will eventually rise to the bait, as they have with the 2018 Chevrolet Tahoe RST Edition with its 6.2L Performance Package.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s post-World War II gear-heads stuffing V8 engines into 1930s Ford Model A coupes, or modern street racers hopping up old Honda Civic Si hatchbacks. Someone will always figure out a way to dredge artistry and performance out of pedestrian machinery.

2018 Chevrolet Tahoe RST

That’s expected, but the hop-up imperative has become institutionalized. The German luxury manufacturers — Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi — all have performance divisions to inject their already hot machines with ever more power.

Now, with the new Tahoe RST, Ford’s Raptor pickup truck and the mind-boggling Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, the blastoff mindset has insinuated itself into the biggest of the big vehicles that were originally designed to simply tow, carry and haul lots of stuff on and off the road.

Which brings us to the Tahoe RST (rally sport truck), a monster SUV based on the Chevrolet Silverado full-size pickup truck. It comes with a 420-hp 6.2-liter V8 engine that delivers 460 lb-ft of torque through a new 10-speed automatic transmission. 

2018 Chevrolet Tahoe RST

It has four driver-selectable drive modes: two-wheel drive for leisurely highway cruising, full-time all-wheel drive for nasty conditions, and locked four-wheel drive with high and low ranges for off-road forays. In short, there’s not much it cannot handle. Moreover, it can tow loads up to 8,100 pounds. 

Equipment also includes GM’s magnetic ride control, an active suspension setup that takes readings of road conditions and electronically adjusts the shock absorbers in milliseconds. It works in concert with gloss black 22-inch aluminum wheels.

Still, don’t expect a cushy ride. This fundamentally is a truck outfitted for performance despite its monster size, so the ride gets harsh and choppy except on pool-table smooth surfaces. If you’re a truck person, you’ll grin from ear to ear. If you have more of a comfortable sedan or crossover SUV orientation, it likely will produce a frown.

Chevrolet Unveils Tahoe RST

The biggest drawback — or enhancement, depending on your preference — of the Tahoe RST Edition is its sheer size. It stretches 17 feet in length and weighs 5,631 pounds. With that big V8 engine it doesn’t bow to anything — zero to 60 miles an hour arrives in less than six seconds — but don’t expect to toss it around like a sports sedan or performance-oriented crossover.

Nope. The RST works best when it is driven deliberately, in slow motion with well-planned moves. That way, with practice, its bulky dimensions come under control. Moreover, it is surprisingly docile in urban traffic given the power lurking under the hood. 

2015-Chevrolet-Tahoe-InteriorPowerFoldFlatSeats-004If you must demonstrate performance, it’s best to do it in a straight line. Punch the pedal at a stoplight and all those horses will pin you back in the seat. Choose either two-wheel drive or automatic all-wheel drive. Either way, the RST Edition gets off the line with little or no wheel spin. 

For all of its truck and performance credentials, the Tahoe RST Edition comes equipped as well as many luxury cars. There’s tri-zone automatic climate control, leather upholstery, power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, power adjustable pedals, heated and ventilated front seats, rolling WiFi, head-up display, wireless smart phone charging, and an eight-inch center screen for navigation and infotainment functions,   including Apple Car Play and Android Auto, and a rear-seat entertainment system.

None of this, of course, comes cheap. The tested RST Edition had a starting price of $66,425. With the equipment mentioned, along with other options, the bottom-line sticker price came to $78,450—not a territory for many middle-class buyers.

2015 Chevrolet Tahoe LTZ

However, if you are not captivated by the awesome performance, which by the way takes its toll in fuel economy, there are lesser Tahoe versions that would be more friendly to the family budget. The RST has a city/highway/combined fuel consumption rating of 14/22/17 miles to the gallon.

The tester was a seven-passenger model with two captain’s chairs in the second row. Working with the power tailgate raised, a touch of a switch folds the rear seatbacks and the third-row seats to produce a flat load floor with nearly 98 cubic feet of cargo space. 

Seats in the first two rows deliver comfort and support. But the  third-row seats are impossible for anyone but small children, watermelons or backpacks. There’s little knee room and no help because the second-row seats do not adjust fore and aft.

2018 Chevrolet Tahoe RST Brembo brake package

Specifications

    • Model: 2018 Chevrolet Tahoe RST Edition four-door sport utility vehicle.
    • Engine: 6.2-liter V8, 420 hp, 460 lb-ft torque.
    • Transmission: 10-speed automatic.
    • Overall length: 17 feet.
    • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 122/15 cubic feet.
    • Weight: 5,631 pounds.
    • Towing capability: 8,100 pounds.
    • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 14/22/17 mpg.
    • Base price, including destination charge: $66,425.
    • Price as tested: $78,450.

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

2018 Chevrolet Tahoe RST

Photos (c) General Motors.

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2018 BMW X3 xDrive 30i: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The most important and difficult thing in the automotive business is an institutional ability to predict the future. Bavarian Motor Works has actually managed some of that soothsaying, of which the 2018 BMW X3 xDrive 30i is a prime example.

Starting with the X5 in 1999, the German manufacturer has expanded its lineup of crossover sport utility vehicles to plug every size and power niche in the premium category—to the point where there are now seven distinct models: X1, new X2, X3 reviewed here, X4, X5, X6 and the upcoming X7, plus higher performance versions.

BMW_X3_Performance_Center-001Whether the company was reacting to a trend or sucking its collective thumb contemplating where the market was headed, it has caught the wave of buyer infatuation with crossover SUVs, which are proliferating in every price class.

It remains to be seen whether this is a passing fad, but no matter. BMW also has a garage full of sedans, coupes, convertibles and sports cars in case there’s a course correction. We’ll skip self-driving cars for now.

Meanwhile, the company, which manufactures many of its crossovers at its plant in Spartanburg, S.C., entices high-end customers with machines like the new X3 xDrive 30i and the higher-performance — and higher-priced — X3 M40i.

P90263768_highResA note about BMW nomenclature: a lower-case i identifies a sedan like the 330i or 550i, the i3 electric car, or even the i8 hybrid sports car. If a capital X precedes a number, it is what BMW calls a “sports activity vehicle,” known in the business as a crossover SUV. A lower-case x, as in xDrive, designates any BMW with all-wheel drive. Oh, there’s also the Z4 two-seat sports car. And if there’s an M somewhere in the title, it’s a higher-performance or better decorated model. Write it down.

The model numbers actually don’t mean much anymore. You might assume that the tested X3 xDrive 30i comes with a 3.0-liter engine. Nope. Because modern engines with turbocharging are getting smaller, this one actually delivers 248 hp and 285 lb-ft of torque from a 2.0-liter four-cylinder motor.

Step up to the higher-performance X3 M40i and the engine actually is a 3.0-liter V6 with twin turbochargers that makes 355 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque. Enough said.

BMW_X3_Performance_Center-003Back to the subject, the U.S.-built X3 30i. This is a nicely executed compact crossover with the power and features expected in this category. However, as with other automakers, BMW has an extensive options list and charges extra for equipment that is standard elsewhere.

For example: The $3,300 Premium package includes a heated steering wheel, navigation system and head-up display. Tack on another $350 for the heated front and rear seats. The $2,850 Convenience package gets you a panoramic sunroof, keyless entry, lumbar support and SXM satellite radio.

Continuing: The $1,400 Dynamic Handling package includes M Sport brakes, dynamic adaptive shock absorbers and variable sport steering, while the $900 Driving Assistance package covers blind spot and lane departure warning. The Parking Assist package covers a surround-view camera, active parking assist and distance control.

P90263747_highResThere also are individual options, including $1,700 for Vernasca leather upholstery, $875 for a premium Harman Kardon audio system, $300 for Apple CarPlay, $500 for wireless device charging and $550 for metallic paint.

You get the picture. All of that brought the test X3’s base price of $43,445 up to $57,620. Of course, there also were many desirable items that were part of the standard equipment, including the eight-speed automatic transmission, driver-selectable driving modes, hill-descent control, automatic stop/start, garage-door opener, dark oak wood interior trim, leather-covered steering wheel, tri-zone automatic climate control, 19-inch alloy wheels, LED low-beam headlights and fog lights, and a power tailgate.

P90263757_highResMuch of that, of course, is frosting that doesn’t affect the basic driving goodness of the X3, which hews to BMW’s traditional dedication to performance, handling and braking. The X3, however, also delivers a luxury ambiance enhanced by a quiet cabin. You hear the engine under hard acceleration but highway cruising at a steady speed is almost tranquil.

Overall, however, this is an inviting modern conveyance that delivers a competent, pleasurable and comfortable driving experience with a dose of excitement. With sales of 40,691 in 2017, it is BMW’s third-best selling model, behind the 3-Series compact sedan and midsize X5 crossover SUV.

X3 competitors include the Alfa Romeo Stelvio, Audi Q5, Jaguar F-Pace, Land Rover’s Range Rover Evoque and the Mercedes-Benz GLC.

BMW_X3_Performance_Center-006Specifications

  • Model: 2018 BMW X3 xDrive 30i four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine:0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged, 248 hp, 285 lb-ft of torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual-shift mode.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 6 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 101/29 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,156 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 22/29/25 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $43,445.
  • Price as tested: $57,620.

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

P90263762_highResPhotos (c) BMW.

2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

It’s hard to escape the notion that the 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk is an imposter. Sure, it looks like a Jeep and has off-road chops. But its price tag suggests it might be a high-end Land Rover in Jeep’s clothing.

The rhino gray ghost of a test vehicle with its intimidating black wheels arrived with a price tag just $35 shy of 100 grand. That’s right: one hundred thousand dollars.

That would not be particularly daunting to Land Rover and Range Rover customers, many of whom have fat bank accounts or credit lines longer than a California freeway. Though Land Rovers are more than capable of traversing trackless terrain, they often are bought as luxury cars that never go off the pavement. Six-figure price tags are not unusual.

2018 Jeep® Grand Cherokee Trackhawk

The tipoff for why this Jeep crawls into that territory is its name: Trackhawk, as in race track. It is powered by a 707-hp 6.2-liter supercharged V8 engine that develops 645 lb-ft of torque. It is connected to a sophisticated all-wheel-drive system through an eight-speed automatic transmission that can be shifted manually.

That setup not only would provide enough power for any off-road duty, it likely could enable the Trackhawk to claw its way out of a coal mine. But most off-roading, especially if you follow the more difficult escapades of Land Rovers and Jeeps, is done at single-digit speeds, sometimes with spotters on foot to direct the path.

So, as with any of these super- and hyper-powerful vehicles that occasionally make their way into the marketplace, it’s mostly about customers who, no matter what, just got to have the meanest machines available — even if they will spend the bulk of their time crawling along in heavy traffic fender-to-fender with a Toyota Yaris or Kia Rio.

Powering the 2018 Jeep® Grand Cherokee Trackhawk is a supercharged 6.2-liter V-8 engine delivering 707 horsepower and 645 lb.-ft. of torque

With a few minor alterations, the Trackhawk’s engine is the same one that powers the Hellcat versions of the Dodge Charger and Challenger from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (which also owns Jeep). With a launch-control system to mitigate wheel spin, the Grand Cherokee Trackhawk can accelerate to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds, only about a second slower than the new 1,500-horsepower, $2.6 million Bugatti Chiron, billed as the world’s fastest production car.

The Trackhawk’s edge over its Challenger and Charger garage mates is its sport-utility configuration, which means it can seat five people, four of them comfortably while the unfortunate in the center-rear position simply endures. It also has 36 cubic feet of cargo space behind the back seat and it can tow trailers weighing up to 7,200 lbs.

2018 Jeep® Grand Cherokee Trackhawk

However, it also weighs 5,260 lbs, partly because it had to be strengthened considerably more than other Grand Cherokees. That includes a competition suspension system and reinforced drive train components. A stronger transfer case and transmission handle the engine’s massive torque, or twisting force. Of course, all that beef affects fuel economy. On the EPA’s city/highway/combined fuel consumption chart, the Trackhawk manages just 11/17/13 mpg.

2018 Jeep® Grand Cherokee Trackhawk

Take to the public roads with moderate pressure on the throttle and the Trackhawk can seem as unassuming as a compact crossover SUV. It’s only when you punch the pedal that the supercharger gets the engine growling menacingly and your torso is shoved against the seatback.

The steering has a heavy feel, but the Trackhawk is obedient around curves. It rolls steadily in a straight line with no inclination to wander and require steering corrections. Brembo competition disc brakes, painted yellow, stop with authority. The ride is biased toward handling, but is not unduly rough.

2018 Jeep® Grand Cherokee Trackhawk

The Trackhawk has a starting price of $86,995, which includes such equipment as the competition suspension system and brakes, lane departure and collision warning, adaptive cruise control, blind spot and cross traffic detection, connections for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, SXM satellite radio, heated and powered tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, heated front and back seats, and ventilated front seats.

Options that brought the tested price to $99,965 included a leather wrapped interior package, rear-seat entertainment system, dual-pane panoramic glass sunroof, high performance Harman Kardon audio system with 19 speakers, and 20-inch alloy wheels.

One minor problem: For some unknown reason, whenever the ignition was switched off and on again, the climate system defaulted to the high settings for the heated front seats and the heated steering wheel. They had to be turned off manually.

Other than that, the beast performed flawlessly.

2018 Jeep® Grand Cherokee Trackhawk

Specifications

  • Model: 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine:2-liter V8, supercharged, 707 hp, 645 lb-ft of torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual-shift mode.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 10 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 106/36 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 5,260 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 7,200 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 11/17/13 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $86,995.
  • Price as tested: $99,965.

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

2018 Jeep® Grand Cherokee Trackhawk
2018 Jeep® Grand Cherokee Trackhawk

Photos (c) Jeep.

2018 Audi SQ5 3.0T Quattro: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

As if their customers weren’t already spending plenty on perfectly good vehicles like the Audi Q5, there’s a recurring imperative among luxury manufacturers to deliver ever more powerful, luxurious and expensive models.

Reigning among them is 2018 Audi SQ5, continuing as a member of a class that includes AMG models from Mercedes-Benz, BMW’s M performance variants, V versions from Cadillac and Quadrifoglio (Four-leaf Clover) models from Alfa Romeo.

Small-2018-Audi-SQ5-2821The Q5 and its SQ5 sibling account for a quarter of all Audi sales in the U.S., no surprise given the current buyer infatuation with crossover sport utilities of all sizes in every price class.

With Audi’s quattro all-wheel drive and a full complement of safety, comfort and convenience features, the Q5 is the sort of vehicle that could satisfy a broad range of buyers seeking a two-row compact or midsize crossover.

It is powered by a 252-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine and a snap-shifting dual-clutch seven-speed automatic transmission. With modern computerized technology, this 2.0-liter turbo, along with others like it that are becoming ubiquitous, has enough hustle to get you arrested anywhere.

The starting price tag is $42,475 and, with the sorts of options ordered by folks who shop in this price range, can top out at $52,700. That gets you a tasteful, luxurious, comfortable and quiet interior that almost anyone would welcome for a day-long drive, along with most of the convenience and infotainment functions most buyers want these days.

Small-2018-Audi-SQ5-2818But no. That’s not enough karma for some customers with deep pockets. So, Audi obliges with the SQ5, which is way over the top for any driving on the public highways. It is the same size as its Q5 garage mate with 102 cubic feet of space for passengers — about what you get with a midsize sedan — plus a cargo area behind the back seat of 27 cubic feet, or about double that of a midsize sedan trunk.

It is listed as a five-passenger crossover. But that’s optimistic because the center-rear seat is compromised by a hard cushion, a hidden pull-down center armrest and a giant, square floor hump. The outboard seats, however, are fine and nearly as comfortable as the front seats.

Under the SQ5’s hood lurks a 354-horsepower, turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 engine that delivers 369 pound-feet of torque to all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission that can be shifted manually.

That and a bunch of other high-performance stuff bumps the SQ5’s base price to $55,275, or $12,800 more than the Q5. With options, the SQ5 driven for this review had a bottom-line price of $65,800.

2018-Audi-SQ5
2018-Audi-SQ5

According to Audi, that gets you a zero-to-60 time of 5.1 seconds, or eight-tenths of one second quicker than the A5’s 5.9-second time. That’s a bunch of bucks that won’t amount to much of a difference in daily driving.

In Drive, there’s a slight bit of hesitation off the line as the turbocharger spools up. It goes away if you tap the shifter into Sport. There, the SQ5 feels even faster than it is, delivering that rush of excitement that devotees presumably covet.

Start-stop technology, which thankfully can be switched off, contributes to decent SQ5 city/highway/combined fuel economy of 19/24/21 mpg. However, the Q5 saves some bucks with a rating of 23/27/25.

Of course, the SQ5’s higher sticker price also confers bragging rights about how much you can afford to pay for your compact crossover SUV. And the options cover a lot of nifty stuff: air suspension system, torque-vectoring sport rear differential, performance brakes with red calipers, Nappa leather upholstery, 21-inch wheels with sticky summer tires, and Bang & Olufsen audio with 3D sound and a head-up display.

2018-Audi-SQ5
2018-Audi-SQ5

That’s in addition to the standard full safety equipment, rear-view camera, LED headlights and taillights, three-zone climate control, rear-view camera and SXM satellite radio. Curiously for a vehicle in this category, the test car did not have adaptive cruise control.

Also, though the tested SQ5 came with a roof-size panoramic sunroof, the sunshade was made of a perforated cloth that admitted too much sunlight. Sunshades should be opaque.

The SQ5’s tidy size — 15 feet four inches long — and the air suspension system contribute to sporty handling on twisting roads. There are selectable driving modes that adjust performance parameters but most owners likely will stick with the comfort setting, which is fine for daily motoring. However, the dynamic mode awaits for hustling around curves.

Small-2018-Audi-SQ5-2782Specifications

  • Model: 2018 Audi SQ5 3.0T Quattro four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • 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 4 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 102/27 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,430 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 19/24/21 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $55,275.
  • Price as tested: $65,800.

Disclaimer: This test drive was based on a loan of the vehicle from the manufacturer. It was driven by the author in circumstances similar to everyday driving by consumers.

Photos (c) Audi USA.

Small-2018-Audi-SQ5-2830

2017 BMW X4 M40i: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The dictionary definition of an anomaly as a “departure from the regular arrangement, general rule, or usual method” perfectly describes the 2017 BMW X4 M40i.

It’s a high-performance car that’s not really a car. It’s a crossover sport utility vehicle that’s designed to look like a coupe. But it’s not a coupe. Nor is it really an SUV.

What BMW’s designers did was to simply slice off half of the top over the cargo area to give it a fastback roofline, reminiscent of a coupe. The result is a tall, awkward looking all-wheel drive vehicle. Its close garage mate is the more conventional X3, with four doors and a standard crossover roofline.

p90151342_highres_the-new-bmw-x4-xdriv

It is nothing new with BMW, which parks its ultimate driving machines in more niches than anyone in the business. This sloped design started with the X6, a bigger crossover with cramped quarters, little cargo carrying capability and a price tag north of $62,000.

Almost anyone would surmise that would be a non-starter with potential buyers. But there usually are at least a few customers who like to be different, have the bucks to indulge their tastes and probably own another vehicle to do their hauling.

The X4 and X6 actually have a modicum of respectability despite their unusual design. In 2016, Americans bought 7,117 X6s and 4,989 X4s. But BMW’s more conventional crossovers—X1, X3 and X5—each had five-digit sales with all three totaling 119,649.

That said, the new X4 M40i is still a BMW, with all that entails for driver involvement. Its all-wheel drive system, with BMW’s dynamic stability control, is biased toward the rear wheels for improved handling. The setup includes stiffer springs, responsive steering, sturdy anti-roll bars and tuned shock absorbers, resulting in flat cornering with little body roll.

p90151390_lowres_the-new-bmw-x4-xdriv

Power comes from a 355-hp 3.0-liter turbocharged in-line six-cylinder engine that makes 343 lb-ft of torque. It gets the power to the pavement through an eight-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode controlled by paddles on the steering wheel.

The combination makes for exhilarating performance, notwithstanding the X4 M40i’s tall profile. Car and Driver Magazine clocked the acceleration time at 4.4 seconds to 60 mph, which is more than anyone could use except occasionally. Top speed is rated at 150 mph. City/highway/combined fuel consumption is 18/26/21 mpg.

p90151371_highres_the-new-bmw-x4-xdriv

There are four driver-selectable driving modes: Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus. They do what they suggest, including enhancing fuel economy, a better ride, more precise performance and handling, and all-out racetrack style driving.

The Comfort mode is the best for daily motoring, yet it has a sporting feel that is lacking in many crossover SUVs. Although 20-inch alloy wheels are a $950 option, the tested X4 M40i, with its standard 19-inch wheels, delivered a ride with sharp jolts on rough pavement.

p90151359_highres_the-new-bmw-x4-xdriv

The interior is accommodating for four passengers, though the sloped roofline — despite the tall profile — requires some ducking for entry. The center-rear seating position is problematical, and the fastback roofline keeps the cargo space to 18 cubic feet, which would be fine in a big four-door sedan but is mediocre in a compact crossover.

Despite its height, outward visibility is not the greatest, especially out back, where the rear window resembles a machine gun lookout in a World War II pillbox bunker. The pillars on both sides of the backlight (called C-pillars in the car biz) also restrict visibility so it’s important to adjust the outside mirrors correctly to eliminate blind spots.

p90151387_highres_the-new-bmw-x4-xdriv

The X4 M40i comes with a starting price of $59,095, which includes an expected suite of standard features: automatic climate control, automatic engine stop-start, adaptive cruise control, motorized sunroof, leather upholstery, remote locking, power tailgate, premium audio system with satellite radio, rain-sensing windshield wipers, power front sport seats and run-flat tires.

Options on the test vehicle included a $2,750 technology package with navigation and a head-up display; $1,950 for LED exterior lighting and automatic headlights; $950 cold weather package with heated seat and steering wheel; $1,150 for a surround view rearview camera, and $750 for the “glacier silver metallic” paint job. The bottom line sticker came to $66,545.

If your priority list requires driving a high-performance machine that handles well, rides hard and is impractical, different and somewhat exclusive, and if you have the wherewithal to buy or lease this anomaly, the X4 M40i should not disappoint.

p90151320_highres_the-new-bmw-x4-xdrivSpecifications

  • Model: 2017 BMW X4 M40i four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 3.0-liter six-cylinder, turbocharged, 355 hp, 343 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 4 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 95/18 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,272 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 18/26/21 mpg. Premium fuel recommended.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $59,095.
  • Price as tested: $66,545.

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

Photos (c) BMW.

p90151378_highres_the-new-bmw-x4-xdriv

 

2017 Infiniti QX70

by Jason Fogelson

I get to drive a wide variety of SUVs and crossover vehicles. Sometimes it’s hard to pick a favorite. But every time I get a chance to drive an Infiniti QX70, I fall in love all over again.

QX70 used to be known as the Infiniti FX back before 2014. A front-engine/rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive crossover, it was based on the same platform as the Infiniti G37. As such, it inherited great driving dynamics, with a low center of gravity and great handling dynamics. For a few years, it was available with a 5.0-liter V8 engine as the FX 50. The combination of a distinctive, scarab-shaped exterior with a cozy, driver-centric interior made it a standout in the burgeoning crossover marketplace.

The 2017 QX70 comes with a 3.7-liter V6 engine and a choice of rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. It’s not quite the hot rod that the FX 50 was, but it is still fun to drive, luxurious and unique. It’s not the most utilitarian of SUVs, as it lacks a substantial cargo compartment and third row, but it’s still got room for five and stands out in a crowd.

Many other crossover vehicles have come along to compete for my affection, but the 2017 Infiniti QX70 still has a piece of my heart.

Read my 2017 Infiniti QX70 Test and Review on Forbes.com

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

Photos (c) Infiniti.

2017 Ford Focus RS: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Though not widely lauded, the 2017 Ford Focus RS epitomizes the ongoing revolution in the world-wide automobile industry.

First, it’s a four-door hatchback, a body style that American buyers rejected but now is getting new respect because of the way manufacturers reconfigured and renamed hatchbacks as crossovers.

A crossover generally is defined as a tall utility vehicle that is built with a unit body like a car, instead of with a body on frame, like a traditional pickup truck.

The biggest current change in consumer preferences is away from traditional sedans and toward compact and mid-size crossover sport utility vehicles. They are now setting sales records across the board, from popular priced to luxury. Even a high-altitude luxury brand like Bentley weighs in with its $229,000 mid-size Bentayga.

_42a1075_hrMany crossovers are little more than jacked-up four-door hatchbacks with all-wheel drive. They demonstrate the ingenuity of automotive designers and engineers, who took an orphan design and turned it into a star.

The Focus RS also has all-wheel drive, though it’s more of a performance feature than a utilitarian, all-weather enhancement. That, too, is a trend with no end in sight.

Most of all, however, the revolution is under the hood as manufacturers, thanks to creative computer software, extract ever more power from smaller engines.

No longer do people repeat the old mantra that “there’s no replacement for displacement.” That was once true. Muscle cars of the last half of the 20th century, despite poor handling and brakes but with big V8 engines, now are history though avidly sought by collectors.

16fordfocusrs_11_hrFour-cylinder engines, including the one in the new Focus RS, are becoming the norm. Often with turbocharging, they deliver horsepower and torque, along with fuel economy that only could be imagined even a decade ago.

The RS four-banger has a displacement—the total volume inside the cylinders—of 2.3 liters. That’s not much more than that two-liter soft drink bottle at the supermarket. Yet it delivers a whopping 350 horsepower and 350 pounds-feet of torque. With its six-speed manual gearbox and curb weight of 3,460 pounds, it can rocket to 60 miles an hour in less than five seconds.

That sort of performance doesn’t come cheap. Basically, the Ford Focus is a compact economy car with a starting price of about $18,000. The RS, with its high-zoot power, all-wheel drive and handling refinements, starts at $36,995. The test car, with options, had a suggested retail price at $40,475.

Base equipment includes Brembo high-performance brakes, selectable drive modes, pushbutton starting, launch control, satellite radio with Ford’s Sync system, dual-zone automatic climate control, fog lights and a rear spoiler.

focus-rs_12An options package on the test car included a navigation system, performance summer tires on painted alloy wheels, heated front seats, heated leather-wrapped steering wheel and heated outside mirrors.

Except for the custom 19-inch wheels and a few other styling fillips, the Focus RS does not betray its economy compact origin, which makes it something of a stealth bomber on the highway.

Even the interior does not depart much from the base car except for the aftermarket Recaro bucket seats with their generous side bolsters and high friction cloth upholstery with leather trim to grip the torso in spirited driving. They feel terrific but take a bit of extra effort to settle into.

focus_rs_09The RS’s standard launch control minimizes wheel spin in acceleration runs. It also comes with four different drive modes: normal, sport, track and drift. The last is a bit questionable because the motor sport of drifting involves busting the rear end loose around a corner in a display of tire burning smoke.

The RS all-wheel drive mitigates the drift. It features a standard torque vectoring system that can send about 70% of the power to the rear wheels.

The operative description of the Focus RS is “tight.” The steering, shifter, clutch, ride, seating—everything about this so-called “hot hatch” is tight and stiff. It’s a characteristic well loved by enthusiasts but not endearing to commuters. Despite that, however, the shift linkage is direct and intuitive.

The sport, track and drift modes deliver a rock hard ride so most owners likely will engage normal for everyday driving. The different modes adjust the suspension system.

This obviously is not a casual car. Many drivers likely would reject it out of hand after one test drive. The Focus RS requires skill and effort to bring out its considerable qualities. But over time it can deliver the automotive equivalent of a teenage crush.

_p9a2215_hrSpecifications

  • Model: 2017 Ford Focus RS four-door hatchback.
  • Engine:3-liter four cylinder, turbocharged, 350 hp, 350 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed manual.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 5 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 91/20 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,460 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 19/25/22 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $36,995.
  • Price as tested: $40,475.

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

Photos (c) Ford.

The Porsche Experience

by Tod Mesirow

Carson, CA sits in a geographically desirable area – in which to build a small race track.  Porsche looked far and wide for a location in the Los Angeles area, as a huge percentage of Porsches are sold here.  In fact, California, we were told at the press event christening the new Porsche Experience by the folks at Porsche, is the most important market in the U.S., and that one-third Porsches sold worldwide are sold in the United States.  This is the second Porsche Experience in America – following the one in Atlanta next to their U.S. headquarters.

On what used to be a municipal golf course, where the 110 and the 405 meet, down the block from the Goodyear Blimp airfield, Porsche built a playground for driving, with four distinct opportunities – a straightaway that ends with a sharply banked circle that one drops in to; a road course, with great twists and turns, slight changes in elevation, and plenty of chances to find the best line – if one can; a slick track, where the driver’s ability to respond to a loss of traction is tested and can be improved; and an off-road course, with a teeter totter to perfect balance and touch, and steep drops to feel the automatic descent mode in action.

The 53-acre site includes a 50,000-square-foot building with a Porsche shop, a restaurant on the second floor with a view of the driving courses, and plenty of Porsches on display — most new, some old, and one race car that’s half Lego blocks.

one-half-lego-porsche-wideGuests can spend as little as $35 for 30 minutes in a simulator, or as much as $850 for an hour-and-a-half in a 911 GT3 on the tracks with an instructor. Almost all of the Porsche line is currently available, except for the Panamera. Porsche anticipates 50,000 visitors in the first year.

One thing to look forward to – as if this isn’t enough – Porsche made sure to emphasize their $1 billion commitment to making an electric sports car by 2020. Gives a whole new meaning to the teenage saying “silent but deadly.”

The media day at the Porsche Experience included me having the opportunity to get behind the wheel of a Carrera 2, among other vehicles, and be guided through the course by an instructor.  Josh Allan displayed patience and good humor with my less-than-Fangio level skills.

porsche-exerpience-press-briefingWatch Tod’s video experience here.

Photos (c) Tod Mesirow.

2016 Subaru WRX Limited: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

As it demonstrates again with the 2016 Subaru WRX sports sedan, Subaru continues to refine the art of automotive alchemy—taking base metal and crafting it into something more valuable.

The Japanese company has practiced that magic almost since it started selling cars in the USA. With the WRX, Subaru has crafted a rude, ripping sports sedan from its compact economy car, the Impreza.

That’s par for the course. Back in the 1970s, Subaru wanted to market the Brat, a small pickup truck. But it faced the so-called chicken tax, a retaliatory US tariff on foreign pickup trucks.

So it designed a couple of small bucket seats and mounted them in the cargo bed. The Brat qualified as a passenger car.

Earlier, Subaru had committed to the horizontally-opposed engine, in which the cylinders lie flat, feet-to-feet, on both sides of the crankshaft. It was a design that had been proven in millions of Volkswagen Beetles and microbuses.

Horizontal engines, also called “boxer” or “flat” engines, allow a lower center of gravity for better handling. But they also make it easier to add all-wheel drive to a front-drive car by running a driveshaft off the back of the engine for the rear wheels.

15._2016_WRXToday, all Subaru vehicles are powered by boxer engines and, except for one model, come standard with all-wheel drive. The exception: the BRZ rear-drive sports coupe, developed with Toyota, which sells it as the FR-S. The only other auto manufacturer that installs boxer engines in some of its models is Germany’s Porsche.

When other manufacturers spent many design dollars to meet a developing demand for SUVs, Subaru responded by jacking up and repurposing its Legacy midsize station wagon as the Outback crossover SUV.

The same happened with its compact Impreza, which was the starting point for the WRX and the WRX STI sports sedans, both of which are the result of Subaru’s automotive alchemy. The most aggressive is the WRX STi, which this column in 2015 anointed as the best Subaru ever.

But the regular WRX, though not as powerful and less expensive, is no slouch—and in fact easily fills the bill for many enthusiasts.

Now available only as a conventional four-door sedan (the hatchback version is gone), the WRX gets its motivation from a 268 hp, 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder boxer engine, which delivers 258 lb-ft of torque. It is available either with a six-speed manual gearbox or a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT).

In the current automotive climate, CVTs are routinely bashed by critics who do not like the fact that there are no shift points. A CVT multiplies torque with a setup of variable belts and pulleys. In some installations, there’s a sensation that the transmission is slipping, especially under hard acceleration.

But the WRX uses computer software to give the driver three selectable driving modes: Intelligent, Sport and Sport Sharp. The Intelligent setting is calibrated for economical daily driving and feels sluggish off the line with engine droning sounds and vibration at low rpms.

Better to select Sport or Sport Sharp, either of which is way cool. In Sport, as soon as you get 30% into the throttle, the automatic transmission switches to a six-speed stepped shift mode. You also can shift for yourself using the paddles mounted on the steering wheel.

15TDI_VL9b006
WRX Limited Black Leather Sliver Exterior

Move to the Sport Sharp position and suddenly you have an eight-speed automatic transmission at your beck and call. It also will step shift automatically or you can select your gears manually with the paddles. It’s all in the software and contributes substantially to the WRX’s sporting personality. Both the Sport and Sport Sharp modes also quicken throttle response.

Combine all that with the WRX’s chassis rigidity and taut suspension system, and you experience a borderline punishing ride on all but the smoothest surfaces. But add the accurate steering, yaw control and torque vectoring for the all-wheel drive, and the payoff comes in responsive handling on twisting roads that can put a grin on the face of the most serious grouch.

New to the WRX this year is Subaru’s EyeSight, a crash prevention system that is integrated with adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist and pre-collision braking. On the tested Limited model, the system included “steering responsive” fog lights, which provide additional illumination going around corners. The package also includes an electronic parking brake and a hill holder to keep the WRX from rolling backward on an incline.

This one’s a keeper.

9._2016_WRXSpecifications

  • Model: 2016 Subaru WRX Limited four door sedan.
  • Engine:0-liter horizontally-opposed four cylinder, 268 hp, 258 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with six- and eight-speed manual shift modes. All-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 1 inch.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 93/12 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,450 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 18/24/21 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $31,190.
  • Price as tested: $36,858.

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

Photos (c) Subaru

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