Saturday, September 26, 2020



“Trickle down” is not just an economic theory that either works or doesn’t work mostly depending on your political views, but there is no doubt that “trickle down” when referred to in the automotive world works.

Today safety and driver assistant features that once were exclusive to high-end luxury cars often are showing up on much less expensive vehicles, and not just as options.

Consider the new compact crossover SUV Buick Encore GX.

With an MSRP that just brushes the $30,000 mark it its top end, the Buick Encore GX might be expected to skimp on safety and driver assistant features. But it doesn’t.

New standard safety and driver assistance features on the debut 2020 model include forward collision alert, automatic emergency braking, front pedestrian braking, lane-keeping assist with lane departure warning, following distance dndicator, and IntelliBeam headlamps with automatically-adjusting high/low beams.

Other niceties like rear park assist,  rear cross traffic alert,  lane change alert with blind zone alert, rear camera mirror (which provides a wide, less obstructed rear view while parking and driving), hands-free power liftgate, adaptive cruise control, head-up display, automatic parking assist with braking, and high definition surround vision camera system are available.

Though the Encore GX nameplate might suggest it is just a new trim from the Encore that was introduced for the 2013 model year, the Encore GX actually is a new model, a bit bigger (171.4 inches long to 168.35) with nearly 5 more cubic feet of cargo space behind the second row than its Encore sibling.

The Encore GX slots between the smaller Encore and slightly larger Envision and Enclave SUVs and comes in three trim levels — Preferred, Select, and Essence, a front-wheel-drive version of the latter serving as my test vehicle for the week.

The Encore GX is slightly more expensive than the Encore with a starting price just under $26,000. The Encore GX Essence FWD carries a starting price of $29,495 including the $995 destination and delivery charge.

In addition to the safety systems listed earlier, you get standard features that include keyless open and push-button start, Buick’s infotainment system with an 8-inch screen, Bluetooth communications, OnStar services, 10-way power adjustable driver’s seat with lumbar support and 8-way power adjustable front passenger seat with lumbar, perforated leather seats, a two-level cargo area, leather-wrapped steering wheel, capless fuel fill, 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels, LED headlamps and taillights, LED fog lights, and signature LED daytime running lights.

An Advance Technology Package (surround vision, head-up display, adaptive cruise control, and navigation), Convenience Package (automatic parking assist with braking, wireless charging, rear camera with washer, and rain-sensing windshield wipers) and other options ran the final bottom line to $34,065, which frankly is in the higher ranges of the segment.

My test vehicle came with a turbocharged, 1.3-liter 3-cylinder engine with a CVT (continuously variable transmission). The engine puts out 155 horsepower and 174 pound-feet of torque with fuel mileage of 30 miles-per-gallon city, 32 highway, and 31 combined.

The base engine is a 1.2-liter turbo rated at 137/162, respectively. A 9-speed automatic transmission is available on AWD models with the 1.3L engine. AWD models also include the capability to switch to FWD for slightly better fuel economy if conditions allow.

Neither engine is going to wow you with its power and pickup, though driving around town it seemed peppier than the numbers might suggest.

The addition of the Encore GX to Buick’s crossover/SUV lineup (while keeping the original Encore) is further reflection of consumers’ current tastes. The company reports that its crossovers/SUVs account for nearly 90 percent of their current sales. 

What I liked about the 2020 Buick Encore GX Essence:
Infotainment features are plentiful and easy to operate, though to get the really good stuff you have to add optional packages even on the top-of-the-line Essence trim, and that can run the final price up. It’s an attractive SUV with a nice interior. GM has come up with a way to display the head-up display that projects speed in line of the driver’s sight even while wearing polarized sunglasses!

What I didn’t like about the 2020 Buick Encore GX Essence: Pricing is on the high side in the segment and adding packages for navigation and a surround-vision camera takes the bottom line even further up. The view out the back is somewhat restricted, and front seats are snug. It’s not the liveliest compact crossover to drive, but it’s not all that bad.

Would I buy the 2020 Buick Encore GX Essence? I don’t like vehicles with CVTs because they don’t offer much in the way of driving fun, which rules out FWD Encore GX models for me, but I would look at AWD Encore GX models where the 9-speed automatic is available. Overall, it’s a nice-looking, functional crossover SUV. Definitely not an “old” Buick.

Monday, September 21, 2020



Having undergone a name change in 2014 and a redesign for 2019, Infiniti’s QX50 gets two new trim levels for 2020 with Sensory and Autograph models adding to the top of the lineup and giving buyers five looks to choose from, all offering a choice of either front-wheel or available all-wheel drive.

Introduced as the EX35 for the 2007 model year, Infiniti’s compact luxury crossover SUV got its QX50 nameplate when the company began labeling its vehicles with a Q designation for its coupes and sedans and QX badging for its crossovers and SUVs in 2014.

All trims for the QX50 essentially offer many features common to the luxury segment starting with the Pure base model with keyless entry and push-button start, hands-free liftgate, upgraded seating surfaces, power adjustable front seats, and Bluetooth communications and continuing from there up the line with Luxe, Essential, and the new Sensory and Autograph trims adding more standard features.

A new-generation Infiniti InTouch infotainment system includes a WiFi hotspot for up to seven devices, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and a dual touchscreen operation that allows you to make adjustments for the radio, for example, without leaving the larger navigation screen.

That system is standard in all trims, but a lot of the more exotic stuff, however, is available as either standard or options only on the upper trims.

The QX50 Autograph edition that served as my test vehicle for the week also includes Infiniti's ProPilot Assist, a driver-oriented safety feature combining Lane Keep Assist and adaptive cruise control.

Other standard safety features include Forward Collision Warning and Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Detection, an Around-View Monitor with Motion Detection, Blind Spot Intervention, Rear Automatic Breaking and Rear Cross Traffic Alert, and a suite of airbags that roof-mounted side airbags.

A turbocharged inline 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine mated to a CVT is standard in all QX50 models (Pure, Luxe, Essential and the new Sensory and Autograph trims). It provides 260 horsepower and 290 pound-feet of torque for a spirited, though not overwhelming performance. In Sport mode, it can be quite jumpy. Paddle shifters add simulated “shift” points to the CVT operation.

Fuel mileage (22 miles-per-gallon city, 28 highway, and 25 combined for the AWD version) is similar to its competitors in the small luxury SUV segment.

The strength of the QX50 Autograph lies in a cabin that features high-quality materials such as natural wood accents and many soft-touch surfaces. Seats are supportive and comfortable, and the Autograph comes with a 16-speaker Bose Premium Sound System to please the ear.

Legroom and headroom are up to 39.6 and 40 inches, respectively, in the front and 38.7 and 38.4 in the back. Cargo space, too, is plentiful and can expanded to 64.4 cubic feet with the back-row seats folded.

Other standard features on the Autograph include the Infiniti Intouch infotainment system with navigation, a motion-activated rear liftgate, a head-up display, a panoramic moonroof, Ultrasuede headliner, climate-controlled front seats, rear-passenger window shades, and LED headlight, daytime running, and fog lights.

Though the QX50 Pure base model has a starting MSRP under $40,000, the Autograph model tops the pricing with an opening price of $55,850. Extras, starting with a $2,000 Premium White Leather Package, ran the final bottom line of my test QX50 to $60,070 including the $1,025 destination and delivery cost.

What I liked about the 2020 Infiniti QX50:
The cabin oozes class especially when equipped with the Premium White Leather package that features white leather-appointed seating with quilted stitching, blue Ultrasuede accents, and brown Ultrasuede headliner. While some reviewers have criticized the double-screen center stack, I like it. You can make audio adjustments on the lower smaller screen without disturbing the larger navigation monitor. Not sure why critics found it confusing, but some apparently did. Cargo space is a generous 31.1 cubic feet behind the second row.

What I didn’t like about the 2020 Infiniti QX50: I can do without the CVT. An 8- or 10-speed automatic would better take advantage of the engine power and enhance performance, but a continuously variable transmission is a big part of the Nissan-Infiniti DNA. 

Would I buy the 2020 Infiniti QX50? Yes. The QX50 offers something different from the usual suspects in the compact luxury segment.

Monday, September 14, 2020




With a major refreshing due for 2021, the Chrysler Pacific doesn’t get much in the way of major changes for 2020, but that doesn’t mean you should not dismiss this year’s version of the company’s familiar minivan out of hand.

Since introducing the Pacifica as a replacement for the company’s Caravan in 2017, Chrysler has continued to issue updates that has kept the Pacifica at the forefront of the segment, second only in popularity and sales to the Honda Odyssey.

It also has the advantage of having the first gas-electric hybrid drivetrain in its class, something that was offered at the Pacifica’s debut as a minivan in 2017. (Previous Pacificas were classed as crossover SUVs until production was ceased after the 2008 model.)

The Odyssey also will have a hybrid version for 2021, but if you want to take advantage of potential clearance sales of 2020 vehicles the Pacifica is the only hybrid option.

As a plug-in hybrid, the Pacific operates in all-electric mode for a range of just over 30 miles and earns an MPGe rating of 82. That should handle daily school runs and trips to the nearby grocery and home improvement stores if you keep it charged nightly.

Using a typical household outlet usually requires an overnight charge to get a full charge, but the company says that using a 240-volt outlet cuts that down to two hours.

When the Pacifica Hybrid runs out of juice, a 3.6-liter V6 engine takes over in a seamless transition. Fuel economy for the V6 operation is an impressive 30 miles-per-gallon. Horsepower for the combined operation is 260, which provides if not a breathtaking at least a capable driving experience.

A CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) is standard.

The Pacifica Hybrid comes in three trim levels, all front-wheel drive, with the base Touring trim starting at just under $40,000. The Touring L starts at just over $42,000 and the Limited trim that served as my test vehicle carries a base MSRP of $45,845 not including the $1,495 destination and delivery charge.

That’s a $300 boost over the 2019 Pacifica Hybrid Limited I reviewed previously (July 22, 2019).

Overall, the standard equipment for the 2020 Pacifica Hybrid Limited is much the same as that for the 2019 model. The grille has been modified with a mesh pattern replacing the  2019’s crossbars, but most of the other changes for the Pacific Hybrid were reserved for Touring and Touring L trims.

Standard features for 2020 Pacifica Hybrid Limited models include the user-friendly UConnect 4 infotainment system (2021 models get the UConnect 5 system) with an 8.4-inch screen for navigation, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, heated steering wheel and heated front seats, ventilated front seats, 8-way power driver’s seat, second- and third-row side window shades, three-zone climate control, blind-spot and rear cross-traffic detection, and parking assist among many other niceties.

Options on my test vehicle started with a 20-speaker Harmon Kardon premium sound system and UConnect theater package that included a Blue-Ray DVD player for no charge, an S appearance package that added distinctive 18-inch wheels and a Napa leather bucket seats with an S logo, a tri-pane panoramic sunroof, and a package of safety features that included Lane-Keeping Assist plus.

The other options ran the bottom line to $51,025.

What I liked about the 2020 Chrysler Pacific Hybrid Limited: The ride is really nice and smooth — it doesn’t really handle like a typical minivan — and infotainment features are very easy to operate. Chrysler’s UConnect system is one of the best. It’s not a new feature, but I appreciate a door on the left side for backseat passengers. Power opening and closing for the side  doors and rear liftgate also is a nice touch. Stowage room behind the third row is 32.3 cubic feet, and the third-row seats fold flat to provide up to 87.5 cubic feet.

What I didn’t like about the 2020 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid Limited: If I’m going to have to plug in a vehicle, I would appreciate it going a longer range in electric mode.

Would I buy the 2020 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid Limited? Though I really don’t like to fool with any of the plugin vehicles, I would recommend it for anybody who isn't bothered with that. I have to give Chrysler credit for providing a long cord to hook it up. Not all of us have outlets near driveways so that is a plus.

Monday, August 31, 2020


With automatic transmissions coming with Sport and Sport+ modes and manual gear selection via paddle shifters mounted to the steering wheel or, in some cases, the steering wheel column, vehicles equipped with manual transmissions continue to fade from the market.

According to various sources such as and, just over 40 vehicles for 2020 come with the capability of the traditional clutch and shift operation, which sounds like a decent number of options.

That is, at least until you consider that a study late last year showed that sales of electric cars nearly doubled those for vehicles with manual transmissions. Just over 1.1 percent of buyers went for a manual model compared to just under 2 percent for an electric car.

Not even the new Chevrolet Corvette, long recognized as America’s Sports Car, is offered with a manual transmission. The C8 model not only is the first mid-engine Corvette but also the first to be offered with an automatic only.

Part of that has to do with the design elements of accommodating the new powertrain, but the rest is because of slow sales of manually equipped C7 versions in recent years. A report in Car & Driver quoted chief engineer chief engineer Ed Piatek as saying that sales of the C7 Corvette with a manual gear box had dwindled from 50 percent in 2014 to less than 20 percent in 2019.

We’ll see if enough Corvette purists demand Chevy reconsider its decision, but the fact that the C8 Corvette is zipping from zero-to-60 mph in under three seconds with its double-clutch automatic likely will stifle momentum for the manual.

I am not a purist, and I do like most of the responses I get when driving in Sport mode, but I get my most enjoyment when the test vehicle that shows up in my driveway on a weekly basis is a manual, usually a 6-speed these days. (I harbor strong memories of a 1963 Ford Falcon Sprint convertible with “4 on the floor” I had back in the day.)

Regrettably, it doesn’t happen often, but it did recently when I was delivered a new Genesis G70 sedan.

The G70 comes with a choice of two turbocharged engines, a 3.3-liter V6 and a 2.0-liter inline 4 with either rear-wheel or all-wheel drive.

While an 8-speed automatic is the more common transmission, a 6-speed manual also is available with the 2.0T 4-cylinder G70 with RWD. The manual model also comes with a performance package that gives horsepower a slight boost to 255 (torque remains at 260 pound-feet) and adds a sport exhaust and Brembo brakes with enhanced performance pads.

Interestingly, the listed MSRP of $38,500 for the 2.0T Sport model with the manual is more than even the $37,450 base for the AWD 2.0T with an automatic, which is the reverse of what is usually the case.

Automatic transmissions used to pretty much always come with a premium over manuals and offer slightly less than in the way of fuel mileage, but with the G70 it’s just the opposite. The 2.0T the automatic has EPA numbers of 22 miles-per-gallon city, 30 highway and the manual 16/28 mpg.

I’ll sacrifice that.

Standard equipment in the 2.0T Sport RWD includes proximity key and push-button start, LED headlights and taillights, LED daytime running lights, leatherette seating surfaces, 16-way power adjustable driver’s seat with 4-way lumbar, 8-way power adjustable front passenger seat, heated and ventilated front seats, aluminum interior trim, power tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel, perforated leather-wrapped steering wheel, 8-inch display screen for audio with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Lexicon premium sound, Bluetooth hands-free communications, three USB ports, and hands-free trunk with auto open.

Safety features include Forward Collision Avoidance Assist with Pedestrian Detection, Blind Spot and Rear Cross-TrafficWarning, lane-keeping assist, rearview camera with parking guidelines, Hill Start Assist control, and a Driver Attention Warning.

The Driver Attention Warning may come in handy on long road trips, but I think that manual models by their nature demand your attention more than automatics. Just another benefit over the automatics!

(For my earlier review of the 2020 Genesis G70, see my reviews from November 2019 using the index on the right.)

What I liked about the 2020 Genesis G70 2.0T Sport R/T: In addition to its great-looking exterior and classy cabin, I loved it coming with a 6-speed manual transmission. It has a high-class premium feel, and the infotainment features are very intuitive to operate.

What I didn’t like about the 2020 Genesis G70 2.0T Sport R/T: A small point, but the manual takes extra care to get into reverse. As with all G70s, the trunk is on the small side (10.5 cubic feet).

Would I buy the 2020 Genesis G70 2.0T Sport R/T: Most definitely. The G70 is the only Genesis offering with a manual transmission, and I love it! You’ll pay a little extra for it over the G70 2.0T with the automatic, but it is worth it.

Monday, August 24, 2020



If you still cling to the notion that a gas-electric powertrain has to be a boring vehicle that is no fun to drive, you need to check out the 2020 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid. You will likely change your mind.

The Sonata offers a different kind of hybrid performance. Though it wouldn’t be your first choice for a drag race, it is a peppy performer around town and a steady cruiser on the highway.

Part of the eighth generation Sonata the South Korean automaker introduced for 2020, the Sonata Hybrid comes in three trims, starting with the base Blue and continuing with the upgraded SEL and Limited models. A plug-in Hybrid was dropped from the lineup.

The Limited that served as my test vehicle for the week comes with a long list of standard equipment.

All models are front-wheel drive with a 2.0-liter inline 4-cylinder gas engine (150 horsepower, 139 pound-feet of torque) paired with an electric motor (51 hp, 151 lb.-ft) for a net 192 horsepower at 6000 rpm.

Rather than a continuously variable transmission (CVT) often found in hybrid drivetrains, the Sonata gets a 6-speed automatic with manual shift mode. It also includes a Sport mode, which adds to the driving experience.

The Blue earns the top EPA mileage figures of 50 miles-per-gallon city, 54 highway, and 52 combined. The slightly heavier SEL and Limited’s numbers are 45/51/47, all an increase over the previous model’s 41/42 figures.

Included in the Limited’s base MSRP of $35,300 are such niceties as LED headlights and taillights, proximity key entry and push-button start, adaptable cruise control, hands-free trunk release, leather seating surfaces, heated and ventilated front seats, power front seat with memory settings for the driver, Bose premium sound system, dual automatic climate control, a 10.25-inch touchscreen with navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Hyundai’s Blue Link system, and a solar panel roof that feeds the lithium-ion battery.

Safety features include a blind-spot warning system, rear cross-traffic alert, forward collision-avoidance assist with pedestrian detection, parking assist, and around-view monitor. A lane-keeping assist system can be a bit on the sensitive side with its annoying beeps, but it can be turned off.

Also included is Hyundai’s Blind Spot View Monitor that shows any traffic that may be in your blindspot via an image projected in the tach or speedometer gauges’ spot in the instrument cluster when the corresponding turn signal is activated. It’s a nice touch that seemingly has limited appeal, but I find a nice addition.

The only extra on my test Sonata was $135 for carpeted floor mats, making the final total $36,430.

The Limited’s interior has a nice, comfortable feel about it with good legroom both front (46.1 inches) and back (34.8). Truck space is a very generous 16 cubic feet, which matches that of the gas-only Sonata.

The Limited’s overall cabin ambiance has a premium feel about it, and the exterior appearance rivals that of luxury models costing thousands of dollars more. It’s an eye-catcher, for sure.

A friend of mine and fellow reviewer, someone who gets a new vehicle in his driveway every week, summed up the whole package.

“This,” he said, “is what I would buy if I needed a personal car for my family.”

What I liked about the 2020 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Limited: In addition to the performance, the ride is quiet and comfortable, and the cabin is roomy and nicely appointed. Fuel economy is excellent, and I love that you don’t have to plug it in to recharge. It has lots of technology that is intuitive to operate, and the annoying whine that is typical to hybrids when they are coming to a stop is absent.

What I didn’t like about the 2020 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Limited: Although the infotainment system is very user friendly, I missed having a knob to surf the radio dial. There is one to control volume. Why get rid of the one to change stations? I just hope it is not an indication that designers are going to follow competitors with unnecessary “updates” to infotainment features.

Would I buy the 2020 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Limited: Without a doubt, yes. If you haven’t been completely taken in by the trend to crossover SUVs and are open to a sedan, this one should be on your list. The only drawback would be that the Hybrid Limited is at the top of the Sonata’s price range. But the base Blue trim starts at under $28,000, and the SEL under $30,000 (not including destination and delivery). The 2020 Sonata Hybrid carries over to 2021.

Thursday, August 13, 2020


Pickup trucks, especially full-size pickup trucks, have never been high on my list of favorites. In fact, if I had to list automotive vehicles by segment, the behemoths of today would rank at or very near the bottom among my desires, perhaps ahead of only all-electric vehicles with less than 100 miles of range.

It’s not that pickups aren’t great vehicles, because they are. The pickup truck of today is far ahead of the utilitarian haulers of the past when they drove slow, rode rough, and shook, rattled and rolled on their way around town.

But I don’t do a lot of hauling so I really can’t appreciate their capacity, and their overhaul size make them a pain to maneuver in narrow streets and tight parking lots of urban environs.

Nor am I called on to bring along a boat or trailer so towing capacity is a non-seller with me as well.

Plus they are just getting too darn big.

The hood expanse before me when I recently was behind the wheel of a 2020 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 pickup merited its own zip code it was so high and wide, which is not unlike its main competitors and fellow top sellers, the Ford F-Series and Ram Pickup.

Depending on the cab (regular, double cab, or crew) the Silverado is either 229.5 or 231.8 inches long and 81.2 inches wide. Overall height varies from 75.5 to 78.5 inches tall depending on the trim, which makes for a pretty big step up or down, especially without a running board to ease the way.

As is common in the truck segment, it comes in a myriad of engine choices, trim, and box capacity and other features. My test Silverado was the RST trim equipped with a 3.0-liter Duramax in-line 6-cylinder turbo-diesel engine and Crew Cab configuration. It also was rear-wheel drive, which should come with a warning for those about to launch a boat: Beware of wet boat ramps.

The 3.0 Duramax is new on LT, RST, LTZ and High Country models for 2020 and is mated with a 10-speed automatic transmission. A new 2.7L diesel also is available on Work Truck and Custom models and is paired with an 8-speed automatic.

Diesel provides a couple of advantages over gas engines, most notably in power and fuel economy. With a modest 277 horsepower, the 3.0 Duramax is rated at 460 pound-feet of torque, which is a lot of pulling power, while producing class-leading fuel mileage figures of 23 miles-per-gallon city, 33 highway, and 27 combined with two-wheel drive, pretty impressive figures for a vehicle of this size.

It takes the 6.2L V8 version of the gas models to match the 3.0L diesel’s torque, and fuel economy for the 4WD 6.2L V8 is 16/20/17 mpg according to

Starting MSRP for the RST trim is $41,200. The Duramax diesel engine adds $3,850 and other optional packages that add such features as bucket front seats separated by a huge storage console, dual-zone climate control, leather-wrapped and heated steering wheel, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, Bluetooth streaming audio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bose Premium Sound, and a leather package that included front leather appointed seats and and rear folding bench with under-seat storage ran the bottom line to $54,385, including $1,595 for destination and delivery.

What I liked about the 2020 Chevrolet Silverado RST Duramax: The diesel engine provides plenty of power and is a comparative fuel-sipper. No typical diesel engine noise either. The cabin is spacious and quiet, making highway cruising very comfortable. There is plenty of legroom in the back. The tailgate can be lowered via a button on the key fob, and it is light enough that raising it back in place is a snap.

What I didn’t like about the 2020 Chevrolet Silverado RST Duramax: It is difficult to maneuver through the tight squeezes of a mall parking lot. Getting into a tight parking spot is a tedious operation. While infotainment functions are easy to operate, the touchscreen is on the small side. A running board would be nice to ease getting in and out of the cabin.

Would I buy the 2020 Chevrolet Silverado RST Duramax? I have no need or desire for a full-size pickup truck, but there’s no doubt the Silverado would be a quality buy. With the diesel engine, it is a real workhorse, and the interior gives you the ambiance of a high-end SUV.