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.

2019 Lincoln Nautilus – Is This The Revival of American Luxury?

For the better part of the last 20 years or so, American luxury car brands have been on the ropes due to the emergence and dominance of European luxury sedans and crossovers. To try appealing to the remaining consumer base that’s been on the fence of whether to choose a German brand over manufacturers from Detroit, companies like Cadillac have tried their best to impersonate European styling and driving feel, but continue to fall short as Americans still gravitate towards Audi, BMW, and Mercedes Benz. Lincoln however, is on a mission to change that by going back to their roots and provide drivers with a luxury feel only Americans can offer.

The all new Lincoln Nautilus, which has replaced the MKX in the lineup, not only brings back American tradition by having an actual name rather than a combination of letters, but also offers a premium feel both inside and out. As we all know Lincoln is owned by Ford, which has really been a thorn in the side of the company because prior to the last few years, nothing really distinguished their vehicles form Ford’s lineup. The current MKZ is a rebadged Fusion with a different body style, just like the Lincoln Town Car was a more luxurious Ford Crown Vic. But believe it or not, the Nautilus is built on the same platform as the Ford Edge, yet even after 10 minutes of looking at it, there’s very few subtle design elements that you could potentially see the appearance of an Edge before you’re forcing yourself to see what’s not there.

For performance, you’ll have a choice between a two liter four cylinder engine, or the 2.7L twin-turbocharged V6 that’s found in the Edge ST that will get 335 hp and 380 lb ft of torque. New for 2019 is the 8-speed automatic transmission that replaces the six speed automatic found in 2018 models of the MKX. There’s also two different drivetrain options available, with front wheel drive coming standard and the ability to upgrade to all-wheel drive. Fuel economy will differ depending on which engine you choose, as the V6 will get 17 mpg in the city and 24 mpg on the highway.

There’s three trims available for the 2019 Nautilus: Select, Reserve, and Black Label. Going with the Black Label trim will offer over-the-top, but definitely welcoming luxury features and touches that many in the industry rave about. Inside you’re greeted by Venetian leather seats with three different themes to choose from that change the interior color combinations. These seats will be heated and ventilated, and as part of the climate package, a heated steering wheel and heated rear seats will also be included. You’ll enjoy the music being played on the radio as the Black Label gets the upgraded 19 speaker Revel Ultima Sound System that’s been praised by many automotive YouTubers for providing crisp audio.

The Nautilus isn’t just luxurious, but also provides a good amount of safety features. Optional is a 360 degree top view camera that’s becoming common on all new vehicles in this segment. This camera, along with front parking sensors and enhanced active park assist make up the Technology Package. As part of the Driver Assistance Package, more safety features are added that include adaptive cruise control with stop and go and lane centering, adaptive steering, and a collision mitigation system.

Besides some of the technology features that are available on the Ford Edge, the only aspect of this vehicle that resembles Ford products is the center console. Same design that you’ll find inside an Edge, with the only difference being that there’s no rotary dial to select gears, and instead you’ll have push buttons next to the infotainment system. Speaking of that infotainment system, the Nautilus gets Ford’s Sync 3 System which includes voice activated navigation along with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. There will also be a compartment for your smartphone that includes a wireless phone charging pad, which is all being offered on the Edge.

Overall, the Nautilus is a step in the right direction for an automotive brand that has to compete with the likes of Mercedes Benz, Audi, and BMW. What I like about this crossover is that the designers masked this vehicle to limit how much influence Ford has on Lincoln, which should draw in consumers who want to stand out from the German crossovers on the road.

At the end of the day what’s standing in the way of the Nautilus is marketing and brand image. If Lincoln tries appealing to middle-aged adults and steers further away from consumers on the edge of retirement, the Nautilus can certainly find a niche customer base and find success in this very competitive segment.

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 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.

Why Buy a Subaru When You Can Treat Yourself With German Engineering

Winter is right around the corner. Many in the northern regions of the United States have received their first snowfall of the year, and that means we’re getting closer to unplowed roads and treacherous driving conditions. In the Northeast, Subaru has a monopoly on the AWD market in New England, as they’re the most relied upon brand to get people to and from work safely when it snows. But what if I told you that there’s another alternative for AWD vehicles around or under $30,000 that combine German engineering, luxury, technology, and AWD to enhance your winter driving experience this year?

Yes I know what you’re thinking, “Subarus are cheaper to maintain and they can be purchased new instead of certified used so why would I want to buy a German car?” It’s a fair argument, but you and I both know that it’s crossed your mind. A Mercedes Benz, Audi, or BMW for year round driving, luxury interior, and only a blizzard could stop Quattro, 4Matic, and X-Drive AWD technologies. Let’s put it this way, just like gingerbread, Lindt chocolate, and all the pastries you’re going to stuff yourself with this holiday season, owning a German car is a temptation that can’t be ignored.

Mercedes Benz

“The Best or Nothing” says it all. Why settle for a Subaru with a CVT transmission that makes driving mundane, when you can go with Mercedes Benz that provides AWD and comfort. There’s a few options to choose from, all under $30k, and best of all, still under warranty.

C-Class 2012-2014

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The Mercedes Benz C300 that’s still under warranty and certified used can go anywhere between $22k and 30k depending on the mileage and number of previous owners. A great way to step into luxury, the C300 was the gateway to bigger and better vehicles by Mercedes Benz prior to the CLA hitting the market.

The C300 comes with a V-6 engine that produces 248 horsepower, so when it’s not snowing you can have some fun on the roads. For features you’ll get a navigation system and backup assist, bluetooth, power seats for both driver and passenger, and automatic temperature control. While the C-Class would be in the same price range as the Legacy, you’d receive better interior features, more power, and because it’s used, you won’t experience the big depreciation hit after driving off the lot.

E-Class 2011-2013

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Believe it or not, you can also decide to go with the E350, which prices will vary. Hovering right around $30k, you’re now behind the wheel of the mid-level model in the Mercedes Benz lineup. This is where class and luxury come together to create one incredible sedan. With the option of wooden panels on the dash and small touches that distinguishes the E-Class from the C-Class will no doubt have an effect on how you carry yourself. There’s no walking with your head down in the office when you’re showing up in an E350.

With a V-6 engine, your E350 will get 302 horsepower. Just like the C300, you’ll have a built-in navigation system and backup assist, bluetooth, power seats, memory seat and head restraints, and automatic temperature control. The E350 is a step up from the C-Class, and with AWD, this car makes the perfect winter warrior, while also being a head turner.

GLK-Class 2014

2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK250 BlueTEC

You can also find a certified pre-owned GLK 350 for under $30k. Unlike the C and E-Class, the GLK will provide versatility and cargo room. Similar interior features, along with wooden panels is another nice touch by Mercedes Benz that will set you apart from a Subaru Outback. It’s perfect for the family on the go who need to get to school or other extra curricular activities. Old man winter won’t stop those in a GLK, and even during the warmer seasons, you’ll have an SUV that fits any situation.

BMW

“The Ultimate Driving Machine” can also being your ultimate winter daily driver. With X-Drive you have another formidable AWD system that won’t let you down.

320/328 2013 – 2014

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BMW’s answer to the C-Class. Priced anywhere from $22k to $30k, you have a choice between going on the cheaper end with the 320i or going more expensive with better interior options by choosing the 328i. With a difference in power by about 60 horses, the 320i is really an entry level sedan that will introduce you to the brand, but still offers the comfort and features of the more powerful 328i. When choosing between such as BMW and Mercedes, it really comes down to personal preference and taste in luxury interiors.

You’re still getting a navigation system, wooden trim depending on the options that come with the car, heated and memory seats and automatic temperature control, but you won’t have backup assist. The major difference is engine type between Mercedes Benz and BMW. On the 3 Series you’ll get a 4 cylinder intercooled turbo engine that will get you either 180 hp or 240 hp depending on whether you decide to go with a 320i or 328i. You’ll also get slightly better fuel efficiency in the city and highway by going with BMW.

X1 2013 – 2014

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BMW’s smallest crossover SUV is another alternative to versatility and cargo space and can be found around $22k to $28k. Essentially the 3 series on stilts, the X1 provides a higher ride height, similar interior features, and the same engine as the 328i. Smaller than the GLK, the X1 is truly a crossover, so you may sacrifice in terms of interior, but you’ll be saving on initial cost of purchase and better savings at the fuel pump.

Audi

Many Audi owners have made the argument, and rightfully so, that Quattro is the best AWD system out of the three major German luxury car manufacturers. For the harsh winters of New England, Audis priced around or below $30k will make your winter weather driving experiences better this season, giving you the peace of mind when it starts snowing heavy during rush hour.

A4 2012-2015

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The A4, which competes with the C-Class and 3 Series, tends to be near the higher side of the $22 to $30k spectrum. Right now however, there are deals out there where you can find a 2015 A4 for just under $30k due to the new model year of 2017s that were released earlier this year. While the 2015 sports the outdated look, you’re not cheated out of the luxury aspects of the car, nor the performance.

With the A4 you’ll get a 4 cylinder intercooled turbo engine producing 220 horsepower, and since it’s an inline four, you’ll have better fuel economy that is in the same range as the BMW 3 Series, 22 mpg in the city and 31 mpg on the highway. Like it’s competitors, you’ll get similar interior features such as power seats, automatic temperature control, and navigation system. More importantly with Audi, is the advantage of the Quattro AWD system. That’s what will get you home safely during a winter storm.

Conclusion

Buying a German car has it’s rewards, and it’s up to the individual as to whether they’re willing to buy a new Subaru, or go with the more luxurious German competitors by purchasing a certified used Mercedes Benz, BMW, or Audi. Either decision has it pros and cons, but there’s no doubt that you’d entertain the thought of buying German.

No matter what the choice is, the first priority is to get to your destinations safe this winter by having a reliable winter warrior. Subaru has proved time and again that they’re the best in their class, but if you want a side of luxury, the Germans are right there to grab your attention.

The Boston Car Scene: Where Does it Rank?

With YouTube and Instagram being the catalyst for car scenes across the United States in the 21st Century, car culture has always been considered more prominent in California, Texas, and Florida. Due to our inability to have year round events in the Boston area with our harsh winters and very unpredictable spring and fall months, the summer is really the only time of year we can take our cars out with full confidence that rain will not cancel events. With that being said, where does the Boston car scene rank, and is it underestimated and overlooked to some degree in the car world?

As a Bostonian and having seen the transformation this city has gone through over the past decade, car culture and its relevance in the automotive world is directly linked to our local economy. Over the past few years Boston has attracted business leaders and entrepreneurs, which in turn has brought some very rare exotics to the streets of our historical city.

This year a Pagani Zonda S showed up to Tutto Italiano at Larz Anderson Auto Museum, which is the largest event for Italian cars in the Northeast. Also present was a Ferrari Enzo that drew a crowd immediately when it pulled in. Herb Chambers Lamborghini of Boston held a get-together for Lamborghini owners prior to the event, and when all 18 cars including four Aventador SVs showed up, the entire park and the spectators there flocked to see them park on the lawn to meet their Alfa Romeo counterparts.

It’s not just Italian exotics that have become more of a common sight in and around the city. 2016 has been the year of the Porsche GT3 and GT3 RS. At Cars & Coffee, you can fully expect to see at least 2 of each to show up, and on some occasions even more. With the addition of a McLaren dealership 20 miles south of Boston, and the Aston Martin dealership in the western suburbs, the British car market has increased in popularity as well.

Boston’s car scene may never grow to the size of Florida’s, California’s, or Texas’, but it’s one that deserves a lot of respect. Car events have become fun for many who attend, and with the sightings of Aventador SVs, McLaren 650s, newer Ferraris, and even a Pagani Zonda S, the car community has gained a lot of traction, which is now introducing a new generation of car lovers to brands such as Audi, Mercedes Benz, and BMW, which has a very strong and loyal following.

Bigger and better things are sure to come, especially with the growth that the community has experienced over the past year. Hopefully with the growing number of car photographers constantly posting on Instagram, Boston’s car culture will bring further awareness to car lovers in New England who are looking to be a part of something big, that Texas, California, and Florida has monopolized.

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