Friday, March 22, 2019


The Jeep Wrangler may not be the only vehicle with off-roading capability — even luxury manufacturers play in this pool  — but it's hard to argue with Jeep’s claim that its Wrangler is “the most capable and recognized vehicle in the world” when it comes to off-pavement adventures.

There’s no mistaking what designers had in mind when they introduced the first Wrangler at the Chicago Auto Show in February 1986 as a replacement for its iconic Jeep CJ series, and it wasn’t mere runs to the grocery store.

While that holds true for any of the four trim levels offered in the Wrangler lineup, it is doubled down with the Rubicon model introduced in 2003.

Named for the famed Rubicon trail in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains near Lake Tahoe, the Wrangler Rubicon was “designed for ruggedness and was the most capable off-roading Jeep vehicle at the time,” according to a post on The Jeep Blog (

Come to now and not much has changed. If you are a serious off-roader, the 2019 Jeep Wrangler Limited Rubicon likely will be your vehicle of choice. (Just do an Internet search for “Rubicon Trail” and click on images. You’ll see the kind of environs the Wrangler Limited Rubicon is comfortable in.)

Unfortunately, such challenges are lacking in South Florida, so my week in the Wrangler Rubicon, with the exception of a brief pot-hole filled, dirt-road venture marked by “what are we doing here?” cries from the passenger seat, was spent mostly on pavement.

Sigh. My loss.

In a situation like that or similar, another Wrangler model — Sport, Sport S or Sahara — likely would satisfy your desires for a husky, off-roader, and you’ll save yourself some money as well. The Limited Rubicon carries a starting price of $41,445 before options and a hefty, $1,495 destination and delivery charge are tacked on while the base Wrangler starts at under $30,000.

Just something to consider.

The Pentastar 3.6-liter V6 engine mated to a 6-speed manual transmission is the standard power train on Wrangler models, including the Rubicon, with an 8-speed automatic available as an option.

A 2.0-liner turbocharged 4-cylinder also is available and includes the automatic transmission.

The V6 produces a bit more horsepower (285) than the 4-banger (270), but the turbo has the advantage in torque with 295 pound-feet to the 260 in the V6.

If you really do have the opportunity to off-road a lot, you likely would appreciate the extra torque in the turbo-4, and it has the advantage in fuel economy with ratings of 22 miles-per-gallon city, 24 highway, 22 combined for the 4-door and 23/25/24 for the 2-door. Numbers for the V6 are 17/23/19 with the manual transmission, 18/23/20 for the automatic.

The Rubicon gets its extra off-road muscle from such features as the upgraded Rock-Trac NV241, shift-on-the-fly transfer case and standard Dana 44 heavy-duty solid front and rear axles. It also gets about an extra inch of ground clearance with 10.4 inches to the 9.7 inches for the Sport and 10.0 for the Sahara.

Standard features on the Limited Rubicon include remote keyless entry, power windows with one-touch down, halogen head and fog lights, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, an 8-speaker sound system, dual-zone air conditioning, and electronic roll mitigation.

A Sunrider soft top is standard with a Premium soft top available. It’s removable, but after spending a few minutes looking at a Youtube video showing the process, I decided it wasn’t worth it for just the few days I would have the vehicle.

The process for getting it back on and correctly in place was, frankly, something I didn’t want to fool with.

A power hard top is available as an option.

Adding such extras as leather-trimmed bucket seats and leather-trimmed parking brake handle and shift knob, LET lighting group, a technology package that included an 8.4-inch display for navigation (very intuitive to operate), safety features like blind-spot detection and rear parking assist ran the total for my test vehicle to $53,900.

What I liked about the 2019 Jeep Wrangler Limited Rubicon: Despite its rugged appearance and capability, the Limited Rubicon is still rather civilized with lots of nice features and technology, though some come as options that drive up the price. It’s an attention-getter, for sure!

What I didn’t like about the 2019 Jeep Wrangler Limited Rubicon: It’s more adept at rock crawling than it is on expressway commutes. The rugged all-terrain tires mounted on 17-inch wheels are more suited to off-road than highway pavement.

Would I buy the 2019 Jeep Wrangler Limited Rubicon: Living in South Florida, no, I probably wouldn’t. Other Wrangler trims are good for any off-road obstacles  one encounters in my neighborhood. But there is no question if you like ultimate off-pavement challenges, the Wrangler Rubicon is worth your consideration with price being the determining factor.

Friday, March 15, 2019


Fuel economy may be the No. 1 reason many people shop in the compact class, but it’s not the only one.

In what could be considered a “sub-grouping” in the segment, so-called “pocket rockets” — compacts and sub-compacts tuned for performance — throw a bit of spirit into the mix while still offering decent fuel economy.

Volkswagen’s Golf GTI has been a prominent player in this field since it was brought to the U.S. in 1983, the second generation of the snappy little hatchback that had been serving European audiences for the previous eight years.

It especially appealed to those buyers with champagne tastes when it comes to performance but were living on beer budgets.

J.D. Power and Associates put it this way: The GTI was based on the first-generation Golf and was “a performance buffed version of the small, fun, but painfully slow economy car, and offered up a measure of athleticism and German handling for those who were interested in Teutonic vigor but couldn’t cough up the cash for a BMW or Mercedes.”

A marketing firm that keeps track of such things, J.D. Power says that men account for 86 percent of GTI sales. They have a median age of 46 and median annual household income of $113,816, and more than half identify themselves as “performance buyers.”

Not surprisingly, the 2019 Golf, which is offered in S, SE, and Autobahn trim with a limited-edition special GTI Rabbit Edition slotting in between the S and SE, gets a boost of 8 horsepower over its predecessor for a total of 278 hp available when run on premium fuel. (It also can run on unleaded fuel.)

Peak torque from the 2.0-liter, turbocharged 4-cylinder engine is 258 pound-feet from 1500 rpm through 4500. Mated to a 6-speed manual transmission, the GTI still offers fuel mileage numbers of 24 miles-per-gallon city, 32 highway and 27 combined while those equipped with the optional 7-speed DSG automatic boasts numbers of 25/31/27.

Those aren’t spectacular numbers for the segment, but you’ve got to sacrifice something to get that performance.

That power train is common to all trims as is the MIB II touchscreen infotainment system. You can flip through different driving modes (Normal, Comfort, Eco, and Sport) by pushing a button on the console. It’s right next to a button to turn off the Stop-Start feature on models equipped with the automatic transmission.

The GTI’s interior is nice, very nice actually. A special GTI interior with red ambient lighting, leather seats with red stitching, and illuminated door sills, and a black headliner add a touch of class to the nicely appointed cabin.

There’s also lots of space for passengers (just over 41 inches of legroom up front and 35.6 for the second row) and your stuff.  Cargo room behind the second row is 22.8 cubic feet. Fold those seats and it’s a spacious 52.7.

The top-of-the-food chain Autobahn trim, which served as my test vehicle for the week, comes with long list of standard equipment that includes such features as a crash response system, rear-view camera, 18-inch alloy wheels, automatic LED headlights and LED daytime running lights and fog lights, rain-sensing wipers, panoramic moonroof, GTI grille, bumpers, side skirts, and rear spoiler, dual-zone climate control, paddle shifters, and technological features like navigation, a Fender premium audio system, Bluetooth connectivity, and adaptive cruise control.

Those features make options pretty much unnecessary, but they do drive up the price. Base MSRP for the GTI Autobahn is $37,095. Add in the $895 destination charge and the total is $37,990.

That number may be out of range for those shopping on a “beer budget,” but you don’t have to go for the Autobahn trim. The SE model starts at just over $28,000 counting the destination charge.

Call that a “craft beer budget.”

What I liked about the 2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI 2.0T Autobahn: It’s a fun car to drive, especially when Sport mode is engaged. It’s comfortable enough and offers pretty decent storage in the back even without the second-row seats folded (easily accomplished). The Autobahn trim comes with a lengthy list of standard equipment.

What I didn’t like about the 2019 Volkswagen Golf  GTI 2.0T Autobahn: Road noise kind of drowns out the audio. Some techno features require extra steps to perform basic functions like changing the clock, and the touchscreen can be overly sensitive. It’s easy to hit the screen surface and change a station when you’re turning up the audio volume if you’re not careful.

Would I buy the 2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI 2.0T Autobahn? I wouldn’t personally because I am not a fan of compact hatchbacks in general, but if that is the kind of vehicle you are looking for, this should be on your list. Cost no doubt plays a huge part. The GTI is among the most expensive offerings in its class.

Thursday, March 7, 2019


Three things you can count on in a German luxury car:

— The latest in technology will be available. It will be fussy, and sometimes frustrating, to operate.

— The cabin will live up to the highest standards of luxury while giving you the feel of a high-class English gentleman’s club.

— It will go like a bat out of hell.

The 2019 SQ5 from Audi encompasses all three.

Get up and go?

While Audi touts the “sporty performance” the base Q5 delivers. the SQ5 simply ups the ante.

The 3.0T V6 in the SQ5 kicks horsepower and torque up to 349 and 369, respectively, from the 252/273 the 2.0 turbo 4-cylinder in the Q5 offers.

And you get a smooth-shifting 8-speed Tiptronic transmission instead of the 7-speed that is mated to the 4-banger.

The zero-to-60 mph time for the 3.0T has been reported at 5.1 seconds, nearly a second quicker than that for the Q5 and its 2.0 turbo and with fuel economy still at a respectable 19 miles-per-gallon city, 24 highway, 21 combined.

So, yeah, it can go like that bat.

And, it does so in comfort and quiet — unless you switched driving mode from Comfort to Dynamic, thereby changing the exhaust sounds from subtle to sporty. Not that “sporty” will make the SQ5 sound like a 12-cylinder with a broken muffler, but it will be a bit more throaty.

Probably the most distinguishing characteristic of the SQ5s interior is the available Audi virtual cockpit. This 12.3 inch display is right in front of the driver and allows the driver to scroll through — using buttons on the steering wheel — several functions for desired information, from radio settings to trip logs with fuel mileage to full navigation maps.

With the tachometer and speedometer reduced in scale, the driver has a complete map displayed right between the steering wheel spokes, eliminating the need to use the map on the screen at the top of the centerstack.

At a time when Smart phones are driving people away from automobile navigation systems, the virtual cockpit may bring them back.

Standard equipment for the base MSRP for the SQ5, already a hefty $54,300 over the base Q5’s $42,950, includes the quattro all-wheel-drive system common to the brand, 20-inch wheels, full LED headlights and taillights, 6-way power adjustable front seats with 4-way power lumbar, quilted Alcantara leather seats, three-zone climate control, flat-bottom steering wheel with paddle shifters, and a rearview camera.

Here comes what Shakespeare’s Hamlet called “the rub.”

The exotic stuff that makes the SQ5 really special comes in standalone or optional packages like the Prestige Package (a head-up display, dual pane acoustic front side windows, a premium Bang & Olufsen sound system, Audi MMI navigation with MMI touch and a top view camera system, which gives you a confident feeling when pulling out of a parking space), Sport Package (red brake calipers, adaptive air suspension, sport rear differential), Driver Assistance Package, Nappa leather interior with diamond stitching and a leatherette covered center console, Dynamic steering (which I could do without), and 21-inch, 5-double spoke wheels.

And that stuff comes at a cost. The final price of my test vehicle up to $68,175 including the $975 destination and delivery.

That’s a pretty good jump from the base Q5. That’s also something else you can count on when it comes to a German luxury car.

What I liked about the 2019 Audi SQ5 3.0T: I really like Virtual Cockpit feature that puts a duplicate map for navigation in the middle of the instrument panel right in front of the driver's eyes. It's part of the Prestige package. The Virtual Cockpit displays other functions but the map alone makes it worth the extra $4,200.

What I didn’t like about the 2019 Audi SQ5 3.0T: The response to voice commands when setting a destination on the nav system was erratic, and putting in a destination manually takes a while. The dynamic steering is kind of quirky. The tugs I felt on occasion could have been the lane-keeping system in the Driver Assistance Package, but I was dead center in the lane.

Would I buy the 2019 Audi SQ5 3.0T? Yes. If you’re shopping in the compact luxury class, it definitely has to be on your list.

Thursday, February 28, 2019


The Santa Fe no doubt has had a prominent role in the resurgence Hyundai has experienced in the U.S. over the last two decades with sales of over 1.6 million since the South Korean automaker introduced the crossover SUV in 2000 as a 2001 model.

As it goes into its fourth generation as a 2019 model, the Santa Fe has become the company's best-selling SUV in America, ranking No. 10 in SUV sales in the U.S. for 2018 despite an overall drop of 12.1 percent from the previous year.

The Santa Fe has “grown up” considerably with a more mainstream exterior appearance than the funkiness of the first-general models. Even those shopping in the luxury midsize segment might want to give the fourth-generation Santa Fe more than a cursory glance.

It really is that good.

The 2019 Santa Fe has a slightly wider stance than its predecessor and at 187.8 inches is longer by 2.8 inches, giving it a bolder, more aggressive profile that is accented by cat-like LED daytime running lights positioned above the LED headlights.

With the extra length, front legroom is expanded to 44.1 inches from 39.6 and second-row legroom to 40.9 from 39.1. Overall passenger compartment volume is 110.7 cubic feet compared to 108.0 in the 2018 Santa Fe, though cargo capacity remains the same (35.4 cubic feet behind the second row, 71.5 with the second-row seats folded.

Hyundai has simplified the nomenclature for 2019 with the two-row “Santa Fe” model replacing the previous “Santa Fe Sport” and three-row models now called “Santa Fe XL.” It helps eliminate confusion over which model is which.

Including the engine choices, the Santa Fe comes in seven trim levels starting with the base SE followed by the SEL, SEL Plus, Limited, Ultimate, Limited 2.0T, and Ultimate 2.0T. The latter two models get a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that pumps out 235 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 260 pound-feet of torque from 1450 to 3500 rpm.

The base engine in the other trims is a 2.4-liter 4-banger with 185 hp and 178 lb.-ft. of torque.

The engine is mated to a new 8-speed automatic transmission.

My vehicle for the week was the Ultimate 2.0T edition with the optional all-wheel drive system, and for that I am thankful. The extra power gave the Santa Fe a nice, lively performance while delivering fuel economy of 19 miles-per-gallon city, 24 highway, and 21 combined.

When set in Sport mode, the performance was reminiscent of the 3.5-liter V6 Santa Fe I once owned.

The Ultimate also comes with a long list of standard features that really add to the cabin’s ambiance. Among them are 4-way power lumbar support for the front seats, heated and ventilated front and heated rear seats with leather seating surfaces and contrasting stitching, proximity key and push-button start, navigation with an 8-inch touchscreen, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, lane-keeping assist, panoramic sunroof, hands-free liftgate, surround-view camera, and forward collision avoidance with pedestrian warning.

No need for for extras to inflate the $39,905 MSRP (including $125 for carpeted floor mats and $980 destination and delivery).

That does put the new Santa Fe into a whole new pricing range from the early days, but SE models start in the mid-$20K range.

What I liked about the 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe Ultimate 2.0T: The cabin is quiet, roomy, and comfortable, and controls are placed in a logical manner. Many functions (turning off the stop/start system, selecting drive mode, setting the parking brake, etc.) are operated with buttons on the center console. A long laundry list of standard equipment eliminates the need for options. Legroom in the second row is a generous 40.9 inches.

What I didn’t like about the 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe Ultimate 2.0T: Frankly, I couldn’t find much of anything negative about this version of the Santa Fe. That said, it would be nice if the settings mentioned above (driving mode, stop/start function) would remain as you set them instead of reverting back to normal when you restart.

Would I buy the 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe Ultimate 2.0T? Definitely. You aren’t going to find many SUVs with this many quality features with an under-$40,000 MSRP.

Friday, February 22, 2019


In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that before giving my thoughts on the 2019 Regal GS I recently experienced I should have it on record that at one time I wondered why GM was ditching the Oldsmobile, which it seemed to be getting right again, and not the stodgier Buick.

That was in the early 2000s. A few years later I wondered the same thing when the company ended production of the Pontiac, which, much like Oldsmobile, seemed to be getting back on its game.

I still had memories of how much fun the Pontiac LeMans my father had  bought back in the early 1960s had been to drive. Buick, in my mind (and frankly many others) was for old people.

That ignores the economic reasons behind the decisions, of course, and probably is further evidenced why I am an auto writer and not auto executive.

A letter from a GM executive responding to a letter to the editor of Automotive News in 2009 explained the decision:

Pontiac had been unprofitable for several years. A team, many of whom were passionate about the brand, tried in vain to save Pontiac and make it profitable — but none of the scenarios proved viable.

We kept Buick in the General Motors family because it is highly profitable and will grow with new models for the next few years, giving Buick an offering in several sedan and crossover segments.

It could be argued that decisions by GM that sapped the quality of both Oldsmobile and Pontiac over a good many years put the two vehicles in their precarious position in the first place, but that is a subject for another debate.

Today’s topic targets the Buick Regal GS sedan and what it has to offer. Or should I write Regal GS sedan from Buick since you won’t find the “Buick” named on any logos on the car itself, just the tri-shield logl in the front and “Regal GS” on the rear fascia.

GM has removed “Buick” from the logos, and this has led speculation that GM may be looking to having Buick join Pontiac and Oldsmobile in automotive heaven — or hell, depending on your viewpoint. But as long as sales in China continue to boom that isn’t likely to happen. More than 80 percent of the company’s global sales are in China, including models not sold in the U.S.

But I digress. Let’s get back to the Regal GS.

The Regal name dates back to 1973, though there was a production hiatus from 2004-2011. When it was brought back, it was seen as offering another way to help Buick shed its reputation of being an old person’s car.

Even today the company’s advertising campaign still follows that theme. If you haven’t gotten the idea that the company wants you to quit thinking of Buick as something only for your grandfather you must be fast-forwarding through a lot of car commercials.

The Regal GS may not have a major role in this reclamation project, but it does play a part as what is labeled a “sports sedan,” which is a genre that more often than not appeals to a younger audience.

It comes with a 3.6-liter V6 engine rated at 310 horsepower and 282 pound-feet of torque and mated to a 9-speed automatic transmission. US News & World Report ranks it No. 27 in a list of the fastest new cars for less than $50,000 (base price for the 2019 Regal is $39,070) with a zero-to-60 mph time of 5.4 seconds.

GS models (the Regal also is offered as a TourX wagon or Sportback hatchback) offer the capability of selecting driving modes to enhance performance.

Sport mode stiffens the suspension, makes shifts more aggressive, and sends more torque to the rear wheels, and GS mode makes further adjustments for the sportiest performance.

The Regal GS comes with all-wheel drive and features like lane-change warning and blind-spot alert, front and rear park assist, keyless start, dual zone climate control, heated front seats, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, 4G LET wi-fi hotspot capability, and lumbar support for both the driver and front passenger as standard.

Throwing extras like a Sights and Sounds package that includes navigation, a premium audio system, forward collision alert, lane-keeping assist, forward pedestrian braking, LED headlamps, and a head-up display can run the total to just over $44,000.

What I liked about the 2019 Buick Regal GS: The performance offers more than I expected, and the exterior has a nice look. The so-called Driver Confidence Package is well worth the $1,690 it adds to the base MSRP with such features as adaptive cruise control, forward collision alert and forward automatic braking, front pedestrian warning, lane-keeping assist and alert, and a head-up display.

What I didn’t like about the 2019 Buick Regal GS: Fuel economy is a bit below average for its class, and while there is generous cargo space, rear-seat legroom is barely adequate (36.9 inches). More attention to the detail on the interior, such as wood trim replacing the plastic touches, would help raise its stature.

Would I buy the 2019 Buick Regal GS? Not sure. While there are many features I like about the Regal GS, there are a lot of other choices in the midsize class that can overwhelm it. The Regal TourX wagon especially has more going for it when it comes to separating itself from the pack. It also is available as a hatchback, but I’m not particularly fond of hatchbacks.

Thursday, February 14, 2019


Though the electric car may be viewed by some as a recent development, its history dates back well over a century when, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, the work of innovators in the 1800s led to the first electric vehicle on the road in the U.S. in 1890.

By 1900, electric cars were a popular choice among budding automotive enthusiasts, more convenient than steam-powered vehicles and cleaner and easier to drive than the gasoline-powered versions.

Of course, we all know what happened. Steam cars died a natural death, and, thanks to the more economically feasible Ford Model T and a support system of filling stations throughout the country, gasoline-vehicles took over the market.

Now, however, we see renewed interest in electric cars. thanks in part to the introduction of hybrid gas-electric vehicles like Honda’s Insight and especially Toyota’s Prius in the 1990s and concerns about the environment and future supplies of fossil fuels.

More recently, fully electric cars have come to market, but two issues may be slowing their development: their range (or lack thereof) and powering them up.

Progress is being made on both fronts, but slowly.

I recently spent a week in the 2019 Chevrolet Bolt EV, which unlike its stablemate the Chevy Volt, is an electric vehicle that the auto buff magazine Car & Driver rates the best  “everyday” electric car on the market today.

For C&D “everyday” apparently is code for “affordable” as compared to Tesla’s luxury models. The Bolt EV comes in two versions with the base LT carrying a starting MSRP of $36,620 and the more upscale Premier edition starting at $40,904, so I don’t know if that really falls into the “affordable” class.

This is especially so for a vehicle that lacks the refinement and niceties you usually find in vehicles in that price range. Standard equipment on the Bolt EV Premier model includes items like heated front seats, heated leather-wrapped steering wheel, and auto-dimming inside mirror in a Comfort and Convenience Package that is optional on the LT along with other features like keyless entry and push-button start and leather-appointed seats, but seat adjustments are made manually and cabin ambiance is more economy than premier. 

A Driver’s Convenience Package (automatic high beam headlights, Forward Collision Alert, Lane-keeping Assist with Lane Departure Warning, Front Pedestrian Braking with Pedestrian Alert), Infotainment Package (wireless charging, Bose Premium sound, USB charging ports), the DC Fast Charger, and the $875 destination and delivery charge) ran the total for my Bolt EV Premier to $43,510, which is getting up there for a non-luxury compact hatchback. 

Of course, being an electric vehicle, there are tax credits and other current (pun intended) incentives from the government to knock some off that price. The Bolt currently (again pun intended) qualifies for up to the full $7,500 U.S. tax credit.

The reason for the C&D’s recognition of the Bolt, however, doesn’t have so much to do with the MSRP as it does with the Bolt’s technology. Chevy boasts a range of 238 miles on a full charge, though that may vary.

Once I got my test vehicle up it showed a range of 267 miles, but that wasn’t until I was able to leave it hooked up to my household outlet for an extended time (well over a day) that I was able to get it up to that number.

That’s the rub that no doubt many overlook. If you are going to go with an electric vehicle, you really need to invest in a Level-2 charging (240 volts) system.

Depending on where you work, you may be close to a charging outlet that will allow you to charge up your car during the day, and you can top it off when you get home at night. A DC fast charger also can give you a range of up to 90 miles in about half-an-hour.

But what about those family vacation trips? You’ll have to rent a conventionally powered vehicle or be prepared to add time to your journey. Motor trend magazine reported that an 800-mile trip using a DC fast charger took nearly twice as long than doing a similar trip with a gas vehicle. Or maybe you’ll just fly to your destination.

What I liked about the 2019 Chevy Bolt EV: The handling and throttle response is excellent. This can be a fun car to drive (it even has a Sport mode), one that is roomy and quiet as well. Zero-to-60 mph times of less than seven seconds have been reported. The false floor in the cargo areas gives you a place to hide items from view.

What I didn’t like about the 2019 Chevy Bolt EV: Without a 240-volt charger, charging times are long, and max range is difficult to get to. The interior has a cheap feel to it especially for its initial price. Built-in navigation isn’t available. The gear shift pattern is unnecessarily complicated, and the car seems to have a mind of its own when it comes to locking the doors after you get out. Beep! Beep!

Would I buy the 2019 Chevy Bolt EV? Not likely. Range (I have mileage anxiety) and charging times (no patience) are issues with me. Spur-of-the-moment trips to the Keys? Forget them. Even with the Fast Charger, longer excursions are impractical. The Volt doesn’t have the electric range of the Volt (only 53 miles) but at least it has a gas engine to kick in, resulting in up to 1,100 miles driving between fill-ups with regular charging.