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There’s a common misconception in the car market that you need to buy the range-topping model or trim package to have any hope of a great ownership experience. While it is true that upgrading in some circumstances makes sense, there are times when the base model choice is a fantastic car in its own right. Cars like the Porsche 911 GT3 RS, Subaru WRX STI,  or even the Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro are all categorically great vehicles but they’re built on fundamentally capable base models. You can also add the Mercedes-AMG G63 to that list, because the G550 is a remarkable experience, even if it is just the “base model.” 

The G550 starts at a very lofty $132,000, but for that, you get a strong twin-turbo V8 good for  416 horsepower and 450 lb-ft of torque and a genuinely competent off-roader housing it. And, despite tipping the scales at 5,660 lbs, the G550 can dust off the sprint from 0-60 mph in 5.1-seconds, meaning it has no problem getting up to speed on the highway. It also sounds damn good doing it too. 

Take the G550 off-road and the plethora of electronic controls, drive modes and three locking differentials mean you can get fairly ambitious with the terrain you want to tackle. Granted, the G-Wagen has adopted a more urban-dwelling reputation in recent years, and highway driving isn’t the boxy behemoth’s strong suit, Mercedes can still claim to have a very serious off-roader in its fleet with the G-Wagen.

The “lesser” of the G-Wagens has always made a case for itself in that it maintained off-road chops where the AMG surplus of power isn’t always needed. However, going into 2021, Mercedes is opening up the G Manufaktur program to the G550, affording customers an elevated, custom experience. Though the particular example I had for a week was Deep Green over saddle tan leather, there are 34 different exterior colors and 54 interior upholsteries to choose from. 

Let’s face it, most 2021 G-Wagens will never leave paved surfaces and most of the G63’s 577 horses and 627 lb-ft of torque will sadly go unused. So what then are you really spending an extra $25,000 on for the AMG model? The G550 is now more customizable than ever through the G Manufaktur program. It comes with guaranteed performance on rougher roads and basically identical handling to the G63 around town. There’s no getting around it, that $25,000 goes towards the badge and bragging rights.

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The average transaction price — what people actually pay for a car or truck, after incentives are taken into account  — is expected to hit a record for the month of April of $37,572, according to J.D. Power and LMC Automotive.

That would be the second-highest month ever, after the all-time record of $37,966, in December 2020. To put that in some context, the average transaction price is up 20% vs. April 2016, just five years ago, according to a joint April forecast between J.D. Power and LMC.

High prices don’t seem to be deterring demand, though. According to the forecast, April auto sales should be about 1.5 million cars and trucks combined. That’s more than double April 2020, but that’s not a representative comparison, because 2020 auto sales bottomed out in April last year, due to coronavirus business shutdowns.

Compared with April 2019, April 2021 auto sales are expected to be about 8% higher than April 2019, the forecasting firms said.

High demand is meeting low supplies of new vehicles for sale, and that’s driving up prices, analysts said. Inventory is low because of the slow recovery in auto production last year, plus a shortage of computer chips used in auto manufacturing this year, which has prolonged the shortage.

Another major factor is the ongoing consumer shift to trucks and truck-like crossover vehicles, as opposed to more traditional passenger cars. Trucks and crossovers tend to be significantly larger, heavier, and more expensive than cars.

Trucks and crossovers are expected to account for about 76% of new-vehicle retail sales in April, Power and LMC said.

Not surprisingly, automakers and dealers are cutting back on discounts, considering demand is strong, prices are high, and supplies are low.

Dealers cite pent-up demand, low interest rates, longer loan terms, and government stimulus money as partial offsets for higher prices.

The average incentive per unit in April is expected to be $3,191, down 35% vs. April 2020. Incentives spiked in April 2020 in response to the pandemic, but incentives subsided again, after auto sales began to recover last year. Compared with pre-pandemic April 2019, the average incentive in April 2021 is down 10%.

Revolting workers took six Renault Group executives hostage yesterday at a French foundry the automaker was trying to sell or close.

The Renault Group called on workers to release the executives, held hostage as part of a blockade of the Fonderie de Bretagne in Brittany by its 350 workers.

After several attempts, the executives were allowed to leave around 2230 French local time, though the blockade of the foundry remains ongoing.

The world’s second-biggest electric vehicle maker condemned the hostage taking in a short statement today.

“The Renault Group strongly condemns these actions and calls for the lifting of the blockage and an immediate return to calm,” the statement read.

It reminded workers that it was still searching for a buyer for the foundry “in order to maintain the site’s activities and ensure the continuity of jobs.

“This process must continue with dialogue and calm.”

Renault began publicly searching for a buyer for the site on March 11, then frustrated workers blocked the foundry yesterday.

However, “dialogue and calm” does not appear to be the intention of the workers nor their union.

General Confederation of Labor (CGT) Union representative Nicolas Guillemette insisted the drama would escalate, with workers taking control of the plant and retaining it.

“I think that if this is to be our last stand, I assure you that everyone will remember it,” he told the French Hit West radio station.

“We are all tired of being led by boat. We need concrete actions.

“We have a new working tool, we are efficient, trained, we deserve to recover our parts which have gone abroad, we must survive.”

The CGT secretary, Maël Le Goff, also defended the blockade, which saw Renault executives blocked from leaving the site around 9pm yesterday.

“It does not smell good for us, no discussion is possible with the management,” he told French publication

“The CGT representatives did not have the right to speak, but heard very alarming comments about the sustainability of the site (job cuts, layoffs, reclassification, retraining, inevitable situation…).

“We would like to ask them what will become of us, if we are sold, if we are made redundant … We have been waiting for a year … We no longer have too much hope, that’s why that the mobilization was advanced, we had to move,” he said.

The CGT has planned a demonstration in the city of Hennebont on May 1 – Labor Day in France – and a meeting with Brittany Region President Loïg Chesnais-Girard.

The trigger for the union mobilization was the April 26 French Government announcement of a €50 million retraining program for the foundry’s employees, but the workers demanded instead that the foundry remain open, considering it a victim of the outsourcing of parts manufacture.

Brittany newspaper Le Télégramme reported: “The tone rose at noon, when the strikers prevented members of the management from leaving the factory, with Le Goff saying: ‘No, you are not going out, finished playing! We have discussed enough’.

“It’s up to them to see if they want to shake things up or let the situation deteriorate.”

The newspaper reported that the strikers informed the prefecture and the Ministry of Economy of the blockage.

“Everyone is aware of the situation. It is up to them to see if they want to move the lines or let the situation rot,” Le Goff told the paper.

Le Goff came out of the retraining fund meeting in a militant mood, the paper reported, arguing; “The factory is ours. We are in warrior mode. We are getting into the hard. The factory is ours.

“We don’t know how long this will last but we will stay there day and night until we get what we want.”

And what the union wanted was to remain inside the Renault Group and take back the production volumes that had been sent offshore.

“It’s been weeks since the media have been saying that we must close because it is the death of heat (combustion engines),” Guillemette argued.

“We do not manufacture any parts for heat engines: we manufacture rocket carriers, differential boxes, safety parts for the ground connection, we already manufacture parts for electric vehicles of the diamond brand, the Zoé (EV).”

Meanwhile, many French politicians in the region have thrown their support behind the protesters, including municipal councilors and Federal politicians.

Brittany opposition councilor Dr Marie Madeleine Doré-Lucas took the opposite view, pointing the finger at Renault.

“We stand in solidarity with the employees blocking the Fonderie de Bretagne plant,” the LFI party leader said.

The deputy for the 6th district of Morbihan Jean-Michel Jacques also vehemently opposed to the closing of the foundry, promising to “not let go”.

“I support the maintenance of jobs, employees and the productive tool on the Caudan site,” he said.

Local municipal councilor Alexandre Scheuer also backed the workers, saying on Twitter: “I give all my support and that of my rebellious friends and #LanesterEnCommun to the employees blocking the Foundry of Brittany plant #Caudan”.

Despite some manufacturers, particularly Volkswagen, starting to bring the cost of mainstream electric vehicles down, lots of carmakers are still targeting the luxury end of the market. With battery prices still meaning EVs are a premium over internal combustion, luxury versions don’t look quite so overpriced, because the battery cost can be hidden inside a generally high price. But Volvo is planning to shift those expectations with the electric Volvo XC40 Recharge Twin, which in plug-in hybrid form is already one of the bestselling cars in Europe. I spent a week driving one, and here are my initial thoughts.

The Recharge Twin looks remarkably like the petrol and plug-in hybrid versions of the XC40. Apart from the badges, the only signal that this car is electric is the fact that the front grille has been replaced with a solid panel. However, that doesn’t mean that this car is an EV compromised by a platform that is also meant to accommodate an internal combustion engine in some versions. In fact, the EV drivetrain is the same as that used in the all-electric Polestar 2.

If you’re a Volvo fan, you will already be aware that Volvo plug-ins don’t sit at the worthy end of the electrified market. They are generally extremely fast, and the XC40 Recharge Twin AWD goes even further. This car has a huge 408hp and 660Nm of torque, delivered to all four wheels via a dual-motor system. While this car weighs about 2.2 tons and is aerodynamically not as efficient as the Polestar 2, it’s almost as quick, hitting 60mph in 4.7 seconds, with a top speed of 112mph (limited).

This still makes the XC40 quicker than a Tesla Model Y Long Range, and only a fraction of a second behind the Jaguar I-Pace, a hugely popular luxury “C segment” SUV that has already sold over 40,000 cars. The Jaguar I-Pace is a valid comparison. The Volvo isn’t quite as quick in a straight line, and most people would probably agree that the Jaguar looks better. It also has less range – 257 WLTP miles versus 279 for the I-Pace. But the XC40 is also considerably cheaper, with the base model costing £49,950 ($69,350) in the UK, whereas the I-Pace starts at £65,245 ($90,500). Of course, US pricing for the I-Pace is considerably less, starting at under $70,000. Then there’s the Tesla Model Y to contend with, offering more range for $20,000 less. But the US price of $53,990 is very reasonable for the XC40 Recharge Twin AWD.

Car purchases aren’t just about price, after all, particularly in the luxury sector. The subjective comfort and experience are paramount, and this is an area where the Volvo wins out big time. The version I drove was the 1st Edition (now sold out, but replaced by the Recharge Twin Pro AWD), so fully loaded with features like a panoramic sunroof, heated seats front and rear, and powered tailgate. The front seats are electronically adjustable with a two-position memory function in this version, too.

Driving dynamics are dominated by that powerful drivetrain. This car doesn’t have the brain-splintering acceleration of a Tesla Performance version, but it is really quick, with the usual immediate torque you expect from an electric car. The “C segment” body isn’t huge, and although it is quite tall, most of the weight is below the floor and evenly spaced front to back, so the handling is better than you would expect for a car this high and this heavy. For most people, the performance available will be more than enough and adequately engaging when you want it to be. When you just need to cruise along in traffic, low speed delivery is smooth.

There are lots of nice small touches that make this an easy car to live with. Like Teslas and VW ID. cars, you just need to sit down inside with the keys in your pocket and press the brake pedal to start the system. The doors are keyless, too, and you can lock them by pressing a touch sensor on the handle. This is a comfortable car with four adult-sized seats plus a smaller fifth rear one that will be okay for a kid but might be a bit cramped for an adult on a long journey. The boot isn’t huge but 452 liters with the rear seats up and 1,328 liters with them down is around the same as a small station wagon, such as a Mercedes C-class. There’s also a small frunk.

There’s 150kW Ultra-Rapid charging, which will give you 80% battery capacity in 40 minutes. So long-distance driving will be relatively painless, despite the 257-mile range being a little behind some alternatives, particularly from Kia, Hyundai, VW and Tesla, as well as the Jaguar I-Pace we already mentioned.

Aside from the drivetrain, the Volvo XC40 Recharge Twin AWD has its infotainment system in common with the Polestar 2. The implementation is slightly different, with a few more physical buttons, but this is another car to use Google Android Auto. So you can say “Hey Google” to enable the voice control, although we never find verbal command systems entirely reliable. Fortunately, the menu system is reasonably logic, albeit not as attractively presented as Polestar’s. However, it’s useful that you can place quite a detailed portion of the sat-nav map on the dashboard display behind the steering wheel – hardly unique, but convenient, nonetheless.

Overall, while the Volvo XC40 Recharge Twin AWD isn’t the electric SUV for the masses, when the Volkswagen ID.4 is already delivering more range for less, it does set a new benchmark for a luxury electric SUV. It’s fast, comfortable, well equipped, and just an all-round pleasant transportation experience for driver or passenger. Apart from the Tesla Model Y, which won’t be arriving in Europe for a while yet, it’s a very enjoyable, rapid luxury electric SUV.

There are few people more passionate than car lovers, many of whom are drawn to luxury cars for their immaculate detail, beauty and performance. Bentley enthusiasts can now own a residence that adheres to the same standards as their beloved car.

Bentley Motors recently revealed their plans for the first-ever Bentley-branded residential tower, Bentley Residences, set to debut in 2026 in Sunny Isles Beach in Miami, Florida. Bentley Motors enlisted Dezer Development, responsible for some of the world’s most luxurious branded residences, including the recently completed Porsche Design Tower (just two blocks away) and Armani/Casa, to name a few. 

“The collaboration started because of our success with the Porsche Design Tower,” says Gil Dezer, president of Dezer Development. “For us, it’s very exciting to work with Bentley Motors because they have great ideas and come up with an aesthetic that is really beautiful. They’re making sure they are infusing their heritage and DNA into the product.” 

Construction will begin in 2023 and will be built by architecture firm Sieger Suarez Architects, who is also responsible for Porsche Design Tower and Armani/Casa. The 60-story, cylindrical tower is set to be the tallest ever built on a U.S. beachfront at 749 feet. There will be more than 200 luxury residences; state-of-the-art amenities, including a restaurant, cinema, whiskey bar, gym, pool, spa and cigar lounge; cabanas; and landscaped gardens.

“The beauty of this project is that we get to curate that from the ground up,” says Chris Cooke, lead designer of Bentley Motors. “Everything from the look of the tower, the layout of the rooms, the spacing, the material, we can make it from scratch, which will enable us to make it the best it can be and the best experience for our customers. We know we are in safe hands working with Dezer, as they’ve done this before.”

Each residence has a multi-car garage (via the tower’s car elevator) so residents can securely store their vehicles, and residences all have a private balcony, sunken pool and sauna. Dezer says each unit was designed for seamless indoor-outdoor living and each unit will have views over the ocean and bay through its floor-to-ceiling windows.

Fans of the marque will be impressed by the car’s design details that are expertly woven into the interiors, including Bentley’s diamond motif, as well as sumptuous leather and sustainable materials. 

“We curate experiences for our customers as soon as they shut the door of a Bentley, and everything has been tailor-made to enhance the experience within the car: the drive, noise, sound, smell and materiality,” Cooke says. “This really was an opportunity for us to be able to continue that experience for the customer when they leave the vehicle. They can walk into their apartment and have that same level of detail and design philosophy that can be carried into their entire lifestyle.”

The exterior’s unique façade will make it stand out from other towers on the beach. 

“If you look at the exterior of the building, we are trying to do triangular windows that will be convex and concave coming in and create a diamond pattern on the exterior of the building,” Dezer says. “When the sun hits the building in the right way, it will shine all over the place.”

It was important for both brands to incorporate sustainable standards in an effort to project the local environment and is being built in accordance with the Florida Green Building Council certification.

“The development of the interiors was about being in balance with nature and the world around you, so the interiors have been designed to let in the maximum amount of light and view out of the building so you’ll always connect with the outdoors,” Cooke says. “We’ve curated every little element and detail within the building, from the lighting to the smell, the sound and the detailing of the sustainable materials inside. That’s the same care and consideration we take when we work on the interiors of our cars.”