Saturday, June 20, 2020


After updating the GLS with new GLS 450 and GLS 580 models for 2020, Mercedes-Benz is now out with the AMG version of its largest SUV with the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLS 63.

The Germans say it “is more dynamic and versatile than ever before” with “plenty of space for seven people” and “improved driving dynamics” powered by a 4.8-liter biturbo V8 engine that boosts horsepower to 603 and torque to 627 pound-feet over the 577/561 numbers of its predecessor.

And that engine gets a 48 horsepower, 184 torque jump from the EQ Boost mild-hybrid system that also controls idle speed for increased fuel efficiency. (The EPA has not released numbers for the 2021 model but it does publish numbers of 16 miles-per-gallon city, 21 highway and 18 overall for the 2020 GLS 580, which has a 4.0-liter V8 with slightly lower horsepower and torque numbers than the AMG GLS 63.

Mercedes clockers caught the AMG GLS 63 at 4.1 seconds from zero-to-60 mph and an electronically limited stop speed of 174 mph. That should satisfy the power-hungry.

That engine is paired with a 9-speed automatic transmission and is configured with the company’s 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system.

You also can vary the driving dynamics by selecting one of six driving modes — Comfort, Sport, Sport+, Sand, Trail, and Individual, or you also may select gears manually via the steering wheel-mounted paddles.

But lest we not forget that the AMG GLS 63 also lives to its SUV mission as a family hauler.

It seats seven passengers. Though you probably wouldn’t want to take a long trip sitting in the third row, getting back there takes little work. There is plenty of legroom in the first two rows with 40.3 inches up front and a generous 41.9 in the second row.

Cargo room is only slightly compromised when all seats are in place with 17.4 cubic feet behind the third row and 42.7 cubic feet when those seats are lowered by pushing buttons at the rear

Highlighting the front are a pair of 12.3-inch display screens incorporated into one flowing piece by a single glass cover. Content in the instrument panel may be set in one of four display styles— Modern Classic, Sport, Discreet and AMG-specific Supersport.

Infotainment features of the company’s MBUX system can be run via voice command (“Hey, Mercedes”), buttons on the steering wheel, or an annoying touchpad system that is supposed to mock the gestures used for a typical laptop but mostly just get in the way. They require an inordinate time away from keeping your attention on the road. Imagine “pinching” two fingers together on the pad to adjust the navigation scale, for example.

Standard features in the super-luxurious interior include a panoramic roof, navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Burmeister surround sound, multi-contour heated and ventilated front seats, Mercedes’ “me connect” services, wireless charging, 64-color ambient lighting, and safety systems like Attention Assist, Brake Assist, blind-spot assist, and parking assist.

That is included in the base MSRP of $133,095 (including destination and delivery).

My test model featured a couple of items you can probably live without depending on your family (like a $3,700 Rear Seat Executive Package that added rear-seat wireless charging and heated and cooled rear-seat cupholders among other things) so the bottom-line totaled $153,035.

Just another example of how the GLS lives up to the company’s billing as the “S-Class of SUVs.”

What I liked about the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLS 63: The bold, aggressive styling exudes a “no compromise” ambiance. It is every bit as powerful as the image it projects. Highway cruising is unbelievably smooth and quiet, and you won’t have an issues with taking advantage of the smallest break in traffic to scoot across an intersection. The roomy interior is stuff with high-grade materials as might be expected with a vehicle from the Mercedes shop. The back cargo area behind behind the third row is OK, but far back seats fold with the touch of a button to provide access to a wide, yawning stowage area.

What I didn’t like about the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLS 63: It’s a bear to maneuver in crowded mall parking lots, but my real issue with the Mercedes-AMG GLS 63 (as it was with the Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S I reviewed on May 19) is the MBUX infotainment system, especially the touchpad pad for selecting the desired feature. The small flat pad is simply in a bad spot and you can easily find yourself listening to a different audio station if your fingers brush it when you reach for something in the cupholders. Moving it to another location on the center console farther from the cupholders might help, but would not eliminate accidental touches entirely. They just would not occur as often.

Would I buy the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLS 63? Probably not. The touchpad system is a deal breaker with me. You have other options for changing a function, but the real killer to me is the effect of accidental brushings to change modes on the screen.

Thursday, June 11, 2020


It was unveiled at the 1964 New York’s World Fair and made its movie debut the same year in the James Bond flick Goldfinger.

It appeared on the covers of Time and Newsweek and was featured in commercials that ran simultaneously on all three television networks the night before it went on sale.

Almost 22,000 were sold the first day and over 400,000 in its first year, about four times what was expected, and hit the million mark in production just two years after being launched.

We’re talking here about the Ford Mustang, of course, which at 56 years old retains all the vibrancy and energy of a 20-something halfway through a case of Red Bull.

Even with COVID-19 fears slowing auto sales, the Mustang still came through with positive numbers for the first quarter of 2020. Ford, which suffered a decrease of 13.2 percent in sales for its fleet overall and a dip of 37.6 percent for its cars, reported an increase of 6.8 percent to 18,069 vehicles for the Mustang in the first three months of this year.

Apparently, though at one point in its over five-decade history the Mustang seemed to be slipping with blah styling overall and a lifeless 4-cylinder as a base engine, that is no longer the case. The 2020 model very much lives up to the Mustang’s glorious past in both its retro styling and upgraded performance.

Ford has added a new High Performance Package to its Ecoboost models that boosts power for the turbocharged 4-cylinder engine to 330 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque, which the company claims makes it the “most powerful four-cylinder sports car by an American automaker.”

The Shelby GT500 model sits at the top of the performance heap with 760 hp and 675 lb.-ft., but the 2.3L Ecoboost 2.3L model with the High Performance package delivers a very satisfying zero-to-60 mph time that Ford says is in the mid-four-second range when on premium fuel. Top speed is increased to 155 mph, a 10-mph gain over the 2019 EcoBoost Performance Package and 34 mph faster than the base EcoBoost Mustang.

Ford has given the Mustang’s interior a more refined ambiance with leather-trimmed seats and leather-wrapped steering wheel as well as dual-zone climate control.

It also has simplified the top operation for the convertible that served as my test model. You simply need to release one latch and then press a button at the top of the windshield and the top lowers or raises in just a few seconds. (But you must be completely stopped.)

My test vehicle also came with the 6-speed manual transmission which adds to the fun, but if three-pedal driving is not your thing, a 10-speed, SelectShift automatic is available.

Fuel efficiency, by the way, is listed at 20 miles-per-gallon city, 27 highway, 23 combined with the manual and 20/28/23 with the automatic.

Other standard equipment on this 2020 Mustang 2.3 High Performance convertible included LED headlights with signature lighting, LED fog lamps, LED taillights with sequential turn signals, dual exhaust, push-button start, steering wheel buttons for cruise and audio control, two Smart charging USB ports, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, Ford Pass/Connect wth 4G Wi-Fi, Sync3 infotainment system, and track apps.

Additional features on my test car included the 2.3L High Performance Package, hood accents and a carbon-fiber sport interior trim package.

Alas, pricing to cover all that was not listed on the spec sheet, but the MSRP for the Ecoboost 2.3L High Performance starts at $38,380 including destination and delivery charges. Figure the extras will take it over the $40,000 mark.

What I liked about the 2020 Ford Mustang Convertible 2.3L: You don’t have to go for the V8 if you want a lively performance. Though the GT packs a bigger punch, the Ecoboost 2.3L is pretty sprightly, especially with the manual transmission. The exhaust tone remains one of the sweetest in the industry, and it has a pretty good size trunk (11.4 cubic feet) for a convertible. Lowering the top involves releasing just one clamp manually and pushing a button. The standard Sync3 infotainment system with an 8-inch display is very user friendly

What I liked about the 2020 Ford Mustang Convertible 2.3L: Not a lot of room in the backseat, of course, and rear vision is somewhat restricted when the top is up. A flat-bottom steering wheel would be appreciated to ease getting into the driver’s seat. It can be kind of tricky, especially if there is a car parked or other object close to the left.

Would I buy the 2020 Ford Mustang Convertible 2.3L? In a heartbeat. I’ve owned only one Mustang in my life. Why stop there?

Friday, June 5, 2020



All-electric power trains may be the future in the automotive world, but the new electric version of the 2020 Mini Cooper SE Electric is already behind the times, which, as we shall see, is unfortunate.

With an estimated 110-mile duration on a full charge, the Mini Cooper SE Electric is burdened with a notably short driving range, especially considering several other all-electric competitors are offering twice that and more with recent models.

Yes, it probably meets commuting needs, especially if your place at work has charging stations. Mini expects most if its buyers to use the SE Electric for exactly that.

But if you want to enjoy the perks that come with this fun-to-drive subcompact for more than that, you are going to have to limit your weekend breakaways to close-by destinations. Very close-by, say 50 miles or so unless there is a charging outlet along your route or at your destination.

But the 2020 Mini Cooper SE Electric, an updated reincarnation of the Mini E model that was featured in a demonstration program about a decade ago, is not without its finer points.

When you take into consideration the usual federal and state tax breaks that electric vehicles are eligible for, however, plus an estimated $4,500 savings in fuel costs over five years, the initial cost for the Mini Cooper SE Electric is considerably less than that for its gas-powered brethren as well as other competitors in its class.

With a base price of $30,750 (including destination and delivery charges) before those deductions are taken, the Mini Cooper SE Electric becomes a very viable option as a second car. With the federal tax credit of $7,500 alone, the electric Mini becomes an even a better bargain than the gas-powered Mini Cooper hardtop it is based on.

The company itself says that depending on what state you live in the price could go down to as low as $17,900 when all of the incentives kick in.

Speaking of kicks, the Mini SE Electric is a kick to drive.

It absolutely destroys the notion that you can’t have fun driving an electric car. With its135 kilowatt motor generating 181 horsepower and 199 pound-feet of torque with the torque delivered at an instant, it scoots from zero-to-60 mph in 6.9 seconds and has a top speed of 93 mph.

Nor is this is a bare bones Mini.

Standard equipment includes LED headlights and fog lights, adaptive cruise control, a multi-function leather-rapped steering wheel, heated front seats, keyless entry and push-button start, and floor mats (hooray!), forward collision warning, rear-view camera, the traditional circular display with LED center ring and Mini navigation, Bluetooth connectivity, and automatic modes for headlights and rain-sensing windshield wipers.

You might think that after so many years that Mini might come up with another design for the display than the huge circle at the top of the center stack, but I guess it’s just a Mini thing.

Adding $7,000 to my test Mini’s MSRP was a special trim and navigation package that among other things included a panoramic moonroof, Harmon Kardon premium audio, parking assist, and Apple CarPlay and ran the bottom line total to $37,500.

As is common to many electric vehicles, the Mini Electric also features one-pedal driving to take advantage of regenerative braking. Pressing the accelerator gives you an immediate forward boost but instead of coasting when you ease the pressure, the car gently begins to slow you as if you are braking.

It actually will bring you to a full stop, and then you can press the pedal again and move forward without raising your foot.

With the Mini, you can set the car in full-regenerative mode or partial, meaning when you lift your foot you continue to glide along in customary fashion.

It does take some getting used to and you have to wonder about how lazy we may be getting when we don’t have the energy to lift our right foot and apply it the brake. But if you want to add a bit of energy back to your electric motor to slow the reduction in range, you’ll want to take advantage of it.

You also can extend your range a couple of miles by turning off the A/C, but I never noticed any increase when I turned off the radio.

The bottom line: Mini, please extend the battery range. I may want to get past Islamorada in the Florida Keys and back next time.

What I liked about the Mini Cooper SE Electric: It is a fun car to drive. Torque responds at the slightest tap of the accelerator. There’s not a whole lot of room in the back, but the way the front seats  slide forward gives easy access.

What I didn’t like about the 2020 Mini Cooper SE Electric: More range is needed than 110 miles on a charge. That is probably enough for daily commutes to work, but what about weekend jaunts to the Keys? You can use your second car for that, but then you miss out on the fun the Mini offers. Luggage space behind the second row is minimal. The one-pedal driving experience does take some getting used.

Would I but the 2020 Mini Cooper SE Electric? Not now. The abbreviated range is a deal breaker for me. Actually, until they get the infrastructure to provide full recharges in the same time it takes to fill up your tank with gas, I will pass on all electric vehicles, not just the Mini.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020


After nearly two months of self-imposed isolation for you-know-what with trips limited to the grocery and drug stores and takeout food runs, we managed to escape Miami over the Memorial Day weekend to visit our daughter and son and their families near his home in Tampa.

She drove down from Illinois while we had a comparatively short jaunt from our home to her rental house on Florida’s West Coast, which was in the early phases of the state’s re-opening as compared to where we were coming from.

Groceries and restaurants in Tampa weren’t requiring customers to wear masks, unlike in Miami which was still pretty much in total lockdown at the time.

Though the number of tables were limited, you could even eat in at a restaurant if you desired. It would be another week before that was being permitted on the Southeast Coast.

It was almost as if we had broken out from prison, or at least that was the feeling. What made it even better was the new, 2020 Kia Stinger sedan that our friendly media fleet servers delivered to our driveway the morning for our escape, er, trip.

Since it is in just its third year of production, you may not be familiar with the Stinger, but if you have been paying attention at all you should know about Kia and the high quality of vehicles it has been producing in recent years.

With the Stinger, Kia has packed a long litany of standard features in a classy, upscale package that fits in comfortably among traditional luxury vehicles from Europe. 

Sporty performance? Check.

Rear-wheel drive? Check.

Lots of techno features? Check.

Premium audio? Check.

Navigation with touchscreen and voice controls? Check.

Room for five passengers and their stuff? Check.

Classy exterior? Check.

Upscale cabin? Check.

It was especially comfortable cruising on the interstate when I set the adaptive cruise control at the desired speed (OK, perhaps technically a bit over the posted limit) and let the technology take over.

Though a couple of instances it seemed like it slowed rather abruptly to adjust to the speed of the vehicle ahead, overall it operated rather smoothly. After slowing for a car or truck ahead, it picked right back up to my selected speed when I moved to the left lane to make a pass.

The Stinger is available with either a turbocharged 4-cylinder or a twin-turbo V6 engine and either rear-wheel or all-wheel drive. The base model GT-Line gets the 4-banger and starts at $34,125 including the destination and deliver charge.

For my trip, I had the GT2 RWD which has the 3.3-liter V6 and starts at $50,200, putting it at the top of the heap. Each engine is mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters, though gear ratios vary slightly to match the specific engine.

The 4-cylinder engine is rated at 255 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque and earns EPA ratings of 22 miles-per-gallon city, 29 highway, and 25 combined with RWD and 21/29/24 with AWD drive.

The V6 is standard in GT, GT1, and GT2 trims and delivers more performance at 365 hp and 376 lb.-ft. but is thirstier with mileage numbers of 17/25/20 for both RWD and AWD models. 

Standard equipment on my test Stinger GT2 included a surround-view camera, head-up display, Harman Kardon Premium audio, navigation with an 8-inch touchscreen, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, a wireless charger, push-button start, Nappa Leather trim, heated and ventilated front seats, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, multi-color LED mood interior lighting, adaptable (Smart) cruise control, blind-spot and rear cross-traffic warning, driver attention warning, LED headlights with high-beam assist, a power sunroof, power rear deck lid opener, and forward collision warning.

The Ceramic Silver Paint (the second consecutive vehicle I had that reminded me of Navy gray fleet vehicles) and a cargo mat ran the total for my test vehicle to $51,815.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the Stinger as a Top Safety Pick recognition earlier this year.

One thing I should note: Kia refers to the Stinger as a “fastback sport sedan” and that is what it looks like, but but technically it is a hatchback, which is good. Opening the rear liftgate provides a wide opening for up to 23.3 cubic feet of rear storage room. That’s more than double that of many of its direct competitors.

What I liked about the 2020 Kia Stinger GT2 RWD: The infotainment system is both very plentiful in the way of standard features (like navigation) and all are very user-friendly. The “Smart” (or adaptive) Cruise Control is very effective and easy to adjust. The interior is upscale and the overall ride is very comfortable and peppy even when driving in Eco mode.

What I didn’t like about the 2020 Kia Stinger GT2 RWD: Fuel economy is only so-so. Hard to find fault with anything else!

Would I buy the 2020 Kia Stinger GT2 RWD?: Definitely, yes. The Stinger offers everything you want in a luxury sedan except perhaps brand cachet. It has lots of room for passengers and their stuff and plenty of infotainment functions as standard. Pricing is very competitive in its class.