Is Mercedes Benz Becoming An “Old Person” Brand Again?

Out of the five prominent German brands, Mercedes Benz could be described as being a “tweener”, where it’s not exactly a manufacturer that attracts younger consumers, but it’s not a brand for retirees either. When looking at VW, Audi, and BMW, there’s a very strong following of millennials who are being introduced to each brand thanks to the Volkswagen GTI, Audi S3/S4, and BMW E36/E46/E92 M3’s. Porsche is in a league of it’s own, as the 911 has always been a sports car that’s pinned to the bedroom walls of car enthusiasts who dream of owning an amazing driver’s car. But where does that leave Mercedes Benz?

Besides the AMG line of performance cars, Mercedes seriously lacks a car that rivals the S3 and S4 in terms of price. Sure, you could purchase a 6-10 year old W204 C63, which personally was my favorite generation of the C-Class, but a newer B8 S4 is a more appealing option thanks to an AWD system and a list of modifications that can be done immediately to personalize the car. On paper the CLA 45 AMG seems like a good option, but ask any car enthusiast and their initial response is, “it’s not a real AMG”. If we’re looking at this purely from a young person’s perspective, there’s very little to choose from to bring in millennials and establish a new generation of Mercedes Benz consumers. But the issue isn’t that simple, and this goes beyond car enthusiasts, performance cars, and AMG.

Starting around the 2014/2015 model year, Mercedes Benz made significant changes to their lineup, slowly making the C-Class, E-Class, and S-Cass resemble each other. Last year I did a review of a 2015 C300 4Matic, and even back then the interior styling was very reminiscent to the S-Class. Prior to the W205 generation, the C-Class had it’s own unique look, and the same could be said for the E-Class. Today, the entire sedan lineup for Mercedes Benz looks outdated despite the minor facelifts each model has received over the last three years, and this is most likely magnified because they almost look identical except for size and some design cues. There’s no denying that we’re experiencing an era of styling redundancy in the automotive industry, but Mercedes Benz is arguably first in line when we talk about similarities across the board for interior and exterior appearances.

Right now younger consumers are gravitating towards VW, Audi, and BMW even if they’re not purchasing S3 and S4’s or M3’s. This may be due to the older cars from these brands that are available to them, and as they start working, they’re trading up to a newer 3 Series or A4. Another indication that Mercedes is becoming an old person brand is that 20-30 year old car enthusiasts are more apt to purchase a BMW 340i over a C43 AMG despite a discrepancy in horsepower and torque figures. Whether this has anything to do with, “it’s not a real AMG” or not, Mercedes Benz just isn’t drawing interest by millennials for their consumer vehicles, and the only enthusiasm young drivers have towards Mercedes is for the C63, E63, and AMG GT which is well out of reach for them financially.

What’s even more alarming is the bloodbath Mercedes is experiencing when it comes to sales. So far this year, they’re down 14% and in the month of August, sales dropped 26% from July. Meanwhile, Audi and BMW are still experiencing gains, further backing up the observations that there’s been a shift in buying behavior, and a lot of that has to do with Mercedes Benz failing to draw in young buyers. This may also be effected by the aging lineup, and as mentioned before, there hasn’t been any significant changes to the appearance of Mercedes Benz models since 2015.

Needless to say, there is a transition period happening right now. The completely redesigned CLS and GLE are set to hit showrooms soon along with the all new A-Class, which should usher in new generations of other models in the near future. The real question is whether these changes will make an impact and reverse the sudden drop in sales, but more importantly attract buyers who are 40 years old or younger.

Has the Crossover Craze Opened The Door For A Sedan Renaissance?

Ask any car enthusiast what their thoughts are on crossovers taking over the automotive industry and they’ll all reply with a worrying comment that it’s the end of cars and sedans. While the average consumer has become addicted to crossovers and brands who once only produced cars like Porsche, Jaguar, and Maserati catering to that demand, has certainly concerned gear heads. When Ford announced they were no longer selling the Fusion, Focus, Fiesta, and Taurus in the US, that’s when speculation went rampant that other manufacturers would follow suit. Despite the perception of dark times and the dominance of SUV’s, there’s been a small glimmer of light coming from unexpected brands who’ve made sedans once again appealing.

German auto manufacturers like BMW, Audi, and Mercedes Benz have committed themselves to producing crossovers in every segment of that market. It could be argued that while new models of SUV’s are being released almost every two or three years, their sedans have become quite stale, and are more of an afterthought and just a filler in their lineups. This has certainly exposed a weakness in what was once a German dominated luxury sedan market, and now there’s new players in the game ready to check in that are slowly turning heads.

2019 Volvo S60

2019 Volvo S60
2019 Volvo S60

The Volvo S60 was always priced in the mid $30k range, yet never got any attention because of an outdated generation that lasted almost a decade. With a complete redesign, the S60 now shares a similar appearance to it’s bigger sibling, the S90. Most importantly however, this Swedish sedan is now beginning to raise questions whether paying $40k for a base model BMW 330i or Mercedes Benz C300 is even worth the cost. With a price tag just under $36k, the S60 has the 330i beat by almost $4,500, which allows consumers to add packages to their S60 that might offer more features than what they’d get on a BMW 3 Series.

When adding the Audi A4 into the equation, the comparison in terms of price and standard features then become more interesting. However, Volvo still has the A4 beat because when we start looking at $40k+, the S60 T6 then comes into play, offering 316 HP and AWD. Optional technology and comfort features for the Volvo adds similar technology that can be found on the A4, making this a very tough decision for car buyers in this segment.

Also new for this generation is the 400 HP hybrid T8 engine that can be found in most vehicles in the Volvo lineup. Volvo claims the S60 T8 will do 0-60 in 4.4 seconds, and it’s going to be interesting to see how consumers perceive this performance sedan, as Swedish cars have never been known for their straight line speed.

The redesigned S60 is a breath of fresh air and has certainly taken this Swedish mid-sized luxury sedan to a completely different level than its predecessors, but it’s not the only sedan entering the market that’s ready to make a big splash.

Genesis G70

Genesis G70
2019 Genesis G70

Much anticipated the last few weeks has been the arrival of the Genesis G70 models at dealerships. The all new entry level sedan for the Genesis brand is going to start just under $36k, and just like with the Volvo S60, undercuts its German rivals by almost $5k. But excellent pricing takes a back seat on this one, as the G70 comes with an optional manual transmission which should appease car enthusiasts. This good news could have been better had the manual transmission been paired with the optional 3.3L V6 engine that gets 365 HP instead of the 2 liter four cylinder engine, but as the saying goes, “You can’t have it all”.

The cost for a manual transmission on the Genesis G70 will set you back almost $46k, but you’ll get nappa leather seats and Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires. Standard features for the G70 include: power front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, an 8.0-inch touchscreen, and some safety features such as emergency automatic braking.

In an age of crossovers, Genesis’ decision to release another four door luxury sedan in their lineup to compete with the BMW 3 Series, Audi A4, and Mercedes Benz C300 is almost a throwback to what the automotive industry used to be. Before the days of crossovers, luxury brands would compete with each other in all segments of sedans, and between Volvo and Genesis adding legitimate competition into the mix of German luxury sedans, this is like reminiscing back to the old days.

Kia Stinger GT

Kia Stinger
Kia Stinger

The argument could be made that the Stinger GT isn’t a luxury car, and that’s completely understandable. However, the last few years we’ve seen the rise of sportbacks from BMW, Audi, and Mercedes Benz that’s begun to take the automotive design of four door cars by storm and has influenced the appearance of the current Honda Accord. Where the Stinger GT is priced, it takes on the Audi A5 Sportback and BMW 430i Gran Coupe and out performing both with it’s 3.3L V6 engine that gets 365 hp. This is the same engine that is offered on the Genesis G70.

The Stinger GT, for the time being and maybe even 5-10 years from now, could be a car we remember as being a risk taken by Kia that actually succeeded. While the Stinger was in the works for years, you could question whether brands like Kia are seeing the opportunity to sneak into the sedan segment and slowly take market share away from German luxury automakers who seem more focused on crossovers at the moment.

Genesis, Volvo, and Kia are taking the unconventional approach and putting time into the sedans they’re releasing. Despite Volvo having a crossover for every segment, they didn’t abandon their mid-sized sedan, and instead improved it unlike the current BMW 3 Series and Mercedes Benz C300. On a side note, BMW is working on the next generation 3 Series, and I’m interested to see what changes they make to take on new upcoming rivals. But this renaissance of sedans doesn’t just pertain to luxury or performance cars; this is quietly happening elsewhere.

Toyota and Honda

Earlier this year I raved about the 2018 Toyota Camry XSE V6. A sedan that gets 301 HP, an optional two-toned exterior with red interior, and paddle shifters. A sedan that got absolutely no love in the car community has certainly garnered some attention by drivers who want to have some fun behind the wheel, but not necessarily desire the stares from fellow motorists. The design is sleek, almost resembling a Lexus, which is most likely Toyota’s goal, and for the first time making this sedan attractive to consumers in any age demographic.

2019 Honda Insight
2019 Honda Insight

For the 2019 model year, Honda is reintroducing the Insight. Remember the days when this hybrid was a small two-door, computer mouse-shaped alternative energy vehicle in the early 2000’s? Or when the second generation took on the appearance of a Toyota Prius to try making strong gains in the hybrid segment? Well now it’s a four-door sedan that I’d argue is the best looking hybrid under $30k right now.

Built on the same platform as the Civic, the Insight gets many design cues from it’s compact vehicle relative which should draw in consumers who are on the fence of whether to purchase a gas powered car or make a commitment to hybrid technology. Highlighting the features on the Insight is its exceptional fuel efficiency with the LX and EX trims getting 55 mpg in the city and 49 mpg on the highway. The Touring trim will get slightly lower numbers due to the upgraded 17″ alloy wheels, but with a base price of just over $22k for the LX, this is one hybrid that’s going to the Prius a run for its money.

Despite the claims made by some automotive journalists and car enthusiasts, the four-door sedan isn’t going away anytime in the near future. If anything, the crossover craze has opened the door for manufacturers to not rush their products, and instead continuously improve the sedans they have in their lineups. Toyota still sells 200,000+ Camry’s per year, and Nissan has similar numbers with the Altima. There’s been no steep decline in the sales of these models over past decade, which should indicate that there’s still a demand for sedans in a crossover dominated automotive market.

2019 Volvo S60 – A Redesign Ready to Challenge the Germans

Since the mid 90’s, BMW, Audi, and Mercedes Benz have enjoyed two decades of dominance in the luxury sedan segment after toppling the American automotive giants based in Michigan. What has seemed to be an unstoppable force is now ripe for the picking as we get closer to 2020. In recent years, German automakers have put a lot of emphasis on their crossovers and trying to one up each other with every new model they release. Meanwhile, scattered across the European continent, Volvo, Alfa Romeo, Maserati, and Jaguar have made strides in the US, but only Volvo has taken the initiative to go all in and take on the Germans singlehandedly.

Volvo’s all new lineup is just about ready to be completed with the redesigned S60/V60 hitting the market later this year. The XC40, XC60, and XC90 are positioned perfectly to compete in all segments of the crossover market, while the S90/V90 flagship brings Swedish luxury and design to German dominated full-sized sedan and wagon segments. But it’s the S60 that’s going to be a significant competitor; one that will certainly make consumers very conflicted on whether to buy a BMW 3 Series, or go with a Swedish car instead of being mainstream.

Having seen the new S60 in person at Larz Anderson Auto Museum in Brookline, MA during Swedish Car Day, my initial impression is that this car is purposely built to rival any compact to mid-sized sedan Audi, Mercedes Benz, and BMW have to offer. With a starting price just under $36k, the standard equipment on the S60 should already draw interest by consumers. LED headlights, a panoramic moonroof, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, an 8″ digital information display, and dual zone climate control are the highlighted features on a “base model” S60 T5 Momentum.

If 250 hp isn’t enough, you can option for a T6 with AWD that gets 316 hp and 295 lb. ft. of torque for an additional $4,500. Optional features that are also available on the T5 include: 19″ alloy wheels, exterior styling kits that give the S60 a more sporty appearance with a different rear diffuser and slightly aggressive side skirts, and a multimedia package that adds a 12.3″ digital instrument cluster, a Harman Kardon Premium Audio system, and a navigation system. Volvo has built a brand on safety, and it shouldn’t be surprising that additional safety technology such as blind spot detection, rear cross traffic alert, and a 360 degree birds eye view camera are available as well.

For the Inscription and R-Design trims an all new T8 plug-in hybrid engine is going to make the S60 one stealthy performance sedan on the road. 400 hp and 495 lb. ft. of torque will leave fellow motorists bewildered and speechless as Volvo’s aren’t known for their quick 0-60 accelerations. For this type of performance you’re looking at a price tag around $55k which is in line with the Audi S4.

Where the Volvo S60 is really going to excel at is right around the $40k price range. To put this into perspective, the base price for the S60 would get you a BMW 320i xDrive sedan, a front wheel drive Audi A3 and A4, or a CLA 250 4MATIC. The standard equipment alone puts Volvo at an advantage, and if you went with a T5 engine, you’d have the additional $4,500 to spend on packages before you reach the price of an entry level C300 and BMW 328i. When doing a quick comparison, the Audi A4 would probably be the closest competitor to the S60 at this price range which offers some similar features. You could probably make a case for the A3 to be in this conversation, but then we’d be comparing a compact sedan with an S60 that is the A4’s Swedish counterpart.

The S60 is priced to succeed in a segment that gets little to no attention. While the Germans have been set in their ways, Volvo made crucial changes that will immediately turn heads. Geely did the best they could with the remains of the Ford DNA in Volvo vehicles, and now that these models are built on their platform, Volvo can attract a new generation to a brand that’s appealed to older consumers for decades.

At the end of the day Volvo has been a feel-good story. From being on the ropes a few years ago to now producing classy and luxurious vehicles, the Swedish automaker hasn’t even hit the ceiling of potential. There’s plenty of excitement surrounding the brand, and with the redesigned S60, 2019 could be a very good year for Volvo.

2019 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 LT – New Look, Same Pickup Truck

With a new decade on the horizon, the pickup truck segment is really beginning to heat up as this just might be the most competitive era for pickup trucks in many years. Ford’s redesigned F150, and soon to be released Ranger will be formidable competition, and with Dodge’s new RAM 1500 the US automakers have positioned themselves to compete for top spot. Chevrolet has a few potential significant players in the game as well, with the Colorado and Silverado. Both models have sportier trims to take on the F150 Raptor while also appealing to a market that desires capable off-road trucks that also have a rugged appearance. With all that being said, where does the completely redesigned Chevy Silverado fit in?

Some people have voiced their opinion about the new front end and that seems to get most of the attention, while the minor details go unnoticed. Before getting into why I believe Chevy didn’t abandon their heritage, there is one aspect of the Silverado’s appearance that does raise eyebrows. When looking at the pickup truck from the side profile, it no longer sports the traditional square wheel arches, and instead Chevy decided to go with a look that’s right in line with competitors in the Silverado’s class.

From an appearance standpoint as a whole, my opinion is that Chevy is basically saying. “2020 is almost here, but we’re not changing who we are to appeal to the same consumers who would rather purchase a Ford F150 or Dodge Ram 1500. Our loyal customers come first, and the slight improvements we’ve made further suits their lifestyle and daily activities”.

The reason why I say this is not only because the Silverado is the first pickup truck to have a power tailgate that goes both up and down, but they added seven additional inches in the bed of the truck while also adding three inches of space in the rear of the cab. If that wasn’t enough, in the bed of the Silverado there’s 12 anchor points with an option to add nine additional anchors to tie down whatever is being carried. This truck was built for contractors, farmers, or anyone who works outdoors for a living. It’s a pickup for the hardworking American, which is something Chevrolet has always prided themselves on and they didn’t fully buy into the trend of producing a Raptor-like pickup that looks great on the road but will never be used for it’s intended purposes.

The Silverado I spent a few hours with was a base model LT with very few features. The base LT does get a new touchscreen that’s very responsive, along with dual zone climate control and heated seats. There’s other trims as well including the Trail Boss and High Country that’s going to add more of an off-road look for the former, and luxury appeal for the latter. The configurator for the 2019 model year isn’t up yet, so pricing and optional packages still haven’t been determined which I find odd considering that the new Silverado is already arriving at dealerships.

Here’s our full review of the 2019 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 LT. We’ll go more in-depth on this pickup truck, while also taking it out for a quick test drive.

2019 Kia Forte EX – The Compact Car Isn’t Dead Yet

The year 2020 is on the horizon and for many, the compact car is an afterthought due to the high demand in crossover SUV’s. Ford has decided to no longer make sedans or hatchbacks and instead focus solely on crossovers and pickup trucks, which some believe is the growing sentiment in the automotive industry and the type of future that consumers will soon have to face. However, there’s brands like Chevrolet, Toyota, and Honda who are still committed to cars and have no intention of ending successful models for the sake of following a growing trend in the market. Then you have Kia who releases the all new Stinger which became an immediate hit, and now they hope the completely redesigned Forte shares the same success.

Remember the days when compact cars were purchased for being economical, whether that be for fuel efficiency or affordability? Now cars like the Kia Forte EX bring much more than just an appealing sticker price and good fuel economy; they also offer some comfort features that even 5-10 years ago would be considered a dream to have in a car aimed at young and first time buyers. Features like heated and ventilated front seats, Apple Car Play and Android Auto compatibility, a touchscreen with a navigation system, and rear backup camera with trajectory can be found on the EX trim of the Forte.

What some in the automotive industry are speculating is that with less competition in the compact car and sedan segments, manufacturers can spend much more time on the smaller details. Cars like the Kia Forte and Ford Focus were at one time cheap cars that got good gas mileage with no expectations of having any sense of entry level luxury. The 2019 Forte is certainly nowhere near a luxury car, but for around $27k to get that many tech features, including wireless phone charging, compact cars have come a long way since 2000.

This begins to raise the question whether the sedan and compact cars really are dead or on the way out. Over the last 30 years there have been major swings in consumer behavior, sometimes being due to the economical climate in the United States. We’ve seen big cars get phased out for a while, we’ve seen the rise and fall of the large SUV which is slowly making a return, the almost near death of mini-vans, and the re-introduction of a station wagon in Buick’s lineup for the first time since the mid 90’s. The pendulum swing is inevitable as people in general want to be different than their neighbors, so at this point it’s just a waiting game to see when momentum shifts in a new direction.

In the meantime, compact cars are silently being improved, offering affordability and tech features along with the pre-existing practicality that should appeal to younger buyers. Working in the 2019 Forte’s favor is the bold and aggressive appearance that sports similar design cues to the Kia Stinger. While the Forte’s small 2 liter four cylinder engine only gets 147 hp and the lack of AWD may not give you the Stinger feel, you’re going to have a car that is sleeker than most in its class. The weak spot the Forte has is the CVT. Kia has said it’s not a traditional CVT and they’ve worked on making it mimic shifts you’d experience in an automatic, but the engine drone isn’t appealing to hear when accelerating. However, the Forte does come with three different driving modes, and when put into sport mode, the transmission does shift faster which certainly limits the drone you’ll experience.

There has been speculation of an SX trim that should bring more horsepower and hopefully a different transmission, but so far there hasn’t been any news, which is to be expected as the 2019 model year is beginning to hit showrooms now.

Inside, the heated and ventilated seats unfortunately aren’t real leather, but that shouldn’t be expected in a car in this particular segment. To have ventilation is an eye opener because that isn’t a feature that’s common in most compact cars heading into 2019. Some of the interior design does resemble Mazda, especially with the touchscreen no longer being integrated into the center console, and is now higher up towards the dashboard. For the instrument panel you’ll get both analog gauges and a digital information display that’s becoming widespread across all vehicles in every segment.

As technology continues to trickle down to more affordable vehicles like the Kia Forte, these cars then become more appealing. The only negatives that compact cars are facing is the lack of versatility and AWD. The Forte only gets about 18 cubic ft of cargo room while crossovers will provide more room and AWD, which consumers then perceive the smaller cars are providing much less value. As mentioned before, the current US economy supports the decision for car buyers to go bigger with crossovers, and no matter what direction the stock market goes in by the beginning on next decade, consumer behavior will inevitably change. To some degree, their purchasing decisions might be affected by what their friends and neighbors are doing and clearly that’s what happened with crossovers.

Is there still a future for compact cars and sedans? Some car brands believe so, and without competition from rival manufacturers, they can continue to improve these vehicles making them enticing to consumers of all ages. Now the only question is, how long must we wait before cars have everything we want, from performance to practicality. That day may not come at all, but brands like Kia aren’t throwing in the towel just yet.

Maserati Levante S – A Fun Crossover That Gets No Love

It appears the cool thing to do in 2018, or really ever since the Maserati Ghibli and Levante hit showrooms, is to find a way to critique or bash the vehicles for interior and overall design quality. While I have reviewed a 2014 Ghibli in the past and was disappointed after years of building an expectation that never met reality, I can honestly say that is not the case for the Maserati Levante. In fact, I’m going to argue that it’s the complete opposite, especially for the 2018 model year. I can already see the eye rolls, but the Levante is one vehicle that you have to test drive and experience for yourself, rather than just parroting what a car reviewer is spewing on YouTube.

When the Levante hit the market back in 2016, there were a few flaws that would later be corrected. One being for the base model that front and rear parking sensors did not come standard, which was one major complaint especially when you’re paying more than $70k for a luxury crossover. Next would be that if you wanted to shift into reverse, the Levante would refuse to do so, and instead would shift into drive or park. This is something I didn’t encounter during my time with the 2018 model, and speaking of the current model year, front and rear parking sensors do come standard for all trims of the Levante.

Having read and watched many reviews prior to spending time with the sports crossover, there was a level of low expectations, and in the back of my mind I’m thinking this might turn out to be the Ghibli all over again. The minute I stepped inside and put the Levante in sport mode, that’s when everything changed. To drive a crossover that not only sounded like a sports car, but handled and drove like a luxury crossover immediately put a smile on my face. Where critics do give the Levante favorable ratings is the driving experience, and for good reason as your time behind the wheel isn’t boring and mundane like other vehicles in this segment.

The Levante I was testing was a fully specced $106k S GranLusso that came with Zegna silk and leather seats. They were some of the most comfortable bucket seats I’ve ever sat in, which certainly helped make the drive memorable. For a larger crossover, the Levante handled impressively well, and in tighter corners felt glued to the roads with very little, if any body roll. The gear shifts were almost instantaneous when using the paddle shifters, and for the first time, a test drive in a crossover was actually fun.

Obviously being an FCA product, the same infotainment system that can be found in a Chrysler was in the Levante. What I’ve never really understood was why this was that big of a problem, as Apple Car Play and Android Auto are offered, you get navigation, and you’ll also receive Sirius XM Radio and Travel Link. The one valid critique is that to access the heated and ventilated front seats there’s no button in the center console and instead to turn that feature on and off you have to use the touchscreen.

The smaller touches that can be seen in Dodge products is another problem most people have with the vehicle, but it’s something you begin to overlook when getting behind the wheel. That’s where Maserati may have the edge on competitors. The driving experience is nothing like other luxury crossovers from German automakers because you feel more engaged, and when the valves open in sport mode it will be irresistible to just drop a gear and leave the car that’s in the rearview mirror far behind you. The V6 engine that comes with 424 hp is going to surprise a few of your fellow commuters, and whether you want to have fun or go for a leisurely cruise on backroads, the different driving modes are suitable for either style of driving.

Pricing is one of the larger issues consumers have with the Levante, which is certainly a valid point. As a certified pre-owned crossover after the initial hit of the depreciation, the Levante then becomes a potential sought after vehicle that could be the better option for buyers in this segment.

Overall, Maserati’s first crossover isn’t a bad vehicle. Does it have flaws? Absolutely, but it’s nowhere near disappointing and if you can deal with the FCA infotainment system, you’re going to have one of the best sounding crossovers on the road today.

Here’s the full review for the 2018 Maserati Levante S GranLusso. Is it worth the price and a vehicle that should garner more respect in the automotive community? That’s up to the consumer and the individual.

The BMW E39 5 Series – A Car That Changed The Automotive World Forever

It’s 1996 and you’re sitting in your living room watching the Olympics. During a commercial break, BMW’s award winning commercial for their redesigned BMW 5 Series shows the streets of New York City flooded with water, but most notably boats floating up and down city streets with the E39 540i navigating its way trough maritime traffic. It’s possible that at this point in time, the viewers who saw this commercial that summer had no idea of the ramifications the 5 Series would have on the automotive industry, while also ushering in an era of European luxury cars dominating the market.

Before dissecting this commercial and then fast forwarding to the present day, 1996 was a year of transition for the American auto market. Japanese manufacturers like Toyota and Honda are continuing to grab market share away from Ford, GM, and Chrysler due to their cheaper and practical cars, which is creating a seismic shift in consumer behavior as even in the mid 90’s, Americans were still loyal to auto manufacturers based in Detroit. As history tells us 20 years later, this transition will continue at a rapid pace leading to Toyota and Honda becoming prominent brands in the US Market.

It’s in this same year that BMW, Mercedes Benz, and Porsche unleash two seater convertibles: the Z3, SLK Class, and the Boxster. The Z3, already receiving notoriety after being featured in the James Bond movie “GoldenEye”, arrives at BMW showrooms shortly after the release of the movie. The Porsche Boxster will soon play a significant role in the German brand’s emergence in the US, and is just one of the few surprises Porsche is going to release within the next 10 years. The Mercedes Benz SLK is often the forgotten one out of the three, mostly due to the Z3 getting the spotlight, but also by the new millennium the redesigned SL is going to take center stage, overshadowing the SLK’s existence.

However, there’s still one segment Ford and GM own with a tight grip, and that’s the luxury sedan market. Lincoln, Mercury, Cadillac, Oldsmobile, and Chrysler (to an extent) are the old giants that stand in the way, and BMW is ready to accept the challenge with their E39 5 Series.

Back to analyzing the commercial, the boats signify the American luxury cars of the day. We can joke about the modern day Challenger being a boat, but the Lincoln Town Car and Continental, Mercury Grand Marquis, Cadillac Deville and Fleetwood were all bigger cars with boxy exteriors. Seeing the BMW weave through traffic with ease was meant to show it’s maneuverability, and not be a huge car that couldn’t get out of its own way. The last statement made in that commercial was, “Why float through life, when you can drive?”. This would resonate with younger consumers who really had a limited selection of luxury cars to choose from, especially if they didn’t want to drive cars their grandparents and aging parents owned.

The E39 540i/M5 wasn’t just a four door performance car that even today we marvel at, but the E39 in general was a luxury sedan that would reshape the automotive industry forever. In 1996, Mercedes Benz and Audi hadn’t found their way yet, but they too would be emboldened to compete with BMW by the end of the decade. This would then lead us to almost 18 years of competition between the German brands, which eventually dragged Jaguar, Maserati, and Volvo into the mix by 2014. But I’m getting way ahead of myself.

The 540i that was shown in that commercial was priced at $50k, but the 5 Series in 1996 had a base price of around $38k which was right in line with American luxury sedans. While the US economy was very different 22 years ago, the slow progression to European luxury cars dominating the market can easily be attributed to the E39 5 Series, and it was the beginning of bigger and better vehicles from Germany that would continue to put nails in the coffin of American automotive giants that ruled for over 60 years.

BMW E39 540i
BMW E39 540i

Too often we look at the E39 from a performance aspect, and some believe that the Chevrolet SS is the only car since 1996 that most resembles the E39 5 Series. However, when it comes to defining a luxury sedan, that’s where BMW reshaped an entire segment. Luxury cars in the 90’s were boats, much like their predecessors before them. While cars were slowly downsizing, the E39 accelerated the change by not only being smaller than a Lincoln or Cadillac, but also being sporty. If we walk into dealership showrooms today, luxury cars come with optional sports appearance packages and engines putting out impressive horsepower numbers. It wouldn’t be a stretch to go back 20 years and attribute that to the 540i.

Indirectly, the success of the 5 Series kickstarted the beginning of an arms race between the German auto manufacturers which then got the rest of Europe involved by the late 2000’s to early 2010’s. Mercedes Benz and Audi started producing sleek cars to compete against BMW, Jaguar then replaces the S-Type with the XF and later the XE enters showrooms, Maserati releases the Ghibli, Alfa Romeo reemerges in the US with the Giulia, and now under the ownership of Geely, Volvo is ready to be a legitimate threat to German manufacturers with a very impressive redesigned S60.

Jaguar, Maserati, Alfa Romeo, and Volvo were really niche brands, and even today they still are to an extent. I’m not going to downplay the effect crossovers have had on these brands, which is a story for another day as BMW and Mercedes Benz could be the patriarchs of a luxury SUV craze that swept through an entire industry with the X5 and ML Class hitting the market in 1998-1999. However, the E39 has certainly played a role, whether directly or indirectly, in the decision to produce four door sports cars that also have luxury car qualities, and the Audi B9 S4 is the perfect example of that.

At the end of the day, no matter which car you want to pinpoint as the culprit for the modern day four door luxury sedan, the E39 5 Series challenged the status quo, making luxury cool for younger consumers and not just a vehicle for aging Americans 65 and older. The performance side of the 540i/M5 certainly helped grab attention from drivers who wanted an exhilarating and engaging driving experience. This car’s massive impact on the automotive industry shouldn’t be overlooked, and as car enthusiasts who now have a variety of luxury sports sedans to choose from, we owe that to the E39 5 Series.

2018 Volkswagen Passat V6 GT – Is It A Sports Sedan?

Since 2011 the Volkswagen Passat’s design hasn’t changed much, and while some might consider the appearance, both inside and out, a bit outdated, at least VW continues to offer a V6 engine. In a time when turbocharged four cylinder engines dominate the mid-size sedan market, there’s very few that come with a traditional V6. The closest competitor that comes to mind is the Toyota Camry XSE; a car that boasts a 301 hp V6 engine. Despite slightly less horsepower, the Passat GT undercuts the Camry in price by $6k – $9k, giving consumers an affordable option if the four cylinder Passat and Jetta just isn’t enough.

For performance, the 2018 Passat GT comes with a 3.6L VR6 engine that gets 280 hp and 258 lb ft of torque, and is paired with a 6 speed dual clutch automatic transmission. A 0-60 time of 5.8 seconds is right in line with the Toyota Camry XSE, Honda Accord Sport 2.0, and Chevy Malibu Premier 2.0. Some of the slight differences compared to the other Passat trims is that the GT is lowered by 0.6 inches and gets 19 inch Tornado design wheels. It also comes with the more aggressive R-Line front and rear bumpers, black roof, black mirror caps, and two-tone leatherette seats with contrast stitching. A GTI-inspired front grille will set the GT apart from other Passats, and when combining that full appearance package with LED front headlights and tail lights, the Passat looks more refined and sporty.

Volkswagen has marketed the V6 GT as an “American-born Sports Sedan”, which has led automotive journalists to test out cornering, straight-line performance, and braking in their reviews of the car. While VW has stiffened the suspension on the GT, it’s not a sports sedan, which is perfectly ok. I think many have misinterpreted or completely missed the point of the V6 GT, and instead of looking at it as a competitor to a Dodge Charger or any other sports sedans on the market today, it’s a step up from the four cylinder Passat, and may even be perceived as a more grownup VW GTI.

From the appearance alone, the GT trim has some design cues from the GTI and I can’t help but feel that Volkswagen is indirectly trying to appeal to the GTI owners who are ready to move on from the hatchback. The GTI is often associated with younger car enthusiasts who most likely don’t have a family of their own yet, but for those who do, it might be time to size up and that’s where the Passat GT comes into play. Let’s be honest, on a Saturday afternoon you most likely aren’t taking a Passat to the track, which is why this car fills the role of being a mid-size sedan you can have some fun in, while also being a good daily driver. On the other hand, Volkswagen has gone all in on the R-Line, which is why it could also be possible that introducing the Passat to a more sporty appearance is part of the plan to provide a whole new look to all models in the VW lineup.

Stepping inside you’re greeted by 8 way power adjustable heated two-toned leatherette seats. You’ll find faux carbon fiber trim on the dashboard, which I personally think is a nice touch. My only complaint, and a lot of this has to do with my time in the redesigned 2019 Volkswagen Jetta SEL Premium, is that there’s no digital information display. But again the GT is only an additional $2k more, so the upgrade in size and horsepower evenly balances out the downgrade in technology available and that’s something I could live with. You’ll get a 6.3 inch touchscreen with Apple Car Play and Android Auto compatibility, and it’s a very straight forward system to use.

Volkswagen Passat V6 GT
Volkswagen Passat V6 GT interior

In the back, passengers will get a lot of legroom as the Passat is one of the leaders in its segment in this category. For rear cargo space you’ll get 16 cubic ft of cargo room.

Some of the safety features that come standard on the Passat GT is a rear backup camera, blindspot monitoring, Forward Collision Warning and Autonomous Emergency Braking.

Overall the Volkswagen Passat V6 GT is a product of it’s time. With Toyota going more sporty with the Camry XSE and Honda having the Accord 2.0 Sport, VW had to respond to the growing trend in sport oriented mid-size sedans. We could debate for a while on whether the GT is the grownup GTI and whether that was even Volkswagen’s intention, but when a brand adds a sports appearance package that’s reminiscent of a popular model in the lineup and combines that with a V6 engine that could certainly grab the attention of maturing car enthusiasts, it’s definitely something worth noting.

Also with an aging design, Volkswagen had to bring something new to the table. Keep in mind, the all new Arteon will be hitting showrooms sometime in the fall, and seeing that VW is pushing the R-Line appearance package on the Passat and Jetta, the GT could be a sign of things to come for all models in the lineup from the German automaker.

Chevrolet Corvette C7 Z51 – An Exotic For The Everyman

Ask most car enthusiasts what their dream cars are, and a majority of them will answer with Lamborghini, Ferrari, or McLaren. These exotics are the driving force for many people to pursue endeavors and to push themselves to greater heights. On the path to success, sometimes the Ferrari has to wait, but that doesn’t mean you have to settle or feel discouraged. The Chevrolet Corvette C7 Z51 is the exotic that has a similar price tag to a new Audi A4 and will give you the same enjoyment and smiles as any $100k+ Italian exotic.

Priced around $50k for a used Z51 and a price tag of just over $60k for a 2019 model, you’ll get a 6.2L V8 engine that gets 460 hp and 465 lb ft of torque that is paired with your choice of a manual or automatic transmission. A 0-60 time of 3.8 seconds will certainly keep up with other high performance cars on the road, and if you’re on a cruise with a great group of friends you won’t be getting left behind.

What is it about the Chevrolet Corvette that sets it apart from the Dodge Challenger Hellcat, Chevy Camaro, and Ford Mustang? It could be argued that in this day and age, 460 hp is nothing special, especially when the Hellcat comes with 707 hp. The C7 generation has brought exotic styling that right now is unmatched by other American auto manufactures, as the Dodge Viper is no longer in production and the Ford GT is far too expensive for the average consumer. While the Z06 has almost 200 more horsepower than the Z51, it’s the price that may be a stretch for most car enthusiasts, but the Z51 is that perfect balance that allows anyone to get behind the wheel of a car that can perform at supercar levels.

Chevrolet has always preserved it’s heritage with the Corvette, no matter how many changes they’ve made over the years. The Corvette is still the symbol of an American muscle car that any hard working American can step inside and have fun the minute they take to the streets. I’ve always felt that out of the muscle cars, the Corvette was the classy choice for a middle aged adult, but the C7 design has brought much more to the table that now appeals to a generation that is obsessed with exotics.

Adding to that appeal, the Z51 can be customized with Z06 appearance packages, and unless the people you drive by are knowledgeable about cars, from far away it could easily be mistaken for a Z06. Out of the box, the stock exhaust that comes with the Z51 sounds absolutely incredible. A few years ago SaabKyle filmed a Pure Sound video for the 2016 Chevrolet Corvette Z51, and if those 10 minutes don’t sell you, nothing will.

In an era of high horsepower numbers and exotic cars with striking looks that turn heads, the Corvette brings both and won’t clean out your entire bank account. In my eyes, the C7 is the last remaining american muscle car that in terms of looks, fits right in when cruising with Ferrari’s, Lamborghini’s and McLaren’s. Even better, it’s significantly cheaper, making the Z51 the perfect car to introduce you to high performance exotics.

The lifecycle of the C7 Corvette is coming to a close, but in a few decades, we will look back on this car as being a classic from our generation. Chevrolet got it right, and whether you own one today or 20 years from now, this car will always look great!

5 Reasons Why The Volkswagen GTI is the Perfect Car For Young Enthusiasts

For many car enthusiasts like myself, finding the perfect car can be extremely challenging. You want something cool and fast that will turn heads, but for some, you also have to be practical and live within your means. This is a problem many of us face, as you may have to compromise and try finding a perfect balance where you can have fun but also have a car that can be daily driven year round. Of course, this means cars that were once on your radar have been eliminated, and now it comes down to finding the best option available.

The Volkswagen GTI, whether you’re in the market for a new or used vehicle, is one of the best examples of a car that satisfies the needs of enthusiasts, but is also functional for everyday use. Here’s 5 reasons why the Volkswagen GTI is the perfect car for enthusiasts looking to join a car scene while also having a daily driver.

Overall Practicality

If you’re living on a budget, you’re most likely not going to be that guy who has more than one vehicle in his garage, so focusing on sports cars that are great for car season but not the winter certainly isn’t an option. You’ll also probably be looking for something with a decent amount of cargo room and maybe even a car that’s fuel efficient. The Volkswagen GTI checks off all the boxes for practicality, as 25 mpg in the city and 33 mpg on the highway is going to keep you away from the pump when traveling to car events or cruising on the weekends with a group of friends.

For rear cargo space, you’ll initially get 17 cubic ft of cargo room, but your max volume capacity is 54 cubic ft, which is one of advantages of going with a hatchback. When speaking of a daily driver, the GTI functions as a normal compact car and in the winter, a good set of winter tires will get you through even the worst New England snowstorms.

Affordability

The GTI is one of those cars that’s affordable both new or used. For a base model 2018 GTI S you’re looking at a price tag of around $26k-$28k. If you’re like me, you’re probably leaning more towards certified used unless you have every intention of modifying your car that could void your warranty depending on what you have in mind. The sweet spot for used seems to be in the $15k-$19k range.

Gets You Into Car Events

Obviously, one of the points in buying a sports or performance car is to become part of the community. A concern some new members may have is whether their car is unique enough to get in. What’s interesting about the Volkswagen GTI is that even when fully stock, it’s welcomed with open arms, and that’s because of the admiration many enthusiasts have for the hatchback, which is something we’ll get into in a minute. So if you don’t have any initial plans to modify the GTI as soon as you get your hands on one, you’re not going to be rejected when showing up to a local event.

Enthusiastic Group of Owners

When looking for the vehicle that will introduce you to the car scene, one aspect that often gets overlooked is the sub community that is created by a very enthusiastic group of owners for a particular model or brand. Some cars more than others have a great community that helps each other out, offers advice on modifications both esthetically and performance, and also hosts their own events that’s based on the cars they own.

The Volkswagen GTI has some of the most passionate owners I’ve ever met, and what’s great about this hatchback is that there’s a variety of mods that can be done to make your car perform and look better. Having a great group of fellow owners around you or even in a Facebook group page is going to give you ideas on how to make your GTI unique.

Understated Performance

For the 2015 model year, Volkswagen began offering 210 hp and 220 hp turbocharged four cylinder engines that come with an eye opening 258 lb ft of torque which is a significant increase from the MK6 generation. The MK7 also has a lot of potential through modifications, which could make the GTI a sleeper to an unsuspecting driver you pass by on the highway. Even at completely stock, you won’t be get left behind by other cars in your class, unless they have performance upgrades.