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[REVIEW] 2019 BMW M850i Coupe

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“An amount in the low three-digit million euro range”, reads the BMW press release.

That’s how much money the company has invested into BMW Group Plant Dingolfing in preparation for the 8 Series. As the plant already builds the company’s 7 Series flagship, it’s astounding to hear the amount of extra money that has spent in order to accommodate the company’s newest model.

The new 8 Series Coupe is designed to be the sports car launches BMW’s model offensive in the luxury segment. It’s no wonder that the company is investing a tremendous amount in order to consolidate its position in Lower Bavaria as the centre of competence for the luxury class.

What is it?

Is it a sports car, a grand tourer, or something in between? BMW has had a fine tradition of big BMW Coupes stretching back decades, but arguably, its flagships have somewhat lacked the deftness of dynamics to really appeal to the driving enthusiast.

Have they been ridiculously powerful? Yes. Stunning to look at? Certainly. But exciting and the sharpest to drive? Perhaps less so, as effective as the 6 Series family may have been.

The number “8” has only been applied to models in BMW’s portfolio that are pricier, more luxurious, and more unique. Recall the original 8 Series Coupe of 1989-1996, the i8, and the Z8 and you get the picture. After a 20 year hiatus, the nameplate is back.

While the new 8 uses elements of the same structure as the 5 and 7 Series, it’s a new separate model in its own right, designed to be a sporting grand tourer versus a luxury car. It’s not a direct replacement either for the old 6 Series, as it’s higher upon the scale in terms of cost and capability.

BMW says that the directive for the all-new BMW 8 Series Coupe’s design was to provide a thrilling driving experience. Body, powertrain and suspension were honed to achieve the agility, precision and poise expected of a top-class luxury sports Coupe.

The model was actually developed in parallel to the BMW M8 GTE race car, which has since already proven its potential in the 2018 FIA World Endurance Championship long-distance races and in the 2018 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

The 8 Series is available in three body styles: a two-door 2+2 Coupe, a convertible, and now the four-door Gran Coupe. An M8 will be available in all three variants, but that’s still a few months away,

A new design featuring composite new materials

For the purpose of this review, we’ll be taking a closer look at the 2019 BMW M850i Coupe. The M prefix labels this model as an “M performance” car, rather than a full bore M Division-developed car as the M8 will be.

Happily, the 8 Series production model lives up to the expectations set forth by the BMW Concept 8 Series first unveiled at the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este in 2017. Its unique aura is the result of a new styling language focusing on modernity and emotional engagement.

This car is a looker with its low slung design, an elongated silhouette with slim window pillars, a long wheelbase with a wide track, and a roofline with distinctive “double-bubble” styling of classic racing cars.

For the first time in a series-production BMW model, the roof is also optionally available in carbon-fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP) – which is also manufactured at the Dingolfing location in an innovative wet-pressing process.

In the spirit of intelligent lightweight construction, the supporting structures at the front and rear of the vehicle, other components, such as the roof, doors, hood, and the front firewall, are made of aluminium.

The BMW kidney grille showcases its increased proportions and features a hexagonal outline that widens towards the bottom and a single-piece surround that encompasses its various elements.

Full LED headlights with BMW LaserLight technology are now standard equipment. Incidentally, these are now the slimmest headlights of any BMW model to date.

The company’s signature “Angel eye” light tubes are used to generate the daytime driving lights as well as the low and high beam, thereby creating the signature brand look at all times.

The M850i Coupe’s greenhouse is sharply tapered at the rear, accentuating the muscular shoulder line. The elongated quarter windows terminate in a very tightly-angled version of the iconic Hofmeister kink “counter-swing”. The long, heavily raked rear window is a classic design feature of high performance luxury sports coupes of yesterday.

The car’s rear end is composed of sculptured, emotive surfaces that emphasize the car’s width and low center of gravity. The slender all-LED rear light clusters light up in a distinctive “L” shape, extending deep into the flanks to add to the effect.

Powertrain and Drivetrain

The launch of the M850i xDrive Coupe also marks the premiere of a new BMW TwinPower Turbo V8 engine. The latest generation of the 4.4-liter eight-cylinder engine has been radically revised with numerous detailed improvements.

Two twin-scroll turbochargers with charge air cooling located within the V-shaped space between the cylinder banks, High Precision Injection, VALVETRONIC fully variable valve control and Double-VANOS variable camshaft timing all form part of the M Performance TwinPower Turbo technology, whose extensive overhaul has given a substantial boost to maximum power, torque and efficiency.

Output is now rated at 523 hp between 5,500 rpms and 6,000 rpm, and 553 lb-ft of torque from 1,800 to 4,600 rpms.

Power is transferred to the wheels via the latest-generation eight-speed Steptronic Sport transmission that boasts a wider gear ratio spread. Even sportier gear shifts and can be operated by means of shift paddles on the steering wheel.Completing the all-round package for an engaging driving experience is the BMW xDrive intelligent all-wheel-drive system, which is fitted in a newly improved version that has been tuned for this specific model.

The rear-wheel bias of the xDrive system and the rear differential lock ensures maximum agility and precision when the car’s sporting capabilities are being put to the test.

Whether it’s the rainy streets of Vancouver or the snowy highways in Toronto, the addition of xDrive turns the M850i truly into an all-weather grand tourer built for Canadian winters. Just don’t forget the winter tires!

Driver-focused cockpit

As with other BMW coupes, the M850i’s interior has been designed to be very much driver oriented. The seating position is notably low and the car’s wide centre console rises up towards the instrument panel at the front, separating the driver and front passenger areas.

This centre space encompasses the audio control unit and its function buttons, the air conditioning control panel, and air vents as well as the freestanding and frameless Control Display gauge cluster, all arranged above each other in a clear, horizontally partitioned structure.

One of vehicle’s truly stunning options is called “Crafted Clarity,” which adds Swarovski glass detailing to the gearshift lever, volume knob, start/stop button. Even the slightly redesigned iDrive controller with active haptic feedback has been fitted with this treatment.

At night, the Bowers & Wilkins Diamond Surround Sound System and the illuminated gearshift lever complement the luxurious interior ambience.

BMW says that due to the low seating position of both rear seats, it has been possible to design the head restraints as an integral part of the backrests.

However, as it is a 2+2, the rear seats are really designed only for flexibly short adults or children as rear legroom is rather modest.

Standard on the 8 Series Coupe is Adaptive M suspension with electronically controlled dampers. Both compression and rebound are adjusted continuously and independently. The electronically controlled dampers respond adaptively to road surface conditions and driving style in order to eliminate undesired vehicle movement.

Damping characteristics can be adjusted via the Driving Experience Control switch – SPORT and SPORT+ modes for maximum handling ability, and the requisite comfort-oriented damper setting for everyday driving in both in ECO Pro or COMFORT modes.

Infotainment Technology

As the M850i is one of BMW’s flagship models, it includes all of the company’s latest bells and whistles.

The latest iteration of gesture control, initially introduced on the 7 Series several years ago, is now available on the 8 Series. The improved system now supports custom gestures and feels more responsive than before.

There are now a plethora of connection options including a 12 volt outlet, aux-in, Bluetooth, and WiFi. BMW has also taken the unusual step of making almost all the ports USB-C only (except for one). It does modernize the interior but is also a bit inconvenient for Apple iPhone users who will need to invest in new cables.

There is a Qi-compatible wireless charger nestled far forward of the centre console deep into the dash that charges both phones and the BMW Display key.

The M850i is equipped with iDrive 7.0, the company’s latest iteration of their infotainment system. First making its debut in the latest G05 X5, the new system is being rolled out across all BMW models as you read this.

Apple’s fantastic wireless CarPlay’s integration is basically the same, save for the larger screen that makes every part of it visually stand out more. Strangely, most automakers supporting CarPlay still don’t offer it wirelessly but BMW has done so since first adopting CarPlay.

With the larger iDrive touchscreen, the icons are big and bright and can also be selected with the iDrive rotary dial. The latter is just a bit more cumbersome as using the dial means cycling through the menu via a lot of scrolling. I found it easier to use the touchscreen with Apple CarPlay. Android Auto is not supported at all.

Compared to the previous iDrive generation, iDrive 7.0 constantly adapts to the situation and is more orientated to the needs of the driver. The new information tiles are not only live, but can be added to a personalized home screen with up to four live tiles.

This all-new home screen presents an optimal use of the vehicle’s various displays that can be tweaked per driver.

There are also a number of small touches that showcase BMW’s attention to detail, such as the on-screen rendering of the car matches the paint colour on the actual car.

A brand new flat menu structure that enables fast access to most settings and functions. Previous BMW owners will need a bit of time to get used to the interface, but the menu structure is intuitive and there are handy tool tip bubbles that pop up at the top of the screen and the learning curve is not very steep.

A fundamental change in iDrive 7.0 is the integration with the car’s 12.3 inch all-digital Control Display gauge cluster as well. A navigation map can be displayed between the speedometer and tachometer displays and the whole cluster will change colour and type of presentation depending on the driving situation or model. It’s all seamless, uniform, and intuitive.

As expected in, there is also a built-in WiFi hotspot with a couple of plans being offered by BMW Canada. BMW’s ConnectedDrive system, which provides news, weather, navigational maps, and mobile phone app connectivity, is free for 12 months and then can be subscribed to for up to 20 years.

While much noise has been made around Tesla’s availability to push over-the-air updates for its cars’ systems, BMW now has the ability to do that as well with the iDrive operating system and navigation maps.

Additionally, by using the ConnectedDrive smartphone app, owners can connect to their vehicles to remotely start, lock/unlock the doors, flash the lights or sound the horn.

You can even pre-condition the climate control at a set-time, or send a destination from your smartphone to the in-car navigation system. While the system is not as instantaneous as a physical keyfob, but it’s still pretty neat nonetheless.

For me, perhaps the pièce de résistance is the ConnectedDrive app’s ability to remotely access the car’s Surround View cameras to see what is going on around your BMW.

This feature, called “Remote 3D view” gives the car’s owner a perspective around the vehicle at his/her pleasure. In an era where many of us have IoT smart security cameras at home or integrated to our door bells, Remote 3D view is a nice-to-have feature for peace of mind.

How does it drive?

The M850i is a GT car in character, so don’t expect M4 coupe levels of handling prowess. Don’t get me wrong though. You can chomp down a twisty and difficult road at a crazed rate without batting an eyelid even with the car in comfort mode.

Weighing 1.9 tonnes, there is a lot of clever chassis tuning and adaptive management going on to shepherd and marshal the car’s weight. However, the adaptive damping system, four-wheel-steering, active anti-roll bars are mostly transparent from the driver’s perspective. It is all very well disguised, well-sorted, and the M850i feels like it is a car a couple of hundred kilograms lighter than it actually is.

The massive brakes can be optionally spec’ed out as carbon ceramics, but the steel rotors are plenty powerful for road driving. Like the suspension, BMW’s engineers have done a remarkable job at making things feel natural despite a lot of technology happening behind the scenes.

xDrive keeps things protective and super-secure. Select Sport or Sport Plus mode for a bit more fun as even more power is shunted to the rear for you to be able to throw the car around a bit. The combination of xDrive and four-wheel-steering resulted in the big coupe constantly surprising me with its nimbleness, even on a tight and twisty track.

There is an initial softness to the car though, be it the steering, or handling, or the noise levels. No doubt the M8 will be sharper, so perhaps this slight isolation is deliberate given the clientele who is likely to buy the M850i over the M8.

As expected, the 8 Series can be fitted with BMW’s latest advanced driver aids including a semi-automonous adaptive cruise control system that even has an infrared and optical camera in the Control Display system to monitor your attentiveness.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to this latest boy’s toy, there are plenty of cars that can cover the M850i’s talents and price range. But arguably, there are few that can meet it on equal ground.

While the Lexus LC500 coupe is eye catching and has a great engine, its ride quality is disappointing. The Mercedes-AMG S63 S Coupe excels on luxury and refinement as well, but is considerably more expensive and is not as dynamic to drive.

As for the Porsche 911, it is far more of an outright sports car experience compared to the Sports Grand Tourer nature of the M850i.

Therefore, the M850i sits in a niche of its own, turning out exactly as BMW intended.

Andrew is a proud car and tech geek who has worked in Surrey for over the last 10 years. He comes from a communications/marketing background and has worked for automotive-related companies such as Edmunds.com, BenzWorld.org since 1999. From track driving, to rally driving to autocross, he has done it all! When he’s not reading about the latest automotive news, he can be found outdoors snapping pictures at various events around town.

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[REVIEW] Polestar 2 EV – First impressions

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If you’re an avid Volvo fan and the Polestar 2 looks vaguely familiar to you, there is a reason why. Firstly, both Volvo and Polestar are owned by the same Chinese parent company, Geely. Secondly, the Polestar 2 was originally unveiled in Gothenburg as a concept, named the 40.2, alongside the brand’s XC40 crossover concept, called the 40.1.

Polestar’s chief designer, Maximilian Missoni, has acknowledged that the Polestar 2 was originally designed as a Volvo concept car intended to test the water for a compact sedan. But the car was so different from the rest of the Volvo family that he realised that his team hadn’t designed a Volvo at all, but inadvertently, a Polestar.

Despite the logo-less grille, there are some tell tail Volvo design cues such as the Thor’s Hammer LED daytime running lights as well as the fat taillamps.

Unlike the 40.2 concept car though, Polestar has created a full-width taillight with 288 ultra-bright LEDs to combine a vivid, dramatic, and unique design signature.

Who is Polestar?

Polestar once used to be Volvo’s racing skunkworks division which eventually became the performance-tuning arm of the Swedish automaker. Think of the relationship between AMG and Mercedes-Benz or the John Cooper Works division of MINI and you wouldn’t be too far off.

While Polestar is still up to its old tricks in tuning Volvos into powerhouses, parent company Geely’s masterplan is to transform it into an EV-focused brand.

As the Polestar 2’s name might suggest, this is second model to come from Volvo’s now completely separate performance brand. First launched was the uber expensive, limited-run plug-in Polestar 1 coupe, a stunningly attractive halo model. However, the all-electric Polestar 2 that I had a brief one day taster test drive in is more representative of the wares that the company hopes to attract the masses to.

What is the Polestar 2?

In short, the Polestar 2 is a compact high riding near luxury hatchback that is sized and priced to compete with the Tesla Model 3. Aside from the Model 3, the company also hopes that it will be able to temp Volvo owners, as well as people out of their Audis, BMWs, and Mercedes-Benzes.

As it rides on a modified CMA (Compact Modular Architecture) platform which underpins both Volvo’s smaller products, such as the XC40, and those of its Chinese parent company Geely, the 2 has tallish, chunky proportions that make it look quite different from anything else on the market.

If anything, the raised bodyline reminds me of the Subaru Outback Sport Utility Sedan. Officially, Polestar says that the vehicle’s proportions transfer the comfort and utility of an SUV or crossover but yet the looks inspire sport sedan imaginings.

Missoni says the Polestar 2 is “urban” and “robotic” with its straight and square glasshouse, quite the polar opposite to a curvy Tesla. Compared to the Model 3, it is 100 mm shorter and 100 mm wider. Although a grille is strictly not needed, the Polestar 2 does indeed have one and behind which will house even more safety equipment (radar sensors etc) in the future.

Starting at a base price of $69,900 (before government incentives), my press vehicle was a fully loaded Launch Edition model equipped with the optional Performance Pack. This is initially how all of the Polestar 2’s will be configured. However, in the future, many of the 2021 Polestar 2’s standard features will be grouped in separate Plus and Pilot Assist packages.

The Performance Package, priced at $6,000, adds adjustable Ohlins dampers, gold coloured four-piston Brembo front calipers, 20-inch lightweight forged aluminium wheels with Continental SportContact 6 tires, upgraded spring and stabilizer bar rates, as well as a high-gloss back roof and gold seatbelts and tire valve caps.

Other options include a Nappa leather interior for an extra $5,000 as well as a choice of three different wheel and tire packages, ranging up to $1,200.

The interior – environmentalists and techies rejoice

You sit up quite high in the Polestar 2 with a relatively commanding view of the road ahead. I loved the frameless door mirrors in which the whole mirror housing moves to adjust the view rather than just the mirror itself.

Due to its higher bodyline and high beltline, the 2 looks bigger than it is. The cabin is roughly the size of a BMW 3-series so it’s not actually hugely spacious. Nonetheless, four adults of average height should be comfortable enough. Despite not having a driveshaft, unlike the Model 3, there is a centre rear hump in the middle which eats into the rear legroom.

Thanks to the power hatchback design and flat and flush folding rear seats, there is a lot of versatility when it comes to cargo hauling thought the car is not overly cavernous. Cargo volume is 14 cubic feet plus another one cubic foot in the frunk.

Polestar grabbed some headlines during the Polestar 2’s launch due to their entirely vegan interior as fitted to the standard car. The company says that zero animal products are applied, and the vehicle represents the company’s aim to accelerate the change to more sustainable mobility.

If you skip the Nappa leather interior in my Launch vehicle, you get a Polestar 2 WeaveTech interior which utilizes a high quotient of recycled materials in its construction. WeaveTech is said to almost entirely eliminate plasticizers, substances which increases material flexibility, commonly found in automotive interior vinyl.

The 2’s interior is modern and minimalistic, but not in a Tesla barren way. Polestar calls it a “product of Scandinavian design ethos, minimalism and modernism”.

There are areas of high quality brightwork, around the vents, and a simplified version of the Volvo shift knob. The major trim pieces have textures that feel new and different versus cheap and unpleasant.

The illuminated Polestar logo, which reflects off the panoramic moonroof, is a nice branding touch and is also visible from the outside.

By and large, the 2’s quality seems to be on par with that of Volvos, not surprising since many parts (such as the turn signal and wiper stalks, window switches) are shared.

A simplified virtual instrument cluster is set up in a conventional hooded pod behind the steering wheel, and there is a portrait-orientated tablet-like touchscreen infotainment system. The latter is one of the crowning achievements of the Polestar 2 in that it is the world’s first implementation of an Android Automotive infotainment system.

Co-developed with Google, the operating system integrates Google Maps, Google Play, Google Assistant. It is fully compatible with Apple’s iPhones and can receive over-the-air updates but does not alas does not support Apple CarPlay.

If you own an Android phone or have even used Google apps, the look and feel of the system will be immediately familiar as there is a crisp, clean, and simple design thanks to the Polestar’s designers placing an emphasis on having an uncluttered interface with large touchscreen-friendly buttons. Google’s team developed all of the system’s functionalities and a basic design template, but Polestar’s designers customized the skin for their purposes.

While I only had a very limited amount of time to play with the system, the home screen consists of four customizable “cards” that categorize the main apps based on one of a few main themes chosen.

Android Automotive OS was designed to eliminate the extra step of looking up something on your phone before inputting it into your car. This does also mean that for much of this functionality to work, the Polestar 2 does need an active internet connection (it has an integrated one).

Perhaps the most visible and familiar aspect of the system is the integration of Google Maps into the system, including real-time traffic information, points of interests, and suggested destinations. Quick to respond and with high-resolution renderings on both the main touchscreen and the virtual cockpit gauge cluster, the Android Automotive OS’s version of Maps has also been specifically designed with electric vehicles in mind.

For example, much like Tesla’s system, the system can show the expect charge level when you arrive at a programmed destination. Charging stations can be shown along the way to help the driver plan on when to charge.

The Polestar 2 supports Google Assistant voice commands meaning that the familiar “OK, Google” keywords even supports climate control functionality and app features in addition to the requisite audio and navigation functions.

Range and charging

With a 78 kWh lithium-ion liquid cooled battery and a 11 kW on-board charger, the Polestar 2 supports up to 150 kW DC fast charging capability. The company claims that this capability will recharge an almost spent battery to 80 per cent in about 40 minutes.

Since Level 3 DC chargers may be few and far between compared the much more common Level 2, 240 volt stations, the latter will require about 7 to 8 hours of charging to get to the recommended 90 per cent level. Using the 120 volt travel charger and your typical home socket will require a painstakingly slow 22 hours of charging to get to that same level of charge.

The US EPA estimates that the 2 has a driving range of 233 miles (375 kilometres) which is less than a Tesla Model 3 standard range’s 300 plus-mile (482 kilometre) EPA range. But real world tests seem to indicate that Tesla’s range estimate is overly optimistic whereas the Polestar’s is the opposite.

How does it drive?

Aside from the fancy infotainment system, the Polestar 2 is a really fun all-wheel-drive car to drive. With one electric motor on each axle and a combined output of 408 horsepower and 487 lbs-ft of torque, the Polestar 2 sprints from 0-100 km/hr in 4.5 seconds with a top speed of 201 km/hr.

These are rather impressive numbers especially given its rather heavy 4,680 lbs curb weight. Tesla fans will note that the mid-level Tesla Model 3 Dual Motor is slightly faster, but the Polestar 2 is a great deal behind the top-spec (and more expensive) Model 3 Performance which has a sub-4 second 0-100 km/hr time.

There is no dedicated sport mode within the Polestar’s interface, but drivers can choose up to three levels of regenerative braking. On the most aggressive setting, the 2 feels close to the Nissan Leaf’s e-Pedal system which essentially allows for one-pedal driving. Unlike e-Pedal though, it does not automatically apply the brakes when the car is at a stop.

An ESP Sport mode loosens the reins on the nanny driver aids, allowing for more liberal throttle applications before the system intervenes. Aside from that, you can toggle the steering weight, but that’s about it. There isn’t even a start button as you climb in, step on the brake, and the car turns itself on by itself. You can also prod the Start/Pause button in the middle of the volume control knob to wake the 2 up.

The Performance Pack fitted to my car adds manually adjustable Ohlins dampers and stiffer suspension components. I suspect that most owners won’t be crawling under the car with an allen key to adjust the ride quality and will simply have their dealer set it and forget about it.

Riding on winter tires and adjust to the softest setting, the ride was still firm but comfortable. Despite only a short stint behind the wheel, the Polestar 2 feels like a properly developed car and not just a straight-line dragster.

The gold finished Brembo brakes look impressive, but the brake feel felt a little bit dead underfoot. I look forward to a longer driving experience in the future to see if my impressions change. At least you won’t have to touch the brake pedal that often if you use the most aggressive regen mode as I did.

How do I buy one?

Sales of the Polestar 2 follow an online retail model but supplemented with showrooms in strategic cities such as Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver. From the press release, Polestar says that unlike conventional dealerships, Polestar’s unique retail “spaces” are staffed by non-commissioned staff and “designed to inform and educate visitors in a relaxed way”.

Customers will also be able to test drive cars and learn about the brand at these new Polestar Spaces.

Final thoughts

Polestar’s CEO, Thomas Ingenlath (an ex-Volvo design boss himself) hints that Polestar’s focus will not be on social media friendly 0-100 km/hr times. Instead, the company’s Unique Selling Propositions will be on the holistic ownership experience, the refinement of the vehicles, and the build quality of their cars.

The Polestar 2, in effect, is intended to play the role of both mass-market leader and rival disruptor to the Tesla Model 3.

On the design front, the 2 is a head turning vehicle in the flesh. It’s clean-cut, fresh, and surprisingly loaded in presence. While it looks related to the Volvo S60, it’s also distanced far enough from to look like a car that will age well in the years to come.

Time will tell as to whether Polestar will succeed in swaying any potential Tesla customers, or those looking at upcoming EV models from the other European manufacturers. If you’re in one of these camps, you might want to take the 2 for a test drive yourself.

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[REVIEW] 2020 Mercedes-AMG CLA45 4MATIC+

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The second-generation Mercedes-Benz CLA-class, launched in 2020, was a huge jump in terms of styling, quality, and refinement. While the original CLA45 made a bonkers 188 horsepower per litre, its scrappy attitude and raucous mechanical noises traded some of the typical Mercedes-Benz polish for boost pressure and exhaust blats.

With the CLA now in its second iteration, a whole host of significant updates transform what used to be a serious performer to one which also has the refinement that befits the Mercedes-AMG brand.

Let’s take a closer look at this Sun Yellow example of the full fat version of the CLA from the AMG internal-combustion madhouse in Affalterbach.

What’s new?

The boffins at Mercedes-AMG have managed to lower the CLA’s nose by taking the new hand-crafted M139 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine and rotating it 180 degrees so as to fit the exhaust manifold at the rear. This then feeds into a new BorgWarner twin-scroll turbocharger.

The result is one of the most power dense forced induction four-cylinders on the market, with 208.9 horsepower / litre for a total of 382 horsepower at 6,500 rpms and 354 lb-ft of torque from 3,000-4,000 rpms. Other markets outside the USA and Canada are able to get their hot little hands on the new 416 horsepower CLA45S model, but alas for now, we will only get the standard tuned version.


Paired up with this new engine is a standard dual-clutch automatic transmission, fitted with an extra gear. Now at eight speeds instead of seven, it feeds power to all four wheels via an updated 4MATIC+ all-wheel-drive system which gains a torque-vectoring rear differential that can help the CLA45 AMG carve around corners more easily.

Select the $3,500 optional AMG Track package, as fitted to my test vehicle, and not only will you get an AMG High-Performance Composite Braking system with enormous 13.8 inch front perforated and ventilated front discs and powerful six-piston fixed calipers plus 13.0 inch rear discs with single piston calipers.

You will also get a beautiful AMG performance steering wheel in DINAMICA microsuede and the much reported about AMG Race and Drift modes.

The RACE mode within AMG DYNAMIC SELECT is ideally suited for track driving by an experienced operator. It reprofiles the throttle, transmission, steering and suspension calibrations for more direct response. A special DRIFT mode utilizes innovative AMG TORQUE CONTROL to precisely send torque to each rear wheel, allowing a degree of handling expertise never before possible in a CLA.

My test vehicle was also fitted with the $3,700 AMG Driver’s package and the $1,900 Drive Package. The former includes 19-inch AMG forged cross-spoke lightweight wheels, the AMG Drive Unit set of controls on the AMG steering wheel, an AMG Track Pace system which lets you store performance data from your CLA45 in the MBUX infotainment system, AMG Real Performance sound (aka partially synthesised exhaust sounds), and arguably, the piece de resistance, the AMG Ride Control Sports suspension with 3-stage dampening.

How does it drive?

Have you been eyeing Audi’s RS3 but want something a bit more distinctive and more involving to drive? The CLA45 is certainly a worthy contender at tempting you away from Audi Sport’s five-cylinder rocket and into the most powerful 2.0-litre car currently on sale.

As James May would say, the CLA45 AMG goes like a stabbed rat. It’s brutally quick with 0-100 km/hr dashes completed in under 4 seconds.

AMG has applied much of its knowledge from its turbocharged V8s here. The expertise shows up in the form of a baffled sump for the engine, extra cooling for the turbo, and much more.

There is remarkably little turbo lag from the class-leading engine even during small throttle pedal loads. This force-fed four-banger engine positively howls as the virtual tachometer revs climb higher towards the redline.

Performance or techies will positively geek out at the many dozens of on-screen menus which can display various read-outs including boost pressure, horsepower, torque, and much more.

To add even more pantomime, the standard AMG exhaust system has a flap that automatically opens or closes, depending on the driving mode, for better noise. Or you can permanently invoke the “powerful” mode’s sound manually.

Whereas the CLA250 that I previously reviewed was more of a sheep in wolf’s clothing, the CLA45 AMG delivers on Mercedes’ dynamic selling pitch. With a ridiculous outright level of grip that will scare all but the most experienced drivers, the car is an absolute hoot to drive.

Part of this credit goes to the CLA45’s 4MATIC+ system, which uses a pair of multi-disc clutches that can variably apportion torque to each wheel as part of the new AMG Torque Control set-up at the rear differential.

The other part of the equation is the well-tuned three stage driver-selectable adaptive dampers which cushion on even the most challenging surfaces. Included as part of the AMG Driver’s package, this AMG Ride Control option includes AMG-developed springs and shocks as well as corresponding modes of AMG Dynamic Select which changes the steering feedback to match.

The ride is suitably firm without being too punishing. Unlike the CLA250, which I found to be most natural-feeling in its default Comfort mode of operation, the CLA45 shines at its more “cooking” modes.

Left in Auto mode, the eight-speed dual-clutch gearbox is intelligent enough to be in the correct gear most of the time. The extra cog is a welcomed addition in keeping noise level and fuel consumption levels down while cruising on the highway.

Click on the AMG’s driving mode selector and you’ll find adjustments of everything from power steering weight and power calibration to suit your preference, to exhaust sound and dampener stiffness settings. I do wish, like in BMW M division cars, there was the option of selecting the speed at which the transmission could shift or the steering feel (independent of other settings), but these are small asks and there is enough feel that can be dialed in for 99 per cent of the situations I encountered.

Like the CLA250, the CLA45 is a pretty comfortable car to live with as a daily driver, although there is a fairly insistent amount of background noise to the car’s ride on certain surfaces. Chalk it up partially to the sticky performance rubber I suppose.

For those who are larger in stature, be sure to test out the front seats before you sign on the sales paperwork’s dotted line. Despite many different adjustments available, the AMG Recarro-styled seats are one of the tightest fitting ones that I’ve experienced in a while, even at their most relaxed settings.

While I found it them to be rather comfortable, I’d expect that some may find the aggressive thigh and lateral bolstering to be confining. As they say, your mileage may vary.

Other techie bits and bobs

The CLA45 offers more semi-autonomous driver aid technology than most cars of its size, including the Audi RS3 and BMW M2.

My fully loaded CLA45 tester included the $1,900 Intelligent Drive Package which included a wack load of features too long to speak in detail in this review. If you’re going to buy this car, this (and the $3,700 Driver’s Package) is a no-brainer.

The Drive Package bundles no less than 13 features including:

  • Active Steering Assist
  • Evasive Steering Assist
  • Active Brake Assist with Cross-Traffic Function
  • Active Emergency Stop Assist
  • Active Speed Limit Assist
  • Active Lane Keeping Assist
  • Active Blind Spot Assist
  • Active Lane Change Assist
  • PRE-SAFE
  • PRE-SAFE PLUS
  • PRE-SAFE Sound
  • Enhanced Stop-and-Go
  • Route-based Speed Adaptation

As mentioned, the list is positively mind boggling. All you really need to know is that by checking off this box, you’ll get a car that can change lanes by itself on the highway (Active Steering Assist and Active Blind Spot Assist); can intervene with emergency braking if you’re about to make a left hand turn and there is an oncoming car; can even be configured to read speed limits and stick to them.

Folks, let me remind you that this is Mercedes-Benz S-class levels of technology in one of the company’s “entry-level” AMG cars!

Final thoughts

Overall, the 2020 Mercedes-AMG CLA45 is a far better hornet’s nest of a sports car than its predecessor. It is prettier to look at, has a more adjustable and involving chassis, and the tech-laden interior is just far nicer to live with.

Crucially, the car has lost none of its raucous four-cylinder blat or its scrappy personality. Its rip-snorting exhaust note brought a smile to my face every time, and thanks to the ease of the MBUX system, it’s now possible to dial back much of the car’s rambunctiousness, something that made the first-generation CLA45 difficult to live with as a daily driver.

With over $14,000 in options added to my Sun Yellow (an extra $890) CLA45 test vehicle’s base price of $60,590, all of this play time doesn’t come cheap. In fact, the 45’s closest competitor is its little brother, the less powerful but cheaper CLA35 with 302 horsepower.

But skip a few of the optional appearance packages on the 45 and you’ll get a all-weather rocket of car that delivers oodles of fun even below maximum attack mode.

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[REVIEW] 2021 MINI Cooper S E hatch (Battery Electric Vehicle)

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It’s small, it’s nimble, it’s iconic, and it’s now available as an all-electric model. I’m talking of course, about the new 2021 MINI Cooper SE.

While MINI has dipped its toe into the pond that is “electrification”, courtesy of its plug-in hybrid MINI S E Countryman PHEV SUV, this new fully electrically powered MINI Cooper SE hatch is the company’s first full production Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV) that is sold globally.

Prior to this production model, over a decade ago, BMW built 600 previous generation electric MINI prototypes (known as the MINI E) for worldwide testing as e BMW Group’s first major electromobility field test.

However those cars had major compromises, such as a massive lithium ion battery pack which took the space where the rear seats would normally go, as well as massive variations in range, down to as low as 89 kms compared to the 193 kms that MINI had advertised the prototypes as being able to travel on a single charge.

An exciting new era for the iconic urban city car

In 2018, the MINI Cooper S E Countryman ALL4 made its debut as a plug-in hybrid model which combined MINI’s vision for an electric vehicle but with the help of a classic internal combustion engine.

Over a decade after its field test, the 2020 MINI Cooper SE three door hatch makes its debut, targeting urban performance with battery life better suited for urban/suburban driving versus long distance vacation treks. MINI says that this vehicle is designed to put the electrically powered driving experience in the city, where it can have a lasting impact at reducing exhaust emissions and noise in the urban environment.

The truth of the matter is that most people don’t need over 200 kilometres of range. At least that’s essentially the premise of the electric MINI hatch which advertises up to 177 kilometres of range per full charge from its 32.5 kWh lithium ion battery, as well as the ability to DC quick charge from to 80 per cent in about 35 mins.

Who should buy this car?

Assuming your daily commute is roughly around 100 kilometres round trip and you have the ability to charge at or close to home, the basic MINI elements (and associated benefits) are still there with this vehicle.

Surprisingly, I found that with careful driving, my real world combined electric range of city plus highway driving could be stretched to as far as 220+ kilometres.

The central design element of the MINI Cooper SE’s front fascia is a closed rounded-hexagon grille. The company says the electric motor needs very little cooling air, hence the modified design. The signature accent color is yellow, which you will find on the grille as well as the side-mirror caps. MINI’s excellent LED headlamps and foglamps are also provided as standard equipment.

With go-kart like handling, a small package, lower weight, the Cooper SE is a hoot to pilot around town. While the basic three-door hatchback body is based on a MINI design that dates back from 2014 and the 181 horsepower powertrain is sourced from the BMW i3, there Is still loads to like about this car.

The driving experience itself is pure MINI, with the car feeling very quick, particularly from a standing start. MINI Canada says that the 0-60 km/hr dash can be had in only 3.9 seconds (0-100 km/hr in 7.2 secs) but the electric motor’s instant torque makes it feel much faster than that.

The adjustable brake regeneration helps you to almost accomplish one-pedal driving, meaning that the moment you lift off the throttle, you’re effectively braking. Driving around town becomes a fun and novel experience, at least for the first few days behind the wheel.

Toss the Cooper SE, and you’ll feel some of the extra weight from the battery pack. However, the low position of the battery pack lowers the car’s centre of gravity by 30 mm (1.2 inches), resulting in handling that is very close to that of the petrol MINI Cooper S hatch.

Interior space isn’t really comprised either, since the battery pack has been cleverly situated down the spine of the car and beneath the back seats.

Pin the throttle to the floorboards on the highway and you’ll find a fair amount of shove still available even with 2 other adult passengers on board. Electric car acceleration always brings a smile to my face, and add to that a base platform that is already fun to drive in the first place and it’s truly a winning combination.

In addition to the adjustable regen modes, there are also Mid, Sport and Green driving modes. They seem to do little more than sharpen or soften that instant response slightly. There’s an extra Green + mode that softens many of the car’s features like the climate control, upping the range by way of a thank you.

How long does it take to charge?

Charging is possible from a 120 volt wall socket, but is painfully slow at around 12 hours. With a level 2 onboard charger rated at 7.4 kilowatts, home charging from empty to full at 240 volts takes around 5+ hours or so.

What rivals does the MINI Cooper S E have?

At a base price of $39,990 CAD, the Cooper S E qualifies for all the Canadian federal and provincial BEV incentive programs.

This pricing also places it less than the four door Hyundai Ioniq Electric (which starts at $41,499), and significantly less than the Nissan Leaf with the 40 kWh standard range battery (starting at $44,298). Both these cars are significantly less fun to drive, which means that MINI currently owns the budget-EV performance niche.

Interestingly, the MINI is only 3099 pounds, 486 pounds lighter than the Chevy Bolt. Despite its horsepower deficit when compared to the Chevy Bolt, the Nissan Leaf, or the Kia Niro EV, the MINI beats all of them in the sprint from 0-100 km/hr, proving that weight matters.

On the inside

My 2021 test vehicle was fitted with MINI Canada’s $8,000 Premier+ trim package. This generous package includes a laundry list of must-haves for me, including a panoramic moonroof, leather-wrapped sports seats with Union Jacks embossed into the headrests, heated mirrors, a heads-up display, as well as an upgraded GPS navigation system, an 8.8 inch iDrive-like touchscreen with Apple CarPlay support, and a great Harmon/Kardon sound system.

Oddly, despite the high spec of my test vehicle, adaptive cruise control wasn’t included even though collision mitigation auto braking was standard equipment.

As in the conventional MINI 2 door hardtop, the luggage volume under the tailgate is 7.5 cubic feet, expanding to about 26 cubic feet with the rear seats folded down.

The rear seats are usable for shorter adults, but I wouldn’t recommend spending too much time back if you’re over 5’9” for anything but short trips around town.

Final thoughts

It seems like a marriage made in heaven doesn’t it? Pair up a proven all-electric powerplant with low running costs, instant acceleration, tremendous torque and silent running, together with one of the UK’s iconic cars that is small, nimble, and fun-to-drive.

Nothing quite prepares you for that instant shove back into the seat from the 181 horsepower electric motor, and I had as much fun behind the wheel of the Cooper SE as in the many fast MINIs that I’ve had the privilege of driving before. And yet, the MINI SE Cooper hatch still remains almost as chuckable as ever.

If you’re looking to get into the EV car game, the 2021 MINI Cooper SE hatch is an unexpected fun-to-drive bargain so long as you can live with its lower advertised EV range and its three door hatchback design.

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[REVIEW] 2021 BMW 228i Gran Coupe xDrive

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I think it is safe to say that customers have been smitten by the four-door coupe body style first made popular by the Mercedes-Benz CLS coupe just past the turn of the millennium. Four door coupes must be the second biggest automotive craze of recent years, just behind that for SUVs and crossovers.

These days, every major German manufacturer has such a model if not multiple models. Whether it’s an Audi A5 Sportback, the Volkswagen Arteon, the Tesla Model S, or even BMW’s own 4 Series Gran Coupe, these vehicles bring a sexier, less conventional design than the standard three box body family sedan.

At the turn of the millennium, BMW only had a handful of models to temp customers who were looking for a premium, stylish car that was fun to drive. Two decades later and they amazingly have over thirty different model lines. Thirty! Even Goldilocks would be satisfied.

It’s not difficult to understand why BMW keeps adding the “Gran Coupe” four door coupes to its line-up though. A quick look at the pricing sheets and you’ll see that the “Gran Coupe” models bring a significant increase in list price, and subsequently a bump in the company’s profits.

For 2021, BMW has added yet another Gran Coupe to its line-up. However in this case, the 2021 2-series Gran Coupe is one of the least expensive ways to join the BMW car owners club.

What is it?

Despite its “2-Series” designation though, the 228i Gran Coupe is vastly different than its 2-Series two door coupe / convertible namesake, which is based on a rear-wheel-drive or xDrive all-wheel-drive platform.

Sharing the UKL2 platform with the not-available-in-North America 1-Series hatchback and the X2 SUV, the 228i xDrive Gran Coupe is the first BMW car to be sold in North America that is based on a front-wheel-drive platform. Indeed, the platform is so versatile that it underpins all current MINI products.

The arrival of the new 2 Series Gran Coupe doesn’t mean that the two-door 2 Series Coupe will be pulled from sale. In fact, according to 2 Series Gran Coupe product manager Gernot Stuhl, work has begun on a successor which will still be as a rear-driven platform.

What about its exterior look?

The 2-Series Gran Coupe intends to deliver BMW’s luxury-car experience, going head to head with other compact four-door contenders such as the Mercedes-Benz CLA coupe and even the Audi A3 sedan. In a classic example of form over function, like the CLA, the 228i GC is for those looking to make a style statement.

 

Like the original X6, the 2-Series Gran Coupe marks an interesting moment in BMW’s history. For the brand traditionalists that still struggle with BMW’s crossovers, the 2-Series Gran Coupe may be yet another difficult pill to swallow.

The front end of the 2-Series Gran Coupe is taken from the 1-Series hatchback, complete with full LED headlights on every model. The rest of the car though, is all-new in design. From the A-pillar onwards the 1-Series’ hatchback’s form factor merges into a compact four-door coupe, while around the back, the 2-Series Gran Coupe boasts a brand new rear end with thin, horizontal LED taillights similar to those on the 8-Series or X6.

In my view, while the front of my Melbourne Red Gran Coupe looked rather fetching, I found the side profile and rear to be a curious blend. BMW’s success with the 4, 6, and 8-Series Gran Coupes has surely solidified its confidence in applying this design formula across its other models as well, even though I find it to be less successful than its bigger and more expensive siblings.

When parked next to the elegant second-generation Mercedes-Benz CLA, the 2-Series Gran coupe looks rather more chunky, compromising its ability to pass as a sleek four-door coupe as the 4 and 8-Series Gran Coupe does.

What’s under the hood?

A 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine is the only powerplant available under the 2-Series Gran Coupe’s hood, but in two states of tune.

My vehicle, as tested, was the 228 horsepower version with 258 lb-fts of torque. Step up to the M235i and you’ll get a more powerful tuned engine with 301 horses. Both variants are paired with BMW’s xDrive all-wheel-drive and a quick shifting eight-speed automatic transmission as standard equipment. This clutch-based version of xDrive can send as much as 50 per cent of the engine’s torque to the rear.

All 2-Series Grand Coupe models also have BMW’s wheel slip limitation (ARB) system that can gently brake the inside front wheel during cornering to help to prevent understeer.

How does it drive?

Despite its small displacement, the 228i feels light on its feet around town. Sprightly and eager, the small four door coupe is fun to drive, but more in a MINI-esque sort of way versus what you might expect from previous BMWs. Toggle Sport mode and the throttle response sharpens, the transmission holds the gears a bit longer, and the steering gets more heft to it.

The engine is delightfully responsive and sounds good for a four-cylinder turbocharged powerplant but perhaps lacks some character. Since most BMW traditionalists might shun the 228i GC anyway, this is probably not of huge concern to the BMW brass in Munich. I suspect that like the CLA, the 2-Series Gran Coupe will introduce new and younger clientele to the BMW family. Clientele that may want something totally different than the BMWs that their parents may have driven before.

Despite xDrive, as the drivetrain is mostly front-wheel-biased. Nonetheless, the 228i GC feels competent and balanced, but lacks the same seat of the pants rear wheel “push” from its bigger rear-wheel-drive biased stablemates.

Suspension is by way of MacPherson struts up front and multiple links at the rear, my M Sport package equipped test car employed lowered M Sport springs and passive dampers and it rode on optional 18 inch alloy wheels. This package also includes more aggressive styling and a few more bits and bobs of extra equipment than the base vehicle.

Overall, the 2-series Gran Coupe’s ride is refined, but its handling isn’t quite as sharp as you’d expect from a car wearing the BMW roundel.

What about the inside?

Like most BMWs as of late, the 228i Gran Coupe’s material quality is fitting of that which you’d find in a high-end compact car. The cabin styling matches that the latest BMW X3 or the latest 3-Series sedan. It may look simple, but it’s well thought out. Inevitably, the lower / more hidden parts of the cabin are where you’ll find some harder, scratchier plastics. But generally, these are pretty innocuous.

Climb aboard inside and you’ll find that in typical BMW fashion, the driving position is spot-on and the latest iDrive infotainment system is one of the best in its class with fluid menus, excellent graphics and responsiveness. BMW’s personal voice assistant is also included on the 2GC, despite it being one of BMWs lower end models.

A 10.3 inch virtual gauge cluster in front of the driver is slightly plain but highly reconfigurable and functional. It pairs with the 10.3-inch iDrive touchscreen display which can also be controlled via BMW’s rotary iDrive controller.

GPS Navigation and satellite radio were included on my test vehicle, but the Harman/Kardon audio system is an optional extra. BMW finally also includes both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.

Due to the transverse engine layout, the 228i Gran Coupe’s front cabin is relatively spacious. Out back, BMW claims that the rear legroom is nearly the same as the large 3-Series sedan’s, but narrower door openings and the more aggressive roofline make it a bit more challenging to enter the cabin versus the 3-Series. It’s fine for an averaged-sized adult so long as it’s not for an extended period of time.

The 2-series Gran Coupe’s cargo area is also good enough for your typical weekend road trip as the back row can be folded down to accommodate bulkier cargo. Due to its higher trunk lid, there is more height for bulkier items when compared to the Mercedes CLA. But with no hatchback opening, the trunk aperture is relatively compact. Total trunk capacity is 430 litres compared to the CLA’s 460 litres of storage.

Final thoughts

Although the 228i Gran Coupe’s name may suggest that it has sporting, dynamic pretensions, it can’t hide the fact that it comes off a front-drive platform borrowed from BMW’s sister brand MINI. While it mostly succeeds in delivering a premium luxury-car experience, its handling isn’t as sharp as you might expect from a car with the BMW badge.

Despite this though, the combination of a well put together cabin, peppy powerplant, and high-quality materials will appeal to those who don’t mind its slightly quirkier design. By BMW deliberately steering away from a “traditional BMW sedan shape”, it may have appealed to a whole new subset of clients who would otherwise flock to another brand.

Whether or not this strategy works long term remains to be seen. For those who are set on a BMW but don’t like what the 2-Series Gran Coupe has to offer, the small jump to the 330i xDrive sedan may be worth it for a more authentic BMW experience.

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[REVIEW] 2020 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio

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When Alfa Romeo released its Giulia Quadrifoglio sports sedan in 2017, car reviewers were stunned. All of this excellence seemingly came out of the blue, evidently by the company enlisting a crack skunkworks-like team of designers and engineers. In very Italian form, it is said that these teams designed almost every part of the Giulia from scratch without real oversight.

Designed to compete with the likes of the BMW M3, the Alfa Giulia Quadrifoglio has been regaled as an impressively fast and well sorted European sports sedan from a company which hasn’t competed in this sector for at least a decade, and hasn’t produced a contender for the top spot since the 1960s.

At 4.7 metres long, 1.95 metres wide, and 1.68 metres tall, the Giulia’s performance SUV sibling, the Stelvio Quadrifoglio, was expected to be every bit as wholesome as the sedan upon which it shares the same chassis.

Unlike it’s smaller brethren though, as an SUV, the Stelvio is also expected to be spacious enough to collect the kids home from school in comfort and safety on a rainy Monday evening. It is also expected to be able to swallow a week’s worth of shopping at Costco on the way home from work.

Let’s take a closer look.

Engineering and Design

The Stelvio’s flamboyant styling is instantly recognisable from the Giulia, with a similar prominent shield-shape grille dominating a large amount of the front-end real estate.

As with the Giulia Quadrifoglio, Alfa Romeo leaned heavily on Ferrari’s expertise, including the acquisition of Philippe Krief, the Ferrari’s 458 Speciale’s chassis engineer, to deliver all that expertise to a vehicle in a category that Alfa has never competed in before.

With aggressive detailing, a pumped-up shape, those classic telephone dial wheels, the Stelvio looks like little else on the road. Its proportions make it look like a very large hatchback when seen in the context of other cars perhaps due to the lack of a three-quarter window.

The Stelvio’s designers certainly didn’t go for any sort of rugged styling elements as with other SUVs. As far as performance SUVs go, it is even more distinctive than the Porsche Macan, particularly due to its aggressive snout and offset exhaust pipes.

Swaths of aluminium are used for weight-saving reasons, including in the suspension componentry and body panels such as with the fenders, hood, and doors. Even the driveshaft is made of carbon fibre, and lightweight carbon-ceramic brakes are offered as an option (my tester had it).

Oh and in case you’re wondering about the four-leaf clover that makes its appearance all around the vehicle, it references the “Quadrifoglio Verde” motif that first appeared on Ugo Sivocci’s Alfa Romeo RL Targa Florio, with which he won the race of the same name in 1923.

Record setting Performance

7 mins 51.8 seconds. That’s how fast the Stelvio Quadrifoglio lapped the famed Nürburgring Nordschleife track.

As another manufacturer that has fallen at the altar of the SUV, Alfa Romeo wanted to launch Stelvio Quadrifogolio with some numbers to back its performance claim in this crowded space. As for benchmarking, Alfa’s engineering chief, Roberto Fedeli – formerly of Ferrari – said that he wanted to reproduce the Giulia in the way the Stelvio drives. In that, I think he largely succeeded.

Although the Nürburgring record has now been broken by the Mercedes-AMG GLC63 S, a lot of credit needs to be given to the fantastic powerplant under the Stelvio QV’s hood for making the record-setting run possible. This firepower is provided by an all-aluminium 2.9-litre twin-turbocharged V6 that can trace its lineage to Ferrari’s F154 family of modular V8s.

Though liberated of two cylinders and reconfigured for use under both the Stelvio’s and the Giulia’s hoods, the V8 equivalents have been used in everything from the Ferrari 488 Pista to the Maserati Quattroporte GTS.

Developing 503 horsepower at 6,500 rpms and 443 lb-ft of torque at 2,500 rpms, this is a cracking engine in a genuinely fast performance SUV. There is a ferocity and freedom that perhaps can only be expected of a turbocharged engine developed partly in part by Ferrari. It sounds soulful at mid-revs and absolutely explodes in an almost savage manner over the last 2,000 rpms of its rev range from 5,000 rpms to redline.

Paired with the eight-speed automatic gearbox in its fastest-shifting mode, the hot Stelvio can crack the 0-100 km/hr run in just about 4 seconds despite not having a formal launch control system. The autobox is cooperative when driving with gusto, delivering quick and direct shifts. Some shifts come with an underlying jolt though.
Left in automatic mode the ZF gearbox delivers each ratio with an instant, seamless shift. For ultimate fun, you’ll want to use the beautiful aluminium paddles fitted to the steering column and change gear yourself.

Unless you’re in Race mode, the gearbox doesn’t change as you approach a corner, instead waiting for you to get on the power before kicking down.

Full throttle acceleration runs are aided by Alfa’s Q4 all-wheel-drive system which is rear wheel drive biased in normal conditions The system can proactively or reactively sent frontwards up to 50 per cent of the engine’s power when needed.

How else does it drive on the road?

Since we’re on the topic of the transmission, anyway, let’s continue on with those delightful oversized metal paddle shifters. Fixed in place so they don’t move with the wheel and long enough so that you can reach them easily, they ping beautifully with every pull back in the way that the typical stubby little plastic shifters don’t in most rival vehicles. This is just one of the tangible ways that drivers can instantly realise that Alfa has done this properly.

The Stelvio QV’s defining character is that of agility. W its quick steering (perhaps a bit too quick), this vehicle executes direction changes like no other, living up to the Alfa Romeo’s brand hallmark. With good feedback and a fantastic amount of precision, the Stelvio drives around corners eagerly, showing off its sporty character. Thanks to a very composed amount of body roll, there is a high degree of driver confidence.

Suspension is by the way of a front double-wishbone arrangement and a multi-link set-up at the rear. Adaptive dampers are standard fare here and can be tightened up or slackened off via the Alfa Pro-DNA drive mode selector. This also works in alliance with Alfa’s Chassis Domain Control system to alter and manage throttle response, shift severity and calibration of the traction and stability software. I found it rather strange how there wasn’t a fully customizable “individual” mode with the Chassis control system as with many other vehicles on the market.

For the most fun behind the wheel, you’ll want to select Dynamic or Race mode on the Pro-DNA system. In either mode, not only does the throttle’s response and the ZF’s shifts sharpen up, but the stability control system loosens its reins and the exhaust valves open to increase the volume. The result is rabid performance and an evocative soundtrack as the Stelvio bursts from corner to corner.

Simply put, piloting the Stelvio is fun and most drivers will leave with smiles on their faces.

Other Bits and Bobs

As far as ride comfort, the road’s texture does comes through the cabin due to those big wheels and performance tires, creating an underlying jitter to the Stelvio’s ride. Yet, when it comes to managing a real bump or a rut, the suspension does a good job absorbing it and keeping the body steady. By comparison, other performance SUVs such as the Jaguar F-Pace and Porsche Macan are stiffer.

My car’s optional carbon-ceramic brakes certainly looked good, but despite Alfa’s changeable brake-by-wire pedal, I found that the pedal lacked some natural feel, grabby and over-sensitive at times but strangely dead when the brakes were wet. I’m sure they would perform fantastically on a track, but in everyday situations, bragging rights are perhaps what they’re best for.

Unlike carbon-ceramic brakes from other manufacturers, I didn’t hear any of the despised squeaking from the pads when cold.

Inside the Cabin

Although there is plenty to like about the Stelvio’s skunkwork’s development style, the result is the outright packages just aren’t as polished and premium as those of most rivals.

As with the Giulia sedan, the Stelvio’s interior has some well-done facets, but overall, the cabin doesn’t have the presence and feeling of quality found in many competitors, at least not for the price that Alfa is charging for the vehicle.

Cheaper plastics — such as the trim around the shifter, the steering wheel buttons, and the stalks — bring the feeling of craftsmanship down. At least in my well-spec’ed tester, there are swaths of carbon fibre trim and the alcantara seating surfaces looked premium.

Don’t get me wrong though, the basics are done right, such as the well-shaped and nicely trimmed split carbon fibre / leather / Alcantara flat-bottomed steering wheel and wonderfully tactile aluminium paddles behind. However, the interior is just not up to the high standards seen in rivals such as the Mercedes-AMG GLC, the BMW X3M, or the Porsche Macan.

Soft-touch materials do cover the entire upper and middle dash, and most of the door trim. The nicely grained, metal-looking inserts, as well as the stitching on the door trim, armrest, and elsewhere do score some high points as well.

The rubber-covered control knobs around the climate controls and infotainment system are easy to grip. Plus, extra credit for the carpet-lined door pockets and the felt-lined glove box. The cargo area is also nicely finished.

Space inside is reasonable, sitting somewhere between an Audi Q3 and Q5 in terms of interior accommodation.

Something that also seemed a tad compromised was the seating position. While there is a nicely placed dead pedal, I found the hard, intrusive centre console a bit restricted as it occasionally connected with my right knee. I also never really felt comfortable in the sporty looking seats, perhaps due to the length of the bottom seat cushion and the overly aggressive lumbar support (even when adjusted to the flattest setting).

Technology

The Stelvio comes with one USB port in front of the gear selector, as well as another USB port and one AUX port under the armrest. Rear-seat passengers get one charging-only USB port.

Starting in 2020, a new 8.8-inch touchscreen infotainment system is standard.  A rotary controller also serves as a secondary interface for screen functions. It’s a bit tricky to use the rotary knob when Apple CarPlay is displayed, and the titled design of the various pages seemed a lot more cumbersome to use than other systems on the marketplace.

At least the optional 3D graphic navigation look great, especially with building graphics and floating navigation directions. But that’s where the good news ends.

Rerouting calculations take longer than average compared to other integrated navigation systems, and it takes a while for the system to fire up upon starting. Natural voice commands or Siri Hands Free for Bluetooth-paired iOS devices isn’t supported either.

One of the weirdest and most problematic features of Alfa’s previous system was a backup camera display that not only had poor resolution, but also used only a small portion of the available screen real estate, devoting another portion to a virtual display of the parking sensors.

The new system follows the same basic plan, unfortunately. The camera view seems larger, but it still takes up only a portion of the screen and still has poor resolution.

As far as passive and active safety systems, the Stelvio comes with all the requisite systems including blindspot warning, rear cross traffic alert, and lane departure warning.

The forward collision warning system alerts the driver if the Stelvio is considered to be approaching a car too rapidly, and can be set for different sensitivities (far, middle, and near). It may also give a quick brake jerk to get the driver’s attention.

When an impact is anticipated, the system will pre-charge the brakes to help the driver with maximum braking force. If no action is taken by the driver, the automatic emergency braking will deploy and try to mitigate the anticipated crash.

Final Thoughts

Overall, the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio is stimulating to drive and has special appeal for drivers in search of a rewarding road experience.

It oozes Italian flair and is one of the best handling SUVs available, shining especially brightly when driven with gusto. Masking its weight well, it has impressive body control and can really be manipulated by the driver.

Still, it is not without fault as there are some rougher edges when compared with its high-priced rivals in the class. The overall experience is very Alfa then, in that it has some odd annoyances in terms of the interior and infotainment system. It may well be fast, but the vehicle is not simply a fuss-free point A-to-B machine. Chalk it up to “character-building”.

The Stelvio’s engine, steering, brakes, and chassis combine to deliver an unexpected but welcome level of enjoyment. Just make sure that you can live with the vehicle’s quirks before it lives in your garage permanently.

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