Wednesday, January 16, 2019


Cadillac enters the fast growing compact luxury SUV segment with the 2019 XT4, its third SUV/Crossover model, joining the midsize XT5 and behemoth Escalade with a fourth, the XT6 to come for 2020.

With a starting price of under $36,000, the XT4 offers what is by today's standards an “affordable” way to flaunt your economic success, though it should be pointed out that you are going to have to spend more, much more in some cases, to enjoy the full scope of what the luxury class has to offer.

A bit more on that later.

The XT4 comes in three trim levels — Premium, Luxury, and Sport — all powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that offers good fuel efficiency (24 miles-per-gallon city, 30 highway with front-wheel drive models and 22/39 with AWD) and a lively performance. 

That engine delivers 237 horsepower at 5000 rpm and 258 pound-feet of torque from 1500-4000 rpm and is mated to a 9-speed automatic transmission that may be run in Tour or Sport mode (selection is by pressing a button by the shifter on the console). Manual gear selection is accomplished via paddle shifters.

That button, by the way, is next to one that allows you to disable the stop/start function that many find to be an annoyance not worth whatever fuel-saving that technology provides.

That’s the second-best thing about the XT4. The best is the upgrade to the infotainment system Cadillac replaced the former CUE (Cadillac User Experience) system with. CUE must have seemed like a good idea at the time when it was introduced on the new 2013 ATS sedan, but it proved highly problematic.

It had a tendency to respond if a hand simply got near the touchscreen whether you intended to make an adjustment or not. Other times it just locked up. I think whoever designed it wound up in a Bud Light dungeon along with mead drinkers.

With the new system on the XT4, adjustments for such operations as navigation, audio, etc. are made using the 8.5 clear touchscreen, though climate control functions also work off buttons near the bottom of the center stack. It may not be the most user friendly I’ve experienced, but it’s pretty close.

The XT4 may reside in the compact class, but its interior has more the feel of a midsize cabin. It offers 40.4 inches of legroom up front to the XT5’s 41.2 inches, and the 39.5 inches of legroom for the second row matches that on the XT5, which is classed as a midsize.

Cargo volume is 22.5 cubic feet behind the second row and 48.9 with those seats folded. That’s less than what the XT5 offers (30 cubic feet behind the second row, 63 with that row folded) but is adequate for most tasks.

The XT4’s towing capacity is 3,500 pounds with a trailering package, which matches the XT5’s capacity.

Cadillac continues to upgrade the cabin’s ambiance, and if it doesn’t match up to some of its competitors, it’s still high grade with lots of soft-touch spots around. It has room for five passengers, and the driver’s seat is power adjustable 8 ways, the passenger’s 6 ways.

Now, more about pricing.

The XT4 Sport model that served as my test vehicle came with a base MSRP of $42,790 (including destination and delivery). Standard equipment included LED headlamps and taillights, keyless start, 4-way power lumbar support for the driver and front passenger, remote start, an 8-inch color display, power liftgate, rain-sensing wipers, lane change alert with blind spot alert (accomplished by a gentle vibration in the driver’s seat), and rear cross traffic alert.

That’s a nice array of equipment and can make you happy. But to go full luxury, adding features such as leather seating surfaces (replacing Leatherette), ventilated front seats with massage function, dual pane sunroof, navigation with real-time traffic, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, HD surround view camera, parking assist, adaptive cruise control, and more you need to look into options and option packages.

Such options ran the final tab on this particular XT4 Sport to $57,735. No doubt you could live without such features as a head-up display and 20-inch wheels (replacing the standard 18s). But even a few of the extra packages can get the final price over $50,000.

What I liked about the 2019 Cadillac XT4 Sport: The infotainment system has been refined since Cadillac ditched the infamous CUE (Cadillac User Experience) setup, which helps get you to functions quicker and easier. There are better systems, but this is such an improvement it's worth noting. The ride is very smooth and quiet. Very quiet. Passengers in the rear have generous legroom.

What I didn't like about the 2019 Cadillac XT4 Sport: You have to pay extra for a lot of options to get most of the goodies that are associated with luxury vehicles. This includes safety equipment like a surround view camera (replacing the standard rearview camera) and forward collision alert.

Would I buy the 2019 Cadillac XT4 Sport? Yes. If you are looking for a luxury five-passenger SUV, you should give it a look.

Friday, January 11, 2019



Although SUVs and crossovers seem to be taking over the automotive world, at least one manufacturer seems to be bucking that trend.

South Korean automaker Hyundai’s best seller remains the Elantra, a compact sedan that outsold the company’s best-selling SUV/crossover, the Tucson, by over 58,000 units in 2018.

Sales of the Elantra hopped up to 200,415 last year from 198,210 in 2017 while the Tucson came in at 142,219 and the Santa Fe SUV at 117,038 for 2018. (Yes, combined the Tucson and Santa Fe outsold the Elantra, but adding the Sonata’s total of 105,118 to that of the Elantra, Hyundai still sold more sedans as opposed to the recent trend toward SUVs.)

Hyundai reports that over 9 million Elantras have been sold since its launch in the U.S. in 1991.

Early last year I had the pleasure of driving the 2018 Elantra SEL, a model introduced following the redesign of 2017, and was impressed with the number of safety and convenience features it offered for its class.

Trickle down apparently is not just an economic theory but applies to car development as well. Features introduced on high-price luxury models eventually find their way down to more affordable vehicles like the ones in the compact sedan segment where the Elantra resides.

Hyundai didn’t quit with the changes for 2017, however. For 2019, the company gives the Elantra a new hood, front fenders, front fascia, grille, and headlights along with a new trunk, taillights and rear fascia. The 16- and 17-inch wheels get new designs, and the Eco trim has new 15-inch alloy wheels. Top-of-the-food-chain Limited and Sport trims come with LED headlights as standard.

Inside the Elantra has a new center cluster and new instrument housing and controls, and the Limited trim gets Infinity Premium Audio with 8 speakers.

SEL and above models get the Smart Shift Drive Mode that adapts to your driving characteristics to enhance your overall experience. I opted for Sport mode most of the time.

All but the base SE model also get as standard a suite of safety features labeled SmartSense that includes Forward Collision Avoidance Assist with Pedestrian Detection, Driver Attention warning, Blind-Spot Detection, Lane Keep Assist, Lane Departure Warning, Blind-Spot Collision Warning, and Rear Cross-Traffic Collision warning.

With the base SE model, the most exotic safety system is a blind-spot mirror.

All Elantras get as standard a rear-view camera features dynamic guidelines to give you a better picture when you are backing, stability and traction control systems, anti-lock brakes, and front and side-impact airbags for the driver and front-seat passenger. 

Power trains vary. Most Elantras come with a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine, but the Eco trim gets a 1.4-liter turbo-4 and the Sport gets a 1.6-liter turbo-4.

The 2.0L offers only 147 horsepower and 134 pound-feet of torque, but fuel economy numbers are good — 28 miles-per-gallon city, 37 highway, and 32. You get less horsepower (128) but slightly more torque (156) from the 1.4-liter and more of both (201/195, respectively) with the 1.6 turbp in the Sport.

A 6-speed automatic with Shiftronic (manual gear selection) is available on the SE, adding $1,000 to the MSRP for the manual SE. The automatic is and standard on SEL Value Edition, Limited models. The Eco and Sport models are equipped with a 7-speed Eco-shift dual clutch transmission with Shiftronic, and you can also get a 6-speed manual transmission with the Sport.

SE Elantra manual models carry a base MSRP $17,985 (including destination and delivery). Pricing tops out at $24,385 for Sport models with the dual-clutch tranny. The Limited, which served as my test vehicle for the week, carries a starting MSRP of $23,485.

What I liked about the 2019 Hyundai Elantra Limited: It comes with a plethora of technological and safety features, many of them standard and all of the very user-friendly.  I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s worth repeating. Unlike some European manufacturers, Hyundai makes technological features, like say navigation, easy to operate.

What I didn’t like about the 2019 Hyundai Elantra Limited: I’d like to see a little more in the way of performance for a more fun driving experience. For that, you probably need to take a look at the Sport trim or, if you will accept a hatchback, the Elantra GT Sport with similar power numbers (201/195).

Would I buy the 2019 Hyundai Elantra Limited? Yes. Bigger families may want a vehicle with more room for passengers and their stuff, but if that’s not you, the Elantra has a lot of offer in a stylish package.

Monday, January 7, 2019


Travel during the holidays, especially if it involves flying, can be especially trying, tiring, and frustrating, so as an auto reviewer it’s nice to know that a new vehicle will be waiting at the local Park-N-Fly when I get home.

Like on my recent return from a visit to my daughter’s for Christmas.

A text earlier in the day before we left on our return flight home had informed me that the car would be waiting for me courtesy of my friendly press fleet fleet folks.

Frankly, knowing that any vehicle would be there helps ease the pain of sitting three hours on a jam-packed airplane and then negotiating the looonnngggg American Airlines concourse at Miami International with a carryon bag that seemed to have gained a few pounds since it was last packed.

That it was a new 2019 AMG CLS 53 was a bonus.

The 53-Series is new model to CLS Coupe, E-Class Coupe, and E-Class Cabriolet models in the Mercedes-Benz stable for 2019.

The AMG CLS 53 is top-of-the-line among the other CLS offerings (450 Coupe and 450 4MATIC) and, as the AMG designation suggests, is the most performance-oriented of the group.

Its 3.0-liter, gas turbocharged inline 6-cylinder engine is tuned for 429 horsepower and 384 pound-feet of peak torque and it gets another 21 hp and 184 from the new EQ Boost auxiliary power system.

The EQ Boost starter-alternator in electric motor fitted between the engine and the transmission which, among other functions, provides mild hybrid functions like helping boost fuel mileage to a respectable 21 miles-per-gallon city, 27 highway, and 23 combined.

But wait! There’s more!

The EQ Boost system also smooths out restarts after the stop-start system is engaged when you come to a complete stop, making the transition and restart barely noticeable. 
And EQ Boost provides for a quicker increase in acceleration by eliminating turbo lag, a common characteristic with turbocharged engines.

With a 9-speed automatic transmission and Mercedes-Benz’ 4MATIC all-wheel drive, the company says the AMG CLS 53 will scoot from zero-to-60 mph in an estimated 4.4 seconds.

Five drive modes are offered to alter driving characteristics to your preferences. Eco, Comfort, Sport, Sport-plus, and Individual operate as an automatic, and you may also select gears manually via paddle shifters by pressing the “M” button on the center console.

Performance is not the only area where the CLS 53 stands out. Its looks are stunning, Starting with its famed, large 3-point start in the center of a new black lattice pattern grille and continuing with its slick profile and its chromed-tipped exhaust pipes, the styling is both aggressive and refined.

Magnificent is probably the best word to describe the interior. The plush leather seats coddle your back and bottom, and multi-color ambient lighting enhances the visual experience. Setting the driving mode in Comfort yields a quiet, comfortable, sure ride while Sport and Sport-plus add to the overall experience with sharp notes from the dual quad exhaust when gearing down.

A 12.3-inch panoramic display screen dominates at the top of the center stack providing a wide view for operation of technological features like standard navigation, audio, and dual-zone climate control off the touchpad controller or knob at the center of the console. This is not a touchscreen, which too often can become blurred with unsightly fingerprints especially in sunlight.

Mercedes brands the AMG CLS 53 as a coupe, which is a subject for some discussion. Sharp observers among you notice it comes with four doors, which has become associated with a sedan versus the coupe’s traditional two doors.

But the profile fits a more couple-like sleekness than a sedan, and past models seated only four as is typical of the coupe class. Frankly it is an issue not worth quibbling over. If the Germans say it’s a coupe, it’s a coupe!

The AMG CLS 53 carries a base MSRP of $79,900, but the $995 destination and delivery charge quickly gets the price over the $80,000 mark, and the addition of packages and options can get the final tab into six figures.

My test AMG CLS 53 came with several extras with the three most expensive $4,550 for the Burmeister 3D Surround Sound system; $2,990 for AMG Magna Gray/ Espresso Brown leather upholstery; and $2,250 for a suite of safety features that included steering assist, Active Lane Keeping Assist (which can be a bit overly aggressive at times), blind-spot assist, and more.

All that ran the total to $103,010. Yes, I agree that’s a lot. Since I rarely buy lotto tickets, I’m just going to hope that I may already be a winner in the Publisher’s Sweepstakes.

What I liked about the 2019 AMG CLS 53: What's not to like? It offers amazing performance in a luxurious package with the highest quality cabin around. The addition of buttons on the center stack help simplify operation of the COMAND infotainment system, and the wide display screen is great for navigation.

What I didn't like about the 2019 AMG CLS 53: Watch your head! The roofline that gives the CLS its coupe-like profile also can make getting in a bit tricky. It's not overly difficult, but you need to pay attention. I found sticking my butt in first and swinging both feet around made it more manageable than putting my left leg in first as I am accustomed to doing.

Would I buy the 2019 AMG CLS 53? In a heartbeat. The only downer is the small trunk (11.9 cubic feet) typical of coupes.

Monday, December 31, 2018



Introduced nearly a year ago at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, the 2019 Volkswagen Jetta kicks off the new year as a fully redesigned sedan that should ensure its role as one of the German automaker’s top sellers and make it more of a contender it its class as well.

Built on the company’s new MQB platform, it also gets a new trim level with R-Line features added to the lineup along with S, SE, SEL, and SEL Premium treatments. At $23,890 including the $895 destination and delivery charge, the R-Line falls right in the middle of Jetta’s pricing chart that ranges from $19,440 for an S with a 6-speed manual transmission to $27,390 for the SEL Premium and its standard 8-speed automatic tranny.

Like all Jettas, the R-Line gets a turbocharged, 1.4-liter 4-cylinder engine that rates among the leaders in fuel economy among non-hybrid compact sedans. Government figures are 30 miles-per-gallon city, 40 highway, and 34 combined whether equipped with the manual or the automatic, which is standard on all but the S model.

Yes, you sacrifice a bit in straight-ahead power (figures are 147 horsepower and 5000 rpm and 184 at 1400) for those numbers, but you can kick up performance a bit by switching to Sport mode. (Other choices are Eco, Normal, and Custom.)

Though with some brands you may get extra performance from “R” designated models, the “R” in this case pertains to sportier styling features like special 17-inch wheels, a more aggressive rear bumper with dual exhaust, a gloss-black grille, black side mirror caps, R-Line badging, and a unique leather-wrapped steering wheel with R-Line insignia.

Still, it felt pretty lively in my around-town experience.

The R-Line also gets VW’s XDS Cross Differential System that helps improve stability, handling, and cornering. Other than that and the other special features, the R-Line gets standard equipment similar to that on SE models.

That includes VW’s MIB II touchscreen infotainment system with a 6.5-inch screen, Android and Apple CarPlay connectivity, Bluetooth communications, LED headlamps and taillights, sunroof, simulated leather upholstery, heated front seats, dual-zone A/C, and keyless entry with push-button start.

Among safety features, the R-Line is in line with other Jetta trims with a rear-view camera, Forward Collision Warning with Autonomous Emergency Braking, Blind Spot Monitor, and the usual collection of airbags.

Optional features for the Jetta R-Line include a heated steering wheel and heated rear seats, remote start, heated front washer nozzles, and heated windshield wiper park that can be all gotten together in a Cold Weather Package.

As noted, the Jetta is one of VW’s best sellers. The company reports that more than 17.5 million have been sold since it was introduced in 1979 with 3.2 million of those sold in the U.S. 

Sales have fallen off a bit for the first 11 months of 2018, though they picked up for last November. December numbers are not in as of this writing.

What I liked about the Volkswagen Jetta R-Line: It has a quiet ride, the and the R-Line touches give it a nice sporty look. The infotainment features, such as they were on my test model, were user-friendly, and the trunk is a nice-size (14.1 cubic feet) for the class.

What I didn’t like about the Volkswagen Jetta R-Line: I’d like to give whoever came up with the idea of a two-stage trunk lid a knock on the head, which is what you will get from the lid itself if you aren’t careful. If not opened fully, the lid starts to lower to closing position, giving you an unexpected knock on the noggin as you start to load it if you are not careful. 

Would I buy the 2019 Volkswagen Jetta R-Line: I’d definitely consider it, though the interior could use a little less plastic surfaces.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018


If you like the Nissan Rogue compact crossover (and many do as it is the company’s best seller) but want an SUV with a little more size, you can get it without even leaving the Japanese automaker’s showroom.

Though it is actually older than the Rogue by five years, the Murano looks kind of like a Rogue that has grown up.

At 192.8 inches long with a wheelbase of 111.2 inches, it has 8.3 and 4.8 inches over the Rogue, respectively, with an interior volume of 108.1 cubic feet to the Rogue’s 105.8.

The Murano also has a bigger engine under the hood with a 3.5-liter V6 with horsepower and torque figures of 260 and 240 respectively. The Rogue gets 170 hp and 175 lb.-ft. from its inline-4.

Both engines are mated to the company’s Xtronic continuously variable transmission that helps boost fuel economy to 20 miles-per-gallon city, 28 highway in both FWD and AWD Murano models compared to 26/33 for FWD Rogues, 25/32 for AWD Rogues.

But it’s not mere size that sets the Murano apart not only from the Rogue but a good many of its competitors as well. The Murano has the kind of refinement and high quality materials usually reserved for higher end models.

If it had an analog clock in the middle of the center stack, it would have the feel of a crossover from the company’s Infiniti luxury stable. (But at considerably less cost.)

Yes, it’s that nice.

The Murano comes in four flavors starting with the base S model that starts at $31,000 with front-wheel drive. The SV opens at $34,300, the SL $38,700, and the Platinum at $42,430 with all-wheel drive adding $1,600 and destination and delivery taking on another $945.

As is often the case, my vehicle for the week was the top-of-the-line Platinum AWD edition that is chock full of so many standard features that options and packages are unnecessary, which makes up for at least some of the difference in price.

Standard exterior items included a panoramic moonroof, LED headlights, daytime running lights, and taillights, and silver roof rails. Standard safety features included automatic emergency braking, forward collision warning, blind-spot warning, around-view monitor with rear cross traffic alert, and numerous airbag systems that help earn it a 5-star overall safety rating from the federal government.

The list of standard and comfort features goes on, and on, and on, and on, and then on some more.

It’s almost easier to state isn’t included than what is. That would be Nissan’s ProPilot Assist program that helps keep your vehicle traveling in the flow of traffic as well as centered in the proper lane.

It is offered on the 2018 Rogue, but not the Murano.

But the refreshing for the 2019 Murano offers as an option (standard on Platinum models) the Nissan Safety Shield 360 technology that encompasses Automatic Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Detection, Blind Spot Warning, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Lane Departure Warning, High Beam Assist and Rear Automatic Braking.

Frankly, I prefer lane departure “warning” over the slightly more aggressive lane departure “assist” any way in the ProPilot system, and I’m sure that I’m not alone in that.

ProPilot Assist is not the only advantage the Rogue holds over the Murano, however. Surprisingly, despite its slightly large size, the Murano’s storage capacity does not measure up to the Rogue’s.

Not that its cramped. Listed space at the rear of the Murano is 32.1 cubic feet to the Rogue’s 39.3. Behind the second row, the Rogue holds the advantage with 70 cubic feet to the Murano’s 67.

The Rogue also offers up to 43 inches of legroom upfront to the Murano’s 40.5, but the Murano holds the advantage in the second room, offering 38.7 inches to the Rogue’s 37.9.

In many ways, it’s a wash between the two vehicles. Both are good choices.

What I liked about the 2018 Nissan Murano Platinum: The cabin has the ambiance of a luxury model with lots of user-friendly technological features and lots of leather throughout. Designers were not afraid to include knobx for audio and climate control functions. Front seats are heated and ventilated, and  rear seats are heated. Actual use matched the stated mileage figure of 21 mpg city.

What I didn’t like about the 2018 Nissan Murano Platinum: Response to vice commands was somewhat spotty. For some reason, I got a prompt that there was no subscription to satellite channels, but I was able to tune to SXM via the touchscreen. I don’t care for CVTs, but at least Nissan has eliminated the quirks of earlier tries. Fabricated shift points mimic manual gear selection, though with no paddle shifters the driver must reach over to the shifter on the console to take advantage of them.

Would I buy the 2018 Nissan Murano? Yes. Frankly, the Rogue fits my personal needs better at this time, but the classy Murano is a good choice. The driving experience isn’t all that thrilling, but its utility, fuel efficiency and classy interior makes up for that.

Friday, December 14, 2018


If you happen to have your eye on a Mercedes-Benz GLE crossover SUV for your next vehicle, you may want to wait until next spring (it’s not that far off) when the new 2020 GLE hits U.S. showrooms.

The German automaker is really taking its midsize SUV, which began life over 20 years ago bearing M-Class badging, up to a new level, even offering a three-row seating as an option for those with growing families.

With a 3.1-inch longer wheel base than its predecessor, the 2020 GLE offers second-row passengers about 3 inches more legroom, and there’s generous space for storing stuff behind them (at least for five-passenger models without a third row).

And Mercedes has packed it with several other innovations, including a 48-volt active suspension system (a world first) that is among three suspension systems offered, a Stop-and-Go assist system for driving in heavy traffic, and Mercedes’ fully variable 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system, not to mention features like lane change assist (which I found to be aggressive at times), blind spot warning, and a 12.3-monitor for working systems like navigation and audio on the automaker’s MBUX interface.

The latter is accomplished not with the customary dial in the center of the console, but with a Touchpad similar to what you might find on a laptop computer. It also works with gesture control, which means that at times you or (more likely) your passenger might accidentally change something you didn’t really want changed.

Voice-operated functions are activated by saying “Hey, Mercedes” in a normal tone. The response is a crisp “What can I do for you?”, which raises all sorts of possibilities, depending on your imagination.

The GLE comes in three versions.

The GLE 350 ($53,700 starting MSRP) and the GLE 350 4MATIC ($56,200) are powered by a 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder engine rated at 255 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque. The GLE 450 4MATIC ($61,150) has a 3.0-liter inline 6-cylinder engine with EQ Boost (a mild hybrid system that provides up to a 21 more hp). Horsepower and torque figures for the inline-6 are 362 and 369, respectively.

Both engines are mated to a 9-speed automatic transmission. The gearshift stalk on the steering wheel column is one of the smallest you may find in a vehicle like this, not that that makes any difference. Paddle shifters provide a way for manual gear selection.

Fuel economy numbers have yet to be released, but the fuel tank has a generous 22.5 gallon capacity so you can go a long ways between fill-ups.

You can set the GLE to ECO, Comfort, Sport, Individual, or Off-road modes to adjust for conditions/preferences. I’m not sure how many owners would actually take their GLE off-road, but I’m betting it’s not many. Nice to know you can, though.

 Elegant is probably the best word to describe the cabin’s interior with the generous use of dark leather and wood trim in particular giving it a distinctive air.

Nice, too, that designers incorporated the display screen at the top of the centerstack following the flowing lines of the dash. Too many seem to stick it up in the center of the dash like an iPad or tablet.

Comfort is another appropriate word. Front passengers also get memory settings for their preferred seating positions, just like the driver.

Legroom up front is 40.3 inches, slightly less than the 40.9 that backseat riders get. (Rear legroom can be increased to 41.1 inches with the optional adjustable second row.)

The 4MATIC versions of the GLE (both 350 and 450) will be the first to go on sale next spring. The RWD GLE 350 is scheduled for the summer.

What I liked about the Mercedes-Benz GLE 350 4MATIC: It’s luxurious, it’s spacious, it’s quiet, and it’s powerful. The bold styling highlighted by the in-your-face 3-pointed star in the center of the grille exudes an air of invincibility, and it comes with a generous list of standard and optional features that add to the driving experience. Stowage capacity behind two-row seat models is generous (22.2 cubic feet)

What I didn’t like about the Mercedes-Benz GLE 350 4MATIC: The Touchpad for operating the infotainment systems takes a lot of getting used to and can be very distractive for the driver to use. It was easy to get the hang of using a touchpad instead of a mouse to operate my laptop computer, but it’s not the same with the GLE’s center console. The placement of the hand makes all the difference. My laptop customarily is in front of me on a flat surface. The GLE's Touchpad is to the driver's right and slightly lower.

Would I buy the Mercedes-Benz GLE 350 4MATIC? Frankly, the Touchpad is a big turnoff for me, but the GLE 350 has enough other virtues to keep it into consideration for a midsize luxury crossover SUV. There is nothing that quite matches the feeling of power you get when you’re behind the wheel of a Mercedes-Benz.