Wednesday, May 27, 2020


BMW X1 SHOWS THAT GOOD THINGS CAN COME IN SMALLER (NOT SMALL) PACKAGES


As you may surmise from the numerical designation, the X1 is the smallest of BMW’s fleet SUVs, but don’t sell it short.

This is a roomy vehicle that delivers both a fun driving experience while remaining true to the functional aspects of the SUV segment, or SAV for Sports Activity Vehicle in BMW parlance.


It is BMW’s best-selling X model worldwide, though according to the company the X1 ranks third behind the X3 and X5 in the U.S. market. Perhaps the upgrades from a mid-cycle refreshing will move it up.

Having moved into its second generation as a 2015 model, the new X1 gets new exterior styling cues for 2020 that make it more inline with the appearances of its larger siblings along with new colors, wheel designs and interior enhancements.

Up front, the familiar BMW kidney grille gets larger openings along with new optional LED headlights that are complemented by LED fog lights. The bumper design also is new.


At the back, the X1 gets new tinted LED taillights, and BMW says the exhaust tips opening have grown to 90mm, an increase of 20mm over previous editions.

An available M Sport package includes a redesigned aerodynamics package that features a new front bumper, side skirts, wheel arch trim, and rear diffuser in body color.


Among new colors is a “Storm Bay Metallic” that should make Navy veterans feel at home. “Battleship Gray” was my first guess as to what it would be called.

Among interior updates the 8.8-inch touchscreen is now standard across the line to operate infotainment functions.

Available in front-wheel or all-wheel drive, the X1 comes with a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that is rated at a generous 228 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque from1,450 to 4,500 rpm.


Mated to an 8-speed Steptronic automatic transmission with Comfort, Eco, Sport, and Sport+ diving modes, the X1 scoots from zero-to-60 mph in 6.3 seconds in AWD configuration (X1 xDrive28i) and 6.6 with FWD (X1 sDrive28i).

My AWD test model consumed the recommended premium fuel at the rate of 23 miles-per-gallon city, 21 highway, and 28 combined, which isn’t the best in the luxury subcompact class but close to it.


The X1 seats five passengers and offers storage room behind the second row that compares favorably to that in the slightly larger X3.

Standard equipment with the base MSRP of $37,300 includes a power liftgate, park distance control, active cruise control, SensaTec (simulated leather) interior upholstery, automatic climate control, matte chrome exterior trim, navigation, Apple CarPlay, rain-sensing wipers, and the Active Driving Assistant suite of features (frontal collision warning, land departure warning, speed limit info, and automatic high-beat headlights).

Options like a Premium Package that added a panoramic sunroof, a head-up display. and heated front seats among other features), fine wood trim, a mocha Dakota leather interior and a few other items ran the final total for my test vehicle to $48,645 including the 995 destination and delivery charge. 

What I liked about the 2020 BMW X1 xDrive28i: It’s a fun vehicle to drive with a peppy performance that delivers decent mileage. Yet is has nice storage room at the rear (27.1 cubic feet) and 58.7 max with the second-row seats folded 

What I didn’t like about the 2020 BMW X1 xDrive28i: The infotainment system requires a lot of attention when inputting commands. Do I press the console knob, turn it, or shift it to one side or the other to get what I want? Though rear space is spacious, storage of smaller items up front in the cabin is on the stingy side.

Would I buy the 2020 BMW X1 xDrive28i? Yes, though the FWD version is adequate for most city driving. You’re not going to take this out on many rough treks through the woods in any case.


Tuesday, May 19, 2020


MERCEDES-AMG GLE 63 S IS A POWERFUL BRUTE BUT IN A REFINED PACKAGE 


So, you want a vehicle with lots of pop but need one with lots of room for hauling stuff? Well, how about getting one for both.

The 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S performs both functions in luxurious fashion, befitting the company that introduced the concept of the performance-oriented SUV when it brought forth the 342-horsepower 1999 Mercedes-Benz GL 55 AMG.

The name has changed and the horsepower upped considerably, but the concept is the same: A top-of-the-line performer that takes a backseat to no competing vehicle when it comes to a high-performance hauler with a stunning array of ultra-luxurious features and technology that can do about anything for you short of your taxes.



We start with what’s under the hood.

A push on the starter button fires up a 4.0-liter bi-turbo V8 power plant rated at 603 horsepower and a peak torque of 627 pound-feet with a burst of an extra 21 hp and 184 lb.-ft. coming from the onboard EQ Boost starter-generator system, moving its 2.5-plus tons from zero-to-60 mph in a company reported 3.7 seconds and topping out at an electronically limited 174 mph.

That engine is mated to a 9-speed automatic transmission with manual mode via paddle shifters and Comfort, Sport, Sport+ and RACE settings for most conditions. Trail and Sand modes raise the suspension a couple of inches to increase ground clearance in poor conditions.


The GLE 63 S rides on standard 21-inch wheels with 22-inchers as an optuon and gets Mercedes’ 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system as standard.

The government does not yet list fuel milage ratings for 2021 Mercedes models, but Car & Driver put them at an estimated 15 miles-per-gallon city, 20 highway, and 17 combined, which is about what you would expect from a vehicle of this power and size.


It does have an ECO stop/start function that operates in Comfort mode (fear not; it can be be deactivated with the push of a side button next to the start button), and often when cruising four of the eight cylinders (two, three, five and eight if you’re counting) are deactivated to reduce fuel consumption. A small icon appears in the instrumental panel to alert you to this (though you’ll play hell finding that information in the mammoth owner’s manual).

As is typical of vehicles rolling off the Mercedes assembly line, the AMG GLE 63 S glides along soothly in Comfort mode with Sport, Sport+ and RACE settings firming up the suspension for more adventurous forays.

The front bumper, the oversize Mercedes-Benz logo in the front grille, and the large black front air intakes give the GLE 63 S a brutish look, but it is a civilized brute with lots of soft surfaces and Nappa leather seating surfaces that coddle your backside. 

AMG trim elements throughout the interior, including some in carbon fiber, leave no doubt of its pedigree. The special AMG exhaust system features two rectangular twin tailpipe trims.

It also is packed with the latest in technological innovations, though the touchpad system to operate them leaves more than a little to be desired. Fortunately, many of the infotainment functions also can be accessed via buttons on the steering wheel or voice (“Hey, Mercedes”) or even optional gesture control.



The HD touchscreen at the top of what would be the center stack of controls if there were an actual stack is clear and nicely incorporated into the flow of the dash instead of stuck up in the middle like some just remembered iPad.

There is no question about the quality of materials throughout the interior. They’re all top-rate.

 The base MSRP for the GLE 63 S is $114,945 including the $995 destination and delivery charge.

What I liked about the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S: This is an impressive vehicle with an aggressive, in-your-face profile that lives up to its powerful image. There is tons of space for passengers and with just two rows of seats, there is lots of room for them to put their stuff in the back. 

What I didn’t like about the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S: The touchpad for operating the infotainment functions on the MBUX (Mercedes-Benz User Experience) system can be very frustrating. Even if you resolve to only use the steering wheel buttons or voice commands to get to where you want, the touchpad still gets in the way. Especially when picking items out of the console cupholders, you’ll find your self suddenly listening to an different radio station if you lightly brush the touchpad with your palm.

Would I buy the Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S: It is a bit too much over-the-top for my personal preferences, but for those seeing the ultimate in driving performance in an SUV, it is tough to beat this behemoth.



Saturday, May 16, 2020

FCA TEAM PREVIEWS NEW CONNECT 5 INFOTAINMENT SYSTEM FOR MEDIA MEMBERS


If you have read probably more than one of my reviews, you may notice that many of my complaints about a car in the what-I-didn’t-like section relate to how the infotainment systems in may vehicles require completion of an advanced course in computer technology.

Systems in luxury European imports like Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and to an extent Audi are primary examples. I sometimes think that the reason the Germans lost the war was because by the time they programmed “Normandy” into their tanks’ navigation systems the battle had been decided.

Frankly, I thought it was just me and not being the most techno person, but I learned the other day that I am not alone.

The good folks at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) put together a presentation for members of the Southern Automotive Media Association (SAMA) via Google Meet to showcase their new, updated UConnect 5 infotainment system and revealed that a lot of others aren’t happy with overcomplicated operation of such functions as navigation, cellphone hookups, audio and related functions in their vehicles.

According to Jin Palmer, Head for Infotainment and Feature Planning, more than half of the buyers— 51 percent — said a vehicle’s technology influenced their eventual choice and 64 percent said that having a positive experience with infotainment features on their previous vehicle made them want to buy the same brand again.

An even higher number, 78 percent or nearly four out of five shoppers, said that having a simple-to-use infotainment system was one of the most important factors when they were looking for a new vehicle.

With such customer feedback, Vince Galante, Chief Designer of the User Experience team, said that ease of use was among the top priorities in his team’s development of the UConnect 5 system for FCA products “from Day 1.”


With the user-friendliness of previous versions of the UConnect system, Galante and his team didn’t have to start from scratch.

“We’re really proud of the UConnect system and the customer feedback we get from it so we really didn’t just want to throw it away or blow it out,”  Galante said. “We really started with what we had and built upon it. We made it more powerful, more elegant. We took something that was already easy to use, added some more features to it, and made it even more intuitive.”

The new system can be personalized for up to six different user profiles and will be integrated across the entire fleet of FCA vehicles with specific design touches for Chrysler, Dodge, Ram, Fiat, Alfa Romeo, and Maserati models.


Personalization is important because if you happen to lend your car to a friend and he or she messes up all your settings, Galante said you can still select your user profile and have all your own personal settings quickly restored.

The phone system has been enhanced with the capability of connecting two phones simultaneously over Bluetooth and switching between the two of them at will.

The TomTom-based navigation system gives faster route calculation with real-time traffic updates as well as fuel prices, speed camera alerts, and weather updates.

Amazon Alexa also is built in the system, allowing you to give commands like “Alexa, start the car” or “Alexa, play fun music” or “Alexa, navigate to” a specific destination.


“One of the really nice things as a connected voice system, as Alexa gets smarter UConnect 5 will, too,” Galante said. “If you don’t have a connection available, you still will have a voice system in the car and we have upgraded that as well.”

Finally, you will have one-touch access to all your favorite or most frequently used controls by creating up to five custom pages. For somebody like me who often flips to another radio station on a whim that’s a big plus.

Video of the presentation is available on the SAMA news website at www.samaonline.org.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020


REDESIGN TAKES 2020 HYUNDAI SONATA SEDAN INTO ITS EIGHTH GENERATION

A redesign for the 2020 model moves the Hyundai Sonata into its eighth generation as what the South Korean company heralds as its “longest standing and most successful model” globally.

With a svelte, coupe-like profile, classy interior, and lots of standard features, the 2020 Sonata makes for a compelling competitor in the affordable midsize sedan segment long dominated by entries from Toyota and Honda.


It comes in four trims with SE and SEL models powered by a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine and SEL Plus and Limited getting a new 1.6-liter turbo-4. The 2.5 enjoys a slight horsepower edge (191-180) while the turbo has the advantage in torque (195 pound-feet to 181)

All Sonatas come with an 8-speed automatic transmission with drive mode select, and the difference in mileage numbers is negligible (28 mpg city, 38 highway, 32 combined for the SE, 27/37/32 for SEL and 27/36/32 for SEL Plus and Limited).

The updated styling is what Hyundai trumpets as an example of the company’s “Sensuous Sportiness design language” with cues and touches that depart from the usual Hyundai look, starting up front with a new mesh grille. Overall, the Sonata has a sportier appearance than its predecessor.


The Limited version, which served for my test vehicle, has a long list of standard technological features that include Hyundai’s new remote parking assist. As you have likely seen in TV ads, it allows you do stand outside and maneuver the Sonata into particularly tight parking spaces so you don’t have to worry about door dings or squeezing into and out of the car.

The Limited also gets Hyundai’s advanced blind spot warning system that includes a camera that flashes an image in the instrument panel of what is trailing you to the side you are turning. When turning left, the image appears in the speedometer. When the right turn signal is activated, the image appears in the tachometer.


Also new and standard on the Limited is a Digital Key System that lets you start the Sonata via an app on your Smart phone (Android, not iPhone at this time) and an adaptive cruise control that will set your speed to the posted limit (which some, ahem, might consider annoying).

A very clear surround-view camera system, panoramic sunroof, heated and ventilated front seats and leather seating surfaces, push-button start, dual automatic climate control, and a Bose premium sound system also are standard on the Sonata Limited.


You can get some of those functions on other trims by adding Convenience and Technology Packages, but the only extra for my Sonata Limited were carpeted floor mats for $135, which with the $930 destination and delivery charge ran the final MSRP up to $34,365.

Sonata SE models start at $23,600, the SEL at $25,700, and SEL Plus at $27,650.

What I liked about the 2020 Hyundai Sonata Limited: It looks great, and the upgrades have given the interior a classy appeal. The ride is very smooth and quiet. Safety features like blind-spot warning and smart cruise control are standard on the Limited.

What I didn’t like about the 2020 Hyundai Sonata Limited: It’s a small thing, tiny really, but I don’t like the elimination of a knob to change radio stations and surf the dial. In itself it is not so bad, but it is a step in the wrong direction for a company known for user-friendly technology. A more powerful engine option also would be a nice addition for a sportier performance.

Would I buy the 2020 Hyundai Sonata Limited? Yes. It’s a good looking sedan with a long list of standard features and though it doesn’t rate high in performance, it is up to most daily challenges.


Thursday, May 7, 2020


CADILLAC COMPLETES CROSSOVER SUV OFFERINGS WITH INTRODUCION OF 2020 XT6


The short take on Cadillac’s new XT6 crossover SUV: It’s like the XT5 that I reviewed on April 1, but, as you may deduce from the alpha-numeric tag, a bit bigger.

Perhaps you want more details.

The Cadillac XT6 is a new vehicle for 2020 and completes the trio of crossover SUVs that replaced the SRX in the company’s portfolio. It is slightly smaller than the behemoth, truck-based Escalade but still comes with three rows of seating and nearly 79 cubic feet of storage space when the second and third rows are folded. (But not so much when they are all upright.)


A 3.6-liter V6 engine mated to a 9-speed automatic transmission powers its 4,441 pounds (4,644 with all-wheel drive) and provides 4,000 pounds of towing capacity while drinking regular fuel — an advantage over most of its competitors —at the rate of 18 miles-per-gallon city, 25 highway, 20 combined.

The engine is rated at 310 horsepower and 271 pound-feet of torque, which are not particularly awe-inspiring numbers but do get you up to expressway speed without any strain. The website zeroto60times.com report a clocking of 6.6 seconds with a quarter-mile time of 15.1 seconds.


The XT6 comes in two trims — Sport and Premium Luxury. The latter served as my test vehicle and has a base MSRP of $52,695.

At that price, standard equipment includes front-wheel drive, leather seating surfaces, power adjustable front seats with lumbar support, tri-zone climate control, sunroof, leather-wrapped heated steering wheel, power tilt-and-telescoping steering column, 20-inch 6-spoke wheels, a hands-free liftgate, power-folding third row seats, Cadillac User Experience infotainment features (much better than the original system but still not all that user-friendly), Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, wireless charging, and a pretty resposive voice command system.


Standard safety features include front and rear parking assist, forward collision alert, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-keeping assistant and lane-departure warning, blind-spot alert, front pedestrian braking, and HD rear-vision camera with washing system.

That’s pretty good, but there is also a plethora of options and packages also available that add to its appeal. But they add quite a bit to the total cost.


A Platinum Package (upgraded leather seating, leather console and door trim, performance suspension, microfiber suede headliner, upgraded suspension, and premimum floor mats added $4,000 alone to my test vehicle. Three other packages, including one for enhanced visibility and technological features, added $2,000-plus each and the CUE system with navigation and premium sound put on another $1,000.

The final total came to $69,585 with the $995 destination and delivery charge.

What I liked about the Cadillac XT6 Premium Luxury: The ride is quiet and comfortable, and it comes with lots of safety features as standard. It’s a lot more pleasant to drive and easier to maneuver than Cadillac’s other full-size offering, the Escalade.

What I didn’t like about the Cadillac XT6 Premium Luxury: Luggage space behind the third row (12.6 cubic feet) is less than what you get in many sedans.What good is being able to take a large contingent of family or friends on a trip if you can’t accommodate their stuff? The infotainment system display is small at only 8 inches. To get the full luxury experience, you have to add a lot of options that drive up the final tab considerably.

Would I buy the Cadillac XT6 Premium Luxury? Not personally, no, because I don’t need a three-row SUV luxury or no. But if you are in the market for one, it’s worth a look. 



Thursday, April 30, 2020

2020 MERCEDES-AMG GT C ROADSTER COMBINES PERFORMANCE, ELEGANCE 


While it is an outstanding vehicle that takes performance to the extreme, the 2020 Mercedes-AMG GT C Roadster is not for everyone, and not just because of its six-figure price tag.

This is a vehicle that requires you to give your full attention to matters behind the wheel, which is not all bad but sometimes you just want to relax and cruise along without worrying about running over some unsuspecting ecobox in your path, not to mention an occasional cyclist.

The AMG GT C is not for the timid. You don’t go about putting 550 horsepower and 502 pound-feet of torque at your fingertips without at least a tiny bit of trepidation.


And yet at the same time the luxurious cabin is a powerful attraction. Mercedes designers have filled the interior with rich leather and soft touch spots and a whole swatch of technological features to enhance your overall driving/riding experience.

Think Dodge Viper outfitted in formal attire.


Included in the base MSRP of $162,400 for the GT C Roadster are niceties like dual zone climate control, a 12.3 inch digital instrument cluster, COMAND navigation on wide HD display map, power heated AMG performance seats with lumbar support and memory, an AMG performance steering wheel, a power soft top that raises and lowers in 11 seconds and at speeds up to 31 mph, and Mercedes Airscarf system to channel warm air to the back of your neck when driving in cooler conditions with the top down.

Safety features include the usual assortment of airbags and seat belts plus active braking assist, lane-keeping and blind-spot assist, rearview and frontview cameras, and Mercedes’ Pre-Safe system that activates various safety precautions when sensors detect a collision coming.


Other standard features include LED headlamps and taillights, stop/start fuel-saving system (which can be deactivated by pushing a button), AMG adaptive sport suspension, AMG performance exhaust (oh, what a seat song it sings), and rear-wheel steering.

Engineers thought of darn near everything.


Under the hood of the 2020 Mercedes-AMG GT C Roadster is a 4.0-liter biturbo V8 engine that is mated to an AMG 7-speed double-clutch transmission that can be upgraded to not only to Sport or Sport-Plus modes but Race mode as well. That combination zips you from zero to 60 mph in just 3.6 seconds.

About the only thing you don’t get from the drivetrain is fuel economy. The EPA figures of 15 miles-per-gallon city, 20 highway, and 17 combined earns the 2020 AMG GT C a $1,000 Gas Guzzler’s Tax. According to DOT ratings you’ll spend about $6,750 more in fuel costs over a 5-year period than the average new vehicle.

That tax and extras like a Burmeister Premium Sound system, an Active Distance Assistance Distronic that automatically keeps you at a set distance from a vehicle in front of you, a couple of other stand-alone options, and a $995 destination and delivery charge ran the total of my test vehicle to $174, 665.

As I said, not a vehicle for everybody.

What I liked about the 2020 Mercedes-AMG GT C Roadster: They had me at “convertible.” The interior is lush with high quality materials as expected from the brand. The performance, of course, is breathtaking and everything you could ask for.

What I didn’t like about the 2020 Mercedes-AMG GT C Roadster: Somehow, the Germans keep coming up with ideas to make operation of their plentiful technology even more complicated. Maybe I’m in the minority but I don’t think a touchpad on the console is the way to go for automotive vehicles. You can easily trigger a change if your hand drifts when reaching for the cupholder. The ride can be very noisy even with the top up, but it’s not from the wind. The engine roar tends to drown out normal conversations on the highway.

Would I buy the 2020 Mercedes-AMG GT C Roadster? Certainly not for everyday use, that’s for sure. This is an automotive extravagance that is far beyond even my usual automotive dreams. But if you have a high six-figure budget for a weekend performance car, this certainly is one that should be on your list.