Featured Reviews
The Alfa Romeo Giulia TI matches its external beauty with potent performance and superb handling.

Alfa Romeo Giulia TI repeats its grand entrance

When Alfa Romeo decided to re-enter the U.S. market, it wanted to create a corporate icon to lead the way, and the Giulia luxury-sport sedan may have overshot its target.

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Combining Mazda technology with Italian style makes the Fiat 124 Spider extra appealing.

Colorful leaves enhance 124 Spider image

Instead of simply rebadging the excellent Mazda MX-5 Miata, Fiat's arrangement to recreate the iconic 124 Spider required considerable alteration. And it works to create a stylis

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Thor's Hammer light design, familiar grille denote new-breed Volvos.

Always-safe Volvos add style, technology for 2018

Volvo has never wavered from its all-consuming focus on safety, but Geely ownership has led to new style and performance for the full line of sedans and SUVs.

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High-poiwered 
dodge Hellcat  powrtrain finds spectacular home in Jeep Grand Cherokee for 2018.

Potent Trackhawk becomes ultimate Jeep

Jeep's Grand Cherokee is popular both on-road and off-road, but when it becomes the 707-horsepower Trackhawk for 2018, it adds racetracks to its domain.

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Hyundai cut every corner to create the Ioniq, a stylish compact with all forms of hybrid/electric power.

Ioniq aims at top hybrid, electric status

Hyundai's new Ioniq has style and surprising interior room, yet a compact exterior, with hybrid, plug-in hybrid, or pure electric powertrains, all of which rank at the top of the

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The Nissan Rogue is such a popular SUV it has expanded into a new and more compact vehicle, the Rogue Sport.

Sport means SUV compacting has gone Rogue

SUVs gave way to crossovers, and the trend now is to compact crossovers. Nissan has come out with the Rogue Sport, a better way of reducing the size of the larger Rogue.

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Sporty SUV is Infiniti QX-30 in foreground; sleek sports coupe is Lexus RC350 left rear; latest version of hot hatchback is Volkswagen Golf R, upper right.

Picking new vehicle now has expanded scope

Consumers are trying to decide among compact crossover SUVs these days, but why limit the choices? Sporty coupes and even hot hatchbacks are better than ever and eminently availa

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The long-awaited Focus RS finally brings turbo and AWD version to U.S.

RS gives U.S. buyers new Focus on fun

Ford has always given Europe a hot Focus compact, but never brought it into the U.S. until finally letting us see what all the fuss was about with the Focus RS.

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Alfa's new Stelvio Ti flashes familiar face, but it is a high-tech SUV for 2018.

Alfa Romeo Stelvio is SUV for S-curves

Alfa Romeo has built a glorious reputation on passionate sporty cars, and it has adapted its heritage to building the Stelvio, and SUV for S-Curves.

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Corolla celebrates 50th anniversary with style, handling, slick CVT.

Corolla moves on, ahead of new engine

Toyota is in the process of revising and updating its engines, but the Corolla couldn't wait. The 2017 model celebrates the compact's 50th anniversary and it performs well enough

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Alfa Romeo Giulia TI repeats its grand entrance

November 14, 2017 by · Comments Off on Alfa Romeo Giulia TI repeats its grand entrance
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

The Alfa Romeo Giulia TI matches its external beauty with potent performance and superb handling.

By John Gilbert

   At the world-wide introduction of the Alfa Romeo Giulia, I had the good fortune to be among the assembled journalists summoned to Milano, Italy — Milan, to those who haven’t been there — when it was rolled out on stage.  World-famous Italian tenor Andre Bocelli strolled on stage with it, serenading the room with a spectacular love song and putting the whole scenario over the top as a highly emotional event.

    Those Italians know how to do emotion. Their magic is how they transform that quality into their cars!

    Over the succeeding year, and numerous stops and starts that delayed the Giulia from reaching U.S. showrooms, it has finally made it. I’ve already written about the follow-up Stelvio, Alfa’s companion and the company’s first SUV, based on the Giulia.

   Finally, I got to get bucket-seated inside a Giulia TI painted  “Rosso Competzione Tri-Coat” red, to drive home from Chicago to Duluth, Minnesota. The wait was easily worth the reward.

   I’ve always tried to suppress the hyperbole and press-release cliches when I write about cars, even though the bar has been raised so high by the always-improving new crop of vehicles, and so few deserve criticism nowadays. But restraining my impressions of the Giulia is more difficult, if not impossible.

   Let’s start off by explaining that many of my friends have asked me, over the years, “OK, you drive new cars every week; what is your favorite of all time?” I always have checked my bet and explained that I have favorites in every style and type of vehicle, and in every price range, and here are a half-dozen…

   Now I don’t have to hesitate. The Alfa Romeo Giulia TI is, without a doubt, my favorite car from the vast 50-year array of new cars I’ve driven.

  

The harmony of styling comes together at the aerodynamic rear.

The Giulia comes in two fashions. Both start with the same high-strength-steel body and an amazingly smooth platform that is firm anough to allow it to snake around the tightest turns with flat poise and yet with a grace that is never harsh. Italian cars seem to have the inside track on building cars that combine being beautiful and sensual, and the same goes for their engines. In this case, Fiat — which owns Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Maserati, and Ferrari Formula 1 racing enterprises — was taking no chances with a built-from-scratch sedan intended to set new and iconic standards when exported to America.

    Legend has it that Fiat executives selected two Ferrari Formula 1 race engineers, told them to chose a team of engineers, and then design and build  two extremely high-tech engines, a four and a V6, to power the Giulia. With its flawless and striking design and perfect front-rear balance, the Giulia was only in need of powertrains to match.

   The basic Giulia comes with a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder Turbo engine with 280 horsepower and 306 foot-pounds of torque, operating through an 8-speed automatic transmission shiftable by hand with long and sleek aluminum paddles. Those paddles are affixed to the steering column, not the steering wheel, which is beneficial for keeping the paddles within readily accessible placement, always where the driver can anticipate them, with the right side to upshift and left to downshift.

   The costlier Giulia Quadrifoglio comes with a 2.9-liter V6, twin-turbocharged, producing 505 horsepower and 443 foot-pounds, available with a 6-speed stick.  The Quadrifoglio, which means cloverleaf in Italian, hence the cloverleaf logo for Alfa, costs about $70,000. We won’t question how easily worth it the car is.

  

All controls are within easy reach, including the shift paddles affixed to the steering column.

The 4-cylinder, however, is the prize, in my opinion. It also has front-engine/rear-drive, but can be bought with Alfa’s specific all-wheel drive system, and it has a base price of $39,995, which means for about $45,000, you could get a Giulia with all-wheel drive. That’s the one I want, the better to scale Duluth’s clifflike avenues, if not twisting roadways in the Italian Alps.

   I got the chance to drive both models briefly at Autobahn Country Club in Joliet, Ill., both on the track and on surrounding roadways. Both models left me completely unable to pick which feature I liked best: the striking exterior design, the supple leather and aluminum interior, the fantastic power and performance, or the incredible quick-response steering and handling. After too-few short days living with the Giulia, I decided that all those assets combined in glorious harmony make the whole package so alluring, but as good as it looks, accelerates, and sounds, the most amazing single feature is the handling.

   I can’t think of an exotic sports car that handles any better. In real-world driving, the reality is that any car that handles as well as the Giulia, also has superb emergency evasive-handling ability. A confused deer dashes out in your path, or some texting driver thoughtlessly runs a stop sign on an approaching cross street, then your driving abilities go on red alert, and the Alfa Romeo Giulia is the ideal tool to act out your instincts.

   When we left Chicago to drive home, and were notified that we would get the dark red Giulia instead of the gleaming white Quadrifoglio, I was happy. First, my wife, Joan, loves red cars and this Italian red would blow her socks off. It was mid-afternoon, and we weren’t as far as Rockford, Ill., when the sun was setting, but the Giulia, with its firmly bolstered bucket seats and room for four, was computer-perfect in its road manners.

   My son, Jack, who also assists me with New Car Picks stuff, drove his share on the way home, and declared it the best car he’d driven, ever. I dropped him off where he’d left his car at a friend’s, near Chippewa Falls, Wis., and got back on the highway headed north, to Duluth. I only saw one deer, and it stayed respectfully on the shoulder, possibly keeping its distance from the brilliant white glare of the perfectly tuned automatic headlights. I arrived home at 3 a.m., tired, but still exhilarated from driving, without a trace of fatigue.

   Joan’s work schedule, and my sneakiness, kept her from jumping in the Giulia and disappearing over the horizon. Although, she conceded, she considered it. I asked what she thought was the Giulia’s best feature.

  

Alfa Giulia TI is a rare treat with performance to match its stunning looks.

“The looks; it’s the most beautifully designed car I’ve ever seen,” she said. “It’s a work of art. It looks like it’s moving when it’s standing still. It flows, and it’s so emotional. It’s almost like you don’t take it for a drive, it takes you for the drive. You feel as though you could take it out on a race track, win the race, and then enjoy driving it home.”

    Guess I didn’t have to be shy about the superlatives. The rounded nose, with the distinctive shield-shaped grille with the Alfa badge festooned on it, means the car could never be mistaken for another nameplate. The rear seats easily fit two, and the trunk is surprisingly large.

   The Giulia stops pedestrians in their tracks. Joan and I drove it up onto Skyline Drive, high above Duluth, looking down on the harbor. As soon as we stopped and got out, a group of motorcyclists on sports-bikes, not Harleys, arrived and lined up behind the Giulia, in a formation lineup for some group photos. Many of them walked over first to inquire and praise the Giulia. It would have made a fantastic ad for the Giulia to start up and drive along that curvy cliff-top road, with a swarm of beautiful, lean sports-bikes swarming like respectful bees for an escort.

   We got a chance on Sunday to drive 100 miles amid the stunning fall foliage into Wisconsin to attend the annual Bayfield Apple Festival. Great time, great crowd, every imaginable thing made out of apples, and a perfect 60-degree fall day with bright blue sky and golden leaves.

    Because Bayfield is located on mostly two-lane roadways, some winding along the South Shore of Lake Superior, you don’t drive over the speed limit, especially noting the affinity Wisconsin police have for out-of-state contributions to local coffers. Keeping the Alfa under 70 was a worthy challenge. It also allowed me to fill the tank for the trip with super 91-octane premium Mobil, drive down and back for a 200-mile total, and still have three-fourths of a tank left. It computed to 39.0 miles per gallon. High-mileage driving never felt so impressive.

 

Smoothly rounded nose reflects Alfa heritage, along with cousin Ferrari’s influence.

  The test car had a base price of $39,995 and as-tested sticker at $51,990. The test car had front-engine/rear-wheel drive, and its extremely quick power-steering may have benefitted from that. But the 4-cylinder can add all-wheel drive for about $1,500 more, and I’d trade a few of the finer options for the AWD unit. Let’s see how it take the hills in Duluth in January, with a set of Nokians mounted on those 19-inch aluminum wheels.

   Needless to say, when the opportunity arrives to spend a few days with the Quadrifoglio and its sizzling-hot V6, I will jump at the chance, even if it doesn’t have an AWD version. Earlier this year, both Motor Trend and Car and Driver magazines conducted thorough comparison tests, with all their fancy testing protocol, and I read both with considerable interest. Both of those magazines can occasionally get pretty full of themselves and might let it spill over in the quest to satisfy a major advertising account. The only place I disagreed with their deductions this time was when they kissed off the 2.0-liter 4 as being too shy on power, which is definitly not true, in my view

   Their findings were surprisingly similar, both taking a 505-horsepower Giulia Quadrifoglio to run against the perceived best compact luxury sport sedans.

    Motor Trend tested the Mercedes Benz C300 Sport, Lexus IS 200t F-Sport, Jaguar XE 25t Prestige, Cadillac ATS 2.0t turbo, Audi A4 2.0 quattro (although both magazines insist on writing it “Quattro” with a capital Q, despite the manufacturer’s pleas), and the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio. Combining all the features, Motor Trend ranked them: 1. Alfa, 2. Audi A4, 3. Mercedes, 4. Lexus IS, 5, Cadillac ATS, and 6. Jaguar.

    Motor Trend then brought back the top four high-performers and ran their hot-rod upgraded versions through another battery of tests and ranked them, counting down: 4. Mercedes AMG63, 3. Cadillac ATS-V, 2. BMW M3 Competition Package, and 1. Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio. Remarkable that the car beat all the best luxury-sport sedans, as well as the top specialty upgrade models.

   Car and Driver assembled what it had tested as the hottest four sport-luxury sedans, and ranked them for acceleration, chassis, driveline, etc. They drove all four for 1,100 miles across Death Valley, and then gave points in each category. The results came out: 4. Cadillac ATS-V, 3. BMW M3, 2. Mercedes AMG C63 S (with 503 horsepower V8), and 1. Alfa Giulia Quadrifoglio.

  

Razor-sharp Giulia handling can be enhanced with optional all-wheel drive.

It would be even more interesting if the two magazines humbled themselves to retest the 4-cylinder version against other 4-cylinder cars in that class, costing around $40,000, or half the price of the hotter models. My suspicion is the Alfa would win by an even greater margin.

   On the other hand, maybe it’s better to let the masses seek the V6 model, at $75,000, and we can keep the $45,000 Giulia TI a secret while we start selling off assets and hold garage sales to summon up the required cash.   

   

Colorful leaves enhance 124 Spider image

September 29, 2017 by · Comments Off on Colorful leaves enhance 124 Spider image
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

 

From the front corner, the new Fiat 124 Spider greatly resembles the 1960s model.

By John Gilbert

   Every time the calendar makes its way around to September, the recurring image of one of my favorite definitions of a sports car comes alive, with the sports car approaching on a curvy roadway, accompanied by an exhilarating exhaust note as it comes around the last curve, and its silhouette outlined by a wake of multicolored fallen leaves blowing up in a swirl.

   That iconic image has stayed with me for about 50 years, and it was most recently regenerated when I spent a week driving a new Fiat 124 Spider roadster along a curvy road, almost looking ahead to any early-fallen leaves that should have filled up the image in my rear-view mirror.

   There was further significance to link those indelible memories with the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider. The car, particularly from the front corner, bears a striking resemblance to the original Fiat 124 Spider that was the object of considerable lust by a much-younger me back in the 1960s.

   Fifty years ago, when the first Fiat 124 first came to the U.S., the auto business was vastly different. There were big sedans, a few pickup trucks, and a scant few primitive imported sedans, leaving plenty of margin for .an impressive array of sports cars. They came mostly from European countries, most notably MGs and Triumphs that came from Great Britain in large and smaller sizes, amid a few German and Italian roadsters.

   Fiat, in fact, was best known in those days for its 124 Spider roadster, and its companion 124 Coupe 2-plus-2. The 50 years since it first showed up saw Fiat quit selling cars in the U.S., missing our veering trends to station wagons, pickup trucks, minivans, large and small sedans, and then have SUVs take over the marketplace, all but squeezing the pure-pleasure sports cars out of the picture.

  

Before colorful leaves swirl, Lake Superior’s North Shore nicely frames the Fiat 124 Spider.

You can’t find an MG or Triumph anywhere, and we can can only thank Mazda for making and keeping up with the inexpensive joy of  the Miata sports car. With Fiat coming back into the U.S. both on its own and as owner of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Fiat is also celebrating Mazda’s latest Miata. Far more than merely inspiration for Fiat to recreate its 124 Spider; it is the basis physically and spiritually for the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider.

   Our neighbors, who always wanted to add a sports car to their pickup and SUV world, bought a Miata a year ago, and they look for every opportunity to put the top down and go off on drives together, or fight over which of them gets to drive it to work before the Minnesota chill shortens the roadster season. Another good friend celebrated starting a successful business by buying a new Fiat 124 Spider.

   

Fiat left Mazda’s better-idea controls intact while converting the Miata platform to Fiat style and power.

When I had the Fiat 124 Spider for a week’s test drive, our neighbors with the Miata remarked about how the control knobs and interior features are identical to their Miata. That makes sense, because the 124 Spider began life as a Miata.

   But Fiat did far more than just take a Miata, change the grille and put a Fiat emblem on the nose. When Fiat first decided it wanted to work with Mazda, the thought was to rebadge it as an Alfa Romeo, which is another Fiat-owned nameplate. But then Fiat realized that a rebirth of the 124 Spider was the most-appropriate way to go.

    Fiat first replaced the exceptional Mazda Skyactiv powertrain, with its 155-horsepower 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine, and replaced it with Fiat’s own 1.4-liter MultiAir 4 from the 500’s Abarth-powered pocket rocket, reinforced with the turbocharger to 160 horsepower, with 184 foot-pounds of torque. It is the first application of that engine in a front-engine/rear-drive layout.

Combining Mazda technology with Italian style makes the Fiat 124 Spider extra appealing.

   Leaving pertinent features as Mazda built them, Fiat stretched the body a bit from the Miata’s silhouette, styling the extended nose to be longer and more gracefully slender, and also styling the rear bodywork, both to more resemble the 50-year-old Fiat 124 Spider. Fiat did its own thing with suspension, too, tuning double-wishbone front and multilink rear. Without driving the two back to back, I would venture that the Miata might be a bit more abrupt in quickness of steering and handling, while the 124 Spider might be a bit more compliant as a boulevardier. Both are supremely fun to drive.

    The 124 I test-drove was the Spider Lusso model, which is positioned between the base Classica and the higher-powered Abarth models. With a few luxury amenities, the Lusso raises the base price of the 124 Spider from $25,000 to $27,495, and with several classy options the test-fleet car carried a sticker of $29,985.

    A 6-speed stick guarantees that there is no shortage of sporty flair with the 124 Spider Lusso, and the arrangement between Italian designers and Japanese engineers worked. The 124 is assembled in Hiroshima, Japan, and the test car was finished in Grigio Moda Meteor Grey metallic, with Nero black leather interior.

    A carryover feature from the Miata is that when you’re driving along — preferably blowing those fallen leaves up behind — and you realize it’s warm enough out that you should have the top down, you can reach up with your right hand, unlatch the top, pop it upward, and guide it back and down, latching it securely under a hard cover. No need to stop and pull over. You can do it in a few seconds, even at 15 or 20 mph.

   Same if sundown, or a sudden rainstorm interrupts your solitude: Slow down, reach back to unlatch, then pull the top up and over and lock it in place. Tight, precise fit, water tight with an acoustically lined headliner on the underside of that soft top.

   Driving pleasure is enhanced by some of the contemporary auto features, such as blind-spot detection, cross-park detection, rear parking camera and parking assist, plus rain-sensing wipers and LED head and tail lights.

   The 124 Spider is also easy on gas, making its 35-mpg highway fuel economy reachable and staying above 26 in town even if you like to run up the revs to hear that exhaust note. You can get an upgraded Bose audio system with nine speakers, although I still can’t comprehend where there is room for nine speakers.

    Emergency handling is obviously excellent, and pleasurable handling is precise and exciting. Under Fiat’s direction, the 124 makes some pertinent changes, including adding just a touch more power, but a buyer who is determined to get a thoroughly enjoyable sporty roadster that has more than enough punch for real-world driving, and can turn a cloverleaf into a thrill without breaking any speed limits, my advice would be to try both the Mazda MX-5 Miata and the Fiat 124 Spider. You can make your decision based on appearance or any other element, and you won’t be making a mistake. 

With a flick of your wrist, the watertight and insulated soft top goes up, or down, in seconds.

   One last note for those who are reluctant to get a sporty, rear-drive roadster in snow country: My experience is that folks in colder climates enjoy and appreciate top-down driving more than those all across the South, where you’ll see more roadsters with the top up because it’s too hot!. Up north, we appreciate sun and warmth, and capitalize on every possible moment to put the top down and go. While we continue searching for snow tires to extend the length of our driving season.

  

Always-safe Volvos add style, technology for 2018

September 21, 2017 by · Comments Off on Always-safe Volvos add style, technology for 2018
Filed under: New car introductions, Features, Autos 

Thor’s Hammer light design, familiar grille denote new-breed Volvos.

By John Gilbert

DENVER, COLO.

   As members of the car-buying public, we’ve spent our lifetimes compromising when it comes to car-buying. We might want something sporty, great looking, and quick, but we also have families who require that our first choice becomes solid, roomy and safe. We’ve also watched as most companies tried to make their cars as attractive as possible, then added stuff on in hopes of making them safer.

   Because of all that, and what we’ve observed, and the small portions that we’ve learned, you’ve got to hand it to Volvo, which seems to have gotten to the sweet spot in the compromise by sticking to safety and letting stuff like luxury, attractiveness and performance come along at its own, leisurely pace. From my vantage point, it appears Volvo has found the hot button. My favorite, for now, is the new 2018 QX60, a compact, midsize SUV that does everything I could ever want in a vehicle.

   The 2018 array of models coming out with Volvo’s vehicles, with their slashed bar over the grille and “Thor’s Hammer” headlight design, come as close as it gets to being all things to all people. For a price, of course. Such quality and built-in safety and technology don’t come cheap. The S90 runs from $49,195 in base T5 Momentum form up to nearly $70,000 in loaded T8 all-wheel-drive top trim. The V90 ranges from $50,000 to $53,000 coming only with front-wheel drive. And the XC60 starts at $42,495 for the Momentum, $45,900 for the R-Design, and $46,300 for the Inscription, and all XC60s come with all-wheel drive.

 

Lighter and more agile than the larger XC90, Volvo’s new XC60 gets the same drivetrain.

  Once a Swedish company that made rock-solid safe cars, then a Ford affiliate that made safer cars for different reasons, and now a Swedish company owned by a Chinese conglomerate that is making cars that fulfill every angle of every car compromise, Volvo has kept its eye on its own, stubborn target. Under the financial umbrella of Geely, Volvo is still headquartered in Gothenberg, Sweden, but it now makes some vehicles in China — where it is sure to be a huge seller — and is also building a state-of-the-art factory in the U.S.

   Through it all, Volvo has remained steadfast in its demand that its cars will always have safesty as a priority, and will not compromise for any other attributes that might seem more financially viable. Of course, when beauty came along, and a formula for building high-tech engines followed, Volvo was smart enough to incorporate everything under those stunning new bodies.

   I had the chance to road-test the new XC90 luxury SUV at its introduction, and I tried to contain my superlatives by saying it was, simply, the finest large SUV I had ever driven, or ridden in. I had chance to visit Spain last year for the world introduction of the S90, Volvo’s midsize large and luxurious new sedan that seems to do everything any German luxury sedan could imagine, and maybe with more comfort.

    Volvo’s biggest news this year was announcing that all of the vehicles it will build by 2025 will be electrified. Some naive media types jumped to the conclusion that all would be electric, but Volvo always meant that would include all electrified cars, including hybrids and plug-in hybrids as well as pure-electric.The hybrids, by definition, are electrified without being all-electric.But the hybrid models have impressive efficiency already.

   Earlier this summer, I got the chance to be whisked to Barcelona for the world introduction of the new XC60 — Volvo’s midsize SUV that seems to do everything the XC90 does, only quicker and with more agility, and a tad better fuel economy.

  

After one year, the elongated version of S90 is the only one that will be sold in North America.

But Volvo decided on a more economical way to reorganize its outburst of introductions. It set up camp in The Halcyon Hotel in the Denver suburb of Cherry Creek, summoning selected auto writers from everywhere to come and evaluate the 2018 crop of Volvos in the Rocky Mountains. Fantastic.

   The array as it stands now includes the S90 and the QX90, which are both powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder in T5 form, and both supercharged for low-end and turbocharged for high-end power for the optional upgrade and all-wheel-drive T6 models, then it adds a potent hybrid battery pack system on top of that for the ultimate T8 models.

    That’s significant because there were no XC90s or those familiar S90 sedans at our recent test time, because this was only for all-new new stuff. There were S90 sedans, but the 2018 S90 is an elongtated version of the S90 we experienced in Spain. The elongated version has 4.5 inches more rear legroom, and it fits the Asian trend to where important wealthier people like to ride in the rear seat, preferably chauffered, so stretching the rear passenger compartment is both logical and smart.

    My only criticism, I guess, is that since Volvo will continue to make both the normal size S90 and the elongated one, how come we only get the long version in North America, while the rest of the world can get the shorter, normal size? Both the S90 and XC90 have the same powertrain, and it’s true that the extra room in the rear is luxurious, but those of us who like a dose of agility in our driving might find the extra length slightly less maneuverable. We will not quarrel with the fact that it is quiet and smooth.

Slinky and stylish V90 Volvo wagon is like a more-streamlined sportier SUV.

    Meanwhile, there was more. Europeans have always liked their station wagons, even as the U.S. market turned to minivans and then large SUVs, midsize SUVs and compact SUVs. It seems that some European and Asian companies try to coax us into giving station wagons another try, but we’ve resisted. There is plenty to offer from such vehicles, however, because they are lower and sleeker and have just about as much room as their SUV brethren, and more flexible room than their sedan counterparts.

   So we got a chance to drive some Volvo V90 wagons, and there can be no argument that they handle well and make you forget you’re driving a wagon after a short time. The V90 offers fewer engine options, and I only drove the front-wheel-drive models, but I have to think AWD is coming soon.

    My priority to drive remained the XC60, because I like SUVs but I prefer compact ones, and the beauty of the XC60 is that its shorter, lighter and lacks the third row seat and room of the XC90, but it is more agile and feels quicker — and it still has the full complement of XC90 engines.

    The basic engines can be confusing, so we’ll try to limit them to overview. Remember, all are 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engines, with direct injection feeding their dual overhead camshafts. The T5 gets turbocharging, boosting power up to 250 horsepower and 256 foot-pounds of torque; the T6 with both supercharging and turbocharging turns out 316 horsepower and 295 foot-pounds of torque; and the T8, loaded with supercharger, turbocharger and the lithium-ion battery-powered hybrid boost system that has been increased from 9.2 to 10.4 killowatt-hours, delivers 400 horsepower and 472 foot-pounds of torque.

 

All the new Volvo models have been revised inside, too, with lots of leather, real wood and high-tech instruments.

  Without question, the XC60, V90 and S90 have distinctly different personalities, even though they all share the VXC90/S90 appearance, which is smoothly aerodynamic, quick-responsing to the steering touch, and potent to the touch of your toe. And the interiors all share family traits of beautifully selected and blended mostly wood and leather materials, straightforward and easily read and operated gauges and controls, large and larger navigation/communication screens, and those seats.

   Since the 1960s, I have claimed that Volvo’s seats are the best in the industry, from the standpoints of safety and firm support. They have evolved over the decades, and the newest seats have been significantly improved under the guidance of Volvo’s selected orthopedic folks. And we haven’t even gotten arouind to the safety structure, which fits inside a chassis/body capsule made of five or six grades of steel, with the highest Boron in the pillars, on down to the weakest steel in areas where Volvo wants the car to absorb energy by bending more easily.

    Milan Ekholm is in charge of the enormous safety center at the Gothenberg plant in Sweden, and she explained the crumple zone construction and the vast concept of safety that consumes everything Volvo does. “All our cars have radar and cameras front and rear, and both sides, to help alert drivers to potential dangers,” she said. “We have a support system that includes City Safety to help alert you to avoid vehicles, pedestrians, cyclist and large animals, and  BLIS (blind-spot alert), lane-departure warning and lane-departure assist, on-coming lane mitigation, and run-off-road mitigation, along with lane-keeping mitigation.

   “On-coming lane mitigation helps avoid oncoming vehicles and steer you back into your own lane if you’ve drifted over the line between 37-87 miles per hour, and collision=avoidance that works up to 37 mph. And our newest devices are post-impact and run-off-road mitigation, because we’ve found that serious spinal injuries are much worse in crashes that go off the road than other crash injuries.”

  

Rocky Mountain backdrop was perfect for putting crisp-handling Volvo S90, XC60 and V90 through solid, secure paces.

Ekholm said that she is also heavily involved in the autonomous-driving techniques at Volvo. With all manufacturers racing to create the most trustworthy self-driving vehicles, and we can assume Volvo is at the top of that game. “We have Pilot assist,” she said, “which hekps make the driver sure of who is in control. We don’t want the driver to be fooled by finding out the car is controlling things.

    “Where braking adds something, we want to help provide braking, and our system can sense an impending accident and prepare the brakes and the seat tensioners. We want to prepare our drivers to take evasive action with steering and braking. Our focus is first to try to keep cars on the road, and then try to address issues after that.”

    Now that Volvo’s arsenal of vehicles is full…Oh, wait, it’s not? No. Next coming will be the further-downsized XC40 and its related S40 compact sedan. Both are coming soon, and in case the 2.0 engines are too powerful, Volvo is preparing a 3-cylinder turbo engine that should set new standards for power, agility and fuel economy. I’ve seen photos of the new XC40, and already I cant wait to drive it.

Potent Trackhawk becomes ultimate Jeep

September 13, 2017 by · Comments Off on Potent Trackhawk becomes ultimate Jeep
Filed under: New car introductions, Autos 

Supercharged Dodge Hellcat powrtrain transforms Jeep Grand Cherokee into Trackhawk for 2018.

By John Gilbert

   Maybe it’s time for the auto industry come up with a new and different name for such superlatives as “mind-blowing.” If you look over the vehicles from Dodge and its amazing SRT — Sport and Racing Technology — operation, you can review the assortment of available mind-blowing powertrains that can be obtained in such sporty vehicles as the Charger sedan and Challenger sports coupe.

   Starting with the quite impressive 3.6-liter V6 with 305 horsepower, you can move up to the 5.7-liter Hemi V8 with 372 horsepower/400 foot-pounds of torque, to the 485 horse, 475 torque figures of the 6.4-liter Hemi, and then you can go onward and upward to the Hellcat’s 6.2-liter supercharged V8 and its 707 horse, 650 foot-poiund Hemi. Dizzying as that array might be, up on top there is the limited-edition Challenger Demon, with an even more potent version of the 6.2, with 808 to 840 horsepower and up to 770 foot-pounds.

   Mind-blowing, to say the least.

   But now we do have a new term to gather such superlatives, staying within the FCA (Fiat Chrysler Auto) family: “Trackhawk.”

The 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk, to be exact.

   

Firmly comfortable interior adds sporty touches, drag-racing features.

  We are accustomed to the most rugged Jeep models earning the designation “Trailhawk,” for capability over and above the garden-variety Jeeps whenever you venture off-road, but the Trackhawk is for when you stay on the road and want to have the strongest, fastest, most powerful SUV ever constructed — or even imagined.

   Basically, the SRT guys, who performed such amazing engineering feats on the Hemi V8s for the Hellcats and Demons, took the 6.2-liter Hellcat Hemi V8 and performed even more magic tricks to turn the Grand Cherokee into the Trackhawk. When finished, the Trackhawk is a no-compromise street-road-track and, yes, off-road and foul-weather SUV weighs in at 5,500 pounds.

   With all that heft, the Hellcat’s modified drivetrain can, indeed, function in something beyond the Charger or Challenger. It can send the Grand Cherokee Trackhawk 0-60 in 3.5 seconds, and covers the quarter-mile in 11.6 seconds, with a top speed of something over 180 miles per hour.

   For such a hefty vehicle to drive “light” and corner flat, greatly revised suspension with adaptive Bilstein shocks was necessary. And an altered 8-speed TorqueFlite 8-speed automatic transmission, designed to get all that power to the ground via Pirelli tires either for track-duty or all-season.

   Naturally, such enormous capability and performance costs a lot, to offset the enormous engineering effort and technical building alterations required. The Trackhawk has a base price of $85,900. As tested, one of the Trackhawks my driving partner and I drove on the roadways from Maine to New Hampshire listed at $94,970, in bright white; the “Redline 2” model with premium leather, top audio and panoramic sunroof listed at $100,980.

   Yes, a Jeep for over $100,000 may be more than just mind-blowing, but the Trackhawk earns its sticker price with a quite-astonishing array of real-world parts and the coordination of such parts.

 

Quad tailpipes are only tip from rear that Trackhawk is something far beyond normal Grand Cherokee.

  In the real world, people need to be able to drive moderately, even in snow, and sometimes they need to tow a trailer. The Trackhawk takes care of all such extremes, with a 7,200-pound towing capability, and console-switch controllable drive modes that can alter the all-wheel-drive system to your desires.

   For example, the “automatic” setting adapts like a normal Grand Cherokee, with a torque split measuring 40 percent front/60 percent rear. If you switch to “sport,” the vehicle changes to a more enthusiast mode, with 50-percent reduced shift times, tightened suspension, firmed-up steering, enabled steering-wheel paddle shifters, and a 35-front/65-rear torque split.

   Switch to “track” and transmission shift times are reduced 68 percent from the auto setting to 160 milliseconds, and the four-wheel drive, suspension firmness, stability control and steering convert to ultimate track performance, with a 30/70 front/rear torque split.

   If you are passing up a trip to the track in exchange for hauling a fishing boat, you switch to “tow” and the torque delivery becomes more moderate with better smoothness and suspension settings combat pitch and yaw, while the power switches to a 60-percent front/40-percent rear dispersal.

   Those of us in the Great White North will most appreciate the “snow” setting, which maximizes traction with reduced engine power and a 50/50 torque split.

   If that isn’t enough, there is a “custom” mode that allows selecting favored settings for the various elements to create a customized combination.

   With all that designed to go, the Grand Cherokee Trackhawk will also stop with remarkable suddenness and smoothness with a large Brembo braking system, with bright yellow calipers shining through those lightweight black alloy wheels, hauling down the Trackhawk in only 114 feet from 60 mph.

   When Jeep first produced a high-powered Grand Cherokee, we got to drive it across Texas Hill Country from Austin to the Circuit of the Americas, the road-racing course that now houses the U.S. Grand Prix Formula 1 race. This time we drove from Portland, Maine, on some wonderfully curvy rural highways to Club Motorsports, a new road-racing facility near Ossipee, N.H.

With flat cornering and unlimited power, Trackhawk masters New Hampshire road-racing track.

   While the track wasn’t yet open for public operation, it is the same course where I got to give the Challenger GT all-wheel-drive its first drive in ice and snow conditions. We only used a small part of the track back in late winter, but this time we were turned loose on the whole 2.5-mile track, which has 15 turns and a stunning 250 feet of elevation changes, including 14-percent grades on some of the hills.

   Course officials had set out some rows of cones to guide us where to turn in at some locations, and Jeep arranged for some drivers familiar with the course to ride along with the media types.    

   Like the Hellcat and Demon, the Trackhawk includes changeabi

Trackhawk’s 6.2-liter Hemi V8 is a marvel of strengthening and elevating technology to 707 horsepower.

nstruments, with one selection letting you set it to launch control. With this engaged, you can run the revs up to near ear-splitting, and the car won’t move as a dashboard timer counts down 5-4-3-2-. When you go, the thrust is incredible, pushing you back in the firm bucket seat. Transmission, fuel feed and all systems await the precise time to launch and when you do, the instruments measure your 0-30, 0-60, quarter-mile and any other time-span you set, and it even measures your reaction time.

   Lest anyone think the Trackhawk is a toy, it isn’t. It just happens to incorporate all the necessities of real-world drag racing, with all the parts reinforced and coordinated. The engine block, pistons, crankshaft, connecting rods, cylinder heads, exhaust valves, supercharger with electronic bypass and charge-air coolers — everything is designed for all-out performance.

Cooling air ducts replace foglights to assure the track, and not the engine, do the sizzling.

   The Trackhawk does not give you foglights, because where the foglights are on the other Grand Cherokees, the Trackhawk has air intakes to serve the engine and supercharger. None of that intrudes on the tried-and-true Jeep characteristics such as Quadra-Trac on-demand four-wheel drive with electronic limited-slip rear differential and a full-time active transfer case — all of which, including the rear differential, are reinforced and upgraded to extreme performance standards.

   The full suite of safety items, such as adaptive cruise control with auto-stop, advanced brake assist, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross detection, forward collision warning and mitigation, front and rear park assist, lane departure warning and ready-alert braking are incorporated to make the Trackhawk either the safest all-out performer, or the highest-performing safety vehicle. It also, of course, includes the latest connectivity stuff like Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, as well as UConnect and 8.4-inch display with touchscreen, and roadside assistance.

    On top of all that, the Trackhawk appearance is eye-catching, with its stance and aggressive demeanor given subtle but definite hints, such as the quad tailpipes, and the special wheels. For those uncompromising souls who want the baddest SUV in the world, the Trackhawk is the only prospect. Or maybe you’re just a normal person who won’t ever approach a race track, but have an incurable desire to tow a 7,200-pound trailer…really fast.

   

Ioniq aims at top hybrid, electric status

September 7, 2017 by · Comments Off on Ioniq aims at top hybrid, electric status
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

Hyundai cut every corner to create the Ioniq, a stylish compact with all forms of hybrid/electric power.

By John Gilbert

   If there were no such thing as hybrid or electric cars, and buying a car meant nothing more than the size of vehicle we want and any of various  degrees of efficient gasoline engines, you might select a Hyundai Ioniq as a stylish, attractively-styled car that somehow fits the spaciousness of a larger car into the low, sleek exterior of a compact.

   Such a car might get 30 miles per gallon, because of the aerodynamics and the efficiency of contemporary gas engines. But, of course, we are well along into the era of hybrid cars, which combine gas engines and electric motors, as we roll merrily toward pure electric propulsion, and when I got the Ioniq out on an extended highway trip, its calculator displayed 52.1 miles per gallon for 400 miles.

   The Ioniq is Hyundai’s well-conceived weapon of choice in the corporate warfare aimed at hybrid and electric superiority — a realm that has been the almost-private domain of Toyota with its hugely popular Prius. I was impressed when I drove the various models at the Ioniq Midwestern introduction near Ann Arbor, Mich., and I am more impressed since a glossy “black noir” Ioniq Limited pulled up in my driveway just outside Duluth, Minn., for a week-long hands-on test.

Ioniq has short engine room and high-tech hybrid battery under rear seat leaving elongated interior.

     Hyundai has spared nothing in working with fellow-South Korean electronics giant LG Chem to come up with what we might refer to as a “better mousetrap.” Only the Ioniq is not attempting to trap mice; it would settle for bypassing something known as Prius.

   The Toyota Prius has been the standard of hybrid sales for over a decade, and superb marketing and efficiency have outdistanced competitors from Honda, and virtually all other manufacturers. The Toyota Synergy Drive is quite simple, with a nickel-metal-hydride battery pack taking in energy from the gas engine that accompanies it, allowing the Prius to run on either pure electric, or a combination of gas-engine and electric motor.

   Not many drawbacks, but if any, they would be a lack of storage room in the trunk, a lack of sporty feel in the performance and handling, and such a consistency in operation that a smarter populace might wonder why the advancement in hybrid technology seems stalled a bit. Toyota has expanded the Prius line with a longer version and a shorter plug-in model.

   Hyundai, meanwhile, has emerged in less than a decade to challenge the top Japanese companies in style and efficiency, and while going after sportiness, Hyundai has scaled various technology challenges to battle for the top rung. The company has tried a couple of hybrid models, all the while mobilizing for the 2017 model year and the introduction of the three-pronged Ioniq strategy.

   For 2017, Hyundai refreshed the styling of its successful Elantra compact into a much-improved conventional vehicle, and in the process, it designed that platform to house the Ioniq.

  

Well-styled rear aids Ioniq aerodynamics, and hatch covers spacious cargo area.

Hyundai also executed several impressive ideas. First, it noted that many hybrid sedans and SUVs were designed to house V6 engines, leaving considerable wasted space under the hood once a smaller 4-cylinder and hybrid system was installed, so it shortened the under-hood space. Moving the A pillars forward nearly a foot did the job, and Hyundai’s high-tech 1.6-liter engine — modified for Atkinson-cycle valve timing and hybrid connection — fit nicely.

   Next, Hyundai bypassed the proven but possibly outdated nickel-metal hydride battery pack system in favor of not only the more-advanced lithium-ion system, but an advanced specially-for-Hyundai LG lithium-ion-polymer battery system that would not only charge faster, hold a charge longer, and turn out more power, but would also fit under the back seat of the compact sedan.

 

Variable-screen instruments showed 52 mpg after a 400-mile Ioniq highway trip.

  While much more pragmatic than sleight-of-hand, the two moves allow for a large and deep trunk, since the battery pack is no longer a heavy, tail-wagging device that raises the trunk floor. And moving those pillars forward created enough room to expand on the legroom front and rear of the 176-inch-long sedan.

   The initial appeal of the Ioniq in black was amplified by the bright chrome waterfall grille, and the neatly arranged LED daytime driving lights flanking the headlights on both sides. The contours and silhouette of the Ioniq make their own statement for style.

   Using special Michelin tires helps handling considerably, and the performance is tremendously enhanced by using Hyundai’s in-house 6-speed dual-clutch transmission rather than the stodgy CVT most hybrid vehicles use.

 

Ioniq Limited has rows of LED runnibng lights flanking the front end.

  I remain unconvinced that Hyundai engineers planned for a handling benefit that results from specially designed Michelin tires and revised suspension pieces. True, the Ionic steers and handles very well, but I think part of the whole package is that the mid-vehicle placement of the battery pack trades some of that rear weight for the kind of benefit a mid-engine car enjoys in handling. Whatever, the Ioniq Hybrid definitely has a sportier flair to its handling composure around tight turns.

   The little 1.6 engine is among my favorites when turbocharged for use in other sedans and such SUVs as the Tucson, but without the turbo it loses a fair amount of its performance punch. It has direct injection, but its aim is fuel efficiency more than 0-60 sprints. The Atkinson cycle revises valve timing so the expansion stroke is longer than the compression stroke, improving thermal efficiency and enabling Hyundai engineers to use a higher 13-to-1 compression ratio.

   The engine itself has 104 horsepower and 109 foot-pounds of torque, awaiting the complementary electric motor power of 43 horsepower and 125 foot-pounds of torque. Combined, the Ioniq has an adequate 139 horsepower and a potent 195 foot-pounds of torque. Zero-to-60 times under 9 seconds make the Ioniq about a second quicker than a Prius.

   More important, Hyundai wanted to beat the Prius in fuel economy, and while tests show it does, my week of driving underscored it. The EPA estimates for the Ioniq Hybrid Limited show 55 city and 54 highway, because, like the Prius, the powertrain is more efficient in congested driving than sustained highway cruising. I had noticed a couple of 54-56 mpg during the week in town; on my trip, I stayed with traffic as about 75 miles per hour — not the best for a hybrid — and still got 52.1.

 

Seating four comfortably, the Ioniq design allows deep storage area at rear.

  That, of course, leads us into a couple other distinct advantages created by the Ioniq. First, the base price for the fairly loaded test car was $27,500, and adding in the Ultimate Package with navigation, smart cruise, lane departure warning, active headlights, rear parking sensors, and an audio upgrade, boosts it to $31,460. Still under the comparable Prius models.

   But the Ioniq story doesn’t end with the Hybrid. Coming along next is the plug-in Hybrid, which uses different electrical components, allows you to get a full charge with a plug, and increases fuel economy. On top of that, I’ve driven the top-end Ioniq — the pure electric. That one is amazingly quick, has a range of about 125 miles before needing a recharge, and can recover 85 percent of its charge in 20 minutes with the high-voltage converter.

   After that, who knows? Maybe Hyundai will try building a new mousetrap, too.

   

    

   

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