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Cars 2019: Lexus RX 450hL Road Test and Review

Offering provocative styling, smooth ride quality, and a luxurious, quiet interior, the Lexus RX is, by far, the brand’s best-selling crossover suv. In fact, it represents more than a third of all Lexus sales, last year outpacing the combined total sales of all six Lexus passenger cars.

There are several variants of the RX: the gas-powered RX 350, the RX 450h gas-electric hybrid, the three-row RX 350L, and the three-row RX 450hL hybrid. To make room for the third-row, the RX 350L and RX 450hL are stretched 4.4 inches behind the rear wheels. 

The 450hL’s hybrid powertrain brings another great reason to slip behind the wheel of the stylish mid-size Lexus suv—great fuel economy. EPA estimates are 29 mpg in the city, 28 mpg on the highway, and 29 mpg combined. While those numbers won’t wow a Prius owner at your next social gathering, near-30 mpg fuel economy in something as big, luxurious, and spacious as the RX that can handle up to seven passengers is quite notable. 

Hybrid Efficiency

The RX 450h’s hybrid drive system consists of a smooth-running 3.5-liter V6 and two electric drive motors for a total system output of 308 horsepower on premium unleaded fuel. No plugging in is necessary, as the engine and regenerative braking system keep the RX 450h’s 37kW nickel metal hydride battery charged and ready to go at all times. An electronically controlled continuously variable transmission smoothly blends the output of the gas engine and electric motors for seamless operation. When stopped in traffic, under very light acceleration, and when coasting or cruising under light loads, the RX 450h is in electric mode. The system adds the urgings of the gas V6 to provide stronger acceleration, run the air conditioning, and other operational conditions.

An added benefit of the system is all RX 450h’s come with all-wheel drive, the system doling out electric motor drive torque between the front and rear wheels for maximum traction under all conditions. In a week of mixed suburban and freeway driving, I saw indicated fuel economy of 28.6 mpg.

Inner Sanctum

Where the Lexus RX 450hL really shines is from within. All Lexus models offer a welcoming cabin atmosphere, featuring rich colors and textures, soft-touch surfaces, and thoughtful details. The RX 450hL coddles with standard equipment such as a tactile leather-wrapped, a power tilt-and-telescope steering wheel, comfortable and supportive leather-covered seats, 10-way power front buckets with power adjustable lumbar, three-zone automatic climate control, rain-sensing windshield wipers, a programmable garage-door opener, a smart-access key, automatic headlights, and more.

Notable options include heated and ventilated front seats covered in buttery, perforated semi-aniline leather, a heated leather-and-wood steering wheel, rich-looking Sapele wood and aluminum trim, LED ambient interior lighting, and a power moonroof. Extensive soundproofing and an acoustic glass windshield help hush RX 450hL occupants from a cacophonous world. It’s a relaxing place to be.

Entertainment and Connectivity

While the 2019 RX 450hL has yet to add the latest connectivity features that are beginning to appear in other Toyota and Lexus models such as Apple CarPlay and in-car Wi-Fi, the luxury hybrid SUV has plenty to offer techies and music fans. Standard is a nine-speaker premium audio system with a subwoofer, an 8-inch display screen, a voice-command system, Bluetooth phone synchronization, HD radio with iTunes tagging and traffic and weather data, and a Scout GPS cellphone app with turn-by-turn directions.

With the optional embedded navigation package, the infotainment screen upgrades to a horizontal-theme 12.3-inch display with three customizable zones, a 12-speaker audio system, SiriusXM satellite radio, destination assist, and a full Lexus Enform App Suite with iHeartRadio, Movietickets.com, Pandora, Slacker, sports, stocks, fuel prices, and more. A rich-sounding Mark Levinson 15-speaker 835-watt audio system with surround sound and Clari-Fi compressed music restoration technology is also available. There is a total of four USB ports for charging mobile devices. Smartwatch and Alexa skill integration are onboard as well.

Remote Touch Controller

The RX’s infotainment screen mounted atop the dash is too far away from the driver for touchscreen control, so a console-mounted remote touch controller is used to navigate through various functions. The controller has a mouse-like control knob with tap, tilt, and toggle functions and fingertip quick-function buttons.

Despite a padded wrist support to steady the driver’s right hand while operating the controller, the system takes some practice to use successfully while the RX is in motion.

Drive Modes

Also on the console is a driver-selectable drive mode switch that can customize the driving experience. For the RX 450h, there are four available modes: Normal, Sport, Eco, and EV.

Normal mode balances performance and fuel efficiency for everyday use, while Sport mode quickens the throttle response and sharpens steering feel. Eco mode prioritizes fuel economy, and EV mode enables slightly extended electric-only operation for parking lots and such at lower speeds.

Second Row

The Lexus RX 450hL’s second-row accommodates three passengers in a 40/20/40 split-folding bench seat with a center folding armrest or two in a pair of individual captain’s chairs with their own armrests. Both the bench and captain’s chairs slide fore and aft to facilitate differing passenger legroom or cargo space needs.

The sliding second row also eases entry to the rearmost seats. Second-row passengers get their own climate-control panel and vents. Heated rear seats and manual rear door sunshades are available as options.

RX 450hL Third-Row Seating

The extended-length RX 450hL model includes a third-row seat for additional passenger capacity. It sits low to the floor and has legroom only suitable for children. Third-row passengers also get their own climate control panel for the adjustment of temperature and fan speed. Passengers can get back there by sliding the second-row seat forward or on models with captain’s chairs, squeezing between the two seats.

The third-row seat is split 50/50, so owners can opt to fold one side down for extra cargo space while keeping the other open for a small passenger.

Cargo Considerations

Aside from the highly desired elevated driving position, a big reason for choosing an SUV like the RX over a sedan is the generous cargo capacity. In this regard, the RX does not disappoint. The regular-length RX 450h offers 18 cubic feet of space behind the rear seat and 55.9 with the rear seat folded flat.

The extended-length RX 450hL provides just 7.5 cubic feet of space behind its third row, but that grows to 23 cubic feet with the rearmost seat folded and 58.5 with the second row down. A power-operated liftgate is standard, as is a cargo area first-aid kit.

Safe Harbor

Aside from 10 airbags and a standard backup camera, the RX 450hL brings an extensive array of standard safety features. These include a pre-collision system with automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection, automatic high beams, all-speed dynamic radar speed control, a lane-departure alert system, and a lane-keep system with steering assist.

Available as options are blind-spot and rear cross-traffic monitoring, intuitive parking assist with automatic rear braking, and a panoramic view backup monitor.

Making a Big First Impression

The Lexus RX series has been a big hit in the market, finding a sweet spot of attention-getting styling, a calming, high-quality cabin, a smooth ride and a reputation for reliability. The RX 450h adds good fuel economy to that list, offering a level of efficiency that’s rare in something so roomy. And the extended-length RX 450hL adds the capability to carry more passengers (as long as they are small) and more cargo.

The 2019 Lexus RX 450hL is priced from $50,820.

Cars 2018: Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio Review

The English translation of quadrifoglio is four-leaf clover or cloverleaf, but when it’s applied to the 2018 Alfa Romeo Giulia, quadrifoglio means speed. The storied automaker launched in Milan, Italy, in 1906 and quickly started racing its products and building high-performance street cars. Its first racecar hit the track in 1911, and Enzo Ferrari was its star race car driver in the early 1920s. In 1923, in a superstitious move after a run of bad luck, Alfa added a four-leaf clover to its race cars — and won the next race. The symbol has appeared on every Alfa racecar since, and the nameplate first appeared on a high-performance street car back in 1963, a special version of the Giulia coupe.

Today, the 2018 Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio is the most powerful, most expensive and the most desirable member Giulia lineup. It’s also one of the quickest, fastest, and best-handling sedans in the world, competing with the BMW M3, Mercedes-AMG C 63, Audi RS 5, and Cadillac ATS-V.

Racetrack Ready

Alfa Romeo is now part of the Fiat Chrysler automobiles, the same company that owns American brands Dodge, Jeep, and Chrysler. Alfas are still built in Italy, and the brand returned to selling cars in America in 2014 after a 20-year absence. Today its small line up is made up of the mid-size Giulia sedan, the mid-size Stelvio SUV, and the two-seat 4C sports car.

It offers two high-performance Quadrifoglio models: the rear-wheel drive Giulia and the all-wheel drive Stelvio. Both have been tuned on many of the world’s racetracks, including the infamous north loop of Germany’s Nurburgring, a track considered the most extreme and dangerous in the world. Both are also powered by a twin-turbocharged 2.9-liter V6 pumping out an incredible 505 horsepower, which makes the Giulia Quadrifoglio the most powerful sedan in its class. Alfa’s engineers also added a sport-tuned suspension, bigger brakes, and larger wheels and tires. A manual transmission is not available; instead, its smooth, high-revving V6 is backed by an eight-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters.

High Base Price, No All-Wheel Drive

Pricing for the 2018 Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio starts at $75,295, including $1,595 for destination, which is about twice the price of the base 280-hp Giulia. A Mercedes-AMG C 63 S costs about the same as the Alfa, but the Audi RS 5, which is the only car in the segment with all-wheel drive, is a few grand less. The BMW M3 and Cadillac ATS-V offer much less power but undercut the Alfa by more than $10,000. The Alfa’s standard features include heated power front seats, Bluetooth, navigation, a Harman Kardon premium sound system, leather and suede upholstery, 19-inch wheels, and a driver-adjustable suspension.

Our loaded test vehicle was equipped with a few pricey options and packages that drove its sticker price up to over $90,000. These extras included carbon ceramic Brembo brakes, which cost an incredible $8,000; carbon fiber Sparco racing seats for $3,500; and a carbon fiber steering wheel for $400. Although all-wheel drive is an option on the other Giulia models, it isn’t offered on the Quadrifoglio.

Quicker Than the Competition

With more horsepower than any of its competitors and one of the lowest curb weights in its class, the Giulia Quadrifoglio is quicker than its rivals. With a 0-60 mph run of just 3.6 seconds, the Quadrifoglio is among the speediest sedans in the world at any price.

However, the performance of the Mercedes-AMG C63 S, which is powered by a 503-hp twin-turbo V8, is just an eyelash behind the Italian. The Mercedes and the 450-hp Audi RS5, aided by its all-wheel drive traction, offer 0-60 mph acceleration of just 3.7 seconds, but the Cadillac ATS-V and BMW M3 are a blink or two behind. Though they are the only cars in this class to offer manual transmissions, they’re also the slowest, with the Caddy needing 3.9 seconds to hit 60 mph and the lighter BMW taking a full 4.0 seconds.  The Alfa’s ultimate top speed of 191 mph also leads the class.

Fast and Comfortable

Neck-snapping thrust and serious terminal velocity are a large part of the Giulia Quadrifoglio’s appeal, but this super sedan brings much more to the table including a well-balanced chassis, incredible handling, and everyday comfort. Whoever tuned the Alfa’s suspension should get a year’s worth of calzones and cannolis for their outstanding work. Despite its standard 19-inch wheels and high-performance Pirelli summer tires, the Alfa is the best-riding sedan in its class, with a smooth, even supple ride over all road surfaces. You feel the road and the handling is sporty and responsive, but this four-door sports car won’t beat you up on the way to work.

In the city, the Alfa’s unique brake-by-wire system takes some getting used to. At first, the pedal feel is odd, which makes smooth stops difficult. Also, the steering feels a little abrupt off center at first. But you acclimate to these quirks quickly. In the hills, in the twists and turns, this is possibly the best sedan in the world, with incredible grip, powerful heat-resistant brakes, and absurd power.

Handsome Italian Design

Alfa Romeo has been building cars for over 100 years and — to our eyes — there have only been, like, three ugly ones. The 2018 Giulia Quadrifoglio is not one of them. Perfectly proportioned with a hunkered-down stance and voluptuous curves, the Giulia is a stunner. And that unique Alfa grille never goes out of style.

The Quadifoglio’s bodywork has a little more attitude and aerodynamic augmentation than the standard Giulia, but Alfa didn’t overdress the sedan with silly scoops and oversized spoilers. They’re there, but they’re subtle and tasteful. Very Italian. And, of course, there’s a cloverleaf on each front fender. From the rear, you can really admire the Alfa’s beefy set of high-performance tires, its four massive chrome exhaust pipes, and its small carbon fiber decklid spoiler.

Interior Pros and Cons

Like Ferrari, Alfa puts the Giulia’s red “engine start” button on the steering wheel. It’s a cool touch, and it’s also the first clue that this sedan doesn’t follow the usual ergonomic handbook. Alfa also mounts the paddle shifters on the steering column instead of the wheel itself, which is unusual. To compensate, they’re oversized, making them easy to locate when you’re looking for a gear mid-corner. The clear and concise analog gauges are classic white-on-black, however, and the driving position is perfect. The flat-bottomed steering wheel is just the right girth, and the standard heavily bolstered sport seats are firm and comfortable. Our test car’s optional carbon fiber seats were also well-shaped with even more aggressive bolstering, but they’re expensive and don’t seem necessary except on the racetrack.

There’s also an abundance of carbon fiber trim on the console and dashboard, and the Quadrifoglio’s interior is well-assembled. Visibility is excellent, the standard automatic climate controls are simple, and the large knob on the console to adjust the response of the suspension, steering, and transmission is well-placed. Unfortunately, the Alfa’s infotainment system is dated and often frustrating to use compared to others in this class. It’s compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but onboard Wi-Fi isn’t offered.

Largest Trunk in this Class

Cargo space is large for this class. The Guilia offers 13.0 cubic feet of trunk space, which is the same as the Mercedes but more than the Cadillac and the BMW. Unfortunately, the Quadrifoglio’s rear seat does not fold to expand that capacity like it down in other Giulia models. Also, storage inside the Alfa’s interior is limited. The center console bin and its door pockets are small. The two front cupholders are well-sized, but they’re questionably placed ahead of the shifter, and tall drinks can interfere with the dashboard controls.

Considering the Alfa Romeo’s class-leading horsepower and performance, its fuel economy is surprisingly good. The Quadrifoglio is rated for 17 mpg in the city and 24 mpg on the highway, which is about the same as you get in its competition. I averaged 19 mpg in a week of spirited mixed driving around Los Angeles.

A Top Safety Pick

Despite its stiff sticker price, some of the Alfa’s high-tech safety systems are extra-cost options. Our test car included the optional Driver Assist Dynamic Package. It’s a strong value at $1,200, adding adaptive cruise control with automatic braking, automatic high beams, and a lane-departure warning.

A backup camera is standard, as is a blind-spot monitoring system, parking sensors, rear cross-traffic detection, and a forward-collision warning system, which will add additional brake force for you but will not instigate braking on its own. Missing from the list is a top-view camera system that would provide a 360-degree bird’s eye view of the sedan. Still, the Giulia is a Top Safety Pick of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Final Thoughts

Yes, there should be less hard black plastic in the Giulia’s interior. And yes, its infotainment system lags behind its competitors. And yes, the Quadrifoglio is significantly more expensive than some of its rivals. But in many ways, this Italian sports sedan is the new benchmark for small high-performance luxury cars.

The Quadrifoglio is fast, functional, and sexy. It feels special. It looks special. And you’ll never grow weary of its extreme performance. It’s the only compact sedan sold in America that drives with the passion that Italian cars are famous for. La bella macchina. If you’re an enthusiast looking for a small high-performance luxury sedan, the 2018 Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio is an exceedingly desirable choice.

 

Cars 2019: Honda Insight Road Test & Review

The 2019 Honda Insight is an all-new hybrid sedan, but the name is one you may find familiar. Honda launched the first Insight back in 2000 and then followed up with a second generation in 2010. These versions of the Insight were gas-electric hybrids, too, but the fact that they’re hybrids and happen to have the same name are where the similarities end.

This new Insight is based on the Civic sedan and is set to compete against vehicles like the Hyundai Ioniq and Toyota Prius, so it has some tough competition. Honda thinks it has that competition beat with the Insight’s fuel economy, powertrain, and premium cabin features. Let’s take a closer look at the 2019 Insight and see if the third time is the charm for this hybrid Honda.

Pricing and Trims

The 2019 Insight offers a choice of three trims starting with the LX at a price of $22,830. It includes a solid range of features even though it’s the base model. There are LED headlights with automatic on/off, heated power side mirrors, automatic climate control, a tilting and telescopic steering column, adaptive cruise control, one USB port, and the Honda Sensing suite of safety features. Take one step up to the EX at $24,060 and there are additional amenities including a big upgrade to the infotainment system with a larger 8-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and two USB ports.

At the top of the lineup is the Touring trim at $28,090 with a power moonroof, LED fog lights, dual-zone automatic climate control, leather-wrapped steering wheel, power front seats with leather trim, and mobile hotspot connectivity. The Insight is priced to fit tight budgets while still offering plenty of features at every level.

Powertrain

Power for the Insight comes from a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine with 107 horsepower and 99 lb-ft of torque along with an electric motor for 151 total system horsepower. These are paired to a continuously variable automatic transmission, or CVT. This powertrain gives the Insight plenty of get-up and go and doesn’t remind you that you’re driving a hybrid. Instead, it feels very much like a traditional gas-only vehicle in all the best ways. Press on the accelerator and you’re rewarded with strong acceleration, especially if you choose Sport mode rather than Econ or Normal.

The only drawback to this powertrain is the CVT, which makes things a bit noisy in certain situations. City driving and highway cruising are fine, but hard acceleration, especially at higher speeds, yields an intrusive whine. It’s somewhat unavoidable in hybrids, and the Insight deserves kudos for limiting the issue to only certain drive scenarios.

Ride and Handling

Good sedans put a priority on passenger comfort, and the Insight does an impressive job of keeping the ride smooth and enjoyable. The suspension evens out the bumps and makes sure the rumble of rough pavement is muted. Honda engineers aimed for a quiet cabin and succeeded.

Handling is also quite good. The ride is confident and controlled and won’t tire the driver, even on longer trips. There’s something of a stigma with hybrids that they’re no fun to drive. You buy one because you want good fuel economy and because it’s good for the environment, not because you want to toss it through the corners, but you can do just that in the Insight. Winding country roads were no challenge, and at highway speeds, it was easy to make quick maneuvers through heavy traffic. The Insight brushes aside the notion hybrids must be boring.

Fuel Economy

Possibly the most compelling reason for buying a hybrid is fuel economy. The LX and EX get an EPA-estimated 55 mpg in the city, 49 mpg on the highway, and 52 mpg combined. The top Touring trim sees a slight drop to 51 mpg in the city, 45 mpg on the highway, and 48 mpg combined. You also have a certain amount of control over just how close you come to those estimates.

There are three drive modes activated at the press of a button on the center console. Normal is the default, and it focuses on providing a relaxed, comfortable ride. Econ prioritizes fuel economy with a less vigorous drive. Sport goes in the other direction with better responsiveness and reduced fuel economy. There’s also a gas pedal “click” you’ll feel when you push the throttle past 75 percent, so you know when you’re driving hard.

Regenerative Braking

The regenerative braking in the Insight deserves special mention. The idea of regenerative braking isn’t new. Every time you press the brakes, the system recaptures that kinetic energy and uses it to help recharge the vehicle’s battery. What’s different about how this works in the Insight is that it gives you control over how aggressively it captures that energy.

There are small paddle shifters mounted to the steering wheel that let you toggle between more or less brake regeneration. The adjustment is quick, and you’ll instantly feel the difference when you remove your foot from the accelerator with the most aggressive setting. It can lean toward one-pedal driving in which you don’t really need to press on the brakes. You can change the setting at any time, and there’s even a display in the instrument cluster so you can easily see the current selection.

Interior

Here’s the thing about a lot of today’s hybrid interiors: They’re not good. It’s as if the design teams spent so much time on the hybrid technology and achieving great fuel economy, making a comfortable interior was an afterthought. Especially if you’re looking for an affordable hybrid, there’s a good chance even the top trim is going to boast a rather lackluster cabin.

The Insight, despite being an affordable hybrid, has a refreshingly pleasant interior. We spent our time in the top Touring trim and found it comfortable and spacious. Seats are supportive, and materials are higher quality than the cheap, lightweight plastics common to hybrids. The Insight, well, it looks and feels like a nice sedan rather than a sedan that’s trying to make sure you don’t forget it’s a hybrid. This is a welcome change.

Infotainment

The base infotainment system in the Insight is minimal with only a 5-inch color LCD screen, one USB port, and a six-speaker audio system. It also has Bluetooth hands-free and streaming audio as well as Pandora compatibility. The EX takes a giant leap forward with an 8-inch high-resolution touchscreen, eight-speaker audio system, HondaLink, text messaging, HD Radio, SiriusXM, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto.

The top Touring trim adds even more functionality with a 450-watt premium audio system with 10 speakers and a subwoofer, navigation, HondaLink subscription services, and mobile hotspot capability. The system is intuitive and easy to use, but it is unavailable in the base LX. A 5-inch screen is very small, and the absence of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto on this trim are a big drawback. Those who put a priority on smartphone connectivity will be hard-pressed not to go right to the EX.

Safety

The 2019 Honda Insight hasn’t been crash-tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. What we do know is every Insight includes standard Honda Sensing with a collision-mitigation braking system, adaptive cruise control with low-speed following, lane-keep assist, and road-departure mitigation. That’s a lot for a vehicle that starts at just under $23,000.

The EX and Touring add Honda LaneWatch, which uses the infotainment screen to display an image of what is along the right side of the vehicle whenever you activate the right turn signal. It’s particularly helpful for avoiding low objects like curbs or decorative walls, and it comes in handy in cities to make sure you don’t miss a hidden bicycle coming up fast. And to help pedestrians, there’s a vehicle alert that makes soft sounds outside the vehicle when it’s in all-electric mode so people hear you coming.

Final Thoughts

The all-new 2019 Insight brings back a familiar name, but in a whole new vehicle. It expands Honda’s growing electrified lineup and offers a smaller and more affordable option than the Clarity and Accord Hybrid models. It’s a standout for its great fuel economy and its strong powertrain. Not every hybrid at this price point is one you want to drive, so the Insight will surprise you by being a car you’ll enjoy behind the wheel.

Adding to its appeal is an exterior design that is simply an attractive sedan rather than a quirky hybrid. It carries that theme through to the interior with high-quality materials that are appealing to the eye and focused on passenger comfort. The 2019 Honda Insight expands your hybrid choices with an entry-level sedan that elevates the segment.

Cars 2018: Dodge Challenger Hellcat Widebody Review

When it comes to American muscle cars, there’s a horsepower scale that goes something like this: First, there’s big power, then there’s seriously big power, and then there’s crazy power. And then, right where the thrill of speed pushes aside the fear of death, there’s Hellcat power.

This is the 2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Widebody. Under its scooped hood is a supercharged 6.2-liter Hemi V8 pumping out 707 horsepower. Yes, that’s over 100 hp shy of its Challenger Demon brother, but it’s enough to smoke the Hellcat’s huge rear tires through several gears and blast this big, heavy coupe from 0-60 mph in just 3.8 seconds. Hold your foot down and Dodge says this widebody can cover the quarter mile in 10.9 seconds, 0.3 seconds better than the standard-width Hellcat. That makes it one of the world’s quickest cars of all time.

A Performance Bargain at Around $72,500

Built in Ontario, Canada, along with the Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300 sedans, the 2018 Dodge Challenger is offered in 15 trim levels. The extensive range includes V6 Challengers with 305 hp, all-wheel drive versions, and retro cool Hemi-powered models like the R/T, the T/A, and the Scat Pack Shaker. Prices start around $28,000 including a $1,095 destination charge.

At the top of that food chain, just below the Hellcat Demon, sits the SRT Hellcat Widebody. The base Hellcat starts at $66,590, while the Widebody Performance Package adds $6,000 to that total. It includes enormous fender flares, larger 11-inch wide 20-inch wheels, all-season performance tires and a modified suspension. Our test vehicle, dressed in Go Mango orange paint, also had the optional eight-speed automatic transmission for $2,995, a matte black hood for $1,995, and Pirelli P Zero high-performance summer tires for $695. Add in the $1,700 gas guzzler tax and our test vehicle cost $78,275.

Sexy Exterior Style

The original Dodge Challenger, built from 1970 to 1974, has become highly coveted by collectors and American muscle-car enthusiasts. With its aggressive wide stance and long hood/short deck proportions, the shape of the Challenger’s third generation, first introduced in 2008, successfully played off the lines of the original to capture the nostalgic imaginations of those same enthusiasts.

More than 10 years later, it still turns head. With 3.5 inches of additional width, black “Devil’s Rim” wheels, and our test car’s sinister black hood, the Hellcat Widebody had neighbors asking for rides. Teenage boys gawk at it with their mouths hanging open. It looks exactly like an American muscle car should look: downright mean. It’s dripping in testosterone and has the performance to back up that attitude. Dodge’s design team has done a masterful job tweaking the Challenger’s lines over the last decade, making it ever more modern without losing its retro appeal. There’s a new deep chin spoiler, LED taillights, and projector headlamps with LED surrounds. The old-school flip-top gas door remains a favorite touch, and the short black rear spoiler is right off of the 1970 Challenger T/A model.

Modern Interior

Retro on the outside does not mean retro on the inside, and the Challenger’s interior is all about modern features and clean ergonomics. Yes, the wide console and T-handle shifter resemble the designs of the 1970 model, but not too much as to look dated. Overall, the interior is well constructed, nicely appointed, and visually appealing. All the controls are well-placed, and the 8.4-inch touchscreen in the center of the dash is one of the largest in this class. There’s a 200-mph speedometer, and the red-faced analog instruments are racy and easy to read. The audio and climate controls offer large knobs and big buttons. Nothing here is overly complicated.

This is a large car, and the Challenger seats four comfortably and five in a pinch. Visibility compromised by the coupe’s low roofline and thick pillars, but its heated and cooled front sport seats are firm, heavily bolstered, and comfortable. Its thick leather-covered steering wheel is also heated.

High-Tech Features, Big Trunk

Pay up for the high-horsepower Hellcat, and Dodge throws in all of its available in-cabin tech features. Our test vehicle came standard with an 18-speaker Harman Kardon premium audio system, navigation, voice command, and, of course, Bluetooth. The system is compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible, though Wi-Fi connectivity is unfortunately not offered.

There’s also a configurable 7-inch screen between the speedometer and the tachometer, rear parking sensors, blind spot monitors, rear cross path detection, keyless entry, push-button start, and a backup camera. A folding rear seat for additional cargo volume comes standard, and the Challenger’s trunk measures 16.2 cubic feet, which large for the class.

Incredible Acceleration

Punch its gas pedal to the floor and the Hellcat Widebody doesn’t just accelerate, it compresses time and space, not to mention your major internal organs. The incredible thrust provided by its big, blown Hemi tries to send your spleen, lungs, liver, and stomach into the back seat. One passenger said our Challenger’s shove was strong enough to disrupt her inner ear.

That’s if the traction control is on or if you’re using the Challenger’s Launch Control feature. With no electronic help, the Hellcat Widebody combines that ungodly acceleration with enough tire smoke to fumigate downtown Los Angeles. With a reckless right foot, you can smoke the very large and very expensive Pirellis for an entire city block, leaving black strips on the pavement, like a dog marking its territory.  At full throttle, the rumble of the massive V8 combines with a high-pitched blower whine, and it’s the ultimate ego trip to look out over that long black hood and big hood scoop knowing you can outrun every other car on the road. For a muscle car lover, the Hellcat Widebody defines fun-to-drive.

Good Handling and Braking

With its tire-shredding horsepower, some mistake the Challenger Hellcat Widebody for one-note samba, a straight-line brawler that can’t carve corners. That is an unfortunate misconception. At 4,500 lbs, the Hellcat Widebody is heavy, but it handles its heft well and manages to feel nimble and maneuverable. The grip is there thanks to the massive 20-inch Pirelli tires, which keep the big coupe stuck to the road, and body roll isn’t a problem even during hard corning. Although the steering is heavier than it needs to be, the ratio and feel are both spot-on, while the massive Brembo brakes are properly powerful.

With the SRT Drive Mode system, the driver can dial in Street, Sport, or Track settings for the steering, suspension, transmission, and traction control. Even in the Street setting, the suspension is firm but comfortable, thanks to special Bilstein shocks. The Challenger rides well and is pleasant to be in day after day. I wouldn’t hesitate to the drive the Hellcat Widebody two states over.

Thirsty for Fuel

With 707 hp, the Challenger Hellcat Widebody is a thirsty beast. It’s rated at just 13 mpg in the city and a more respectable 22 mpg on the highway. However, drive it like it is meant to be driven and you won’t get anywhere near those numbers. Joyride around like a high schooler, smoking the Challenger’s tires like Courtney Force, accomplishes three things. 1) It puts a huge smile on your face. 2) It earns dirty looks from Prius drivers. And 3) It destroys your fuel economy. I averaged 8 mpg in the Hellcat while driving it like an adolescent.

With a little more maturity and discipline, however, those numbers can rise considerably. In mixed driving with the throttle control of a responsible middle-aged father of two, I averaged 15 mpg, just below the Hellcat’s combined EPA rating.

Looking at the Competition

Head-on competitors for the 2018 Dodge Challenger Hellcat Widebody are easy to pluck from the crowd. There are two, the Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 and the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. All three are rear-wheel drive American muscle cars, but they each have their own unique flavoring.

The Mustang is significantly less powerful than the Hellcat with “only” 526 hp. Its engine is also naturally aspirated and revs to an incredible 8,250 rpm. It’s not as quick as the Hellcat, but it’s much lighter and it will outhandle the Dodge. The Shelby Mustang is also only available with a manual transmission. The Camaro ZL1 falls between the other two. Like the Challenger, its big V8 is supercharged and it’s offered with an automatic or a manual transmission. It’s quicker than the Shelby, but it’s “only” packing 650 hp, so it’s slower than the Dodge.  Like the Mustang, the Camaro’s chassis is more sophisticated than the Challenger’s, so it will out handled the Hellcat. Plus, the Camaro is offered as a coupe or a convertible, while the other two are coupe-only.

Already a Legend

The first Dodge Challenger Hellcat was introduced in 2015, and the 707-hp muscle car has become a legend in those three short years. This year’s addition of the Widebody Performance Package, however, dials up the awesome and takes the Hellcat’s desirability up several notches.

This car is something special. It delivers high levels of style, features, and technology, and it’s bursting with power. Few cars are this fun to drive.  For those in the market for a good old-fashioned American muscle car with tire-shredding might, the 2018 Dodge Challenger Hellcat Widebody is a very desirable overall choice.

 

Cars 2018: Fiat 124 Spider Road Test & Review

An Italian sports car, a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO, is the most valuable car in the world. One just sold for over $70,000,000. Yes, that’s seven zeros. Most new Italian sports cars aren’t cheap, either. You can’t touch a new Ferrari or Lamborghini for anything under $200,000. Even the four-cylinder Alfa Romeo 4C starts around $56,000.

But then there’s the 2018 FIAT 124 Spider. It’s not only the least expensive Italian sports car for sale in the United States, with a base price around $25,000, it’s also the most affordable turbocharged two-seat convertible sold in America. Small, powerful, and sexy, the new FIAT 124 Spider was designed in Turin, Italy, and closely resembles the classic 124 Sport Spider from the 1960s and 1970s. Those early cars, although beautiful, weren’t exactly known for their quality — so this time the Fiat roadster is built in Japan, sharing its rear-wheel drive platform with the Mazda MX-5 Miata. The result is a fun-to-drive two-seat droptop with impressive build quality and improved reliability. And that makes the FIAT 124 Spider a consistent favorite in the convertible sports car class, where it competes against the Nissan 370Z and its Mazda cousin.

Available in Four Trim Levels

The 2018 FIAT 124 Spider is available in four varieties: Classica, Lusso, Abarth, and Lusso Red Top. Prices start at $26,240, including $1,245 for destination and handling, for a Classica. A Lusso like our test vehicle starts at $28,840. Both trims get a six-speed manual transmission standard, but a six-speed automatic transmission is available for an additional $1,350. The range-topping Lusso Red Top Edition starts at $32,685 and comes with the six-speed automatic, which does have a manual mode and paddle shifters.

All-wheel drive is not offered, and every 124 Spider comes with a manually operated soft top, which can be lowered or raised in just a few seconds. In fact, you can put the top up and down from the driver’s seat without breaking a sweat. Under the hood of the Fiat is a smooth and powerful 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. It makes 160 horsepower. That’s 5 hp more than you get in the Mazda MX-5 Miata, which is not turbocharged. The Nissan Z convertible is significantly more expensive at over $41,000, but it’s also quite a bit stronger. Its V6 makes 332 hp.

It’s pronounced Ah-bart.

If more performance is on your list of desires, Fiat offers the 124 Spider Abarth. It’s the hot-rod version of this two-seater, and it’s named for European racing legend Karl Abarth, who began modifying Fiats in the 1950s. Unfortunately most Americans mispronounce Abarth, saying Ae-barth instead of the correct Ah-bart.

In this model, Fiat cranks up the turbocharged engine to 164 hp and adds a sport-tuned suspension with Bilstein shocks, a limited slip differential, a front strut tower bar, a selectable Sport Mode, more aggressive front and rear fascias, unique wheels, gunmetal graphics, and a louder exhaust system with four chrome pipes. Brembo brakes and Recaro seats are optional. Prices start at $29,540, which is a couple of grand cheaper than a Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Club.

Responsive Handling

With rear-wheel drive, a fully independent suspension, and the same chassis hardware as a Mazda Miata, it’s no surprise the 2018 FIAT 124 Spider handles well and is a blast to drive. This little two-seater is agile, responsive, and well-balanced. Its steering also has plenty of feel. In the mountains or a coast road on a sunny Sunday with the top down and the breeze blowing through your mane, the Fiat feels better the harder you push it.

Although the base model comes with 16-inch wheels and tires, the 17-inch Bridgestones on our Lusso test vehicle looks more substantial and have plenty of grip. Around town, the Fiat feels sporty and engaging, but it also manages to provide a supple ride. For a sports car, it’s impressively comfortable, even on rough roads, and its chassis is tight, with no squeaks or rattles. This is a sports car that can be driven every day without making you feel like you’ve made a sacrifice in comfort or refinement.

Plenty of Power

The Fiat’s turbocharged four-cylinder sounds good at idle and likes to rev out to its 6,250-rpm redline. With 160 hp peaking at 5,500 rpm, the engine provides a nice surge of power as it gains rpm, but it’s also torquey with good power right off idle. This engine makes 184 lb-ft of torque, which is significantly more than you get in a Miata, and the difference can be felt from behind the wheel.

Stomp on it from a stop and the Fiat is quick, chirping its tires off the line and running from 0-60 mph in about 6.5 seconds. The Miata does keep up, but the V6-powered Nissan 370Z will smoke them both, hitting 60 mph more than a full second quicker. Fiat fits the 124 Spider with a precise six-speed manual supplied by Mazda, and it’s a good match for the smooth engine, with tightly spaced gears. Also, the clutch action is light and the shifter is accurate with short throws.

Fun and Fuel Efficient

Cars like this prove you do not need to drive some dorky pod on wheels to enjoy fuel efficiency. With either the six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission, the 2018 FIAT 124 Spider is rated 26 mpg in the city and 35 mpg on the highway. Interestingly, the less powerful Mazda Miata betters the Fiat’s mpg in the city but lags the Italian on the highway. I averaged 29 mpg in mixed driving.

That’s impressive fuel economy considering the Fiat’s acceleration and fun factor. Unfortunately the Fiat’s fuel tank is small, holding only 11.9 gallons. So its fuel range isn’t great. Even on the highway, in hypermiler-mode, its practical range is under 400 miles before you need to stop and fill up.

Advanced safety systems are optional.

Neither the 2018 FIAT 124 Spider or the Mazda MX-5 Miata has been crash-tested or given safety ratings by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety or the National Institute for Highway Safety. The Fiat is fitted with front and side airbags, as well as seat belt pretensioners and electronic stability control.

High-tech safety systems are extra-cost options on the 124 Spider. A backup camera is optional on the base model and standard on the other trims. Fiat also offers rear parking sensors, blind-spot monitoring, and a rear cross-traffic alert on all models. A lane-keep assist system and active cruise control are not available. I was also disappointed by the Fiat’s tire pressure monitoring system, which is no more than a warning light. A sports car of this caliber should have a tire pressure readout for all four corners.

Well-Built Interior

Unlike its exterior, which is uniquely Fiat, most of the 124 Spider’s interior, including its dash, console, controls, and seats, are shared with the MX-5 Miata. Fiat has changed some of the materials, which give the cabin a touch of European flair, and the panel fitment is precise. Like in the Miata, the analog gauges are clear and concise, with the tachometer mounted front and center, just as it is in a Porsche 911.

Visibility is good, even with the top erected, and the outside mirrors are well-sized. The heated leather-trimmed front seats in our test vehicle were comfortable and the driver’s seat is height-adjustable. Although the steering wheel isn’t telescopic, it does tilt. A large 7-inch screen occupies the center of the dash on the upper trim levels. Its infotainment functions are controlled by a knob on the console, much like BMW’s iDrive. It isn’t a seamless operation, but you can learn its idiosyncrasies quickly. Other standard features on our Lusso model included Bluetooth, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, and rain-sensing wipers. Navigation and a nine-speaker sound system are available, but onboard Wi-Fi is not offered.

Questionable Cupholders

This is not the car for Starbucks addicts. The Fiat’s cupholders are questionable at best. There are three, which are removable to save space in the Spider’s intimate interior: two that plug in between the seats behind the driver’s right elbow, and one that installs near the passenger’s left knee. Storage inside the Fiat’s interior is also tight. The center console bin is shallow and there are no door pockets.

With about 5 cubic feet of space, the Fiat’s trunk is also small, but there’s enough cargo capacity for a load of groceries or a weekend road trip for two. It’s also deep enough to swallow most carry on bags. To save space and weight, Fiat does not equip the 124 Spider with a spare tire and a jack. Instead, there’s a can of tire sealant and an air pump.

Final Thoughts

Everyone should own a sexy two-seat convertible at least once in their life. Consider it a rite of passage. A personal reward for a life well led. It’s at first something to look forward to. Then, something to be enjoyed. And then, eventually, something to look back upon fondly. If you missed it in your youth, do it later in life. No regrets.

The 2018 FIAT 124 Spider offers a unique Italian design, a smooth ride, strong performance, and impressive build quality at a very reasonable price. Plus, it’s really fun to drive. If you’re looking for an affordable two-seat convertible with style, it’s a desirable choice.

Cars 2019: BMW X4 Road Test & Review

The 2019 BMW X4 is the sloping-roofed variant of the X3 premium compact crossover. After a redesigned X3 debuted for the 2018 model year, the X4 is following close behind with a similar set of upgrades. It’s built in Spartanburg, South Carolina, for every territory around the world.

BMW calls the X4 (and the larger X6, based on the mid-size X5) a “sport activity vehicle,” or SAV. It may sound like marketing fluff, but it’s not too far from the truth. Every BMW has an enthusiast leaning to some degree. This trait is evident in the regular X4 and amplified in the range-topping M40i version. It also comes with a specific style and undeniable cachet. Join us on this in-depth road test and review to see how good the new X4 is.

Pricing and Competitors

The 2019 BMW X4 xDrive30i starts at $51,445. The higher-performance 2019 M40i trim is priced from $61,445. This puts the X4 range in competition with the 2018 Mercedes-Benz GLC 300 4Matic Coupe ($47,595) and its 362-hp GLC 43 AMG variant ($61,395). Audi doesn’t offer a slope-roofed version of its Q5 ($42,475) and SQ5 ($55,275), but they’re still extremely stylish, and the 354-hp SQ5 is an enjoyable drive.

In the case of the X4 and GLC, these “four-door crossover coupe” versions are more expensive than their squarer counterparts, although they also tend to be equipped a little more lavishly.

Equipment

German cars are often sparsely stocked, forcing buyers to choose more options — which gets pricey in a hurry — but the X4’s level of standard equipment is fairly generous.

Both X4 trims come standard with SensaTec simulated leather upholstery, which is much better in reality than the description might suggest. Other features include 19-inch alloy wheels, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, variable-ratio steering, a powered tailgate, front and rear parking sensors, a panoramic sunroof, navigation, and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration. This last item is a welcome inclusion since BMW often charges an extra $300 in its other vehicles. Android Auto, however, is not available.

The M40i comes with stronger brakes to complement its bigger engine, an adaptive suspension, sport exhaust, full LED exterior lighting, and some aerodynamic additions.

Options

Restraint is required to prevent the bottom line from expanding too much. Naturally, there’s the opportunity to go for leather upholstery with contrasting stitching and piping, plus 20-inch alloy wheels (or 21-inch alloys for the M40i), heated seats and steering wheel, gesture control for the infotainment system, ambient cabin lighting, a configurable digital driver information display, a 360-degree camera system, and much more.

It’s a smart idea to select one of the driver assistance packages, preferably the Plus version. This will bring active cruise control with stop/go functions, active lane keeping, traffic jam driving assistance, and blind-spot monitoring with front and rear cross-traffic alerts. It’s $1,700, but it could pay for itself in a split second.

Comfort and Cargo

The X4’s front seats aren’t immediately comfortable right from the first moment that tush meets cushion. Actually, they feel more like you sit on them rather them in them. It can take some adjusting to get them just right, and even then there might be some tweaking after a few miles. But you’ll find that they’re supportive in all the right places, and they offer adjustable side cushioning.

With an average adult male in the driver’s seat, a person of the same dimensions can sit behind and have no problems with legroom. And despite that sloping roof, rear headroom is adequate. Luggage space behind the rear seat is 18.5 cubic feet, increasing to 50.5 cubic feet when the rear seat is folded down. Pretty useful. However, the BMW X3 enjoys an even more impressive 28.7 cubic feet behind the rear seat and 62.7 cubic feet when it’s folded.

Engines and Fuel Economy

The X4 xDrive30i has a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine making 248 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. The M40i enjoys 355 hp and 365 lb-ft of torque from a 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-six (this is a classic BMW configuration). Both are paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission, and all-wheel drive (known as xDrive in BMW’s world) is standard.

At the time of writing this review, neither BMW nor the Environmental Protection Agency had any fuel consumption estimates for the X4 xDrive30i. However, the mechanically identical 2018 X3 xDrive30i achieves 22 mpg in the city, 29 mpg on the highway and 25 mpg combined. EPA estimates for the 2019 X4 M40i are 20 mpg city/27 mpg highway/23 mpg combined.

Safety

As well as all the federally mandated safety equipment, the X4 comes standard with a telematics bundle with an SOS button and automatic collision notification. The 2019 X4 hasn’t been crash-tested by any North American agencies yet and may never be, but the 2018 X3 stablemate has. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety named the X3 a Top Safety Pick Plus, while the previous-generation X3 was also given the top score of five stars overall from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Factor in the raised driving position and standard all-wheel drive, and there should be no concerns about the X4’s protection credentials.

Interior Design

The X4 seats five passengers (well, four and a bit), and it has a cabin full of quality materials laid out in a functional yet still aesthetically pleasing way. In typical BMW style, the center console is angled slightly toward the driver, as it should be.

There’s nothing gimmicky or particularly noteworthy about the X4’s interior, just an understated class. The standard panoramic sunroof, meanwhile, is a surefire cure for any feelings of claustrophobia in the rear quarters.

Exterior Design

The 2019 X4 is wider and longer than its predecessor. But looking at this vehicle without having a 2018 model parked alongside, it would be easy to conclude that there’s no significant difference between the two generations. Maybe that was the point. If anything, it looks like the nose is higher.

Those previously immune to whatever outward charms BMW crossovers held probably won’t be swayed by this new X4. On the other hand, it won’t disappoint the faithful who have bought into the whole “four-door crossover coupe” concept and don’t mind losing some practicality for a sleeker look.

Performance

Most buyers should be perfectly happy with the thrust from the four-cylinder xDrive30i version, which sprints from standstill to 60 mph in a respectable six seconds. During everyday use, its 248 hp is energetic enough for virtually every situation.

The M40i isn’t a full-on M version of the X4. Instead, it kind of capitalizes on the M brand while bolstering performance and bringing a little more pizazz. It can hit 60 mph in 4.6 seconds and has the option of a 155-mph top speed, which makes this vehicle more of an indulgence. But then the X4 is a fastback crossover with less practicality than the regular X3, so it starts out as something of an indulgence already.

Handling

The X4 drives better than a crossover ever really needs to. Then again, it is a BMW, with the dynamic abilities that usually accompany this illustrious badge. When the roads become curvy, the X4 is a jewel. Everything about it — steering, braking, body control — works so well. It allows the driver to get on the gas early when exiting a corner. Driving modes ranging from Eco to Sport Plus affect responses of the steering, throttle, and transmission. Sport is a great all-purpose setting, with the options of clicking up to Sport Plus or down to Comfort, depending on conditions.

The sportier suspension setup of the M40i is even more precise, yet it still doesn’t have to compromise on ride quality.

Final Thoughts

Although the 2019 BMW X4 M40i is wonderfully spry, the notion of a crossover that behaves like a sports car seems a bit off-kilter. Why not buy a sports car and enjoy the lower center of gravity? So our choice would probably be the X4 xDrive30i, since it’s appreciably less expensive and still has a fantastic engine.

The X4 doesn’t have a wide appeal, yet this apparent drawback can help its resale values — it will be rarer than the X3 and much prized among its fans. As long as the difference in cargo capacity isn’t an issue and the budget is available, there are no major reasons not to buy the 2019 BMW X4.

Cars 2018: Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 Road Test & Review

It was in a small, crowded shop on Princeton Avenue in Venice, California, just a couple of miles from the crashing waves of the Pacific and the bulging biceps on world-famous Muscle Beach — where Arnold Schwarzenegger would soon savor his initial taste of stardom — that Carroll Shelby and his crew built the first high-performance Ford Mustang to wear his name: 1965 Shelby Mustang GT350.

All Shelby Mustangs were Wimbledon White fastbacks powered by a 306-horsepower small-block V8 tweaked by Shelby and using a four-speed manual transmission. The Mustang, first introduced in 1964, was an immediate success, but it now had a true high-performance variant. Shelby built 562 vehicles for the street in 1965 and 36 for the racetrack. Today, the street cars can command half a million dollars from collectors and the competition models are seven-figure vehicles. Ford and Shelby continued to produce the GT350 model until 1970. The 2018 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 continues that legacy, offering the most power and performance in the model’s history. Today it competes with the supercharged Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 and the various Hemi-powered variations of the Dodge Challenger including the Scat Pack and Hellcat.

Less Expensive than Rivals

Available only as a coupe, the 2018 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 is the most powerful and most expensive version of the Mustang. However, that will change in 2019 when Ford reintroduces the Shelby GT500 model with a supercharged V8 with a promised “over 700 hp” — the most powerful Mustang in history.

Mustang prices start at $26,485, including a $900 destination charge, while the V8-powered GT starts at $35,995. A Shelby GT350 like our test vehicle costs $58,045, and the GT350 R, which get carbon fiber bodywork, stickier tires, and exotic carbon fiber wheels that are stronger and lighter than aluminum rims, starts at over $65,000. That may sound expensive, but the Camaro ZL1 and Challenger Hellcat cost significantly more. Both Shelbys are built in Michigan and include more aggressive bodywork with vented front fenders and a more sinister grille and front bumper. Massive Brembo brakes with six-piston front calipers, Recaro sport seats, launch control, and coolers for the differential and transmission are also standard.

Special Engine for a Special Car

The 2018 Shelby GT350 is among the most powerful factory-built Mustangs of all time, and it’s capable of 0-60 mph in 4.3 seconds. All Mustangs are rear-wheel drive, and the Shelby GT350 and GT350 R are powered by a 5.2-liter all-aluminum V8 with a flat crank, a unique design also used in some Ferraris. It allows this engine to rev to an incredible 8,250 rpm and gives it a radical exhaust sound. Both models use a six-speed manual transmission. No automatic is available.

Unlike the supercharged V8s found in the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 and Dodge Charger Hellcat, the Shelby’s V8 engine is naturally aspirated, which means it isn’t turbocharged or supercharged. Ford says it makes 526 horsepower and 429 lb-ft of torque, which is significantly stronger than the 460-hp 5.0-liter in the Mustang GT, but well behind the 650-hp Camaro and 707-hp Dodge.

Awesome Performance

Even in the age of mass production, platform-sharing, and universal powertrains, the 2018 Shelby GT350 is the only Ford model to use the 5.2-liter “Voodoo” V8, and it gives this Mustang its own personality. Push the start button and the high-revving engine crackles to life, provides adequate low-end power, and really comes alive up over 5,000 rpm. In most modern performance cars, you change gears between 6,000 rpm and 7,000 rpm — but not in the Shelby. Although the big V8 isn’t perfectly smooth when you’re exploiting its lofty redline, it’s fun to wind it out and hold gears past 8,000 rpm. This engine revs so high you have to change the way you drive, recalibrating your internal clock between shifts as you wait for the V8 to climb its way around the tachometer.

This Mustang has an old-school manual transmission, just like the original GT350 in 1965. Today, however, there are six forward gears, and they’re properly spaced to keep the V8 churning. Braking performance is also exceptional, and the GT350’s five driving modes include Normal, Track, and Drag, which adjust the throttle response, stability control, and suspension. The weighting of the steering is also adjustable.

Comfortable Cruiser

During our week with the 2018 Shelby GT350, we took the Mustang on an 800-mile road trip from Los Angeles to Scottsdale, Arizona, and back. If you think the Ford Mustang is unrefined and uncomfortable, you’re stuck in the 1960s. Today’s Mustang is a comfortable cruiser that’s pleasant to drive every day.

Although the Shelby GT350 rides on larger wheels and tires than other Mustangs, and its suspension is tuned firmer, special magnetic shocks keep its ride comfortable, especially when you consider its exceptional handling. The Shelby feels solid on the open road, and its interior is quiet on the highway for such a high-performance machine. After 350 miles on the road, including plenty of high-speed driving through the barren deserts of the California and Arizona, we arrived in Scottsdale with a smile and a desire to drive the Shelby even more.

Good Fuel Economy for Its Class

Although other Mustang models have gotten quite fuel-efficient, with EPA ratings up to 31 mpg on the highway, the 526-hp Shelby GT350 remains quite thirsty. It’s rated at 14 mpg in the city and 21 mpg on the highway on the highway, and it runs on more expensive premium fuel. That said, the Shelby’s economy numbers are normal for its class. The Camaro ZL1 is rated 14 mpg in the city and 20 mpg on the highway, while the Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat is rated 13 mpg in the city and 22 mpg on the highway.

We averaged 15 mpg in mixed driving around Los Angeles and 20 mpg during our road trip in which we rarely left the interstate. One gripe is the Shelby’s small gas tank, which only holds 16 gallons. This severely limits the muscle car’s fuel range. Buyers should prepare to fill up every 250 miles.

Modern, Comfortable Interior

The sixth-generation Mustang debuted in 2015, and its interior is a pleasing blend of modern design and retro elements from classic Mustangs built in the 1960s. The shape of the dash is reminiscent of the 1968 Mustang driven by Steve McQueen in the movie Bullitt, and its clean white-on-black analog gauges offer a retro simplicity that perfectly fits the mission of the machine.

Comfort is high for the front seat passengers in the Shelby’s well-bolstered Recaro seats. Our test cars interior was well-constructed and all the controls are well-placed. The red engine-start button is a cool touch, and the thick three-spoke steering wheel, covered in leather and suede, is just the right diameter. Our test car also included an optional $3,000 electronics package, which adds dual-zone climate control, Ford’s SYNC 3 infotainment system with navigation, a premium audio system, and an 8-inch touchscreen.

Useful Trunk and Rear Seat

Unlike the cars in this class that can accommodate five passengers, the 2018 Shelby GT350 only seats four. There is no middle back seat. Rear legroom and headroom are tight if you’re over 6 feet tall, but my teenage daughters fit in back without complaint. The Shelby’s trunk is also larger than you might expect. At 13.5 cubic feet, it’s roomier than the trunk of the Chevy Camaro. Plus, it expands with a standard folding rear seat, which is split 50/50.

Every Shelby gets keyless entry, a rearview camera, and an SOS Post-Crash Alert System, which notifies first responders to the vehicle’s location if its airbags deploy. However, unlike other Mustang models and some other modern high-performance cars, the Shelby does not offer high-tech driver aids like active cruise control, a forward-collision warning, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot monitoring, or a rear cross-traffic alert.

Looks Like a Shelby

Dressed in classic blue with white racing stripes and riding on black 19-inch wheels, our Shelby GT350 test car looked tough and ready for action. Its muscular proportions, fastback roofline, and large open grille are classic Mustang touches, as are its six tall taillights. But the Shelby is not stuck in the past. Its look is completely modern, and it turns heads with a sleek aerodynamic shape, four big chrome exhaust pipes, and a rear diffuser.

This is an American muscle car, and its look is unabashedly aggressive — just as it should be, but the Shelby also remains understated compared to its competitors. The GT350’s lines are clean and its badging is simple. Ford also resisted the urge to install an oversized rear spoiler on the Shelby, keeping its silhouette low and more pleasing to the eye.

Final Thoughts

With electric and autonomous vehicles dominating much of today’s automotive conversation, along with ride- and scooter-sharing, there’s still a place for high-performance cars like the Ford Mustang and Shelby GT350. In fact, there are more than 50 new cars and SUVs for sale in America today that offer more than 600 hp. That’s by far the most in history.

If you’re in the market for a sexy high-performance coupe, the 2018 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 is a very desirable overall choice. It offers a very appealing mix of modern and retro style, awesome performance and solid in-cabin infotainment. Carroll Shelby may have left us in 2012, but his legend lives on.

 

Cars 2019: Chrysler Pacifica Road Test & Review

A minivan is the Swiss Army knife of vehicles. You need to take your cousins to the airport? Everybody pile in the minivan. You need to take boxes of clothing and shoes to donate to the homeless shelter? Load them all in the minivan. Want to go on that long-awaited surf trip to Baja? Last one in the minivan is a kook.

When it comes to minivans, Chrysler wrote the book on it with the 1984 Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager. And this sixth-generation Chrysler minivan, which now bears the Chrysler Pacifica name, is the latest expression of what a minivan should be. It is comfortable, versatile, and amazingly cost-effective. It offers an elevated seating position, but it doesn’t force you to get a stepstool to climb into the driver’s seat. It drives just like a front-drive car. And for this generation Chrysler has taken the bold step of adding a hybrid version, the first hybrid minivan in America. For 2019 model year, the multiple changes involve additional or changed content on various trims.

Driving Impressions

When car enthusiast writers want to put down a car, they say, “It drives like a minivan.” But the fact is today’s Chrysler Pacifica drives and handles very well, at least in the context of what its buyers want. Minivanners don’t seek to go auto-crossing or rip down canyon roads. What they want to do is move about their many day-to-day tasks as painlessly and pleasurably as possible. So that’s where Chrysler engineers concentrated their efforts.

Acceleration from the 287-horsepower Pentastar V6 engine is all you could want and more than most people will use. The nine-speed automatic transmission makes shifts a non-issue. Most importantly, the chassis delivers better handling than past Chrysler vans while also improving that devilish trio of noise, vibration, and harshness. With less body roll, the Pacifica also provides a more comfortable ride for rear-row passengers.

Interior Accommodations and Features

The interior of the Chrysler Pacifica mimics a luxury sedan’s. The overall design is both functional and inviting with attractive soft-touch materials everywhere. The rich feature collection includes keyless entry, remote start, and heated and ventilated seats. When it introduced the Pacifica, Chrysler updated its much-touted but once difficult-to-use Stow ‘n Go seating system.

Now, with the press of a button, the front seat moves forward to allow the second-row seat to be stowed into its floor tub. Once the seat is stowed, pressing the button again moves the front seat back to its starting position. Previously, this process required holding down the seat adjustment. In addition, the second-row seats now have a tilt feature allowing easy access to the third row even with a child seat installed in the second row. When things get messy, the optional Stow ‘n Vac RIDGID-brand vacuum will help clean up.

Infotainment Systems

Whether you’re hitting the road for a 500-mile vacation or just cruising the neighborhood to the next softball game, keeping the rear-seat troops occupied is of great value. To that end, the Chrysler Pacifica offers the Uconnect Theater entertainment system with two 10-inch seatback touchscreens. The driver is treated to a 7-inch full-color driver information display. The Uconnect 4 systems with either a 7-inch or 8.4-inch touchscreens complete the front-seat array.

Standard Apple CarPlay enables iPhone users to access Apple Maps, Messages, phone, and Apple Music through either Siri Voice control or the touchscreen. Standard Android Auto provides access to Google Voice Search, Google Maps, and Google Play Music via the Uconnect touchscreen or steering wheel controls. Six speakers and active noise cancellation come standard. Two premium audio systems — a 13-speaker Alpine system or a 20-speaker Harman Kardon surround sound system — are also available. So is 4G Wi-Fi.

Exterior Design

Chrysler designers did a good job of making what is essentially a large shoebox into something that doesn’t look precisely like a large shoebox. Thankfully, they also passed on the inclination to try to make the minivan look like an SUV or a helicopter. The result is a pleasing one-box design with an abbreviated nose. The sliding door hardware is nicely integrated into the overall look. The tall and vertical rear window helps maximize cargo-carrying ability and increases rear headroom.

The Pacifica offers what FCA claims are “segment-first” hands-free sliding doors. Similarly, the expansive liftgate opens with the kick of a foot, but you don’t actually have to kick the liftgate to get it to open. Waving your foot underneath the bumper area will do the trick. The optional three-panel panoramic sunroof adds light and airiness.

Powertrains

Powering most Pacificas is the venerable Pentastar V6 gasoline engine — updated for use in the Pacifica — mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission. The engine delivers 287 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. Upgrades include two-step variable-valve lift, cooled exhaust-gas recirculation, and weight reduction. While many automatic stop-start technologies seem more irritating than they are worth, the Pacifica’s system is benign and unobtrusive.

A plug-in hybrid powertrain is also available. The system uses two electric motors, both capable of driving the vehicle’s wheels, in combination with a 16-kWh lithium-ion battery pack. Another key ingredient is the eFlite single-electrically variable transmission. The minivan’s all-electric range is 33 miles. Total electric and gasoline range is 566 miles, and the hybrid gets an 84 MPGe rating.

Cargo and Towing

The Chrysler Pacifica isn’t at all unwieldy, but at the same time it will hold an enormous amount of cargo. With both rear rows of seats folded, it offers a mammoth 140.5 cubic feet of cargo volume, nearly double space in the mid-size Kia Sorento crossover suv. With the second-row seating in use, the Pacifica still offers 87.5 cubic feet of cargo area. And even with all three rows full of passengers, the Pacifica has 32.3 cubic feet of luggage space.

Total passenger interior volume plus the cargo area behind the third row is a whopping 197.3 cubic feet. That’s not enough to hangar the Goodyear blimp, but close. You don’t typically picture a front-wheel drive vehicle like the Pacifica as a tow vehicle, but it’s rated to haul up to 3,600 pounds.

Safety and Driver Aids

Minivans transport families, and family safety is paramount. So the Chrysler Pacifica has an impressive array of safety and security technology. Leading the list is the optional emergency automatic braking system that alerts the driver about a possible collision and slows or stops the van if an impact appears imminent. A lane-keeping system detects possible run-off-the-road mishaps and delivers input via the steering wheel to alert and assist with corrective actions if necessary.

Adaptive cruise control maintains the distance between the Pacifica and the vehicle in front of it in a variety of traffic conditions. These safety features and others are accompanied by an optional 360-degree surround-view camera and a park-assist system. The Pacifica has five seating positions that will accept LATCH child-safety-seat installation.

Trim Levels

The 2019 Chrysler Pacifica is available in six trim levels — L, LX, Touring Plus, Touring L, Touring L Plus, and Limited. In addition, the Pacifica Hybrid is available in three trim levels — Touring Plus, Touring L, and Limited.

The L is the price-leader with steel wheels and a second-row bench seat that lacks the Stow ’n Go feature. The levels bring additional equipment, and the top-level Limited is the most elaborately equipped. Niceties like hands-free sliding doors and hands-free liftgate plus multi-zone automatic climate control are standard on the Limited model. The hybrid trims mimic the equipment levels in their non-hybrid counterparts, just with fewer trims to choose from.

Pricing and Value

The Chrysler Pacifica’s prices cover a broad range. The price-leading L trim level has an MSRP of $28,340 including a $1,345 destination charge. The top-of-the-line Limited has an MSRP of $45,640 including destination. That extra $17,000 buys a lot of stuff. In between, the LX starts at $31,140; the Touring Plus at $33,940; the Touring L at $37,290, and the Touring L Plus at $40,390. The top-level Pacifica Hybrid Limited has an MSRP of $46,340.

In terms of safety, the Pacifica received an overall five-star rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, its highest score. Among family vehicles, it is a superstar.

 

Cars 2018: Jaguar F-Pace Road Test & Review

With the Jaguar F-Pace, introduced just last year, Jag finally entered the SUV wars that have been so good to its rivals like Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Lexus. This award-winning compact luxury SUV quickly became British luxury automaker’s best-selling model, as its unique blend of style, luxury, and performance immediately resonated with America’s affluent families and young professionals.

Built in the UK, the 2018 F-Pace is a favorite in the very competitive compact luxury SUV class, where it plays against a long list of popular models including the BMW X3, Mercedes-Benz GLC, Audi Q5, Lexus NX, Volvo XC60, and Alfa Romeo Stelvio. This year, Jaguar has enhanced the SUV with a new more fuel-efficient base engine, more comfort, and a new top trim level.

Priced from Around $43,000

Every 2018 F-Pace includes all-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic transmission with a sport mode and paddle shifters. Jaguar offers the SUV in several trim levels and with four different engines. Prices start at $43,060, including $995 delivery fee, for the base F-Pace 25t. That’s about $4,500 more than the smaller E-Pace SUV, which debuted this year. Stepping up the Premium trim level adds about $2,600.

Power on the 25t comes from a 247-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, which it shares with the Jaguar XE sedan. With this engine, Jaguar says the F-Pace can sprint to 60 mph in just 6.4 seconds, which is about a quick as a base Porsche Macan. Our test vehicle used a 296-hp version of the turbocharged 2.0-liter, and Jaguar also offers a 340-hp supercharged 3.0-liter V6. However, base prices top out at just over $60,000 for the F-Pace S, which is powered by a 380-hp version of the supercharged V6. That engine makes the F-Pace one of the more powerful SUVs in its class, and Jag says it can accelerate from 0-60 mph in just 5.1 seconds.

Diesel Power is Available

For ultimate fuel economy, Jaguar offers the 2018 F-Pace with a diesel engine. The diesel-powered F-Pace 20d is sandwiched in between the 25t and the V6-powered 35t models in the lineup, with prices starting at $47,270 for the Premium model. The Prestige trim level is also offered, and the 20d R-Sport tops the range at $56,670.

These models are powered by a diesel-burning turbocharged 2.0-liter rated at 180 hp. It’s the least powerful engine available in the F-Pace. And it’s the slowest model, with a 0-60 mph performance of 8.2 seconds. However, the engine’s 317 lb-ft of torque make the F-Pace feel quicker than it really is, and the diesel model is by far the most fuel efficient F-Pace, with EPA ratings of 26 mpg in the city and 33 mpg on the highway. The F-Pace shares this engine, as well as others, with the more expensive Land Rover Range Rover Velar. The two models are built on the same platform and share many components.

Fun Driving Experience

Jaguars have been fun to drive since the 1930s, and the 2018 F-Pace carries on that tradition. This SUV drives like a sports sedan with quick responses and tight, stable handling. The F-Pace is engaging and fun to toss around on a twisty road. It offers one of the finest driving experiences in the compact SUV class. With its 20-inch wheels and sport-tuned suspension, our F-Pace 30t Portfolio test vehicle did ride more firmly than we expected, and some buyers may find the ride to be a bit jarring on rough roads. It isn’t uncomfortable, but you certainly feel the texture of the pavement through the Jag’s suspension. The tradeoff, of course, is the SUV’s impressive handling.

The power from our test car’s turbocharged 2.0-liter engine was also impressive, and the smooth four-cylinder is perfectly matched to the eight-speed automatic transmission. This F-Pace’s acceleration is more than enough for most buyers, although it’s not exactly breathtaking. Flipping the transmission into Sport mode increases response.

Sporty Interior

Our test vehicle was also equipped with JaguarDrive Control. With the push of a button on the console, the system allows the driver to choose Dynamic, Eco, or Rain/Snow modes, which retune the SUV’s throttle response, steering effort, and shift patterns. Changing the driving mode can also change the interior lighting and gauge layout.

Forward visibility is excellent thanks to the low cowl and thin pillars, and the 10-inch touchscreen is one of the largest in its class. The infotainment system — which includes navigation, a premium sound system, and onboard Wi-Fi — is quickly mastered with a little time, and the graphics are class-leading. Overall, the interior has an upscale feel, high build quality, and rich materials, including a beautiful headliner crafted from soft suede, glossy wood trim, and a rotary shifter that rises dramatically from the console when you start the engine. Our test car’s heated and cooled front seats were well-shaped and comfortable, but some may find them to be overly firm.  Other ergonomic oddities include window and mirror controls mounted high on the door sill and a radio volume knob placed on the passenger side.

Family-Friendly Space

Like many of its rivals, the 2018 Jaguar F-PACE has not received safety rating from either the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. However, younger families will appreciate the SUV’s easy-to-reach LATCH connectors in the outboard seats and three easily accessed upper tether anchors and power-operated child locks on the rear doors. Our test car also offered rear-seat passengers their own air conditioning vents, their own climate controls, and adjustable headrests. The Jaguar’s rear seat was also heated and provided a surprising amount of headroom. The 2018 F-Pace is best when used as a four-seater, but the rear seat does fit three full-size adults if the ride is short.

Overall, fuel economy is about average for this class. When equipped with either 2.0-liter gas engine, the F-Pace is rated at 22 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway, while the more powerful V6 models are rated 18 mpg city and 23 mpg highway. I averaged 23 mpg during a week of mixed driving in the 2.0-liter.

Large Cargo Area

Storage inside the Jaguar’s luxurious interior is also very well thought out. The center console bin is large enough and felt-lined, and the door pockets are sizable and have slots for water bottles. There are also a couple of well-placed cupholders.

Cargo space is large for this class as well. The 2018 F-Pace offers 33.5 cubic feet of space behind its rear seat, much more than you get in a Porsche Macan, Audi Q5, or Lexus NX. Every F-Pace comes standard with a 40/20/40 split-folding rear seat, which easily folds flat for your larger items. With the seats down there’s a cavernous 63.5 cubic feet of space. Standard equipment includes a power liftgate, a cargo area power port, and hooks to stabilize grocery bags.

Advanced Safety Systems

Jaguar offers a long list of advanced safety systems and driver aids on the 2018 F-Pace, but it does save most of them for the higher trim levels and extra-cost packages. Our test vehicle, which cost $65,422 with options, included every system available, including a head-up display; a rearview camera; front and rear parking sensors; adaptive LED headlamps with automatic high beams; lane-keep assistance, which intervened smoothly and was pleasantly unobtrusive; a blind-spot monitor; and rear cross-traffic detection.

Our vehicle was also equipped with adaptive cruise control; a driver condition monitor, which will detect if the driver is feeling drowsy and suggest a break from driving; and intelligent emergency braking that scans the road ahead and will apply the brakes for you in an attempt to avoid a collision. Most of these systems are programmable or can be deactivated from the driver’s seat.

Looks Sporty and Expensive

Dressed in a beautiful and fitting shade of British Racing Green, our 2018 Jaguar F-PACE test car was a looker. The Jag’s sleek design and voluptuous curves are a big part of its popularity. The design team has created a shape that’s pure Jag but without any old-school baggage or retro missteps. The F-Pace, with its large grille, low roofline, and radically canted rear end, looks fresh and youthful but never comes across as overstyled. It will look good for years to come.

Those tight proportions and sporty details, which include a rear spoiler and large dual exhaust pipes, also make the F-Pace look smaller than it really is. At 186.3 inches long, 82 inches wide, and 65 inches high, the F-Pace is almost as long as a Mercedes-Benz GLE, while it’s wider and lower than a Porsche Cayenne.

Final Thoughts

If you’re looking for a sporty luxury suv, the 2018 Jaguar F-PACE is a very desirable overall choice. This SUV is comfortable, fun to drive, beautifully appointed, and looks expensive. We were also impressed with the Jag’s build quality. Our test car’s paint quality was exceptional, its body gaps were tight and perfectly uniform, and its doors closed with a solid thud.

Although we were satisfied with the performance and fuel economy of the turbocharged 2.0-liter engine, power-hungry buyers would be smart to step up to the supercharged V6 engine. Although both engines are shared with the Jaguar F-TYPE sports car, the V6 offers a significant jump in performance.

 

5 Things About the 2019 Mercedes-AMG GT S Roadster

Mercedes-Benz has been building supercars for over 50 years. The German brand created the world’s first, the Mercedes 300SL in 1955, seventy years after Karl Benz is credited with inventing the automobile. Famous for its Gullwing doors that open up instead of out, the race car for the street was the fastest thing on wheels during the age of bobby socks and poodle skirts, and restored 300SLs now sell for north of a million dollars.

Well, Mercedes is still at this supercar thing. Its latest is the 2019 Mercedes-AMG GT S Roadster, which will be introduced later this year. Built in Germany, the two-seat convertible will be the newest version to join the AMG GT supercar lineup of coupes and convertibles, which have been on the market since 2015. It will also be the second most powerful version of the GT Roadster.

1. It was developed solely by AMG.

AMG is Mercedes’ in house tuner or hot rod shop. It competes with BMW’s M division, known for cars like the M3 and M5. Since the 1970s, AMG’s engineers have been reengineering Mercedes mainstream models into some of the fastest cars on the road, adding sport-tuned suspensions, bigger brakes and of course horsepower.

In 2010 AMG began developing its own models and introduced the SLS AMG, a two-seat supercar with a massive V8 engine and Gullwing doors just like the 1955 300SL. It was a hit and five years later its successor, the Mercedes-AMG GT debuted. Smaller, lighter and less expensive than the SLS, the turbocharged AMG GT was no less potent and became an immediate rival to the Porsche 911 Turbo, the Audi R8 and the BMW i8.

2. The supercar now comes in twelve flavors.

With the unveiling of the 2019 Mercedes-AMG GT S Roadster, the AMG GT lineup of sports cars now includes twelve versions of the front-engine supercar. By the end of this year Mercedes will offer four two-door Coupes, three Roadsters and two customer sports racing cars, as well as three four-door Coupes, which is a high-performance sedan version of the sports car that debuted earlier this year. It will compete with the Porsche Panamera Turbo models.

The ever growing line up starts with the GT Coupe, which costs about $113,000 and packs a 469 hp version of the Biturbo 4.0 liter V8. Another twenty grand or so gets you the GT S Coupe with 515 hp, and $145,000 will buy you the GT C with 550 hp. The top dog is the $157,000 GT R with 575 hp.

There is no GT R Roadster model, but the GT, the GT C and now the GT S are offered with the power retractable soft top. Mercedes says pricing will be announced closer to launch, but other roadster models cost about $12,000 more than their corresponding coupe so we expect the new GT S Roadster to start around $144,500.

3. It’s packing a handcrafted turbocharged V8.

Every AMG model, even the $50,000 AMG CLA 45, gets a handcrafted turbocharged engine. Each one is built by a single technician from beginning to end. And that technician’s signature is placed atop that engine before it is installed in the vehicle.

Under its long aluminum hood, the new 2019 Mercedes-AMG GT S Roadster is powered by the same 515 hp version of the all-aluminum 4.0-liter biturbo V8 used in the AMG GT S Coupe. The engine puts out 494 lb-ft of torque and relines at 7,000 rpm. The sports car also gets a seven-speed dual clutch transmission with paddle shifters. A manual transmission will not be offered.

Mercedes says the combination will get the convertible from 0-60 mph in 3.7 seconds and to a top speed of 192 mph. That’s the same performance as the GT S Coupe. The more powerful AMG GT C Roadster can hit 60 mph in 3.6 seconds. Unfortunately for Mercedes the Porsche 911 Turbo S will blow their doors off. The 580 hp Porsche hits 60 mph in just 2.6 seconds and can touch 205 mph.

4. It’s not available with all-wheel drive.

Like the other AMG GT models, the 2019 Mercedes-AMG GT S Roadster uses a lightweight aluminum spaceframe, a locking rear differential, massive brakes, huge 19-inch front and 20-inch rear wheels and a fully independent sport suspension with aluminum components. And like the other AMG GT models, the 2019 Mercedes-AMG GT S Roadster will be rear-wheel drive.

That’s significant. Most other AMG models have gone to all-wheel drive for improved traction, especially in wet or snowy weather. All-wheel drive is also now standard on many of the AMG’s competitors including the Porsche 911 Turbo, Audi R8, the BMW i8 and the Acura NSX. And buyers in the northeast and other cold climates have made it clear to manufacturers that they want that technology and they’ll pay for it.
The EPA rates the standard GT S Coupe at 16 mpg city and 22 mpg on the highway, while we expect the Roadster to be rated 16 mpg city and 21 mpg on highway due to the less favorable aerodynamics of the convertible. These are good numbers for the supercar class. Even the hybrid powered Acura NSX is rated 21 mpg city and 22 mpg highway.

5. It’s not the most powerful or most expensive Mercedes convertible.

With a supercar label, over 500 hp, and a price tags over $140,000 it’s easy to assume that the 2019 Mercedes-AMG GT S Roadster and the GT C Roadsters will be the most powerful and most expensive Mercedes convertibles available. Nope. Not even close.

Mercedes actually sells several droptops with more power and more price, starting with the AMG SL63, which is stacked with 577 hp and a base price of over $152,000. Then there’s the AMG SL 65. It’s powered by a 621 hp twin-turbo 6.0-liter V12 and starts around $222,000.

But the SL is old school. It’s graying around the temples, just like the majority of its owners. Today’s ballers, billionaires, and Youtube stars prefer the larger four-seat S Class Cabriolet. AMG offers two, the $179,000 S 63 with 603 hp and the 621 hp, $251,000 S 65.