2020 XC60 Inscription does everything you want from a Volvo SUV—if you can find the right menu

While tooling around town, the steering is light and communicative, the ride quiet and mostly smooth. If I push the car a bit, though, the ride gets a little choppy and the 20-inch alloy wheels (an $800 option) transmit rougher pavement to the cabin. It’s not too bad, but it is noticeable. (And to give Volvo the benefit of the doubt, I’m driving this in Detroit’s nasty potholes …) The adjustable suspension, an $1,800 option, does a nice job keeping body motions in check and the XC60 is good at gobbling the highway miles. 
Long distances are helped by Volvo’s typical excellent front buckets, among the best in the business I’d argue. In fact, the XC60’s cabin is a real strong point, well-built and sturdy, and the materials are as good as other like-priced cars, if not better.

The 2020 Mazda CX-30 fixes what’s wrong with the CX-3—without screwing up what’s right

At the same time, Mazda has made a genuine effort to make the CX-30 not only comfortable to drive, but even a little fun, at least by the standards of crossover utility vehicles. One doesn’t shop for CUVs with sportyish handling in mind. But you can at least have a little more fun driving one of these than driving almost anything else in the class.
The heart of the CX-30 is the tried-and-true four-cylinder normally aspirated 2.5-liter Skyactiv-G gasoline engine. Mazda says the engine’s 186 hp and 186 lb-ft of torque lead the class, as Mazda defines the class, anyway. It’s the same engine found in the Mazda3, CX-5, and Mazda6, among others. So you can assume they’ve gotten any bugs out of it. The engine comes mated to Mazda’s Skyactiv-Drive six-speed automatic.
You can get your CX-30 in front- or all-wheel drive. The AWD option gets Mazda’s new “Off-Road Traction Assist” feature, which helps in those awkward situations where diagonally opposed wheels are off the ground by applying the brakes to the wheels in the air so the wheels on the ground get torque, and off you go. “Off-Road Traction Assist” also changes the AWD torque split so it runs much higher rear torque below 15 mph.
“Our traction-control strategy is different than most,” said Mazda’s minister of fun-driving engineering Dave Coleman. “Most systems aim to simply stop the spinning tires. Our goal is different. We assume if the wheels are spinning, drivers want to accelerate. So we maximize acceleration. We change our traction control strategy to put the torque where it needs to go side-to-side.”
G-Vectoring Control Plus helps out around paved corners when all four wheels are on the ground. It helps turn-in by shifting weight to the front tires (through minute reduction of engine torque as you turn the wheel) and helps the car straighten out at higher g as you return to center by applying a touch of brake torque to the outside front tire only.

In the age of the Taycan, the Porsche 918 Spyder is aging gracefully

But let’s go back to the end of 2013. The Porsche 918 Spyder has just launched, and the specs are incredible. The engine, a 4.6-liter naturally aspirated V8, sits between the axles and produces a peak 600 hp at 8,700 rpm. That’s before getting help from a parallel electric motor system, which elevates peak output to 875 hp. Both axles receive power, but without a driveshaft sending it forward: At the front is another electric motor.
Porsche built the structure of the 918 with carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic. Despite carrying a 6.8-kWh battery pack, the car weighs less than 3,700 pounds. And, yes, you can putz around on electricity alone for about 15 miles. With the V8 screaming alongside, the 918 will reach 60 mph from rest in 2.5 seconds, pulling is about 1.1 gs of acceleration, which is faster than falling. 
These specs, while impressive, are also old. And even the impressive performance would be pointless if driving the car felt like you’re playing a computer game. What I always wondered about the 918 was, does the car have soul? In a word, yes! Oh my, yes it does.
While the 918 entered the market as one of three mega-hypercars in existence (alongside the McLaren P1 and Ferrari LaFerrari) with a nearly $1 million price tag, it sat alone as the approachable one. The 918 Spyder feels much like any other Porsche, only sharper, and quicker and faster. The experience is akin to a dream in that the sensations and emotions you feel while driving are familiar, but heightened to a level you’ve only ever imagined. 
And I’m quite happy to report, this is definitely not one of those occasions where reality is a letdown compared to the fantasy.

Thanks to the Porsche Taycan 4S, we can no longer call it the gas pedal or throttle

Despite using the same motors, the two battery packs provide different power outputs. Peak output is 429 hp with the 79.2-kWh battery and 483 hp with the 93.2-kWh one. In short bursts, however, the Taycan has an overboost feature that delivers 523 hp for the smaller battery and 563 hp for the larger one.   
The difference in output cancels out that in weight at lower speeds, as either battery pack will accelerate the Taycan 4S from 0-62 mph in four seconds. Horsepower does eventually win out, however, as 0-124 mph does show a small difference. A Performance Battery Plus 4S needs 12.9 seconds, while a non-Plus 4S needs 13.3. Both will eventually reach 155 mph. 
To hold it all in place, Porsche designed a platform specifically for an electric powertrain and named it J1. The integrated body and frame are made from steel and aluminum. Porsche uses steel of various grades and qualities for most of the structure. Aluminum is used for much of the front clip, including the main structure and front-strut axle mounts. Small parts in the rear are also aluminum, including the rear shock towers and side skirts. Finally, most of the Taycan’s outer skin is aluminum.
And it’s a nice skin. Sleek and futuristic without being unfamiliar as a car—or a Porsche. With lean proportions and wheels pushed way out to the corners, the Taycan looks the business. And the sloping roofline, which Porsche calls the flyline, adds a touch of flair. Optionally available on the Taycan is a fixed glass roof. Standard are LED headlights and a horizontal light bar with three-dimensional letters spelling PORSCHE in the back. There are also movable aerodynamic flaps in front and an adjustable spoiler in back to mange cooling while maintaining a low coefficient of drag, just 0.22 in its slickest setup.

Why you should think of a set of good winter tires as car insurance

“Right under the tire and between the ice, there’s a little bit of moisture, which acts like a lubricant. Studded tires get through that moisture, and on hard ice, it picks in and off it goes,” says Woody Rogers, director of Tire Information at TireRack. The privately held customer-direct tire, wheels and accessories distributor hosted automotive media at a winter driving experience demonstration in its hometown of South Bend, Indiana.
Unfortunately, the studded tires Rogers refers to aren’t legal in many states, Michigan included. This is where the clever engineering comes in.
“If you can’t have the stud, how do you deal with that lubricant? Well, the compound gives the moisture a place to go,” Rogers says. “Think of it as a wicking fabric; it draws the moisture up into these microscopic pores, so now the rubber can touch the ice directly. And rubber on ice has a lot more grip than rubber on water on ice.”.
Like a slippery pool deck, moisture can yield dramatic effects whenever and wherever friction is applied. That drama can be moderated with the proper footwear. Or the proper tire.
A designated winter season tire can be identified by a three-peak mountain symbol on the sidewall of a tire. Popular and highly rated winter tires on TireRack.com include the Bridgestone Blizzak (my personal favorite) and Michelin Pilot Alpin.
The added benefit of having another tire set for times of foul weather means that the life of an all-season set is now extended because it’s not accumulating miles in the winter. So instead of buying another set of all-seasons in a few years time, it’s wiser to buy a set of winter tires up front to both prolong the standard set—those all-seasons are going to need replacing at 60,000 miles in any case—and to have increased peace of mind in the snow.

The 2020 Hyundai Sonata is completely new, but it’s what’s coming that has us excited

Let’s start on the outside. Sure, it looks a little too much like a Volkswagen Arteon, right down to the sloping hood lines and beluga snout, but overall it’s an appealing profile, with near-fastback proportions from the side not unlike an Audi S7, if you stretch your imagination. Hyundai calls it “sensuous sportiness” and even claims the look is that of a four-door coupe (cue the commenters who hate sedans being called coupes!).
“Hyundai got in the trap of making cookie-cutter cars like everyone else,” said VP of interior design Haksoo Ha. “We’re trying to break away from that.”
The new Sonata has a longer wheelbase with a shortened front overhang and slightly lengthened rear overhang for better aerodynamics. The height is lower and the overall length is longer. Check it out.
Inside the new Sonata, you’ll find “floating components,” in particular that 12.3-inch infotainment touchscreen that rides above a low, wide, slim instrument panel. The shifter lever is replaced by four buttons yanked from the Palisade SUV. The armrest in each door includes an indentation that allows you to grab it and pull the door closed—very practical.
“We really wanted to redefine the sedan,” said Ha. “Others are abandoning the segment; we wanted to challenge it. We think we came up with the most refined, exclusive, dynamic sedan in its segment.”

2020 Mercedes-Benz AMG GLC63 SUV: Credible performance, questionable mission

But. But! This sucker can move. It wants nothing more than to be driven hard and fast. When you use it as intended, the GLC63 doesn’t merely reward you with impressive acceleration (3.8 seconds to 60 mph without even a hint of instability during launch) and a satisfying engine note. The driving experience as a whole becomes more coherent when you drive it aggressively. It flows rather than clunks. 
In this sense, the GLC63 is a lot like a modern BMW M3—genuinely competent, enjoyable performance, but only once you cross a certain threshold. It’s a binary machine. 
So that leaves me in a weird spot. I understand what the GLC63 is trying to do and what conceptual niche it’s aiming to fill. I recognize that it’s good at living up to its design mandate. I still don’t understand who this vehicle is actually for. It excels at quickly and confidently carrying a driver, up to three passengers and/or a modest amount of cargo from point A to point B whether or not there are curves in the road (though there had better not be any potholes). 

2019 Porsche Panamera GTS gets a great V8, but we still pine for the hybrid

Our Opinion: The Porsche Panamera is a big car done right. It feels like a much smaller car, maybe even a 911. Well, not that small, but it’s quick in every direction and goes plenty fast even in this midgrade trim.
Starting with the steering: There’s a nice heft to it, but it’s still direct and I’d say aggressive. It’s not Alfa Romeo-aggressive—the Stelvio and Giulia seemingly turn before you even think you need to. The Panamera is just right. The suspension, too, is stiff without being punishing, and the tires are wide enough to roll over some imperfections normal cars would be affected by. It’s a little stiffer in sportier modes, but it never got jarring.
Power is sweet, and the Panamera’s V8 engine sounds great—and it’s super-sneaky power, too. You could be cruising in the high-90-mph range and wondering why everyone is going so slow. But the hybrid feels just as quick. It actually has 4 more hp than the GTS, though it’s slower to 60 mph. The eight-speed dual-clutch is awesome, possibly the best in the business. I felt no juddering or shuddering at slow speeds, shifts are imperceptible most of the time and the paddles work like a race car.

45-plus mpg without looking weird: The 2019 Honda Insight is the normal person’s hybrid

Our Opinion: According to Honda, the Insight does not have a transmission. Instead, it uses a clutch and two-electric motors (one for propulsion, another for electricity production) to simulate something close to the feel of an automatic. Controlled by a computer, of course, the internal combustion engine is locked via a clutch to one of the electric motors and on to the drive wheels when it is efficient to do so. Otherwise the clutch is released, and the electric propulsion motor does the work, somehow. Perhaps magic is involved. 
Called Intelligent Multi-Mode Drive, or I-MMD, the setup provides three different driving modes: EV, where the drive electric motor does all the work and gets power from the lithium-ion battery pack; hybrid, where the drive electric motor does all the work, but the engine is running and spinning the generator motor to provide the needed juice; and engine drive, the only time the engine actually helps to physically drive the front wheels, most likely on the interstate. There’s no torque converter or belts or gears. Trippy stuff. All we know is that it works.

Yes, the four-cylinder Chevrolet Silverado can tow just fine: We tried it ourselves

But first I needed to get to Traverse City. With just me and a few tools in the truck, I set off on the 240-mile journey, setting cruise control at 80 mph. I arrived at my uncle’s place where the boat was stored having averaged 21 mpg, right in line with the EPA’s combined figure. After some prep work, it was time to load the Silverado with stuff. 
Our poor family boat and trailer had been neglected for years. I was quite nervous of the tires’ condition, the bearings and, well, everything in general, so I brought plenty of repairing and replacing a trailer tire equipment: jack, jack stands, breaker bar, tools, ratcheting straps, etc. In addition to that, I was hauling down water skis, a wakeboard, inner tubes, gas tanks, the boat cover and three plastic 55-gallon drums my uncle didn’t want anymore. Fortunately, Chevrolet’s latest light duty truck includes 12 tie-down locations, three per corner.