Featured Reviews

Bright leaves no match for Lexus LC500

The new era of Toyota design and performance is nearly upon us, and the Lexus LC500 might be the best example as the pinnacle of Toyota's upscale line,

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amore ground clearance, armor-plated grille and skidplates underneath, Rebel is built for off-road.

Ram vs. Ram in pickup battle

The versatility of Ram pickups have led to competition within the brand, as the Rebel EcoDiesel compares sporty off-road readiness to the iconic V8 Laramie's luxury.

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The Jeep Gladiator strikes a mystical image against Lake Superior at dusk.

Gladiator opens new doors for Jeep

Jeep used to have a utility pickup, and for its long-awaited return as the 2020 Gladiator, it gives the company a full array of useful and fun attractions.

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4. Sloping rear roofline gives the GLC43 a coupe-like shape.

Mercedes blends sports sedan, SUV in GLC43 Coupe

Mercedes has proven to be a master of high-performance sedans and SUVs, but the new AMG GLC43 Coupe combines the best features of both, with even a hot-rod exhaust sound.

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'Hot' CT5-V gets sibling rival in CT5 Luxury

In Cadillac's new model designation, the CT5 Premium Luxury and the CT5 V-Series are very similar, but the V-Series is the racy one.

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In fierce SUV competition, Ford has an Edge

In Ford's vast array of SUVs of all sizes, the 2020 Edge ST fits between the Escape and midsize Explorer, and adds a dose of sportiness with the 2.7 Turbo V6.

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Symbol of luxury, Avalon gets TRD spark

The Avalon remains Toyota's luxury sedan, but new for 2020 is the TRD version, which adds a sporty look and action while retaining luxury.

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Alfa gives Stelvio a little dose of Formula 1 spirit

Everything Alfa Romeo builds has an underlying dose of fun, and that is magnified when the Stelvio SUV adds the Quadrifoglio's Formula 1-engineered 505 horsepower.

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Redesigned grille gives Sonata a low, seductive look, befitting its new technology.

2020 Sonata: Sexy look, comfort, and 47 mpg!

The Sonata lifted Hyundai to elite status in 2011, and after top-ranked SUVs and luxury cars, the 2020 Sonata clearly reestablishes it as the company's signature vehicle.

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Seltos takes Kia on its own compact-SUV road

Kia has risen from its position as South Korean subsidiary to Hyundai to go its own way, and the 2021 Seltos proves that conclusively.

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Bright leaves no match for Lexus LC500

October 5, 2020 by · Comments Off on Bright leaves no match for Lexus LC500
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

Even dusk over Lake Superior can’t dim the Flare Yellow of the Lexus LC500.

By John Gilbert

The timing was perfect, although it’s difficult to think of a bad time for a week-long test drive of the 2020 Lexus LC500 Coupe. The LC500 is one of the most strikingly beautiful car designs on the market, but the perfect timing was explained because we beat any threat of early snow around our Duluth location on Lake Superior’s North Shore.

The LC500 comes with rear-while drive, and while the latest traction-control gizmos all work impressively, I would rather drive it in dry or wet conditions, and I prefer front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive when the roadways get icy. Besides, the timing included catching the foliage throughout Northern Minnesota at nearly peak change of colors, with the bright golds, reds and oranges replacing the summertime’s green leaves.

The LC500 arrived wearing “Flare Yellow,” a new Lexus color this year, with a highly metallic base and a brilliant yellow that made even the brightest trees look a little less bright. I often admire yellow cars when other people buy them, but it’s not my personal favorite. I might, however, have to re-evaluate to make an exception with the LC500, because of the constantly positive reactions we got while driving around. We became a regional attraction without intending to be, just because of that car in that color.

The inviting interior of the LC500 is firmly comfortable, from seats to electronic controls.

It is loaded with all the latest electronic gadgets and features, and as the top of the Lexus line — which is altogether at the top of the Toyota line — the LC500 is the pinnacle. Base price is $92,950, which seems reasonable after all the options on the test car raised the ante to $106,440.

On the bright Saturday morning of our Lexus week, my wife, Joan, and I wanted to hit our area Farmer’s Market for the peak of the delectable harvest. Then we’d make a stop at Target, and then take some less-busy highways north for a scenic drive to the Iron Range. Joan went into Duluth’s Target store, as I parked in an obvious spot near the entrance, to listen as the Minnesota Twins battled through one of the final games of their abbreviated regular season. I noticed that nearly everybody walking past gazed at the car so regularly that I had to affect a nonchalant demeanor.

A young guy walking back to his car angled diagonally to approach my open window, and said, “Sorry to bother you, but — great pick! That is an absolutely beautiful car.” I smiled and thanked him, without time to explain that it wasn’t my car.

We started toward the highway, and as another car passed us, a kid in the passenger seat yelled, “I like your car, man!”

That became a pattern of admiring comments attracted by the LC500, and its Flare Yellow paint job.

Exotic styling comes together at rear in dramatic fashion, accenting colorful leaves.

It is not just the paint that attracts attention. The sweeping roofline that connects the busy but distinctive signature spindle grille up front, all the way back to the neatly shaped collection of vents and contours that comprise the rear, come together to make the LC500 the most perfect example of how a manufacture can combine the best attributes of a traditional sports car and the comparatively exotic design of an exotic sports car.

For the LC500 to accomplish that feat in the Toyota-Lexus stable is noteworthy, because during its obvious changeover in styling and performance to modernize the company, there are several startling new sports cars, including Toyota’s own Supra, and assorted other Lexus coupes. I find the new Supra to be interesting, but I think the LC500 is more attractive. Maybe that’s the traditionalist in me coming out, but this is a design that would dazzle owners of a Corvette, Porsche, of even an Italian sports car.

Its performance meets all requirements, too. It comes with a 5.0-liter V8, with dual-overhead camshafts, high-tech variable valve timing, and a 10-speed automatic with large magnesium steering-wheel paddles. It develops 471 horsepower with 398 foot-pounds of torque, which is plenty to make you overlook the heft that helps keep the low-slung Lexus planted.

From every angle, Lexus LC500 evokes new philosophy of
Toyota design.

It also has some technical tricks to help you maneuver through traffic or twisty curves without any concerns. It has an adaptive exhaust that resonates on call. And adaptive variable suspension and adaptive rear-wheel steering that guides you around curves with greater precision but without any perceptible feeling of complexity.

As fun as the LC500 is to drive, from those specially formed sport bucket seats, the biggest concern you have is to keep your eye on your speed, unless you would like your Flare Yellow to attract any assorted highway patrolmen, police, or sheriffs in the region. That is not as simple as it sounds, either, because the car accelerates in a flash, and when you glance down, you have to be disciplined to readily spot the digital speed number imbedded in the large and prominent tachometer.

The LC500 has rear jump seats, but only for tiny people.

You can alter the location of the big gauge and other ancillary features, but I came up with a nitpick in the process. With 10 speeds, and so much power, you are turning only about 1,700 RPMs on the tach when cruising at 65 or so. In other words, unless you are in sport or sport-plus settings and feeling racy, you aren’t about to over-rev it so there really is no critical need to keep watching your revs, compared to the urgency with which you want to spot the speed at a glance.

That is a minor point, although there are a couple of other nuisance items with the car — and it’s always appropriate to point them out when there is so much to gush over. Clean and sweeping as the shape and design are, the complexity of trying to tune the audio system is somewhere beyond my common sense, as well as my tolerance level. You can’t seem to simply get a panel on the screen with preset stations, which you might alter up or down with ease. It takes more attention than it deserves to make such a simple change.

The LC500 also refused to let me do the simple Bluetooth programming of my iPhone into the audio system, which is a distinct safety feature. After one frustrating attempt, I gave up, and went out the next day to dedicate a half-hour to this electronic wrestling match, trying to connect. It kept notifying me that there was “no phone connected” each time, and at the peak of my frustration, the in-car phone rang. I pushed the accept button, answered it, and it was my wife, Joan! She called to see what was taking me so long, and I had to tell her I couldn’t hook up the phone. “But you’re on your phone, aren’t you?” Hmmm. Yes. Indeed, the phone connection it refused to give me was working and had connected me, it just kept telling me it wasn’t connecting, as if it wanted to keep it a secret.

Forget all that stuff. We thoroughly enjoyed our drived to Virginia, Minnesota, which allowed us to stop at Canelake’s Candy shop. Renovated to feature the original fountain from nearly a century ago, we picked out stools at the old-fashioned fountain, with Joan revisiting her youth with a soda, while I settled for a turtle sundae. Afterward, we drove through town and into neighboring Eveleth, just to make sure the 50-foot hockey stick was still in place downtown.

Back on Highway 53, headed south, we saw a small sign indicating the memorial site for the late Minnesota senator Paul Wellstone. We drove the few miles east to near the site where he died in a 2002 plane crash, just a week or two before what we assumed would be the certain re-election of one of the state’s most popular senators. We spent quite an emotional while on the walk paths admiring the trees, and reading the biographical signs along the way.

A stop for a woodsy trail walk at the Paul Wellstone Memorial.

We got back on Hwy. 53 and started discussing dinner. I made a suggestion that was an easy one: We were at the shortcut west off Hwy. 53 to Hibbing, where we could stop at the original Sammy’s Pizza, the birthplace for the legendary Duluth pizza chain. To celebrate a wonderful day, we ordered sausage, onions, green peppers and sauerkraut, and it was a delicacy. As we sat near the window, we could watch every passerby across the street stop and gaze at the Flare Yellow Lexus LC500.

Lots of attention, lots of style, lots of pending excitement, and yes, lots of money. But we were the ones in town who were able to climb inside and head on home in such a special vehicle.

Ram vs. Ram in pickup battle

October 5, 2020 by · Comments Off on Ram vs. Ram in pickup battle
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

The Ram 1500 Laramie Crew Cab has a luxury interior and 5.7 V8 with mild hybrid.

By John Gilbert
One of the biggest success stories of the 2019 model year was the amazing upsurge in sales of Ram pickup trucks, which sailed right past the enigmatic Chevrolet Silverado to displace it the No. 2 spot behind the almighty Ford F-150.

Engineers and designers at Dodge had been doing a commendable job on the Ram before Fiat took over to create Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and establish Ram as its own division, but since then, Ram has established new heights for pickup style and sophistication.

Ram buyers have been quick to boast of their perceived superiority. Such elements as coil spring suspension in the rear, which makes the Ram by far the most comfortable to ride in on roads and highways, and constantly upgraded interiors, which set new standards for attractiveness as well as function.

It may be that Ram has no illusions about overtaking the Ford, but its array of models, loaded with impressive features, puts Ram on a high plateau that deserves evaluation by anyone looking to buy a big truck — a full-size pickup — for hauling stuff, towing stuff and carrying the family in comfort as well as safety and efficiency.

If auto sales followed election-year protocol, we could all vote by November 3 with our loan or lease budgets on which pickup truck is the best. As it is, the preference hinges greatly on family tradition. Whatever the process, the Ford F-150 traditionally wins the popular vote, over the Chevrolet Silverado, the Ram, Toyota Tundra, Honda Ridgeline, Nissan Titan, and midsize gems such as the Toyota Tacoma, Chevy Colorado and its GMC twin, Ford Ranger, and, if you can find one, a Nissan Frontier — plus, the newcomer on the scene, the Jeep Gladiator.

But Ram has upset the form chart to become top challenger for the F-150, and might be looking for more. For 2020, there is stiff competition within the Ram garage. It’s sort of like holding a national intramural tournament, while the varsity is on Coronavirus hiatus.

The Ram Rebel shares Crew Cab style but adds 3.0-liter EcoDiesel with even more power.

For example, the Ram 1500 Laramie Crew Cab 4X4 is the company icon, but what about the Ram Rebel?

The Laramie has a potent Hemi 5.7-liter V8 that delivers 395 horsepower and 410 foot-pounds of torque. The horsepower peaks at 5,600 RPMs, and the torque hits its peak at 3,950 RPMs.

The ride and interior accommodations are luxury-car-like — no other way to put it. The technology in this huge, Flame-red Ram is mostly unseen, such as the 5.7 V8 getting variable valve-timing and an electric boost from its E-Torque engine, using a mild hybrid input to help keep all the electrics charged. It also has an enormous, dual-pane sunroof that covers the front and rear seats. Along with the classy leather upholstery, the front is dominated by a large console and an enormous, iPad-size 12-inch center stack screen.

Both Rams have side storage in the beds and a split rear door that opens two ways.

With all the safety and security features, the big Ram rides on 22-inch styled wheels, plays tunes through a 19-speaker Harman Kardon audio upgrade, and has a running board that promptly unfolds and drops down to help you in or out upon stopping and opening a door.

Huge information screen adorns Laramie control-oriented dash.

A 33-gallon fuel tank means that with fuel economy of 17 city and 22 highway, you can beat most of the competition and also not have to worry about frequent gas stops while you’re towing trailers of up to 12,750 pounds.

With a base price of $46,740 boosted up to $68,615 with all the features, the big Ram makes the case that if you’re going to spend a lot of time in your truck, you may as well enjoy every facet.

So what can the 1500 Rebel Crew Cab offer to compete with its big brother?

To begin with, my test Rebel, in Billet Silver Metallic, came equipped with the highly acclaimed, Fiat-sourced 3.0-liter EcoDiesel, a turbodiesel V6 — a Generation-3 version of that proven European engine. It runs quietly, and makes extraordinary power. For a V6, about half the size of the 5.7 V8, this EcoDiesel develops 260 horsepower and a whopping 480 foot-pounds of torque.

Extra ground clearance, armor-plated grille and skidplates underneath, make Rebel ready for off-roading.

Compared to the impressive 5.7 Hemi, the EcoDiesel’s horsepower peaks at 3,600 RPMs compared to the gas V8’s 5,600, and its full torque peaks at only 1,600 RPMs for 480 foot-pounds, compared to 3,950 for the V8’s 410 foot-pounds. The Rebel diesel also has the 33-gallon fuel tank, and boasts EPA estimates of 29 miles per gallon in highway driving and in city driving it matches the Hemi’s highway 22 miles per gallon. The Rebel towing maximum is 12,560 pounds — 210 pounds less than the gas V8.

Being the Rebel means it has black rubbery stuff protecting the grille and offering a menacing look in the process. It has fixed running boards, and skid plates underneath protecting the fuel tank, the transfer case and the front suspension, in case you want to go thrashing off-road.

Split tailgate opens with two doors for easy loading with one latch…

Both vehicles share the safety and convenience items, including the big fuel tank and the high-powered audio, although the Rebel is nowhere near as luxurious as the Laramie, opting for a sportier

…or, an alternative latch opens a conventional tailgate — your choice.

demeanor. That includes the very convenient storage areas in the sidewalls of the bed. To challenge Ford’s exceptional fold-down step for ease in climbing into the bed, Ram has a very neat multi-function tailgate, You can fold it down to open the entire width of the bed, or, by activating an alternative handle, you have a pair of side-opening doors, like an old-time saloon in the cowboy movies. That is very efficient for loading, unloading, and reaching in for stuff because you can get your body right up next to the vehicle.

I personally love the bright red on the Laramie, but the rich silver of the Rebel, with all that black trim, makes it a tossup, in my mind. Maybe I’d take the fixed running board and the skid plates of the Rebel. Tough choice. Ram may have a great idea: By offering two such impressive vehicles under the same badge, any potential customer may get caught up comparing the two and completely forget he was on his way to Ford, Chevy, and Toyota dealers for comparison shopping.

Gladiator opens new doors for Jeep

September 21, 2020 by · Comments Off on Gladiator opens new doors for Jeep
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

The Jeep Gladiator strikes a mystical image against Lake Superior at dusk.

By John Gilbert
The first time I saw a Jeep Gladiator in the flesh, it was almost surreal, as though I was looking at a cartoon and it suddenly sprang to life. Ever since World War II we’ve had Jeeps, best identified by the go-anywhere Wrangler, and the new Gladiator looked as though some Jeep designer thought he might play a prank by taking the rough, squarish outline of a Wrangler, fit a pickup bed on the rear, and put it out as a “concept car” to attract attention and stir conversation.

It’s possible that nobody at FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) would admit it if that were true, but if so, the resulting acclaim and fanfare from the public might have inspired FCA to order Jeep to make the vehicle.

At a large Midwest Auto Media gathering at Elkhart Lake, Wis., a year and a half ago, there was a prototype Gladiator there for us to drive, briefly, around the area highways. I did that, and was anxious to get my hands on one for a thorough test drive.

That took awhile, as in over a year, during which time demand skyrocketed and manufacturing took more time. By the time one was driven to my driveway up on the hill just north of Duluth, Minnesota, I was more than eager to get into it. Even then, the surreal overtones continued. It caught me off-guard, just by its color — “Gator” clear-coat — a most-unusual flat grey, unlike any gator I’ve ever seen, but certainly unique.

Bold and stylish in its Gator paint job, Gladiator has created its own demand.

The Gladiator is not a scaled-up version of a Wrangler, as I had expected. It has its own chassis, and don’t forget parent FCA also makes the award-winning Ram pickups, which is where a lot of the Gladiator basics come from. A 4-door pickup Jeep, and the name Gladiator fits its aggressive outlook on life.

At that time, I hadn’t seen a Gladiator on area highways or in Duluth. I’m sure there must have been a visitor-driven model somewhere along the line, but we just hadn’t seen one. My first impression was that it lacked the steering tightness of the new Wrangler, and the slight looseness made you feel that you had to pay special attention to avoid wandering. That made it a little unsettling as my wife, Joan, and I took off for a drive up the North Shore of Lake Superior.

Among other bits of lunacy, our family has a tendency to humanize our vehicles, and in my case, it’s a frequent changeover because it’s important to spend my week-long road-tests immersed into whatever car I’m testing, to observe how it fits into our lifestyle. Sort of like a short-term adoption. Sometimes, it seems that the car takes control. I joke about how any car I’m driving prefers to cruise up the North Shore Drive, which takes us through the tiny sailboat haven of Knife River, Minnesota. As we drive through Knife River, whatever vehicle I’m driving takes over and turns immediately into the small parking area out front of the Great! Lakes Candy Company. I’m powerless to prevent it. And why would I?

On that day in the Gladiator, it happened, and it just turned in, and parked, so we could follow the coronavirus protocol to submit our order online, via my iPhone, to get a selection of the absolute best homemade chocolate stuff, in this case, dark chocolate covered almonds with tiny toffee bits imbedded in the chocolate, and some almond bark. Once submitted, you get a response time for when the staff will set out a white paper bag with your name on it on a front porch table.

We were waiting for our proper time to arrive as we sat in the Gator Gladiator, when a white vehicle pulled in and parked alongside us. It was a husband and wife, driving a pure white Gladiator. You want surreal? We hadn’t seen a Gladiator in real-world driving, and here were two of them, identical, next to each other. They wanted to try the candy shop and didn’t understand the online bit, and I was unsuccessful helping them put in an order, even though I stressed that if they tried it, I knew they would be coming back.

We did, however, get the opportunity to compare Gladiators. We had a nice conversation, and I asked the fellow driving how he liked his new vehicle. He loved it. I asked if he had the 3.6-liter V6 engine, and he did. I told him that I had also driven the Wrangler, on which the Gladiator is loosely fashioned, and in it you can get the new 2.0-liter turbocharged 4, which has a lot of power and could easily handle the Gladiator, plus get better fuel economy. He said he would prefer the 3.6 anyway, because he and his wife haul a camping trailer and the extra torque of the V6 is a big benefit for ease of towing. In fact, it has the most towing capability in its segment.

The rare opportunity to interview someone driving the same vehicle I was testing prompted me to obtain a scouting report, about various issues I had heard might discourage some buyers. What about the ride: Is it too harsh?; some thought there might be a lack of refinement; there was some suggestion that the difficulty in building the Gladiator as a compromise between a smooth family vehicle and a rugged off-roader might have missed on one extreme or the other. But my new acquaintance denied any of those things were valid complaints, in his experience. Valuable input.

With that, the fellow and his wife headed back to their North Shore campsite in the White Gladiator, and we took our bag of homemade dark chocolate confections, and headed up the Shore in the Gator-colored Gladiator.

His input backed me off a bit, and as a few days passed, I found the initial looseness less of an issue, probably because I became accustomed to it with a few days’ experience.

Room in the rear seat is decent, although better for the two kids you’re taking camping than for two full-sized adult passengers. But the sophistication of the interior is impressive and converts your ideas of a rugged truck into a decent family pickup.

Jeep’s Wrangler is the best at uncompromising off-roading, but traditionally has been not-so-smooth on the road, although the most recent generation of Wranglers has bridged that gap, and it has become smooth and easy to handle on the highways, with quick, taut steering. That is what unnerved me about my perceived steering-wheel play in the Gladiator.

Gladiator interior is simple but inclusive for controls and features.

So maybe it was training me to become accustomed as much as I was training it. Sort of like the short-term adopted kid being stubborn enough to prove convincing.

The 3.6-liter V6 is a mainstay of all Fiat Chrysler Auto vehicles, from Challengers, Chargers and Chryslers to Durangos and pickup trucks. It is durable, dependable and matches up to the power and efficiency of similar-sized engines from General Motors and Ford. The dual-overhead-camshaft powerplant has 285 horsepower and 260 foot-pounds of torque, with an 8-speed automatic, with Command-Trac part-time 4-wheel drive that you can lock into strict 4-by-4. It has heavy-duty Dana 44 front and rear axles with the 3.73 axle ratio replaced by a steeper 4.10 unit. Skid-plates protect the fuel tank and transfer case from off-road irregularities, and it is also equipped with electronic trailer sway-control, stability control, and roll mitigation.

As with all modern Jeeps, the Gladiator Sport 4X4 I test-drove came loaded with all the contemporary safety features: Back-up camera is standard, and options include power tailgate, automatic headlights, 7-inch reconfigurable color display, heated seats, remote start, park-sense assist, blind-spot detection, adaptive cruise, and front collision warning, plus an Alpine audio upgrade. Base price of the test vehicle was $33,545, and loaded up the sticker is $50,540.

Because of the squarish design, the windshield is a lot closer to vertical than the swept-back windshields of normal cars or most SUVs and trucks. Driving along into the sun, I would occasionally spot flashes of reflections, and I wondered if they might be troublesome to oncoming drivers. When the sun hits the windshield, it reflects a spotlight-like beam of light that can light up reflective road signs. I found it interesting more than problematic, but I could see how it could momentarily flash in the eyes of oncoming drivers.

Hwy. 61, revisited.

Sun’s reflection off Gladiator windshield lights highway sign.

The amazing loyalty that lures Jeep owners to come back for more in future years is at least partly because of Jeep’s cool image. You may work all day in an office, but if you drive home in a Jeep — a Grand Cherokee, a Cherokee, a Compass, Patriot, Renegade, or Wrangler — you are perceived as being a rugged individualist. Even if you never go farther off-road than the gravel road to the cabin Up North or a driveway to the corner store.

For that image, the Gladiator has been met with an intense response and seeking by customers. The ride is good on-road, the back seat is good enough for two or three, the bed in back can haul all sorts of worldly goods — including a vacation-trip supply of homemade candy — and it attracts an amazing amount of attention.

For those who don’t do serious off-roading, it may seem strange that anyone would want a tight, stylish vehicle like the Gladiator, and then expose its neat paint job to the dust and other elements that Jeeps tend to find and conquer in a normal off-roading venture.

The utility of a pickup bed adds to the Gladiator’s versatility.

But if you are familiar with off-roaders, you know that the Gladiator might offer a step up from the Wrangler, and while it may or may not be attractive for all the right reasons, it is incredibly cool.

Mercedes blends sports sedan, SUV in GLC43 Coupe

September 9, 2020 by · Comments Off on Mercedes blends sports sedan, SUV in GLC43 Coupe
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

The GLC43 Coupe scales new heights with AMG performance tricks.

By John Gilbert

Mercedes Benz has maintained a consistent trajectory onward and upward with both its sedans and SUVs, and as a virtual poster-child for the blending of cars and SUVs, the 2020 Mercedes AMG GLC43 Coupe is either a very sporty compact SUV, or a slightly taller high-performance sedan that will go off-road.

GLC is the standard designation for the company’s compact sports-utility vehicle, and it won Motor Trend’s SUV of the year award when it was born for 2019. Ah, but now it fits the appearance of a compact SUV that wants to fill a sedan’s shoes, it gets both the 4-door “Coupe” treatment, and the high-performance makeover by AMG engineers.

That all conspires to make the AMG GLC43 Coupe the ultimate tool of subterfuge to confuse the vehicle-buying public. AMG used to take the sportiest Mercedes sedans and give them a sporty upgrade in power and performance, expanding to include suspension, interior, seats, and even the steering wheel, and then it gained some identifying bits of added-on grooves, contours and special effects. AMG became so prominent that Mercedes took on its affiliate to make it part of the company.

Walking up to the GLC43, I was taken by the brilliant blue metallic paint — identified as “Brilliant Blue Metallic,” in a simple, straightforward description.  It is not as dark as deep navy and not as bright as royal. As a compromise, it is a unique color, even to a blue-freak like me, and I believe I like it better than either navy or royal for a car’s exterior.

Room for four or five, AMG exhaust and suspension.

If you approach from the rear, you’re thinking you suspected it was an SUV, but you must be mistaken, because that sloped rear roofline has a sporty-car flair, and there are those four silver exhaust tips, and the rear decklid spoiler. From the front, the thin grille conveys more sportiness, so by the time you get ready to climb aboard, you’ve forgotten all the SUV-like traits, and once you get a look at the quilted white leather bucket seats and the high-tech, flat-bottomed steering wheel, you’re ready to drive a sporty sedan. Swiftly.

Under the hood there is a 3.0-liter V6 Biturbo engine, which means a pair of turbochargers feeding the two banks of the V6. It develops 385 horsepower and 384 foot-pounds of torque, which is not only a perfectly balanced distribution but is another example of what AMG can do with a perfectly good 3.0 V6.

You start up the engine, and it sounds calm enough, then you engage the gear lever — which I find odd, no matter how well it works. It is a thin little stalk sticking off to the right of the steering column, right about where most other companies would mount a windshield wiper stalk, while putting the shifter on the console, either as a lever or a rotating knob, or whatever. This little stalk can do three things: up for reverse, down for drive, or in the middle for neutral.

My trouble is that when cruising along, if you happen to hit a tiny bit a misty shower, you might flick the lever up or down, to get just one swipe of the wipers. Except in the Mercedes scheme, you have just shifted the gear selector as if trying to engage reverse — a no-no, for sure — or reinforced your desire to be in drive. My point is that when you intuitively go for the wipers, you are moving the gear shifter.

Control center steering wheel, with paddles, quilted white leather seats.

Menacing nose of GLC43 AMG says sports sedan more than SUV.

The transmission, incidentally, is a 9-speed, and when left alone it shifts with smooth precision. If you really want to get involved in the shifting, there are shift paddles comfortably behind the steering wheel, left for downshifting and right for upshifting.

In case all those features haven’t made you completely forget the GLC’s SUV-roots, there is another little button on the console that, when activated, opens up the exhaust system for a wonderfully exhilarating sound of every one of those 385 horsepower screaming for attention. Engaging a performance mode does the same thing, but the switch means you don’t have to be in track mode to get the impressive sound.

The AMC tuned suspension with air-shock support that is instantaneously activated and quick steering that is a trademark completes the performance enhancements that AMG has implemented. If you settle for not overdoing it on the gas pedal, you could reach the EPA estimate of 24 miles per gallon in highway driving, with 18 city, but you need restraint. Maybe you only lapse briefly,  opening up the exhaust for short bursts of performance satisfaction.

The reminder that this quick, swift, great-handling vehicle can do still more than portray a hot sedan, isthe 4Matic designation, which is Mercedes for all-wheel-drive, another AMG masterpiece, of stability and traction,  working to keep the vehicle stable and stability firm in all conditions, even with low-profile high-performance tires mounted on those stylish 21-inch alloy wheels.

Oh yeah — this is an SUV, after all. Just a swift, comfortable, potent accelerating, high-performance AMG-enhanced SUV.

Just-right deep blue color sets off AMG’s 385 horsepower/384 foot-pounds of torque prize.

Actually, it is the best of both, rather than a compromise that fulfills neither ideal. Does that make it worth its $63,000 sticker price? Well, that’s the standard price for an AMG GLC43 Coupe. Once you add on some captivating options, such as active steering, active distance assist, brake assist, blind-spot assist, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot and cross-traffic assist, parking assist, multimedia addition, LED lighting all around, and the Burmeister surround sound system. you have increased the sticker price to $75,955.

That’s a lot, and you could probably buy a small SUV and a small sporty sedan for that money. But you would not get both of them in one package. Besides, you can get it in Brilliant Blue Metallic.

‘Hot’ CT5-V gets sibling rival in CT5 Luxury

September 6, 2020 by · Comments Off on ‘Hot’ CT5-V gets sibling rival in CT5 Luxury
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

 

The only green prettier than Duluth foliage might be the Evergreen Metallic of the 2020 Cadillac CT5-V Series.

By John Gilbert

Another quiz on new car identification?  Park a 2020 Cadillac CT5 sedan between a CT4 and  a CT6, with all of them pointing right toward you. Try to tell them apart, from the vertical rows of running lights on both front fenders to outline their “signature” grilles.

If the CT5 was  the V-Series, painted Evergreen Metallic, as was my test car, that would be my pick, because I think it’s the most beautiful green I’ve ever seen on a car.

The near-identical looks are even more similar within the CT5 line itself, with the V-Series aimed at high-performance, and the regular CT5 targeting luxury. It all makes me wonder what I’d have done as a little kid, when my passion for cars far outstripped their aesthetic appeal and technical capabilities. In the 1950s, I would walk out to the top of the big hill we lived on, and watch for any approaching cars on our then-gravel road, and fix my gaze down a couple miles toward Lake Superior’s North Shore Drive. My plan was to see how close an approaching car would have to get before I could identify it. I could discern a 1952 Ford from a 1951 DeSoto, or a 1953 Chevrolet, from a 1950 Cadillac. There weren’t many different models back then, and the proliferation of models would make that a lot more challenging in later years.

The Plymouths and DeSotos of my childhood, as well as Oldsmobile, Pontiac, and American Motors, have all disappeared, among others, and now we’re evolving to fewer and fewer sedans and more and more trucks. But back then, I could discern a 1952 Ford as opposed to a 1951 DeSoto, or a 1953 Chevrolet, or a 1950 Cadillac. There weren’t many different models back in the 1950s, and the proliferation of models would make that a lot more challenging in later years.

Loaded interior of CTS5 Luxury features soft leather seats, high-end trim.

Cadillac, however, is still the pinnacle of General Motors, although its models have been reduced to those three remaining sedans. Forget Fleetwood, or de Ville — we’re into CT4, CT5, and CT6. Before they are further reduced, let’s check out the CT5.

I had occasion to get a pair of CT5 sedans back-to-back recently, with the first being a CT5 V-Series. Under the heading of “you can’t tell the players without a program,” my biggest question is why, with only three sedans left, would Cadillac want to make all three look practically identical? Furthermore, it’s interesting that there also is a distinction between the luxury CT5 and the high-performance CT5 V-Series high performer.

That V-Series designation means it was the hot-rod version of the CT5, with a 3.0-liter V6, twin turbocharged to deliver 360 horsepower and 405 foot-pounds of torque, through all-wheel drive. The horsepower peak is at 5,400 RPMs and the torque peaks at 2,350.

The CT5 V-Series was a treat to drive, with dark grey leather bucket seats, and refined comfort throughout. The most pleasant surprise is the V-Series suspension, which is listed as a “luxury compact” in size. It is plenty roomy, which no makes me wonder whether Cadillac is going to stretch the CT5 into the full-size region, or if the compact segment has grown to such dimensions.

The CT5 V-Series accelerates well, with a proper sporty car sound, and you can shift the  10-speed automatic with steering wheel paddles if you want to exploit its sportiest tendencies. The look, with quad tailpipes, and low-profile “summer only” run-flat tires on 19-inch ‘premium painted alloy wheels with pearl nickel finish,” if you’re interested in wheels to that extent. Run-flats work well if you suffer a blowout from a road irregularity and would rather drive on home than have to change a tire. But they are enormously expensive to replace, and they don’t just keep running indefinitely.

Optional red offers a classy glow to the CT5 Luxury model.

Rear seat room is good, even if you have to duck your head a bit to avoid the sloping roof, and the trunk is spacious. Overall, the CT5 V-Series lives up to its billing and is a very satisfying drive. Fuel economy is estimated at 17 city and 25 highway, with a 20 miles per gallon combined figure by the EPA, and if you switch it away from sport you still may have trouble getting more than 20 with all that tempting power.

With magnetic shocks that GM has tried on various Corvettes in the last decade, the V-Series handles very well, and with the blacked-out trim all around, it sets itself apart as a high-performer. Never mind all the creature comforts, with the rear camera, park assist, cross-traffic alert, forward collision alert, lane change alert with blind-spot, nd front pedestrian braking, and the driver awareness package that includes one keep assist with departure warning, head-up display, and “intellibeam” headlights.

Then we get back to the appeal of such a stunning dark green. My wife, Joan, thought it was black for the first night and day she observed me zipping in and out of the driveway. Then she, too, admired the green. We never had occasion to tax the all-wheel-drive system, but it added to the feeling of stability wherever we drove. Base price of the CT5 V-Series is $47,695, and the various upgrades lift it to $58,305.

The Cadillac CT5, left, lacks the flair of the CT5 V-Series, right, but both have the same power.

It was with some disappointment that I awaited the press-fleet guys to arrive from Chicago a week later to pick up the CT5 V-Series, even though they were swapping me into a “Premium Luxury” version of the CT5. But as they rolled into my driveway, I was impressed by the “Garnet Metallic” paint — a dark, deep red that may not have approached the appeal of the unique green, but it was close.

They looked good side by side, and you’d have to look very closely to realize the V-Series had an inch larger wheel diameter and lower-profile tires, Technically, the 18-inch wheels on the Premium Luxury model were “Premium painted alloy with Manoogian Silver finish,” mounted with all-season self-sealing tires. The inch-thicker tires helped give the Premium Luxury CT5 a slightly softer and less performance-oriented ride, and as if to give me a test of perceptions in my driving, it didn’t feel anywhere near as racy as the V-Series.’

It was, however, an eye-opener to examine the differences in powertrains between the two cars. Cadillac fits a base 2.0-liter turbocharged 4 into the base CT5, but the Premium Luxury had, of all things, a “3.0-liter turbocharged V6, with 360 horsepower and 405 foot-pounds of torque” — exactly the same as the V-Series! It also had the same 10-speed automatic transmission, and the same paddle shifters, although lacking the magnesium paddles of the V-Series. It also lacked the quad exhaust tips, the rear spoiler, and the throaty sound of its racier sibling.

But my perception had to be upgraded after learning that it had the same drivetrain, and we started driving it a little more forcefully. As anticipated, the V-Series was plenty luxurious, and the Premium Luxury model was plenty sporty, after we drove it a few days.

The interior of the Premium Luxury Caddy also was leather, in a soft beige, and the Bose audio system was declared a premium unit, with 15 speakers. Otherwise, the equipment was remarkably the same, including the all-wheel-drive system, with EPA fuel-economy estimates of 18 city, 25 highway and 21 combined — one mpg higher in the city than the V-Series.

The sticker on the luxury-loaded Premium Luxury model showed $40,695, with added options lifting it to $52,155.

Stunning green of the V-Series CT5 is tipped by four exhaust tubes.

What price performance? In the case of the Cadillac CT5, it’s about $5,000 more for the V-Series. Worth it, if you like the sound and the style of magnesium paddles, the blacked-out grille and trim features of the V-Series. The Evergreen Metallic that cost an extra $625 on the V-Series, is offset by the Garnet Metallic’s $625. Both paint schemes are probably available on both cars. Take your pick.

I’m going green.

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