Featured Reviews
Mazda designers blended style into every contour and crease of the CX-3.

2018 Mazda CX-3 churns on true vector through snow

Reviewers used to larger, roomier SUVs complained about the Mazda CX-3's lack of room, but the compact SUV is adequate for most, performs well and delivers over 30 mpg with AWD.

Read Full Review

Rain in Texas Hill Country caused the rivers to rise, and the Volvo XC40 never flinched.

XC40 is new, stylish, agile -- and still Volvo-safe

Volvo continues to roll out impressive new members of its expanding family, and the XC40 is the latest example -- a compact utility with zip, agility and style..

Read Full Review

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.

Read Full Review

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.

Read Full Review

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.

Read Full Review

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.

Read Full Review

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

Read Full Review

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.

Read Full Review

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

Read Full Review

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

Read Full Review

2018 Mazda CX-3 churns on true vector through snow

March 1, 2018 by · Comments Off on 2018 Mazda CX-3 churns on true vector through snow
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

Seeking shelter with Mazda CX-3 was only to t — it loved the snow.ry to keep it clean

By John Gilbert  

   Last summer, I had the occasion to test a 2017 Mazda CX-3 for a week, and while I was impressed overall, even though there were a couple of things that concerned me. What didn’t concern me was the flashy design and appearance of the CX-3, which has an interesting assortment of creases and contours, all of which harmonize into a thing of beauty that other SUVs, and even Mazda’s larger ones, can’t match.

    I continue to stress that my belief is consumers should select the “smallest utility vehicle that is large enough,” because enormous, truck-based SUVs that nearly went the way of the dinosaur when the gasoline prices spiked, spend most of their days hauling around a lot of extra size and weight and guzzling fuel during the 90-percent of their driving devoid of the van-full of people and/or camping gear.

   From that standpoint, I suggest continuing to road-test SUVs smaller that what you may desire, until you find one that meets your demands and still is more compact and agile to drive and can easily get twice the fuel economy of the big ones. The competition in that CUV (compact utility vehicle) is ferocious, and continues to get broader and more competitive by the month.


Compact size gives up storage and rear seatroom, but CX-3 style and zoom-zoom prevails.

  Look at Honda, with its Pilot, then its smaller CR-V, and now an even more compact HR-V. Toyota has the Highlander, then the 4Runner, and then the compact RAV4, and now has spread out into various smaller runabouts that may or may not even offer all-wheel drive — which is the primary reason folks wanted SUVs/CUVs in the first place. And Nissan has the Pathfinder, the Murano, down to the Rogue, and now the Rogue Sport, and a new one, the Kicks (as in, “Get your Kicks”) that is smaller still.

    Mazda created the compact CX-5, which seemed perfectly aimed at the CR-V and RAV4 and Rogue, and they came out with the larger CX-9, and the smaller CX-3. All three perform with the best, and have the added and undeniable edge in sporty “fun-to-drive” that lives up to Mazda’s “Zoom-zoom” philosophy.

   Last summer, while I had to admit the CX-3 was cramped in the rear seat and stowage room, it was amazingly fun to drive and agile, and I truly prefered the smaller 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine to the larger and more powerful 2.5. The statistics showed the EPA esdtimates were only about 1 mpg different, but in my driving — smooth, steady, but with gusts of gustro — I was able to coax that CX-3 with the 2.0 up to 38.4 miles per gallon. And taht’s with AWD.

   At a price of about $25,000, the CX-3 seemed to have all the assets that a couple with little kids, or an aging couple whose kids are gone, might want. My only reservation was the rear seat. And then my older son, Jack, who is about 5-11, and helps me a lot in creating this column and chipping in with my wife, Joan, to expand my experiences with test-drivers, arrived for a visit. He volunteered to hop into the rear seat, even though we warned him that it wouldn’t be comfortable.


Clean, contemporary interior design is refreshing change from usual complexities.

He folded himself just slilghtly to fit into the rear door, and once inside, exclaimed that it was fine — not expansive, but spacious enough and designed to comfortably house a couple of adults. So as I gave the CX-3 back, I had to put a question mark next to the one concern I had.

   Six months later, in the harshest time of winter in Duluth, Minnesota, I got a new 2018 Mazda CX-3. It, too, was gleaming pearlescent white, and it looked striking, even against the snow, which kept falling in differing dosages throughout the week. It looks pretty much the same as the 2017, and the magazines all kissed off the new one as being virtually the same. It’s not.

    A couple of the features are important to Northern drivers, such as a heated steering wheel, automatic dimming and brightening headlights, and a little trick called “G-vectoring.” This is something a few automakers are getting into, but Mazda is, as usual, ahead of the technology race. When you have g-vectoring, it means your car will turn in and corner and slalom tightly in much quicker-reacting form. In Mazda’s scheme, it is a safety characteristic that redefines Zoom-zoom beyond reason.


Mazda designers blended style into every contour and crease of the CX-3.

As a driver, when you decide to make a quick turn or lane change, you know what’s coming, and you may or may not be impressed at how th vehicle responds. Your wife/passenger is more surprised, and goes through enough of what they call “head-toss” to be uncomfortable, tending toward car-sickness.

   Mazda noted that what makes the car respond more quickly and more smoothly is to reduce the power to the outside front wheel just slightly, as it simultaneously softens the same wheel. That seems to conflict with the idea of stiffening the outer wheel, but the softening inspires your instincts to turn fully, and as you start to turn, the power and suspension reduction on the front outside wheel makes you realize your timing for the turn works. Besides, it only affects your steering instincts for a millisecond.

   The real-world evidence that it works is that in a normal car, you swerve or turn or change lanes abruptly, and you find the urgent need to correct your steering input, which sometimes leads to over-correcting and the need to correct the correction. That, I’ve always maintained, is what throws you out of control. With Mazda’s brilliant technique, you may not feel any difference, and shrug it off as insignificant. But Mazda’s research shows that the driver rarely or never needs to correct, or over-correct, because the car goes where it’s steering more smoothly.

   Your front-seat passenger will not notice the difference, either, but will get home without the queasiness or stiff neck.


While small, the is CX-3 has adequate storage room for hiking gear, light luggage.

Mazda put G-vectoring into the 2017 Mazda3, and Mazda6 sedans, and into the new CX-5, but the newest model of the CX-3 was already out, and missed the technology. That didn’t mean it was a bad car, but if you’re going to get a vehicle, you want it armed with the best technical tricks — particiularly in Minnesota, where we have hundreds of car-seeking deer who want to dash out and bang into any size or shape vehicle that might pass between them and their dusk watering path. Swerving smoothly doesn’t sound as catchy as Zoom-soom, but it is part of the idea.

   What impressed us both was that even when the snow piled to inches that became a foot or so, the small, compact CX-3 stormed through it, you should pardon the expression. The Touring and Grand Touring varieties of the CX-3 have 18-inch wheels, and all-season tires, which could, of course, be upgraded to a more winter-beating variety. My favoirites remain Nokian WR-3 or WR-2 all-seasons.

   But I also have to take issue with Mazda designers and engineers, who move to the larger wheels and tires for improved sporty handling, but without regard for another theory of mine. If you take a 16 or 17 inch wheel, mounted with a tire, then you increase the size of the wheel to 18 or even 20 inches, you must reduce the width of the tire sidewall to make it the same fit. In so doing, every time you hit a washout or nasty rough patch of pavement, the less cushioning provided by wider tire sidewalls is transmitted directly to you in the passenger compartment with jolting harshness.

   We didn’t find our CX-3 too harsh, although it has a neat little toggle switch on the console that you can click into “sport” setting. It firms the suspension, quickens the steering and allows the exceptional 6-speed automatic to hold its shiftpoints longer. We found the CX-3 actually felt better in sport mode.

    I was briefly disappointed when my readings disclosed a best gas-mileage figure of 30.2 mpg, until I realized that we spent much of our time with the CX-3 when temperatures were either single-digits or below zero, and every car or truck I’ve ever tested can’t match its best mileage of summer during severe cold. You want to warm up the car briefly, and severe cold simply requires the computer to let in more fuel to the air-fuel mixture.

Imagine the audacity of Mazda, to put round knobs in the CX-3 for simple controls!

   Another word of praise is due for the 6-speed automatic transmission, built in-house by Mazda. You can still get a 6-speed Mazda manual shift for the CX-3, which is outstanding, but almost all competitors have given in the the CVT trend, and the annoying hummmmm of the continuously variable transmission reduces driving satisfaction, in my opinion. If you don’t believe me, test-drive any competitor with a CVT, then drive the CX-3 with its smooth-shifting and quick 6-speed automatic, and with the available paddles on the steering wheel, you will be zoom-zoomed to appreciate the difference.

   Now we’re torn. We’d like to purchase a small, fuel-efficient SUV, and we have several in mind. We know the CX-3 can’t be set up to tow, and it has limited storage space behind the rear seat, and we have that cramped getting into and out of the rear seat. But with all things considered, the CX-3 has moved back up to the top of the class.


XC40 is new, stylish, agile — and still Volvo-safe

March 1, 2018 by · Comments Off on XC40 is new, stylish, agile — and still Volvo-safe
Filed under: New car introductions, Autos 

Rain in Texas Hill Country caused the rivers to rise, and the Volvo XC40 never flinched.


  With snow up to our knees in Duluth, Minnesota, after a mid-February blizzard, I had two choices. I could (A) keep reviewing a half-dozen different SUVs, trucks, and AWD sedans that I have been driving to handle the snow and ice, or (B) I could escape to Austin, Texas, for the introductory media drive of the all-new Volvo XC40.

    I chose “B.”

    It was  not just to avoid the latest mid-February storm, because to go, I had to miss some really good sectional high school hockey playoff games. However, I have been waiting for about three years for Volvo to create the XC40 and to get my hands on one, and seeing it on display at the Detroit and Chicago Auto Shows, I couldn’t resist.

    Regular readers of my automotive reviews, in the Duluth Reader, or on the Newcarpicks.com website, know that my preference in SUVs is to go for the smallest one that’s big enough. Anything larger is wasted weight to haul around. Volvo has an exceptional XC90 SUV, which won Truck of the Year and outperforms larger SUVs. Volvo also has the XC60, which is a more compact midsize SUV with the same drivetrain — a sophisticated 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine either turbocharged or both supercharged and turbocharged for amazing power, while still delivering impressive fuel economy. Both also feature Volvo’s long-standing tradition of building the safest vehicles on the road.

Fresh design varies from Volvo tradition, inside and out, pushing the XC40 to the forefront of contemporary style.

   The XC40 comes along considerably more compact, and it shares in all those assets including the balanced handling and the vault-like safety structure, and the turbo 4, but it’s far from simply another downsizing exercise.

    “Usually a new vehicle is based on an existing one,” said Anders Gunnarson, Volvo’s senior design manager. “But the XC40 started fresh. It is a cousin of the XC90 andXC60, but we wanted to give it its own identity. You can see the similarities, but also the differences. The XC40 is based on our new CMA — Compact Modular Architecture.

   “Our objective was to give it three main things — expressive design, smart technology, and ingenious storage. It has true SUV proportions, with short, compact overhangs front and rear. As designers, we get inspired by things other than cars, and we chose the materials and colors for the interior carefully.

Thinner redesigned seats retain Volvo standard for support and comfort.

Clean R-Design interior adds dose of color.

We drove the “Momentum” and the “R Design” models around downtown Austin, then out west of the city into the famous Texas Hill Country, where challenging winding roads become more challenging because Texans apparently don’t think enough of shoulders to put them on the outside of their 2-lanes. Volvo also makes an upscale “Inscription” model.

    All of the XC40s can be bought with all-wheel drive, a $2,000 option on the front-wheel-drive base versions. All of the initial test cars had that impressive feature, which helps it snake around corners, and, presumably, would be an enormous benefit to those trying to scale the cliffs of Duluth in the snowstorms I left behind.

   The powertrain is another example of Volvo engineering, with a 4-cylinder engine measuring just under 2.0 liters (1.969 cubic centimeters, actually). The now-familiar aluminum Volvo 4 has direct injection and is boosted by a turbocharger in the XC40, and its power ratings are impressive: 248 horsepower at 5,500 RPMs, and 258 foot-pounds of torque with that peak ranging from 1,800-4,800 RPMs. Miraculous, what these engineers can do with a strong design, turbocharging, direct injection, and computers coordinating it all.

    An 8-speed automatic transmission is standard, and it does a very good job in the Momentum, which starts at $35,200 with all-wheel drive, although you simply put the gear lever into “D” for drive and let it go. In the sportier R Design, we had a separate sport-manual gate we could shift into for manual operation, plus it had steering wheel paddles, which convert the power and transmission from impressive SUV category to sport-sedan-like pep and fun.


The Momentum version of the XC40 comes with contrasting roof, which accentuates design.

The Momentum had 19-inch wheels, although 18-inch are the standard size on the base front-wheel-drive XC40. The R-Design my co-driver and I drove had 20-inch alloys. Designers love 20-inch wheels, because they like to draw their designs with large wheel openings, then they feel compelled to fill those openings with larger wheels than anyone needs.

    Without a doubt, larger wheels — which have thinner tire sidewalls to duplicate the smaller wheels with thicker sidewalls — make your vehicle corner shaper and have more sporty precision around curvy roads. However, they also offer less cushioning from the narrower sidewalls, and can translate into harsh feeling on rough roadways.

    I thought both XC40s we drove handled very well. MacPherson struts in front and a 4-link rear suspension with stabilizer bar kept us on the road no matter how we challenged it. And while we didn’t have anything resembling snow, we had steady rain threatening to turn into thunderstorms in, I hesitate to say, 72-degree temperature.

    Naturally, the engineering technology came from the XC90 by way of the XC60, but one thing that prevents the lighter, more agile, and sportier looking XC40 in the mid-$30,000-and-up range is that Volvo officials have deduced that while customers want SUVs, and have made the compact-crossover SUV segment the fastest growing in the industry, customers also want all the creature comforts they can find in the larger SUVs.


Enlarged navigation screen, clever stowage niches for computers and connectivity dominate the interior

Added to all those lane-departure and alerts to help you avoid accidents and physical intrusion if you still seem headed for one, the XC40 adds some specific interior tricks. Storage cubicles seem to be everywhere, and you could fit an iPad or a small laptop in form-fitted slots in the doors, and in storage drawers under the front bucket seats. There also is a build-in charge pad at the front of the console for your cellular phone.

   Open the hatch and there is a roomy storage area, and it also has ingenius features such as a rear floor that folds up to offer security for grocery bags, and there are special hooks designed to hold more bags in isolation. A hidden compartment under the rear floor panel also is standard.

R-Design adds sport features for 2.0 turbo 4, which is the perfect urban runabout, too

   Standard equipment includes LED lights, digital gauges, leather seats, lane departure warning, and off-road mitigation, which actually will do its best to prevent you from drifting off the highway.

   Those bucket seats, by the way, continue Volvo’s tradition of making simply the best, most comfortable, and most supportive seats in the industry. These are smaller and lighter, but just as comfortable.

   Optional also is a Harmon Kardon audio upgrade which has 13 speakers and enough power to light Austin and parts of Dallas. Sitting in the rear seat, the separation and clarity of this audio system is exceptional.

   After proving to myself that the XC40 lived up to the lofty standards I had set for it, all I could envision was the chance to get one for a week’s test drive in the Great White North of Minnesota. Preferably while there’s still snow to be churned through.


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. Read more

Next Page »