Wednesday, July 29, 2020


Here we go again.

If memory serves, which it doesn’t always, Mercedes-Benz was the first to muddy the coupe-sedan waters when it introduced the idea of a four-door coupe a few years ago. Until then, it had been pretty accepted that a sedan had four doors, a coupe two.

Now BMW has jumped in with a version of its 2-Series coupes with a powerful four-door model it dubs a “Gran Coupe.”

A four-door sedan in the real world, the 2020 BMW M235i xDrive Grand Coupe has the sloping roofline of coupe and shares a platform with BMW’s X2 crossover SUV. It delivers a lively driving experience one would expect from a BMW model that has undergone “M” performance upgrades.

Under the hood is a 2.0-liter twin-turbocharged inline 4-cylinder rated at 301 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque. It is mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission that can be operated manually via steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.

The website reports a zero-to-60 mph clocking of 4.6 seconds for the M235i, which should satisfy all but the most power hungry among us. 

For those seeking even quicker times in the 2-Series, the new M2 CS clocks in at under 3 seconds. There’s also a slightly less punchy 228i xDrive Gran Coupe rated at 228 hp and 258 lb.-ft. in the 2-Series portfolio.

Fuel consumption for the M235i is a respectable 23 miles-per-gallon, city, 32 highway, and 26 overall using premium gas, of course.

Though the M235i gets such M treatments as the upgraded Performance engine and distinct M Sport Brakes, M suspension, M steering wheel, and M Sport seats, it also comes with BMW’s very “un-M-like” all-wheel-drive xDrive system that favors the front wheels with power distribution.

Purists used to the customary rear-wheel-drive configuration for M models may not like it, but AWD has its advantages, too. The performance seems just as agile and athletic as RWD S-Series models while remaining a comfortable highway cruiser.

Inside the M235i offers the best in creature comforts with expansive use of leather and soft-touch surfaces. The two-tone color scheme is especially striking. Unlike other Series models that customarily seat four, the Gran Coupe seats five, though those in the backseat will either soon become good friends or worst enemies.

Standard equipment or no-charge extras in addition to the M features already cited include Active Blind Spot and Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure Warning, Frontal Collision Warning, Speed Limit Info, keyless entry and push-button start, lumbar support, automatic climate control, park distance control, Apple CarPlay, rear spoiler, Anthracite headliner, SiriusXM Satellite Radio with one-year subscription, 8.8-inch touchscreen and 8.8-inch instrument cluster, LED headlights, dual-zone climate control.

Pricing starts at $45,500 and a handful of options on my test vehicle that included $2,650 for a Premium Package (heated steering wheel, adaptive full LED lights, head-up display, and navigation) and $995 destination and delivery ran the bottom line to $51,295.

What I liked about the 2020 BMW M235i xDrive Gran Coupe: It’s very quick and powerful and throttle response is right on the money, especially when set in Sport mode. The front seats are very comfortable, and the interior overflows with soft premium leather. Infotainment functions aren’t the most user-friendly but still are easy to use once you get the hang of the console knob. Some functions also operate off buttons and/or voice. The trunk is a good size for its class (12 cubic feet).

What didn’t like about the 2020 BMW M235i xDrive Gran Coupe: The backseat is on the snug side with less than 35 inches of legroom. With the sloping roofline, three adults likely would find it cramped in the rear, especially when it comes to headroom for taller riders. I would like a larger monitor for the rearview camera.

Would I buy the 2020 BMW M235i xDrive Gran Coupe? Yes. It is a fun vehicle to drive, and offers a nice alternative to the company’s 3-Series, which is a bit larger and pricier.

Thursday, July 23, 2020


In just its third year, Alfa Romeo’s Stelvio already has established itself as a go-to vehicle for someone seeking a functional, fun-to-drive SUV in a distinctive, stylish package.

With a best-in-class 505 horsepower and 443 pound-feet of torque produced by the 2.9-liter, twin-turbocharged V6 engine, the Stelvio — it is named for a mountain pass in the easter Alps in northern Italy  — is based on the Alfa Romeo’s popular Giulia sport sedan and delivers breathtaking performance numbers.

The website www.zeroto60times caught it at 3.3 seconds for zero to 60 and 11.7 for the quarter mile, and Alfa Romeo itself boasts of a record 7 minute, 51.7 second lap at the Nürburgring, making the Stelvio Quadrifoglio the fastest production SUV available in the U.S

The Stelvio is offered in several trim variations with Stelvio and Stelvio Ti models getting a 2.0-liter turbo 4-cylinder engine rated at 280 horsepower and 306 pound-feet of torque that results in a zero-to-60 clocking of 5.4 seconds and a top speed of 144 mph, according to the company.

Both engines are mated to distinctive 8-speed automatic transmissions with dynamic mode and steering column-mounted shifters for manual gear selection.

This review is based on the top-of-the-line all-wheel-drive Quadrifoglio that gets the V6 and its eye-popping performance numbers.

Of course, it also carries an eye-popping MSRP that starts at $80,445. My test model had options that ran the final bottom line to $95,690 with high-performance CCM Brembo brakes accounting for over half that bump, $8,000 to be exact.

Hey, with all that performance, you’re going to want to have the best stopping power available to go with it!

Since introducing the Stelvio for the 2018 model year, Alfa Romeo engineers have continued to upgrade its features.

For 2020, the Stelvio gets a new center console that features leather-wrapped gear shifter with bright accents, premium rotary knobs and dial materials and increased storage capacity. A wireless mobile phone charging pad also is available, and Stelvio and Stelvio Quadrifoglio models get new steering wheel designs. (For a look at the 2019 Stelvio, see my review from September 2019 via the index to the right.)

The 8.8-inch center touchscreen also is new, though I wish the operation for infotainment features was a bit more friendly. (Actually, I wish it was a lot more user-friendly.)

New available driver assistance features include lane keep assist, active blind spot assist, and traffic sign recognition. The latter is a camera-based system uses a camera mounted on the windshield that alerts you to various traffic signs in case you’re not paying attention.

Standard features on the Stelvio Quadrifoglio include Apply CarPlay and Android Auto, a one-year subscription to Sirius-XM satellite radio, a leather dash and upper doors, heated steering wheel and front seats, 8-way power adjustable front seats with 4-way power lumbar support, a 14-speaker Harmon Kardon Premium sound system, push button start, power liftgate, LED daytime running lights and taillights, dual quad exhaust system (that puts out a sweet tone when dynamic drive mode is selected, carbon fiber interior trim, and blind spot and cross-detection systems.

As noted, my vehicle for the week came in at over $95,000 with extras.

In addition to the Brembo brakes, those extras included the active driver assist programs that featured adaptive cruise control and driver attention alert, a Security and Convenience package that included a rail-mounted cargo compartment cover and premium alarm, a dual pane sunroof, heated second-row seats, the wireless charging pad, and Quadrifoglio carbon fiber steering wheel and leather-wrapped shift knob.

A 4-leaf clover logo on the side panel also is standard on the Quadrifoglio. It pays homage to Alfa Romeo’s racing heritage and designates the company’s high-performance models. “Quadrifoglio” is Italian for 4-leave clover.

Just another cool element to the Stelvio Quadrifoglio’s styling.

What I liked about the 2020 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio: It’s one of the most fun-to-drive SUVs on the market as well as being comfortable and quiet. Performance is at the top of the chart. The exterior design sets it apart from many of its competitors.

What I didn’t like about the 2020 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio: The good folks at Alfa Romeo need to borrow a page from their compadres at Chrysler when it comes to the operation of infotainment functions. Chrysler’s UConnect system is one of the most user-friendly on the market while the one in the Stelvio falls way short. Cargo space is only average.

Would I buy the 2020 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio? I would like a friendlier infotainment system and a bit larger screen for display, but other attributes make this an intriguing buy, especially if you’re looking for a little hop in your get-along.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020


You would think that any person fairly cognizant of the automotive world would have no problem distinguishing a coupe from an SUV.

After all, an SUV is a somewhat boxy vehicle with four doors and a big storage area in the back often coming with three rows of seats while a coupe is a smaller version (usually) of a sedan but with only two doors, right?

That’s probably what most observers would go with, but then they probably haven’t seen the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe.

At least “coupe” is what the Germans call it. Forget about that sporty little two-door with a minimal trunk and room enough for to seat only two adults comfortably in the back.

At 195.3 inches long and riding on optional 21-inch wheels, the AMG GLE 53 “Coupe” is right up there with many full-size sedans, and, yes, it seats five and has four doors for easy access to the back. That alone would disqualify it as a “coupe” in the eyes of many, including auto reviewers.

But if Mercedes wants to call it a Coupe, who am I to argue?

Perhaps the solution is to label it a “coupe-style” SUV to separate it from the more traditional SUV model such as the AMG GLE 63 S I reviewed in May (see archive listings on the right). That’s what some reviewers do, and it seems to work.

The AMG GLE 53 Coupe comes with a performance-tuned, 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged in-line 6 cylinder engine rated at a peak 429 horsepower and 384 pound-feet of torque with another 21 hp and 184 lb.-ft. coming from the EQ Boost electric starter-generator.

That results in a zero-to-60 mph clocking of 5.2 seconds and an electronically limited top speed of 155 mph, according to company clockers.

The engine is mated to a 9-speed automatic transmission and may be set in seven different drive modes — Comfort, Sport, Sport+, Individual, and Slippery (with reduced power and a flat torque curve for slick surfaces) as well as Trail and Sand for going off-road. An AMG performance version of Mercedes’ 4MATIC all-wheel drive system also is included.

Fuel economy ratings from the government for the AMG GLE 53 Coupe are 18 miles-per-gallon city, 23 highway and 20 combined which pretty much mirror the 18/22/19 for the GLE 53 SUV.

The GLE 53 Coupe does have an aggressive look about it, though the exterior is not for everyone’s tastes, at least judging by one of the responses it got from a neighbor of mine. (I’ll be kind here and not quote him directly).

The front fascia has an in-your-face look about it with an extra large Mercedes tri-star logo in the middle of the yawning grille. The bulky rear looks like designers simply ran out of ideas of how to finish it off smoothly.

The interior is another story. AMG touches such as red contrast stitching on the leather seats raises the level of the high-class cabin up a notch.

Standard features included in the AMG GLE 53’s base $76,500 MSRP include a panorama sunroof, keyless entry with push-button start, a 12.3-inch touchscreen display smoothly integrated into a 12.3 inch instrument cluster giving the dash a striking appearance, MBUX infotainment features, a Burmeister premium sound system, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, and LED headlights.

Standard safety systems include attention assist, active brake assist, active park assist, a high-def rear-view camera, and the company’s Pre-Safe Occupant Protection system.

Extras such as natural grain gray oak wood interior trim, 21-inch, 5-spoke black AMG wheels, active lane-keeping assist, and a technology package that includes augmented video for navigation ran the bottom line to $84,105 including the $995 destination and delivery charge.

What I liked about the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe: The performance is at a high level (not the highest in the GLE portfolio; that would be the AMG GLE 63 S), and it is a very comfortable, quiet cruiser. Technology is plentiful.

What I didn’t like about the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe: Sorry, Mercedes, but your designer missed it with the exterior for me. The sloping roofline makes it tricky to get into the driver’s seat without bumping your head, but my No. 1 issue is with the touchpad system for operating infotainment functions. It continues to befuddle me. It’s just too easy to change settings, including radio stations, with an accidental brush of your hand as you reach for something in the cupholder.

Would I buy the Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe? No. The downsides (exterior design, MBUX infotainment operation) simply outweigh the upsides (performance, comfort, capacity) for me. But appearance is largely a matter of taste, and you may like the way it looks. If performance is what you’re looking for in a family hauler, have it at!

Thursday, July 2, 2020


Kia has added another vehicle to its growing fleet, and to the surprise of nobody save, perhaps, a monk in far off Tibet, it is another crossover SUV.

Classed as a subcompact, the 2021 Kia Seltos — Seltos comes from Greek mythology, Celtos being the son of Hercules — slots in between the company’s popular Soul and Sportage at about the same starting price point as the company’s Niro crossover.

But while the Niro comes in hybrid, plugin hybrid, and all-electric forms, the Seltos is offered with conventional gasoline-fueled powertrains. LX, S, and EX trims get a  2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine and S 1.6T and SX trims a 1.6-liter turbo GDI 4-cylinder..

The former is rated at a so-so 146 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque while the 1.6 turbo delivers heftier numbers of 175/195, respectively.

The 2.0-liter engine is mated to a continuously variable transmission, the turbo to a 7-speed dual clutch tranny. Comfort, Smart, and Sport modes adjust throttle responses to your current mindset, Smart being somewhat of a combination of the other two as it adjusts to the way your are driving.

All-wheel drive also is available on the Seltos.

This review is based on the top-of-the-line SX that comes with the 1.6-turbo engine that in addition to the power numbers earned EPA ratings of 25 miles-per-gallon city, 30 highway and 27 combined.

It comes with the dual-clutch tranny, AWD  and a laundry list of standard and included features. Among them are LED headlights and fog lights, LED daytime running lights and tail lights, heated front seats, leatherette and cloth seat trim, Bose premium sound system, 10-way power adjustable driver’s seat with power lumbar, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, keyless entry and push-button start, Smart (adaptable)  cruise control, wireless phone charger, remote start, automatic temperature control, rear USB charge port, and a cargo cover.

In addition to the usual collection of seatbelts and air bags, safety systems include forward collision avoidance, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-keeping assist and lane-departure warning, driver attention warning (wake up, fool!), and high-beam assist. The rear view camera features dynamic guidelines to reflect your turning angle.

Infotainment features run via voice command or an 10.25-inch touchscreen and include navigation and a suite of features built in Kia’s UVO telematics that help you find where your parked your car and send emergency information.

The Seltos SX rides on standard 18-inch wheels and is 172 inches long with a wheelbase of 103.5 inches. Inside, front-seat riders get 40 inches of legroom while those in the back get  38.4. The Seltos seats five comfortably though getting three adults in the back could be a bit of a squeeze.

Cargo room is a generous 26.6 cubic feet behind the second row and a spacious 62.8 cubic feet with the second-row seats folded.

The Seltos SX carries a starting MSRP of $27,890. Adding in a couple of extras like a special color, carpeted floor mats, and the $1,120 destination and delivery ran the bottom line for my test vehicle to $29,485. The base Seltos LX starts at just under $22,000.

What I liked about the 2021 Kia Seltos: It’s surprisingly roomy overall, both for passengers and their stuff, especially for its class. The infotainment system is very user-friendly, and it responds readily to voice commands. The SX trim is on the expensive side but is well equipped. Navigation is standard and Bose Premium Sound is included at no extra cost in this top-of-the-line model. The 1.6-liter turbo packs a pretty nice punch and mileage is decent as well. The exterior styling is more mainstream than its slightly smaller, older Kia Soul sibling.

What I didn’t like about the 2021 Kia Seltos: The “Starbright Yellow” body color is not for me, and certainly not worth an extra $345. Ventilated front seats (not available) would be a nice addition. Also, for those who like to select gears automatically, paddle shifters could be more convenient to use than the shifter on the center console.

Would I buy the 2021 Kia Seltos? Yes. If you are in the market for a subcompact SUV, the Seltos definitely should be on your shopping list.