Behind the Wheel

2020 BMW X4 M Competition Review: Feisty family-friendly fun

The BMW X4 Competition is track- and family-ready.

Photo courtesy of BMW Of North America

This is the X4 that BMW has meant to build the whole time. The 2020 BMW X4 M Competition is breathy, robust family hauler that convinces you that it's not your typical SUV, but rather a showstopper of a performance high-riding hatchback.

Just as you'd think from its name, the BMW X4 is bigger than the BMW X3 but rather than just being bigger, it's an SUV from a different vein. BMW's odd-numbered SUVs are off-road worthy with trail prowess. The even-numbered models are more performance-focused with their own set of looks.

2020 BMW X4 M Competition The SUV's stance looks beefy thanks to aesthetic enhancements.Photo courtesy of BMW Of North America

The X4 M Competition is set apart from the traditional X4 in a number of ways. On the exterior it has an M quad exhaust, M rear diffuser, M roof spoiler, M mirrors, M side air vents, and aggressive bumper air intakes. The looks is stronger and beefier than the traditional X4 but not so aggressive that it would turn off soccer moms.

Under the SUV's hood is a twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter BMW M inline six-cylinder engine that is paired with an eight-speed M Sport automatic transmission. It gets 473 horsepower and 442 pound-feet of torque that gets it from zero to 60 mph in four seconds flat and up the highway on-ramp in quite a jiffy.

2020 BMW X4 M Competition The exterior of the X4 M Competition is more aggressive than the traditional X4.Photo courtesy of BMW Of North America

The X4 M Competition isn't particularly fuel efficient, but with its growl and prowl activity, it's not meant to be.

The SUV wins points for its untraditional shifter, which is a lovely change that empowers the driver.

Its standard auto start-stop technology is relatively smooth operating but easy to turn off. Its M Sport exhaust system delivers a lovely growl that will awaken your neighbors as you set off for an early flight. All-wheel drive is standard.

2020 BMW X4 M Competition The SUV is performance-focused but still family-friendly.Photo courtesy of BMW Of North America

The inside of the BMW X4 M Competition is pretty much the same old tune as the X4 except for the standard 14-way power front M sport seats which are more comfortable than their traditionally plush non-M seats in other X4 models. That's not usually the way it works, but in this case it's welcome.

2020 BMW X4 M Competition There's not a few aesthetic changes in the X4 M Competition that differentiate it from the traditional X4.Photo courtesy of BMW Of North America

The model doesn't have most of the standard safety and driver assistance bells and whistles that other SUVs have, even with their much lower price tags. The argument can be had that it's likely because this model is made to be track-ready. But, honestly, how many buyers are spending significant time on the track in this 4,600-pound high-rider?

2020 BMW X4 M Competition The model adds colored accents to the interior.Photo courtesy of BMW Of North America

The SUV's cargo space is fine for daily driver use and its M Sport appointments and color accents are a fun touch in the cabin. The LED-lighted M badging between the seat and headrest on the driver and front passenger seat are a fun addition to the model though there are purely for vanity.

It also isn't cheap. With a starting MSRP over $80,000, the X4 M Competition is for a particular customer who craves track-ready fun but also the type of practicality that lends itself to school drop offs and road tripping. This model checks all those boxes.

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The 2021 Ford Explorer Enthusiast ST gives buyers more performance at a lower price.

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

The Explorer lineup is getting a three-model enhancement for the 2021 model year. The Explorer Enthusiast ST, Platinum, and Platinum Hybrid will be making their way to dealership lots later this year in a targeted attempt to identify customer desires.

The new models join the just-announced 2021 Ford Explorer King Ranch, also a new addition.

2021 Ford Explorer Enthusiast ST

The Enthusiast ST grade takes a lot of what customers like about the existing Explorer ST and delivers it at a far cheaper price. The Enthusiast ST has a starting MSRP of $48,750 as opposed to the ST, which starts at $52,830.

Setting it apart from there Explorers is the Enthusiast ST's quad chrome exhaust tips, 20-inch machined aluminum wheels with painted pockets, and sideview mirrors with ST projection lamps.

The new model comes equipped with the same 3.0-liter EcoBoost engine that's in the Explorer ST that churns out 400 horsepower and 415 pound-feet of torque. A 10-speed automatic transmission completes the powertrain.

Ford has given the model a sport-tuned suspension and a top track speed of 143 mph. A standard Class III Trailer Tow Package provides towing capability of up to 5,600 pounds.

The cabin of the Enthusiast ST is complete with leather seating surfaces, unique Miko micro-perforated inserts, and City Silver accent stitching with the ST logo. There's a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, heated sport-style steering wheel with the ST logo, and paddle shifters.

The Explorer Enthusiast ST also features standard Ford Co-Pilot360 technology.

2021 Ford Explorer Platinum

2021 Ford Explorer Plat Ford has two new Platinum models coming to a dealership near you.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

2021 Ford Explorer Plat

The new Explorer Platinum is powered by a 3.0-liter engine and comes standard with rear-wheel drive. Four-when drive is available.

To make the Platinum version worthy of its upscale price tag, its packaging includes door handles with satin aluminum insert, liftgate appliqué, lower bodyside cladding insert, roof-rack side rails, a twin-panel moonroof, and a unique grille with satin aluminum finish. Its cabin is fitted with leather seats, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel, dashboard, door rollovers, and door and front console armrests.

The 2021 Ford Explorer Platinum has a starting MSRP of $52,480. The hybrid version of that model starts at $53,085.

All the models are currently available for order via Ford dealerships. Deliveries are expected to begin this summer.

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2022 Hyundai Kona N revealed, but the automaker isn't telling all just yet.

Photo courtesy of Hyundai Motor America

Hyundai is giving its highest performance Kona the same transmission that you'll find in the Veloster N. For enthusiasts, that's a very good thing.

The compact crossover is more and more being seen as the American successor to the hot hatch. The Mazda CX-30 Turbo recently piqued enthusiasm among true drivers who can't afford supercars and need something more practical to hoon around in.

Now, the Kona N is poised to deliver similar driving dynamics and performance. Hyundai has slowly been leaking out details about the 2022 Hyundai Kona N over the last year and the revelation that it will have an eight-speed wet-type dual-clutch transmission, known as N DCT, is just the latest tidbit to come to light.

2022 Hyundai Kona Hyundai has upgraded its wet DCT mechanics in recent years making it hard-wearing.Photo courtesy of Hyundai Motor America

2022 Hyundai Kona

The Kona N DCT is based on a modified version of its in-house-developed 8DCT. It's had enhancements in recent years that have made it more durable and ready to handle the demands of high-performance vehicles. The N DCT will be standard on the Kona.

Hyundai will pair the N DCT with a 276-horsepower, 2.0-liter direct-injected engine that has been tuned especially for the model. The transmission control unit is calibrated for N enthusiasts.

The wet-type DCT is structurally similar to a manual transmission but, instead of the typical dry-type gearbox, it uses two electric oil pumps that are designed to reduce friction between the moving parts, cooling the clutch, and allowing greater torque.

Other features of the N DCT include N Grin Shift, N Power Shift and N Track Sense Shift functionality. These settings have dedicated shift-logic management. N Power Shift engages when the car accelerates with more than 90-percent throttle. N Grin Shift maximizes engine and DCT performance for 20 seconds, providing a boost. N Track Sense optimized adaptive shift for the race track.

The N Grin Control System has five different drive modes: Normal, Eco, Sport, N and Custom. Unlike with a traditional automatic transmission vehicle, in Hyundai vehicles with N DCT, the driver can choose to turn off the creep function. When the creep function is turned "off" and the car is in gear D, the car does not automatically roll forward when the brake pedal is released.

Drivers can switch to manual mode for more control over shift points, utilizing the paddle shifters or gear knob. In manual mode, the downshift memory logic will avoid downshifting during high RPM operation. Memory functionality remembers the command and executes only when the acceptable RPM is reached.

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