Monday, August 13, 2018


Volkswagen executives were expecting (hoping for?) much success when the Atlas was launched as a replacement for the Touareg in the midsize SUV segment in the U.S., and the latest sales reports seem to confirm their expectations (hopes?).

The Atlas enjoyed its best sales month yet this past July and was one of three vehicles from the German automaker’s stable that helped spur overall sales growth of nearly 13 percent for the company over the same month for the previous year.

In fact, without the Atlas those numbers would have been down for the month as the company’s top seller, the Jetta, actually showed a sales decline of 37.2 percent for the month and 40 percent for the year-to-date just past the midpoint of 2018.

VW reported total sales of 6,938 for the Jetta for July and 39,961 for the first seven months of the year while the redesigned Tiguan small SUV and the all-new Atlas showed July sales of 6,636 and 6,499, respectively.

Those numbers represents huge percentage  jumps of 1,019.1 and 397.6 percent, respectively, for the two SUVs.

For the year, VW reports that 52,738 Tiguans and 34,657 Atlases have been sold so far in 2018 compared to 593 and 5,329, respectively, at this point in 2017.  Percentage-wise, that represents jumps of 8,7934 and 550.3 percent, respectively.

With a new 5-passenger Atlas in the works for 2019 to join the current 7-passenger version, that momentum is likely to continue into the future.

VW says the Atlas was designed with American audiences in mind, which means lots of interior room overall and legroom for third-row passengers. It is put together at the company’s assembly plant in Chattanooga with 46 percent of the parts coming from the U.S. and Canada and only 27 percent from Germany.

The understated interior features a nice clean design with the emphasis on functionality, not gee-whiz gizmos and techno features. Seating capacity is seven with those in the second and third rows getting 37.6 and 33.7 inches of legroom, respectively, and a generous 41.5 up front. The 60/40 split second row has a sliding row of up to 7.7 inches, and Captain’s Chairs also are offered on higher end trims for six-passenger capacity.

Cargo volume behind the third row is 20.6 cubic feet, and with the third row folded it’s a generous 55.5.

The Atlas is offered in five flavors (S, SE, SE w/technology, SEL, SEL Premium) with either a 2.0-liter turbo 4-cylinder or an available 3.6-liter V6 under the hood. V6s also are offered with VW’s 4Motion all-wheel drive.

The 4-banger is rated at 235 horsepower at 4500 rpm and 258 pound-feet of torque starting at 1600 rpm when using premium fuel, but it also runs on regular unleaded.

The V6 boosts those numbers to 276 hp at 6200 rpm and 266 lb.-ft. of torque at 2750 rpm. That power gets to either the front or all wheels via an 8-speed automatic transmission.

Fuel economy with the turbo-4 is 22 miles-per-gallon city, 26 highway and 24 combined. Numbers for the V6 are 18/25/30 with FWD and 17/23/19 with AWD.

AWD models feature four settings — Onroad, Snow, Offroad, and Custom Offroad — with Onroad as the default setting. Onroad can be further set to Normal, Sport, Eco, or Individual modes depending on your preferences and conditions.

My test vehicle was the AWD SEL and was a joy to drive.

Equipment like the V6 engine and Triptronic transmission, 18-inch wheels, power sunroof, 60/40 split second-row seating, 10-way power adjustable driver’s seat with lumbar support, 8-way adjustable front passenger seat, adaptable cruise control, forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, Park Pilot system, blind-spot monitor and rear traffic alert, 8-inch touchscreen for infotainment features, and push-button start was included in the MSRP of $43,615, including the $925 destination and delivery charge.

The base S model starts at just under $34,000 while the SEL Premium nudges the $49,000 mark.

What I liked about the 2018 Volkswagen Atlas: Though it seats seven passengers, the Atlas has the feel of a much smaller vehicle when it comes to handling and drive-ability. It looks good as well, and the inside is very roomy. Access to the third row is accomplished easily by sliding second-row seats forward, and you can move the second row forward a bit to give third-row riders more legroom.

What I didn’t like about the 2018 Volkswagen Atlas: Response to voice commands was a bit irregular, and voice command protocol required the frequency first be selected and then the station number to change radio stations. I also never did get my cell phone connected via Bluetooth.

Would I buy the 2018 Volkswagen Atlas? Yes. It is one of the few three-row SUVs that I would consider. But if you simply don’t want that third row, a five-passenger Atlas is in the works for 2019.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018


After taking a year off, the Infiniti QX50 is back as a 2019 model, a little bit shorter but wider and taller than its predecessor with a new interior, a more fuel-efficient, turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, and generous cargo space as it moves into its second generation under the QX nameplate. (The first QX50 in 2014 was essentially an update of the EX series introduced in 2008.)

The result is a midsize luxury crossover that offers buyers a quality alternative in a very popular segment.

With an all-new platform, the 2019 QX50 is offered with either front-wheel or all-wheel drive in three trim levels dubbed Pure, Luxe, and Essential. (You have to wonder how they came up with these names.)

All are equipped with a 2.0-liter VC Turbo-4 (for Variable Compression) that generates 268 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque while delivering fuel economy numbers of 24 miles-per-gallon city, 31 highway and 27 combined in FWD and 24/30/26 with AWD.

That’s less horsepower but more torque and better fuel mileage than the 2017 model that had a 3.7-liter V6 under the hood. That engine pumped out 325 hp but only 267 lb.-ft. of torque while drinking fuel at the rate of 17/24/20 mpg.

The improved torque is what gives the 2019 model a rather peppy performance for its class, though that you have to suspect that it is somewhat held back by the continuously variable transmission.

It does have a DS (Sport) mode and features a manual shift mode that works like a regular 7-speed transmission if you want to shift gears yourself. But a 7-speed (or 6) would be better.

The new QX50 is 184.7 inches long compared to the 2017’s length of 186.6, but stands taller (66 inches) and wider (74.9). The 2017 is less than 63 inches tall without roof rails and only 71 inches wide.

There is less leg room up front (39.6 on the 2019, 44.3 on the 2017) but more in the back (38.7 to 35.3).

Designers gave the 2019 QX50 a bolder look with a long, clamshell hood that is made to appear even longer by the slanted A pillar. The front fascia features LED headlights and LED daytime running lights. The top two trims (Luxe and Essential) also get LED fog lights as standard.

The interior, in a word, is beautiful. Infiniti calls it the finest interior it has ever created, and it’s hard to argue with that. The cabin is packed with high-grade materials with leatherette-appointed seats on Pure and Luxe trims. The Essential trim gets full leather as standard with two options for upgrades.

Aluminum accents add a nice touch to the interior’s two-color scheme.

Both front seats are power-adjustable eight ways with the driver getting two-way power adjustable lumbar support. You can opt for blue ultra-suede door panels on Essential models in a package that also includes white premium grade leather seating surfaces.

The console features a double screen on the center stack that allows you to perform infotainment functions without putting down the 8-inch screen that serves the navigation system, a feature that many critics don’t seem to appreciate. But I do, maybe because I am constantly fiddling with the radio.

Pricing for the 2019 QX50 starts at $36,550 (plus the $995 destination and delivery charge) for the Pure FWD model. Luxe and Essential trims with FWD start at $39,400 and $43,350, respectively. AWD adds $1,800 to the price.

That pricing makes the QX50 very competitive in its class, but the QX50 Essential can quickly top $50,000 when optional packages are added in.

Standard equipment for the QX50 Essential includes a power moonroof, roof rails, rain-sensing windshield wipers, forward emergency braking with pedestrian detection, around-view monitor (other trims get the standard rearview camera), parking sensors, power liftgate, push-button start, and hill-start assist.

Adding options and packages like a Sensory Package (premium audio, 20-inch dark painted wheels over the standard 19s, upgraded premium leather, seating, motion-activated liftgate, maple wood interior trim, etc.), a Pro-Assist Package (Back-Up Collision Prevention, adaptive cruise control, etc.), and Pro-Active Package (lane-departure warning and prevention, steering assist, head-up display, etc.) plus illuminated kick plates and welcome lighting ran my test vehicle up to $55,285.

That’s still pretty good considering some of its competitors are hitting the $80,000 mark.

What I liked about the 2019 Infiniti QX50: The interior has gone through a serious upgrade and taken the QX50 to a new level with lots of quality materials throughout. The double screen for nav and infotainment helps simplify operations. You don’t have to get out of navigation mode to change a radio station, for example. Cargo space behind the second row is a generous 31.1 cubic feet and 65.1 with those seats folded. Sport mode provides a lift in performance.

What I didn’t like about the 2019 Infiniti QX50: Though this CVT is light years ahead of previous versions, it still is a CVT. I could live with this one, but still would prefer a 6- or 7-speed. Most of the option packages, including some safety functions, are available only on the Essential model.

Would I buy the 2019 Infiniti QX50? Yep. It’s good-looking inside and out, quiet on the highway, and the overall performance is pretty good for the genre despite the CVT.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018


First impressions more often than not turn out to be accurate, at least according to my cursory research on the subject.

For instance, my first take on the new Nissan Kicks when it was introduced at a media preview in late June was that of all the small hatchbacks that the Japanese automaker had come up with in recent years (Cube, Juke, Versa Note) this one was the best of the lot.

But it also lacked power and was shackled to a CVT (continuously variable transmission), two things that might give second thoughts to the young millennials who are seen as prospective buyers.

They, like me, might want a little more in the way of a fun driving experience.

Now that I have had a slightly longer stint with it, I find no reason to change my mind. It just needs more punch. (For more details on my first drive experience, check my June blog.)

The 1.4-liter, 4-cylinder engine with its peak 125 horsepower and 115 pound-feet of torque just doesn’t offer much in the way of throttle response, though its good fuel economy numbers (31 mpg city, 36 highway, 33 combined) mitigate that somewhat.

But the low power and good fuel numbers, plus its styling, also plays in its favor. It would make the Kicks an ideal choice for a teen’s first new car.

It is a bargain in that it starts at well under $20,000 and doesn’t rise high above that mark while offering a slew of features often absent from that price range, and in an attractive package as well.

It is strong, very strong, on styling, the result of a collaboration between the company’s design studios in Brazil and San Diego. The Kicks Concept was shown at the Sao Paulo Motor Show in 2014, and marketers push its Rio-Carnival heritage.

Yet its looks are not as out-of-the-box as the aforementioned Cube and Juke models.

Probably the funkiest thing about the Kicks are the five two-tone exterior color combinations that are offered along with seven other exterior colors. Three utilize a black roof with white, orange or red body. A fourth pairs an orange roof with a gray body, a fifth a white top and blue body.

But that’s not where the color styles end.

You can also personalize your kicks by choosing from among five colors for accessory items such as the front lip finisher, rear spoiler, door handle covers, etc. for the exterior and rearview mirror cover, door sill protector, air vent rings, and floor mats for the interior.

Finally, you have a choice of stand-alone black 10-spoke, 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels or black 10-spoke 17-inch aluminum-alloy wheel with color inserts on SV and SR trims.

That’s a lot of options in color alone.

Speaking of options, the Kicks come with a pretty good array of standard equipment, reducing the need to add many that would jack up the cost.

Even the base S trim gets such niceties as a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, automatic headlights, hill start assist, automatic emergency braking, cruise control, air conditioning, a height-adjustable driver's seat, Bluetooth, a 7-inch touchscreen, Siri Eyes Free integration, three USB ports, a rearview camera and a six-speaker audio system.

The SV and SR models add safety features like a blind-spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert as well as NisscanConnect with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard. The two upper trips ride on 17-inch wheels, the S on 16s.

Most of the options offered are available only on the top dog SR model with the big ticket item being a Premium Package that features an 8-speaker Bose sound system, Prima Tex leather-appointed seats, heated front seats and a security system.

The Kicks starts at $17,990 for the base S model (plus the $975 destination and delivery charge). The SV checks in at $19,690, the SR $20,290. The SR Premium Package adds $1,000, and selected paint combinations can add from $150 to $545 for premium paint.

What I liked about the 2018 Nissan Kicks: Nissan has made available a lot of premium content that you don’t find in a vehicle in this price range, some of it standard on upper trim levels. Even the base S model gets emergency braking as standard. A surround-view camera also is standard on the SR trim. It offers nice cargo room (25.3 cubic feet) without the need to lower the second-row seats.

What I didn’t like about the 2018 Nissan Kicks: It could use a bit more grunt (actually quite a bit more). Lack of a manual transmission takes away from the ability to get more fun out of it. It is offered in front-wheel drive only.

Would I buy the 2018 Nissan Kicks? For a second car, yes, especially if I faced doing a lot of driving in an urban environment. Its styling also might make it an ideal choice for a young driver.

Sunday, July 22, 2018


You’ve no doubt heard the term “sports sedan” used to describe regular family cars that have enhanced performance characteristics, but did you know that the genre dates as far back as the 1930s?

I confess I didn’t until I did a “Google” search (Is there any other kind?) and found it was first used in the 1930s to describe “sports saloon” versions of British-made Rover cars. In the 1960s, manufacturers began using the term to describe special versions of their products that allowed them to enter production cars into auto races.

In the U.S., the term first was applied to imports from companies like Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz that rated performance high among their priorities while U.S. luxury manufacturers like Cadillac and Lincoln leaned toward comfort with their vehicles.

That has begun to evolve in recent years to include a number of other performance-oriented sedans (like Cadillac’s V series), and you also can find some vehicles that have had little done to them other than a few cosmetic touches that include an “S” logo on the rear trunk lid in an attempt to lure in buyers. (It isn’t working. Automotive News predicts a 60-year low for sedan sales this year.)

But if you want a possibly the best example of what a “sports sedan” is today you need look no further than BMW’s M5, the current version of which is the fastest and most technologically advanced M-vehicle yet, according to BMW publicists.

All-new for 2018, the M5 earned recognition last spring from an international panel of judges as the World Performance Car Award at the New York International Auto Show, beating out two other finalists from the original field of 11 nominees, the Honda Civic Type R and the Lexus LC 500.

Under the hood of the sixth generation of the 2018 M5 is a 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8 engine that propels its 4,370 pounds from zero-to-60 mph in just 3.2 seconds. It is rated at 600 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 553 pound-feet of torque in a range from 1800 to 5860 rpm and is capable of a sprinting from zero-to-124 mph in just 11.1 seconds with a top speed of 189 mph when equipped with the optional M Driver’s Package.

That enough performance for you?

The 2018 M5 is the first with BMW’s all-wheel-drive xDrive system, though power can be routed to the rear wheels only by changing driving modes.

It’s also the first without a manual gearbox, and BMW has made some puzzling changes to the path for the gear shifter for the 8-speed automatic.

It seems to be designed to accommodate manual shifts via the console lever, but that would seem to be a task more suited to the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.

That and the usual complexities of the infotainment system are about the only complaints one might have with the M5.

Even with the emphasis on performance, the M5 comes in a stylish, sophisticated package that offers occupants comfortable seats and a quiet ride (how quiet depends on if you set the dual quad exhaust to let its throaty roar escape).

Set the suspension in Comfort mode and it smoothly sails along as a six-figure luxury vehicle should. You’ll get no complaints from riders.

Base MSRP for the 2018 BMW M5 is $102,600. That gets you adaptive LED headlights, signature M grille, M rear spoiler, adaptive M suspension, 20-way power M function front seats, Harmon Kardon surround sound system, iDrive 5.0 system with touchscreen and gesture control, and keyless entry.

Among other included no-charge items are active blind-spot detection and lane-departure warning, heated steering wheel, power trunk opener, and navigation.

Big-ticket option items like Aragon brown full-merino leather, carbon ceramic brakes, 20-inch M wheels, a Bowers & Wilkins Sound System, Executive Package (soft-close doors, rear sunshade, front ventilated seats, etc.) and the M Driver’s Package can run the total to nearly $130,000 — $129,795 to be exact including the $1,000 gas guzzler tax (EPA ratings are 15 miles-per-gallon city, 21 highway) and the $995 destination and delivery charge.

What I liked about the 2018 BMW M5: This is a fun car to drive and doesn’t beat its passengers to death in its performance. The ability to adjust driving modes (Comfort, Sport, Sport-plus, etc.) lets you set the car to your own personal preferences. Seats are comfortable, and high-grade materials permeate the cabin, as expected for a luxury vehicle. The trunk is big (18.7 cubic feet).

What I didn’t like about the 2018 BMW M5: Techno features are fussy and require extra steps to perform the simplest of functions. BMW has dumbed down iDrive some since its introduction in 2001, but it still isn’t the most user-friendly of infotainment features. Apparently, android phones don’t connect through Bluetooth as Apple CarPlay is a $300 option. The manual transmission is no more, and the shifter for the automatic has a weird path that can put you in manual mode instead of automatic if you’re not careful. The button to push for Park is on the base of the shifter, not at the top as logic might suggest. Why?

Would I buy the 2018 BMW M5? The iDrive system is a turnoff, but the performance goes a long way in making up for that. So yes, if a six-figure MSRP doesn’t deter you, it’s a great performing car that offers room for backseat passengers.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018


While most manufacturers try to squeeze as many miles they can out of the batteries of their electric vehicles, Mercedes-Benz has taken a different approach with the C350e.

This plug-in hybrid offers little in the way of electric-only drive, but packs a punch that rivals even AMG-tuned versions of the company’s fleet.

Consider, the 2.0-liter turbo 4-cylinder engine and electric motor propels the C350e from zero-to-60 mph in just 5.8 seconds, according to Mercedes-Benz clockers.

That’s the same as the C300 that traditionally has serveed as the entry point to the company’s luxury fleet and only 1.2 behind that for the AMG C43.

In fact, at 443 pound-feet (combined gas and electric) the C350e’s torque number is actually better than the 384 lb.-ft. offered by the AMG C43 and not all that short of the 479 the the 4.0-liter, biturbo V8 delivers to the AMG C63.

Plug-in hybrid indeed!

But about that electric-only driving. Though Mercedes-Benz touted a range of up to 20 miles of all-electric driving with the debut of the 2016 C350e, that figure has been tempered in bit. Cut in half, actually.

The spec sheet reports a range of 0-8 miles for the 2018 C350e, which isn’t going to take you far in run silent mode. But mileage ratings for electric-gas combined driving are 51 MPGe and gas-only 30 mpg, and you get a modicum of recharging while driving on gas as well. So it’s not all bad.

For the most part, you get the same classy cabin and features in the C350e that you do in other C-Class models with one notable exception.

The C350e sticks with a 7-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters while the C300 and C300 4MATIC get a new 9-speed tranny.

Among standard equipment included in the 47,900 base MSRP for the C350e or are no-charge items are LED headlights (new for 2018), LED tail lamps, 18-inch wheels, dual-zone climate control, Bluetooth connectivity, power tilt-and-sliding sunroof, rain-sensing windshield wipers, rear-view camera, Collision Prevention Assist Plus that uses radar to monitor vehicles around you, natural grain wood trim, and black fabric headliner.

The outlet to plug in the cord is at the rear bumper, a change from the customary spot up front on most other plug-in vehicles.

Dynamic Select lets you change driving modes to Sport or Sport-plus with Comfort as the default setting by flipping a switch on the console.

Adding such optional items and packages, like leather seating and thigh support for the drive’s seat, navigation with an 8.4-inch high-definition monitor, blind-spot and lane-keeping assist, and cross-traffic assist can run the total price up to $61,785 with the $995 destination and delivery cost included.

Yes, that’s a pretty big jump over the starting price of $40,250 for the C300, a bit more than the base price for the C43, and near the starting price for the C63. But you may be eligible for tax credits that will bring the cost down.

What I liked about the 2018 Mercedes-Benz C350e: This may be the liveliest hybrid on the market today. Throttle response makes you forget you’re driving a hybrid. The cabin is impeccable with high quality materials throughout.

What I didn’t like about the 2018 Mercedes-Benz C350e: The COMAND System for infotainment features, though simplified from the original version, still demands too much of the driver’s attention to perform functions. And the display monitor sticks up in the middle of the dash like a misplaced iPad. Watch your head when getting in, especially on the passenger side.

Would I buy the 2018 Mercedes-Benz C350e? Probably not, because I’m not a fan of plug-in hybrids. The extra $7,000-plus it costs over the base C300 could cause you some hesitation as well, though tax credits for buying a hybrid will cut down on that difference. Other than the drivetrain, the C350e is every bit high in quality as you would expect from the company.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018


Infiiniti’s switch to a new naming system for its products four years ago was intended to simplify things, making Nissan’s luxury portfolio easier for customers to understand.

Beginning in 2014, Infiniti designated its sedans, coupes, and convertibles“Q” while crossovers and SUVs were given “QX” badging. The number in the alpha-numeric nomenclature no longer reflected engine size but where the vehicle stood in the portfolio’s hierarchy.

Thus the Q50 and Q60 replaced the G37 sedan and coupe and the M sedan became the Q70 while QX50, 60, 70, and 80 replaced the myriad number of the company’s crossovers/SUVs.

Reaction to then-president Johan de Nysschen’s idea, however, was slightly less than enthusiastic. Sales took an immediate dip, though part of the reason for that likely was a failure to update the models along with the rebadging. (Sales showed an increase of 10.9 percent for 2017 over 2016, but are down 8.8 percent so far in 2018, though the QX50 crossover had its best month ever this past June.)

Something seemed to be lost in the transition, though, especially with the relabeling of the G37 to QX50 (sedan) and QX60 (coupe). Red Sport models jazzed things up a bit, but one reviewer’s comment that it was “still tough to get excited about the new 2017 Infiniti Q60” seemed to be a prevailing thought.

That may be no more.

The 2018 Infiniti Q60 S Red Sport has the verve and charm of the old G37 coupe. It’s beautiful inside and out, and it packs a 400 horsepower punch from its 3.0-liter V6 engine (350 pound-feet of torque), a boost of 100 hp over the V6 in other trims.

A 2.0-liter 4-cylinder is the other engine choice, and both it and the V6 are mated with a 7-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift mode. It is available in either rear-wheel or all-wheel drive.

Fuel mileage isn’t that great, 20 miles-per-gallon city, 27 highway, and 22 combined for the V6 Red Sport, 22/30/25 for the 4-banger, and premium fuel is recommended. Why would you not want to put the good stuff in? Just asking.

The 2017 model moved the Q60 into its third generation. Few changes were made for 2018. Infiniti adapted its global nomenclature (Pure, Luxe, Sport, and Red Sport 400) for its trim levels, and the Red Sport 400 now gets 20-inch wheels over the previous 19s.

The 2018 model also is lower and wider than its predecessors, and its bold design gives it an aggressive appearance befitting a sports coupe. Car & Driver called the Q60 Infiniti’s best-looking car to date, which is saying something considering the company’s portfolio is filled with refined, sharp-looking vehicles.

The inside has the usual assortment of niceties, though you will play extra for such functions as Infiniti’s InTouch infotainment system that includes navigation, blind-spot warning and cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure prevention, and high-beam assist.

The interior features comfortable, sport-type leather-appointed seats with a manual thigh extension and lumbar support for the driver, an 8-way adjustable passenger seat, a dual-display system with navigation on one screen and audio and other functions on another, and carbon-fiber trim throughout the cabin.

Though it still has the inconvenience of access to the backseat typical of a coupe, it offers 32.4 inches of legroom in the back and a spacious 43.1 in the front. You lose about a half-inch of headroom in front to 37.4 inches if you opt for the sunroof.

Pricing for the Q60 starts at just under $41,000 when the $995 destination and delivery charge is tacked on to the base MSRP of $39,950 for the Q60 2.0t PURE trim. RWD Red Sport starts at $52,995 with AWD adding another $2,000.

Loading it up, however, can put a well-equipped Red Sport at nearly $64,000.

What I liked about the 2018 Infiniti Q60 Red Sport: Frankly, just about everything. I liked being able to select to my preferred driving mode (Standard, Sport, Sport-plus, Personal) and the response I got when changing from Standard to Sport-plus. Technology was very easy to operate, and the dual screen lets you adjust many functions without the need to switch from the navigation system’s large display.

What I didn’t like about the 2018 Infiniti Q60 Red Sport: Headroom in the back was limited (34.5 inches). Just about anybody taller than 6-feet likely would have a real issue. Trunk volume is only 8.7 cubic feet, small even for a coupe.

Would I buy the 2018 Infiniti Q60S Red Sport? Yes. Its stunning looks and sporty performance make it a winner in just about every aspect.