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[REVIEW] 2021 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.

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 or writing about the latest automotive news, he can be found outdoors snapping pictures at various events around town. You can contact him at Andrew (at) surrey604.com

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[REVIEW] 2022 Mercedes-AMG E53 4MATIC coupe

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Mercedes-Benz has had a long history with B-pillarless coupe. Starting from the 1968 Stoker/8 Coupe with its frameless and fully retractable side windows, the B-pillarless design was intended to create a generous and less restricted overall appearance. In 1992, AMG got involved in tweaking what was then known as the W124 300CE E-Class-based coupe.

If we look back at the timeline, from a 51 percent takeover in 1998, the influence of Mercedes-Benz continued to grow until AMG became a wholly owned subsidiary of Mercedes-Benz in 2005.

Although today AMG is known to the vast majority of younger car fans as the Mercedes-Benz sports department, the fact that this company from Affalterbach was once an independent tuning company has been almost forgotten in many places. Officially, the present day name of the division is now “Mercedes-AMG”.

Before the cooperation agreement came into force, AMG took a 300CE (E-Class coupe) and fettled it with their specially tuned 6.0-litre V8 from the S-Class and SL. Featuring 381 horsepower and 400 lb-ft of torque, this car was aptly named “The Hammer” and accelerated to 100 km/hr in just 5 seconds. Even by modern day standards that is an impressive time.

With only twelve such cars produced, the Hammers are highly sought after by AMG collectors today.

Is the E53 coupe a Modern day AMG Hammer?

It has taken until this latest generation of E-Class coupe for Mercedes-AMG to be involved once again with an E-Class.

Mercedes’ newish 53-badged AMG vehicles are supposed to represent a perfect halfway point between the standard models and the much more expensive fire-breathing 63 variants. While it’s not a full-blooded eight-cylinder kind of AMG, since there are no plans for a 63 version of the E-Class coupe, this is currently the most powerful model that you can get in either E-Class coupe or convertible form.

To differentiate the 2022 Mercedes-AMG E53 coupe from its non-AMG stablemate, the former is marked by unique tailpipes, AMG badging, the new Panamericana-grille with vertical chrome slats, and unique AMG 20” wheels.

The large outer air inlet grille features two transverse louvres and a new front splitter. The grille also features inner Air Curtains, giving an overall aerodynamic advantage, and a subtle similarity to the AMG GT sports car family.

Kitted out in black and blacked out wheels, my car’s “murdered out” looked positively aggressive.

Under the hood is the now familiar 3.0-litre inline six-cylinder twin scroll turbocharged engine mated with an electric-starter-alternator combo for 48 volt mild-hybrid assistance. Known as EQ Boost, this system can boost fuel efficiency slightly but is really more designed to eliminate turbo lag.

The electric hybrid technology can add 21 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque on its own to supplement the high-tech inline-6 which produces 429 horsepower and 384 lb-ft of torque from 1,800 to 5,800 rpms.

With power flowing to all four wheels via a 9-speed AMG Speedshift dual-clutch automatic transmission and the company’s 4MATIC+ all-wheel-drive system, 0 to 100 km/hr runs can be accomplished in just 4.4 seconds, a whole 0.6 seconds quicker than the mighty “Hammer”.

The AMG DYNAMIC SELECT modes lets drivers fine-tune the E53’s performance via controls on the console or the standard steering-wheel AMG DRIVE UNIT. Five driving modes, one customizable, adapt the throttle, shifting, chassis and more from Slippery to Sport+.

The fully variable AMG Performance 4MATIC+ can send torque to the wheels that can best turn traction into action. From launch grip to cornering, 4MATIC+ can go from 50/50 front/rear, up to 100% rear-wheel-drive.

My car’s optional AMG Sport Exhaust, included in the AMG Driver’s Package, turns the rise and ebb of rpm into a rousing soundtrack. With multimode internal flaps, the different drive modes and the exhaust button lets you heighten the crescendos, or tone them down.

How does it drive?

All this tech and all of these numbers translate into impressive performance in the real-world. While the E53 coupe lacks the V8 engine and exhaust soundtrack of the AMG 63-models, the way the E53 coupe builds speed is still very impressive. Sure, it won’t pin you back in your seat like its four door E63s sibling, but it’s still very involving. The E53’s exhaust is rather unique but still pleasing under hard acceleration, particularly in Sport+ mode.

The car’s AMG RIDE CONTROL+ turns pressurized air into agility by adapting within milliseconds to changing roads, loads, and the modes of AMG DYNAMIC SELECT. It’s self-lowering and self-leveling and totally automated. At speed, the system gently supports the body while leaving it largely impervious to body roll.

Although it might be a mild-hybrid system, the E53 does not have the ability to cruise around emissions-free around town. Apart from the improved responses, you rarely notice the EQ Boost system working its magic. Aside from the very visible EQ Boost digital gauge in the speedo, you might notice that the engine shuts down earlier than you might imagine as you come to a halt.

My test vehicle was fitted with Mercedes’ semi-automomous driving system which now features a steering wheel sensor mat to recognise if you’re “hands-on”. If the driver does not have their hands on the steering wheel for a certain time, a warning is displayed in subsequent annoyance until Emergency Brake Assist.

Compared to other Mercedes models, I found the system too sensitive, frequently telling me to keep my hands on the wheel when they were already indeed on the steering wheel.

Aside from these little niggles, the E53 coupe is perfectly at home cruising at 200 km/hr on the autobahn or carving up some backroads on the weekend. You could easily drive this car from dusk till dawn and still feel relaxed on the other end. In this sense, it is a proper E-Class.

On the inside

Although the cabin is shared with other E-Class models, the extensive optional carbon fibre trim fitted to my test vehicle was drop dead gorgeous. It truly brings a different vibe to the cabin when compared to the open pore wood trim option that was fitted to my 2021 Mercedes-AMG E63s wagon test vehicle.

The sporty and comfortable seats provide strong lateral support which translates into comfort during long drives. They come in either Artico man-made leather or Dinamica microfibre in black with an AMG-specific design, red contrasting topstitching and the AMG badge, characteristic for the 53 models.

Aside from the AMG Drive Control unit on the latest AMG Steering wheel, the AMG badging in the virtual dashboard and the AMG apps in the MBUX Infotainment system, there is little else to give the game away (on the inside anyway) that this is special AMG model.

Some people may like this, but others may subscribe to the thinking from BMW’s M Division. That is to say that M cars have a bit more glitz, glamour, and pantomime.

The 2022 E53 coupe’s four seats and a 435-litre trunk give it more than adequate practicality for four adults and their luggage. There are all the accoutrements you could possibly need, from seatbelt extenders, to heated/ventilated seats.

Curiously, Mercedes-AMG also chose to leave in the AirScarf neck warmer option from the E-Class cabriolet. While this system is designed to warm-up passengers during top-down motoring, it was nonetheless a welcome but unexpected addition to the E53 coupe.

On that point, the addition of 4Matic+ all-wheel-drive also means that the E53 coupe is an all-weather vehicle, able to hit the ski chalets’ snow covered driveways or the golf course with equal comfort and presence.

Final thoughts

While it may lack the exclusivity of the 300CE Hammer, the 2022 Mercedes-AMG E53 4matic+ coupe is worthy at taking up the baton as the latest AMG four-seater two-door E-Class coupe.

Although coupes and cabriolets are sold in relatively small numbers compared to SUVs, this vehicle seems to be a worthy successor to continue Mercedes-Benz’s long tradition of producing sporty and elegant two-door cars with style and performance.

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[REVIEW] 2022 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Redeye

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The days of the old-school large rear-wheel-drive American sedans are largely over. Ford basically doesn’t sell sedans any longer in North America, Chevrolet bowed out of that market years ago, and Dodge? Well Dodge is the last man standing with the Dodge Charger.

Loved by the police force in Vancouver, which has an entire fleet of them, the Dodge Chargers look mean, brash, bold, and very much in keeping with the Dodge design language. So bold was the design that there was a small pocket of Vancouverites that complained that the Charger police cars looked much less approachable than the VPD’s Ford Crown Victoria’s that they replaced.

Based on an old platform inherited from Mercedes-Benz from the DaimlerChrysler days, the Charger has become a fully developed large car.

The boldest and most brash of the line-up has got to be the subject of this review, the 2021 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Redeye widebody.

What’s in a name?

The “Charger” name has been around since 1966, a throwback from the muscle car era. At that time, Dodge was trying to create a larger pony car and the Charger was the result of their effort.

In order to make it stand out, the company wanted to create a more expensive and luxurious car that had more space for four, unlike the Ford Mustang which had compromised rear seating. Available only as a two-door fastback, the very first-generation Dodge Charger was also available with an optional 426 cubic inch Hemi V8. And thus, the union between the Charger name and the Hemi engine was born.

Anyone who watched television back in the 1980’s will tell you that America’s most favourite car is the Dodge Charger, thanks to the likes of the cult series “The Dukes of Hazzard”.

Fast forward to 2021 and the seventh generation Dodge Charger is still alive and kicking well over half a decade later (albeit there was 20 year hiatus). Now only available as a four door sedan, my test vehicle is the top dog model, created by Dodge’s former “Street & Racing Technology” high-performance automobile group within Stellantis North America.

This same group began in 1989 and was responsible for developing the first Dodge Viper, therefore the pedigree is unquestionable.

Although all of the core elements of the SRT performance engineering team have now been integrated into Stellantis’ global engineering organization, the Charger SRT Hellcat Redeye is a fitting tribute as one of the team’s last projects.

To differentiate the Charger SRT Hellcat Redeye further from the standard car, Dodge has tweaked virtually every panel on the car and added functional hood vents and unique front and rear bumpers.

Styling cues taken from other models include a black matte texture roof and hood, a cold air intake that echoes that of the original Viper coupe, as well as creases in the fenders and doors that imitate the look of the 1960’s Charger. The aerodynamics of the Hellcat have been revised slightly, too, with new additions including a rear spoiler and an integrated front splitter.

In order to truly spot the Redeye though, you’ll have to look for the bedazzled jewel in the eye of the Hellcat logo on the front fenders, as well as the larger hood scoop and relocated vents flanking the scoop.

What’s under the hood?

The Charger Hellcat Redeye’s claim to fame is its supercharged Hemi V8 engine. It’s almost comical that Dodge has normalized a 700+ horsepower car, making it less of a rare occurrence than it once was.

The “Hellcat” name pays homage to the muscle cars of old, with 717 horsepower from a 6.2-litre Supercharged Hemi V8. Step up to the Redeye model and you’ll be rewarded with an extra dose of ‘hang onto your hats”, thanks to a nuclear 797 horses powerplant and a claimed 203 mph top speed.

The Redeye’s extra 90 extra horses is courtesy of a larger 2.7-litre screw-type supercharger with 14.5 psi of boost compared to the regular Hellcat’s 2.4-litre supercharger with 11.6 psi of boost. The Hellcat Redeye’s red line is also higher at 6,500 rpms compared to 6,200 rpms. As you can imagine, all of this displacement is only useful if combustion can happen. To ensure the engine is fed properly, the Redeye has two fuel pumps instead of just one.

Other internal changes include stronger forged aluminium pistons, connecting rods, valvetrain and increased oil flow components. Even the driveshaft is 15 per cent beefier and the axles 20 per cent stronger on the Hellcat Redeye compared to the regular Hellcat.

If we want to get really technical, the engine features a forged steel crankshaft with induction-hardened bearing surfaces and a specially tuned crank damper that has been tested to 13,000 rpms.

To harness all of this power, Dodge fits all Charger Hellcats with the standard widebody kit which includes wider, stickier tires and stiffer chassis components. New fender flares add 3.3 inches of width to the Charger and accommodate 11.0-inch wide, 20-inch diameter wheels wrapped in Pirelli tires sized 305/35R-20 at all corners.

This additional width truly emphasizes the Charger’s visual menace, and the car looks even more like it’s up to no good.

How does it drive?

With only rear wheel drive and 707 pound-feet of torque, these Redeye leaves no one wanting for more power. This power is sent to the rear wheels via a heavy-duty torque-converter-based quick shifting eight-speed TorqueFlite automatic transmission. Dodge says that it is capable of shifting gears in as quick as 160ms.

This gearbox also has a rev-matching feature, further helping to smoothen out the engine’s delivery.

All of this unreal performance means that drivers much exercise restraint when applying the throttle pedal in order to maintain traction. Even with a rear limited slip differential and traction control, the rear wheels can easily spin in wet weather.

When you are able to hook-up the rear tires properly, 0-100 km/hr runs can be blasted down in around 3.5 seconds, about 3/10ths of a second faster than the regular Charger Hellcat.

Dodge also allows drivers to easily turn down the horsepower output of the Hellcats with just a couple of pushes of the button on the infotainment screen. I was somewhat relieved to drop it from 797 horses to 500 horses during the extremely rainy week that I had the Charger.

Of course, to get access to the full 797 horsepower in the first place, you have to start the Charger using the special performance red key. Using the “regular” black key results in a limit of “only” 500 horsepower via a less powerful fuel map and a 4,000 rpm rev limiter is put in place.

 

In day-to-day traffic, the Hellcat’s front tires don’t communicate as much to the steering wheel as I’d like and the wide body kit does result in a worse turning circle. Be prepared to do more three-point-turns than you might expect. Still, the ride is surprisingly compliant and the handling is sound. There’s no masking the Charger for the big car that it is though.

A three-mode-driver selectable sports suspension helps to improve performance while balancing comfort. Additionally, the Charger Hellcat Redeye sports the largest brakes ever offered by Dodge, with 15.4-inch floating Brembo discs at the front and six-piston calipers.

What about the inside?

Inside, you’ll find a revamped interior with surprisingly comfortable and plush seats. You sit quite high off the floor and the seats are comfortable over long distances. This ain’t no European sedan, that’s for sure.

Dodge says that higher quality materials have been used throughout, and my test car’s split leather and alcantara seats have been recently redesigned for improved comfort and support. Nonetheless, this is an aging vehicle and cheap materials still linger. At least the dash and door panels have soft-touch surfaces.

An 18-speaker Harmon Kardon audio system is standard, as is an electrically adjustable heated steering wheel, paddle shifters, heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, a Wi-Fi hotspot and automatic climate control.

The UConnect infotainment system works well, but the 7.0 inch screen looks small and is a bit slow when compared to the updated unit in the 2021 Dodge Durango Citadel I reviewed a few months ago.

The “Performance Pages” function allows drivers to customize the car’s responses by tailoring the suspension, shift speeds, traction control modes and engine output, but the system is slow to load requiring several seconds to boot up.

Final thoughts

Part of the Dodge Charger’s successful formula has been its many personalities. Whether it’s a cop car, muscle car, a family-capable sedan, or a muscle car, its success is that it can be any of those things depending on what package and powertrain you choose.

As more of the automotive world shifts towards electrification, the days of this nostalgia-inducing, tire-burning, four-door heathen are numbered. However this is a special car that makes mundane drives to the office silly, fun, and exciting. You giggle everytime you put your foot down and hear that audacious supercharger whine.

Yes, it’s true that Dodge charges a hefty amount for the experience, but I would be hard pressed to find another 700+ horsepower car which is at a similar price point.

If you look upon it this way, there’s no other vehicle out there that offers the combination of supercharger whine, sinister looks, and excessive horsepower, save it for something from Dodge themselves.

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[REVIEW] 2021 Mercedes-Benz E450 4MATIC Cabriolet

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The first time I laid eyes on a Mercedes-Benz E-Class cabriolet was almost 28 years ago. Sidney Pollack’s latest film, The Firm, featuring Tom Cruise and Gene Hackman was playing in theatres. Tom played a young lawyer named Mitch McDeere, who made it into a prestigious law firm. After the money started flowing, Mitch upgraded his car to a 1993 Mercedes-Benz 300CE cabriolet.


Having grown up with Mercedes-Benz E-Classes in my family – our family car was a W124 Mercedes-Benz 300TE wagon at the time – I thought that the cabriolet was pretty cool (well compared to our wagon anyway) with its drop-top and open air motoring experience.

Fast forward to 2021 and having reviewed a number of E-Classes now, this is the first time I’ve had an opportunity to review the modern day equivalent of Tom Cruise’s character’s car in the form of the 2021 Mercedes-Benz E450 4matic convertible.

What is it?

The history of the Mercedes-Benz E-Class variants stretches back more than half a century ago with the Mercedes-Benz Stroke/8 Coupes of the 114 model series, and almost 30 years ago with the cabriolets of the 124 model series.

Today, Mercedes-Benz still offers more convertibles in its model line-up compared to other auto makers. The 2021 E450 Cabriolet finds itself in an interesting spot, sitting above the smaller and less opulent Mercedes C300 and C43 cabriolets at a price premium of around $30,000 more. My test vehicle stickered in at just under $100,000, with the base vehicle starting around $88,000 Canadian.


Four-seater convertibles are relatively rare now, even more so with the sumptuous Mercedes-Benz S-Class cabriolet having been put out to pasture. With the S-class having been phased out, the E-Class Cabriolet now sits at the top of the food chain when it comes to four-seater Mercedes convertibles.

As far as the competition, the E450’s archrivals include the Audi A5 Cabriolet and the BMW 8 Series cabriolet. BMW’s 4-Series Cabriolet is more of a competitor with the C-Class cabriolet, though in M440i or M4 form, you can certainly spec it out to a similar price as the E450.

An update in mid-2020 refreshed the E-Class Cabriolet’s styling, bringing it closer in appearance to the latest models in Mercedes’ range. It was given a new grille, LED matrix headlights and new bumpers, along with new LED rear lights, alloy wheel designs and paint options.


Compared to the relatively small C-Class cabriolet’s trunk, the E450’s cargo capacity is spacious enough for a proper weekend trip for four. A clever power foldaway partition can extend the cargo space when the roof is up. Bulky items can be fed through into the cabin as well, thanks to its folding rear seats. This makes the E450 one of just a handful of convertibles that can almost double as a family car for shorter trips.


Under the hood is a 3.0-litre turbocharged straight-six engine with Mercedes’ EQ Boost mild hybrid system, producing 362 horsepower, 369 lb-ft of torque from a low 1,700 rpms onwards. The transmission is Benz’s nine-speed automatic gearbox. This engine / transmission combo is also shared with the 2021 E450 4Matic sedan and is abetted by the 48-volt integrated start-generator mild hybrid system that can deliver up to 21 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque for brief boosts of power on-demand.

Also shared with the E450 sedan is the excellent and always-on 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system, making the E450 cabriolet an all-weather car when fitted with the proper tires. This is indeed the first time an E-Class Cabriolet can be ordered with the company’s 4MATIC system.

The Cabriolet’s relatively low sales precluded any major investment in restyling the rear end, so cleverly, the redesigned 2021 E 450 coupe’s elongated taillight design now means the two cars look similar from the rear.


What about the interior?

The good news carries on inside the interior. To support its sporty image, the E-Class Cabriolet has a slightly lowered ride height (by 15 mm) compared to its sedan and wagon siblings. The cabin is still relatively easy to get into and doesn’t require stooping too low. Incidentally, the track width is also up 67 mm at the front and 68 mm at the rear when compared to the previous model.

Once you’re in there, you’ll be able to see why the E450 Cabriolet feels every inch a baby S-Class Cabriolet. Featuring a multi-layered insulated roof, four full sized seats, going topless has never looked or felt so good.

My test vehicle’s interior and exterior colour combination was certainly tailored more towards the luxury end of the spectrum, looking more fitting at the golf clubhouse versus at outside night club.


Finished in Silver Blue Metallic with a dark blue top and a two-toned Macchiato Beige and Yacht Blue Nappa leather interior, it was a bit too “mature” of a colour palette for me personally but looked and felt extremely classy.

There was no denying the quality of the finishings, from the dark open pore ash wood to the satin finished aluminum buttons. Just about every surface was wrapped in or cover with expensive materials.


Technology galore

As with just about all Mercedes-Benz models these days, the E450 Cabriolet’s dash is dominated by the two large 12.3 inch LCD screens. The screen in front of the driver serves as the virtual instrument gauge cluster and the latter as the infotainment system.

The system features the latest version of the MBUX (Mercedes-Benz User Interface) system and is controlled with the combination of a touchscreen, a touchpad on the centre console, and Blackberry Bold-like touch control buttons in the steering wheel.


Compared to BMW’s iDrive system, the touchpad is less intuitive and precise. At least the touchscreen works well.

The system also features a navigation display with augmented reality technology plus intelligent voice control with natural speech recognition which is activated with the keywords “Hey Mercedes”.

MBUX’s brilliant 3D high-resolution graphics and animations really do compliment the high-end ambience of the E450 cabriolet.  Combined with the 64 colour LED ambient lighting system, the whole thing just screams luxury, but in the very nicest way of course.


When the acoustically enhanced soft top is lowered (in under 20 seconds mind you, and up to speeds of 50 km/hr), the E450 Cabriolet coddles with its many features. This includes sun-reflecting leather and an Airscarf neck-level heater that blows warm air around your neck to keep both front occupants warm even at low outside temperatures.

The innovative AirCap system reduces wind turbulence and wind noise in the interior by way of a rising windshield air deflector complimented by a secondary deflector between the rear head rests.


My 2021 E450 4matic Cabriolet was also fitted with standard collision mitigation automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, an excellent 360-degree surround-view camera system, and automatic parking assistance.

As an optional extra, there was also a Driver Assistance Package with adaptive cruise control that reduced the speed for curves, traffic sign recognition that adjusted cruise control speed, active lane control, and automatic lane changes at the tap of the turn signal stalk.


How does it drive?

“Relaxed” is probably the word that best describes the E450’s driving experience. It’s quickly apparent that the Cabriolet isn’t just about speed but caters to a relaxed and unflustered approach to motoring. The car is impressively smooth but yet steering inputs are precise and the handling is balanced. Even with the roof down, passengers can speak to each other without shouting.

Put your foot down and the buttery smooth twin turbocharged 3.0-litre inline six-cylinder engine can still haul a**. The healthy 362 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque moves the cabriolet without any issue and the 4Matic all-wheel-drive system puts down power where it is needed most.

The only caveat is that if you’re going to attack country roads regularly, you might be happier with the more sport-focused Mercedes-AMG E53 cabriolet or even a BMW M440i xDrive cabriolet.

I could easily spend days in the multi-adjustable heated and cooled front seats. They’re absolutely amazing. Two adults can fit into the back seat of the E450 cabriolet, but they’d probably not want to stay too long due to the upright seatback angle and the limited legroom.


Final thoughts

While Mercedes’ latest E450 Cabriolet isn’t the fastest or sportiest car, it can still hold its own and is very capable of impressing with its luxurious features and classy looks.

Adjectives such as “elegant”, “sporty” and “luxurious” are personified by the two-door coupe and cabriolet of the E-Class. Like a typical Benz, exemplary safety and comprehensive long-distance comfort were high on the priority list versus outright aesthetic finesse.

To this day, these strengths continue to make the E-Class Coupes and Cabriolets so successful. I’d hazard a guess that even Tom Cruise’s character would be impressed.

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[REVIEW] 2021 Mercedes-AMG A35 sedan

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For several years now, Mercedes has been on the path of creating “insane” sporty versions of their cars in order to reach all subsects of their customers, regardless of their demographics.

It seems that most luxury auto makers have now subscribed to a similar line of thinking that has spawned whole line-ups of sportier models of cars, coupes, convertibles, and even SUVs.


BMW has their M sport line, Audi Sport has their RS and S line, Lexus has their F sport line, and Mercedes-Benz has their AMG, now known as the Mercedes-AMG line.

One such latest example of Mercedes-AMG’s latest efforts is the example of this week’s test vehicle, the 2021 Mercedes-AMG A35 sedan.

A case of AMG Deja-Vu?

You might have read my 2021 Mercedes-AMG A35 hatchback review before. For the most part, not a substantial number of things have changed between the hatch and the sedan, aside from the obvious, its body shape.

Although the A-Class compact sedan is Mercedes’ least expensive entry, it still feels like a true Mercedes. Fit and finish throughout the cabin is excellent, albeit missing some of the fancier trim pieces from the higher-end Mercedes-AMG models.


Similar to the A35 hatch, this entry level A35 sedan is powered by a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine delivering 302 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque.

Mercedes-AMG’s engineers have strengthen the front section of the body shell to improve the A35’s  turn-in ability compared to the standard A220 sedan. A bolted aluminum shear plate under the engine increases the torsional stiffness of the front section. Two additional diagonal braces at the front of the underbody also reduce torsion when cornering and help to increase stiffness.

Like the hatch, the A35 sedan has a strong character line along its side. I’m a big fan of the sloped “shark-nose” design of its hood, which emphasises its aggressive upright front despite its small car dimensions.


Characteristic AMG elements differentiate the A35 from the A220 sedan. These include a radiator grille with twin louvres, an AMG front apron with flics on the air intakes, a front splitter and silver chrome elements are distinguishing AMG design features at the front.

I particularly liked the aerodynamically optimized Mercedes-AMG 18-inch twin-spoke light-alloy wheels. To emphasise the width of the compact sedan, there are two-part LED tail lamps and a new diffuser. The rear also features a spoiler lip and two round tailpipes.

Sedan or Hatch?

Compared to its two main competitors, the Audi S3 and the BMW 2-series Gran Coupe, the A35 sedan’s cargo space is a smidge less at 9 cu ft of trunk space compared to 10 and 15 cu ft respectively. With the rear seats down, this expands to 16.6 cu ft.

When we compare the A35 sedan to the hatch, the former offers more space at 16.6 cu ft versus 13 cu ft.


Even though it’s the smallest of the Mercedes-AMG models, the A35 still accommodates most people reasonably well in the back. But two adults will be far happier in the back versus three across.


How’s the rest of the inside?

Mercedes has come a long way in improving the interiors of all their models, including their entry-level cars such as the A-Class.

True to its Mercedes-AMG branding, there are a lot of sporty touches throughout. All of the switchgear is similar to its more expensive stablemates, from the satin finished aluminium switches, to the MBUX dual LCD screens. By design, the control weights from the various stalks, switches, and buttons also feel similar, from A-Class to E-Class to S-Class.

The AMG steering wheel comes wrapped in perforated leather with metalized flappy paddles, and the 64 colour ambient-lighting system completes the interior with the backlit turbine centre air vents giving the A35 a youthful night-club vibe.


My test vehicle was equipped with handsome aluminium trim but real wood is also an option.

I particularly liked that Mercedes didn’t cheap out on the MBUX infotainment system, offering the unique AMG track pace features on the A35, even though most will likely only use it as eye candy or for show and tell with friends.


Still, this is one of the brand’s entry level models, so perhaps there is more likelihood for an owner to take this to the track versus with a much more expensive Mercedes-AMG model with more expensive replacement parts.

The MBUX infotainment system’s AMG-specific content includes specific details such as the AMG start-up menu with three selectable AMG display styles.



The Supersport mode is particularly striking, with a central, round rev counter and additional information presented in the form of bars to the left and right of the rev counter. Via the AMG menu, there are various special displays such as Warm-up, Set-up, G-Force and Engine Data.

The touchscreen multimedia display can also present drivers with telemetry data, visualizations of various driving programs, and AMG TRACK PACE.

How does it drive?

With 4MATIC all-wheel-drive and a launch control feature as standard equipment, the 3,513 pound A35 sedan is good for 0-100 km/hr runs in approximately 4.4 seconds, a good showing for an entry-level sedan regardless of segment.

The A35 doesn’t get the trick torque-vectoring 4MATIC+ system found in the more expensive AMGs though, so power can only flow fore-aft. Still, the car feels neutral and tossable, even though it’s front-wheel-drive biased most of the time.


Particularly when in Sport+ mode, the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox pops through the gears quickly and with enough feel to make the experience entertaining.


Although it was similarly equipped to the 2021 Mercedes-AMG A35 hatch I previously reviewed, the A35 sedan felt better put together, with none of the creaks and rattles that I heard in the A35 hatch. Inexplicably, my A35 sedan test unit also seemed to have less turbo lag than the A35 hatch despite having the same powertrain. Still, the turbo four needs a second to build boost, around 2,500 rpms before peak forward motion is felt.

I appreciated the optional three mode AMG Ride Control suspension, which could be adjusted from Comfort to Sport. This system adjusts within milliseconds and adapts the dampening force for each wheel according to the driving situation and road conditions.


The high-performance braking system of the A35 ensures fade-resistant deceleration and short braking distances. Up front are 4-piston Monoblock fixed callipers and 350 millimetre brake discs, and the rear with 1-piston sliding callipers and 330 millimetre brake discs. The discs are internally ventilated and perforated to better dissipate heat and prevent brake fading, even with extreme use.


The AMG engineers have also upgraded the A35’s steering over the standard car by use of a special speed-sensitive electro-mechanical rack with variable ratios and two characteristic curves that are tied into the drive modes.

Final thoughts

Compared to the already fairly rigid Mercedes-Benz A220 sedan, the A35 sedan offers better than expected responsiveness expected in an entry-level performance luxury compact car. Despite its small size and relatively modest price, the Mercedes felt rock-solid, quick, and presents a good value for money.


The power and sharpened dynamics are entertaining enough to justify the increase in price over the A220 sedan. And if the A-Class is not for you because you’re looking with something with even more power, style, and more money, but less practicality, the boffins at Mercedes-AMG can help you out as well with their superb 2021 Mercedes-AMG CLA45 four door coupe.

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[REVIEW] 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLS63

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There are many products out there that were invented despite nobody initially wanting them. The bicycle, for example, was initially a curiosity that was quick transformed into a necessity.  Even the automobile faced general public skepticism about its feasibility.

In 1895, Thomas A. Edison insisted, when interviewed, that the horseless carriage was going to doom the horse. He was ahead of his time in thinking that one would be able to buy a horseless vehicle for what people were paying for a wagon and a pair of horses. Horse and wagon owners thought that he was totally off base, and that the horseless fool’s contraption would never displace the horse. Of course, history now speaks for itself.


The 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLS63 SUV is one such example of a modern-day horseless carriage that no one asked for. Based on the largest and most luxurious SUV sold by Mercedes-Benz, the GLS63 displays what the German automaker’s AMG performance division is truly capable of. Nobody asked for it, but Mercedes built it anyway because it could, and customers have been flocking to it as quickly as Mercedes-AMG can build them.

The G in GLS denotes “Gelandewagen”, German for off-road vehicle and homage to its father, to the military SUV that the GLS was supposed to replace. The Gelandewagen was never phased out because Mercedes found a new set of buyers for the GLS while the G continued to soldier on with its loyal following.

The 2021 GLS63 is the newest addition to Merc’s SUV portfolio that already numbers well over a dozen.

Does the world need another three-row SUV variant?

I’m a huge fan of the 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class, having reviewed the GLS450 early this year. While the GLS450 was opulent, comfortable, and luxurious, the 362 horsepower 3.0-litre EQ Boot mild-hybrid turbocharged inline-six cylinder engine is best described as smooth and linear. It has more than enough power for 90 per cent of the GLS’ clientele with 0-100 km/hr runs are accomplished in a quick 5.8 seconds.

But for those who want more horsepower, for towing purposes or otherwise, Mercedes offers the GLS580 with a 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8, also with the EQ Boost mild-hybrid system. This is good for 483 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque mated with the same 9G-TRONIC automatic transmission. This combo is good for a 0-100 km/hr run of 4.8 seconds, just two tenths of a second slower than a modern day Ford Mustang GT V8.

Model year 2021 introduces two specialized variants of the GLS, with the ultra-luxe Mercedes-Maybach GLS600, and the subject of our review, the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLS63.

The GLS63 competes with other full-sized three-row SUVs such as the Cadillac Escalade and the BMW X7 M50i, though it bests all of them when it comes to horsepower rating thanks to it’s 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 which has been tuned to over 603 horsepower and 627 lb-ft of torque between 2,500 to 4,500 rpms.

To ensure the full-fat GLS is not mistaken for a lesser model, it gets the largest grille fitted to any AMG vehicle. The GLS63 looks the business with the new chrome grille with vertical louvres similar to those on Mercedes’ Panamericana-style grilles.


Standard Multibeam LED headlights, a more aggressive power dome hood, tweaked front and rear bumpers, flared wheel arches, a rear diffuser and four rectangular exhaust pipes also differentiate this model from the non-AMG units.


Standard wheels are 21-inch ten-spoke, but six other styles are available, including a 23-inch option as fitted to my test vehicle.

How does a 603 horsepower hybrid SUV ride and drive?

Like most top end Mercedes-AMG models as of late, the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLS63 also benefits from a 48-volt power system and the EQ Boost starter-alternator mild hybrid system. The latter is good for 21 horsepower and a very substantial 184 lb-ft of torque fill for the V8 engine.


The EQ Boost integrated starter generator system is also there for fuel economy, not just performance, but does help to make this nearly 3-ton truck take off from a dead stop with authority. Due to the weight, the feeling is more that of as a jumbo jet taking off down the runway versus a drag strip launch though.

Floor the throttle in Sport mode and an all-mighty V8 wall of noise makes you jump out of your seat. But yet, in comfort mode, the GLS63 is so refined that you can still have an executive meeting over the Bluetooth system and no one will ever know what you’re piloting.

The boffins at AMG claims that the GLS63 can hit 0-100 km/hr times of 4.1 seconds, topping out at a German autobahn legal only speed of 280 km/hr. The nine-speed auto’s tightly space gearing helps the big AMG rush forward seamlessly.

Due to its size, the GLS63 isn’t really suited for canyon carving. But with its air suspension system tuned to Sport or Sport+ and the 48-volt system powering the active anti-roll bars, the big Benz will surprise you with its responsiveness.


It’s surprisingly tossable on mountain roads, and there is plenty of front-end grip in tighter bends. In Sport and Sport+ modes, the suspension even lowers by 10 mm. The rear-biased 4Matic all-wheel-drive system is also further enhanced with a standard limited-slip rear differential.

Moreover, the prodigious amount of grip from the absolutely massive 285/40ZR23 front and 325/35/ZR23 rear Michelin Pilot Sport 4s tires is just ridiculous!

My test vehicle was also fitted with the optional matte black $7,000 optional AMG Monoblock wheels, which were made famous on the W210 E55 AMG sedan. Despite the huge wheel size, the Airmatic air suspension system smoothens out the GLS63’s ride very admirably.

Step inside

One of the first things that you’ll probably notice upon stepping into the GLS63’s cabin is the built-in air ionizer and air freshener. Borrowed from the S-class, this system also makes its appearance (as an optional extra) in the GLS, giving up to seven occupants the luxury of Mercedes’ in-car fragrances.

Thanks to an increase in wheelbase, second-row passengers receive a whopping extra 87 mm of legroom over the previous GLS. The power folding third-row fits adults without issue, though the seat cushions are a bit flat. When all the seats are folded, the GLS swallows a ridiculous amount of cargo, perfect for moving stuff from one mansion to another.

You’ll find a 64 colour two-tone ambient lighting, anthracite limewood trim, the latest MBUX infotainment system with two massive 12.3-inch screens, illuminated AMG door sills, a standard Burmester sound system and much more. The driver and front passenger are treated to heated, cooled, massaging, and actively bolstered AMG seats, and there is the latest AMG three-spoke nappa-alcantara steering wheel.

While it may seem out of place in the GLS, the MBUX infotainment system also offers AMG-specific content includes specific details such as the AMG start-up menu with three selectable AMG display styles.

The Supersport mode is particularly striking, with a central, round rev counter and additional information presented in the form of bars to the left and right of the rev counter. Via the AMG menu, there are various special displays such as Warm-up, Set-up, G-Force and Engine Data.


The touchscreen multimedia display can also present drivers with telemetry data, visualizations of various driving programs, and AMG TRACK PACE race track telemetry.

Final thoughts

What a time to be alive. As the most powerful three-row SUV on the market, the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLS63 is able to beat a C7 Chevy Corvette to 100 km/hr. Equally ridiculous is the fact that you can do all this with a six-member rock band piled into it and they will all be comfortable. No Mercedes-AMG GLE63 can do that, and no Porsche Cayenne can do that.

This recently redesigned ballistic people mover astounds with its combination of luxury, technology, speed, refinement, and power.

While automakers are always looking for white space in the marketplace so as to find a niche they haven’t tapped into before, Mercedes-Benz is the OG in this field, having first created the ML55 AMG SUV over 20 years ago.

If you’re in the market for a 603 horsepower luxurious horseless carriage for your extended family, the 2021 GLS63 will set you back a cool $190,000+, and you’ll even look good enjoying it too.

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