Tag Archives: AWD

2021 BMW X5 xDrive45e

Smooth plug-in hybrid adds power, better fuel economy to SUV

Luxury and power are as ubiquitous as peanut butter and chocolate. BMW knows that and blends the two with just a smidge of social consciousness in its latest X5 mid-size SUV/crossover.

Its full name is X5 xDrive45e.

What that means is that the power now comes from a plug-in hybrid system that combines a mild 48-volt hybrid’s electric power with a silky 3.0-liter inline-6 with twin turbos. Power is 389 horsepower and it’s as smooth and seamless as any engine or hybrid system on the market.

Jamming the accelerator still delivers a velvety romp up to triple digit speeds, but now with the hybrid’s electric power you can toddle around town for 30 miles using only the electric power. Or you can toggle between Sport, Hybrid, Electric or Adaptive on the console and use or conserve your electric charge.

I switched to Sport as I was heading onto the freeway knowing I’d need that electric power when I got downtown, and let’s face it, if you’re going to be cutting your car’s emissions doing so in a more congested urban area makes the most sense.

The plug-in works like all others I’ve driven. Pull the plug and charger from the compartment under the hatch’s floor and plug into a standard 120-volt outlet in the garage. You get about one mile of charge per hour of plug-in time. So, overnight I ended up with 15 more miles. That means I can use no gas running to the grocery, Target or wherever in the neighborhood. Plug in again and the next day I’m likely at a full charge for a longer drive.

Combined with the gas power I got 28.3 mpg and this is rated from 20 mpg gas-only, up to 50 mpge on electric.

Typical plug-in hybrid outlet on the driver’s side.

Forget about the hybrid system, which is easy to do while driving, and the X5 remains one of the top mid-size luxury SUVs. It’s big and feels it at 5,646 pounds. But this is a BMW, so it handles well, turns into corners with a fair amount of precision and is easy to keep in its lane on the freeway.

Most surprising was the excellent ride, but then it does feature an air suspension system that once you’ve ridden on it you’ll wish it were on every SUV in the market. Trust me, I’ve had nice SUVs in the past, but few coddle like this one.

Watch Mark’s video review: X5 xDrive45e review by Mark Savage – YouTube

Of course that xDrive moniker means the BMW has AWD so is great in sleet, slush and snow. And the $650 M Sport brake package gives it excellent stopping power plus the calipers are a snazzy blue, which was a nice accent to the Arctic Gray Metallic ($550 extra) paint scheme. That’s dark gray with a hint of blue sparkle in it.

Boosting the X5’s looks is the M Sport package itself that adds $5,500 to the sticker, an already stout $66,395. For that you get all sorts of trim and appearance upgrades including Shadowline exterior trim, aluminum tetragon interior trim, high-gloss Shadowline roof rails, Vernasca leather seat trim, an M steering wheel and M Star-spoke bi-color wheels and an aero kit to smooth out airflow over the boxy body.

The other major add-on is the Executive Package, which from its name lets you know who may not be able to afford this. At $4,050 it adds a huge panoramic Sky Lounge sunroof and shade, rear manual side sunshades, 4-zone climate control, a head-up display, wireless phone charger, Harmon Kardon surround sound system with gesture control (not what you think!) a WiFi hotspot, Bluetooth and Icon adaptive LED headlights with Laserlight. Those are fancy headlights, but sadly do not shoot out real (Austin Powers style) l-a-s-e-r-s.

By the way, gesture control means a driver can rotate a finger (not just that one) clockwise in front of the infotainment screen and it will turn up radio volume, or the other way to crank down the sound. While on the stereo, the big 12.3-inch touchscreen also includes eight radio memory buttons under the screen, getting back to old-school channel selection. Bingo!

Two-tone black and white leather looks sharp here.

The X5’s interior is, as you’d expect, a snazzy leather stronghold with white leather seats in the test vehicle, plus white lower trim on the doors and dash, the tops of which are black. That Vernasca leather is real leather but with a stamped artificial grain and artificial coatings that makes for easy cleaning.

There’s also a spectacular jewel-like metal trim (tetragon shaped and part of the M Sport package) that graces the dash and console, with a metal clad cubby door able to retract over much of the console to reveal the wireless charger and cup holders. Satin chrome trim also accents the leather-clad steering wheel and the door releases.

Love the jewel look of the satin chrome trim on the dash and center stack.

Seats are comfy, as they should be. But BMW enhances its power controls here with $750 multi-contour seats, meaning they have multiple lumbar and side bolster adjustments. Plus the lower seat cushion can be extended to aid long-legged drivers. Seat memory buttons are included too.

But here’s the thing. To add heated front and rear seats costs $350 extra and $250 more for the steering wheel and armrests to be heated. I’d expect heated seats and wheel to be standard at this high-end luxury pricing, and the armrests, well, whatever. You should probably be driving, not resting arms. Just sayin’! Oh, and no cooled seats here. Funny, most $50 grand vehicles offer those as standard now.

Another view of the snazzy stack. A lot of buttons here too!

As for safety equipment, the X5 includes what you’d expect, plus adds a Drivers Assist Pro package with extended traffic jam assistant and active driving assistant, semi-autonomous aids. I find these often are too intrusive and push the vehicle hard toward the lane’s center often when not wanted, as in a work zone with lanes that shift and also when other cars sag into your lane and you try to dodge them this pushes you back toward the other car. Couldn’t turn this one off altogether either.

Add to that a cruise control system that was much more complicated than others I’ve tested. Yikes, push a button and set a speed. That should do it, even on these smart cruise systems.

A few other points to ponder.

First, the X5 is not just beauty it’s also beast enough to tow 7,200 pounds, so trailering is very possible. Note you’ll pay $550 extra for the trailer hitch.

And cargo space is fine at 33.9 cubic feet behind the second row seat, or 71.2 cubic feet if that seat is folded flat. A release under the power hatch allows quick rear seat folding too. A third row seat is available on some X5 trim levels, but it appears that only offers room for small kids in row three. As is, this one will haul five adults comfortably.

Underneath the test ute added 21-inch M wheels with performance tires for $950. Certainly the tires aided grip, but to me these looked a bit outsized for the X5. That’s a personal taste thing as the 19-inchers that are standard would do just fine.

Finally, the test vehicle hit a Rockefeller-like $81,695 after adding 10 options. A base (if you can call it that) xDrive40i starts at about $60 grand and includes AWD and a fine 335-horse 3.0-liter I6 twin turbo.

Move up to the M50i version and the price jumps to $83,795, but you get a monster V8 pumping 523 horsepower and you can thumb your nose at the environment, and nearly everyone else as you rocket away from a stoplight.

FAST STATS: 2021 BMW X5 xDrive45e

Hits: Excellent power, ride, handling plus AWD and plug-in electric to aid emissions and mpg. Four drive choices, panoramic sunroof, heated wheel/armrest and front/rear seats, wide touchscreen, multiple seat adjustments, 8 stereo memory buttons.

Cool wheels and blue calipers!

Misses: Heated seats and wheel cost extra, no cooled seats, complicated cruise control ties into semi-autonomous driving system.

Made in: Spartanburg, S.C.

Engine: 3.0-liter twin turbo I6, 389 hp

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 5,646 lbs.

Wheelbase: 117.1 in.

Length: 194.3 in.

Cargo: 33.9-71.2 cu.ft.

Tow: 7,200 lbs.

MPG: 20/50 (w/electric)

MPG: 28.3 (tested)

Base Price: $66,395 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $62,315

Options:

Arctic Gray Metallic paint, $550

Drivers Assist Pro pkg. (extended traffic jam assistant, active driving assistant pro), $1,700

M Sport pkg. (See story), $5,500

Executive package (panoramic Sky Lounge LED roof, rear manual side sunshades, glass controls, 4-zone climate control, Icon adaptive LED w/Laserlight, head-up display, Harmon Kardon surround sound system, wireless charging, gesture control, WiFi hotspot, enhanced USB & Bluetooth), $4,050

21-inch M wheel with performance, $950

M Sport brakes w/blue calipers, $650

Trailer hitch, $550

Front/rear heated seats, $350

Heated front armrests/steering wheel, $250

Multi-contour seats, $750

Test vehicle: $81,695

Sources: BMW, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 Volkswagen Taos SE

Taos another newcomer in expanding small crossover market …

Oh my, the burgeoning small crossover market just added another competitor, the Volkswagen Taos (rhymes with House), and if value is your main shopping criteria the Taos should be near the center of your bull’s-eye.

Just in the last year I’ve reviewed the following tiny crossover competitors, Mazda CX-30 (2 versions), Hyundai Venue, Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross, Kia Seltos, Chevy Trailblazer, Nissan Kicks and Subaru Crosstrek. There were others earlier as this segment has been swelling like an anaconda swallowing a warthog.

But back to Taos (not New Mexico), VW’s smallest crossover that rides on a 105.9-inch wheelbase with a potentially powerful 1.5-liter turbocharged I4 that makes 158 horsepower, 11 horses more than VW’s Jetta. That figure is near the top of this segment’s power rankings, except for the over-endowed Mazda CX-30 with its 2.5-liter turbo I4 that makes 227 to 250 hp, depending on gas selection. It’s a riot!

For VW this new engine is an efficient and torque-happy number with 184 pound-feet of oomph. Sadly, the test vehicle had the worst case of turbo-lag that I can recall in several years. It hesitated at every chance to accelerate. Pull from the drive, push the accelerator, and wait. Traffic light turns green, push the accelerator, and wait. Turn a corner or head onto a highway ramp, push the accelerator, and wait. Ugh!

If you want power quickly you must mash the accelerator and then there’s still a wait before that turbo launches the VW to excellent highway speeds. The waiting, followed by over-accelerating became tedious.

Too bad, because Taos seems solid and handles well. Steering is light and easy and the crossover corners with little hint of body roll. This could be sporty and fun. Plus Taos is light, just 3,175 pounds. My mid-level SE model was front-drive and I suspect the 4Motion (AWD) would give it even better traction and handling. AWD costs $1,500 extra on all three trim levels.

Ride? Well, this is a short wheelbase crossover with struts up front but just a torsion beam rear suspension, so ride is pretty firm. The potholes weren’t as disturbing as the raised pavement hoo-has. Taos seemed to jump a bit sideways at times on those sharp spots.

Note that the AWD models feature a multi-link rear suspension which may help ride quality some and is the system used by most vehicles these days.

An 8-speed automatic tranny handles the shifts and is aimed at fuel savings. Too bad there are no drive mode selections here to add power or maybe smooth out the performance a bit in a comfort mode. Eco seems to be where the Taos is aimed and it features strong EPA numbers. The estimates there are 28 mpg city and 36 highway. I got a fine 29.4 mpg in about 80% highway driving.

By comparison, the Trailblazer with AWD that I tested posted 32 mpg, the Mazda CX-30 with the turbo managed 26.6 and the Crosstrek posted 25.4 mpg.

Plenty of safety systems are in place, with VW’s Intelligent Crash Response System and automatic post-collision braking, forward collision warning and autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian monitoring, a blind-spot monitor, and rear traffic alert being standard.

The test crossover added the IQ Drive SE package with Travel Assist (VW’s semi-autonomous driving system), smart cruise control, the Stop & Go system, and lane assist, for $895. The Travel Assist worked fine, but seemed a bit over anxious, as some of these do, pushing the car back toward the center or side lines harder than need be. This becomes concerning in construction zones and I could find no way to turn the system off as I dodged Wisconsin’s many orange barrels and cones.

Inside the King’s Red Metallic ($395 extra, and worth it) test vehicle was a fine interior. The SE trim upgrades cloth seats to something called CloudTex synthetic seats. This is a combo of cloth feel and faux leather, which is tough and easy to clean.

The test Taos featured gray seats with white stitching and the doors were two-tone gray while the dash was mostly dark gray with a bluish trim on some plastic bits. The console was flat black, ending sunny day reflection worries.

The SE model upgrades from the standard 6.5-inch info screen to an 8-inch touchscreen that was fairly easy to adjust. Below that are three large climate control knobs, so easy to adjust.

A nice sized screen on the new Taos.

However, during my drive Wisconsin was sweating through a spate of muggy upper-80s days and I had to crank the climate system’s fan to its top-level to get enough cooling and leave it there for about 10 minutes. Then I slowly dialed the speed back. Air was plenty cold from the system, but it took a while to cool the interior and there is no automatic climate setting, again keeping costs down for Taos.

Seats were well-shaped giving good side and hip support and the driver’s seat was powered with a power lumbar support. The front passenger’s seat is manual. But legroom and headroom are good front and rear so it’s easy to load four to five adults in Taos, although five may prefer city jaunts to cross-country tours.

Seats are heated up front and the flat-bottomed steering wheel also is heated, a plus.

Another goodie was the huge panoramic sunroof, a $1,200 add-on. These are increasingly popular in crossovers, but this one was a monster with a gray screen over it to reduce summer sun. But it would be fun to open in spring and fall to be sure. Might not feel like a Jeep, but definitely brings the outside in!

Another plus, a wireless phone charger under the dash’s center stack and the fact that the driver can give the instrument panel multiple looks, adding or deleting various information on either side of the speedometer.

Good news too for those hauling a lot of gear, the VW offers a generous storage area behind the rear seats with 28.1 cubic feet of space. Fold the split rear seats down and that grows to a sizeable 66.3 cu.ft.

Now maybe the best news, pricing. VW starts with the S trim at $24,190 for front-drive and $1,500 more for AWD, known as 4Motion. The tested SE model lists at $28,440 and is FWD. A top-level SEL lists at $32,685 with AWD and a sunroof being the only options.

This Taos added 19-inch black alloy wheels with all-season tires for $395, giving the red crossover a snazzy look since it comes with black cladding over the wheel wells and front and rear fascias. Grand total here was $31,325.

That’s a bargain in today’s car world, although I’d think most Wisconsin drivers would want to add the AWD for traction and to possibly improve ride quality with the multi-link suspension.

Sharp taillights!

By comparison my vehicle of the year, the hot-looking CX-30 starts at $30,050 with delivery and AWD is standard. The tested Trailblazer that is awfully cute lists at $30,070 and includes AWD while the Crosstrek is a little more at $31,440 with AWD and heated and cooled seats, plus a fancy stereo.

As you can see, pricing in this segment is quite close, so test drive several small crossovers before you buy and compare them with like features. This is a well-stocked market with Taos being the new kid on the block!

FAST STATS: 2022 VW Taos SE

Hits: Light easy handling, huge panoramic sunroof, roomy interior, heated well-shaped seats, flat-bottom heated steering wheel, big storage area, wireless charger, multiple dash views, value pricing and good gas mileage.

Misses: Firm ride and concerning turbo lag on acceleration. Couldn’t turn off active lane control, no drive modes to boost acceleration, fan must be turned on top level for quite a while to cool crossover on hot day.

Fancy black wheels give Taos a sporty look.

Made in: Puebla, Mexico

Engine: 1.5-liter turbo I4, 158 hp

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 3,175 lbs.

Wheelbase: 105.9 in.

Length: 175.8 in.

Cargo: 28.1/66.3 cu.ft.

MPG: 28/36

MPG: 29.4 (tested)

Base Price: $28,440

Invoice: $27,351

Major Options:

19-inch black alloy wheels w/all-season tires, $395

King’s Red metallic paint, $395

Power panoramic sunroof, $1,200

IQ Drive SE package (Travel Assist semi-autonomous drive assistance, adaptive cruise control, stop & go, lane assist, blind-spot monitor), $895

Test vehicle: $31,325

Sources: VW, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport Advanced

Can a luxury sport sedan be a value leader? Yes, if it’s a Genesis G70 …

In the olden days, 1980s and 1990s, there were a few grunty sport sedans that wouldn’t send a buyer to Uncle Guido for a small loan.

That was then, this is now, and a loan is a near certainty. But, if a person wants to save some on his or her monthly payments Genesis has a sport sedan worth a looksee. It’s called the G70 and rides on a platform equivalent in size to a Toyota Camry.

So the G70 is a good sized car, but not a luxo limo with monster power and a price tag to match.

Nope, the G70 is extremely fast and handles like a similar sized BMW. It’s fun on the road and faster than nearly anything not costing way north of $50 grand. But the G70 isn’t cheap. It starts at a modest $38,550 for a base rear-drive 252-horsepower turbo I4 version and tops out at $51,445 for the Prestige model with its crazy fast 3.3-liter twin-turbo V6 cranking 365 horses.

The Himalayan Gray test car started at $45,245, that sparkly gray color adding $500, and features the twin-turbo V6. It’s what you’d want if you long for a performance car that looks sharp, but feels luxurious. This was the G70 AWD 3.3T Sport Advanced model, including a $4,300 Sport Advanced package. More on that in a bit.

I’d tested the more luxurious G80 sedan a couple months back and it’s the luxury liner limo with a performance edge, especially with its horsier V6. The G70 is a family sport sedan, a smaller firmer riding rocket ship.

Watch Mark’s video review: https://youtu.be/0xSgncjBmdc

Blasting off on a highway entry ramp it’s easy to eclipse triple digits and there’s more where that came from, which is why Car and Driver magazine puts its top speed at 167 mph. Yeow! That speed is achieved via AWD here. It favors the rear wheels unless the pavement is slick. Shifts via the 8-speed automatic are crisp and the G70’s 365 horsepower pushes you back into its leather seats, just like an old-time V8.

Of course there are drive modes (5 here) to accomplish that oomph. Both Sport and Sport+ will get your juices flowing while also firming the steering effort, but never to the point of being a burden to the driver. Steering is precise and makes the G70 an apex eater. Fun!

The down side is a stiff ride, yet not punishing. Still, that could be helped with softer seats, the G70s are a bit too hard in the butt pocket for a 60-something like me. I also noticed a bit more road/tire noise from the rear vs. the longer G80.

Braking is solid as you’d expect, but at slower speeds I found the brakes a bit grabby. Don’t forget this has AWD too, an aid to traction in winter slop. I’d want that even though it adds $2,000 to any G70.

Inside the test car looked great with gray perforated leather seats and lower door trim, a black dash and upper door trim giving this a modern two-tone appearance. Genesis uses patterned aluminum inserts in the doors and by the console-mounted shifter. Other trim is satin chrome for a classy look.

The white leather seats and trim ooze luxury and comfort.

Overhead is a panoramic sunroof and shade, while under the center stack is a wireless phone charger.

The Genesis info screen is 10.25 inches and easy to see and use. The digital instrument cluster also is attractive and I like the big climate control knobs on the center stack below the info screen. They can be synched or run separately to chill or warm your significant other.

Down below are metal-faced pedals and the power seats are simple to use, both front seats being 12-way adjustable. The leather seats feel fine to the touch, but I and my wife found the seat pockets too firm, which became tiring on a roundtrip to Chicago. However, the seats are heated and cooled, a nice thing during weather extremes. A heated steering wheel is standard while those cooled seats are part of the pricy Sport Advanced package.

Big screen, easy controls and metal-faced pedals create a stylish cockpit.

It also adds the sunroof and a cushion extender for long-legged drivers and tightening side bolsters, which are engaged in Sport and Sport+ modes. I liked that, just wish the bottom cushions were softer.

Other add-ons in that package include parking sensors, snazzy dark alloy wheels, that aluminum interior trim, a dark chrome diamond-patterned grille and a fine Lexicon 15-speaker premium sound system. A visceral aid is the variable exhaust valve system that makes that twin-turbo V6 sound special in Sport and Sport+ modes.

I dig this patterned aluminum trim on the doors and on the console.

And for the techy among us, a digital key system is part of the package. That allows you to use your cell phone as the car key. Great, unless you misplace your phone or leave it in someone else’s car.

Trunk space is less than many in this segment at just 11 cubic feet. A couple sets of golf clubs will likely fit though.

Safety equipment is as you’d expect with all but the parking sensor system standard.

Genesis packs in a lot, including its semi-autonomous driving system that keeps the car between a highway’s center and side lines. It works well and directs the car through high-speed turns too, although it sometimes warns you to put your hands on the wheel even though they already are. It wants you to keep them at the 10 and 2 positions. I also noticed on a long stretch of straight highway that the car sort of ping-ponged between the freeway lines, which felt a bit odd. I suggest holding the wheel as steady as you can to avoid that sensation.

On the plus side is the Genesis/Hyundai 10-year or 100,000-mile powertrain warranty, plus three years or 36,000-mile free maintenance, so oil changes and the like. There’s also a free towing service, connected Genesis devices services and map upgrades for that same period.

One minor annoyance, or oddity, is Genesis, Hyundai and Kia’s insistence on playing a little tune electronically each time the car is turned off and a door opened. I started laughing about it each time after a few days. Really reminds of a washer and/or dryer playing a tune when the load is finished.

Pricing and mpg? The test car with its turbo V6 is rated 17 mpg city and 25 mpg highway by the EPA. I got 20 mpg in a mix that was heavier on city driving and 25.4 in a mix heavy on highway driving. The trip computer was pretty close on its estimates and on one highway stint registered 31 mpg. Nice!

Pricing for this model is $45,245, with delivery and $50,045 with the big package and sparkly gray paint job. A Sport model with the horsey V6 lists at $42,100 with RWD and add $2 grand for AWD. All V6 models add larger brakes, a sport-tuned suspension, dual exhausts and variable ratio steering. Those prices are below the likes of Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz competitors.

Note too that visually the G70 upgraded a couple areas for 2022, with a diamond-patterned grille, refreshed look for the head and taillights, a trunk spoiler lip and a lowered rear license plate to clean up the tail. It creates a sharp package that looks ritzier than its price.

Final word: If looks, performance and practical pluses mean more to you than badge envy the Genesis G70 is a top compact sport luxury sedan choice.

FAST STATS: 2022 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport Advanced

Hits: Fast, sporty handling, classy inside and out, plus AWD. Sharp interior with sunroof, wireless charger, heated/cooled seats, heated wheel, solid safety equipment, great warranty, big climate knobs, metal-faced pedals, plus 5 drive modes.

There’s no denying the G70 delivers a sporty ambiance!

Misses: Firm ride and seats, rear seat is short of legroom, lane departure system sort of ping-pongs car between lines, touchy brakes and car plays funny tune once off and doors opened.

Made in: Ulsan, So. Korea

Engine: 3.3-liter twin-turbo V6, 365 hp

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 3,887 lbs.

Wheelbase: 111.6 in.

Length: 184.4 in.

Cargo: 11.0 cu.ft.

MPG: 17/25

MPG: 20-25.4 (tested)

Base Price: $45,245 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $43,281

Major Options: Himalayan Graypaint, $500

Sport Advanced package (park distance warning, 19-inch sport alloy wheels, aluminum trim w/sport pattern, cooled front seats, sunroof, Lexicon 15-speaker premium audio, wireless charging, dark chrome grille, variable exhaust valve system, power driver seat bolster/extender, digital key), $4,300

Test vehicle: $50,045

Sources: Genesis, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA250 4Matic (AWD)

Mercedes delivers a sporty small crossover with its GLA250 …

Life is getting harder for premium brands.

For instance the small crossover market is flooded with snazzy options, the Lexus UX, Volvo XC40 being two I’ve tested, while the pressure is coming from the likes of Mazda’s near perfect CX-30 along with Subaru’s Forester.

Into this market plops this week’s tester, the Mercedes-Benz GLA250 4Matic. It’s similar in size and performance to those mentioned above, also packing all-wheel drive. Oh it’s sporty looking and performs well, but is on the higher end of starting prices compared with the others and sadly the test crossover was saddled with 18 options. That’s right, 18!

Those took what started as a moderate entry-level crossover of $39,280 up to a premium mid-size crossover or SUV price of $55,585.

But let’s move behind price as you could scrimp by adding just a couple options, maybe.

Power is good and handling is light and sporty. The GLA is Mercedes’ smallest crossover but handles like one of its higher-end cousins. Toss it into tight winding turns out near Holy Hill locally and it behaves like a small sport sedan.

Power comes from a turbocharged 2.0-liter I4 (very common now) that pumps out 221 horses and is rated 258 for torque. Quite respectable! A driver can add some oomph by adjusting to the Sport drive mode from Comfort. Power increases and steering effort firms. Ride is already pretty firm and with a short wheelbase can become a bit jiggly at times.

Watch Mark’s review: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jMWkEhVjU-M

By comparison, the luxurious Volvo XC40 has 248 horsepower and the modest cost Mazda CX-30 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus tested earlier this year knocks out 227-250 horses depending on what octane fuel you use. Both handle well, like the Mercedes.

GLA uses a fine 8-speed automatic to engage that engine and the 4Matic AWD system provides good traction putting 80% of the power to the front wheels in Comfort and Eco drive modes. Sport shifts 30% of the power to the rear.

At just 3,494 lbs. the Mercedes feels light and nimble.

Braking is excellent with big drilled rotors up front, a part of the AMG line package that adds $2,240 to the price tag. If you are into performance this may be worth it. It also adds an AMG diamond block grille and some AMG styling touches to the body for spiffiness purposes.

From a looks standpoint the AMG black multi-spoke 20-inch wheels certainly looked great too on the white tester. Note only black and white paint are standard, all other shades add $720. The fancy wheels are $1,050, but again, if style matters as much as performance, a reasonable add-on.

The tested GLA250 also added a Night package to make the grille trim a high-gloss black, and likewise the outside mirror covers and window trim. Cost is $400.

Inside the small Mercedes was sharply styled with five round satin chrome air vents spread across the lean dash. Seating was a titanium gray leather with similar black to gray dash and door trim. Natural grain black linden wood trim spiffed the dash and doors too, a $325 addition. Trim is mostly satin chrome and gloss black around the 20-inch wide instrument panel and info screen, looking much like a giant cell phone. I like the look, but that leather is a $1,450 option.

Those bigger screens cost extra too. A 7-incher is standard for the touchscreen, but the Premium package boosts that to 10.25-inch info and instrument cluster screens, merged as one unit. The $1,750 package also includes a Keyless-Go package, auto-dimming rearview and driver-side mirrors that will fold flat against the doors.

Dash buttons and the screens are simple enough to use as there generally are two or three ways to engage the radio, navigation system, etc. A touchpad on the console replaces the former clumsy knob there. The pad is slightly easier to use, but not while driving. Many buttons are on the steering wheel hub to access these functions too, but that and its leather covering cost $360 extra.

There’s a big 10.5-inch screen above those three air vents and climate toggles.

An Alexa-like system that the driver must address as Hey Mercedes, will answer your time and temperature questions, among others, just like Alexa. I stumped her as often as not, or had to rephrase my questions. Still, it can be fun to play with this on a long drive. On the electronics front, an SOS emergency system is mounted overhead.

Seating is firm (one friend called it hard), but well-shaped for hip and lower back support, and I like that Mercedes puts the seat adjustments on the door. Very easy to reach! The power lumbar button is still on the driver’s seat side, and the seats feature a lower-cushion extension for long-legged driver. That extension’s control knob beneath the cushion sticks out a bit far though. Seats here were heated too, a $500 option. As our climate warms it would make sense to have cooled seats, especially with leather surfaces.

The GLA250 has a sharp-looking cockpit with a flat-bottom wheel.

Other goodies on the tested GLA250 included a panoramic sunroof ($1,500), Sirius XM radio ($460), a laudable Burmester surround sound system ($850), wireless phone charging ($200) and a cool 64-color interior ambient lighting system ($310) that is adjusted through the info screen. I liked the indigo lighting for the dash trim and air vents, very relaxing and classy!

The new GLA’s interior is roomy too, easily carrying four adults. The redesign for 2021 lengthened the wheelbase by an inch, boosted rear seat legroom by 4.5 inches and raised the roofline by 3.5 inches to maximize front seat headroom. Tall drivers fit well.

Likewise there’s more cargo room under the power hatch. With seats in place it’s 15.4 cubic feet and with the rear seats folded flat it grows to 50.5 cubic feet. The seats also include a fold-down pass-through for folks carrying skis or other long thin items.

Here’s as good a spot as any to mention that the power hatch did not always latch properly. It seemed to, but once the vehicle was started a tiny red light flashes for the hatch area and the rear-view camera will not engage. So, climb out and manually re-latch the hatch. Might be a problem only on the tester, but still.

A few other glitches or things I question, include an odd feature where a front-view camera engages at intersections. It only seemed to turn on if there were other cars coming at you from the opposite direction. Since a driver can clearly see out the front window I’m not sure of its purpose as the screen is obviously smaller than the real view out the windshield. The screen  also makes the vehicles coming at you appear much further away.

I also found the lane departure assist system quite abrupt. If I let the GLA fade to the center or road’s shoulder lines the crossover would brake and groan much harder than any other vehicle I’ve tested. Most tug at the wheel to re-center the vehicle in its lane and do not brake or groan.

Snazzy looking taillights here!

And this is just a heads up, but the slim transmission shift lever extends from the right of the steering column. That’s an unusual location as of the past 25 years or so. This is where one usually finds the wiper lever. So if you purchase, just be aware you’ll need to retrain yourself as to the shifter’s location.

Speaking of safety, the majority of safety features here were included in option packages. I won’t repeat them all as they are in the stat box below, but everything from blind-spot assist to adaptive high-beams and the navigation system are in packages totaling $3,895.

Which brings us to gas mileage, something of concern as $3 a gallon gas is pretty much the norm now. I managed an excellent 28.2 mpg in about a 50-50 mix of city and highway driving with up to four aboard, and I didn’t go easy on the throttle a lot either. High octane fuel is preferred and the EPA rates the GLA250 at 24 mpg city and 33 highway.

Spiffy black wheels with Mercedes logos!

If 221 horses aren’t enough there are two other GLA models with more oomph. The GLA350 touts a horsier turbo 2.0 I4 at 302 horses from an AMG-tuned motor and the GLA450 delivers 382 horses. This engine is hand-built by Mercedes AMG performance factory.

Those models start at $47,550 and $54,500, respectively, and reflect mid-level luxury prices. Ironically the tester actually cost more than those horsier trims, once all its options were ladled on to this wundercar!

FAST STATS: 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA250 4Matic

Hits: Good power and sporty looks and handling, plus AWD. Mercedes version of Alexa, panoramic sunroof, heated seats, 5 round dash air vents, wireless charger, stereo upgrade, power hatch, 4 drive modes, 10.25-inch screen, SOS overhead, lower seat extensions and excellent braking.

Is it just me or does this remind you of a Star Wars stormtrooper?

Misses: Firm ride, power hatch doesn’t always latch properly, knob to release lower seat extension sticks out too far, odd front-view camera engages at intersections, console touchpad for screen adjustment, abrupt lane departure correction with braking, shift lever on right of steering column an unusual location.

Made in: Rastatt, Germany

Engine: 2.0-liter turbo I4, 221 hp

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 3,494 lbs.

Wheelbase: 107.4 in.

Length: 173.6 in.

Cargo: 15.2-50.5 cu.ft.

MPG: 24/33

MPG: 28.2 (tested)

Base Price: $39,280 (includes delivery)

Invoice: N.A.

Major Options:

Titanium gray/black leather interior, $1,450

Natural grain black linden wood trim, $325

Multi-function leather steering wheel, $360

20-inch black AMG multi-spoke wheels, $1,050

Panoramic sunroof, $1,500

Suspension w/adaptable damping, $990

Sirius XM radio, $460

Burmester surround sound system, $850

Heated front seats, $500

64-color interior ambient lighting, $310

Wireless charging, $200

USB-C adapter cable, $25

Driver assistance package (active brake assist w/cross-traffic function, distance assist, steering assist, blind-spot assist, lane-keeping assist, lane assist, speed limit assist, emergency stop assist, evasive steering assist, Pre-Safe Plus, route-based speed adaptation, extended restart in Stop-Go traffic), $1,700

Exterior lighting package (active LED headlights, adaptive high-beam assist), $900

Multi-media package (navigation and nav services, MBUX augmented reality nav, speed limit assist), $1,295

Night package (high-gloss black grille trim, exterior mirror covers, window trim), $400

AMG line (AMG body styling, perforated front discs, MB lettering, AMG diamond block grille), $2,240

Premium package (10.25-inch info screen, 10.25-digital instrument cluster, Keyless-Go package, auto-dimming rearview and driver-side mirrors, power fold mirrors), $1,750

Test vehicle: $55,585

Sources: Mercedes-Benz, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

Die-cast: Autoart’s 2016-’17 Lamborghini CEntenario Roadster

Here’s how you can afford a $2 million Lambo Roadster …

Not a Lamborghini tractor!

Did you know Lamborghini makes tractors?

Maybe not, unless your gentleman farmer acreage is considerable and located in Europe. I’ll bet you’re more familiar with Lambo’s supercars, like the sumptuous Centenario Roadster, of which just 20 were made and nine sold to rich dudes in the U.S. That is, until Autoart started cranking out spectacular 1:18 scale versions.

I snagged a new metallic red version for review, thanks to Autoart, and like the rest of its Lamborghini lineup, the roadster is gorgeous. This roofless wonder looks faster than an Olympic swimmer or runner in a skin-tight suit. That’s because these composite body models from Autoart are made with the precision of a new laptop’s speediest chip.

First a little history.

Visually it doesn’t get any sleeker than the Lamborghini Centenario Roadster!

The History

Highly limited edition Centenario models were created to honor the 100th birthday of Ferruccio Lamborghini, the firm’s founder, in 2016. All 20 Centenario Roadsters feature a full carbon fiber monocoque chassis and a monster V12 engine. That 6.5-liter V12 pumps out an amazing 770 horses without the need of a turbo. Wow!

Lambo says that will bump the AWD supercar to 186 mph in roughly 23.5 seconds, or 0-62 mph in 2.9 seconds. Short version, it’s quick, like a lightning strike. Officially Lamborghini lists the Centenario’s top speed at 217 mph, if you totally wind out the engine, and we all know we’d try.

OK, this is only 1:18 scale, but it’s still a monster V12!

That’s fast enough, to be sure, plus there’s a rear-wheel steering system, the first in a Lambo, to help it handle any curves thrown its way when ripping along at 200+ mph. Yet the system also helps the car move more gracefully at slow speeds too.

Lambo assures us that all the interiors are individualized (and rightly so) at its factory in Sant’Agata, Bolognese, Italy. Inside there is a large infotainment screen as in all luxury makes these days, plus the seats are either leather (from virgin cows?) or Alcantara and real carbon fiber is used as trim. And not to put too fine a point on it, but if you want to drive one, the closest you’ll likely get is a session on the Forza video game.

A gorgeous face and spectacular interior make the Lambo a collector’s show piece!

For the record, the Centenario models are based on Lambo’s Aventador model and was made only during 2016 and 2017, so pre-pandemic. That short run and low production numbers add to its rarity, and naturally call for a price to match. A new one ran $1.9 million and now they are selling at auction in the $2 million to $2.5 million range.

Not a bad looker from the backside either.

That makes Autoart’s $240 seem so much easier on the Swiss bank account, or more likely the Visa bill or Paypal account.

The Model

Where to start?

The body is sublime and the color, officially Rosso Efesto, a deep metallic red, simply is a show stopper. The scissor doors are released by, get this, the actual door handles. Push and hold them in and the doors, with windows up, flip forward to further expose the racy red and white bucket race-inspired seats featuring Lambo logos on each headrest.

Scissor doors open via a push on the door handle, plus the hood opens too.

All window trim is black with carbon-fiber-look headrest hoop covers and what would be B-pillar supports if there were a roof. Side fascia, rear diffuser and the chin spoiler also are carbon fiber lookalikes.

While the needle-sharp nose is sexy with its thin L-shaped headlights and the Lambo logo, it’s the tail that draws me in. So much going on here.

A lot going on at the rear, from big light bars to snazzy diffuser and a trio of exhausts.

There are the clear-bar exposed taillights and then tiny red brake lights below, between the six red-edged diffuser fins that otherwise appear as carbon fiber. Behind those, tucked under the body’s tail with deployable rear wing are big silver radiators. Then down low between the two innermost diffuser fins are three silver exhaust outlets. And in case you’ve forgotten the car’s name, Centenario Roadster is spelled out between the Lamborghini-labeled flap that separates the light bars.

Now that you’re at the tail take a good look at that throbbing V12 once you lift the separate engine cover, which includes clear plastic panels trimmed in more carbon fiber.

The engine cover pops off easily to expose the naturally aspirated V12.

There’s a V12 Lambo logo atop the engine block and Lamborghini-labeled header covers, various liquid fill containers and silver and black caps, hoses, carbon fiber-look crisscross struts and giant horizontal shocks and springs.

Inside is a beautiful red interior with a white v-shaped pattern on the seats, a steerable flat-bottom steering wheel with red 12 o-clock stripe and Lambo logo on the hub. That big info screen looks shiny and realistic while the console it blends into features oodles of buttons. Autoart creates a sharp black instrument panel pod too and the door panels are exquisitely detailed, including a white loop on each door to help pull the doors down and latched. Inside tops of door panels also appear to be carbon fiber. Snazzy!

Cool interior? Yes it is. Check out the seats and those white loops to pull down the doors.
Here’s an even closer look at the dash and other interior features.

Tucked neatly behind the fancy 5-spoke silver and carbon-fiber wheels are monster drilled disc brakes with red Lamborghini calipers. Tires are treaded low-pro Pirelli P Zeros with red stripes to wrap up the car’s stylish looks.

Awesome silver and carbon fiber-look wheels, red-striped P Zero tires and red calipers!

We’d all like to drive one of these, even if owning one is out of the question. But now Autoart helps solve the second part of that equation. Plus it offers the Roadster in blue, silver, green and yellow, along with this stunning red.

Vital Stats: Lamborghini Centenario Roadster

The hood opens to expose nose detail too.

Maker: Autoart
Scale: 1/18
Stock No.: 79207 (Rosso Efesto/metallic red)
MSRP: $240

Recommended Sellers: Autoartmodels.comReplicarz.com

2021 Buick Envision Essence

Front-drive Envision the essence of entry-level luxury …

Buick has been evolving the last five years or so.

It’s still a solid entry-level luxury vehicle maker, but it has been transitioning away from cars to crossovers and SUVS. Currently there are three models, the Encore and Envision that I’d classify as crossovers and the Enclave, its sharp luxury SUV.

Three years have passed since I last tested a Buick and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but the new Envision Essence, its mid-level trim line, is a bargain for folks looking for near luxury at an affordable price.

Envision is attractive, totally in synch with today’s crossover styling trends, and comes well equipped at a price that frankly surprised me.

A base front-drive Envision Preferred starts at $32,995 with delivery and the tested Essence, which sounds a bit like a perfume label, lists at $36,995 with delivery. A loaded Avenir (the name of a sans-serif type face), goes for a still reasonable $41,595.

Here’ why I think the Envision is a deal.

It’s not only affordable, but practical for a family of five or less. The interior is roomy, the ride is nice, steering is light and easy and you can add AWD for just $1,800. So it’s possible to end up with a nicely equipped comfortable family crossover for less than $40 grand. The white test vehicle came in at $39,495, but without AWD.

Let’s start with the ride as Buick has long been noted for its boulevard ride that seniors appreciate as salve for their aging skeletal systems. The Envision does not float and coddle like an old Buick Electra, but the ride is controlled and comfortable thanks to a five-link independent rear suspension. There’s a bit of bounce on uneven roads, but that provides only a jiggle, not a rump thump.

Watch Mark’s review: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v8NhfXTqRg0

Steering is light and easy too, unless you press the Mode button on the console to shift Envision into Sport. That firms up the steering feel just enough to be pleasant during a highway drive. In town, leave it on the Normal setting. There’s Eco too if you want to save fuel and make your acceleration sluggish, but you probably won’t.

Envision is easy to park, easy to keep in a highway lane, and simply pleasant to drive.

Power? Well, it’s on the upper end of mediocre, say a 6 out of 10. The Buick, which is made in China, features a Chinese-built 2.0-liter turbo I4 linked to a 9-speed automatic. Power comes on smoothly with slight turbo lag and easy gear changes, but the getaway from a stoplight is mild, mostly. Tromp the gas pedal and put the drive mode in Sport and things pep up quite a bit, but you’ll still not strain your neck muscles.

The benefit of all this is gas mileage you likely wouldn’t suspect from a 182.5-inch long vehicle (about the same as a Nissan Rogue). I got 28.2 mpg in about 60% highway driving with several folks aboard. The EPA rates Envision at 24 mpg city and 31 mpg highway. Envision has more power than Rogue, by the way, but Rogue earns 1 mpg better fuel ratings.

Some of the automotive intelligentsia say Envision competes with the likes of Acura’s RDX, Lincoln’s Corsair and Infiniti’s Q50, which are similar in size. Those are more luxurious in feel and interior stylings, but also can run quite a bit more money. Envision is more mainstream.

Buick’s safety equipment is exactly what you’d expect, lane keep assist with lane departure warning, front pedestrian braking and collision alert, smart high-beam headlights, lane change alert with blind-spot monitor, rear park assist and rear cross-traffic alert. Smart cruise control comes on the Essence too.

Other Essence trim upgrades include a 10.2-inch screen (up from 8 inches), a power hatch and heated front seats. Wheels are upgraded to 18 inchers too.

Inside the test vehicle featured black perforated leather seats with gray trim and stitching, a black dash and doors with satin chrome trim and fake carbon fiber inserts to spiff up the dash and doors. Black gloss trims the instrument pod and the big info screen is angled nicely toward the driver, although front-seat passengers may not be fond of that.

The steering wheel is heated too and that big screen is easy to use with large touchscreen buttons that are simple to see. Toggles below the screen control the heated seats and climate controls.

One slightly unusual feature is the push-button transmission that mixes how it’s engaged. Park is a straight push down, while Drive and Reverse require the driver to pull up on separate console buttons. I’d prefer they all function with a push.

Seats are relatively flat with mild hip and lower back support, but are powered and the driver gets a power lumbar support and two seat memory buttons. The rear seat is roomy and comfortable too, plus splits and folds. That power hatch (with wiper) can be activated from inside, the fob, or by wiggling your foot by the rear bumper.

Wiggle your foot by the rear bumper and up goes the power hatch!

A couple misses include the lack of a sunroof or wireless phone charger on the Essence model. The center armrest/storage box also is split, which I’m not a fan of, finding one that swings up and out of the way easiest to manage.

The test crossover did add a $2,500 technology package that some may appreciate. It upgrades the stereo and adds some other electronic niceties. There’s a premium Bose 9-speaker stereo in the package, plus voice recognition and the larger screen, Bluetooth, wireless Apple Car Play and Android auto, a universal remote and HD radio and surround vision. A head-up display also is part of the deal.

Move up to the Avenir trim level and the seats are quilted leather and include a massaging function. Hmmm, that could be a bonus on a long drive.

The center info screen and stack angles toward the driver and is easy to see and read.

Quiet tuning is something Buick also touts that it says quiets the interior. While not up to top-end luxury standards the interior is quiet, although some pavement noise is audible.

Again, this is entry-level luxury at a standard crossover’s pricing. Add in AWD for northern climes and the Envision will be a fine suburban hauler of kids to school, soccer or band practice. It also would be a fine long-distance vacation vehicle, sort of like station wagons of old, but quieter, more comfortable, and more fuel efficient.

FAST STATS: 2021 Buick Envision Essence FWD

Hits: Attractive crossover, nice ride, 3 drive modes, light handling, good safety equipment, power hatch, heated seats and steering wheel. Roomy interior with big easy to use screen, comfy seats, and rear wiper.

Misses: No sunroof or wireless phone charger, mediocre power.

No denying the Envision is a handsome SUV!

Made in: China

Engine: 2.0-liter turbo I4, 228 hp

Transmission: 9-speed automatic

Weight: 4,005 lbs.

Wheelbase: 109.4 in.

Length: 182.5 in.

Cargo: 25.2-52.7 cu.ft.

Tow: 3,500 lbs.

MPG: 24/31

MPG: 28.2 (tested)

Base Price: $36,995 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $35,539

Major Options:

Technology package (HD surround vision, head-up display, Bose 9-speaker premium stereo, front park assist, memory card receptacle, info system w/nav, 10-in. touchscreen, voice recognition, Bluetooth audio streaming, wireless Apple Car Play/Android Auto, personalized apps, HD radio, universal home remote), $2,500

Test vehicle: $39,495

Sources: Buick, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat AWD

Crazy fast Hellcat SUV a demonic delight …

Some things simply make no sense, seem coo-coo crazy, yet are so much fun that a person ignores their lunacy.

For instance, Dodge’s Durango SRT Hellcat with its 710-horse supercharged 6.2-liter HEMI V8. Any engine oozing that many adjectives is sure to be a demon.

This wild child is a one-year wonder from Dodge. The Durango SRT Hellcat is a 2021 model only, so pony up your $90 grand right now as these will surely be collector items.

Wild? Yes, the Durango, normally a fine mid-size SUV, has a top speed of 180 mph, says Dodge. Its 0-60 mph time is 3.5 seconds. It’s even quicker than a much pricier Lamborghini Urus, a luxury/performance SUV.

Even the Hellcat logo looks tough!

We shouldn’t be surprised by any of this, even in a hybridizing world where electrics are playing a larger role each model year. Dodge has gone full-bore performance in the past decade. It slightly refreshes its aging car and now SUV lineup, but keeps upping the ante for horsepower, always under the SRT and/or Hellcat brand. There are both in the Challenger and Charger models already and they too are land-based rockets.

I guided this missile to central Indiana and back, leaving knee-high corn stalks quivering in my wake and farm animals nervously looking over their shoulders.

The Durango was a blast, as are all Hellcats. Power is simply unspeakable. SUVs weighing 5,710 pounds are not supposed to have this sort of grunt. But tromp the metal-clad pedals and this SUV lurches toward light speed as if it were a stock car running on nitrous.

Watch Mark’s video: Mark Savage reviews the 2021 Durango Hellcat – YouTube

Handling is suitably sporty with a moderately heavy feel and good cornering ability. No body lean here and the $595 extra Pirelli 3-season ZR20 performance tires give it race car grip. AWD doesn’t hurt either, but you’ll need all-season or winter tires to put the power to winter pavement.

Ride is typical large SUV bouncy with some side-to-side motion on uneven pavement. This is the same as the SRT Durango I tested about 18 months ago. Big bumps are well absorbed and no shockwaves are transmitted to the cockpit, but the bounce is noticeable.

Still, an SRT Hellcat buyer isn’t full-checkbook into this SUV for ride, but performance. So the SRT toggle at the center stack’s base will be his or her best friend. That toggle lights up the snazzy 10-inch info screen for selection of virtually any setting the driver requires. There are the pre-sets of Auto, Snow, and Tow, but more likely the Sport or Track settings will be desired. These firm up handling, ride and power to deliver race-worthy performance. A Custom setting allows everything from steering and ride to shock dampers to be adjusted.

There’s also a Launch button in case you’re headed to the drag strip to grind off excess rubber from those costly performance tires.

Braking is vital to a beast like this and the Dodge packs giant rotors front and rear and dolls up the SRT performance calipers with blue paint.

My test truck was Destroyer Gray, which looked an awful lot like the prior week’s test car, a Ford Mustang in Jet Fighter Gray. This added low-gloss black racing stripes, a $1,195 option, but what self-respecting buyer wouldn’t want these?

Those stripes and the muscular nose with flat-black air vents embedded in the bulging hood give this a bigtime tough-guy look. Visually Durango assures any onlookers that they’re in for a butt kickin!

The irony is that inside the Durango Hellcat is as comfy as your living room sofa, maybe more so. Oh, it looks racy with black leather and suede seats with an SRT Hellcat logo embroidered on the front of each seat backs. Instrument panel gauges are racy red and there are carbon fiber inserts (look a bit like snakeskin) on the doors and dash and alongside the console. All that and the suede headliner are part of a $2,495 premium interior package.

But the seats are so well shaped that they feel as if they are hugging you, plus the front seats are heated and cooled while the rear seats are heated. The steering wheel is heated too. The second row here includes comfy captain’s chairs and the third row seats are decent too, both for comfort and roominess. Several “older” friends offered high praise for the monster truck’s seat supportiveness.

The flat-bottom wheel adds a racy look along with the metal clad pedals on SRT Hellcat.

Then there are those metal clad pedals down below, a power tilt/telescope flat-bottom steering wheel and a fine 10.1-inch info screen. Dodge delivers an easy screen interaction, all simple to understand and use while driving. Its Uconnect 5 navigation system works fine and there are nine Alpine amplified speakers with a subwoofer stacked in to deliver awesome sound quality too.

That big screen is the main focus of all the performance enhancements and adjustability, of course. The SRT and traction control toggles are down low on the stack and there’s a wireless phone charger beneath. In back the hatch is powered.

A big easy-to-tune and use info screen system and large control buttons are a win!

Leaning heavily toward performance, the Hellcat did not include a sunroof, and while generally a fine interior there is tire noise and most of all a whiny supercharger hum that can become annoying at low speeds. Otherwise the exciting rumble and roar of the supercharged V8 is fun and even quiets considerably at highway speeds after Dodge’s 8-speed automatic shifts to a cruising gear.

Fuel-efficient though the Hellcat is not. In fact I’d swear a few Hoosier hogs saluted as we drove by. I got between 14.7 and 15.1 mpg in mostly highway driving, but a few longer jaunts in town that resulted in that lower figure. Heck, the EPA rates this at just 12 mpg city and 17 highway. Then again, if a buyer is drooling over using 710 horsepower it’s likely that gas savings are not on his or her radar.

Wonderfully supportive seats are standard and how about the cool SRT Hellcat logos?

On the practical side (seems odd here I know), the Durango will tow 8,700 pounds and if all its rear rows of seats are folded flat will haul 85.1 cu.ft. of cargo. That’s something an equally powerful supercar could not deliver.

Such an exotic car couldn’t come close to competing on price either, most such wildlings starting in six digits. SRT Hellcat lists at $82,490, including delivery. That’s a bargain for this much power, comfort and usability. The test SUV ended up at $89,665 with its tally of options.

In addition to those mentioned earlier the Durango added about $3,000 of safety equipment, which I’d expect to be standard on a premium vehicle such as any Hellcat. A $495 add-on included blind-spot and cross-path detection, which are pretty much standard equipment on nearly every vehicle sold today.

The bigger bite was a $2,395 technology group that included advanced brake assist, lane-departure warning plus, full-speed forward collision warning plus and adaptive cruise control, the latter of which might help a bit in moderating gas consumption on the freeway.

Still, if neck-straining power is your thing, yet room for six or seven passengers and major towing power also are your thing, Durango SRT Hellcat is your best choice for a supersonic beast of burden.

Plenty of room behind row 3 and with it folded there’s oodles of cargo capacity!

FAST STATS: 2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat AWD

Hits: Crazy power, bigtime tough guy looks, sporty handling, extremely supportive seats, heated/cooled seats, heated rear seats, flat-bottom wheel, wireless phone charger, 10-inch info screen, useable third row seat, metal pedals, red gauge faces, exciting exhaust tone. SRT toggle allows track settings, power hatch and power tilt/telescope steering wheel.

Sharp-looking lights and grille, plus the Hellcat logo, again!

Misses: No sunroof, whiny supercharger, a gas hog.

Made in: Detroit, Mich.

Engine: 6.2-liter supercharged HEMI V8, 710 hp

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 5,710 lbs.

Wheelbase: 119.8 in.

Who doesn’t appreciate red SRT brake calipers? No one!

Length: 200.8 in.

Cargo: 17.2/43.3/85.1 cu.ft.

Tow: 8,700 lbs.

MPG: 12/17

MPG: 14.7-15.1 (tested)

Base Price: $82,490 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $78,731

Major Options:

Technology group (advanced brake assist, lane-departure warning plus, full-speed forward collision warning plus, adaptive cruise control), $2,395

Premium interior group (suede headliner, premium instrument panel, forged carbon fiber accents), $2,495

Low-gloss gunmetal dual stripes, $1,195

Pirelli P Zero ZR20 3-season tires, $595

Blind-spot and cross-path detection, $495

Test vehicle: $89,665

Sources: Dodge, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Caligraphy

Fourth gen Santa Fe grows into a sharp looker …

Time flies. Hyundai’s Santa Fe SUV proves it.

Santa Fe debuted 20 years ago as the South Korean automaker’s mid-size SUV. It was nothing special, just economical and reliable. Hmmm, reminds me of how Toyota, Honda and Nissan started out in this country, except with small cars, not utes.

Now in its fourth generation the Santa Fe has grown some, matured if you will. The awkward looking SUV has turned into a handsome youngster with a more muscular profile, snazzy features, a fair amount of sex appeal starting with its T-shaped headlights, reminiscent of Volvo’s sporty “Thor’s Hammer” headlights.

But don’t think knockoff. Nope, Hyundai’s designers are always pushing the styling envelope and this latest tailoring job with its bolder nose, longer more defined hood, LED taillights and those LED T-lights is another excellent example. Visually Santa Fe looks new and leading edge.

Pricing remains impressive, all the way from a front-drive SE for $28,185 up to the tested blue blood Calligraphy model, its top-ender with a starting price of $43,275, and $43,730 as it sat glowing in my driveway swathed in sparkling Quartz White, just $300 extra. AWD is available on the seven trims and standard on some, such as the Blue Hybrid and the Calligraphy, naturally.

For 2021 Hyundai ditched its old engines and goes with two new ones, plus offers a hybrid and soon a plug-in hybrid. The base engine is a 191-horse 2.5-liter I4. That’s 6 more horses than the old one. While the upscale 2.5-liter I4 turbo found in Calligraphy belts out 277 horses and touts a 311 torque rating. Car and Driver magazine says the Santa Fe with this engine will do 0 to 60 mph in 6.0 seconds with a top speed of 130 mph, not bad for a large mid-size ute.

Watch Mark’s video review: 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe review by Mark Savage – YouTube

The power is strong, making highway merges simple. I tested this on a roundtrip to Indianapolis on Indy 500 weekend and felt the highway drive akin to qualifying for the race. Few of my highway counterparts were cruising at less than 80 mph. The Santa Fe was up to the challenge and remained surprisingly quiet inside.

You can thank Hyundai for using more acoustical glass to blunt exterior noise, better undercarriage coverings to cut wind noise and increase fuel efficiency, and more sound deadening materials in the firewall and floor. The result is luxury level quiet.

There’s a smoothness to the Santa Fe too that you might not have witnessed in the past, or expected in the present. A slick 8-speed automatic transmission helps deliver power in a silky fashion, although on startup there seems to be a little lag for the first half-mile or so.

Hyundai includes a big dial on its console that blends with a center stack to engage various drive modes. Comfort is best around town and Sport for the freeway, at least when merging onto it. Snow and Smart modes also are available.

That big black dial next to the push-button transmission will set the drive modes.

I was happy with the Comfort setting as the ride was smooth and comfy with moderate steering effort. Sport firmed things up a bit, but not drastically. Yet it made acceleration much kickier.

Braking is solid too with 13.6-inch vented discs up front and 12-inchers in the rear. Plus remember the Calligraphy comes with AWD, a boon in sloppy weather and in case you want to trundle off-road a bit or when towing a boat or small camper. Ground clearance is 8.2 inches.

Tires are 19-inch Continentals for now, but 20-inchers will be available on Santa Fes soon for those who subscribe to the bigger-is-better theory of traction.

Classy looking two-tone interior stands out in the Calligraphy model.

Inside? Well, on Calligraphy models you’ll be coddled a bit with quilted leather seats that are soft to the touch and look fantastic. The test model’s were a caramel brown with black trim and the dash black over brown, as are door panels. The leather adorned steering wheel is black and a mesh-like metal trims the dash while satin chrome trims air ducts, doors, door releases, and buttons. It’s a high-end look.

I love the button and toggle laden console/center stack design because it’s obvious where all the functions are located, no confusing screen with layers of functions buried inside. Temperature controls are toggles too, so are easy to tap up or down. The tranny is push-button too, and also on the console, but I’m not a big fan, especially with the Park button off to one side.

Info screen visibility is good. An 8-inch screen is standard, but the 10.3-inch model comes on Calligraphy and is optional for other trims. Functionality is simple.

All the buttons are easy to see and use on the console to center stack layout.

Cool too that the 12.3-inch instrument panel screen changes its appearance depending on the drive mode selected and features Hyundai’s helpful safety feature that I call turn-signal cameras. Flip the turn signal to go right and a round camera image of the right side from your car’s tail on back appears. Same with the left turn signal, the images appearing on the appropriate side of your instrument panel. Bravo!

I’m not sure how many of us need a head-up display, but this one is standard and is color, so puts the speed limit and your current speed in red and green.

Front seats are powered and include a button to extend the lower driver’s seat cushion, an aid for long-legged drivers. A power lumbar control is offered too. Around town I was perfectly comfy in these seats, but for a longer drive I feel the bottom cushions need more snug hip support. I found my tailbone burning after 100 miles. Jamming my wallet under my right hip helped some, but that seems like something a driver shouldn’t have to do to avoid leg and hip fatigue.

Others had no butt issues and riders found the rear seat roomy enough for three adults, plus the outer rear seats are heated. The front seats are both heated and cooled and Calligraphy adds a heated steering wheel.

Other features are plentiful. Inside is a snazzy Harman Kardon premium sound system, a panoramic sunroof, power hatch and wireless phone charger where you insert the phone vertically right by the cup holders. Nice fit, but I forgot my phone regularly. I prefer a tray where you can lay a phone and still see it.

There also are manual sun screens for the rear seat’s side windows and a huge storage area behind the second row seats, including large bins under the floor. Hyundai claims 36.4 cubic feet of space and that’s believable. Put the rear seats down and that expands to 72 cu.ft. That’s better than even some larger SUVs.

There’s a lot of cargo space behind the second row seats, even some under the floor.

Hyundai’s safety lineup is stout on the Calligraphy with semi-autonomous drive modes that keep the car in its lane, even on turns. This worked really well on the highway, but insisted the driver keep his or her hands at 10 and 2 or 9 and 3 on the wheel. I rested mine near the bottom of the wheel on a long straight stretch of Hoosier highway and the instrument panel got mad, saying I should hold the wheel. I was. Also it lit up once when I was holding the wheel with just one hand.

Better safe than sorry I suppose.

Blind-spot, forward-collision avoidance, high-beam assist, rear cross-traffic assist and braking, smart cruise control, and a 360-degree camera are standard.

One sort of safety system that wasn’t intuitive, at least to me, was the rear door safety locks for kids. I’m used to these being near the door latch mechanisms with a tab to flip up or down. Hyundai couples the door locks with the rear-seat child window locks. You engage that and the kid can’t put the window down, OR get out. Might be fine for wee ones, but my 12-year-old grandson got tired of being locked in, until grandpa figured out the buttons.

Santa Fe has a grabber nose with a stylish grille and T-shaped headlights.

On the plus side, Hyundai also offers standard wireless Apple Car Play and Android Auto on all Santa Fe models.

Likewise, fuel economy is up about 30% across the lineup. The test SUV was rated 21 mpg city and 28 mpg highway by the EPA. I got a fine 26.4 mpg in my highway drive that included some city driving at each end of the trip. We had three of us and luggage aboard.

For now there are the two gas engine choices and a hybrid with 226 horsepower from a 1.6-liter turbo and two electric motors, plus 6-speed automatic and AWD. A plug-in hybrid model is expected late in 2021.

Cool how the light bar runs across the width of the rear hatch and into the taillights!

If the Calligraphy sounds nice, but is a bit rich for your budget, consider the second level SEL model for $29,985. It adds heated seats and mirrors, a blind-spot warning system, satellite radio and keyless entry with push-button start. The Blue hybrid model starts at $34,835 and includes AWD.

Santa Fe moves Hyundai deeper into the SUV mainstream with leading-edge design and luxury features and finish in the Calligraphy trim. Test one to see how it fits your derriere!

FAST STATS: 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Calligraphy

Hits: Sharp redesign, more powerful engine, good ride and handling, plus AWD. Cool T-shaped lights, Harman Kardon stereo, panoramic sunroof, power hatch, 10-inch screen, clear button arrangement on center stack, turn-signal activated side cameras, nice visuals on instrument cluster, heated/cooled front seats, heated wheel, heated rear seats, large cargo area w/underfloor storage, roomy interior, wireless charger, rear side window screens, and stout safety device lineup.

These T-shaped headlights are a standout styling feature.

Misses: Lower seat cushion is hard and not as supportive as many, leading to tailbone burn on drives over 100 miles, but lower cushion will extend for tall drivers. Rear door locks are activated by rear window child-proof locks and not intuitive.

Made in: Montgomery, Ala.

Engine: 2.5-liter turbo I4, 277 hp

Transmission: 8-speed automatic w/Shiftronic

Weight: 4,060 lbs.

Wheelbase: 108.9 in.

Length: 188.4 in.

Cargo: 36.4-72.1 cu.ft.

Tow: 3,500 lbs.

MPG: 21/28

MPG: 26.4 (tested)

Base Price: $43,275 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $41,480

Major Options: Quartz white paint, $300

Carpeted floor mats, $155

Test vehicle: $43,730

Sources: Hyundai, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 Volkswagon Arteon 2.0T SEL R-Line

Arteon sedan delivers looks, refinement, value …

Only two years have passed since Volkswagen renamed and restyled its CC sedan as the Arteon, still a name that doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.

But VW assures us the term is Latin for Art, emphasizing how important design is for the model. Whatever it’s called, this large fastback-styled sedan proves VW is dedicated to handsome cars as well as crossovers and SUVs. Prosit!

As I intoned in my earlier review of Arteon, it’s a sedan that has virtually everything a crossover intender could want, with the exception of a tall ride and boxy shape. This is one of the finest looking family sedan on the road. Edgy, but with fastback styling.

But if you’re after AWD, mucho room for the family and cargo capacity to match, the Arteon checks all those boxes.

The VW rides on a 111.9-inch wheelbase so has oodles of leg and headroom for five adults and the trunk delivers a massive 27.2 cubic feet of cargo room, or up to 55 cubic feet with the split rear seats lowered. Heck, some small crossovers would struggle to offer that much. And instead of a pure trunk, the fastback opens as a hatch so loading and unloading is a cinch.

Yet you’re likely thinking the VW only stuffs a four-cylinder engine under the hood, so it’s likely weak on power. Wrong!

This 2.0-liter is strong, delivering 268 horses and 258 lb.-ft. of torque from the silky smooth turbocharged four-cylinder engine. The result is not only quick acceleration, but luxury car smoothness as it’s coupled with an efficient 8-speed automatic with Tiptronic to allow driver shifts, if desired.

Watch Mark’s video review: https://youtu.be/lsC8_z7ROUQ

There are five drive modes too, accessed easily via a button on the console. Sport mode firms the suspension, alters the gearing for better acceleration and stiffens the steering effort. That’s great on the highway, but in town or at sub-40 mph the Normal or Comfort modes seem best, easing steering and ride comfort. Midwest roads are crumbling!

Yet at all levels Arteon turns into corners with precision like a luxury sport sedan. Won’t find many crossovers doing that without some push or lean in corners. Plus being a sedan the ride is dramatically better than any truck-based vehicle. It’s well controlled, yet sporty. No serious bumps or thumps and railroad tracks and pot holes are barely a blip on your derriere’s radar.

My tested SEL R-Line model with 4Motion, that’s VW’s AWD system, was bathed in a beautiful King’s Red Metallic paint that got raves from onlookers, including my spouse who rarely comments on my test vehicles. That color costs $395 extra but is a stellar choice especially considering most cars are gray or white these days. This stands out!

Inside the styling is simple and elegant with a wide dash that features lean and expansive air vents, making cabin comfort a breeze, literally.

Clean and attractive dash with fine Nappa leather seats create a stylish interior.

The test car featured light gray Nappa leather seats with dark gray trim and a dark gray dash and door uppers with light gray inserts. The dash also had a textured metal trim strip that extended into the doors along with satin silver trim below that. Gloss black trim graces the stack and console surrounding the shift lever.

Controls are easy to see and use and the driver gets a 12.3-inch digital instrument panel that can be adjusted to meet a driver’s particular needs. Best for us seniors, the 8-inch infotainment screen mid-dash is simple to adjust, not always the case in today’s tech-laden touch-and-slide screened vehicles.

The power seats not only look sharp but are firm and well-shaped for long or short hauls, plus the driver gets three-memory settings Seats up front are heated, with three temperature settings. And get this, if you go full-on luxury with the top-tier SEL Premium model you get a massaging driver’s seat is too. Amazing in this price range.

Overhead is a large, but not panoramic sunroof, however the cover is a screen, not a shade so a little light, and warmth seeps through the roof in hot weather.

This SEL R-Line model that features a bit racier look and feel also adds a flat-bottomed steering wheel, naturally loaded with plenty of controls on it hub.

Arteon also comes with dual climate controls, but VW has gone to touch-controlled slides that are a bit too touchy at times, likewise there’s a radio volume slide on the steering wheel’s hub. Not sure why knobs needed to be replaced, but as with all touch-centric controls these are not easy to use when the car is in motion as their adjustment is imprecise.

VW loads up Arteon with electronic safety devices, including parking sensors, automatic high-beam headlights, and an integrated crash response system to alert authorities if you crash. There’s also the standard blind-spot warning, smart cruise control, rearview camera, lane-keeping assist, and emergency braking with pedestrian recognition.

Stop & Go is standard too, an effort to save gas at stoplights, but the annoyance factor of the car shutting down seems hardly worth the minor gain it provides. That’s not a VW thing, it’s across the automotive market.

An economic downside is that Arteon prefers premium gasoline, the higher octane providing part of the VW’s prodigious horsepower. The VW will run on regular gas, but loses some oomph. Still, even powered up the car is rated at 20 mpg city and 31 mpg highway by the EPA. That highway figure is up 4 mpg from the 2019 model I’d driven, a big gain in efficiency. I managed 27.5 mpg, quite good for a large family sedan.

Good news on the pricing front too as a base Arteon SE starts at $38,190. It’s front-wheel drive. An SEL R-Line lists at $42,790 and one with AWD like the test car begins at $44,590. This one just added the sharp red paint job to end up at $44,985. Standard on the R-Line are 19-inch tires, the Nappa leather seats, sunroof, smart cruise control and adaptive LED headlights.

Going top-level Premium R-Line with 4Motion pushes the price to $48,190, but you do get the massaging driver’s seat, heated steering wheel and cooled seats, plus a 12-speaker Harmon Kardon stereo, 3D backup camera and power hatch.

This competes well with the likes of Toyota’s Camry and Honda’s Accord, plus Nissan’s Maxima, Acura’s TLX and Kia’s Stinger, although it’s much racier in performance. I think it even approaches the gorgeous Genesis G80 2.5T tested a week ago, but just not as quiet inside or as luxurious feeling.

FAST STATS: 2021 VW Arteon 2.0T SEL R-Line

Hits: Slick looking fastback sedan with good power, sporty handling, but fine family sedan ride. Smooth and comfy, with a sporty edge, adjustable drive modes, and solid safety features. Roomy interior and trunk under a hatch. Heated seats, large sunroof, flat-bottom wheel, comfortable seats, good sized info screen and easy controls. Plus AWD.

Misses: Prefers premium fuel. Sunroof has screen, not shade. Touch and slide controls hard to precisely use. Awkwardly tight spot for phone under center stack.

Snazzy wheels make Arteon look fast, even while parked.

Made in: Emden, Germany

Engine: 2.0-liter turbo I4, 268 horsepower

Transmission: 8-speed automatic w/Tiptronic

Weight: 3,686 lbs.

Length: 191.6 in.

Wheelbase: 111.9 in.

Cargo: 27.2-55 cu.ft.

MPG: 20/31

MPG:  27.5 (tested)

Base Price: $44,590 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $42,811

Major Options:

King’s Red metallic paint, $395

Test vehicle: $44,985

Sources: Volkswagen, kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 Mercedes-Benz AMG GLE 63 S Coupe

Mercedes’ racy GLE Coupe is really an SUV …

This new Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe is a whale of a vehicle and I mean that in mostly the nicest way, beyond its obvious looks.

The GLE Coupe is essentially a large SUV with a whale-like rounded rear end. If you don’t care for the look, Mercedes also offers the GLE as a square-backed SUV.

For styling the M-B designers essentially copied their slightly smaller GLC sport-ute’s rounded coupe profile. Seems Mercedes’ marketers decided that a rounded rear roofline enabled them to label the five-seat ute a coupe. I don’t buy it. Time will tell if luxury ute intenders will.

Labels aside, if you can think of this as a fastback SUV soaked in luxury and performance you’ll be thrilled, even if your name is Jonah. I tested the top-end AMG GLE 63 S Coupe in Selenite Gray. As Mercedes aficionados are well aware, tack the AMG initials onto anything and it’s gonna rock, big time.

AMG is Mercedes performance arm and hand builds its engines, and its assemblers sign each engine, assuring buyers these are unique powerplants, and likely race track worthy. This one seemed so.

The GLE’s heart is a bi-turbo 4.0-liter V8 that pounds out 603 horsepower and a massive 627 lb.-ft. of torque. Its roar could make an F1 racer jealous. The guttural growl of the bi-turbo is beautiful, something you feel deep in your bones.

It’s a rocket too, easily hitting triple digits on a freeway entry ramp. Mercedes claims a top speed of 174 mph. That’s special! Although you’ll never need it, or use all of that. Car and Driver magazine tested the square SUV version and managed 0 to 60 mph in just 3.4 seconds. Can you say supercar, er, truck?

See Mark’s video review: https://youtu.be/fYsyV_McWbE

However, there are a bevy of fast cars and trucks these days, each seeming to be celebrating the waning days of internal combustion engines (ICE).

Yes, it’s a fastback, but is it really? The Benz Looks like and drives like a big SUV, although way faster and sportier than most!

But AMG takes its job seriously and does a particularly fabulous job tuning the handling and suspension here to give the GLE coupe a racer-like feel, even in Comfort drive mode. There are plenty of drive modes too, from Race (yes) to Slippery, which helps the standard AWD system handle snow and slop.

With great power comes great responsibility though. Hence the need for superior brakes. GLE nails it with monster 16.5-inch drilled front disc brakes featuring red 6-piston AMG calipers. Braking is impressive.

Steering effort is on the heavy side, but engages well with the road and gives the GLE a dialed in feel. In Race mode I zipped through multiple S-curves and winding roadways like a slot car shoed in silicone tires. I was stuck, often doubling or tripling the suggested turn speeds.

Is the Mercedes logo on the grille big enough for ya?

While heavy (5,390 lbs.), the GLE never feels loose or tippy, a major accomplishment with a vehicle that’s 70.2 inches tall and stands with 7.5 inches of ground clearance. Oh, and you can raise and lower the vehicle’s drive height via a console toggle.

Ride is firm, but well controlled as the SUV rides on giant 21-inch tires. Some might like the Comfort setting to tell the shocks to further dampen the ride, especially on choppy city streets. Yet after a week I was toughened up enough to handle the firm feel and with such a whisper-quiet interior (a $1,100 option increases insulation and window acoustics) you are well insulated from road imperfections.

The interior coddles you too. This one featured upgraded (just $250) quilted black leather and suede seats that are heated, cooled and controlled via easy-to-reach controls on the door panel. The dash, doors and flat-bottom steering wheel include carbon fiber trim. The spiffy wheel costs $400 extra though.

The Benz’s dash is well laid out with two 12.3-inch digital high-def screens that meld together so they appear as one two-foot-wide control panel. The center infotainment portion being a touchscreen with multiple functions, and there’s a redundant touchpad on the console for the unthinkable reason you may find it more convenient. You won’t.

Mercedes builds in a LOT of redundancy into controls though. For instance its drive modes and suspension adjustments have at least three different toggles and such to get at them. Easiest is the round knob below the steering wheel’s hub.

Buttons, toggles and door stereo speaker coves are satin metal here while the dash, doors, and part of the steering wheel are carbon fiber. A black gloss roll-back cover at the front of the console opens to reveal a wireless charging station.

Seats are fabulously supportive and you can even extend the front seats’ bottom cushion to give extra support to long-legged drivers. Headrests re powered too and the steering wheel is a power tilt/telescope unit.

Here’s a closeup look at the center stack buttons, screen, and console’s buttons and toggles.

These well-formed seats are heated and cooled, naturally, but the steering wheel is not heated, although the wheel’s partial suede coating helps reduce the need. Ironically Mercedes heats the door armrests though, thanks to a $1,050 option package. First time I’ve seen that.

And get this, these super comfy seats also offer eight massage settings, all controlled via the big infotainment screen. This is a $1,650 “energizing” package that I’ve got to say is like having Magic Fingers to ease the stress of a long drive. These would be golden on a trip, especially the setting that allows the cushions to massage your derriere.

One warning though, it’s best to have your front seat passenger adjust these settings, or to set them before you begin driving as tapping the screen can distracting and sometimes difficult on a bumpy road.

Other interior goodies include a giant panoramic sunroof, and a killer Burmester surround-sound stereo that might be able to deafen your neighbors if you crank it all the way up. Definitely party time, but at a $4,550 price tag it won’t be at my party.

Safety systems are rife here, as you’d expect, but M-B insists you pay $1,950 extra for a lot of them. That includes active levels of lane change assist, steering assist, brake assist and a variety of semi-autonomous features. This is a pricey vehicle. I’d expect all safety features to be standard.

With all this SUV’s power, much safety comes from the great AMG discs and red calipers with multiple piston braking.

Rear seats are a little hard here, but are roomy and there’s reasonable cargo space behind the seats, plus a smidge of hidden storage beneath the floor. Obviously with the slanted rear roofline you lose some vertical storage space. But if you buy something large, you’ll likely pay for delivery anyway.

While a delight in most ways there are a few concerns, beyond those already mentioned. One, the roofline is so low that even at 5-foot-5 I had to duck my head considerably to enter the vehicle. Taller drivers may find mounting the GLE hazardous to their heads.

Also, the massive roof pillars all the way from A to C coupled with the small rear window limit outward visibility. All the safety warning systems and cameras help, but good visibility is the easiest way to make a vehicle safer.

Then there is the column mounted shifter. While that was a common spot for shifters years ago, it isn’t now. Many car makers put the windshield wiper stalk on the right column now, so I found myself shifting into neutral on the freeway a couple times when I meant to engage the wipers. Not great.

Mercedes also is very concerned you’ll leave your key fob in the GLE. Every time you enter and every time you exit a message lights up and dings to remind you, “Don’t forget your key.” Unnecessary!

This is a big, heavy performance ute, so gas mileage is another concern. First, the GLE prefers high-octane gasoline to run at maximum power, but I got just 16 mpg in a week’s driving with more than half on the highway. The EPA rates the GLE at 15 mpg city and 19 highway. This seems a good candidate for hybrid power, and soon.

Even the door panels look special, including power seat controls, oh, and these seats also massage!

Pricing might be a wee high for most folks too. The test GLE starting at $117,050, including delivery. Add in the aforementioned options plus a few more, including fancy wheels and a $1,500 carbon fiber engine cover (oh my!) and the test ute hit $134,000.

That’s way into the luxury market and while the performance and luxury interior may justify the price, I’d want a better looking overall package.

FAST STATS: 2021 Mercedes Benz AMG GLE 63 S Coupe

Hits: Super performance for tall SUV, great power, excellent handling, multiple drive modes, AWD, and quiet interior. Luxury leather interior with heated seats, armrests, killer stereo, mega-sunroof, wireless charger, comfy well-formed seats with massage feature, 24-inch dual display screens. Fantastic brakes, safety systems, and packs every feature but a heated steering wheel.

Snazzy lights and grille give this a Mercedes face!

Misses: Firm ride, low entry-exit headroom at door frame, no heated wheel, drinks high-octane gas and plenty of it. Column shifter odd placement, massive roof pillars, and price may be a wee bit high!

Made in: Vance, Ala.

Engine: 4.0-liter Bi-turbo V8, 603 hp

Transmission: 9-speed automatic

Weight: 5,390 lbs.

Wheelbase: 117.9 in.

Length: 195.3 in.

Cargo: 27.5-63.2 cu.ft.

MPG: 15/19

MPG: 16.0 (tested)

Base Price: $117,050 (includes delivery)

Invoice: N.A.

Major Options:

AMG carbon fiber trim, $1,750

AMG black Nappa leather w/diamond stitching, $250

AMG carbon fiber engine cover, $1,500

AMG performance steering wheel w/carbon fiber trim, $400

AMG cross-spoke forged wheels, matte black, $2,000

Driver assistance package (active distance assist Distronic, active steering assist, active lane change assist, active emergency stop, active speed limit assist, active brake assist w/cross-traffic function, evasive steering assist, active lane-keeping assist, active blind-spot assist, Pre-Safe Plus rear collision protection, impulse side, route-based speed adaptation, active stop-and-go assist, traffic sign assist), $1,950

Warmth and comfort package (rapid heating front seats, heated front armrests and door panels), $1,050

Energizing comfort package plus (air balance package, active multi-contour front seats w/massage), $1,650

AMG night package (front splitter, front and rear apron trim strips, window trim, exterior mirror housing in gloss black), $750

Acoustic comfort package (increased cabin insulation, windshield w/infrared reflecting film, side windows w/acoustic and infrared absorbing film), $1,100

Burmester high-end 3D surround sound system, $4,550

Test vehicle: $134,000

Sources: Mercedes-Benz, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage