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First Drive: 2019 BMW X7

Bavaria’s big boy offers Euro alternative to Escalade, Navigator – as well as 7-Series.

by Paul A. Eisenstein on Mar.21, 2019

The 2019 BMW X7 shown here in Euro trim heading off into the sunset.

Laissez les bon temps rouler…let the good times roll. And since I’m heading to New Orleans, it’s nice to be rolling that way in the new 2019 BMW X7.

The German automaker was one of the first to get serious about building luxury SUVs with the 1999 launch of the original X5. And as the global market has steadily shifted from sedans and coupes to SUVs and CUVs, it has steadily expanded the range of what the Bavarian marque prefers to call “Sport Activity Vehicles.” The X7 is the latest and most lavish entry, essentially a two-box alternative to the brand’s familiar flagship, the 7-Series.

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To see if it’s really up to the challenge I headed down to Tallahassee to pick up one of the Bavarian brutes, beginning a day-long drive across the Florida Panhandle, through Alabama and Mississippi and wrapping up in the Cajun State, just in time for the start of the annual Mardi Gras.

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First Drive: 2019 Dodge Challenger SXT AWD

Brand produces a modern-day classic.

by Joseph Szczesny on Mar.19, 2019

The 2019 Dodge Challenger SXT is part of the group of muscle cars that have led to the renaissance of the segment.

Muscle cars have a durable appeal that survived the shift to Asian and European imports despite the reputation for quality problems that seemed to hover over American-made cars for years and even the ongoing shift away from passenger cars generally to utility vehicles and light trucks.

Moreover, in an era when electric and autonomous vehicles are threatening to remake the automotive landscape, American muscle cars have gone through something of a renaissance with the re-emergence of cars such as the Chevrolet Camaro, huge upgrades to the Ford Mustang and the splashy revival of Dodge Challenger and Dodge Charger.

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Even with its lonely two doors, the Challenger, with its eye-catching exterior design and powerful V8 engine, could well be the epitome of the muscle-car revival. But the rebirth not only includes a sleek, sophisticated remake of the of the exterior sheet metal and a more efficient version of the traditional V8 but also a complete overhaul of the running gear that makes the ride and handling much better.   (more…)

Nissan IMQ “Signals the Direction” of Future Electric CUVs

A “seamless” blending of exterior and interior design.

by Paul A. Eisenstein on Mar.05, 2019

Nissan designers opted for a sharper and more angular approach to the design of the IMQ.

Think of the new Nissan IMQ concept vehicle as a rolling crystal ball. Following on the debut of the IMs prototype at the Detroit Auto Show two months ago, the Japanese maker says its latest concept “signals the direction of (its) next generation of crossovers.”

Make that battery-electric CUVs, for the concept vehicle that debuted today at the Geneva Motor Show reveals the next-generation e-Power system, an all-electric powertrain that you might think of as the familiar Nissan Leaf on steroids.

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Actually, that is a bit misleading, as the Nissan IMQ carries with it a 1.5-liter gas engine that serves solely as a generator, providing energy when the battery is drained. That’s the same approach BMW has taken with its little i3 city car. The internal combustion engine never actually provides direct power to the wheels.

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First Drive: 2019 Audi A8 L Quattro

A supreme combination of luxury and performance.

by Joseph Szczesny on Mar.05, 2019

The Audi A8 L Quattro may be among the best-looking vehicles on the road today.

Passenger cars come in wide variety of shapes and sizes.

But no vehicle has the presence and stately grace of a well-made sedan and the Audi A8 L Quattro certainly fits the bill with its extra-long wheel base, roomy cabin, quiet ride and an extensive complement of technology designed to make driving less stressful and even less eventful for the driver.

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However, I also had a sneaking suspicion when I saw the spacious rear seat that this was actually a car where a chauffeur did the driving while the owner and his or her colleagues enjoy the comfortable ride and perhaps the view from large side windows. (more…)

Taking it to the Street: VW Reveals Two e-Scooter Concepts in Geneva

German automaker is the latest to explore “micromobility.”

by Paul A. Eisenstein on Mar.05, 2019

The VW Streetmate concept features a fold-out seat for longer rides.

The automobile has, for the past century, been the symbol of personal mobility, but that is rapidly changing as other options become more widely available. And Volkswagen is showing the ideas it has in mind at the Geneva Motor Show.

The automaker’s Streetmate and Cityskater are two different takes on the concept of electric scooters, and while they’re just for show, at the moment, few would be surprised to see them go into production, especially as competitors such as General Motors make similar moves.

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“With mobile solutions such as Streetmate and Cityskater, visitors and residents in cities around the world will soon be able to leave their cars at home, opting instead for smaller zero-emission vehicles to get around,” the automaker explained, ahead of the Geneva debut of the two e-scooters.

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First Drive: 2020 Toyota Corolla Sedan

More than just the car car for first-time buyers.

by Ron Sessions on Feb.26, 2019

The 2020 Toyota Corolla XSE reflects the company's commitment to car production in the near term. (Photo credit: Ron Sessions)

By now, you’ve heard that some automakers are dropping small sedans and hatchbacks from their line-ups. These automakers are buoyed by the heady sales and big profits of luxed-out full-size pickups and every conceivable micro-slice of SUV and crossover.

The Big Three in particular are moving passenger cars to the exit doors. Especially small ones. FCA nixed the Dart and Chrysler 200 a couple years ago, Chevrolet is giving the Cruze, Volt and Impala the heave-ho and Ford is saying adios to all of passenger cars save the Mustang.

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In a mindset that laser-focuses on stock price and quarterly profits, culling the low- or no-profit passenger cars and cranking up production of high-dollar trucks sort of makes sense. Except that line of thinking leaves first-time car buyers kind of out in the cold.  (more…)

First Drive: 2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid

Borrowing best from Prius Hybrid, new model sets new standard.

by Joseph Szczesny on Feb.26, 2019

The new 2020 Toyota Corolla hybrid is the automaker's way of protecting its hybrid franchise started by the Prius. (Photo credit: Ron Sessions)

Virtually single-handed, Toyota has made “hybrid” into a household word while piling up points helping protect the environment with vehicles such as the fuel-efficient Prius.

However, with Prius sales fading, Toyota is also protecting its hybrid franchise, which faces some serious challenges from rival automakers such as Honda and Hyundai, by deploying the hybrid powertrain in vehicles such as 2019 RAV4 and now the 2020 Toyota Corolla.

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The 12th-generation Toyota Corolla Hybrid is an integral part of the distinctive family of compact cars the Japanese automaker has sold continuously since 1966, becoming the best-selling passenger vehicles of all time. (more…)

First Drive: 2019 Nissan Leaf Plus

The original battery-car back in the game with more power, range.

by Paul A. Eisenstein on Feb.25, 2019

The 2019 Nissan Leaf Plus gives the brand its first real competitor in the long-range EV arena.

It’s hard to argue against adding more power and range when you’re talking about an electric vehicle, and those are the two most significant updates to the 2019 Nissan Leaf Plus.

The original model, which made its debut nearly a decade ago, was the world’s first mass market battery-electric vehicle, or BEV. It was a revolutionary product at the time, though its relatively limited range and ho-hum performance required a fair amount of sacrifice. That has become all the more obvious as more powerful and longer-range models like the Chevrolet Bolt EV and the Tesla Models S, X and 3 have come to market.

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The Japanese automaker took a half-step forward two years ago, introducing a longer, if not quite long-range, second-generation version of the Leaf. Now, it is set to play in the same league as the Bolt, Model 3 and an assortment of other new BEVs set to roll into U.S. showrooms, the Leaf Plus boosting both range and power by about 50%. The question is whether it also will give much of a boost to Leaf sales. (more…)

First Drive: 2019 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid Limited

Plenty of comfort and convenience with great fuel economy.

by Joseph Szczesny on Feb.21, 2019

The 2019 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid Limited features the S appearance package with blacked out wheels and other updates to make it appealing to men.

Minivans were invented by the old Chrysler Corp. back in the early 1980s and through the company’s various transitions and permeations have been a mainstay in its product portfolio ever since the Reagan years.

Facing stiffer fuel-economy and emission regulations, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V. has brought on a hybrid version that has all the advantages that have made of the traditional minivan a practical choice for families or anyone that needs to carry multiple passengers of all ages to a destination in comfort and with minimal fuss.

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The sliding doors on the 2019 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid remain as practical as ever for dropping children off for school while changes to the powertrain have given it greater range and fuel economy plus FCA also has loaded up with the latest technology, including the ability to connect multiple devices to the Internet and useful driver-assistance features such as blind spot detection that help justify its $50,375 price tag, which includes the $1,395 destination charge. (more…)

First Drive: GMC Sierra AT4

Off-road version of full-size truck could expand its appeal.

by Paul A. Eisenstein on Feb.19, 2019

The new GMC Sierra AT4 rides higher than a stock truck and also offers plenty of high-line features.

But for the brand badges and subtle differences in grilles and headlights, it has typically been difficult to tell apart General Motors’ two full-size pickups, the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra. But the automaker seems determined to eliminate this archetypal example of badge engineering.

When it launched new versions of the Silverado and Sierra for 2019, they boasted more dramatic visual differences, inside and out, than ever before. And they even split when it came to appealing new features. The Chevy, for one, got a power-operated tailgate, while GMC’s truck introduced a multi-function tailgate that can be opened and used in a variety of different ways, such as creating a workbench or bed extender.

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Now, GMC is itself planning to broaden out its line-up in a bid to win over more buyers. As a counterpoint to its plushly outfitted Sierra Denali model, it is launching the all-new off-road-oriented Sierra AT4. We had a chance to take the new model for a test drive through the mountainous terrain southeast of San Diego recently and found it surprisingly competent, both on-road and off. (more…)