Monday, September 9, 2019

WANT THE FASTEST PRODUCTION SUV? LOOK NO FURTHER THAN 2019 ALFA ROMEO STELVIO

Considering that Alfa Romeo races in Formula and is known for producing nifty little roadsters like the 4C Spider it brought to the U.S. just a few years ago, it is not surprising that the Italian automaker’s first venture into the SUV/crossover world would come down heavy on power and performance.

Depending on what’s under the hood, the 2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio matches the performance of many of today’s sports sedans or can take on a high-performance sports car in a straight-line drag race.


With the turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder in the base and Ti models, the Stelvio zips from zero-to-60 mph in 5.4 seconds, according to company timers. That isn’t bad for vehicle of this heft, but it would be left in the dust going against the Stelvio Quadifoglio and its twin-turbo V6.

How about numbers of 505 horsepower and 443 pound-feet of torque and a zero-to-60 clocking of 3.2 seconds? That’s nearly a second quicker than that for the company’s 4C Spider that weighs in at 2,500 pounds or nearly 2,000 pounds less than the Stelvio Quadrifoglio.


The company boasts that the Stelvio Quadfoglio turned in a record 7 minutes 51.7 seconds on the Nürburgring, the best time ever posted by a production SUV on the famed circuit, making it the fastest production SUV in the world.

Both the 4-banger and the V6 are mated to an engine-specific 8-speed automatic transmission that features Sport, Natural and Advanced Efficiency modes with the Quadrifoglio model also getting the option of “Race” for even more enhanced performance.


You set those modes via the “DNA” button on the console. The dial is marked "d, n, and a" and the image on the screen shows red for Dynamic mode, blue for Natural, and, of course, green for eco. It is yellow for Race, perhaps denoting the caution you should take when using that setting. You push the center of that DNA dial to adjust the suspension.

Quadrifoglio is the tag that Alfa Romeo assigns to its high performance models, similar to the BMW’s “M” and Mercedes’ “AMG” designations. Quadfoglio is Italian for a four-leaf clover, which explains the cloverleaf logo near the Stelvio Quadrifoglio’s  front fenders. The cloverleaf’s link to Alfa Romeo dates back to Alfa Romeo’s early racing efforts in the 1920s.

The Stelvio Quadrifoglio also comes with all-wheel drive as standard, which is denoted by a Q4 on the left of the rear power liftgate.


In addition to all that power and performance, the Stelvo Quadrifoglio also features distinctive Italian styling. That can be polarizing, of course, as the risk that goes along with stepping away from the crowd can also put off some potential customers.

But it works in this case. The Selvio Quadrifoglio is not just for those who “think outside the box” but for those who don’t acknowledge that a box even exists.

Introduced for the 2018 model year, the Stelvio Quadrifoglio gets some specific styling touches with dashes of carbon fiber throughout, including a carbon-fiber drive shaft. Still, the interior could use a bit of sprucing up in comparison to some of its competitors, and the red interior borders on garish to some.

For a price tag that starts at just over $80,000, the Quadrifoglio doesn’t separate itself much in interior quality from its lower priced stablemates Stelvio, Stelvio Sport, and Stelvio Ti that run in the $40K neighborhood.

But there are plenty off features, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, premium Harman Kardon audio, 8-way power adjustable and heated front seats with 4-way lumbar support, navigation, leather dash and upper doors with accent stitching, bright aluminum pedals, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel that are included as standard before you have to venture into option packages offering lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, and a dual-panel sunroof.

All that ran the total of my test Stelvio to $88,540.

What I liked about the 2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio AWD: The styling, both interior and exterior, is definitely distinctive. It is a joy to drive, and comfortable for occupants as well. I don’t use them that often, but mounting the paddle shifters on the steering column rather than the steering wheel itself makes for easier shifting.

What I didn't like about the 2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio AWD: The display for the rearview camera is on the small side, which can become critical in bright, sunny conditions. Operation of infotainment functions is somewhat fussy. You need to take care entering the vehicle, especially from the driver’s side, or you'll bump your head. Harnessing all that horsepower can be an issue if you’re not on full alert. The vehicle often takes bit of a leap at the slightest touch of the accelerator pedal when dynamic mode is set.

Would I buy the 2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio AWD? Yes. If you’re looking for a high performance crossover/SUV, this has to be on your list.


Monday, September 2, 2019



AUDI A7 MOVES INTO SECOND GENERATION WITH NEW ENGINE, OTHER UPDATES FOR 2019

It was a case of love at first sight.

No sooner had I stepped out my front door to see the white Audi A7 parked in my driveway than I knew this was going to be a great week. It was stunning enough just sitting there motionless — a sedan that looks like a coupe but really is a hatchback.

And it only got better as the days went on.


Its driving performance was exhilarating, powerful yet refined and easy to manage. Its road manners are impeccable, but not stuffy. You don’t have to wrestle with the steering or treat the accelerator pedal gently lest the car get away from under you.

Steering is precise. There’s just enough of an exhaust note to let you know it’s there — sharp but not ear-splitting to those in the next county. 

And bumps in the road? What bumps in the road?


All in all, I felt like the guy who married a super model and then found out she could cook, too! And owned a liquor store as well!

That’s the Audi A7 quattro, all new for 2019 as it moves into its second generation.

Among the items new for this year is a new turbocharged, 3.0-liter V6 engine that boasts an increase of 44 pound-foot of torque over its supercharged V6 predecessor. Mated with a 7-speed, double-clutch transmission featuring auto, comfort, dynamic, and individual modes, the engine delivers 335 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque at a range of 1370 and 4500 rpm, moving it from zero to 60 mph in 5.2 seconds.


That’s the official number from Audi. Edmunds.com clocked it at 4.7 seconds.

Also a first for 2019 is Mild Hybrid Electric technology system that helps improve drivetrain efficiency, resulting in EPA mileage figures of 22 miles-per-gallon city, 29 highway, and 25 combined. Even with all-wheel drive it’s among the best in the large luxury class.


One big change that is sure to catch your attention is Audi’s new touch-response system featuring dual touchscreens. The larger one at the top of the centerstack is used for adjustments for audio, navigation and car settings. The smaller one below is for climate control functions such as blower speed, temperature, etc.

That eliminates the need to switch the screen from say, navigation or audio display to re-adjust the A/C as is necessary on single-screen setups.

The touchscreens replace the rotary dial system used to operate the MMI system in the past. You can still use voice commands to operate many functions, which is good because using your finger to navigate the various options is a pain.

Standard equipment includes such niceties as heated leather seats, LED headlights, power sunroof, and power liftgate (almost a necessity considering its heft), and Bluetooth communications.

The Prestige model adds a package of features that adds $8,300 to the base MSRP of $68,000 and includes the MMI system with navigation and a 10.1-inch screen (replacing the 8.8-inch in the base base Premium model) along with Audi’s virtual cockpit,  premium Bang & Olufsen sound system, a top-view camera system, and 4-zone climate control. Driver and front passenger not only have their own temperature controls but blower as well, and the rear occupants have their own controls.

My test vehicle also included options like an individual contour seating package, a Driver’s Assistance Package, and 20-inch wheels  (replacing the standard 19s) that ran the total to $85,240, including the $995 destination and delivery charge.

What I liked about the 2019 Audi A7 quattro: The “virtual cockpit” that puts information like the adjustable map for navigation right in front of the driver’s eyes is the best system yet. There are tons of storage space in the back (part of the DNA of a hatchback) but when the deck lid is closed, the A7’s interior has the appearance of a sedan with the cargo area (24.9 cubic feet) completely closed off.

What I didn't like about the 2019 Audi A7 quattro: Audi has changed its infotainment functions to operate by tapping on one of two touchscreens rather than spinning a dial on the console like its Teutonic mates BMW and Mercedes-Benz, and results are mixed. It’s easy enough to adjust climate control settings on the lower screen, but tuning the radio or adjusting the audio volume or making other adjustments by touching the right spot on the upper screen can be distracting. Rear headroom might be compromised for taller occupants because of the slopping roofline that gives the A7 its coupe-like profile.

Would I buy the 2019 Audi A7 quattro? Yes. I don’t like the touchscreen controls for audio and A/C, but I don’t see it as a complete turnoff. There’s just too much going for the A7 to let that get in the way.


Sunday, August 25, 2019

BMW ADDS DROPTOP TO 8-SERIES LINEUP WITH 2019 M850i xDRIVE CONVERTIBLE


“Bigger is better” is pretty much engrained in our DNA as Americans, but apparently it isn’t necessarily so for our European cousins, particularly those of Teutonic stock.

Evidence for this comes courtesy of BMW.

The German automaker of fine luxury vehicles launches its first 8-Series droptop with the 2019 M850i xDrive Convertible essentially taking over from the 6-Series convertibles, which have been discontinued for 2019.

You might think that with the “8” leading off the alphanumeric designation that the M850i would the largest car (convertible, coupe, sedan) in BMW’s fleet of luxury vehicles, but you would be wrong.

At 191.2 inches long, the 850i xDrive convertible is over two feet shorter than the 7-Series sedan and nearly two inches shorter than the outgoing 6-Series convertible. It is about a half-foot shorter than the remaining 6-Series Coupe and Grand Turismo hatchback.


But when it comes to luxury and driving experience, the M850i xDrive Convertible does’t sell anybody short.

The styling is bolder starting with the slightly larger, familiar kidney-shaped grille and imposing air intakes up front and continuing to the sculpted LED taillight clusters in the rear.

The interior is resplendent in Merino leather seats with the front seats power adjustable 20 ways with 4-way adjustable lumbar support. “M” touches such as the leather M steering wheel, M pedals, and M driver’s footrest add to the cabin’s sporty feel.

You’ll even find plenty of room in the center console’s storage compartment, and BMW even thoughtfully installed two cupholders under the center stack that can be closed off for a cleaner look for the dash.


The gear selector has the appearance of fine-grade crystal, though why designers thought it necessary to place the button for “park” down on the gear lever itself is a mystery to me. Why not leave it in the regular gear sequence? Drive, Neutral, Reverse, Park seems to work just fine.

Operation of the top is accomplished by tugging on a small lever on the console. The fabric roof raises and lowers in 15 seconds and at speeds up to 30 mph, handy if a sudden shower hits (not uncommon in my South Florida environs). When closed, the cabin remains very quiet.

Technological and other functions can be operated by an iDrive controller, voice commands, or gesture control, and the large touchscreen at the top of the center stack does provide vital information at a quick glance.

A Harmon Kardon Surround Sound System is standard, and a 12-speaker Bowers & Wilkins Diamond Surround Sound System with an output of 1,375 watts is optional.


All that is nice, but it is what is under the hood that really sets the M850i apart from its 6-Series predecessors. An updated, twin-power turbocharged 4.4-liter V8 engine is rated at 523 horsepower at 5500-6000 rpm and a whopping 553 pound-feet of torque in 1800 to 4600 rpm.

Mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission (yes, of course there are paddle shifters for manual gear selection), it moves the M850i’s 4,736 pounds from zero to 60 mph in 3.8 seconds, according to BMW clockers.


You can select driving modes that include Comfort, Sport, Sport-Plus, and Eco Pro or set the mode to suit to your own individual tastes. (One of these days I’ve got to see what Eco is all about.)

As you might suspect, fuel mileage is not a strongpoint for the M850i. EPA figures are 17 miles-per-gallon city, 26 highway, with a combined 20 mpg of recommended premium fuel.

Speaking of premium, the M850i xDrive Convertible also comes with a premium price with a starting MSRP of $122,395 including the $995 destination and delivery charge.

But to be fair here, several niceties come with no extra charge, including soft-close automatic doors, remote engine start, M Sport brakes, Integral Active Steering (rear wheels can turn up to 3 degrees, which at lower speeds can reduce the turning circle and also help stabilize the vehicle), heated and ventilated front seats, wireless charging, Wi-Fi hotspot, and a power operated rear deck lid.


The most expensive option on my test car was a $1,700 Drivers Assistance Pro Package which features BMW’s Extended Traffic Jam Assistant that monitors surrounding situations to warn of potential hazards.

That package and a few extras that included a neck warmer (for driving with the top down in cooler weather) ran the final total to $123,395. 

What I liked about the 2019 BMW M850i xDrive Convertible: The interior is impeccable, as one might expect (demand?) of a vehicle running into six figures. The ride is comfortable and smooth without being “floaty.” The ability to raise and lower the soft top while at speeds of up to 30 mph is a real plus. The trunk is small, but the backseats may be folded individually for more cargo capacity. Oh. And you can turn off the “stop/start” system by pushing a button on the console.

What I didn’t like about the 2019 BMW M850i xDrive Convertible: The abundant technological features can be fussy to operate as well as being a destraction from the driver’s attention, which is kind of ironic for a company that calls its products the “ultimate driving machine.” The backseat is tight, though not as cramped as some other four-passenger convertibles on the market today. You get back there by gently pulling on straps on the back of the front seats and the seats are automatically move forward.

Would I buy the 2019 BMW M850i xDrive Convertible? We’re assuming I have won the lottery here, so yes, I would put this magnificent vehicle in my collection if that were the case. That said, you can get a lot of luxury and technology from some competing vehicles and still stay well under the $100,000 mark.


Tuesday, August 13, 2019

THE MAGIC OF AMG TAKES C-CLASS CABRIOLET TO HIGHEST LUXURY LEVEL 


The C-Class has served as a introductory model for Mercedes-Benz enthusiasts since its debut as a “baby Benz” sedan in the early 1990s.

It has grown up considerably since then, however, and there is nothing “baby” about the AMG C43 Cabriolet I recently had the pleasure of driving for a week, from the performance, to the luxury, and yes, to the price tag.


Can you envision a C-Class that starts in the $60,000 range and nearly reaches $80,000 when fully equipped?

That’s quite a jump from the base C-Class Cab that starts at just a couple of notches over the $50,000 mark but it is what often happens when the folks who labor in the company’s AMG workshops get done with their tinkering.


AMG versions of Mercedes models are not really for those who only care about getting from Point A to Point B. They are for those who look forward to the ride itself!

It starts under the hood, where AMG has pumped up the 3.0-liter bi-turbo V6 to 385 horsepower and 384 pound-feet of torque, big steps up from the 255 hp and 234 lb.-ft. the turbo-4 in the C300 Cabriolet delivers.


Mated with a 9-speed automatic transmission, the V6 scoots the C43 from zero-to-60 mph in under 5.0 seconds with fuel numbers of 18 miles-per-gallon city, 25 highway, 21 combined.

Driving modes include Comfort, Sport, Sport-Plus, and Individual, and if you want more sound from the dual exhaust, you can push a button on the console to get that, too. Sport-Plus mode disengages the stop/start system as well as stiffening the suspension and increasing throttle response.


In fact, the increased throttle response almost can be a bit too aggressive at times, especially considering that even in Comfort the C43 gets off the line quickly.

The interior is impeccable with lots of leather, natural grain wood, and brushed aluminum throughout. The triple-layer, acoustic soft top gives the C43 a quiet ride, more like of hardtop quality than a typical soft top. When riding with the top down in chillier temperatures, the Airscarf system and heated seats keeps things comfortable.


With South Florida’s summer temperatures, the optional ventilated seats and an A/C set on high are more appreciated than the Airscarf!

That roof, incidentally, raises and lowers in about 20 seconds, and you can do it at speeds up to 30 mph, a handy feature if a sudden shower appears and you can’t pull over.


Among standard features for the base MSRP of $64,645 (including destination and delivery) are a Burmester surround-sound audio system, push-button start, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, dual zone climate control, rain-sensing windshield wipers, a 10.25-inch display screen for infotainment features that operate with a central controller or touchpad (both on the center console) and Bluetooth connectivity.

The AMG, flat-bottom performance steering wheel is included in the base price, but other AMG-inspired touches like performance exhaust, carbon fiber rear spoiler, and illuminated door sills plus packages that include navigation and safety features like lane-keeping assist, active blind spot detection,, etc. are options.

Thus the total for my test drive model came to $78,105.

What I liked about the 2019 AMG C43 Cabriolet: In a word, everything. The AMG version of Mercedes-Benz’ so-called “entry level” convertible offers the highest level in performance and comfort features for a superb motoring experiences for both driver and passenger. The interior oozes luxury touches. You don’t have to be at a standstill to lower or raise the soft top.

What I didn’t like about the 2019 AMG C43 Cabriolet: The trunk is small, though I was able to slide in two beach chairs and an umbrella and still ride with the top down. The COMAND system to operate infotainment features can be very distracting. Much of the really good stuff is only available as options that can add nearly $15,000 to the starting MSRP. The backseat is practically useless.

Would I buy the 2019 AMG C43 Cabriolet? If cost was not an issue, sure. But if it was, I would find nearly just as much happiness in the basic C300 Cabriolet.


Tuesday, August 6, 2019


HYUNDAI PACKS A LOT OF FEATURES IN ITS 2019 KONA SUBCOMPACT CROSSOVER SUV

Still a relative newcomer in the subcompact SUV segment, Hyundai’s Kona crossover quickly has established itself as one of the best in its class.

Last January the Hyundai Kona and its electric version Kona EV a panel of 54 judges at the 2019 North American International Auto Show in Detroit selected the Kona over the Jaguar I-Pace and Acura RDX as the North American Utility Vehicle of the Year, arguably the most prestigious award in the industry.

Other awards from media organizations and publications have followed with the most recent recognition from the New England Motor Press Association as “Best-in-Class Subcompact SUV.” Edmunds also named the Kona EV its “Editors’ Choice” among all electric vehicles because of its long range, affordable price, and pleasing driving experience.


And Kona — an Hawaiian name for a strong southwesterly wind that often brings rain — has moved into the No. 5 spot among the South Korean automaker’s best sellers with 43,466 Konas sold in the first seven months this year.

Introduced as a 2018 model at the Los Angeles Auto Show in the fall of 2017, the Kona now comes with safety upgrades like forward collision-avoidance assist, lane-keeping assist, and driver attention warning as standard for 2019. Collision-avoidance wasn’t available on 2018 models, and lane-keeping and driver attention were not available on the base model.


Hyundai recently that adaptable cruise control, labeled “Smart” Cruise Control, will be available on top-of-the-line Ultimate trim 2020 Kona models. 

Ultimate is one of four Kona trims along with SE, SEL, and Limited. Base pricing runs from $21,085 (including destination and delivery) to $33,045 for the special “Iron Man edition” depending on the engine (a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder or a 1.6-liter, turbo-4) and transmission (6-speed automatic or 7-speed dual-clutch).

This review is based on the Ultimate trim equipped with the 1.6-turbo engine and 7-speed dual-clutch transmission. It delivers horsepower and torque numbers of  175 hp and 195 pound-feet, respectively, for a brisk ride while still demonstrating fuel economy with numbers of 28 miles-per-gallon city, 32 highway, and 30 combined.


The Kona Electric is rated at 201 hp with mileage ratings of 132 MPGe city and 108 MPGe highway with an impressive range of 258 miles, more than double that of the electric version of its Ioniq cousin (124 miles).

My test vehicle Kona Ultimate came with front-wheel drive, though all-wheel drive is available, which impinges slightly on on fuel economy numbers.

The Ultimate version of the Kona lives up to its name with a long list of standard features that make adding options unnecessary.


In addition to the safety features already mentioned (pay attention!) are blind-spot and rear cross-traffic warning, rear parking distance warning, and front, front side and side-curtain airbags and rollover sensors.

Also included in the Ultimate’s $27,500 MSRP are an 8-inch color touchscreen with navigation and rear-view monitor, leather seating surfaces, power sunroof, proximity key with push-button start, tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel, heads-up display,wireless device charging, rain-sensing wipers, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, Bluetooth connectivity, Infinity premium sound system, and Hyundai’s Blue Link services (think OnStar). It rides on standard 18-inch wheels.

Along with the destination charge, the only extra in pricing was $125 in floor mats that ran the total to $28,605.


For that you get a very capable crossover SUV that is fun to drive, comfortable to ride in, and practical as well. Plus one it doesn’t have the funky styling of some past Hyundai SUVs yet remains distinctive as well.

What I liked about the 2019 Hyundai Kona Ultimate: The “pulse red” color is spectacular. There are lots of standard features for a vehicle that checks in at under $29,000. Technological features are very user friendly. The lively performance was an unexpected bonus, yet its fuel efficiency rates among the leaders among its non-hybrid, non-electric competitors in the subcompact SUV segment.

What I didn’t like about the 2019 Hyundai Kona Ultimate: The rear storage space isn’t the most generous, even for its class. At 19.2 cubic feet, it should be adequate for most tasks, however. It expands to 45.8 cubic feet with the rear seats folded. Legroom in the back is only 34.9 inches, but you have to remember this is a subcompact that is only 164 inches long with a wheelbase of 102.4 inches.

Would I buy the 2019 Hyundai Kona Ultimate? Yes. It’s a nice fit between a sedan and a larger SUV.