Mercedes-Benz E 450 Coupe Review Test Drive

The schedule said a 2021 Mercedes-Benz E 450 was going to be showing up on Tuesday. The following week was therefore going to be a good one, at least automotively, with one of the finest sedans in creation gracing the driveway. Perhaps we’d take a nice family drive somewhere; take advantage of that big, comfy back seat.

Then the E arrived. It was missing doors. And B pillars. And that big, comfy back seat. This was in fact going to be a week spent with an E 450 Coupe. Admittedly, I had just assumed it would be a sedan and if I’m honest, I had pretty much forgotten the E-Class Coupe even existed. After all, two-door cars are increasingly an endangered species with scarce sales and a consequent meager selection of choices. To that point, the E 450 is the only car in its class. The coupes offered by BMW, Audi, Infiniti and Lexus are all smaller and cheaper, while there are a number of bigger and/or pricier choices.

This scarcity is a tragedy. There’s an indelible romantic quality to coupes, especially ones as beautiful as this one, its curvaceous body slathered in silky Mojave Silver paint. They are indeed inherently less practical than a sedan or, ugh, a crossover coupe. They’re also inherently not a transportation appliance. By choosing a coupe, you’re far more likely to have drives that are more about the journey than the destination. Trips that are about the one or two people sitting up front, rather the kids or friends in back, and all the stuff you crammed into the trunk to enjoy away from the car at that destination. I can remember every coupe I took on a road trip: the Mercedes CL65 to the Grand Canyon, the Nissan GT-R to Vegas, the Challenger to Phoenix, the LC 500 to Bend, Oregon. All the sedans and SUVs everywhere else? They’re just a blur.

In a way, though, choosing a coupe is also the practical acknowledgment that back seats are often rarely used and trunks rarely filled. You can file a crossover coupe’s all-wheel drive and extra ground clearance into that folder as well. If you already have a practical car at home, why not indulge in a little automotive romanticism? When did we all get so sensible and boring?

Probably around the time that traffic became unbearable everywhere and the vast majority of driving a chore. Why have a romantic car when so many people see nothing romantic in driving? We are not those people, though; certainly not if you find yourself routinely reading Autoblog. While much digital ink has been spilt in the crusade to #SaveTheManuals, some should be held in reserve to protect coupes from going extinct. Just as much would be lost.

Although the E 450 Coupe shares its interior design with its sedan and wagon siblings, the grand, opulent nature of it seems far more fitting in this most romantic of variations. The broad swath of open-pore wood seems to lap across the dash likes waves and cascades down the center console. The four rotary air vents stare out like the engines of a 747, their inner workings aglow in multi-color ambient lighting that complements the color glowing from behind the trim below. There are the grand, futuristic MBUX displays, the intricate Burmester speaker grilles and the novel, twin-spoke AMG steering wheel. This E-Class Coupe may not have been graced with one of the striking two-tone color combinations, but even in all-black, this cabin stands to make every drive that much more of an event, which, to belabor the point, is a coupe’s raison d’etre.

To that end, actually driving the E 450 is as special as one would hope. In true grand touring tradition, it can cosset you comfortably for countless miles with a ride that’s far cushier than anything you’ll find in a sports coupe (a BMW M4, for example). True, our test car benefited from ample sidewall courtesy of 18-inch wheels, significantly reducing the chances of harsh reactions to gnarled pavement. Yet in its pocket was also the optional Air Body Control air suspension, a cool $1,900 that’s very well spent. In addition to providing the aforementioned plush ride one might expect from something dubbed an “air suspension,” its ability to firm up the damping and lower the ride height also improves handling. While most cars today have some sort of drive modes that alter various components and controls to create a more relaxed, comfortable or engaging driving experience, the E 450’s goes a bit further by actually transforming the car’s character.

With the suspension considerably firmer, the steering tauter, the transmission staying in lower gears and the throttle more responsive to delicate inputs, you might as well be in a different car. That’s neat, because the car you were previously in was pretty great. So is this one, but in a different way. In Sport+, or to a lesser extent Sport, it suddenly feels smaller and more agile, as if shrink-wrapped around you. At the same time, the suspension never becomes intolerably firm, nor the powertrain overcaffeinated. It doesn’t try to be a sports coupe and is better for it.

Under hood, the E 450 has Mercedes’ innovative new turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six with EQ Boost mild-hybrid system. It’s good for 362 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque, and when paired with 4Matic all-wheel drive as this was, dispatches 0-60 mph in 4.9 seconds. True to the car’s character, this is a rather undramatic powertrain. There are no histrionic AMG exhaust noises, and if Mercedes pipes in anything fake through the sound system, it’s certainly not noticeable. It’s incredibly smooth and effortless in its power delivery, which probably shouldn’t be surprising for an inline-six amplified by a turbocharger and an electric motor. If there is a dynamic complaint, it’s that the nine-speed transmission’s Sport+ mode isn’t quite as eager to downshift when braking as in AMG applications.

One also has to acknowledge that by going with a traditional hardtop coupe design and dispensing with the B pillar, you can detect a slight loss in structural rigidity, especially over bumps. There’s no flex or creaking or anything overt, but there are also no free lunches. At least the resulting meal of freer-flowing air and the classic coolness of a hardtop is forever tasty. Pity about that little vestigial window bit at the rear.

Losing the B pillar also makes it far easier to climb into the back seat, but this is still a coupe. It’s obviously a lot less practical than a four-door car. At least it’s a big coupe. The trunk measures a perfectly usable 10 cubic feet, and the back seat offers sufficient legroom for average-sized adults. Headroom is surprisingly good too, although taller folks may find the car’s rather aggressive tumblehome making contact with the side of their head. Weird.

Really, the E 450’s biggest drawback is one common with every newer Mercedes: the MBUX interface is convoluted and frustrating. Sure, it looks pretty, but it’s laborious to switch between menus; too many icons are small and the same color as the background; and although it utilizes a touchscreen, the unit is so far away, I end up wanting to use the touchpad that falls readily at hand. Except touchpads are a terrible way to control things in a car. See Lexus, Remote Touch.
Yet much like that infernal bit of tech in the otherwise exquisite Lexus LC 500, my dislike of MBUX doesn’t come close to ruining the Mercedes-Benz E 450 Coupe. It may represent a segment of one, but it’s hard to imagine any brand possibly topping this masterful and appropriately romantic effort. It’s a special car and it made for memorable drives, even if here in early 2021, there was nowhere to really go. I suppose that makes a car like this even more important – your drives have to be about the journey since the destination is inevitably bound to be something no more exotic than Target or the drive-thru.

Driven: The 503-HP 2020 Mercedes-AMG C63 S Wagon You Can't Have

The compact AMG station wagon is a sportier utility vehicle—but it's not available here.

Many Americans still think of "mom" and "station wagon" in the same sentence, ignoring that the ubiquitous modern SUV is essentially the 21st century's Wagon Queen Family Truckster. But in Europe, wagons are still cool, still the preferred utility vehicles for people with sporty lifestyles. And the faster the wagon, the cooler it is. Which makes the 2020 Mercedes-AMG C63 S wagon about as cool as long-roof load luggers come.

The C63 S wagon is of course the E63 S 4Matic+ wagon's little brother, 11.5 inches shorter, 3.8 inches narrower, 1.3 inches lower, and rolling on a 3.9-inch-shorter wheelbase. It's powered by the same 503-hp, 516-lb-ft version of Daimler's versatile 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 as the AMG GLC63 S Coupe sold Stateside, rather than the big-hitter 603-hp, 627-lb-ft engine of the E-Class version. Can't have the 600-pound-lighter—and, in the U.K., the 23 percent cheaper—little brother upstaging things, can we?

The C63 S wagon's lighter weight is partly because, well, it's smaller, and also because it doesn't have the bigger car's 4Matic+ all-wheel-drive system. By Daimler's own numbers, it's about half a second slower to 62 mph than the E 63 S 4Matic+ wagon, which suggests a zero to 60 time of about 3.5 seconds. Given the heavier, all-wheel-drive AMG GLC63 we tested a few years back recorded a zero to 60 time of 3.2 seconds, that might be a touch pessimistic. And there's nothing in it in terms of top speed between the two; Daimler says the E 63 S is good for 180 mph, while the C63 S will do 174.

A 2018 face-lift added the toothy AMG grille up front and a new rear diffuser, plus the option of 19-inch forged alloy wheels instead of the regular 18-inchers. Interior upgrades included a 12.3-inch digital dash and 10.5-inch infotainment screen, a flat-bottomed steering wheel with touchpad controls on the spokes, and a rotary mode controller similar to Porsche's Sport Chrono unit.

While the engine remained untouched, the old seven-speed torque-converter auto was replaced with AMG's nine-speed wet-clutch automatic, and it added an e-diff. AMG Traction Control—the same nine-stage system first seen on the AMG GT R—was made standard on the S. The AMG Dynamic Select system offers five predetermined driver modes, along with an Individual mode that allows you to choose the engine, gearbox, steering, and exhaust settings. AMG Ride Control manages the steel springs and adaptive shocks, and the AMG Dynamics system enables you to manage the ESP settings and torque distribution to the rear axle through four further settings: Basic, Advanced, Pro, and Master.

What's it all add up to? A rambunctious little thug of a wagon, that's what. Next to the C63 S, the E63 S seems calmer, more mature—if any station wagon with Saturn V thrust, a rolling thunder soundtrack, and Drift mode could be called calm and mature. The C63 S feels livelier, noisier, busier, especially at 120 mph or more on the autobahn, where the shorter wheelbase and different suspension settings mean high-speed turn-in response feels more aggressive, and there's much more vertical motion through the chassis. The rear drive balance is real rather than digitally remastered; accessing Drift mode in this thing simply requires turning the traction control off, instead of the video-game cheat code sequence of button presses, paddle pulls, and menu fiddling E63 drivers must engage to defeat the AWD and access its rear-drive mode.

It might not have the brute power of the E63 S, but Lordy it's still fast. On a trip that saw us in a single day dispatch the 700 miles between London and Dresden in eastern Germany, we averaged 100 mph on one 55-mile stretch of autobahn that included more than 5 miles of slow running through construction. The C63 S cruised easily at 130-140 mph when traffic allowed, and on one stretch we saw an indicated 156 mph.

The best thing about the C63 S wagon? Not just that it flies, but that it flies below the radar. Unless you're an enthusiast, it could be one of tens of thousands of diesel C-Class wagons running around Europe on fancy AMG wheels. There's something deeply engaging about a supercar that to most people looks like an ordinary grocery getter. It has utility. But it's very, very sporty.


Lexus UX200 F Sport First Test: Experience or Appliance?

This compact luxury crossover isn’t the user experience we were hoping for.

Your phone, laptop, smartwatch, heck, even your smart speakers are all a massive pain in the neck. Not for you, but for the people who made them. User experience and interface designers agonize over products for months or even years to deliver an intuitive user experience, and you always notice when they haven't. It's the same story for cars like the 2021 Lexus UX200 F Sport.

Engineers spend countless hours working through endless permutations of designs so they can get the little things like the detent on that volume knob just right. It's all part of an endless quest to satisfy the user. So when we see the letters "U" and "X" arrive emblazoned on the rump of a small subcompact luxury Lexus SUV, the expectation is a satisfying user experience. The only problem is that isn't quite what the Lexus UX200 delivers.

This miniaturized SUV belies both the quality and the satisfaction a Lexus badge normally promises, and the problems start with the UX's pee-wee powertrain. Its 2.0-liter I-4 makes 169 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque, which makes the Lexus one of the slowest vehicles we tested in 2020. At 8.9 seconds to 60 mph, it's slower than much less expensive compact SUVs such as the Mazda CX-30, the base Kia Seltos, and even the Hyundai Venue SEL (which makes 48 hp less).

Sometimes a car feels quicker in the real world than its test numbers would leave you to believe. Sadly, that's not the case here. The UX feels just as breathless on the road as it is on the dragstrip. Merging onto freeways or passing on open roads demands you bury your right foot into the carpet. At that point, the little four-banger shoots to its 6,600-rpm redline and stays there in a perpetual shriek that's about as enjoyable as using a sandpaper Q-tip.

There are no two ways about it: This is a slow car, and despite the F Sport badge, there's little redemption when the going gets twisty. The UX's all-season tires give up grip quickly, and its 27.9-second figure-eight time at a 0.60 g average rank it near the bottom of all the vehicles we tested last year. The Mazda CX-9, a proper three-row SUV that weighs three-quarters of a ton more than the UX, logged a faster lap and a higher average g than the Lexus managed.

As for the UX, road test editor Chris Walton found the steering reasonably precise at the limit but bemoaned the UX's "10-speed" CVT, saying it was "slow to respond and kick down to a proper ratio." The transmission doesn't have "gears," as such, but it emulates a number of simulated ratios, and for most of my driving the CVT was in too low of a "gear," even in Normal mode. I resorted to putting the car in Eco mode for the majority of my driving just to keep the revs down and the engine-sound out of the cabin.

We noted issues with the throttle map on the previous UX we tested, but some software changes to the 2021 model have, thankfully, made the throttle response more linear and easier to modulate. Dynamically, though, that's the solitary bright spot for the UX, and it's not a particularly praiseworthy one.

Thankfully, the ride provides some relief from the lackluster powertrain of the Lexus. Over small lumps and fissures in the road, the UX can be crashy, but all in all, it rides well over most any surface and is more comfortable than rivals such as the Mercedes GLB and Jaguar E-Pace. A big part of that comfort is down to the excellent F Sport seats. They're supportive, heated, cooled, and trimmed in a luscious leather that makes spending time in them the best part of the whole car.

The rest of the interior, on the other hand, is largely where the user experience falls flat. One example: Just beneath the crisp, bright infotainment display is a well-organized row of HVAC buttons, but the option to turn the A/C on and off is buried under three menus. Plus, Lexus' finicky touchpad makes getting there difficult. Even after Lexus spent years refining and iterating on the system, it still isn't as intuitive or as accurate as the control knob offered by much of the German competition.

The volume knob is located on a funky, flat spar that juts out from the center console. It's supposed to be easy to use if your hand is resting on the lid of the console itself, and it's not necessarily a problem on its own. But once you have a passenger and their elbow takes up the exact position your arm needs to be in to use the volume knob properly, the illusion that this is somehow more intuitive or more interesting than a typical volume knob falls apart. That and the rest of the physical controls located on that spar become unusable.

The steering wheel is much too large for a car of this size, and even though the column is electrically powered, it doesn't telescope out far enough. The bit of plastic at the top of the instrument cluster creaked incessantly in our test car, and the screen resolution in the cluster itself doesn't hold a candle to the likes of Mercedes' MBUX and Audi's Virtual Cockpit. And then there's the excessive wind buffeting—even with both driver-side windows down, there's a literal tornado whipping around in the back of the cabin. You can mitigate it by lowering the rear passenger's side window, but at that point, you might as well be driving a convertible.

The rear cargo area only has 17 cubic feet of free space available (that's less than a Hyundai Veloster), and there's a middling amount of legroom and headroom available to second-row passengers. Now, I know what you're thinking. Here comes Johnny Auto Journalist, picking apart yet another SUV because we are taught to hate them. But you'd be wrong. There are plenty of SUVs, compact or otherwise, that we genuinely love.

On its face, the UX200 should be an appliance, a generalist automobile that takes you from A to B without hassle. Like your smartphone, it should be pleasant to use when you need it to be and out of your way when you don't. Lexus' quest to make it an "experience" with its, erm, eye-catching exterior looks and fussy interior design has only packed it full of compromise.

The user experience that I talked about earlier, the one that designers and engineers fret over, the one that separates good products from bad ones, simply doesn't excel here. The UX is inconvenient at its best and downright irritating at its worst, and for $41,655 there is no way to justify it.


Tested: Lexus IS350 F Sport Deserves a Better Engine

Lexus's updated IS350 F Sport has the looks to kill but it doesn't deliver sufficient thrills.

Sedans are dead, at least that's the conventional wisdom. The trend toward crossovers has seemingly placed four-door cars on death row, but while they're down, they're not out of appeals. New sports sedans are still being introduced. Lexus's updated 2021 IS350 F Sport is just such a sedan, but is it good enough to find enough buyers to save itself from the gallows?

First introduced for the 2014 model year, the third-generation Lexus IS has been reformed by a second mid-cycle refresh in an attempt to keep up with newer offerings like the BMW 3-series, Cadillac CT4-V, Genesis G70, and the still lovely Mercedes-Benz C-class. Designers went to work on the sheetmetal with a smoothed-out profile, squinty headlights, and following the trend, an even larger grille. It's a killer-looking sedan, especially when dressed in the IS350's standard F Sport garb and blacked-out trim.

HIGHS: Stunning curb appeal, tasteful interior, comfortable seats.

While the IS's looks will please your optic nerve, the segment is one that emphasizes performance. Beneath the hood of the rear-wheel-drive IS350 F Sport is Lexus's familiar 3.5-liter V-6 producing a naturally aspirated 311 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. Against turbocharged fours and sixes, the V-6 seems a step behind the times. The engine lacks the low-rpm shove that comes from most turbocharged mills, and the eight-speed automatic delivers lackadaisical shifts. Acceleration to 60 mph takes 5.6 seconds, and the quarter-mile is gone in 14.2 seconds at 100 mph. While those numbers would have been good a decade ago, today the IS350 F Sport finds itself competitive with the base turbocharged inline-fours offered in its class. For a sedan with such seductive looks, it deserves an updated V-6 with more power.

In an effort to improve handling, Lexus has also retuned the chassis. There are additional welds in the unibody to strengthen the structure, aluminum control arms replace steel ones, springs and anti-roll bars have been lightened, and a switch to lug bolts instead of nuts saves two pounds. Our test car arrived with the $4200 Dynamic Handling package that includes lightweight 19-inch BBS wheels that shave a claimed 16 pounds, adaptive dampers, and a Torsen limited-slip rear differential.

LOWS: A naturally aspirated V-6 in a world gone turbo, chassis shows promise but is held back by an overly vigilant stability control system.

All of the changes sound great on paper, but on the street there's still some structural flimsiness and the steering isn't as precise as the CT4-V's or the G70's. Lexus fits Bridgestone Potenza S001L summer rubber that seems tuned more for comfort than all-out grip. There's also the matter of a stability-control system that reactivates itself above 30 mph. This car's 0.89 g of stick on the skidpad is far from noteworthy. A Camry TRD outgrips the IS350 on the skidpad. Standing on the left pedal at 70 mph stops the IS350 in a competitive 155 feet, but the force of the stop seemed to trigger a low-oil pressure alert. This isn't something we've experienced with this engine before, so it may be a pre-production bug.

We found few problems with the tastefully appointed cabin. Supple leather and wood trim dress up the revised dashboard. The seating position and comfort of the bucket seats is spot on, but our enthusiasm wanes when we start using the infotainment system's touchpad. Though Lexus remains dedicated to fitting the haptic pad to operate the infotainment system, it's easily avoided by using the standard 8.0-inch or optional 10.3-inch touchscreen. Mounted nearly six inches closer than before, they're an easy tap away. Technophiles will find solace now that Amazon Alexa, Android Auto, and Apple CarPlay compatibility are standard.

The good news for IS350 buyers, is that its $43,925 starting price is $2475 less than last year's IS350 F Sport. A looker inside and out, the low-stress V-6 could definitely use more muscle and the handling could be more engaging and fun. Add in our car's as-tested $55,200 price, and we were in a less forgiving mood. A new engine would go a long way toward helping the IS sedan stay off death row.



Tested: Kia K5 GT-Line Draws Closer to Excellence

With striking style and an upscale interior, Kia's new mid-size sedan is some chassis refinement away from rivaling the leaders in its class.

Children don't sketch SUVs in study hall and car designers don't spend years in school working their way up to ­studio boss to figure out how to draw a grille and headlights on a potato. The designers we know dream of penning performance cars, and while the 2021 Kia K5 isn't exactly that, it definitely looks like one.

"Longer and lower with a wider track" sounds like a Chevy ad from the '50s, but those descriptors belong to Kia's mid-size sedan, too. Compared with the Optima it replaces, the K5 measures two inches longer and nearly an inch lower and has an extra 0.8 inch between the tires. The proportions and design yield a striking car that belies its front-drive layout, the $24,455 starting price. We drove a GT-Line model with an asking price of $27,955, but a mechanically identical EX went to the test track and that's where the numbers came from. Aesthetes who find the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry too common might not turn their noses up at the K5.

While the styling pleases eyes, the K5 is satisfying in many other ways. The base engine is a 180-hp turbocharged 1.6-liter four shared with the Sonata, and it's paired to an eight-speed automatic—no rubber-band CVT here. Shifts are smooth and quick, and the right gears are called up without any fuss. Low-end torque feels more abundant than its peak of 195 pound-feet at 1500 rpm indicates, and the turbo makes itself felt right away. Stomp it and the K5 gets to 60 in 7.0 seconds.

Venture beyond 5000 rpm and the engine moans, something you won't hear in an Accord. Driven more sedately, the K5 hums 67 decibels of sound into the cabin at 70 mph. All GT-Line and EX models have the same suspension tuning as the base K5, but they use 18-inch wheels with wider Pirelli all-season tires than the entry trim's 16s. Sharp impacts expose a lack of isolation. While not a deal breaker, it's worth noting that an Accord sops up the same hits with less coarseness. It's likely the shorter sidewalls of the 18-inch wheels and the one-size-fits-all tuning are to blame. The steering is both unerringly stable at highway speeds and deft and responsive when you're sawing through a canyon road or interesting on-ramp.

A radically angled windshield lends a sports-car mood to the driving experience, and the seating position is excellent. Rear-seat space is generous and comfortable. A 10.3-inch touchscreen is available on some trim levels, but the GT-Line comes with an 8.0-inch screen. Both sprout out of the dash and are flanked by physical buttons that make switching between functions easy. The instrument panel has a BMW-ness to it, and material quality throughout the cabin is good. Apple and Android phone mirroring is wireless on all models with the stand­ard 8.0-inch infotainment screen, but strangely, you'll need a cable if you upgrade to the 10.3-incher.

The K5 inches closer to the Accord's ability to deliver everyday joy. A bit of suspension tuning to increase isolation and refinement would give it the manners to match its designer looks.


Tested: Jeep Wrangler 4xe Complicates a Simple Machine

Jeep's new plug-in-hybrid Wrangler promises 375 horsepower and 49 MPGe but struggles to smoothly blend its gas and electric power.

Depending on how you frame it, the Jeep Wrangler 4xe is either a relic of the past or one of the most technologically complex vehicles on the road. Body-on-frame construction, solid front and rear axles, and a fabric roof make the Wrangler a sort of 21st-century self-propelled covered wagon. Yet the 4xe plug-in hybrid follows the lead of science-fair projects such as the Chevrolet Volt and the Toyota Prius Prime, running on gas, electricity, or a combination of both in the interest of greater efficiency.

The 4xe (pronounced "four by E") sandwiches a 270-hp turbocharged inline-four between a 44-hp motor connected through the accessory belt at the front and a 134-hp motor taking the place of the transmission's torque converter at the back. The motors draw power from a roughly 14.0-kWh lithium-ion battery stashed under the rear seats. Whether the 4xe is running in Electric mode or as a hybrid, torque is routed to the wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission and a transfer case that offers rear-wheel drive, all-wheel drive (4WD Auto), and high- or low-range four-wheel drive for the off-road crowd.

2021 jeep wrangler unlimited rubicon 4xe

HIGHS: Guilt-free electric motoring, go-anywhere capability, one vehicle that does the job of many.

 In other words, the power flow through the Wrangler 4xe's running gear is, at times, harder to follow than the plot of Inception. At least the net results are easy to understand: 375 horsepower, an EPA fuel economy of 49 MPGe with the battery charged, and 21 miles of guilt-free electric driving before the gas engine kicks on. The 4xe promises to combine contradictory attributes—power and efficiency—into a single product that would have been unthinkable just 10 years ago, like those business-casual sweatpants you can now wear to work. The plug-in hybrid makes the same torque—470 lb-ft—as the V-8-powered Wrangler Rubicon 392, which is rated at just 14 mpg combined.
2021 jeep wrangler unlimited rubicon 4xe
In Car and Driver testing, a $62,415 Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4xe hit 60 mph in 5.5 seconds, which makes it quicker than anything with recirculating-ball steering needs to be. (The Rubicon 392, a vehicle designed around absurd excess, should be about a second quicker, but we haven't tested one yet.) You'll have to shift into 4WD Auto if you want to hustle the plug-in hybrid that hard, because in two-wheel-drive mode the Wrangler throttles the torque, resulting in a 60-mph time that's 1.3 seconds slower.

LOWS: Sluggish in Electric mode, clunky in Hybrid mode, unexceptional fuel economy once the battery is depleted.

2021 jeep wrangler unlimited rubicon 4xe
When the gas and electric powertrains are working in harmony, this Wrangler drives well enough, but transitions between pure electric driving and hybrid operation are can be slow and jarring. If the battery is depleted or the driver asks for more power than the electric motor can deliver, the inline-four often jumps into action with all the grace of a middle schooler at their first dance. There are pregnant pauses long enough that you might ask out loud "What the hell is happening?" before the Jeep starts accelerating with any urgency. Other times the engine makes a rushed, jerky entrance. Driving the Wrangler 4xe in suburban traffic is a constant reminder that calibrating two powertrains to behave as one is more than twice as complicated as tuning a single propulsion source.

An Electric mode remaps the accelerator so that the gas engine kicks on only if you flatten the right pedal. Annoyingly, if you always want to start out driving electrically, you'll have to switch into this mode every time you start the 4xe. But you probably won't, because driving that way, you're moving a 5318-pound brick with just 134 horsepower. That's enough to keep up with traffic, but treating the 4xe as an EV doesn't have the same fun, torque-rich punch we've come to associate with electric driving.

2021 jeep wrangler unlimited rubicon 4xe
To get the full fuel-economy benefit, you'll have to stay close to home and plug in often. A 150-mile trip with only a single charge tanked our average fuel economy over roughly 200 miles to a dismal 16 MPGe. Owners who are religious about plugging in and puttering around in Electric mode will certainly fare better, although we suspect most buyers will come up well short of 49 MPGe. Once the battery has been depleted, the 4xe actually gets worse fuel economy than a Wrangler powered by the turbo four with none of the plug-in-hybrid hardware (20 versus 22 mpg combined). Blame the extra 800 pounds that the 4xe carries wherever it goes.

If you can tune out the powertrain's hiccups and awkward pauses, you'll find that the 4xe drives like any other Wrangler. There's enough slack in the steering, squish in the suspension, and imprecision in the all-terrain tires to hide the effect of all of that extra weight on the dynamics. Turns out there is an advantage to a numb and vague chassis after all.

2021 jeep wrangler unlimited rubicon 4xe

Wrangler buyers are used to making those compromises. For years, Americans have happily paid a premium for a vehicle that's loud on the highway, thirsty at the pump, and cramped inside in order to own the ultimate do-anything vehicle. As with any other Wrangler, the 4xe can be a family SUV, a convertible, an off-roader, and a daily driver. It can tow 3500 pounds, and it can ford 30 inches of water as easily as it rolls over a curb in the Piggly Wiggly parking lot.

But the 4xe's clumsy powertrain strikes us as a compromise that few people should tolerate, especially given the $10,705 premium over a V-6 Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon. (Many buyers will be eligible for a $7500 credit on their federal taxes, but even that doesn't balance this equation for us.) Most Jeep shoppers will be better served by accepting that, at least for now, a simpler Wrangler is a better Wrangler.


Tested: Honda Civic Type R Refines a Great Hot Hatch

Honda makes the bonkers Civic even better by adding features, retuning the chassis, and tweaking the hatchback's still polarizing styling.

Everyone is seeking a distraction these days. The crumbs collecting in the seat of our racing simulator and the growing pile of empty cans beside it suggest that we've spent an unhealthy number of hours lapping computerized cars around circuits in Forza Motorsport. Perhaps it's the fleeting pleasure those pixelated races provide that made our hands-on experience with the revised 2020 Civic Type R feel like Honda gave us a healthier way to seek catharsis.

In southeast Michigan, our favorite paved playground, the loop we employ to select our 10Best list every year, lives close by. The drive there includes enough highway time to allow plenty of peepers to gawk at the Type R's gloriously juvenile bodywork. Its bulging front fenders, countless aero bits, and distracting (yet functional) wing are made more obvious by the Type R's new brilliant Boost Blue hue, which is the least subtle update Honda introduced on the 2020 Type R. (We expect an all-new Civic Type R for the 2022 model year). Other exterior revisions include body-colored trim on both bumpers, a larger grille opening that improves engine cooling, and, to add back some lost downforce from the new grille, a reshaped front spoiler. While nothing will ever convince the haters that this Civic looks badass, it's hard to deny that the Japanese-designed Batmobile draws as much attention as significantly more expensive metal. Apart from some dealer-installed accessories, the no-cost paint colors are the only options. Our 2020 copy cost $37,990, which is only $735 more than it did last year.

HIGHS: Unflappable poise, excellent turbo-four engine, daily driver livability.

The Type R looks as out of place on the interstate as Marilyn Manson performing at Sunday service. Although our long-term 2019 Civic Type R has revealed that extended road trips are not this car's strong suit, we had just a short interstate blast in the 2020 car before we reached our destination. Those outrageously red front seats are more comfortable than they look. And like lesser Civic hatches, the Type R has an Uber-grade back seat and sizable cargo space behind it. The 2020 model replaces the leather on the steering wheel and shift boot with a racier microsuede material. A new teardrop-shaped shifter hides a 90-gram counterweight to deliver better feel. Somewhat surprisingly, Honda kept the aluminum knob, which burns your hand in the summer and bites it in the winter.

The 2020 Type R's turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four makes the same healthy 306 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque as before. That power is dispatched to the front wheels through a helical limited-slip differential and a six-speed manual transmission, which has short gearing that prioritizes rapid acceleration. While the engine starts making power around 2500 rpm, the party is pretty tame until the tach needle passes 3500 rpm, unleashing a thrilling blast to redline that conjures the high-revving VTECs of yore. It also provides enough shove to ensure that the Daewoo Lanos with a duct-taped wing that's lingering in your mirrors can only dream about overtaking you.

In the 2020 model, we recorded a 4.9-second dash to 60 mph and a quarter-mile pass of 13.4 seconds at 108 mph—solid runs that are both impressive for a front-wheel-drive car and similar to those of previous Type Rs we've tested. But the hottest Civic's reign as the quickest front-driver has come to an end. The updated 2021 Hyundai Veloster N with its new optional automatic transmission just beats the Honda to 60 mph by a tenth of a second. The 302-hp 2020 Mini John Cooper Works GP is a tenth quicker still to 60 mph (4.7 seconds) and posts an even stronger 13.1-second quarter-mile at 110 mph. Even more significant is that the Mini GP snagged the title of fastest front-driver ever at this year's Lightning Lap, beating the Type R's time around our 4.1-mile configuration at Virginia International Raceway by just 0.1 second.

LOWS: No longer the quickest hot hatch, love-it-or-hate-it styling persists, still doesn't sound as good as it drives.

The Type R’s trademark triple-outlet exhaust issues a droning boom unless you’re working the engine hard enough to push exhaust through the center pipe and its resonator. The odd arrangement is intended to add character to the engine's soundtrack, but it only emphasizes our disappointment. The mightiest Civic sounds subdued, especially compared with the firecracker soundtrack of the Veloster N. Honda apparently realized this disparity and sought redemption by installing Active Sound Control on all 2020 models. This new feature artificially enhances the Type R's engine sounds using the audio system, and the intensity increases as you move through the drive modes. Too bad it's really only noticeable during large blips of the throttle—during heel-and-toe maneuvers or rev-matched downshifts—but even then, it just sounds like an auto-tuned bumblebee blasting from the speakers. The 88 decibels we recorded at full-throttle and 74 decibels at a 70-mph cruise are in line with other Type Rs we've measured, although those figures are 3 and 2 decibels quieter, respectively, than what our long termer produced when it was new.

As we approached the hard right turn that begins the clockwise circulation of the loop, we killed the climate system and the radio to focus on the Type R's chassis improvements. The 2020 car gets new lower-friction ball joints and updated bushings for the front suspension, revised rear bushings that are stiffer laterally, and retuned adaptive dampers that now sample the road 10 times quicker. The front brakes are fitted with more fade-resistant pads and new two-piece floating rotors that are no longer cross drilled that cut unsprung weight by 2.5 pounds per side. These careful tweaks are hard to perceive without driving the new and old models back-to-back, and they don't produce any measurable difference at the test track. The 2020 model returned a familiar (and excellent) 1.03 g of grip around the skidpad and a 148-foot stop from 70 mph. However, we did notice the new car's firmer brake pedal, which Honda says has 17 percent less initial lost motion before the pads meet the rotors (and the Type R already had spectacularly good brake feel).

Our route includes several places where you can accelerate hard from a stop, and that’s one of the few situations where the Type R’s front-wheel-drive layout feels like a liability. The car's Continental SportContact 6 tires—sized 245/30ZR-20 all around—frantically scramble for traction as the turbo spools up and the tach approaches the 7000-rpm redline. While the front tires struggle to find grip right off the line, they’re at least not tugging toward the ditch, as the Type R's dual-axis strut front suspension magically vanquishes the dreaded front-drive torque steer. Once you’re moving, flowing along a ribbon of twisty road in third gear, the lack of all-wheel (or rear-wheel) drive feels irrelevant.

Despite pancake-thin sidewalls and huge 20-inch wheels, the Type R’s ride is almost unbelievably free from the expected jolts and jitters. While there's a noticeable change between the softest damper setting (Comfort) and the firmest (Plus R), the Civic feels unflappable in either mode while roller-coasting up and down the loop's esses. Steering effort incrementally increases with each of the three drive modes (the default, appropriately, is Sport) and every note reminds us of Porsche's divine composition.

The talkative wheel is a major factor in the Type R's preternatural ability to turn any road into a racetrack. This is a car that transforms grocery runs into hot laps, commuting into rally stages. While it shares an aging infotainment system and its standard driver-assistance features (such as adaptive cruise and lane-keeping assist, which are new for 2020) with the regular Honda Civic hatch, the alpha-dog model looks and feels like an altogether different car. It’s a raw, visceral machine, an IRL antidote to virtual living. You might have a million-dollar racing simulator, but those screens can’t compare with the view through a Type R’s windshield.

Tested: Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Limited Can't Keep Up

It doesn't offer the same driving dynamics as the Honda Accord, but the Sonata's hybrid model has the best fuel economy of the mid-size family sedans we've tested.

Hyundai redesigned its Sonata sedan in 2020, hoping that its new styling and updated tech would help it compete with other popular mid-sizers such as the Toyota Camry and our longtime favorite in the segment, the Honda Accord. But while Hyundai sold 76,997 Sonatas last year, Honda moved nearly 270,000 Accords, and nearly 300,000 Camrys found new homes, proving that the winnowing of the sedan category—no more Ford, no more General Motors—has left only the most ruthless competition. And to compete with the Camry and Accord, it's a given that you need to offer a fuel-sipping hybrid model. Hyundai actually offers two distinct electrified Sonatas, the Sonata Hybrid and Sonata Hybrid Blue, with the latter scoring an EPA combined 52 mpg. Unlike the Accord, however, fun behind the wheel doesn't seem like it was part of the Sonata's design brief.

Sonata Hybrids are powered by a 150-hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder paired with an electric motor and battery pack, generating a combined 192 horsepower. The updated model has new shift programming for the six-speed automatic transmission, which Hyundai claims makes the shifts smoother. Nonetheless, the transition between the electric motor and gas engine is convulsive, and there's occasional lag when shifting. The Sonata's conventional automatic transmission makes it an outlier in the mid-size hybrid crowd, with the Accord using a one-speed direct-drive transmission and the Camry employing a continuously variable automatic (CVT). The Accord isn't much more powerful than the Sonata—it's rated at 212 horsepower—but it's a full second quicker to 60 mph, taking 7.1 seconds to reach 60 mph compared to the Sonata's 8.1-second plod.

HIGHS: Exceptional fuel economy, luxurious cabin in top trim, solar roof.

Hyundai's new look for the Sonata is generally attractive, even if it looks a bit awkward from a few angles, and our test car's 17-inch wheels, standard on the SEL and Limited models, don't help its looks, either. But small wheels do help with its fuel economy, as indicated by the Blue's EPA numbers—it uses 16-inch wheels. Honda's top Touring trim for the Accord Hybrid can be equipped with a set of 19-inch wheels, which likely hurt its fuel economy in our most recent test.

When we tested a 2020 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, we achieved 51 mpg during our 75-mph highway fuel-economy test. And we barely noticed the fuel gauge ticking down during our time with this 2021 example. The 2021 Sonata Hybrid is EPA rated at 47 mpg combined, while the Blue model earns a 52 mpg rating thanks to a 16-inch wheel-and-tire package and the removal of the spare tire. A Honda Accord hybrid only managed 35 mpg in our highway fuel-economy test, a deficit that can't be ascribed to any one factor. But on the highway, the Sonata's conventional automatic transmission and smaller wheels and tires definitely gave it an advantage. The Toyota Camry scores up to 52 mpg in the EPA's ratings, but the CVT-equipped Camry is also less than enthralling to drive.

LOWS: Looks awkward from some angles, unpleasant powertrain, lazy acceleration.

Exclusive to the Limited model, the Sonata offers a feature unique in the segment: solar panels on the roof. Hyundai says that the solar roof can add up to two miles of driving range per day, and it charges both the standard 12-volt battery and the hybrid powertrain's 1.6-kWh lithium-ion battery pack. Should the 12-volt battery go dead, the Sonata is the rare hybrid that can jump-start itself. Push the 12V Batt Reset button on the dash and the Hyundai will use its high-voltage battery as an onboard jump pack. Very clever.

Hyundai's SmartSense driver-assistance package is standard on all models, and it includes lane-keeping assist, braking assist, and a driver monitoring system. Unfortunately, Hyundai's Smart Park remote parking system—remember that Super Bowl commercial?—is absent from the hybrid's roster of options. Fortunately, the car's surround-view camera and front and rear parking sensors make parking easy.

As soon as you open the solid-feeling door, it's evident that this is a relative of Genesis, Hyundai's luxury wing. The driver's seat seems unusually high, perhaps a subtle bid to keep potential crossover buyers in the sedan camp. Upon start, the gauge cluster comes to life with crisp, animated graphics that look like something from a German brand. However, the 12.3-inch screen behind the wheel is only available on the top-of-the-line Limited model. Touches of Genesis carry over into the climate controls, too, where textured silver rings surround the knobs. The Limited gets a 10.3-inch dash infotainment screen, with other models getting an 8.0-inch screen. There, as in other Hyundai and Kia products, drivers can select an array of calming sounds, like a crackling fireplace.

The Sonata Hybrid slots between the Accord and Camry in price, starting at $28,755 for the base Blue model. Our Limited test car, which included full LED headlamps, the solar roof, and a leather interior, stickered for $36,474, which still puts it well below the average new-car price. The Sonata might not be the performance champ of the mid-size-hybrid segment, but it does have its particular merits, stellar highway fuel economy and styling that dares to have a point of view among them. But you get both of those things on the least expensive model, the Blue, along with an extra five miles per gallon. So, while we enjoy luxury frills as much as anyone, it seems that the most compelling Sonata Hybrid is also the most affordable one.


Tested: Hyundai Veloster N DCT Gets Quicker and Comfier

New seats and infotainment make the 2021 Hyundai Veloster N a nicer compact car, but a newly optional automatic transmission makes it a hotter hot hatch.

Hyundai nailed the hot-hatchback formula when it released the Veloster N for the 2019 model year. As a rambunctious salute to bargain performance, it initially offered as much as 275 horsepower and a six-speed manual transmission for less than $30,000. Its rowdy active exhaust emits all the right snorts and pops. And its planted, highly adjustable chassis makes for great fun on pretty much any road or racetrack. With our long-term test car continuing to entertain us even as it approaches 40,000 miles, the news that Hyundai would be upping the fiery Veloster's base price and adding a few refinements for its third year in production was cause for some initial concern. Fortunately, those updates resulted in an even more desirable sport compact.

First, that change to the 2021 Veloster N's base price: It's now $33,245, which is $4650 more than it was last year. However, that sum does include more standard equipment, notably the previously optional $2100 Performance package that should have been standard from day one. The highlight of that upgrade is a 25-hp boost for the turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four (for a total of 275), but it also adds an electronically controlled limited-slip differential, larger brake rotors, an active exhaust system, and 19-inch wheels with Pirelli P Zero PZ4 summer tires, which replace the standard 18-inch Michelin Pilot Super Sports.

The second major update is the addition of an optional ($1500) eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission (DCT). While we'll argue that a stick shift and three pedals are still best for maximizing the Veloster N's playfulness, there's no denying the DCT's quickness. Our test car shot to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds and covered the quarter-mile in 13.4 seconds at 105 mph—handy improvements over the best 5.2- and 13.8-second runs we've recorded for a manual Veloster N. More important, both of the DCT's times are a tenth of a second quicker than the best efforts we've clocked for its chief rival, the manual-only Honda Civic Type R, although the 306-hp Honda does post a 3-mph faster trap speed at the end of the quarter. In two-pedal form, the Veloster N is now the quickest front-driver we've ever tested and one of the cheapest ways to gain access to the sub-five-second-to-60-mph club.

To summon the high-rpm clutch drop required for that Civic-beating takeoff, you'll need to familiarize yourself with the Custom drive mode display on the Veloster's 8.0-inch central touchscreen. Given the Veloster N's many chassis, engine, exhaust, and drivetrain settings, there's no ideal way to present all the choices. The previous tile layout required two pages, which Hyundai condensed to a single page by moving to a spider graph. The new readout looks sharp, but manipulating the intricate toggles while driving takes a steady hand. There are also preset combinations—Eco, Normal, Sport, and N Mode—if you don't require, say, loud exhaust paired with relaxed suspension.

The launch-control tab is integrated into the spider graph's adjacent N Performance display. Once activated, you're given five minutes to set the launch rpm (in 100-rpm increments up to 3500 rpm), floor both pedals, and then release the brake. As the computers work the clutches, the Veloster N lunges forward on the edge of traction and fires off rapid-fire upshifts as long as you keep the accelerator pinned to the carpet. We'd prefer it if we could initiate the procedure by simply mashing both pedals in the sportier drive modes, and we found that the system needed a brief cooldown between repeated runs. But it is effective.

Designed in-house, the Veloster N's eight-speed DCT is a marked improvement over the Hyundai Group's previous dual-clutch boxes. Its gear changes aren't as quick as a Porsche PDK's, but it is snappy and smartly programmed. (And hey, we're talking about a car that costs the same as a few option packages on a 911 Turbo S.) Low-speed drivability is impressively smooth, lacking the jerky stumbles that on-off throttle applications can provoke in this type of transmission. Downshifts are quick and well timed. As a bonus, the automatic Veloster N gains an overboost feature called N Grin Shift, which engages the car's raciest drivetrain setting and increases the engine's torque output from 260 to 278 pound-feet for 20 seconds. But we often forgot about it because it's activated by a small, unassuming NGS button on the steering wheel that blends in with the rest of the controls.

In manual mode, the Veloster N's transmission will hold gears up to the engine's 6750-rpm fuel cutoff. Shifts can be cued up via paddles on the steering wheel or a console shift lever with a proper pull-to-upshift, push-to-downshift action. We found that this manual control came into play more often than usual when driving on the highway, as the Veloster N's eight-speed won't engage top gear in any drive mode more aggressive than Normal. At an 80-mph cruise, eighth gear equates to a relatively subdued 2000 rpm. Left to its computer brain, the transmission only goes to seventh gear in Sport (2500 rpm at 80 mph) and sixth in Sport+ (3100 rpm). For comparison, the manual Veloster N registers 2900 revs at 80 when in top gear.

At a steady 75 mph, the Veloster N DCT returned the same 30-mpg figure as the manual car on our 200-mile highway fuel-economy test. This is unimpressive given its extra ratios, yet better than what the EPA reckons: The automatic's federal estimates of 22 mpg combined, 20 city, and 27 highway all trail the manual's 25/22/28 ratings. Our test car averaged 18 mpg during its two weeks with us.

That reduced efficiency partially stems from the weight penalty incurred by the dual-clutch transmission. At 3186 pounds, our DCT test car weighed 96 pounds more than our manual long-termer, with the amount of mass over the front wheels increasing from 63.7 to 65.2 percent. Hyundai compensates for the altered front-to-rear balance by retuning the DCT model's springs and adaptive dampers. This maintains the car's excellent poise and body control but changes the ride quality. In Normal mode, the DCT car rides slightly firmer than the manual model, but in Sport+ mode it's more forgiving. Driven back to back, we still prefer the lighter six-speed car's softest setting for most situations, as it brings the best balance of ride comfort and chassis control. On Hyundai-spec 235/35R-19 Pirelli P Zero PZ4 summer tires, our DCT test car exhibited slightly more skidpad grip than the stick shift (0.99 g to 0.97) and took negligibly longer to stop from 70 mph (157 feet versus a best of 154).

Thankfully, transmission choice has no impact on the Veloster N's new standard performance seats. Highly supportive for hard driving yet surprisingly comfortable, these cloth and leatherette thrones are a huge improvement over the comparatively flat and plain-looking fabric chairs in our long-term car. Hyundai says each one is also four pounds lighter, but we're more impressed with how their sculpted design and the illuminated N logos on their backrests dress up the car's otherwise drab cabin.

That the new seats aren't heated is our only big gripe about the latest Veloster N. While that might sound like a trivial complaint, we drove the car in Michigan's frosty late fall. We thought far less about the car's new standard active-safety tech—lane-following and forward-collision assists, blind-spot and rear cross-traffic alerts, and driver attention monitor—than we did about the seat heaters and heated steering wheel that Hyundai makes available in other markets. The company says this split was to limit the cost and build complexity of models sold in the United States. But we imagine that discerning buyers of a more sophisticated and expensive Veloster N would like a say in their car's amenities. Count us among that group, even if we'd still chose the manual car and its inherently greater involvement over the quick new DCT.


Chevrolet Silverado 1500 RST First Test: It's So, So Close

How does America’s second-best-selling pickup satisfy in Rally Sport Truck guise?

Chevrolet sold 594,094 Silverado pickup trucks in America last year. Again, that's last year—you know, the bad one with the global pandemic. Also, General Motors will hate me for mentioning this, but since the two vehicles are virtually identical, we really ought to toss in the 253,016 Sierras GMC managed to move in 2020. Grand total: 847,110 trucks. I mention these massive sales figures because I always get a bit nervous when reviewing a product that sells in such bulk. Porsche sold 8,839 examples of the 911 last year. That's a number I can wrap my head around, and maybe say something that will affect the numbers. One man's opinion about the second-best-selling vehicle (Ford's F-Series total in 2020 was 787,372 units) in the United States of America? I'm throwing a pebble into the proverbial ocean. You know what? I'm still gonna try, dammit.

2021 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 4×4 RST 6 2L 30

Materials And Design

This Chevy is a handsome fellow. Our test truck's black paint with red accents (the latter being part of the $3,280 Redline Edition option package) seriously pops. Full-size trucks are massive these days, and most of the visual mass is concentrated on their grilles. The Silverado RST wears this facial weight well, managing to look aggressively thick yet sporty. The Ram 1500 looks downright dowdy by comparison, whereas the Ford F-150 is just plain. Sure, the Chevy has strange, sideways-U daytime running lights, but the rest of its front-end styling is solid, especially the black bowtie badge smartly framed in chrome trim. There's little to note on the rest of the Silverado's exterior except for the crucial fact that the steps cut into the rear bumper are still the smartest, best way to access the bed of these hulking half-ton trucks. Yes, even better than Chevy's overly complex transforming tailgate.

 Inside the Silverado, everything comes crashing to a halt. Look, the competition sells trucks with nicer interiors. That's just the way it is. What angers and upsets me about that fact is that it's no secret! Ford and Ram combined deliver more than one million pickup trucks a year with better interiors. Everyone knows this to be the case, and yet GM does little about it. Being even more frank, I'm a perennial MotorTrend Truck of the Year judge. I can attest to the fact that the Chevy Silverado's substandard interior has knocked it out of contention for the golden calipers. Twice.

The problem is twofold: design and materials. From a design point of view, the Chevy appears to be two generations behind the more upscale innards found in the competition. The screen is nice, and it's similar to what you'd find in a Corvette, but there's creativity or visual interest in the cabin. And then there are the materials; nearly everything in the interior looks and feels chintzy. Bits of plasti-chrome brightwork has been applied to some of the buttons, but it's maquillage on swine chops, if you know what I'm saying. I sat in the passenger seat for a few minutes and examined the plastics used for the dual glove boxes and the surrounding structure, and my kid pulls nicer-looking and -feeling stuff out of his Happy Meals. Moving on.

What's Under The Hood?

The mechanicals are better, and the Silverado sure has a great engine. We all know EVs are the future of not just General Motors, but pickup trucks, too. But, man, this V-8 is a honey. It's big, at 6.2 liters of displacement, and delivers 420 eager horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque. Cylinder deactivation means that the pushrod small-block can run around as a 3.1-liter four-banger part of the time, as well, in a nod toward efficiency. I've probably used the following quote from Bob Lutz more than any other in my career but, "Americans buy horsepower but drive torque." Chevy has done such a masterful job coupling this mighty V-8 to the jointly developed Ford/GM 10-speed automatic transmission. There are certain cars where it just feels good when you push down on the go pedal. This truck, with this powertrain, is one such vehicle.

2021 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 4x4 RST 6 2L 6

 Interestingly, the 3.5-liter twin-turbo V-6 in the Ford F-150 makes 500 lb-ft of torque (and 400 hp), but because of both a touch of turbo lag and the fact that Chevy is better at programming the 10-speed, the Blue Oval truck doesn't feel as quick nor as powerful. Also, the big 6.2-liter beats up on the numbers put out by Ram's 5.7-liter Hemi V-8, which pips out "just" 395 horsepower and 410 lb-ft of torque. Even though the American wing of Stellantis has shoved its 6.4-liter V-8 into everything from the Dodge Chargers to Keurig coffee pod machines, it's not available on a 1500 pickup. (That said, there is an eTorque version of the Hemi that adds a supplemental 130 lb-ft of electric torque.) One more thing about GM's 6.2-liter: It sounds phenomenal. 

 The Driving Experience

Looking at the test numbers, the 5,420-pound Chevy is pretty quick. It pulls from 0 to 60 mph in 5.5 seconds and covers the quarter mile in 14 seconds flat at 99.5 mph. I used to own a Subaru WRX that was slower than that. If you're a pickup-truck-drag-racing kind of person, know that the lighter, 5,340-pound Ford is a touch quicker, hitting 60 mph in 5.3 seconds and dusting off the quarter in 13.9 seconds at 99.8 mph. Not much, but quicker is quicker. The big-boned Ram (5,960 pounds) truly lags, needing 6.6 seconds to hit 60 mph and a full 15 seconds to do the quarter mile, travelling at 93.4 mph. The Silverado definitively loses the braking contest, requiring a longish 133 feet to come to a stop from 60 mph. The Ford uses 123 feet, whereas the Ram needs just 121. I'm not sure what we gain from putting full-size pickup trucks around our figure eight handling course (they all do poorly while killing their front tires), but the Chevy was the fleetest at 27.5 seconds, beating the F-150 by 0.1 second. The Ram was a distant third, requiring 28.8 seconds.

 Subjectively, I liked how the Silverado drove when tackling twisty canyon roads. Dare I call it sporty? I dare. Would I—could I—use the word sporty to describe either the Ford or the Ram? No. However, that's not the common use case for a pickup, and the Chevy's ride quality trailed that of the excellently tuned Ram. When unloaded, you were fully aware there was nothing in the bed. The same is true of a Ford F-150, and both the Ford and the Chevy use leaf springs to suspend the live rear axle, whereas the superior-riding Ram has coil springs. Of the two with the old-school tech, the Chevy's ride is a bit more pleasant than the Ford's.

2021 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 4x4 RST 6 2L 38

 One of the reasons given for sticking with seemingly ancient suspension technology is that leaf springs are better for towing. Fair play, if you're actually purchasing the truck to do some work—or at least tow your party boat—as you want as much capability as possible. The Chevy can tow quite a bit, 9,300 pounds, which is more than the similarly equipped competitors. On paper, at least. With a 7,600-pound loaded horse trailer hanging off the hitch (that's 82 percent of the RST's capacity), the reality was quite different. 

 The big V-8 and its hill of lag-free torque had no problem moving the horse-laden trailer. However, as experienced horse hauler and senior editor Aaron Gold explained, "Unfortunately, the Chevy isn't as stable as other trucks I've towed with. I could feel the horses moving and the trailer trying to shove the truck around on steep downgrades, and the brakes felt severely taxed. The Chevrolet is a reminder there's more to towing ability than power. "

2021 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 4×4 RST 6 2L 21


Where does this leave us? The 2021 Chevy Silverado 1500 RST is a good-looking full-size pickup truck with a great engine and some decent performance chops. Towing horses isn't the truck's forte, but despite what decades of marketing has told us, plenty of people buy trucks simply because they like driving trucks. If you're one of those people, I'd almost recommend you buy yourself a Chevy truck similar to this one. Why almost? That interior is just a drag, especially if you're not explicitly buying the Silverado as a work truck. Chevy comes close to delivering a satisfying pickup with this RST, but that's the same story it's been for far too long.


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