Mercedes GLC 300 conquers new world

March 18, 2020 by · Comments Off on Mercedes GLC 300 conquers new world
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

Compact but still big enough, the GLC 300 fits the Mercedes image.

By John Gilbert
The stereotypical image conjured up is of big, regal sedans or low, sleek sports sedans or roadsters, whenever the name Mercedes-Benz is mentioned. But it’s a new era, and while the Mercedes sedans and sports cars are sleeker and higher-tech than ever, the ideal vehicle for a changing world might be the GLC 300.

A year ago, Motor Trend named the GLC its SUV of the year, because the new vehicle was built up for a bit more interior room as a utility vehicle worth the name, combined with the sportiness demanded by contemporary drivers who want the extra panache of the Mercedes aura.

I got a chance to live with a 2020 Mercedes GLC 300 4Matic SUV for a week a while ago, and suddenly my memory came alive about why I decided I liked the small Mercedes SUV better than any of the fabulous cars from the Stuttgart specialists.

Multi-adjustable bucket seats put the driver in full command of the GLC 300.

And that takes nothing away from the Mercedes cars, because how can anyone fault any of them? But as U.S. drivers prove their changing preferences with their checkbooks, Mercedes has a full batch of large and midsize SUVs for selection, and nestled in there, the company has placed the GLC.

The formula only makes sense. If buyers want the assets of front-wheel drive for maneuvering and handling in all weather, then why not trim the midsize model down to compact size, making sure there is adequate front and rear head and legroom, and storage space, then lighten it wherever possible and give it snappy, sporty handling and steering. Arm it with a high-performing but small engine, with a transmission that can make it sing, and maybe paddle shifters to allow sporty control of those shifts.

With that, here is the GLC 300, where the number doesn’t relate to the engine displacement the way it used to with Mercedes. In this case, the GLC has a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder with a turbocharger. The turbo is tuned to reach 255 peak horsepower and torque peaking at 271 foot-pounds. That may not sound like much if it were a big, bulky vehicle, but in the lean and mean GLC it’s plenty.

Bridging the gap between sporty and luxury is a trick the GLC 300 achieves.

The 9-speed automatic can shift every well by itself, but also has those paddles to allow you to put it in the ratio you want for the situation. And with nine gears, it often might have shifted up too far too soon to give you toe-tapping torque when you need it. Paddle your left fingertip down a couple and you’ve downshifted from ninth to seventh for cruising down an exit ramp, and you can hold it in the lower gear with another couple flicks.

Up in the North Country, on the North Shore of Lake Superior, such controllable shifts are ideal for the packed snow ind slick ice that can cover the highways and hills. But I want to stress another feature of the GLC 300 that surprised me at first, then impressed me — a lot.

We were driving to the Chicago Auto Show, cruising in on Interstates through Milwaukee and then south to Chicago. I had set the destination for the hotel we had registered for, a Suite2 by Hilton, that was brand new and only a couple blocks by skyway from McCormick Place, where the show was. I wanted to skip the tollways that help Illinois folks pay for their highway repairs, even though I appreciate how smooth they are, compared to Minnesota’s frost-heaved pavement.

As we got right to the Chicago area, we had to swing in on the freeway to get to our destination, but ahead, we saw a fog-like greyness that was puzzling. As we got closer, we also saw all kinds of taillights and brake lights. It was snowing, causing the dusky grey, I got over into the right lane of the five lanes we were on, and we were amused that so many people seemed terrified of what we considered a light dusting of snow. And we kept our eye on the nav screen, where a neat diagram of all five lanes showed us exactly where we were and where we should be. I was right there, second lane from the right.

But traffic was thickening and stopping in some lanes as we approached an exit still 5 miles from our destination. Suddenly, my son Jack, my assistant, photographer, and co-pilot, said, “It’s telling us to exit here!”

A snowstorm in Chicago seems much milder, but it snarls traffic far worse.

At a glance, I saw he was right, with the solid blue line that was us, veering up that exit ramp. At a glance in the right side mirror, I realized we had a clear lane to our right, so I promptly swerved, and then swerved again to make it onto the exit ramp, smooth as if it had been planned. I was sure it was in error, but when we got up to the cross-street, we were greeted with flashing lights. A small accident had clogged the intersection a bit, but we were clear. I glanced one more time, and the nav screen did NOT say we should turn left, so having to decide in a millisecond, I continued straight across the street and back down the on-ramp.

As we entered back onto the congested freeway, I felt a little guilty that we had passed about 500 cars and easily merged back into the right traffic lane and continued smoothly to our destination.

Now, I would never suggest that anyone should drive that way, exiting and re-entering just to beat the system, but, hey! The nav lady told us to do it! After we got to our hotel, I started to wonder, and while I have no way to prove it, I believe the guidance system actually sized up the congestion and found a logical way to get around it.

Is that possible?

Well, whether intentional or not, we suddenly felt as though the feature-packed Mercedes GLC 300 had adopted us as its own.

Another surprise is that the sticker price shows $44,500 for the basic GLC 300, and adding virtually every available optional and safety package ran the price up to $60,575, it was still a bargain. The surprise to me was not that the vehicle cost $60-thou, but that you could get it for less than that if you took away some of the items, such as driver assistance, parking assistance, exterior lighting, or multimedia packages, and lower the price to nearly bargain proportions.

Included in those packages are a lot of impressive things, such as high-performance all-season tires, panoramic sunroof, active steering and distance control. active lane change, evasive steering assist, back-up camera with cross-traffic alert and warning.

While controls make it easy to drive, the GLC 300’s nav system might have a better idea.

In short, you can pretty much drive at ease, because your Mercedes is watching out for you. No, you can’t relax, and it doesn’t drive for you, but it allows you to focus on what’s really important on the road ahead, confident that the GLC 300 will alert your, guide you and maybe prevent you from any mistakes that might cause a problem.

And if it suggest you are convinced to exit ahead of plans, and find you’ve cut off about 20 minutes of congested driving, well, you can live with that.

Minnesota’s big show promotes Truck Summit

March 12, 2020 by · Comments Off on Minnesota’s big show promotes Truck Summit
Filed under: Features, Autos 

Ford Super Duty.

By John Gilbert
Trucks, trucks and more trucks. The Minneapolis-St. Paul Auto Show has trucks of all shapes and sizes, from monster diesels to compact crossovers, and since the definition of a truck has been shattered by the new and expanded definition, we’re going to have to concede that the show promoters were correct in claiming it deserved to hold its “Truck Summit” because 82 percent of all vehicles sold in Minnesota are trucks.

GMC 2500 Diesel.

That can include the boatload of compact crossovers, which actually make the most sense as we transition fully from sedans to trucks, but the full array of trucks are pickups, SUVs, crossovers on down to tiny vehicles with all-wheel drive. But to many Minnesota buyers, trucks mean boat-hauling pickups.

They called it a Truck Summit, as if show promoters, who are operate the big Convention Center extravaganza through this weekend, March 14-15, have an exclusive here, with trucks taking over for cars in daily lives of normal consumers. Of course, trucks are taking over everywhere in the U.S., although that 82-percent figure is pretty compelling.

The fascinating part of our fascination with all things truck is that every manufacturer claims superiority, sometimes of the same statistic in the same critical area of comparison. You will hear Ford proclaim the F-150 the leading seller in the country, and you will hear Chevrolet claim the Silverado is the top seller in Minnesota, while the folks at Ram just sit back and smile about their own success in the marketplace and their new designation — by no less than the cars.com website, which declared the Ram 1500 pickup its “Luxury vehicle of the year” for 2020.

Ram Heavy Duty 2500.

Ram interior.

But the truck folks also all claim the unregulated advantage as having the most towing capacity, the largest hauling tally, and the most power of all. Now, they all can’t be right of course, but we’ll leave the hotly contested place up to the consumers who can come to the auto show, at the Minneapolis Convention Center, and kick the tires of every car and truck sold in the area, and make their own decisions.

We at NewCarPicks.com will just try to offer the guidance of having driven most, if not all, of the new trucks, and cars as well.

The National Truck Summit kicked off the auto show by putting on over three hours of discussions with industry executives. Jay Sacket talked first; he’s the executive program manager of Toyota. A panel discussion followed with Sacket joining JATO Dynamics president Matt Weiss, and Erin Klepaski, senior vice president of Auto Sales Alliance. Next up was Tim Stoehr, regional product line manager of Ford, then Marjk Boyadjis, from Global Technology. And finally, interiuor designer Ryan Nagode from Ram.

The fact that trucks are taking over our hearts, as well as our bank accounts, is not news. It was news 10 years ago, and 5 years ago, when it was first challenging sedans in sales, and long before we see the figures that show the RAV4 now beats out the Camry and Corolla as Toyota’s top seller, or that the CR-V tops the Accord and Civic as Honda’s leader.

The news now is that while trucks — and SUVs — hold a clear majority over cars in total sales, the figure of 82 percent in Minnesota is shocking enough to surprise even my good friend David Boldt, from Texas, who is from a state where there are dealerships that sell only trucks, with no cars. Boldt wrote that no other state comes close to Texas in the purchase of trucks, with the Lone Star State selling over 100,000 Ford F-150s, in fact.

Chevy Silverado big in Minnesota, slips to third nationally.

I’ve always maintained that our pickup culture is traditional. Chevy guys don’t buy Fords, Ford guys wouldn’t consider a Chevy, and while they’ve been arm wrestling, Dodge’s Ram brand has made the biggest impact on the truck market in the past year.

The latest redesigned Ram 1500 stormed past the Silverado for the first time ever to stand a solid second only to the F-150 in pickup sales and stature, and since all of the Big Three’s big trucks are similar enough in towing and hauling to all claim superiority, there must be something special about the Ram. And there is. It’s the interior.

When Fiat took over Chrysler to form FCA, for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, the Italian company pushed a stylish flair through the entire corporation, and while Jeep has benefitted greatly, Ram trucks have soared with interiors that rival luxury cars in their attention to detail and the refinement of fabrics and trim features.

There is still time to take a drive down Interstate 35 and take in the auto show, and to whet your appetite, we’re supplying an array of photos of what you might want to check out.

First off, the Ford pickup remains the king, and we’re showing the Super Duty, bigger than full size, as the king of the kingdom. The GMC 2500 DuraMax diesel — the one with the trick tailgate that features a drop-down step for easy access, the center-piece for folks in the TV commercials to have their jaws drop in amazement — meaning they haven’t seen a Ford in the past decade, which has had that same tailgate feature and includes a locking upright post as a grip handle. Next up is the Ram, and we’re showing the monster Ram with dallies and all and a 6.4-liter Hemi. With it, you’ll see the rich leather interior of the Longhorn trim package, flanking the foot-tall navigation screen that is the size of a full iPad and just as useful.

The Chevy Silverado prances into view in bright red, looking good even if it has slipped to third place among the Big Three.

Midsize Tacoma TRD Pro has snorkel for beating desert sand.

Midsize trucks have made a big comeback, too, and the reliable Toyota Tacoma remains a favorite for fitting just about anything you might need a truck for. This one is the TRD-Pro, which is a cut above the excellent TRD, and you can tell it by the huge snorkel that rises up along the right front pillar to remind you that when you thrash through desert sane, you needn’t worry about sand

…Can your snorkel handle a bit of snow?

getting into the air intake. Of course, it also might work in snow, and whether it does or doesn’t, I thought the picture after a snowstorm was worth it.But don’t overlook the very competitive Honda Ridgeline, as well.

Where, in your truckscape, does the Jeep Wrangler fit? Is it a car, a truck, an SUV, or a unique vehicle capable of off-roading to places no sane driver would take another vehicle?

Cadillac brings out the XT6, a stylish SUV-like wagon with V6 power. For power, the Dodge Durango is a large SUV with SRT Hemi treatment for high power in a versatile vehicle. And Ford’s newest versions of the Explorer SUV and the compact Escape SUV also make the show.

Range Rover Evoque.

Range Rover Velar.

And just so you see we haven’t forgotten traditional excellence, here are a pair of newly redesigned Range Rovers — the sleek-roofed Evoque, and the smooth Velar, both expensive, but loaded with interior features that prove, conclusively, that trucks have become the new luxury sedans.

Aviator flies high as top U.S. luxury SUV

March 10, 2020 by · Comments Off on Aviator flies high as top U.S. luxury SUV
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

Old name — Aviator — on an all-new SUV shows Lincoln standard for U.S. luxury.

By John Gilbert
A good friend of mine, let’s call him Charley, had climbed the plateaus of journalism a few decades ago, and could afford the upscale family vehicle he had long craved. He wanted a midsize, luxury SUV, and he discussed his choices with me. After trying out several I recommended, he decided to buy a Lincoln Aviator.

Interesting choice, and not necessarily mine, but it checked all his boxes for being a cut above the more modest Ford Explorer, with some added features and classy appointments. Whenever I’d see him, he’d ask me about new vehicles I’d been test-driving, and then he’d tell me he still had his Aviator and loved it. I alerted him when the Aviator was discontinued, and when Lincoln itself seemed in jeopardy. Another decade has slipped past, and I’m not sure what Charley’s driving these days.

But when I see him next, I’m going to recommend the 2020 Lincoln Aviator in the strongest possible terms. The recalling of the old name on an all-new vehicle, on an all-new platform, stands for a lot more than just nostalgia, and if Charley liked the old one, he will love the new one.

Far from a stereotypical pickup truck, the new Aviator radiates class even while confronting Minnesota snowpiles.

The Minneapolis-Saint Paul auto show runs through March 15 at the Minneapolis Convention Center. It’s an interesting year for the show, because it comes immediately after the huge Geneva Auto Show has been cancelled because of the worldwide threat of the Coronavirus and its warnings about avoiding major gatherings of people. We aren’t anticipating that major a threat in the U.S., but who knows? The upcoming New York Auto Show abruptly decided on March 10 to move its annual classic show to August 28-September 6, with media days August 26 and 27.  Major pro sports teams are planning to eliminate crowds for the time being as well, but the Minneapolsi show goes on..

The Twin Cities show is attempting a made-for-U.S. specialty niche this year by putting on a “Truck Summit,” to explain and promote the nationwide swing to trucks over cars, which has reached amazing proportions in Minnesota, where reportedly 82 percent of sales are trucks or SUVs. The show will run through the first two weekends of March, and if you go, make it a point to check out the preponderance of trucks. In the process, you’ll notice the high level of sophistication in the interiors on virtually all manner of trucks.

Naturally, the array of Range Rovers sets a high standard for luxury appointments, and if you look closely at the SUVs in the Jaguar, Volvo, Mercedes, BMW, Audi, and Lexus — and even the new pickup trucks, particularly the Ram — it will not seem surprising anymore how much the price of those vehicles has increased.

Difficult to say which is more impressive, the plush leather or the encapsulating comfort of the seat design.

But when you get to the Lincoln display, climb inside an Aviator. The first thing you notice is the rich leather bucket seat and how it encapsulates your body from head to knee. I’ve always praised Volvo for having the best seats in the industry, and maybe there’s a connection because Ford used to own Volvo, too. But the new Aviator bucket seats must now be ranked at the absolute top rung of any seat ratings.

There are something like 30 settings you can summon by switchgear to adjust your seat for optimum driving position. You can be excused, though, if you are tempted to stay in your parking space and take a short nap to fully take advantage of the comfort. Once you get the support right where you want it in the cushion, the lower back and the upper back, you can locate the switch that starts a massage process. It is a gently undulating thing, not the sort of massage to put you to sleep, but rather an invigorating stimulator that can enhance your awareness.

Stylish rear design encases third-row seat and cargo area.

Fold down the third seat and the cargo space increases considerably.

Base price of the Aviator Reserve with all-wheel drive is $58,700, but it’s difficult to resist some of the excellent options. The test vehicle had the luxury package, and options such as trailer towing, the sunroof, 22-inch machined alloy wheels, to augment blind-spot detection, evasive steering assist, auto high beams, active park assist, adaptive cruise, adaptive suspension, lane-keeping, drive mode selector, a 28-speaker Revel Ultima 3D audio, and readouts of posted speed limits on the dash or head-up display.

On top of all that, and the obligatory Sync3 navigation and connectivity items, a dynamic handling package aids stability and such features as a full rear console is handy between the rear buckets. All of that boosts the sticker price on the test Aviator to $76,310. That may seem outrageously high, but if you examine all that is included, and compare it to other top-shelf luxury SUVs and trucks, the Aviator appears to be worth the tariff.

The Aviator’s luxury starts long before you climb aboard, because the crisp contours of the accent sculpturing on both sides and the rear attract your attention and offer a pleasant aerodynamic appeal. From the front, the LED headlights, parking lights and foglights are all positioned in streamlined housings and surround the contemporary grille, which, thankfully, is understated in style and elegance. There are ingenious ways to turn the “puddle lights” and logo trim to make sure you remember what it is that you bought for a vehicle.

Clean and simple luxury of the grille and front end are remindful of Jaguar.

Opening the door on the test Aviator Reserve model, which was “silver radiance metallic” in color, avails you of the medium slate leather seats, which look much more than just inviting with their carefully crafted design. All the switches are within easy reach and have the anticipated redundant controls on the steering wheel. The console has room with the push-button shifter easy to get comfortable with. The sunroof is huge, and can let in a lot of sunshine even when closed for a winter day.

The large screen at the top of the center stack can carry several things at once. When you back up, you can summon the 360-degree surround view from up above to make sure there are no obstacles in the way of your movement. On top of the comfort and luxury, the Aviator drives easily, with stable cornering attitude and large doses of power for acceleration.

A 3.0-liter V6 is Eco-boosted to 400 horsepower and 415 foot-pounds of torque, programmed through a smooth-shifting 10-speed automatic transmission. The all-wheel-drive system is adjustable by modes for any type of driving, from blizzards to freeway cruising. It responds instantly to your throttle-foot input, although responding too eagerly can keep the fuel economy down around 17 or 17.5. The Aviator is heavy enough, so you can learn to appreciate the solidity more than the fuel efficiency.

The Aviator has larger siblings, such as the Navigator, but I find the Aviator to be the ideal size even for somebody who wants a large SUV. Open the rear seat and you see a couple more comfortable looking buckets, with a good amount of knee room. At a touch, the seat slides fore and aft to add more room, if you need it. Another touch and the backrest flops down, and the seat will tumble out of the way to allow easy access to the way-back, which is a third row seat. Room is less generous back there, but you’d want it mainly for young kids or agile teenagers.

Twin-turbo power and all-wheel drive work together well to conquer slippery driving.

There is also ample storage room, and you can greatly expand it by another switch, to fold the third-row backrests out of the way.

The Aviator weighs almost 6,000 pounds, but it drives smaller than that, with an agility and light-feeling demeanor that can make you forget you’re driving a hefty vehicle and drive it as though it’s a sporty machine. Maybe it’s time to reconnect with Charley, just to see what he and his wife are driving these days, and suggest making an auto show stop. Because if you want to take a flyer on a new luxury SUV, my pick is the Aviator.

QX50, QX60, carry Nissan from here to Infiniti

March 3, 2020 by · Comments Off on QX50, QX60, carry Nissan from here to Infiniti
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

Like waves of Lake Superior, Infiniti QX50 is wave of SUV future.

By John Gilbert

If Nissan decided to produce a book on its engineering, it might call it “From Here to Infiniti.” That would put Infiniti, Nissan’s upscale brand, front and center, which would be appropriate, because Infiniti seems to get first crack at all of Nissan’s considerable engine-building ventures.

For example, Infiniti has a whole posse of SUVs, identified by the letters “QX,” as opposed to its stable of cars, which are all designated by “G” and then a number. The SUVs range from the compact QX30, to the QX50, QX60 and QX80 at the excessively large end.

I recently had the chance to spend a week with the excessively sleek QX50, which might have lifted itself to my favorite status among all the Nissan/Infiniti SUVs. I’m not overlooking the smaller — some might say cramped — QX30, but the QX50 is roomier and armed with a couple of special assets I like a lot.

Striking design of QX50 adds to its sporty flair.

A month or so before my winter test week with the QX50, I also drove the QX60, which is larger and an excellent choice if you want or need a third row of seating for stowing kids or relatives or neighbors. At $48,150, the QX60 is only a couple thousand more expensive than the $46,100 QX50, until you load up with options. The sticker on the QX60 zoomed up to $61,930, although those options turned the interior from efficient to opulent in short order.

Comparatively, the QX50 topped out at $49,630 and wasn’t nearly as feature-filled as the QX60, but I wouldn’t need the third-row seat and I could think of a few options for the $1,200 difference. Both vehicles have LED lights and all the connectivity functions.

Both the QX50 and QX60 are sleekly styled and sporty, with the Infiniti corporate grille adorning both. The QX50 is lower, making it appear sleeker, and more sporty because of that stance. Read more

Ford ‘Escapes’ from mundane SUV compacts

February 28, 2020 by · Comments Off on Ford ‘Escapes’ from mundane SUV compacts
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

Snow, cold, and the climate of Lake Superior’s North Shore can make you want to escape, and the new Escape is the right vehicle.

By John Gilbert

Sly move, Ford. I capitulate in my questioning of the logic of Ford to not only quit building almost all of its sedans, but to announce it, alerting consumers that maybe they don’t want to risk buying a car that’s going out of existence.

The main reason for my yielding is the 2020 Ford Escape, which is the latest version of the compact SUV that helped trigger our country’s sweeping upsurge to the preference of trucks and SUVs over sedans. While granting that most buyers of SUVs and compact SUVs will stress that they want to be seated a little higher to aid in traffic visibility — and clucking at the certainty that the sightline advantage is pretty well eliminated when you stop at a crowded intersection and notice that 29 out of 30 cars in your field of vision are also SUVs — the new Escape comes very close to merging the best assets of a car and SUV.

Slick redesign, decent interior space for legs and cargo, highlight Escape.

We’re all pretty accustomed to the slightly boxy Escape during its formative years and later development, but the new model is much sleeker, much more stylish, and nobody can utter the criticism of it being boxy. There is a definite movement toward sportier and more stylish compact SUVs, with Mercedes, Infiniti, Lexus, and BMW leading the way with lofty standards of styling and technology. The two standards of the segment are the Honda CR-V and the Toyota RAV4, and even they have grown more rounded and stylish, although nowhere near the new Escape’s bold venture.

Comfortable seats of indestructible fabric, new instruments are highlights.

Ford also has taken an adventurous step in powertrains, leaving its U.S. competitors behind by being first to downsize its engines for fuel economy, and turbocharging them under the heading “EcoBoost” to jack up their power and performance. Others are following now, but Ford put the standard out there and keeps adding refinement.

The test vehicle was the Escape SE Sport AWD Hybrid, which encompasses a lot of technology under those rakish lines. The base Escape now is available with a 1.5-liter 3-cylinder turbo, an engine that is surprisingly capable with its 181 horsepower and 190 foot-pounds of torque, especially in the front-wheel-drive model. Next up, there is a 2.0-liter turbo that has 250 horsepower and 280 foot-pounds of torque that powers the Titanium all-wheel drive model from 0-60 in less than 7 seconds — nearly two seconds quicker than the others. Read more

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