Monday, October 29, 2018


The A4 has been a stalwart seller for Audi for well over two decades now, moving into its ninth generation with the redesign for 2017.

In fact, the A4 and two crossover SUVs, the Q5 and the Q7, are largely responsible for keeping the company from a decrease in year-to-date sale through September comparing 2018 figures to those for 2017.

Audi reported that 28,783 A4s were sold over the first nine months of 2018, an increase of 4 percent over the same period in 2017. It announced an 11 percent jump for September alone with 3,185 sold this year compared to 2,879 in September 2017.

Obviously, those aren’t huge numbers when compared to top sellers in the passenger car segment overall, but they stack up well with their Teutonic brethren. Mercedes-Benz reported a fall of nearly 25 percent for C-Class sales month-over-month for September (4,682 for 2018, 6,194 for 2017) and the BMW 3-Series, long considered the bell cow in the segment, was down over 40 percent for September (3,615 for 2018, 6,045 for 2017).

Sales for the year-to-date were off 40.2 percent for the 3-Series and down 28.32 percent for the C-Class at the end of September.

The A4 neatly slots in between the Q5 and the Q7 as Audi’s leading sellers.

Which is not surprising. This is one great sedan that gets high marks for its performance, its looks inside and out, its comfortable ride, and its user-friendly technological features — especially when compared to its competitors. awarded it the title of Luxury Car of the Year at the 2018 North American International Auto Show at Detroit, citing its “balance of sport, luxury, function, amenities, quality and comfort.”

That’s pretty much a winning combination right there.

The Audi A4 is offered in Premium, Premium-Plus, and Prestige trim levels (we’re dealing with only the sedan here, not the Allroad wagon) all powered by a 2.0-liter, turbo 4-cylinder engine pumping out 252 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque and mated to a 7-speed, S-tronic double-clutch or 6-speed manual transmission (depending on the trim).

That’s enough oomph for a spirited performance, but if you want more the all-new for 2018 S4 with its 3.0-liter turbo-V6 (354 hp, 369 lb.-ft.) zips you from zero-to-60 mph in 4.4 seconds.

You can get the A4 with front-wheel drive or Audi’s all-wheel quattro system.

Fuel mileage figures run from 27 miles-per-gallon city, 37 highway for FWD to 24/34 for quattro models. 

My ride for the week was the 2.0T quattro S-tronic version that came with a base MSRP of $40,500. (Base models start at just a tad under $37,000.) Adding extras like the Premium-Plus package and Audi’s MMI telematics system with navigation ran the total to $48,290.

For 2018, Audi made a few more features standard over the previous model. Notable standard features include LED interior lighting, power sunroof, three-zone climate control, 8-way power adjustable heated front seats with 4-way adjustable lumbar support for the driver, LED daytime running lights and taillights, and Audi’s low-speed collision assist system.

Naturally, the cabin is rich with high-quality materials with leather and soft touches throughout, and you can add options like ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, and a heated steering wheel as well.

Visibility is good all-around, and legroom is generous with 41.3 inches up front and 35.7 in the back row despite the A4’s classification as a “small” luxury sedan. It has more the feel of a mid-size.

The center screen is easy on the eyes, though designers really should find a way to incorporate it more smoothly into the flow of the dash. Sticking up like it does makes it look like an afterthought. Audi’s MMI infotainment system is easy to get the hang of even for techno newbies.

What I liked about the 2018 Audi A4: This is one of the best-looking sedans in a segment that has a bunch of them. The ride is sporty, and you can switch to the mode you prefer (comfort, auto, dynamic or individual). You can turn off the stop-start system. The “virtual cockpit” system allows the driver to personalize the instrument panel, reducing the size of the speedometer and tach to accommodate a full-size navigation map right in front of your eyes.

What I didn't like about the 2018 Audi A4: The list of standard features is generous (leather seats are included), but to get the really cool stuff you'll have to spend about $6,000 over the base MSRP for such items as a Bang & Olufsen premium sound system, LED headlights, Parking System Plus, Audi side assist, and the Navigation and Telematics package. Truck size (13.0 cubic feet) is only adequate.

Would I buy the 2018 Audi A4? Yes. There are lots of good choices in the segment, though some can overwhelm you with all their geez-whiz techno gadgets. Not the A4. It strikes a nice balance between gee-whiz technology and user-friendly operation. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2018


The glory days for Muscle Cars may go back four or five decades, but even though there are fewer of them around today, you can still learn what they were all about without having to shop the collector's car market.

Take the Chevrolet Camaro, launched in 1967 as a competitor to Ford's Mustang.

Once seemingly destined for the same scrap heap where Oldsmobiles, Pontiacs, and Plymouths now reside, the Camaro got new life when Chevy resurrected it for 2010 after ceasing production in 2002 because of lagging sales.

Let’s hope a similar fate doesn’t await the latest edition. The Camaro, especially in convertible form, deserves much better.

The Camaro, most notably with the standard 6.2-liter V8 engine that is standard in 1SS or 2SS trim, is ever bit a Muscle Car in the true tradition of the 1960s and early ’70s, only a bit more refined. It is available in coupe or convertible form, and I was fortunate to have the latter recently.

“Spartan” is what may come to mind with the interiors of Muscle Cars of the past, but that doesn’t hold true with the Camaro 2SS. If not up to full luxury standards, the upgrades made to the cabin are immediately noticeable.

Materials are of a higher quality, and such conveniences as dual zone climate control, 8-way adjustable driver’s and 6-way passenger’s seats, premium Bose sound system, Chevy MyLink with 8-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth streaming and phone, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and  4G LET Wi-Fi are included among standard features under the $40,000 MSRP.

Outside, the Camaro 2SS convertible gets HID headlights with LED signature lighting, LED daytime running lights, LED tail lamps, and a power convertible top that can be lowered by pushing a button on the key fob. It also can be raised or lowered at speeds of up to 30 mph, handy if caught in a surprise shower.

The base transmission to go with the V8 (455 horsepower, 455 pound-feet of torque) is a 6-speed automatic, but, alas, my vehicle for the week had the optional 8-speed automatic with paddle shifters. It tacks $1,495 on to the price. Other niceties, like a navigation system, dual mode performance exhaust, 20-inch 5-split spoke wheels, and more ran the bottom line to $52,820.

Given my druthers, I’d stick with the manual tranny, but that’s not the trend these days.

Of course, the Camaro is not without its drawbacks.

With the top up, visibility all around is somewhat restricted. Fortunately, blind spot monitoring, lane-change alert, and a rearview camera with cross-traffic monitoring are among standard items. Rear-park assist also is included.

Leg room in the front of the convertible is a roomy 43.9 inches, but the back offers less than 30 inches. It’s the same in coupe form as well.

Forget cargo space. It’s only 9.1 cubic feet for the coupe and much less than that with the convertible, especially with the top lowered. I question even the 7.1 cubic feet Chevy claims for it.

And then there is the gas mileage. The spec sheet put the figures at 17 miles-per-gallon city, 27 highway, 20 combined, which is not as bad as one might expect. You've got to sacrifice something to get that power.

The government claims that will have you paying about $3,750 more on fuel over a 5-year period over the average new vehicle, but one must consider that the Camaro Convertible is far from an average vehicle.

What I liked about the 2018 Chevy Camaro 2SS Convertible: They had me at “convertible.” But to add more, it looks, and with a 6.2-liter V8 under the hood, it also acts the part of a true Muscle Car, but with a more refined interior. Top operation is simple enough as long as you have the trunk set right, and the infotainment system is user-friendly.

What I didn’t like about the 2018 Chevy Camaro 2SS Convertible: Yes, you have to sacrifice something with the top folding into the trunk, but cargo space virtually disappears when the top is lowered. The backseat doesn’t offer much in the way of space. Maybe small children can fit back there, emphasis on the word “small.” Visibility is restricted to the rear with the top raised.

Would I buy the 2018 Chevy Camaro 2SS Convertible? Yes. I still kind of lean toward the Mustang, but the Camaro has become a worthy competitor. Glad Chevy had the good sense to bring it back after an eight-year hiatus.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018



Jeep has given its Cherokee a mid-cycle refreshing, and the result makes it a competitor in the compact SUV segment, especially for those who are looking for something they can take off-road from time to time.

Among styling updates new to the 2019 model are the front fascia and hood with LED headlamps, daytime running lamps and fog lamps, a handsfree power rear liftgate, dual panel sunroof, and a more refined interior that includes more cargo space than its predecessor.

A new 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine has been added to the Pentastar V6 and base 2.4-liter Tigershark as engine options, and the 9-speed automatic transmission mated to the 2.0 turbo has been enhanced to match its performance.

Four-wheel-drive systems also have been enhanced for even more off-road capability, which already sets the standard in the class.

It comes in five trims — Latitude, Latitude Plus, Limited, Overland, and the trail-rated Trailhawk — and has been in showrooms since the first quarter of this year. (You have to be old to remember when October was the “magic” month for the next year’s new cars to arrive!)

The Overland trim with the 2.0 turbo and 4X4 configuration served as my vehicle for the week. With 270 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque, it virtually matches the horsepower in the V6 (271) and has a bigger punch than the 239 pound-feet of torque the V6 delivers.

It is no contest with the 2.4L Tigershark, which with 180 horsepower and 171 pound-feet is somewhat underpowered. The 2.4L isn’t all that more fuel efficient either with mileage figures of 22 miles-per-gallon city, 31 highway in 4X2 configuration and 21/29 with the Jeep Active Drive I 4X4 setup.

With the turbo, the numbers are 23/31 as a 4X2. The 4X4 versions depend on which system is installed — 21/29 with Jeep Active Drive I, 20/27 with Active Drive II, and 20/26 with Active Drive Lock.

Mileage for the V6 vary from 20/29 as a 4X2 to 18/24 with Active Drive Lock.

One key difference: the 2.0 turbo is the only one of the three engines that has premium fuel recommended, though Jeep says that regular 87 octane is acceptable.

I tend to go with what is recommended, but it’s nice to know that you can get by with less expensive fuel.

The Drive I system is standard in Overland 4X4 models and is a full-time system that requires no driver input. It essentially monitors what the front axle is doing and shifts some power to the rear when the front gets moving faster. You also have a choice of settings to specific conditions like snow, rain, and mud.

Drive II adds a low-range gear for light off-roading, and Drive Lock is for more serious off-roading, including rock crawling. You’ll have to get the Trailhawk trim for the rock crawling.

Chances are you aren’t interested in doing anything like that. Like a majority of 4WD vehicle owners, you probably aren’t going to take your SUV onto any terrain more serious than that of a gravel road, dirt parking lot, or maybe the beach.

A few years back, a study showed only 5 percent of SUV owners actually go off-roading. The percentage may have changed a bit since then, but probably not by much.

That isn’t to say that 4X4s are a waste if you are among the 95 percent. Even on flat terrain and warm climates, you may find the sure-footedness of all-wheel power a bonus in rainy conditions and slick roads, and if you live or drive in the snow belt in winter, that is especially true. And you certainly want the assurance of all-wheel power if you do any boat towing and face the task of dealing with slippery boat ramps.

The new Cherokee almost looks too sharp to risk the scathes, dents, and general mayhem that can come with treks through the woods.

Though the front fascia features the traditional Jeep seven-slot grille, the design cues contribute to a more flowing line from front to back. There are five wheel designs to choose from, and the Cherokee comes with capless fuel filling so you don’t have to grapple with the issue of smelly hands after filling up.

Inside, designers gave the Cherokee a more premium feel with lots of padded spaces about and quality materials. It’s easy to get in and out of, and the seats are comfortable and the ride quiet once you do. Legroom in the second row is a generous 40.3 inches, less than a inch short of what front-seat riders get.

Even expanded a bit for 2019 over the 2018 model, cargo a space is a bit on the short side, only 25.8 cubic feet with the second row seats in place. That expands to 54.7 cubic feet with them folded, and there is a small area underneath the false floor for discreet storage of a few items.

The Cherokee starts at an MSRP of $24,195 for the Latitude edition. My Overland model had a starting price of $37,775. With the optional Technology Group package (adaptive cruise control, advanced brake assist, full-speed collision warning, lane departure warning, etc.) and a hefty $1,445 destination and delivery charge thrown in, the total came to $40,715.

What I liked about the 2019 Jeep Cherokee Overland: The standard UConnect 4C system with navigation and 8.4-inch monitor was very user-friendly. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto also are standard for you tech geeks.

What I didn’t like about the 2019 Jeep Cherokee Overland: It’s hard to find fault with the Overland model and its upgraded interior. Cargo space is a bit on the stingy side for an SUV, even for the “compact” class. Some user reviews I found on the Internet mentioned an issue with stalling, but that was with the base 2.4L engine. Didn’t seem to be a problem with the 2.0L turbo.

Would I buy the 2019 Jeep Cherokee Overland? Yes. This is a much underrated vehicle that doesn’t take a backseat to any other vehicle in its class.