Search

The Review Garage

Rating the best and worst in cars, SUVs, trucks, motorcycles, tools and accessories.

Author

Frank A. Aukofer

2020 Toyota 86 Hakone Edition: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

In American slang, “86” means to get rid of, cancel, eject or bury something. In the Japanese automobile industry, 86 is the name of a nimble Toyota sports car that is actually built by Subaru.

The joint venture dates back to 2012, when Toyota introduced the two-door coupe as the Scion FR-S (then Toyota’s youth-oriented brand, now 86ed). The FR-S name went away with Scion. The FR-S and successor 86 also was — and still is — sold by Subaru as the BRZ. The two vehicles gave each manufacturer something it did not have.

For Toyota, it was the 200-hp, 2.0-liter horizontally-opposed four cylinder engine, also called a flat or boxer engine. In a boxer, the cylinders lie flat, feet to feet, on both sides of the crankshaft, instead of standing straight or leaning sideways as in-line or V engines.

Subaru is the only manufacturer that uses boxer engines in all of its models. The configuration is the same as that used in millions of Volkswagen Beetles and microbuses from the 1930s until the 1970s. 

The other manufacturer currently using boxers is Germany’s Porsche, in its Boxster, Cayman and 911 models. In those cars the engine is mounted amidships, forward of the rear wheels, or behind them in a rear-engine design.

That leaves the Subaru BRZ and Toyota 86 with a unique layout in which the boxer engine nests up front and sends its power to the rear wheels via a driveshaft. Nobody else does a boxer front engine, rear drive layout. It also is the only two-wheel drive model in the Subaru lineup; the others come standard with all-wheel drive.

The 2020 86 gets its name from its production numbers — hachi-roku in Japanese. It still uses the boxer engine, now with 205 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque. Tested for this review was the special Hakone Edition with a six-speed manual gearbox (a six-speed automatic is available). Hakone is the name of a famed curvy turnpike near Tokyo. It also is the name of the Hakone Edition’s deep green paint, similar to British Racing Green.

The Hakone Edition package also includes bronzed alloy wheels and smart-looking front seats done up with black suede cloth seating areas trimmed with tan leather. But the fancy stuff ends there; the two vestigial back seats are monotone.

That’s likely because Toyota doesn’t expect them to get much use. The 86 is what used to be called a “two-plus-two,” meaning a coupe with tiny back seats and no knee or leg room. In an emergency, you could squeeze two small humans back there but only if the front seat occupants run their seats as far forward as possible, likely compressing the driver’s chest.

So think of the 86 as a two-seater, not unlike a Mazda MX-5 Miata with a hard top and a bit of extra space in back for melons or capuchin monkeys. At least the 86’s back seat augments the meager seven cubic feet of trunk space.

Another way to consider the 86 is as the smaller, less powerful sibling of the resurrected Toyota Supra two-seater, which comes with a 382-horsepower in-line six cylinder engine from BMW. At $56,720 as reviewed here, it costs twice as much as the $28,015 base 86.

The Hakone Edition comes nicely equipped for $30,825 with the manual gearbox. Prices include the destination charge. The test car had Bluetooth connectivity but no Apple Car Play or Android Auto, though it was compatible with those apps. There was an AM-FM radio but no SXM satellite radio.

However, the 86 is a pure sports car so the entertainment comes from the driving. Engine noise intrudes harshly into the cabin any time the tachometer needle passes 3,000 rpms. The zero to 60 acceleration time is less than seven seconds (compared to less than four seconds for the Supra).

For enthusiasts, the stick shift is preferable to the automatic. But the 86’s clutch action can be a bit touchy, and the shift linkage is taut and even a bit bumpy changing gears. 

Handling is the 86’s forte. It corners flat, and the somewhat stiff steering provides good feedback. The tradeoff is a harsh ride on rough roads. Combine the ride with the echoing engine racket in the cabin and a long trip on freeways could become taxing.

Complaints include a hard-to-read, tiny backup camera mounted in the inside rearview mirror, and sun visors that do not slide on their support rods to adequately block sun from the side.

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Toyota 86 Hakone Edition two-door sports coupe.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder; 205 hp, 151 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed manual with rear-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 13 feet 11 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/trunk volume: 77/7 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 2,810 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 21/28/24 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $30,825.
  • Price as tested: $30,825.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test-drive and review.

Photos (c) Toyota

2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

It’s still a puzzle why any luxury manufacturer would produce a vehicle like the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe.

It must have something to do with the psyche of some of its customers — people who maybe have the same mindset of those who rushed out to buy the BMW X6 after it was introduced in 2008.

2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe

To some, it looked ridiculous. Take a tall midsize luxury sport utility vehicle, with all its attendant practicality, and shave the roof so at least the part above the beltline vaguely resembles a sleek fastback like an Audi A7.

Never mind that the effect is that of a clumsy effort to produce a stylish SUV with limited rear headroom and visibility, as well as truncated cargo space. Or, as a Car and Driver magazine critic wrote, it “proves that some people really do want a running shoe with a hiking sole attached.”

2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe

Mercedes gives ‘em the Old Razzle Dazzle by describing its new AMG GLE 53 as a four-door Coupe. It’s even part of the official name. The company has produced other so-called coupes with four doors but some are tempting designs with sensuous fastback styling—what was called a torpedo body in the World War II era.

Except for the odd body and nosebleed price, the AMG GLE 53 Coupe has solid Mercedes-Benz credentials, enhanced by the company’s high-performance AMG arm. It is a mild hybrid with a 48-volt electric supercharger that contributes 21 hp to get things going without discernible turbo lag, connected to a 429 hp, 3.0-liter turbocharged inline six-cylinder engine that makes 384 lb-ft of torque.

2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe

It could hardly have less given its high performance image and curb weight of 5,250 lbs. Mercedes-Benz says that the AMG GLE 53 can nail 60 mph in about five seconds, assisted by the mild hybrid system off the line, which also enables a sophisticated idle stop system that barely makes itself felt. Top speed is governed at 155 mph.

The transmission is a nine-speed automatic with a manual-shift mode controlled by paddles on the steering wheel. Mercedes 4Matic all-wheel drive and an AMG Ride Control air suspension system are part of the standard equipment.

2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe

There are seven selectable drive modes for on- and off-road motoring: Sand, Trail, Slippery, Individual, Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus. The last is intended only for race track duty, and the onboard computer informs the driver whether there are any race tracks — or none at all — in the neighborhood.

The AMG GLE 53 Coupe is an easy driver, obviously with plenty of power, though it is almost six feet tall and has the substantial, even somewhat ponderous, feel of a big vehicle, though the heavy steering and handling feel secure on twisting roads. Because of the bias toward handling, the ride is a bit stiff.

2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe

Despite the off-road equipment, this is more of a confortable road runner suited to long-distance travel on Interstate highways. It is uncommonly well dressed, and the price tag bears witness to the long list of standard and optional equipment and features.

The starting price of $77,495, including the destination charge, looks almost reasonable. But the tested Coupe also came with a whopping $27,829 worth of options — an amount that could buy you a nice compact crossover SUV.

2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe

The equipment is too extensive to fully list here, but includes a suite of safety features enhanced by one of the biggest head-up displays anywhere, along with Distronic adaptive cruise control, emergency braking, heated and ventilated seats, four-zone automatic climate control, navigation, Burmaster surround-sound audio, SXM satellite radio, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. A particular favorite for this review was the massage function built into the driver’s seat. Relaxing.

2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe

There’s a bewildering array of buttons, switches and icons on the  console, steering wheel and center screen, some of them redundant. They can be learned but it takes time and practice to get everything set up properly. Don’t fiddle with them while driving.

The AMG GLE 53 Coupe does come up short in a few areas. There are no assist handles inside for entering and exiting. Visibility to the rear is limited, with wide pillars flanking a small rear window that resembles a machine gun port in a military bunker. And the sunshade for the glass sunroof is made of a perforated cloth that admits too much light and heat.

2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 3.0-liter six-cylinder, supercharged and turbocharged; 429 hp, 384 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 3 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: NA/23 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 5,250 lbs.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 18/23/20 mpg. Premium fuel required.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $77,495.
  • Price as tested: $105,324.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe

Photos (c) Mercedes-Benz

2020 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Ultimate: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

If raucous high performance defines motoring excitement for you, consider the 2020 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Ultimate.

This is a compact, front-wheel drive hatchback with midsize room that is distinguished by three passenger doors. There’s a long door for the driver and two shorter doors on the right side. Having the third door is way preferable to squirming into the back seat of a two-door.

Three Doors Open

Though it’s far from a sales standout in Hyundai’s lineup, the Veloster, depending on the version, qualifies as an economy car or all the way up to what some observers like to call a “hot hatch” — that is, a sports car in hatchback metal.

The Veloster has been part of the South Korean manufacturer’s lineup for almost a decade. For 2020, it comes in five trim levels: The base model, at $19,430, including the destination charge, comes with a 147-hp, 2.0-liter engine with 132 lb-ft of torque and a five-speed manual gearbox. Next up is the 2.0 Premium for $23,730, which adds a six-speed automatic transmission and other equipment.

Front 3q Right Dynamic

Both fall into the economy end of the equation, though they offer standard Apple Car Play and Android Auto as well as a suite of safety enhancements. Among them: forward collision mitigation and lane-keeping assist. They are solid, dependable daily drivers.

Move up to the next level and you get the stick shift Turbo R-Spec, which has a sticker of $24,080 and is a blast to drive because of its 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 201 hp with 195 lb-ft of torque. Get the same power with a dual-clutch seven-speed automatic transmission and the price jumps to $26,380.

Front 3q Left Dynamic

Which brings us to the tested Veloster Turbo Ultimate. It has the same power train as the Turbo DCT but more equipment and a bottom-line sticker price of $29,215. It comes equipped with blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-keeping assist and automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection,

The dual-clutch seven-speed automatic transmission is part of the Ultimate package. This type of automatic operates something like a manual gearbox but with two clutches alternately poised to engage the next gear instantly, computer controlled unless the driver opts to shift for himself or herself. The advantage is quicker shifts and improved fuel economy.

Dash Daytime

The tested Veloster Turbo Ultimate was gorgeously gussied up with bright red paint topped by a glossy black top. You could argue that it had an arresting presence — likely attracting any police vehicle in sight.

Inside, the effect was similar, with light gray, perforated leather upholstery trimmed with red stripes. The front seats were supportive and comfortable, with seatbacks well bolstered to hold the torso in hard cornering on curving roads. Oddly, though the tester was well equipped, even with a head-up display, the driver’s seat had only manual adjustments.

Second Row

Once you awkwardly work your way through the narrow right rear-door opening, the back seat offered decent head and knee room for average-sized adults.

On the road, the Veloster Turbo Ultimate was a stellar performer. But it might be a good idea to bring along ear plugs or noise-canceling headphones. Combine the racket from the revving turbo engine and road noise stabbing into the cabin, ordinary conversation or listening to audio is off the table.

Profile Right

Still, there’s excitement. With the snap shifts from the dual-clutch transmission, the Turbo Ultimate can nail 60 mph from rest in about six seconds, according to a test by Car and Driver magazine.

The steering is precise and responsive, though with a heavy feel, and communicates what’s going on at the front wheels. However, the ride, on anything but smooth asphalt, is harsh and upsetting.

Hatchback Open

Equipment is extensive. As the top of the lineup, the Veloster Turbo Ultimate came with only one option: $135 carpeted floor mats. Included  were a motorized glass sunroof, 18-inch alloy wheels, navigation system, automatic climate control, premium audio with SXM satellite radio, wireless smart phone charging and LED headlights and tail lights.

Curiously, the Turbo Ultimate actually is not the ultimate Veloster. Hyundai has developed a new N high performance line for some of its models. The designation resembles F-Sport at Lexus, AMG at Mercedes-Benz, V at Cadillac, S at Audi, R-Type at Honda and M at BMW.

The Veloster N comes in two versions: Standard package for $28,530 and Performance package at $30,430. Both have 2.0-liter four-cylinder engines. The Standard makes 250 hp and the Performance has a 275-hp four-banger. That’s the ultimate.

Front Dynamic

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Ultimate three-door hatchback.
  • Engine: 1.6-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged with direct injection; 201 hp, 195 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic with manual-shift mode and front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 13 feet 11 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 90/20 cubic feet. (44.5).
  • Weight: 2,987 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 28/34/30 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $29,080.
  • Price as tested: $29,215.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

Rear 3q Left Dynamic

Photos (c) Hyundai

2020 Nissan Leaf SV Plus: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Although Tesla gets most of the attention and expensive newcomers like the Porsche Taycan and Audi e-Tron get the praise, the almost-venerable 2020 Nissan Leaf continues as a decent, relatively inexpensive, alternative for anyone who wants an electric car.

We can give it the venerable title because the Leaf was the first modern mass-market electric car from a major vehicle manufacturer. Introduced in the United States in December, 2010, it was the best seller until recently, when the Tesla Model 3 passed it.

Front 3q Left

But best-selling as an electric doesn’t compare with the resurgence of small-displacement fossil-fuel engines, which now dominate the market, mostly in crossover SUVs.

In 2019, electric cars  accounted for 1.9% of the U.S. sales of cars and light trucks. If you skip trucks and you’re just talking cars, it’s about 6%. So, motorist acceptance likely will not arrive for some years to come as manufacturers scramble for battery and charging breakthroughs.

But electric cars possess a great deal of innate appeal: They don’t pollute, they’re fuel efficient, have low maintenance costs, are quiet and relaxing to drive, never have to visit a service station and, best of all for people who enjoy driving, are natural great performers.

Front 3q Right Action

The excitement common to all electrics comes from the nature of the electric motor, which produces maximum torque, or twisting force, immediately when they are switched on. That’s unlike gasoline or diesel engines, which deliver their maximum torque when they reach a certain revolutions per minute (rpm).

With the Nissan Leaf electric, you sit quietly at a stoplight as if the motor is switched off, though it’s still connected. The light changes and you punch the throttle pedal. Wham! You have full torque, enough with the nearly two-ton Leaf SV Plus to nail 60 mph in about seven seconds.

Profile Left

You don’t even need a transmission to multiply the torque. The “force be with you” for acceleration and passing exists because of the motor itself. That’s why most electric cars list the transmission as “single speed automatic.”

Drive the around all day, even take a short trip — the advertised range is 215 miles with its 62 kilowatt-hour battery — then plug it into a 240-volt home or commercial charger overnight and it will be ready to boogie again the next day.

Of course, the downside of the Leaf and other pure electrics is the time required to recharge the battery. With a 240-volt charger, it takes about 11 hours, OK overnight. If you have access only to household current, figure on a couple of days. So long trips, unless meticulously planned  for charging stops and stays at rural motels, are likely out of the question.

Dash

That likely will change as battery technology and charging equipment improve. Until then, most people will stick with their gassers, which can be refueled in minutes at an Interstate truck stop.

All of that said, the tested Nissan Leaf SV Plus is a nifty, even endearing choice. First, it’s a standard four-door hatchback with midsize room for five (though the center-rear passenger is dissed as usual) and plenty of space in a deep cargo area.

Front

The surroundings are familiar. There’s a simple knob on the console for shifting into forward, reverse and park. It’s different but not goofy. Instruments, controls and infotainment are all intuitive and mostly easy to figure out. If not, consult the owner’s manual.

It’s all set up for careful drivers who want to extend their range—and it works. First, there’s a B setting to augment the D for drive. Simply shift the knob a second time. It switches from a coasting mode on deceleration to one that more aggressively slows the Leaf. The regenerative braking helps recharge the battery while you’re driving.

Center Console

There’s also a so-called e-Pedal mode, activated by a switch on the console, that delivers even more aggressive regenerative braking that allows what is called “one pedal driving.” If you learn how to use it, you can re-charge the battery even more and never use the brake pedal.

The Leaf comes in five trim levels, with a starting price for the S version of $32,525, including the destination charge. Tested for this review was the SV Plus, which had a suggested price with options of $42,670. Others are the SV, S Plus and SL Plus

The tested Leaf posted an EPA city/highway/combined miles per gallon equivalent fuel economy of 114/94/104 MPGe.

Motor

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Nissan Leaf SV Plus four-door hatchback.
  • Motor: AC Synchronous Electric; 214 hp, 250 lb-ft torque; 62 kWh lithium-ion battery.
  • Transmission: Single-speed automatic with front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 92/24 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,909 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined miles per gallon equivalent: 114/94/104 MPGe.
  • Range: Up to 215 miles.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $40,675.
  • Price as tested: $42,670.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

Rear

Photos (c) Nissan

2020 Lexus GX460 Luxury: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Although it is beginning to show its age, the 2020 Lexus GX460 has managed to stay relevant and even desirable among midsize premium sport utility vehicles.

The GX460 comes from the luxury brand of Toyota, with all the expectations of quality and durability that entails. But unlike most other new SUVs in its class, it is an older design that harks back to the days when most SUVs were built like pickup trucks, with body-on-frame construction.

Front 3q Left Snow

Though Lexus also produces crossover SUVs, which have unit-body construction like conventional sedans, it has stuck with the truck-like architecture for both of its top-line models: the GX460 and the LX570.

With that, it is out of sync with the avalanche of crossover SUVs in every price class that are taking over the market in the United States. Yet the LX460 is not alone. There still are quite a few truck-based SUVs struggling against the crossover onslaught.

The basic design has roots in the depths of the Great Depression when manufacturers started building tall station wagon-style vehicles dubbed Carryalls or Suburbans. Chevrolet’s Suburban made its debut 85 years ago, in 1935.

Front 3q Right

Modern SUVs came along in the latter part of the 20th century with vehicles like the Jeep Cherokee and Wagoneer, and what became the most popular of its genre, the Ford Explorer, which made its debut in 1990 and soon became a best seller. Over the years, it alternated between a truck-based SUV and a unit body crossover and also provided the basis for the Lincoln Navigator.

The first clue that the Lexus GX460 is no longer a fully realized modern SUV comes when you give the turn signal lever a brief click, expecting the three flashes of the lights to indicate a lane change — a longstanding feature on European cars and now nearly universal. There’s no response. You have to click the lever all the way and then turn it off after you change lanes.

Dashboard

Then there’s the lane departure warning, another safety feature especially aimed at inattentive driving. However, the GX460’s system does not include an assist feature to steer the wandering vehicle back in its lane.

Then there’s the so-called “refrigerator door.” Instead of the ubiquitous tail gate that opens overhead, the GX460 has a side-swinging door—not unlike the original Honda CR-V in the 1990s — that opens on the left side. Anyone loading cargo on the street has to stand in traffic. You could also argue that the 4.6-liter V8 engine with 301 hp and 329 lb-ft torque is also something of a relic in an age of powerful, turbocharged, small displacement engines. But there’s nothing like the Lexus V8’s surging, silky power, delivered to all four wheels through an unobtrusive six-speed automatic transmission.

Second Row

On or off the road, the GX460 is never out of breath or lacks power for the task at hand. It is a comfortable, serene highway cruiser with capable handling on curving roads, as well as one of the few vehicles of its size with a reputation for capability to negotiate serious off-road terrain.

Despite the fact that the Lexus GX460 last had a complete redesign a decade ago, it has kept up on safety equipment, off-road capability and luxury amenities. There are three rows of seats. On the tested GX40, there were captain’s chairs in the second row for a total of six-passenger seating. Mostly, owners likely will leave the tiny third-row seats folded flat to expand the stingy cargo space of 12 cubic feet. But to use the seats you must remove a big, clumsy cargo cover shade and re-install it.

Cabin Cutaway

With the third row folded, there’s 47 cubic feet of space and, if you also fold the second row, a total of 65 cubic feet.

No surprise, the 2020 GX460 has most of the equipment and features any customer would expect of a modern luxury SUV with a base price of $65,290, including the destination charge. And, as equipped for this review, an as-tested price of $71,240.

There’s automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind-spot warning with rear cross-traffic alert; automatic headlight high beams; radar adaptive cruise control; headlight washers; LED lighting for headlights, fog lights, running lights and brake lights, intuitive parking assist, auto-leveling rear air suspension and trailer sway control.

On the amenities list, there’s plenty of posh luxury items that include power everything, perforated, heated and cooled leather upholstery, and a rear entertainment system, among others.

Rear 3q Left

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Lexus GX460 Luxury four-door sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 4.6-liter V8; 301 hp, 329 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic with full-time four-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet.
  • Height: 6 feet 2 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 129/12 cubic feet. (47, 65)
  • Weight: 5,260 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 6,500 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 15/19/16 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $65,290.
  • Price as tested: $71,240.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

Rear 3q RightPhotos (c) Lexus

2020 Fiat 500X Trekking AWD: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Whether someone becomes a fan of the 2020 Fiat 500X depends more on what the customer wants than the vehicle itself.

If the person’s orientation is toward a small crossover sport utility vehicle with some Italian styling panache, the 500X — especially in the Trekking trim tested for this review — would be a decent starting point.

2020 Fiat 500X Trekking Plus

If, on the other hand, the customer is seeking a small crossover with more versatility, including moderate off-road capabilities, the choice likely would be the 500X’s fraternal twin: the Jeep Renegade.

If off-roading, or even all-wheel drive, are not in the equation, there are many small crossovers at reasonable prices to check out, including the Toyota C-HR, Honda HR-V, Buick Encore, Subaru Crosstrek, Nissan Kicks and Rogue Sport, Hyundai Kona and Venue, Kia Niro and Seltos, and Mazda CX-3 and CX-30.

2020 Fiat 500X Trekking

The Renegade and 500X, products of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, share engines and transmissions, and are built in an FCA factory in Melfi, Italy. They also are similarly priced, though the Jeep is a bit more expensive because of its all-terrain equipment.

But the 500X, depending on the trim level, is not a bargain either. There are four trim levels: Pop, Trekking, Sport and Trekking plus. Tested for this review was the Trekking, which had a starting price of $27,490, including the destination charge. With options, it topped out at $34,550. Other models’ base prices range from $26,085 to $30,990.

1.3-liter direct-injection turbocharged inline four-cylinder engine 

All use the same engine and transmission combination: a small displacement, 1.3-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine that nevertheless makes 177 hp and 210 lb-ft of torque. All-wheel drive is standard, with a nine-speed automatic transmission — the same as the Jeep Renegade.

For such a tiny mill, the tested 500X felt strong on acceleration, though it was an illusion. There was some turbo hesitation off the line even with the standard idle stop-start turned off. Independent tests put the zero to 60 miles an hour acceleration in the eight-second range.

2020 Fiat 500X Trekking

Not particularly porky at 3,505 lbs, the 500X Trekking had respectable, though not outstanding, city/highway/combined fuel economy of 24/30/26 mpg.

With a fairly stiff suspension system and three adjustable modes — Auto, Sport and Low Traction — for  light off-roading, the 500X Trekking cruises fairly quietly on the public roads. But the ride is choppy unless the highway surface is pool-table smooth. However, the rigid underpinnings help the handling somewhat around curves.

2020 Fiat 500X Trekking Plus

There was no opportunity to evaluate the 500X Trekking off-road, though the all-wheel drive would come in handy in wintry and other nasty weather. However, the 500X doesn’t come across as an ideal road car for a long trip. The front seats are hard, with little bolstering and aggressive seatback cushions that could contribute to driver fatigue.

Outboard seating in back has adequate headroom for average-sized adults, although knee room is in short supply. As with many modern vehicles, the center-rear seat is a hard, uncomfortable perch compromised by intrusion of the front console and a prominent floor hump that leaves no space for feet so they must be widely splayed.

2020 Fiat 500X Trekking

Behind the rear seat is a cargo area that is small even by subcompact crossover standards. It measures just 14 cubic feet, about the same size as the trunks in some compact sedans. However, folding the rear seatbacks nearly flat expands the area to 32 cubic feet. Rear seatbacks are divided two-thirds and one-third.

The tested 500X came with an optional double-pane glass sunroof. However, following a current fad even in some expensive European cars, the sunroof shade was made of a sort of perforated cheesecloth, which allowed the admission of too much hot sunlight. Sunroof shades should be opaque.

2020 Fiat 500X Trekking

As it should be for its $34,550 sticker, which included a pricey $1,495 destination charge, the tested 500X Trekking came with a high equipment level. Standard items included SXM satellite radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, FCA’s U-Connect infotainment system with a seven-inch center screen, Bluetooth connectivity with voice command, passenger-seat height adjuster (it pleases shorter companions), automatic headlights and fog lights.

Options included a $1,395 an advanced driver assistance group with forward collision avoidance, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot warning, adaptive cruise control, cross-path warning, rain-sensing windshield wipers, front and rear parking assist and automatic high headlight beams.

Italian cars have always come with a certain indefinable appeal, more traced to styling and flair than deadbolt reliability. Most of the world’s renowned super cars — Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini, Alfa-Romeo — come from the land of pizza, gelato and Vespa motor scooters.

2020 Fiat 500X Trekking Plus

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Fiat 500X Trekking AWD four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 1.3-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 177 hp, 210 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic.
  • Overall length: 14 feet.
  • Height: 5 feet 3 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 100/14 cubic feet. (32)
  • Weight: 3,505 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 24/30/26 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $27,490.
  • Price as tested: $34,550.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

2020 Fiat 500X Trekking Plus

Photos (c) FCA

2020 Honda Civic Sport Touring: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Anyone who thinks that the sales-surging crossover sport utility vehicles have ripped the wheels off hatchbacks should take a look at the 2020 Honda Civic Sport Touring.

Though hatchbacks, as well as station wagons, have been disrespected over time by U.S. buyers, there still are a number of very good and relatively popular examples available. Moreover, there still exists a cadre of customers who recognize the advantages they offer over traditional sedans with trunks.

Front 3q Left

That’s certainly the case with the Honda Civic, which currently is the biggest selling compact automobile in the United States, with 430,248 total sales in 2019 and through May of 2020. Of that number 22% were hatchbacks — a total of 94,655 — certainly a respectable showing.

The big news in recent years, if you haven’t noticed, is the insurgent takeover of the vehicle marketplace by crossovers, which essentially are tall hatchbacks — often, but not always, with optional all-wheel drive.

Front 3q Right

They are distinguished from SUVs because they usually have unit bodies, built like automobiles, instead of using body-on-frame construction like pickup trucks. (Of course, in the olden days even cars were built with bodies dropped onto frames).

Different manufacturers at various times in the late 20th and early 21st centuries tried marketing new station wagons and hatchbacks to U.S. buyers, usually without much success as motorists stuck to traditional sedans, big wagons and minivans. Then SUVs showed up and became popular, led by Jeeps and the Ford Explorer.

2017 Honda Civic Hatchback Sport Touring

So the manufacturers finessed the situation. They built competing SUVs, then redesigned hatchbacks and wagons, jacked them up somewhat for a taller profile and baptized them as crossovers. Subaru, for example, which did not have a truck-based SUV, simply elevated its Legacy station wagon for more ground clearance and created the popular Outback, later joined by the dedicated crossovers Forester and Crosstrek.

Honda joined the crossover revolution with its compact CR-V, midsize Passport and three-row Pilot. The Accord started out as a wildly sought-after two-door hatchback in 1976 but morphed into a conventional sedan and, at various points, a station wagon and the Crosstour hatchback, both of which ran into a ditch of buyer indifference.

Dash

The Civic soldiered on and expanded its reach and popularity, now with a lineup of sedans and coupes with performance Si versions of each, as well as the hatchback Type R, a paragon of performance offered only with a six-speed manual gearbox for dedicated enthusiasts.

The thing is, you can get some of the Type R kicks without paying its current $37,255 price. That’s where the tested 2020 Civic Sport Touring Hatchback comes in. Sure, the Type R has a 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo motor that delivers 306 hp and 225 lb-ft of torque.

Center Stack

There are not many places short of a racetrack where you can put that sort of power to the pavement and be held harmless. But you can spend $7,475 less for a $29,780 Civic Sport Touring, with a 180-hp, 1.5-liter turbo that delivers 162 or 177 lb-ft of torque and find almost as much joy behind the wheel on the public roads.

The conundrum for this review is that the tested Sport Touring came with Honda’s continuously-variable automatic transmission (CVT), which uses belts and pulleys to multiply its engine’s162 lb-ft of torque. Though it has a computerized manual-shifting mode with steering-wheel paddles that mimics a seven-speed manual, it is nowhere near as entertaining as the six-speed manual gearbox, which by the way gets the engine with 177 lb-ft of torque.

Center Console

Most customers, however, likely will be happy with the CVT, which goes about its shifting duties unobtrusively and without hiccups. In manual mode, you can hold selected gears on hilly and twisting roads, though the computerized system doesn’t totally trust the driver. If you don’t select the correct gear, it simply shifts for you.

The Sport Touring is no Type R, but is satisfying and comfortable to drive, though the preference here would be for the six-speed manual gearbox. The front seats are supportive with good seatback bolstering to hold the torso in hard cornering. In back, there’s head- and knee-room for two, though the center-rear passenger contends with a big floor hump and a hard perch.

Second Row

The hatchback advantage shows up behind the rear seats. There’s 23 cubic feet of space for cargo (compared to 15 cubic feet in the Civic sedan’s trunk). A clever sideways-sliding shade hides the cargo and the space grows to 46 cubic feet if you fold the rear seatbacks.

CargoSpecifications

  • Model: 2020 Honda Civic 1.5T Sport Touring four-door hatchback.
  • Engine: 1.5-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 180 hp, 162 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously-variable automatic with manual-shift mode.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 10 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 95/23 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,012 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 29/35/32 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $29,780.
  • Price as tested: $29,780.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

2018 Honda Civic Hatchback

Photos (c) Honda

2020 Mercedes-AMG CLA35 4MATIC: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

With its tongue-twisting moniker of 2020 Mercedes-AMG CLA35 4MATIC, this new four-door coupe heralds what Mercedes-Benz calls a new era of “dynamic and awe-inspiring vehicles” from its high performance division.

As most Mercedes enthusiasts know, Mercedes-AMG is the company’s hot rod arm. It originally was an independent company that modified and tuned existing vehicles from the German manufacturer, including race car engines, to squeeze out and enhance every dollop of speed and excitement available.

Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 4MATIC (2019)

The two eventually signed cooperative agreements to take advantage of Daimler Benz’s world-wide reach and, in 2005, AMG became part of the Daimler empire, named Mercedes-AMG.

Mercedes is a luxury/performance brand, so you could view Mercedes-AMG as an ultra-luxury/super-performance brand, as attested  to by the higher prices of Mercedes vehicles that carry the AMG escutcheon.

Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 4MATIC (2019)

The company says the new CLA35 is the first of half a dozen upcoming new AMG vehicles in varying body styles and performance parameters that will function as gateways to the Mercedes-AMG brand.

So it’s likely no surprise that the AMG CLA35 four-door makes its debut at the entry level of a car that, in the version tested here, tips the money scales at $65,765. No way can it be considered as an automotive dog door.

Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 4MATIC (2019)

It is called a coupe according the current notion that low-slung, streamlined cars can use the description regardless of whether they have two or four doors. In the AMG lineup, it is an opening bet — classified as a subcompact by the U.S. government, with 89 cubic feet of space for passengers and a trunk of 12 cubic feet. That’s smaller than a Nissan Versa or Hyundai Accent.

Still, it’s decently accommodating for four. The front seats are supportive and comfortable, though back support is intrusive. In back, there’s knee-and head-room for average-sized adults in the outboard seats, although narrow lower door openings make it difficult to enter and exit. There’s a seatbelt, but forget the hard and cramped center-rear position.

Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 4MATIC (2019)

The AMG CLA35 is not about spacious comfort. It’s a sports sedan, powered by a 302-hp, turbocharged 2.0-liter four cylinder engine that develops 295 lb-ft of torque, delivered to all four wheels through a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission with manual shifting via steering-wheel paddles. Zero-to-60-mph acceleration is rated at 4.6 seconds with a top speed of 155 mph.

If you try anything close to that, things get raucous. Though the AMG CLA35 is an exciting car to drive, it’s also very noisy. Unless the road is pool-table smooth with asphalt paving, the road noise announces itself rudely at freeway speeds. It’s as if the AMG engineers had stripped out  the sound-deadening insulation to lop a few tenths of a second off the race track lap time.

Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 4MATIC (2019)

On curving roads, the tires grab the road surface, and the supple suspension system and accurate steering keep the AMG CLA35 planted with almost no body lean. It’s a bit of a different story in modest driving on urban streets and freeways, where the aggressive lane-keeping assist and collision avoidance systems combine to deliver enough hiccups to warrant constant driver attention.

As with many European cars these days, which have to contend with nosebleed gasoline prices, the AMG CLA35 comes with an idle stop-start system, which chokes off the engine at stoplights and re-starts when you lift of the brake.

Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 4MATIC (2019)

It’s OK if you’re just noodling around but if you like to get a jump off the line, it’s annoying. On the AMG CLA35 it can be turned off but sometimes there’s still a bit of a hesitation as the turbocharger spools up. Sometimes you can’t win.

Like every modern vehicle, this sports sedan makes every effort to satisfy the techies among us. There are five driver-selectable driving modes that use computer software to modify engine, transmission, steering and exhaust system settings. On some models — not the test vehicle — you can change the settings with optional steering-wheel buttons while keeping your hands on the wheel.

Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 4MATIC (2019)

The 2020 AMG CLA35 also comes with a state-of-the-art infotainment system with voice activation (“Hey, Mercedes”) and touch screen capability. It enables the driver to change the look — and information displayed — on the instrument panel.

Truth be told, there are not many subcompact sedan/coupes that could keep up wheel-to-wheel with this Mercedes-AMG. However, one scintillating, more than worthy competitor is the German subcompact four-door with another kinky name: the Audi RS3 2.5T Quattro S tronic. Sweet.

Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 4MATIC (2019)

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Mercedes-AMG CLA35 4MATIC four-door coupe.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 302 hp, 295 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Seven-speed twin-clutch automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 5 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/trunk volume: 89/12 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,505 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 23/29/25 mpg. Premium fuel.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $47,895.
  • Price as tested: $65,765.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 4MATIC (2019)

Photos (c) Mercedes-Benz

2020 Volvo V60 T5 AWD Cross Country: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

So smitten are American motorists with sport utility vehicles and crossovers it’s a wonder that a smart station wagon like the Volvo V60 Cross Country is even offered on these shores.

It helps that it’s an all-wheel drive version of the midsize V60 wagon, which attracts customers in snow and ice country. Also plotting against its own creation, Sweden’s Volvo also offers a comprehensive lineup of tall crossover SUVs more palatable to current Yankee tastes.

New Care by Volvo Additions

At one time, station wagons — especially the big ones — ruled the family roosts. Ours was a 1970 Chevrolet Kingswood Estate with applique wood-grain doors and fenders, three rows of seats with the third row facing backward, a 400-cubic-inch (6.6-liter) V8 engine with 265 hp mated to a three-speed automatic transmission, and rear-wheel drive.

It was 18 feet long, weighed 462 lbs more than two tons, got 11 mpg (14 if you feather-footed it on the highway), but gasoline was around 36 cents a gallon, similar to the 2020 pandemic price of $1.75 in some places.

MY2020 Volvo Model Program - Banff Location

The Chevy was ideal for a family with four kids under 10 years old who traveled 800 miles back and forth between Washington, D.C., and Milwaukee, Wis. Pile all the stuff on the top carrier in a waterproof cargo storage bag, flop the rear seatbacks flat, and toss in blankets and pillows. Put the kids in pajamas, scold them for arguing until they fall asleep and drive all night.

That was life on vacations and travel, and it worked dandy for multitudes of families in the days before you’d get arrested for not strapping the kids in car seats. But the thirsty big wagons soon fell out of favor and sport utility vehicles started encroaching in the 1990s. Now SUVs and their tall car-based crossover companions are the hottest sellers in the market, taking over not only from wagons but sedans as well.

New Volvo V60 Cross Country exterior

It’s mainly an American phenomenon. Station wagons like the tested Volvo with the tongue-twisting name of V60 T5 AWD Cross Country are popular in other parts of the world, particularly in Europe, where wagons often are regarded as upgrades from sedans.

Volvo would not need such a long title for its wagon because the V60 T5 AWD is the only Cross Country model sold in the U.S. It’s a midsize by the U.S. government’s definition with 93 cubic feet of space for passengers and 19 cubic feet for cargo behind the second row seat.

New Volvo V60 Cross Country interior

That’s shy of what you get in the XC60 crossover, which is taller and more powerful with 100 cubic feet for passengers and 30 cubic feet for cargo. But it’s also more expensive, heavier and craves premium gasoline.

The tested V60 T5 comes with Volvo’s ubiquitous 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. In this application, it makes 250 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, delivered to all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission that can be manually shifted.

New Volvo V60 Cross Country interior

There are four driver-selectable drive modes: eco, comfort, dynamic and off-road. The last activates the new hill-descent control and alters the computer programming for the all-wheel drive. To enhance its modest off-road capability, the Cross Country has been jacked up on its suspension system by about three inches. However, this is not a vehicle for serious bashing back country bashing.

The advantage of a wagon over a crossover is maneuverability, although differences are becoming narrower with more sophisticated suspension system tuning. But the V60 Cross Country handles more like a sedan, with a lower center of gravity. However, the suspension is biased toward handling so the ride in some circumstances is a bit choppy.

New Volvo V60 Cross Country interior

The eight-speed automatic transmission shifts crisply, though it occasionally gets a bit confused by hiccups from the turbo engine in automatic drive. If you’re in a hurry on a twisting road, best to shift manually in dynamic or comfort mode.

As with most Volvos, the interior is beautifully designed, with supportive seats front and rear. But center-rear seat comfort is compromised by a large floor hump.

2020 Volvo V60 Cross Country - Banff

The infotainment center screen, which requires swipes as well as touches, gets fussy but practice helps. One complaint: the sunshade for the panoramic glass sunroof is made of perforated cloth, which allows too much intrusion of sunlight.

The V60 Cross Country comes equipped with most everything found on a premium European automobile. It starts at $46,095, including the destination charge. As tested here, the bottom line came to $56,990.

2020 Volvo V60 Cross Country - Banff

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Volvo V60 T5 AWD Cross Country four-door station wagon.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 250 hp, 258 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 93/19 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,950 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 22/31/25 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $46,095.
  • Price as tested: $56,990.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

New Volvo V60 Cross Country exterior

Photos (c) Volvo

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑