Featured Reviews
The Alfa Romeo Giulia combines external beauty with potent performance and superb handling.

Let's say you select your own car, truck of the year

The North American International Auto Show in Detroit is early January's site for naming car, truck, and SUV of the year. But we can pick our own, and we'll start with the Alfa R

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Cover them with an overnight snowfall, and the Rogue (left)  and RAV4 are more similar -- take your pick.

Nissan's Rogue worthy challenger for Toyota's RAV4

The new Nissan Rogue and the popular Toyota RAV4 are among the top-selling compact SUVs, but with a layer of overnight snow on them, they prove more similar than different.

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Grand Cherokee is a popular Jeep SUV, but Jeep owners won't believe TrackHawk model.

Jeep's TrackHawk really DASHES through the snow

The SVT gang that has turned Dodge Chargers and Challengers into factory hot-rods worked their magic on the Grand Cherokee to put the Hellcat drivetrain underneath for an overwhe

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Gleaming pearlescent white paint is almost as distinctive as the Giulia's signature red.

Quadrifoglio gives Giulia 505-horsepower kick

Alfa Romeo has finally brought its prized Giulia compact sport sedan to market, and after captivating us with the turbo-4 version, it has brought out the $65,000 twin-turbo V6 mo

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Revised Chevrolet Equinox is a new-generation size alongside traditional Chevrolet SUVs.

Equinox establishes new SUV standard at Chevrolet

Chevrolet's array of SUV ranges from huge Suburbans to minis like the Trax, but the new Equinox fits gracefully in the middle, roomy and agile.

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Mercedes has advanced technology filling its midsize E-Class sedans to the point that a sporty, 4-seat Coupe was the only way to turn.

Mercedes E400 Coupe covers all sporty, luxury needs

In what seems like an excessive storehouse of riches, Mercedes Benz created a superb midsize E-Class sedan, but for those who want all that and a sports coupe too, well, there's

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The Genesis model is now Hyundai's separate luxury-sporty sedan line, amd the 2018 G80 AWD is a winner for all seasons.

Genesis G80 splits off to lift Hyundai's image

The 2018 Hyundai Genesis G80 invades major performance sedan territory, but with a potently boosted V6 and all-wheel drive, it shows no weaknesses.

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Always being refined and updated, the new Land Rover Range Rover HSE now comes with a powerful,. high-mileague 3.0 turbo-diesel.

Land Rover? Range Rover? HSE Td6 is a prize

Land Rover remains a proud, historic British icon, but it is now owned by Tata Motors of India, providing finances to create something like the Range Rover HSE Td6 with turbo-die

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Toyota's wide range of SUVs includes the high-tech new Highlander Hybrid.

Land Cruiser, Highlander offer wide SUV span

Toyota has always made an array of SUVs, and it now offers virtually everything, as shown by comparing the giant Land Cruiser and the high-tech Highlander Hybrid.

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Redesigned Audi Q5 is roomy without bulk and adds the sportier SQ5.

Whatever the initials, Audi's SQ5 is an SUV winner

Audi has a complete lineup of SUVs paralleling its cars, and the midsize Q5 now presents a sportier SQ5 with a turbocharged 3.0 V6 and high-end features.

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Let’s say you select your own car, truck of the year

January 14, 2018 by · Comments Off on Let’s say you select your own car, truck of the year
Filed under: Features, Autos 

Alfa Giulia is hard to argue with as the 2018 Newcarpicks.com Car of the Year.

By John Gilbert

   One of the highlights of every year, for a media auto fanatic, is to attend the North American International Auto Show at Detroit’s Cobo Hall. Traditionally the largest and most spectacular of the four “major” U.S. shows — along with Los Angeles, Chicago and New York — the Detroit show has the added attraction of being the center of the automotive universe, attracting engineers, designers and the usual overload of promotional types.

   There are bigger shows worldwide, such as the Frankfurt Auto Show, which I’ve attended several times, and probably Tokyo, Paris, or Geneva, which I’ve never attended, but the Detroit show draws the auto company big-shots from all over the world, many of whom have their North American headquarters in or near Detroit, which, of course, is the home base for Ford, General Motors and FCA, or Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

   The Detroit show starts January 13th, and after three press conference dates, opens to the public. It has lost some of its luster in recent years, through no fault of its own. The Los Angeles show, held in November, upstages Detroit by attracting a lot of the Asian introductions, which has forced other countries, and the U.S. manufacturers, into also sending a preponderance of their “A” material to L.A. Chicago, meanwhile, is the most fun, because of the assortment of high-end restaurants and music venues in a tight little area accessible to the media and other major hotels. New York is reat fun, but it is scattered around Manhattan and may be completely overlooked by the locals.

The Volvo XC-60 takes all the assets of the exceptional XC-90 and condenses them into the best SUV on the market — our truck of the year.

    Detroit, however, remains the mainstay, and among the major attractions in Detroit is the naming of the North American Car of the Year, Truck of the Year, and Utility of the Year, as voted on by an independent jury of auto media types.

    In the two decades I was part of that jury, I tried to influence all who would listen about improving the stature of the car of the year award. The jury did follow my strong suggestion about having a re-vote after naming the finalists, to encourage more coverage among jury members. I did originally think going to a separate category for utility vehicles made sense, but I reversed myself after some serious thought, when I realized that the rapidly expanding surge of SUVs was about to be accompanied by a reduction in legitimate trucks.

   My point was that a year may come when there aren’t any real new trucks, while there might be 50 SUVs and crossovers. We would avoid that embarrassing situation if we kept trucks and utilities together, even though some stubborn older jurors vowed to not vote for a truck unless it was a “real” truck.

    Well, this is the year my warning has come to pass. The jurors have voted it down to three car finalists, with the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and upstart Kia Stinger. They voted the utilities down to the Alfa Romeo Stelvio, the Volvo XC-60, and the Honda Odyssey minivan. And the three truck finalists are the Chevrolet Colorado ZR-2, the Ford Expedition, and the Lincoln Navigator.

   We can debate the three categories, and in fact, the jury should spend more time debating them, in my opinion. For example, the Expedition and Navigator are basically the same vehicle with different equipment and trim from Ford Motor Company. We thought both might be facing the end of their road, so to speak, but they are all new and redone. Beyond that, they are both SUVs in the traditional sense — much as the Suburban, Tahoe and other large SUVs are SUVs.

   They are body-on-frame, which qualifies them as trucks, in some minds. The Chevrolet Colorado is s downsized pickup, and Chevy added a sporty version, called the ZR-2, which is very neat, but not close to an entirely new vehicle. However, they were the only three entries, stretched or not, in the truck category, so all three trucks qualified as truck finalists.

   If I had to predict what would be the top vote-getters from the jury, I would guess the Accord might win the Car of the Year, the Colorado ZR-2 the Truck of the Year, and the Volvo XC-60 the Utility of the Year. But that’s just my guess.

   In the Newcarpicks.com realm, we can examine some other possibilities.

   For Car of the Year, my finalists would be the Alfa Romeo Giulia and the Hyundai Ioniq.

   For Truck of the Year (combining trucks and utilities), the finalists are the Volvo XC-60 and the Infiniti QX-30.

   In way of explanation, I will submit that my vote always has gone for what is new, and what represents a technical advancement. Sure, my winner must look good, drive well, be maneuverable and safe, and be roomy enough and achieve solid fuel economy numbers. Because mpg and the ability to drive well are wholly dependent on technology, I found myself giving an extra dose of favoritism to technical advancement.

    For that reason, my Car of the Year is the Alfa Romeo Giulia Ti — that’s the 4-cylinder version, rather than the overpowering V6. The turbo 2.0-liter 4 has excellent power and can deliver mid-30s for fuel economy. Plus, it comes with available all-wheel drive. Perfect for winter climes. And the large aluminum paddles affixed to the steering column make manual shifting an easy and satisfying alternative.

   Alfa made no mistakes when it built the Giulia as its flagship to lead the corporation back into the U.S. market, with a beautiful design on a 4-door sedan that runs strong and is, as I’ve mentioned, the best-handling car you could ever imagine.

   Yes, it’s true that Motor Trend also picked the Giulia as its Car of the Year, but I am willing to share the delivery of all the accolades for the Italian beauty.

   In addition, the wonderful story is destined to become legend that goes beyond its basis in fact — that the bosses of Fiat, parent company for Alfa and Ferrari, selected the top engineers at Ferrari Formula 1 and assigned them to look over the Giulia’s attractiveness and then go all out to design a 2.0-liter 4, and a 3.0-liter V6, selecting an engineering group from among the top Ferrari engine staffers, and make those engines as strong and well-made as all their formidible Formula 1 experience could manage.

   So the Giulia goes as well as it looks, and it sounds even better than you could hope for, with a throaty bark that amplifies itself when you step on it hard. The 4-cylinder Giulia Ti costs between $42,000 and $50,000, and is a tremendous bargain compared to the $85,000 V6 model.

  

Hyundai’s venture into high-tech alternatives is the Ioniq line — compacts with hybrid, plug-in hybrid or pure electric power.

The runner-up Hyundai Ioniq would also be an excellent winner. The Ioniq is a new venture for Hyundai, taking a compact platform and expanding the interior up to near full-size room, simply by moving the engine and drivetrain forward and expanding the interior into what used to be wasted under-hood room. A solid safety skeleton and a body shaped with abundant high-strength steel handles that end of it.

   But Hyundai has made a dedicated commitment to the future with the Ioniq, offering it only with three power options. The first is a hybrid, with a strong little direct-injected 4-cylinder, plus a high-tech electric motor arrangement powered by an LG battery pack that is positioned under the back seat. Second option is a plug-in hybrid, which gets a larger electric system and longer range on pure electric. Third is pure electric power, which means the Ioniq does not have the reliable safetty net of a gas engine to supplement the electric power.

    I’ve driven the pure-electric Ioniq, and it has excellent power and sporty handling, as well as range that puts it up there with the best pure-electric vehicles. Same with the hybrid models, which make it seem as though Hyundai is taking on Toyota’s Prius line head-on. If so, the Ioniq acquits itself very well, with a good price range, and the added sportiness of a shiftable transmission instead of the often-annoying CVT system.

   In the range between $24,000 and $34,000, the Ioniq is a bargain, and it also stands as an icon among icons in Hyundai’s impressive stable. The Genesis sporty-luxury sedan is a keeper, performing well beyond its stature, while the redone Sonata gains a sportier look and more performance, and the new Elantra compact has grown enough that you might want to check one out if you’re looking for a Sonata. Also, the Accent has just come out all-new as well in the subcompact range. And the upcoming year will bring a new Tucson compact SUV.

   Quite an array of winners, but my choice of finalist goes to the other-worldly technology of the Ioniq.

   My pick as the best truck/utility of the year is the Volvo XC-60.

   Volvo built a fantastic SUV with the three-row XC-90, which I declared was the finest SUV I’d ever driven. Impressed as I was with the newly engineered 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that takes on turbocharging, or both turbo and supercharging to make as much power as any V6 or V8 buyer could want, I was then flat blown away by the new XC-60.

    A smaller, more compact but just as solid body structure is an amazing performer when fitted with the same 2.0 turbo/supercharged powerplants as its larger XC-90 sibling. That means it is quick, sporty, handles flat in the tightest turns, and is a joy to drive in any conditions — including foul-weather or rugged-terrain applications.

    From mid-$40,000 to mid-$50,000, the XC-60 is also a bargain, aimed at those loyal buyers who will get their Volvo and then keep it and drive it for 10 years.

The Infiniti QX-30 is a low, sleek compact SUV that handles like a sports car and gets mileage of an economy car.

  My runner-up is a personal favorite. While some dismiss it as too small in the rear seat, my family found that the Infiniti QX-30 was fine for 6-footers in the rear, and so stunning to look at and responsive to drive that they’d pick it even if it was too small.

    The many sculptured grooves set the QX-30 apart from its bigger, bulkier siblings, and it still has plenty of punch from its turbocharged 2.0-liter 4, and those giant paddle shifters on the steering column.

    Basically, the QX-30 is the sports car of SUVs, and you might surprise yourself every time you climb into it in the winter time and realize you have the security of all-wheel drive.

    That’s the ideal part of the Newcarpicks.com Car and Truck of the Year selections. The Giulia and the XC-60 are both fabulous vehicles, but if you had to settle for the runners-up Ioniq and QX-30, you would still be choosing fabulous vehicles.

      

   

   

Nissan’s Rogue worthy challenger for Toyota’s RAV4

January 14, 2018 by · Comments Off on Nissan’s Rogue worthy challenger for Toyota’s RAV4
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

Cover them with an overnight snowfall, and the Nissan Rogue (left) and Toyota RAV4 are more similar — take your pick.

By John Gilbert

     Early December in Northern Minnesota, forecast called for a high reaching a surprising 40 degrees. Three days later, it plunged from 39 to a single-digit low of 6 overnight. It was 13 the next day, then the forecast said heavy snowstorm blanketing the Duluth area, but the heavy stuff split, some of it staying north and the rest veering south, along Wisconsin’s South Shore, leaving Duluth and Lake Superior’s North Shore with a mere dusting. Couple days later, we got hit with another couple inches of snow.

   The weather forecast can be boring, but not often in and around Duluth. It didn’t bother me, because of my luck of the test-drive draw that particular week. Almost as though they were related by potential, a Toyota RAV4 and a Nissan Rogue couldn’t have proven themselves more impressively. In the process, they provided a better understanding about why U.S. car-buyers are walking right past compact and midsize sedans to get to the SUVs across the showroom. Compact SUVs, often called CUVs for Crossover Utility Vehicles, have taken over.

   Two of the mainstays of the compact SUV trend are Toyota’s RAV4, and Nissan’s Rogue. There are dozens of others, such as the Honda CR-V, and a couple of my personal favorites in the Hyundai Tucson and the Mazda CX-5.

   But the RAV4 has become the largest-selling vehicle in Toyota livery, which is astounding because of the popularity of the Camry, and the Rogue has much more quietly become Nissan’s largest seller.

   The more they advance, the more similar they seem to be, and by sheer coincidence, the week where we had the weird temperature shift from mild to numbing cold to snow, I happened to be able to switch back and forth between a 2017 RAV4 and a 2018 Rogue. Mother Nature didn’t stand a chance.

   You are not likely to change a Toyota buyer over to a Nissan, nor will you convince a Nissan buyer to switch allegiance. Same goes for Honda, Mazda and now even Hyundai buyers, as well as several others. But there aren’t a lot of major letdowns in the highly competitive group.

  

The Rogue has gotten a few upgrades for the 2018 model year, as Nissan’s top seller.

Nissan has updated its Rogue for 2018, adding some very nice creature features to the interior. Plush, red leather seats and full connectivity stuff complete the scenario, and I particularly liked the auto-start switch on the key fob, which worked easier than any others I’ve tested. Push the button from your kitchen, it starts up, and when you climb aboard you just hit the starter switch again and take off. No stop and restart. I also liked the CD player, while most companies are leaving those out. You can even get a very small third-row seat arrangement, which probably will remain folded down flat for stowage throughout their life spans.

 

Style and function send the Rogue into battle against winter elements.

  Handling is firm and precise, and you always have the feeling that the Rogue is solid and firmly in command of all roadway problems. You can get Rogues for a base price of about $24,000 while the test vehicle, an SL AWD model, starts at over $26,000 and moves upward. The choice of engines is simple. You can get a hybrid model, but the standard 2.5-liter 4-cylinder has 170 horsepower and 175 foot-pounds of torque, feeding its pep through a continuously variable transmission (CVT).

   

RAV4 continues as a Toyota mainstay, although renovation is coming.

Toyota is reportedly ready to redesign its RAV4, maybe within the coming year, although it looks sleeker and better than ever in 2017 form. Toyota also is in the process of renovating all its engines, with the new Camry the only early beneficiary of the first of those. The existing RAV4 is powered by a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder with 176 horsepower and 172 foot-pounds of torque. That means its power output is so close to the Rogue that we might as well consider them identical in power.

   

Constant refinement makes the 2017 RAV4 more modern than boxy.

Everybody in my family tried out both vehicles, both as drivers and passengers, and reported back favorably. There was a split decision about which one felt more potent for traffic power, both with their CVTs. My personal opinion is that the Rogue feels a little huskier and perhaps sportier, while the RAV4 feels more compliant, a little softer riding — which can be a good thing for families — and both vehicles had safe, secure steering response.

    The prices also remain as close as their power output. The RAV4 was the Platinum AWD model, with a total sticker tab of $37,767. The Rogue SL AWD started at $26,070, but increased smartly with all the added lane departure warning and prevention, so both probably wind up within a hundred or so of each other.

 

Rogue’s seats had flashier color, good seat support.

  The Rogue’s 2.5 engine is viewed more favorably by the EPA, which estimates city gas mileage of 25 and highway 32 miles per gallon. The RAV4’s 2.5 shows 22 city and 28 highway.

   Both vehicles were bristling with the latest safety and technology features. One of my favorite items I first witnessed from Nissan a decade ago is the bird’s-eye view of your vehicle to assure nobody is close enough to bump in any direction. Other companies have incorporated their versions of that feature, and, sure enough, the RAV4 also has it now. So both nav screens give you a split with one showing the overhead shot.

 

RAV4 seating has comfortable leather seats with improved bolstering.

  Both also had heated steering wheels, and automatic headlights, which are smarter, more alert, and quicker than humans at dimming and brightening your headlights in traffic. I also noticed that the Rogue had a row of switch controls down on the lower left of the dash, including a lock-in all-wheel-drive switch. Seems to be a strange place for it, because you could never find it at night in a storm if you needed it.

   On the other hand, I drove the Rogue through the nastiest part of our snowstorm, and it worked just fine. Maybe it’s always AWD but you can lock the two axles in 4×4 with the switch. Whatever, it worked fine in slippery conditions. And so did the RAV4.

   My suggestion is to pick whichever you prefer, and you won’t make a mistake. You also could go find a Mazda, Honda or Hyundai dealer and check their fleets out, too.

Jeep’s TrackHawk really DASHES through the snow

January 13, 2018 by · Comments Off on Jeep’s TrackHawk really DASHES through the snow
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

Grand Cherokee is a popular Jeep SUV, but Jeep owners won’t believe Trackhawk model.

By John Gilbert

    Maybe it’s because the folks who build Jeeps are cousins to the FCA Group’s Dodge Boys, who keep giving new life to aging — vintage? — sedans, but the engineering crossover happened quicker and more efficiently than crossovers themselves. That’s why we now have something called the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk — which might be described as the perfect vehicle for somebody who wants to go off-roading extremely fast.

    After my first, somewhat breathtaking, exposure to the 707-horsepower Trackhawk, which came on a road-racing track, my biggest question is how would such an enormously overpowered and highly-engineered vehicle work in the real world.

    Now, my real-world is based on the North Shore of Lake Superior, up the road a piece from the westernmost point of the big lake, called Duluth. In the Duluth area, we have what you call “winter.” During winter, there is a lot of cold weather, and a lot of snow and ice. Having less power and more traction is usually an asset during the winter months. Finally, I got the chance to adequately test a Grand Cherokee Trackhawk just before Christmastime, and Mother Nature was kind enough to oblige with a nasty little snowstorm, which covered the North Shore with about 6 inches of snow, and then a temperature plunge that want down near zero, just to make it crusty.

 

Trackhawk exterior cues are subtle, interior features are refined to custom level.

  The timing was good enough that I could ask my wife, Joan, and sons Jack and Jeff, for a special Christmas gift — a Trackhawk of my own. They rejected my suggestion out of hand. They offered some flimsy excuse like it wouldn’t fit under the Christmas tree, but I knew their reluctance was only because they couldn’t gather up the $90,880 on the sticker for the test vehicle.

    Given a choice, every automaker in the world would like to provide what they call complete coverage of whatever segment they are in. Jeep, undoubtedly the most-recognized name in U.S. automobiles, is not immune from that desire, even though Jeep’s segment is comparatively small and well focused.

   I mean, the original Jeep was built to go anywhere, particularly over rugged terrain while transporting soldiers or military officials through fields, mountains, streams and every other imaginable surface. So Jeep has excelled at building its Wrangler to do just that, and a surprisingly large gang of hobby off-roaders is forever grateful. Jeep then stretched upward, to build larger vehicles before the term “SUV” came along, and the Grand Cherokee has been a stalwart Sport Utility Vehicle since its inception.

    From there, every direction came into play, and Jeep built the Cherokee, which was smaller, or less-grand, than the Grand Cherokee; then various diversionary vehicles, including the Wagoneer, Patriot, Compass, Renegade, and whatever. Finally, Jeep has streamlined itself to fofer the Grand Cherokee, Cherokee, Compass, Renegade, and Wrangler. That must have been where the Jeep engineers realized that their counterparts who build Dodge Chargers and Dodge Challengers, and even a competitive SUV called the Durango, were having a lot more fun than merely bouncing over off-road terrain.

   

Supercharged 6.2-liter Hemi V8 provides amazingly well-balanced 707-horsepower kick to the Grand Cherokee Trackhawk.

So out of the incredible Dodge Charger and Challenger Hellcats, Jeep got its hands on the same sweet 6.2-liter Hemi V8, with the supercharger sitting up on top of it. They didn’t stop there, loading up the Grand Cherokee with fantastic suspension parts, quad exhaust, and still met the demands of current post-recession consumers who have forgotten entirely the necessity of high mileage for the sake of buying large SUVs with unlimited power and even less limits in sticker price. One amazing feature is that people are buying the costliest large SUVs and paying over $80,000,  so Jeep was sure to put all the luxury amenities in the Trackhawk, and once you step hard on the gas, you realize that it has some features that put it above and beyond the competition.

    On the exterior, Jeep made the Trailhawk look the specialty part, with special lights, operating hood vents, black alloy wheels and much more restraint in the design contours than they had under the hood. The test vehicle was called Rhino Clear-coat. I guess a Rhino is a flat, understated grey, which is what the Jeep was.

 

Over river, through woods, getting to grandmother’s house was never such a kick.

  That is not to say it was drab, more like impressive, in a militaristic sort of way. But it was less flashy than the interior, which was a striking, bright Nappa leather color on the seat surfaces of the specially built bucket seats. They are built to be heated or cooled, and the rear seat is also heated. All the technical assets and refinements imaginable are on-board, beyond the adaptive sport suspension that holds the hefty vehicle in perfectly precise flatness. Features such as lane departure, collision, parallel and perpendicular park assist, blind-spot and rear crossing alerts, front collision avoidance, adaptive cruise, and both Apple and Android connectivity.

    But we’re not kidding anybody, the attraction of a monster truck is that it is a better monster, and I can’t think of a competitor — even at similar $90,000 price ranges — that can run with this puppy.

    The supercharger gives out a wonderful whine as the engine revs, which is quickly, and I love steering-wheel mounted shift paddles, but I found them to be almost superfluous in the Trackhawk, because if you accelerate hard, the 8-speed automatic shifts itself precisely at just shy of the 6,000-RPM figure. If you want to show somebody how it works, hit it, let it shift a couple of times, and then get off the power, because you’ll be going 85.

 

Special wheels, brakes, suspension, exhaust complement Trackhawk’s bid for elite status.

  Jeep folks claim the Trackhawk will go 0-60 in 3.5 seconds. I wouldn’t argue with that. I always have been a fan of smaller and more compact SUVs, because smaller engines can make them work with great pep, and you might get 25-30 miles per gallon. The Trackhawk might reach 17 in highway driving, according to EPA estimates, which suggest 11 in city driving.

   The comfort, support, and solid feel make you feel extremely secure in any conditions, and we had any conditions.

    The big wheels show off enormous Brembo brakes that do a great job of hauling down the Trackhawk. The list of features also pointed out that the “stock” Trackhawk comes with all-season tires mounted on the 20×10 inch wheels, but the option list on this particular Trackhawk swapped out those all-seasons for “3 season” tires, on black satin wheels. The wheels were a $995 option, and the 3-season tires were an $895 option, which assured you of less traction once the snowstorm hit and lined the roadways with slippery stuff.

    The Trackhawk worked, naturally, and made it pleasant along the way thanks to the 825-watt Harmon Kardon amplifier and subwoofer blasting through 19 speakers. That didn’t help our traction, but having all four wheels working was a great aid, especially through Jeep’s Quadra-Trac active on-demand 4-wheel-drive system with Selec-Track.

 

Power is amazing, traction from 4-wheel-drive excellent, blizzard doesn’t stand a chance.

    What was most-appreciated after the snowfall and temperature plunge was remote start. Hit the key fob button twice, the lights blink in response, and the big Hemi roars to life and gets you a head start on your heated steering wheel and seats.

    If I were to get a Trackhawk for Christmas, I would prefer the all-season tires, and in fact my favorite Nokian all-seasons would be ideal. It might slow your 0-60 times from 3.5 to, maybe, 4 seconds, but you could scale the cliffside avenues of Duluth, surprise snowstorms or not.

   dashes

Quadrifoglio gives Giulia 505-horsepower kick

January 13, 2018 by · Comments Off on Quadrifoglio gives Giulia 505-horsepower kick
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

Looking identical to its turbo-4 brother, the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio has a Formula 1-inspired twin-turbo V6.

By John Gilbert

   As a responsible automotive journalist, it’s been my long-standing motto to avoid losing it and gushing too favorably about any car. And, in looking back a month or two, I must take full responsibility for losing it when I reviewed the Alfa Romeo Giulia TI, with its great balance and handling and its potent 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine.

   Bear with me, because it’s that time again.

   After just enough time between driving the bright red Giulia TI and the hard-core onset of winter, I got the chance to spend a week with a flistening Trofeo White Tri-coat Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio.

   If the 2.0 Giulia is the perfect sedan, then the Quadrifoglio is its muscular big brother. Reports are that parent Fiat instructed subsidiary Ferrari to assign its best Formula 1 engineers to build the hot little four, and they did well. Those engineers must have enjoyed coming to work every day to work on the Quadrifoglio, however, because they overachieved.

   They were told to build engines that could make the new Giulia something truly special, and they came up with a 2.9-liter V6 — not very big, by V6 standards — and they forced power into it with twin turbochargers that resulted in 505 horsepower and 443 foot-pounds of torque. Driven through an 8-speed automatic transmission, with those giant paddles affixed to either side of the steering column, you need to be especially alert behind the wheel, because the Quadrifoglio could get away from you.

   The four had a remarkable 276 horses and 295 foot-pounds of torque, and while that is far more than adequate, numbers like 505 and 443 allow the Quadrifoglio to rise to a whole ‘nother universe in scorching car performance.

Twin-turbochargers extract 505 horsepoweer and 443 foot-pounds of torque from Giulia’s 2.9-liter V6.

   Various tests have shown the 4 to go 0-60 in less than 6 seconds; the V6 Quadrifoglio does it in 3.7 seconds. That is elite, exotic sports car territory, and this from a 4-door sedan with a real, usable back seat and trunk.

   There is a similar little knob on the console where the shifter is mounted that is similar to the normal, sport, and race positions, and it is for track. That’s right, in case you find a race track worthy of your time and money to run the hotter Giulia up to its formidible limtis, you can set the suspension and transmission and steering and exhaust for all-out track-style performance.

   For normal driving, if there is such a thing in such a car, the normal setting is sporty enough and performs well enough. Race upgrades it all, and track puts it away.

There is no angle that the Giulia doesn’t offer a compelling view.

   The most impressive feature of putting it into race or track settings is the absolutely exhilarating sound that bellows out of those quad exhaust tubes and resonates through the body of the Giulia and also through every fiber of your body. And soul. It gives me a thrill all over again just describing it.

    The car’s handling is near-perfect. I know, I know, I said the Giulia 2.0 was as near perfect as possible, and the best-handling car I had ever driven. I would not say the Quadrifoglio handles better, because all that extra power, in a rear-wheel-drive car, can make you immediately and constantly aware that you are always on the ragged edge of breaking away from the rear tires’ grip on the surface.

    That may mean the 2.0 Giulia TI is better at real-world handling, but the Quadrifoglio is the clear choice for drivers who want their abilities and concentration to be challenged every time they strap themselves into the racing bucket seat behind the steering wheel.

    We are still awaiting the introduction of the Giulia with either engine and the added attraction of all-wheel drive. It’s coming, we’re told. So is Christmas, we would reply, if we used that sort of cliche.

Gleaming pearlescent white paint is almost as distinctive as the Giulia’s signature red.

    Both Giulias look alike, except for the large 4-leaf clover emblazoned on either side of the Quadrifoglio. That word, incidentally, means 4-leaf clover, which is Alfa’s signature logo. Maybe it means you will have good luck if you drive one; more likely is that Alfa designers, engineers, and aficionados, are all fully aware that you are indeed lucky if you possess a new Giulia.

    It takes a little cash to own one, incidentally. While the 2.0 can be bought for something in the $40,000 range, it will take about twice that much to buy a Quadrifoglio.

    The base price on my test car was $72,000, and the list total, after all the options, was $89,845.

    That gets you the beautiful exterior, the Formula 1 designed V6 engine, either the 8-speed automatic or a 6-speed manual shifter, and all the standard Giulia Quadrifoglio features. That list includes torque-vectoring differential, active suspension, a carbon-fiber driveshaft, rear parking, back-up, cross-traffic and blind spot alerts, auto-dimming lights controlled by infrared sensors in the windshield, remote start, rain-sensitive wipers, and stop-start.

   Inside, you get genuine leather and carbon-fiber accents, power seats, Pirelli performance tires on special 19-inch alloy wheels, carbon-fiber roof and hood, bi-Xenon lights and LED accent lights, the best ceramic Brembo brakes — which really stop the car instantly — adaptive cruise, lane-departure warning, and a Harmon Kardon premium sound system.

Sweeping simplicity of dashboard, center control console and instruments let you focus on driving.

If there ever was something superfluous on the Giulia Quadrifoglio, it might be the exquisite sound system — simply because a lot of folks might prefer to click it to race and let the engine rev and the sound reverberate off the inside of your cranium.

    At the price of the Quadrifoglio, you are in range of some fine, exotic cars, including Porsches, BMW, Audi, the top Corvettes, Jaguars, Maseratis and other names that make you stop and pay attention. In that company, I’ll take the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio. But if I had to pay for it, I’d instead buy his and hers Giulia TIs with all-wheel drive. Then my wife, Joan, wouldn’t always be asking me for the keys to my car.

Equinox establishes new SUV standard at Chevrolet

January 13, 2018 by · Comments Off on Equinox establishes new SUV standard at Chevrolet
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

Revised Chevrolet Equinox is a new-generation size alongside traditional Chevrolet SUVs.

By John Gilbert

   Interesting times, in the SUV universe known as General Motors, and more specifically Chevrolet. While other GM brands always have tried to specialize — Cadillac with all-out luxury, Buick with “near-luxury,” etc. — the strategy at Chevy has been to try to build all manner of vehicle for all customers.

    Chevy’s Suburban started the whole SUV thing, back in the 1930s, and it not only still exists but is thriving as the giant of the segment. Slightly reduced in size is the Tahoe, which has grown to be so big that if you didn’t know the Suburban was still out there, you’d think the Tahoe was the industry giant.

   Scaling down from there, we have the more midsize Traverse, then the still more compact Equinox, and finally the (subcompact?) Trax. As a dedicated small-as-you-can-stand advocate, I like the Trax, although I have always found the Equinox to be a pleasant compromise, being built on an automobile platform and gaining much more economy and efficiency than its larger siblings, but somehow managing to provide plenty of interior room, and good fuel economy — particularly when measured against the large-and-getting-larger Suburban.

   The Traverse also works, although it’s just enough larger that it seems to require the optional V6 over the 4-cylinder engine. The Equinox seems to get along just fine with the 4.

   

Sleek lines but adequate interior room to become solid performer for small family.

For 2018, Chevrolet has taken a bold step and completely redesigned the Equinox — making it still more compact. The Equinox is now 4.7 inches shorter and its wheelbase is 5.2 inches shorter, which is quite a lot, and reduces the difference between the Trax and Equinox, while increasing the margin between Equinox and Traverse. The test Equinox 183.1 inches long, with a wheelbase of 107.3. It’s 65.3 inches tall and 72.6 wide.

   Such a size reduction is indeed bold when you consider that the Equinox is Chevrolet’s second-largest-selling vehicle, trailing only the Silverado pickup!

   I got a chance to spend a week with the new Equinox, and much as I liked its predecessor, the new one is a prize. Possibly the best SUV Chevrolet has ever produced, unless you need to frequently tow a large trailer and need Suburban-Tahoe power. If you don’t, and find the Equinox roomy enough, you only have to see its knockout looks, which is part of the competition Chevy seemed to have abandoned to the Japanese, Koreans and Germans. But this one will challenge the best of them.

 

Equinox has adequate room for two  adults in the rear, or two or three kids.

  It now is called a “signature” grille, because the Trax, Equinox and Traverse all wear similar-looking front ends. But  my opinion, the proportions seem to work best on the Equinox. Walk around the Equinox and you find the same pleasing contours and tasteful blending of the rear pillar and the side bulges.

   But here’s the intriguing part of the new Equinox, strategically. I was quite surprised when GM decided to sell Opel and Vauxhall, its two European vehicle brands. Particularly Opel had done great things for GM, virtually saving Buick when it allowed that brand to rebadge the Opel Vectra and call it the Regal. It seemed to me that Opel had contributed a lot to GM’s resume.

   Well, the new Equinox is built at Ingersoll, Ontario, on an entirely new platform — designed and engineered by Opel. That may be the final joint venture of the two, and if so, the platform feels very tight and precise in driving the Equinox.

   There had been one concern. GM’s engine array has managed to mingle the good with the mediocre, and sometimes there was some difficulty placing the best engine in the best housing, in my opinion. First reports were that the new Equinox was underpowered, but when I checked, that was in the model powered by the 1.5-liter turbocharged 4 which couldn’t produce more than 170 horsepower and 203 foot-pounds of torque, direct injection and all.   

  

Surprisingly spacious stowage room in the rear, even before folding seats down.

My test vehicle, which came in a brilliant orange/gold exterior, had pure gold under the hood with the late-arriving 2.0 turbo 4, which had 252 horsepower at 5,500 RPMs, and 260 foot-pounds of torque holding that peak from 2,500 to 4,500 RPMs. Isn’t technology grand? Directing the power through a 9-speed automatic is a good way to handle the power, although it also raised the only shortcoming I found in my test vehicle was a big one: The Equinox had front-wheel drive. All-wheel drive is available for only a moderate price hit, and in many parts of the country FWD might be easily sufficient. But up here in Duluth, Minnesota, where the Great White North made an early, pre-Halloween strike this fall and may bless us with hard, crusty snow until April after such a bold start. And yes, with the right tires you can get through winters, but on the icy cliffs of Duluth, AWD is clearly the option of choice.

   When options drive the price of the Equinox from $25,000 to $35,000, whatever the charge for AWD can’t hurt, although it does caution us to put an asterisk after the brisk acceleration and feeling of powerful handling of the Equinox, because the added weight of AWD might compromise that. According to EPA estimates, it only should hurt fuel economy by 1 mpg, dropping from 29 highway to 28 with AWD, while city mileage is 22 for both. We were able to reach 28 or 29 with our FWD model.

   The Equinox comes loaded with all the latest safety equipment and gadgetry. Connectivity and infotainment includes 7 or 8 inch dash sczreens, and Apple CarPlay or Android Auto works to support OnStar’s 4G LTE WiFi hotspot. Impressive standard items, and on upper models, projection beam headlights with LED running lights and taillights are also standard. The option list doesn’t falter, either.

    Surround vision is available, forward collision alert and following distance indicator, low-speed auto-braking, lane-keep assists complements lane departure warning, blind spot alert, rear cross-traffic alert, all are among the safety options.

   If I could suggest one moderation in Chevrolet’s scheme, it would be to the corporate advertising that inundates us about a hundred times every televised sports event to pursuade us that the supposed wide-eyed and objective observers are “real people — not actors.” Because Chevy was building an all-new Equinox with the magic of almost the same interior room on a more compact vehidle, it loaded all the newest technology stuff in it.

 

Interior is not fancy, but is pleasant and easy to live with, offering good support.

  Then in magazine ads, they run a chart that shows the Equinox, Ford Escape and Honda CR-V, wth a list of attributes: surround vision, safety alert seat, lane change alert, low speed forward automatic braking, and rear park assist. Under the Equinox, there is a bold-faced, all-cap “YES” for each feature, while the Escape has only rear park assist and the CR-V only has forward automatic braking. But look closely. It says “2018 Equinox, 2017 Escape, and 2017 CR-V.”

   While cherry-picking features Chevy knew those competitors didn’t have on the year-old model, it had the audacity to try to compare apples to oranges with model year. I’d have to check, but if you compared the 2017 Equinox, it, too, probably lacked all the new-tech attributes, just as it’s also possible the 2018 CR-V (for certain) and Escape have now added them, too.

   But we can tip our hats to Chevrolet for finally building us a do-everything SUV that can even be compared to something like the industry-leading CR-V. That’s something that real people and actors can appreciate.

   

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