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2019 Mercedes-Benz GLC 350e HYBRID At the risk of offending other carmakers, we believe, “There is nothing like a Mercedes.” Apparently, the folks over at Benz must have sensed our thoughts and decided to dispatch over yet another of their fine vehicles, this time the 2019 GLC 350e. A wonderful, pleasant drive it was leaving less of a carbon footprint too, thanks to its hybrid capabilities.

Mostly unchanged for this year, the midsize luxury SUV is equipped with a 2.0-liter inline-4 cylinder turbo engine mated to a 85kw electric motor that combined put out an impressive 320 horsepower and 413 pounds-feet of torque. The 4MATIC all-wheel-drive vehicle is mated to a standard 7-speed automatic, which can be driven in individual, comfort, eco, sport and sport+ modes. The independent multilink front and rear suspension works splendidly to absorb unpleasant highway bumps and sudden sharp turns. Returning a weighted response to the driver’s input is a razor-sharp electromechanical power rack-and-pinion system. Zero to 60 is possible in 6.2 seconds with top speed limited to 130 mph.

Up front, the familiar three-pointed star on the two-bar radiator grille is enclosed by horizontal LED headlights. Surprisingly, it is in the rear right corner that Benz engineers installed the charge port. Otherwise, the cabin is lavish and elegant as is expected of any Benz with dual-zone auto a/c, split fold rear seat, power lift gate, ambient lights, black leather seats and headliner, as well as fine-looking wood and aluminum trim. A touchpad can be used to toggle navigation, climate, audio and phone controls, which are displayed on the optional 8.4-inch display screen. And who can miss the graceful Mercedes analog clock centered on the dash?

Dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag, four-wheel antilock brakes, electronic stability program, pre-safe (partial braking in an emergency), rearview camera, keyless go/start, active brake assist, daytime running lights and tire pressure monitoring system are standard. Numerous packages are offered and we recommend going with driver assistance offer ($2,250), which will fetch you active distance, steering, land-keep brake and blind spot assists, among others.

During our test-drive week, we averaged a little under 25 mpg, which is the combined city/highway EPA estimate in this $50,650-base-priced ride (with options at $69,545). Not cheap by any means. And the 8.7kWh lithium-ion battery enables the SUV to travel just about 10 miles, which isn’t anything to rave about. But the GLC boasts strong acceleration, incredible handling and steering feel, and a luxurious cabin bar none. After all, “There is nothing like a Mercedes.”

GLC 350e


2019 Jeep GladiatorIf you like to climb, trail and crawl, or haul tons of cargo, go water fording, all in an open-air vehicle, then your ride has arrived! The all-new 2019 Jeep Gladiator, the only four-door 4X4 convertible in the market, shares quite a few of its attributes with the Wrangler Unlimited.

For starters, under the hood of this body-on-frame Jeep sits a 3.6-liter V-6 Pentastar engine cranking out 285 horsepower @ 6400 rpm and 260 pounds-feet of torque @ 4800 rpm. The go-anywhere capable vehicle, with high and low transfer case gears, is mated to a standard 8-speed auto gear box. Suspension is duly handled by an independent 5-link coil system, which includes gas-charged aluminum monotube shock absorbers, to maintain stability at sharp and sudden turns. The ride was further nicely damped, thanks to quick and precise electro-hydraulic power-assist steering.

Our test drive, the Rubicon, was truly a standout dual three-piece hardtop and a soft top with removable doors, exposed hinges, fold-down windshield, front/rear hooks and tubular side steps. That this is a Jeep is even more obvious from the traditional seven-slot, keystone-shaped grille, flanked by rounded halogen headlights, square tail lamps, and a flat, clamshell hood reaching down to trapezoidal fender flares. The 4X4 is designed for off-road conditions such as traction, ground clearance, maneuverability, articulation and water fording. Skid plates will protect the front, transfer case and fuel tank. Check out the degrees: approach angle of 43.6, break over of 20.3 and departure of 26, with ground clearance of 11.1 inches, more than enough to instill confidence in the driver on those off-the-beaten-path trips.

The cabin sticks to the original Jeep’s functional capability with 103 cubic feet of interior room. Storage cubicles are scattered throughout, including a bin under the rear seat floor. As are numerous 120-volt outlets. The instrument panel is simply laid out with rounded speedometer, tachometer, temperature, fuel, oil and volt gauges. Also included are dual a/c, manual tilt/telescopic steering column, cloth seats, six-way manual driver and four-way front-passenger seats, push-button start, 7-inch UConnect touchscreen, leather steering wheel, lockable console and door armrest, and a 5-foot cargo bed.

Dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag, four-wheel antilock brakes, electronic stability and traction control, anti-roll system, rearview camera, hill start assist, tire pressure monitoring system and daytime running lights are standard.

Barring loud engine and road noise, and a somewhat edgy ride, hardcore Jeep enthusiasts will love the amazing abilities of the rugged Gladiator. Simultaneously, the quintessential SUV with more than seven decades of tradition is skillful on neighborhood streets. Its off-road or on-road prowess makes the Gladiator a tremendous and much-needed addition to the already-impressive Jeep lineup.



2019 Nissan MaximaExterior (revised grille and front/rear fascia, standard LED headlights), interior (new diamond-quilted seats) and safety enhancements make the 2019 Nissan Maxima an even more alluring buy.

However, the Smyrna, Tenn.-assembled eighth-generation full-size car still retains its powertrain. The front-wheel-drive “four-door sports sedan” as Nissan likes to call it, is equipped with a 3.5-liter V-6 engine, which pumps out 300 horsepower @ 6400 rpm and 261 pounds-feet of torque @ 4400 rpm. It is mated to a continuous variable transmission, which we must say is absolutely flawless. An independent strut and coil spring front with a multi-link double wishbone rear suspension translates into quick response and high-temperature fade resistance.

A jet-fighter style theme, inspired by the Blue Angels at Naval Station in Pensacola, resonates with the overhauled V-motion grille, flanked by boomerang LED headlights (now standard), wraparound windshield and floating roof. The theme continues in the roomy cabin with a wraparound console of 7-inch meter and 8-inch navigation screens, flat-bottomed D-shaped steering wheel and start button. The rotary knob for the display commander controls the audio, navigation and phone systems. We recommend spending the extra $1,140 for the semi-aniline Rakuda Tan leather seats with diamond-quilted inserts, which also deck up the steering column; 19-inch aluminum alloy wheels, charcoal headliner, and stunning satin bronze faceted finishers. Other standard goodies include dual panoramic moon roof, eight-way power driver and six-way front-passenger seats, 60/40 fold rear seat, dual auto a/c, among others.

Dual front, side and knee airbags, side curtain airbag for both rows, four-wheel antilock brakes with electronic brake distribution and brake assist, vehicle dynamic and traction control, antiskid system, front seat active-head restraints, front seatbelts with pretensioners, front and rear crumple zones, blind spot monitor with rear-cross traffic alert, lane-departure and forward-collision warning, auto emergency brake with pedestrian detection, driver attention alert, daytime running lights and tire pressure monitoring system are standard.

If in the market for a midsize sedan that tackles sharp city corners or cruises the highway confidently, you should take the Maxima for a test drive. Underappreciated at times and wrongly so, it boasts spellbinding design, remarkable performance and superb craftsmanship. Kudos go to Nissan for this tremendous 2019 mid-cycle revive.



2020 Hyundai Santa Fe XLThe Hyundai Santa Fe XL is history and has now been replaced by a new flagship, the Palisade, for 2020. Apart from a longer wheelbase and being larger, higher, wider than its predecessor, this one is a knockout. We had the opportunity of first driving the midsize SUV on the curvy and hilly Blue Ridge Parkway in Asheville, N.C., before testing it on Tampa streets.

Available in 7- or 8-passenger configuration, the Palisade gets a sole power train: 3.8-liter V-6 engine pumping out 291 horsepower @ 6000 rpm and 262 pounds-feet of torque @ 5200 rpm, more than adequate to climb the mountainous terrain of “America’s Favorite Drive.” The 8-speed auto gear box with paddle shifters is immaculate offering instantaneous up and down moves. The SUV also is fitted with an engine start/stop system, which turns the engine off at a halt to save fuel.

An independent MacPherson strut front and multilink rear suspension does a particularly good job of soaking bumps and potholes with skill and in this front-wheel or all-wheel-drive ride. Also worth noting is the motor driven power rack-and-pinion steering, effortless at higher speeds or while pulling into a parking lot. Also serving the overall efforts is 59 percent advanced high-strength steel and sound-damping materials that hold wind and road noise to a minimum.

The Palisade shows off a mammoth cascading Hyundai grille with ‘crocodile eye’ LED headlights, day time running lights and turn signals. It comes standard with Hyundai SmartSense, which includes forward-collision avoidance, safe exit and lane keep assists and smart cruise control; there also are 10 airbags, four-wheel antilock brakes with brake assist, vehicle stability/traction control, front/rear crumple zones, daytime running lights and tire pressure monitoring system.

Switch over to eco, comfort, smart and sport drive modes (snow and AWD lock for all-wheel drive) via a knob on the center console. Also offered are 8-way power driver’s seat, 10.2-inch LCD touch screen for nav, phone and audio, 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, heads-up display, cooled/heated front and second-row Nappa leather seat, which folds via a power button, as does the third row, dual sun roof, surround-view monitor, tilt/telescopic steering column, dual auto a/c, seven USB ports and 16 cup/bottle holders, and more depending on the trim.

Base-priced at $31,550 and peaking at $44,700 (luxurious Limited!), the Palisade is great value for the money. Don’t be deluded into believing that the mighty 4,387-pound vehicle lacks muscle. In fact, the gas pedal releases forceful but silent acceleration to make the Palisade an elegant, pleasing and easy-riding companion. And Hyundai’s five-year, 60,000-mile basic, and 10-year, 100,000-mile power train warranties should convince you to sign on the dotted line.



2019 GOLF GTI (AUTOBAHN)26 years and still going strong! That is the “hot hatch” for you and loyal owners. Ever since its debut, the 2019 Golf has won numerous accolades while setting fresh benchmarks in innovation, design, value and available driver assistance features. Not one to rest on their laurels, VW engineers have tweaked the nimble ride even more for this year.

Our Golf GTI is equipped with a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 cylinder engine generating 228 horsepower (up by 8 hp) @ 4700 rpm and 258 pounds-feet of torque @ 1500 rpm. It is mated to a 7-speed dual-clutch auto gearbox (up from previous 6-speed) though a 6-speed manual also is available. Apart from a slight boost in hp and transmission, the hatch gets upgraded brakes and a standard limited slip differential. You are assured that the lively and stylish Golf will get up to speed with urgency, and slow down as quickly and with self-assurance.

The seventh-generation hatchback shows off a steeply sloped hood meeting up with a narrow but bright-red horizontal grille strip, flanked by LED headlights and fog lamps. That this is a GTI is quite evident from red badging on the grille, front fenders, rear hatch and even the front brake calipers. Cabin passenger volume is respectable at 93.5 cubic feet of space. Trunk space is 22.8 cubic feet and fold down the rear seat to get 52.7 cubic feet. Occupants will find the larger 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system user friendly. Other standard goodies are dual auto a/c, flat-bottomed, three-spoke leather steering wheel with paddle shifters, 12-way power driver and six-way front-passenger seats, 60/40 fold rear seat, front center console with cup holders, armrest and storage, stainless-steel pedals.

Safety features at no extra cost are dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag, four-wheel antilock brakes with electronic brake distribution and hydraulic brake assist, stability control, hill hold control, rearview camera, blind spot monitor with rear traffic alert, lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control, three-point safety belts for all, daytime running lights and tire pressure monitoring system.

The sharp-looking Golf is incredibly athletic with a peppy engine, which provides ample punch to maneuver in rush-hour traffic. It also eked out an impressive average of nearly 28 mpg in city/highway driving. And the potential buyer is promised plentiful cabin space. More honors are in order for this remarkably competent hatch!


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