2019 Volkswagen Beetle Final Edition essentials: I’ll be back

Our Opinion: We love VW’s Golf around here, and since it’s based on the sixth generation of that car, this latest Beetle can’t be a bad driver, right? Correct: It’s not an objectively bad car.For starters, the interior looks good, especially with the SEL trim. Its offerings include standard stitched leather seats and a few more chrome bits. Driving Golf-ish isn’t a bad way to go through life, and that’s what the Beetle does. Last year, VW goosed the turbo-four’s displacement from 1.8 to 2.0 liters and its 174 hp feels about right. The car is definitely not overpowered, but the 184 lb-ft feels like plenty for scooting the Beetle around drama-free. The engine and gearbox work well together, and sliding the gear selector into manual mode makes the powertrain feel a bit more sporty (sadly there is no manual transmission available), as does keeping the tach north of 3,500 rpm. The brakes are fine, unremarkable.It’s pothole season in Detroit, but the Beetle handles the lousy pavement well, with the suspension and rock-solid chassis shrugging off most of it while keeping body roll in check. In the case of imminent disaster, the Beetle has oodles of driver-assistance goodies including standard blind-spot monitors and rear-traffic alert. Steering is OK in the Volkswagen way, not super sharp but not lazy either. Sound does penetrate the cabin both from the wind and road.Beetle sales have been declining for quite a while, so it’s probably fitting this is the Final Edition. I’m betting it isn’t, though. I don’t think VW will be able to resist the temptation to put a Beetle-esque body on its scalable EV platform. Book it.

Kawasaki W800 Cafe first ride: Bringing the past up to speed in the present

Officially, the Kawasaki W800 is a tribute to the 1966 W1, which was itself a copy of British bikes of the day, but nonetheless strong in its own right.“The 1966 W1 is the motorcycle that has come to represent the ethos of Kawasaki’s quest for speed,” the bikemaker says. “It had the largest displacement and was the most powerful Japanese motorcycle of its time, and it inspired the birth of the legendary machines such as the Z1 and Ninja H2 sportbikes.”So it represents the best of Kawasakis past, present and future, all in one bike. The look is decidedly retro, though, and decidedly cafe, or CAFE as Kawasaki writes the word. If you just saw it at a distance without the front schnozz, you might think it looks like a Triumph Bonneville. It does. The upright parallel twin is air-cooled with the exhaust headers poking out the front before wrapping down and then straight back like the old days, and the fuel injectors mounted on the back side of the engine look exactly like the old Triumph, Norton and BSA twin carburetors.“Creating a beautiful engine was a key concept when designing the air-cooled vertical twin,” said Kawasaki. “The classic-styled engine is lightweight, playful, simple and a joy to behold.”

2019 Hyundai Kona EV essentials: No compromise, in California

Our Opinion: Unfortunately right now the Kona EV in only on sale in California, but it will be spreading out to other CARB states soon. And that’s too bad because this is a really good vehicle that I drove for four days without needing to recharge.What makes that even more impressive is that the max range in Michigan’s 15-degree weather was only about 180 miles. As you play with the fan speed and temperature, the range moves up and down, but I found it to be very accurate with how much I drove, within about 10 miles over more than 100.The best thing for me here in Michigan was the instant, electric heat. In an ICE car, it takes me about 10 minutes to get heat, or about the time I hit the expressway in the morning. This thing was cranking out hot air at the end of my block.It didn’t seem to lose a lot of range overnight either. I’d start the car, it would be down 15 miles, but then it would come back once the car was warmed up.

2019 Mercedes-AMG CLS53 essentials: Style and substance

Our Opinion: I spent way too much time trying to get my head around the 2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS — what it is, why it exists, that sort of thing. Yes, I know the car has been around a while — this is the third generation — and is largely responsible for all the coupes-that-aren’t-coupes filling up the showroom at any given German car dealership. But its current iteration doesn’t really differ all that much from the closely related E-Class coupe (which, it’s worth noting, is an actual two-door coupe). It serves as a sort of stopgap model for buyers who want a roughly E-sized Mercedes and like the swoopy bodystyle of the E-Class coupe but need four doors on occasion. Seems like a pretty thin slice of market (68 units in February 2019, to be exact), but here we are.If you want to know how the CLS drives, read our E-Class review. It’s fundamentally the same, and the reason to choose a CLS lies solely in appearance — if you like the way this car looks and the dealer has one you want in stock, you’ve just bought a CLS. The noteworthy advance — again shared with the E-Class — is underhood. We’ve had some internal arguments about Mercedes’ new straight-six, but damned if it isn’t the smoothest gasoline engine since the Wankel, and anyone who says otherwise should be committed. At 429 hp, and with its 48-volt electric booster, it’s a sublime luxury car powerplant, delivering quiet motive force akin to that of a sailboat thrust along by a heady breeze.

2019 Audi A6 essentials: Stepping toward luxury

Our Opinion: My first impression of this BMW 5-Series, Mercedes-Benz E-Class fighter is that it feels way more luxurious than that last one I drove. It’s partly the woodgrain trim and the $8,200 Prestige Package, but it’s more about Audi’s super-smooth power delivery.The Audi A6’s updated V6 is punchy, but you really have to squash the right pedal, even in dynamic mode. Otherwise, it’s butter-soft torque delivery all through the rev range. It’s a quiet mill without much turbo noise.The suspension, on the other hand, feels sportier than expected. Our A6 tester does have the Sport Package, which dials it up a notch, but this car never comes across as floaty, and changes of direction are quick. Again, dynamic mode tightens things up a little more. The steering wheel doesn’t have a lot of feedback, but the effort it takes leans more on the sporty side. The whole A6 package feels heavy, and as you can see, weight is almost 4,300 pounds.We now have two big screens in the center and very few buttons. The only standard ones are the drive mode select, traction control off and the safety settings that include some form of high, medium and low assist. (That last one can never be fully defeated, but hit the traction off button in the deep snow — you’ll thank me later.)And that leads me to my next sort-of complaint: Audi’s lane keeping hugs the right side of the lane, it doesn’t center. Most of the time that’s fine. It’s better to be more right because there’s more visibility there, but if the edge of the road is snow covered, or there’s another car bearing down, I’d rather be in the center.

2020 Mercedes-AMG GT R PRO first drive: Bring your tools

But first, all 2020 AMG GT models feature a few changes of note. Cosmetically, each trim level of GT gets its own custom exhaust tips. And the GT now has LED head and taillights, a redesigned rear diffuser (that’s mostly for show) and new wheels. Inside there’s a new steering wheel design with added buttons, a 12.3-inch screen to function as an instrument panel and a 10.25-inch screen to handle audio, navigation, Apple Car Play, Android Auto and other common premium car duties. The lower center console contains the usual shifter and central control for the aforementioned screen. And now eight “display buttons,” four on either side, each with its own screen displays the setting of said controls. Volume, for example, shows a red bar to indicate the level right there. That joins drive mode, trans (drive or manual), dampers, stability control, auto stop/start, rear wing up or down, and exhaust loudness.Taking cues from the recently released GT four-door, all GTs now have AMG Dynamics to play with, an integrated driving control system that uses available sensors to detect speed, steering angle, yaw rate. AMG Dynamics manipulates how rear-axle steering, torque vectoring by brake and the electronically controlled limited-slip differential operate. It has four settings: basic, advanced, pro and master. These four settings are tied to drive modes called AMG Dynamic Select. Basic is part of slippery and comfort. Advanced comes on in sport. Pro is part of sport plus. And master is only available on GT C and GT R in race mode and only with stability control off.Finally, there’s AMG Track Pace, a “virtual race engineer” data recorder. Track Pace collects data at 10 hertz and records 80 vehicle specific data points as well as lap and sector times. It’s also color coordinated: green or red to indicate faster or slower. Track Pace uses GPS data and sensors from the car (accelerometers, gyroscope, steering angle, wheels speeds) to give the driver a detailed understanding of the lap. And some well-known tracks are already stored in the system.

2019 Lamborghini Urus essentials: Look at me!

Our Opinion: 0-62 mph in 3.6 seconds, stay flat on the gas and 124 mph is only another 9.2 seconds away. Never lift and the speedometer will kiss 190 mph. How long ago would those have sounded like Lamborghini supercar numbers? Five years? 10, perhaps? Well, now they apply to a full-size SUV with all-wheel drive, an automatic gearbox and a curb weight a smidgen under 5,000 pounds. Modern technology gives us the ability to build something lighter or more powerful, and it’s quite clear which path we’ve chosen.Even though the Urus is based on the Audi Q7, it feels like a completely different SUV — if you’re hustling around a canyon road or lapping a track, that is. That’s where you can feel things like four-wheel steering, track-tuned air suspension and huge carbon-ceramic brake discs (17.3 inches in front, 14.6 inches in back) go to work. That’s true off-road as well, as long as it’s more rally stage than Moab trail. Set the driving mode to “terra” or off-road, and the Urus absolutely will kick the rear end out and allow you to throw some dirt. Torque vectoring in the rear helps. But most people, most of the time — even the 1 percenters who can afford this thing — will drive the Urus on normal roads doing normal things. In these conditions, the Urus feels remarkably similar to the Audi, whose base price is little more than 25 percent of this machine. A car nerd’s eyes will also notice several similarities in switch gear, layout, even the shape. The Q7 is a great SUV, so this is not a demerit in function, but in distinction from other, less expensive versions of this vehicle, of which there are many. The fighter jet-style engine stop/start button loses some of the allure in this context, as does the large Lamborghini logo emblazoned just above the glovebox.

2020 Lexus RC F and Track Edition quick drive

To take advantage of the weight savings and small power bump, Lexus stiffened the suspensions bushings, revised the engine mounts, retuned the adaptive variable suspension (it used to have nine levels of automatic adjustment, now it has 30) and optimized the shift control. It also has a Torsen limited slip differential with optional torque vectoring.The 2020 RC F was joined at the Detroit auto show by the new RC F Track Edition, which shaves an additional 125 pounds through the use of carbon-ceramic brakes, lightweight wheels, a titanium exhaust and carbon fiber replacing metal on the hood, roof and rear seat/trunk partition.Only two exterior colors will be available on the Track Edition: ultra-white and matte nebula gray. Standard RC F models are available in six colors: ultra-white, atomic silver, caviar (black), infrared, flare yellow and ultrasonic blue mica 2.0.We took a deep dive on both new rides in January during NAIAS. Check it out here.

2019 Cadillac XT4 essentials: Exclusivity for the masses

Our Opinion: The XT4 provides lots of space and yet feels small to drive. That’s good. The optional adaptive suspension — it’s $1,200 and only available on the Sport — works well too and, in our wintry drive experience, tracked through ice and snow well. That’s good too. The XT4 falls short of feeling as sporty as, say, a Porsche Macan, but it’s also vastly less expensive — base prices are $15,000 apart from each other. And Cadillac’s smallest SUV stays light on its feet (tires?) and holds its own against Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz, yet another good thing.Additionally, Cadillac filled the XT4 with plenty of convenience features like heated seats and steering wheel, a perfectly pleasant infotainment system, even a tailgate you can command to open all the way, or just three-fourths if you have a low-roof parking situation. But all of that is also available on the Chevrolet Equinox Premier we recently reviewed. And that also had a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine, just a different one (which made more power, by the way).

2019 Toyota Sequoia essentials: Bring the whole team

Our Opinion: The Sequoia is a big SOB, so the TSS-P safety features are welcome, as is the 38.1-foot turning radius, small for this class. I backed out of my parents’ super-narrow driveway really slowly, even though I’ve been doing it for decades. On the road too, you have to pay attention to keep it in between the lines. On the good side, not only can you seat eight, but you can also carry about 20 cubic feet of basketballs, or hockey equipment, or lacrosse…bats? Clubs? Paddles?The big 5.7-liter non-Hemi makes a lot of ruckus under the hood, and most of that makes its way into the cabin. It certainly makes this big bruiser seem faster than it is (though it’s not slow), but I would add a little more sound insulation if I was building the next Sequoia. The throttle is easy and sensitive, meaning you put your foot down 1/3 of the way and you’re off and running. It feels quicker off the line than at speed, but I was never wanting for passing power on the expressway. The Sequoia’s brakes were fine, maybe a little soft for my tastes, but progressive.Something this big will never handle well, but the luxury-style low-effort steering wheel made the Sequoia generally go where pointed. I would probably ask for a little more weight at speed, as it’s a little darty on the expressway. Outward visibility is great considering you’re five feet higher than anyone else on the road.