Tuesday, October 20, 2020




Since its inception just over three decades ago, the Mazda MX-5 Miata not only has been the go-to choice for car shoppers looking for an affordable, modern-day version of the classic 1950s-’60s British roadster, for a good part of that time it pretty much has been the only option.

But not so much any more.

Fiat broadened the field by bringing back its 124 Spider as a 2017 model, ending the Miata’s monopoly in the niche segment.

The 124 Spider shares many characteristics with the Miata, not surprising since the Japanese automaker builds both side-by-side in its plant in Hiroshima. They get different engines and transmissions, however, and Italian designers give the latest Spider styling cues based on the original Spiders that lived from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s

Unfortunately, the new Spider also has the same fussy infotainment system that demand you pay attention to what screen mode you have selected on the center screen before you begin spinning the dial to make your selection.

Also, while the Mazda engine is naturally aspirated, the 124 Spider gets a turbocharged 1.4-liter, 4-cylinder engine that is tuned for 160 horsepower in Classico and Lusso trims and 164 in the top-of-the-line Abarth and a generous 184 pound-feet of torque in all three trims.

That power gets to the rear wheels via either a standard 6-speed manual transmission or an optional 6-speed automatic with paddle shifters for manual gear selection, to which we say, it’s a sports car. Go with the manual.

My test vehicle was the stick-shift Lusso trim that adds some extra features to the Classico’s standard equipment like heated leather seats and a 7-inch display screen for upgraded infotainment functions. My test car also had navigation that is included in an optional Navigation and Sound Group package that adds $1,200 to the starting MSRP of $28,145.

Other standard features in the Lusso trim include voice command capability, Bluetooth communications, leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, automatic dual-zone climate control, manual adjustable seats (6-way driver, 4-way passenger), and a small rear console lockable storage compartment.

As with all trims, keyless entry and push-button start also are standard on the Lusso.

LED tail lamps are standard, but LED headlights are optional and available in a Visibility Group package that adds $995 to the bottom line. The Visibility package also includes LED daytime running lights.

Advanced safety features like blind-spot and cross-path detection, rear-parking assist, and automatic dimming for mirrors are available as options. Standard safety systems include the usual collection of airbags and seatbelts as well as a backup camera and electronic stability control.

The convertible top is manually operated, but that is part of its charm. It is secured with one latch at the top of the windshield frame, and you can open it by giving the latch a turn and flipping the soft top back over you head. The top clicks into place for a secure fastening and tugging another latch between the seats releases it for you to reverse the operation.

Pricing for the 124 Spider starts at $25,390 for the base Classico, and the Abarth starts at $29,390.

My test Lusso had a bottom line of $33,495 when the extras and the $1,495 destination and delivery charge were all added in, but here is something to consider.

If those numbers are just out of your price range, you might look for a 2019 model because Fiat says the only thing new for 2020 was a “Scorpion Sting” side-stripe and hood decal package available on Abarth models.

In fact, about the only change from the debut 2017 model is that a 7-inch display monitor and rearview camera were made standard for 2019.

What I liked about the 2020 Fiat 124 Spyder Lusso: I loved being able simply to unlatch the top and flip it back over my head in a kind of devil-may-care gesture. And you don’t have to get out of your seat to put it back in place either. It’s a fun car to drive with good road manners whether in town or on expressways. Fuel economy (26 miles-per-gallon city, 35 highway, 30 combined with the manual) is good as well.

What I didn’t like about the 2020 Fiat 124 Spyder Lusso:
The trunk not only is small, which could be expected of its class, but it has an odd kind of shape as well with no flat floor to lay things on. Operation of infotainment functions requires some extra steps.

Would I buy the 2020 Fiat 124 Spyder Lusso? As a “second” family car, definitely yes. Or, if I were looking at a car that might appeal to a son or daughter, yes. 

Monday, October 12, 2020




Introduced a little over a year ago, the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLB250 is one of the more practical and stylish SUVs in the luxury class.

It is functional, comfortable, a joy to drive, and offers all the technology expected in today’s top-end vehicles, though you do need to add optional packages to get features like blind-spot assist, larger displays, hands-free liftgate, keyless entry, and adaptive cruise control.

While the interiors of some top-end Mercedes vehicles can be rather intimidating, there’s a “homey” feeling about the GLB250, which makes it ideal for first-time luxury buyers.

The GLB sits between the entry-level GLA and midsize GLC SUV and comes in just two trim levels for 2020, the front-wheel-drive GLB250 and the GLB 4MATIC that features the Mercedes’ 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system. At 111.4 inches, the wheelbase for the GLB is 5.1 inches longer than that for the GLA and only 1.4 inches shorter than the GLC.

The 182.4-inch GLB is less than an inch shorter than the GLC SUV and offers the option of a third-row for seven-passenger seating, unlike the shorter GLA that checks in with a length of 173.9 inches. Cargo space for the GLB is a generous 20.1cubic feet behind the second row and 62 cubic feet behind the front seats with the second row folded.

This review is based on the front-wheel-drive GLB250.

Whether FWD or AWD, the GLB250 gets a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that provides enough punch for creditable performance and can be shifted from Eco-Comfort to Sport mode for a bit more lively driving experience. Mercedes reports the zero-to-60 clocking as 6.9 seconds.

With 221 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, the engine is mated to an 8-speed double-clutch automatic transmission and delivers very good EPA ratings for its class of 23 miles-per-gallon city, 30 highway, and 26 combined using premium fuel.

Again, if you want more power, the 2021 AMG GLB35 ups the horsepower and torque numbers to 302 ad 295, respectively, and shaves the zero-to-60 time down to 5.1 seconds. 

The GLB250’s cabin is impeccable with comfortable seats done in simulated leather and adjustable 12 ways with lumbar support. Dual-zone climate control is standard, and standard technology features include Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The standard 7.7-inch display screen can be expanded to 10.25 inches when the Premium Package is included.

The ride is smooth and quiet as the GLB250 glides down the expressway.  It’s not a particularly sporty ride, but I don’t think you’re going to have many complaints.

The GLB250 FWD starts at $37,495 with the $995 destination charge included with AWD models adding another $2,000. A downside is that a lot of the features that really add to its appeal run that bottom line up considerably.

My well-equipped test GLB250 had a bottom line of $45,010.

What I liked about the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLB250: It’s not overly fun to drive, but it is very comfortable to drive, which isn’t always the case with the more powerful Mercedes-Benz products that demand your full attention. An AMG trimmed-out version is added for 2021 and that ups the performance. The paint scheme is beautiful.

What I didn’t like about the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLB250
: The operation of the infotainment system is extremely frustrating. Touchpads work well on laptop computers (though I was wary of them at first), but not so much on cars. They are too sensitive and require too much attention to perform the simplest of functions. Options — and you’re going to want the safety features offered in the Premium and Driver Assistance packages — quickly get the cost up from the mid-$30,000 range to mid-$40,000. You can add more and get to the mid-$50,000 if that suits you, too!

Would I buy the the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLB250? Definitely. It is the right size — spacious and with a nice cargo area— but not too big to be a problem maneuvering in mall parking lots or squiring through city streets. A third-row is available for those with growing families or big car-pooling tasks. Nice looking, too!

Sunday, October 4, 2020


It didn’t take long for the 2020 Jeep Gladiator pickup truck to make an impression.

First shown at the Los Angeles Auto Show in late fall of 2018 and launched the following spring of 2019 as Jeep’s first truck since 1992, the Gladiator earned 2020 North American Truck of the Year honors at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

But that’s not what my neighbor called it when it showed up in my driveway recently.

To him the truck done up in “punk’n Orange” that showed up in my driveway was the “Great Pumpkin,” which, considering the rapid approach of Halloween, might be considered appropriate.

He did not intend this as a compliment, however. But he never had the opportunity to get behind its wheel either!

The Gladiator is offered in five trim levels starting with the base Sport and continuing with the Sport S, Overland, Mojave, and Rubicon, all featuring a 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 engine and 6-speed manual transmission as standard with an 8-speed automatic available as an option. A 2-speed transfer case is standard in all Gladiators.

Altitude and High Altitude packages are available to add premium amenities to further expand the lineup. 

The engine is rated at 285 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque and drinks regular fuel at the rate of 17 miles per gallon city, 22 highway, and 19 combined.

This review is based on the Mojave trim that began arriving in showrooms last spring and earns the company’s first “Desert Rated” badging. It is tailored for high-speed off-roading with special shocks and bumpers and other refinements to handle sandy environments. The “Trail Rated” Rubicon is aimed to handle more traditional off-roading challenges with its own specific 2-speed transfer case.
The Gladiator looks like a Wrangler with a pickup truck bed at the rear instead of a smaller, enclosed stowage area, and they do share some common characteristics. They have a removable top and doors for an open air driving/riding experience, and the buttons to raise and lower the windows are under the controls for the A/C and audio in the middle of the center stack.

But there are differences as well, such as in engine choices (the Wrangler is offered with a V6 or turbo-4 gas engine and also diesel; the Gladiator gets only the the V6, though a diesel model will be included in the 2021 fleet), towing capacity (7,650 pounds for the Gladiator, up to 3,500 for the Wrangler), and, obviously, size.

Unlike most pickup trucks that can be had with various size beds for hauling, the Gladiator comes with a standard 60.3-inch box, which gives it a length of 218 inches. The 4-door Wrangler is 188.4 inches long

Though functional and accommodating to the kind of abuse it likely would get from off-roading adventures with removable drain plugs and carpeting to hose out the cabin, the Gladiator’s interior also is a bit more refined that the Wrangler’s Spartan cabin.

That isn’t to say it’s the fanciest pickup on the market today, but the Gladiator’s cabin just has a more upscale ambiance. A dual zone climate control system with dual zone cabin air filter is standard on the three upper trims (Overland, Mojave, Rubicon), LED interior lighting is standard, and premium cloth seats are standard on Mojave and Rubion models with leather optional.

Remote keyless entry is also standard on the upper three trims, and all trims get push-button start. And eight-speaker sound system is standard and an upgrade to a premium system with nine Alpine speakers is optional. Handsfree Bluetooth communications is standard on all tri

The other key difference between the Gladiator and Wrangler is the matter of price. MSRP for the Gladiator starts at $33,545 to $28,295 for the Wrangler, though the top end is very similar ($43,875 for the Gladiator, $42,195 for the Wrangler.

My test Gladiator came with a lot of extras, however, that widened that margin considerably with a final bottom line of $61,505, including $1,495 for the destination charge.

What I liked about the 2020 Jeep Gladiator Mojave:
I rarely get the opportunity for any serious off-road trekking, but I do like to know I have the ability to do it if I want, and you can’t get any more serious than a Jeep. I like that you can remove the top (though with having it for just a week I didn’t) for an open-air driving experience.

What I didn’t like about the Jeep Gladiator Mojave: You have to pay close attention when driving on expressways to keep it in line. The starting MSRP seems reasonable by today’s standards when $40,000 is the new $30,000, but with a final bottom line topping the $60,000 mark, my test Mojave is in luxury territory price-wise. Of course, maybe you can live without 8-speed automatic transmission with Selec-Speed control and transmission skid plate ($2,000) or the infotainment package that includes premium audio and navigation ($1,695) or the premium LED lighting group ($1,045) or the heavy duty rock slider ($1,050). But I would advise you at least go with the active safety group ($995) that includes rear park assist and blind spot warning as well as the features like adaptive cruise control and full-speed forward collision warning ($795).

Would I guy the 2020 Jeep Gladiator Mojave? There’s not a whole lot of opportunity for desert tracking in South Florida, so I would say “no” to the Mojave but would look at other trims. There is really no other truck quite like this one. Even the metallic punk’n orange color, which I find off-putting on many vehicles, works here (despite what my neighbor had to say about it).

Saturday, September 26, 2020



“Trickle down” is not just an economic theory that either works or doesn’t work mostly depending on your political views, but there is no doubt that “trickle down” when referred to in the automotive world works.

Today safety and driver assistant features that once were exclusive to high-end luxury cars often are showing up on much less expensive vehicles, and not just as options.

Consider the new compact crossover SUV Buick Encore GX.

With an MSRP that just brushes the $30,000 mark it its top end, the Buick Encore GX might be expected to skimp on safety and driver assistant features. But it doesn’t.

New standard safety and driver assistance features on the debut 2020 model include forward collision alert, automatic emergency braking, front pedestrian braking, lane-keeping assist with lane departure warning, following distance dndicator, and IntelliBeam headlamps with automatically-adjusting high/low beams.

Other niceties like rear park assist,  rear cross traffic alert,  lane change alert with blind zone alert, rear camera mirror (which provides a wide, less obstructed rear view while parking and driving), hands-free power liftgate, adaptive cruise control, head-up display, automatic parking assist with braking, and high definition surround vision camera system are available.

Though the Encore GX nameplate might suggest it is just a new trim from the Encore that was introduced for the 2013 model year, the Encore GX actually is a new model, a bit bigger (171.4 inches long to 168.35) with nearly 5 more cubic feet of cargo space behind the second row than its Encore sibling.

The Encore GX slots between the smaller Encore and slightly larger Envision and Enclave SUVs and comes in three trim levels — Preferred, Select, and Essence, a front-wheel-drive version of the latter serving as my test vehicle for the week.

The Encore GX is slightly more expensive than the Encore with a starting price just under $26,000. The Encore GX Essence FWD carries a starting price of $29,495 including the $995 destination and delivery charge.

In addition to the safety systems listed earlier, you get standard features that include keyless open and push-button start, Buick’s infotainment system with an 8-inch screen, Bluetooth communications, OnStar services, 10-way power adjustable driver’s seat with lumbar support and 8-way power adjustable front passenger seat with lumbar, perforated leather seats, a two-level cargo area, leather-wrapped steering wheel, capless fuel fill, 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels, LED headlamps and taillights, LED fog lights, and signature LED daytime running lights.

An Advance Technology Package (surround vision, head-up display, adaptive cruise control, and navigation), Convenience Package (automatic parking assist with braking, wireless charging, rear camera with washer, and rain-sensing windshield wipers) and other options ran the final bottom line to $34,065, which frankly is in the higher ranges of the segment.

My test vehicle came with a turbocharged, 1.3-liter 3-cylinder engine with a CVT (continuously variable transmission). The engine puts out 155 horsepower and 174 pound-feet of torque with fuel mileage of 30 miles-per-gallon city, 32 highway, and 31 combined.

The base engine is a 1.2-liter turbo rated at 137/162, respectively. A 9-speed automatic transmission is available on AWD models with the 1.3L engine. AWD models also include the capability to switch to FWD for slightly better fuel economy if conditions allow.

Neither engine is going to wow you with its power and pickup, though driving around town it seemed peppier than the numbers might suggest.

The addition of the Encore GX to Buick’s crossover/SUV lineup (while keeping the original Encore) is further reflection of consumers’ current tastes. The company reports that its crossovers/SUVs account for nearly 90 percent of their current sales. 

What I liked about the 2020 Buick Encore GX Essence:
Infotainment features are plentiful and easy to operate, though to get the really good stuff you have to add optional packages even on the top-of-the-line Essence trim, and that can run the final price up. It’s an attractive SUV with a nice interior. GM has come up with a way to display the head-up display that projects speed in line of the driver’s sight even while wearing polarized sunglasses!

What I didn’t like about the 2020 Buick Encore GX Essence: Pricing is on the high side in the segment and adding packages for navigation and a surround-vision camera takes the bottom line even further up. The view out the back is somewhat restricted, and front seats are snug. It’s not the liveliest compact crossover to drive, but it’s not all that bad.

Would I buy the 2020 Buick Encore GX Essence? I don’t like vehicles with CVTs because they don’t offer much in the way of driving fun, which rules out FWD Encore GX models for me, but I would look at AWD Encore GX models where the 9-speed automatic is available. Overall, it’s a nice-looking, functional crossover SUV. Definitely not an “old” Buick.

Monday, September 21, 2020



Having undergone a name change in 2014 and a redesign for 2019, Infiniti’s QX50 gets two new trim levels for 2020 with Sensory and Autograph models adding to the top of the lineup and giving buyers five looks to choose from, all offering a choice of either front-wheel or available all-wheel drive.

Introduced as the EX35 for the 2007 model year, Infiniti’s compact luxury crossover SUV got its QX50 nameplate when the company began labeling its vehicles with a Q designation for its coupes and sedans and QX badging for its crossovers and SUVs in 2014.

All trims for the QX50 essentially offer many features common to the luxury segment starting with the Pure base model with keyless entry and push-button start, hands-free liftgate, upgraded seating surfaces, power adjustable front seats, and Bluetooth communications and continuing from there up the line with Luxe, Essential, and the new Sensory and Autograph trims adding more standard features.

A new-generation Infiniti InTouch infotainment system includes a WiFi hotspot for up to seven devices, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and a dual touchscreen operation that allows you to make adjustments for the radio, for example, without leaving the larger navigation screen.

That system is standard in all trims, but a lot of the more exotic stuff, however, is available as either standard or options only on the upper trims.

The QX50 Autograph edition that served as my test vehicle for the week also includes Infiniti's ProPilot Assist, a driver-oriented safety feature combining Lane Keep Assist and adaptive cruise control.

Other standard safety features include Forward Collision Warning and Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Detection, an Around-View Monitor with Motion Detection, Blind Spot Intervention, Rear Automatic Breaking and Rear Cross Traffic Alert, and a suite of airbags that roof-mounted side airbags.

A turbocharged inline 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine mated to a CVT is standard in all QX50 models (Pure, Luxe, Essential and the new Sensory and Autograph trims). It provides 260 horsepower and 290 pound-feet of torque for a spirited, though not overwhelming performance. In Sport mode, it can be quite jumpy. Paddle shifters add simulated “shift” points to the CVT operation.

Fuel mileage (22 miles-per-gallon city, 28 highway, and 25 combined for the AWD version) is similar to its competitors in the small luxury SUV segment.

The strength of the QX50 Autograph lies in a cabin that features high-quality materials such as natural wood accents and many soft-touch surfaces. Seats are supportive and comfortable, and the Autograph comes with a 16-speaker Bose Premium Sound System to please the ear.

Legroom and headroom are up to 39.6 and 40 inches, respectively, in the front and 38.7 and 38.4 in the back. Cargo space, too, is plentiful and can expanded to 64.4 cubic feet with the back-row seats folded.

Other standard features on the Autograph include the Infiniti Intouch infotainment system with navigation, a motion-activated rear liftgate, a head-up display, a panoramic moonroof, Ultrasuede headliner, climate-controlled front seats, rear-passenger window shades, and LED headlight, daytime running, and fog lights.

Though the QX50 Pure base model has a starting MSRP under $40,000, the Autograph model tops the pricing with an opening price of $55,850. Extras, starting with a $2,000 Premium White Leather Package, ran the final bottom line of my test QX50 to $60,070 including the $1,025 destination and delivery cost.

What I liked about the 2020 Infiniti QX50:
The cabin oozes class especially when equipped with the Premium White Leather package that features white leather-appointed seating with quilted stitching, blue Ultrasuede accents, and brown Ultrasuede headliner. While some reviewers have criticized the double-screen center stack, I like it. You can make audio adjustments on the lower smaller screen without disturbing the larger navigation monitor. Not sure why critics found it confusing, but some apparently did. Cargo space is a generous 31.1 cubic feet behind the second row.

What I didn’t like about the 2020 Infiniti QX50: I can do without the CVT. An 8- or 10-speed automatic would better take advantage of the engine power and enhance performance, but a continuously variable transmission is a big part of the Nissan-Infiniti DNA. 

Would I buy the 2020 Infiniti QX50? Yes. The QX50 offers something different from the usual suspects in the compact luxury segment.

Monday, September 14, 2020




With a major refreshing due for 2021, the Chrysler Pacific doesn’t get much in the way of major changes for 2020, but that doesn’t mean you should not dismiss this year’s version of the company’s familiar minivan out of hand.

Since introducing the Pacifica as a replacement for the company’s Caravan in 2017, Chrysler has continued to issue updates that has kept the Pacifica at the forefront of the segment, second only in popularity and sales to the Honda Odyssey.

It also has the advantage of having the first gas-electric hybrid drivetrain in its class, something that was offered at the Pacifica’s debut as a minivan in 2017. (Previous Pacificas were classed as crossover SUVs until production was ceased after the 2008 model.)

The Odyssey also will have a hybrid version for 2021, but if you want to take advantage of potential clearance sales of 2020 vehicles the Pacifica is the only hybrid option.

As a plug-in hybrid, the Pacific operates in all-electric mode for a range of just over 30 miles and earns an MPGe rating of 82. That should handle daily school runs and trips to the nearby grocery and home improvement stores if you keep it charged nightly.

Using a typical household outlet usually requires an overnight charge to get a full charge, but the company says that using a 240-volt outlet cuts that down to two hours.

When the Pacifica Hybrid runs out of juice, a 3.6-liter V6 engine takes over in a seamless transition. Fuel economy for the V6 operation is an impressive 30 miles-per-gallon. Horsepower for the combined operation is 260, which provides if not a breathtaking at least a capable driving experience.

A CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) is standard.

The Pacifica Hybrid comes in three trim levels, all front-wheel drive, with the base Touring trim starting at just under $40,000. The Touring L starts at just over $42,000 and the Limited trim that served as my test vehicle carries a base MSRP of $45,845 not including the $1,495 destination and delivery charge.

That’s a $300 boost over the 2019 Pacifica Hybrid Limited I reviewed previously (July 22, 2019).

Overall, the standard equipment for the 2020 Pacifica Hybrid Limited is much the same as that for the 2019 model. The grille has been modified with a mesh pattern replacing the  2019’s crossbars, but most of the other changes for the Pacific Hybrid were reserved for Touring and Touring L trims.

Standard features for 2020 Pacifica Hybrid Limited models include the user-friendly UConnect 4 infotainment system (2021 models get the UConnect 5 system) with an 8.4-inch screen for navigation, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, heated steering wheel and heated front seats, ventilated front seats, 8-way power driver’s seat, second- and third-row side window shades, three-zone climate control, blind-spot and rear cross-traffic detection, and parking assist among many other niceties.

Options on my test vehicle started with a 20-speaker Harmon Kardon premium sound system and UConnect theater package that included a Blue-Ray DVD player for no charge, an S appearance package that added distinctive 18-inch wheels and a Napa leather bucket seats with an S logo, a tri-pane panoramic sunroof, and a package of safety features that included Lane-Keeping Assist plus.

The other options ran the bottom line to $51,025.

What I liked about the 2020 Chrysler Pacific Hybrid Limited: The ride is really nice and smooth — it doesn’t really handle like a typical minivan — and infotainment features are very easy to operate. Chrysler’s UConnect system is one of the best. It’s not a new feature, but I appreciate a door on the left side for backseat passengers. Power opening and closing for the side  doors and rear liftgate also is a nice touch. Stowage room behind the third row is 32.3 cubic feet, and the third-row seats fold flat to provide up to 87.5 cubic feet.

What I didn’t like about the 2020 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid Limited: If I’m going to have to plug in a vehicle, I would appreciate it going a longer range in electric mode.

Would I buy the 2020 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid Limited? Though I really don’t like to fool with any of the plugin vehicles, I would recommend it for anybody who isn't bothered with that. I have to give Chrysler credit for providing a long cord to hook it up. Not all of us have outlets near driveways so that is a plus.