Rapper’s Delight

Cargazing
By Derek Price

The Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG has two important missions.
One, the task for which it’s ostensibly designed, is being an off-road beast. With a stratospheric ride height, a trio of locking differentials, solid axles and a beefy ladder frame, it feels like you could legitimately point it at a mountain, jam the throttle and blast your way to the summit.
But let’s get real. The G63’s second mission is much more important: showing the world you’ve got mountains of cash.
While the ordinary G550 already offers a masterclass in conspicuous consumption with a starting price of $123,600 — a ridiculous figure for a steel box purportedly built to get scraped and dinged on the trails — the souped-up G63 AMG I tested carries a sticker of $163,795.
Hear that sound? It’s the collective gasps of sensible people everywhere.

The Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG is one of the most unique vehicles for sale today, combining serious off-road capability with high-end luxury in one boxy, pricey vehicle.

The G63 isn’t designed for practical, levelheaded buyers, though. You can sense that in some of its oddball design choices, such as its tacked-on, afterthought cup holder made of yarn. There are plenty of things I’d expect on a $163,000 car, but a cup holder that looks like a Cub Scout project isn’t among them.
Other aspects seem perfectly fitting, including how it smells like a Coach leather store when you open the door, and how the engine rumbles with the anger of a thousand Greek gods when you start it up.
In fact, if anything about this off-roader makes it seem like a bargain, it’s the glorious, otherworldly engine. This hand-built, twin-turbocharged, 5.5-liter V8 makes 563 horsepower, enough to turn the G63 into an asteroid: unbelievably massive and rocklike, with sufficient kinetic energy to kill off the dinosaurs if you get in a wreck.

Quilted leather provides a counterpoint to the rugged, military-inspired capability in the G-Class.

Its geologic feel over the road can’t be overstated. Everything about it seems as if it’s made of chiseled basalt, including its doors that make bank vaults feel flimsy in comparison. Its electric locks sound like gunfire when they click.
One of my favorite things about the G-Class is that its over-the-top, ostentatious swagger has made it a hit among rappers and free-agent NFL players. Right after you sign your record deal with Def Jam or become the Cowboys’ star wide receiver, you head straight to the Mercedes dealer and buy yourself a yellow G-Wagon like the one I’m testing.
I can tell you this: I’ve driven a lot of flashy cars through the years, including some considerably more expensive than this. None of them — not even one — feels so right with hip-hop music blaring through the speakers.
“Daddy, you’re not a gangsta,” my kids had to remind me several times. The G63 sure made me feel like one.
Finally, if the G550 and G63 are too understated for your taste, you can opt for the more assertive 12-cylinder G65 model. It makes 621 horsepower and starts at — try not to choke — $222,700.

At A Glance

What was tested?
2018 Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG ($142,800). Options: CC5 AMG Performance Studio Package – Solarbeam ($20,000). Price as tested (including $995 destination charge): $163,795
Wheelbase: 112.2 in.
Length: 187.5 in.
Width: 80.9 in.
Height: 76.3 in.
Engine: 5.5-liter biturbo V8 (563 hp, 561 lb.-ft.)
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 12 city, 15 highway

RATINGS
Style: 8
Performance: 10
Price: 1
Handling: 2
Ride: 5
Comfort: 6
Quality: 7
Overall: 7

Why buy it? 
You only live once, and few vehicles let you live as big as this one. It’s got military-derived off-road capability, a swagger that’s truly unique and an exhaust note sampled from the gates of hell.

Posted in Mercedes-Benz

Making a Statement

Cargazing
By Derek Price

Volvo has spent the last few years releasing an onslaught of vehicles for people who want a full-blown, design-driven luxury experience, not only the most safety gadgets.
Perhaps no Volvo represents this shift in product philosophy more than this one, its S90 flagship sedan.
Yes, the spacious, solid-feeling S90 is available with the kinds of mind-bending safety tech on which this brand has long hung its hat. It has automatic braking and collision avoidance capability. If it senses you’re going to leave the roadway, it can take over the steering wheel to keep you on pavement.
It has the best self-driving capability of any car today, outside of Tesla and one expensive Cadillac model. It even has sensors that — I’m not kidding — will detect a moose in the road.
But my biggest impression after driving the S90 isn’t centered around the moose-sensing, life-saving safety gizmos. To me, the current S90 is more about the statement it makes through elegant design and the serene presence it creates as you drive it, two things that have eluded Volvo’s cars until recently.

The Volvo S90 has a sleek roofline and narrow grille that emphasizes its width, something very different from the trend of gaping noses on today’s luxury cars.

Few large sedans are as visually striking as this one, owing both to a conservative design backlash following the 2008 market crash and the luxury segment’s habit of playing “follow the Germans.”
To be fair, the S90 tries to emulate the best attributes of the big-boy German sedans. Its bank-vault cabin approaches the silence and peace of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, and its grippy all-wheel-drive handling seems inspired by the sparkling high-end BMWs.
Stylistically, though, it’s speaking its own language.
This is a car that while surprisingly large and high — including an extended-wheelbase version this year — looks sleek, low-slung and almost coupe-like.
Its front end has a wide, narrow grille that draws your eye horizontally, something very different from most contemporary luxury cars. Gaping, garish, almost comically huge grilles seem to be in fashion right now, but the Volvo stands apart with its sleeker, more pencil-tipped nose.
Inside, it gets even better.
I’m not sure where Volvo finds their interior designers, but they’re doing some of the best work on the planet right now. The materials, construction and carefully drawn lines make this one of the most pleasant cabins I’ve ever enjoyed in a car priced under $100,000.
You have to sit in an S90 to get the full experience because it envelops all your senses. It looks peaceful and relaxing, something you can see in pictures of its open-pore wood, supple leather and sculpture like metal accents.

The S90’s cabin is a peaceful place to spend time. Design, materials and construction give it a sense of spa-like relaxation.

Images can’t convey the scents and tactile variety that make this car so relaxing, though. The cold touch of real metal, naturally rough feeling of the wood and almost unimaginable smoothness of the leather make you feel wrapped in a cocoon of perfection, isolated from the gritty real world.
Power in my tester came from a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine that’s both turbocharged and supercharged to generate 316 horsepower, an eye-popping size-to-power ratio. It felt like ample power, but I admit missing the rumble and grunt of a V8 in this class of car.
If you want a more V8-like experience, oddly enough, you’ll need to choose the new plug-in hybrid version of the S90. It makes 400 horsepower and offers the best performance.
Pricing starts at a reasonable $48,100 for the S90 Momentum or $58,600 for the more upscale Inscription. The T8 plug-in hybrid  starts at $63,650.

At A Glance

What was tested?
2018 Volvo S90 T6 AWD ($54,100). Options: Inscription features ($4,500), convenience package ($2,550), metallic paint ($595), head-up display ($900), 20-inch wheels with summer tires ($800), Bowers and Wilkins premium sound ($3,200), heated steering wheel ($300), premium rear air suspension ($1,200). Price as tested (including $995 destination charge): $69,140
Wheelbase: 120.5 in.
Length: 200.1 in.
Width: 79.5 in.
Height: 57.1 in.
Engine: 2.0-liter four cylinder, supercharged and turbocharged (318 hp, 295 lb.-ft.)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 22 city, 31 highway

RATINGS
Style: 10
Performance: 8
Price: 8
Handling: 7
Ride: 9
Comfort: 10
Quality: 9
Overall: 9

Why buy it? 
It’s a serene, elegant, visually striking sedan that happens to offer some of the most advanced safety technology ever offered on a car.

Posted in Volvo

Comfortable and Practical

Cargazing
By Derek Price

In a relatively short period of time, the Hyundai Elantra has risen from a cheaply built economy car to one of the most refined in its competitive class.
In fact, if you drive it back-to-back with its American and Japanese rivals, it’s hard to find any of the glaring shortfalls that were so obvious in its ancestors. The materials and design feel surprisingly nice for its low price, starting at $16,950, and its driving feel is perfectly pleasant.
The Elantra’s suspension favors comfort over handling. This isn’t a car that begs to be pushed hard through corners, preferring to float in a straight line down the boulevards and highways, making it an ideal machine for commuters but not necessarily enthusiasts.
Where this car excels is in value and versatility.
On the value front, it’s priced aggressively to offer a lot of content per dollar at the top, middle and bottom of its trim levels. After being fully redesigned as a 2017 model, the 2018 Elantra reshuffles its lineup to drive home the value equation even more forcefully.

The Hyundai Elantra is focused on delivering a strong value and comfortable ride. This generation is in its second year on sale after a complete redesign in 2017.

New this year is the SEL trim, meant to be the high-volume version with the features most buyers are looking for. Priced at $18,850, the SEL comes with blind spot detection and rear cross traffic alert, a 7-inch digital display for the audio system, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, 16-inch wheels, automatic headlights and a 3.5-inch digital driver information display behind the steering wheel.
That’s just one of six trim levels, though, ranging from the base SE to the leather-clad Limited at $22,100. There’s also a more powerful, edgier feeling Sport model with a 201-horsepower, turbocharged engine priced at $21,800.
As if that’s not enough choices, Hyundai offers the Elantra GT hatchback that’s lower, wider and more European-inspired.
While its measurements make it technically a midsize car according to the federal government, the Elantra sedan feels more like a competitor of the Chevrolet Cruze and Ford Focus. It aims for affordability and efficiency, including a 38-mpg rating for highway driving.

A roomy front seat and stylish, practical cabin make the Elantra stand out.

A 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine makes 147 horsepower, which is adequate for highway on-ramps with the early and aggressive application of the gas pedal. It’s helped by a six-speed automatic transmission that — unlike some of its competitors with dreadful continuously variable transmissions — actually feels crisp and mechanically connected to the front wheels.
While the back seat can feel cozy for adults, the front buckets offer generous elbow, knee and hip room. Wide expanses of glass add to the airy feeling in front.
Swept headlights, an oversize grille and interesting hood creases keep the current generation Elantra looking fresh in its second year on the market. It doesn’t scream for attention, even with deep blue or red paint, opting for an overall look that’s inoffensive with just a hint of sportiness.
I also like all the thoughtfully designed, practical features in this car. Its trunk offers a roomy-for-its-class 14.1 cubic feet of volume with a low liftover height and wide opening, something a lot of sedans get wrong. The split folding rear seat helps when you need to haul bigger cargo, although hatchbacks or small crossovers still offer more stuff-carting potential than a sedan.
For drivers who want something efficient and affordable, but still place a premium on comfort — not necessarily handling and sportiness — the Elantra is one of the best options on the market today.

At A Glance

What was tested?
2018 Hyundai Elantra SEL ($18,850). Options: Carpeted floor mats ($125). Price as tested (including $885 destination charge): $19,860
Wheelbase: 106.3 in.
Length: 179.9 in.
Width: 70.9 in.
Height: 56.5 in.
Engine: 2.0-liter four cylinder (147 hp, 132 lb.-ft.)
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 29 city, 38 highway

RATINGS
Style: 9
Performance: 9
Price: 8
Handling: 5
Ride: 6
Comfort: 6
Quality: 7
Overall: 7

Why buy it? 
It’s an all-around solid, efficient sedan that’s perfect for commuting. Its ride is smoother and quieter than many competitors.

 

Posted in Hyundai, Uncategorized

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