The chopped version of the big German SUV finds itself in an awkward spot.
VW’s large SUV offers good functionality and space for a family, as I noted when I first drove it in 2021, but felt it didn’t get enough respect as a reasonably-priced three-row SUV. Unfortunately the Atlas doesn’t get much love from buyers because there are more long-standing American options that often get picked as repeat purchases.
The German marque wanted buyers to give the Atlas another look, so it followed the crossover coupe trend, carving up the big SUV to give it slightly smaller proportions and smarter styling lines. Does that make it a better choice in a field full of bigger SUVs?
The Key Details
The VW Atlas Cross Sport’s competition includes the Chevy Blazer, Ford Edge, and Honda Passport (which I reviewed not long ago, in its off-road TrailSport trim) Compared to its full-size variant, the Atlas Cross Sport has a tapered roofline, taking away the option for a third-row seat. Losing five inches of overall length and two inches of height, I definitely like this shape more than the big body Atlas I reviewed after its refresh a couple years ago.
VW offers the Atlas Cross Sport with its 235-horsepower (with premium unleaded) 2.0-liter turbo standard and the 276-horsepower 3.6-liter VR6 as an optional upgrade on upper trim levels. Front-wheel-drive comes standard, with VW’s 4MOTION all-wheel-drive optional, and the AWD option allows Atlas Cross Sport drivers to also tick a box to add VW’s Active Control, which enables several terrain drive modes. Trim levels are SE and SEL, with technology package options to add more goodies.
Base price for the 4-cylinder Atlas Cross Sport is $35,150, and all-wheel-drive adds another $2000 to the sticker. Opt for the VR6, and the price begins at $41,070, with 4MOTION taking the figure up to $42,970. My tester is the base SE trim, with the tech package and added panoramic sunroof, hitting a total price of $40,575.
The Functional Family Hauler
Big SUV or not, the Atlas Cross Sport is nice to drive, providing dynamics you expect from VW. The steering is remarkably sharp for a vehicle of this size. You will be reminded of the Atlas’ proportions, and the suspension is nicely tuned for a hint of response, but without feeling harsh at all. Just don’t go tossing the Atlas around, thinking you’re in a GTI, because this is still a big car. The base 4-cylinder isn’t so hot in a big SUV, more suited to the GTI hot hatch it’s shared with. Having to lug around 4,400 pounds is a task the 3.6-liter VR6 is better at, which I appreciated having in the three-row Atlas I tested a couple years ago.
Seats are big and cushiony, but could use a bit more lateral support, and I’ll go into other thoughts on the seating surfaces in a moment. Despite not having a third-row seat, the Atlas Cross Sport still boasts a cavernous interior that five passengers will be comfortable riding in, so long as there are kids in the back seat. Cargo space in the rear hatch is gargantuan, with a pair of bins straddling each side of the boot, but I do wish there was a hint more organizational features designed into the Atlas Cross Sport.
VW’s updated MIB3 infotainment system is on-board, with an 8-inch touchscreen that incorporates wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. There’s also a wireless charging pad tucked under the center cluster. Volkswagen’s digital cockpit is standard on all Atlas Cross Sport models, and I appreciate how tidy the instrument cluster layout is, no matter which view you choose. I stuck with the more conventional look, but there’s a massive map view that’s helpful when you’re on a road trip.
Some Positive Points
When VW gave the Atlas a refresh a couple years ago, it was a big improvement. Not that the first generation was unattractive, but this new Atlas looks sharp and clean. No overly fake flares and angles, and no absurd body cladding to give a false impression of ruggedness. Even the vents in the front bumper are real.
Inside, Volkswagen was practical with the Atlas’ function, providing lots of spaces to tuck away your stuff, while being intuitive and close within reach. Since the switchgear in the Atlas is based on parts used in VW models for over a generation, we avoid the capacitive touch button setup that was my only big gripe in the Mk8 GTI I reviewed last year. There are real buttons and knobs everywhere you want them, even if they’re the same bits you get in the base model Golf that costs half as much as the Atlas.
Not So Wonderful Things
The base 4-cylinder SE trim of the Atlas Cross Sport has no drive modes for the powertrain nor terrain. You’ve got to upgrade to the bigger engine and then tick another option box to get both of those features, so the setup is a bit plain if you want more customization and personality. Because the four-banger is and engine more appropriately used in smaller, lighter cars in VW’s lineup, it’s working overtime in the Atlas, making a dent in its fuel economy. EPA estimates are 21/25/23, but I only achieved 20 during my week-long test.
When I discussed the comfort of the seats earlier, I didn’t dive into the coverings themselves, which is made from leatherette. I’ve felt some decent faux leather over the years, and the grade used in the Atlas Cross Sport is not great. The stitching work along the edges and door cards looks a bit cheap, and the fake carbon fiber look weave along the bolsters doesn’t make much sense. Not great from what should be considered a somewhat premium brand and model. The Honda Passport I reviewed holds an advantage here, but the Atlas is nicer inside than a Chevy Blazer or Ford Edge.
VW’s MIB infotainment works nicely, and has a responsive touchscreen, but having a very spartan UX theme and iconography makes you have to extend the time looking at the screen to tap the right app or make adjustments, which isn’t great while driving. Opt for the technology package if you’re buying a base model Atlas Cross Sport, which fits dual-zone climate control, keyless access, and remote start, even though I think those should be standard on a car in this class in 2023.
It’s Not Bad, But It Doesn’t Stand Out
VW did a good job of making the Atlas more attractive by offering this Cross Sport body style. I think it’s the right Atlas to get, if you want a big VW as your family car. By taking away some of the dimensions of the three-row Atlas, you’re still getting an SUV that feels big while only being a two-row seating model. While it’s better than many of the competitors VW feels it has, the Atlas Cross Sport slid into another class, almost by accident.
Now viewed as a two-row SUV, there are other crossovers that are more attractive than the Atlas Cross Sport in several ways. The Honda Passport is good, reliable, and looks the part as a rugged smaller SUV, but it’s not as great as engaging to drive. Instead, I think Mazda’s new CX-50 I recently enjoyed is the right choice for a two-row midsized crossover, not just because of its cooler styling, but its interior is more upscale, and the driving impressions are better than any affordable crossover I’ve tested.
You don’t have to be boring if you want a crossover, and Audi provides a quick one.
Crossovers. We all see them everywhere. Mostly in grayscale shades, boring as ever, and driven to do the most basic tasks, while having little to no personality. From time to time, manufacturers decide to inject some personality and performance, offering more enjoyment for those who want a practical crossover’s functionality but crave the twisties on the weekend. Even as mild upgrades, the fun crossover looks to entertain those drivers who need a car that ticks several boxes.
No stranger to pepped-up variants, Audi has slapped its “S” badge on several models in its lineup for decades, offering subtle styling upgrades to match reasonable performance improvements. Competing with the quicker forms of the BMW X3 and Mercedes GLC, the Audi SQ5 provides clean styling, loads of good features, and more fun in its crossover package. Now offered in a sportback body, Audi gives its popular mid-sized crossover a coupe-like roofline to appear slightly cooler.
The Key Specs
Shared with several Audi S models, the SQ5 gets Ingolstadt’s 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 that produces 349 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque. While it’s down on power versus the BMW X3 M40i and AMG GLC 43, the SQ5 sportback pushes those figures through an 8-speed automatic and quattro all-wheel-drive to sprint from 0-60 MPH in 4.7 seconds (matching the Benz, and 0.3s slower than the BMW) on its way to a limited top track speed of 155 MPH (when fitted with summer tires). Take it easy on the accelerator, and you’ll likely hit the EPA’s fuel economy estimates of 19/24/21 MPGs.
Audi’s pricing with most of its models is smart, with three distinct trim levels offered–Premium, Premium Plus, and Prestige–for the SQ5 Sportback. The Premium model starts reasonably-equipped at $59,200, the Premium Plus adds more features at its $63,300 starting figure, and the Prestige model starts at $68,500 (adding Bang & Olufsen audio, Audi’s virtual cockpit instrument cluster, OLED headlights, acoustic glass for the windscreen and front two windows, top-view parking cameras, heated steering wheel, and heated and chilled front cupholders).
This Prestige SQ5 Sportback I tested added Florett Silver Metallic paint, S Sport Package (sport adaptive air suspension, sport rear differential, red brake calipers), 21-inch wheels and summer tires, Nappa leather seats, and the black optic package that gives the exterior gloss black details to hit a total price of $76,515.
Upmarket Daily Functionality
More engaging than your typical crossover, the Audi SQ5 Sportback is an enjoyable place to spend your commutes and errand runs. You’ll definitely be the cool parent in the school pickup line, but without looking like you’re trying too hard. Your kids and coworkers alike will appreciate that you opted for the more fun variant of the people hauler when you take them along, thanks to plenty of punch underneath, even when you’re being somewhat tame behind the wheel. In the comfort drive mode, the SQ5 is composed without feeling too disconnected, a reminder that you opted for the fun crossover model. Even with 21-inch wheels opted, the SQ5 was reasonable over Austin’s poorly maintained city streets.
The exterior lines of the SQ5 Sportback are clean yet stylish, which is a refreshing change compared to many crossovers that are overly angular while pretending to have more character. More subtle than sporty, the shade of silver selected for this SQ5 Sportback was of high quality, but I’d suggest picking one of Audi’s cooler paints (like the lovely District Green I tested a while back on both the SQ5 crossover and S5 Cabriolet).
Anyone who slides into the SQ5’s cabin will appreciate the extra lateral support that doesn’t feel too forceful, and I love the red leather option detailed with quilted stitching. Just give me a ventilated seat option for hot Texas days. Four adults can comfortably fit inside the SQ5’s cabin, with room for five occupants if there are kids in the back seat. If you really need more space to spread out, you’ll need to step up to a three-row Audi Q7.
Because it has the coupe-like roofline, the SQ5 loses a hint of cargo volume. Down to 25 cubic feet with the rear seats up and 52 with them folded flat, rather than the standard SQ5’s 26 and 54, respectively. I couldn’t identify a meaningful drop in headroom in the back seat versus the conventional SQ5 I drove previously. This Audi finds itself with a bit more space than the GLC, and less than the X3’s volume. There’s plenty of practical storage nicely placed throughout the cockpit, and I love how the wireless charging tray slides forward and back to either give you quick access to your phone or hiding away when you want to use the heated and cooled front cupholders.
Audi neatly balances sportiness, luxury, and a cool factor within its cabin, with the SQ5 Sportback getting a familiar look and feel to other models in the lineup. The SQ5’s cool ensemble of leather, alcantara, and carbon fiber is fantastic. I’m praising Audi for sticking with a theme that has worked for years, thankfully continuing to employ physical buttons, knobs, and switches throughout its interior, with exceedingly intuitive placement. The screen on the climate control knob displaying the temperature is a smart touch too.
The MMI display has high resolution too, making it easier to read while looking like it belongs in a much more expensive car, supplemented by wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The BMW X3’s cabin is a bit bland, and the Mercedes GLC’s layout might be too space age for some. The Audi virtual cockpit allows drivers to tweak the instrument cluster to their liking, and I went with the minimized display that only showed the digital tachometer and speedometer while hiding the side displays.
Hauls More Than Groceries
With a longer than usual coffee run or any escape from reality, the SQ5 is a decent performer. It’s no RS6 Avant (which is my favorite fast four-door or wagon I’ve reviewed), but that’s nearly double the cash to throw in your driveway. As a performance crossover with all sorts of cool tech features and an extremely comfortable cabin, the SQ5 Sportback gets the job done. Over some fun Central Texas roads, the SQ5 Sportback was certainly fun to toss around, I didn’t go into this test expecting it to be a top-notch sport sedan, so I give it good marks in the fun department.
As is fitted to many Audis, the drive select system provides three default drive modes, with one individual mode to suit your tastes. Similarly to my other reviews of fun Audi models, I do wish there was a bigger spread in the feel and behavior of the drive modes, particularly in the dynamic one. I did make sure to have the sport engine and exhaust sounds enabled in my individual setup, to make the SQ5 have a bit more grunt than the usual crossover I’d encounter during my drive. I have to poke fun at the fake quad exhaust pipes molded into the SQ5 Sportback’s rear bumper, with the real ones more basic and concealed behind there.
The optional sport differential definitely gives this SQ5 Sportback more effective rotation in the bends, but there’s a bit too much boost with artificial sensations and electric assistance felt trough the perfectly thick steering wheel. I found that putting the steering in sport through the individual drive mode actually gave the SQ5 more realistic feedback in any driving condition. While not as fast and precise as the PDK in the Porsche Macan, the SQ5’s 8-speed automatic offers shifts that are still quick and smooth while helping propel this crossover ahead.
Managing the SQ5’s weight transfer is easy, thanks to the adaptive air suspension, but giving it the beans on a demanding stretch of road will make the brakes and average performance Pirelli P Zero rubber remind you that this crossover coupe is carrying around 4,300 pounds of German metal. When I evaluated the traditional crossover-bodied SQ5 two summers ago, I flogged it along the Angeles Crest Highway in Southern California, and aside from the brakes getting a bit hot during longer stints, it performed well in a demanding environment. Your weekend escape to a backroad should be just fine.
Quick Crossover Coupes Can Be Good
Sporty crossovers are all the rage these days, allowing drivers more grateful ingress and egress while boasting more cargo space than a quick sedan. I can appreciate enthusiast drivers that previously opted for fast four-doors or coupes wanting the flexibility of a one-car solution found in the SQ5. It’s comfortable for longer hauls, looks great, packs plenty of tech features, and provides enough fun for the weekly back road sprint.
Should you want more fun from a fast crossover, the Porsche Macan S or GTS might be your best bet versus the AMG GLC 63 or BMW X3M Competition, but expect to spend a lot more cash over the SQ5. If you’re not hot on the SQ5’s crossover shape, but still want some extra storage practicality, Audi’s S5 Sportback (and quicker RS5 that I tested) hits the sweet spot with a more subtle sedan-like body. Against the BMW X3 M40i or Mercedes-Benz GLC 43, the Audi SQ5 definitely gets my pick.
In a sea of boring compact crossovers that have no personality, this little Honda swims to the top.
Pint-sized crossovers are everywhere, replacing a generation of compact sedans and hatchbacks plenty of people owned for ages. As manufacturers looked to capitalize on the desire for crossovers on a budget, too many of these little utility vehicles got the short end of the fit and finish stick, and left plenty to desire in the driving enjoyment department.
In its previous generation, the HR-V was based on a dated platform borrowed from the Honda Fit, which wasn’t the greatest thing to drive. Thankfully Honda gave its popular HR-V a big update for 2023. With a new chassis, more stylish exterior lines, and a much needed interior upgrade, Honda’s most affordable crossover aims to please a wider range of buyers who want to tote more people and gear without breaking the bank.
The Useful Figures
Honda’s HR-V is the entry level crossover in its lineup, packing room for four adults (or five occupants, with three kids in the back seat) and decent space for all their stuff. All 2023 Honda HR-V trim levels are powered by a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder that produces 158 horsepower and 138 lb-ft of torque. Front-wheel-drive is standard on all HR-Vs, with Honda’s Real Time all-wheel-drive available for an additional $1,500, with a CVT as the only transmission selection. EPA fuel economy estimates are 26/32/28 for the front-wheel-drive model, and only give back the slightest MPGs with all-wheel-drive, at 25/30/27.
As trim levels move up, Honda neatly packages features and convenience into each HR-V option. Pricing for the HR-V’s base LX trim starts at $23,800, the mid-level Sport is $25,900, and the range-topping EX-L starts at $27,900. The EX-L I tested added all-wheel-drive and Nordic Forest Pearl paint (another $395) to hit an MSRP of $30,590 after destination.
The Zippy City Car
As little crossovers go, the 2023 HR-V is actually fun to drive. With 158 horsepower and decent torque–which isn’t too shabby for a little car–Honda’s entry crossover zips around nicely. Though it has a CVT mated to that engine, Honda’s ‘box actually engages effectively, rather than hampering any hint of performance or drivability. Some of its competition should really reevaluate how a CVT should operate. t
Honda’s brake auto hold feature is fantastic for city driving, allowing you to take your foot off the pedal and relax a bit when stuck at a red light. Honda Sensing–which is a comprehensive suite of safety features–comes standard on the HR-V, continuing to provide exceptionally functional lane keeping and adaptive cruise control systems that some more expensive cars don’t execute nearly as well.
Steering feel is great, feeling a bit more like a Civic Si than an entry-level crossover, and the ride quality is quite good over any drive. There are normal, eco, and snow drive modes featured in the HR-V, and hill descent control is ready with the push of a button, should you be tackling more complicated terrain than the local grocery store parking lot. Just don’t mistake this HR-V for an off-roader when you take the family on a camping trip, having reasonable all-season tires fitted to the EX-L’s slightly cooler painted and finished wheels.
Cabin appointments in the new HR-V are great, taking lots of cues from the updated Civic I tested last year, with considerably better fit and finish than the last generation. The leather seats are soft to the touch yet perfectly supportive, with a cool mix of contrasting stitching and perforations, and the front seats heat up nicely when desired. Not a fan of infotainment screens that are seemingly slapped atop a dash, at least Honda’s system is easy to use, also offering a high-resolution display.
What really surprised me in the HR-V is the amount of passenger volume offered inside what’s Honda’s smallest car. Even in the back seat I had plenty of legroom. The HR-V’s rear storage area is big too, with the cargo capacity increasing considerably when the back seats fold flat with a 60/40 split. If you need more space inside and out, Honda did just give a big update its CR-V too. As you’d expect from Honda, the HR-V also has lots of little places to stash your things, even keeping your phone stable when it’s tucked away.
The Good And Not Great Things
The trend of adding harsh edges and fake vents to cute-sized crossovers is a terrible one, and I’m happy to see that Honda gave the updated HR-V more subtle and clean exterior lines. Even the body cladding on the fenders is tidy, using painted panels rather than the cheap-looking gray plastic too many OEMs are slapping on small crossovers.
I like this new interior styling language Honda has applied to its models, giving not only a strong sense of continuity no matter which model you hop behind the wheel of, but also refining a cockpit that’s neatly balancing intuitive and cool. That HR-V benefits from this cabin design language, and the EX-L trim gets good doses of contrasting-stitched leather to coat the dash, door cards, and center console. Actual buttons and knobs are used extensively inside the HR-V, with Honda avoiding the often employed capacitive touch controls and screens by other manufacturers.
Smart shortcut digital buttons added to the bottom of the infotainment screen are a cool touch too, making use of the system customizable depending on your needs. In this EX-L trim, I like that Honda gave the HR-V wireless charging in addition to wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but didn’t skimp on the USB ports throughout the cabin for all occupants. The ambient lighting system is kinda minimal, but it’s one more upgrade in the top trim level HR-V.
The use case for the HR-V had to include moms handling the day-to-day needs of the family, and the rear hatch has a load-in floor that seems a bit high for a small crossover. On days when errand runs involve heavier items, this is one tiny complaint I have on behalf of shorter HR-V drivers. Cargo space is definitely big for what appears to be a small crossover on the outside, but I wish Honda gave the HR-V’s rear hatch area more practical storage solutions–like netting and concealed pockets–for tucking away your stuff.
While clean in its design, and smart to allow for customized displays, the HR-V’s instrument cluster is a bit basic in its layout and color theme. It’s easy to let your eyes blend in all the numbers and indications on the gauges without some sort of contrasting needles and dials. Cool appearances aside, the new hexagonal dash vents are begging for dust, dirt, and hair to get stuck behind them, leading to difficulty cleaning after years of ownership. Honestly my negatives about the HR-V are minimal, with none of these being reasons to avoid this pint-sized Honda.
A Great Little Crossover On A Budget
An inexpensive compact crossover doesn’t have to cheap out with its looks, features, nor quality, and thankfully Honda got the memo. The new HR-V is a great option for those who want a decent crossover that packs a bunch of good features and driving dynamics into an attractive package that doesn’t beat up your monthly budget.
While I feel that more drivers should opt for hatchbacks rather than compact crossovers, to keep the driving sensations more fun while lowering the center of gravity, I’m not shifting the tide of buyers happily lining up to drive these cute-sized utes. Luckily manufacturers are stepping up the crossover offerings while making them more enjoyable to drive, with only modest price increases. If you’ve got to stick an affordable little utility vehicle in your driveway, the new Honda HR-V is a great choice to make.
Spotted at your favorite rental lot and often overlooked on the road, is this affordable sedan one you want?
In the past few years, Hyundai has reshaped its Kia and Genesis brands, but the mothership hasn’t done a lot with its core models. I’ve definitely enjoyed the Kia and Genesis models I’ve tested in recent years, but haven’t spent a lot of time in Hyundais. Focused on its great new EVs, crossovers, and SUVs that pad the balance sheet, the affordable sedans in Hyundai’s lineup aren’t getting a lot of attention.
Though compact sedans aren’t big sellers these days, the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, and Nissan Sentra still ship in decent numbers, so the Elantra should try to keep up. With that sort of competition getting more attractive, better equipped, and more enjoyable to drive, I wanted to see if the Hyundai Elantra’s nicely equipped trim level could sway my attention away from its Japanese rivals.
The Key Specs
Standard trim level Hyundai Elantra models are all powered by a naturally-aspirated 2.0-liter 4-cylinder that produces 147 horsepower and 132 lb-ft of torque, and are driven by what Hyundai calls its Smartstream® Intelligent Variable Transmission, which is basically a CVT. The enthusiast spec Elantra N Line upgrades to a 1.6-liter turbo that pumps out 201 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque, mated to a 7-speed twin-clutch gearbox.
Where the lower trim level Elantras get cloth interior, this Limited upgrades to leather while also adding dual-zone climate control, 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster and navigation screens, ambient interior lighting, Hyundai’s smart cruise control system, and a couple more safety systems than the more basic trim levels.
A base model Elantra SE starts at $20,950, and this Limited rim adds a lot more standard equipment to hit an MSRP of $27,655. If one wants a bit more fun out of their compact Hyundai sedan, the Elantra N Line is $27,500. Hyundai also provides massive warranty coverage including a 5-year / 60,000 mile new vehicle, 10 years / 100,000 miles for the powertrain, and 5 years and unlimited miles of 24/7 roadside assistance.
Simple As A Daily Driver
The Elantra Limited’s powertrain is definitely lackluster. Designed more to accommodate fuel economy (boasting EPA fuel economy estimates of 30/40/34 MPG) than driving enjoyment, I had a difficult time dealing with the off-the-line acceleration. Boasting just 147 horsepower, the Elantra is down on power to the base trim level Civic, and 33 down versus the comparable trim’s 180. The Elantra’s CVT is odd too, not keeping in sync with my right foot nor the engine’s powerband, and seemingly adjusting tension erratically when trying to merge onto or accelerate along the freeway.
Steering inputs are somewhat vague, but the weighting is decent. Suspension feel is a bit firm for a compact sedan, especially versus the N Line model I tested when it arrived a couple years ago. Brake pedal sensations are about what you’d expect from an affordable compact sedan, and the Kumho all-season rubber providing reasonable grip with a moderate dose of road noise. Hyundai supplied three drive modes–normal, sport, and smart–which give it a hint more personality, and either make it feel a tiny bit more fun or more eco conscious. The Elantra definitely feels more engaging than the Nissan Sentra, but the Civic and Corolla have a considerable advantage.
Cabin space is really good for a car in this segment, with the front seats looking a bit sportier while being more supportive than the rear ones. Leather coverings in the Elantra aren’t of the best quality, but don’t expect a lot in a car at this price. Hyundai gave the Elantra a massive trunk, but I wish there was some sort of organizational pockets or a more functional use of this cavernous void.
The Elantra’s front cupholders have a neat feature that allows you to flip over the divider to make the spots deeper, but there isn’t any sort of springy device within its edges to stabilize your tasty beverages, so I ended up spilling my coffee with the slightest bump or turn.
Big 10.25-inch displays make up the instrument cluster (that changes its look depending on the drive mode engaged) and infotainment system, which are becoming the industry standard. I do wish Hyundai used a bit more color in its iconography, because all of the buttons are blue, making you take your eyes off the road if you want to swap functions or apps.
The Highlights And Low Points
I will continue to praise manufacturers for using hard buttons rather than touchscreens for audio, climate control, and systems on the steering wheel, even if its by accident that the switchgear has been used in a car for several years. Hyundai gave the Elantra a nicely intuitive cabin, and all the buttons are big and simple.
Tech goodies include wireless mobile charging, wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and Android users can use their phone to engage Hyundai’s digital key. Apple iPhone users aren’t so lucky. The Bose audio system provides a quality experience, even if the speakers are fitted to hard plastic panels and limited insulation throughout the cabin which don’t love a bass-heavy track.
While I averaged 34 MPGs during my week-long test in the Elantra Limited, I couldn’t help but gripe about how underpowered it felt. I’d happily trade some fuel economy for more pep under the hood. Hyundai also has some strange styling cues throughout the Elantra, and it’s just too busy for no good reason. Angles everywhere! The exterior goes wild with sharp edges and fake vents, making it seem even lower grade than it already targets itself to be.
Once inside, the low-rent look continues, which is unfortunate, because the Elantra is a humble car that fits the budget of many buyers. Integrating slightly nicer materials would do this mid-level Hyundai a lot of favors, with a cabin that’s riddled with too much hard plastic. I also question the logic behind fitting a massive grab handle along the center console for the passenger. Did someone on the design team have plans to do some wild hooning in the Elantra?
There’s More To Consider At This Price Point
Hyundai is banging out some freakishly cool EVs that look stunning inside and out, yet the sedans in its lineup are getting left out in the cold. People still want affordable, reasonably-sized sedans, and this car shouldn’t just be experienced when it’s the option you and your coworkers got stuck with on a three-day trip to Omaha because you didn’t have a high enough status with Enterprise or Hertz. The Hyundai Elantra deserves to be better, and needs to become a car people want to buy.
Honda gave the new Civic some great looks, high quality fit and finish, solid driving impressions, and fantastic all-around value, and it’s definitely my pick in this class. Toyota continues to deliver a Corolla that ticks all sorts of boxes for compact sedan buyers, even if it’s a bit beige for my liking. At a price point that’s on-par with the competition, Hyundai needs to design and deliver more advantages than good warranty coverage and cash incentives to move the Elantra off dealer lots. Otherwise it’ll continue to lose market share to its rivals.
Offering a pair of small, affordable crossovers in the same segment on the same showroom floor at the same time isn’t a great idea. Particularly when one is newer, more attractive, and better sorted.
When I sync up with my local press fleet manager about every month or so, we go over a wave of cars we schedule at a time, and typically I have zero confusion about what’s selected and planned. Recently I had a real head scratcher on my hands when I saw my schedule included both the new Mazda CX-50 and the CX-5 I’m already familiar with. I knew Mazda had a new practical-sized crossover in the CX-50, but didn’t realize the CX-5 wasn’t send out to pasture upon its arrival.
Mazda’s CX-5 has been around for over a decade, and has had a couple updates, but it was due for a rebuild… or outright replacement. Competing with other crossovers including the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Nissan Rogue, and Hyundai Tucson, the CX-5 has a good option for plenty of families. What’s strange is that it is still on sale as a new car, when its spiritual successor has arrived in the form of the CX-50. Rather than my usual review of one car at a time, I decided to talk about both, and point out the reasons you’d want one of these Mazda crossovers over the other.
The Specs, Similar Yet Different
Both Mazda crossovers are powered by four-cylinder engines (turbocharged in these higher trim levels), with all-wheel-drive now standard across the model range. With a 2.5-liter turbo, Mazda gives both the CX-5 and CX-50 227 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque with regular unleaded, and bumps up to 256 horsepower and 320 lb-ft if you fill the tank with premium. These are great figures for a practical little crossover.
Where the CX-5 is 180 inches long, 72 wide, 66 tall, and sports 62-inch wide tracks and a 106-inch wheelbase, the CX-50 is 185 inches long, 75 wide, and 64 tall, with a 110-inch wheelbase (and no track listed). The CX-5 has a minimum ground clearance of 7.9 inches, and the CX-50 clears 8.6. Towing capacity for the CX-5 is 2,000 pounds, and the CX-50’s higher two trim levels bump that up to 3,500 pounds.
Base pricing for the entry-level trims of both the CX-5 and CX-50 begin at $27,000, and I tested the top-level Turbo Signature trim of the CX-5 and the Turbo Premium Plus CX-50, which add all the tech and comfort goodies you’d want. The CX-5 tested hit a total MSRP of $41,655, and the CX-50 is $43,170.
The Outgoing Sensible Daily Driver
Rather than a plain experience behind the wheel, the Mazda CX-5 is actually an enjoyable little crossover to drive. The 2.5-liter turbo makes it considerably quicker than other compact crossovers I’ve tested, making any errand run more fun. Shifts from the 6-speed automatic are reasonably seamless, with somewhat tight gear ratios to provide quick acceleration in any situation.
Steering feel is slightly heavy yet precise, although when parking at a grocery store or making a quick U-turn, there’s a considerable amount of driver input needed. Ride quality is definitely on the firm side, which isn’t a thing I’ve noticed in other Mazda models, and it was uncomfortable when driving in downtown Austin. It felt like Mazda used spring rates intended for a full-size pickup in the CX-5.
Mazda’s interior design is clean and modern, with comfortable and supportive seats for all five passengers (if you’re sticking kids in the back seat). The front two occupants are treated to heated and ventilated seats, which are nice for a practical crossover, and the outer two rear passengers get heated seats, but the control for those is made into the center armrest. The leather used in the CX-5 certainly feels more premium than you’d expect in an affordable crossover. Cargo space in the hatch is good for the weekend’s errand runs, but if you need to fold the back seat down flat you’ll either need to remove the headrests or move your front seats up a lot.
The CX-5’s switchgear setup is slightly dated, using bits that have been in the Mazda parts bin for a decade. At least there are buttons and switches rather than touchscreens for the systems. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are installed in Mazda’s infotainment system, but you still have to plug in your phone, so if you want to take advantage of the wireless mobile charging tray you won’t be doing so with CarPlay running.
Fuel economy achieved during my test was 19 MPGs, which is less than the EPA estimated 22/27/24. Thank the tighter final drive ratio that kept RPMs up higher than expected from a small crossover during daily cruising, even while I behaved myself with the accelerator and didn’t make much use of the sport drive mode (which will quicken the CX-5’s throttle response and personality ever so slightly).
Mazda equips the CX-5 with loads of safety and driver assistance systems, but the adaptive cruise control system nor lane keeping assistance are really smooth, and could take a page from Honda’s book. Overall, the CX-5 is good, but it’s clear it has been on the road for a while in its current form, and was ready for upgrades.
The Successor Steps Up
The CX-50 certainly grew in size compared to the CX-5, but the big improvements come from the exterior design department. The CX-5 was a decent looking little crossover, in a world of cute utes that have all sorts of angles and fake vents for no good reason, but the CX-50 is downright attractive. Punchier fender flares, a more pronounced fascia, and more angular bumpers make the CX-50 way more appealing than most crossovers queueing to pick up the kids from school.
While the CX-50 carries over the more than competent powertrain from the CX-5, Mazda did some serious updates to the suspension, because despite the fact it ditched the independent multilink setup on the CX-5, the torsion bar rear suspension copes with corners and bumps impressively. Attribute some of the ride quality to the wheelbase that’s four inches longer than the CX-5. The slightly larger diameter steering wheel (and it’s nicer controls) that’s borrowed from Mazda’s big brother CX-9 helps make tighter turns easier too.
Seating surfaces are treated to even better leather than the CX-5, with the CX-50 I tested sporting nice contrasting stitching. Even the CX-50’s dash gets more leather and cool stitching, completing a much more upmarket cabin. The CX-50 offers better interior volume for both occupants and cargo than the CX-5. With the back seat up, there’s still more space than inside the CX-5, and I found that the rear seats went flat without the headrests hitting the front seats in our intended positions. If you need to tote more kids and gear than the CX-50 can handle, the CX-9 I tested–and it’s CX-90 upgrade–will get the job done.
While it gets a bigger infotainment screen than the CX-5, and just like the setup in the bigger CX-9 I evaluated, the CX-50 continues to utilize Mazda’s somewhat spartan and average software. Thankfully Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are installed, but I’d like to see Mazda incorporate USB-C ports in its models, so I don’t have to keep around outdated cables for my iPhone. Wireless charging pads and newer iPhones also don’t play along nicely, with the metallic back heating up quite a lot when on the wireless charger for more than a quick errand run.
The Mazda CX-50 gets my same complaint on the fuel economy front as the CX-5. During my week with the CX-50, I made a road trip to Houston for a weekend, and did considerably more highway miles. Because the final drive gear ratio is still tight in the CX-50 (4.41 in the CX-5 vs. 3.84 in the CX-50), I was hitting about 2,500 RPMs at highway speeds, and on the three-hour drives between Austin and Houston, the MPGs took a hit, yielding just 18 on average. Not great for a reasonable family crossover powered by a four-banger, but the CX-50 does get an extra half gallon of fuel capacity over the CX-50.
As an upgrade over the CX-5, Mazda added an off-road drive mode to the CX-50, which is a nice feature for families who go on adventures over less than smooth terrain. Although the Goodyear all-season rubber is okay, if you want to really tackle the trails, opt for the CX-50’s Meridian Edition. While it’s a slightly lower trim level than the Premium Plus I tested, it gets more rugged looks and gear, but also adds a set of all-terrain tires wrapped around more sensible 18-inch wheels. Honda’s Passport TrailSport I reviewed last year is another option for a slightly more rugged approach to a two-row crossover.
Mazda Cannibalized Its Own Car
Mazda claims the CX-50 isn’t a replacement for the CX-5, with them both being on sale at the same time, but let’s not kid ourselves. The CX-50 is the new middle child in the Mazda crossover lineup, and it’s a great one. Mazda did a similar thing when the CX-30 launched, keeping the CX-3 around for a little longer before giving it the axe, and that didn’t make sense either.
It’s as if Mazda had a pair of fraternal twins, but one got all the great genes, and the other got some good ones. Both were physically attractive, played sports in high school, and got good grades, but one made the varsity tennis team yet kicked ass at chess, and got a scholarship to Rice while the other played occasional intramural sports and had to do a couple years in community college before transferring to U of H. They’re both good kids, and live good lives, but we all know one is the parents’ favorite.
Not only is the Mazda CX-50 better looking inside and out, but it’s considerably more enjoyable to drive than the CX-5. The price point is similar too, which makes the CX-50 even easier to choose. Especially if you’re doing conventional financing. Sure, Mazda has some big lease incentives to move the CX-5, but that should give an even better indication that the CX-50 should be the crossover you take on all your family’s adventures and I think it’s the new class leader.
If you haven’t given this Korean marque serious consideration in the past two years, you should adjust your priorities. Genesis is playing with the established manufacturers now.
In the process of rebuilding its entire brand identity and positioning, Genesis is making some seriously good cars. Aiming to steal a piece of the pie German competitors have enjoyed for ages, Genesis is delivering performance luxury models at a price point that’s hard to overlook. Over the past couple years, the Korean lineup has been refreshed, with its sedans and crossovers all getting stunning new designs inside and out.
Genesis ships the G90 with one of two powertrains, starting with a 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6 (shared with the Genesis GV80 SUV and G80 sedan) with 375 horsepower and 391 lb-ft of torque, and an optional 48V mild hybrid upgrade–which Genesis calls an E-Supercharger) to that V6 that increases output to 409 horsepower and 405 lb-ft of torque. All-wheel-drive is the only drivetrain for the G90.
If one opts for the E-Supercharger model, the interior gets a massive upgrade by adding power reclining and adjustable rear seats, with the one on the passenger side providing a fully-extended lounge chair setup. Interestingly the EPA fuel economy estimates for the E-Supercharged G90 dip one MPG versus the standard turbo V6, at 17/24/20, with the hybrid more focused on better performance rather than increasing efficiency. Something I appreciated about the current generation Acura NSX’s powertrain.
Keeping the options sheet simple, Genesis delivers the G90 with a loaded model that has very few choices for its buyers, leaving the choices down to just the powertrain, paint color, and interior theme. The standard G90 price is $88,400, and the upgraded E-Supercharger model and its seriously upmarket rear cabin bumps up to $98,700. The G90 I tested was the E-Supercharger model, with premium Hallasan Green paint and Glacier White interior, hitting a total MSRP of $100,370 after destination, making it a healthy $20,000 less expensive than a comparably-equipped S-Class.
Sublime Commutes To The Office
Top-class driving is the goal of the Genesis G90, and your trek to the office will be wonderful behind the wheel of this massive sedan. The hybrid’s supplemental power neatly flattens the powerband of the G90’s twin-turbo V6, providing seamless acceleration, whether you’re smoothly gliding along through traffic or trying to blast past slower commuters along a freeway on-ramp.
Steering inputs are feather-light, thanks to electric assistance and the G90’s rear axle steering system, its turning circle is ridiculously tiny and parking this massive four-door is effortless. Big monoblock brake calipers do a great job of providing confident stopping power, and the braking system also adjusts pedal feel based on the drive mode selected.
The G90 E-Supercharger model upgrades to a multi-chamber air suspension that subtly adjusts as you change speeds or driving inputs, with distinct characteristics in each of the G90’s drive modes. Even with 21-inch wheels fitted, the G90’s ride quality is sublime. When I dialed in my custom drive mode setup, I kept the suspension in sport to minimize a hint of floaty behaviors in the chassis, but most luxury buyers will appreciate the comfort mode.
The G90’s cabin design is top-notch, with clearly placed controls for every system, avoiding any use of touchscreens for systems where knobs and buttons are required, and there isn’t a single piece of piano black trim in sight. Genesis installed 12.3-inch screens for both the instrument cluster and the infotainment system, with the latter offering control through your choice of touchscreen or the center armrest-mounted knob. Genesis has a great user interface with great software too, rather than conceding to Apple CarPlay or Android Auto as the primary look and feel. Audiophiles will appreciate the 26-speaker Bang & Olufsen 3D system that offers supreme clarity and punch. Genesis has what it calls a Mood Curator in the infotainment system, which plays audio and adjusts the ambient lighting to craft an environment that energizes or calms.
Exquisitely stitched and perforated, the Genesis G90’s seats are heated, ventilated, and massaging for all four main occupants. The middle rear seat doesn’t get such treatment, since it’s an afterthought position that also has a massive armrest that folds into its space. Air chambers in the 18-way adjustable driver and 16-way front passenger seats’ bolsters inflate and deflate accordingly to make your entry and exit more comfortable, while also adjusting in each drive mode to meet your mood.
Entry to the G90 can also utilize a digital key through your iPhone or Apple Watch, neatly unlocking the doors and popping out the power door handles. A tap of the button on either the door handle or center console enables the G90’s power closing doors, and using the one installed on the door again will lightly open each of the four doors, because only peasants open and close their own doors.
Legit Luxury When Being Driven
In the back seat of the G90 is where you want to be. While the driving impressions are great in this flagship, the top-class Genesis’ rear cabin encompasses passengers in the sort of opulence found in the Bentley Flying Spur I enjoyed. The G90’s rear doors are much longer than the front, allowing easier transitions into the seats. Power window shades raise for the doors and rear windscreen, offering greater privacy.
When in the standard position, the G90’s rear seats provide a considerable amount of legroom and shoulder space, with power reclining for the setback and bottom that make it even easier to relax on longer drives. Via an 8-inch touchscreen mounted within the center armrest, the rear occupants can adjust their seat’s heating, ventilation, and massaging modes, in addition to the climate and audio controls to ensure optimal comfort levels.
When seated on the right side of the cabin, the upgrades for the G90 E-Supercharger model are truly experienced. This Genesis has an added chauffeur drive mode that optimizes rear passenger comfort by adjusting the suspension accordingly. Offering a massive stretch of reclining and footrest extension, you can fully relax after a long day in the boardroom. The center armrest enables full control over the front passenger seat, to extend space even more, making the chauffeured experience more complete. All that’s missing are a driver and partition.
The Highlights And Tiny Complaints
Details are exceptional around the Genesis G90. With the thinnest headlights fitted in its lineup, and lighting elements that carry the theme along its fenders and tail-end, Genesis gives the G90 a sleek fascia that’s met with a massive pentagonal grille and badge that could easily be mistaken for a Bentley. A designer may have been poached from that English marque. Dimensions and proportions for the G90’s body are obscenely good, giving a stately appearance while still earning plenty of cool points.
Interior appointments continue the effort of supplying equal parts contemporary and finely crafted, with a great ensemble that incorporates Nappa leather, quality stitching, brushed metallic trim, and a mixture of wood and recycled newspapers that resembles forged carbon. Thin metal inlays complete a high-class detail within the door panels, and the steering wheel is designed with the airbag panel and button components to appear more three-dimensional than your typical setup.
As first world problems go, wireless Apple CarPlay didn’t want to stay synced in the G90, so I had to use the cable more often than not. This doesn’t seem so bad at first, but the USB-C ports in the center armrest made my iPhone start to roast within a couple minutes, so it would also have to unplug to cool down, which would make me lose the use of CarPlay.
This Is A Proper Flagship, And It Deserves Respect
Ignore the badge, and accept the fact that Genesis is a player in the luxury game. The G90 is impressively equipped with all the features one demands from this segment, looks fantastic inside and out, and drives exceptionally. While down on power versus the Mercedes S-Class I reviewed, the G90’s powerplant is not exactly slow. Once behind the wheel, you’ll see that it’s more than enough power to effectively deliver to your destination.
At a savings of tens of thousands of your hard-earned dollars against the established German players, you’d be foolish to overlook this Korean executive sedan. The Genesis G90 is a massive success at delivering a legit flagship, and your pride in being a brand snob needs to be swallowed immediately.
As affordable fun sedans go, the Jetta has been a great contender for a long time, but how good is it now?
I’m a sucker for a fun little sedan, and appreciate companies that continue cranking out new ones. Volkswagen has been shipping the Jetta GLI for decades, giving its loyal buyers a slightly more performance-oriented variant of its compact sedan at a reasonable price. While it’s based on the same MQB platform as VW’s GTI, this Jetta feels like it’s half a generation behind the updated Mk8 GTI I reviewed last year.
The Jetta got a refresh for the 2022 model year, and the 2023 carried over mostly unchanged, with only minor cosmetic updates and remote start being fitted. Having played with plenty of practical four-door enthusiast models, including the all-new Honda Civic Si, I had to see if VW’s quick Jetta still gets the job done.
One thing I have to mention: During my test, some jerk in a parking lot dented the passenger rear door and didn’t leave a note, so I feel bad that the car got injured on my watch.
The Useful Specs
For 2023, VW simplified the order sheet for the Jetta GLI, now only offered in the nicely-equipped Autobahn trim level. Equipped with the same 2.0-liter turbocharged four cylinder as the Mk8 GTI I reviewed last year, the GLI pumps out 228 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. As you’d expect from a smaller performance model, the GLI has a 6-speed manual fitted standard, with an option for a 7-speed DSG.
Pricing for a base model Jetta S starts at $20,655, and the more-equipped and quicker GLI with the 6-speed manual is $32,680, with the DSG option adding $800 to the sticker. The GLI I tested was shipped with the DSG, and added Pure Gray paint, the gloss black package (which adds gloss black wheels, roof, wide mirrors, and rear spoiler), and thanks to the global parts shortage the ventilated front seats weren’t installed, so there was a $200 credit that brought the total MSRP to $34,270 after destination.
A Peppy Daily Driver
Practicality is fantastic in the Jetta GLI, providing a car you’ll have no gripes after spending several hours commuting in. While it’s a sportier trim level than the more basic Jetta models, the GLI is still refined and smooth when in the comfort or eco drive modes, yet ready to pick up the pace when you are, thanks to a potent boosted 4-banger under the hood. Steering feel is remarkably light yet precise, making any city driving or parking lot maneuvering simple.
In the custom drive mode, I put the engine in eco, and firmed up the suspension and steering, to make the GLI feel a hint more playful while being mindful of fuel consumption. After my week-long test, with mostly city miles covered, the GLI scored 28 MPGs on average, which is just below the EPA’s 26/36/30 estimates.
I like the cabin layout of the Jetta, which is a no-nonsense setup. There’s a dash of style, including a grippier steering wheel to remind you you’re in the fun trim level, but it’s still quite German and intuitive. The instrument cluster employs VW’s digital cockpit, allowing you to customize the layout and data displays across the 10.25-inch screen. I retained a more conventional look with a speedometer and tachometer flanking each side of the display. Because the 2023 Jetta carries over a slightly older infotainment system than the Mk8 GTI I reviewed, there’s an actual volume knob next to the touchscreen that incorporates wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Seats in the GLI are great, while nicely balancing between subtle and sporty, with great support right where it’s needed. Even the back seats have a hint more lateral support than in a normal affordable sedan, so that your passengers can stay in place if you’re taking the fun route to lunch during your workday. Space in the back seat is good too, so your coworkers won’t feel cramped, and the kids will have plenty of room for activities.
The front seats heated up quickly when tested during a cold front I recently experienced, but sadly the missing ventilated seat feature didn’t get tested during more typical warm days in Central Texas. Trunk space is massive, albeit a bit simple when it comes to storage needs. I wish VW gave the Jetta a bit more in the way of storage features in its cavernous boot. Standard safety features are aplenty, with VW’s full stack of active and passive systems to keep you in good hands on the road.
Can It Entertain The Enthusiast Driver?
Sneaking out to your favorite nearby winding road is definitely enjoyable in the Jetta GLI, so long as you don’t think you’re in a true performance car. The turbocharged engine is punchier when configured in the sport drive mode, with a bit more exhaust noise allowed (some of which is coming through the speakers). 258 lb-ft is no small figure in a smaller sedan, and VW made sure plenty of that torque is available across the mid-range where you want it. Do expect some moderate turbo lag at lower RPMs, especially when pulling away from a stoplight.
If you want to have the most fun on twisty roads, opt for the manual transmission. The DSG in the Jetta GLI was a bit frustrating when I used its manual mode, because it never let me have full control over its shifts. I could never rev up to anywhere near the redline, because the automatic upshift would kick in a good 1,000 RPMs before it, while also being a bit slow to change. Downshifts seemed labored too, even with the car dialed into its sportiest engine and transmission settings. Where the Mk8 GTI gets a cool, tiny nub for its automatic shifter, this Jetta GLI gets a more conventional shift lever, which seems dated by comparison.
The custom drive mode allows you to play with the dynamic chassis control, steering weight feel, suspension firmness and response, and e-differential capability, but just put the drive mode into sport when you want to have fun. That setup does the job perfectly, giving you quick engine response, just heavy enough steering, and a chassis that doesn’t feel too rigid while keeping body roll tidy. I’d like the sport suspension mode to be slightly firmer, to better distinguish itself over the normal mode, but it’s still good. Because of the larger proportions and increased weight of the Jetta over its GTI sibling, there is a hint more flex if you’re tossing the GLI more aggressively, but there really isn’t a big compromise if you want the extra cargo space over the hot hatch GTI.
Braking is positive in the GLI, with nice pedal feedback and solid confidence when needed to scrub speed ahead of tighter corners. What bugs me about the GLI I tested is the fact that it was equipped with all-season tires, just as VW did with the GTI I reviewed. Performance trim levels, particularly press cars, need the good rubber, because all-season tires compromise the fun factor. I appreciated that Honda ticked the option box for performance summer tires on the new Civic Si I tested, which give it a leg up on this Jetta GLI that could have been more enjoyable with stickier rubber.
The Good And Not Great Things
To better differentiate itself versus a more conventional Jetta, VW gave the GLI lots of cool styling treatments, particularly around its exterior. I like the more aggressive grille, hints of red trim, red brake calipers, and the classic GLI badge. This isn’t just another boring sedan, it’s the fun one, so it needed some good details.
Cabin treatments in the GLI are sporty yet subtle too, with little doses of red throughout the black cabin, but the seats are definitely cool. I dig the red backing in the leather that pops from under the perforations, and the red contrasting stitching is another nice touch. I’ve seen other compact cars better execute use of ambient cabin lighting, but I appreciate VW including it in the GLI.
The 2023 Jetta GLI gets the 7th generation Jetta’s climate control panel, which uses real knobs and buttons. This is something I absolutely hated about the new Mk8 GTI‘s interior. This GLI does get the steering wheel controls featured in the new GTI, which utilize capacitive touch switches rather than physical buttons, and they’re not good at all. There’s zero feedback, and they’re easy to accidentally engage when you’re giving the GLI any steering inputs.
Fun, But Not Fantastic
The GLI is definitely a more entertaining version of the VW Jetta, offering more power, sharper handling, neat styling touches, and a slightly higher cool factor. The trouble is that it needs to step all of these aspects up a notch to better position itself. Considering VW has the GTI on the same showroom floor, buyers should definitely gravitate toward the iconic hatchback over this sedan that could easily be mistaken as a basic four-door.
Then we get to the price. At $34,000, the Jetta GLI is not cheap, and is barely less expensive than the GTI I reviewed. For that figure, I’d wander over to the nearest Acura dealer to check out the all-new Integra before making a decision on my next fun sedan. If you don’t need leather seats or a sunroof, and are happy to row your own gears through what might be the best gearbox fitted to a new sporty four-door, I’d suggest getting a Civic Si to save a considerable amount of cash while enjoying a much more favorable driving experience.
Boasting top-notch luxury in an electric package, this big Merc tries to carve out a new niche.
As upper-tier EVs go, the marketplace doesn’t offer much if drivers want an SUV. Tesla has rested on its laurels for far too long with the Model X, and at its price point, it’s lacking the quality a premium electric SUV should have. Rivian has the off-road capable and smartly-designed R1S, and BMW launched the polarizing iX, but the well-heeled driver who wants more from their luxury SUV doesn’t have a lot of options. Mercedes wants to fix that.
Mercedes has launched a couple crossovers in addition to the EQS sedan (that I tested last year) under the EQ brand, but there was a gap in the big SUV segment that seemingly needed to be filled. With bigger proportions and optional seating for seven, does the Mercedes EQS SUV accomplish something substantial?
The Useful Specs
The Mercedes EQS SUV is a new platform that carries five occupants in standard form, with a third row seat option to tote two more kids. Powertrain options include a single-motor with rear-wheel-drive fitted standard on the EQS 450+, sporting 355 horsepower and 419 lb-ft of torque, and the EQS 580 upgrades to Mercedes’ 4MATIC all-wheel-drive and a dual-motor setup that pumps out 536 horsepower and 633 lb-ft of torque.
Despite its 6,200-pound curb weight, all those battery-powered ponies help the EQS SUV sprint from 0-60 MPH in just 4.5 seconds, which is nothing to scoff at. Electric cruise range is stated as 285 miles, and charging is managed with DC fast charging on-board, offering up to 200 kW that can juice up the EQS SUV from 10% to 80% in just 31 minutes.
Pricing for the Mercedes EQS SUV starts at $125,950, which is nearly identical to the EQS sedan I experienced, and slightly less expensive than the traditional S-Class, yet about $20,000 more than a Mercedes’ ICE-powered GLS SUV. With three trim levels–Premium, Pinnacle, and Exclusive–offered, this Exclusive model tester includes all the lower trim features and upgrades with rapid heating and massaging front seats, four-zone climate control, MBUX interior assistant, a cabin air purifying system, and Mercedes star logo projectors in the front grille and under the doors.
Options on this tester include an upgraded two-tone interior, an augmented reality heads-up display, microfiber headliner, heated second row seats, third row seats, thicker glass and sound deadening, 21-inch wheels, two sets of wireless headsets for the infotainment system, and a 110v household charging cable to hit a total MSRP of $147,990.
Daily Driving Is Not Boring
As you would expect from a top-notch Mercedes, cruising in the EQS SUV is enjoyable. Power is smooth and balanced when you don’t smash the accelerator, reminding you that electric torque is more immediately available than in an ICE powertrain. This massive Merc can definitely plant you into the seats if you bury your right foot, but it’s not boasting silly 0-60 figures achieved by the likes of a Tesla Plaid or a Lucid Air.
Steering is light and effortless, albeit a bit more artificial than this enthusiast driver prefers. Rear axle steering is hilariously effective in the EQS, making the turning circle resemble one you’d expect from a Miata rather than a full-size SUV. Bumpy city streets are neatly minimized, thanks to Mercedes’ adaptive air suspension, even if the big electric chassis feels a bit more floaty at highway speeds. The EQS SUV’s suspension automatically lowers its ride height at over 68 MPH to reduce drag, which is smart.
There are three distinct drive modes to choose from, in addition to a customizable setup, to please any driver. I kept the powertrain in the more civil setup, and had the sport suspension activated to give smoother response and less of a boat-like feeling. I’m not sold on the Goodyear range-optimized summer tires this EQS SUV had equipped, which exhibit a fair bit of road noise coupled with average grip.
A 285-mile electric range which isn’t fantastic for a massive luxury EV, when Lucid is pushing toward 400 miles, but most Mercedes drivers aren’t likely to take this on lengthy road trips. Mercedes’ charging app in the infotainment provides lots of data points, including details on what features you’re using that either help or hurt your range. Luckily the fast charging capability of the EQS SUV makes for quick juicing stops, even if public charging infrastructure is still far from reliable. Mercedes is likely betting that EQS buyers utilize a charger in their home garage.
Where the EQS SUV shines is in the cabin, upholding Mercedes’ “The Best or Nothing” tagline. Interior appointments are nearly identical to the EQS sedan I tested, which also reminds me of the cabin of the ICE-powered Mercedes S-Class sedan I also reviewed, and that’s a good thing. The blend of cool and luxurious is perfectly executed inside the EQS, and I love the space age ambient lighting that somehow works well with fine leather, just enough brushed metal, and open-pore wood trim on the doors and center console. Thanks to the SUV body, the cabin feels downright huge, with a little help from the light-colored headliner and massive panoramic sunroof. Wireless Apple CarPlay is installed in MBUX, and the Burmester audio system is clear and powerful, pumping your favorite tunes through cool metal speaker covers.
Seats are wonderfully comfortable, providing cushioning in all the right spots, with heating that fires up quickly, and a handful of massage modes to keep you relaxed while avoiding any soreness after a long day of driving. Second-row legroom is spacious, with a full range of adjustment to suit even the tallest passengers, and I appreciate Mercedes fitting the second row’s center armrest with a wireless phone charging pad. The third row is definitely designed with younger kids in mind, and even with the back seats up, the EQS SUV has a bunch of cargo volume, which increases dramatically when you hit the button to power-lower the two rear rows. I’m not sure I’d opt for my tester’s white carpets, which are prone to getting filthy with ease. Kids are not going to be kind to them.
The Pros And Cons
Mercedes dove head-first into the EV pool, focusing its energy into new platforms for the EQ models, and the EQS SUV expresses an upscale look that also encourages better efficiency. The drag coefficient doesn’t get as low as the EQS sedan’s .20, and while Mercedes doesn’t publish that figure, it has to be good if Mercedes is going to design an egg-shaped SUV at this price point.
Some may not dig the front appearance of the EQS SUV, but I think the design language of the EQ line is cool, and I like the three-pointed stars neatly spread across the EQS’ fascia. The 21-inch AMG wheels look slick though, giving the EQS a hint of sportier style. Power-activated door handles are a little wonky to use, having a slight delay to open when you pull the handle.
Because there’s no drivetrain running through a central tunnel in the cabin, Mercedes provides a big storage space and strap under the center console that’s perfect for charging devices, tossing your purse, or concealing fast food bags when you don’t feel like making dinner.
Tech for the sake of tech is my least favorite trend in the automotive industry. Physical buttons and knobs are useful for vital functions like audio and climate systems, to ensure drivers keep their eyes on the road, yet OEMs are replacing them with screens. I don’t love the EQS SUV’s steering wheel controls that are too easy to accidentally hit when driving and have no positive sensations, and incorporating the climate controls into the huge center touchscreen is a choice I’ll never approve of. I do love the look of the 55-inch Gorilla Glass-covered Hyperscreen that stretches from pillar to pillar, incorporating the driver instrument cluster, center infotainment system, and a secondary infotainment screen in front of the passenger.
Tipping the scales at over 6,200 pounds, the Mercedes EQS SUV reminds you that it isn’t exactly light when you seek out curvy roads, but that’s the compromise when stuffing a ton of batteries into a luxury SUV package. Despite lacking a conventional engine, Mercedes does not utilize the front of the EQS SUV as a cargo area like other EVs it contends with. The hood doesn’t actually open, and the only compartment you’ll spot in the front of the car is the washer fluid filler door on the driver side fender.
Mercedes Filled A Gap In The EV Space
Rather than being simple commuting appliances, manufacturers are now crafting distinct segments of performance, luxurious, and stylish electric models. The EQS SUV is certainly luxurious, well-built, and enjoyable to drive for hours at a time, but I struggled with the feeling that it didn’t leave a meaningful impression on me. That’s not a total complaint, but I wish it had some killer feature other than fine cabin appointments to make it stand out versus Rivian, Tesla, or others in this pricier EV segment.
At $145,000, the Mercedes EQS 580 SUV is a fine electric vehicle, but is the nicer fit and finish worth the extra $40,000 over the Rivian R1S that can conquer any terrain, haul ass over any surface, and fit all your family and their gear in a package that’s still reasonably cool and refined? I’m not so sure. What I do know is that anyone who steps inside the EQS SUV will be treated to a top-level Mercedes experience that happens to be powered by electricity rather than gas, and that might be exactly what the German marque set out to accomplish.
As luxurious as it is fast, sporting stunning looks, this big Brit spoils you at 207 MPH.
The Bentley Flying Spur deserves more love. The Continental is Bentley’s playboy GT, the Bentayga is the balance sheet-strengthening SUV, and the Mulsanne has ridden off into the sunset, leaving the Spur as the sole four-door in the Crewe-based lineup. What was just a sedan version of the Continental a generation ago, the Bentley Flying Spur now flexes a reshaped, more impactful body, plenty of performance, and a more tastefully appointed luxury limo offering.
I’m fortunate to have tested several Bentley models over the years, each better than the last, but haven’t had a proper go in the Flying Spur. Having previously experienced the Rolls-Royce Ghost, I wanted to see how Bentley’s driver’s sedan performed. Luckily the good people at Bentley agreed, and sent one my way for a week of enjoyment.
All The Big Numbers
Bentley’s big 6.0-liter W12 has been around for ages, but it keeps receiving improvements. In the new Flying Spur, it produces 626 horsepower at 6,000 RPM and churns out 664 lb-ft (900 Nm) of torque across a plateau from 1,350 – 4,500 RPM. ZF supplies its splendid eight-speed twin-clutch gearbox, and the Flying Spur is given active all-wheel-drive to provide confident handling in any condition. Surging from 0-60 in just 3.7 seconds, and hitting 0-100 in 8.2, the Flying Spur will smoothly pull all the way to a supercar-esque top speed of 207 MPH.
Built on a steel and aluminum space frame, finely sculpted superformed aluminum body panels wrap around the new Flying Spur that’s not much bigger than the Mercedes S-Class I reviewed, but is about 10 inches shorter in overall length than the Rolls-Royce Ghost. Bentley loads the Flying Spur with the nest appointments inside, which brings the curb weight up to 5,300 pounds (2,400 kilos in the King’s English). To be mindful of fuel consumption, Bentley gives the W12 engine cylinder deactivation, which helps it achieve a 12/19/15 (city/highway/combined) EPA fuel economy estimate, with a massive 23.8-gallon tank on-board. There’s also a slightly more efficient 542-horsepower turbocharged V8 available, should you want to save a few bucks on the sticker price too.
Entering the world of the Flying Spur will take plenty of dollars from your offshore bank account, with the base price starting at $214,600 and the figure rapidly increasing as your options list grows. My Extreme Silver tester was loaded with the Naim audio system ($8,800), extended range colors inside and out ($6,090), and the First Edition Specification ($44,735 and incorporates a stack of popular options into one package), which brought the total price to $287,950.
The Obsessively Detailed Cruiser
As you unlock the Flying Spur, a motorized and illuminated Flying B ornament rises from beneath the bonnet. Take a moment as you approach this four-door grand tourer to appreciate the subtle yet sculpted lines. The Bentley’s shape may initially appear simple and plain, but then you notice the smooth superformed aluminum body panels that have the right amount of curve and flex, giving the Flying Spur a pronounced appearance. A swept roofline arches neatly into a high belt line, completing a stunning profile with awesome proportions. Up front, the impactful grille and gem-treated headlamps stare you down, and the taillights have a unique to Flying Spur shape with an LED strip that crafts a the letter B within the housing. I wish the Bentayga I tested kept this taillight look.
Slide into the intricately-stitched seat, covered with the most supple duo-tone hide, that encompasses you in comfort with heating, cooling, and deep massaging. Let the soft-close door, extra thick glass, deep carpets, rich leather lined interior, and powered window shades disconnect you from the noise of the outside world. Should you want to completely drown out the environment outside this exquisite cabin, 19 speakers punching 2,200 watts of Naim audio will do the trick. Press the engine start button, and listen to 12 cylinders fire to life, awaiting your order to rush away.
“Let the soft-close door, extra thick glass, deep carpets, rich leather lined interior, and powered window shades disconnect you from the noise of the outside world.“
Civilized yet potent, the Flying Spur will smoothly deploy its power to confidently maneuver through a bustling downtown traffic jam to find the open road. While large in physical dimensions, Bentley engineered quick response to the electric-assist steering to make easy work to move it around while still maintaining a comfortable ride. On the freeway, there’s the tiniest sensation of any bump or crack, but the air suspension and Bentley Dynamic Ride adjust the big sedan’s response before you’ve even noticed. Even at speeds appropriate for unrestricted Autobahn sections, the Flying Spur is composed and steady, with a just-right amount of weight in the steering wheel, and a direct yet not overbearing connection to the road.
Controls inside the Bentley Flying Spur are made from high-grade materials, with feedback and sensations that feel expensive, while still being intuitive. The updated 12.3-inch infotainment touchscreen from the Continental and Bentayga is now included in the Flying Spur, and for an optional cost the Bentley Rotating Display will either show you the infotainment screen (with wireless Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and wireless mobile charging), a trio of analog dials (with a compass, chronometer, and outside temperature gauge), or a continuation of the unbroken veneer that continues around the interior. I love the updated instrument cluster, with its more comprehensive display options, and the ability to dim the majority of the cluster to only show a highlight around the speedometer and rev counter needles.
Being Driven In Absolute Luxury
Should your enjoyment of the Flying Spur be intended to be from the back seat, you’ll be treated to an experience few manufacturers can dream of. Long rear doors (with too cool 3D textured interior panels) make for easy entry and exit, and wide seats welcome you with plush cushioning and good lateral support. Additional head pillows are fitted with softer suede-like material, for greater comfort as you nod off while your driver takes you home after a rough day of meeting with the board.
Via a small screen between the front two seats, you can adjust the climate control and audio to your liking. Your rear seats are fully adjustable, with memory storage for normal riding or setting up a more relaxed position. While this Flying Spur didn’t have the extra baller fridge and extending rear seats like the Rolls-Royce Ghost I reviewed, the Bentley’s back seats were adjustable, and still offered loads of legroom at a fully optioned price that’s nearly $50,000 less than the base price of the Ghost.
Grand Touring Brilliance
The Flying Spur may give the impression of a wealthy passenger-toting sedan, Bentley hasn’t lost its identity. The Flying Spur still delivers the perfect balance of opulence in the cabin with grand touring performance Bentley has excelled at providing since pre-war gentleman racers helped build the marque into an icon. Where the Bentley Bentayga I tested is fabulous for covering loads of miles over any surface, whether paved or not, the Flying Spur is exceptional at obliterating stretches of road with long straights and plenty of fun curves alike. Sharing the VW MSB platform, which also underpins the Porsche Panamera, it’s no wonder the Flying Spur is so good as a driver’s car.
Bentley’s 626-horsepower W12 is a marvel of power and renement. While the 540-horsepower V8 option is a fine powerplant that will please most drivers, this car was destined to have twelve cylinders shoehorned under its bonnet. The W12-equipped Flying Spur’s ability to accelerate with a wave of unbridled torque is achieved with a level of smoothness the most talented esthetician could never equal. With a subtle pull, you get the faintest feeling of speed increasing, but a quick glance at the speedometer will indicate that you’ve far exceeded the posted limit, and are well on your way to jail if the highway patrol can set up a road block far enough ahead to catch you. I didn’t flex the top speed of the Flying Spur during my week-long test, but I did give it some toll road exercise on a couple occasions, and can report that at ridiculous speeds it’s balanced, comfortable, and confident.
“The W12-equipped Flying Spur’s ability to accelerate with a wave of unbridled torque is achieved with a level of smoothness the most talented esthetician could never equal.“
Cornering dynamics in the Flying Spur are remarkable. Bentley fitted an aluminum double-wishbone suspension up front, an aluminum multi-link setup out back, and installed three-chamber air springs at all four corners, supplemented by continuous damping control and a 48V anti-roll system. There are four drive modes, and while there’s an individual option, I found that leaving the Flying Spur in “B” mode was perfect for anything I threw at it. Wrapped around machined 22-inch wheels are a set of 275/35/22 front and 315/30/22 rear Pirelli P-Zero all season performance tires that are up to the task of keeping this gargantuan performance sedan glued to the pavement.
This combination of suspension hardware and tires keeps the Bentley at in any curve at any speed, somehow concealing its massive weight, allowing handling characteristics found in smaller performance-focused sedans I’ve tested. Slowing the 5,000-pound sedan is managed by massive 420mm (16.5″) rotors with ten-piston calipers on the front axle and the rear is fitted with 380mm (15″) rotors and four-piston calipers. Doing a couple different days of testing the Flying Spur on twisty roads typically reserved for sports cars, I’m stunned how competent it was after hours of flogging.
There’s No Better Way To Drive And Be Driven In One Car
With the Mulsanne discontinued, the Flying Spur needs to carry the opulent four-door torch for Bentley while still upholding its grand touring appeal. Thankfully the Flying Spur is luxurious enough to make most wealthy driven customers happy while putting a smile on their face when they decide to storm down a back road.
As I expressed in my review of the Rolls-Royce Ghost, it’s brilliant in its own right, but Bentley strikes a chord with me as an enthusiast driver. This Bentley costs $100,000 less than the Ghost, looks much better, and provides a driving experience that’s in another league. It is the ultimate grand touring luxury sedan.
The Carrera S power figures may not jump off the page, but it’s a potent Porsche. Dropping the top makes this 992 even better.
Since 1982, the 911 Cabriolet has been a staple in the Porsche lineup. An open-air version of the iconic Carrera, the Cabriolet has continually moved upmarket with price, size, and performance. In the new 992 generation, figures have gone up in all those aforementioned categories, but this new Cabriolet still maintains the distinct profile of the 911, and retains a horizontally-opposed six-cylinder engine tucked behind the rear axle.
Having owned and reviewed several Porsche models over the years, I am striving to take more opportunities to review more of Porsche’s 992 models. Like I felt when I reviewed the base 718 Cayman last year, the Carrera S doesn’t get enough attention from enthusiast drivers who seek bigger power figures. With an extended trip in California to cover Monterey Car Week and do a few reviews in Los Angeles, Porsche set me up with the Carrera S Cabriolet for an extensive test on some of my favorite roads.
THE IMPORTANT STATS
The Porsche 911’s all-new 992 variant has been on the road for three years, and much like previous generations, there are more 911 model offerings than you can count on all your fingers and toes combined. With coupe, targa, and cabriolet options for the rear- or all-wheel-drive configurations, most with either a manual or PDK automatic gearbox available, Porsche also has several levels of power output and performance to satisfy any driver on any road or circuit.
The Carrera S Cabriolet I tested is a tick above the base drop-top model, boasting a bit more power, with the rear-wheel-drive, PDK, and sport chrono options selected, so I’ll stick to its figures. In Carrera S trim, the 992 is powered by a twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter at-six that produces 443 horsepower and 390 lb-ft of torque, both of which are healthy increases over the 991.2 generation. Through a new 8-speed PDK, this Carrera S Cabriolet can sprint from 0-60 in 3.5 seconds and hit a top speed of 190 MPH, making it 0.4 seconds and 1 MPH faster than its predecessor. Porsche attributes much of the performance improvements to optimized combustion from the engine in addition to new turbochargers, the new 8-speed PDK (with better gear ratio progression), and revised engine cooling.
While proportions have increased for the 992 over the 991, Porsche has gone to great lengths to minimize weight gains, utilizing more aluminum in the Carrera Cabriolets chassis and body to keep the curb weight down to 3,537 pounds. This new platform also now sports wider fender flares all-around, with all models getting S-body curves. The 992 Cabriolet also benefits from a new soft top that is lighter with faster operation up and down, optimized rollover protection, and a new power-folding wind deflector to keep the cabin quiet when cruising with the top down.
Base price for the 992 Carrera S Cabriolet is $127,900. Interior options include Bordeaux and black leather, aluminum trim, and the premium package that adds upgraded Bose audio, ambient lighting, dynamic headlights, surround view (for parking), extra storage, and 18-way adaptive and ventilated front seats. Also fitted are the extended range fuel tank and front axle lift for greater usability, and on the performance front Porsche supplied 20″/21″ wheels, rear axle steering, and the sport chrono package that equips a sport exhaust system, lower PASM adaptive suspension, and enables quicker response and acceleration with launch control. Added up, this GT Silver tester hit a total MSRP of $157,270 after destination.
SURPRISINGLY CIVIL CONVERTIBLE
Open-air driving is exceptional in the 992 Carrera S Cabriolet, with a near-silent power soft top that tucks away in just 12 seconds, at speeds up to 31 MPH. If you’re going to drive at speeds above 45 MPH, engage the power operated rear wind deflector–which pops up in just 2 seconds–to cancel out any turbulent air. Even with the screen tucked away, the cockpit is surprisingly quiet. Spending several days cruising the streets and trac-filled freeways of Los Angeles, I got to experience how livable the 992 Cabriolet is.
Composure in the 992 Cabriolet is on-par with the sublime grand touring experience behind the wheel of a Bentley Continental or Aston Martin DB11. For being a sportscar that grew up over the past couple generations, this new Carrera Cabriolet is comfortable in any driving condition, whether you’re boulevard cruising or canyon slaying. The Porsche Active Suspension Management system is compliant yet responsive, and the adaptive dampers relieve any bumps you might feel in the cabin when gliding along in the comfort drive mode. With what I consider to be the best electric-assisted steering setup on the market, Porsche gives the 992 S Cab’s rack smooth response without feeling numb on-center and not too articially boosted when you give it some quick inputs.
Concealed beneath vertical slats of the engine cover is the turbocharged flat-six that provides plenty of response when you stab the throttle, while being composed during normal applications. I’ll admit I did more daily driving with the sport exhaust’s throatier mode engaged with a tap of the dash-mounted button, because that sound was addictive. Even while utilizing this louder exhaust setting and being a fun driver around town, I still achieved an average of 19 MPGs (compared to the EPA estimates of 18/23/20). Denitely opt for the extended range fuel tank, which bumps capacity from 16.9 to 23.7 gallons and dramatically improves fuel range on road trips.
The 992 Cabriolet’s cockpit is all-new, compared to the 991 generation, carrying over the new dash and center console design you recognize in Porsche models like the Panamera and Macan. Definitely an upgrade that makes the 992 as refined as much more expensive grand tourers, the new look still retains Porsche’s classic central analog tachometer that’s now flanked by digital screens that can host a pair of circular dials or a combination of custom displays.
Updated gear selection for the PDK is done with a tiny joystick that frees up space, but it takes a hint of adjustment if you’ve driven earlier 911 generations. Fortunately through all these improvements and updates–and dierent from other Porsche models–the 911 Cabriolet still has plenty of physical controls on the dash to adjust the audio system, drive modes, exhaust, suspension, and seat heating or ventilation.
Front seats are fantastic for long drives, and still keep you nicely planted in the bends when you want to play. On a cooler night, I loved how quickly the seat heaters cranked up to warm my buns. When I was cranking away fun miles in the canyons on a hot day, the ventilation function was ice cold and blew hard. Carrying over the frunk space of the last generation 911, the 992 still has a massive cargo space up front that can easily swallow two carry-on roller bags and a backpack, making travel easy whether you’re driving across the country or making a quick run to the airport.
PERFORMANCE YOU EXPECT FROM PORSCHE
Don’t mistake this 911’s daily driving civility for softness when it’s time to play in the canyons, as the 992 S Cabriolet has capabilities ready to pounce in the blink of an eye. I wasn’t expecting the Carrera S Cabriolet to feel as sharp and performance-oriented as the 718 GT4 I drove at the Porsche Experience Center Los Angeles, but was impressed with its dynamics. Through extensive playtime along the canyon roads of Malibu and the Angeles National Forest, the 992 S Cabriolet exhibited some serious performance traits.
Considering the torsional rigidity took a hit by losing the roof, the Carrera S Cabriolet still felt planted and condent when I gave it long days of thrashing, and not once did I feel like the open-top chassis was compromised. Credit given to Porsche for keeping this nicely-appointed convertible’s curb weight to around 3,500 pounds, allowing the 992 S Cabriolet to still feel light on its feet.
In addition to the usual comfort, sport, and sport plus drive modes, Porsche now offers an individual setup in the Carrera S Cabriolet, allowing you to dial in your happy settings. For my hardcore canyon driving, I configured the engine in sport plus, chassis in sport, made sure the exhaust was open, and told 992’s stability control to take the day off. To have the most fun and engagement, I suggest utilizing the manual shift feature of Porsche’s new lightning-fast PDK transmission, even if the steering wheel-mounted paddles are a bit on the small side.
Scoff at the 443 horsepower and 390 lb-ft figures, and you’ll quickly be silenced by the 992 S Cabriolet’s performance as it unleashes linear turbocharged acceleration out of tight bends, making any straightaway disappear as you surge toward the next set of corners. With the peak torque at your disposal from 2,300 to 5,000 RPM, the Carrera S Cabriolet allows for smooth pulls in any of the eight forward gears. I get to test all sorts of fast cars, and never was I wanting for more power in the 992 S Cab.
When a certain section of the Angeles Crest opens up a mile-long arrow-straight stretch, I pressed the 992’s sport response button–mounted within the drive mode knob–to release 20 seconds of increased engine power and transmission calibrations. This button also served as a nice push-to-pass feature when I needed to quickly get around a slow moving hiker ignoring every turnout in sight while they were driving to a campground.
Steering is magnificent in the Carrera S Cabriolet. Razor sharp response and epic connectivity to the pavement are better than I’ve felt in many performance cars. Feedback is translated through a steering wheel that boasts the perfect diameter and rim thickness, enabling wonderful feedback to your fingers. Sporting reasonably-sized 245mm wide front and 305mm rear Pirelli P Zero tires, the 992 S Cabriolet doesn’t dart around at all, and the tail end is able to slide ever so slightly while maintaining its composure. The P Zero may be a tire I often complain about, but they got the job done with this 992 Carrera S Cabriolet when I dished out some harder flogging sessions, and didn’t get too angry when their temps moved upward.
A common Porsche characteristic, braking is exceptional in the Carrera S Cabriolet. Even with the signature Porsche red calipers mounted over steel rotors, this 992 took my hard inputs and long durations of fun driving like a champ. Porsche still offers its fantastic carbon ceramic rotors paired with yellow calipers, for lower unsprung weight and less fade over harder sessions, but the steels easily kept up with my comprehensive evaluation.
THE REALLY GOOD THINGS
The design language of the 992 is lovely. The new circular headlamp housings, LED light strip across the width of the tail end that connects to the taillights, and wide, curvy rear hips make the 992 look like a modern interpretation of the iconic air-cooled 993. Overall proportions may have increased versus the 991, but this new 911 looks amazing, and the Cabriolet’s lines actually work when sitting next to a coupe model.
Cockpit noise is remarkably low. I made a few phone calls with the top down on a drive along the Pacific Coast Highway, and with the windows up, the person on the other end had no idea I was driving with the top down. I also love the front axle lift system that will now prompt you to store the location and automatically raise the nose when you pull into a steep driveway any other time.
When the 992 was released, Porsche introduced a new rain driving mode that automatically detects moisture and splashing sounds in the wheel well. If the 911 senses rain conditions, it will suggest the driver makes the wet mode selection that adapts the Carrera’s traction suspension, aerodynamics, and engine responsiveness to better manage control during inclement conditions.
While retaining physical buttons rather than capacitive touch controls seen in other luxury cars, the 992 Cab has programmable steering wheel button to engage various settings and quick controls. I appreciate still having individual toggle switches for the exhaust, suspension, and axle lift, for quick adjustments on the fly.
A COUPLE TINY NEGATIVES
Because of the fixed roof and large rear window from the coupe no longer being present, rearward visibility in the 992 Carrera Cabriolet is somewhat compromised if you aren’t a taller driver. The soft top’s cool movement and storage mechanism had to go somewhere, and I think this is a fair trade.
The back seats are still laughably tiny, and are better suited to hosting a toddler’s car seat or your backpack rather than any people that need to put their legs somewhere. At least the back seats more than double cargo capacity if you end up stashing loads of gear in the front storage area.
In redesigning the center console and dash, Porsche also fitted new cupholders to the 992, with the driver one smack dab in the middle of the center console. If you opt for a manual transmission, the 992’s new fixed cupholder will be in your way. This shouldn’t be much of an issue, seeing how low Porsche manual transmission take rate is.
IT’S HARD TO FIND A BETTER ALL-AROUND 911
I had to constantly remind myself I was in a more civil variant of the 992 when I tested this Carrera S Cabriolet. Its performance was easily above expectations, and excelled during my more enthusiastic canyon driving days. The Carrera S Cabriolet is fast, agile, and still provides a driving experience you expect from the iconic Porsche 911.
At a base price of $127,000, the 911 S Cab has definitely increased over the past two generations, now out of reach for some buyers of earlier models, but what you get for that money is something special. Porsche has moved the 911 up in class against some grand touring competition, rather than against more conventional sports cars. When comparing the Carrera S Cabriolet’s worth against new rivals, it exhibits great value and performance. The Carrera S also performs about as well as earlier generation Turbo models.
Porsche offers several 911 variants with more power and torque, but if you’re upgrading from a 997 or earlier generation, this 992 Carrera S powerplant is more power than you’ll ever need. 443 horsepower is plenty of juice to get you into trouble, and more than sufficient to make any spirited canyon driving a purely joyous experience. Pair the 992’s driving experience with an open-air cockpit on a gorgeous day, and the Carrera S Cabriolet is the best way to experience a new Porsche 911.