Thursday, October 10, 2019


BMW KICKS POWER FOR 3 SERIES SEDAN UP A NOTCH WITH 2020 M340i AND M340i xDRIVE

BMW’s 3-Series has been around for over four decades, and now the German automaker has taken its so-called “entry” level luxury sedan to a new level.

The 2020 M340i and M340i xDrive now in showrooms are the most powerful non-M 3 Series yet. With a 3.0-liter, 6-cylinder engine (382 horsepower, 369 pound-feet of torque), the M340i xDrive moves from zero-to-60 in 4.2 seconds.


That ranks right up there with the vaunted M3 with an optional Competition package!

Yet the M340i is civilized enough to earn mileage ratings of 22 miles-per-gallon city, 30 highway and 25 combined.

About the only bone to pick in the way of powertrain is that the only transmission offered is an 8-speed automatic with paddle shifters for manual shifting. No manual is available. (Sigh.)


The engine is not the only facet that gets niceties from the “M” grab bag.

Included in the base $54,000 MSRP ($54,995 including destination and delivery) are M Sport brakes, M differential, M sport steering wheel, and an M rear spoiler for a sporty appearance.

Adaptive M suspension is available for an extra $700, and included at no extra cost are LED headlights with cornering lights, 14-way power adjustable sport seats with lumbar support, navigation featuring a 10.25-inch screen, a moonroof, automatic climate control, Apple CarPlay, a wifi hotspot, and variable sport steering.


Of course, BMW also offers a lot of extras, perhaps too many in fact. You can replace the standard sound system with Harmon Kardon Surround Sound ($875) and add remote engine start ($300) and special ambient lighting ($250).

That only begins to run up the final price.


Throw in packages like the Executive Package (automatic high beams, gesture control and special lighting), Drivers Assistance Package (Active Driving Assistant Pro, blind spot and lane departure warning), Drivers Assistance Pro Package (extended traffic jam assistant), Premium Package (heated steering wheel, heated front seats, and head-up display), and Cooling & HP Tire package) and all of a sudden you’re at a bottom line of $67,070.

If you prefer all-wheel drive to rear-wheel, the xDrive system adds $2,000 to final tab.

What I liked about the 2020 BMW M340i sedan: No manual transmission is offered, but you can get enough in the way of performance by driving in Sport or Sport-plus mode. It’s a real looker from the outside, and the inside lives up to its luxury status.

What I didn’t like about the 2020 BMW M340i sedan: The iDrive 7.0 infotainment system is as fussy as ever to operate and can be distracting to the driver. Options run the M340i from the mid-$50,000 range to nearly $70,000. 

Would I buy the 2020 BMW M340i sedan? There's always the issue of dealing with the operation of the iDrive infotainment system, but the M340i has so much good stuff to offer that shouldn’t be the determining factor in any decision. The real drawback would be the temptation to add too many options and run the price up.


Tuesday, October 1, 2019


BMW GOES BIG WITH INTRODUCTION

OF NEW X7 'ACTIVITY' VEHICLE FOR 2019

If you are a believer in bigger is always better, than BMW has the SUV (excuse me, in BMW's terminology it's a Sports Activity, not Sports Utility, Vehicle) you have been looking for.

The BMW X7 launched for 2019 is the company's largest utility, er, activity, vehicle yet with standard three-row seating for seven (or six when equipped with second-row captain's chairs) and towing capacity of up to 7,500 pounds when equipped with the factory hitch.

It comes in two versions. The X7 xDrive40i comes with a turbocharged V6 under the hood. The X7 xDrive50i on which this review is based has a turbo V8 that ups horsepower to 456 from the 335 of the turbo-6 and torque to 479 pound-feet from 330.

Both engines are mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters for manual gear selection and driving modes that can be set to comfort, sport, eco, or set to individual tastes.


Presumably, driving in Eco might improve the mileage figures of 17 miles-per-gallon city, 21 highway, and 15 combined using premium fuel, but more time spent in sport mode likely would have the opposite effect.

It's your choice, of course, but sport mode does deliver a more pleasing driving experience. The V8 moves the X7 xDrive50i's 5,617 pounds from zero-to-60 mph in a brisk 5.2 seconds. BMW clockers report a 5.8 clocking for the somewhat lighter (5,370 pounds) X7 xDrive40i.


Being the biggest in the fleet of the German automaker's fleet of "Activity" vehicles, the X7 offers generous interior space, though legroom and headroom in the third row is a bit confining at 33.3 and 36.6 inches, respectively. Legroom up front is just under 40 inches with headroom of 41.9 inches.

Being a BMW, it has all the niceties that a luxury vehicle typically has complete with the latest in technology. The heated, 20-way power adjustable, multi-contour front seats include 4-way lumbar support, and the panoramic moonroof and power liftgate are standard.


Also included with no charge in the X7 xDrive50i's $92,600 MSRP (a jump of nearly $18,000 over the X7 xDrive40i) are such features as active blind spot detection and lane-keeping warning, wood interior trim, a parking assist system, Wi-Fi hotspot, and a Harmon Kardon Surround Sound audio system with a one-year subscription to SiriusXM satellite radio.

Too many option packages quickly added $25,000 to the base MSRP for my test vehicle, however, running the total to $117,945 including the $995 destination and delivery charge.

You don't have to go full bore, of course. For example, I could do without the leather dashboard that added $1,200 to the price or the Bowers & Wilkins sound system that tacked on $3,400. The Dynamic Handling Package (suspension and steering upgrades) and M Sport Package (trim upgrades) combined add over $8,000 alone.


I also could probably do without the Premium Package (Remote Engine Start, Soft-Close automatic doors, rear electric side window shades, heated and cooled cup holders, Heads-Up Display) and Executive Package (Panoramic Sky Lounge LED Roof, Glass Controls and BMW Laserlight headlights) as well as the rear-seat entertainment system ($2,200). 

A Driving Assistant Professional package (Extended Traffic Jam Assist for limited access highways and lane-keeping assistant with active side-collision protection is standard on xDrive50i models and optional on the xDrive40i.

There's also a cold weather package that includes 5-zone climate control, heated seats for the front and rear and heated front-seat armrests and steering wheel that runs $1,200 that, being a South Florida resident, I would have no need for.

But I'd go for the captain's chairs for the second row.  At $600, they seem like a bargain.

What I liked about the 2019 BMW X7 xDrive50i: No question it is refined luxury and engineering at its best. The ride is smooth and quiet, the cabin spacious. I also like the concept of the split tailgate.

What I didn't like about the 2019 BMW X7 xDrive50i: Some nits here. As is typical of upscale German luxury cars, it is packed with technology that, alas, can be very distracting to operate. (But the 12.3-inch display screen for navigation is nice.) Adjusting the A/C blower manually (as I prefer to do) requires a fine touch. It either is too low or it blasts you out. The Active Lane Departure Warning can be overly active at times. Finally, your have to pay extra for leather seats over the standard leatherette.

Would I buy the 2019 BMW X7 xDrive50i? A bit too large for my tastes or needs, but if you are looking for or need a full-size luxury SUV, the X7 could be just what you want. No question it's a quality vehicle with outstanding engineering and a powerful engine.


Monday, September 23, 2019

2019 VW TIGUAN: ABOUT EVERYTHING YOU WOULD WANT IN A COMPACT CROSSOVER SUV


Volkswagen gave its Tiguan compact SUV a much-needed makeover for 2018, and apparently designers/engineers got things the way they wanted because about the only updates for 2019 involve some shuffling of equipment.

The 2019 Tiguan crossover is offered in six trims (S, SE, SEL, SEL R-Line, SEL Premium, and SEL Premium R-Line with the latter two topping the portfolio and getting VW's 4-Motion all-wheel drive as standard. The other four trims come with front-wheel drive as standard and 4Motion as an option.

VW's Digital Cockpit and Park Distance Control are now standard on SEL models after debuting on SEL Premium in 2018.

All Tiguans come with a 2.0-liter, turbocharged 4-cylinder engine matched with an 8-speed automatic transmission. It runs on regular unleaded fuel and is rated at 184 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque. Mileage figures are 22 miles-per-gallon city, 29 highway and 25 for with FWD and 21/29/24 with the 4-Motion system.


Those aren't particularly great numbers for the class, and it could use a little more punch when it comes to performance, though Sport mode does deliver more in the way of response.

This review is based on the 2.0T SEL Premium model, which comes packed with just about every and any feature you might desire included in the MSRP of $38,190 (that includes the $995 destination and delivery charge, but not the $295 for the Habanero Orange Metallic exterior that ran my test vehicle's total to $38,485).


In addition to the usual collection of seat belts and air bags, safety features include Anti Slip Regulation and Engine Brake Assist, Intelligent Crash Response System, Forward Collision Warning and Autonomous Emergency Braking, blind spot monitor, lane-keeping assist, and a rear view camera, all standard.

Technology systems include an overhead camera system, VW's Virtual Cockpit, remote start and remote power liftgate, 8-inch touchscreen navigation, Fender Premium Audio, Bluetooth connectivity, and adaptive cruise control, all standard.

Other features include automatic LED headlights, rain-sensing windshield wipers, power tilt and sliding panoramic sunroof, heated and leather-wrapped steering wheel, dual-zone climate control, leather seating surfaces, and 19-inch alloy wheels, all standard.


Third-row seating is available in FWD models and available as an option for 4-Motion models, though it cuts back considerably the available cargo space (a generous 37.6 cubic feet behind the second row).

If you can live without some of those features, the SE trim is well-equipped and has a starting MSRP of $27,690 (including the destination and delivery charge) with front-wheel drive and $28,990 for the 4-Motion system.

Even the SEL trim with FWD will save you $5,400 over the SEL Premium. It's definitely worth considering if you can live with Halogen headlights in place of LED, leatherette seats instead of leather, and without rain-sensing wipers. The SEL comes navigation and a power liftgate as well.

What I liked about the 2019 Volkswagen Tiguan SEL Premium: After dealing with smaller screens in a couple of more expensive vehicles, the image for the rearview camera was a joy to see -- very clear in high def and good size as well. There's a good bit of technological features, and they are user-friendly to operate.

What I didn't like about the 2019 Volkswagen Tiguan SEL Premium: Driving in Sport mode remedies what could have been a complaint about the lack of energy and performance in Normal mode.

Would I buy the 2019 Volkswagen Tiguan SEL Premium? Yes. This meets a lot of what you are looking for in a compact SUV/crossover with good passenger and cargo space and easy handling. I would go with another color though!



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.