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 The F30 340i got left out in the cold compared to the B9 S4 and Mercedes Benz C43 due to it being outdated and underpowered.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.

2019 Lexus UX 250h – The Next Generation Crossover Is Here

Without feeding into the speculation and unknowns of the future as we’re one year away from a new decade, crossovers have enjoyed a handful of successful years. All automotive brands are moving in the direction of SUV’s ranging from small to large, economical to sporty, and now hybrid and electric. For growth to continue in this segment, adding new models and changing entire lineups isn’t necessarily the answer as consumer demands are subject to change through trends and even economic and financial climates. Generally speaking, crossovers weakest spot is their average fuel economy which could easily get exposed should there be a recession, which seems to be the buzzword for the early part of 2019. Let’s delve into why the all new 2019 Lexus UX 250h is not only the future, but also the reason why crossovers could remain being hot items in any economy.

The Toyota and Honda families have always seemed to be further ahead of the curve than most of their competitors. Throughout the years they’ve produced and sold hybrid models, and that technology is now starting to trickle down to more affordable luxury vehicles. Lexus is no stranger to offering hybrid crossovers, and with the UX 250h now beginning to arrive at dealerships, the subsidiary of Toyota is ready to change the game in more ways than one.

Pricing

The Lexus UX 250h has a base price of $34k, which is more than reasonable and would be considered right around the average cost of a new car in the United States. Primarily aimed at older millennials that most likely live in urban areas, this small crossover offers versatility, luxury, and most importantly practicality. Some of the standard features you’ll find inside is Apple CarPlay and Amazon Alexa compatibility, dual zone climate control, a push button start and stop, and a list of safety technology that includes pedestrian detection, lane keeping assist, and road sign recognition to name a few. Android Auto is not available because Lexus says 80% of their consumers use Apple products, and didn’t see the need to spend any money on a feature that a small percentage of their buyers would find relevant.

Performance

For performance the UX 250h gets a 2.0L 4 cylinder engine that gets 176 hp. This crossover is by no means fast as you can expect a 0-60 time of 8.6 seconds and a top speed of 110 mph. Fuel efficiency is the real selling point as the 250h will receive 41 mpg in the city and 38 mpg on the highway. What’s also rather interesting about this vehicle is that Lexus decided to only offer AWD with the hybrid model, as the UX 200 will only be available with front wheel drive.

Practicality

Hybrids will always be looked at as economical, and as just mentioned, a combined fuel efficiency of 39 mpg is going to attract buyers who may not want to drive a Chevy Volt, Honda Insight, or even a Toyota Prius. With an affordable option and the appeal of a crossover, many who seek vehicles that are powered by alternative energy and are not solely reliant on gas may gravitate towards the UX 250h, especially since it comes with AWD. For rear cargo space, this crossover will get 17 cubic ft of rear cargo room which is kind of small, but slightly bigger than what most sedans offer.

Final Word

I’m not going to say that the 2019 Lexus UX 250h is the answer or necessarily the blueprint for the future crossover. There’s a number of issues that consumers will find, whether that be a lack of performance or it not offering a real luxury car experience that competitors may be offering. However, I will say that this crossover is laying the foundation for other brands to build off of. There’s not many options in the entry level luxury market that offers hybrid technology, especially in this segment and price range. Lexus is taking a huge risk, however its list of standard features and fuel efficiency might be a enough to make the UX a minor success in the United States.

Will Another Economic Recession End The Crossover Era?

One of the fears and speculations of what 2019 will bring is the growing angst that an economic recession is on the horizon. Nothing is set in stone and experts aren’t exactly sure if and when another downturn in the economy will occur, but it does make for good conversation in the automotive industry. For the last six years, the United States has experienced some very lucrative times, especially on both the East and West coasts. With that it’s brought demand for bigger vehicles, including crossovers which now dominate the roads and sales figures. However, are crossovers doomed to fail should there be another recession like 2008, and have some brands set themselves up to feel a lot of pain when bad times return?

As the saying goes, “If you fail to learn from the past, you’re doomed to repeat it”, and that’s exactly where we are as we near the end of this decade. 2008 played a major role in prominent American brands being killed off by manufacturers in Detroit. Hummer, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Saturn, Plymouth, and Mercury would all eventually suffer the same fate with reasons for their demise differing. Hummer is the one brand that stands out because when times were good everyone wanted one. The minute the stock market crashed, demand for the outrageously large and gas guzzling SUVs withered, causing not only the company to close its doors, but also forcing other brands to downsize.

In 2019, we’re here once again at a crossroads, having not learned anything from ten years ago. Brands all across the world have added crossovers to their lineups and for Chevy and Ford, basically the only vehicles being offered as they’re killing off sedans and hatchbacks. The Germans on the other hand continue to produce luxury sedans, and in fact Mercedes Benz is adding the very compact A-Class to their US market lineup. If anything, luxury manufacturers have covered all the bases, and if demand wanes in one segment, they have vehicles in place to feed consumer demand for whatever the next trend in buying behavior is.

You should never underestimate the planning and foresight of automotive manufacturers as they’re usually ahead of the curve when it comes to detecting high and lows in the economy. One way to battle any volatility in the markets and extreme shifts in volume of sales in the automotive industry is the new wave of compact crossover vehicles that resemble elevated cars more than SUVs.

2019 Lexus UX
2019 Lexus UX

The all new 2019 Lexus UX is the most recent arrival in this segment that combines practicality, luxury, and affordability. As a complete package, this vehicle will certainly be a survivor in the Lexus lineup should there be rough times ahead for one important reason. It’s fuel efficient. At a starting price of around $34k, this compact crossover is available with hybrid technology, which is going to give you 41 mpg in the city and 38 mpg on the highway. Also by opting for the UX 250h, you’re getting AWD whereas with the fully gas powered engine, front wheel drive is the only drivetrain available. For rear cargo space, the UX will get close to 22 cubic ft which is certainly better than most sedans.

Other new arrivals this year to the compact crossover segment were the Nissan Kicks and Hyundai Kona. These vehicles offer crossover-like tendencies, practicality, and for the Kona, AWD. These are the vehicles that have the best chance of surviving whatever adverse times lie ahead. Can the same be said for their bigger siblings?

One thing is for sure, Americans didn’t get intimidated ten years ago and ran away from the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, which are still priced reasonably for most consumers. It’s the luxury brands and even Ford and Chevy that need to be concerned moving forward. American crossovers just aren’t on par with their Japanese counterparts when it comes to interior quality, and if consumers are complaining about that now in a good economy, what will they say when they become more frugal and start looking for the most value for the price? On top of that, they got rid of all their sedans and hatchbacks which now puts Ford and Chevy in a difficult spot because they have no game plan if consumers don’t want what they’re producing.

Fuel efficiency then becomes a major factor, and generally speaking, crossovers aren’t exactly the most economical. Consumers start downsizing and for the new economic climate, it’s either sedans and hatchbacks or compact crossovers. Recently I had reviewed the redesigned 2019 Acura RDX which I thoroughly enjoyed. However, it’s the poor fuel economy that concerns me, as with AWD you can expect 21 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway. Those aren’t exactly the best numbers if people start cutting costs, which is why for the next recession, I don’t necessarily think the size of the vehicle matters, but what’s underneath the hood that will make the difference.

The Honda and Toyota families are further ahead of the curve than most automotive brands today because of their advancements in hybrid technology. A hybrid RAV4 and Lexus UX could become hot commodities as they’ll be economical and practical. Honda re-introduced the Insight which is already on pace to have its best year in sales since 2010 and generally speaking the rest of the lineup is very fuel efficient. This is why both brands survived several recessions while Ford and GM suffered greatly.

If manufacturers don’t have hybrid crossovers in their lineups by the time the next recession hits, that will be the deciding factor in how long this trend of bigger vehicles continues. That’s when consumers downsize to four door passenger cars, and until the economy gets back on its feet, crossovers may not experience the same success they have most of this decade.

At the end of the day, this is purely speculation. However, there’s been enough reasons why this should be taken seriously. All good things come to an end, the question now is how much longer do things remain the same before major adjustments to a new economic climate must be made?

Audi – From Quattro to Class and Luxury

The three major German luxury brands; Mercedes Benz, BMW, and Audi have built a tradition over the last 20-25 years that has resonated with a large percentage of consumers in the United States. Mercedes Benz is “The Best or Nothing”, BMW is “The Ultimate Driving Machine”, but mostly Audi’s only claim to popularity is it’s Quattro AWD system that is certainly needed in the Northeast and other colder regions of the country. This is why year after year, Audi is third in overall sales behind Mercedes Benz and BMW because in warmer climates AWD isn’t necessary.

With it being the holiday season, it’s time for the annual “Season of Audi sales event” where the brand associates their vehicles with cold and snow conditions to advertise the Quattro AWD system. Meanwhile BMW and Mercedes Benz, who lean more towards the luxury and performance aspects of the vehicles in their lineups, have always been looked upon as being the more premium brands out of the three German auto manufacturers. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Mercedes Benz has enjoyed many years of having the best interior, while BMW takes pride in their performance. However, as we look to 2019 and beyond, the status quo has significantly changed where Audi has taken great strides in a variety of ways with their updated A6, A7, A8, and all new Q8.

Audi Q8 Interior
Audi Q8 Interior

As mentioned earlier, Quattro was Audi’s main selling point and may still be moving forward, but it’s the redesigned classy and luxurious interior that should get a lot of attention from consumers. Audi’s Virtual Cockpit is without a doubt unrivaled as the 12.3″ digital information display is the most extensive system on the market. Its high resolution in combination with Google Earth being the navigation system that can be your full display in front of you is not found in any rival vehicles.

It’s when you move over to the center console and infotainment system that you realize you’re sitting in a premium luxury vehicle. New for 2019 is dual touch screens. Yes, you read that right. There’s now two touch screens in the A6, A7, A8, and Q8 that I personally haven’t seen in a vehicle since I reviewed a 2018 Range Rover Velar. The primary screen is where your radio controls, car settings, and navigation system will be, while the secondary screen controls your dual zone climate control, heated and ventilated front seats, and also is where you’ll find the buttons for your drive mode selector.

For the most part, Audi never really had complex infotainment systems in the past, and overall the interiors were rather simplistic compared to Mercedes Benz. Now it’s a completely different story where you could make the argument that Audi is at least second in the most comfortable interior category as their changes overshadow Mercedes Benz’s minor facelift inside.

With winter essentially already here, it’s that time of year when you’re getting out of work at 4:30 or 5pm and the temperature reads 20 degrees, the sun is already down, and there’s traffic for miles. This is where a luxury car becomes a very welcoming sight. What Audi has done for their 2019 models is make a driving environment that’s not only comfortable, but also luxurious to the point that you’ll find yourself not wanting to let go of the steering wheel. The interior is what you expect from a $60k+ vehicle and the major upgrades that Audi implemented into their cars is going to make waves when consumers visit auto shows this winter. For me personally, I find that Mercedes Benz’s minor touchups pale in comparison to their German rival, and if Audi continues to progress in luxury and class Mercedes may longer be looked at as being the benchmark for first class comfort.

A new decade that is quickly approaching has already made car brands think futuristic. The amount of technological advances, along with the continuously added comfort features are ready to meet and pamper consumers in the 2020’s. Audi is taking a big step forward, and at the very least, has made strides to be on par with Mercedes Benz and BMW. The future for the German auto manufacturers is setting up to be fun, and the new era that awaits us will change how we define luxury and class.

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.

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.