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Polestar Precept Show Car Gets the Green Light

Sat, 09/26/2020 - 12:30am

It was supposed to be a flight of fancy. A vision quest, a commitment car, and a bunch of other adjectives, all of which led Polestar to go so far as to forgo calling its Precept show car a “concept.” Despite this, Polestar is now sending the well-received, low-slung electric sedan into production at a new plant in China. Expected name: Polestar 4.

Polestar, the electric performance vehicle brand jointly owned by Volvo Car Group and Zhejiang Geely Holding, is still fledging. The first offering in 2017, appropriately named the Polestar 1, was a plug-in hybrid grand touring coupe. But the brand’s mandate soon became all-electric cars only, and to that end, the 2021 Polestar 2 arrives as a battery-electric sedan that delivers 408 hp, 487-lb-ft of torque, and a targeted range of 275 miles. In short, it’s charged and ready to take on the Tesla Model 3 and Model Y.

There are plans to launch an SUV next. The Volvo XC90-sized electric crossover with a raked roof is due in 2022.

Polestar Precept: A New Design Language

In the interim, Polestar showed the Precept earlier this year to illustrate the brand’s future vision and design direction—staking a design claim that veers off from the current lineup that borrows heavily from Volvo. The Precept keeps some cues, such as a new take on the “Thor’s Hammer” headlight design, but the car’s lines are crisper and more dramatic than any typical Volvo.

When Polestar showed the Precept in February, the brand had no intention of making it, Polestar CEO Thomas Ingenlath told MotorTrend in an interview from China ahead of the 2020 Beijing International Automotive Exhibition. “It became such a damn nice piece,” he said with a laugh. “We felt it was a design that really can excite people.”

And it did; it drew positive reviews and public clamor. That led to a “heavy look at how the hell can we produce it?” Engineers based in the United Kingdom were tapped to see how to do so, borrowing some existing engineering from the overall Geely group to keep costs in check. In the end, the decision was made to add a Precept-like car to the Polestar lineup.

Polestar Precept: From Concept to Reality

Polestar already has a reputation for creating production cars that are “damn close” to the show car, Ingenlath pointed out. While some elements, such as the Precept’s coach doors, will be replaced by conventional ones in production, much of the show car’s design has a good chance of making it to the real world, the CEO and former Volvo designer said.

That includes the glass panoramic roof that extends deep into the rear of the vehicle. There is no rear window. Instead, the driver relies on cameras to project images onto a screen. Removing the rear glass allowed designers to move the shut line of the trunk up to give it the functionality of a hatch, which creates a huge trunk opening, Ingenlath said.

Polestar 4: Made in China

Polestar will produce the production Precept in a new greenfield plant in China—the specific city has not yet been disclosed. The brand realized using an existing plant would not suffice, as the advanced electric vehicle is far different than similarly sized Volvos. The car needs “more special effort,” Ingenlath said. Polestar wants to make the lower-volume electric car in a plant with a low carbon footprint, thus supporting the creation of an entirely new plant.

The Polestar 1 is made in Chengdu, China. Polestar 2 is assembled in Luqiao, China, in a plant that is owned by Geely and operated by Volvo and dedicated to making vehicles on Volvo’s compact CMA architecture. Ingenlath would not share if the Polestar 3 will be built in China or at the company’s United States plant near Charleston, South Carolina.

As far as timing is concerned, we expect to see the Polestar 4 arrive no earlier than 2023, as the Polestar 3, an electric SUV, is due to go on sale in 2022.

Polestar 4: The Most Logical Name

A name for the production Precept has not been formally discussed yet, but Ingenlath noted the show car’s name won’t see the light of day, as he would like to maintain the brand’s numerical naming scheme. He likes being able to create a new vehicle without being beholden to replacing an existing model. “I see the beauty in not fixing cars to names. It frees you. You can always be new and open if you don’t have to replace the one before.”

The Polestar 4 will be built on the new SPA2 vehicle architecture that underpins all but the smallest Volvos. It affords room for a large battery pack under the floor and electric motors at both axles. The new car will also tap into the automotive group’s tech and electronics to provide semi-autonomous driver-assist and other safety systems that are embedded within the “Smart Zone,” which replace the formal grille at the front.

Fishnet Carpets? The Precept’s Got It

The Precept also features an interesting mix of sustainable materials. There are lightweight flax-based composite parts inside and out. The seat coverings are 3D-knitted from recycled PET bottles, old fishing nets are woven into the carpets, and recycled cork is converted into a sort of vinyl that resides on the seats’ bolsters and headrests.

Polestar hopes to bring much of this sustainability to its production cars. Ingenlath shared that recycled plastic and natural fibers are due to find their way into Polestar’s cars’ cabins.

Will Polestar add more SUVs to its lineup, though? Ingenlath thinks the Polestar 3 will be an interesting addition to the segment. The Precept, and its production counterpart, is Polestar’s way of preaching the world cannot be just about SUVs. Automakers have to be creative “so we are not just looking at each other from SUVs,” he said. “Maybe create the next big thing.”

The post Polestar Precept Show Car Gets the Green Light appeared first on MotorTrend.

2021 Audi Q5 Sportback First Look: Baby Got (Sport)Back

Sat, 09/26/2020 - 12:00am

Audi adds a more rakish sibling to the Q5 model line for 2021. Dubbed the Q5 Sportback, the latest iteration of the brand’s compact crossover takes on the BMW X4 and Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class Coupe. 

Like its competition, the Q5 Sportback trades cargo space for style. Whereas today’s Q5 sports 23.1 cubic feet of space aft of its rear seatback, the Sportback offers just 18.0 cubes. That’s on par with the Bimmer and Merc, which provide 17.7 and 18.5 cubic feet of space with all seats in place. Fold the Sportback’s rear seats down and its cargo hold expands to 52.3 cubic feet, a sum that bests the X4’s and GLC’s and nearly matches that of the current Q5’s 53.1-cubic-foot space.

2021 Audi Q5 Sportback: Familiar Face

Predictably, the Q5 Sportback looks much like the 2021 Q5 from the window line down, adopting design cues like those of its squarer sibling. This includes fascias that integrate Audi’s latest styling elements, a more stylish headlight design, and new organic LED taillights with three different light signatures: one for entering the car, another for exiting, and a final iteration that’s tied into the car’s Dynamic drive mode.

Additionally, Audi offers the crossover in two different exterior trims: the standard Advanced setup and the sportier S Line configuration. S Line models boast more aggressive details to the grille, front fascia’s side intakes, and rear bumper.

2021 Audi Q5 Sportback: Power Sport(back)

Despite the Q5 Sportback’s sultry shape, its dynamics remain largely identical to that of the standard Q5. Both active dampers and an air suspension system are available options, the latter of which allows the driver to adjust the Sportback’s ride height by a total of 2.4 inches. Of this, 1.8 inches are dedicated to raising the ride height in order to improve the Sportback’s off-road capabilities. During high-speed driving, the Audi’s air suspension automatically drops the body 0.6 inch in order to lower the center of gravity and decrease drag. 

Power for the Q5 Sportbacks comes courtesy of a 261-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four for motivation, which mates to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. Audi also plans to offer a sportier SQ5 Sportback with standard adaptive dampers and a turbocharged 3.0-liter V-6 that pairs with an eight-speed automatic gearbox. Regardless of what’s underhood, every Q5 Sportback comes standard with all-wheel drive.

2021 Audi Q5 Sportback: Put It In the Back(seat)

Unsurprisingly, the Q5 Sportback cribs its dashboard design from the run-of-the-mill Q5, including its 10.1-inch touchscreen infotainment system with on-board navigation and available 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster. Rear-seat riders will note a small loss in headroom relative to the regular model. That said, an available adjustable rear bench with sliding seat bottoms and adjustable seatbacks allows those in the back to maximize the available space.

Other optional comfort and convenience items include a proximity key, a hands-free feature added to the standard power rear liftgate, a head-up display, and safety items such as adaptive cruise control and lane centering. Forward collision warning and automatic front braking come standard.

Look for the 2021 Audi Q5 Sportback to launch in the early part of 2021. Pricing remains under wraps, however, we expect the model to start at just north of $50,000.

The post 2021 Audi Q5 Sportback First Look: Baby Got (Sport)Back appeared first on MotorTrend.

1997–2001 Honda CR-V: A Compact Crossover is Born

Fri, 09/25/2020 - 6:30pm

The Honda CR-V is so common today, its numbers so thick on the ground in most places, that you’ve probably never stopped to consider what the compact crossover’s name means—or that it means anything at all. As a standout member of a mostly drab segment, the Honda’s name could just be the same old alphanumeric mumbo-jumbo applied to any number of modern vehicles. But did you know that it actually means “Comfortable Runabout Vehicle”? The funky name reflects the newness of what the CR-V represented back in the mid-1990s: there literally wasn’t a term for what it was, so Honda made one up.

Among the first of a new kind of in-between vehicles (not quite a car, but not quite an SUV), the Honda, and others like it, would sometimes be called “soft-roaders” before eventually going by the “crossover” name. Whatever you call them, the CR-V was on the vanguard of a rapidly proliferating number of tall, car-based, wagon-like vehicles that Americans just can’t get enough of. The Honda CR-V’s blend of an endearingly SUV-like shape—right down to its little externally mounted spare tire bolted to the tailgate—carlike handling, and fuel economy helped establish the crossover formula (alongside the truly first-into-the-fray Toyota RAV4, which was introduced a few years earlier).

Now, the CR-V and other crossovers like it didn’t appear out of thin air; Japanese automakers had for years been toying with literal car-based, all-road vehicles such as the Civic 4WD Wagon, Subaru Justy, and Toyota Corolla All-Trac. Honda, like Toyota with the RAV4 and Subaru with the Forester, simply swapped an SUV-mimicking body atop fortified car mechanicals to create the CR-V.

When Was the CR-V Born?

Honda first debuted the CR-V back in 1995, but the brand wouldn’t send it to the U.S. until the 1997 model year. It is heavily based on the contemporary Civic, and the crossover sports a fully independent suspension and a flat interior floor. Honda’s stylists gave the CR-V a mini-SUV appearance, with an up-kicked front bumper that resembles a skid plate and a cute externally mounted spare tire hung on the swing-out tailgate. Weirdly, at least for the American market, the CR-V’s tailgate swings open to the right—toward the curb. As such, when owners need to walk around the open tailgate to reach the sidewalk. At least the tailgate glass opens separately, swinging up and out of the way for quick deposits of groceries or bags.

At first, only a single trim level was offered—the CR-V LX—but shortly after its first year on sale, the EX joined the lineup. The higher-end trim adds aluminum wheels and anti-lock brakes to the model. Every CR-V comes with a picnic table (no, really), that deploys from beneath the cargo floor. The rear seats also fold flat, and there is plenty of bin space throughout the interior.

Other cute details include a column shifter for the automatic transmission, a flimsy folding console between the two front seats, and taillights integrated into the rearmost roof pillars, leaving unadorned sheet metal between the bumper and the rear glass. For reasons unclear, Honda stuffed the majority of the CR-V’s secondary controls into a panel to the left of the steering wheel, including the door mirror controls, window switches for all four windows, and gauge-pod dimmer switch.

SUV Style, Car-Like Performance

In the late 1990s, most SUVs relied on truck-like body-on-frame underpinnings, making them heavy and ponderous on the highway. The CR-V, on the other hand, is more like a tall station wagon. As with other period Hondas, its body boasts a low shoulder line and a tall greenhouse, so there is plenty of glass to aid outward visibility. If not for its higher-than-a-Civic seating position, the CR-V feels almost exactly like a car from the driver’s perspective.

While not a car, neither is the CR-V an SUV in the traditional sense. Front-wheel drive is standard, and even Honda’s optional “Real Time” all-wheel-drive favors the front axle. When slippage is detected at the front wheels, the setup shifts engine torque to the rear axle—although not quite in the “Real Time” Honda branding suggested, but close. With 8.1 inches of ground clearance, the CR-V is certainly better suited to off-roading than a Civic, but its lack of low-range gearing or a lockable center diff meant it prefers the pavement to the unbeaten path.

Light as the CR-V is, it doesn’t need a great big engine to slog it around. Honda fitted every CR-V with the same 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine; initially, the motor produced a so-so 126 hp and came only with a four-speed automatic transmission. In 1999, however, that output was bumped up to 146 horses, and buyers could choose between a five-speed manual transmission or the four-speed auto. Acceleration with either transmission is leisurely compared to today’s CR-V and its ilk, but competitive at the time. Fuel economy was similarly impressive then, if not now; the original CR-V posted low-20-mpg efficiency.

No one thing gave the CR-V its magic appeal. It was the blend of all of its friendly attributes—from its useful and roomy interior to its carlike driving behavior to its affordability (around $20,000)—that earned it adherents. Sales quickly topped six figures in the U.S. Stir in Honda’s reputation for reliability, and it’s little wonder the CR-V gained enough longevity to help put the crossover formula on the map. Not only can you still buy a CR-V today (it is Honda’s best-seller in the U.S.), but nearly every SUV-ish thing on the road relies on the same basic format of car-like underpinnings with SUV-like looks. It’s called a crossover, but in 1997, it was the Comfortable Runabout Vehicle.

The post 1997–2001 Honda CR-V: A Compact Crossover is Born appeared first on MotorTrend.

2021 Ford Bronco: “Lightning Blue” Is Limited, Warthog/Raptor Getting 37-Inch Tires

Fri, 09/25/2020 - 5:45pm

Ford’s official Twitter account kicked out two significant revelations about the 2021 Bronco SUV today: First, it’ll offer a huge 37-inch tire option from the factory, and second, the available “Lightning Blue” paint color will be limited to Launch Edition models. Besides turning the spotlight back to the Bronco after its big reveal in July and before its on-sale date early next year, the tweets filled in some more pieces of the production 4×4’s puzzle for excited fans eager for more info.

Testing 37-inch hooves! Future weekends are about to get a lot better! #FordBronco

— Ford Motor Company (@Ford) September 25, 2020

Seriously, the Bronco’s Getting a 37-Inch Tire Option?

The tire-related Bronco tweet blares: “Testing 37-inch hooves!” alongside a picture of what appears to be a camouflaged prototype of the Raptor/Warthog high-performance version. Ford isn’t being very coy here, and anyone who knows off-roaders knows the company is referring to the outer diameter of the tires on a camouflaged Bronco shown in the tweet. When the Bronco debuted, we were promised that Launch Edition models and every Bronco equipped with the available Sasquatch hardcore off-road package would ride on 35-inch meats. We also knew that the Bronco’s spare tire carrier could hold bigger rubber, though we assumed that extra space was designed to ensure customers could upgrade to larger aftermarket tires.

But it now appears the 2021 Bronco will offer larger, 37-inch tires from the factory—although whether they’ll be limited to a beastlier off-road model such as the expected Raptor/Warthog or offered either as an option or via Ford Performance for other trims remains to be seen. For reference, the largest tire available from Jeep for the Wrangler measures 33 inches in diameter and comes with the Rubicon trim.

On a scale of 1 to ????, how good does the #FordBronco look in Lightning Blue?

Exclusively available to those who reserved a First Edition.

— Ford Motor Company (@Ford) September 23, 2020

Lightning Strike!

In a separate Bronco-related tweet, Ford informed fans that the 2021 Bronco’s Lightning Blue paint option would be restricted to the Launch Edition trim. No word yet on whether any of the other planned ’21 Bronco paint colors are similarly limited in availability—Ford has yet to put up a consumer-facing online configurator for the new SUV, so specific feature and option offerings, restrictions, and combinations remain a mystery.

The post 2021 Ford Bronco: “Lightning Blue” Is Limited, Warthog/Raptor Getting 37-Inch Tires appeared first on MotorTrend.

BMW to Pay $18 Million for Inflating Monthly Sales Numbers

Fri, 09/25/2020 - 2:01pm

BMW is in hot water for its sales reporting tactics. The Security and Exchange Commission entered into a settlement with the automaker. BMW will pay $18 million for inflating sales numbers in the U.S. from 2015 to 2019.

According to a release sent out by the SEC this week, BMW kept a reserve of unreported retail sales that it used to reach company targets, ignoring when the sales actually happened. The agency also says BMW paid dealers to erroneously label vehicles as loaners or demonstrators so they could count them as sold. BMW reported the misleading sales information while going on to raise $18 billion from investors in corporate bond offerings.

“Companies accessing U.S. markets to raise capital have an obligation to provide accurate information to investors,” said Stephanie Avakian, Director of the Division of Enforcement. “Through its repeated disclosure failures, BMW misled investors about its U.S. retail sales performance and customer demand for BMW vehicles in the U.S. market while raising capital in the U.S.”

BMW cooperated with the investigation but would not admit or deny the SEC’s findings, while agreeing to the settlement. BMW AG, BMW of North America, and BMW US Capital agreed to pay the joint penalty and to refrain from committing the same violations in the future.

Of course, BMW isn’t the only carmaker to get caught fudging sales numbers. Last year, FCA agreed to a fine of $40 million for inflating sales figures from 2012 to 2016. A few decades ago, Mitsubishi inflated monthly figures by filing false retail delivery records, reported Automotive News. In a practice called “burning an RDR,” vehicles on dealer lots would be erroneously reported as sold. Around the same time, Cadillac apologized to Lincoln for buffing up its sales numbers to maintain its lead in the luxury game, as the Los Angeles Times reported.

Source: SEC via the Associated Press

The post BMW to Pay $18 Million for Inflating Monthly Sales Numbers appeared first on MotorTrend.

The One-Off Ferrari Omologata Is a Very Special 812 Superfast

Fri, 09/25/2020 - 12:21pm

Buying a new Ferrari is obviously a special experience, but there are always well-heeled folks who think even ticking all the option boxes or selecting a unique paint color aren’t enough to set their car apart from other buyers’. Because of this, bespoke bodywork has become a big business, albeit not in terms of volume but rather money and prestige. Take the recently unveiled and very outrageous Aston Martin Victor, which is very much in this vein, as well as 10 V-12 Ferraris since 2009—a roster that now includes this one-of-one, 812 Superfast–based Ferrari Omologata custom creation.

Of course, for decades, custom bodywork was the norm rather than the exception for rarified European sports and luxury cars, and several coachbuilding outfits might body the same mechanicals—for example, you could have your early 1950s Ferrari 212 Inter bodied by Touring, Ghia, Vignale, Ghia-Aigle, or Pininfarina. But what was relatively commonplace then is nearly unthinkable today given the need for the whole vehicle to work as a system optimized to meet safety standards, aero targets, and so forth.

And this kind of coachwork is even rarer, more expensive, and more customized than ever before. It took two years for Ferrari to go from initial commission to final car, and the Modenese company says the entire exterior is all new save the windshield and headlamps. The customer sought a timeless design that also recalled the company’s racing heritage—the Omologata’s racing stripes and giant meatballs on the hood and doors definitely telegraph that. More important, the Omologata smoothes and settles down the frenetic aesthetic of the 812 Superfast, which is aggressive but perhaps too busy to be considered truly beautiful. The lines of the Omologata—Italian for “homologated,” as a nod to racing-approved road cars—accentuate the car’s overall length and proportions and especially its organic curves, rather than chopping it up visually. If a more classically beautiful Ferrari was the goal, the Omologata succeeds.

While Ferrari says little to nothing about the mechanicals, the basic 812 packs a 6.5-liter V-12 that makes 789 horsepower and 530 lb-ft of torque—and you know the Omologata isn’t going to be any weaker. As such, the new owner can expect their car to hit 60 mph in something like 2.8 seconds, and to cover the quarter-mile in a scorching 10.4 seconds at 139 mph. And, of course, the Omologata will pack all of the other amazing chassis technology of the 812 Superfast.

Inside, special touches include electric blue accents on the seats and a crinkle-paint finish on some interior components that recalls some classic racing Ferraris’ cam covers. The rest is black—surprisingly restrained considering the combination of blank slate and massive customization fee generally promote questionable frivolity. Instead, the Omologata is a coherent, if individualistic, reimagining of the 812 Superfast, and its owner now has a tasteful and classy—and, oh yes, hugely capable—Ferrari for the ages.

The post The One-Off Ferrari Omologata Is a Very Special 812 Superfast appeared first on MotorTrend.

Lucid Air Tri-Motor Prototype Aims to Usurp the Tesla Model S Plaid

Fri, 09/25/2020 - 11:15am

Jump in your time machine children, because it’s time to head all the back to the year 2017. A specially modified version of the Dodge Challenger Hellcat—called the Demon—ran the quarter-mile in 9.7 seconds. Yes, it had pizza-cutter front wheels, was missing three seats, drank 100-octane race gas, ran on a prepped drag surface, and took advantage of a weather phenomenon called “mineshaft air” (where the barometer drops to the pressure you’d see 650 feet below sea level). Dodge achieved this result exactly once (an engineer I spoke with who was there said it was a non-repeatable number—he knows because he tried) and never bothered to hand out a single press car so that any sort of third-party could verify the claim. Still, ask everyone on the internet what the quickest production car in the quarter-mile is, and they’ll all say Demon.

That was then. Today? The “record” belongs to an electric car startup running a prototype variant of a car its yet to start selling. Why not? The Bugatti Chiron 300+ was a prototype and production versions will have severely limited top speeds. Elon Musk announces that the (eventual) Tesla Roadster will hit 60 mph in less than two seconds, and the brand faithful repeat it as fact, if not verse. So why not call an early mule of a potential variant of an untested startup car company a record holder? We’re getting into bloody edges of what production cars are capable of, I think we can give ’em a bit of leeway. Alternate take: Do these records matter? For now, let’s say yeah, sure.

Meet the Lucid Air tri-motor. Some of you will remember that the Lucid Air dual-motor popped off a 9.9-second quarter mile run. But that’s last week’s fish, man. Here’s what’s happening. Making an undisclosed amount of horsepower, though it does have three motors that are capable of 670 hp each (that would be a total of 2,010 ponies), Lucid’s newest beast ripped off a quarter mile sprint in—please be seated—9.2 seconds (9.245 seconds, to be specific). Holy cow! Think that’s nuts? The trap speed was—I’d lay down for this one—157.3 mph. That’s hella nuts. Want some context? The original 1,001-hp Bugatti Veyron 16.4 trapped at 139.9 mph and needed a leisurely 10.4 seconds to travel 1,320 feet. Fast forward 14 years and the McLaren Senna crossed the quarter after 10.1 seconds at 147.5 mph. You getting the picture? The quickest production car MotorTrend’s ever tested in the quarter is the 2015 Ferrari LaFerrari, which did the deed in 9.7 seconds at 148.5 mph. This Lucid is just silly. I’m not even sure what else to say. Just kidding!

If you watch the video, you’ll see that while the Air is on a prepped surface, it’s running pretty standard, narrow Pirelli P-Zero tires, measuring 265 mm at the front and 285 mm at the rear. This exact car now sports a widebody kit (like the Demon), and wears 285 R compound rubber up front, and 325s in back. Were Lucid to go back to the drag strip at Sears Point with the car in its current state, it would surely be even quicker. To restress all this, the video you’re watching is of a super early stage prototype on baloney meats. Just wait until it’s on real tires and tuned. Could we see an eight-second quarter mile run? Big time maybe.

The post Lucid Air Tri-Motor Prototype Aims to Usurp the Tesla Model S Plaid appeared first on MotorTrend.

2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S vs. Maserati Levante Trofeo: Boom Sticks

Fri, 09/25/2020 - 10:00am

It’s no secret: Coupe and sedan sales are in decline, and sport utilities are keeping many automakers in the black. That doesn’t mean fun died. More SUVs are available with previously unheard of amounts of power, transmissions with multiple shift programs, and increasingly clever AWD systems. Intelligent and active suspensions enable physics-defying cornering poise and precision, plus ever-improving tire technology that makes it all work for the intended purpose: a sport utility—emphasis on sport—that’s fun to drive. These two examples, however, go beyond mere sport. With zero-to-60 mph acceleration in under four seconds, they’ll embarrass muscle cars and purebred sports cars alike. These are Super SUVs.

In this Super SUV shootout, we pitted the visually stunning 2020 Maserati Levante Trofeo against the comparatively somber 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S 4Matic+. But this isn’t a beauty contest. Both are powered by twin-turbo V-8s dancing around 600 horsepower sent through all-wheel drive. Both have supple and adjustable air springs and multimode adaptive dampers. But which is more satisfying to drive?.

Unquestionably, AMG was the very first to dip its toe in the modern high-performance SUV pond 20 years ago with the ML55 AMG. It would take Porsche three years to introduce the Cayenne, Jeep six years with the Grand Cherokee SRT8, and BMW 10 years for the X5 M. Looking back at the so called “Sport/Brute of Sport/Utes,” we called ML55 the “quickest, fastest, best-handling, and, quite simply, the baddest sport/utility on the planet.” Hyperbole intended, its naturally aspirated 5.4-liter SOHC 24-valve V-8 made 342 hp (40 hp less than the 2020 Mercedes-AMG CLA 45’s 2.0L 4-cylinder turbo) that propelled the body-on-frame (remember those?) ML to 60 mph in 6.3 seconds—a feat now eclipsed by, of all things, a 2020 Honda Pilot. Seriously.

Engine vs. Engine

Three generations later, that ML55’s spiritual successor, the GLE 63 S, packs an even more potent punch. Originally debuted in the AMG GT sports car, the now-ubiquitous 4.0L twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8 pumps out a punishing 603 hp and 627 lb-ft of torque; that’s good enough for a 3.4-second sprint to 60 mph in this SUV. The evolution of this engine sees the addition of an electric motor/starter that can torque-fill the power delivery to quell turbo lag as well as instantly fire the engine in auto stop/start conditions. Under other certain conditions, the electric motor can temporarily propel the GLE with the internal combustion engine shut off. Just like the AMG GT, it still sounds magnificent without the telltale garbled exhaust that so many turbocharged engines suffer.

After blasting the GLE 63 S up and down L.A.’s infamous Angeles Crest Highway, senior features editor Jonny Lieberman put it this way: “News that shocks no one: AMG makes big, strong engines. Power and torque and then more power and more torque. Stud of a machine.” It’s shocking, then, that a prudent driver could eke out 20 mpg fuel economy on the highway.

In the other corner, the Maserati Levante Trofeo also sourced its engine from an impressive performer, the mid-engine Ferrari 488 GTB sports car, a supercar that won MotorTrend’s 2017 Best Driver’s Car. We lauded, among many other things, the 3.9L twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8 as an exceptional engine for its lack of turbo lag, its “fat” and flat torque delivery, and its “animalistic” engine note. Well, you get two out of four in this cross-plane crank application. In the Levante Trofeo, the engine makes 590 horsepower and 538 lb-ft of torque, enough to drive the SUV to 60 mph in an estimated 3.3 seconds; that would be at full throttle, of course. Sadly, most of the 488’s glorious engine note is muted by the turbos and the several feet of additional exhaust tubing that features editor Scott Evans reckoned turned the Maser into “a V-8–powered vacuum cleaner.” Still, every driver noted how impressive the engine was all the way up to its 7,200-rpm (!) redline. “Bright and linear like the Ferrari 488, but I could definitely sense it was slightly burdened shoving a 5,000-pound SUV down the road,” I wrote. Giving up nearly 90 lb-ft of torque to the GLE 63 S really showed up in the real world. The engine sometimes felt flat-footed when the AMG engine was eager. Yet there’s also a pleasant urgency as the Levante’s revs swing past 4,000 rpm and horsepower really begins to come into play. What a stallion. All this and the Levante Trofeo will also earn a speed-limit-attentive driver close to 20 mpg on the highway.

Driving Performance: Seven Years Make a Difference

As mentioned above, we took these two Super SUVs to one of our favorite and best-known roads in southern California. On its sinuous route to our usual turn-around at 5,300-feet elevation, it offers a good number of trials for any sport-intended vehicle: that altitude gain/loss, camber changes, and a wide variety of slow and fast corners, plus a straight or two to safely explore the higher gears. This challenging road really gives any vehicle a good, all-around workout, be it engine, brakes, suspension, or steering.

Road Battle: Levante vs. GLE 63 S

Imagine you worked on the AMG team, tasked with making a 5,500-pound SUV feel capable and confident. The old AMG recipe? Give it more power! The GLE 63 certainly has that, but in recent years, the division has made huge strides when it comes to handling – even with this slugger. Quick and clever computers, electrically controlled drive and handling systems, and the successful, happy marriage of the two are the key to allowing a GLE 63 S driver to attack a mountain road with near-reckless abandon. What we witnessed in the GLE simply wasn’t possible several years ago.

Self-leveling, adjustable-height air springs and multi-mode adaptive dampers are nothing new to SUVs. Those provide a smooth highway ride. What the GLE 63 S adds to the mix is active engine mounts, 48-volt–powered active anti-roll bars, and rear-axle steering. Combine these with an AMG-tuned nine-speed automatic, astute AWD, and a limited-slip rear differential, and you’ve got hardware once found only on high-end sports cars.

There are distinct personalities among the common available drive modes: Comfort, Sport, Sport+, Race, and more options as you delve into Individual, Trail, and Sand. The AMG influence really comes to light in Sport+ and Race modes, as one might imagine. Driving up the hill in Sport+, I was immediately reminded of the first time I drove the Mercedes-AMG GT S, also a MotorTrend Best Driver’s Car winner. Like that sports car, this SUV was anticipating (or had been programmed with my inclinations and instincts) as it blipped the throttle and shed gears in braking zones, landing in the proper ratio for the corner as if I were rapidly pulling the downshift paddle. The optional carbon-ceramic brakes did as promised, with a medium-firm pedal and high resistance to fade. The GLE 63 S turned into corners with the type of confident precision that required only one input on the steering wheel to navigate all the way through the corners, slow or fast, smooth or bumpy. It was like a guided missile. As I grew more confident, realizing that surface irregularities never upset its arc, I could roll into the throttle earlier and earlier on the exits while relying on the driveline’s ability to put power where it needed to be to leap out of bends. It was so good that it might even be call it “easy.”

Levante Trofeo Driving Performance

The Maserati Levante Trofeo, with its fiery engine and snappy ZF eight-speed automatic, also enjoys air springs, a smart, heavily rear-biased AWD system, and a limited-slip rear differential. Throttle response, exhaust note, transmission behavior, ride height, reactions from the magnetorheological dampers, and traction/stability control are collectively controlled through off-road, I.C.E. (Increased Control and Efficiency), sport, and Corsa (race) selections. It has all the ingredients to take on the hill, so how did it perform?

Features editor Christian Seabaugh collectively summed up our individual assessments when he said, “There’s a constant sense of delay gain with the Levante. Turn-in and wait. Hard into the brakes and wait. Mat the throttle and wait. Nothing in this thing happens instantly—it’s like you’re constantly having to convince a team of little Italians on their espresso break to do what you ask.” Lieberman found its happy place, however, noting, “There’s a particular point where the Levante Trofeo feels excellent, when you’re just past apex and rolling on the power. Suddenly, everything makes sense and yeah man, you’re in a super SUV.” If you’re outside the Levante’s happy place, the SUV felt ponderous and simply not as capable as the GLE. Its lack of body control—even in Sport or Corsa—makes it much less confident than the GLE. I felt like I was driving at my nine-tenths the entire time in the Levante, yet at a considerably slower pace than the GLE. I was also falling out of the driver’s seat on every corner, needing to press the dead pedal extra hard to push myself into the seat, or use the steering wheel to maintain my position. And the wheel requires more “clocking” due to its 16.1:1 ratio. It’s exhausting to drive quickly.

Despite the relatively slow steering ratio, most agreed the feel of the electric-assisted system was quite good: non-digital, almost hydraulic. The consensus was the opposite on the feel of the brake pedal. There’s ample braking capability when you mash the pedal and got enough heat capacity from the large-diameter vented/drilled steel Brembos, but the pedal travel required to use them is excessive, even alarming at times. I sent my backpack from the passenger front seat to the footwell once because I misjudged how much pressure was needed.

Two Different Eras

By the end of the day, we all resolved it’s as if the two SUVs are from different eras, and effectively, they are. Based on the 2014 Ghibli sedan, the Levante debuted in 2017, and not much has changed. The Ferrari-sourced engine was certainly welcome, and the FCA-sourced infotainment system is easy to learn and use. Yet, the Levante’s interior suffers from too much use of plastic, obvious FCA—or should we say Stellantis—parts sharing, and just plain lack of performative competitiveness in what is becoming a pretty viable slice of the SUV pie, especially at a price that starts $36,540 above the GLE 63 S 4Matic+. MotorTrend en Español managing editor Miguel Cortina put it this way: “Poor Maserati, it just feels out of place… There are two things I like, its engine and transmission, but other than that it doesn’t have anything to really compete in the segment. If Maserati wants to survive, it has to do way better than this.” Maserati brought a rapid, smooth-riding, and quiet Grand Touring SUV to a Super SUV shootout.

The GLE was heavily revised in 2019 and it shows. The two enormous high-definition instrument panel and infotainment screens are just the beginning. Even if the user interface is difficult to manage while driving, its capabilities cannot be denied. The attention to detail in the cabin is meticulous. The adept use of colors, materials, and textures is top notch. The way it attacks roads is remarkable. It’s brutish driveline, ready-for-anything chassis, and overall competence are irrefutable. It makes an average driver feel like a hero, but other, more competent drivers felt it was anodyne; that it made it too easy to go fast. Is that really a liability or an asset for a Super SUV? I’ll take confidence, predictability, and “how is this even possible?” over “what’s going to happen next?” every time.

POWERTRAIN/CHASSIS 2020 Maserati Levante Trofeo 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S 4Matic+ SUV DRIVETRAIN LAYOUT Front-engine, AWD Front-engine, AWD ENGINE TYPE Twin-turbo 90-deg V-8, alum block/heads Twin-turbo 90-deg V-8, alum block/heads, plus electric motor VALVETRAIN DOHC 4 valves/cyl DOHC 4 valves/cyl DISPLACEMENT 231.8 cu in/3,799 cc 243.0 cu in/3,982 cc COMPRESSION RATIO 9.4:1 8.6:1 POWER (SAE NET) 590 hp @ 6,250 rpm 603 hp @ 5,750 rpm (gas), 21 hp (elec), 603 hp (comb) TORQUE (SAE NET) 538 lb-ft @ 2,500 rpm 627 lb-ft @ 2,500 rpm (gas), 184 lb-ft (elec), 627 lb-ft (comb) REDLINE 7,200 rpm 7,000 rpm WEIGHT TO POWER 8.5 lb/hp (MT est) 9.1 lb/hp (MT est) 0-60 MPH 3.3 sec (MT est) 3.4 (MT est) TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic 9-speed automatic AXLE/FINAL-DRIVE RATIO 3.27:1/2.19:1 3.27:1/1.96:1 SUSPENSION, FRONT; REAR Control arms, air springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar; multilink, air springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar Control arms, air springs, adj shocks, adj anti-roll bar; multilink, air springs, adj shocks, adj anti-roll bar STEERING RATIO 16.1:1 Not yet available TURNS LOCK-TO-LOCK 2.8 Not yet available BRAKES, F; R 15.0-in vented, drilled disc; 13.0-in vented, drilled, disc, ABS 15.8-in vented, drilled, disc; 14.6-in vented, drilled, disc, ABS WHEELS 9.0 x 22-in; 10.5 x 22-in, forged aluminum 10.0 x 22-in; 11.0 x 22-in, forged aluminum TIRES 265/35R22 102Y; 295/30R22 103Y Continental SportContact 6 MGT 285/40R22 110Y; 325/35R22 114Y Michelin Pilot Sport 4S M01 DIMENSIONS WHEELBASE 118.3 in 117.9 in TRACK, F/R 64.4/66.9 in 66.7/67.7 in LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 197.6 x 78.0 x 65.4-68.4 in 190.0 x 79.5 x 70.2 in GROUND CLEARANCE 6.8-9.7 in 7.5-8.1 in (MT est) APPRCH/DEPART ANGLE 22.0/26.0 deg 18.0/19.8 deg TURNING CIRCLE 41.2 ft 40.7 ft CURB WEIGHT 5,000 lb (MT est) 5,500 lb (MT est) WEIGHT DIST, F/R 51/49% (MT est) 56/44% (MT est) TOWING CAPACITY Not equipped for towing 7,700 lb SEATING CAPACITY 5 5 HEADROOM, F/R 40.2/39.1 in 40.5/39.6 in LEGROOM, F/R 41.6/37.2 in 40.3/40.9 in SHOULDER ROOM, F/R 57.8/55.9 in 59.3/58.3 in CARGO VOLUME, BEH F/R 57.4/20.5 cu ft 74.9/33.3 cu ft CONSUMER INFO BASE PRICE $151,485 $114,945 PRICE AS TESTED $154,085 $133,075 STABILITY/TRACTION CONTROL Yes/yes Yes/yes AIRBAGS 6: Dual front, front side, f/r curtain 9: Dual front, f/r side, f/r curtain, driver knee BASIC WARRANTY 4 yrs/50,000 miles 4 yrs/50,000 miles POWERTRAIN WARRANTY 4 yrs/50,000 miles 4 yrs/50,000 miles ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE 4 yrs/50,000 miles 4 yrs/50,000 miles FUEL CAPACITY 21.1 gal 22.5 gal EPA CITY/HWY/COMB ECON 14/18/15 mpg 15/19/16 mpg ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 241/187 kW-hrs/100 mi 225/117 kW-hrs/100 miles CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 1.25 lb/mile 1.15 lb/mile RECOMMENDED FUEL Unleaded premium Unleaded premium


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Jon Ikeda Is Committed to Acura’s High-Performance Ambitions

Fri, 09/25/2020 - 8:20am

Jon Ikeda spent most of his career as a designer before becoming Acura’s general manager in 2015 and brand officer in 2019. He is working to rebuild the premium performance brand, bringing back its heritage and injecting excitement while further differentiating Acura from the Honda brand. We chatted with him about the plans for the Acura brand in general as he prepared to launch the 2021 Acura TLX.

MT: When did you start this latest relaunch of the brand?

JI: Maybe 2015. That’s when the NSX came online. And that’s when we were completely reorienting ourselves back to “precision crafted performance,” our heritage. If we’re going to be a performance brand, we needed to have the supercar as the halo…I’m not going to lie to you, we did wander around a little bit and we’ve refocused. NSX happened, racing happened, A-Specs, but the RDX was one of the first of the next generation of cars for us, a proof point to say, “Hey, we’re ready to show you what new-look Acura is all about.”

MT: The RDX became more premium?

JI: We went more upscale. Our transaction prices went up, but we’re still conquesting. We’re trying to build emotion again, make fun-to-drive cars again. And it resonated well in the market. RDX did well.

MT: What is the strategy for TLX?

JI: We wanted a blank sheet of paper. For the people that are left driving sedans, like myself, you need to get that first knockout punch and have that presence. Making low, sleek, long, wide vehicles is what Acura was known for back in the late ’80s, early ’90s, and we’re refocused on that. With the RLX leaving our sedan lineup, it freed us to do the proportions and sizes we wanted. It’s close to an [Audi] A7 or [Porsche] Panamera. We were already going to say goodbye to the low-end version of the current TLX, the four-cylinder model. Type S is coming right around the corner.

MT: Other models in the works?

JI: We’ve got an MDX coming right behind [the TLX], and following that is the Type S. We’re completely revamping everything. The RDX has shown the way and given us confidence that we’ve chosen the right path.

MT: Will all future models get a Type S?

JI: That’s the plan. The Type S is the sports derivative of all of our lineup. We need to focus on them. The equity we want to put on Type S is huge. Yes, we want to put Type S on everything, starting with the TLX. We’ve already talked about it being on the MDX.

MT: Why give TLX its own dedicated platform?

JI: Going forward, we will have to look at how we share things and whatnot, but for this vehicle, it’s [new from the] ground up. It’s its own thing.

MT: Can future products use the platform?

JI: Currently, that’s not in discussion. As future products get vetted out, who knows? But right now, this chassis is specifically designed for this vehicle. If we were to expand and do derivatives, there’s possibilities.

MT: Can Acura share with Honda?

JI: I’m not [into] the big, “Honda can’t have what Acura has,” kind of thing. I don’t think that’s the way this brand started. We were just trying to do really cool, high-performance products and it gets expensive. It’s family. The whole, “They can’t have this,” or “We can’t get that,” I don’t think that exists.

MT: Is TLX the new flagship?

JI: The flagship is still the NSX. Traditionally, you would think a flagship is a sedan, but that’s not how I think about it.

MT: Will you still play in the full-size sedan market?

JI: The RLX is discontinued. So, the TLX is the biggest sedan we have.

MT: Nothing larger planned?

JI: Currently, not on the agenda.

MT: With the TLX getting bigger, is there more room for the ILX and something else?

JI: We have to have an entry [model] and there’s some space there. We’ll look at how to fill that correctly. We have the ILX and we have other things that are going to be coming as we transition to cover that area.

MT: How do you successfully move Acura upmarket?

JI: We had a successful heritage. It isn’t reinventing yourself so much as going back to our roots. If you look at our successes with Integras, Legends, and the Gen-1 NSXs, we were innovative, different, focused on our performance. That’s what we’ll reorient ourselves on. Millennials in their early 40s were 10, 12 years old looking at Integras and Type Rs. So, they know Acura. What they fell in love with, we need to deliver. When I see a Gen-1 NSX enthusiast get an RDX A-Spec, and is excited about it, that’s telling me we’re doing the right things.

MT: Is a third-gen NSX in the works?

JI: We can’t talk about that.

MT: What are Acura’s plans for electrification?

JI: When we first came out with a hybrid NSX, everybody wasn’t on board, including me. When the CEO said, “We’re going to do a hybrid,” I said, “What?” But developing that technology around the supercar has shown us what we could do with electric motors and batteries. Electrification is happening.

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2021 Mercedes-AMG E 63 S Sedan First Drive: Weapons-Grade Thrust

Fri, 09/25/2020 - 7:00am

Not that long ago, if you wanted an AMG-massaged Mercedes E-Class that flew below the radar, you opted for the wagon. No one expected a family load lugger to have a big-horsepower engine and autobahn-crushing performance; it was the perfect stealth performance car. But as we stumble into the third decade of the 21st century, wagons are very much cars for the cognoscenti. Enthusiasts look twice at a wagon these days, and if they see wide tires, big brakes, and toothy grille and they hear the rumble from the quad exhaust, they’ll know. However, no one will look twice at the 2021 Mercedes-AMG E 63 S  sedan.

The 2021 AMG E 63 S sedan is essentially a midcycle face-lift of the W213-based car launched in 2017, combining a mild cosmetic nip and tuck with the software and user-interface upgrades that were part and parcel of the regular E-Class makeover earlier this year. And what’s most striking about the AMG E 63 S sedan is how understated it is.

Sure, the E63 S has the menacing AMG family grille and a couple of gaping cooling vents up front. But glimpse it from another angle, and it could almost be just another four-door E-Class. The quad exhaust outlets—fake, sadly—blend into the black-painted faux diffuser under the rear bumper. A vestigial lip spoiler runs across the trailing edge of the trunk. The side skirts are subtle, as is the little vent on the side of the front fender. The airy, new 20-inch twin five-spoke wheel design is attractive, but there are plenty of base E 350s rolling on AMG wheels, albeit 18 or 19 inchers.

The E 63 S sedan flies under the radar. Until you mash the gas. Then it just flies.

That mighty 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8, hand-built at AMG headquarters in Affalterbach, Germany, and delivering 603 hp and 627 lb-ft of torque, provides epic performance—especially in Sport+ or Race mode, which also sharpen the response and revise the shift protocols of the nine-speed AMG Speedshift MCT transmission as well as advises the electronic stability control system to cut you a little slack. AMG claims a 0–60 acceleration time of 3.3 seconds on the way to an electronically limited 186 mph. What’s most impressive about this engine is its top-end bite. It will pull strongly from little more than 1,000 rpm in manual mode, but the surge in acceleration as the tach needle swings past 2,800 rpm signals the two turbochargers are hard at work. From there all the way to the 7,000-rpm redline, it’s just one long surge of weapons-grade thrust.

All-wheel drive, courtesy of the AMG Performance 4Matic+ drivetrain, is standard across the E 63 S lineup. But select Drift mode, and all the drive is funneled to the rear axle, setting up the E 63 S for plenty of smoky sideways action if you have the room. And the spare tires. Thunderingly fast on the autobahn, the E 63 S sedan is also quick on a winding back road, torque and traction punching the car hard out of the corners, and the big brakes effortlessly washing off speed when you need to. Steering feel is meaty, with remarkably little corruption from the all-wheel-drive system. It covers ground quickly, this car, regardless of the road.

Unless you’re working the E 63 S hard, the ride is firm, especially with the suspension in the stiffest of its three settings, even on relatively smooth German roads. But with more weight—AMG claims the sedan tips the scales at just under 4,500 pounds—and a longer wheelbase, it feels calmer and more composed than the smaller C 63 S. The car’s weakest link is the transmission. The AMG Speedshift MCT is an automatic transmission with a multiclutch pack instead of a regular torque converter. AMG claims the setup means faster shift times, and it works well handling big torque loads, but lifting off from light throttle openings at low speeds occasionally induces an alarming shunt through the driveline.

In addition to the exterior makeover, which also includes three new colors for 2021 (Graphite Grey metallic, Cirrus Silver metallic, and Brilliant Blue semi-matte), the revised E 63 S gets the new AMG performance steering wheel with twin-blade spokes and touch-sensitive buttons. It also adds the generally frustrating MBUX infotainment system but with AMG-specific functions and displays. The AMG Track Pace system, which allows you to log 80 items of vehicle specific performance data on the track, is now standard.

The 2021 Mercedes-AMG E 63 S sedan—along with the 2021 E 63 S wagon—is scheduled to arrive in U.S. Mercedes dealers before the end of the year. Base price is $108,495. Don’t blink, or you’ll miss it sliding stealthily past you in the traffic.

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Lynk & Co Zero Concept: One Swede Chinese Electric SUV

Thu, 09/24/2020 - 9:00pm

It may seem like a nascent startup to us Americans, but Lynk & Co is already well-established in China, reporting more than 300,000 overall sales since the first vehicle went on sale in 2018. That’s quite a bit. Its range in that market is heavy on small crossovers that share an architecture with its corporate sibling, Volvo. Lynk & Co’s next play is to move in on the lower rungs of the EV crossover space, a place that more established players such as Tesla and Volkswagen are making moves in. Meet the Link & Co Zero concept.

The Zero concept is a car-like crossover and a full-on EV, unlike the hybrids and PHEVs that Lynk & Co currently sells. It recalls the very first concept from the company, the CCC. The connection is more theoretical than literal, but the upright fascia and high-mounted running lamps are present—as they are on all Lynk & Co models. The headlights are somewhat hidden in the “grille” opening that spans the front width, below which is a smaller textured grille and small air vents forward of the front wheels. It’s a blocky fascia, but not an unattractive one.

The roofline is very rakish, blurring the distinction between crossover, crossover coupe, and hatchback. In our eyes, there’s a lot of Jaguar I-Pace DNA in the C-pillar. Below the rear glass, though, the Zero is very different from the slab-tailed Brit, with multi-element taillights that are full width and quite intricate. A glimpse of the futuristic interior through the concept’s glass roof shows a modern design dominated by a large central infotainment screen—as is the trend these days.

Lynk & Co notes its underlying EV architecture is new, but it’s not immediately clear if it’s a variant of the CMA platform that’s used under its other vehicles—and more pertinently, the related Polestar 2 EV and Volvo XC40 Recharge, which both use a variant of the chassis. Regardless, Lynk & Co states the platform will be used for all EVs developed within the broader Geely Holdings group, which of course includes Volvo and Polestar, as well as Lynk & Co and the Geely brand.

The company says the Zero will enter production in 2021, meaning that this is less of a concept and more of a preview of what’s to come. Expect a 400-plus mile range (projected using European testing measures) and a sub-four-second run to 60 mph.

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Infiniti QX60 Monograph Concept First Look: Designed for the Future

Thu, 09/24/2020 - 8:01pm

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the word “monograph” is defined as “a written account of a single thing.” In the case of the Infiniti QX60 Monograph concept, it is a designed account of a single thing and, perhaps unsurprisingly, that thing is an SUV. It previews the changes that are coming to Infiniti’s design language that will likely feature on a number of their upcoming models, starting with the brand’s most popular model, the QX60.

Originally called the JX35, the current QX60 has been around since the 2013 model year with only minor tweaks since its release. That means a full redesign is overdue, and the Monograph shows where the revised QX60 is headed. Infiniti says the new design is both “elegant and muscular,” and the Monograph’s long shoulder line and well-executed floating roof design all help it stand out from the current mid-size SUV crowd.

But the more you look at the Monograph, the more details pop out. There’s a new look to the Infiniti grille, a more complex design for the wheels, and a simplified head- and taillight design. There’s also chrome. Lots of chrome. The skid plates on the front and rear bumpers, the window surround, the entire grille, the roof rails, and parts of the wheels are all very shiny indeed.

Shiny, but better? We’ve called the current QX60 boring, and the Monograph is an improvement on that front. Hopefully this design study is the first step towards fixing the QX60’s somewhat stale image.

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Take a Gander at Jeep’s 80th Anniversary Edition Lineup

Thu, 09/24/2020 - 8:00pm

As any automaker having a birthday is wont to do, Jeep is celebrating its 80th birthday with special editions all across its lineup. (1940 was the year the U.S. military solicited companies to pitch a design for what would eventually become the World War II Jeeps produced by Willys and Ford; the word wouldn’t become a registered trademark, and thus an official brand, under Willys until 1950.) Indeed, every 2021 Jeep thus gains an 80th Anniversary Edition, which Jeep previously announced but took until now to finally release some photos of the things. These models arrive in dealerships during the fourth quarter of the year.

Features vary somewhat on the 80th Anniversary Editions, but all are well equipped. They have several design details in common, including an available Granite Crystal paint job with matching wheels, anniversary badging, and the full-bore 8.4-inch UConnect touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

The rundown of each model is as follows:

2021 Jeep Cherokee 80th Anniversary Edition: The Cherokee 80th loads up with leather upholstery and Light Tungsten stitching, power front seats with lumbar adjustment, a dual-pane panoramic sunroof, Berber floor mats, a black headliner, and Anodized Gunmetal interior trim.

2021 Jeep Compass 80th Anniversary Edition: This one features leather seats with Light Tungsten accents, as well as piano black and Anodized Gunmetal interior accents and Berber floor mats. An automatically dimming rearview mirror, a black headliner, and a power driver’s seat with lumbar adjustment are also in the mix.

2021 Jeep Gladiator 80th Anniversary Edition: Check out the Wrangler stuff below, and samesies.

2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee 80th Anniversary Edition: This one gets leather seats and Light Tungsten interior accents. These models also come with the ProTech II Package featuring a host of driver-assistance technologies including full-speed forward collision warning with active braking, parallel and perpendicular park assist, stop-and-go adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, and other features.

2021 Jeep Renegade 80th Anniversary Edition: The littlest Jeep also gets the fewest upgrades, adding dual-zone automatic climate control, Berber floor mats, a black headliner, and the Anodized Gunmetal trim bits.

2021 Jeep Wrangler 80th Anniversary Edition: The special Wrangler has body-color fender flares as well as Neutral Grey Metallic grille surrounds, headlamp rings, and fog-lamp bezels. Bridgestone Dueler all-terrain tires are wrapped around the 18-inch wheels, while the cabin has stylish diamond embossed cloth seats with an 80th Anniversary tag, as well as Berber floor mats and Anodized Gunmetal accents.

In addition, for 2021 Jeep is extending its Wave Customer Care program to all vehicles, whether leased or purchased. This service includes three years of free maintenance, including oil changes and tire rotations, as well as 24/7 support via phone or online chat. Other features include first-day rental and trip-interruption coverage, plus VIP access to unspecified but totally exclusive Jeep events.

2021 Jeep 80th Anniversary Edition Prices

Cherokee 4×4: $35,300
Compass 4×4: $31,190
Gladiator: $43,235
Grand Cherokee 4×4: $45,830
Renegade 4×4: $29,090
Wrangler two-door: $37,485
Wrangler four-door: $40,985

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Lordstown Endurance Electric Pickup: Peek Inside Its Screen-Heavy Cabin

Thu, 09/24/2020 - 6:45pm

Lordstown Motors is continuing the slow tease of its Endurance electric pickup this week, now revealing interior photos ahead of the truck’s launch next year.

Much like the interiors of the Tesla Cybertruck and Rivian R1T, the cabin of the Endurance is dominated by screens rather than physical buttons. A long frame on the dashboard houses three separate screens, underneath of which sit physical climate-control knobs. Other notable features inside the five-seat truck include a rotary shifter and large cup holders. The cabin has a decidedly industrial feel with stark metallic accents, and the overall interior aesthetic matches the minimalist design of the exterior.

A look inside the world’s first all-electric pickup truck. Get in and #RideWithLordstown

— Lordstown Motors (@LordstownMotors) September 23, 2020

The Endurance will have no shortage of rivals. The Tesla Cybertruck, Rivian R1T, GMC Hummer, and Bollinger B2 are all expected to launch next year as well. Meanwhile, Ford is preparing an electric F-150 to arrive in mid-2022. The Endurance will produce up to 600 horsepower with the help of up to four electric in-hub motors, as well as offer a range exceeding 250 miles. Towing capacity is expected to come in at 7,500 pounds, and the Ohio-based company recently released a video showing the Endurance hard at work on the job site. In addition, the company claims sports-car-like handling and that it wants the Endurance to be the safest pickup ever, bold statements that may or may not match reality. We are, however, quite keen to slide behind the wheel and at least test the handling and acceleration of Lordstown’s electric pickup truck—and hopefully not its safety equipment.

Drivers should be able to travel relatively long distances in the Endurance, as the truck’s range is estimated to exceed 250 miles. Prices will start at $52,500 once the truck starts rolling out of Lordstown’s Lordstown, Ohio, plant, which was once owned by GM.

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What Is Tesla’s “Tight Wolverine” Electric Pickup Truck?

Thu, 09/24/2020 - 5:29pm

At Tesla’s Battery Day, founder Elon Musk dropped a typically cryptic reference to a smaller version of the Cybertruck for markets outside of the U.S. This is a truck that Musk has talked about before—more on that in a minute—but what he called it during the Q&A session is what perked our ears up. “Tight Wolverine”…what’s that?

What Was Musk Talking About?

Here’s what Musk said, specifically: “We’ll probably make an international version that’ll be—kind of smaller, kind of like a tight wolverine package. It’ll still be cooler, but it’ll be smaller because you just can’t make a truck like [the Cybertruck] for most markets.”

The statement comes at the 2:45:00 minute mark in the Battery Day video, when asked about Cybertruck sales volume—as noticed by Fox News. In the conversation, Musk said he envisions Cybertruck orders will support 250,000 to 300,000 units of the full-size truck per year for the U.S. market. Not that Tesla will end up selling or building that many, mind you, but it is indicative of how many units he thinks overall interest would support. With his taut Mustelidae comment, Musk is indicating a smaller international truck could add to Tesla’s total truck volume beyond the big Cybertruck.

What Is Wolverine Code For?

That’s the part we don’t know. Tesla is quite fond of using goofy or nerdy references for various features, components, and vehicles. Ludicrous and Plaid Modes are pulled straight from Spaceballs, a movie parody of Star Wars from 1987. “Wolverine” could certainly just be a code name for the international truck. Perhaps Musk is fond of Hugh Jackman’s recent turns as Wolverine. The Wolverine character is famous for his nearly indestructible skeleton made of fictional adamantium metal and his fearsome claws, so maybe it’s an oblique reference to the upcoming truck’s alloy chassis. Long story short: It’s an open question.

Is a Small Cybertruck Variant a New Idea?

No, actually Musk has discussed a smaller version of the Cybertruck before. As Musk is very clear about in the rest of the Q&A, the Cybertruck we’ve seen is very much designed only for the U.S. market, being about the size of a Ford F-150. It’s much too large to work in most other car markets.

If you’re wondering what size does work in those markets, look no further than the international version of the Ford Ranger—a truck considered to be mid-size here. It’s extremely similar to its rest-of-world variant. It has competition in the Toyota Hilux, a truck completely distinct from our Tacoma but similarly sized, and a bevy of more unusual trucks that are roughly analagous dimensionally, or even smaller.

We’d expect a Cyberwolverine—tight or otherwise—to be about the same size as a Ranger or Hilux should it come to fruition. And knowing Musk, an announcement and product demo could happen at just about any time.

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2021 Ford Puma ST: Ford’s Euro-only CUV Gets a Sporting Edge

Thu, 09/24/2020 - 3:01pm

Remember when the ST badge was reserved for the Focus? Then it migrated to the Fiesta, the Explorer, and Edge. Well, now it’s the Puma’s turn. The cutesy little crossover that we don’t get in the states—which by itself is curious, given America’s hankering for SUVs—just received the ST treatment. It’s the first performance SUV that Ford has given Europe, and even though the upgrades are standard ST fare, it adds up to yet another sporty compact from Ford that we want but can’t have.

The first thing that comes to mind when you think ST is probably power. To that end, the Puma gets a 1.5-liter, three-cylinder engine (likely the same unit from the current, also Euro-only Fiesta ST) that makes 197 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 236 lb-ft of torque between 2,500 rpm and 3,500 rpm. That power is sent exclusively through a six-speed manual to the front wheels. Ford has also added a Quaife limited slip differential up front to help improve traction should you find yourself on a twisty bit of road.

Ford also beefs up the rest of the Puma to cope with the extra power. The torsion beam rear suspension has been stiffened by more than 50 percent compared to the standard car, there are new springs and dampers are all four corners, and there are a host of drive modes—Normal, Eco, Sport, and Track—so the Puma ST can suit just about any driving situation you find yourself in. Even though the dampers are non-adjustable, they’ve been stiffened, and that—along with a 25 percent quicker steering rack—should give the Puma the extra agility you’d expect from an ST.

Ford worked with Michelin to create a bespoke tire for the Puma ST. Ford says the new, Puma ST-specific Pilot Sport 4S tires should take full advantage of the upgraded chassis without sacrificing ride quality. Putting 19-inch wheels on a small car like the Puma can dramatically change the way the car rides thanks to added unsprung mass and less sidewall to cope with lumps and bumps, so hopefully the Puma’s suspension can shoulder its extra responsibilities.

Inside, the Puma gets a set of sporty-looking seats with big bolsters to keep you in place, and has added nice touches like an ST-specific gear knob and ST badging on the steering wheel. All in all, it’s a sharp and fun-looking package. There’s no word about an on-sale date, but that hardly matters for us Yanks. At the moment, we won’t get the Puma in any guise, let alone this sporty ST variant, but trust us when we say we wouldn’t be mad if Ford dropped the uninspiring EcoSport and sold the Puma ST here instead.

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2021 Rolls-Royce Ghost Extended Takes Rear-Seat Luxury to the Max

Thu, 09/24/2020 - 2:01pm

Rolls-Royce showed off the all-new 2021 Ghost, the brand’s “entry-level” luxury sedan (ha!), at the beginning of September. It’s a cleaner, statelier design that doesn’t reinvent the Ghost concept so much as hone it to a sharp edge. Built on the brand’s aluminum spaceframe chassis, the luxury sedan now has a platform befitting its station, too. Now Rolls-Royce is showing off the extended wheelbase version—fittingly enough, called the Ghost Extended.

And extended, it is. The wheelbase swells by six inches, and the overall length by seven. There’s a weight penalty to grow your Ghost, but it doesn’t appear to faze the sedan at all. The 102 pounds of additional weight involved in the stretch fails to affect the manufacturer-provided acceleration or top speed figures, which hold steady at 4.8 seconds to 60 mph and 155 mph, the latter electronically limited.

Credit that to the stoutness of the powertrain. The twin-turbo V-12 is an absolute unit, pumping out 563 hp and a formidable 627 lb-ft of torque. It carries over from the regular Ghost and is perfectly suited for new Ghost Extended duties unchanged.

Rolls-Royce notes that its customers do not want a car that feels like an obviously stretched version of a regular wheelbase model, so extra attention was paid to cloaking the wheelbase extension. And a heaping of extra rear-seat luxury comes in the form of the optional Serenity Seat, which reclines to provide a business-jet-like experience. Of course, there’s a champagne chiller between those rear seats, which can chill the bubbly to the optimum serving temperature as determined by an esteemed wine expert.

It goes without saying that the extended Rolls-Royces are aimed at customers who prefer to be driven, but there doesn’t seem to be any downside to choosing the longer model. Choose your own wheelbase adventure, it seems.

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Ioniq Concept Cabin Previews the Future of EV Interiors

Thu, 09/24/2020 - 1:00pm

Hyundai recently announced it will rejigger the Ioniq lineup—currently a trio of gasoline-electric hybrid, plug-in, and electric hatchbacks—into its own EV brand. That vision includes rethinking what an electric vehicle should offer, not only in terms of driving range but also interior design. As such, Hyundai is showing its new Ioniq Concept Cabin, which previews future EV interiors and resembles your living room. We can expect to see some of these innovations reach reality within the next year.

Partnering with LG Electronics, Hyundai created an interior that incorporates TVs, cabin-cleaning robots, and plenty of room to relax. A 77.0-inch flexible organic LED screen is attached to the ceiling, and it is large enough so two people can watch something different at the same time. Speakers in the headrests distribute sound to each occupant, creating a “personal sound zone.” To keep the cabin germ-free, Hyundai added overhead UV LED lights and a robot that cleans the floor. There’s even enough room for “Clothing Care” and “[Shoe] Butler” stations. With these functions, occupants can get household chores done while relaxing in the car.

Hyundai notes it will offer such experiences on the Ioniq 5, which launches in early 2021. This midsize crossover SUV is based on the slick 45 concept car Hyundai debuted at the 2019 Frankfurt show. Following the 5 is the Ioniq 6 sedan in 2022 that takes inspiration from the Prophecy concept that debuted earlier this year. In 2024, we’ll see the large SUV dubbed Ioniq 7. New Ioniq vehicles will sit on Hyundai’s E-GMP platform that’s designed specifically for EVs.

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2020 Subaru Outback Road-Trip Review: 2,000 Miles and Lessons Learned

Thu, 09/24/2020 - 11:30am

After 2,000 miles in a car, you really start to figure out what your ride does well—and what needs improving. It’s no different with our 2020 Subaru Outback Onyx long-term test car, which senior copy editor Jesse Bishop drove from Los Angeles to Colorado and back.

From long highway stretches to stop-and-go traffic and slow off-road trails, our turbocharged Subaru was tested in exactly the types of conditions you might experience in a 2020 or 2021 Outback. Keep reading for five of Bishop’s impressions from the Outback Onyx’s extended road trip.

A Testament to the Outback’s Ride Quality

The Outback was immensely comfortable. On the way out, our initial plan was to drive until we got to Utah and camp overnight. But we got a late start out of L.A., and it was already dark by the time we got there. It was also still 90-plus degrees Fahrenheit outside despite being 9 p.m. Rather than drive an hour out of our way to search for an open campsite (which may or may not exist), set up a tent in the dark, and sleep on the ground in the oppressive heat, we decided to just keep going.

We ended up driving all the way to our final destination in more or less a straight shot, stopping only briefly a few times for gas. The total time from departure to arrival was about 17 hours. Normally, I have to give up after about half that. That’s how comfortable the Outback is. Maybe months of working from home—barely moving out of my chair for hours on end, then barely moving from my couch for several more—prepared me for this? 

The 2020 Outback is the latest in a long line of Subarus to offer a comfortable ride. It’s become a Subaru brand value—the Outback sometimes makes an annoying pothole feel more like a minor road imperfection. The price you pay for that comfort is a bit of floatiness. In a car with no pretensions of sportiness, though, it seems like a worthy tradeoff to me.—Zach Gale

Adaptive Cruise Control: Is It Any Good?

The Outback’s adaptive cruise control proved amazing once I learned to trust it. It works all the way to a stop (though if traffic stops for more than a few seconds, I needed to reactivate it to get the car moving again). On the way out, we hit a portion of I-15 where construction squeezed all traffic into a single lane (out of four or five lanes normally). Seems we traveled a mile in about an hour. This was before I’d learned to trust the system in stop-and-go traffic. It was awful. On the way home, we hit a similar traffic snag, but I was confident at this point that the tech could handle it. The difference in comfort was notable. I cannot overstate how nice it is to not have to constantly mess with the brakes in that kind of situation. I didn’t even mind the near-constant beeps as the system detected cars in front of me.

I completely agree. The best adaptive cruise control systems can make a tough commute almost relaxing, and I’ve even used one system for the endless stop and go of approaching a Disneyland parking lot on a busy day. What might make the Outback’s system even more helpful is a set of settings I plan to test out: different levels of accelerative aggressiveness. I’m hopeful that by setting up a desired following distance as well as aggressiveness level, the Outback may meet my admittedly high standards for adaptive cruise control systems.—ZG

EyeSight and Tech Bugs

Although I appreciated adaptive cruise control, there was a portion of our trip a day earlier when EyeSight kept shutting off and throwing an error code to the tune of “No EyeSight camera detected,” or something along those lines. Thankfully, traffic was relatively light at the time, but it was annoying. I’d drive normally for a bit, turn it back on, the system would function, and then it would shut off a few minutes later. I don’t know what caused it, but the problem occurred only as the sun was setting and we were driving directly toward it. As soon as we turned south on I-15 to head home, the problem stopped. Maybe a problem with sun glare affecting sensors?

Finally, Apple CarPlay stopped working when we hit the outskirts of the L.A. area. If I were driving solo, this could’ve been a problem. I was relying on that map to navigate unfamiliar freeways in intense traffic to get me home. We tried unplugging/replugging multiple phones and multiple cables, which didn’t fix it. It stayed off until we stopped for dinner and turned the car off.

Strange. I haven’t yet experienced the issue with CarPlay, but it’s possible a future infotainment update will address it. As for the EyeSight camera, I’ve seen the same issue—though only a couple times in thousands of miles. It’s something I’ll watch for.—ZG

How Did the Outback Perform Off-Road?

The area we go to in Colorado has some pretty harsh trails. Because the Outback is not my long-termer and I knew I’d be handing the keys back to someone else, I didn’t want to risk it on anything tough. But I did pay attention to the terrain when we were in my in-laws’ Jeep Grand Cherokee. They initially doubted the Outback could handle much of it, but the eventual conclusion was that, except for the most severe stuff, the Subaru probably would’ve been fine going up those trails.

Hard-core off-roaders will, of course, be better served by a Jeep Wrangler or Ford Bronco. But the Outback’s standard all-wheel drive and 8.7 inches of ground clearance should provide most drivers with the confidence needed to venture off the beaten path. When we tested an Outback Onyx 2.4T and a less powerful 2.5 model at the 2020 SUV of the Year competition, both Subarus handled themselves quite well off-road, although the Onyx’s turbocharged powerplant did make sliding on the sand more fun. All Outbacks have X-Mode, which along with hill-descent control, works with the AWD system to help those within the car feel more secure. Exclusive to the Onyx trim is a second X-Mode setting for mud and snow (available under 25 mph) that turns off the traction control and retunes the ECM to more readily deliver torque when you need it.—ZG

Please, Keep QUIET

Bishop also noted—“on different days and on different trails”—that the Outback seemed a bit noisy off-road, even compared to the 17-year-old Grand Cherokee. Even if it’s unclear whether that reflection was a fluke, I can comment about the Subaru’s noise levels on the highway. There’s just a tad more road noise than I’d like from a midsize SUV competitor, but it’s nothing egregious. Even so, I often find myself wishing more trim levels got the sound-insulated front door glass currently only on the top two turbocharged XT trims. Maybe for 2022, that feature will trickle down one or two more trims.—ZG

More on Our Long-Term 2020 Subaru Outback Onyx XT:

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2021 BMW M3 and M4 Show off Insanely Styled M Performance Bits

Wed, 09/23/2020 - 8:00pm

To say the looks of the new 2021 BMW M3 and its coupe sibling, the M4, are polarizing would be an understatement. The newest version of the iconic sports sedan features a schnoz that’s more akin to a pair of funky buck-teeth. It’s truly a tough face to love. The way the new M cars drive is going to be more important than the way either looks, but because we haven’t had the chance to get behind the wheel yet, all we can do is gaze on—wide-eyed and drop-jawed.

But if you think the looks of the M3 and M4 need even more fiddling with, BMW will happily sell you a set of performance parts that take the models’ looks to a whole new level. There is a slew of visual upgrades available—if you’re comfortable with calling them that. Carbon-fiber front canards, door sills, and mirror caps are just the start, as there’s also a carbon fiber diffuser, swan-neck rear wing, and front splitter. The diffuser is especially baffling, as it complements a titanium exhaust with quad tailpipes arranged in a completely nonsensical—and almost triangular—arrangement.

There are three different wheel options, with sizes ranging from 19- to 21-inches. The 19s are available in gloss black, the 20s in gunmetal gray, and the 21s in either black or bronze. Additional enhancements include performance brake pads and a set of coilovers that lower the car an extra 0.4 inch compared to the normal M3. But the crazy doesn’t stop on the outside, as M3 and M4 buyers can also spec M Performance floor mats and an M Performance Pro steering wheel that’s wrapped in Alcantara. If the carbon fiber exterior bits aren’t enough for you, then BMW will also trim the interior panels in the stuff.

Spec all this extra kit and you’ll no doubt have the most extreme, and fully warrantied, version of the M3 or M4, both of which go on sale in March 2021. Let’s just hope it drives better than it looks.

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