Sunday, August 25, 2019


“Bigger is better” is pretty much engrained in our DNA as Americans, but apparently it isn’t necessarily so for our European cousins, particularly those of Teutonic stock.

Evidence for this comes courtesy of BMW.

The German automaker of fine luxury vehicles launches its first 8-Series droptop with the 2019 M850i xDrive Convertible essentially taking over from the 6-Series convertibles, which have been discontinued for 2019.

You might think that with the “8” leading off the alphanumeric designation that the M850i would the largest car (convertible, coupe, sedan) in BMW’s fleet of luxury vehicles, but you would be wrong.

At 191.2 inches long, the 850i xDrive convertible is over two feet shorter than the 7-Series sedan and nearly two inches shorter than the outgoing 6-Series convertible. It is about a half-foot shorter than the remaining 6-Series Coupe and Grand Turismo hatchback.

But when it comes to luxury and driving experience, the M850i xDrive Convertible does’t sell anybody short.

The styling is bolder starting with the slightly larger, familiar kidney-shaped grille and imposing air intakes up front and continuing to the sculpted LED taillight clusters in the rear.

The interior is resplendent in Merino leather seats with the front seats power adjustable 20 ways with 4-way adjustable lumbar support. “M” touches such as the leather M steering wheel, M pedals, and M driver’s footrest add to the cabin’s sporty feel.

You’ll even find plenty of room in the center console’s storage compartment, and BMW even thoughtfully installed two cupholders under the center stack that can be closed off for a cleaner look for the dash.

The gear selector has the appearance of fine-grade crystal, though why designers thought it necessary to place the button for “park” down on the gear lever itself is a mystery to me. Why not leave it in the regular gear sequence? Drive, Neutral, Reverse, Park seems to work just fine.

Operation of the top is accomplished by tugging on a small lever on the console. The fabric roof raises and lowers in 15 seconds and at speeds up to 30 mph, handy if a sudden shower hits (not uncommon in my South Florida environs). When closed, the cabin remains very quiet.

Technological and other functions can be operated by an iDrive controller, voice commands, or gesture control, and the large touchscreen at the top of the center stack does provide vital information at a quick glance.

A Harmon Kardon Surround Sound System is standard, and a 12-speaker Bowers & Wilkins Diamond Surround Sound System with an output of 1,375 watts is optional.

All that is nice, but it is what is under the hood that really sets the M850i apart from its 6-Series predecessors. An updated, twin-power turbocharged 4.4-liter V8 engine is rated at 523 horsepower at 5500-6000 rpm and a whopping 553 pound-feet of torque in 1800 to 4600 rpm.

Mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission (yes, of course there are paddle shifters for manual gear selection), it moves the M850i’s 4,736 pounds from zero to 60 mph in 3.8 seconds, according to BMW clockers.

You can select driving modes that include Comfort, Sport, Sport-Plus, and Eco Pro or set the mode to suit to your own individual tastes. (One of these days I’ve got to see what Eco is all about.)

As you might suspect, fuel mileage is not a strongpoint for the M850i. EPA figures are 17 miles-per-gallon city, 26 highway, with a combined 20 mpg of recommended premium fuel.

Speaking of premium, the M850i xDrive Convertible also comes with a premium price with a starting MSRP of $122,395 including the $995 destination and delivery charge.

But to be fair here, several niceties come with no extra charge, including soft-close automatic doors, remote engine start, M Sport brakes, Integral Active Steering (rear wheels can turn up to 3 degrees, which at lower speeds can reduce the turning circle and also help stabilize the vehicle), heated and ventilated front seats, wireless charging, Wi-Fi hotspot, and a power operated rear deck lid.

The most expensive option on my test car was a $1,700 Drivers Assistance Pro Package which features BMW’s Extended Traffic Jam Assistant that monitors surrounding situations to warn of potential hazards.

That package and a few extras that included a neck warmer (for driving with the top down in cooler weather) ran the final total to $123,395. 

What I liked about the 2019 BMW M850i xDrive Convertible: The interior is impeccable, as one might expect (demand?) of a vehicle running into six figures. The ride is comfortable and smooth without being “floaty.” The ability to raise and lower the soft top while at speeds of up to 30 mph is a real plus. The trunk is small, but the backseats may be folded individually for more cargo capacity. Oh. And you can turn off the “stop/start” system by pushing a button on the console.

What I didn’t like about the 2019 BMW M850i xDrive Convertible: The abundant technological features can be fussy to operate as well as being a destraction from the driver’s attention, which is kind of ironic for a company that calls its products the “ultimate driving machine.” The backseat is tight, though not as cramped as some other four-passenger convertibles on the market today. You get back there by gently pulling on straps on the back of the front seats and the seats are automatically move forward.

Would I buy the 2019 BMW M850i xDrive Convertible? We’re assuming I have won the lottery here, so yes, I would put this magnificent vehicle in my collection if that were the case. That said, you can get a lot of luxury and technology from some competing vehicles and still stay well under the $100,000 mark.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019


The C-Class has served as a introductory model for Mercedes-Benz enthusiasts since its debut as a “baby Benz” sedan in the early 1990s.

It has grown up considerably since then, however, and there is nothing “baby” about the AMG C43 Cabriolet I recently had the pleasure of driving for a week, from the performance, to the luxury, and yes, to the price tag.

Can you envision a C-Class that starts in the $60,000 range and nearly reaches $80,000 when fully equipped?

That’s quite a jump from the base C-Class Cab that starts at just a couple of notches over the $50,000 mark but it is what often happens when the folks who labor in the company’s AMG workshops get done with their tinkering.

AMG versions of Mercedes models are not really for those who only care about getting from Point A to Point B. They are for those who look forward to the ride itself!

It starts under the hood, where AMG has pumped up the 3.0-liter bi-turbo V6 to 385 horsepower and 384 pound-feet of torque, big steps up from the 255 hp and 234 lb.-ft. the turbo-4 in the C300 Cabriolet delivers.

Mated with a 9-speed automatic transmission, the V6 scoots the C43 from zero-to-60 mph in under 5.0 seconds with fuel numbers of 18 miles-per-gallon city, 25 highway, 21 combined.

Driving modes include Comfort, Sport, Sport-Plus, and Individual, and if you want more sound from the dual exhaust, you can push a button on the console to get that, too. Sport-Plus mode disengages the stop/start system as well as stiffening the suspension and increasing throttle response.

In fact, the increased throttle response almost can be a bit too aggressive at times, especially considering that even in Comfort the C43 gets off the line quickly.

The interior is impeccable with lots of leather, natural grain wood, and brushed aluminum throughout. The triple-layer, acoustic soft top gives the C43 a quiet ride, more like of hardtop quality than a typical soft top. When riding with the top down in chillier temperatures, the Airscarf system and heated seats keeps things comfortable.

With South Florida’s summer temperatures, the optional ventilated seats and an A/C set on high are more appreciated than the Airscarf!

That roof, incidentally, raises and lowers in about 20 seconds, and you can do it at speeds up to 30 mph, a handy feature if a sudden shower appears and you can’t pull over.

Among standard features for the base MSRP of $64,645 (including destination and delivery) are a Burmester surround-sound audio system, push-button start, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, dual zone climate control, rain-sensing windshield wipers, a 10.25-inch display screen for infotainment features that operate with a central controller or touchpad (both on the center console) and Bluetooth connectivity.

The AMG, flat-bottom performance steering wheel is included in the base price, but other AMG-inspired touches like performance exhaust, carbon fiber rear spoiler, and illuminated door sills plus packages that include navigation and safety features like lane-keeping assist, active blind spot detection,, etc. are options.

Thus the total for my test drive model came to $78,105.

What I liked about the 2019 AMG C43 Cabriolet: In a word, everything. The AMG version of Mercedes-Benz’ so-called “entry level” convertible offers the highest level in performance and comfort features for a superb motoring experiences for both driver and passenger. The interior oozes luxury touches. You don’t have to be at a standstill to lower or raise the soft top.

What I didn’t like about the 2019 AMG C43 Cabriolet: The trunk is small, though I was able to slide in two beach chairs and an umbrella and still ride with the top down. The COMAND system to operate infotainment features can be very distracting. Much of the really good stuff is only available as options that can add nearly $15,000 to the starting MSRP. The backseat is practically useless.

Would I buy the 2019 AMG C43 Cabriolet? If cost was not an issue, sure. But if it was, I would find nearly just as much happiness in the basic C300 Cabriolet.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019


Still a relative newcomer in the subcompact SUV segment, Hyundai’s Kona crossover quickly has established itself as one of the best in its class.

Last January the Hyundai Kona and its electric version Kona EV a panel of 54 judges at the 2019 North American International Auto Show in Detroit selected the Kona over the Jaguar I-Pace and Acura RDX as the North American Utility Vehicle of the Year, arguably the most prestigious award in the industry.

Other awards from media organizations and publications have followed with the most recent recognition from the New England Motor Press Association as “Best-in-Class Subcompact SUV.” Edmunds also named the Kona EV its “Editors’ Choice” among all electric vehicles because of its long range, affordable price, and pleasing driving experience.

And Kona — an Hawaiian name for a strong southwesterly wind that often brings rain — has moved into the No. 5 spot among the South Korean automaker’s best sellers with 43,466 Konas sold in the first seven months this year.

Introduced as a 2018 model at the Los Angeles Auto Show in the fall of 2017, the Kona now comes with safety upgrades like forward collision-avoidance assist, lane-keeping assist, and driver attention warning as standard for 2019. Collision-avoidance wasn’t available on 2018 models, and lane-keeping and driver attention were not available on the base model.

Hyundai recently that adaptable cruise control, labeled “Smart” Cruise Control, will be available on top-of-the-line Ultimate trim 2020 Kona models. 

Ultimate is one of four Kona trims along with SE, SEL, and Limited. Base pricing runs from $21,085 (including destination and delivery) to $33,045 for the special “Iron Man edition” depending on the engine (a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder or a 1.6-liter, turbo-4) and transmission (6-speed automatic or 7-speed dual-clutch).

This review is based on the Ultimate trim equipped with the 1.6-turbo engine and 7-speed dual-clutch transmission. It delivers horsepower and torque numbers of  175 hp and 195 pound-feet, respectively, for a brisk ride while still demonstrating fuel economy with numbers of 28 miles-per-gallon city, 32 highway, and 30 combined.

The Kona Electric is rated at 201 hp with mileage ratings of 132 MPGe city and 108 MPGe highway with an impressive range of 258 miles, more than double that of the electric version of its Ioniq cousin (124 miles).

My test vehicle Kona Ultimate came with front-wheel drive, though all-wheel drive is available, which impinges slightly on on fuel economy numbers.

The Ultimate version of the Kona lives up to its name with a long list of standard features that make adding options unnecessary.

In addition to the safety features already mentioned (pay attention!) are blind-spot and rear cross-traffic warning, rear parking distance warning, and front, front side and side-curtain airbags and rollover sensors.

Also included in the Ultimate’s $27,500 MSRP are an 8-inch color touchscreen with navigation and rear-view monitor, leather seating surfaces, power sunroof, proximity key with push-button start, tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel, heads-up display,wireless device charging, rain-sensing wipers, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, Bluetooth connectivity, Infinity premium sound system, and Hyundai’s Blue Link services (think OnStar). It rides on standard 18-inch wheels.

Along with the destination charge, the only extra in pricing was $125 in floor mats that ran the total to $28,605.

For that you get a very capable crossover SUV that is fun to drive, comfortable to ride in, and practical as well. Plus one it doesn’t have the funky styling of some past Hyundai SUVs yet remains distinctive as well.

What I liked about the 2019 Hyundai Kona Ultimate: The “pulse red” color is spectacular. There are lots of standard features for a vehicle that checks in at under $29,000. Technological features are very user friendly. The lively performance was an unexpected bonus, yet its fuel efficiency rates among the leaders among its non-hybrid, non-electric competitors in the subcompact SUV segment.

What I didn’t like about the 2019 Hyundai Kona Ultimate: The rear storage space isn’t the most generous, even for its class. At 19.2 cubic feet, it should be adequate for most tasks, however. It expands to 45.8 cubic feet with the rear seats folded. Legroom in the back is only 34.9 inches, but you have to remember this is a subcompact that is only 164 inches long with a wheelbase of 102.4 inches.

Would I buy the 2019 Hyundai Kona Ultimate? Yes. It’s a nice fit between a sedan and a larger SUV.