Monday, December 31, 2018



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 19, 2018


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, it’s that nice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 14, 2018


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

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

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

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

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

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

The GLE comes in three versions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 10, 2018



Manufacturers of luxury SUVs tend to lean toward the performance side when it comes to the engineering and the design of their products, but aside from some issues with available stowage space behind the third row, Audi’s Q7 hits the sweet spot between get-up-and-go and comfort/functionality.

The 2007 Q7 debuted as Audi’s first SUV, got a refreshing for 2010, and moved into its second generation as a 2017, where it is the company’s No. 2 seller for 2018 behind the smaller Q5 SUV just ahead of the A4 sedan.

Aside from a few niceties like keyless entry and start on all models, a premium Bose sound system on Premium Plus trims, and power-closing doors on the top-of-the-line Prestige model, it remains virtually unchanged for 2018.

One of two engine choices, a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder or a 3.0-liter turbo V6, power the Q7. Each is mated to an 8-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission with paddle shifters for manual gear selection.

The 2.0L is rated at a max 252 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque, the V6 at 333/325, respectively, and mileage figures with Audi’e all-wheel-drive quattro system (standard across the line) are the same with either engine -- 19 miles-per-gallon city, 25 highway, and 21 combined.

Pricing starts at $49,900 for the base model. V6 models start at $56,400.

Optional items like a Premium-Plus package (Audi MMI Navigation, LED interior lighting, Audi Connect PRIME and CARE systems, power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, Bose 3D Surround Sound); a Driver Assistance Package (adaptive cruise control, active lane assist and high beam assist); and a vision package (including a surround-view camera and Audi’s virtual cockpit) ran the total to my vehicle for the week to $62,100 including $975 for destination and delivery.

A word here about the virtual cockpit. It allows the driver to reduce the size of the round display of the speedometer and tachometer to accommodate a pretty large map for navigation. It helps keeps your eyes directly on the road in front of you instead of having to sneak a peek to the right. You can keep the speedometer and tach in its usual size if a smaller map is all you need.

Standard features on my Q7 included roof rails, 8-way power adjustable front seats, leather seating surfaces, power folding third-row seats, power liftgate, three-zone automatic climate control, LED daytime running lights and LED taillights, and a multitude of safety features like low-speed collision assist and electronic stabilization with off-road mode.

The Q7 offers a very comfortable, quiet riding experience with occupants coddled with high quality materials throughout the cabin. Audi’s MMI infotainment system is fairly easy to get the hang off, and the overall cabin ambiance shows Audi’s great attention to detail.

Seating for seven is standard on all models. The the third row is on the small side for adults, but first- and second-row seating is roomy and comfortable. A standard panoramic sunroof offers both tilt and sliding features along with a power sunshade.

The Q7 is very much an international vehicle. Most of the parts (39 percent) and the transmission come not surprisingly from Germany, but a healthy 33 percent are from Slovakia, which also is the final assembly point. The engine comes from Hungary.

Just thought I’d throw that out.

What I liked about the 2018 Audi Q7: I love the “virtual cockpit” concept and frankly wonder why other automakers haven’t come up with a version of their own. (Caveat here: Maybe somebody has and I just haven't seen it.) It puts everything that you as a driver might want right in front of your eyes. The Q7’s entire cabin is flush with luxury and high quality materials, and the ride is comfortable and quiet.

What I didn't like about the 2018 Audi Q7: The seating in vehicles vehicles with three rows is pretty much always limited in the last row and that is the case with the Q7, which offers occupants less than 30 inches of legroom in the far back. Cargo space is decent behind that third row (14.8 cubic feet) but less than 38 cubic feet with the third-row seats folded.

Would I buy the 2018  Audi Q7? Yes. It’s hard to go wrong with any offering in this class, and the Q7 is one of best and competitively priced.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018


Having debuted as a 2009 model as Volkswagen’s first compact crossover SUV, the Tiguan moves into its second generation as a 2018 model, which is bit longer than usual between redesigns.

But it was well worth the wait.

The new Tiguan is bigger than its predecessor with 57 percent more cargo capacity, an 8-speed automatic transmission (replacing a 6-speed), an engine that can run on regular fuel, and more available safety features that include adaptive cruise control, forward collision and lane-departure warning, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian monitoring, and blind spot monitoring with rear traffic alert.

There’s also third-row seating that is standard on front-wheel-drive models and optional on models featuring VW’s four-wheel-drive, 4MOTION system. (If you don’t need that third row for little kiddies, stick to two-row models and you’ll get over 37 cubic feet of stowage capacity in the back.) 

All that makes the Tiguan a more attractive option for buyers, especially those “looking for something different.”

The 2018 Tiguan comes in S, SE, and SEL trims. The former R-Line model is now a package of exterior and interior design features offered on SEL and SEL Premium trims. It replaces standard 18-inch wheels with 19-inchers and adds Park Distance Control (ParkPilot) at a cost of $1,795 for SEL and $1,495 for SEL Premium models, which already include the larger wheels and ParkPilot as standard.

All Tiguan models come with a 2.0-liter, turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that makes 184 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque. That’s less horsepower and a bit more torque than its predecessor, and if not neck-jerking numbers, they are at least adequate enough to provide a comfortable ride around town or on the highway.

With South Florida’s flat terrain, it wasn’t possible to get a feel for what the Tiguan might  be like driving in hill country.

AWD models offer a selection of driving modes that include sport, eco, comfort, and personal as well as off-road. You can select gears manually, but without paddle shifters, that is kind of a waste. The only advantage for that would be to set the transmission in second or third gear for extra pulling power or going up steep inclines. Towing capacity on the 2018 Tiguan is only 1,500 pounds so it could use some help there.

Usually, with low power numbers, you are compensated with better fuel mileage numbers, but the Tiguan checks in at only 21 miles-per-gallon city, 27 highway with AWD and 22/27 with FWD. But, as mentioned earlier, at least you aren’t required to use premium fuel for top performance as with the 2017 Tiguan.

The SEL trim gets features like Halogen headlights and LED daytime running lights, silver roof rails, power sunroof, dual-zone climate control, leather-wrapped steering wheel, 40/20/40 split folding second-row, rear-view camera, Bluetooth communications, push-button start, and navigation along with many of the safety features that are optional on lower trims as standard. MSRP starts at $32,390 for the SEL.

My Tiguan SEL for the week came with the R-Line package and a special orange metallic interior which, along with a $995 destination and delivery fee, ran the total price to $35,325.

But the Tiguan S starts at $25,345, not including destination and delivery, and the SE starts at just over $30,000. SEL Premium models start at $36,250.

An aside here: Volkswagen is selling a 2018 Tiguan Limited that essentially is a carryover from the  2017 Tiguan. With it starting at just over $23,000, it will save you some money over even the 2018 Tiguan S, but it won’t have the updated features the new models feature.

Consider yourself forewarned.

What I liked about the 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan SEL: The 8-speed automatic is one of the smoothest-shifting transmissions you can experience. It almost feels like a CVT. There is nice stowage room in the back for five-passenger versions, and the radio and A/C are adjustable with easy-to-use knobs. 

What I didn't like about the 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan SEL: Fuel economy is only so-so.

Would I buy the 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan SEC? Yes. It could use a little more power, but it’s fine for navigating urban streets. It offers a nice alternative choice for those who want an SUV but don’t need one the size of VW’s Atlas.

Monday, December 3, 2018


If you are among those who think the rising popularity of SUVs/crossovers and the decline of the family sedan is the coming of the end of the world, I have some bad news for you.

In what could be interpreted as confirmation of the impending apocalypse, Rolls-Royce has brought an SUV to the market.

Yes, Rolls-Royce, the manufacturer of the ultimate luxury sedan, has heard the wishes of its loyal followers and brought forth an all-wheel-drive, off-road capable, five-passenger  ... SUV.

South Florida automotive media members, of which I am one, got a look at this creation last week at the monthly luncheon of the Southern Automotive Media Association.

Gerry Spahn, head of communications for Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, was here to preview it, appropriately enough, at the Acqualina Resort and Spa, a South Florida luxury oceanside resort in Sunny Isles Beach just north of Miami Beach.

The vehicle is branded the Rolls-Royce Cullinan. with the name taken from the Cullinan Diamond, the world’s largest, gem-quality diamond ever found. It was discovered in 1905 at a mine in Cullinan, South Africa, and named after the mine’s chairman, Thomas Cullinan.

I’ll resist the temptation here to call the Rolls-Royce Cullinan a “gem” of an SUV, but apparently Spahn couldn’t, referring to it as a “dynamic, moveable gem” during introductions. Spahn noted that the Cullinan sits atop of the food chain when it comes to luxury SUVs, and it’s hard to argue with that.

About the only thing it doesn’t have is three-row seating because, well, Rolls-Royce customers didn’t want it and Rolls-Royce customers get what they want. Or, in this case, don’t want.

Based on architecture of the Rolls-Royce Phantom sedan, the Cullinan comes with a 6.75-liter V12 engine rated at 563 horsepower with 627 pound-feet of torque kicking in at 1600 rpm. That kind of power is needed when you have nearly three tons of bulk to haul around,. (Alas, we could only look and touch the Cullinan, not drive it!)

Though shorter than the Phantom, the Cullinan is larger than what could be considered its only competitor, Bentley’s Bentayga, which has been around for a couple of years.

A very much a refined vehicle that features such niceties a “rear viewing suite” on the split tailgate featuring a small table (for holding champagne glasses) and jump seats for two (the better for viewing polo matches), the Cullinan is no pretender when it comes to off-road treks.

Pushing the button on the console marked “off-road” makes all the adjustments necessary for the Cullinan to take on the most-challenging tests. At the global premier a few weeks back in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, journalists had the opportunity to take the Cullinan to the summit of the 7,800-foot Snow King Mountain (and presumably back down).

Frankly, it’s hard to imagine taking such a beautiful vehicle into such conditions, and I doubt if many Rolls owners actually will. But they can do so if they want.

The Cullinan starts with a base MSRP of $325,000 but extras can take the Cullinan much higher.

But I have a tip that can get you one free.

Simply buy the move-in-ready “Palazzo del Cielo” Penthouse suite at the Acqualina Resort. The Cullinan is included in the suite’s $38 million price tag, and a full garage will be available right across Collins Avenue.