Thursday, February 25, 2021

2021 AMG E 63 S WAGON


Back in the day long before SUVs and minivans existed, the station wagon ruled when it came to family transportation.

Often with wood-grained side panels and foldable seats in the far back that faced to the rear, the station wagon offered much-needed space to accommodate larger families and all the stuff they tended to pack for summer vacations. 

But just as tractors and pickup trucks replaced horse-drawn plows and carts, SUVs (and crossovers) and minivans began chipping away at the station wagon’s popularity until the wagon became all but extinct in the 1990s, especially those off the assembly lines of domestic manufacturers.

Stylish? Not really. Fun to drive? Hah! Think Clark Griswold and the Wagon Queen Family Truckster from National Lampoon’s Vacation here.

The introduction of SUVs that matched the eight- and nine-passenger capacity of minivans hurried the demise of the traditional wagon along even further, with the benefit of offering more in performance and driving experience than the typical minivan could provide.

But now we come to the 2021 AMG E 63 S Wagon. This isn’t your grandfather’s station wagon.

With a 4.0-liter biturbo V8 engine pumping out 603 horsepower and 627 pound-feet of torque. the AMG E 63 S fills the station wagon’s traditional role as a family hauler while offering the driving experience of a highly tuned sports sedan or coupe. You won’t have to surrender your “man card” with this baby.

The AMG E 63 S Wagon zips from zero-to-60 mph time in an estimated 3.4 seconds, according to Mercedes, which is less than a wink of the 3.3 clocking for the sedan. That makes the the incessant backseat whining “Are we there yet?” a moot question. And cargo capacity is listed as 35 cubic feet behind the second-row and up to to 64 cubic feet with those seats folded.

The interior is impeccable.

Mercedes upgraded the cabin with Nappa leather seats featuring “AMG” badging on the front seatbacks. Nappa leather also is featured on the dashboard trim. Standard comfort and convenience features include dual-zone climate control, heated and ventilated front seats with 3-position memory and 4-way lumbar support for the driver, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, AMG Performance steering wheel, AMG illuminated door sill plates, 12.3-inch touchscreen and 12.3-inch wide instrument cluster, keyless entry with push-button start, electronic trunk closer, wireless charging, a touchpad for operation of functions like the MBUX infotainment system, Burlmester surround sound audio, and the “Hey, Mercedes” voice command system.

You’re probably going to appreciate the voice command system because using the touchpad or swiping across the screen to operate infotainment functions is a pain.

Other standard features included in the $112,450 base price include LED headlights and taillights, active parking assist, blind-spot assist, Bluetooth connectivity, and a surround view camera system.

My vehicle for the week also included lots of extras, like an AMG carbon ceramic braking system, 20-inch AMG forged cross-spoke wheels in matte black, a head-up display for the driver, augmented video for navigation, a driver’s assistance package that included active evasive steering assist and active lane-change assist, and a special AMG exterior carbon fiber package to further dress up the E 63 S Wagon’s appearance.

My test vehicle also came in an eye-catching blue shade. Mercedes calls it Brilliant Blue Magno, and it was a $3,950 add-on, running the final bottom line to $141,050 including the $!,050 destination and delivery fee.

It is a  “matte” or “flat” finish that isn’t going to appeal to everyone. In my informal survey, men liked it, women not so much. Vive la difference!

What I liked about the 2021 AMG E 63 S Wagon: The performance is exhilarating, and the cabin is so luxurious you'll forget you are in a vehicle that serves as a family wagon. The back is plenty roomy for nearly all your needs when it comes to stowage space. Its sleek profile is a break from traditional wagon’s shape.

What I didn't like about the 2021 AMG E 63 S Wagon:
Operation of the infotainment system remains overly fussy even if you get used to the “swiping” to process, either on the touchscreen or the touchpad on the console. There is still the possibility of accidentally brushing that touchpad while reaching for another button and changing a radio station or other function. I find that it takes the driver’s eyes too much off the road to perform some functions as you have to pay strict attention to the image that is on the screen to get to the desired setting.

Would I buy the 2021 AMG E 63 S Wagon? It's way out of most budgets (especially mine), but if you are one who likes to spend big dollars on a car to get all the latest technology (and impress your neighbors) as well as top performance, this will do perfectly. Plus you’ll leave them stunned as you zip away from the intersection.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021



Though the three-door configuration gets a lot of the attention, it is not the only thing that makes the 2021 Hyundai Veloster N a worthy competitor to any compact hatchback coming from its Asian rivals from Japan.

With its turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine pumping out 275 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque to the front wheels, the Veloster N compares very well with much-heralded rivals like Honda’s Civic Type-R when it comes to performance and fun-to-drive quotient.

With the Veloster celebrating its 10th year on the market, the N version is offered with an 8-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission for the first time with the 2021 model, and yes, it obviously has paddle shifters for those desiring manual gear selection. The 6-speed manual will save you $1,500 off the MSRP if you like to exercise your left leg and foot.

Knocking that off the bottom could be a consideration since the 2021 Hyundai Veloster N starts at the high end of the spectrum when it comes to compact hatchbacks. Its starting price is $34,745 including the $995 destination and delivery fee, but it should be noted that the list of standard equipment includes what were features in the optional $2,100 Performance Package last year.

In fact, other than choosing the automatic or manual transmission and the color, you will have no other decisions to make when buying the Veloster N.

Standard equipment includes high level safety features like forward collision assist and blind-spot warning, lane-following and lane-keeping assist, 19-inch allow wheels, Infinity Premium audio, 8-inch touchscreen with navigation, keyless entry with push-button start, N themed accents and style touches, automatic climate control, LED headlights and taillights, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, and Hyundai’s Blue Link communications.

I mentioned the three-door configuration earlier. This is not two side doors and counting the rear lift gate as a third door, but three actual passenger doors on the sides.

There are two doors on the right, one on the left, but you don’t really notice the rear door on the right because the handle is incorporated into the casing for the right rear window. This eliminates the a major common complaint regarding access to the back seat via the usual setup for coupes of pulling the back of the front seats forward.

It also has the extra benefit of a slighter bigger driver’s side door, though that can be a disadvantage if you are in a crowded parking lot and the space is cramped. Overall, I consider the wider opening a plus.

It’s an interesting design concept and so far as I am aware the only such asymmetrical vehicle in production today.

Though the interior is not of luxury status and features a lot of hard plastics, it is not all that off-putting. Passenger capacity is listed as four, and the two in the pack will find conditions on the snug side with just 34.1 inches of legroom.

Cargo capacity is adequate at 19.9 cubic feet and 44.5 with the back row seats folded. Other hatchbacks may offer more, but if you are used to a sedan, that’s pretty generous. There is plenty of technological systems among the standard features, and nothing requires a computer generous (or an elementary student) to operate.

All in all, the sporty little car that took the place of the Tiburon in the Hyundai lineup is a very fine choice if you are shopping for a car that would liven up you daily commutes. The size works against it as a family vehicle (unless you are a family of empty-nesters), but an SUV for bigger broods and a Veloster N for fun would be an ideal combination.

What I liked about the 2021 Hyundai Veloster N:
This is a very fun car to drive. The  “N” represents Hyundai's performance division, and this Veloster N lives up to expectations, if not exceeds them. The 3-door set up for access to the cabin may seem a bit odd (no pun intended), but it allows for a larger door for the driver while providing easy access to the rear seat. The plentiful infotainment features are very user-friendly.

What I didn’t like about the 2021 Hyundai Veloster N: The fuel economy is not the greatest for its segment (20 miles per gallon city 27 highway, and 22 combined), but you’ve got to sacrifice something for the performance. I did hear one complaint about the vehicle’s comfort, but the sport front seats provide good support for the driver. The N offers a lot in the way of standard equipment, but it gives the Velostor N a high price tag for the class.

Would I buy the 2021 Hyundai Veloster N? Yes. It would be a great vehicle to take something of the drudgery of workday commutes, especially since it now is offered with an automatic transmission. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2021



The XT4 was the last of the three crossover SUVs Cadillac brought to market to replace the popular SRX, joining the XT5 and XT6 as a 2019 model.

It is the smallest of the three and, so far at least, has trailed its larger siblings in sales with the XT5 leading the way even though the XT4 carries a starting MSRP that tops out where the XT5’s  begins. The XT4 starts at under $40,000. The XT5 and the XT6 start in the mid-to-high $40,000.

The 2021 Cadillac XT4 is offered in three trims — Luxury, Premium Luxury, and Sport — with front-wheel or available all-wheel drive. All come with a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine mated to a 9-speed automatic transmission.

That combination results in mileage figures of 24 miles-per-gallon city, 30 highway for FWD models. The 4-banger is rated at 237 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque that provides enough oomph for a comfortable, if not overpowering, driving experience. If you are looking for sporty performance and impressive off-the-line acceleration, you probably should be looking elsewhere. Otherwise, Sport mode livens things a bit for the XT4.

The best thing the XT4 has going for is a roomy, comfortable cabin with decent storage space behind the second row and a pretty long list of standard equipment.

Included in the $39,790 MSRP (including the destination and delivery charge) are such features as an improved Cadillac User Experience system for infotainment functions, keyless start, power adjustable front seats (8-way driver, 6-way passenger) with power lumbar support, rain-sensing windshield wipers, a power hands-free liftgate, and safety systems that include OnStar services, front and rear park assist, front pedestrian braking, HD rear vision camera, rear cross traffic alert, safety alert seat, and lane-change alert with blind-spot detection.

Forward collision alert and braking also are included after being made standard features for the 2020 model.

The XT4 rides on 18-inch wheels with a tire sealant and inflator in place of a spare tire.

The XT4 Premium Luxury model that served for my test drive came with a lot of extras that added to its appeal. The options included a Comfort and Technology Preference package (8-way adjustable passenger seat, massage function for the front seats, ventilated front seats, wireless phone charging, and power tilt and telescoping steering column), an Enhanced Visibility package (rear camera mirror with washer, rear pedestrian alert, and HD surround vision, an upgraded CUE  system that included navigation and Bose premium sound, and a driver assistance system that include lane-keeping assist with lane-departure warning.

That all ran the final bottom line to $48,935, which may explain why the XT5 is the more popular vehiile in the XT series when it comes to sales numbers.

What I liked about the 2021 Cadillac XT4 Premium Luxury: A generous cargo area behind the second row provides lots of room for most tasks, and it can be more than doubled by folding those seats. The CUE infotainment system has been greatly improved. Somebody must have been listening to earlier complaints. There is good legroom for the second row.

What I didn’t like about the 2021 Cadillac XT4 Premium Luxury: The Premium Luxury trim has lots of standard features included in the base MSRP, but to get the exotic stuff (massage function for front seats, HD surround vision, adaptive cruise control) you need option packages that run up the bottom line considerably. It could use V6 power.

Would I buy the 2021 Cadillac XT4 Premium Luxury? I’d give it a look because it is the right size unless you need a third row. Some of its competitors have a more premium feel to the interior.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021



On the market for about five years now, the Mercedes AMG GT 53 is a luxury vehicle with the haughty attitude of a high-performance sports car.

It certainly has the luxury price with a starting MSRP just under $100,000, and it has the chops when it comes to get-up-and-go with a 3.0-liter, inline 6-cylinder engine it zips from zero to 60 mph in a 4.4 seconds. Spec numbers are 429 horsepower and 384 pound-feet of torque.

With a 9-speed automatic transmission and Mercedes’ 4-MATIC all-wheel-drive system, the GT 53 checks in with fuel mileage figures of 20 miles-per-gallon city, 25 highway, and 22 combined, which is not going to make the green crowd all that happy but is far from the thirstiest in its class, not the highest on today’s market but good enough.

The 2021 Mercedes AMG GT 53 has the look of a sedan as a 4-door vehicle in the style of a hatchback, but the Germans insist on referring to it as a coupe. Mercedes was not the first to come forth with the idea of a 4-door coupe, but so far only its fellow Teutonic countrymen at BMW and Audi have followed suit, though others are trumpeting 4-door “sports cars” as well.

But I digress.

A full console in the rear reduces passenger capacity in the GT 53 to four, so it wouldn’t be the most ideal vehicle for family transportation, but those who do get inside are surrounded by an elegant interior full of premium materials. 

Front seat-riders (including the driver, of course) can take advantage of a multi-setting massage function to ease away the day’s weariness, and available packages include heating and ventilating systems for the front seats. Heated back seats also are an option in a package that also includes heated and cool cupholders and 3-zone climate control.

Standard in the startomg MSRP are such features as navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, voice control for infotainment functions, wireless charging, dual-zone climate control, Burmeister sound system, and a touchpad for operating infotainment systems to save you from stretching for the 12.3-inch touchscreen.

Safety systems include blind-spot assist, driver attention assist, and brake assist in addition to the usual assortment of airbags and seatbelts.

Also standard are LED headlamps, daytime running lights, and taillights.

Numerous options and packages also are offered. My test vehicle came with AMG forged cross-spoke wheels, AMG performance exhaust, a surround-view camera, a driver assistant package (active steering assist, active lane-change assist, active lane warning, and more), and the rear-seat package mentioned earlier.

The Pre-Safe Plus system included in the driver’s assist package includes rear-end collision protection and route-base speed adaptation to add to safety features.

All that with the $1,050 destination and delivery fee ran the total to $126,320.

High territory, but you can spend even more and get more performance by going for the GT 63 with its biturbo V8 engine (577 hp, 590 lb.-ft.) that starts at $!36,500 or the GT 63 S that ups the power numbers to 630/664. respectively, and starts at $170,000.

Or you can ratchet down to the new for 2021 AMG GT 43 that starts at $89,900 before extras like destination and delivery are added on. It still packs a pretty impressive punch at 362 hp and 369 lb.-ft. with a zero-to-60 clocking of 4.8 seconds.

Hard to see going wrong with any of the GT models.

What I liked about the 2021 Mercedes AMG GT 53: Obviously, the performance is the big thing with the GT 53. But it doesn’t overwhelm you and is comfortable as a daily driver, at home on city streets as well as the track. (Though, unfortunately, I never got any time on the track to check that out.) The trunk capacity of 12.3 cubic feet doesn’t seem like all that huge, but the hatchback configuration makes good use of the space.

What I didn’t like about the 2021 Mercedes AMG GT 53:
 The rear console reduces passenger capacity to four, which can be an inconvenience, but my No. 1 complaint with the GT 53 is the same fussy infotainment system I first experienced in earlier Mercedes models. You either flip through the various functions by either using the touchscreen monitor or a laptop-like touchpad on the center console.It requires too much driver attention for my liket and the touchpad is sensitive enough you can accidentally swipe it and change function. Also, it’s not the quietest vehicle on the road.

Would I buy the Mercedes AMG GT 53? If you’re in the the market for a second “personal” car, want performance, and budget is no object, the GT 53 must be on your list. But the four-passenger capacity limits its appeal for family transportation.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021




There was a time when the Hyundai Elantra was like the Rodney Dangerfield of compact cars. To paraphrase the classic comedian, it didn't get no respect.

Perhaps "no" is a little strong. "Little" may be more precise.

But you can’t say even that about the Elantra any more. Though annual Detroit Auto Show has been canceled for this year after previously being moved from its traditional January dates, that didn’t keep a panel of judges from choosing the 2021 Hyundai Elantra for its 2021 North American Car of the Year award earlier this January.
It is the second time the Elantra has been so honored with the first coming in 2012.

Slightly longer and wider than its predecessor and with a sleeker profile, the seventh generation Elantra has been redesigned for 2021 and comes in three main trims not including the Elantra Hybrid and performance-oriented Elantra N and Elantra N Line models.

The SE is the base model that carries a starting MSRP of under $20,000 (not including destination and delivery) followed by the SEL and Limited trims that tack on added features as standard.

This review is based on the mid-portfolio SEL that carries a starting MSRP of $20,900. The top of the line Limited starts at $28,100. The Eco model of the past has joined the Elantra Hatchback on the sidelines for this year, but there is an Elantra Hybrid for the fuel conscious.

The drivetrain on SE, SEL and Limited models is a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine rated at 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque and mated to a continuously variable transmission that Hyundai calls an Intelligent Variable Transmission. (I have variable intelligence sometimes!). It comes with Normal, Sport, and Smart settings. 

Resulting mileage figures are a solid 31 miles-per-gallon city, 41 highway, 35 combined. N-Line trims get a 1,6-liter turbo-4 with the either a 6-speed manual or 7-speed double clutch automatic.

Standard on the SEL are such features as blind-spot and rear cross-traffic alerts, driver-attention warning, forApple CarPlay and Android Auto, forward collision avoidance with pedestrian detection, lane-keeping assist, proximity key with push-button start, dual automatic temperature control, an 8-inch high-definition touchscreen, hands-free trunk release, rearview camera with dynamic guidelines, Bluetooth hands-free phone system, steering-wheel with cruise and audio controls, and a 6-speaker audio system.

A Convenience Packages for another $950 adds an enhanced collision mitigation system, adaptive cruise control, heated front seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, an electronic parking brake,, and wireless charging pad.

A Premium Package for $2,100 includes 17-inch alloy wheels in place of the standard 16-inchers, a power sunroof, Bose premium sound system, power adjustable driver’s seat with lumbar support, and dark chrome exterior accents.

Add in $156 for carpeted floor mats and the $995 destination charge and the total for my test Elantra came to $25,100.

With a comfortable ride and competitive pricing, the Elantra gives those who have not succumbed to the lure of the crossover SUV alternative to  the offerings from Hyundai’s Japanese competitors.
“While some manufacturers no longer see the value in the car side of the business, we’re doubling down by offering an all-new model with both gas and hybrid powertrains,” José Muñoz, president and CEO, Hyundai Motor America, is quoted in a news release. “We’ve sold more than 3.4 million Elantras here in the U.S. and more than 13.8 million worldwide, and the new, captivating look is going to bring excitement to a whole new generation of buyers.”

Also coming with that is more respect as well.

What I liked about the 2021 Hyundai Elantra SEL: The cabin is very comfortable and roomy. Infotainment functions are very user-friendly — there’s even a knob to surf the radio dial — and there are lots of them. Exterior styling is very appealing, a result of Hyundai’s Sensuous Sportiness design identity approach.
What I didn’t like about the 2021 Hyundai Elantra SEL: As I have noted many times, I’m not a big fan of CVTs. There are simulated shift points you can select via the gear shifter on the console. (You can get a manual or double-clutch automatic by stepping up to the Limited or N Line models.) The emphasis with the Elantra is on fuel economy, not performance, though Sport mode does liven things up a bit.

Would I buy the 2021 Hyundai Elantra SEL?  Yes. The Elantra is clear evidence that a compact fuel-sipper doesn’t have to settle for lackluster styling or a lack of convenience features and modern technological features.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021




Fully redesigned for 2018, the Subaru Crosstrek gets some key updates for  2021 that include a new trim level and a major upgrade to what is under the hood for the upper half of the model portfolio.

A new Sport model gives buyers the choice of four trims to choose, and the new model comes with a standard 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder engine featuring Saburu’s traditional Boxer layout and its horizontally moving pistons.

Also available on the top-of-the-line Limited trim, the 2.5L engine gives the Crosstrek a significant, and much-needed boost to 182 horsepower and 176 pound-feet of torque over the 152/145, respectively, for the 2.0L that is standard in the Base and Premium trims.

The larger engine is mated to a continuously variable transmission that gets impressive fuel mileage ratings of 27 miles-per-gallon city, 34 highway, and 29 combined while delivering a more satisfying driving experience. Crosstreks with the 6-speed manual transmission are rated at 22/29/25.

All CVT models except the Base also have steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters simulating an 8-speed transmission in providing for manual gear selection.

You can also give a little jolt to the Crosstrek’s throttle response by switching from “Intelligent” (or standard/normal) mode to “Sport.” 

Being a Subaru, the Crosstrek also comes with all-wheel drive with settings for “snow/dirt” and “deep snow/mud” for more challenging conditions.

The new Sport trim that this review is based on offers styling upgrades that include sport-type 17-inch alloy wheels. sport-type wheel arch moldings,  and a distinctive finish for the front grille, side mirrors and badges. 

Inside the Sport,  yellow stitching has been added to the seats, and simulated leather door trim panel armrests, leather-wrapped steering wheel, shift boot, and carpeted floor mats feature the Sport logo and yellow stitching.

Simulated carbon fiber accents also give the cabin a distinctive flair.

Among standard features included in the Crosstrek Sport’s starting MSRP of $26,545 (including the $1,050 destination and delivery charge) are an eyesight driver assist system that has been enhanced with adaptive cruise control and lane-centering assist, automatic climate control, four USB ports, fog lights, roof rails, leather-wrapped steering wheel, tilt-and-telescoping steering column, Subaru’s Starlink Plus multimedia system, remote keyless entry and push-button start, and water repellant upholstery.

An optional Starlink 8-inch Multimedia Plus system that includes blind-spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert and lane-change assist and a power moonroof ran the total for my test Sport model to $29,145.

The Base trim with a 6-speed manual transmission starts at $23,295 including destination and delivery, and the Premium with the manual starts at $24,345. The CVT adds $1,350 to the cost of the Base and Premium models.

The top-of-the-line Limited tops out at $30,440 when equipped with a moonroof, navigation system, and Haman Kardon premium audio system.

What I liked about the 2021 Subaru Crosstrek Sport:
Styling is eye-catching. Though listed among subcompact crossover SUVs, the Crosstrek has a very roomy cabin with good stowage room before you have to fold the second row. Tech features are plentiful and very user friendly. The 2.5L engine (standard in Sport and Limited trim) is worth it.

What I didn’t like about the 2021 Subaru Crosstrek Sport: I would prefer, say, an 8-speed automatic transmission or even a 7- or 6-speed rather than the CVT, but the only other transmission offered is a 6-speed manual available in the B and Premium trim.

Would I buy the 2021 Subaru Crosstrek Sport? Yes Though I lean toward the Outback and Forester among Subaru SUVs, the Crosstrek is a nice alternative. The new Sport trim sits near the top of the lineup in MSRP but adds some nice extras.