This week I am driving the Jeep Renegade Trailhawk 4X4. What I love about it is that you get can get the full Jeep off-road experience for under $30,000. The Renegade comes standard with two-wheel front-wheel drive, but the upgraded Trailhawk trim adds 4X4 capabilities. You also get a well thought-out premium interior with excellent build quality. The exterior features a unique style that is firmly Jeep, but doesn’t follow the design language (in my opinion) as that of other Jeep models. This is likely because the Jeep Renegade is the first Jeep product to be built exclusively outside of the United States for global markets. Assembly facilities are located in Italy, Brazil, and China. Some may call it a European take on fantastic America brand. I call it a bargain for a fully-loaded Jeep.
It seem like every couple years, I ask “Hyundai what were you thinking???” A brilliantly designed SUV or car graces our presence for a shockingly low sticker price. It offers styling from German, American and Korean car designers with all of the latest luxury car bells and whistles.
This time, Hyundai has given us a coupe-like sedan. I hate using that terminology, because a coupe is a two car in my book. But the industry has now identified it as anything with a sloped rear roofline. The thought process for the 2020 Sonata “sensuous sportiness,” and indeed it is. The 8th generation Sonata is lower, longer and wider. Take off the badging, and I could easily fooled into thinking it comes from a German luxury manufacture like Audi. I wouldn’t be too far actually, because Hyundai’s design team in Germany had a hand in eleganty crafting the design language.
The interior is just as elegantly dressed as the exterior. Visually and to the touch, you will notice that the 2020 Sonata is far superior than anything in its segment. Little details on the door handles, windshield wiper stalk, and textured knobs make the vehicle feel special. It is a kind to a luxury car with the use of leather, high quality plastics, and real aluminum trim. You will also notice two large displays to represent the instrument cluster and the infotainment system.
Unfortuantly for some, and fortunatly for others, the 2020 Sonata looks way faster than it is. When approaching the vehicle, you heart starts throbbing in anticipation to carve canyon roads. Luckily the vehile has a great road manners. It feels well planted at highway speeds and steers with relative percision for the segment. In terms of power, the 2020 Hyundai Sonata isn’t a dog, but the standard 191 horsepower engine pair with a traditional 8-speed automatic makes you loose all sense of sport when you put the hammer down. Having a car that looks sporty and gets good gas milage (38 mpg) is the perfect combination for the average driver. But if you are like me, you need a little extra umph for your daily community.
For those willing to wait a year or two, Hyundai will be blessing you with N-Line Sonata. It will have basically the same interior and exterior. However, the driving dynamics totally change. You feel like you are in a sports sedan. Hyundai let me drive a prototype with a 2.5L turbocharged 4-cylinder that pumps out 290 horsepower and 310 pounds of torque. The engine was mated to an 8-speed wet dual-clutch transmission that shifts as fast as you can pull the paddle on the steering wheel. A little wheel spin will come natural to this vehicle. The Sonata N-Line feels quick off the line, and seemingly offers improved handling characteristics. It felt tighter going into corners, but that may be because I was pushing it harder.
I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the 2020 Santa’s technology. It has two really cool tecgh features that are shadowed by how great the car is, but are pioneering technology:
First, you can drive the car with your car key. No this isn’t out of some James Bond movie. Using the key you can pull the car forwards or backwards up to 30ft. The feature was designed for individuals who have a narrow garage with filled with “stuff.” But it can also be used when needing to park in tight spaces. Ever park your car in a narrow parking lot, and come back to find that someone parked inches from your door so you can’t get back in? Now you can have the car simply back out of the spot.
Second, do you hate carrying keys? I know I do. We live in the 2020s, where half of the neighborhoods have smart homes that can automatically unlock your front door when you arrive. Why can’t our cars do the same? Hyundai has developed a digital key that uses low power Bluetooth and NFC technology on your smart phone to authenticate your accessibility. The digital key works just like a regular key, but you use your phone. There is a caveat: it only works with Android devices for now. Hyundai is working with Apple to unlock the currently installed hardware in your iPhone to make it possible.
The calendar just rolled over, but the 2020 Hyundai Sonata is posed to be the best non-luxury sedan you can buy this year. I highly recommend one.
This week I am driving the Dodge Charger R/T Scat Pack wide body. What I love about this car is that it means serious business on the racetrack. But it also comfortable enough for long commutes to the office, and large enough to fit kids with car seats. Under the hood is a naturally-aspirated 485 horsepower V8 motor. It is pure muscle car. While it is no Hellcat Red Eye (almost 800hp), it has a similar look and better fuel economy. You can get to the office and back with 25mpg (highway). Standard is four-piston Brembo Brakes, which is awesome. Brembo are often times used on Ferrari and Porsche sports cars, due to their superior design and efficiency.
Remember, just because you are a Dad, it doesn’t mean that you can’t have fun and drive a cool car. Dodge proves this with the Charger R/T Scat Pack.
For those that want the comfort of a mid-size executive sedan on their morning commute, but also want to unwind a little on their way home from the office: I present to you the Mercedes E53 AMG Cabriolet.
Well equipped models feature all of the technology and luxury offered by E-Class sedan. In fact, from the front seat forward, it is almost identical in appearance. Sleek styling on the exterior, and a beautifully dressed dash complete with two large displays on the inside. The leather wrapped seats are soft to the touch and supportive in all the right areas. Depending on how you configure the car, you can also get massaging seats. Surprisingly, the Mercedes E53 AMG Cabriolet is almost as practical as the sedan too. The rear seats are usable for a full-grown adult with the top up or down. And, their is enough truck space for two suit cases or your golf clubs.
What isn’t apparent from the outside is AMG’s new straight six bi-turbo engine that produces 429 horsepower and 384 pounds of torque. It is a great engine for a sporty car. The power curve is very linear with zero turbo-lag. The power output isn’t what I expected though from an AMG model; I was hoping for a rocket ship 0-to-60 mph time and a German muscle car like experience. Instead I got a respectable 4.4 second time and a nice bark from the exhaust. Of course I am just being picky after having the privilege of previously experiencing AMG engines with 12-cylinders and 600+ horsepower. On the plus side of having a more tame engine though, the E53 AMG has impressive fuel economy for an AMG. Up to 26 miles per gallon is great for a larger luxurious performance oriented car. On a weekend sports car, you typically don’t care about fuel economy. But it can get quite annoying having to fill up the tank multiple times throughout the week. The engine sounds quite good thanks to adjustable baffles in the exhaust for loud and quite modes. Handling characteristics are quite nice for this type of vehicle. In sport+ mode, the vehicle hunkers down in the corners. While in comfort mode, the adjustable suspension system minimizes bumps in the road.
Cabriolet is French for convertible. And while the E53 AMG Cabriolet is a true convertible in every sense of the word, I was surprised by how coupe like the car feels with the top up. Gone are the burdens of driving a convertible. The insulated top keeps the cold and heat out very well. It also dampens road noise to traditional fixed roof levels. Even at highway speeds, I could easily forget I am driving a convertible. I credit Mercedes engineers and the advancements in Haartz top materials. But when nature calls, the top goes down in a matter of seconds – even when driving at slow speeds.
All this technology, luxury, and performance comes at a price though. The Mercedes E53 AMG Cabriolet that I tested had a price tag of just under $100,000. For that kind of money you could get Mercedes’ flagship sedan, the S-Class, or the SL-class convertible. But the S-Class wouldn’t be as fun to drive. And the SL isn’t as practical for everyday use.
Many will argue that a panoramic roof or a sunroof with the windows down will deliver the same experience, but nothing compares to the freedom of a true convertible. It will release your stress and quickly put a smile on your face.
Entry level vehicles are often times contrived as being the cheapest way to buy the name plate, versus delivering a taste of what the brand represents. Obviously, the Audi Q3 will never be “as good” as its older brothers, the Q5, Q7 or Q8. But, throughout the years it felt like the baby SUV was the red headed stepchild of the Audi family: With the Q3 not having the same interior design or technology options as its larger SUV siblings.
But that has changed with the all-new Q3. It joins the Audi family as a full-blood member, with a sleek exterior and a plush interior worth of the four-rings badge. The 2019 Audi Q3 feels more like a shrunken SUV versus a lesser Q5 this time around. But in actuality, it is more like a miniature Q8, Audi’s $70,000 flagship SUV. That is because the Q3 is using Audi’s newest design language. The larger and more expensive Q5s and Q7s are still using Audi’s old design language; which is beautiful, but not stunning like its latest rendition on the Q8.
Like on the Audi Q8, the 2019 Audi Q3 features a large touchscreen display that seamlessly blends into the center of the dash. Here you can control a number of infotainment options, but best of all: It has wireless CarPlay. When synced, your phone, while inside your pocket, will appear on the dash to make phone calls, listen to music, navigate, and even find you the best nearby restaurant. The screen on center console is paired with another large display for viewing the instrument cluster; it is dubbed the “Virtual Cockpit.” A slew of information can custom presented here. Giving you focus to traditional gauges, the navigational map, or your music selection.
Like a proper Audi, the interior is a work of art; it is visually pleasing and precision crafted. It does include quite a bit of plastics, but all of the pieces appear to be high quality plastics with a nice finish. Aluminum trim is carefully placed throughout the cabin to give a high tech look. The door handles especially are beautifully crafted. Depending on how you configure your vehicle, additional brushed aluminum inlays, brown natural wood inlays, or orange alcantra inlays can create a unique look. The seats, steering wheel, gear lever, and part of the doors come in genuine leather standard. The options are black, brown, and gray.
The front seats were comfortable and spacious enough for long commutes or road trips despite the deceptively small size of the vehicle. The backseats were also comfortable and offer acceptable legroom. There is also plenty of cargo space for road trips, but if you need extra space, the second row seats fold flush with the rear storage area.
In terms of driving dynamics, the vehicle feels well planted at high speeds on the highway. It also steered wheel at slower speeds around town, and features a good turning radius. It is not a rocket ship, with only 228 horsepower, but it is peppy for a compact SUV. The sprite nature is largely thanks to the motors 258 pounds of torque. That translates into 28 more horsepower and 51 more pounds of torque compared to the previous generation Q3.
Other vehicles in this segment are the Mercedes GLA, BMW X1, and the Lexus UX. The Audi has a way nicer interior than the Mercedes. The Audi is slower than the BMW, but the Audi comes standard with all-wheel-drive and leather seats. The Lexus is cheaper than the Audi by a couple grand, but the Lexus also uses a cheap CVT transmission versus Audi’s eight-speed traditional automatic transmission.
If you want to learn more, I recommend visiting your local Audi dealer and taking a test drive for yourself.
Disclosure: Michelin did not pay me to write this article, however they did provide race passes and travel accommodations for me to attend the Petit LeMans race at Road Atlanta a few weeks ago. In the spirit of full transparency, I paid full price for the last 3 sets of Michelin Pilot Sport tires on my car.
Most automotive industry manufacturers go racing for three reasons: the fame, the glory, and to sell things. Michelin on the other hand is different, they go racing to test their products in extreme conditions. This approach has allowed Michelin stayed on the forefront of tire technology for over 100 years. There greatest achievement was in 1946, when they introduced the radial tire: “a special radial ply design now almost universally used in tires that makes them both durable and flexible.” Then they struck gold again 1992, when they started using silica in their compounds. This formula, which was designed for racing, improves fuel efficiency (important for endurance racing) and enhances both wet and dry grip (important for all cars).
“Motorsports leads to better tires and increased safety.” So to learn about Michelin’s track to street approach, they sent me to Road Atlanta for Le Petit LeMans; the final race of the IMSA Sports Car Championship series. There I learned how every member of their all-volunteer motorsports team has one mission: to test, to learn, and to create a better product.
Le Petit LeMans consists of four classes, but the most relevant to the street is GTLM. It is a factory team only class that represents the fastest and most advanced GT cars on the track. You could easily see these vehicles on the road during your daily commute to the office. Furthermore, all of the participating cars have the same exact wheel size (18 inches) in order to create an even playing field.
Teams are able to choose their tire manufacturer at will, but the vast majority choose Michelin for every race. The decision doesn’t come lightly as the teams still have to pay for the tires no matter which manufacturer they choose. Pricing information was not released to me, but I am guessing that you are looking at somewhere around $60,000 per race in tires alone. Michelin leases tires to teams for a fee in order to reduce the cost of racing. This strategy ensures that competing tire manufactures don’t get access to Michelin’s technology, and it guarantees Michelin engineers access to analyze tire performance after each race.
The best R&D lab in the world can’t simulate the stress a tire endures during a 10+ hour endurance race. Which is why Michelin engineers bring the R&D lab to race track. Realtime data analysis is employed using RFID chips embedded into each tire. This allows engineers to know when each tire goes on to the track and when it gets off. After the race, data is cross referenced with teams to analysis relative weather conditions, the vehicle’s average speed for each set of tires, and how many laps were completed. No other major tire manufacturer is leveraging technology this way.
The data becomes increasingly relevant, because Michelin will often times test new compounds and tread patterns for each race. Michelin’s latest formulas are top secret, however I was told that they include both synthetic and organic materials. They have even gone as far as testing orange peels in the mix.
Before going to Le Petit LeMans at Road Atlanta with Michelin, I thought the main reason to get new tires on my car was because my tread was getting low – replacing a wearable item. Or in the case of collectibles, the tires would start to dry rot.
Now I realize that new tires are actually a performance and safety upgrade. This means that with each new evolution of rubber, my 20 year Porsche will get better and better. In fact a Michelin representative argued that modern Michelin street tires would out perform race tires from 50 years ago. It may look like the same black rubber, but Michelin tires will keep you planted on the race track and your family safer on the road.
Lamborghini created the Urus to be a ultra-high performance SUV, however it lacks real off-road capabilities and significant cargo capacity. So does that still make it a true SUV? It has super car performance, but in my opinion it lacks the UV in sport utility vehicle. It is the “SUV” you buy if you wish you were driving a super car, but can’t right now because you have two kids and a dog in the backseat.
Rolls Royce’s newest member of family is the Cullinan, named after the world’s largest diamond. It is by far the most luxurious car in the world with 4X4 capabilities. It is definitely super luxury. I drove one about 6-months ago, and I was supremely impressed by the supple cabin and the isolated driving experience. To be fair, it is hard to say something negative about any Rolls Royce, because their cars are superb. But lets face it, it is not the quickest SUV on the market, so it can’t hold the title of super high performance. Additionally, it would be disrespectful to damage a handcrafted piece of machinery as fine as a Rolls Royce while you are driving off road. So the utility piece is also missing from the equation.
So with the two most expensive SUVs on the market not deserving the “Super SUV” title, what is left? There always is the original King of sporty SUVs, the Range Rover Sport. And like a few of its predecessors, the SVR edition brings super performance to a super capable and super luxury SUV.
In terms of performance, one work: Supercharged. Range Rover Sport SVR comes standard with a 5.0L supercharged V8 that pumps out 575 horsepower – on par with the McLaren 540C. It is a heavy vehicle (for a performance oriented machine), but it can still do 0 to 60 mph in 4.3 seconds and reach a top speed of 176 mph – impressive for a 5,000 pound vehicle. And because it is an SVR, it offers comparatively exceptional grip thanks to sticky Pirelli tires, a re-tuned suspension, and Active Dynamics damping. So the performance benchmarks makes this a Super SUV.
In terms of capability, two words: Land Rover. Their all-wheel drive system with locking differentials and a low-speed transfer case will get you out of any situation. This includes water, because the Range Rover Sport SVR can wade through a shallow river – 33.5 inches to be exact. You can also tackle rock climbs thanks to its height adjustable suspension. Also in terms of capabilities, you can two up to 6,613 pounds and carry 27.5 cubic feet of cargo. So the capability benchmarks makes this a Super SUV.
In terms of luxury, there words: It is British. The Range Rover Sport SVR is sportiest of the Range Rover fleet, but it is still incredibly posh inside. My test vehicle was covered top to bottom in supple leather with real aluminum and carbon fiber trim. The no-cost option performance seats are not as comfortable as the standard seats in regular Range Rover Sports, but the performance seats still perfectly mold to your body. In comfort mode the vehicle offered a smooth and quite ride – in contract to sport mode which opens the exhaust baffles, lowers the ride height, and tightens the dampers. And for the technology enthusiast: three large displays on the instrument cluster and center console put everything at your finger tips. From level 3 semi-autonomous driving to high quality audio coming out of the 23-speaker Meridian sound system. So the luxury benchmarks makes this a Super SUV.
The 2020 Range Rover Sport SVR is the only vehicle that checks all the boxes for a true Super SUV. And since it starts at around $120,000, versus the Lamborghini at ~$200k and the Rolls Royce at ~$325k, the Range Rover Sport SVR is offered at a super price. I can’t think of a better high performance and capable daily driver.
I have been to a number of “Super Car World Premier Parties,” but none of them had me as giddy as the Corvette Convertible’s introduction last week. I was finally able to touch and feel a car that fans of the Corvette (including myself) have been begging to get for decades.
With the Corvette coupe, we asked for a mid-engine sports car that could keep up with our European rivals. What we got was an American made super car that could not only keep up with, but also out price EVERYTHING on the market. This includes Italy’s Ferrari 488 GTB, England’s McLaren 720S, Germany’s Audi R8, and Japan’s Acura NSX. The Corvette comes in at 1/2 the price or less than all of these machines.
There was no doubt that Chevrolet would give us a convertible Corvette – it is a tradition that dates back to the very first Corvette – but I didn’t realize that the 2020 Corvette Convertible would look this good! Its top down silhouette is an enchanced replica of the Ferrari 488 spider, complete with speedster humps. But for some reason, the speedster humps look better on the Chevy than they do on the Ferrari.
Also just like the Ferrari and the McLaren, we now have a retractable hardtop convertible. This means that you get best of both worlds: a topless experience for when the sun is shining, and a “coupe” experience for the race track.
And for those track day enthusiasts, you will be delighted to know that Chevrolet designed the Corvette to be a convertible from the start. That means both the coupe and convertible should be just as rigid, and offer similar handling characteristics. And with only a ~150 weight difference, both are expected to rocket from 0 to 60 mph in less than 3 seconds… like I said before, super car performance.
The Corvette I got to sit in was a preproduction prototype with the top-of-the-line LT3 package. So the fit and finish was spectacular – $200k super car quality for 1/2 the price.
In fact on the way back from my C8 experience, a fellow journalist and I marveled at how Chevrolet’s $67,000 Corvette is going to radically change the sports car and super car world if the performance benchmarks live up to their claims. It is Porsche Boxster pricing, but with Porsche 911 Turbo performance.
I might actually have to trade my Porsche in for one… or add a C8 to the stable.
BONUS: I got to touch Neil Armstrong’s completely original untouched 1967 Corvette Stingray. You might recognized it from Season 3, Episode 9 of the Grand Tour on Amazon Prime.
Cheap is rarely a bad word, especially when it is used to describe a great value. So when I say that the 2020 Hyundai Palisade is cheap, I mean that to the extreme. It is the bargain of a century! Driving the vehicle on a four-hour road trip to attend a conference, I often lost myself in this sub-$50,000 luxury suv. In fact, I would argue that the Palisade is better than most $80,000+ full-size SUVs on the market.
Let’s face it, true luxury vehicles are not about fancy technologies or 0-to-60mph times. They are about isolating you from the rest of the world. And, the Palisade does just that. Its supple ride mitigates bumps akin to what you would expect from a Mercedes SUV and its noise insulation properties make it supremely quite. I had a group of people in the vehicle curiously ask: “who makes this?” Without the big H on the front, its exterior styling cues would make you think German versus Korean. Click Here To Continue Reading
My Father is an automotive enthusiast and a former SCCA Championship racer, so it is no surprise that he prefers a sports car for his daily driver. The only challenge is, like most people in their 80s, he is wants comfort in his old age. It is rare to find a truly comfortable luxury vehicle that also brings a little sports car excitement to the mix. 9 times out of 10, you are trading comfort for sport. He has been using Mercedes SL550 roadsters for the past 15 years as his daily driver. Which does the job when not wanting to drive a super car, but he was curious to find something new and more comfortable for everyday use. We looked at a few different options, including the new Aston Martin Vantage, BMW 8-Series, and the Maserati Gran Turismo. All great cars, but none of them were quite like the Lexus LC500 that I recently tested.
Ascetically, the Lexus LC500 is a sexy car with large 21″ wheels and a timeless flowing design. Do I dare say it is one of the best looking two-door cars on the market? It even looks fast with door handles that integrate into the body for improved aerodynamics. Looks are not everything; I have seen quite a few cars recently that look fast, but don’t deliver a punch with your smash the gas pedal.
In terms of performance, the Lexus LC500 comes standard with a naturally aspirated 5.0L V8 that pumps out 471 horsepower and 389 Pounds of Torque. The engine is mated with a 10-speed traditional automatic gearbox. This combination is way more than enough to be dangerous. The drivetrain also sounds dangerous with a throaty roar coming out of the back of the two exhaust pipes. Behind the wheel, the steering felt sharp in Sport S+ mode, and the vehicle tracks nicely around corners. You get a little understeer, but that is better than oversteer with this type of car. So the thrills are there, which isn’t surprising because Lexus has been working diligently to promote their sporty image and Toyota’s racing heritage.
What surprised and delighted me though was how civilized the LC500 becomes in Comfort Mode. It drives like Lexus’ big LS sedan. It is easy to forget that you are in a sports car when you are listening to smooth jazz on a Mark Levinson surround sound system and riding in a cabin that can be whisper quite at the touch of a button – thanks to the adjustable exhaust and a well insulated cabin. The interior of my test vehicle was wrapped from top to bottom in leather and alcantara for an ultra-luxury experience. Plus the ride and steering feedback are buttery smooth in Comfort mode, just like you would expect from a luxury sedan.
See this where the Lexus LC500 truly shines: It is a dragon slaying ninja with on ramps and on twisty roads. It is a “pass me the Grey Poupon” cruiser on freeways. While the Aston Martin, Mercedes, BMW, and Maserati deliver in terms of performance, you never truly forget that you are sacrificing comfort for speed. In comparison, this makes the LC500 one of the few true grand touring cars on the market; you can escape the displeasure of driving a high performance vehicle without having to change vehciles.
My Father is still weighing his options on what his Mercedes SL550 replacement will be, but the Lexus LC500 will surly be a top contender. I suggest that you visit your local Lexus dealer if you facing a similar conundrum.