Friday, November 15, 2019


VOLKSWAGEN BOOSTS HORSEPOWER

TO 228 FOR ITS ‘HOT HATCH’ GOLF GTI


Based on the seventh generation of Volkswagen’s popular Golf hatchback, the 2019 VW Golf GTI 2.0T is the Germans’ answer for those buyers asking for a little more punch from the iconic Golf hatchback.

Using Teutonic terms, the GTI is a “hot hatch” offering a bit more in the way of horsepower over the 2018 GTI and a lot more than the 147 horsepower the standard Golf delivers.


The 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine in the 2019 is rated at 228 horsepower, 8 more than the 2018 GTI though torque numbers remain the same at 258 pound-feet starting at 1500 rpm. Those power numbers are achieved using premium fuel, but you can use regular unleaded if you aren’t seeking that peak performance.

A 6-speed manual transmission is standard with a 6-speed automatic as optional for an extra $1,100. Fuel economy is pretty much the same with either transmission with the manual rated at 24 miles-per-gallon city, 32 highway and the automatic 25/31. Combined mpg is the same for either at 27.


The 2019 GTI comes in four trim levels including a limited edition Rabbit Edition that slots in between the S and SE. Sitting at the top of the line is the Autobahn trim on which this review is based.

It is easily the most expensive of the bunch with a starting MSRP of $37,990 including the $895 destination and delivery charge with the automatic transmission. The base S model with the automatic starts at $29,590, which puts it at the high end of the segment (remember, subtract $1,100 for the manual tranny).


Additional features you get as standard in the Autobahn over the other trims include a 12-way power sport driver’s seat with lumbar support, dual-zone automatic climate control, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, Fender premium audio, 8-inch touchscreen with navigation, VW’s Car-Net system for enhanced connectivity, active blind spot monitor, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, park distance control, and park steering assistant.

Leather seating surfaces and Sirius/XM satellite radio are standard on both the Autobahn and SE trims. S and Rabbit models get cloth seats with “Clark” plaid inserts (Google it).


Special safety features like forward collision warning with autonomous emergency braking and rear traffic alert come on the upper three trims and are optional on the base S trim.

The interior is nicely done with techno features easy enough to operate. Both the radio and climate control systems are operated with knobs doing the volume and tuning on the former and temperature and blower on the latter. Of course, there are duplicate controls for the radio on the steering wheel.

The GTI is pretty roomy for a compact with 41.2 inches of legroom up front, 35.6 in the back, and cargo capacity of 22.8 cubic feet. The ride is solid but not overly stiff under normal conditions, and, like most smaller cars, it gives the illusion of higher speed when whipping through the streets and roads.

Little wonder that, according to research by J.D. Power, more than half of GTI buyers identify themselves as “performance” buyers. And they are not kids either. J.D. Power describes the average GTI buy as a male, with a median age of 46 years and median yearly household income of nearly $114,000.

What I liked about the 2019 Golf GTI 2.0T Autobahn: Technology is user friendly, though the navigation system map was not updated so I didn’t get a chance to test it, but audio and climate control were fine. You can turn off the automatic stop/start function with the push of a button. Performance was pretty lively. Red accents on the exterior are a nice touch. The interior is roomy for its class.

What I didn't like about the 2019 Golf GTI 2.0T Autobahn: The price tag is pretty steep for a compact hatchback.

Would I buy the 2019 Golf GTI 2.0T Autobahn? I no longer fit in this demographic, but if I did a lot of driving on crowded urban with scant parking, I would consider it for sure. It’s a good vehicle for daily commutes.


Friday, November 8, 2019


REDESIGNED FOR 2019, AUDI Q3 RATES AMONG BEST LUXURY COMPACT CROSSOVER/SUVS

If you’re looking for a reason for the rise in popularity of SUVs/crossovers and the corresponding slumps in sedan sales, you need look no further than the 2019 Audi Q3, a compact SUV that drives and rides like a traditional car while offering the roominess and hauling capacity that today’s buyers appreciate in an SUV.

Redesigned for this year, the Q3 has it all.


It has two rows of seating to accommodate five passengers comfortably, and its 23.7 cubic feet of cargo behind the second row is 7-10 more cubic feet than you usually get from the traditional sedan trunk. Fold the second row and there is up to 48 cubic feet behind the front row. Even sedans that allow you to fold the back seat can’t match that.

Legroom for second-row occupants is 36.1 inches, which is more than your usual sedan offers. Those in the front get a healthy 40 inches.


Yet you can squire the Q3 with ease through mall parking lots and slide it comfortably into the tightest of spaces without fear of door dings (unless occupants of the adjacent cars are exceedingly careless or rude or both).

Behind the wheel, you get the feel of driving a midsize sedan, whether in urban environs or on the highway. In either case, the ride is smooth and quiet.

The new 2.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine is mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission and delivers 228 horsepower from 5000-7500 rpm and 258 pound-feet of torque from 1700-4400 rpm.

The zero-to-60 mph clocking is 7.0 seconds, not neck-snapping but certainly not sluggish. With Audi’s all-wheel drive quattro system, fuel mileage is 19 miles-per-gallon city, 27 highway, and 22 combined.

Those are not particularly impressive numbers for the class, especially with some of its luxury competitors boasting highway numbers into the low 30 mpg. But if you’re shopping in this segment, I doubt that would be a deal-killer.


The 2019 Audi Q3 comes in two models with three different trims.

The base Q3 starts at $35,695 (including destination and delivery) with Premium trim and $38,795 with Premium Plus.

The Q3 S Line runs $36,995 in Premium mode, $40,095 in Premium Plus, and $43,995 with Prestige Plus trim.

The S Line rides on 19-inch wheels with 20-inchers as optional, while the base Q3 gets 18-inchers.

In addition to differences in standard equipment, some option packages are also offered only on the upper trim levels on S Line models. A Sport Interior Package available on S Line Premium Plus and Prestige trims includes S line sport seats in black or gray leather with contrast stitching, steering wheel shift paddles and brushed aluminum, matte inlays.


With that Sport Interior Package, you can also add an Alcantara® Interior package which enhances the interior with orange Alcantara accents on the dash and door armrests.

What I liked about the 2019 Audi Q3 S Line quattro: It's a great looking car and the inside is packed with high quality materials. The ride is firm but not not too firm, and performance lively for the segment. A wealth of technological features are very user friendly. Audi's “virtual cockpit” gives you the option of having the navigation map projected into the instrument panel right in front of the driver’s eyes. Setting it to Google Earth view over the standard map also enhances the feature view. Standard all-wheel drive is nice, too.

What I didn't like about the 2019 Audi Q3 S Line quattro: Fuel efficiency could be improved. It seemed like I blinked and the gauge was down to half a tank.

Would I buy the 2019 Audi Q3 S line quattro? Yes. If are wary of giving up your sedan to get an SUV, don’t be. The Q3 will ease that transition for you.



Thursday, October 31, 2019


NEW PALISADE SUV LOOKS LIKE

A WINNER FOR HYUNDAI FOR 2020


The good reception that Hyundai’s earlier ventures into the three-row SUV segment (Santa Fe XL, Veracruz) received never really translated into much of the way of overall success in the market, but that may be changing, and soon.

There's no guarantee of that, of course, but the 2020 Hyundai Palisade’s combination of good looks and functionality will even appeal to those who customarily browse luxury showrooms. It’s a high-class vehicle!

Hyundai touts its newest flagship SUV as the “ultimate family vehicle for practical, comfortable daily use” as well as the more adventurous road trips. It replaces the Santa Fe XL (2012 was the last model year for the  Veracruz) as the company’s offering in three-row segment with more space for both passengers and cargo.


The Palisade’s wheelbase has greater length and a longer wheelbase than the 2019 Santa Fe XL, checking in at 196.1 inches and 114.2 inches, respectively, to the outgoing Santa Fe’s 193.1 and 110.2.

Thus passengers in the third row get more leg and shoulder room in the Palisade over the Santa Fe XL, and riders in all three rows get more head, leg and shoulder room.

The Palisade also excels when it comes to cargo space, offering a generous 18.0 cubic feet behind the third row, 45.8 behind the second, and 86.4 being the front row.

That solves the dilemma common to many three-row SUVs of having to decide what stuff you will have to leave behind to accommodate a vacation-bound seven- or eight-passenger load.

The Palisade is offered in three trim levels (SE, SEL, and Limited) with a 3.8-liter V6 engine under the hood that offers 291 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque.

That engine is mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters for manual gear selection and four driving modes (Eco, Comfort, Sport, and Smart) with a fifth (Snow) offered in all-wheel drive models.


Fuel economy numbers are average for the class at 19 miles-per-gallon city, 24 highway, with all-wheel drive and 19/26 with front-wheel drive. Overall performance is more than up to everyday demands, and never in the week that I drove it did I find myself thinking, “I wish this had more power.”

The ride is firm, but comfortable and relatively quiet, and the Palisade handled our neighborhood’s speed bumps with ease and confidence.


The Palisade also is strong in creature comforts with a wealth of safety and technological features like forward collision assist with pedestrian detection, lane-keeping assist, rear parking distance warning, trailer sway control (towing capacity with trailer brakes is 5,000 pounds), projector headlamps with LED accents, LED daytime running lights, high beam assist, rear spoiler, privacy glass, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, keyless entry, lane-following assist, Bluetooth hands-free phone with wireless audio system, rear-view parking monitor with guidelines, Smart Cruise Control with Stop & Go, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto standard on all trims.

The top-of-the-line Limited trim (the preferred model in the lineup) is especially loaded with goodies like Nappa leather seating surfaces, heated and ventilated front and second-row seats limiting capacity to 7 instead of 8), power-folding third-row seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel, a 10.25-inch touchscreen with navigation and traffic flow, a Harman Kardon premium audio system, 8-way power adjustable driver’s seat with 4-way power lumbar, blind spot monitor, surround view monitor, heads-up display, wireless charging, and Hyunda’s Blue Link system.


Captain’s chairs in the second row (standard on the Limited, optional on the SEL) reduce capacity to seven passengers instead of eight. 

All that runs the Limited’s MSRP up to $47,605 including $1,045 for destination and delivery and $160 for carpeted floor mats. That’s a pretty good jump over the starting price for the SE ($32,595) and SEL ($34,545).

One interesting feature I should mention. New this year is a Blind Spot Avoidance Assist system that projects side views of adjacent lanes in the instrument panel in the spots for the speedometer and tachometer when the corresponding turn signal is activated.

Some reviewers have found the system a bit distracting, but it’s a great feature when used correctly.

What I liked about the 2020 Hyundai Palisade Limited: This could be a very long list because there is a lot to like here, starting with the user-friendly infotainment system. Hyundai long ago made that a trademark for its products. The Blind Spot Avoidance System is an interesting innovation. It gives you another look for potential vehicles riding in your blind spot.

What I didn't like about the 2020 Hyundai Palisade Limited: I had to think long and hard on this one, and probably the one thing I could come up with is that the buttons in the middle of the center stack to select radio, navigation, etc. can be hard to read depending on the lighting. I’m also not sure I like the push buttons for selecting gears for the transmission. They seem to require a bit more pressure than expected and at times it can be easy to leave your vehicle in drive when you think you have punched in reverse.

Would I buy the 2020 Hyundai Palisade Limited? In a heartbeat. The Limited version can be rather expensive, but it is worth everything you pay for. But the SEL version seems well-equipped and starts at $11,200 less than the Limited giving you some leeway with options.


Sunday, October 20, 2019


INTERESTED IN A BIG TRUCK? GMC MIGHT HAVE THE ONE FOR YOU IN SIERRA 2500HD AT4


The GMC Sierra 2500HD AT4 is a big truck.

It’s also a beautiful truck and a very utilitarian vehicle, but your first impression is pretty much going to be, “Wow. This is a big truck.”


This is not the kind of truck you likely would want for runs to the local home improvement store to pick up a load of sod. This one you’d use for bringing back a load of trees for your landscaping project. Big trees.

Yes, the 2020 GMC 2500HD AT4 is for serious trucksters. GMC even touts it as “the most capable heavy-duty truck” that it has ever offered.



Standard features for AT4 models include a ProGrade Trailering system with an available 15 camera views, keyless open and start, remote start, dual zone climate control, heated front and rear outer seats, ventilated front seats, driver seat and mirror memory, folding exterior mirrors that can be extended with the push of a button, heated leather-wrapped steering wheel, LED reflector headlamps, a tailgate that flips down with the push of a button, a spray-on bedliner, a dozen cargo tie-downs, and side and corner steps for easy access to the bed.

An AT4 Premium Package ($4,215) adds such items as a rear sliding power window, a premium entertainment system with navigation, 8-inch HD touchscreen, voice recognition, Bluetooth audio streaming, Apple CarPlan and Android Auto, Bose premium sound system, wireless charging, LED roof marker lamps, front and rear park assist, lane-change alert with blind side alert, and rear cross traffic alert.



A new 6.0-liter V8 gasoline engine has increased power for 2020 (401 horsepower, 464 pound-feet of torque), but a 6.6-liter Duramax V8 turbo diesel engine is the real big boy. Mated with a new 10-speed automatic transmission, it pumps out 445 horsepower and a whopping 910 pound-feet of torque, giving this behemoth a towing capacity in excess of 30,000 pounds. It runs surprisingly quiet, too.

The AT4 model (as opposed to the upscale Denali) is designed for more off-road use with a 2-speed automatic transfer case as standard.



An off-road suspension, skid plates, a locking differential, and special shocks are included. Hill descent control, hill start assist, and a traction select system with a specific off-road (and tow) mode also are part of the package.

All this comes at a price, of course, and one that matches its size in bigness. Starting MSRP for the Sierra 2500HD AT4 is $57,700 plus a hefty $1,595 destination and delivery charge.



My well-equipped vehicle for the week had enough options to run the bottom line to $77,555 after a $750 AT4 Premium Package discount was taken off.

 What I liked about the 2020 GMC Sierra 2500HD AT4 Crew Cab: This is a great looking truck that is up go about anything you might ask of a full-size pickup. The infotainment features are numerous and very user friendly. The surround-view camera is a real plus. The running board makes the climb up into the Crew Cab much less of a task. You can go a long way between fill-ups with the turbo diesel.



What I didn’t like about the 2020 GMC Sierra 2500HT HT4 Crew cab: Maneuvering in a mall parking lot is a task, a huge task. Even fitting into many marked places is difficult. The backend hangs out into the street in some lots where perpendicular parking is required. The interior could use an upgrading.

Would I buy the 2020 GMC Sierra 2500HD AT4 Crew Cab? I am not a truck guy, especially a big truck guy, so no, I would not. But it is really a great option for those who need such a big vehicle and can afford it.



Thursday, October 10, 2019


BMW KICKS POWER FOR 3 SERIES SEDAN UP A NOTCH WITH 2020 M340i AND M340i xDRIVE

BMW’s 3-Series has been around for over four decades, and now the German automaker has taken its so-called “entry” level luxury sedan to a new level.

The 2020 M340i and M340i xDrive now in showrooms are the most powerful non-M 3 Series yet. With a 3.0-liter, 6-cylinder engine (382 horsepower, 369 pound-feet of torque), the M340i xDrive moves from zero-to-60 in 4.2 seconds.


That ranks right up there with the vaunted M3 with an optional Competition package!

Yet the M340i is civilized enough to earn mileage ratings of 22 miles-per-gallon city, 30 highway and 25 combined.

About the only bone to pick in the way of powertrain is that the only transmission offered is an 8-speed automatic with paddle shifters for manual shifting. No manual is available. (Sigh.)


The engine is not the only facet that gets niceties from the “M” grab bag.

Included in the base $54,000 MSRP ($54,995 including destination and delivery) are M Sport brakes, M differential, M sport steering wheel, and an M rear spoiler for a sporty appearance.

Adaptive M suspension is available for an extra $700, and included at no extra cost are LED headlights with cornering lights, 14-way power adjustable sport seats with lumbar support, navigation featuring a 10.25-inch screen, a moonroof, automatic climate control, Apple CarPlay, a wifi hotspot, and variable sport steering.


Of course, BMW also offers a lot of extras, perhaps too many in fact. You can replace the standard sound system with Harmon Kardon Surround Sound ($875) and add remote engine start ($300) and special ambient lighting ($250).

That only begins to run up the final price.


Throw in packages like the Executive Package (automatic high beams, gesture control and special lighting), Drivers Assistance Package (Active Driving Assistant Pro, blind spot and lane departure warning), Drivers Assistance Pro Package (extended traffic jam assistant), Premium Package (heated steering wheel, heated front seats, and head-up display), and Cooling & HP Tire package) and all of a sudden you’re at a bottom line of $67,070.

If you prefer all-wheel drive to rear-wheel, the xDrive system adds $2,000 to final tab.

What I liked about the 2020 BMW M340i sedan: No manual transmission is offered, but you can get enough in the way of performance by driving in Sport or Sport-plus mode. It’s a real looker from the outside, and the inside lives up to its luxury status.

What I didn’t like about the 2020 BMW M340i sedan: The iDrive 7.0 infotainment system is as fussy as ever to operate and can be distracting to the driver. Options run the M340i from the mid-$50,000 range to nearly $70,000. 

Would I buy the 2020 BMW M340i sedan? There's always the issue of dealing with the operation of the iDrive infotainment system, but the M340i has so much good stuff to offer that shouldn’t be the determining factor in any decision. The real drawback would be the temptation to add too many options and run the price up.


Tuesday, October 1, 2019


BMW GOES BIG WITH INTRODUCTION

OF NEW X7 'ACTIVITY' VEHICLE FOR 2019

If you are a believer in bigger is always better, than BMW has the SUV (excuse me, in BMW's terminology it's a Sports Activity, not Sports Utility, Vehicle) you have been looking for.

The BMW X7 launched for 2019 is the company's largest utility, er, activity, vehicle yet with standard three-row seating for seven (or six when equipped with second-row captain's chairs) and towing capacity of up to 7,500 pounds when equipped with the factory hitch.

It comes in two versions. The X7 xDrive40i comes with a turbocharged V6 under the hood. The X7 xDrive50i on which this review is based has a turbo V8 that ups horsepower to 456 from the 335 of the turbo-6 and torque to 479 pound-feet from 330.

Both engines are mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters for manual gear selection and driving modes that can be set to comfort, sport, eco, or set to individual tastes.


Presumably, driving in Eco might improve the mileage figures of 17 miles-per-gallon city, 21 highway, and 15 combined using premium fuel, but more time spent in sport mode likely would have the opposite effect.

It's your choice, of course, but sport mode does deliver a more pleasing driving experience. The V8 moves the X7 xDrive50i's 5,617 pounds from zero-to-60 mph in a brisk 5.2 seconds. BMW clockers report a 5.8 clocking for the somewhat lighter (5,370 pounds) X7 xDrive40i.


Being the biggest in the fleet of the German automaker's fleet of "Activity" vehicles, the X7 offers generous interior space, though legroom and headroom in the third row is a bit confining at 33.3 and 36.6 inches, respectively. Legroom up front is just under 40 inches with headroom of 41.9 inches.

Being a BMW, it has all the niceties that a luxury vehicle typically has complete with the latest in technology. The heated, 20-way power adjustable, multi-contour front seats include 4-way lumbar support, and the panoramic moonroof and power liftgate are standard.


Also included with no charge in the X7 xDrive50i's $92,600 MSRP (a jump of nearly $18,000 over the X7 xDrive40i) are such features as active blind spot detection and lane-keeping warning, wood interior trim, a parking assist system, Wi-Fi hotspot, and a Harmon Kardon Surround Sound audio system with a one-year subscription to SiriusXM satellite radio.

Too many option packages quickly added $25,000 to the base MSRP for my test vehicle, however, running the total to $117,945 including the $995 destination and delivery charge.

You don't have to go full bore, of course. For example, I could do without the leather dashboard that added $1,200 to the price or the Bowers & Wilkins sound system that tacked on $3,400. The Dynamic Handling Package (suspension and steering upgrades) and M Sport Package (trim upgrades) combined add over $8,000 alone.


I also could probably do without the Premium Package (Remote Engine Start, Soft-Close automatic doors, rear electric side window shades, heated and cooled cup holders, Heads-Up Display) and Executive Package (Panoramic Sky Lounge LED Roof, Glass Controls and BMW Laserlight headlights) as well as the rear-seat entertainment system ($2,200). 

A Driving Assistant Professional package (Extended Traffic Jam Assist for limited access highways and lane-keeping assistant with active side-collision protection is standard on xDrive50i models and optional on the xDrive40i.

There's also a cold weather package that includes 5-zone climate control, heated seats for the front and rear and heated front-seat armrests and steering wheel that runs $1,200 that, being a South Florida resident, I would have no need for.

But I'd go for the captain's chairs for the second row.  At $600, they seem like a bargain.

What I liked about the 2019 BMW X7 xDrive50i: No question it is refined luxury and engineering at its best. The ride is smooth and quiet, the cabin spacious. I also like the concept of the split tailgate.

What I didn't like about the 2019 BMW X7 xDrive50i: Some nits here. As is typical of upscale German luxury cars, it is packed with technology that, alas, can be very distracting to operate. (But the 12.3-inch display screen for navigation is nice.) Adjusting the A/C blower manually (as I prefer to do) requires a fine touch. It either is too low or it blasts you out. The Active Lane Departure Warning can be overly active at times. Finally, your have to pay extra for leather seats over the standard leatherette.

Would I buy the 2019 BMW X7 xDrive50i? A bit too large for my tastes or needs, but if you are looking for or need a full-size luxury SUV, the X7 could be just what you want. No question it's a quality vehicle with outstanding engineering and a powerful engine.