2020 Subaru Legacy Touring XT – The Turbo Has Returned!

It’s undeniable that throughout the decades, Subaru has carved a niche for themselves by offering an entire lineup of AWD vehicles. From the affordable Impreza to the three row Ascent, the Japanese manufacturer is the go-to brand for consumers living in the Northeast and other regions of the United States where winter travel can be harsh. The Legacy has always stood out from its closest competitors, as unlike the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, AWD comes standard to put FWD biased sedans at a disadvantage when going head-to-head in the snow. Knowing their customers well, Subaru polled their loyal ownership group, and just like the Outback, they didn’t want major changes. However, where Subaru made improvements has certainly added more appeal towards the nameplate and could now become a desired option in the mid-size sedan segment countrywide.

At first glance, nothing appears to have changed despite the Legacy sitting on a new platform. A minimal facelift to the front and rear facias distinguish the 2020 model year from the 2019, but Subaru loyalists will be happy to know their favorite sedan is still recognizable and offers exactly what they want. This year though, there’s a new engine under the hood that has many journalists excited, and this new powertrain is going to give drivers a fun experience behind the wheel.

The 3.6L six cylinder engine that was found in the last generation Legacy is no more, and replacing it is a 2.4L turbocharged Boxer four cylinder engine that puts out 260 hp and 277 lb ft of torque. While horsepower gains are minor, the 2020 model gets a 30 lb ft of torque boost which will help get the Legacy to 60 mph in around six seconds. Despite the transmission being a CVT and disappointing car enthusiasts, it will mimic the shifts of an 8 speed automatic. Fuel economy numbers also improve from last years six cylinder as you can expect to receive 24 mpg in the city and 32 mpg on the highway.

One of the criticisms some journalists have towards the Legacy is the loose steering that’s still present from last generation. Since we hear the word “turbo”, naturally enthusiasts will think it’s more sports car oriented with tighter steering and leaning in the direction of being performance driven. However that isn’t the case, and while journalists can complain we need to remember who Subaru is targeting. Their loyal consumer base isn’t looking for a sports tuned suspension and steering to have fun on backroads, otherwise the Legacy would be competing against its own sibling, the WRX. While I do agree that tighter steering would be more fun, the Legacy is really seen as a more practical Accord or Camry since it’s equipped with AWD to take on winter road conditions.

The interior for the Touring XT is where the significant improvements have been made. Inside you’re greeted by power adjustable Napa leather heated and ventilated front seats for both the driver and passenger. You’ll also be pleasantly surprised by the upgraded 11.6 inch tablet-like touchscreen that’s very similar in shape and screen layout as what you’ll find in new Volvo models. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come standard on the XT Touring, and you’ll also get onboard navigation. Also equipped to go along with the infotainment screen, a 12 speaker Harmon Kardon premium audio system will make listening to your favorite music more pleasant than if you were to option for a lower trim that comes standard with either 4 or 6 speakers.

Optional, a wireless phone charging pad, and even a CD player that can be found in the center storage compartment will bring past and present technologies together to help enhance the driving experience. Speaking of technology, a long list of safety features will be included, such as Blind-Spot Detection with Lane Change Assist and Rear Cross-Traffic Alert, Adaptive cruise control, and pre-collision braking just to name a few. You’ll also have a 180 degree front camera to go along with your back up camera with trajectory. A heated steering wheel and dual zone climate control will round out the technology and comfort features.

Subaru is one of very few brands to continuously make minimal changes to their cars, yet still see sales growth year over year. As the old saying goes, “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it”. For Subaru the Legacy certainly isn’t broken, and with the already existing features that drew customers in before, the 2020 model year’s luxury and comfort improvements will most definitely make loyal owners come back to the dealers to trade in.

Certified Pre-Owned and Clean CarFax Can Be Deceptive

Buying a car, whether brand new or used can be a very exciting time, especially if you’re a young consumer buying your first ever vehicle. What should be a stress-free and easy purchase, if you’ve already decided on the car that suits you best, usually ends up being a long, drawn out process. The used car market often has very desirable options that on paper and even the photos that dealerships post online seem to be great deals. However, this isn’t normally the case as with automotive purchases you never buy a car sight unseen.

Before eventually buying a brand new 2019 VW GTI, I spent weeks visiting dealerships’ used car lots to try finding my next car. What I saw stunned me, and has forever changed my outlook on car buying and was certainly an experience that for future purchases, if I decided to buy used, will require a list of what to look for before even considering to sit at a negotiating table. So here’s a few basic things I learned from my recent car buying experience that will help young consumers, especially if you’re on your own or don’t have connections to a trusting mechanic or an experienced friend who knows the ins and outs of car buying.

Certified Pre-Owned and Clean CarFax Are Deceptive

For over a decade CarFax has branded themselves as a service and website to help bring transparency to used car buying. While it’s a great tool that can steer you in the right direction and keep you away from cars that have been in accidents, are lemons, or have salvage titles, many cars fall through the cracks. A vehicle may be “clean” on the outside and no accidents have been reported, but day-to-day wear and tear or even minor cosmetic damage will not show up on the CarFax.

In conjunction with CarFax reports, dealerships will sell Certified Pre-owned cars that are still under factory warranty, which together make these cars appear to be ideal purchases. However, this is where deception comes into play as dealers boast a 120 point inspection. Yet from personal experience, a vast majority of the VW GTI’s I saw in person clearly weren’t inspected, or at least from a customer’s perspective fell short of expectations from a car you assume is clean.

One GTI SE that checked all the boxes appeared to be “the one”. Lighting and performance packages were equipped on the car, and being an SE it had leather seats and a power moonroof. With a friend, we drove 70 miles to the dealer and feeling excited, I truly believed I was walking out of the showroom with a deal that day. I should note that even in the pictures the dealer provided on the website, the steering wheel was worn out a bit, which I was a little concerned about since the car only had 36k miles on the odometer.

When we arrived, the car was cleaned and prepped (called the dealer before hand, never do this for a used car) and at least on the driver’s side of the car everything looked good. However, when we did a personal inspection, on the rear quarter panel of the passenger side there was a sizable dent that was alarming to find. There was minor curb rash, but that was on par with most GTI’s I had looked at. In person the steering wheel was more worn out than the pictures had shown, and looking at the engine bay there was a disturbing amount of engine corrosion that shouldn’t be present on a three year old car with less than 40k miles. I’d argue that to some degree a “Clean CarFax” and Certified Pre-Owned for this vehicle was false advertising. This car was abused, and just from the cosmetic damage alone, I had to walk away from that GTI.

Never Call The Dealer Before Arriving To Check Out The Car

Mentioned above with the first GTI, you should never call the dealership to see if the car is still available. Now, for the GTI 70 miles away it was necessary just from the standpoint that it was an hour and half drive and it would have been a wasted trip if the car had sold. Since the car was prepped and cleaned when we arrived, it was more difficult to find scratches in the paint, and from a few feet back the car looked almost in showroom condition. That clearly wasn’t the case as we got closer to inspect the exterior, and as I said earlier, the rest is history.

On the same day, my friend and I were driving back to the Boston area when another potential prospect crossed my radar and we decided to make another trip to a local VW dealer. Making sure it was available, we called while on the highway so that we weren’t going to waste more time. This proved to be a mistake as it gave the dealer time to plan what would be the worst scheme to try getting me into a bidding war with another “interested buyer”.

You’ve probably heard the famous line, “someone else is interested in buying the car”. It’s a lie. After test driving the cleanest GTI I had come across in weeks with no curb rash and almost spotless interior, the other “potential buyer” magically showed up. What tipped me off immediately was when the sales rep handed him the keys and he drove off without a dealer employee in the car with him. Dealers never do this, which is why the fake customer was an employee who wasn’t wearing branded clothing. After about 10 minutes the other “buyer” shows up and is ready to “bid” which was an attempt by the dealership to pressure me into buying that day.

Despite this GTI being clean with 17k miles on the odometer and right around $21k, I left for a number of reasons, with being disrespected at the top of the list of why I walked away. Never let your emotions get the best of you, and don’t fall into these traps dealers use if they suspect you’re young and inexperienced. Luckily for me, I’m accustomed to the auto industry and wasn’t phased or felt pressure to make a deal, but best of all, I wasn’t taken advantage of.

Be Leery About 1 Owner Lease Vehicles

Two GTI’s that would eventually shift my interest towards a new car were brought in from out of state. Both low mileage, one owner lease vehicles looked to be very promising options. One from Pennsylvania, the other from Tennessee. Living in Massachusetts, it didn’t dawn on me at first as to how and why these two GTI’s made their way up to the Northeast. While the CarFax was clean and both Certified Pre-Owned, quickly the same cosmetic issues that made me walk away from the first car, became apparent almost instantly. One had significant curb rash, with a chunk of the tire on the outside wall missing. I’m not a mechanic, but judging from the severity of the curb rash, it wouldn’t have surprised me if the GTI would have needed a realignment.

While the CarFax didn’t specify whether both were auction cars that were purchased by local dealers, it could have certainly been the case especially in the condition both were in. Lease vehicles aren’t always clean or taken care of by their owners, which is why even with lower mileage, you have to be on the lookout for mechanical issues and cosmetic damage.

While I could have overlooked some of the minor things, I wanted a clean car. It became evident after weeks of searching that buying used just wasn’t going to work out. Despite having a few more horror stories, this time trying to secure a brand new Rabbit Edition GTI, I can truly say I’m happy with my decision to go new. Yes, I could have found a more fun car with all the features I wanted, but after a few months of ownership of my Cornflower Blue GTI, I have absolutely no regrets.

I hope some of my experiences and some of the things I dealt with help with your car buying process. More experienced professionals who’ve purchased numerous cars in their lives probably have a much longer list of what to look for, but if you’re a young car buyer with limited resources and connections to acquire the car you want, these three basic things to watch out for will steer you in the right direction, and most importantly will keep you away from getting taken advantage of.

Making Sense of the All New 2020 Cadillac CT4 and CT5 – Is Downsizing Good?

Letting the dust settle a bit before jumping in on the news of the Cadillac CT4 and CT5, I wanted to rationalize and understand why GM decided to downsize in more ways than one. When Cadillac unveiled both models, I thought a few people in the car community were going have mental breakdowns after the performance numbers were released. The CTS-V came out of the box with a 6.2L V8 engine that put out 640 hp, and now its successor, the CT5-V, is equipped with a twin turbo V6 that gets 355 hp. A drop of nearly 300 hp could make any car enthusiast pass out, but there’s far more to this story than just performance.

The last 30 years of the American automotive industry has been well documented. For anyone under the age of 40, German dominance in the luxury segment is all they’ve ever known. Cadillac and Lincoln being a status symbol was no longer relevant to younger generations, as BMW singlehandedly became the brand that represented success and luxury. By the mid to late 2000’s, Mercedes Benz and Audi became more mainstream, providing upscale interior and exterior styling, while also offering performance models as well. Cadillac’s response was the ATS-V and CTS-V to match up against formidable competition like the BMW M3 and Mercedes Benz E63. While on paper Cadillac seemed more appealing and superior in terms of horsepower, sales numbers are what truly counts at the end of the day, and that’s how we’ve ended up with the CT4 and CT5.

Competing head-on against the Germans is playing a game you can’t win. BMW, Audi, and Mercedes Benz’s brand recognition and awareness has captivated generations since the mid 1990’s, and there’s not enough consumers willing to pay $70k – $90k for a Cadillac sports sedan. Crosstown rival Lincoln has already made adjustments to their lineup to be more American, rather than producing vehicles that will be marketed as X3 and Q5 competitors. They fully understand that to have any longevity in this new market, embracing their heritage with a modern twist is the best way to go moving forward. Cadillac’s mindset may be a bit different, but here’s my take on why the brand is aiming a bit lower and will take on lesser adversaries.

The ATS and CTS were always considered to be “tweeners”, where in terms of size they were smaller than their competition but larger than cars in the segment just below them. With their successors comes a new marketing approach to tackle this problem, and with less horsepower being offered for the CT4-V and CT5-V, the markets they’re now entering begin to make sense. Downgrading from the mid-size luxury sedan segment, the CT4 will now take on the Audi A3 and Mercedes Benz A Class, which it will dwarf in size and dimensions when it hits showrooms next year. In a new class will likely come a change in price tag, as experts predict the CT4 will start somewhere in the mid $30k range. The CT4-V is predicted to start in the low to mid $40k’s, which is right in line with the Audi S3.

As of right now, barring any refreshes and updates to the competition, the CT4-V will be equipped with more horsepower than the A35 AMG and S3. A 320 hp 2.7L 4 cylinder engine taken from a Chevy Colorado and an all new 10 speed automatic transmission will be under the hood. It’s already been stated that there’s a track version CT4 on the horizon, so there’s still something to look forward to if you’re a car enthusiast. So lowering the performance, but also lowering the price tag now makes sense and Cadillac is reaching new consumers which makes this decision look good from a business and sales perspective.

The CT5 is what’s drawing most of the eyre because of the dramatic decrease in power. It’s predecessor was more powerful but also took on the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes Benz E-Class. Starting next year, that all changes as the CT5 will now be pinned against the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4. When looking at the CT5-V, it lines up almost perfectly against the B9 S4. Just like the CT4, this mid-size luxury sedan will also get an enhanced track version, which we haven’t received any details on yet.

No matter how angry or disappointed we get, keep in mind that this major shift was done with increasing sales numbers as the top priority. We can sit down and argue on this topic for a while, but the ATS-V and CTS-V weren’t going to outsell their competition. The individuals who are the most outspoken and outraged at Cadillac weren’t in the market to buy either model, and a majority of people would still end up purchasing a German car because of the status symbols they’ve become. Furthermore, the Dodge Challenger Scat Pack and Hellcat are more affordable options, but thanks to the Fast & Furious franchise and other car related movies, Dodge has a more appealing brand image. Cadillac is facing an uphill battle, which is why finding more vulnerable targets to compete with is a smart business move.

What Cadillac and American automakers have done over the last 30 years isn’t working. The Japanese brands took control over a large portion of market share that once belonged to Ford and GM, and the Germans are unstoppable in the luxury vehicle segments. To change course Cadillac had to try something new, and a lower price tag for a car that is better suited against the A3/S3 and Mercedes Benz A-Class is where tide can turn for the now Detroit-based manufacturer. The CT5 is a different story, and it’s not likely enthusiasts are going to get over this car being neutered anytime soon. However, Cadillac needed a new tactic to reach a younger generation, and making them more attainable is the best way to achieve that goal.

2019 Mazda3 Hatchback AWD – A Legitimate Subaru Impreza Competitor?

If you were in the market to purchase an AWD hatchback under $30k in the past, your only option was the Subaru Impreza. A car that for years seemed adequate enough to meet the demands of consumers in colder climates, now faces new competition that offers more than just year round practicality. The 2019 Mazda3 Hatchback is here to challenge it’s Japanese rival, and with a redesigned exterior and face-lifted interior it just might change your perception towards compact cars. Stated many times by dozens of people for the past few years, popularity in cars is on the decline as Americans prefer crossovers, but for the remaining percentage of buyers bucking the current trend, the Mazda3’s improvements from last generation could certainly sway consumers in this segment.

15 years ago, vehicles in this price range and market could have easily been seen as disposable cars, but one quick walk around of the new Mazda3 gives you the impression that this hatchback is here to be more than just a daily commuter car. Mazda has strived this decade to provide an entry level luxury appeal to set themselves apart from other Japanese manufacturers. A primary example is the 2019 Mazda3 hatchback, as both inside and out it’s overall design certainly grabs attention.

With a new model year comes less body lines, making this hatchback look more futuristic and almost concept car-like, rather than being just another face in the crowd. A restyled and more aggressive front fascia that’s more enhanced with the black mesh front grill and chrome delete for the Premium Package is an aesthetic improvement from the 2018 model year. Something we don’t usually talk about with redesigns that is actually one of the more notable differences from last generation is the restyled C-Pillar. From the rear, the Mazda3 hatchback looks almost like a subcompact crossover, and it could be argued that it looks like a lowered CX-3. We don’t usually see this from brands when it comes to the road presence of hatchbacks, as they usually get a distinctive rear end. Instead, Mazda reshaping this car has blurred the lines to a certain degree, giving their hatchback styling that fits right in with the popular crossover trend.

Standard on all Mazda3 trims are 18″ alloy wheels, with the Premium Package receiving a sportier wheel design with black finish. Signature LED headlight and taillight illumination along with an Adaptive Front-lighting System will also be equipped on this trim, which is becoming common for most cars in this segment.

Under the hood of the Mazda3 is a 2.5 liter four cylinder engine that puts out 186 hp and 186 lb ft of torque and is paired with a 6 speed automatic transmission. However, what deserves the spotlight is that Mazda now offers AWD as an optional drivetrain, which now gives consumers an alternative to the Subaru Impreza. Mazda also becomes a viable option for drivers in the northern parts of the United States where AWD is a priority when shopping for a new car. FWD does come standard however, and not surprising is that fuel efficiency is better, whereas you will sacrifice economical practicality for improved driving during the winter with AWD. In the city you can expect to receive 24 mpg in the city and 32 mpg on the highway.

Mazda3 Hatchback Interior
Mazda3 Hatchback Interior

Starting with the last generation of Mazda vehicles, the detail and design of the interiors significantly improved from what we were used to receiving. While competitors in the class and price range are joining in on the entry level luxury feel, Mazda was one of the first. For 2019 they improved the interior by going more simplistic especially with the dashboard and center console, while also paying close attention to quality.

The most notable difference from last year’s model is that the infotainment system has been placed further back. With Mazda attempting to go more premium, this resembles what you’d see in Acura or Lexus where the infotainment system doesn’t function as a touchscreen, and instead to access different features you’ll have to use a touchpad or trackpad. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility are offered on the Mazda3, and overall the slight improvements made to the infotainment system are good, but definitely not great as the monitor is rather small compared to competitors.

Unlike other vehicles in it’s class, Mazda offers different interior color options with Black, Red, and White. Heated leather seats come standard on the Premium Package, and what you’ll notice is soft touch materials are found throughout the interior giving the Mazda3 a luxury feel that provides additional comfort. One minor takeaway from last year is that your leather wrapped steering wheel won’t be heated, but the buttons would suggest that other markets will have this feature. While it’s not a major loss some competitors do offer a heated steering wheel, and with Mazda going with AWD for this model year I was hoping this small comfort features would carry over from 2018.

For rear cargo space the Mazda3 Hatchback gets 20.1 cubic ft of rear cargo room which is seven cubic ft bigger than the sedan variant. It does however fall just a bit short when compared to the Subaru Impreza hatchback, but if you can live with a minor discrepancy of seven tenths of a cubic foot then that can be overlooked.

Overall if you’re in the market for a compact car that offers AWD at a price right around $30k, then the Mazda3 is now an option if the Subaru Impreza was on your short list. It provides more comfort and horsepower, while also having a striking road presence. The compact car market may be dwindling, but in the meantime, brands are still putting out viable alternatives if you refuse to join the crossover frenzy.

2020 Toyota Corolla – The Compact Sedan That Will Keep the Segment Alive

It’s almost becoming a redundant statement when people say, “crossovers are taking over the automotive industry”. The truth always hurts, especially if you’re a car enthusiast. However, Toyota has continued to produce and improve the family sedans in their lineup, and with the 2020 Corolla, the compact car segment might still be showing signs of life. Despite times being dire as Ford and Chevy are leaving the small car market, Toyota surprised us all with a Corolla that just might be the best one yet.

An appealing appearance was never something you’d associate with the Corolla, as practicality and reliability were always main selling points. Starting with last generation, Toyota began marketing towards millennials and younger buyers, and now with a completely redesigned sporty exterior one might argue that it’s the best looking in its class. With a black mesh grille and aggressive front fascia overall, the brand has transitioned to being more performance oriented when it comes to design, mostly due in part to the new Toyota Supra. This sporty theme continues to the rear, as the body lines, black mesh grille, and rear diffuser are elements that were never incorporated into the road presence of the Corolla in recent previous generations.

For the SE and XSE trims, 18″ machined alloy wheels will come standard, which are certainly an upgrade over the 16″ wheels found on L, LE, and XLE trims. Also coming standard are LED daytime running lights and taillights, and for the XSE, heated side mirrors and a power moonroof are additional features that add quality to the new Corolla.

The evolution this car has gone through aesthetically not only indicates the direction the Toyota brand is going in, but it also ensures the survival of this model. The Corolla continues to have a loyal following from consumers that extend decades, but Toyota is well aware that reliability alone no longer equates to sales in an ever-growing demand for more practical crossovers. To help combat this, they gave their compact sedan a hybrid trim that not only comes in at a very affordable base price of just under $23k, but also gets a combined fuel economy 52.5 mpg.

Under the hood of the top trim XSE, the Corolla gets a 2.0 liter 4 cylinder engine that puts out 169 hp and 151 lb ft of torque and is paired with a continuously variable transmission. This is an increase of 29 horses from last generation, and this boost in performance doesn’t negatively effect fuel efficiency either as the Corolla achieves 31 mpg in the city and 38 mpg on the highway. Front wheel drive is your only option for the drivetrain which isn’t a surprise, as many competitors aren’t offering AWD in this segment. Despite the many changes to the exterior, it’s still your reliable and economically practical Corolla, but is the interior just as exciting as the new outward appearance?

Inside you’re greeted by heated front sports seats with fabric inserts for both the driver and passenger. Bolstering is rather impressive for a car in this class, especially for a Corolla. Once behind the wheel you’re going to immediately notice a completely redesigned dashboard, center console, and new for 2020, a 7 inch digital information display between two analog gauges. This instrument cluster will be found in other Toyota products, and with competitors beginning to integrate digital technology in their vehicles, this is one way for the brand to stay relevant in an ever changing digitalized world.

You’ll get Apple CarPlay compatibility along with Amazon Alexa connectivity which you can access through your 8 inch touchscreen. Optional for the XSE trim, you’ll get a navigation system and a 9 speaker JBL sound system. While technology is no stranger to Toyota, there does appear to be an accelerated shift towards reaching a younger consumers base. This approach is a way to not only focus primarily on the fact the car is reliable and safe, but it can also be fun for the driver and passengers as well.

For rear cargo space you’ll get 13.1 cubic ft of cargo room, which is slightly bigger than the Honda Civic sedan. This in my opinion is the reason why Americans are moving on to crossovers, and I don’t think there’s any argument here that cargo volume is one of the Corolla’s biggest weaknesses. However, loyal owners who have purchased this model in the past aren’t in need of versatility, which is why the upgrades Toyota has made to this car, while also increasing its fuel efficiency might just be enough for customers to justify purchasing one more Corolla in their lifetimes.

Looking towards the future, no one really knows whether the compact car market will survive. But one thing is for sure, that the brands who still cater to customers in this dwindling segment are continuing to provide comfort features, economical and financial practicality, and an increase in technology. This alone could still draw buyers, and maybe over time, compact cars will continue to evolve to become more compelling to Americans, but only time will tell.

2020 BMW M340i – The Ultimate Driving Machine We’ve Waited For

It’s no secret that BMW owners were disappointed with the F30 3 Series generation almost immediately after they arrived at dealerships. The successor to the beloved E90/E92 generation just couldn’t live up to the legacy of the cars that came before it. There was a lack of driving engagement and feedback, BMW decided for the M3 to go with a turbocharged inline 6 cylinder engine instead of the V8, and many owners weren’t fans of the interior design either. With this endless amount of discontent, BMW listened to their most loyal customers and have crafted a new 3 Series that just might be the best we’ve seen since the E90.

Back in February I got my first look at the 2019 BMW 330i M Sport, and immediately I could notice the difference from the F30. The driving dynamics were improved, the seats were shaped better to give drivers a more connected feeling to the car when on a spirited drive, the interior was updated with a digital information display, and the overall road presence was much more aggressive. I feel that BMW has once again reclaimed the throne in the segment the 3 Series competes in, as Mercedes Benz has made no changes to the C-Class as of right now, and the Audi A4 has already been in production for almost four years.

The remaining question was whether the all new 2020 BMW M340i could live up to the hype. The F30 340i got left out in the cold compared to the B9 S4 and Mercedes Benz C43 due to it being outdated and underpowered. This particular segment has been a constant battle with German manufacturers fighting for consumers who aren’t in the market to purchase a new M3 or C63 AMG, while also trying to fend off new emerging players like the Genesis G70 3.3t.

2020 BMW M340i
2020 BMW M340i

Now that the new M340i is at dealerships, we can see whether BMW is a legitimate competitor and possible leader in the class, but more importantly a car that current 340i owners will want to trade up for. After two opportunities to experience the M340i, I can truly say this car could possibly be special when we look back in a few years. The Ultimate Driving Machine is a perfect description for this sports car, and the significant increase in performance and driving experience has now put it in a heated two-way battle for the top spot verses the Mercedes Benz C43 AMG.

Under the hood the 2020 M340i gets a turbocharged inline 6 cylinder engine that puts out 382 hp and 369 lb ft of torque and paired with a ZF 8-speed automatic transmission. Compared to last generation’s 340i, this is an improvement of 62 hp, but it’s the 0-60 time of 4.1 seconds that’s getting everyone talking. To put that into perspective, that’s the same time as an E92 M3, but more importantly it falls right in line with it’s main competitor, the C43 AMG which achieves the same 0-60 time. RWD does come standard for the M340i, with AWD being a $2k option.

When it comes to driving this car, I can’t start without getting into how good the M340i sounds with a stock exhaust. Once you get the engine warmed up it will burble and crackle, so spending extra money on a burble tune isn’t necessary. Getting up to speed isn’t difficult either, but on a rolling start there is a turbo lag where the car seems like it questions whether you really want to go fast, and then it responds in a way that puts you back in your seat. The connectivity to the road and the comfort you feel on winding roads, even in sports plus mode, is going to give you an experience you haven’t felt in a BMW in almost 10 years.

The interior isn’t much different than what you’ll find in the 330i. The 12.3 inch digital information display comes standard, the infotainment system functions as both a touchscreen or you can use the touchpad and overall it’s responsive with a high quality resolution and graphics. But as a car enthusiast, I don’t necessarily want to be blown away with the interior and have that be my last impression, because it’s all about the driving dynamics and the 2020 M340i certainly offers an experience that will put a smile on your face.

The model I tested was priced at $65k with a few additional packages included. Base price starts at $56k and you can exceed a price tag of $69k. Personally, I think packages that don’t heighten driver feedback aren’t worth optioning for as the M340i truly is a driver’s car. As a BMW enthusiast, all I can say is well done to the brand that for a short time lost its way.

After handing the keys over and walking away, my lasting impression is that the M340i is a sports sedan that’s an appreciation to BMW loyalists and owners. The Ultimate Driving Machine has returned, and I, along with many others couldn’t be happier.

Maserati GranTurismo – Soul, Passion, and Everything In-Between

It’s very rare to stumble upon a car that captivates so many, but is often so unappreciated that to some extent it gets forgotten. When you think of the Maserati GranTurismo, it’s quite possible that their notorious depreciation to absurdly affordable prices will be your first thought. For some of you, it’s style, sophistication, class, Ferrari engine, and an exhaust note so beautiful that it could make even Michelangelo shed a tear is what draws you in to this Italian masterpiece. From critics, its relatively slow 0-60 time, it’s weight, an aging body style, and outdated infotainment system is all you’ll hear. But for many who dream of owning this grand tourer, we overlook its faults and shortcomings and focus on the strengths that makes this car special.

I often feel that to truly appreciate the GranTurismo, lap records and 0-60 times have to mean nothing to you in the grand scheme of things, because if they do you’re likely not seriously considering ever owning one. This car isn’t meant to be on a drag strip. When it’s not found carving through back roads during a spirited drive, the GranTurismo blends in perfectly uptown where drivers can make a grand entrance. It embodies class and luxury and likely reflects the characteristics of the driver behind the wheel. There’s without a doubt that people compare the GranTurismo to the Bentley Continual GT, but’s it’s the small details that makes this car unmistakably Italian and sets it apart from any other European grand tourer.

Home to some of the greatest artists in history, Italy is known to bring that same romantic masterpiece styling to the cars that leave the assembly lines. This 21st century form of artistic expression through objects of transportation leaves car enthusiasts mesmerized, much like the Sistine Chapel and many of the Roman era buildings do to tourists. Despite Maserati only making slight facelifts to the GranTurismo over the last 11 years or so, you still can’t help but stop and admire a car that somehow continues to tug at your heart strings.

From the aggressive front fascia, to the very long wheel base that makes itself evident when looking from the side profile, and then swooping around to the wide rear end that sports dual exhaust tailpipes, the GranTurismo is one of very few cars that holistically looks stunning. It’s immediately recognizable on city streets, and then when it drives by you’re graced with the sound of the Ferrari V8 engine that you’ll hear even after the car is no longer in sight.

When it comes to performance, the 4.7L V8 engine that puts out 454 hp and 384 lb ft of torque will get you to 60 in just under 5 seconds. Unlike most modern cars where you can get away with short shifting, the GranTurismo needs to scream before going into next gear. Not only are you cheating yourself out of an automotive symphony by quickly going through the gears, but you’re completely missing the point of what makes this car so much fun to drive. Ideally you want to be on quiet backroads where you can truly experience the GranTurismo, but because its a grand tourer, this car is built for longer road trips on the highway as well.

Obviously driving dynamics are important, however its the interior where you’re spending all your time. Inside you’re greeted by a driving atmosphere and environment that matches the beauty and craftsmanship on the outside. Leather trimmed seats with Alcantara inserts and the trident logo embroidered in the headrests offers just the right amount of comfort and support for the journey ahead. Massive aluminum paddle shifters mounted behind the steering wheel give you that race car feel, and the analog instrument panel brings you back to a time before technology was integrated into almost every vehicle on the road.

Critics will always tell you that the infotainment system is old and outdated, but what makes the GranTurismo so special is that it’s a driver’s car. As enthusiasts we’re supposed to be more in-tune with the road, rather than the touchscreen. We’re meant to have both hands on the steering wheel as we corner on tight back roads, and to experience the thrilling moment of exhilaration when shifting through gears and hearing the sound of that V8. As the years have passed, we’ve lost that feeling with sports cars, where the electronics and digital information displays grab our attention more than the craftsmanship, interior design, and driving experience. If anything, the GranTurismo’s aging interior is a bridge in time that brings us back to what cars were all about.

In conclusion, younger enthusiasts can keep their Nurburgring lap times and sub three second 0-60 times that seem to be broken every week. An entire generation of enthusiasts have grown up on speed rather than appreciation for what truly makes a car so special. The soul a sports car possesses that gives the driver feedback on winding roads, the roar of the engine and an almost instrument-like tuned exhaust note is a complete package the Maserati GranTurismo offers. It might be slow, heavy, and maybe outdated for some, but for me I can’t help but smile every time I see one.

2019 Mercedes Benz A-Class – A Compact Sedan In A Crossover World

Right before the beginning of the economic recession in 2008, the age of full size SUV’s was coming to an end as gas prices were high and the speculation of some lean times coming on the horizon forced consumers to think more practical. Car brands, seeing the direction of consumer behavior in the automotive market, pushed the compact car and integrated some luxury aspects to appeal to buyers on a budget. Fast forward to almost 12 years later and Mercedes Benz is releasing a small four door A-Class that most likely would have been a hit at the end of last decade. Why now? Ford and Chevy are cutting sedans from their lineups, and yet here’s a prestigious German manufacturer adding an affordable entry level car for the US market.

To be fair, Mercedes Benz has been pushing the envelope by unveiling vehicles for almost every segment in the automotive world. What’s surprising is that they’re being ambitious in the United States, while rivals and other companies have deprived Americans of forbidden fruit that European, Asian, and South American markets have enjoyed for quite some time. Many have questioned whether the arrival of the A-Class would be the sudden demise of the CLA, yet so far Mercedes has made no indication of getting rid of it, and in fact a refresh is in the works.

To say that Mercedes Benz is providing luxury to the masses would be a stretch, because other brands have done this in the past, like the Volvo S40 which in 2006 had a starting price under $30k. However, what we’ve seen this decade from the Germans is essentially an automotive arms race. From crossovers to sportbacks and even electric powered cars, if there’s a segment that hasn’t been exploited yet, Mercedes, BMW, or Audi are usually the first ones to make a move. No matter what the intention is, there’s some excitement behind this little compact sedan, as for the first time we’re witnessing technology features trickle down to a very affordable price range.

For performance, the A 220 gets a two liter turbocharged four cylinder engine that gets 188 hp and 221 lb ft of torque with a 0-60 time of 7.1 seconds. Front wheel drive comes standard but for $2k extra at a base price of $34,500, you can upgrade to the A 200 4Matic.

It’s inside where drivers and passengers alike will experience premium features in the $40k price range, as in front of them will be a 10 inch digital instrument cluster and 10 inch touchscreen infotainment system. This same setup can be found in the redesigned CLS class, but to have it available at a fraction of the cost in the A-Class puts this small sedan miles ahead of its competition. Heated and ventilated front seats, along with a heated steering wheel and a 64 color ambient lighting display provides occupants with a luxury feel. Another feature that’s amazing to see on an entry level sedan is the augmented reality navigation that utilizes the forward-facing camera to give you live updates of what turn you need to take or direction you should go in.

By using the “Hey Mercedes” command, the car will automatically adjust temperature in the cabin, change the mood lighting, and acts as your personal assistant. Unless updates were made, this hands free system does have some bugs that need to be worked on. When the word “Mercedes” is uttered, you activate the on board personal assistant, and there’s been a few videos from journalists who had to find a keyword to discuss the A-Class without being interrupted.

When adjusting the climate control, the air vents will either glow red or blue depending on the temperature, and the overall interior styling is much more welcoming than the CLA. The real question is whether all this is enough to entice consumers to get back into the compact sedan segment that’s been mostly forgotten about over the last few years.

As mentioned earlier, the A-Class isn’t offering luxury to the masses, but it is however ushering in an era of technology features we would have seen on $100k+ cars just a half decade ago. While it still might not make sense to us as to why Mercedes Benz would introduce a model that’s essentially a twin to the CLA, there is enough for us to be excited about, especially in a market dominated by cookie cutter crossovers.

Is Toyota The Most Unappreciated Brand Right Now?

For almost 17 years after Toyota ceased production of the Supra, the Japanese brand that once captured the attentions of younger consumers by offering more affordable sports cars became known as the most boring brand in the country. The stark difference from the 90’s and 2000’s were apparent as the lineup became primarily geared toward consumer vehicles and looking to the future with the Toyota Prius. It wasn’t until around 2017 that hope was rekindled within the car community, and that there were signs of exciting cars coming on the horizon.

When Scion closed it’s doors, the GT86 and Corolla iM, which is now the Corolla hatchback, joined the Toyota lineup in the United States ushering in a significant change for the brand, not only when it came to performance, but also appearance.

2018 Toyota Camry XSE

This all really begins in the fall of 2017 when the completely redesigned Camry started to hit showrooms across the country. The new XSE V6 trim would offer 301 hp with paddle shifters to go along with an optional two-toned exterior and red leather sports seats. Toyota lowered the roof which widened the interior, increasing shoulder room and giving the Camry more of a sports sedan feel rather than being a mid-size four door family car. Not present on most vehicles in the Toyota lineup, an aggressive black mesh grille added to the sporty appeal, which is something we hadn’t seen in many years. And also hidden in the fine print, an optional 360 degree surround view camera was offered, making the Camry one of the first sedans under $40k to have this feature. So not only is this the beginning of a new age for Toyota when it comes to performance, but technological advancements inside the cabin of their vehicles are slowly becoming present.

2019 Toyota RAV4
2019 Toyota RAV4

Then on the last week of March at the 2018 New York Auto Show, Toyota unveils their redesigned, rugged, and masculine RAV4, immediately drawing attention from automotive journalists. This crossover that was once your average family hauler, now takes on the appearance of a Jeep with square wheel arches but also has subtle design cues taken from Lexus as well. The new RAV4 has received some high praise over the last 6-8 months as some have crowned it the best crossover in it’s segment, which is arguably a very accurate statement when you look at the competitors. What’s setting Toyota and some Japanese automotive brands apart from the rest is that they’re getting creative and edgy with designs, whereas the Americans and even some German brands are becoming far too conservative in a time when innovation and change is being welcomed with open arms.

The RAV4 now looks like it’s the most off-road capable ever in it’s history, and with a variety of different trims like the Adventure and XSE hybrid, fun and higher quality appearances is the theme moving forward. But also, they’re staying relevant during the changes in consumer demands as performance and luxury are two aspects that car buyers want, at least for the foreseeable future.

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback
2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback

A few minutes earlier, the all new Corolla Hatchback was unveiled intriguing many fans of the manual transmission as it’s optional on the 2019 model. While the small 2 liter four cylinder engine that puts out 168 hp and 151 lb ft of torque isn’t exciting many younger drivers, it is however a throwback to the Japanese hatchbacks of the 90’s with a twist of modern features like 18″ alloy wheels, leather trimmed sport seats, and apple car play and Amazon Alexa compatibility on the XSE trim. While the Corolla hatchback may not be the most exciting car that Toyota has added in the last 2-3 years, they’re at least trying to appeal to car enthusiasts of all ages and that deserves some admiration.

This all leads us to 2019 and the new Toyota Supra. Did they really need BMW’s help to bring back the iconic sports car? Absolutely not. In fact, Toyota is more than capable of tackling this project on their own. However from recent history, they collaborated with Subaru to create the GT86, so it’s not really surprising that they’d look to a German manufacturer to produce the 2020 Supra.

Personally, I think Toyota has taken far too much criticism over the last few weeks, and car enthusiasts should take into consideration where this brand was just a mere 5 years ago. Not many people can honestly claim they foresaw the significant changes the brand was going through, and with rumors of a new MR2 and Celica possibly being on the horizon, car lovers should embrace Toyota for what they’re doing in a time when rivals like Ford are getting rid of sedans and hatchbacks.

At the end of the day judgment should be reserved until track tests and real life driving reviews begin to get released by automotive journalists. After we see how the new Supra performs, then criticism, skepticism, and disapproval can be voiced.

2019 Acura RDX – The BMW X3’s Kryptonite

We often resign to popular belief that BMW, Mercedes Benz, and Audi are the kings of everything automotive pertaining to luxury and performance. This then trickles down to consumer behavior where people are only buying certain models because the badge on the front and back may either impress those around them or they perceive those brands to be the best on the market. Near the end of 2018 before getting some time with the redesigned 2019 Acura RDX, I was surprised to find out that this luxury crossover is not only outselling the BMW X3, but its dominated this matchup the last three years.

Lately, there have been many in the industry who feel that German design has become quite reserved, whereas the Japanese are now the risk takers with some very edgy and futuristic front and rear fascias. The Acura RDX is no exception, and in fact for 2019 it’s sporting a more aggressive appearance that’s clearly attracting new buyers. One of the factors that’s playing a role not only in the mid-size crossover segment but others in the luxury market, is that non-German brands are finding new ways to find success that advertising and tradition just can’t achieve in 2019.

Pricing

The Acura RDX finds itself in a great position for a mid-sized luxury crossover, mostly due to the price tag. Starting just over $37k, the RDX sometimes gets compared to the smaller BMW X2 by consumers. This alone could be a reason why Acura’s smallest crossover outperforms the BMW X3 in terms of annual sales, but more importantly it undercuts the X3 when it comes to pricing. Because of this, the RDX finds itself at a competitive advantage because it’s more practical than the X2 and more affordable than the X3.

Fully specced out you can expect a price just under $50k. But it’s the mid-level trim that gets most of the attention as the RDX A-Spec not only comes available with a sporty appearance, but you can option for red leather seats with suede inserts that are honestly one of the most comfortable in it’s class. Paired with Apex Blue or Performance Red paint, the RDX’s road presence will easily turn heads and really stands out.

Performance

For performance, the RDX gets a 2 liter turbocharged four cylinder engine that gets 272 hp and 280 lb ft of torque and is paired with a 10 speed automatic transmission which is all new for 2019. Just like with the Super Handling AWD system which Acura has brought back to the delight of both brand loyalists and journalists, the four cylinder has made a return as it replaces the V6 engine that was offered last generation.

While there’s a slight decrease in horsepower with a smaller engine, torque numbers increased. Acura says the 2019 RDX will go from 0-60 in around 5.7 seconds which is about half a second faster from 2018, but as of right now there is no official data. For drivetrain options, FWD comes standard with AWD being a $2000 option. When it comes to fuel economy, you can expect to receive 21 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway with AWD, and if you choose to go with FWD, fuel efficiency numbers increase very slightly.

Practicality

Despite fuel efficiency being iffy with a combined average of 24 mpg, the RDX is actually rather spacious inside, and with that you’re going to have the ability to carry more items. You’ll find close to 30 cubic ft of cargo room which is an improvement of about 3 cubic ft from last generation and there’s additional compartments under the floor which is great if you have belongings you don’t want people to see and possibly steal. With the seats folded down, the rear cargo volume doubles in size to almost 60 cubic ft, which Acura claims is class leading in this segment of crossovers.

For all passengers in the back, they’re going to get an ample amount of legroom including the fifth passenger in the middle as the floor is flat which will allow that person to stretch their legs a little more than in most crossovers in this segment. Overall, both the driver and passengers are going to be comfortable, and the environment the RDX offers to all occupants makes this crossover perfect for longer road trips.

Final Word

The 2019 Acura RDX may not be German or have a performance package with a bigger engine, but it does offer an alternative to consumers who have no interest in buying a BMW, Mercedes Benz or Audi. Acura does have some weaknesses like its infotainment system that requires 5-10 minutes of learning before getting comfortable using it. Instead of a touchscreen you get a touchpad similar to what you find on any laptop, however there’s no mouse which naturally we’ve become accustomed to, so there’s a lot of guessing early on when trying to click on apps.

If you can get past the learning curve with the infotainment system, the RDX is actually a solid option for crossover buyers in this price range. In 2018 it’s outsold the BMW X3, Mercedes Benz GLC, and Volvo XC60 and that can be attributed to what the RDX offers. All trims from the technology package up receive a list of safety features standard that are optional equipment when configuring models from competitors, it’s spacious and comfortable, and has a classy, yet sporty appearance that’s appealing to look at.

Usually you can say that a German brand has the best model in a particular segment, but Acura has done their best to challenge that narrative and so far has been very successful with the RDX over the last few years. The only question that remains now is, with the X3 getting a much needed facelift, will BMW claim the throne? 2019 is about to get very interesting.