Featured Reviews
Lexus LF-1 Limitless attracted maximum attention as an SUV concept.

Chicago Show: Cars, stars...and deep-dish pizza

The Chicago Auto Show is the most fun of the major U.S. shows, and it runs through Monday, Feb. 19, showing everything new, and concepts like the Lexus LF-1 Limitless.

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Completely new from the pillars forward, the 2018 Cherokee loses its unique front.

Cherokee altered for 2019 as mainstream winner

The unique face that set the Cherokee apart from the Jeep family has been altered for the new 2019 model, which boasts a high-tech new engine.

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Mustang and Camaro are worthy foes, but GT model makes Challenger a year-round winner.

Challenger GT goes, where others spin their tires

Enthusiast drivers love the retro 1970 styling cues of ponycars, and they no longer must park them in winter, since the Challenger GT hit the road with great handling and AWD.

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Unveiling of 2019 Ram 1500 with much more refined look earned Best in Show from Cars.com.

Light on new cars, Detroit show features trucks

Tradition has been dimmed by competing auto shows, but Detroit's North American Auto Show still had highlights, including the introduction of the 2019 Ram pickup.

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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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Chicago Show: Cars, stars…and deep-dish pizza

February 15, 2018 by · Comments Off on Chicago Show: Cars, stars…and deep-dish pizza
Filed under: New car introductions, Features, Autos 

Jim Belushi, Ford VP Mark LaNeve gave new Transit Connect the Blues Brothers treatment.


      There was a lot of talk about electric cars, hybrids, and autonomous (self-driving) vehicles, but the Chicago Auto Show best told the story of what car life in the U.S. is all about — trucks, SUVs…and more SUVs. One of the most impressive groups of new vehicles are the many midsize and compact crossovers.

    After Toyota got things going with a display of high-performing off-road “TRD” models of its Tacoma and Tundra pickups, and its 4Runner SUV, Ford introduced the new generation of its Transit Connect, a compact, work-oriented mini-truck that fits and maneuvers in tight spaces and can be outfitted however a company or individual may choose.

    To kick it off, Ford pulled a coup by having vice president Mark LaNeve call Jim Belushi to the stage, and Belushi walked out playing a harmonica and leading everyone in a spirited version of “Sweet Home, Chicago.” He intereviewed some in the audience, joked around with LaNeve, then enlisted him to join him in donning sunglasses to do a little Blues Brothers routine.

    The versatility of the Transit Connect is that it could be everything from a foot truck, to a construction workers van, to a mini fun wagon, and while it doesn’t come in all-wheel drive, it does have a couple of new engines, including a 2.0-liter direct-injected 4 and a 1.5 -liter EcoBlue diesel engine with a new 8-speed automatic.   

     The Chicago Auto Show is the largest and longest-running auto show in the country, and in the opinion of everyone who attends, it also is by far the most fun of the major domestice shows. The lively nightlife scene and legendary restaurants help that reputation. The 110th Chicago Auto Show opened with media days in a nasty blizzard that lasted a day and a half and cancelled 600 flights into and out of O’Hare Airport — and it was still fun. It opened to the public on February 10 and anyone looking for a new car can spend hours examining everything offered in showrooms across the country on the 1,000-square-foot halls in McCormick Place, as it runs through Monday, Feb. 19.

Ford never stopped building the Ranger, but this year will reintroduce it to the U.S.

   Because it is definitely a consumer-driven show, Chicago provides an ample number of vehicles that appeal to mainstream, grassroots buyers. Its media survey to pick the Family Car of the Year came in with the Honda Odyssey, the latest generation of the popular and feature-filled minivan, which beat out other valid contenders including the Volvo XC-60 SUV, a midsize version of its SUV-of-the-Year XC-90.

   There were not a lot of new introductions, after most of the debuts were spent on the Los Angeles show in November, and at Detroit in January. But there were definitely still some standouts, for the show, which got a rejuvenated restart in 1950 after the auto industry got rolling again following World War II.

   With special attractions virtually every day, the Chicago show undoubtedly will be the best-attended show, again.

   Consumers, of course, care less about the show-biz schemes than about sitting in and scrutinizing the cars.

Volkswagen is replacing its sleek CC sedan with a super-sleek new sedan called Arteon.

   Among the new vehicles being shown are the 2019 Volkswagen Arteon, a sleek sedan with coupe-like lines that VW helped popularize with the CC model, which will be replaced by the Arteon.

   A new Fiat 500 also was shown, amid an array of cars that leaned toward the exotic sports cars mostly. Hyundai was subtle, showing its just released Veloster sporty coupe, and a new Sonata, which looked a lot like the familiar Sonata, except that it cow comes with hybrid and plug-in hybrid powertrains that get improved fuel economy. The plug-in hybrid Sonata can go 27 miles on pure electric power, and Hyundai, working with fellow-South Korea electronics giant LG, offers a lifetime warranty on the electrical stuff.

   Polaris displayed its new Slingshot, an intriguing roadster that seems to be the offspring of snowmobiles, ATVs and motorcycles, all of which Polaris builds. It has two wheels up front and retains its low attitude to the narrowed single-wheel rear. As the storm outside was on its way to dropping a dozen inches of snow on the Chicago area, the Slingshot lost a little of its fair-weather appeal.

   Dazzling colors are another huge attraction at the show. Acura introduced its new-generation RDX painted a sultry dark metallic red, which allowed its many curvatures to catch every shred of light in the area. That color will be exclusive to the RDX, at least for the first year.


Unique paint is justs one feature of the redesigned Acura RDX.


Volvo’s stunning XC-90 and XC-60 SUVs are now joined by the compact XC-40.

The RDX was one of many midsize SUVs to capture the mood of what has become the largest single segment in the industry.

   Even smaller were a couple of others. At Hyundai, where the Santa Fe, Santa Fe Sport, and Tucson are stalwarts, the new Kona was displayed. It is smaller and could be a huge hit for the company once released.

   Nissan, which also has an array of SUVs big enough for its own show, had a climate-ready Snow Patrol concept of its largest Armada SUV. Moving around the display, you could find the Murano, the Pathfinder, and the Rogue, as well as the downsized Rogue Sport, which is a condensed version of the Rogue itself. Then there was something new — the Kicks, an interestingly named new compact SUV smaller than the Rogue Sport.


Hyundai offers the Kona, more compact than the Tucson.

Nissan wants compact SUV customers to get their “Kicks.”

The good news about such vehicles is that they can run easily at highway speeds and as a small-family hauler and still get outstanding fuel economy, while coming in somewhere between $20,000 and $30,000.

   Another highlight is the Volvo XC-40, the smaller model of the line that includes the larger XC-90 and midsize XC-60, both of which have met with great popularity since their recent introductions. Installing all the amazing creature features of the larger SUVs into the smaller XC-40 is no small task, you should pardon the expression, but makes the mid-$30,000 smallest model a sure hit.

   The Land Rover Discovery has matured from being the company’s entry-level vehicle to a sophisticated compact SUV that appears ready to fulfill the company’s reputation for going anywhere, on or off road.

   Subaru is celebrating its 50th anniversary of selling cars in the U.S. with special edition trim on almost everything in its line of predominately all-wheel-drive compacts. 

   Mercedes has an ever-expanding portfolio, too, with something for every price range and impressive utility vehicles that run from turbo 4-cylinder models to V6 and V8 machines, topped off by the ubiquitous AMG treatment to extract more speed and more power.

    Audi and BMW have maintained their spots in offering new sedans and also numerous utility vehicles to cover every price range and size need. Jaguar also is expanding its presence in the utility field, with several new vehicles that put Jaguar-built engines to good use, even if you don’t stay on the smooth highways.

   There also is some interesting technology, such as the new Nissan-Infiniti variable compression engines, which will be coming out in the new Infiniti Q50 first of all, but will expand as their performance tales become known. The engine doesn’t bother with varying the valve timing of its engines — something it’s already done on its other engines — but actually has the mechanical technique to alter the actual compression of the engine to control the engines. Across the display there also is the 370Zki concept sports car.

Lexus LF-1 Limitless attracted maximum attention as an SUV concept.

   Toyota had more than its TRD trucks, especially at the Lexus display, where it has a stunning blue sports coupe that is such a vibrant color the car has been named after it — the LC Structural Blue. It makes a high-tech partner to the LF-1 Limitless concept SUV-wagon, which is a major attraction. Actually, there are so many flashy Lexus vehicles on display, that a lot of people just seemed to walk by, past the Limitless.

    Battling the blizzard and cold temperature did restrict some of the partying after a long day or two at the show. We still found our way to Gino’s East, for the best deep-dish pizza I’ve ever eaten, as part of the Mazda connection with the gathered media. The crust, for the uninitiated, is made of corn meal, with a gritty, flavorful impact that made me realize I would order a pizza there — at the only place I eat deep-dish — even if they put no cheese, sauce, meats, veggies or other ingredients on it. Just me and the crust.

   Of course, I also mentioned that the Chicago show is so low-key and relaxed that if they ever decided to hold the show and didn’t fill McCormick Place with cars, the media probably would still come, just because it’s Chicago, with its good blues, good foods, and good times. And if you happen to get snowed in…well, you couldn’t pick a better city where you might get snowed in.

Cherokee altered for 2019 as mainstream winner

February 5, 2018 by · Comments Off on Cherokee altered for 2019 as mainstream winner
Filed under: New car introductions, Autos 

Completely new from the pillars forward, the 2018 Cherokee loses its unique front.


     When Jeep brought out its all-new Compass redesign a year ago, I thought Jeep might be wise to simply discontinue the Compass, because the stylishly larger Cherokee and the much larger Grand Cherokee covered the larger SUV end of the scale, the Wrangler had the rugged end blanketed, and the new, funky and popular Renegade was closing in from the smaller end.

   Shows what I know. The Compass came out for 2018 with a neat, contemporary front end, bypassing the more unique looking Cherokee to become more similar to the larger Grand Cherokee, with its seven-slot grille. While shorter, the Compass also had more interior room than the Cherokee.

   That sort of left the Cherokee hanging out to dry. When it was introduced in 2014, the Cherokee was striking in its departure from the signature look of its Jeep siblings, with a more horizontal grille topped by squinty-eyed headlights on the upper edge. My son, Jack, and I agreed it was the best-looking member of the Jeep family.

   With every imaginable nook of the SUV and CUV scope seeming to be covered, the Compass was surprising both because it is impressive even if it comes only with a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine, and for some reason, Jeep designers allowed it to have more interior room than the larger Cherokee. That’s like giving the little brother weight-training until he’s more capable than big brother.

Available in various models, including Trackhawk, for serious rock climbing.

Ah, but now we learn of Jeep’s long-range plan. With the Compass all new a a 2018 model, the next Cherokee has just been introduced as a 2019 vehicle, and invited auto media got a chance to drive it hard, on highways, bad roads, and off-road terrain a sane person might never consider driving a vehicle. In a word, the bigger and roomier Cherokee regains its rightful slot as being just under the Grand Cherokee, and more capable than the Renegade, Wrangler or Compass, if you count everyday highway driving and family duties as a prime consideration.

   The new Cherokee uses the 2.4, which is the only engine in the Compass, but it also gets the impressive 3.2-liter V6 for optimum towing capability. The prize of the litter, in my opinion, is the new-design 2.0-liter 4-cylinder, which is an amazingly potent little powerplant that already is enjoying a strong start to its heritage. It is the same engine used by the all-new Wrangler, which is still the company’s over-achieving all-terrain champ. But in the Cherokee, the 2.0 pushes it to the front of the class, even against the Grand Cherokee for real-world use.

   And all the Cherokee had to sacrifice to carve its new niche was its look of uniqueness. I’m sorry to see the squinty-eyed lights go away, and I’m a little disappointed to see Cherokee’s styling leave being unique behind for a return to the family focus of vertical seven-slot grille with nests of LED lights enclosed in a single pod on either side of the new grille.

   But I will give it this: No matter how much you like the current Cherokee styling, once you’re inside, driving or riding, you don’t even think of how the exterior of your vehicle looks. The inside of the Cherokee has grown up a bit, to reclaim the volume that puts it in its rightful place above the upstart Compass — even though I now think the Cherokee and Compass look remarkably similar. To be annoying, I asked various Jeep executives which they’re rather have now as a family utility, and most of them had trouble choosing.


Cherokee retains smooth on-road performance and offers three engine choices.

The official stance on the Cherokee was made by Scott Tallon, director of Jeep brand, who said, “In 2014, the Cherokee came out with a bold design, and the 2019 builds on that.”

   No, it departs from it. But that’s OK. Mainly because the new Cherokee’s heart and soul rises to new heights. It took a bit of probing conversations with chief engineer Paul Smith and Cherokee line engineer Mike Downey to get most of the information. FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) uses a very neat 2.4 engine designed by Hyundai in South Korea, and it uses some slick induction tricks from parent company Fiat’s Alfa Romeo branch.

   When they said the 2.0 was a clean-sheet design by Chrysler engineers in Auburn Hills, Mich., I pressed on. Reluctantly, they said this Cherokee/Wrangler 2.0 is basically the same engine as used by the amazing new Alfa Romeo Giulia sedan — Motor Trend’s Car of the Year, and also the choice of NewCarPicks.com. I suggested that the Jeep folks shouldn’t be shy about boasting that the engine is shared with such an illustrious car.

   Checking further on a discrepancy I found in the power output of the engine, I got a callback from Trevor Dorchies, communications manager for the Wrangler, as well as the Grand Cherokee, Dodge Durango and Journey. “The 2.0 was actually designed and built by us in Auburn Hills,” Dorchies explained. “The arrangement was that we would supply it to Alfa for the Giulia first, and then use it in the Wrangler and Cherokee.”

   Amazing! Alfa Romeo tinkers with the engine a bit, using its MultiAir system to activate the intake valves instead of an intake valve camshaft. On this side of the pond, Jeep uses dual overhead cams on the 2.0’s four valves per cylinder and direct injection. It puts out 270 horsepower at 5,250 RPMs and 295 foot-pounds of torque from 3,000-4,500 RPMs.


The gem is a new 2.0-liter turbocharged 4, with power, zip and fuel mileage best of the batch.

For easy everyday driving, the 2.4 supplies an adequate 180 horsepower and 171 foot-pounds of torque. For towing heavy things, the Cherokee can be fitted with the 3.2-liter derivative of the proven 3.6 Pentastar, and it has 271 horsepower and 239 foot-pounds of torque.

   Think about it. The V6 has 271 horses to the 2.0 turbo 4’s 270, and the 2.0 turbo actually out-torques the V6 295-239. It may not have as much outright towing capability, but it has to be quicker and, if you can keep your feet from getting too far into the turbo, you probably could get better fuel economy.

   On the road, the new Cherokee is refined and smooth, continuing the recent trend where Jeep upgrades every facet of its vehicles with each model change. We drove hard around the twisty turns of the mountains leading up from Westlake Village, missing the areas recently damaged so badly by the wildfires, until we got to Canyon Ranch, an expansive piece of ground up in the mountains. We know that California’s coastland can be hit by wildfires, mudslides, floods from rare but sudden rainstorms, and even earthquakes. This time, we learned a new one — the nav screen surprised us with a warning for a tsunami that could cause the Pacific Ocean to flood inland>

     We were safe up at the ranch, which Jeep has used numerous times in the past, and on which Jeep folks have traced some amazingly challenging off-road driving courses. We took our turns climbing aboard the Trailhawk versions of the new Cherokee, and they have spotters out there, to make sure we believe we’re supposed to climb those rocks and get past those deeply rutted, boulder-filled regions.

Overland model offers sumptuous leather seats in the redone Cherokee interior.

   You can pick your capability at order time, going with the basic Latitude, Latitude Plus, Limited, or Overland, with the heavy-duty-equipped Trailhawk at the top of the pecking order. All of those can be bought with either rear-wheel drive or 4×4, except for the Trailhawk, which comes only in 4×4 to complete its mountain-goat capabilities.

    You can choose engines, and with any of the three you get the 9-speed automatic tuned to handle all duties. The 2.0 turbo is not available in the base Latitude and is optional on all the other models. Typical of Jeep, you also can choose what off-road system you want, including System III with Active Drive I, Touring, which as Active Drive II, or rear-lock which is Active Drive III.

   Prices range from the Latitude 4×2 $24,990, to the Latitude Plus at $27,490, Limited at $31,370, Overland at $37,270, and the Trailhawk at $34,315. It costs another $1,500 to add 4×4 — and, frankly, what red-blooded Jeep customer would not want 4×4?

Trackhawk’s hill-descent control allows Cherokee to tiptoe down virtual cliffs with ease.

  All the latest connectivity stuff is either standard or available, and the headlight and tail lights are LED, as are the daytime running lights. The 2019 Cherokee is all new from the front pillars forward, with aluminum hood, new fenders, and the different nose. A capless fuel door, and a composite liftgate are standrad,, and either a 7 or 8.4 inch navigation screen. While the dashboard, console and instruments are a major step forward, there are also little touches, such as the tailgate, which swings up if you have the key fob on your person, and you wave your foot under the rear bumper. Others have had this, and if you’re approaching with four grocery bags in your arms, you appreciate the convenience of the “kick wave” device, for not having to set them down in 6 inches of snow while you grapple for your keys.

   The new Cherokee is 182 inches long (to 175.1 for the Compass), with a wheelbase of 107 inches (to 103.7), and it’s 73.2 inches wide (to 71.4), with a height of 65.7 (to 65). It also has a 4,000 pound towing capacity, or 4,500 with the V6. All of that should allow the new Cherokee to climb back ahead of the new Compass and regain its rightful place in the Jeep family.



Challenger GT goes, where others spin their tires

February 1, 2018 by · Comments Off on Challenger GT goes, where others spin their tires
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

Ponycars and icy winter highways don’t mix, until now, with the AWD Dodge Challenger GT.

By John Gilbert

   What’s wrong with this picture, as they say? It’s a photo of a beautiful new Dodge Challenger parked along a North Shore cove in Two Harbors, Minnesota, overlooking an icy Lake Superior, and sitting on a snowy, icy parking area.

   Everyone know that the resurrection of the “Big Three” ponycars — the Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro, and Dodge Challenger — is heartwarming and attractive, but those wonderful hot cars from the late 1960s through 1970 had one thing in common: front engine and rear drive. You either chose judiciously when to venture out between November and April, or, better, you parked them during the winter months.

    With their wide tires and ready-to-race demeanor, those cars traditionally are not what yoiu think you should be driving in slippery conditions.

   However, we now must make an exception. While the Mustang and Camaro have been modernized in styling updates in recent years, the Challenger has stayed truest to its 1970-era roots. Until now. Dodge made the most publicity out of adding the SRT Hellcat powertrain, and the over-the-top 808 horsepower Demon model.

   Flying well below that outrageous 2018 power display, Challenger has added a GT model, which comes with a strong  3.6-liter V6 engine and winter-beating all-wheel drive. Think about that: all-wheel drive! The GT term, which traditionally stands for Grand Touring (or Gran Turismo).sounds like it should be hotter than its siblings, even the Hellcat and other huge-engined monsters, but in reality is possibly the best real-world model of all the ponycars.

Challenger GT styling can be called “future-retro,” but for 2018, it houses a lot of technical advances.

   The Challenger GT I recently test-drove was painted a stunning “IndiGo” blue, and otherwise, except for black alloy wheels and a tastefully small “GT” on its flanks, doesn’t jump out as a high performer. But take it up an icy avenue in Duluth, or drive off the street into the ice-covered parking area near Two Harbors, and when you want to go, just shift the 8-speed TorqueFlite transmission into “D” and step on the gas.

    The familiar 3.6-liter V6 is perfectly tuned to operate the car, and it sends its 305 horsepower and 262 foot-pounds of torque down through its four specially-selected Michelin Primacy MXM4 tires, which we probably can call “high-performance/all-season” tires.

    At its introduction, I was able to drive a Challenger GT on an icy test facility in Maine late last winter, and I got a real eye-opening experience at the FCA proving grounds at Auburn Hills, Michigan, where I drove an assortment of high-powered Challengers with their Hemi V8s up to over 800 supercharged horsepower. To my amazement, I found that on a specific part of that track, there is a serpentine stretch where the track gives you about a hundr ed-yard straight stretch, then a 180-degree switchback, back and forth for about six such turns.

    I came away convinced that the precise steering and handling of the Challenger GT made the V6 model with AWD possibly the best-handling Challenger of all — and, in fact, maybe the best-handling car of any name ever made by Dodge.

   With that in mind, I kept in the back of my mind that away from the controlled test-track arrangement, I couldn’t wait until I got my paws on the Challenger Gt in a Northern Minnesota winter setting. It finally happened.


When normal ponycars are parked for the winter, with the Challenger GT, clear off the snow and go!

  Right on cue, we had a nice little snowstorm punctuating the cold, which made for some treacherous driving. Getting through that early-January week was a snap for the Challenger GT.

   To start with, you hit the key fob from the warmth of yiur kitchen and start up the refined, dual-overhead -cam V6. Let it run for a few minutes to get the oil circulating, and to get such things as the heated seats and heated steering wheel in proper mood to make even 0-degrees feel comfortable. It is one of the wonders of humanity that no matter how cold it is outside, hypothermia-threatening, if your butt and your hands are pleasantly warm, the rest of your body is comfortable until the full force of the heater gets up to speed.

   The biggest problem I had, in fact, was to get the Challenger’s thick layer of road-salt glop washed away, and then, after a warm-up to the mid-20s, to try to maneuver the just-washed Challenger around the slimy streets. It didn’t work, no matter how good-handling the car was.

Plenty of power and superb handling are controllable, with paddle shifters and all.

   I did get some curious looks from other drivers in their AWD SUVs and pedestrians when I would turn a cornrer in downtowon Duluth and zip up an icy avenue without any problem.

   The best thing about the appearance of the Challenger GT is that it does not appear to sit up high, the way most AWD vehicle do. It looks as low and sleek as the other Challengers, which is a good thing.

    For a base price of $33,495 and a sticker as-tested fee of $38,965, the GT offers all the possible contemporary technology available. That includes standard electronic stability control, traction control, hill-start assist, electric power steering, high-performance brakes, an active transfer case with front-axle disconnect, and a load of interior features. Those include Uconnect capable of handling Apple or Android connectivity, various plug-ins, and such driver features as leather-wrapped steering wheel, and paddle shifters on the steering wheel.

   Options on the test car include the technology group, with automatic high-beams, adaptine cruise, and forward collision warning; driver convenience group, with high intensity discharges headlights, blind spot and rear cross-path detection, and the remote start system; the GT package, including leather steering wheel, and an audio upgrade to nine speakers and 506 watts; and a navigation system with the 8.4-inch screen, as well as Sirius satellite radio.  

Mustang and Camaro are worthy foes, but GT model makes Challenger a year-round winner.

Not only is the Challenger GT equipped with all those real-world assets, but it has that fantastic lilne-tracing steering and handling, and along with its comfortably supportive bucket seats, it actually has a roomy enough rear seat to house actual adult humans.

   That makes it perfect, in case one of your neighbors finds himself or herself venturing out with a Mustang, Camaro, or “normal” Challenger and getting caught in a winter storm. You could stop and give them a ride home, and you wouldn’t have to waste any words boasting about the winter-beating capabilities of your prized, bargain-priced ponycar.



Light on new cars, Detroit show features trucks

January 19, 2018 by · Comments Off on Light on new cars, Detroit show features trucks
Filed under: New car introductions, Features, Autos 

Unveiling of 2019 Ram 1500 with much more refined look earned Best in Show from Cars.com.

By John Gilbert

DETROIT, Michigan

    Call it “Auto Show Light,” but the North American International Auto Show, formerly known simply as the Detroit Auto Show, seems to have gone on a diet, as the latest example of how the automotive world is changing. Swamped by the consumer tide of sports-utility vehicles rising above and beyond mere cars, much in the way the nation’s most prestigious auto show has added words in hopes of adding prestige to its name.

   While spectacular new cars were fewer, there certainly were still some compelling introductions during the annual press previews on Monday and Tuesday, January 15-16, with the public show following through the following two weekends. But trucks had the upper hand.


Ram trades its all-out macho look for refinement for 2019.

Completely redone Ram interior features huge center info screen.

Ram rolled out an impressive new 1500 pickup truck, with the massive, macho facade replaced by a far more refined grille and completely redone interior, with a giant vertical navigation/information screen about the size of a full-size iPad.

    The new rounded-off look is a departure, and it was interesting that the new Ram won “Best in Show” from the respected auto website cars.com, and perhaps it was verification of how few new cars there were, since the Los Angeles Show in November, that pickups won several awards.


Reintroduction of the Ford Ranger midsize pickup was a Detroit feature.

Ford offered a hybrid version of its new F150 pickup and made big news affirming the much-rumored return of the midsize Ranger pickup, which not only was a highlight of the show, but was a co-dominating model alongside a couple of new Mustang versions.

   Honda’s Acura luxury division called it a concept, but the new generation of the RDX compact SUV made a strong impression, as trucks and trucklings dominated. Also, there were a number of concept vehicles — including one each from Nissan and its upscale Infiniti brand — and Toyota’s Lexus also showed a concept sporty SUV.


Honda’s upscale Acura brand brought out its new RDX utility vehicle.

But marketing ideas and PR ploys still fail to grasp the simple fact that the cars are still the stars when it comes to such gala events, as long as you include trucks and SUVs in the catch-all term “cars.”

   As if the NAIAS doesn’t have enough worry with the Los Angeles, Chicago and New York shows crowding its popularity, the manufacturers are now trying to outflank the NAIAS itself by introducing vehicles in the two days before the Monday opening day of the annual media presentations. That added to the effect of curtailing the aura of prestigious presentations at the press preview days, which were themselves reduced from two busy days to one shortened day and a second with only one introduction — the new Jeep Cherokee, which was to be introduced for media drives a week later.

    Chevrolet had a major introduction on Saturday night, before the earliest out of town media started arriving Sunday. Ford and Volkswagen held events Sunday night, among others. Generally, the show gets started with the early Monday morning presentation of the North American International Car, Truck and Utility of the Year awards.

    The resulting competition for media exposure and the expenses involved to  the manufacturers conspired to make as big news of the manufacturers who weren’t at the show as big as the news of who was. Porsche was not present, for example, nor was Mazda, whose absence is another sign of the times, because it just was named by the EPA for having the highest corporate over-all fuel economy for the fifth straight year. Jaguar and Land Rover were also absent, preventing many in the media from their first examination of the just-introduced Velar SUV, as was Mitsubishi, which is just starting to gain traction in its rebirth.


Volvo XC60 midsize SUV won Utility of the Year award.

Volvo did have a display, but no formal presentation. The Swedish company virtually had to be present, since its new midsize XC60 SUV won the vote of 60 unattached media members as Utility of the Year. The Volvo followed the footsteps of its larger sibling, the XC90, which won as Truck or Utility of the Year two years ago. This year, the Alfa Romeo Stelvio and the Honda Odyssey were other finalists, as the jury decided to list the Odyssey with the utility vehicles, while minivans traditionally had been judged against cars, as verified by the cars.com award to the Chrysler Pacifica as Family Car of the Year.


Honda Accord, front, won Car of the Year over Kia Stinger and Toyota Camry.

The Honda Accord won Car of the Year, mainly because it was totally redesigned and adds two new engines as the nation’s top-selling car to individual buyers. The Toyota Camry, the largest seller if you include fleet sales, and the upstart Kia Stinger performance sedan were other finalists.

   The Truck of the Year category was truly muddled, as the only three ruled eligible were the Chevrolet midsize Colorado ZR-2 pickup, with only the addition of off-road front protective structure and underpinnings to stand as “new,” while the heavy-duty utility giants Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator were the only other candidates. Both are body on frame and have heavy towing capabilities, which somehow allowed the jury to shift them from their obvious position among Utilities to Trucks, where the Navigator emerged as Truck of the Year.


Lincoln Navigator, a large utility vehicle, changed categories and won Truck of the Year.

Marc Thelan, jury chairman and a columnist for the Detroit Free Press, felt compelled to accompany the naming of the awards with his explanation in a Monday column of how and why the Navigator was a truck and not a utility, where it always has competed against such large SUVs as the Chevrolet Suburban and Tahoe, and GMC Denali.

   Ford showed the concept F150 Hybrid as a 2020 concept, and it also presented a Mustang Mach 1 hybrid as a concept. The star of Ford’s Sunday pre-press-days show was the introduction of a 2019 Mustang called the Bullitt, after the acclaimed action movie Bullitt that displayed some spectacular driving up and down the hillsides of San Francisco with the late Steve McQueen driving. Ford brought in his granddaughter, Molly, with a video of her doing similar driving in the new Bullitt, then introduced her in person along with the privately-owned original movie Mustang.


Original Bullitt movie Mustang reappeared, with new Bullitt model in background.

Molly McQueen, grand-daughter of late movie star Steve McQueen, presented new Bullitt.

Volkswagen, which was reported along with the obligatory explanation of its diesel “scandal” for fitting a device that shut off the emission elements when not being tested, displayed why it is resurgent in world sales with the new Jetta. True, the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News are virtual hostages of the domestic manufacturers, but while they ridiculed VW’s problem, they completely overlooked naming the other manufacturers, such as General Motors and Ford, which have been accused and sued for their diesel truck engines also being fitted with the illegal plumbing to evade EPA test scrutiny, and their numbers dwarf the actual number of Volkswagen vehicles with the now-eliminated outlaw diesels.

   VW has rebounded with the addition of the Atlas three-row SUV and the extension of the new Tiguan as a longer SUV. The news of the new Jetta Sunday night included the first display of the Passat GT performance sedan as a U.S. aimed and built vehicle, and the Jetta is the newest rendition of VW’s most popular U.S. sedan.  Cars.com gave awards to Jetta’s siblings, naming the new full-size Atlas as Best of 2018, and the GTI version of the Golf as Most Fun to Drive for 2018. 


Entirely redesigned, new Jetta introduced as VW’s top seller in U.S.

The Jetta display was more than just the extremely fluid and attractive body shape, with a coupe-like silhouette, built on the acclaimed MBQ platform, and the impressive interior with its encapsulating bucket seats. Under the hood, the only available engine is VW’s outstanding new 1.4-liter turbo 4-cylinder gasoline engine. VW’s mainstay 4-cylinders have been the 2.0 and its 1.8-liter derivative, but the 1.4 is a new engine from an entire new family of 4-cylinders, with less horsepower but virtually the same torque as the larger 4s. The torque figures give it the same feeling of thrust, and the 1.4 can top 40 miles per gallon.

   The Lexus LF-1 Limitless is a compact crossover that borrows heavily from the sleek and swoopy array of Lexus sports coupes, but there is no telling if or when it will be built.

   Acura, meanwhile, calls its new RDX a concept vehicle, but that is Honda’s style, to call new vehicles concepts while leading up to actual production, and the new third-generation prototype RDX appears ready for production, with a new and dedicated small turbocharged V6 engine as an option to a 2.0-liter turbo 4.

   Kia executives stressed the design cues from the Stinger, its first Car of the Year finalist, in the design of the new compact Forte, which is longer and wider with its windshield positioned 5 inches rearward from the current car, and the emphasis on improving ride and handling starts with a chassis taht is 54 percent made of high-strength steel. It is powered by a second generation 2.0-liter 4-cylilnder with 147 horsepower and 132 foot-pounds of torque — enough to propel the comparative lightweight compact and also deliver 35-mpg efficiency.

    Kia’s production partner, Hyundai, talked about the introduction 10 years ago of the oddball Veloster sporty coupe, and the context was to introduce the second-generation version of the car as a 2019. It retains the three-door design, with a large driver-side door, narrower right side front door, and smaller rear door carved into the right rear for easy access to the rear seat. It still has the flashy center exhaust tube at the rear, but all the quirky corners and angles have been smoothed out under the new skin. It also has a 2.0-liter Atkinson cycle 4-cylinder engine for base power, with an optional 1.6-liter turbo, running with a stick shift or a 7-speed house-built dual-clutch automatic.

    With South Korea having shown its stuff, we were taken back to Japan for Nissan’s showing of its Infiniti based 4-cylinder turbo concept compact SUV, where the big news is a revolutionary — you should pardon the expression — variable compression turbo engine. The engine cylinders run their course, but instead of the high-tech trick of varying the valve timing with sophisticated overhead camshafts, Nissan’s new engine actually varies the compression ration for different load requirements. We will look forward to the production of any Nissan or Infiniti vehicles with the new technique, and it will start in the Infiniti QX50 crossover.


Infiniti Q Inspiration concept vehicle, variable-combustion engine led Nissan’s display.

Nissan offered a concept SUV called the Xmotion, which could influence the direction its popular Rogue will take in design, while Infiniti’s concept was a long and sleek sporty 4-door sedan called the Q Inspiraton, which can capitalize on the company’s outstanding turbo 2.0-liter 4, or go with the VC-Turbo — its revolutionary, you should pardon the expression, variable compression technology.

    With Lexus taking the outer-limits concept approach, Toyota was left simplifying things, introducing the new 2019 Avalon luxury sedan. I thought the current Avalon was the best looking sedan Toyota had ever built, for either itself or Lexus. The new one? Well, we can give it time. I found some of the contour lines seemed to be aimed at being different just to prove it’s a new model, and the way one seam dipped down toward the wheel-well seemed to avoid the harmony of the current car.

    While that Avalon introduction ended the normal schedule of traditional first-press-day presentations, Chinese manufacturer, GAC Motors, showed two vehicles and says it will establish research and development centers in Detroit and Los Angeles, intending to enter the U.S. market with a GA4 sedan and at least one SUV to start with. FCA, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, has partnered with GAC to sell Fiats and Jeeps in China, and GAC officials said they would like to start out in the U.S. with a similar partnership with FCA.

    Tuesday’s lone car presentation was the Jeep Cherokee, its mid-range vehicle between the Grand Cherokee and the smaller Compass and Rendezvous. The Cherokee has been a hit with its squinty headlights and a departure from traditional Jeep styling. The new one gives up the squint and takes a more conventional approach, similar to the new 2018 Compass. It will have three engine choices, with a base 2.4-liter 4, a 3.2-liter V6, and a new 2.0-liter turbo.

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.




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