2020 Volkswagen Passat gets a conservative redesign, but brings lots of value to a tough sedan market

The eroded car market is partially to blame. But it’s also a result of relentless competition. Midsize sedan heavy hitters Honda and Toyota have been busy. The archrivals completely remade their cars for 2018. As a result, both the Accord and Camry went from simply good machines to great ones. The very next year Nissan launched a new Altima. And for 2020, Hyundai has redesigned the Sonata. Both are excellent.
After eight years on the market, it was time for the Passat to get a refresh, too. But instead of launching a completely new car, VW decided to restyle the old one. The wheelbase, as well as most of the major dimensions, stays the same. Only the length grows slightly, by less than 2 inches, thanks to the new bumpers. The company says every piece of metal on the outside is new except for the A-pillar and roof.
The chassis remains exactly the same as the outgoing Passat, as does the powertrain. Raise that new hood and you’ll find the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that’s been in place since 2018. It generates the same 174 hp at 5,200 rpm, but torque rises from 184 lb-ft to 206 lb-ft at 1,700 rpm—a solid 12 percent increase. That 2.0-liter is paired once again to a six-speed automatic. And the sportiest R-Line models receive steering-wheel paddle shifters. In a world where automakers in this class are offering eight-, nine- and 10-speed transmissions, the Passat’s gearbox seems antiquated. And that might be a factor in the car’s mediocre fuel economy: The 2020 Passat is estimated to deliver 23 mpg city and 34 mpg on the highway. Compared to the Toyota Camry four-cylinder (29 mpg city, 41 mpg highway) and the 1.5-liter Honda Accord CVT (30 mpg city, 38 mpg highway), and the Passat is clearly coming up a little short.

2020 BMW M8 first drive: Pushing the limits of mechanical and electronic performance

Also, like the M5, the M8 has BMW xDrive all-wheel drive and the Active M Differential that only sends power forward when too much slip is detected in the rear, and only after the differential splits power side to side in back. If you’re really brave, and 45 degrees of slip isn’t enough, you can turn the traction control all the way off and select 2WD mode for full-on donuts.
The M8 gets a double wishbone front suspension setup and a five-link rear. It comes standard with adaptive suspension that has three settings. The M8 Competition is a step firmer in each mode with stiffer engine mounts, increased front negative camber and rear toe-link ball joints instead of rubber bushings. Both come with a carbon-fiber roof, eliminating weight at the highest point.
The M8, and probably most BMWs going forward, has a setup button in the center console that gives the driver individual controls over the modes. It includes settings for the engine, suspension, steering, AWD … and brakes. In what might be my favorite new feature on any car, you can dial in more brake pedal with the brake-by-wire setup. And it works. In sport, the pedal moves about half as much as in comfort mode.

We drive the Hyundai RM19 and decide a stretched midengine Veloster is a great idea

Regardless, they let me drive it out at their proving grounds in the California desert and I’m still grinning from the experience days later.
Officially, the Frankensteined fun fest “… signals future high-performance potential for future Hyundai N brand …” and could be used “… as a development platform for future N brand products, including a potential brand-halo car.” That’s a lot of potentials. If you, like me, had seen, heard and felt the suddenly huge powertrain blasting away in a chopped-open engine compartment right behind your helmeted head you might think, as I did, that the whole thing seems a little production-averse. But who knows? A little—OK, a lot—of refinement work could go into this thing and potentially—there’s that word again—produce something you could buy at a Hyundai dealership and slap a real license plate on. Potentially. Possibly. Probably. Who knows?
The point is it’s a terrific idea and if Hyundai does it, imagine all the possibilities out there for front-midengine swaps? Why aren’t all those crazy Lemons racers doing this? All you need is a Sawzall and some welder’s goggles. How hard could it be?
And if not the gasoline version, then Hyundai is hinting equally strongly that a mid-motor electric drivetrain could just as easily sit in the back of yet another Veloster. Electric! Or “… as Hyundai boasts an industry leading variety of electrified propulsion, including production HEV, PHEV, BEV and FCEV powertrains, various types of electrified powertrains are available for testing a high-performance electric sports car.” Presumably with whatever propulsion system mounted amidships behind the driver and passenger seats, too. Hyundai goes on to remind us all that it recently partnered with electric supercar maker Rimac to develop high-performance electric and FCEV prototypes. Hyundai has publicly released its plan to deploy 44 “eco-friendly models” by 2025, which could mean anything, but all of which taken together is looking like fun stuff as long as they put that propulsion where the back seat used to be.

2019 Porsche Cayenne Turbo delivers the intangibles, but be prepared to pay for them

Our Opinion: Porsches are expensive. All of them. But, darn it, they’re all just so good to drive. After all, this is a plenty large SUV that weighs 4,795 pounds yet still engages with the driver and feels relatively light on its feet. More than any other carmaker, Porsche manages to integrate all the various components such that everything works well together.
The Cayenne’s suspension reacts well to inputs from the steering, whether you’re thinking in terms of ride or handling. Braking feel always lines up nicely, as well. Of course, all of this complements the power, and the Turbo has a lot of it. Peak outputs are high and midrange grunt impresses, too. Additionally, the eight-speed automatic transmission does a good job selecting the right gear to keep everything on the move. And all Cayennes are all-wheel drive, so putting the power down is easy.
Part of the sportiness comes from some trick equipment installed in this particular Turbo, like rear-axle steering, adaptive antiroll bars, torque vectoring and 21-inch summer tires. The first three are very sports car; the last one, admittedly, is very SUV. Obviously, this is not a substitute for a sports car. But it fools you into thinking it’s one every once in a while, which is nice.

2020 Mercedes-AMG GT C is a solid (and very stiff) compromise

Our Opinion: The AMG GT is an increasingly rare beast, not just because it’s one of just two vehicles (so far) in the Mercedes-AMG lineup not based directly on an existing Mercedes product. As a classic front-engine, rear-wheel drive car, it’s one of a very few coupes playing in this space (the Jaguar F-Type, Aston Martins, or in a much higher price bracket, the Ferrari GTs, are other notable exceptions). The Viper is dead and the Porsche 911 has always had its engine in the rear. Everything else that comes to mind is either rear-midengine or heading that way, with the Chevrolet Corvette being the latest and most notable example.
So if your vision of high-speed driving involves peering down a long, dramatic hood (a worthy and time-tested vision, to be sure) you’re already going to be taking a look at the AMG GT. But which one to pick?
In his review of the AMG GT R Pro — an even more aggressive, more track-capable variant of this model — earlier this year, Robin Warner wrote that “Affalterbach just built a truly outrageous car in the most pragmatic possible way.” The AMG GT C follows the same basic, oh-so-German approach while tipping the scale a little bit more toward the pragmatic. But only just.

Is the Rolls Royce Cullinan for the modern-day aristocrat or the new-money wannabe? It really doesn’t matter

Behind the Cullinan’s wheel, you sit tall and you feel the mass underneath you. Traveling down the road isn’t so much about engagement, but detachment, as you waft over bumps on the road, several parts removed from the tire impacting any irregularities. Above and beyond a sophisticated suspension with a heavy priority toward comfort, the seats themselves have a softness and are pliable beyond anything felt before. It’s as if they also have a suspension and it is also heavy biased towards comfort.
Bury your foot to the floor and maximum acceleration comes on like an airliner at take-off. You feel one constant pull that slowly subsides as speeds rapidly increase. With all-wheel-drive, putting the power down is a non-issue, even if it’s damp. And because of all-wheel-steering, maneuverability is surprisingly good as well. Sporty driving is ill-advised, but when pushed the Cullinan remains competent and composed. 
In terms of a traditionally car-only British car builder, Rolls-Royce adding an SUV to the line-up is the least surprising and also the easiest to swallow. Never a sports car builder, raising the ride height and view of the road of a Rolls is no big deal. It’s just a little taller and, maybe, a little heavier. And, ok, this is the first Rolls-Royce with a tailgate as opposed to a trunk. What remains the same? The Cullinan prioritizes the rear passengers.
Once I get a servant, a snifter and some Cognac, I’ll be sure to let you know what that’s like too.

Porsche 911 Carrera 4S still feels nothing like a Chevrolet Corvette

443 hp and 390 lb-ft of torque is enough to propel the Carrera 4S to 60 mph from rest in 3.2 seconds and carry on to 190 mph, assuming you have launch control. Yes, yes, that’s a few tenths off the Corvette, I know. Again, this is in no way a knock against the Corvette. That said, you can still order a 911 with a manual transmission (though ours had PDK), not the case for the dual-clutch transmission equipped Corvette.
The point is not to compare the 911 and the Corvette, at least not in the traditional sense. The point is to remind everyone that these are still two very different cars with distinct personalities and price tags. Our Carrera 4S, for example, starts at $121,950 and includes enough options to for an out-the-door price of $140,830, nudging against double the price of the Corvette.
But that’s the entire point. Performance for the price is one metric. Showing the world you’re willing to spend for what’s arguably the most complete sports car on the planet is another. 

The 2020 Chevrolet Corvette still beats with an all-American heart

But let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. The C8 Corvette presents a very different shape, but is it a good one? Yes. Definitely. The eighth-generation Corvette looks best in profile, forward-facing, low and purposeful. Big and broad side scoops starting from the doors, stretching down at a 45-degree angle to 6 inches ahead of the rear wheels—up front a proud splitter, in back a tasteful rear wing. 
Inside again, you are enveloped in switches, buttons, screens and cupholders. All of it wraps around the driver to give easy access. The center console screen that handles your phone connection, radio controls, navigation, etc., for example, nestles against the aforementioned array of buttons and is positioned about 30 degrees toward the driver. The passenger gets a seatbelt and, with long enough arms, can also reach one of the cupholders.

2019 Audi Q3 S Line blurs the line between hot hatch and compact crossover

Our Opinion: Frankly I’m shocked at how much I’ve enjoyed my time in the new Q3. Thanks to the last Q3 being so dull maybe my expectations were low. What a pleasant surprise the new one is.
The more I think about it, though, I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised: As noted above, the Q3 is based on some really good bones such as the modular MQB platform and the GTI’s 2.0-liter turbo. It is an excellent foundation able to handle transverse-engine, front-wheel-drive layouts (or AWD) in all kinds of sizes. Besides the Q3, MQB underpins the likes of VW’s Golf, Jetta and Atlas, as well as the Audi A3 and a bunch of Seats and Skodas we don’t get here.
Typical of Audi, the Q3 interior is another strong point. It’s well built, roomy and nicely designed. My car has the optional Sport interior package, as well as optional (and really bright) burnt orange Alcantra inserts. Not sure about those yet, but since I’m writing this on Halloween I’ll let them slide for today.

2020 Acura MDX A-Spec adds a dose of flash to a first-rate family crossover

Our Opinion: Between the facelift and the A-Spec package, the Acura MDX looks fantastic. The front end is angular and aggressive, the wheels look great and the exhaust tips are laughably big. I got home from work, unhooked the kids and threw my stuff in the house. I came back and they each had their heads almost inside the exhaust tips. They also liked the apex blue paint. Side note, apparently people online are calling the blue with the red interior the Superman edition. I have no problem with that.
Inside, Acura gave the MDX A-Spec suede-look seats, a nice leather steering wheel and dual screens for infotainment, Apple CarPlay and the like. I forgot this was a three-row—it doesn’t look like it from the outside—until I packed up the back with stuff. Both the second and third row have hookups for child seats.
Ergonomically, it’s fine. The drive mode selector is just a button by the push-button transmission, neither of which I like. And the upper screen is controlled by a dial. I normally like that when it’s placed horizontally on the center console, but this one is on the dash and I had to reach for it. I also had a tough time finding a good driving position.