Saturday, July 6, 2019


For over four decades, the BMW 3 Series has been considered to be the benchmark in the sport sedan segment as well as serving as the German automaker’s best-selling model.

BMW reports that more than 15 million 3 Series models have been sold worldwide since it arrived in the U.S. in 1976 as a replacement for the iconic BMW 2002 sedan.

For 2019, it moves into its seventh generation with a new 2.0-liter, turbocharged 4-cylinder that boosts horsepower by only 7 hp over its predecessor but adds an impressive 37 pound-feet of torque over the preceding model. (Note: This review is  based on the 330i rear-wheel-drive sedan; the 3 Series also is available with all-wheel drive and in wagon and hatchback styles.)

That engine is mated to an 8-speed Sport Steptronic automatic transmission with Sport and Manual modes (via paddle-shifters) that deliver both power (zero-to-60 mph in 5.6 seconds) and efficiency. The RWD 330i drinks recommended premium fuel at the rate of 26 miles-per-gallon city, 36 highway and 30 overall — among the best in its class for non-electric vehicles.

With 121 pounds of body weight trimmed by a combination of tweaks that include use of high-strength steel and aluminum in various areas, the new 330i also is a more agile performer but at higher speeds also retains a firm grip on the road.

Exterior refinements include redesigned headlights (LED), fewer distracting lines on the sides and doors, and redesigned tail lamps for an overall smoother appearance. It is slightly longer than its predecessor (185.7 inches to 182.5) with a slightly longer wheelbase (112.2-110.6).

The roomy interior features a 2-way power moonroof, automatic climate control, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror as standard. Frontal Collision Warning, Automatic City Collision Mitigation (it delivers warnings to the driver as well as braking at city speeds), and lane departure warning also are included in the starting MSRP of $41,245 (including the $994 destination charge).

Many other features, like Blind Spot Detection, leather sport seats, run-flat tires, automatic high beams, wifi hot spot, and power seats also come with no extra charge.

The cabin also is more attractive visually.Designers did a nice job incorporating the 10.3-inch display screen into the flow of the dash instead of just sticking it up like some short of Amazon tablet or iPad in above the center stack. With more room to work, they also gave occupants a bit more shoulder (but not leg) room. The extra length apparently went to increasing trunk volume.

Among available options that run up the price are an Driver’s Assistance Package that includes adaptive cruise control with the ability to adjust the following distance, an M Sport Package that includes variable sport steering, a Premium Package that features heated front seats and head-up display, an Executive Package that includes Parking Assistant and 3D Surround View camera, a Track Package for M Sport Brakes and Differential, and several other stand-alone options that ran the total bill to $59,920 for my test car.

That makes it a “well-equipped” vehicle and keeps the 3 Series among the best in the segment even with an increase in competition over the years.

What I liked about the 2019 BMW 330i Sedan: The performance is lively yet the mileage is excellent. The interior is roomy and luxurious (as typical of its class), and the seats are comfortable. You can turn off the Stop/Start system simply by pushing a button (Next to starting the engine, that’s probably the easiest bit of technology to operate). Trunk space is a generous 17.0 cubic feet.

What I didn’t like about the 2019 BMW 330i Sedan: Operation of the infotainment features takes some getting used. There are so many you might reach the end of your 3-year lease without learning all the shortcuts. Lane-keeping Assist can be overly aggressive at times.

Would I buy the 2019 BMW330i Sedan? Definitely would be on my list if I were shopping in this segment. The 3 Series long has set the standard by which many others are compared.

Saturday, June 29, 2019


The next generation Chevy Corvette is on its way this summer with the reveal of C8 Corvette due for July 20, 2019. It will represent the company’s first take as a mid-engine roadster, though other details on the special website ( are somewhat on the skimpy side.

If you’re one who just has to have the latest thing — and if the lines that form outside of Apple stores when a new iPhone is introduced is evidence there must be many of you — then no doubt you will want to wait to see what all the fuss is about before rushing off to a Chevy showroom.

But there is much to be said for what the outgoing Corvette model has to offer in the way of performance and looks, and with the likely onrush for the newest, some bargains on 2019 Corvettes may be in the offing.

Can’t guarantee that because I don’t own a dealership, but it’s worth checking out.

The Corvette has been around since 1953, and the magazine U.S. News & World Report still rates it No. 1 in two classes in its analyses of reviews and data from various sources., ranking it ahead of a field of German and Japanese imports in both Sports Car and Luxury Convertible categories.

The high-performance ZR1 trim, which carries a six-figure price tag, was reintroduced for the 2019 lineup, but the Grand Sport convertible checks in with a base MSRP of $70,400. Well-equipped (more about that later) the tab goes up to the mid-$80,000 range for the Grand Sport. The Stingray droptop carries a base MSRP in the mid-$50,000 neighborhood.

Being a sports car, the Corvette is all about power, and the Grand Sport gets 460 horsepower and 465 pound-feet of torque from its 6.2-liter V8 engine. Zero-to-60 times have been recorded at well under 5 seconds for that power plant, which may not matched the 2.7 seconds for the ZR1 and its supercharged V8, but consider time for the first Corvette in 1953 was 11 seconds (according to the website!

We must be in a bigger hurry than than the Greatest Generation.

A 7-speed manual transmission is standard, and an optional 8-speed automatic with five different modes — eco, tour, sport, track, and weather and paddle shifters — is a $1,195 option. In sport mode, it sings a throaty tune through the quad exhaust tips

With the manual, the Grand Sport drinks premium fuel at the rate of 16 miles-per-gallon city, 25 highway. With the automatic, it’s 15/25. You can get by on lower octane, but you bought a premium car, so why skimp on its diet? (Z06 and ZR1 models definitely need the higher octane.

Handling is excellent, as might be expected. The 2019 Corvette Grand Sport seems smaller than its predecessor, which adds to the feeling of agility, but actually it’s about the same size of the previous generation with only small differences in length and width and identical numbers for the wheelbases.

Inside, Chevy has done an excellent job in improving the quality of materials to make the cabin worthy of “luxury” status. As a two-seater, it can be tricky to get into, but once you get the knack (bend low, sweet chariot) it’s not a serious issue. Of course, it’s very easy to get in and out with the top lowered, and you can do that with by pressing the appropriate button on the key fob before you get in.

The optional 3LT package ($9,745) adds such niceties such as Napa leather inserts, custom leather-wrapped panel, doors and console, heated and ventilated seats with power lumbar support, premium audio, head-up display and performance data and video recorder with navigation to an already lengthy list of standard features that include leather bucket seats.

Even with the cloth top in place, the cabin is big enough so as not to induce a feeling of claustrophobia. There is 43 inches of legroom and 37.9 of headroom, and the wealth of techno features like a 4G-LET wife hotspot, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and the premium Bose sound system.

About the only issue is the surrounding view. It is very restricted with the top up.

Chevy took a big step up with the C7 Corvette. It’s certainly a more civilized vehicle than the earlier Corvette models I was privileged to drive. It’s hard to imagine that the soon-to-arrive next generation will take that big a step forward

What I liked about the 2019 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport Convertible: The interior has been upgraded over the years, and it’s a very comfortable vehicle to drive. Unquestionable power, superior handling, and an agility that makes for a fun driving experience. Seats are comfortable and supportive.

What I didn’t like about the 2019 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport Convertible: The trunk is awfully small, especially when the top is lowered. But with it up, I was able to fit in a beach umbrella and 2 beach chairs without an issue. With the top up, the surrounding view is somewhat restricted, and it helps to have a riding partner if you are making a left turn and at an angle to crossing traffic.

Would I buy the 2019 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport Convertible? Of course. When you’re buying a Corvette, you are getting not just a car but a piece of history.

Thursday, June 20, 2019


If somebody ever would give me $200,000 with the stipulation that I had to spend it all on my next car, at least I know now where I would start.

I would head for the nearest Mercedes-Benz showroom and asked the first salesman to take me to the 2019 AMG S63 Coupe. I just might stop shopping there.

Though there is no such thing as a “perfect” automobile, a designation that likely would vary from person to person, the S63 Coupe comes as close as any with high marks in performance, appearance, technological features, comfort, and prestige.

Based on the Mercedes-Benz flagship S-Class Sedan, the S63 Coupe gets the same royal treatment when it comes to all the things that make a luxury car a super luxury vehicle.

It’s available in three versions — Mercedes-Benz S560 4MATIC and AMG S63, both 8-cylinder models, and the 12-cylinder behemoth AMG S65. This review is based on the AMG S63.

Its 4.0-liter biturbo registers 603 horsepower and 664 pound-feet of torque, representing advantages of 40 hp and 148 lb.-ft. over the S560. That gains it more than a second in zero-to-60 mph time (3.4 seconds to 4.5 for the S560) and actually is a half-second quicker than the 4.0 seconds Mercedes clockers report for the S65.

That engine drinks premium fuel at the rate of 17 miles-per-gallon city, 27 highway, which are better numbers than what you might expect. That is helped along by the deactivation of four of its eight cylinders the engagement of the CAMTRONIC valve-lift adjustment system (Google it if you’re interested) that reduces emissions as well under partial loads.

Believe me, you won’t notice any difference in throttle response.

Inside, the S63 Coupe is resplendent in luxury touches such as front seats with bolsters than hug (but not squeeze) your sides and gently engage to keep you from falling to one side when turning the vehicle.

The interior overflows with rich, soft leather. Dual zone climate control, a Burlmester surround sound system, and air balance cabin fragrance system are among the usual array of standard features in the luxury class.

Heated and ventilated seats, a head-up display, and Bluetooth connectivity are givens.

The 12.3-inch display at the top of the center stack provides views of what is behind, beside, or in front of you in high definition images. You select the view by using the knob on the center console to click on the desired setting exhibited on the screen.

The numerous safety features include as standard expected items like lane-keeping and blind-spot assist and parking assist and also active LED headlamps, Attention Assist, and the Advanced Air Bag Protection System.

All that and more are included in the base MSRP of $169,450 plus the $995 destination and delivery fee.

So what am I going to do for the rest of my $200,000 windfall?

I’ll start with interior upgrades such as the 567 Designo red/black Nappa leather interior and carbon fiber/black piano lacquer trim and continue on to the AMG ceramic braking system, the AMG wood/leather performance steering wheel, black DINAMICA headliner, Saravoski crystal headlight accents, and the night-view assist system first introduced on the S-Class sedan some years back.

Frankly, I can live without the Driver Assistance Package that includes Active Blind Spot Assist and Active Lane-Keeping Assist and, living in South Florida, I can do without the Warmth and Comfort Package.

But what the hell. They add only $4,440 to the cost, which is less than half the $8950 the ceramic brakes cost, and I’m still under the final tab of $198,145.

Now if I can only find someone who will give (not lend) me that $200,000 I’m all set.

What I liked about the 2019 AMG S63 Coupe: The power and performance is amazing. The interior is impeccable. It abounds in opulence.

What I didn’t like about the 2019 AMG S63 Coupe: What’s not to like about the S63 Coupe? Maybe one small nitpick. The Germans have been doing some tinkering with its COMAND system for the operation of infotainment functions like audio and navigation, and it’s not really any more user-friendly than its predecessor. But the panoramic view provided by rear cameras is spectacular.

Would I buy the 2019 AMG S63 Coupe? If I were a billionaire, yes, in a heartbeat.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019


Though I grew up in a small town that was criss-crossed by east-west, north-south railroad tracks, I rarely took any trips by train.

If memory serves, I can recall only two leaving from my hometown station. I was like 2 or 3 years old for the first when my mother and I went to Fort Benning, Georgia, to visit my father. I have little memory of that one other than how I didn’t want to go and desperately clung crying to my grandfather as he lifted me up to my mother’s arms to get on the train. I assume I calmed down because she didn’t throw me out on the tracks anywhere.

The other was when I was of high school age and was a special excursion train from Vincennes, Indiana, to Cincinnati for a Reds-Phillies doubleheader. I really don’t remember a whole lot about that one either other than playing cards on the way back and losing as my father slept.

I can’t remember who won the games, though I’m pretty sure that the Reds beat my favorite player, pitcher Robin Roberts, in the opener.

Those two trips plus a special Monon run from Bloomington to West Lafayette for an Indiana-Purdue football game and  trip from Jackson, Mississippi, to Memphis on the City of New Orleans are the only other train trips I can recall.

So I was looking forward to the trip when my wife and I decided to take Amtrak from Miami to Tampa recently to visit our son, who loves there, and our daughter, who was coming down from her home in Illinois for a week’s vacation.

It would take about the same travel time as going by car as we usually do, and the coach fare was quite reasonable. No need for a roomette or bedroom.

We left late Saturday morning, boarding right on time at 11:45 at the Miami station and quickly settled in. Unlike coach accommodations on plane, coach seating on a passenger car is quite spacious. You can recline the seat back without worrying about intruding on the space of the passenger behind you, and there are adjustable footrests on the back of the seats in front of you. Seat assignments are given as you board.

We checked our bags, but there is overhead storage available, and there is plenty of room for carryon bags on the floor or under the seat in front of you. The seats are as wide and comfortable as first-class accommodations on an airplane, and there is no middle seat but two on either side of the aisle.

Also, you don’t have to fiddle with seat belts, and you don’t have put the tray (which is large) back in its upright position when you pull into a station!


Rail passengers in many parts of the country enjoy scenic views on their travels with mountain vistas in the West, fall foliage in the northeast, and ocean views in some coastal areas. Unfortunately, no such views are available in South Florida.

The first half-hour or so of the journey is spent on  crawl through the rail yards of north Miami-Dade County before the first stop is reached at the Hollywood station. It is the first of five stops as the Silver Star makes it way due north through the Broward and Palm Beach counties with stops at Fort Lauderdale, Deerfield Beach, Delray Beach and West Palm Beach to follow.

The tracks basically parallel Interstate-95 until reaching West Palm, where they leave urban environs as they turn to the northwest. The ensuing stops — Okeechobee, Sebring, Winter Haven, and Lakeland — are from 30 to 45 minutes apart depending on whether our train has to pull over to allow a southbound train to go through.

Apparently, southbound Amtrak trains have the right-of-way over northbound trains because three times we had to make the switch to auxiliary tracks.

The view from the large windows change from the industrial and warehouse areas as the Silver Star makes it way through the farmland and cattle ranches of central Florida.

Occasionally, we passed a lake or canal as we skirted around the northeast edge of Lake Okeechobee into the town of that name, and later on we passed many orange groves. Much of the time, however, we could see little through the thick small trees and other brush that made gave the appearance of traveling through a green, roofless tunnel.

The Silver Star did not include a dining car such as the one featured in the movie North By Nothwest, but you can bring your own food or purchase sandwiches, coffee, soft drinks, and beer (hooray!) at the cafe car. On our return, our car attendant, Joseph, offered to make food runs for our part.

Once past Winter Haven, the route bends to the southwest with a stop at Lakeland before heading on to Tampa.

Tampa Union Station, built in 1912, closed in 1984, and renovated and reopened in 1998, marked the end of the line for us, but the Silver Star would continue on as far as New York’s Penn Station.

We were happy enough being let out in downtown Tampa.


Train travel has its advantages over both air and car travel, but timeliness is not one of them. 

Our return train was scheduled to leave Tampa at 12:30 p.m. with an arrival time in Miami of 5:58. Since our arriving train in Tampa had been about 30 minutes or so late, I wasn’t going to hold Amtrak to that schedule.

A good thing because late on Saturday morning, about the time we were leaving for Union Station, a text message arrived advising us that Train 91 would not arrive in Tampa until 2:20 p.m., nearly 2 hours after our scheduled departure time of 12:37 p.m.

The problem essentially is built into the system created by the Rail Passengers Act of 1970: 97 percent of the tracks that Amtrak passenger trains run on are owned by private companies that give priority to their money-making freight service when it comes to clearing the way ahead. Passenger trains simply must wait. (In the Northeast, where Amtrak does own some tracks, the on-time performance is much, much better.)

Our car attendant, Joseph, did his best to ease the annoyance of the delays, noting the problems with flooding and other blockages that had caused the earlier delay in getting to Tampa.

“Anybody want to know when you will reach your station?” he asked at one point.

He paused.

“I have no idea,” he said.

Finally, at 8:12 p.m. or over two hours later than the scheduled time, our train pulled into the Miami station. Home at last!

Which brings up the question: Will we take the train to Tampa again? As I said earlier, it had both advantages and disadvantages over the usual five-hour journey up I-75. I would definitely take it over making the short hop from Miami to Tampa by air.

But I do like to drive.

Friday, May 31, 2019


Introduced just a couple of years ago, the Atlas SUV is the largest vehicle in Volkswagen’s lineup and has become the German automaker’s third-best seller behind only the smaller Tiguan crossover and Jetta compact sedan.

VW sold nearly 60,000 Atlas SUVs in 2018, the first full year of production, and is well on pace to top that this year with just over 22,000 sold the first four months, an increase of 7.3 percent over the same period last year.

It’s no surprise. The Atlas offers lots of space for cargo and passengers with three rows of seating and a maximum of just over 96 cubic feet of storage space in an attractive package that drives more like a compact than a mid-size SUV. Even my passenger for the week commented that it seemed smaller than it actually is.

There’s even good rear cargo space with the third-row seats in place, which is not always the case in seven-passenger SUVs. The third row in many SUVs often is suitable only for children and not very big ones at that, but such is not the case with the Atlas.

Not sure how they would fare on a day-long trip, but the third-row riders have nearly 34 inches of legroom, and with the way the second-row seats tilt and slide forward, they don’t have to be contortionists to get back there.

VW said at the time of its launching that the Atlas was going at the sweet spot of the core of the market. It was “designed for the American family” and is built at the company’s assembly plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Seems right to me.

Though it is too soon for major changes in only its second year, the 2019 Atlas now gets as standard across the line such safety features as Front Assist (which alerts the driver to a potential collision), Blind Spot Monitor, and Rear Traffic Alert.

Even the base S trim gets automatic headlights, rain-sensing wipers, and heated side mirrors as standard. Other trims are the SE, the SE w/Technology, SE w/Technology R-Line, SEL, SEL R-Line, and SEL Premium with additional niceties as standard.

The SE w/Technology that served as my ride for the week included 18-inch alloy wheels, automatic LED headlights with LED daytime running lights, fog lights, rain-sensing windshield wipers, three-zone climate control, leather-wrapped tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, 10-way power driver’s seat with lumbar support (4-way manually adjustable front passenger seat), leatherette seating surfaces, roll-up manual second-row sunshades, and a front console with USB data and charging port and 12V and USB charging ports in the first and second rows.

Technology in the SE w/Technology includes adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning with pedestrian detection, blind-spot monitoring, lane-keeping assist, push-button start, remote power liftgate, Bluetooth connectivity, and an 8-inch touchscreen for audio.

SEL and SEL Premium models also get upgraded features like VW’s Digital Cockpit with a fully-digital instrument cluster offering a customizable presentation of important vehicle information on a 10-inch display.

The Atlas comes with the choice of two engines, both mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission. A 2.0 turbocharged 4-cylinder is rated at 235 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque kicking in a 1600 rpm. It is available with front-wheel drive only.

A 3.6-liter V6 is rated at a maximum 276 hp and 266 lb.-ft. of torque and is available with VW’s 4Motion all-wheel drive configuration as well as front-wheel drive.

Both engines feature stop/start technology, but that annoying feature can be turned off with the push of a button at the bottom of the center stack. Fuel consumption for the 4-banger is at the rate of 20 miles-per-gallon city, 26 highway and 22 combined and for the V6 17/24/19 with FWD and 17/23/19 with AWD.

That’s not the most fuel-efficient in its class, but is not the thirstiest either. You won’t be winning many drag races with the Atlas (of course, you don’t do things like that), but you won’t be left idling at the light either.

With an optional trailer package ($550), towing capacity is generous 5,000 pounds.

MSRP for the Atlas starts at $32,890 for the S FWD with the 4-cylinder engine and runs up to $49,390 for the top-of-the-line, AWD V6 SEL Premium trim

The SE w/Technology carries a price of $38,840 with FWD and the trailer package.

For more about the Atlas, you can check out my coverage of the 2017 media preview at

What I liked about the 2019 Volkswagen Atlas SE w/Technology: The ride is comfortable and quiet, and the cabin is especially spacious, though it drives like a much smaller vehicle. Too many three-row SUVs don’t have the space at the back to handle the staff that often comes along with seven passengers, but the Atlas gives you a nice area (20.6 cubic feet) behind the last row. You get 55.5 cubic feet behind the second row and 96.8 cubic feet with the second and third rows folded. Technology is plentiful and user-friendly.

What I didn’t like about the 2019 Volkswagen Atlas SE w/Technology: Though there’s something to be said for simplicity, the interior styling could use a bit of upgrading and a bit less plastic.

Would I buy the 2019 Volkswagen Atlas SE w/Technology? As I have mentioned before (several times, actually) I personally have no need for a three-row SUV, but this one could make me change my mind. It’s particularly good if you’re looking for German engineering but don’t want to pay luxury prices to get it.

Monday, May 27, 2019


The Lincoln MKC has been on sale only about five years after hitting showrooms as a 2015 model in the summer of 2014, but already a replacement is coming.

For 2020, the Corsair will be the company’s nameplate in in the compact, premium crossover segment as Lincoln goes with the more traditional automotive nomenclature in place of the alpha-numeric codes so popular in the the luxury segment.

But don’t give up on the MKC just because of the name change.

This is not just a gussied up Ford Escape, which provides the underpinnings for the MKC, but a distinctly different vehicle on a separate mission.

The 2019 model gets a refreshed front end for a more luxurious impression and new safety features such as automatic emergency braking and pedestrian collision avoidance for a more confident ride. 

A 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission serves as the base engine for the MKC pumping out 240 horsepower and 275 pound-feet of torque while drinking fuel at the rate of 20 miles-per-gallon city, 27 highway with premium 93-octane fuel.

An optional 2.3-liter turbo-4 available with all-wheel drive only is rated at 285 hp and 305 lb.-ft. of torque but with fuel numbers of 18/25.

Though it may not match the zero-to-60 mph times of its Teutonic rivals, the MKC has enough power for ordinary tasks. With the optional towing package, it can tow up to 3,000 pounds.

Comfort is the biggest plus. The seats are soft but still supportive, and the second-row seats recline. The ride is on the cushy side, and the cabin is quiet even when pushed. The vertical, push-button arrangement for shifting gears located along the centerstack creates an open space between the front seats for storage.

The MKC rides at a height that makes it easy to get in and out of, and there is nice legroom (42.8 inches) up front, though the second-row occupants get a snug 36.8 inches.

Cargo space is adequate enough for every-day chores, though its 25.2 cubic feet behind the second row pales in comparison to its Escape cousin’s 34 cubic feet. With the second row lowered, capacity is more than doubled to 53.1 cubic feet.

Standard features on the Black Label trim that served as my test vehicle include 19-inch wheels, a hands-free liftgate, upgraded leather upholstery (replacing leatherette), a simulated suede headliner, panoramic sunroof, ventilated front seats, power-adjustable tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, cargo cover, blind-spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert, a navigation system, LED headlights, and rear parking sensors.

The Sync3 infotainment system features and 8-inch touchscreen and is very user-friendly. The MKC is awash in technology that includes Bluetooth communications, Lincoln Connect with 4G LET and a wi-fi hotspot, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Pricing is competitive with the base model starting at $33,995 (including the $995 destination and delivery charge. Upgrading to the Select trim costs $36,750, and the top-of-the-line Reserve and Black Label models top the $40,000 mark at $40,625 and $47,200, respectively.

Considering many of its competitors start at over $40,000, that makes the MKC a bargain.

What I liked about the 2019 Lincoln MKC Black Label: The interior doesn’t follow the usual emphasis on dark color schemes often found in the luxury segment and the result is a sophisticated, less-imposing ambiance. The ride is very comfortable and quiet.

What I didn’t like about the 2019 Lincoln MKC Black Label: I’m still not completely sold on the push-button system used to select gears. The buttons are lined up in a vertical row alongside the center stack with the starter button at the very top. The MKC’s successor model, the Corsair, is due to have those buttons in a horizontal arrangement at the bottom of the stack as on the Navigator.

Would I buy the 2019 Lincoln MKC Black Label? Definitely worth a look if you want to get away from the usual run of luxury imports and aren’t looking to break speed records in the segment.