Wednesday, March 22, 2017



Subcompact cars are usually more about functionality and fuel-saving than they are about style. Not that they are all inherently ugly, but style is not the first thing that comes to mind about them.

Fiat’s 500 series, however, is one exception.

With its Italian lair and carefree air — the front fascia even has a rather impish look about it — the Fiat 500 series adds a little chicness to a segment that tends to lean toward “cute” when it comes to appearance.

The first Fiat 500s landed in the U.S. about five years ago with the 500 hatchback, convertible and performance-oriented Abarth models, and an electric version came a year later. They were all nimble two-door cars with an appeal to a young, fun-loving market.

A couple of years later Fiat added the 500L wagon and the 500X followed a couple of years ago. (You may remember 500X from the clever Super Bowl commercial in which a “little blue pill” bounced its way into its gas tank, giving the 500 hatchback bulging fenders and a couple of extra doors. If not, you can look it up on Youtube.)

My recent ride was the top-of-line Lounge model of the 2017 Fiat 500X. It comes in two other flavors, Pop and Trekking, for a total of three trims, two fewer than when it was introduced. Easy and Trekking-Plus trims were discontinued for 2017.

The Lounge trim features the larger of the two engines offered on the 500X, a 2.4-liter inline 4-cylinder rated at 180 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque. It’s also standard on 500X Trekking models and available as an option on the Pop, which gets a 1.4-liter 4-banger as standard.

Front-wheel drive is standard on all trims with AWD available as an option. The 2.4-liter gets a nine-speed automatic transmission as standard, the 1.4-liter a six-speed manual. That’s kind of a shame since I would have liked to tried out the manual with the larger engine. It would have been more fun to drive than the the automatic.

With the automatic, performance may fall short of some of its competitors, but when Sport mode is selected (accomplished by turning a knob on the console), the pace is picked up. Fuel economy is a bit on the low side for the class, however, with the 2.4-liter rated at 22 miles-per-gallon city, 30 highway, and 25 combined with FWD drinking regular 87 octane fuel. (Regular also is acceptable on the 1.4-liter, but premium 91 octane is recommended for it.)

The emphasis on design also carries over into the interior. It’s not luxury class, of course, and the dash features a wide band of plastic across the front, but the 6.5-inch display screen is nicely integrated into the flow of the dash. Overall, there is a nice ambiance about the cabin. The backs of the two-tone front seats are embossed with a “500” logo, a nice touch.

The Lounge trim comes with Fiat’s UConnect system for operation of the infotainment system with functions via the touchscreen or voice commands that responded readily, and accurately, during my week’s trial. There are also two knobs to operate the radio and three larger knobs for controlling the dual-zone air conditioner/heater.

The 6.5-inch NAV UConnect system is standard on the 500X Lounge (optional on Trekking). It includes navigation, Bluetooth handsfree phone, and satellite radio in the base MSRP of $25,150.

But to get the latest safety features you’re going to have to delve into the options. A rear-view camera is standard on the 500X Lounge (it’s only an option on the Pop and Trekking models), but to get the features like lane departure warning, full-speed frontal collision warning with active braking, rear park assist, blind-spot monitoring, automatic high beam headlight control, and rain-sensitive windshield wipers you’re going to have to add the Advanced Safety Package for $1,295.

Adding an optional Premium Package (upgraded sound system), dual-pane sunroof, and 18-inch wheels with all-season tires plus the $995 destination and delivery charge put the final price tag of my test 500X at $28,935. That put this 500X Lounge at the higher end of the segment pricing.

What I liked about the 2017 Fiat 500X Lounge: It’s pretty spacious for passengers and even offers pretty good legroom (up to 34.8 inches) in the second row. Features such as navigation, audio, and climate control systems are very user-friendly and respond quickly and accurately to voice commands. The ride is comfortable, especially for a vehicle this size.

What I didn’t like about the 2017 Fiat 500X Lounge: Gas mileage is disappointing. Storage behind the second row is a meager 12.2 cubic feet.

Would I buy the 2017 Fiat 500X Lounge? Don’t think so. Though the 500X (and other Fiat 500 models, for that matter)) are at the top of their class when it comes to out-of-the-box styling, it gets a bit too expensive when the extra safety features are added on.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017



The line between entry level luxury cars and well-equipped so-called “affordable” vehicles seems to get more blurred every year as what were once exclusive features in the more expensive segment trickle down the line.

Oh, you may not get all the styling tweaks, and the cachet a luxury logo give you may be missing, but if that doesn't bother you, you may be able to save some bucks by going with the top-of-the-line offering from an “affordable” brand over the luxury choice.

One such example is the Nissan Rogue.

The 2017 Rogue SL is a good-looking vehicle inside and out and comes with a long list of features, many of them standard, that provide about all you would want in a crossover.

Among standard features are NissanConnect with navigation, 8-way power adjustable driver’s seat with lumbar support, a backup and surround-view camera with rear cross-traffic alert, heated front seats with position memory settings, blind-spot warning, Bose premium sound system, Bluetooth handsfree phone, dual zone climate control with second row vents, keyless entry and push-button start, a power liftgate that opens with the wave of your foot under the rear bumper when the key is near, and more.

With all-wheel drive (over front wheel) and a couple of option packages that included a power panoramic moonroof, LED headlights, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and prevention, forward emergency braking with pedestrian detection, 19-inch alloy wheels over the standard 18s, and tan leather-appointed seats with quilted insets, the Rogue I had for the past week had just about everything you might want in such a vehicle for a price that came in at $35,475.

That’s a jump of about $11,000 over the base Rogue S model but near the bottom of the price range for the compact SUVs in the luxury segment, and some of the lower-costing luxury models don’t offer all the features the Rogue SL does.

With such advantages, it’s little wonder that the Rogue has become Nissan’s bestselling model, outpacing even the popular Altima sedan. Nissan reported sales of 61,909 Rogues for the first two months of 2017 to 45,474 Altimas. According to figures from, that placed the Rogue No. 4 among all vehicles behind only three pickup trucks — the Ford F-Series, Chevrolet Silverado, and Ram — and just ahead of one of its chief competitors, the Honda CR-V.

Apparently, buyers like the new features Nissan added to the Rogue for 2017 over the 2016 model. Among the changes were new front and rear fascias with a new grille and revised taillight treatment, the motion-activated liftgate, three new colors, body enhancements to minimize road and wind noise, a redesigned center console, new sport mode shifter, and available memory seats and mirrors. Adaptive cruise control, which Nissan dubs “Intelligent,” also was added for this year as well as several safety features.

Cargo space is a generous 32 cubic feet behind the second row and features what Nissan calls its “Divide-N-Hide” system. You can remove sections of the rear floor to build shelves in the rear cargo area, giving up to 18 adjustable variations for stowage. (It’s not available with the optional third-row seats that are available only on the S and SL trims.)

So, yeah, there’s a lot to like about the 2017 Nissan Rogue.

Except …

Yes, you expected that, didn’t you?

Except for driving fun.

When it comes to performance, the Rogue does the job of getting from Point A to Point B but without much in the way of flair. Nissan added a hybrid powertrain to the Rogue lineup for 2017, but more common is a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder gas engine.  Its numbers — 170 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque — aren’t all that bad. They pretty much fall in the middle of the segment. But that engine is hooked up with a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) and even when switched to Sport mode, you’re not going to get much in the way of kicks in driving fun.

On the other hand, fuel economy is at the high end of the segment with EPA ratings of 25 miles-per-gallon city, 33 highway, and 27 combined, and that’s with AWD. It does run on regular unleaded, which is a break over most luxury models as well.

What I liked about the 2017 Nissan Rogue SL: It comes packed with lots of features, both technological and in comfort and convenience. The technology is user-friendly, though there is an extra step in the voice commands that would be nice to cut out.

What I didn’t like about the 2017 Nissan Rogue SL: I’d like a slightly bigger display screen for the navigation map, but my real bone to pick here is with the CVT. It can be noisy when pushed, and even in Sport mode or operated as a manual it doesn’t offer much in the way of performance. It would have been nice had there been paddle shifters to take advantage of the seven artificial shift points that Nissan features with its CVT.

Would I buy the 2017 Nissan Rogue SL? I would if I could get past the CVT issue. I really do like its looks, comfort and style.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017


The Mercedes-Benz G-Class seems to me to be a series of contradictions.

It’s a big vehicle that seems small inside.

It’s a luxury vehicle but lacks many of the features normally associated with the segment.

And at a time that it seems every manufacturer is trying to coax the maximum number of miles from a gallon of gas, it drinks fuel like frat boys attacking a keg on “free beer” night.

You’d think such a vehicle that also carries a healthy six-figure price tag would last about as long as, oh, maybe another vehicle that also had military roots when introduced to the public well over a decade ago. The Hummer H1 was on the market less than five years. The H2 and H3 that followed also were short-lived.

But Mercedes-Benz calls the G-lass (or G-Wagen/Wagon) a “resounding success with better-than-ever sales on a worldwide basis,” and there is little sign the G-Class is due to join the H1, H2, H3 as a fading memory. 

Guess that shows you what the three-prong star Mercedes-Benz logo in the front of the grille can do for a vehicle. At least that’s the opinion I got from some automotive friends when I raised the question of why the G-Class survives and the Hummer did not.

The G-Wagen came about from a suggestion by the Shah of Iran in the 1970s to Mercedes (he was significant stockholder in the company at the time) to develop a vehicle for his military to use (not that it did him a lot of good). Mercedes adapted a civilian version as far back as 1979. It was called the “Gelandewagen,” a German term for “cross-country vehicle,” and offered buyers a vehicle with heavy-duty off-road capability.

But the Germans didn’t bring it to the U.S. until 2002, which, coincidentally or not, was shortly after the Hummer H1 was introduced and just before the H2 came to market.

Mercedes-Benz apparently planned to discontinue exporting the G-Class to the U.S. in 2005, but when the U.S. Marines stepped in with a big order for use on desert patrols, that plan was scrapped.

The Marines to the rescue!

Still, sales did decline until fewer than 1,000 G-Wagens were sold in the U.S. as recently as 2010, but have picked up recently. Numbers show 3.950 were sold in 2016 compared to 3,616 for the previous year.

The G-500 Mercedes introduced to the U.S. featured a 5.0-liter V8 engine and came with a sticker price under $75,000. The next year the good folks in the AMG department got their hands on it and so today we have the AMG G63 and AMG G65 offered in the U.S. with another model, the G550 4x4(2), new for 2017. It has even more features to enhance off-road capability.

Would it surprise you to hear that the price has gone up several rungs over the last 15 years? I thought not.

The base G550 lists at $122,400, the AMG G63 at $141,400, and the AMG G65 at $220,400. That’s a $2,500 jump over 2016 prices. The new G550 4X4(2) starts at $225,925.

The thing that struck me with the AMG G65 that showed up in my driveway was the things you don’t get for that money.

For instance, when approaching a luxury car (and several so-called “affordable” models for that matter) with the key in my pocket, I’m used to hearing the door lock unlatching when I touch the door handle or push the appropriate button on it. But there is no keyless entry with the AMG G63. No push-button start either.

Getting in isn’t the easiest thing, but I’ve had vehicles that sat even higher and were much more of a chore. Once inside, I found accommodations on the cozy side. That isn’t to say the G-Wagon is cramped. It just doesn’t seem as roomy as other large SUVs I have driven.

And storage isn’t what you typically get in this genre. The glove compartment is only big enough to handle the thick owner’s manual and, well, a pair of gloves. Storage in the center console’s bin also is limited. Only one cupholder up front, and it sticks out from the console into the passenger seat footwell like it was an afterthought. The two in the back are on the floor behind the console. Five-passenger capacity, three cupholders. You do the math.

On the other hand, the quilted leather seats in my test G-Wagon were very supportive and both heated and ventilated. As usual with Mercedes, the materials throughout the cabin are top-notch. And storage capacity behind the second-row seats is listed at a generous 49.2 cubic feet. Fold them and max is 79.5 cubic feet.

The real kick is when you start up the 6.0-liter, biturbo V12 engine. With 621 horsepower and 738 pound-feet of torque, the AMG G65 has plenty of power, good for towing up to 7,000 pounds while getting you from zero-to-60 mph in sports-sedan territory at an estimated 5.2 seconds, according to the company.

It’s mated with a seven-speed automatic transmission that can be set to one of three modes: Comfort, Sport, or Manual, with gear selection for the latter via steering wheel mounted paddles. I mention the fuel economy earlier. The numbers are 11 miles-per-gallon city, 13 highway, and 12 combined with premium required.

MSRP for the test vehicle, which included an optional studio package (carbon fiber trim, contrast stitching to match the exterior paint color, silver brake calipers, and more) plus $925 destination and delivery, came to $236,935. That pretty much puts the AMG G65 in a class of its own.

What I liked about the 2017 Mercedes-Benz AMG G65: The cabin oozes luxury and has a kind of rugged sophistication (or sophisticated ruggedness) about it. 

What I didn’t like about the 2017 Mercedes-Benz AMG G65: Why can’t designers incorporate the display screen for the Mercedes’ COMAND system into the flow of the dash? Sticking up in the middle like it does, it looks like somebody just slapped an iPad to the center of the dash. The “alien green” color is polarizing to say the least. At least you won’t have any trouble finding this green G-Wagen in a mall parking lot.

Would I buy the 2017 Mercedes-Benz AMG G65: Don’t think so. It’s too much on the expensive side, especially with something like an extremely capable and well-equipped competitors available for much le$$.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017


I just spent a week in the 2017 Volkswagen Golf TSI SEL and though it isn’t the “hot hatch” that the Ford Focus RS that I had a couple of weeks ago is, it still offers a lot in the way of driving fun and in a more economical package.

The base MSRP for the Golf is $27,995 and even tacking on an optional package like the SEL Driving Assistance and Lighting Package that includes park assist, lane departure warning, HID headlights and similar niceties plus the $820 destination and delivery charge runs to just $30,610.

The Focus RS starts at $36,775 including destination and delivery and options ran the final tab on my test vehicle to $41,550.

In addition, the Golf sips fuel at the rate of 25 miles-per-gallon city, 35 highway, and 29 combined while the Focus RS gulps it at a rate of 19 mpg city, 25 highway, and 22 combined. The RS also requires premium fuel. The Golf gets by on regular.

Sure, it’s going to take you about three seconds longer to get from zero-to-60 mph in the Golf than the Focus RS, but what’s your hurry?

So if you are shopping in the compact hatchback segment, the 2017 Golf TSI SEL has a lot to offer.

But you can’t have it.

The top-of-the-line SEL trim was a limited production model in the Golf lineup for 2017 and the window for a dealership to order one has closed, a company rep said. So unless you’re able to find a dealer who ordered one and didn’t sell it, or maybe someone who bought one and has had a change of heart, you’re going to be out of luck.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is that other 2017 Golf models are actually less expensive than they were in 2016. With a base model starting at under $20,000, a well-equipped Golf TSI S will run $21,035 for 2017. For 2016 it was $23,680. Part of that is attributable to the German automaker’s simplification of the Golf lineup, including the elimination of the SEL trim.

Don’t despair, though. The Golf Wolfsburg edition (named for the town in Germany where the company is headquartered) comes with a lot of extras like a panoramic sunroof, leatherette seating surfaces, keyless access with push-button start, heated front seats, automatic headlights, rain-sensing windshield wipers, 16-inch aluminum alloy wheels, special floor mats, forward collision warning and emergency braking, and blind-spot monitor with rear traffic alert.

With a couple of exceptions, like 18-inch wheels, that’s pretty much the same as the SEL offers, and they both come with a 1.8-liter turbo 4 engine that is rated at 170 horsepower and 199 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed automatic transmission shiftable via steering wheel-mounted paddles or the shifter on the console is standard on the SEL, and it is front-wheel drive. (Those manual shifts are barely noticeable, btw.)

Though it may lack the overall power and track capability of the Focus RS, the Golf TSI SEL still packs a pretty good punch. It takes some of the pain out of driving in the usual heavy traffic that is as common to South Florida as tourists’ sunburns.

In its seven generation, the VW Golf has been around for over 40 years in the U.S., where it also has borne the nameplate Rabbit for a couple of generations, and thus VW has had time to get it right. It is pretty roomy inside for a compact, though legroom in the backseat can be compromised by where those in front, especially the driver, adjust their seats.

Maybe because it’s European, but the Golf TSI SEL has the interior ambiance of a much more expensive vehicle. It’s just too bad there aren’t more of them available.

What I liked about the 2017 Volkswagen Golf TSI SEL: It offers lots of nice standard features, like a Fender premium audio system, and the operation of the infotainment features is fairly basic (thank goodness for knobs for the audio and A/C) with one exception (see below).

What I didn't like about the 2017 Volkswagen Golf TSI SEL: The voice command system, at least for operating the audio, is one of the most frustrating I've ever dealt with. The system doesn't seem to respond commands even when you follow instructions. It does tell you to speak more softly if you yell at it, but that didn’t seem to help. I didn’t try it on the nav system. I was afraid of where it might take me.

Would I buy the 2017 Volkswagen Golf TSI SEL? I’m not big into compact hatchbacks so you wouldn’t find the Golf TSI SEL on my list. But if that’s the genre you’re looking for, the Golf deserves a look. If you can’t find a 2017 SEL, check out the Wolfsburg edition.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017


Shortly after the new year began, I had the opportunity to spend time in an Infiniti QX80 SUV, which I thought fit the description of a true “land yacht” as a colleague had dubbed the full-size conversion van I owned back in the mid-1980s and ’90s.

I concluded that although the QX80 was packed with a lot of felicitous features, it was a bit big for my tastes and needs. Driving such a large vehicle can be a chore in urban environs where streets can be narrow and many spaces in mall parking lots tend to be the size of a stick of chewing gum.

Door ding, anyone?

Too much bulk, however, is not an issue with the 2017 Infiniti QX50 I have been driving for the past week. As a small SUV introduced as the Infiniti EX35 nearly a decade ago, the QX50 is more sedan-like in its handling and performance than it is “land yacht,” much more of a driver’s car than its big brother.

Whereas the QX80 stretches out to nearly 209 inches long and weighs in at a hefty 5,644 pounds in 2WD and 5,888 with 4WD, the QX50 is almost two feet shorter at 186.8 inches and weighs in well under two tons with two-wheel drive (3,855 pounds) and just slightly over that with four-wheel drive (4,040 pounds).

With a naturally aspirated 3.7-liter V6 pumping out 325 horsepower at 7000 rpm and 267 pound-feet of torque at 5200, the QX50 responds quickly and assuredly when pressed. The website clocked at 5.6 seconds from zero-to-60 mph.

Mated with a seven-speed automatic transmission with a “sport” mode and manual gear selection capability, it delivers fuel economy at a rate of 17 miles-per-gallon city, 24 highway and 20 combined in either 2WD or 4WD configuration.

Of course, if performance is all you are interested in, you are not likely spending much time looking over SUVs in a showroom, no matter how sprightly they are. Maybe you need all the space and third-row seating the QX80 offers.

But if the weekly grocery haul and an occasional run to the local Home Depot or Lowe’s is about all the cargo needs you have, the QX50 may be your answer. It seats five, and the nearly seven inches of extra legroom they get over the 2015 model (up to 35.3 inches) is sure to make backseat riders less grumbling.

And here’s a rather surprising number. Cargo capacity in the QX50 is listed as 18.6 cubic feet behind the second row, which is actually more than the 16.6 cubic feet the QX80 offers behind its third.

Yes, you gain a bunch of  stowage capability when the third-row seats in the QX80 are folded, but you can do the same with the QX50’s second row as well. I was able to handle a six-feet section of bamboo fencing quite easily in the QX50 by folding the right section of the second-row seats, an act accomplished , thanks to the optional Deluxe Package, by the push of a button on the right just inside the rear liftgate.

Infiniti has outfitted the QX50 with the kind of features suited to the luxury genre, including leather seats, eight-way power adjustable driver’s seat with lumbar support and four-way power passenger seat, moonroof with one-touch auto open/close, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, dual zone climate control with micro air filter, LED daytime running and fog lights, rearview camera, a center stack that is highlighted by Infiniti’s signature analog clock, Bluetooth phone connectivity, and a USB port.

That and more are included in the base MSRP of $34,450.

Optional features such as a Premium Package (upgraded sound system and advanced climate control, maple wood interior accents, etc.), Premium Plus Package (navigation, around-view monitor with front and rear sonar system to aid in parking), Deluxe Touring Package (19-inch, five-spoke aluminum allow wheels over 18-inchers, HID headlights in place of halogen lamps, power folding second row seats, etc.), and Technology Package (Intelligent Cruise Control, blind-spot and lane-departure warning, brake assist with frontal collision warning, and aluminum pedals) plus the destination and delivery fee but the final tab for my test vehicle to $43,735.

Even at that price the QX50 is still close to the bargain category in a segment that includes entrants from Porsche, Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, and Audi.

What I liked about the 2017 Infiniti QX50: I found the few demands I asked of technological features easily handled. Infiniti has had the good sense to include knobs for such functions as surfing the radio dial. The ride is quiet and comfortable.

What I didn’t like about the 2017 Infiniti QX50: The fact that Infiniti hasn’t made significant changes to the QX50 since its debut as the EX doesn’t really bother me, but the company needs to smooth out some of the responses to voice commands. There is an extra step or two when it comes to tuning the radio, and when I asked to “call home,” I got a long list of numbers to choose from, none which was the number I have under “home” in my directory. My guess is that they were the “home” numbers to go with the names in the directory. Also, the fuel mileage is among the worst in its class. That eventually would take a toll as premium unleaded is recommended.

Would I buy the 2017 Infiniti QX50: Yes. It’s definitely should be on your list if you are shopping in this genre. It’s a good looking vehicle, a sprightly performer that also has a practical side, and could save you a few bucks in the deal.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017



With a couple of exceptions, hatchbacks are generally more known for their utility and practicality than they are for their performance.

One of the most notable of those exceptions, perhaps the most notable, is the Ford Focus RS.

Those two tacked-on letters are almost magical in their effect. It takes the Focus up to a new level higher than even the souped up Focus ST when it comes to fun-to-drive quotient. The magazine Road & Track in a review of the 2017 Focus RS posted on its website a “track car designed as a practical hatchback,” and that about sums it up.

Consider, the numbers for the standard Focus with its 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder engine are 160 horsepower and 146 pound-feet of torque. For the turbocharged ST they are 252 hp and 270 lb.-ft.

For the Focus RS and its 2.3-liter turbo-4, the numbers are a whopping 350 hp and 350 lb.-ft., unbelievable for a vehicle of this size and class. That cuts fuel economy to 19 miles-per-gallon city, 25 highway and 22 combined using required premium fuel, but oh what you gain in fun.

This is a driver’s car. A six-speed manual is the only transmission offered, all-wheel drive is standard, and the Recaro seats, though perhaps uncomfortable for some with their stiff sides, provide solid support to keep you in position behind the wheel when accelerating through corners. The website clocked a 2016 Focus RS in 4.5 seconds, which is nearly two seconds quicker than the Focus ST and twice as fast as the standard Focus.

Little wonder you’re going to have in-the-know enthusiasts stopping by your house when you have one of these sitting in your driveway.

The power, all-wheel drive and Recaro seats are not the only unique features to the Focus RS over other Focus models. The Focus RS also gets a dual exhaust system, Brembo front brake calipers (hey, you’ve got to be able to harness all that power), launch control, special grille and rear spoiler, a performance shift indicator, and adjustable shocks. Auxiliary gauges at the top of the center stack display oil temperature and pressure as well as turbo boost, and the shift indicator flashes when approaching the engine speed limiter.

Don’t get too excited its all-wheel drive. The Focus RS isn’t intended for off-road ventures but for street use. The company warns that anything more than a gravel road could result in damage not covered by the three-year, 36,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty.

You can set the Focus RS to one of four driving modes with the push of a button on the center console. At startup, settings are in Normal mode for street driving. Pushing the button once programs it for Sport mode and more enhanced street performance. The other two settings are for Track and Drift modes and are for track-use only. You also can firm up the suspension by pushing and holding a button at the end of the turn signal stalk until the appropriate icon — it’s obvious which one — shows up in the instrumental panel next to the S for Sport.

Inside, Ford has not forgotten all about creature comforts. Dual-zone climate control, leather-wrapped, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, push-button start, 10-speaker Sony sound system with HD and satellite radio, a rear-view camera, and cruise control are among standard features. Many of the controls are operated via buttons on the steering wheel spokes.

Also, Ford’s Sync3 system for operating infotainment features has been fine-tuned and responds readily to voice commands. You can zoom in on the navigation map by pinching your fingers on the screen like operating functions on a Smart phone. 

An optional RS2 package (navigation, heated exterior mirrors, heated steering wheel, heated front seats, power-adjustable leather seats with suede inserts and RS markings, six-way power adjustable seats with two-way lumbar support and leather upholstery with suede inserts plus optional forged aluminum 19-inch wheels over standard 19-inch alloy and the $875 destination and delivery charge ran the total cost of my test vehicle to $41,550, over the base MSRP of $35,900.

That’s a pretty good jump over the mid-$20K that the basic Focus runs. A well-equipped Focus ST stays under the $30K mark, and a fully-loaded ST just inches past it. It would be a nice alternative if the RS is out of your budget range.

What I liked about the 2017 Ford Focus RS: There’s a good bit of space for cargo behind the second row, and you can gain a lot more by folding those seats. Having four doors makes getting into those rear seats nice and easy. The Sync3 system is intuitive to operate, though to me the ability to make adjustments by swiping or pinching your fingers on the screen falls into the just-showing-off category. The map display clearly shows plus or minus to change the scale.

What I didn’t like about the 2017 Ford Focus RS: The backseat isn’t what you would call cramped, but it is snug. I wouldn’t want to be one of three passengers back there.

Would I buy the 2017 Ford Focus RS: A $40,000 price tag (for a Focus?) would give me some pause. I might take a longer look at the Focus ST and pocket the difference. But if you’re looking for the ultimate hot hatchback, the RS is it.

Friday, February 10, 2017



It wasn’t all that long ago that the idea of vehicle coming out of a Hyundai plant carrying a price tag of over $70,000 was as farfetched as the notion of self-driving and flying cars.

Well, today self-driving cars are, if not around the corner, getting closer, Uber has asked a NASA engineer to do research on flying cars, and Hyundai indeed has on the market a sedan that is very worthy of such a lofty price tag.

It’s the Genesis G90, and don’t make the mistake of calling it a “Hyundai Genesis G90.”

The South Korean company has made the Genesis marque its own separate luxury brand, pretty much like other Asian automakers such as Toyota with Lexus, Honda with Acura, and Nissan with Infiniti have done.

The 2017 G90 serves as the flagship sedan of the burgeoning Genesis lineup, the larger of the two models currently offered. The G90 essentially is a new version of what was once the Hyundai Equus, the company’s first luxury entrant in the U.S. The G80 takes over what was the 2016 Hyundai Genesis sedan.

The G90 is offered in two versions with the 3.3T Premium coming with a 3.3-liter, twin-turbo V6 engine for a base price of $69,050 (with the $950 destination and delivery added in) and the 5.0 Ultimate featuring a 5.0-liter turbo V8 checking in at $70,650. That’s for the rear-wheel-drive versions. Available AWD adds $2,500.

The G90 for my test drive was the Ultimate trim with RWD and came with a long list of standard equipment, like a full-color heads-up display for speed and navigation display, a navigation system with a 12.3-inch screen, multi-view camera, blind-spot detection, front and rear park assist, lane-keep assist, surround sound audio system, wireless device charger, Nappa leather throughout, a suede headliner, three-zone climate control, sunroof, and acoustic laminated windows.

The driver’s seat on the G90 Ultimate is power adjustable 22 ways, the front passenger seat 16 ways, the right rear passenger 14 ways, and the left passenger seat 12 ways. All are heated and ventilated. Even the Princess and the Pea would be comfortable in these seats.

You can adjust interior ambient lighting to your liking, and lamps mounted in the exterior side mirrors illuminate the ground as you approach the vehicle.

In other words, the G90 Ultimate with its V8 power offers all the luxury of a top-of-the-line luxury vehicle, including the traditional leaders from Europe but for much less money (competitors check in around $20,000 higher and that’s before you start adding option packages) and is only slightly more than the V6.

Frankly, though I haven’t driven the V6, I’d have to say the V8 is worth it. It is rated at 420 horsepower with 383 pound-feet of torque available. It does drink premium fuel, but does so at a rate of only 16 miles-per-gallon city, 24 highway, and 19 combined, only a mile-per-gallon off that of the V6 with its 365 hp and 376 lb.-ft. of torque. An 8-speed transmission is common throughout the lineup. It is shiftable via steering wheel-mounted paddles, though, quite frankly, I never bothered.

You can set the G90 in one of four different driving modes: Eco for fuel saving, Smart for normal conditions, Sport for a more dynamic performance, or Individual, for customized settings. In any setting, you get a pleasant driving experience with the kind of throttle response, quietness, and smoothness expected — no, make that demanded — of the class. Why shift when the car adapts to your own style so readily?

Passenger comfort is A-plus as the G90’s suspension makes the car virtually glide over bumps or railroad tracks but without a mushy feel. I drove it mostly in Sport mode with its firmer suspension setting and heard no complaints from the right side. In fact, just the opposite.

At least for now, you won’t find standalone dealerships for the Genesis but there are separate showrooms in Hyundai dealer facilities. Customer-driven programs for Genesis buyers include valet service appointments (with a complimentary courtesy car), complimentary scheduled maintenance for three years or 36,000 miles and Genesis Connected Services for three years or 36,000 miles. Connected Services includes such cloud-connected features as Destination Search Powered by Google, remote door lock/unlock, car finder and stolen vehicle recovery, among other things.

In other words, typical features of what luxury shoppers/buyers expect these days.

What I liked about the 2017 Genesis G90: I didn’t get into all the technology that comes with the G90, but it’s considerable. The good thing about is that basic systems, like nav and audio, are very intuitive to operate. If it doesn’t develop something from scratch, Hyundai seems to have the knack of taking the best features of the techno stuff its competitors offer and dumbing it down so you don’t need to dive into the owner’s manual to get it to work.

What I didn’t like about the 2017 Genesis G90: The nav system, while pretty easy to set up, wanted to take me on a strange route to at least one destination I inputted. I knew the general area where I wanted to go, but needed the final turns outlined for me. I thought the system was having me avoid tolls, but the settings didn’t require that so I don’t know where it would have taken me. But it would have been longer. Also, the wood trim, though real, has a plastic look about it.

Would I buy the 2017 Genesis G90? Yes. Unless you are a brand snob and just have to have a European import, there’s no reason to skip over the Genesis.