Featured Reviews
Irregularity of winter blizzards are nothing to the allroad with its venerable quattro AWD.

Audi allroad returns with all-road perfection

Audi followed through on the idea of discontinuing its allroad wagon a couple of decades ago, but it is back for 2017, and it is lower and sleeker but still over-built for this e

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Toyota's diminutive C-HR could steal customers from the RAV4.

Compact crossovers rule auto-show world

High-profit large SUVs are manufacturers' favorites, but consumers prefer small compact crossovers, such as Toyota's new C-HR and an auto-show-full of others.

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Infiniti makes larger sedans and SUVs, but the Q50 is the sportiest, and, arguably, the most attractive.

Infiniti Q50 joins world's elite sedans

Infiniti vehicles come in alphabet-soup of alpha-numeric designations for cars and SUVs, but most notable among the new 2017 crop is the Q50 Red Sport AWD.

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Challenger GT returned from showing off AWD on test track.

Challenger GT adds AWD for winter muscle

The Challenger is already a popular Dodge "muscle coupe," but in an attempt to give it something extra for winter driving, a GT has been added for 2017 with all-wheel drive.

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Dodge Durango GT for 2017 is a rugged but luxurious way to take on winter.

Durango GT gives Dodge alternative to Jeep

Nobody questions the all-season performance of Jeep Grand Cherokees, but its cousin, the Dodge Durango GT, is a stylish alternative with similar all-wheel-drive capabilities in D

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Cute and capable Fiat 500x proved capable of dealing with Minnesota's snow and cold.

Cute Fiat 500x handles 'Minnesota Riviera'

The Fiat part of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles combined the 500 charisma with Jeep capability to create the 500x -- a car for all seasons. Literally.

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Nobody says it's a new Microbus, but VW's concept I.D. Buzz has the shape, with electric power and autonomous drive.

Auto Show season 2017 stirs up new Buzz

Auto Show season is underway, and the raves are aimed at electrified and futuristic self-driving vehicles. Volkswagen's I.D. Buzz has both.

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New flowing lines encompass the many features of the 2017 Buick La Crosse.

La Crosse moves upscale in features, price

La Crosse is an historic name for Buick sedans, but the new 2017 redesign captures the perspective of Buicks past with high-tech contemporary features.

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Ridgeline returns to invade pickup mainstays

Honda withdrew the quirky Ridgeline pickup truck from the market for three years, but it returns for 2017, minus the quirks and with a more conventional pickup look.

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Infiniti QX30t

Smaller CUVs are easier to gift-wrap

Too many compact crossover SUVs to count? Here is a sampling of the newest ones, including the very sporty Infiniti QX30 in an extremely competitive new segment.

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Audi allroad returns with all-road perfection

February 22, 2017 by · Comments Off on Audi allroad returns with all-road perfection
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

 

Audi’s allroad is lower, sleeker and still has more ground clearance for versatility.

By John Gilbert

A couple of decades — and an SUV craze or two — ago, a good friend of my younger son asked me how wise it would be to buy a used Audi allroad, which was a very nice and svelte station wagon-type vehicle that you could actually take off the road because of some armor-plating underneath.

Now, I’ve always been a big fan of Audi’s technology, and I’ve visited the Audi home plant in Ingolstadt, Germany, a couple of times, but I issued a word of caution to my young friend, because the word behind the scenes at that time was that Audi was going to discontinue the allroad because of slow sales. So he bought something else.

Flash forward a few years, and I saw an allroad and I realized that the drivetrain and all the mechanicals were all fine in the car, and my advice was premature for a young family in St. Paul. Now it is 2017, and while Audi is at the top of its game in competing with BMW and Mercedes for fine German car sales, I paused in my favorable impression of a new Audi A4 sedan because my test car for a mid-February week was (trumpets, please) a 2017 Audi allroad.

Irregularity of winter blizzards are nothing to the allroad with its venerable quattro AWD.

After this review gets filed, I’m going to notify my son’s friend and apologize for my hasty suggestion years ago, and advise him that maybe he should look anew at the allroad. Incidentally, at Audi’s insistence, allroad is spelled with a lower-case “a” just as its quattro all-wheel-drive system is spelled with a lower-case “q.” In fact, it’s amusing to note that Motor Trend, Car & Driver, and other auto publications insist on spelling it with a cap Quattro, as though that distinction makes them superior in some fashion.

The new allroad is all-new, and it is a superb vehicle, with, of course, quattro, which made confronting a Northern Minnesota snowstorm and its below-zero after-effects a simple matter, both for traction, stability, and exercising those seat-heaters.

It is based on the platform of the new A4 sedan, which has grown up in recent years with its price rising with its sophistication. It is now Audi’s base compact/midsize sedan, pushing the larger A6 and A8 up a couple of price categories.

The all road’s sleekness belies its higher stance, underside armor and storage room under the hatch.

You could think of the allroad as an A4 station wagon, if that term wasn’t so outdated by contemporary customers. That means it is compact, smooth, agile, has a lot of storage space, and can be handled well by the ubiquitous 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder gasoline engine, tweaked to develop 252 horsepower and 273 foot-pounds of torque.

It will tow 1,000 pounds, and, like its predecessor, it will serve for some light off-road duty — although it is so classy that taking it into the rugged underbrush might qualify you for a therapy couch.

Because it’s based on the A4, the allroad looks lower and sleeker than you anticipate, despite the fact it is built with nearly an inch and a half more ground clearance than the A4.

The turbo gives the comparatively small 2-liter plenty of punch, and it’s all coordinated through Audi’s 7-speed dual-clutch automatic, which is basically a clutchless manual that has two separate clutches within the transmission, one handling first-third-fifth and seventh, and the other engaging second-fourth and sixth. If you want to use the paddles to shift, you get instantaneous upshifts or downshifts, because all that’s required is the computerized transmission to switch which clutch is engaged.

Audi’s proliferation of models means that the allroad is not to be confused with the “Q-ships,” the large Q7, midsize Q5, compact Q3, and the soon to be introducted Q2. Those are definitely SUVs of the crossover variety.

The allroad’s appeal includes all sorts of high-tech connectivity tricks, including 4GLTE connectivity, Audi’s MMI interface, the allroad drive-select system, which allows you to choose comfort, dynamic, or individually set preferences for steering, suspension and shift-points.

And it has one of my favorite features, which Audi calls its virtual cockpit. Along with a very efficient normal-sized navigation and information screen atop the dashboard, you can fiddle with the steering wheel switchwork to change the normal tach and speedometer-based instrument panel into an incredible, 12.3-inch panoramic scene of where you’re going. It’s a glorified GPS, but it is indeed glorified.

Clever cockpit idea gives allroad electronic capability to reduce gauge size and provide an easily seen panoramic GPS.

When you rack it over and get the GPS background behind the tach and speedometer, you can click a “view” button, and the tach and speedometer instantly are reduced to very small instruments in the lower left and lower right, while the whole rest of that giant screen display becomes a large screen to show your directions and destinations, easily magnified.

It occurred to me that you could paint your windshield black, and still drive to work by magnifying the instrument panel screen and following wherever the blue directional arrow takes you. Besides, with the screen, you also get cross-street identification. I know it sounds like a gimmick, but everyone I showed that virtual cockpit to met me wherever I stopped, with a friend in tow, and asked me to show how the display works.

Audi has mastered the art of classy interiors, and the allroad adds to it.

The Prestige package, and the driver assistance package, helped boost the allroad price from $44,000 to the sticker’s full $55,575. That included $575 for the “midnight blue” paint job, which was worth whatever they wanted to charge.

The Drive Select switch set to dynamic makes the allroad spring to life with much more quickness because shift-points come up more quickly and the car rockets up through all seven gears. It also stiffens the suspension and steering.

Switch it to comfort and it’s not necessarily soft, just less-firm. If you switch it to off-road mode, the many active-safety features are all disabled, because serious off-roaders don’t want anything to do with the normal traction control and lane-changing prevention tricks when driving off-road.

Normal freeway or highway cruising comes easily, because the allroad is over-engineered for such routine duty, and its highway pedigree steps to the fore.

Emergency handling is quick-reacting and precise, and harsh roadways are easily overcome, if you’re in comfort mode, and not overly harsh even in dynamic.

The allroad sleekness makes you wonder why we ever gave up station wagons.

The design of the allroad seems lower and sleeker, which completely nullifies any on-stilts perception residue from having 1.3 inches of increased ground clearance. So when it snakes around curves like a sports car, it’s just another asset of the allroad’s prowess.

In its never-ending quest to overtake Mercedes and BMW, Audi has truly turned it into a 3-way battle among top German marques. All three companies have superb sedans, impressive coupes, and upper-crust SUVs, but inserting the once-and-future allroad into the mix gives Audi a vehicle that may run circles around its competitors for all-around utility.

I’m going to have to trace down my son’s friend, Steve, and see if, now that he has a family, he’s still in the market for a do-everything family hauler.

Compact crossovers rule auto-show world

February 14, 2017 by · Comments Off on Compact crossovers rule auto-show world
Filed under: Features, Autos 

The EcoSport, smaller than the Escape, is Ford’s new compact SUV.

By John Gilbert

CHICAGO, ILL. — The available shelf-life of an auto show is brief, but for Midwesterners who can get to the fine city of Chicago before February 20, there is a chance to turn a short trip to enjoy countless fine restaurants, nightclubs and blues joints into the chance to see all the newest stuff available from the top automakers of the world.

This may not be the most scintillating season for new vehicles, because Los Angeles and Detroit have already run their car-show course before the annual Chicago Auto Show hits McCormick Place, and most new cars have been shown already. But the nation’s best exhibition hall has a lot of things consumers will find of great interest. Mainly, the current upsurge in interest in small crossover SUVs is evident everywhere.

Ford brings back the huge Expedition to capture large-SUV profit.

You can range from Ford — featuring the return of the gy-normous Expedition for large family and trailer hauling, but also tipping off its mini EcoSport, just a bit downsized from the populsr compact Escape. And the tiny but roomy C-Max which is nothing if not electrifying, remains.

The Mustang has been revised again, but its various recent styling twitches and tweaks have reached the point where a variety of them might prove impossible to discern from the others. No more V6, however, as Mustang goes from stalwart V8 to EcoBoost 4s.

Toyota’s diminutive C-HR could steal customers from the RAV4.

KIA is showing off the all-new Stinger luxury/sports sedan in all its South Korean sleek splendor, but it also has the intriguing new Niro Hybrid compact SUV.

Toyota displays TRD sporty versions of the Tundra and Tacoma pickups and Sequoia large SUV, but finds it difficult to hide the swoopy little C-HR that starts out south of the popular RAV4 in both size and price. Its upscale Lexus display features the LS large sedan, which has taken on a much sportier demeanor, and a couple of SUVs that also play to the small but high-performance concept.

When the 2017 Mazda CX-5 hits the streets it will have style upgrade and G-Vectoring.

The Mazda display is easy to overlook, because the stylish group of vehicles is familiar. But they deserve scrutiny. The large CX-9 has been out a while, and the Mazda6 and Mazda3 sedans look quite the same, too, as do the new small crossovers, the CX-3 and the CX-5. The CX-5 actually is all new, and if you look closely, the red one is a red that is exclusive only to the CX-5.  The true newness of all the Mazdas is something called G-Vectoring — an incredible new technological concept that gives all 2017 Mazdas the ability to tip off the driver to turn and swerve in a predictable manner that means the elimination of steering correction. The cars are beautiful, but beauty is “only” skin deep, so look closer!

Rogue Sport is a new and shorter version of the popular Nissan Rogue (left).

Nissan, on the other hand, is leading the way in using graphic design, such as solid paint schemes of white, grey, red or black, all with stark black trim, to promote a new Midnight fleet of virtually everything it makes, from the more powerful half-ton Titan XD pickup, on down to the Rogue and all the sedans, down to the Sentra. Yet the display might be stolen by the subtly downsize Rogue Sport, which is a foot shorter than the regular Rogue. The all-new Armada stands above the other Nissans in size and capability, and a new Pathfinder, which benefits from Nissan’s new engine upgrades.

General Motors is taking a similar route, coming out with a Red Line trim feature on a large group of its vehicles. It’s a familiar idea, to use paint schemes to disguise the fact that you’ve already shown most of your stable, but of course Chevrolet has the all-electric Bolt, which continues to wrack up assorted Car of the Year awards, even though it is not yet out on the streets, and may not be until mid-summer.

The Giulia is just arriving, and Alfa Romeo adds the Stelio as its partner.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles have all sorts of new toys, featuring the Alfa Romeo Giulia — finally — and the Stelvio, which is a brother in arms with a crossover SUV so flashy that Alfa is pulling back its idea of a Giulia wagon. Also, yet another variation for the Challenger, which just introduced the AWD Challenger GT and now is hitting us with the Mopar Challenger with a giant 6.4-liter Hemi, and a Durango SRT hot rod SUV. Meanwhile, its Jeep arm displays its array and gives proper reason for why the compact Compass still exists by showing off the to-be-introduced new model with refined restyling that stays just north of the Renegade.

The Germans are not to be outdone, of course, with Volkswagen’s new Atlas large SUV as well as the Golf Alltrack and the elongated Tiguan — which will join and then probably replace the blunt but roomy-enough Tiguan, an under-appreciated vehicle that might have been well-sized for this current compact crossover trend.

BMW has its latest SUVs and also the new 5-Series, while Mercedes now has so many SUVs, crossovers and sports cars — many of them with added AMG potency — that it’s hard to find room to walk among them and identify the alphabetized nameplates that only a marketing whiz can remember.

Audi has a fine spread of Q-ship SUVs of all sizes, and sedans and coupes to seduce anyone with a tidy checkbook.

The F-Pace proves Jaguar can make SUVs as well as classic cars.

Jaguar also has a dazzling display, with its slinky coupes and new high-tech sedans, as well as the F-Pace, a hot-looking vehicle that indicates the folks at Coventry catch on when it comes to building a promising SUV. Adjoining the Jaguars is the off-road cousin Land Rover display, with new and fancy top-end SUVs and also the newly redesigned Discovery, which now has its name spelled out on the upper lip leading edge of its hood, where it used to say Land Rover.”

Subaru has a new Legacy, and it advances the company farther along the lines of being less quirky and more mainstream. Which is a good thing for Subaru, as it continues to make durable and strong flat-opposed engines that I wish would get better fuel economy.

Mitsubishi is another Japanese company that always seems to be seeking an upturn, and it now is being propped up by Nissan.Its new Outlander SUV is the only new thing, offsetting the elimination of the Lancer and its much-loved Evolution.

Hyundai GT has a new look with a big upgrade in high-strength steel and a 1.6 turbo..

Hyundai is about to introduce its new Ioniq, which may indeed be iconic — or iconiq — with a choice of all-electric, hybrid or plug-in hybrid. Meanwhile, Hyundai added to its complement with the new GT version of the popular Elantra, its Civic-Corolla-Mazda3 sized compact, now with about double the high-grade steel, to 53 percent. It has a fresh new style with a hatchback-wagon theme that Hyundai designers have turned into a true sporty vehicle. So sporty, in fact, that I asked Hyundai folks why, since they offer the same 1.6-turbo 4 as the Tucson crossover, they don’t add the AWD platform under the Hyundai GT. All I got were blank stares.

But arming compacts with the very feature that is allowing compact crossovers to crowd small sedans to a lesser corner in the marketplace might be the one distinct way to fight back and change the all-out crossover SUV trend to trend of compact sedans that do the work of crossovers.

Infiniti Q50 joins world’s elite sedans

February 12, 2017 by · Comments Off on Infiniti Q50 joins world’s elite sedans
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

Lean and sleek styling of the new Q50 find a match in the Red Sport’s twin-turbo 3.0 V6 and AWD performance.

By John Gilbert

Even the best cars in the world are met with mixed reactions. But if no car seems capable of being all things to all customers, spend a short time with the Infiniti Q50 and you may decide it comes awfully close.

The Q50 is a sleek midsize sedan, and it can be bought in two forms, which might be considered great and greater. The top model was the one I test-drove for a week in Northern Minnesota, and it was well into winter in Duluth. Which was a good thing, for our test. The car in question was called the Q50 Red Sport 400 AWD, and it had all the goodies Infiniti could fit into that curvacious form, not the least of which was all-wheel drive.

Nissan’s potent 3.0-liter V6 is a new and high-tech powerplant that adds the extra punch of turbocharging. As in high-capacity twin turbochargers, making 400 horsepower with 350 foot-pounds of torque.

Curves and contours set apart the Q50 styling.

A 7-speed automatic transmission doles out all that power to the four wheels, and if you didn’t really care much for maximum fun, you could just leave it in “D” and enjoy its smooth power. Ah, but if you do enjoy driving thrills, you can shift the automatic manually with the best-designed paddle shift levers in the industry.

Companies that install paddles for fingertip shifting almost always mount them on either side of the steering wheel where they can be easily reached by thumbs, ethe right on for upshifting and left for downshifts. That works well, almost all the time.

But if you’re starting up at a T intersection, and you turn 90 degrees while accelerating, you can lose the paddle locations momentarily, usually when you shift hands, and almost always when you lost the exact location of the right paddle. Not with the Q50.

When the steering wheel is straight, only the tip of the upshift paddle is visible on the right.

…But turn the wheel and the long shift paddle, affixed to the steering column, proves superior.

 

 

 

 

Nissan always has used long, magnesium paddles, attached to the steering column rather than the wheel. That way, if you turn the wheel hard to the left, say, and shift your hands on the wheel, as you run out of revs, you can quickly grab anywhere along the right side and you will find the paddle to upshift. Nissan uses those affixed paddles with the Infiniti Q50, meaning it begs you to shift for yourself.

When Nissan comes out with a new engine, it is always worth close scrutiny, and both engines in the Q50 are new. Without a doubt, the twin-turbo V6 boosts the Q50 to elite sports sedan prestige, comparable to, and maybe superior in some views, to BMW.

However, I am going to make a plea for anyone who is interested to first try the Q50 with the 4. It, too, is turbocharged, and even though it only has 2.0 liters of displacement, it will supply all the enthusiastic spirit you could want. The 3.0 V6 can get up to mid-30 miles per gallon in highway driving; the 2.0 turbo 4 can easily surpass and stay above 30 mpg wherever you drive.

A Northern Minnesota snowstorm fit for a Jeep was made to order for the Q50 Red Sport AWD.

Of course, with all-wheel drive, the Q50 AWD plowed through a 6-inch snowfall we had just up the North Shore of Lake Superior from Duluth, Minnesota, with an ease that was Jeep-like even in such  foul winter weather

And here’s the less-known fact: Nissan has an arrangement with none other than Mercedes to build dual-overhead-cam, turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engines. I spent some time with the Mercedes crossover SUVs last fall, and whether you drive the GLA, GLC, or the new GLC Coupe, as well as the C or E Class sedans, you start with a base 2.0-liter 4-cylinder turbocharged engine.

What impressed me most when I spent a week driving a Mercedes GLA was that it had plenty of punch. Its computer automatically reset itself for fuel economy each time you started up, and in a week’s time without ever getting it out for a highway road trip, I never once went anywhere up the hills of Duluth when it registered less than 32 miles per gallon.

Even more impressive, after I enjoyed the power, responsiveness and fuel-efficiency of that 4, I learned Nissan had built the engine for Mercedes. With their joint venture, some of these engines are built in various plants around the world. The 2.0 turbo 4 in the C-Class sedan is the same as the 2.0 engine built in Nissan’s Tennessee plant, while the 2.0 4 in the QX30 crossover SUV is built in Germany, then sent to the United Kingdom plant for installation.

It’s confusing, but the Infiniti engine was designed with Daimler as part of the alliance with Nissan, and while Mercedes always has had a legendary reputation with its engines, it is indeed impressive on the resume for Nissan to be building some Mercedes engines. Having the Q50, Q60, and QX30 share a 4-cylinder turbo with the C-Class, CLA, E-Class sedan and wagon, and the SLC roadster is impressive.

The 4-cylinder Q50 starts at $35,000, while the twin-turbo V6 starts at $50,700. The test car I drove had all the specialty Red Sport features. It also had hill-start assist, automatic on-off LED headlights, foglights, brake lights and turn signals. Leather trim on the seats and steering wheel set off the classy interior, which also featured Kacchu aluminum interior trim, rain-sensing wipers, power sunroof, keyless entry and push-button start, Bluetooth phone system, and Bose surround sound.

Two USB ports, cruise, voice recognition for audio, information, and Bluetooth, and the full complement of safety technology also were in place. Dynamic control, brake force distribution, traction control, tire pressure monitoring, and a vehicle immobilizer system all came standard.

The option bin produced the special Red Sport seats, matte-finish natural maple wood trim, adaptive cruise, lane-departure warning and prevention, blind spot warning, predictive collision warning, emergency braking, surround video monitor with moving object detection, backup collision intervention with rear cross-traffic alert, InTouch navigation and voice recognition, and, of course, heated front seats and steering wheel, plus remote start.

All of that lifted the price from the $50,700 Red Sport price to $62,220. That’s a long way up from the $35,000 base price for the 4-cylinder turbo Q50. Which means you can load it up any way you choose. It’s easy to become entangled in the alphabet-soup, or alpha-numeric confusion, of identifying the occupants of Nissan’s luxury branch stable, but we’re now down to the Q50, Q60 and Q70 models among the cars, where the numbers represent size, and are not to be confused with any QX things, such as QX30, QX50, QX60, QX70 or QX80 — all of which are SUVs of ever-increasing size.

As an aside, I can always be accused of favoring the most compact model of a given line, as long as it’s big enough. And in this case, it’s also true, because I found the Infiniti QX30 to be my runaway favorite among Infiniti SUVs, both because of its swoopy, low-slung styling and the inclusion of that 2.0-liter turbo 4-cylinder.

Infiniti makes larger sedans and SUVs, but the Q50 is the sportiest, and, arguably, the most attractive.

It’s hard to say whether consumers are aware of all that intermingling engine-building stuff, but Nissan’s reputation for making strong and sporty engines helped it make the largest gains in sales of any car-maker in 2016. As is the case throughout the industry, trucks led the way. Nissan sold 53,313 trucks in the U.S. in January of 2017, with the Rogue accounting for 28,760 of them, rising 46 percent. Pathfinder increased sales by 13 percent, the Quest minivan 32 percent, and the new full-size Titan pickup up by 195 percent in its reintroduction.

Nissan’s Infinity upscale brand improved SUV sales, too, and overall it increased sales by 36 percent in January 2017 compared to January 2016, with 11,558 sold. It was led by the new nQ50. One test-drive will convince you why.

Challenger GT adds AWD for winter muscle

February 2, 2017 by · Comments Off on Challenger GT adds AWD for winter muscle
Filed under: New car introductions, Autos 

The Dodge Challenger is a popular "muscle coupe," but Dodge wants something more and has equipped the GT with all-wheel drive for 2017.

Challenger GT returned from showing off AWD on test track.

By John Gilbert

PORTLAND, Maine — Driving a powerful muscle car on a curving icy roadway can become a sudden thrill when it breaks traction and starts skidding as if it intends to broadslide into the snowbank on the right shoulder.

“Oops!” just doesn’t quite cover it.

But the instincts gained while driving up and down the hills od Duluth, Minnesota, paid rich dividends. I didn’t yank the steering wheel into the direction of the skid, and I didn’t abruptly hit the brakes. Instead, I eased off the gas slightly while steering in an attitude that let the vehicle’s traction-control straighten us out and continue on our intended path as I eased back into the middle of our lane.

“Good job,” said my co-driver, who had good reason to be less poised than I was as we sailed through the woods just outside Portland, Maine. We were cheating, though, because the red Challenger we were in was a pre-production GT model with all-wheel drive.

It’s not as though we don’t get enough winter weather in Northern Minnesota, but there was no way to pass up this  opportunity. Dodge invited a group of auto journalists to visit the rock-bound coast of Maine at the end of January for the first chance to drive the new Challenger GT, which, for 2017, can be bought with all-wheel drive. As such, I felt obligated to push it toward its limits.

The Challenger is a vehicle that is always fun to drive, joining the Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro among the three “ponycar” throwbacks — I call them “future retro” — because they recreate the Trans-Am road-racing heyday of the late 1960s and early 1970s in North America. Dodge calls them “Muscle Coupes,” which is OK, too.

The three were ferocious rivals in road-racing, and among the joys of my sports and auto writing career was to be able to cover that Trans-Am series at places such as Donnybrooke Speedway (now BIR, for Brainerd International Raceway), Elkhart Lake, Bridgehampton and all points where road-racing circuits existed. They were a diversion from the hot-rod sedans of the late 1960s and the spider-like open-wheeled formula cars, with 2 doors and a specific silhouette of long-hood, short rear deck.

The Mustang continued on while the Camaro and Challenger were discontinued along with the Pontiac Trans-Am, Plymouth Barracuda, American Motors Javelin and a few others. But about the time Ford decided to redo the Mustang in a style that recaptured the attitude and demeanor of the 1970 model, Camaro came back out and did the same thing, and so did Challenger.

With the all-wheel drive from the Charger underneath, Challenger retains sleek look.

Dodge’s great-looking Challenger was created by dropping the coupe body on the platform for the larger Charger 4-door sedan, and the shortcut produced a very competitive vehicle. In some ways, it has an edge.

Some say the Challenger looks most like the 1970 car, but in any event it has a larger trunk and a more spacious interior, which can actually house a couple of adults in something approaching comfort. But in all cases, the Challenger, Mustang and Camaro are summertime cars, with front-engine, rear-drive that makes for enormous fun in the summer, spring and fall, but virtually need to be parked in the winter if you live in snowy weather. No traction control system can conquer the glare ice of winter with a rear-driver.

The Dodge Charger added a model a few years ago with an all-wheel-drive system underneath. While the arsenal of Hemi V8s make both the Charger and Challenger fly, the very strong 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 is more than capable in the Charger and Challenger, and works well enough in the AWD version of the Charger that many police departments deploy it to chase — and catch — the bad guys in bad weather.

We should have anticipated this move, then. Dodge has refined that all-wheel-drive system for the smaller Challenger coupe. “We were able to take the all-wheel-drive system from the Charger and use it in the Challenger,” said chief engineer Allison Rahm. “It’s not exactly the same, because we had to refine it in a few ways. We took the Charger Pursuit sedan, used by some police departments, and adapted the suspension, stabilizer bars, springs and steering calibration, and gave it its own vehicle dynamic control that uses the same front-axle disconnect.

Instead of being skittish, and skiddish, the Challenger GT has newfound stability, even on icy rural roads of Maine..

“We have developed the perspective on a test area we use in Northern Michigan, where they have huge snow-pack fields. We learned we can push the car and stay in control, so it’s fun, cool, and you can drive it very confidently. It goes back to rear-wheel drive when you don’t need it, but in snowy conditions, or when it senses wheelspin, its sensors can send up to 100 percent of the torque to the front.”

How the car is being driven also activates AWD, and the unit only adds 200 pounds to the overall weight of the Challenger, which sits low and doesn’t betray the fact that all four wheels can pull the car.

Ben Lyon showed us an interesting map of the U.S. with a horizontal line across the middle, from northern California to the East Coast. Market research indicates all-wheel-drive models of the Charger and such SUVs as the Durango are up 12 percent year-over-year in sales from last year. On the Charger, AWD makes up 17 percent of purchases altogether, and in the 17 states north of that horizontal line across the nation, the take rate is over 50 percent all-wheel drive on vehicle purchases.

“We also surveyed buyers who looked at the Challenger but didn’t buy,” said Lyon, the Challenger brand manager. “One-third said all-wheel drive was important, and when they stopped considering the Challenger, half of them then bought something with all-wheel drive.”

We had our choice of colors and I took red, instead of orange. Both were stunning. Powering the Challenger is that Pentastar V6, a 3.6-liter unit with 305 horsepower at 6,350 RPMs, and 268 foot-pounds of torque at 4,800 RPMs. More than 90 percent of the peak torque is provided from 1,800 to 6,400 revs which gives you pretty constant power anywhere in the tach’s range.

The only thing that rivals that power is the audio system, which barks through a 506-watt amplifier. A surprisingly large trunk and fold-down rear seat allow you to haul long things, even skis. Specific GT leather bucket seats and trim on the dash and console set the car apart as well.

Naturally, all the goodies boost the price. Our test car started at $33,395 and as-tested it was $40,555.

Stability control and all the assumed connectivity features of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto can be brought to life. Also, the performance information from the Hellcat Trac Pak with readouts on the 8.4-inch center screen let you monitor 0-60 times, G-forces and a launch-control device.

For driving performance, the power is harnessed by the 8-speed automatic with paddle shifters, and if you switch into Sport mode, or drive aggressively, you are immediately in all-wheel drive. Otherwise, your driving style will summon AWD instantly and seamlessly by assessing road conditions.

The two test-track Challenger GTs offered a choice — orange or red.

We found driving the Challenger GT smooth and precise, with the possible exception of my little unscheduled side-skid that threatened the shoulder. So we were ready for the test track, even as the temperature climbed to a less-than-challenging 45 degrees. We would have prefered the harshness of the “Nor’easter” that hit the area one day earlier.

I had the chance to be first out on the well-groomed test track at a  road-racing course Dodge had contracted, with a circular stability track, a straight line acceleration stretch, and a small autocross-like circuit that could challenge us for our driving response and the car’s capability.

The stylish 19-inch wheels were shod with some high-performance all-season Michelin tires, and they proved pretty good — but not exceptional to a winter-driving veteran. Michelin might be the best at building tires for long wear and high speed, but to do that, the tread compound is firm enough that it becomes hard — and slick — in severe cold. Such as winter.

A few craggy mountains and some snowmobiles set off the Challenger GT.

The production Michelins worked well to test the car around the circular skid course, where you could jockey the car back and forth and even provoke a bit of skidding, just for fun. After several laps around that, in 6-inch deep snow, we moved over to the auto-cross like course.

The groomer had done a great job smoothing out the trail, and my instructor informed me that I could be confident staying on the power if we got off into the deeper snow. I got off a little, putting the left-side tires into the fringe area, and when I stayed on the power, it went a bit farther off, until it got hung up.

I know enough to stay on the power in moderate snow, and I did that, right until it hung itself up, What fooled us was that the groomer had groomed a bit wider than the outer groove, so when I thought I was still on the track, the left side tires already were off the surface. No problem. Four guys tried to push me out, but we had to summon the groomer, which hooked up to the rear and pulled us out of the snow.

That may have helped set the stage for the rest of . I suggested to Ms. Rahm, the chief engineer, that the Michelins were probably excellent for 90 percent of the all-weather driving Dodge might anticipate for the car’s use, but I would suggest a set of Nokian all-season or snow tires.

I’m guessing that won’t happen, because no automaker builds a car with tires aimed specifically at snow-country. And that’s OK. All-wheel drive already gives the Challenger GT AWD a large jump on Mustangs and Camaros — and virtually all other muscle cars — on snow and ice. With the right winter tires, it could could make hardy drivers park their SUVs.

Durango GT gives Dodge alternative to Jeep

January 27, 2017 by · Comments Off on Durango GT gives Dodge alternative to Jeep
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

Dodge Durango GT for 2017 is a rugged but luxurious way to take on winter.

By John Gilbert

Jeeps continue to be a dominant force for FCA (Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles), and seem to expand to fill every niche while becoming just about all things to any customer. But if it’s all-wheel drive that makes Jeeps so popular, there are FCA offerings from Dodge to supplement the choices for all-wheel-drive customers.

Logical alternatives range from prominent to obscure. Most prominent among Dodge’s “other” stable is the Durango, which has been streamlined from a larger and bulkier SUV to a sleeker shape with a much-improved interior.

The Durango test vehicle came to me as a Durango GT AWD, an attractive and a little bit sinister when painted Granite Metallic, with a fair amount of black trim. The fact that it came with Chrysler’s redoubtable 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 24-valve engine and an 8-speed automatic with full-time all-wheel drive made me think it was pretty much a Grand Cherokee living in a parallel world in Dodge clothing.

Sleek as it is, the Durango has ample storage in the versatile interior.

At $40,000 base price the test Durango tallied $48,765, reflecting the full-boat options of GT trim. In Northern Minnesota January, it was a solid performer for traction and power.

The other Dodge vehicle that can get you through a Northern winter on a lighter and less-expensive scale is the Dodge Journey, which does a surprisingly good job of portraying a combination SUV and minivan, in Crossroad livery.

Journeys have a chance at much better fuel economy with the 2.4-liter 4-cylinder. but also can be bought with the 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 and 6-speed automatic transmission. While the Journey can come in front-wheel or all-wheel drive, it has a much more limited tow capacity (1,000-2,500 depending on engine), which is also understandable.

The Journey doesn’t have the Durango’s stylish flair, but it also costs less — $29,595 in base form for the Journey Crossroad Plus AWD, and $34,360 well-equipped. Read more

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