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[REVIEW] 2020 Toyota Prius Prime plug-in hybrid

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When you think of hybrid vehicles, I would venture to say that the Toyota Prius is the first vehicle that comes to mind. It’s actually rather unbelievable that the first-generation Prius made its debut over two decades ago, back in 1997.

In car technology years, that’s ancient. But over the last 20 years, the Toyota Prius has become the quintessential hybrid vehicle even though it has given up its ground to other hybrids over the years, including those made by Toyota itself.

This eco warrior has been owned by anyone and everyone from celebrities, social media influencers, to taxi fleets. Almost all of the taxis in Vancouver, for example, are Prius or Prius V’s.

While the previous generation Prius was really more of an evolution of the second-generation car it replaced, the current fourth-generation Prius (that has been with us since 2017) was truly a revolution.

While its styling was truly controversial, the biggest advance was in fuel economy, the main reason that target customers would be interested in hybrids in the first place. Fuel economy improved to a phenomenally low 4.5L /100 kms, brought on by a new, larger, and more efficient 1.8L four-cylinder engine.

Despite the improvements in fuel consumption, the fourth generation Prius was larger inside without being tremendously larger outside than before. Its aerodynamic but yet practical hatchback shape provides almost the same family-hauling space of most mid-sized sedans, and handling, interior quality, and noise levels were all improved.

Initially only available in certain USA states, Toyota also introduced the Prius Prime, a second-generation plug-in hybrid version of the Prius. This was designed for consumers tempted to buy a full electric vehicle, but yet aren’t willing to jump in with both feet just yet due to the range anxiety.

Why get the Prius Prime over a regular Prius?

The answer is simple. If you don’t need all-wheel-drive that is now offered on the standard Prius, can charge frequently to maximise the electric-only drive mode, the Prius Prime is the more compelling car.

Not only does the Prime give you the coveted “OK” sticker that allows you to drive in carpool lanes, but to my eyes, it’s also a better-looking car out of the pair.

It’s true that the first-gen Prius plug-in, introduced in 2012, was perhaps a bit of a half-hearted effort that promised some electric-only range. Even though I was generally positive on the car when I reviewed it a few years ago, it was expensive for what you go. I also noticed that the old Prius plug-in resorted to firing up its gas engine on more frequently than expected.

Clearly Toyota took notice due to its lower owner satisfaction surveys of the Prius Plug-in hybrid versus the regular Prius.

Now with its dedicated “Prime” moniker, Toyota has heard those EV-leaning buyers loud and clear.

The Prius Prime not only has a dedicated name and several styling differences, but it has the ability to stay in all-electric mode even at highway speeds. Thanks to an 8.8 kWh lithium-ion battery, the Prime has a claimed range of about 40 kilometers in all-electric mode. I found that I could eek out above this figure with careful driving.

What’s new for 2020?

Interestingly enough, one of the major updates for 2020 was a fifth seating position for the Prius Prime. Before 2020, the Prime only came as a four seater, with the alleged explanation being that if the rear were to seat three across, the car would need to have more reinforcing material and its 3.3 kW charger would need to be move.

Nonetheless, this was enough of a concern for buyers that Toyota obviously found a way to make the centre-rear seat happen. 2020 models also receive two additional USB ports for the rear passengers.

The third biggest change for 2020 is standard Sirius XM and Apple CarPlay capability, as Toyota recently included on a few of their other models.

Other than that, the Prime remains pretty much unchanged from 2019 aside for a few colour trim differences for a more premium feel, as well as relocated seat heater buttons for easier usability.

What’s it like to drive?

Toyota says that the reason why “Prime” was chosen was because the word represents “the best” or “at the top”.

With this model being the best-equipped and most technologically advanced Prius in the model’s two-decade global history, they felt that the name was a natural fit.

Plug-in hybrid vehicles have come such a long way in the last few years and the Prius Prime leads the charge. With the range being double than what it used to be, owners with frequent access to a charge point, or even a household outlet, will find that the price premium over the standard Prius will pay off rather quickly.

Keep the batteries charged and, as I did, you could feasibly run the Prius PHEV almost ever without having to fill up the fuel tank. I averaged an astounding 2.8L/100 kms in my week with the Prime due to relying largely on battery power for most of my commute.

Toyota says that the Prius Prime takes 2.5 hours to recharge at 240 volts, and can be charged overnight at the standard 120 volt in around 5-6 hours with the provided travel charging cord. There is no Level 3 high speed DC charging capability on the Prime since the Level 2 240v charging speed is quick enough already.

With its EV Auto Mode, Hybrid Mode, and EV-only modes, the Prime allows owners to juggle its power sources remarkably efficiently. Plant the throttle pedal and the revs do rise. However, the torque of the electric motor means you don’t need to bury your foot to get off the mark.

Toyota has admitted that the hybrid CVT drive is not the most pleasant way to get about if you need to move quickly. Therefore, they’ve addressed the problem with a meatier motor (with 71 hp and 120 lb ft of torque) and denser battery, as well as more noise insulation.

The battery deserves its own mention as it is twice as powerful as before while only being 50 per cent heavier and only two-thirds bulkier.

As a result of these improvements, the engine noise from the 1.8 litre, 121 horsepower, Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine is rarely intrusive. It’s a subtle improvement, but a worthwhile one. The CVT provides ultra-tall cruising ratios which the Prius Prime can tolerate due to its low aerodynamic drag.

Toyota claims that the Prius’ engine boasts the best thermal efficiency of any mass-produced engine anywhere in the world thanks to a new exhaust gas recirculation system and incremental improvements made on combustion, heat management and friction reduction.

The Prius’s remodeled lighter and smaller transaxle, which houses the electric motors and transmission, has helped the engineers reduce its length by 59mm, meaning that the auxiliary 12 volt battery can now be housed in the engine compartment instead of the cargo area.

Despite the ability to run in EV-only mode even at highway speeds up to 135 km/hr, there are limitations to the electric motor’s oomph. You’ll find the internal combustion engine firing up seamlessly to fill in should you need to make a passing maneuver.

But the brilliance of the Prius is that it never truly forgets about electric propulsion. It goes right on storing energy from its regenerative braking system and downhill coasting, ready to deploy as soon as you move away from the next traffic light.

Understandably then, the Prius Prime is best suited to around-town driving where starts and stops are frequent. Like other Priuses, the high-geared, super-fast steering makes city parking and traffic-dodging a clinch in town.

Given that Toyota has shifted over 1.5 million Priuses worldwide, clearly they know what they’re doing. The Prius prime’s ride is comfortable but firm and handling still a bit reluctant perhaps due to the eco-friendly low rolling resistance tires. However, the crucial low-speed urban ride is nicely dampened, and Toyota’s latest efforts with its regenerative braking is commendable.

Still, this is not a driver’s car by a long shot, nor does it purport to be.

Toyota’s Safety Sense technology is included, including automatic emergency braking, automatic high beams, active cruise control, and blindspot warning.

What about the styling?

While it may come as no surprise that the Prius is slipperier than before, it may be surprising to many that the Prius shares the same 0.25 ultra-low drag coefficient as a Tesla Model S.

The Prius’ appearance is said to benefit from an unusually young design team and a concerted effort to “inject ego” into what remains a largely familiar silhouette.

Compared to the third-generation Prius, its longer and slightly wide, but yet lower, with an overall height descended by around 20mm and the driver’s hip point sunk by a full 59 mm. The resulting drop in centre of gravity compliments the 60 per cent gain in torsional rigidity provided by a more extensive use of high-strength steel and additional body reinforcement.

Compared to the regular Prius, the Prime stands out with unique quad-LED projector headlights and LED foglamps, as well as lighter carbon-fibre composite tailgate with “dual-wave” rear glass. Due to the curved window, there is no rear wiper.

This unique rear tailgate also houses a different LED taillamp design which encompasses the entire width of the car.

What about the interior?

Toyota doesn’t skim on its equipment when it comes to the Prius’ interior. While the instrumentation may be slightly unconventional, it checks all of the boxes as far as usability.

There is a colourful heads-up display, the requisite digital speedometer, and a much improved colour multi-function trip computer housed in a wide instrument pod spanning the centre of the dash. The two main trip computer screens provide usage monitors which provide enough readouts to satisfy even the most discerning efficiency geeks.

My well spec’ed out Prime also came with a JBL premium sound system, GPS satellite navigation, as well as a wireless Qi-compatible phone charger.

The large Tesla-like portrait touchscreen is nice to look at, but the user interface seems very much ported over from the standard landscape-orientated Toyota infotainment system.

The learning curve is a little bit steep initially, as it takes a while to sort out the split screens and the various information that can be displayed. Arguably, the screen resolution could also be a bit higher and the graphics a bit more premium in feel.

On longer journeys, I found the front seats comfortable, but a little flat. In the rear, leg room is generous, although head room is still limited for larger adults as a consequence of the aerodynamic descending roofline above you and the battery and fuel tank packaged below.

Assuming that your head isn’t bothered by the roofline, you’ll feel well provided for in the back, with USB and 12V power outlets available between the front seats, and good-sized bottle holders in the doors.

The Prius Prime’s trunk a good size, having swollen to 343 litres below the window line. It offers space nearly on a par with its conventional hatchback rivals. Thanks to the tailgate, the cargo area is both wide and long and swallows bulky items particularly easily, although it’s shallower than you might expect.

Final thoughts

With its manufacturer-estimated 1,035 kilometer total driving range and 40-kilometer EV range, the Prius prime raises the efficiency bar even more.

The interior doesn’t feel as cheap as before, and the odd touches that remain make it quirky enough to have some character.

All in-all, the Prius Prime is practical, yet durable and reliable enough to serve as a daily driver for years to come.

Despite the new additional standard features, the 2020 Prius Prime starts at $32,990, same MSRP as the 2019 model. The 2020 Prius Prime Upgrade package starts at $34,990 ($455 less than the 2019 model).

My 2020 Prius Prime Technology test vehicle starts at $37,990 ($580 less than the 2019 model).

 

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 Honda Civic Touring sedan

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While you might think that lower production luxury cars cost more to engineer than mass production compact cars, the opposite is reality. For example, the 10th generation Civic was said to have cost Honda more money, time and effort than other new models in their history.

And yet, while starting from a clean slate is never easy or inexpensive, we’re now in the 11th generation of the Honda Civic. A lot has changed since the first Civic went on sale in North America in the early 1970’s for under $3,000. However, Honda is still offering the Civic as both a sedan and a hatchback.

The Civic is Honda’s longest-running automotive nameplate, with more than 2.25 million cars sold in Canada since it was introduced here in 1973. Moreover, the Civic has been built at Honda of Canada Mfg facility in Allison, Ontario continuously since 1988. This is longer than any other Honda plant in the world currently producing the model.

Each generation of Civic has been more grown up than the previous, and this 11th generation car carries on the tradition by offering a more subdued appearance akin to its big brother Accord.

What’s new?

Although the previous generation Civic was offered as a coupe, this longer is the case due to declining sales of that variant. The 11th generation Civic is all-new, with a redesigned body. It is now only offered in North America as a four door hatchback (which we will review in a future article), as well as the sedan as tested in this review.

While the Civic is still considered technically considered a compact sedan, this latest version is larger, more substantial, and more upscale than its predecessors.

It’s not difficult to see why then, despite the SUV/crossover craze, the Honda Civic is still at the top of the Canadian passenger car sales segment. 43,556 units of this all-new 11th generation Civics were sold in 2021, allowing it to maintain the number one position as Canada’s best-selling car for the 24th consecutive year.

Aside from the more Accord-esque styling queues, Honda has improved the ride and handling, with the interior featuring the requisite new features, nicer materials, and new technology.
Despite compact car competitors, such as the Mazda 3, offering all-wheel-drive on their line-up, Honda insists that the Civic will continue to be front-wheel drive only.

It’s all grown-up

Honda says that the 2022 Civic Sedan is “a modern expression of classic Civic values, inside and out”. Built using what Honda describes as their “Man Maximum / Machine minimum Philosophy” (aka M/M), the design concept is supposed to use technology and design to serve the needs of the occupants.

What this marketing jargon translates into is a “thin and light” body design with a low hood, front fenders, and a low horizontal beltline. Your eyes aren’t tricking you if you think that the Civic appears bigger.

This is due to the bottom of the windshield pillars being moved rearward by 50mm, elongating the hood and stretching the Civic’s silhouette compared to the previous generation car.

Behind the new front bumper skin is a new bumper beam safety plate that has been designed to decrease leg injuries. The longer hood also has an embossed inner structure designed to improve pedestrian head protection performance.

Honda says that the new lower character line that rises through the rear doors is supposed to provide for an enhanced sense of motion. I’m not so sure if it is as exciting as the marketing-speak describes, but the car does look good regardless, even though it is slightly derivative of the Accord’s styling (not a bad thing to imitate).

The new Civic’s wider rear track is emphasised by stronger rear haunches, wider LED taillamps, and an aerodynamically efficient trailing edge of the trunk lid.

Speaking of LED lighting, Honda has used it extensively for the headlamps, daytime running lamps, parking lights, and fog lights. The new LED headlamps are excellent, casting a wide and white beam which is effective in lighting up the road ahead even in inclement weather.

Back to basics on the inside

Inside, gone are the days of the multi-level dashboards and cubbies from Civics in the past. You’ll find an uncluttered cabin design heralding back from the days of the very early-generation Civics.

Nowhere better can you see this change than in the top of the Civic’s instrument panel which has been redesigned with minimum cutlines to reduce both visual distraction sand windshield reflections. In my eyes, this is a welcome improvement that fits in well with the premium new exterior design.

Remember the windshield A-pillars that have been moved back by 50 mm? That change, combined with the low hood, flat dashboard, and tucked away windshield wipers, has improved forward visibility with more clearly defined corners. It’s easier to place the Civic’s edges than ever before during parking situations. The low cowl height is matched with the door’s sills and carries through to the rear doors.

Perhaps the most striking interior element is the new metal honeycomb mesh accent that stretches from door to door and across the dash. This accent clever hides the air vents while still creating a dramatic visual separation between the infotainment system and climate controls.

The metal-look HVAC controls feel high-quality. Overall, all of the switchgear has a distinctly more expensive feel to it. Honda says that they’ve even paid attention to smallest details, such as a new premium centre control trim that is specifically designed to hide fingerprints and smudges to help maintain a high-end appearance.

For anyone that has suffered through the scratches in the piano black plastic trim of vehicles in the same class, this subtle but significant innovation will certainly be welcome.

All Civics also benefit from a new generation seat design, with a new frame designed to enhance comfort on long drives.

Technology

My top-of-the-range 2022 Civic Touring sedan debuts with Honda’s all-new 9-inch high definition touchscreen infotainment system. This new touchscreen is the largest ever in any Honda vehicle, and the system supports both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

While it has taken Honda several tries to get the touchscreen right, I’m happy to say that they’ve nailed this one out of the park with the combination of touchscreen, soft buttons, and hard button controls.

The Civic now builds upon the foundation laid by the Display audio system in other Honda models such as the Odyssey, Pilot, Passport, and Accord.

The physical volume knob, simplified user-interface design, and cleanly designed icons make the system easy-to-use even for those new to the Civic. I particularly appreciated the effort that has been made to simplify the system’s navigational structure with fewer menus. The hard buttons for Home and Back functions were nice to have when toggling through the menu screens when wearing gloves.

Standard on my Touring-trim model is also the first use of Bose audio in a Civic, with Bose Centrepoint 2 and Bose SurroundStage digital signal processing.

On the safety front, this latest generation Civic earned a U.S. IIHS Top Safety Pick + Rating. This is in part thanks to all 2022 Civic trims receiving new frontal airbags designed to better control head motions in certain types of crash, thereby better reducing conditions associated with brain injury.

The driver’s airbag uses a new donut-shaped structure to cradle and hold the head to reduce rotation, and the passenger front airbag uses a innovative new three-chamber design to achieve a similar result.

The standard Honda Sensing suite of active driver-aids include a new single-camera system which is capable of more quickly and accurately identifying pedestrians, cyclists, and other vehicles.

My 2022 Honda Civic Touring tester was also further enhanced with expanded driver-assistive tech, including features normally found in premium brands.

In addition to the now ubiquitous automatic emergency braking, forward collision warning, and lane keeping assist, there is also a Traffic Jam Assist feature. I noticed that the Adaptive Cruise Control system has also been improved with more natural brake applications and quicker response times.

The Civic, for the first time, now features Low-Speed Braking Control, and front and rear false-start prevention.

So, how does it drive?

There are two engine choices available for the 2022 Honda Civic: a turbocharged 1.5-litre four-cylinder (as equipped on my Touring test car) and a naturally aspirated 2.0-litre four-cylinder. Both engines have outputs of 180 horsepower and 158 horsepower respectively. Torque figures are 177 lb-ft at 1,700 to 4,500 rpm, and 138 ft-lb at 4,200 rpms respectively.

I found the turbocharged engine more than adequate for its class, with strong initial acceleration off the line. The wide torque band was appreciated in passing maneuvers regardless of speed. I’d suspect that the naturally aspirated 2.0-litre wouldn’t be quite as flexible.

Both engines are paired with Honda’s latest CVT transmission, uniquely tuned for each engine. The CVT paired with the turbocharged engine has improved torque converter performance and Step-Shift programming which does a pretty darn good job at simulating actual gears. This eliminates much of the rubberbanding sensation commonly found in conventional CVTs.

In addition to the standard Normal and Eco driving modes, 2.0L Sport and 1.5L Touring trims of the 2022 Civics now feature a user-selectable Sport mode. Using a toggle switch on the centre console, the new Sport mode alters the drive ratios and mapping for a sportier feel and changes the meter lighting to red. Eco mode reduces throttle and transmission sensitivity, as well as air conditioning output to help preserve fuel efficiency.

Handling is nimble, with little body roll and quick steering.The Civic felt capable, secure, and sporty for a compact car. No doubt this is thanks to a stiffer body structure and the additional 35 mm of wheelbase versus the previous-gen Civic.

Road noise, a former complaint of other Civics, was nicely muted even at highway speeds. But one caveat is that my top Touring trim had added sound insulation. Reviews from other auto journalists have stated that lower-trim Civics could also benefit from this added insulation, so be sure to test drive different trim levels.

If you’re looking for more performance and better handling, you’ll have to step-up for the Civic Si model, which once again represents the sportiest Civic in the range till high performance Civic R makes its debut. The Si is only available with a six-speed manual transmission and a 200 horsepower turbocharged engine.

Final thoughts

35 years later and with nearly 11 million units produced in North America (5.3 million of which have been in Canada), the 11th generation Civic appears poised to continue its success with Canadians looking for a reliable compact car.

Later this year, the all-new Honda Civic Type R will be officially unveiled. This highly anticipated model will be the best performing Type R ever, capping the current 11th generation Honda Civic model line-up.

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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] 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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[REVIEW] 2021 Mercedes-AMG E63s wagon

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If money was no object and there was only one type of vehicle I could own, a wagon would probably be pretty high on the list. The critical boxes that would have to be ticked on this “only one vehicle” list would include exclusivity, practicality, performance, quality, and character.

Not many vehicles have the ability to have be fun to drive, turn heads, but yet be able to transport the whole family in complete comfort and style, whether it’s to the latest restaurant in town, or up to Whistler for a weekend ski trip.

The 2021 Mercedes-AMG E63s wagon sits in this rarified air as one of the few vehicles that can cruise on the Autobahn for hundreds of kilometres, scaring other cars out of the fast lane with its LED matrix headlamps. Yet, this German muscle car / wagon is equipped with comfortable yet sporty seats and has space for a decently long road trip for five people.

The AMG engineers in Affalterbach have somehow managed to tune this heavy-ish $140,000+ 4MATIC all-wheel-drive wagon to move with the agility of a car much lighter while still being genuinely entertaining in the process.

Better than the sum of all its parts?

People may regard SUVs as a more interesting way to transport peoples and their stuff. Wagons were purported to be uncool with a lameo-o mommy-mobile image from yesteryear. However, I think that the times are a-changing as I received mostly nothing but positive comments and admiring looks from people of all ages during my week with the 2021 Mercedes-AMG E63s wagon. Thanks to shows like Top Gear, it is the age of the Euro wagon once again.

The latest E63s wagon sticks with the grand AMG tradition of having a model name that does not actually relate to the engine displacement. Under the hood is an AMG hand built 4.0-litre V8 engine producing 603 horsepower and 627 lb-ft of torque. Power is sent to all four wheels through an AMG-tuned 9G-Tronic automatic transmission and AMG’s 4Matic+ all-wheel-drive system.

The AMG wagon rides on standard air springs and adaptive dampers and claws at the pavement with 20-inch Michelin Pilot Sport 4S summer tires. This sticky and expensive rubber is sized 265/35R-20 in front and 295/30R-20 at the rear.

Like most modern cars, there are five driver selectable modes. In AMG-speak, they’re Comfort, Sport, Sport +, Individual, and Race. There is also a Drift mode that disconnects the front axle and directs the power solely to the rear tires. Yes, that’s right boys and girls, moms and dads, this wagon can do burnouts and power slides (only on private roads, of course).

While 2021 isn’t the first year for the E63s wagon, the model year brings updates across the E-Class line-up. With the E63, this includes a new front fascia and an AMG GT-like Panamericana-grille with vertical chrome slats.  Optionally available AMG bits include a carbon fibre front splitter, rear bumper insert,  side sills, and a gloss black rear diffuser. Not quite your typical family wagon’s bits and bobs.

There is also an updated interior, with the latest AMG Sport steering wheel with capacitive touch buttons and the latest version of the MBUX infotainment system. Some say that the 2021 model’s exhaust is quieter than before, but none of these updates seem to take away from the E63s’s stunning performance or racy feel. In Sport mode, it feels positively rowdy but in a refined way.

The Mercedes-AMG E63s wagon’s main competitor is obviously the new RS6 Avant. However, it has less power (sub-600 horsepower) and is arguably more showy with its aggressive fenders and sharp edges. It just depends on what you’re into I suppose.

What’s it like to drive?

Nothing quite prepares you for the supercar-rivalling acceleration, made even more hilarious when enjoyed in a wagon. The rear-biased 4MATIC+ system results in the 4,200 pound wagon accelerating from 0-100 km/hr in 3.4 seconds. That’s faster than most Ferrari 599 GTBs or F430 Scuderias, both of which are hyper-focused supercars.

The AMG twin-turbo V8 combined with the EQ Boost starter-motor alternator provides you with an unending wave of torque at any speed and essentially at any revs. There are masses of low-down grunt like what you might expect from a forced-induction motor, but the delivery is linear and without any turbo lag.

Part of the credit for this instant response is the 48-volt electrical system that powers both the adaptive suspension plus the EQ Boost mild hybrid system. The latter is good for an additional output of 21 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque in short bursts.

The dual-clutch gearbox punches home through the nine ratios with unrivalled immediacy, and its closely spaced ratios allow for muted cruising when the occasion presents itself.

At full chat in Sport+ mode, the turbocharged V8 is as loud as a thunderstorm. But in comfort mode, the ballistic engine is just a soft gurgle at start-up.

Happily the incredible acceleration and pace is matched by a really involving driving experience. While the ride is firm, it’s never punishing despite the large 20-inch wheels. The three chamber air suspension system and the adjustable dampeners are well tuned with the adjustable anti-roll bars. It’s truly impressive how the setup can handle anything from track use to daily commutes.

The E63’s steering also has a high level of precision, giving the driver a lot of confidence when driving quickly on twisty roads, or even just around parking lots.

It is even all the more impressive that this is accomplished in the heavier wagon version of the E63s. In short, the E63s wagon is far more agile, alert, and enjoyable than you’d expect in a car not just of this size, but in any size. I found it deeply involving, exciting, and one of the highlights of the cars I’ve driven this year.

 

What about the interior and the tech toys?

Despite being an AMG vehicle, my 2021 E63s wagon wasn’t kitted out to be overly sporty. Yes, you can get a rather expensive carbon fibre trim package but perhaps it is a little too “try hard” in this vehicle.

The wagon’s interior was a mix of high quality materials (nappa leather, open pore wood), a well designed dashboard and comfortable seats. Sure, there are the typical 64-colour LED ambient lights, the latest AMG steering wheel featuring two tiny colour LCD screens and configurable buttons/dials, as well as the latest MBUX Infotainment system.

One of my favourite features was the active bolstered front seats, which feature dynamic side bolsters to push you on the opposite side of the curve in which you are cornering. This allows the seat to be both supportive and comfortable at the same time.

Look beyond the upholstered sections of the cabin and you’d be hard press to spot any areas of cheap plastics, even around the centre console area or door mouldings. There’s even a retractable pet divider that rises from the cargo area tonneau cover. I also liked the motorised cargo cover which conveniently lifts out of the way when the tailgate is open.

Coming full circle on a personal note

Despite its ridiculous amount of power, the E63s wagon is as practical as the standard E-Class wagon. I used it to help my parents to move out of our family home of over 20 years. Two decades ago when we moved into the house, it was in our W124 Mercedes-Benz 300TE wagon. Although it has been years since I lived in that house, it seemed only fitting that I helped my folks to move out in another E-Class wagon.

I was thankful for the E63s’ 640-litre load bay that expanded to a class-leading 1,820 litres with the rear seats folded flat. This meant for less trips from the old house to the new house, which also meant less trips to the fuel pump.

You see, one of the downsides of the wonder AMG V8 is that you’ll want to feel and listen to it all the time. This resulted in high 16L/100 kms average fuel consumption for the week that I had the E63s wagon. With a light right foot, in comfort mode, and at highway speeds, the E63s can deactivate four of its eight cylinders to save on fuel.

Final thoughts

Although the 2021 Mercedes-AMG E63s wagon may fly under the radar for most onlookers, the E-Class wagon holds a special place in my heart.

From the driver’s seat, it’s often easy to forget what it is. And what “it” is, is a 603 horsepower family-friendly rocket with room to spare. Yet it’s also a luxurious track car that accelerates and brakes like a supercar and has bragging rights to match.

There aren’t too many other vehicles that can boast 18.9 psi of turbo boost, a 3.4 second 0-100 km/hr time, and yet also 1,800+ litres of cargo hauling capacity.

While it may not be as flashy as its main competitor, the Audi RS6 Avant, with no BMW M5 Touring wagon planned, the E63s wagon is my pick for one of my favourite cars I’ve driven this year.

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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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