2018 Chevy Malibu

Accomplishes average perfectly.

When I rented the Regal Sportback 3 weeks ago and my co-worker said it’s just a Malibu in disguise, I had to scope one out.  After a short jaunt around town, he wasn’t too far off base.


The dashboard would be hard to differentiate between the Regal and this Malibu.  They both have the same font, same gauges, same digital display.  Oddly enough, I liked parts of the Malibu better than the nearly $4000 more expensive Buick.  I liked the Neopryne dash inserts that matched the seats, but I think that summer sun will deteriorate that quickly.

The driver’s seat was comfortable and had a 10-way power seat like last weeks Encore should have had.  Challenging, to say the least, is trying to figure out how and why GM options it’s fleet.


The Buick also didn’t have the indirect LED door handles and overhead lighting of this Malibu.  It reminded me of how great that worked on the Audi A4.

A big gripe about the Regal was the excess dead/blank buttons on the interior.  The Malibu had only 2 I could find thanks in part to the HUGE traction control button that replaces 6 blank buttons on the Regal.  Give props to the team and Chevrolet that fixed that eyesore.


The rear glass and trunk of the Malibu would lead you to believe it is also a hatchback, but it’s not.


It features a real deal trunk with back seat collapsible knobs for long cargo, but the trunk lining material is very thin and not aging well.  Granted, this is a 30,000+ mile used and slightly abused rental car, but a little thicker trunk insulation would also help immensely with tire noise coming from the back end.


The back seat had generous legroom for 3 adults and the ever popular directional rear air vents.


Since this is my 3rd General Motors rental in a row, the center stack controls are almost 2nd nature.  Noticeably absent again is the automatic climate control, but the A/C is very capable even in direct sunlight and no window tint.

The Malibu isn’t an identical twin to the Regal, but they could easily be fraternal twins.  The base price of a 1.5 liter turbo Honda Accord or 2.5 liter Toyota Camry would be about $2000 more.

Things of note:
The Malibu doesn’t do anything poorly.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t do anything exceptionally either.
Exactly 30mpg on my city local trip exactly in line  with the EPA stated 27CITY/36HWY
40mpg on a freeway jaunt wouldn’t be difficult.
Buy it? Rent it? Avoid it?
Full disclosure:  Early on in many of our fleet of 2018’s life, they had a problem with the engines dying and having to be towed.  Our location had 3 alone and required dealer work.  To make matters worse, just last week GM issued a safety recall involving a faulty tire inflation kit in some Cruze, Malibu, and Impala models.  As a result, about $200,000+ worth of Chevrolets are parked and useless.  The competition in this segment is way too fierce to have anything but the best of the best a company can muster.  No way I’d ever buy one and I’d choose something else to rent if given the option.  The worst car I EVER rented was a 2000 Malibu in Atlanta.  Fast forward 18 years and it has improved exponentially, but it still has a long way to go to win over new customers.
Chevrolet if you’re listening . . .
Keep the 2.0 liter for Buick and the 1.5 liter for Chevy.
On a scale from 1-100: (1- Child, please – 100- YES!  Please!)
Buy it now – 5
Buy it later at half the current price – 15
F.E.D. (Fun, Efficiency & Desirability) – 40
Oooh and ahhh factor – 10
Recommended – (20 to buy if you have to buy American / 50 to rent)


2018 Dodge Challenger 6.4L Bee

485HP – where have you been all my life?


This was another surprise rental from an unexpected one-way rental from an East Coaster escaping Hurricane Florence.  Of course I was intrigued about driving a car with nearly TWICE the horsepower as my perfectly capable Acura TL, but I was a little concerned about driving it more than a few miles at a time.  On the surface, this would appear to nearly be a track car and could be torturously uncomfortable for more than a short trip across town.  The tight suspension was not very forgiving on rough city roads, but was pleasantly smooth on the highway.  The “Sport Seats” a.k.a. “Love handle squeezing seats” were ok for our two 90-mile trips, but I don’t think a full day of driving would be comfortable even with the 8-way power driver seat.


I liked the 6.4L Bee ‘mascot’.  It was also emblazoned on the front seats and on the dashboard as well as an awesome moving graphic at start-up.  It’s an obvious shout out to the Dodge Super Bee logo from the late 60’s.


The menacing front-end means business with the prominent red R/T logo on the driver’s side.  There’s no stock Pentastar V-6 in this bad boy.  I don’t know what the yellow air dam covers are for since I haven’t seen them on any other Challenger before, but I’ll guess it’s for the high guide bars in the company’s car washes.  The low mounted fog lights help illuminate the area on each side of the car a lot, but do very little in the front since the headlights do a great job already.


When I first got in the Challenger, I thought it was odd to have such a huge prominent mute button.  But after experiencing the 506-watt amp boosted Alpine system, with subwoofer, I understood the need.  It’s impossible to have a conversation inside OR outside the car with the volume turned up only half way.  The $895 additional cost for the upgraded stereo was money well spent by anyone that gets to experience the thumping from those 9 speakers, aka kidney function disrupters.

The real magic can be unleashed from this beast with the two buttons below the mute.


(sorry for the sun glare in the next few pictures)

The information this vehicle can give is incredible.  On one screen you can get instant dyno information showing torque curve, horsepower, and gear selection. . .


. . . and even instant oil pressure or any combination of the four.  I’d like to think that since there’s so much info on the screen that this is more for passenger amusement than the driver.  It was really hard to take all of this in without looking away from the road for more than a few seconds.


This was my favorite screen.  It can show times and speeds like you were on a drag strip.  I did not accomplish that 0-60 time of 5.1 seconds, but I’m curious where a previous renter did that!  My personal car can beat that quarter mile time, so it obviously hasn’t been tested to it’s potential.  Since track time or drag strip racing in a rental car is strictly forbidden, I’m a little surprised this package is even included in our fleet.  Suffice to say, Chrysler fleet sales probably gave them a discount they couldn’t refuse and our purchasing department pounced on it. . . who wouldn’t?


I tried my hand at a quick 0-60 sprint, but I could only do it while doing a left hand turn onto a road from a stop sign.  My lame time of 9.2 seconds from 0-60 isn’t pictured, but I sure would like another chance on a straight flat surface to beat that 5.1 second best time so far!

Also pictured in this screen is the phone/Bluetooth setting in the bottom right corner next to settings.  I had a difficult time pairing my phone with the car and after a little more searching at a stop light, I discovered that I paired with a previous rental also named “Uconnect”.  This prohibited connecting without first deleting the old one.  Duplicate Bluetooth names were bound to happen eventually, but I thought that’d take years, not months.


The trunk was made for weekend trips only.  The subwoofer is off to the far right and takes up a noticeable amount of room also.  If Dodge decides on a convertible version of the Challenger down the road, the trunk will be nearly non-existent with the top down.


Between the racing wheels, matte black paint accents, and the LOUD V8 engine even under slight acceleration, this Challenger is hard to ignore in terms of price, performance, and value.


The throwback “fuel” filler door was a nice tribute to the many decades long Dodge muscle car heritage.


It’s interesting to see how carmakers treat 2-seaters, 2+2 coupes, 2 door cars with back seats, etc.  The tiny rear floormats tell the story of the backseat.  Legroom is limited to very thin children and compact infant car seats.  I didn’t even attempt to get back there and subject myself to what would have to be my knees on my chin.


The dashboard is well thought out, but the speedometer isn’t in full view unless you lean to the left.  A first I’ve never experienced, the paddle shifters can be activated by holding a button hidden behind the upshift button on the right.  The center display had 8 separate digital screens to choose including speedometer, trip computer, fuel economy just to name a few.  At coasting or low load speeds, the center lights up “4-cyl” in green signifying half the cylinders are deactivated to save fuel.  Cylinder activation and deactivation was completely seamless every time and the instant fuel economy gauge was the only other indication anything happened at all.  As a 4-cylinder cruiser, the instant fuel economy spiked to 36mpg, but instantly tanked to 23mpg at even the slightest road incline.


I consumed a little over a half tank of gas on my 260 mile jaunt today and contrary to what the trip computer says, I’ll have to disagree with it’s assessment of 25.1 MPG.  I floored the car just a few times to hear the marvelous V8 exhaust note, but 25mpg in real life seems to be nearly impossible, unless you are going downhill a lot at highway speeds from Denver, CO to Las Vegas.  Most of the trip computers that calculate miles per gallon nowadays are fairly accurate within 1 to 1.5 MPG, but this Challenger isn’t one for accuracy.

I’m not ashamed to admit, I liked this car A LOT more than I thought I would.  Between the awesome sounds from the speakers, engine bay, and exhaust, it’s hard not to appreciate all it has to offer.  The exhaust note even at slight acceleration at 1900RPM in top gear is deafening, but this is in no way a family car and meant to turn heads.

Things of note:
Dodge exclusive halo LED daytime running lamps are distinctive from miles away.
The Challenger price range is from $27,000 for a base V6 to nearly $90,000 for a Demon.
$42,000 seems like a deal for all the tech and horsepower.
8-way power drivers seat, but reclining is manual.
Backseat is not for your friends, but maybe people you don’t like.

Buy it? Rent it? Avoid it?
Chryslers as a whole aren’t known for holding value, but the fun factor of this beast is timeless.  A 2-year old 20,000 mile example of a R/T can be had for nearly half price of new.  That’s not so great at trade-in time, but a 2nd owner could get a smokin’ hot deal for a 2016 model year 4-wheeled rocket.  I’d rent this again tomorrow if I could, but staying away from a drag strip would take a lot of self-control.  I REALLY want to try and get 5 seconds flat on that electronic log and it feels like it could go under 5 seconds with a few traction and launch control adjustments.

Dodge if you’re listening . . .
Chrysler has all the trim levels covered from a basic 305hp to an extreme 840hp, but touring seats and an adjustable suspension would be nice for a cross-country trip.

On a scale from 1-100: (1-hints of a 1978 Dodge Omni – 100- hints of a Viper ACR)
Buy it now – 50
Buy it later at half the current price – 75
F.E.D. (Fun, Efficiency & Desirability) – 85
Oooh and ahhh factor – 65
Recommended – (50 to buy / 90 to rent)


2018 Buick Encore

Encore!  Encore! Bravo!  Bravo!

Nah, one is enough.

The Regal Sportback from 2 weeks ago had me curious about another popular Buick in our fleet, the Encore.  It’s in the same class as the Ford Escape, Toyota RAV4, Jeep Cherokee, and Jeep Compass, but it is noticeably smaller than all of them.  And by noticeably, I mean it really shouldn’t be in the same class at all.


It drives very well and absorbs neglected road problems like a champ, but it’s a tight fit for more than 4 people and a big suitcase.


The cargo cover can be removed to stack more bags, but that is only practical if you own it.  Most mid-sized hatchbacks I’ve come in contact within the past few years have about the same, if not more cargo space than this Encore.

Classifying this as a midsize car with a slight lift kit and bigger wheels of instead of a Crossover Utility Vehicle(CUV) would be appropriate.


I couldn’t help but laugh at the rear windshield wiper.  It is 9 1/2″ long.  I’d be curious to know if it is even necessary during inclimate weather since the rear defroster is standard.  The wiper isn’t needed to clear ice or snow during a bad storm and water dissipated well after driving a few blocks post car wash.

20180907_143205The front end is well done with LED daytime running lamps and prominent rear view mirror mounted turn signals.


This tiny 1.4 liter turbocharged inline-4 would definitely fall into the category of “The Little Engine that could”.  It makes the best of only 136 horsepower moving it’s 3200 lbs., but merging into traffic at highway speeds with 5 people and cargo could be challenging.  Cruising at 65mph was very pleasant and it drove a lot better than it’s tiny size would lead you to believe.  The 6-speed automatic never seemed to be happy shifting at low or high RPMs.  Sometimes the shifts were smooth, but more often than not, it wasn’t a seamless transition from gear to gear.   The gas mileage was as expected and right inline with the EPA estimates of 27mpg for my 60 mile mixed driving jaunt.


I’ve noticed with most, if not all cars I’ve driven, that the front and rear doors open to the same degree.   This wasn’t the case for this baby Buick.  The rear doors obviously don’t open as wide as the front doors.  Thankfully, if you have wide cargo, the 60/40 rear split seats can be folded down and big items can enter through the rear cargo door.


Folding down the rear seat backs is a strange struggle the first time, but doable with minimal muscle.  First, the seat has to be released and come up and towards the front seats, then the rear headrests must be lowered all the way down, then the 60/40 split can be a flat cargo area, but only if the front seats aren’t reclined too much.  As seen in the picture above, the rear seats do not seem to be mounted very sturdily with the 2 very thin pieces of metal holding it down to the floorboards and were always very wobbly except in the up or down fixed positions.


I found it odd that in the driver’s seatback is a real closed pocket for storage, but the passenger side is just a cargo net.  The seat back materials were complete different also.  The driver side had the very comfortable leatherette while the passenger side was a hard plastic.  For this photo, I had the seat all the way back with a normal degree of recline and my knees were touching the netting.   This would be a very uncomfortable riding experience for 3 people over 6′ tall in the back.


The dashboard is very basic with only the bare minimum of a few trip computer choices to select.  When I press the navigation button on the center stack expecting to see a map appear either on the dash or the console, the compass needle is all that appeared.   This seems unnecessary on a vehicle that would retail for about $27,000.  A fully optioned Encore for nearly $35,000 isn’t impossible.


The center touchscreen is unmistakably General Motors and just as functional and easy to use as the rest.


The 12V adaptor and auxiliary ports are well-marked, but only if you are 2 feet tall or sitting in the middle back seat.  The writing is only visible if you bend over and look down into the storage space in front of the gear shifter.  The HVAC controls lacked a simple power off button.  I found the only way to power it down was to lower the fan speed until it was completely off.

Considering the broad price range of the Encore from basic to loaded, I was glad to see very few dead buttons on the Encore.  While at the same time, I expected to see at least a few extras to set the Encore apart from the competition.

Things of note:
Sharp LED daytime running lamps, but old school incandescent headlights.
The nearly identical Chevrolet Trax can be had for much less.
no engine auto stop/start – a giant plus in my book.
8-way power drivers seat, but reclining is manual.
Buy it? Rent it? Avoid it?
This category is very crowded from nearly all the automakers having a credible competitor.  The class best sellers and favorites Toyota RAV4 and Honda CRV are competitively priced and bigger.  I was most impressed by the road manners of the Encore as it was smooth on great roads and surprisingly accommodating on neglected roads.  As I mentioned in the Regal review 2 weeks ago, the Buick fleet overall is a perennial reliability favorite.
Buick if you’re listening . . .
A $28,000 Encore needs a lot more to differentiate itself from a $21,000 Trax.  Even an additional 30 horsepower would be a game changer.
On a scale from 1-100: (1-The Yugo GV was fine – 100- Bentayga is lame)
Buy it now – 35
Buy it later at half the current price – 40
F.E.D. (Fun, Efficiency & Desirability) – 40
Oooh and ahhh factor – 45
Recommended – (60 to buy / 75 to rent)

In the comments below, tell me the benefits of this CUV over a comparably priced SUV.  I’d REALLY like to know!

2017 Infiniti Q50

Everyone needs twin turbo in their life


Infiniti had big shoes to fill with the much revered Infiniti G35/G37 series that served the company so well from 2003 to 2015.  The current Q50 is varying trims is a nice, capable vehicle, but the redesign falls short of the excitement of the all new 2003 model.

I drove this 2017 to a weekend trip to Georgia to visit the fam and immediately fell in love with the 300hp twin turbo V6.  There’s a negligible amount of turbo lag when you floor it which makes freeway merging effortless.  The engine shows no struggle all the way up to the 7200RPM redline.  Since I’m an accommodating person, I happily obliged that upper RPM range frequently!


The grille is unmistakably Infiniti with it’s distinctive headlights, humongous logo, and trapezoid-ish intake.  The bottom fog lights were surprisingly bright for their size, although how many times a year do you really NEED fog lights?  They obviously add to the aesthetics of the car since lesser trimmed models would just have unsightly plastic blanks in place otherwise.



The center stack was very well thought out with (GASP!) clearly labeled buttons for sound system and HVAC controls.  What a concept!  Me, being behind so much in technology was relieved to see an old school CD-player in the dash.  The gear shifter was very comfortable in the event you desired to manually shift the 7-speed auto.

After a few hundred miles in the Q50, I noticed how well the A/c dispersed the incoming cold air.  In most cars the vents have very concentrated air flow, but this was an amazing change from the norm; cooling the cabin much more uniformly.


Spacious deep trunk, but not very wide – it could be a challenge to get a golf bag back there.


The dashboard is of obvious Nissan descendant, but with an Infiniti twist.  The purple/blue gauges are prominent throughout the entire Infiniti line-up and very easy to read in all levels of sunlight or lack thereof.  The speedometer made me chuckle at the 180mph display as it is governed to 150mph, but it sure does look impressive on the dash!  We’ll call it a cousin of the GT-R, but 180mph is impossible as it sits.


The rear end looks . . . as it should.  Well executed, not too much chrome, no garish styling faux pas, LED brake lamps, smooth lines, and chromed twin exhaust.  It’s not memorable, which could be good or bad depending on perspective.


The backseat is comfortable, but no where near the legroom of the Volvo S90 I reviewed a few weeks ago.  The back seats look more like a bench in a 1970’s pickup and not much to look at, but were supportive where they should.  It’d be a tight fit for 5 grown adults for much more than a trip across town, but great for 4 or less.

Things of note:
It’s not a looker, not bland, and Liquid Platinum Metallic paint doesn’t help it stand out.
32.4mpg on my highway road trip was expected with the EPA stated 20CITY/29HWY.
About $40,000 new, but buying a well maintained used one could be a great deal.
550 miles on a single tank of gas at constant freeway speeds wouldn’t be difficult.

Buy it? Rent it? Avoid it?
There’s so many choices in the high $30’s to low 40’s luxury sedan category from Acura to Volvo, so I firmly believe looking into the distant future on long term maintenance costs will be of upmost importance.  It’s always a good idea to scope out common part prices before buying a higher end vehicle of any kind, especially when a simple labor intensive alternator swap could cost 4-figures.  I wouldn’t mind another 700-mile trip in a Q50, but next time I’d like to see how the 2018 has improved.

Infiniti if you’re listening . . .
Q50 is a capable competitor in a field of Benz’s, BMW’s, and Audis, but setting it more apart from a loaded Nissan Altima would help a lot with brand identity.

On a scale from 1-100: (1- I’d buy it for a dollar – 100- I’d buy it for double retail)
Buy it now – 30
Buy it later at half the current price – 70
F.E.D. (Fun, Efficiency & Desirability) – 70
Oooh and ahhh factor – 55
Recommended – (50 to buy / 75 to rent)

Please like, comment, share your thoughts on your Infiniti (or similar) experiences!

September Cars & Coffee

Still growing

I was wondering what the turnout would be like with such miserable weather in the forecast only midway through the scheduled 9am to 1pm show.

I arrived about 930am and already the parking lot was filling up.  The Mustangs, Camaros, Corvettes, and mix of Mopar people were well represented as usual.  I love my car, but these people take car care to a whole new level.  Many owners were wiping down their rides while it was still raining.  At the midway point, the skies started to open up but the sprinkles thankfully lasted only about 10 minutes.  Unfortunately, 30 minutes later the skies would open up again and not let up until way after 1pm.  I got some good pictures before everyone made a quick exit.

This guy was a late arrival and immediately people approached him about what year, how long have you had it, etc.  It’s a 1993 Acura NSX with barely 56,000 miles.  He bought it from the 83 year old original owner in Ft Lauderdale, FL recently.  It looks great, but after looking closely it is definitely a driver.


There was a fairly good showing of exotics this month as well.  This 2014 Aventador has been to several of these events before and still is an attention grabber.  Also in attendance was a 2017 Aventador with what appeared to be 2 feet thick orange paint and a 2018 Ferrari.



I’ve always had a thing for odd short-lived models.  This 1990 VW Corrado is no exception.  I always loved these simply for the fact they were so distinct from every angle.  Many publications listed the Corrado as a “must drive”.  Th G60 model had a supercharged 158hp I-4 engine.  This jewel hasn’t even flipped 100K miles yet.


This was new territory for me as I didn’t know Studebaker ever made a truck.  This one has definitely been restored recently.


Never expect a stock Honda Civic to appear at a Cars & Coffee.  Well, maybe a new Type R that hasn’t been modified, yet.



Can you hear Jan Hammer’s theme from Miami Vice?  This ’91 Benz 560SEC is for sale for $11,500.  The interior looked amazing except for the cracking gear shift wood surround. . . if the owner is reading this, I know a guy in Nashville that’ll refinish that!



How often do you see a 45 year old restored Peterbuilt?  I’ve never priced out a set of ten brand new big rig tires before, but I’m confident I’d have to sell my car to get them!


This Rolls-Royce Phantom II was featured at last years Keeneland Concours show.  It was one of 12 Brewster Town Car Limousines constructed.  It’s been in the same family since 1969.  It didn’t appear to be in Concours condition now, but what will YOUR car look like when it is 85 years old?


I guarantee if there’s an Aston Martin within viewing distance, it’s definitely getting photographed.  This 2006 example has been named “MoneyPenny”.  Love it!

20180901_101306Here’s a nice line up of Pontiacs on display. Two G8’s on the end, a Firebird and three 3rd generation GTO’s in between. I had the odd pleasure of riding in the backseat of a GTO in San Diego about 13 years ago. The seats were unbelievably comfortable for ANY car seat I’ve ever had the pleasure to sit in front or back.


I’ve seen this car at various events around town.  I’m always intrigued because it looks so happy!  This is an Austin Healey “Bugeye” Sprite.  Yes, it is just as little as it appears on the picture.  The wheelbase is only 80 inches.



I thought the white NSX I posted earlier was low mileage.  This jewel has only 26,000 miles and looked mint inside and out.  I didn’t see the owner anywhere around and I was curious about the aftermarket wheels.  My guess is the factory wheels are safely stored to avoid any remote chance of curb rash.


Right before the heavens opened up, I talked to this guy briefly about this apocalypse ready F-series.  He coated the entire thing in a Line-X type coating that he said withstands baseball bats.  He also replaced the 11 lb. plastic grille with a 31 lb. steel one.  If “The Walking Dead” franchise becomes a real life nightmare, this is the vehicle I want to be in!


Here’s something you definitely don’t see every day.  This is a 4-year old Ariel Atom.  Nowadays when you hear about a car with 230hp it’s not a big deal, but when said car weighs less than a ton with a driver, take notice!  That’d be the equivalent of the Volvo S90 driven last week having nearly 600hp.  The owner also happens to be my mechanic.


About 10 minutes after this picture was taken, people were leaving in droves and the downpours started.  I’m optimistic that next month the weather will be a lot cooler, no rain, and twice as many cars in attendance!

Have a great week!

2018 Buick Regal Sportback

ok, fine – Hatchback

I picked up this Regal on a hot Saturday afternoon and as I was leaving one of my co-workers said, “Oh, that’s just a Malibu with Buick badges on it.”


OUCH!  What did that Buick ever do to you?  My employer classifies the Malibu as a full size car while the Regal is considered a one step up premium.  As I sat down in the driver’s seat, I could see the resemblance immediately on the dashboard.  Unfortunately, it’s nothing like the interior of a Lacrosse which I also hope to thoroughly review soon.

The first thing I noticed when I sat down in the Regal was how abnormally high the seats were for a sedan. After fidgeting with the 8-way power seat with lumbar support, I noticed that the seat was as high as it would go making the interior nearly SUV like in height. My head was less than 2 inches from the roof so the previous renter must have been extraordinarily petite! The absent sunroof would have made that clearance even smaller. I lowered the seats as far as they could go down and couldn’t help but notice how long it took to bottom out. My rough measurements calculated about a 5″ difference between top to bottom of the seat controls.

As a fan of the sheer practicality of hatchbacks and wagons, I’ll never understand the fear of automakers attaching something that could remotely be considered a ‘family car’.  The Chrysler PT Cruiser was absolutely a wagon, but sold like crazy back in the day, yet the more recent Acura TSX wagon only sold by the hundreds.  At one time my family had a 1981 Buick Century Wagon, 1985 Nissan Maxima Wagon, and a 1988 Plymouth Grand Voyager.  Since my parents were self-employed, we were all about the cargo space in the late 1980’s.  I’m not ashamed to admit I’d commit a felony for a free and clear Crystal Black Pearl TSX wagon.  Well, maybe just a misdemeanor.

This particular Regal in Rioja Red Metallic paint was sharp on the outside but lacked a lot on the inside considering it’d be difficult to drive one home at MSRP under $30,000.

20180831_163215_burst01The front fascia was very stately with the prominent Buick logo and well place LED daytime running lamps on the top of the headlights.


I’d like to think I’m pretty intuitive when it comes to getting accustomed to a new car. I can usually figure out controls, buttons, and knobs within a few minutes, but the trunk/hatch release had me stumped to the point I had to google it. The only way to open the rear was to have all four passenger doors unlocked and to manually press the giant Buick logo down on the trunk. That’s right, there’s no interior release inside the cabin nor on the key fob.


The sides and back end were. . . we’ll say as well done as possible with so much Malibu influence.  The 8-speed automatic mated to the 250hp engine was very capable for a vehicle of this size and weight plus smooth at all speeds.


We’ll say a little TOO smooth.  As proven by the cop that pulled me over and gave me a ticket, 71mph was effortless.  I explained I needed a tire balance on my TL and had no idea I was going that fast, but he didn’t care and said that on this particular road, they don’t give it warnings, just tickets.  I have a hot date with a traffic school class sometime in the next 6 weeks.  On this 31st day of the month, I’ll continue to question “police don’t have ticket quotas” with a raised eyebrow.


As with most cars nowadays, many parts are covered with plastic shielding, even the battery is encased.  I couldn’t help but notice how unusually shiny was the front of the block, almost like a fresh aluminum can.  This particular model has 7300 miles and looks nearly showroom new under the hood sans the dirty black plastic covers.


The center stack was acceptable, but it’s hard to ignore the climate control did not have an automatic temperature setting, in-dash navigation, nor satellite radio.  This particular Friday was about 90 degrees and cloudy with spurts of bright sun requiring constant reaching for the fan control.  Wow. . . this thing costs how much again?  On a positive note, this was the fastest Bluetooth connection I’d ever had.  The easy to figure out controls allowed search to pair was less than 5 seconds.


The top of the gear shifter just emphasizes this bare bones model.  Those first 2 blank tabs on the left are for the GS model driving modes, the other 4 are a mystery.  Can we hope they are reserved for a future Grand National model?  I know I know, dream on!


I found the driver’s seat comfort average in my 75 mile city tour, so it’d be impossible to judge how it’d be on my normal 600-mile rental jaunts.  I had two passengers in the car this time around and the rear passenger said the seats were not comfortable and too low to the ground.  Full disclosure:  she has back issues and very accustomed to her Lexus RX350 seats.  Regardless, being uncomfortable after 2 ten-mile trips is unpleasant by any standard and noteworthy.  The seat material was a disappointment for all 3 of us.  It wasn’t really a cloth material, but more like the common neoprene type fabric that is taking over the automotive world as of late.  Figure a $10,000 premium for a loaded GS model with leather seating.


The beauty of a hatchback. . . wait. . . Sportback is the huge rear opening for cargo.  There isn’t a suitcase out there that won’t fit into this opening.

Things of note:
Very classy LED daytime running lamps, but old school incandescent headlights
26.6 on my city local trip was expected with the EPA stated 22CITY/32HWY
Nearly $30,000 and no auto climate control, Nav, sunroof, or interior trunk release.
Buy it? Rent it? Avoid it?
I know the Buick name commands a premium in China, but unfortunately my co-worker was correct that this is way too similar to a Malibu that’s nearly $5000 less.  I’ll test a Malibu soon to do a more thorough comparison.  The Regal would be a great highway cruiser for 4, but 5 people would be tight.  It’s a great city car if you can ignore the greatly diminishing climate control fan speeds when the engine shuts down at stop lights, but the engine re-start is the smoothest I’ve experienced yet.    The Buick fleet overall is a perennial reliability favorite.
Buick if you’re listening . . .
The 3.6 liter V6 Regal GS is a valiant attempt at enticing a younger customer base, but what could a 2020 Buick Grand National V6 twin turbo do?
On a scale from 1-100: (1-I’d rather eat a kidney – 100-I’ll sell a kidney)
Buy it now – 45
Buy it later at half the current price – 70
F.E.D. (Fun, Efficiency & Desirability) – 50
Oooh and ahhh factor – 35
Recommended – (60 to buy / 70 to rent)



2018 Volvo S90 T5-AWD

The Anti-240

Full disclosure:  I think this car is one of the better looking new vehicles out there today under $100,000.  I was optimistic that driving it would live up to the classy exterior good looks.

“Oh c’mon, a great looking Volvo?”

I’m not alone, the S90 received the North American International Auto Show (Detroit) Production Car Design of the Year award for 2015.  The decades long stereotyped 240’s, 740’s, et. al “boxy Volvos” are long gone and won’t be missed.  Well, I really did like the 780 coupe from the late 1980’s and still do a double take when I see one on the road.



From all sides this appears to be a huge sedan because this IS a large vehicle and it needs every bit of the turbo 4-cylinder’s 250hp it can muster to haul this 2 ton beast.


I had the driver’s seat back almost all the way and even 6’6″ rear passengers would have more than enough legroom.  The overall length (201.4″) of this S90 is comparable only to the S80L that was only sold from 2009 to 2015 in China.  I didn’t get to experience being a backseat passenger, but I’d confidently assume that the rear seats are just as inviting as the driver’s seat.  The leather was very soft and supportive in all the right places and nearly impossible to not find the perfect setting with the 12-way power seat.


I don’t usually pop the hood on a rental, mainly because most engines have at least several plastic covers masking what really makes the car tick.  I was intrigued what a 4-cylinder turbo would look like under what seemed to be an abnormally huge front end.  After taking a minute to figure out the odd double latch, I couldn’t believe the SHEER SIZE of that hood!  A boy scout troop could camp out under that thing!  As expected, the engine bay is full of plastic covers.  I know that some covers/guards are used for channeling air for cooling, but why cover up the windshield washer reservoir?


As with all Volvos as of late, well thought out ergonomics are always prominently displayed.  The center stack is no exception in the S90, although there is a learning curve.  The center screen is large and easy to use, but not overpowering.  I found it odd that after changing A/C settings, radio, or NAV settings, it doesn’t default back to another screen unless it’s manually changed.  I think the screen shown in the picture above would be a good ‘default’ screen, but hitting one of the 4 buttons changes the screen until someone pushes the ‘home’ button above the volume knob.  The base stereo system was better than most high end sound systems in other cars.  I’m led to believe the optional 19-speaker, 1400 watt Bowers & Wilkins must be a religious experience.  The A/C vents on each side are of extraordinary quality and weight that would blend in just as well in a vehicle twice the cost.  All the interior materials are very well presented and shouldn’t look dated even 20 years from now.


Since steering column ignition keys are becoming relics, Volvo has created its’ own version of engine start and stop with a left/right toggle switch.  Is this a slight Swedish tribute to the now defunct Saab’s old way of the ignition key next to the driver’s seat?  Electronic parking brakes are the future, but the circled “A” below the parking brake button is for [apparently] sitting in traffic.  If you don’t want to keep your foot on the brake, you can use this instead.  Similar to the Audi A4 the S90 has an auto on/off fuel saving feature that stops the engine after sitting for barely a second at a light or in traffic.  I thought the A4 shuddered a lot at start up, but it was seamless compared to the S90’s jarring vibration when you take your foot off the brake.


Unlike the drive select mode in the Audi A4 I wrote up about on July 21st, the drive mode has 3 very distinct settings:
*Eco makes the 8-speed transmission shift a lot sooner than anyone would considered normal.
*Comfort seems like a natural fit for a luxury car until the turbo kicks in and makes your spine get a little more cozy with the seat backs.
*Dynamic makes the gas pedal sensitive to the point the RPM gauge freely hits 4000 even though the throttle is barely depressed.

Each setting also changes the layout of the dashboard.  On Eco mode, the tachometer makes way for a ‘eco drive’ gauge that slightly resembles a hybrid charge/assist.  If I had the time I would have like to reset the trip computer in between 3 full gas tanks and changed each setting per tank to see if that would make much of a difference in gas mileage.


Looking for speedometer or tachometer needles?  Keep on looking because all the dash data appears via a customizable LCD screen.  The setting combinations are endless with 15+ different displays at once possible or just the bare minimum to keep distractions low.  Next to the clock in the upper center of the dash, is the lane departure warning symbol that will light up and flash orange if you drift a little too much out of your travel lane.  Then in the lower left corner is the adaptive cruise control symbol that will automatically slow you down if you get too close to the vehicle in front.  I understand this is a safety feature that is made for drivers that can’t resist texting while driving, but it’s something I want to immediately disengage when in the driver’s seat.  Volvo knows that their dedicated fan base expect the latest and greatest tech and the S90 doesn’t disappoint.


I didn’t get to enjoy the open sunroof on this drive mainly because the heat and humidity were unbearable on this particular day.  Sitting in the cabin it’s impossible to ignore that the sunroof is HUGE on this S90 and goes nearly the distance of the entire roof.  Although when it’s open, the front half of the glass covers the back half of the glass so it’s not really an open air experience for the rear passengers.    I LOVED the power sunshade that spanned the entire length.  It enabled a little light along with heavily tinted glass into the cabin even when it’s closed.


The left rear passenger door is very basic and expected . . .


. . . but the right side obviously has chauffeured passengers in mind.  With those extra buttons, the ‘client’ or ‘executive’ has full control over the front passenger seat, both rear windows, AND the sunroof.  Could this be the back seat of a poor man’s Rolls-Royce?


The temperature and fan speed controls for each back seat passenger plus the incredible legroom would be an inclination that this could be a viable option for a limo service company to replace aging Cadillac and Lincoln fleets.


Would that be so terrible?

I did really enjoy my afternoon with the S90 and wouldn’t think again about renting one for a cross-country trip or just a night on the town with 4 other friends.  If this is the new direction of a Geely led Volvo, I’ll be on the lookout for one of the 7 other Volvo models to rent as well.

Things of note:
Very classy LED , daytime running lamps, headlights, AND high beams.
32.6 MPG on my highway trip was right on par with the EPA stated 26CITY/32HWY
The 4-cylinder turbo AND supercharged T6 version with 66hp extra is calling my name.

Buy it? Rent it? Avoid it?
Good luck finding one with a MSRP <$50K and the hybrid is inches away from $80,000.  Impending repair costs of new advanced technology always makes me nervous in the first few model years.  Volvo has been in the forefront of all things safety related for as long as I can remember, but I counted at least 11 sensors over the car and one slight fender bender could be very costly in labor repairs alone.   I’d rent it again, but only after disabling all the ‘safety features’ that really take away from the driving experience.
Volvo if you’re listening . . .
20″ wheels, stiffer suspension, 6-speed manual, matte black paint, 2-tone contrasting interior. . . a missed opportunity for a 90th anniversary 2017 model S90.
On a scale from 1-100: (1-bicycle is fine, 100-I’ll work 2 full-time jobs to get one)
Buy it now – 60
Buy it later at half the current price – 55
F.E.D. (Fun, Efficiency & Desirability) – 50
Oooh and ahhh factor – 75
Recommended – (60 to buy / 80 to rent)