Featured Reviews
Ford's EcoSport looks like a tiny SUV, and with 4WD, it performs like one, too.

EcoSport SES 'deja vu' is not entirely the same

The Ford EcoSport is a mini-SUV, but the SES model, which looks a lot like the FWD EcoSport, offers 4WD, so it even acts like a real all-weather, all-terrain SUV.

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Jeep's new Compass is truly a global exercise, with an engine of South Korean, Italian and U.S. heritage.

New Compass pays tribute to fallen FCA leader

The sudden death of CEO Sergio Marchione shocked FCA, but his heritage will live on in vehicles like the new Jeep Compass.

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With room and power to spare, the new Atlas can take on the largest SUVs.

VW Atlas and the quest for blueberry pie

Volkswagen caught on quickly to the U.S. willingness to pay for large SUVs, and its new Atlas is the largest vehicle VW has ever made with room and driveability.

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Rugged for off-roading, the Discovery also is classy enough to go to the country club.

Land Rover fans can enjoy new Discovery

Land Rover has built a crop of SUVs to make England proud, and the Discovery is the latest example -- over-engineered and always classy to drive.

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Galloping Mustang emblem stands alone on GT's blackened grille.

Wild Mustang GT still around, eager to be tamed

The Ford Mustang never missed a beat since changing U.S. automotive landscape 50 years ago, but the potent 2018 Mustang GT might be best of the breed.

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New 2019 Hyundai Veloster R-Spec is refined and adds performance features.

Veloster keeps quirks, adds power and refinement

Hyundai's Veloster was quirky when it hit the highway in 2011, and its second generation, for 2019, adds high-tech refinement, plus power, and still retains its quirkiness.

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The Dodge Demon is gone, but long live the 797-horsepower Challenger Hellcat Redeye for 2019.

Rams, Jeeps, 797-hp Challengers await 2019

Dodge, and parent FCA, have some interesting new technical advances coming for 2019 models, but wanted to stress the outright joy of the hot-performing Challenger Hellcat Redeye,

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Showing off lines no Buick has ever shown, new Regal GS should spur sales.

Regal sedan remains, as stunning GS hatch

Buick has exercised its Opel connection for its new Regal Tour-X wagon, and its 2019 Regal GS gives new style and performance flair to the whole line.

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In the ever-expanding Infiniti SUTV stable, the 2019 QX50 is something special -- with variable compression power.

Varied compression makes QX50 constant

Along with its high-tech cars, Nissan's upscale Infiniti line is loaded with SUVs, but the 2019 QX50 might be the best ever, putting the long-awaited variable compression ration

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Headlights are high and foglights low on the unique Kona front end.

Kona gives Hyundai high-caffeine CUV

Hyundai sedans and SUVs have a tradition of providing technology and features at bargain prices, and its new subcompact Kona crossover is the latest evidence.

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EcoSport SES ‘deja vu’ is not entirely the same

August 15, 2018 by · Comments Off on EcoSport SES ‘deja vu’ is not entirely the same
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

Ford EcoSport SES is a short, stubby but REAL SUV with 4WD.

By John Gilbert

    Sports is guilty of beating a good phrase into being trite, such as with the great line, “deja vu all over again,” which Yogi Berra once said, but now is used so regularly by baseball broadcasters that it’s doubtful they even realize that it’s redundant. Ironically, it might apply here, this week.

    If this review seems redundant, maybe it’s because you just read about the Ford EcoSport about three months ago, but the deja vu is not happening all over again.

    I got to test an EcoSport Titanium with front-wheel drive back in April, and now I’ve recently gotten an EcoSport SES with 4-wheel drive. But there is a lot more than just the engine and trim to differentiate the two, so it’s not really a repeat performance.

   For this one, I asked my wife, Joan, to take a drive in it just for here always-sought impressions, and she wasn’t kind. “It’s a dog,” said Joan. I suggested she should give it another try, and use the steering-wheels to paddle-shift the 6-speed automatic, while stomping harder on the gas.

   She did, and afterward she said: “Still a dog.” 

Diminutive next to larger SUVs, the EcoSport has surprising interior room.

 Talk about redundant. I must allow for her to be right, though, and maybe I give small engines the benefit of the doubt for being able to keep up with larger ones in traffic, and overlook such chinks in pedigree. Maybe some of both.

    The EcoSport Titanium we drove in April got mixed impressions, but for good reason. As Ford’s smallest utility vehicle, it had surprisingly good acceleration with only a tiny 1.0-liter 3-cylinder engine, thanks to the EcoBoost turbocharger. But, tiny or not, that engine only comes with front-wheel drive, so it seemed silly up in the North Woods when a late snowstorm accentuated that it was front-wheel drive only — no 4×4.

   

Ford’s EcoSport looks like a tiny SUV, and with 4WD, it performs like one, too.

 But now we’ve gotten through July, and the last trace of snow is long gone, fried out of our memory by our foray into what we might call  Global Warming Sunstroke Season — 90-degree heat in Minnesota — and the EcoSport SES that arrived as a follow-up came with 4-wheel drive. Go figure. I heard a report from Minneapolis, 2 hours south of Duluth, that through July, they had recorded 17 days of 90 or over, usually a rarity.

   The EcoSport SES with 4WD costs only a thousand more, at $25,325, than the fancier Titanium 3-cylinder with FWD, which lists for $24,380. But you lose the conversation-piece of the 3-cylinder 1.0, for the more commonplace 2.0, although with the turbo to handle the extra duty of making all four wheels churn.

    An interesting aside: The 2.0 turbo’s 160 horsepower leaves behind the 1.0’s little-impact 123 horsepower, but when it comes to torque, the 2.0 has 146 foot-pounds and the little 1.0 a surprising 148 foot-pounds!

 

Sport-tuned suspension and compact size gives the EcoSport good agility.

 Not that the numbers matter. Of more significance is how it feels, which is where Joan’s assessment might sting. The EcoSport looks to me like a subcompact sedan, but it is classified as an SUV, or more accurately a CUV (crossover utility vehicle). So if you’re going to make and sell me an SUV or CUV in Duluth, Minnesota, make sure it’s a 4-wheel-drive model, OK?   

   Granted, a good FWD vehicle with the best winter tires (Nokian, anyone?) can go anywhere in any blizzard, but all things equal, you get more efficient blizzard-beating with 4WD or AWD, or whatever you choose to call it on any particular vehicle. To say nothing of the peace of mind feeling that comes along when a blizzard hits and you know you can barge through it.

Firm seats and contemporary controls help the EcoSport interior.

  Frankly, I do appreciate the EcoSport’s utility. It has surprising room for something that looks so stubby — aerodynamic, yes, but still stubby — to have so much available room to haul a couple other adults in the rear seat and to stow groceries or luggage in the way-back, inside the hatch.

    Ah, the hatch. When is a hatch not a hatchback? When it’s an EcoSport SES with a side-opening rear door. Maybe Ford wanted to cater to the reputation of U.S. buyers to not want a hatchback, but this one is hinged on the left side, with the door handle on the right, and then look out, because you have to step back to avoid the wide-swinging door.

   As a comparatively tall vehicle, there is plenty of headroom, even with the large sunroof, and the stowage might be misleading if they count cubic feet all the way to that high ceiling. There also is plenty of room for housing all the latest connectivity SYNC features, and safety stuff to alert you to blind-spot intruders and to help avoid backing into cross-traffic.

  

Side-hinged rear door is different touch from the hatchback norm.

I was disappointed with the fuel economy, which is estimated at 14 city and 36 highway, but I found it unlikely to get it up to 30 in my driving. I also didn’t find the little 3-cylinder approached its EPA estimates, and getting a mini-sized SUV with a tiny engine should at least assure you of lofty mileage.

   The sport-tuned suspension in the SES version of the EcoSport does make it handle in a nice, flat, firm attitude around curves or tight corners, and the larger 2.0 4-cylinder has a chance to shine. But you’d be wise to hit the left paddle a couple times and drop down to third or even second if you want anything resembling spunk to be delivered from your little gem.

   If you don’t, you won’t have anything at all to stand on as evidence to debate your wife when she suggests the vehicle should be required to wear a collar with a name-tag.

New Compass pays tribute to fallen FCA leader

August 13, 2018 by · Comments Off on New Compass pays tribute to fallen FCA leader
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

Jeep’s new Compass is truly a global exercise, with an engine of South Korean, Italian and U.S. heritage.

By John Gilbert

    While driving a 2018 Jeep Compass for a week in Northern Minnesota recently, I quietly inscribed another chapter in the ongoing refinement of the Jeep family into my memory bank.

    This time, it was as a tribute to Sergio Marchione, the automotive executive of the year for any year, or every year. Marchione died unexpectedly two weeks ago, far too young at age 66. A thoroughly engaging personality brimming with charisma, Marchione had pulled off a creative deal to take over Fiat and the bankrupt Chrysler Corporation by merging them together into FCA — Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles.

    That was in 2009, and he met a couple of legal challenges to gain full control of Chrysler without spending anything. He then separated Dodge trucks into Ram, separate from Chrysler-Dodge cars, where Jeep had always been. Resolutely, he guided Ram and Jeep into being the No. 1 and 2 profit-makers for FCA, lifting both Chrysler Corporation and Fiat out of the red in less than a decade.

   In the process, the renamed FCA steadily improved and refined both Ram and Jeep models, adding new models from both Fiat and Chrysler, while upgrading all the cars in the organization. I had the chance to talk to Marchione on a couple of occasions, and found him refreshingly direct, candid, and willing to answer any and all questions. The introduction of the Alfa Romeo Giulia and companion Stelvio SUV a year ago was a huge plus for the corporation. Driving the new Ram pickup proves it to be possibly the most refined pickup in the industry.

    On the Jeep side, renovations of the entire line included an all new compact Renegade, and a companion Fiat 500X, plus an all-new Cherokee, and, a year ago, an all-new Compass.

    Then suddenly, the alarming news came that Marchione had gone to a hospital in Zurich, Switzerland, for “shoulder surgery” and that he would not be able to return to work as FCA’s CEO. Then, suddenly again, the news came that he had died. Indications are that he had mostly kept secret that his shoulder surgery was to treat a soft-tissue sarcoma, an invasive type of cancer in his right shoulder. During the surgery, Marchione suffered an embolism — a blood clot — that caused him to fall into a coma. He never came out of it.

Jeep styling cues complete package at rear, which houses plenty of storage room.

   All of that sad news has put FCA into some sort of a spin, with questions about the company’s future coming from everywhere. And it is into that climate that I got a Compass delivered to me for a week-long test.

    Jeeps always are fun to drive, especially if you have an area where you can do some serious off-road driving. Not necessarily rock climbing stuff, but just taking on remote woodland trails and terrain, where you’d never venture in a normal car. I guess that’s part of it: Jeeps are not normal.

    Decades ago, I really didn’t like Jeeps, and wondered why those who did, did. They were rattly, suffered from frequent maintenance issues, and even when new seemed on the verge of starting to show off their lack of refinement. Then they came up with the Cherokee, which was the first Jeep I really admired. Oh, you have to admire the Wrangler, which seemed proud to show off its World War II heritage, but only off-road.

   The Cherokee came in under the Wagoneer, a large and very undependable creature that could nuisance you to the point of distraction even in a week’s time. I’ve previously relayed the story of a Grand Wagoneer I was testing in mid winter and my wife and I drove to a high school hockey game and parked about a block from the arena in Minneapolis. After the game, we were walking back and I heard a car horn honking, constantly, without interruption. I mentioned to Joan how some poor so and so had his horn stuck on a 10-below zero night. We turned the corner, and it was our Wagoneer test vehicle, its horn blaring loudly. We pulled the wires to stop it, then found the battery was dead and we had to get a jump start. Afterward, I reconnected the horn wires and found it wouldn’t honk when I hit the horn, but it would honk every time I turned left!

Finely finished Compass interior includes supportive bucket seats, handy controls.

   Anyhow, the Cherokee grew into the Grand Cherokee, to make room for a smaller Cherokee, then came the rest of the family, including the Patriot, Compass, and assorted other vehicles of varying sizes.

   The new Cherokee comes with three engine choices, one of which is a new 2.0-liter turbocharged 4, which is the result of a green-lighted bold move by Chrysler engineers to develop a new small engine on American soil — one of the qualifications for his Fiat operation to gain full rights to Chrysler.

    The Compass, meanwhile, stands in testimony to where Jeep specifically and FCA in general have gotten under Marchione’s fine and forceful hand. Not only is the body shape and design pleasing, the interior is vastly improved, and it is now a fine place for a driver or passengers.

   But the perfect example of FCA is under the hood. Chrysler and Hyundai had shared a joint venture with Mitsubishi to design a new engine just as Marchione was engineering his deal to take control of Chrysler. Hyundai’s 2.4-liter 4-cylinder won the competition among the three, and all three began using that engine. Meanwhile, Fiat came out with the new 500 subcompact, powered by a tiny 1.4-liter 4-cylinder with surprisingly sprightly power because of a turbocharger. Even in base form it was peppy, thanks to something called MultiAir.

   Fiat engineers had devised a method of using oil-filled tubes to fill and compress in an action that forces the intake valves to open and close, while also operating the exhaust valvetrain. The free-breathing system meant that the Fiat 500’s 4 had four valves per cylinder but didn’t need dual overhead cams because the exhaust cam did double duty and negated the need for an intake cam. Impressive as it was, having been proven for years on Diesel engines and Formula 1 race engines, Fiat engineers told me it could be adapted to work on any engine.

 

Contemporary controls, includingAterrain switch, are reachable. 

Console knob can set up Compass for any terrain.

So here I am driving the new Compass, classy in its Granite Crystal Metallic paint, and it is powered by a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine with MultiAir. It  has 180 horsepower and 175 foot-pounds of torque, which is adequate for a vehicle as light as the Compass.

   The Compass Latitude 4×4 as I tested it started at a base price of $24,395, which seems like an enormous bargain, coming as it does with that structurally solid drivetrain. But the test vehicle came loaded with $12,000 worth of options, pushing the sticker price bottom line to $36,390.

    You could reduce that by excising some options, but the cold weather package, the advanced safety and lighting group, the navigation group with all its connectivity and dash screen, the popular equipment group with its power seats, remote start and auxiliary power plug-ins, and the dual-pane sunroof — all are impressive features, whether you can afford them or not.

   As for that engine, there are no alternatives. Critics who might prefer neck-snapping power have complained that the Compass is underpowered, but I found it to be adequate in every instance unless you wanted to screech the tires at a stoplight. It accelerates smoothly and steadily, after its modest takeoffs. And it runs well in coordination with the new 9-speed automatic transmission. 

Slick appearance with roots on three continents make Compass example of global industry.

  But the overriding feeling I had while getting to know and appreciate the new Compass was that it is a vehicle that pays tribute to Sergio Marchione’s vision of a global auto industry. It has an engine that was originally designed in South Korea by Hyundai; the engine adds the innovative MultiAir intake system from Fiat in Italy; and it is built in a Chrysler plant in the U.S.

    As for the Compass itself? All those parts are shipped to its final assembly point — Toluca, Mexico.

   You can’t beat all that to prove how global the auto industry has become. And for Sergio Marchione, born in Italy, raised in Toronto, and going back to Italy to forge two failing auto companies into one profitable one, it is a fitting tribute.

    

   

VW Atlas and the quest for blueberry pie

August 5, 2018 by · Comments Off on VW Atlas and the quest for blueberry pie
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

With room and power to spare, the new Atlas can take on the largest SUVs.

By John Gilbert

    Where will it all end, this apparent runaway escalation in number and size of Sport-Utility Vehicles?  For Volkswagen, the end is here in the form of the large, and extremely spacious Atlas.

    I’m on the record as being in favor of the smallest vehicle that is big enough, but our test drive timing was perfect, because we were taking four adults to  find the perfect piece of blueberry pie. We needed the room, because we were embarking on a nearly 2-hour trip to Ely, Up North on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, where it was Blueberry Festival time.

   The Atlas is the largest vehicle Volkswagen has ever built, and it is a new dimension from a company that made its impact by building compact, fuel-efficient and fun cars, such as the Beetle, Golf, former Rabbit, Jetta, and on up to the larger Passat and longer Sportwagon.

   We loaded up a new Atlas with four adults, my camera bag, spare hiking shoes, a windbreaker/rain jacket each, just in case, and a cooler full of sparkling Perrier and iced tea, and we headed off with a half-dozen CDs in the console for our second trip in a couple weeks from Duluth to Ely.

   There’s something about Minnesota blueberries in the middle of summer. They thrive, while they struggle in some other areas of the country. Up North, you find two varieties of blueberries — the large, marble sized prizes raised carefully by nurturing gardeners, and the little tiny blueberries growing wild in the woods. There is no question the tiny ones have unexcelled intensity in their flavor, but you have to spend a lot of time down low to the ground to find the beds where they flourish.

   In any case, the various places that make and sell fresh blueberry pies could charge anything they wanted for a slice of those delicacies. And even though the Chocolate Moose restaurant has closed, we wanted to go right up to the large weekend festival that fills Ely’s city park with all sorts of handiwork. When we first walked in to the crowded square block site, we spotted the facility that sold various light foods and also proclaimed boldly: “Blueberry Pie.”

   We were patient, leaving the best for last. It was a hot day, but we could wander around the many displays and hold off on satisfying our quest. We did hit the kettle-corn stand for a large sack of their specialty, and when we heard some fine harmony from a nearby stage, we wandered over and were thoroughly entertained by Pat Surface with the Boundary Water Boys, performing a series of folk-country classics.

Shape of Atlas allows easily accessed third row seat, which folds flat.

   On the way up, we appreciated the way the Atlas handled the many twisting curves and hills through the towering pine trees in and around the numerous lakes and rivers. It is one of the most fun highways in the country, driven moderately, of course. The Atlas comes in base form with VW’s long-proven 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder turbo, while our SEL had the optional 3.6-liter V6 with 276 horsepower and 266 foot-pounds of torque, with plenty of punch to handle those curves.

   The loaded SEL model listed at $42,940, and it was a large cave that had room for everything we needed, and we were glad that we had a large enough SUV to handle our stuff in spacious comfort. We never needed to fold the third row seat up into position, although it would have been easy. The second row not only tilts forward, it slides 7.7 inches forward to allow easy access to the third row, when needed. If you’re in the second row, you’ll appreciate the 14-degree reclining action.

   VW tried its hand at a compact SUV years ago with the Tiguan and the Touareg, a pair of larger, stronger utility vehicles that I’m sure the company figured would satisfy anyone wanting a bigger, stronger vehicle.

   But in our now-global autoworld, look around. Used to be that the General Motors Suburban and smaller sibling Tahoe, and its GMC brethren called the Yukon, plus Ford’s response with the Expedition. Most of the rest of the SUV builders did so with more moderation.

Comfortably supportive front buckets and businesslike instrumentation and controls line the Atlas interior.

    All of the larger SUVs were speeding down the superhighway to oblivion when gas prices rose to threaten the financial security of entire nations. We thought they all go the way of the dinosaur, but suddenly gas prices came down, oil production went up, and entire societies that had made logical decisions to seek more fuel-efficient vehicles, even if it meant downsizing their super-sized SUVs, changed direction almost immediately.

   As a credit to the human spirit, our industry had built more fuel-efficient vehicles that got better gas mileage in the years since, so they were able to go back to oversized vehicles with overpowered engines and get passable fuel mileage.

   Of course, what Volkswagen noticed all this time was that the companies with oversized vehicles were making their biggest profits from their large SUVs. The best VW customers, who might have kept their Golfs and Jettas and added a Passat or Tiguan, started to veer away to buy a huge Suburban or Expedition or Mercedes or Toyota, lining the bank accounts of those companies while VW was going along with much more restrained profits from their small cars.

   I’ll never forget a Porsche executive I interviewed, during the introduction of the Porsche Cayenne SUV. “Why,” I asked him, “would the creater of the world’s best sports cars want to make an SUV?”

   The fellow smiled ever so slightly and said: “So that we can afford to keep making the world’s best sports cars.”

   Simple as that. Sure enough, they sold enough Cayennes to finance the next generation of 911s and Boxsters.

   It’s the same with Volkswagen. The company may not have any societal interest in joining the larger-SUV trend, but it is a way to keep the loyal VW buyers loyal. If you admire the strong feel, the solid security and the durability of a Golf or Jetta, then you understand how you might find a VW SUV a strong temptation.

    The Tiguan met some of that concept, and the Touareg more, and the newest Tiguan has grown by almost a foot and added a third-row seat.

Second row of seats fold and slide forward, making it easy to climb in the way back.

   But for 2018, Volkswagen also introduced the Atlas. It looked huge at introduction, and it is huge inside, by VW standards. With 4Motion, VW’s own all-wheel-drive system, and direct injection sending fuel into the staggered-cylinder narrow-angle V6, all controlled by an 8-speed automatic, the Atlas did its job without complaint. We got 22-23 miles per gallon on the highway.

    As we were preparing to leave the Blueberry Festival, we stopped for a bottle of the Root Beer Lady’s legendary root beer for $2.25. We were happy to learn they had, without fanfare, gone away from the high-fructose corn syrup to real sugar. So we headed toward our long-awaited piece of blueberry pie. The sign, however, now said: “Sold out.”

    You can’t be sold out of blueberry pie in midafternoon of a Sunday at Blueberry Festival, can you? Apparently you can.

    We hit the road and headed south on Hwy. 1, bypassing our usual turn-off toward Two Harbors and continuing all the way down to Hwy. 61. The plan was to angle beyond the Rustic Inn, our favorite restaurant in the state, for some sort of feast, and we knew Beth Sullivan would have an array of her usual dozen pies, including her legendary blueberry.

 

Older son Jack and Joan were impatient to get going.

  We got there, and as Joan ordered the “usual,” the best barbecued ribs we’ve tasted, I got the special, grilled Alaskan salmon. And for dessert, we put in our order before we ate — two pieces of blueberry pie. “Sorry,” said the new waiter we had, “we’re sold out of blueberry pie.”

   What?! Afterward, back in the Atlas, we cruised down Hwy. 61 marveling at the view of the full moon about to rise over the Wisconsin horizon, and we listened to the satellite radio broadcast of the Twins game at Boston — from those now-historic days when the infield included Brian Dozier at second base and Eduardo Escobar at third. At the time, we didn’t know how special that would be.

   It wound up as a spectacular summer day, and the Atlas did its job in every way. Except, that is, locating the elusive blueberry pie.

  

    

Land Rover fans can enjoy new Discovery

July 26, 2018 by · Comments Off on Land Rover fans can enjoy new Discovery
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

Land Rover’s 2018 Discovery HSE visited Grand Marais, Minnesota, powered by a smooth, silent 3.0 V6 turbocharged diesel with 443 foot-pounds of torque.

By John Gilbert

    Land Rover has built all manner of luxury off-road vehicles for decades, and the company’s recent success has allowed it to establish a full-range of vehicles — all of them tough, over-achievers, all of them expensive, but filling every niche SUV buyers might be looking for.

    If I had to pick one, it would be tough. There is no such thing as a Land Rover that is not enjoyable to drive or to ride in. I might take the new Velar, for its sleek styling that is remindful of the Evoque, which is low-slung and sporty.

   My latest attraction, however, is the Land Rover Discovery, and it is a mind-blower for all sorts of impressive reasons. It was brought back into the U.S. market a year ago as a replacement for the LR4, the recently discontinued base entry. The Discovery no longer is the basic, bargain-priced Land Rover.

   I actually drove the Discovery a couple of times before I checked out the fact sheet and learned it was a turbo-diesel. It was so quiet as to be nearly silent, but its power came on with a steady rush. Shifting was smooth all the way up, and the suspension settings kept it poised and firm in any and all cornering ventures. We drove from Duluth to Grand Marais and back one day, with two adults comfortably in the rear seats.

  

Familiar grille adorns the over-engineered Discovery returning to the U.S. market.

We arrived for the Grand Marais Art Festival, and were happy to find out that Sven and Ole’s Pizza is back to its traditional old form — try the Meatzza Pizza — and walking around town and hiking along the breakwater is a treat any time. We listened to a Twins game on satellite radio, and the only complaint I noted was the lack of a CD player. Before I could complain, my wife, Joan, found a CD player fixed inside the glove compartment.  

   We didn’t try the cozy confines of the third-row seats, and with that row folded into the carpeted floor, nobody would guess there was a third-row.

   You could spend up to $200,000 for a Land Rover Range Rover, the flagship of the line, or as little as $40,000 for the base Discovery Sport — if you stay out of the option bin. Other models range up and down the scale in between, including the Velar, Range Rover Sport, and Evoque.

   The Land Rover Discovery I test drove came equipped with Land Rover’s own specific 3.0-liter V6, but not just a V6. This is the highly refined V6 turbo-diesel out of the highest-buck Range Rover, with 254 horsepower and — get this — 443 foot-pounds of stump-pulling torque. With exhaust cleansed by a urea filter, it goes like a race-bred vehicle, through an 8-speed automatic transmission, and you can get it up and over 400 miles of range, easily topping its EPA estimated 26 miles per gallon in highway driving.

Firm platform encloses luxury at every touch of the Discovery interior.

   It has earned its base price of $67,490, and even its loaded sticker, after liberal doses of options pushed it up to $81,395.

    Now, a decade or so ago, that would have seemed outrageously high and make the vehicle unrecommendable. But along with the proliferation of SUVs to dominate the marketplace, skyrocketing prices have risen faster than the popularity of the SUVs. So now it is not uncommon to see a loaded and large SUV for $80,000 or $95,000. And stickers on loaded luxurious pickups are not far behind.

   So if we can agree that it’s possible for a do-everything vehicle that is strong, safe, and over-engineered in every respect to be worth such a lofty price tag, then it’s just a matter of choosing which features you value most, or which ones surprised you the most.

   To start with, you are looking through a heated windshield at your heads-up display, and on down the road ahead, which is lighted brilliantly by LED headlights. You are sitting comfortably in your Windsor leather buckets, which are heated and cooled and have a massage feature to keep you alert. You’ve set the cruise control to its adaptive setting, choosing which following interval you want, and the device also has a speed limiter, and the ability to read road signs and relay the information.

  Always at the forefront of structural strength and safety, the Discovery takes it to the high levels all Land Rovers boast. Electronic power steering, electronic air suspension, plus a twin transfer case for serious off-roading with the all-wheel drive, the off-roading is enhanced with active rear lock. A terrain response switch is a round knob on the center console, far enough back so you won’t risk confusing it with the gear shifter. The shifter and the terrain response gizmo are operated by round, puck-shaped switches. When you start the car, the larger shift puck rises out of the console, affording you the choices of drive, neutral or reverse. The terrain-response knob can be set to normal for highway use, or any and all terrain conditions, including sand, snow, off-road or rock climbing.

   There also is dynamic stability control, to keep you on the straight and narrow. Literally. Lane keep assist, blind spot assist, plus brake force assist, and the 360-degree view to make sure nothing is in your way all come with standard or option packages. My wife, Joan, has a favorite gadget and it is automatic high-beams that come on and dim quicker than you could do it manually as a car approaches.

   The test vehicle also has automatically dimming exterior mirrors for the driver’s vigilance. All the latest connectivity elements are there, too, of course. In reality, the Discovery has been put to the limits to make the passenger experience as pleasant as the driving experience, which is saying something.   

While compact outside, the Discovery has three rows of well-appointed seats.

Dealerships are comparatively scarce for Land Rover. A buyer in Duluth, for example, would have to go to the Twin Cities to find a Land Rover and/or Jaguar dealership. It does seem that dealer visits might be less important for such a rugged vehicle, and that is healthy — to see such a rugged group of vehicles regain their status after some shaky times a decade or so ago.

   That’s when Ford cut adrift both Jaguar and Land Rover and the British cousins had to fend for themselves, hoping to find a qualified owner. It came from India, where Tata Motors came through with the money required for both Jaguar and Land Rover to go onward and upward in quality and quantity. Both have sophisticated designs, and both have engines that surprise even hot-car fans.

With third row folded into carpeted floor, storage area goes from adequate to huge.

    Long before the SUV craze engulfed the United States, there was Land Rover. The British company made SUVs capable of negotiating off-road treks and treacherous terrain of all kinds, and it did it with an aplomb that confounded competitors and critics alike.

   The U.S. had its Jeeps, with their all-out, off-road toughness, and GM’s Suburban, which predated the SUV craze, endured as a rugged family truckster. But Land Rover built vehicles to conquer any challenge in any weather, and yet still be capable of taking the Lord and Lady of the Manor to the ball that evening with grace and class.

   When I first drove Land Rovers, they were powered by the little lightweight Buick V6 that had pretty good power, but certainly seemed beneath the stdately dignity of the company. On that venture, I got the chance to view a cutaway of the chassis, and noticed that where a “normal” vehicle might have frame rails, Land Rovers had something approaching girders. I mean, heavy-duty construction style steel bars that could obviously take a beating.

Rugged for off-roading, the Discovery also is classy enough to go to the country club.

   My impression was that a Land Rover is the type of vehicle you would choose if you were assigned to drive from here to Hudson Bay, without using any roads.

   Flashing forward, I have been able to take part in Land Rover off-road challenges in Canada, on the West Coast, tracing the Continental Divide along the top of the Rocky Mountains, and over all types of terrain in Iceland. Rejuvenated when they might have been destined for extinction, Land Rover is ready and willing to show off its quality and toughness for the world to see.

   And it is simply up to any customers who want luxury with their capable off-roading to find a dealership and make their own Discovery.

   

Wild Mustang GT still around, eager to be tamed

July 19, 2018 by · Comments Off on Wild Mustang GT still around, eager to be tamed
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

Still familiar from 50 years ago, new Mustang GT is easily the best so far.

By John Gilbert

   Back about 1970, the Trans-American series, or Trans-Am, was a premier road-racing series, for the suddenly popular “ponycars” like Mustang, Camaro, Challenger, Barracuda, Firebird and later the AMC Javelin.

   Mark Donohue in the Roger Penske Camaro was hard to beat, but the most colorful team was the Bud Moore Mustangs led by the inimitable Parnelli Jones. Driving the No. 15 Mustang painted a uniquely bright yellow-orange, Jones won the 1970 championship and always ran up front, referring to his own race car as being “school-bus orange.” Even though it was more yellow-orange, the nickname was as good as the fact.

   While the other ponycars disappeared in a changing society gravitating toward larger and smaller cars, the Mustang ensued, coming out in various shapes and sizes, some of which now seem odd in retrospect, as Ford has recreated the Mustang in the image of those 1970-era cars. So has Dodge, with Challenger, and Chevrolet, with Camaro.

   They are all captivating, in a future-retro sort of a way, but to me, the Mustang is the most refined, maybe even near perfect for recapturing that era.

   A few months ago, Ford announced that it may eliminate production of nearly all its cars in favor of the newly popular and various SUVs. People throughout the country and industry were shocked, and Ford followed by announcing the only cars it would keep producing were the Mustang and the Focus. No more Taurus or Fusion, or Fiesta, which seems startling.

   But as long as the the Mustang continues, all is OK.

Familiar look, rock-firm platform, and 460-horsepower V8 with a 6-speed stick is Mustang GT identification.

   I’ve driven some model of every Mustang ever made, and I owned a 1970 Boss 302 for over 20 years, which I believe was the best road-racing-ready production car ever. It had gone through various modifications and alterations before I sold it to a guy who wanted to restore it to original form. Among the reasons I relinquished it was because the newest generation Mustangs had become so high-tech they could compete, in my mind, with all that was great about the Boss 302.

   Right after the Fourth of July, a new 2018 Ford Mustang GT arrived inmy driveway in
Duluth, Minnesota,  and it showed upfor me to live with for a week. It practically glowed in an amazing metallic yellow-orange that immediately struck me as a close proximity to “school-bus orange.”

   It was thoroughly enjoyable to drive, if not to ride in as a passenger. My wife, Joan, put up with it for about 5 miles of Duluth-area, obstacle-course passenger-seat riding before she announced she was less than anxious to ride in it any more — Recaro bucket seats or not.

   The finely-tuned suspension has toggle-switch dash settings to adjust from normal to sport, to track, to dragstrip, to special competition, and each alteration goes from firm to firmer, and the steering stiffens noticeably. As a driver, you love it; as a passenger, it gets pretty tiresome.

Bike-riding cousins relived Duluth college days by revisiting Hwy. 61 and cruised by for a closer look along the North Shore.

   The thrill that conquers all such nitpicks, however, is the unbelievable sound that goes right from your shoe soles to your body’s soul in about one-tenth of a second. It is a spine-tingling rumble, reverberating through the neighborhood. Not really that obtrusive to your neighbors, but absolute music to your ears.

   Climb in, adjust the seat, and the steering wheel, put the clutch to the floor and hit the starter button. Give it a second to let that great sound engulf you and the interior of the car, and blip the throttle a couple times if it’s not up to your standards.

   Let out the clutch, gently, and try to do it smoothly enough to launch without a neck-snapping jerk or two. The big, wide rear tires grip like race tires — on dry pavement, at least — and they stick with precision in the tightest cornering, while the hyper-tuned suspension holds the car’s attitude in place.

   Again, though, we go back to that engine, a 5.0-liter V8 which smoothes out from raw to low-rev power to a smoother roar as the RPMs built. Shift the slick 6-speed stick into second, then third, and you have swiftly attained any legal speed limit on any road in the country. With three gears to go.

   The 5.0-liter V8 has been tweaked and refined to deliver 460 horsepower and 420 foot-pounds of torque, perfectly regulated with that 6-speed and judicioius throttle control.

Recaro bucket seats, toggle-switch controls, racing steering wheel, and high-tech connectivity fill the Mustang GT interior.

   There are still even more potent Mustang models available for more money, with superchargers and all, but the GT stands out as a true bargain in the industry, with a base GT price of $35,190. Of course, you can start adding on satellite radio, navigation and all kinds of options, and run the price easily over $40,000, but the base car is well-equipped as is.

   The neat and efficient interior of the test car had all the latest electronic-gizmo features of the contemporary car world, and that includes the taught suspension-tire combination and the quick steering. It also adds traction control, and a much appreciated hill-start feature that isn’t new in the industry anymore, but is great on a steep incline when you have to make sure of your touch on the clutch as you launch. The car sits motionless as you release the clutch, a welcome aid.

    I found the width of the front tires was such that you need to pay extra attention on tight turns because the width and grip almost cause the car to jerk free of your hold on the wheel, as if it wants to steer itself. Like a wild horse of its own name, it wants to take the bit in its mouth. So be ready to manhandle the steering wheel just a bit to maintain your authority.

   While the driving is an exciting venture at any and all speeds, and in any and every gear, the sound, and the almost-glow-in-the-dark color make the Mustang GT a cinch attention-grabber, for passers-by, pedestrians, and, yes, officers of the law.

Refined grille of the 2018 Mustang GT has a low, curb-scraping form.

   The front end of the Mustang GT has a ferocious look to it, with the spoiler hanging down so low you’ll also want to be extra careful how close you get to parking lot divider curbs. The large mouth of the grille is impressive, especially when flanked by the slick, and sleek, LED headlights and their enclosure.

   The silhouette is pure Mustang, and not the blocky 1966 original, but the sleek fastback of the 1969 and 70 road-racing Mustangs. It looks aerodynamically slippery, and you are surprised that there is something close to adequate rear-seat headroom under the steeply sloping roof. Even more surprising is the trunk, which opens to a large-capacity cavern that will house a lot of stuff when you hit the road. And hitting the road will be a temptation you will find difficult to resist with the Mustang GT.

   Ford engineers have done great work with their engines in recent years, from the EcoBoost V6 and 4s which can mimic larger engines with their turbocharged efficiency. But they have not overlooked the 5.0 V8, obvioiusly. This engine is the mainstay of the F150 pickup line, unless you go for the EcoBoost, but it feels as it belongs to the Mustang.

   With all the new, high-tech vehicles coming out, in sedans, compacts, SUVs and pickup trucks, there is so much to evaluate and test that I must admit I was not desperate to get my hands on the new, 2018 Mustang, even though I knew it had been redone with revised styling, and that the old and tired standard V6 had been dropped.

Distinctive charcoal wheels, Brembo brakes set off intricate LED light enclosure.

Galloping Mustang emblem stands alone on GT’s blackened grille.

Once it showed up, with its charcoal-grey spokey wheels on the low-profile tires, and that stunning paint job — which shows off its millions of metallic grains only when you get close and check it in bright sunlight — only then did I realize how glad I was that I had been chosen to spend a week with the new Mustang GT.

Then I started the engine, blipped the throttle, and considered what might happen if I headed deeper into the North woods just to see how long it would take Ford to find me. 

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