Wednesday, December 21, 2016


With an out-of-town trip coming up, my last ride of the year was one of the newest cars on the market. I’d say there’s a kind of symmetry about that, a rarity in my usually disorganized life.

The car was the 2017 Jaguar XE sports sedan, which the company calls a “true driver’s car” in adding it to its lineup last spring. The company expects big things from it in a very competitive segment that long has been dominated by German manufacturers Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Audi. In other words, a tough market.

Early sales results put the XE right in the middle of the company lineup behind its new F-Pace SUV and its XF midsize sedan and ahead of the F-Type sports car and XJ full-size luxury sedan. But it still trails the Teutonic bunch. (All the numbers are available at if you’re interested.)

The new XE comes with a choice of three engines with a 2.0-liter, turbocharged 4-cylinder serving as the base. It is rated at 240 horsepower and 251 pound-feet of torque. If that is too meek for you, there’s also a 3.0-liter, supercharged V6 that increases those numbers to 340 and 332, respectively, trimming zero-to-60 mph time to 5.1 seconds from the 6.5 in the base.

I was provided the 20d trim, which is a diesel power-plant. The 2.0-liter turbocharged diesel provides lots of torque (318 lb.-ft.) and provides top-of-the-line fuel mileage of 32 miles-per-gallon city, 42 highway and 36 combined, according to EPA testers. The gasoline versions are 21/30/24 with rear-wheel drive and a mile per gallon less with all-wheel drive. (Frankly, I’m not sure how the government came up with the same numbers for the 2.0L and 3.0L engines, but the mysteries of how the feds work (?) is a topic above my grade.)

Each of the models (20d, 25t, and 35t) is available in XE, XE Premium, XE Prestige, and XE R-Sport trim levels that carry respective MSRPs running the gamut from $34,900 to $51,700.

The 20d Prestige model I had for the week was listed at $46,395 including the $995 destination and delivery charge. Included in that were some no-charge options — satellite radio, white metallic exterior finish, and a “Vision” package that included Xenon headlights with LED signature lighting, high beam assist,  front and rear parking aids, and blind spot monitor system.

The standard equipment included 10-way power adjustable front seats (4-way lumbar) with leather surfaces and driver memory settings, keyless entry with push-button start, moonroof, rearview camera, navigation, InControl infotainment system, and a premium sound system.

The 8-speed automatic transmission is operated via a dial that rises up from the center console when the engine is started and features a Sport mode as well as paddle shifters for manual gear selection. The JaguarDrive Control system offers the option of various settings to enhance performance with the dynamic setting providing sportier performance.

And yes, there is also a start-stop mode to reduce fuel consumption when idling, though you can turn it off by pushing the button on the console. But you have to do that each time you restart the engine.

All in all, the bold, distinctive exterior and the classy, eye-pleasing interior makes the 2017 Jaguar XE a must for anyone shopping in the segment, especially those who want to stand out from the crowd.

What I liked about the 2017 Jaguar XE: It has a distinctive look and character about it. Putting in destination information for the navigation system was easy enough, though some of the other functions are a bit more fussy to operate.

What I didn’t like about the 2017 Jaguar XE: The road noise seemed a bit excessive at typical expressway speeds. (But there was no wind noise at all.) The voice commands on the navigation system were a bit on the excessive side. Do you really need to be told that in 3.2 miles you should “continue straight” on the route you are on?

Would I buy the 2017 Jaguar XE?: Probably, but I would like to drive one of the gasoline versions. The diesel engine had kind of a low, bass sound that made it seem like it was laboring at times, which, with all that torque, certainly wasn’t the case. But it was the feel I got with it.

Sunday, December 18, 2016



After a full-scale redesign, the Mercedes-Benz E-Class sedan moves into its 10th generation with the 2017 model, offering a new engine, numerous technological features that include the ability to drive itself for short stints, and the kind of classy interior you typically expect from the German automaker.

Little wonder that U.S. News & World Report ranks it No. 1 among 17 offerings in its analysis of the midsize luxury segment.

I happened to drive the 2017 E300 sedan after a couple of week-long stints in Jaguar models and was pleasantly surprised by its agility and handling. No, it didn’t match the power of the Jaguar F-Type R or F-Type SVR when it came to driving performance, but it was a quite a bit livelier that one might expect for the class.

It is, after all, a sedan meant for hauling passengers and their stuff in relative comfort, but especially when set in Sport or Sport-Plus mode, the E300 delivers strong throttle responses even though the only engine offering for the E300 is a turbocharged 4-cylinder. It is mated with a nine-speed transmission and is rated at 241 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque.

Company clockers say the zero-to-60 mph time is 6.2 seconds in rear-wheel-drive configuration and a tick slower, 6.3, for the all-wheel-drive 4MATIC. Other engine options for the sedan and updates for E-Class coupes and convertibles, which are unchanged for 2017, will come later.

I mentioned Sport and Sport-Plus mode settings. There are two others, Eco and Comfort, plus a third, Individual, that allows you to pick and choose the way you want your E-Class to perform. You can set the transmission and steering, say, to Eco or Sport, while setting the suspension to Comfort for a smoother, less firm ride than either Sport or Sport-Plus provides that is usually expected by buyers in the segment.

The Individual setting also allows you to permanently turn off the automatic shutoff feature that kicks in when you come to a complete stop at an intersection or in stop-and-go traffic. If you don’t do that, you have to manually turn the function off by pressing a button each time you stop and restart the car. Frankly, I find the feature somewhat annoying, and turning if off -- when I can -- is something I do, dare I say, automatically.

Apparently, though, the automatic start/stop system does save fuel, up to 3-5 percent according to a New York Times piece that ran last spring. Though the same story quoted one driver as saying he estimated his savings at about a mile-per-gallon.  According to the federal government, mileage figures for the E300 turbo-4 are 22 miles-per-gallon city, 30 highway, and 25 combined using premium fuel, of course.

Among standard features on the E300 are navigation, 18-inch wheels, keyless entry with push-button start, a sunroof, LED headlights, dual-zone automatic climate control, synthetic leather upholstery, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, wood interior trim, and the company’s COMAND system for operation infotainment systems. Wi-Fi, Bluetooth phone and streaming audio, HD Radio, two USB ports, Apple CarPlan and Android Auto also are included.

Voice-operated systems respond fairly accurately to most commands, but with the delays in responses, you’re really can accomplish most changes faster by using the controller on the center console, though that involves getting the display screen in the correct mode (i.e., switching from audio to navigation, for example).

Things like a rearview and surround-view camera, adaptive cruise control, automated parallel parking system, front seats with massage systems, front-collision warning system, premium audio and more are offered in option packages.

Of course, the E300’s interior has a classy appearance with lots of high-quality materials in evidence. It is a Mercedes-Benz, after all. 

One really nice thing designers managed to do, however, is incorporate the large, 12.3-inch display screen into the flow of the dashboard rather than leaving it sticking out above the center stack as the case is with some of the models from their competitors. Instead of looking like an afterthought, it’s like they gave some attention on how to do this. A slight overhang over the screen also helps alleviate the glare problem on sunny days.

Pricing for the 2017 Mercedes-Benz E300 starts around $52,000. Can’t give you the exact cost of the model that served for my test drive because it was so new the Monroney sticker wasn't available. I’m guessing it was quite a bit more with all the features that were included.

What I liked about the 2017 Mercedes-Benz E300: The big touchscreen provides a clear, detailed map for the navigation screen, which, as I noted earlier, is nicely incorporated into the flow of the dash. The seats are comfortable, the cabin quiet, and the exterior more striking in appearance than its predecessor.

What I didn’t like about the 2017 Mercedes-Benz E300: It took a while to link my cell phone up, and some extra steps are required to complete some of the infotainment functions. But engineers seem to be dumbing down the systems so even the technologically challenged (ahem!) can manage. The trunk capacity (13.1 cubic feet) isn’t up to some of its competitors.

Would I buy the 2017 Mercedes-Benz E300: Yes. Don’t let the 4-cylinder engine lull you into thinking it’s going to be underpowered. It is definitely not that.

Friday, December 9, 2016


If you follow this blog on even a casual basis (and, of course, you do!), you no doubt are aware of my fondness for convertibles and also that my favorite car of the moment is the Jaguar F-Type.

For more details on that, you can read my recent review of the F-Type Coupe posted just a couple of weeks ago.

So you can imagine how I feel about the convertible version.

Yes, I like it.

A lot.

Just a week after driving the 2017 Jaguar F-Type SVR Coupe, I was given the opportunity to get behind the wheel of a 2017 Jaguar F-Type R Convertible. (Not that it means anything, but this is the opposite way the F-Type was introduced with the convertible hitting the market as a 2014 model and the coupe following for 2015.)

Yes, this is a tough job, but somebody has to do it.

The R is one of two F-Type trims (the new SVR being the other) that get a 5.0-liter supercharged V8 engine instead of the supercharged V6 found in the base, Premium and F-Type S models. It delivers 550 horsepower and 502 pound-feet of torque, which is a good bit more than even the V6 in the F-Type S, which checks in at 380 hp and 339 lb.-ft. of torque, but not quite what the SVR version delivers. The SVR tops out at 575 hp and 516 lb.-ft.

I’m thinking that 550/502 is going to be adequate for most tastes. clocked the F-Type R’s zero-to-60 time at 3.5 seconds. Do you really need to go quicker?

The V8 is mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission with a sport mode and paddle shifters for manual gear selection and comes in all-wheel-drive configuration only. EPA numbers are 15 miles-per-gallon city, 23 highway, and 18 combined using premium fuel, which are not endearing figures to Sierra Club types.

I’m not going to get into too much into the nitty-gritty of the F-Type R Convertible because much of what I wrote in November about the F-Type SVR Coupe applies to the droptop as well. Infotainment systems all work the same, and standard and optional equipment lists are pretty much identical.

There are two major differences, one being the fabric top on the convertible that lowers and raises with a tug of a switch on the center console. The raising and lowering operation, including raising or lowering the windows, is accomplished in a matter of seconds, giving you enough time to pull off the expressway and get the top back up if you happen to get caught in an unexpected shower.

The other obvious difference is in the luggage space. The coupe offers only 11.0 cubic feet, which is on the tight side but seems generous when compared to the convertible’s 7.0 cubic feet. Not only is that stingy, the way it is configured to accommodate the rear wheel wells cuts down on your packing ability as well.

With room for only two and the small trunk, this is not a car built for a family or for long trips with lots of suitcases.

This is a car meant for fun, and we’re not necessarily talking about a skirt-the-edge-of-traffic-laws experience. In addition to the acceleration, the F-Type R delivers much in the way of cornering and sure-footedness, and the notes from the dual-quad exhausts are, well, the word “awesome” comes to mind, especially when Dynamic mode is activated. In addition to the full-throated roar when the gas pedal is pushed, you get rapid-fire crackles the car gears down when you lift your foot from the pedal.

Oh. There is one other big difference.

The F-Type SVR Coupe I had in late November came with an MSRP of $126,945, including the $995 destination and delivery charge, and the SVR Convertible lists for a bit more at $129,775. The F-Type R Convertible, which has many of the same attributes as the SVR, lists at $109,245. Maybe that doesn’t mean much to those who are accustomed to doing their car shopping in the six-figure range, but it seems like a pretty good jump to me.

What I liked about the 2017 Jaguar F-Type R Convertible: Performance is a joy for all senses, even touch and hearing, and luxury features like 14-way power adjustable leather seats add to the overall driving experience. I preferred the leather-wrapped steering wheel in the convertible over the suede cover on the coupe’s wheel. The blind-spot monitor is a must what with the restricted view to the rear in the convertible.

What I didn’t like about the 2017 Jaguar F-Type R Convertible: The trunk is very small and oddly shaped, but at least you don’t lose any space when the top is lowered. There’s not a whole lot to lose! The infotainment system can be fussy to operate.

Would I buy the 2017 Jaguar F-Type R Convertible: Yes. I would go with the R over the new, top-of-the-line SVR model because I don’t think there is a $20,000 difference between the two.

Friday, December 2, 2016



The website for Kelly Blue Book ( breaks down new cars into an even dozen categories with links to lists of sedans and coupes, crossovers and SUVs, hatchbacks and convertibles, hybrids and electrics, vans/minivans and wagons, and luxury and trucks for shoppers to peruse.

A good friend of mine would like to make it a Baker’s dozen and add a 13th category.

Toy cars.

We’re not talking here about 1/25th scale models that decorate shelves and desks of auto aficionados but vehicles that you can drive on the streets and highways in town and country. Yes, real cars but with a twist.

David got this idea a few years ago when he was trying to contort his 6-foot-1, 200-pounds plus (his numbers) frame into the bucket seat of an Acura NSX. He had no trouble getting in and out of a Corvette or Mustang or even a BMW Z3 and Mazda Miata, he said, but the NSX was like trying to get behind the wheel of one of the old stamp-wheeled toy pedal cars of the 1950s or the Power Wheels of today. A tight squeeze.

Thus the NSX, he determined, was a toy car.

Later, he expanded that definition to encompass vehicles that don’t necessarily fit into a specific set of specifications like length, width or seating capacity (though most are small) and aren’t necessarily difficult to get in or out off, but have a distinct aura about them that exudes an essence of pure automotive fun.

The Volkswagen Beetle, especially in convertible configuration, is one such car.

In fact, just to emphasize its spirit and carefree soul, when the New Beetle came out several years ago it was equipped with a strange vial-like tube attached to the dash that was about the thickness of a dime (or maybe a nickel — it has been a while).

Frankly, I couldn’t figure out what the heck it was (change for tolls?) until somebody told me was a bud vase similar to the porcelain one that was offered as a dealer option back in the 1950s.

If flowers don’t say “toy car,” nothing does.

As such, I would say that doesn’t make the 2017 VW 1.8T Dune Beetle Convertible a very good option for a family, unless that family is downsizing, but it does make for kind of a fun second vehicle for special excursions or even regular commuting in city traffic.

It is one of two new Beetles offered for 2017 along with a limited edition #PinkBeetle Convertible that comes with an purplish exterior that VW calls Fresh Fuchsia Metallic and pink accents on the interior. That would seem to be taking “toy car” to the extreme.

But we are dealing with the Dune here, not the #PinkBeetle. 

The Dune comes with a 170-horsepower 1.8-liter turbo 4-cylinder engine that with 184 pound-feet of torque kicking in at 1500 rpm gives a pretty sprightly driving performance. The six-speed automatic transmission features a “sport” mode and gears can be selected manually, but without paddle shifters to accomplish that that’s a chore that is best skipped. It’s good only if you want to hold it in third or fourth gear, say, to keep engine revs up for quicker throttle responses.

Mileage figures for the Dune are 24 miles-per-gallon city, 31 highway and 27 combined using regular fuel.

What makes the Beetle Dune “dune” is that it sits slightly higher and is slightly wider than the base 1.8L Beetle, albeit less than a half-inch in either dimension, giving it what the Germans consider a “more rugged” stance.

The exterior gets new front and rear fascias and the side gets black strips and special “Dune” markings. It’s available in three colors, though the Sandstorm Yellow seems to be  a more logical choice than either the Pure White or Deep Black Pearl. The brownish hue seems to fit “dune” more than black or white.

Inside, the Dune gets sports seats that feature yellow stitching and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. The seats are comfortable, adjustable manually, and — as is typical of many convertibles — spacious enough in front but tight in the back. Getting to the rear seats with the top up requires similar contortions to what David experienced with the NSX.

Two electric motors raise and lower the top, which latches and unlatches automatically so manual securing of the latch is not required. The operation takes only 9.5 seconds to lower and 11.0 to raise and secure and can be done at speeds up to 31 mph, which is good if you get caught in a sudden shower.

Standard equipment on the Dune included a rearview camera 18-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, a power-operated insulated top, heated front seats with lumbar support, SiriusXM satellite radio, and an infotainment system that includes Bluetooth, VW Car-Net App-Connect, and a Park Distance Control (Park Pilot).

In a real shocker, floor mats are listed among standard equipment, which means the salesman can’t act like he is doing you such a big favor by throwing them in with your deal.

That comes with an MSRP of $29,395. With a technology package (Fender premium sound system, keyless entry and push-button start, and dual zone climate control) for $995 and the $820 destination and delivery charge added in, the total cost for my test vehicle was $31,210.

Too much for a Beetle? MSRP for the 1.8T S Beetle is $25,565 and the 1.8T Beetle Classic checks in at only $270 higher than that. The 1.8T SEL sits at the top of the line with an MSRP of $32,115.

What I liked about the 2017 Beetle Convertible 1.8T Dune: It’s got a sporty feel to it when it comes to handling. Also, with the insulated top up, it is very quiet on the road even at highway speeds. With the top down, you don’t lose any trunk space, but you don’t get a lot to begin with (7.1 cubic feet).

What I didn’t like about the 2007 Beetle Convertible 1.8T Dune: Response to voice commands for the radio are erratic. By the time you repeat the command two or three times, you might as well make the station change manually. It’s quicker. You don’t have to do it, of course, but after lowering the top, to finish it off you have to tug and push to snap a boot cover in place. Welcome to the 1990s!

Would I buy the 2017 Beetle Convertible 1.8T Dune: As a fun second car, I’d certainly  give it consideration.