Tuesday, August 13, 2019

THE MAGIC OF AMG TAKES C-CLASS CABRIOLET TO HIGHEST LUXURY LEVEL 


The C-Class has served as a introductory model for Mercedes-Benz enthusiasts since its debut as a “baby Benz” sedan in the early 1990s.

It has grown up considerably since then, however, and there is nothing “baby” about the AMG C43 Cabriolet I recently had the pleasure of driving for a week, from the performance, to the luxury, and yes, to the price tag.


Can you envision a C-Class that starts in the $60,000 range and nearly reaches $80,000 when fully equipped?

That’s quite a jump from the base C-Class Cab that starts at just a couple of notches over the $50,000 mark but it is what often happens when the folks who labor in the company’s AMG workshops get done with their tinkering.


AMG versions of Mercedes models are not really for those who only care about getting from Point A to Point B. They are for those who look forward to the ride itself!

It starts under the hood, where AMG has pumped up the 3.0-liter bi-turbo V6 to 385 horsepower and 384 pound-feet of torque, big steps up from the 255 hp and 234 lb.-ft. the turbo-4 in the C300 Cabriolet delivers.


Mated with a 9-speed automatic transmission, the V6 scoots the C43 from zero-to-60 mph in under 5.0 seconds with fuel numbers of 18 miles-per-gallon city, 25 highway, 21 combined.

Driving modes include Comfort, Sport, Sport-Plus, and Individual, and if you want more sound from the dual exhaust, you can push a button on the console to get that, too. Sport-Plus mode disengages the stop/start system as well as stiffening the suspension and increasing throttle response.


In fact, the increased throttle response almost can be a bit too aggressive at times, especially considering that even in Comfort the C43 gets off the line quickly.

The interior is impeccable with lots of leather, natural grain wood, and brushed aluminum throughout. The triple-layer, acoustic soft top gives the C43 a quiet ride, more like of hardtop quality than a typical soft top. When riding with the top down in chillier temperatures, the Airscarf system and heated seats keeps things comfortable.


With South Florida’s summer temperatures, the optional ventilated seats and an A/C set on high are more appreciated than the Airscarf!

That roof, incidentally, raises and lowers in about 20 seconds, and you can do it at speeds up to 30 mph, a handy feature if a sudden shower appears and you can’t pull over.


Among standard features for the base MSRP of $64,645 (including destination and delivery) are a Burmester surround-sound audio system, push-button start, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, dual zone climate control, rain-sensing windshield wipers, a 10.25-inch display screen for infotainment features that operate with a central controller or touchpad (both on the center console) and Bluetooth connectivity.

The AMG, flat-bottom performance steering wheel is included in the base price, but other AMG-inspired touches like performance exhaust, carbon fiber rear spoiler, and illuminated door sills plus packages that include navigation and safety features like lane-keeping assist, active blind spot detection,, etc. are options.

Thus the total for my test drive model came to $78,105.

What I liked about the 2019 AMG C43 Cabriolet: In a word, everything. The AMG version of Mercedes-Benz’ so-called “entry level” convertible offers the highest level in performance and comfort features for a superb motoring experiences for both driver and passenger. The interior oozes luxury touches. You don’t have to be at a standstill to lower or raise the soft top.

What I didn’t like about the 2019 AMG C43 Cabriolet: The trunk is small, though I was able to slide in two beach chairs and an umbrella and still ride with the top down. The COMAND system to operate infotainment features can be very distracting. Much of the really good stuff is only available as options that can add nearly $15,000 to the starting MSRP. The backseat is practically useless.

Would I buy the 2019 AMG C43 Cabriolet? If cost was not an issue, sure. But if it was, I would find nearly just as much happiness in the basic C300 Cabriolet.


Tuesday, August 6, 2019


HYUNDAI PACKS A LOT OF FEATURES IN ITS 2019 KONA SUBCOMPACT CROSSOVER SUV

Still a relative newcomer in the subcompact SUV segment, Hyundai’s Kona crossover quickly has established itself as one of the best in its class.

Last January the Hyundai Kona and its electric version Kona EV a panel of 54 judges at the 2019 North American International Auto Show in Detroit selected the Kona over the Jaguar I-Pace and Acura RDX as the North American Utility Vehicle of the Year, arguably the most prestigious award in the industry.

Other awards from media organizations and publications have followed with the most recent recognition from the New England Motor Press Association as “Best-in-Class Subcompact SUV.” Edmunds also named the Kona EV its “Editors’ Choice” among all electric vehicles because of its long range, affordable price, and pleasing driving experience.


And Kona — an Hawaiian name for a strong southwesterly wind that often brings rain — has moved into the No. 5 spot among the South Korean automaker’s best sellers with 43,466 Konas sold in the first seven months this year.

Introduced as a 2018 model at the Los Angeles Auto Show in the fall of 2017, the Kona now comes with safety upgrades like forward collision-avoidance assist, lane-keeping assist, and driver attention warning as standard for 2019. Collision-avoidance wasn’t available on 2018 models, and lane-keeping and driver attention were not available on the base model.


Hyundai recently that adaptable cruise control, labeled “Smart” Cruise Control, will be available on top-of-the-line Ultimate trim 2020 Kona models. 

Ultimate is one of four Kona trims along with SE, SEL, and Limited. Base pricing runs from $21,085 (including destination and delivery) to $33,045 for the special “Iron Man edition” depending on the engine (a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder or a 1.6-liter, turbo-4) and transmission (6-speed automatic or 7-speed dual-clutch).

This review is based on the Ultimate trim equipped with the 1.6-turbo engine and 7-speed dual-clutch transmission. It delivers horsepower and torque numbers of  175 hp and 195 pound-feet, respectively, for a brisk ride while still demonstrating fuel economy with numbers of 28 miles-per-gallon city, 32 highway, and 30 combined.


The Kona Electric is rated at 201 hp with mileage ratings of 132 MPGe city and 108 MPGe highway with an impressive range of 258 miles, more than double that of the electric version of its Ioniq cousin (124 miles).

My test vehicle Kona Ultimate came with front-wheel drive, though all-wheel drive is available, which impinges slightly on on fuel economy numbers.

The Ultimate version of the Kona lives up to its name with a long list of standard features that make adding options unnecessary.


In addition to the safety features already mentioned (pay attention!) are blind-spot and rear cross-traffic warning, rear parking distance warning, and front, front side and side-curtain airbags and rollover sensors.

Also included in the Ultimate’s $27,500 MSRP are an 8-inch color touchscreen with navigation and rear-view monitor, leather seating surfaces, power sunroof, proximity key with push-button start, tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel, heads-up display,wireless device charging, rain-sensing wipers, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, Bluetooth connectivity, Infinity premium sound system, and Hyundai’s Blue Link services (think OnStar). It rides on standard 18-inch wheels.

Along with the destination charge, the only extra in pricing was $125 in floor mats that ran the total to $28,605.


For that you get a very capable crossover SUV that is fun to drive, comfortable to ride in, and practical as well. Plus one it doesn’t have the funky styling of some past Hyundai SUVs yet remains distinctive as well.

What I liked about the 2019 Hyundai Kona Ultimate: The “pulse red” color is spectacular. There are lots of standard features for a vehicle that checks in at under $29,000. Technological features are very user friendly. The lively performance was an unexpected bonus, yet its fuel efficiency rates among the leaders among its non-hybrid, non-electric competitors in the subcompact SUV segment.

What I didn’t like about the 2019 Hyundai Kona Ultimate: The rear storage space isn’t the most generous, even for its class. At 19.2 cubic feet, it should be adequate for most tasks, however. It expands to 45.8 cubic feet with the rear seats folded. Legroom in the back is only 34.9 inches, but you have to remember this is a subcompact that is only 164 inches long with a wheelbase of 102.4 inches.

Would I buy the 2019 Hyundai Kona Ultimate? Yes. It’s a nice fit between a sedan and a larger SUV.


Saturday, July 27, 2019

AND ANOTHER BITES THE DUST; VW ENDING PRODUCTION FOR ITS STATION WAGONS


Station wagons long ago ceded the role of the favorite family transportation mode to minivans and SUVs, and now two more are being relegated to the scrap heap.

Volkswagen recently announced that it was ending production of its popular Golf Sportwagen and Alltrack wagons with the 2019 model year.


It will continue to make the Alltrack at its Pueblo, Mexico, plant through December, but that will be it for the German manufacturer’s last wagons, ending for the segment that dates back to pre-moon landing days.

In a news release, the company said that the rising popularity of SUVs, which accounted for 47 percent of all vehicle sales in the U.S. in the first six months of 2019, and the strong performances for its Atlas and Tiguan SUVs were behind the move. Those two models accounted for more than half of VW’s sales for the first half of the year.

“SUVs have definitely assumed the mantle of family haulers from the station wagons and minivans we remember from our childhoods,” Scott Keogh President and CEO, Volkswagen of America, said in the release.


VW plans to release three new SUV models in the next two years, including one electric model, the CROZZ.

Certainly the declining sales of the Golf models (down 36 percent for the first six months this year) can’t be blamed on anything the company did wrong with them. They’re both good vehicles offering good hauling capability in a fuel-efficient package.

The Golf SportWagen 1.4T SE I recently had the pleasure of driving for a week offered better fuel mileage (combined 31 miles-per-gallon) with its 1.4-liter turbo 4-cylinder engine than my older Passat wagon (2.0T) usually gets on the highway. And it runs on regular 87 octane as opposed to the premium recommended for my 2007.

Front-wheel drive is standard, but a 4-wheel drive version is available with the SportWagen 4Motion model. Also standard is a 6-speed manual transmission, but an 8-speed automatic on my test vehicle came with no extra charge (as did the beige Leatherette interior and night blue exterior).


The 1.4T engine standard in the S and SE trims is rated at modest 147 horsepower at 5000 rpm but a more robust 184 pound-feet of torque at 1400, which helps when it comes to throttle response.

The 1.8-liter turbo-4 in 4Motion and Alltrack models are a bit on the peppier side with their 168 hp and 199 lb.-ft. of torque.

Standard equipment in the SportsWagen SE includes a stop-start system, safety equipment like Intelligent Crash Response System and rear-view camera, 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic LED headlamps and LED daytime running lights, Halogen fog lights, black roof rails, rain-sensing wipers, leather-wrapped steering wheels with paddles for manual gear selection, carpeted floor mats front and rear, a carpeted floor in the cargo hold with an adjustable floor and removable cover, a panoramic sunroof, and technology that includes blind-spot monitor, lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, keyless access with push-button start, and Bluetooth connectivity.


All that and more is included in the MSRP of $30,890 (including destination and delivery). S models start at $22,790 (manual) and $23,880 (automatic).

With the Golf SportWagen and Alltrack ending production, VW dealers won’t have a new wagon to offer next year for the first time since its 1966 1600 Squareback Sedan, which had cargo space under the hood and above the engine in the rear. It was around for seven years.

Other wagon models from the company over the years have been the Type 412 Wagon (1971-74), VW Dasher 1974-81), VW Quantum (1981-1988), VW Fox (1989-91), Passat Wagon (1990-2010) and Jetta. The Jetta enjoyed two stints, 2001-2005 and 2008-2014.

The SportWagen’s run started in 2015, and the Alltrack debuted as a 2017 model.

What I liked about the 2019 VW Golf SportWagen 1.4T SE: It’s an attractive wagon, both inside and out, and its compact size is more agile than you might expect. At 178.9 inches long, it still provides cargo volume of 30.4 cubic feet behind the second-row seats and 66.5 cubic feet when those seats are folded. Infotainment features are user friendly — a rarity among German models.

What I didn’t like about the 2019 VW Golf SportWagen 1.4T SE: The space devoted to cargo comes comes at a cost for second-row passengers, who get only 35.6 inches of legroom, which isn’t cramped but not exactly generous either.

Would I buy the 2019 VW Golf SportWagen 1.4T SE? Yes. On a personal note, we have enjoyed our VW Passat wagon, which went out of production several years ago, and this or the VW Alltrack looked to be the best successors.


Monday, July 22, 2019

CHRYSLER PACIFICA REMAINS ONLY MINIVAN WITH HYBRID DRIVETRAIN FOR 2019


Though there were other stabs at it in the past, including one as far back as 1935, Chrysler generally is credited with creating the family minivan that we know today when it introduced the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager in 1984.


Thus it is fitting that Chrysler is the first — and so far only — manufacturer to offer a gas-electric hybrid minivan on the market with the Pacifica Hybrid.

The 2019 model actually marks the third year for the plug-in model that can go up  to 30 miles on a full electric charge and offer a combined range of 530 miles under V6 power.


Frankly, the surprising thing about this is that nobody has come out with such a vehicle before. A minivan that offers mileage figures of 82 MPGe and 30 mpg combined electric-gasoline while still delivering decent acceleration with its 287 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque would seem to be a win-win situation with growing families.



No doubt, others will soon catch up.

With the exception of the powertrain and the lack of  Stow N’ Go seating, the Pacifica Hybrid and the Pacific share mostly the same characteristics. The Pacifica Hybrid sacrifices the storage space under the second row seats to house the battery pack, and that is about it.



Getting in an out of the Pacifica Hybrid is a snap (no need for a running board), it rides comfortably, and it offers good storage space. Cargo volume behind the third row (which, by the way, with its 36.5 inches of legroom is not as cramped as some critics have said), is a generous 32.3 cubic feet. It’s 87.5 cubic feet behind the second-row after folding the third-row seats with the push of a button.

It comes in three trims.

The Touring Plus carries a base MSRP of $41,490, the Touring L is listed at $43,690, and the top-of-the-line Limited carries a tab of $47,040, which is a big step up from the gasoline-powered Pacific that starts at under $30,000.



This review is based on the 2019 Pacifica Hybrid Limited. Adding in optional equipment ran the total price tag to $50,800.

Say this: Even before adding in extras, the Pacific Hybrid is well-equipped.

Standard features on the Limited include Chrysler’s UConnect 4C infotainment system with navigation and an 8.4-inch screen, Bluetooth hands-free communication, 1-year of SiriusXM radio with Traffic Plus, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, 4G LTE Wi-Fi hot spot, heated steering wheel, heated and ventilated front seats, remote start, blind-spot and cross-traffic alert, rear-park assist, and remote start.



A new S Assistance Package ($595) that adds among other things Nappa leather bucket seats and special black trim and an Advanced Safety Tec Group ($995) that includes Full-Speed Collision Warning-Plus, a 360-surround view camera system, lane-departure warning and other advanced safety features are well-worth the extra cost.

A tri-panel, panoramic sunroof, which I personally can do without, is an extra $1,795.


All told the total MSRP for my test vehicle was $50,800. (If you do the math, you’ll see eliminating the sunroof will keep you under $50,000.

That doesn’t take into account any of the tax credits you may get from the federal or state government, which can make the Pacific Hybrid a bit more competitive price-wise. As it is, it is pretty much at the top of the segment.

What I liked about the 2019 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid Limited: Throttle response is quite robust for a minivan, and fuel efficiency is at the top of its class. Rear doors open on both sides, which may not be new to the segment but are still appreciated. They also power open with either a punch on the appropriate spot on the key fob or a gentle tug on the door handle. They close the same way. Tech features are very user-friendly.

What I didn’t like about the 2019 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid Limited: I don’t get the allure of plugin hybrids. Yes, you can get some miles on electric power only, but unless you have a special charging outlet, getting the battery up to full charge is a drawn-out process. That said, the hybrid operation still makes sense here.

Would I buy the 2019 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid Limited? Yes. It’s an ideal vehicle for family transportation, especially families with three or more children. Unfortunately, it’s about 35 years too late for me!



Tuesday, July 16, 2019

SPORT MODEL GIVES UPDATED 2019 HYUNDAI ELANTRA SEDAN BOOST IN PERFORMANCE


Launched nearly two decades ago with Mitsubishi power, Hyundai Elantra has overcome a shaky past that earned it a reputation for unreliability and sloppy workmanship to become a viable competitor in the compact market.

Hyundai reports sales for the Elantra at over 3 million since its introduction in the U.S.  in 1991. Though the 84,971 reported sold through June of this year represent a decline from the nearly 100,000 sold through the first six months of 2018, they clearly hold a lead over the South Koreans’ No. 2 seller, the Santa Fe SUV (67,571) and nearly double that for the company’s second-most popular sedan, the Sonata, with just over 47,000 sold.

With six trim levels that include three different engines and a variety of technological features not often found as standard in the segment, the Elantra certainly does have a lot to offer at a price in the high-teens to $20,000 range.


You won’t get full-blown luxury, of course, but the updates Hyundai gave the 2019 model several tweaks in the mid-cycle refreshing. There’s a new center cluster and instrument housing and the company’s “next generation” AVN 5.0 infotainment system that features an 8-inch screen in place of the previous 7-inch display.

Infinity Premium Audio, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and wireless smartphone charging as well as navigation with a high-resolution screen are available as optional on a couple of higher-end trims.


Most of the changes for 2019 were done to the exterior. They include a new hood, front front fascia, grille, and headlight treatments; new trunk, taillights, and rear fascia; new 16- and 17-inch wheel designs with new 15-inch alloy wheels on Eco trim; and LED headlights for Limited and Sport trims.

This review is based on the Sport trim, which, as its name might suggest, offers a more satisfying driving experience, especially when equipped with a 6-speed manual transmission as my test car for the week was.

The Sport is the only one of the group that gets the 1.6-liter, turbo-4 as standard. It generates 201 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 195 pound-feet of torque from 1500 to 4500 rpm, not sports-car like but plenty of fun.

It enjoys a big advantage of SE, SEL, Value Edition, and Limited models that are powered a 2.0 4-banger (147 hp/132 lb.-ft.) and the Eco with its turbo-4 (128 hp but 156 lb.-ft.).

Again, by virtue of its name, the Eco model with its smaller engine and 7-speed double-clutch transmission achieves the best fuel mileage with a rating of 35 miles-per-gallon combined. The Sport is down about 10 mpg from that with ratings of 22 mpg city/30 combined.


But, hey. It’s worth it with the pickup in performance.

The Sport trim gets good treatment when it comes to standard equipment. In addition to the features already mentioned, among items included in the $23,520 MSRP (including $925 destination and delivery) are safety features like forward collision alert, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic collision warning, the usual assortment of air bags (including front side and side curtain), 16-inch alloy wheels, 7-inch audio display, Android auto and Apple CarPlay, Bluetooth hands-free phone, power sunroof, Sport instrument gauge cluster, flat-bottom leather-wrapped Sport steering wheel, rearview camera with dynamic guidelines, and push-button start.


That’s a pretty impressive list and, unless you want navigation (Don’t you have a Smart Phone?), is pretty much everything you would want.

You also may find a dealer willing to negotiate with you what with 2020 Elantras having arrived in many showrooms in the spring. The 2020 Elantra Sports cost a little over $1,000 more than the the 2019, and there is sad news for manual lovers.

The manual transmission in the Sport manual has been discontinued for 2020 (and base SE as well), replaced by what Hyundai calls a new “Intelligent Variable Transmission (IVT),” essentially a CVT that simulates the familiar gear shifts most people are comfortable with.

Such is progress. I guess.

What I liked about the 2019 Hyundai Elantra Sport: Technology is plentiful and user friendly. The manual transmission adds an element of fun to the driving experience. You can raise the performance level to your liking with an manual that you lack in an automatic, even one with paddle shifters.

What I didn’t like about the 2019 Hyundai Elantra Sport: The interior isn’t what I would call “cramped,” but it’s not the roomiest in its class either, especially the backseat. A bit more larger trunk (capacity 14.4 cubic feet) would be nice, but one must remember this is a compact!

Would I buy the 2019 Hyundai Elantra Sport? Yes. It’s competing in a tough class, especially against Honda Civic, but outshines the Toyota Corolla in performance and agility in Sport trim.




Saturday, July 6, 2019

BMW’S 3 SERIES REMAINS AMONG THE BEST IN ITS CLASS AS IT MOVES INTO 7TH GENERATION


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


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

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



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

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


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

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



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

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



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



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

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


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

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