Wednesday, January 23, 2019


Frankly, you can’t tell much of a difference at first glance, and maybe even second or third, but for the first time in 40 years Mercedes-Benz has put its iconic G-Class SUV through a myriad of updates and changes for 2019.

Yes, it still has the boxy profile reminiscent of the 1950s era Willys Jeep Wagon my grandfather once owned, and its aggressive stance and in-your-face front fascia still pays homage to its military roots. (It was developed as a military conveyance at a suggestion by the Shah of Iran back in the 1970s. He never really got to use it, but that’s another story.)

You’re not going to confuse the G-Wagon with say the more gentile GLC, GLE, or GLS SUV/Crossovers out of the German automaker’s stable. If you want an idea of what polarizing styling can look like in an automotive vehicle, you still may have no better example than the Mercedes G-Class

Most of the updates have gone toward making it even more impressive in the way of performance.

It is more rigid than its predecessor with a body shell of various grades of steel and the generous use of aluminum for the hood, doors, and fenders for a weight-saving of around 375 pounds.

An extra 2.1 inches in length and 2.5 inches in width give occupants 1.5 inches more legroom and 1.5 inches of shoulder room up front and an addition 5.9 inches of legroom in the second row.

The G-Wagen, as it is more familiarly known, comes in four trim levels starting with the G550 and topping out with the G550 4x4². My test vehicle for the week was one of two models getting AMG treatment, the AMG G63, the other being the AMG G63.

Among other touches, the AMG G63 gets distinctive styling elements with an AMG-specific radiator grille, flared wheel arches, side pipes for the exhaust system, and wheels up to 22-inches in diameter.

A handcrafted AMG 4.0-liter V8 biturbo engine replaces the 5.5-liter biturbo V8 in the previous G63. It generates 577 horsepower and a whopping 627 pound-feet of torque ranging between 2500 and 3500 rpm.

That engine is mated to an AMG Speedshift TCT 9G transmission that can be shifted manually via steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters or run as a automatic in Comfort, Sport, or Sport-Plus modes.

As you know doubt suspect from the AMG designation, the overall setup is performance-oriented with a top speed of 137 mph or 149 with the AMG Driver’s Package.

Fuel economy figures fall into the you-don’t-really-want-to-know category. They weren’t even available for my test AMG G63, but the numbers provided by the government for the G550 are 13 miles-per-gallon city, 17 highway, and 14 combined, using premium, of course.

The AMG G63 gets numerous standard features expected in a luxury vehicle, like push-button start, a power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, Bluetooth connectivity, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, multicolor ambient lighting, rain-sensing windshield wipers (that often pause and then go like crazy), active lane-keeping assist (sometimes too active), blind-spot assist, a rearview camera, a 12.3-inch screen for the COMAND system, and parking assist included in the base price of $147,500.

What you don’t get are usual luxury features like keyless entry (you have to push a button the key fob to unlock the doors), a power liftgate, and a surround-view camera that actually is of use.

You also get doors that won’t close without some effort.

The Cardinal Red Metallic paint job added $2,300 and the “Black Flame Open-Pore Ash Wood trim” another $1,300 to the base MSRP of my test G63, but there was no charge for the black Nappa Leather interior. How generous!

The extras didn’t stop there. The optional Interior Design Package that includes a Nappa leather dash and multi-contour seats with massage function plus an AMG Performance steering wheel, carbon-fiber engine cover, and a 12.3-inch wide instrument cluster ran the total to $166,095 including the $995 destination and delivery charge.

That puts the G-Wagen in rare air for sure.

What I liked about the 2019 Mercedes-AMG G63: Despite its size, this is no lumbering elephant going through town or cruising the highway. It is almost a second faster than its predecessor in getting from zero-to-60 mph in 4.4 seconds. 

What I didn’t like about the 2019 Mercedes-AMG G63: Getting in and out of the G-Wagen can be a chore. The running boards are so narrow to be barely helpful. I’ve gotten used to the COMAND system for infotainment functions, but there are much easier ways to adjust audio, climate control, and navigation systems. Rather than give you a picture of what is around you, like another car, the surround-view camera gives you a depiction in graph form, which is not as useful.

Would I buy the 2019 Mercedes-AMG G63? In a word, no. I can think of better places to put down high six figures for a vehicle. But if you just won the lottery or hit it big as a hedge fund manager and want a vehicle that stands out from the crowd, the AMG G63 could be for you!

Wednesday, January 16, 2019


Cadillac enters the fast growing compact luxury SUV segment with the 2019 XT4, its third SUV/Crossover model, joining the midsize XT5 and behemoth Escalade with a fourth, the XT6 to come for 2020.

With a starting price of under $36,000, the XT4 offers what is by today's standards an “affordable” way to flaunt your economic success, though it should be pointed out that you are going to have to spend more, much more in some cases, to enjoy the full scope of what the luxury class has to offer.

A bit more on that later.

The XT4 comes in three trim levels — Premium, Luxury, and Sport — all powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that offers good fuel efficiency (24 miles-per-gallon city, 30 highway with front-wheel drive models and 22/39 with AWD) and a lively performance. 

That engine delivers 237 horsepower at 5000 rpm and 258 pound-feet of torque from 1500-4000 rpm and is mated to a 9-speed automatic transmission that may be run in Tour or Sport mode (selection is by pressing a button by the shifter on the console). Manual gear selection is accomplished via paddle shifters.

That button, by the way, is next to one that allows you to disable the stop/start function that many find to be an annoyance not worth whatever fuel-saving that technology provides.

That’s the second-best thing about the XT4. The best is the upgrade to the infotainment system Cadillac replaced the former CUE (Cadillac User Experience) system with. CUE must have seemed like a good idea at the time when it was introduced on the new 2013 ATS sedan, but it proved highly problematic.

It had a tendency to respond if a hand simply got near the touchscreen whether you intended to make an adjustment or not. Other times it just locked up. I think whoever designed it wound up in a Bud Light dungeon along with mead drinkers.

With the new system on the XT4, adjustments for such operations as navigation, audio, etc. are made using the 8.5 clear touchscreen, though climate control functions also work off buttons near the bottom of the center stack. It may not be the most user friendly I’ve experienced, but it’s pretty close.

The XT4 may reside in the compact class, but its interior has more the feel of a midsize cabin. It offers 40.4 inches of legroom up front to the XT5’s 41.2 inches, and the 39.5 inches of legroom for the second row matches that on the XT5, which is classed as a midsize.

Cargo volume is 22.5 cubic feet behind the second row and 48.9 with those seats folded. That’s less than what the XT5 offers (30 cubic feet behind the second row, 63 with that row folded) but is adequate for most tasks.

The XT4’s towing capacity is 3,500 pounds with a trailering package, which matches the XT5’s capacity.

Cadillac continues to upgrade the cabin’s ambiance, and if it doesn’t match up to some of its competitors, it’s still high grade with lots of soft-touch spots around. It has room for five passengers, and the driver’s seat is power adjustable 8 ways, the passenger’s 6 ways.

Now, more about pricing.

The XT4 Sport model that served as my test vehicle came with a base MSRP of $42,790 (including destination and delivery). Standard equipment included LED headlamps and taillights, keyless start, 4-way power lumbar support for the driver and front passenger, remote start, an 8-inch color display, power liftgate, rain-sensing wipers, lane change alert with blind spot alert (accomplished by a gentle vibration in the driver’s seat), and rear cross traffic alert.

That’s a nice array of equipment and can make you happy. But to go full luxury, adding features such as leather seating surfaces (replacing Leatherette), ventilated front seats with massage function, dual pane sunroof, navigation with real-time traffic, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, HD surround view camera, parking assist, adaptive cruise control, and more you need to look into options and option packages.

Such options ran the final tab on this particular XT4 Sport to $57,735. No doubt you could live without such features as a head-up display and 20-inch wheels (replacing the standard 18s). But even a few of the extra packages can get the final price over $50,000.

What I liked about the 2019 Cadillac XT4 Sport: The infotainment system has been refined since Cadillac ditched the infamous CUE (Cadillac User Experience) setup, which helps get you to functions quicker and easier. There are better systems, but this is such an improvement it's worth noting. The ride is very smooth and quiet. Very quiet. Passengers in the rear have generous legroom.

What I didn't like about the 2019 Cadillac XT4 Sport: You have to pay extra for a lot of options to get most of the goodies that are associated with luxury vehicles. This includes safety equipment like a surround view camera (replacing the standard rearview camera) and forward collision alert.

Would I buy the 2019 Cadillac XT4 Sport? Yes. If you are looking for a luxury five-passenger SUV, you should give it a look.

Friday, January 11, 2019



Although SUVs and crossovers seem to be taking over the automotive world, at least one manufacturer seems to be bucking that trend.

South Korean automaker Hyundai’s best seller remains the Elantra, a compact sedan that outsold the company’s best-selling SUV/crossover, the Tucson, by over 58,000 units in 2018.

Sales of the Elantra hopped up to 200,415 last year from 198,210 in 2017 while the Tucson came in at 142,219 and the Santa Fe SUV at 117,038 for 2018. (Yes, combined the Tucson and Santa Fe outsold the Elantra, but adding the Sonata’s total of 105,118 to that of the Elantra, Hyundai still sold more sedans as opposed to the recent trend toward SUVs.)

Hyundai reports that over 9 million Elantras have been sold since its launch in the U.S. in 1991.

Early last year I had the pleasure of driving the 2018 Elantra SEL, a model introduced following the redesign of 2017, and was impressed with the number of safety and convenience features it offered for its class.

Trickle down apparently is not just an economic theory but applies to car development as well. Features introduced on high-price luxury models eventually find their way down to more affordable vehicles like the ones in the compact sedan segment where the Elantra resides.

Hyundai didn’t quit with the changes for 2017, however. For 2019, the company gives the Elantra a new hood, front fenders, front fascia, grille, and headlights along with a new trunk, taillights and rear fascia. The 16- and 17-inch wheels get new designs, and the Eco trim has new 15-inch alloy wheels. Top-of-the-food-chain Limited and Sport trims come with LED headlights as standard.

Inside the Elantra has a new center cluster and new instrument housing and controls, and the Limited trim gets Infinity Premium Audio with 8 speakers.

SEL and above models get the Smart Shift Drive Mode that adapts to your driving characteristics to enhance your overall experience. I opted for Sport mode most of the time.

All but the base SE model also get as standard a suite of safety features labeled SmartSense that includes Forward Collision Avoidance Assist with Pedestrian Detection, Driver Attention warning, Blind-Spot Detection, Lane Keep Assist, Lane Departure Warning, Blind-Spot Collision Warning, and Rear Cross-Traffic Collision warning.

With the base SE model, the most exotic safety system is a blind-spot mirror.

All Elantras get as standard a rear-view camera features dynamic guidelines to give you a better picture when you are backing, stability and traction control systems, anti-lock brakes, and front and side-impact airbags for the driver and front-seat passenger. 

Power trains vary. Most Elantras come with a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine, but the Eco trim gets a 1.4-liter turbo-4 and the Sport gets a 1.6-liter turbo-4.

The 2.0L offers only 147 horsepower and 134 pound-feet of torque, but fuel economy numbers are good — 28 miles-per-gallon city, 37 highway, and 32. You get less horsepower (128) but slightly more torque (156) from the 1.4-liter and more of both (201/195, respectively) with the 1.6 turbp in the Sport.

A 6-speed automatic with Shiftronic (manual gear selection) is available on the SE, adding $1,000 to the MSRP for the manual SE. The automatic is and standard on SEL Value Edition, Limited models. The Eco and Sport models are equipped with a 7-speed Eco-shift dual clutch transmission with Shiftronic, and you can also get a 6-speed manual transmission with the Sport.

SE Elantra manual models carry a base MSRP $17,985 (including destination and delivery). Pricing tops out at $24,385 for Sport models with the dual-clutch tranny. The Limited, which served as my test vehicle for the week, carries a starting MSRP of $23,485.

What I liked about the 2019 Hyundai Elantra Limited: It comes with a plethora of technological and safety features, many of them standard and all of the very user-friendly.  I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s worth repeating. Unlike some European manufacturers, Hyundai makes technological features, like say navigation, easy to operate.

What I didn’t like about the 2019 Hyundai Elantra Limited: I’d like to see a little more in the way of performance for a more fun driving experience. For that, you probably need to take a look at the Sport trim or, if you will accept a hatchback, the Elantra GT Sport with similar power numbers (201/195).

Would I buy the 2019 Hyundai Elantra Limited? Yes. Bigger families may want a vehicle with more room for passengers and their stuff, but if that’s not you, the Elantra has a lot of offer in a stylish package.

Monday, January 7, 2019


Travel during the holidays, especially if it involves flying, can be especially trying, tiring, and frustrating, so as an auto reviewer it’s nice to know that a new vehicle will be waiting at the local Park-N-Fly when I get home.

Like on my recent return from a visit to my daughter’s for Christmas.

A text earlier in the day before we left on our return flight home had informed me that the car would be waiting for me courtesy of my friendly press fleet fleet folks.

Frankly, knowing that any vehicle would be there helps ease the pain of sitting three hours on a jam-packed airplane and then negotiating the looonnngggg American Airlines concourse at Miami International with a carryon bag that seemed to have gained a few pounds since it was last packed.

That it was a new 2019 AMG CLS 53 was a bonus.

The 53-Series is new model to CLS Coupe, E-Class Coupe, and E-Class Cabriolet models in the Mercedes-Benz stable for 2019.

The AMG CLS 53 is top-of-the-line among the other CLS offerings (450 Coupe and 450 4MATIC) and, as the AMG designation suggests, is the most performance-oriented of the group.

Its 3.0-liter, gas turbocharged inline 6-cylinder engine is tuned for 429 horsepower and 384 pound-feet of peak torque and it gets another 21 hp and 184 from the new EQ Boost auxiliary power system.

The EQ Boost starter-alternator in electric motor fitted between the engine and the transmission which, among other functions, provides mild hybrid functions like helping boost fuel mileage to a respectable 21 miles-per-gallon city, 27 highway, and 23 combined.

But wait! There’s more!

The EQ Boost system also smooths out restarts after the stop-start system is engaged when you come to a complete stop, making the transition and restart barely noticeable. 
And EQ Boost provides for a quicker increase in acceleration by eliminating turbo lag, a common characteristic with turbocharged engines.

With a 9-speed automatic transmission and Mercedes-Benz’ 4MATIC all-wheel drive, the company says the AMG CLS 53 will scoot from zero-to-60 mph in an estimated 4.4 seconds.

Five drive modes are offered to alter driving characteristics to your preferences. Eco, Comfort, Sport, Sport-plus, and Individual operate as an automatic, and you may also select gears manually via paddle shifters by pressing the “M” button on the center console.

Performance is not the only area where the CLS 53 stands out. Its looks are stunning, Starting with its famed, large 3-point start in the center of a new black lattice pattern grille and continuing with its slick profile and its chromed-tipped exhaust pipes, the styling is both aggressive and refined.

Magnificent is probably the best word to describe the interior. The plush leather seats coddle your back and bottom, and multi-color ambient lighting enhances the visual experience. Setting the driving mode in Comfort yields a quiet, comfortable, sure ride while Sport and Sport-plus add to the overall experience with sharp notes from the dual quad exhaust when gearing down.

A 12.3-inch panoramic display screen dominates at the top of the center stack providing a wide view for operation of technological features like standard navigation, audio, and dual-zone climate control off the touchpad controller or knob at the center of the console. This is not a touchscreen, which too often can become blurred with unsightly fingerprints especially in sunlight.

Mercedes brands the AMG CLS 53 as a coupe, which is a subject for some discussion. Sharp observers among you notice it comes with four doors, which has become associated with a sedan versus the coupe’s traditional two doors.

But the profile fits a more couple-like sleekness than a sedan, and past models seated only four as is typical of the coupe class. Frankly it is an issue not worth quibbling over. If the Germans say it’s a coupe, it’s a coupe!

The AMG CLS 53 carries a base MSRP of $79,900, but the $995 destination and delivery charge quickly gets the price over the $80,000 mark, and the addition of packages and options can get the final tab into six figures.

My test AMG CLS 53 came with several extras with the three most expensive $4,550 for the Burmeister 3D Surround Sound system; $2,990 for AMG Magna Gray/ Espresso Brown leather upholstery; and $2,250 for a suite of safety features that included steering assist, Active Lane Keeping Assist (which can be a bit overly aggressive at times), blind-spot assist, and more.

All that ran the total to $103,010. Yes, I agree that’s a lot. Since I rarely buy lotto tickets, I’m just going to hope that I may already be a winner in the Publisher’s Sweepstakes.

What I liked about the 2019 AMG CLS 53: What's not to like? It offers amazing performance in a luxurious package with the highest quality cabin around. The addition of buttons on the center stack help simplify operation of the COMAND infotainment system, and the wide display screen is great for navigation.

What I didn't like about the 2019 AMG CLS 53: Watch your head! The roofline that gives the CLS its coupe-like profile also can make getting in a bit tricky. It's not overly difficult, but you need to pay attention. I found sticking my butt in first and swinging both feet around made it more manageable than putting my left leg in first as I am accustomed to doing.

Would I buy the 2019 AMG CLS 53? In a heartbeat. The only downer is the small trunk (11.9 cubic feet) typical of coupes.