Coupes used to be a more plentiful subset of cars, but as cars become a smaller subset of vehicles the coupe appears closer and closer to extinction.
But Audi, for one, is committed to the segment and its A5 Coupe is a good example of how much pleasure can be derived from a coupe. It looks sharp, and melds sporty handling and power with a smooth-shifting 7-speed automatic transmission and 4-wheel drive, which Audi calls quattro.
The A5 does everything well, but is not a racer, nor a true family car, unless your little ones are in booster seats and can latch themselves in, or big enough to not need a booster, yet not too long-legged. Rear seat room is fairly cramped.
The silver test car ($575 extra for the paint job) came with Audi’s stout 2.0-liter turbo I4 that creates a spirited, if not rambunctious, 252 horsepower and 273 ft.-lbs. of torque. Turbo lag is non-existent, in fact, I looked under the hood to make sure there was a turbo. The power here comes on so smoothly and in such a linear manner that it’s not obvious that all this boost is from a turbo. Read more
Rare is the sports sedan, or any car, that makes you giggle when you tromp on its gas pedal. Rare too is a car that makes your friends envious.
Corvettes have become too common, Jaguars too mainstream, BMWs too numerous. No, for something special you want an Italian sports car, preferably in red and preferably with a sexy sounding name. You want something not everyone of a certain economic standing has.
Today, that car is an Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio. That’s Giulia, as in the woman’s name, Julia. And the Quadrifoglio? Well, that means four-leaf clover, which is emblazoned on the car’s front quarter panels. More on that in a bit.
Alfa Romeo embodies Italian car history, especially its racing history. It’s who Enzo Ferrari worked for, or with, before Ferrari became Ferrari. Despite its long history the Italian make pulled out of the U.S. market in 1995 and only recently, along with its parent, Fiat, has come back.
Giulia is the car it needs to regain a foothold in the American market and from a performance standpoint it is an absolute home run. Or in the sporting vernacular of its homeland, GOOOOOOOAL!
With any sports car, or sports sedan, one must start with the power plant. Alfa snags a 2.9-liter bi-turbo V6 created by Ferrari and it is magnifico! It’s strong and sings like one of the Three Tenors, a thing of beauty. Read more
Jeep has remade its Compass and moved it from near the bottom of the small crossover sport-utility list to much nearer the top.
The former Compass didn’t impress in any way, while the new Compass starts by looking like a miniature Jeep Grand Cherokee with a handsome 7-bar grille and well-proportioned profile. But it’s much more refined than its predecessor with a quiet and roomy interior and good behavior over the road, plus some ability to go off road, if needed.
Compass slots between the small, but cute, Renegade and the handsome more futuristic looking Cherokee. That means the interior is more people friendly too, and, somewhat ironically, the new Compass has more cargo room behind the rear seat than the Cherokee. It’s simply a pleasant vehicle to drive and ride in.
If shopping right now, be aware there may be some confusion if you go to a dealer asking simply for a 2017 model. Both the old, and new Compass models are being sold as 2017s. Make sure you try the newer version, although the former models should be on deep clearance.
Mine was the Latitude with 4-wheel drive. Here the power comes from a 2.4-liter, Multi-Air I4 that creates a healthy 180 horsepower. Not fast, but sufficient for all city and highway driving. A 6-speed manual transmission comes standard on Compass, a rarity in today’s market. But the bright red test vehicle added a 9-sped automatic for $1,500. Shifts were smooth, but acceleration is modest as the new tranny works to save fuel, and it does a great job of that. I got 27.4 miles per gallon in a week’s drive and spent about 60% of my time on the highway. The EPA rates the Compass at 22 mpg city and 30 mpg highway. Both numbers seem achievable. The Compass also features stop-start technology to save gas while the vehicle is at rest. Read more
The new MINI Cooper Countryman goes too far, but maybe that’s what U.S. buyers want.
It’s the biggest MINI yet. I know that sounds contradictory for the small British-born make now made by BMW. But it’s true. This is MINI’s version of a crossover or small sport-ute with a longer and wider body, plus ALL4, its all-wheel-drive system is available.
It also appears to be less MINI in styling as it looks more bulky than cute. Think of that cute guy/girl in high school that packed on a few pounds by the 10-year reunion. In fact, the Countryman is just short of 500 lbs. heavier than the MINI Clubman that I enjoyed last year.
To put it nicely, the Countryman feels more substantial than earlier models and obviously is designed to accommodate larger U.S. passengers. The Countryman gains four inches of rear seat legroom compared to its predecessor and being a 4-door it’s easy to load five people aboard. I did it on a lunch run and one of the riders was a 6-footer.
So while the MINI-ness of the Countryman seems a bit of a stretch (pun intended), the usefulness of it should make it more attractive to folks who intend to actually haul a family in it on a trip. Another family plus? The rear seats fold down flat in a 40/20/40 split to expand the generous 17.6 cubic feet of cargo space, but allow rear seat riders. Likewise the seats will recline slightly and the entire rear seat will slide forward a couple inches if you’re simply carrying cargo, not rear seat passengers. Read more
Few cars are pure joy to drive, yet cost less than $30,000. I’d put the Mazda Miata at the top of those, and a few models of the Mini Cooper would slot into this price range. But Fiat’s 500 Abarth is a relative newcomer and blows the others away on price.
The Abarth starts at about $21 grand, including delivery, and that’s down about $2,500 from a year ago. That doesn’t happen often!
But in its size, like the Miata, lies the Fiat’s fun, nimbleness and, well, joy.
In its lower lines, the Pop and Lounge models, the 500 carries a mild 1.4-liter Multi-Air I4 that generates just 101 horsepower, leading to superb gas mileage. Well, the racier Abarth, which Fiat says is pronounced AH-bart, bumps that up substantially to 160 horses thanks to dual intercoolers, turbos.
Now you have some pop when you slip the 5-speed manual through the gears. Second and third punch up the torque (a 170 rating) and by fourth you feel like you’ve had a little mini vacation. Five speeds keeps it all simple, but adding a sixth would allow its small engine to bring the revs down and quiet the interior some.
Don’t get me wrong. I thoroughly enjoyed the grumbling burble of this little turbo as it was amplified via dual exhausts. But I kept wanting to shift to sixth on the freeway as its continued grumble made listening to the radio nigh to impossible. Read more
Volkswagen brings a little fun to the small wagon market, which is a niche of a niche these days, but certainly compares well with small crossovers.
But instead of a tall boxy AWD vehicle, the Golf Alltrack is a decidedly leaner machine that looks downright sporty compared to a crossover. In fact, the Golf Alltrack is an offshoot of the Golf SportWagon, same basic vehicle, but raised a seemingly minor 0.6 inches for a 6.9-inch ground clearance and uses VW’s fine 4Motion system for grip.
The silver test wagon, which VW aims to compete with Subaru’s Outback and Crosstrek, was the mid-level SE model. The S with manual transmission starts at $26,670, while the test unit listed at $30,530 with no options and an $895 delivery charge.
What you get is a dandy handling, light and quick wagon that will haul quite a lot. Like most crossovers and such, it could go on minor-league muddy, rutty, non-paved surfaces, but really is aimed at on-road use. That’s thanks to the 4Motion system that runs the car at 90% front-wheel drive and 10% of the power in back most of the time. Once slippage is sensed, it splits the power 50/50. Read more
Mention the Subaru WRX in front of young adult males and you’re likely to become the most interesting man, or woman, in the world.
Subaru devotees are a, well, devoted lot and WRX fans are darn near rabid. Face it, some folks, especially young males, love speed and yet their wallets aren’t fat enough to go Corvette or BMW shopping and their egos or tastes may not desire a Mustang, Camaro or Challenger. So it comes down to two cars really, the race-ready Ford Focus RS I drove a month or so back, and Subie’s WRX.
Lucky for Subie followers, the WRX just happens to be revamped for 2018 already. But to my way of thinking it blends in too much, not a problem with the winged Focus. WRX needs a more muscular look than just its shallow lower body cladding, splitter on the lower nose and gaping air scoop on the hood. It really doesn’t look fast at all. And don’t get me started on the rear spoiler. It’s virtually non-existent on the tested Premium model.
Several co-workers asked if I had a new Corolla to test drive for the week – really!
Yet the tested bright blue WRX still has the guts that its young, mostly male, audience desires.
Subaru’s well-tested 2.0-liter, direct-injected, turbo, Boxer 4-cylinder pumps an awesome 268 horsepower and 258 ft.-lbs. of torque. It flat out flies after second gear. There’s some turbo lag to be sure, but even if you ease into the throttle from second to third gear it’ll slam you back in the seat and take off like an F-16. Read more
A Dream Day for driving
As members of the Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA) Mark and I make the trip to Road America where we get to drive new cars from the manufacturers. This year, we drove the Ford Focus ST, BMW M40i, Dodge Challenger Hellcat, and GT, Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8, Lexus RC F, Alfa Romeo Giulia, and Chevy Bolt. What fun. Below are videos from some of the drives.
Perceptions can shift and auto writers often perceive differences in similar models they drive. This happened on a couple fronts with my latest drive of Hyundai’s attractive Elantra Limited, its near top-level compact.
I still like the car, its looks, its features, its gas mileage, its value. But compared with a 2016 drive of a quite similar model, well, I noticed differences.
First, the acceleration from Elantra’s somewhat new 2.0-liter I4 seems milder than in the previous test car although it’s the same engine. In the earlier car I pressed the Drive Mode button on the console and when Sport mode kicked in I felt decidedly different acceleration, more aggressive. This time there was a difference, but whether the algorithms were changed or what, acceleration was not as aggressive.
Second, there’s still modest road noise, although that seemed somewhat better on the tested bright Electric Blue Metallic test car this time. Funny, this time I test drove between Milwaukee and Indianapolis, so mostly highway driving where you’d think road noise would be more noticed.
Third, I’d found the earlier model’s seats supportive enough, but this time (possibly because I spent longer periods sitting) the black leather seats seemed harder and featured only modest hip support.
All that said, the Elantra remains an exceptional value. Consider this, the base SE model starts at $18,000, while the Sport model with more horsepower goes for $22,485 and the tested Limited lists at $22,350. All have an $835 delivery fee. Read more
Simply put, Ford’s Focus RS is a street-legal race car.
Not many of those out there, and most that are require you to sell your house in order to make a down payment on said speedster.
So here, for “just” $36,995, Ford will put a scorching hot rod, drifter, rally car in your driveway, enticing neighbors, especially young males, to drool. It’ll also increase your heart rate, something on the order of being a real race driver.
The backstory on the German-made RS is that it, or similar Foci, have been sold in Europe for years and U.S. lead-footers have been itching for it, begging for it, praying for it to hit our shores. Now it has. I don’t know how many will be sold, but the Subaru Impreza WRX now has serious competition. In fact, folks considering a Chevy Camaro, Ford Mustang or Dodge Challenger may want to consider saving some dough and going this route for serious performance.
In a nutshell this fast Focus, complete with a big deal rear spoiler, pumps 350 horsepower out of its tiny 2.3-liter EcoBoost turbocharged engine along with a matching torque rating. It’s said to do 0-60 in 4.6 seconds. By comparison, a Mustang GT can do it in 4.4 seconds. That’s pretty close and this handles better! Read more
In many regards Kia’s cute little Soul had everything going for it — first, its looks. The slope-roofed compact stands out in the dull boxy crossover market.
It’s also decidedly economical to buy and operate, with a low starting price and good mpg figures. The darned thing even handles well and has oodles of interior room so four hipsters can hop in, slap on their headphones and head for the beach, or, well, in Milwaukee, maybe a brew pub.
What it didn’t have was power. Now it does, thanks to Kia adding a turbocharger to its 1.6-liter I4. That boosts what had been a mild 130 horses up to 201. That may sound like it turns Soul into a rocket, but let’s just say it makes it quick, once you trounce the accelerator.
Still, this week’s metallic gray Soul! (Exclaim) with its snazzy neon red accent stripe below the lower door line, was peppy and still had all the other good stuff in its plus column.
This is the top-level Soul, but you’d be hard-pressed to prove it by the price tag. With delivery built in, the Soul! lists at $23,695 and this only added floor mats to end up at $23,815.
For that you get the zippy and efficient turbo engine that’s rated 26 mpg city and 31 mpg highway. I got 30.2 mpg in a mix of driving, and you know I was testing the turbo pretty aggressively at times. Nice! Read more
I laid a lot of praise on Kia’s new Niro hybrid recently, all deserved, but I was basing my hybrid comparison to the previous Toyota Prius. Now I’ve driven the 2017 Prius Two Eco and wow, this is a stellar hybrid.
Get this, I got 57.5 miles per gallon in a week’s drive. That includes plenty of city and two longish highway jaunts. But that’s just a number, and as the EPA says, your mileage may vary, although it rates this Eco version at 58 mpg city and 53 highway. Believe it!
Yet, if this were a tinny econobox that rode like a soapbox derby racer, well, most of us wouldn’t care so much about the mileage. We still need function and comfort, and Prius delivers.
First, note that there are nearly as many Prius models as there are pickup versions from most automakers. The Two Eco is the cost leader at $24,540, with a $865 delivery fee to end up at $25,405. There are five other trims of the four-door hatch model that, while slightly more streamlined than its earlier version, still remains dowdy looking. The exception are its stylish taillights.
Looks aside (and that’s where the Niro wins hands down), the new Prius is light and agile and so tightly built it feels as snug as a three-piece suit. There are no squeaks or jiggles. It’s as quiet inside as most entry-level luxury cars. The doors close with such a resounding thud as to need a little extra elbow grease to latch the doors, the seal is that tight.
Road and tire noise is nearly non-existent.
And at just more than 3,000 lbs., the Prius Two is light, leading to nimble handling, good cornering and creating a relatively fun driving experience. Read more
Unless your name is Hellcat or you sport some semblance of racing stripes and a hood scoop you’re not supposed to gurgle and pop with power if you’re simply a luxury sport sedan.
Ah, but the Lexus GS is everything from a fine luxury sedan to a NASCAR wannabe, a racer in street clothes.
A base GS 200t, you see, is equipped with a 241-horse 2.0-liter I4 that’s turbocharged. Oh that’s nice and sporty in its own way and a potential Lexus owner that’s pushing the limits of his home equity loan to snag one will shell out roughly $47 grand and change.
But there are so many other choices, two more engines and a hybrid model too. So say sayonara to that base model if you want to light up the tires and thumb your nose at German luxury sedans, or domestic muscle too. The tested GS F, or F Sport model is the sharp end of the GS line and it’ll flat out fly.
No, it’s not a HEMI, but the Lexus has a sexy sounding V8 that’ll nearly put the roughly 4,000-pound sedan into orbit. The numbers are this, 5.0-liter V8 creating 467 horsepower and 389 lb.-ft. of torque. Don’t go pooh-poohing that because your Vette or Hellcat has more ponies. With its modest weight and a dandy drive mode system that allows you to go from Normal to Sport or Sport+, you’ll suddenly find the GS turning surly.
I was expecting good power, but punched the console’s drive mode button just as I was pulling onto the freeway and the rear-drive GS twitched its tail and rocketed up to, er, well, more than the standard highway speed before I was halfway down the entry ramp. Haven’t had this much fun since my last Vette drive, and that’s been a while. Read more