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2019 Infiniti QX80 Limited: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Like people, sport utility vehicles operate at their best when they stick to the straight and narrow. That’s especially true for big guys like the 2019 Infiniti QX80.

The reason is that full-size SUVs often are the machines of choice for families that eschew minivans but need space and towing capability for vacation jaunts. For that, the QX80 has solid qualifications. Given its size — 17.5 feet long and 6 feet 4 inches tall — it is powerful, quiet and easy to drive.

2019 INFINITI QX80 LIMITED

However, it has a tendency to wander in straight-line freeway driving, requiring frequent small steering corrections to keep tracking true. That’s not much of a problem on short trips but can contribute to driver fatigue over long distances.

Though its gender has not been established, the QX80 is celebrating its quinceañerawith this model, which had its debut in 2004 as the QX56. It tops the SUV lineup at Infiniti, the luxury division of Japan’s Nissan.

Despite an age that matches a girl’s 15thbirthday in Spanish-speaking countries, the QX80 has something of the feel of a senior citizen. It uses a classic body-on-frame construction, not unlike that of all the big pickup trucks on the market. And though it is equipped with a modern suspension system and a full suite of computerized safety innovations, it has something of an old-fashioned feel.

2019 INFINITI QX80 LIMITED

Some clues: The parking brake is one of those step-on affairs, where you stomp on a pedal with your left foot, instead of modern electronic controls. Second-row captain’s chairs on the tested seven-passenger Limited models do not have fore-and-aft adjustments to improve third-row knee and foot space, and the seatbacks recline only a few inches.

The split third-row seats fold with the touch of button but you have to hold your finger on it until it gets where it’s going. No one-touch control here. And the seats don’t fold flat, leaving a bunny-hill incline to welcome your extra cargo.

Then there’s the matter of getting back to the third row. Though the second-row captain’s chairs on the tested Limited model flip up and out of the way, scrambling into the third-row seats should be reserved for teenagers and younger kids. Also, they should be skinny because there are three seatbelts back there.

2019 INFINITI QX80 LIMITED

There’s just 17 cubic feet of space behind the third row of seats, although the QX80 can carry a payload of 1,460 lbs and it can tow a trailer of up to 8,500 lbs.

One old-fashioned component is welcome. In an era when small turbocharged four-cylinder engines are taking over even in big pickup trucks, the QX80 soldiers on with a solid, burbling V8 engine. It delivers 400 hp and 413 lb-ft of torque from 5.6-liters of displacement.

It makes the driving experience feel effortless. Need to change a lane quickly without neck-snapping your passengers, simply step a bit forcefully on the loud pedal and crank the steering wheel. The power surges instantly and smoothly, with no hint of dreaded turbo lag.

2019 INFINITI QX80 LIMITED

The downside, of course, hits the purse or wallet. With nearly three tons of metal and other ingredients to move, the QX80 guzzled premium fuel like an elephant in a pool of spring water. City/highway/combined consumption is rated by the EPA at 13/19/15 mpg.

That likely won’t matter much to the buyers who can afford the tested Limited model. Though you can find a QX80 with a base price of $66,395, the Limited came with a $91,095 base price. With a few minor options, the bottom-line sticker came to $91,950.

No surprise, that amount of money brings a load of equipment, including the seven-speed automatic transmission with manual-shift control, all-wheel drive, self-leveling rear suspension system, 22-inch aluminum alloy wheels, leather upholstery, tri-zone automatic climate control, motorized steering wheel adjustments, adaptive LED lighting, Bose audio with navigation and SXM satellite radio, and adaptive cruise control.

2019 INFINITI QX80 LIMITED

Full safety equipment includes pre-collision intervention with pedestrian detection forward and back, lane departure prevention, blind-spot warning, active head restraints, electronic brake force distribution and pre-crash adjustable front seat belts.

Styling, of course, always lies in the eyes of the beholders. Suffice to say that the QX80 presents an imposing, almost intimidating appearance to other, smaller vehicles on the highways. It is, however, up against a host of similar three-row SUVs and even crossovers that span the utility segment from middle-class to luxury.

2019 INFINITI QX80 LIMITED

Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Infiniti QX80 Limited four-door sport utility vehicle
  • Engine: 5.6-liter V8; 400 hp, 413 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Seven-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 17 feet 6 inches.
  • Height: 6 feet 4 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 151/17 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 5,930 pounds.
  • Payload: 1,460 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 8,500 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption (premium gasoline): 13/19/15 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $91,095.
  • Price as tested: $91,950.

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

2019 INFINITI QX80 LIMITED

Photos (c) Infiniti

2018 Mazda3 Grand Touring: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer 

2017_Mazda3_57If the 2018 Mazda3 Grand Touring were a lot more expensive,  it likely would be regarded as an exclusive high-class sedan. 

A longstanding favorite of driving enthusiasts, the Mazda3 is a quality compact with exceptional overall performance and many desirable features. Yet in 2017, it came in 10th in sales against the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Nissan Sentra, Hyundai Elantra, Chevrolet Cruze, Ford Focus, Kia Forte, Volkswagen Jetta and Subaru Impreza.

Total Mazda3 sales amounted to a respectable 75,018, which included both conventional sedans and hatchbacks. Leading the compact pack was the Honda Civic with 377,286 sold, or more than five times as many as the Mazda3. In 9th place was the Subaru Impreza, an exceptional compact in its own right with standard all-wheel drive, which totaled 86,043 sales.

2017_Mazda3_exterior_005Sedans and hatchbacks are losing ground to sport utility vehicles, especially the car-based crossovers. At Mazda, for example, the CX-5 midsize crossover outsells all of the Mazda cars, including the Mazda3, Mazda6 and the MX-5 Miata two-seat sports car.

Still, there’s a solid cadre of American customers who prefer sedans — especially those with some sporting credentials — for pure driving enjoyment. That’s where a car like the Mazda3 Grand Touring comes in.

2017_Mazda3_55There are two versions: a five-door hatchback and the subject here, the traditional four-door notchback sedan, which comes with a choice of two engines. The base model, which is no slouch, is equipped with a 155-hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine mated to a six-speed manual gearbox or a six-speed automatic transmission.

The Grand Touring model, the subject here, uses a 184-hp 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that develops 185 lb-ft of torque. It is the torque, or twisting force, that delivers the excitement of strong acceleration off the line. The Grand Touring moves to 60 mph in about seven seconds, more than respectable for a compact sedan in the Mazda3’s price range.

Autodesk VRED Design 2016 SR1-SP4

For enthusiasts who like to shift for themselves, the tested Grand Touring arrived with steering-wheel mounted paddles to manually shift the six-speed automatic transmission. Though the transmission did fine on its own, the paddles were useful for holding gears on twisting, hilly roads.

With a starting price of $25,070, the tested Grand Touring with its six-speed automatic transmission is a bit more expensive than some of its compact competitors. Spiffed up with a short list of options, it came with a $28,470 bottom-line sticker.

2017_Mazda3_51That’s roughly $5,000 less than the average price of a new car these days. Yet it’s a complete package, with a full suite of safety equipment, including lane keeping warning and assist; low-speed automatic collision braking; blind-spot warning; adaptive cruise control; rear cross-traffic alert, and tire-pressure monitoring.

One of the options deserves a separate mention. It is Mazda’s adjustable  head-up display, which uses a separate screen that rises up from the top of the dashboard into the driver’s line of sight. In addition to a digital speedometer, it also reads traffic signs like speed limits and shows other information.

A center-mounted seven-inch color touch screen displays navigation and an array of vehicle functions as well as satellite radio and other entertainment data. Selections can be made from the screen or by using a rotary knob mounted on the center console. 

2017_Mazda3_36The Grand Touring sedan’s exterior styling borders on the generic for compact sedans, handsome without being offbeat or offensive. Where it stands out is in the interior materials, design and execution. The heated leather-covered sport seats on the test car showed quality workmanship and offered long-distance support and comfort up front.

However, the back seat was tight on knee and headroom for average-sized humans. Though there were seatbelts for three, the center-rear position should be reserved for emergency situations. The small trunk’s exposed hinges could damage contents.

Desirable equipment, both standard and optional, included a motorized glass sunroof; dual-zone automatic climate control; LED headlights, fog lights and taillights; pushbutton starting; keyless locking, and rain-sensing windshield wipers.

2017_Mazda3_37On the road, the test car cruised quietly except for engine noises that intruded under hard acceleration. The electric power steering felt nicely weighted and responsive around curves and maintained a strong line in straight freeway cruising. A supple suspension system, abetted by 18-inch alloy wheels and all-season tires, helped the handling without sacrificing ride quality.

Mazda has long touted its SkyActiv technology, a holistic approach that covers every aspect of vehicle design, no matter how tiny. When you sweat the small stuff, you get something like the Mazda3 Grand Touring.

2017_Mazda3_56Specifications

    • Model: 2018 Mazda3 Grand Touring four-door sedan.
    • Engine: 2.5-liter four-cylinder, 184 hp, 185 lb-ft torque.
    • Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual shift mode.
    • Overall length: 15 feet.
    • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 96/12 cubic feet.
    • Weight: 3,100 pounds.
    • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 27/36/30 mpg.
    • Base price, including destination charge: $25,070.
    • Price as tested: $28,470.

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

2017_Mazda3_27.jpgPhotos (c) Mazda.

 

2019 Ram 1500 Crew Cab Limited: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

2019 Ram 1500 Limited

With a brand-new full-size pickup truck loaded with desirable features as the newly designed 2019 Ram 1500, the standout differences are distilled from increments and embellishments.

Big pickups have been getting better — and more popular — for at least a decade. For the Ram, the climb started in 2009 when it became a stand-alone brand after many years as the Dodge Ram.

In 2009, sales totaled 177,268. By 2017, sales had nearly tripled to 500,723, lifting it into the top triumvirate of full-size pickups—third in sales behind the Ford F-Series and Chevrolet Silverado.

2019 Ram 1500 Limited

One big factor in the Ram brand’s success was an embellishment — its adoption of styling that mimicked that of the tractors of the 18-wheelers that ply the nation’s highways.

Now, it could be argued that the 2019 Ram has fully matured, oozing with safety, convenience, comfort and entertainment embellishments that should make it shine during what promises to be a year of cutthroat competition, especially against perennial sales leader Ford, and Chevrolet, which has a new Silverado coming.

2019 Ram 1500 Limited

Pickup truck buyers are notoriously brand loyal. It’s rare for a Ford guy or gal to switch to a Chevrolet or GMC, or a Chevy customer to bail in favor of a Toyota Tundra or Nissan Titan. This new Ram, however, has the stuff to turn customers’ heads.

Though there will be many versions of the Ram 1500 from six models with a starting price of $33,340 for the base Tradesman, the version tested for this review at the national introduction in Scottsdale, Arizona, was the top-of-the-line Limited Crew Cab four-door with optional four-wheel drive.

It was powered by Fiat Chrysler’s venerable 5.7-liter Hemi V8 engine with 395 hp and 410 lb-ft of torque. Power gets to the four corners through a new eight-speed automatic transmission. A dial on the dash enables the driver to choose rear-wheel drive or automatic all-wheel drive for highway duty, or locked four-wheel drive in high and low ranges for off-road adventures.

2019 Ram 1500 Limited

Other versions are in the works for later introduction, including V6 and V8 engines with a mild hybrid eTorque <sic> system that combines a motor generator with a 48-volt battery to enable stop-start for fuel economy. With rear-drive, the Ram has a city/highway/combined rating of 15/22/17 mpg.

Equipped as well as some luxury cars, the Limited had a base price of $60,630. With other options, including air suspension, panoramic sunroof and 22-inch aluminum alloy wheels, the sticker price came to $63,520 — also in luxury-car territory.

Except for its sheer size and weight — common now with full-size pickups — the new Ram can easily please anyone accustomed to luxury transportation. It is uncommonly quiet on the highway, with little intrusion of road, mechanical or wind noise.

2019 Ram 1500 Limited

Contributing to the hushed ambiance are clever engineering devices called active tuned mass modules (ATMM). Mounted on the side frame rails — which by the way are now 98% made of high-strength steel for rigidity and durability — the modules cancel out even miniscule vibrations when the Hemi engine switches automatically on the highway from eight- to four-cylinder operation for fuel economy.

Though you can’t toss it around like a sedan, the Ram drives smaller than its near 20-feet length and 2.5-ton weight would indicate. The steering is responsive and accurate, and the empty ride, abetted by the optional air suspension, frequency response shock absorbers and supportive seats, was comfortable for a big pickup.

2019 Ram 1500 – Rear Flat-load Floor

The Ram’s designers stretched the cab by four inches, most of which went into the back-seat area, where three people can sit with plenty of head and knee room thanks to a flat floor. An enjoyable bonus: the Ram now has a rear seatback, split two-thirds and one-third, that reclines for long-distance comfort. There’s also 5.3 cubic feet of storage space in the cabin.

Passenger volume totals 134 cubic feet and the 5-feet, 7-inch cargo box has 54 cubic feet of space. The tested Limited has a payload of 1,980 lbs and it is capable of towing up to 8,190 lbs.

2019 Ram 1500 Limited

The tester came with FCA’s UConnect infotainment system with a 12-inch vertical screen that displays navigation and other functions, including an overhead surround-view camera that facilitates hooking up a trailer. Android Auto and Apple Car Play also are included, along with upgraded SXM satellite radio, 4G WiFi hotspot and what Ram claims is the most powerful Harman-Kardon audio system ever available in a pickup.

2019 Ram 1500 Rebel

Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Ram 1500 Crew Cab Limited 4×4 pickup truck.
  • Engine: 7-liter V8; 395 hp, 410 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with selectable four-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 19 feet 5 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 132/54 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,925 pounds.
  • Payload: 1,980 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 8,190 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 15/22/17 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $60,630.
  • Price as tested: $63,520.

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

2019 Ram 1500 Limited

Photos (c) Ram.

2018 Hyundai Elantra GT: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Any cook who uses all-purpose flour will understand the 2018 Hyundai Elantra GT, which stands out as an all-purpose automobile.

It is a compact four-door hatchback sedan which seats four adults comfortably — five in a pinch — and has ample cargo space — 25 cubic feet, or about double that in the trunk of a typical compact notchback sedan.

On a day trip with another couple? Open the hatch and toss all your bags, purses, sweaters, ponchos and umbrellas inside. There’s room left over for shopping spree items. Also, at 14 feet 3 inches long, the Elantra GT parks easily almost anywhere.

2018 Elantra GT

Want to cruise your state and visit historical sites? Load your valises and makeup cases into the cargo hold and forget them until you check in for the night. Any overflow can go on the back seat or you can fold the split rear seatback.

Need to help the kid move into the college dorm? Drop both rear seatbacks, load the stuff up to the headliner and hope there are a few square inches for a view to the rear. Adjust your outside mirrors to minimize blind spots.

Of course, there’s nothing unique about the utility of a compact four-door hatchback, which maximizes interior space. With a total of 122 cubic feet of area inside — 97 for passengers — the Elantra GT actually qualifies as a large car according to the government’s size classifications.

Large-30103-2018ElantraGTSportMoreover, there are plenty of choices out there. What distinguishes the Elantra GT is how well it integrates all of those practical touches into a pleasant, quality conveyance that lightens a chore, eases a commute, and delivers fuel economy, comfort, power and handling on multiple all-day drives.

The GT is one of half a dozen Elantra models. Four are sedans, including the tantalizing and inexpensive Elantra Sport. The others are the GT hatchback, tested here, and its more powerful sibling, the GT Sport. Sport models feature a 201-hp, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine with 195 lb-ft of torque and a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.

The non-Sport GT model, though less powerful, has plenty of punch for its all-purpose duties: a 161-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 150 lb-ft of torque. It accelerates to 60 mph in about eight seconds, which is modest by modern standards. The $4,000 upgrade to the GT Sport’s power train gets you a zero-to-60 time of about 6.5 seconds.

2018 Elantra GT

Either engine is available with a slick-shifting six-speed manual gearbox. The GT tested here had a six-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift mode, which costs $1,000 more than the manual.

With dazzling white paint that reflected sunlight and helped the air conditioning cope with Florida temperatures, the South Korean-made GT displayed handsome, European-oriented styling. It came with a starting price of $21,235 that included a solid list of features: basic safety equipment, the six-speed automatic, 17-inch alloy wheels, Android Auto and Apple Car Play infotainment, an eight-inch center screen, Bluetooth connectivity, air conditioning, cruise control, power windows and locks, and a rear-view camera.

But the tester also was equipped with two options packages that elevated the features and price but fell short on safety equipment. The $1,800 Style package added blind spot detection and rear cross-traffic alert along with dual-zone automatic climate control, proximity key with pushbutton starting, heated front seats and a power driver’s seat with lumbar support.

2018 Elantra GT

An additional $4,300 for the Tech package brought a panoramic sunroof, full LED headlights and taillights, navigation system, electronic parking brake, Hyundai’s Bluelink telematics services, premium Infinity audio system, leather upholstery, auto-dimming rearview mirror and a smart-phone charging pad.

All of that brought the GT’s tested price to $27,460, not overly expensive in an era when the average price of a new car is more than $34,000.

2018 Elantra GT

Although the GT uses a relatively simple torsion beam rear suspension system (the GT Sport has a more sophisticated independent multilink rear suspension), the handling is fuss free and the GT tracks cleanly on the freeway and cruises easily at speeds of more than 75 mph.

On smooth paved surfaces, the Elantra GT is quiet and fatigue-free over long distances. However, rougher pavement transmits noises that make their annoying way through the tires and suspension system into the cabin.

A major shortcoming is that some modern safety measures are available only on the more expensive GT Sport with its Tech package, which includes such desirable equipment as forward collision warning, emergency braking and lane-departure warning.

2018 Elantra GT
2018 Elantra GT

Specifications

  • Model: 2018 Hyundai Elantra GT four-door hatchback sedan.
  • Engine: 0-liter four-cylinder, 161 hp, 150 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual shift mode.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 3 inches
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 97/25 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 2,925 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 24/32/27 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $21,235.
  • Price as tested: $27,460.

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

2018 Elantra GT

Photos (c) Hyundai.

2018 Audi TT RS Coupe: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

There are cars, family cars, sports cars, utility cars, plain cars, fancy cars, big cars, little cars and, of course, light trucks. Then there are fantasy cars, of which the 2018 Audi TT RS Coupe is one.

It’s not as much of a fantasy as the new 1,500-hp Bugatti Chiron, priced at nearly $3 million. Or even of the McLaren P1 at $1.15 million. At just over $74,000, however, the TT RS can fulfill the fantasies of platoons of car nuts.

Audi TT RS Coupé

It is a tidy and powerful fastback sports coupe with all-wheel drive and a 400-hp 2.5-liter turbocharged five-cylinder engine that delivers 354 lb-ft of torque, enough to propel its 3,270-lb mass to 60 mph in about three and one-half seconds, with a top speed of 174.

The power gets to the pavement through a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. Unfortunately for some fantasizers, the TT RS no longer offers a six-speed manual gearbox. That deficiency is becoming more common as automatics continually improve.

Mollifying some of the discontent, this rapid-shifting Audi transmission can be shifted manually with paddles mounted on the steering wheel. But computer controlled dual-clutch automatics shift more expertly, depending on the conditions and driver input, than even professional drivers. In the end, the paddles are useful more for entertainment or holding a given gear on twisting mountain roads.

Audi TT RS Coupé

As might be deduced, the TT RS is not for everyone. At 4 feet 5 inches tall, the roofline is so low that you have to duck so you don’t bang your noggin crawling inside. Best to point the bum toward the seat bottom, fold yourself in half and back in.

Once there, you are treated to supportive and comfortable front seats with plenty of bolstering to hug the torso. They are upholstered in diamond-quilted, perforated leather with a three-position heating system that warms up quickly. However, the warming did not extend to the steering wheel.

Don’t bother to look for the now ubiquitous center screen that on most cars displays and controls navigation, vehicle information and entertainment functions. On the TT RS, Audi has located all of those functions, along with the speedometer, tachometer, backup camera, and power and torque readouts, on a 12.3-inch digital screen right in the driver’s line of sight behind the steering wheel.

Audi TT RS Coupé

It’s all very compact and easy to read without taking your eyes off the road as much as you must with a center screen. Moreover, there are different screens that you can choose to emphasize what you wish to see. But some displays are tiny and the spokes of the flat-bottom steering-occasionally block some of the readouts.

Overall, the TT RS is a cute and stylish little sportster with styling that hints at high performance but doesn’t come across as aggressive. To the uninitiated, it could simply be a small hatchback coupe that surprises other motorists when it rockets away from a stoplight.

At 13 feet 9 inches long, the TT RS has quick and athletic moves enhanced by Audi’s quattro all-wheel drive, a performance-tuned suspension system and sticky summer tires, though the tires are of dubious value in the cold and snowy weather much of the country experienced this winter. Better to have two sets of tires for winter and summer or good all-season rubber.

images-original-3139-2018+TT+RS+7With all its performance, the TT RS can be used as an unassuming daily driver. It is what used to be called a Plus Two, which means it has a vestigial back seat that is suitable mainly for backpacks and watermelons. There’s 12 cubic feet of space for cargo under the hatch and the rear seatbacks can be folded to more than double that.

Base price of the tested TT RS with subdued “Nardo Gray” paint was $65,875, which included basic safety equipment, the Audi virtual cockpit, automatic climate control, HD and SXM satellite radio, LED running lights and taillights, folding and heated outside mirrors with auto-dimming, and a garage-door opener, among other features.

Stand-alone extras and options packages brought the as-tested price up to $74,025. Included were Audi’s multimedia and navigation system, Bang & Olufsen audio, 20-inch forged alloy wheels, sport exhaust system, the summer performance tires, leather-covered console and armrests, carbon-fiber inlays and brake calipers painted red.

Overall, if you can live with the tight quarters and the high price, the Audi TT RS is what westerners would call an engaging little critter.

images-original-2458-HEROSpecifications

  • Model: 2018 Audi TT RS Coupe Quattro S tronic two-door sports hatchback.
  • Engine:5-liter five-cylinder, turbocharged 400 hp, 354 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 13 feet 9 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 74/12 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,270 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 19/29/22 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $65,875.
  • Price as tested: $74,025.

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

images-original-3138-2018+TT+RS+8Photos (c) Audi.

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 Mercedes-Benz E400 Cabriolet: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

With convertibles shrinking in number and their owners becoming older and richer, it’s no surprise that Mercedes-Benz continues to field models like the 2018 E400 4MATIC Cabriolet.

This E400, a classy and expensive boulevardier with all-weather all-wheel-drive capability, is marketed as a midsize car alongside its E-Class coupe, sedan, station wagon and crossover SUV garage-mates. But it is more of a sports car in concept and size.

Though two inches shy of 16 feet long, its interior volume — the way the U.S. government classifies automobiles — is just a touch shy of the compact definition, so it dips just barely into the subcompact category.

_F8A9252-1200x800To qualify as a compact, a car must have 100 to 109 cubic feet of interior volume, which includes both the passenger and trunk space. The E400 has 89.9 cubic feet of passenger room, most of it up front, where the total is 55.2 cubic feet. The back seat has 34.7 cubic feet.

The trunk’s capacity is 9.5 cubic feet, which puts the total interior volume at 99.4 cubic feet. And that’s as good as it gets with the top up. If you lower the beautifully upholstered and finished soft top, an expansion boot drops into the trunk area to accommodate the folded top and robs the trunk of about one-third of its space.

Two adults can sit in the back seat if the folks up front co-operate by moving their seats forward. But it’s very tight and crawling back there takes some athletic ability. The motorized right front seat automatically moves forward to ease access when you tilt the seatback, then reverses back into place.

_F8A9893-1200x794So, the conclusion is that the E400 Cabriolet works better as a conveyance for two people, who can use the back seats for some of their luggage, especially handy if they want to enjoy top-down motoring. It also likely should see some open car parade duty with a Santa Claus or congressman perched on the boot with feet planted on the back seat.

The Cabriolet’s elegant touches include gorgeous natural grain light brown elm wood trim and a headliner so deftly padded that the interior looks and feels like a coupe. Sumptuous perforated leather upholstery and the Mercedes air curtain that warms necks through the front seat headrests contribute to the luxury ambiance.

_F8A9921-1200x800The test car came with a so-called AMG Line appearance package that mimics some of the styling and other visual touches of the Mercedes higher performance AMG models.

Other standard comfort and convenience items include dual-zone automatic climate control, pushbutton starting, navigation system, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, power front seats with lumbar support and memory, and a12-inch touch screen for audio, navigation and other functions.

As with many of these sophisticated infotainment functions, the Mercedes COMAND (Cockpit Management and Data) system requires a bit of learning because it is not intuitive. It’s best to take time to read the owner’s manual or get lessons from experts at the dealership.

_F8A9928-1200x788With all the luxury touches, this convertible also has some sports car moves. It is powered by a 329-hp 3.0-liter V6 engine with twin turbochargers that makes 354 lb-ft of torque, which Mercedes says enables it to accelerate to 60 mph in 5.3 seconds.

The power goes to all four wheels through a nine-speed automatic transmission that can be shifted manually with paddles mounted on the steering wheel. It shifts smoothly for the most part but is prone to occasional hiccups at lower speeds.

There are driver-selectable driving modes that provide adjustments for ride, transmission shifting and throttle response. Of those, the Sport Plus mode is biased toward handling, delivering a tauter ride.

_F8A9277-1200x800This is a Mercedes-Benz, after all, so don’t expect any bargains. Where the South Korean and some other manufacturers make a lot of desirable equipment standard, on the E400 Cabrio much is optional, including the Cardinal Red Metallic paint job at $1,000 extra.

The same goes for the $9,350 Premium 3 package, which includes adaptive cruise control and active assists for steering, lane keeping, blind spot warning and automatic emergency braking. Also in the package are a stop-start system, Burmaster premium surround-sound audio system, SXM satellite radio, inductive wireless charging, adaptive headlight assist and even systems to purify inside air and inject gaseous fragrances.

Options totaled $14,930, which brought the base of $69,795 up to the tested price of $84,725. Nice work if you can afford it.

_F8A8510-1200x833Specifications:

  • Model: 2018 Mercedes-Benz E400 4MATIC two-door convertible.
  • Engine:0-liter V6, twin turbochargers, 329 hp, 354 lb-ft of torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 10 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 90 and 10 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,332 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 20/25/22 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $69,795.
  • Price as tested: $84,725.

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

_F8A9750-1200x800Photos (c) Mercedes-Benz.

2018 Honda Clarity PHEV: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Honda enhances the dream of the future with its 2018 Clarity Plug-in Hybrid, latest in a triad of new electrified vehicles.

The future is electric power, alone or in conjunction with — at least for a while — fossil-fueled vehicles. With the introduction of this new Clarity, Honda has completed its initial quest.

Earlier, it introduced the hydrogen-powered Clarity, which uses the most abundant element in the universe to feed electric motors, although as of now the hydrogen must be manufactured from fossil fuels. The company also fields a pure electric Clarity.

2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid

You could argue that there’s a fourth electrified vehicle that could be in the mix: a standard hybrid that runs on electricity and gasoline or diesel fuel. But a plug-in, left to its own devices without being plugged in, operates the same way. Moreover, the company has a hybrid version of its popular Honda Accord.

Honda’s goal is to sell around 75,000 Clarity sedans over the next four years, with electrified vehicles constituting two-thirds of its global sales by 2030. The effort is becoming widespread in the industry as other manufacturers also concentrate on electrified cars, crossovers, sport utility vehicles and trucks.

Like its siblings, the new Clarity Hybrid exhibits classy styling, though without what a few critics regard as excessive gingerbread on some Civic models. The rear-wheel cutouts give it a streamlined look and incorporate air ducts to cool the rear brakes. LED lights adorn both the front and rear.

2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid

The powertrain consists of a 1.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine with 103 hp and 99 lb-ft of torque, mated to two electric motors. One delivers 181 hp and 212 lb-ft of torque for driving; the other generates electricity. The total system provides 212 hp and 232 lb-ft of torque.

Because electric motors deliver their maximum torque instantly when they are switched on, and the Clarity’s primary power is electric, there is no need for a conventional automatic transmission. It uses a fixed single-speed transmission.

Fully charged, the Clarity can be driven up to 47 miles on electricity alone. The range actually seems longer because the gasoline engine occasionally kicks on, saving battery power. The EPA rates city/highway/combined gasoline-only fuel economy at 44/40/42 mpg. Combined, the system is rated at the equivalent of 110 mpg.

2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid

Built into the Clarity is a 6.6 kilowatt, 32-amp charger, which enables a full charge in 2.5 hours using a 240-volt outlet. If you simply plug it into a standard 120-volt household outlet, full charging takes 12 hours.

One of the advantages of a plug-in hybrid is that you don’t necessarily have to plug it in. The batteries never fully discharge but reach a low point where they don’t power the electric motor and the Clarity runs on its gasoline engine. You can recover some electric power with careful regenerative deceleration and braking.

All three Clarity models provide a surge of acceleration off the line — an observed zero-to-60 mph time of about seven seconds. The electric and hydrogen models feel a bit quicker than the hybrid because its gasoline engine gets involved.

2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid

A pushbutton gets things going. Console-mounted buttons select Drive, Park and Neutral, and you pull up on one for Reverse. The selection system is becoming standard in Honda and Acura vehicles.

Cruising strictly on electric power is serene, with the only sounds intruding into the cabin coming from tires on the pavement. When the gasoline engine kicks on to boost the power, it engages so quietly and seamlessly that you barely know it’s there.

There are two versions of the Clarity PHEV, which stands for plug-in hybrid electric vehicle. The standard model, priced at $34,290, comes with Honda Sensing, a suite of safety technologies that includes collision and road departure mitigation, adaptive cruise control with low-speed follow and lane-keeping assist.

2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid

Other equipment includes dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats, Bluetooth connectivity, an eight-inch touch screen with a rear-view camera and Honda’s Lane Watch system, which shows a panoramic view of the right-side blind spot when the right turn signal is switched on.

Also available is the $37,490 Clarity PHEV Touring model, which adds a navigation system, leather-trimmed upholstery, leather-wrapped steering wheel, power front seats with memory and a fuzzy ultra-suede dashboard trim.

Clarity competitors include the Toyota Prius Prime, Chevrolet Volt and Ford Fusion PHEV.

2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid

Specifications

  • Model: 2018 Honda Clarity Touring PHEV plug-in hybrid four-door sedan.
  • Engine and Motor: 1.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline, 103 hp, 99 lb-ft torque; electric motor, 181 hp, 212 lb-ft torque. Combined system hp, 212.
  • Transmission: Fixed single speed.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 1 inch.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 102/16 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,059 lbs.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 44/40/42 mpg (gasoline only). System: 110 mpg equivalent.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $37,490.
  • Price as tested: $37,490.

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

2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid

Photos (c) Honda.

 

2018 Ford Mustang GT: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The 2018 Ford Mustang arrives with unprecedented power, lowdown styling, a new 10-speed automatic transmission and enough models and colors to satisfy any Mustang enthusiast.

There are 10 versions in all: Six fastback coupes and four convertibles with three engine and two transmission choices. All of them can deliver driving excitement and an adrenaline rush — even the tested model with the 2.3-liter EcoBoost (Ford’s synonym for turbocharged) four-cylinder, which makes 310 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque.

It now is the only alternative to the V8 engine in the Mustang GT. The previous V6 engine no longer is installed in the Mustang.

2018 Mustang Pony Package

The 5-0-liter V8 delivers 460 hp with 420 lb-ft of torque. Like other new Mustangs, it is available with a six-speed manual gearbox or the new 10-speed automatic transmission, which can be shifted manually with steering-wheel paddles.

Also offered are two fastback Shelby GT 5.0 V8 models with 526 hp and 429 lb-ft of torque. However, only Fastback 2.3-liter four-bangers and 5.0-liter GTs with performance packages were tested at the press introduction in the Malibu hills near Los Angeles, Calif. — the latter with both the six-speed manual and 10-speed automatic.

Dedicated enthusiasts likely will opt for the stick shift, which features a slick and positive linkage and easy clutch engagement. With all those horses pawing at the pavement, the GT manual can be driven in almost any gear in any circumstance. There’s enough power to tool around at modest speeds in 5th or 6th gear, and you can quickly get up to freeway speeds in first and second.

2018 Ford Mustang Interior

The 10-speed does as well, automatically. But it has a curious quirk. With the shift lever in “Drive,” it sometimes gets befuddled at modest speeds, hesitating then lurching. It overcomes that if you stomp on the throttle. The solution, Ford engineers said, is to drive it in the “Sport” mode. But then you have the engine on the boil constantly, with fuel-economy consequences.

However, that same transmission in Ford’s new aluminum-bodied 2018 Expedition full-size sport utility vehicle shifts almost as smoothly as a fidget spinner. Likely it uses different software, which should be adapted to the Mustang’s “Drive” mode.

The 10-speed’s paddle shifters are there for the entertainment value. But modern, computer-controlled automatic transmissions handle the shifts with more dexterity than humans. Even professional drivers on road-racing courses now often allow the computer to determine the shifting, especially when driving cars with rev-matching on downshifts. The GT has both rev-matching and drag-strip launch control.

2018 Ford Mustang GT

In spite of the GT’s zero-to-60 mph sprint at a hair shy of four seconds and a top speed of 155 miles an hour, the 2.3-liter is no slouch. It can reach 60 miles an hour in 5.9 seconds, with a top speed of around 140, and still manages a city/highway/combined fuel economy rating of 21/32/25 mpg compared to the GT’s 15/25/18. Premium gasoline is required for both engines.

Some enthusiasts might even prefer the 2.3 because its lighter front end delivers better cornering balance on curving mountain roads. But that’s at speeds of 40, 50 and 60 mph, dictated by the tightness of the turns. On a road racing course with long straightaways, you’d obviously prefer the GT for its massive power, or even one of the Shelby variants.

The Mustang’s membership in the high performance and handling club do not bar it from the grand touring class. With comfortable and supportive front seats, it celebrates long-distance motoring for two. Anyone relegated to the difficult to access back seats, however, will rebel.

2018 Ford Mustang Interior

Besides its slicker profile, the 2018 Mustang, depending on the model, comes with full safety equipment, including lane-keeping assist and a pre-collision system that can detect pedestrians. Other features include LED headlights, a dozen wheel options, 11 colors, customizable instrument cluster, and even an “active valve performance exhaust system” that allows you to drive your Mustang in quiet mode or bellowing like an agitated moose.

None of this, of course, comes cheap. The GT had a base price of US $39,095 and, with options, a bottom line of US $53,160.

The 2.3-liter Fastback Premium, also with the 10-speed, started at $30,600 and topped out at $39,880.

The Mustang has now been with us for nearly the double nickel — 55 yearsn— a long ways from the original 1965 model, introduced in 1964, with a 101-hp, 2.8-liter six-cylinder engine and a three-speed floor-mounted gearshift. Ain’t evolution great?

2018 Ford Mustang

Specifications

  • Model: 2018 Ford Mustang Fastback Premium two-door coupe.
  • Engine: 2.3-liter four-cylinder, 310 hp, 350 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: 10-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and rear-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 9 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 85/24 cubic feet
  • Weight: 3,535 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 21/32/24 mpg. Premium recommended.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $31,500.
  • Price as tested: $39,880.

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

Photos (c) Ford.

2018 Ford Mustang

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