Featured Reviews
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.

New 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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Luxury grille sets off all-new 2019 Jetta.

Platform, engine, design turn page on Jetta

The loyal and unexciting Volkswagen Jetta flies to new heights as a 2019 model, with a new platform, new look, amazingly economical new engine -- and a new image.

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Acura made an official debut of the 2019 RDX at the MAMA Spring Rally, raising the technology and performance of the midsiz SUV.

MAMA Spring Rally springs best new vehicles

The 2019 Acura RDX was among 100 new vehicles, and as many auto media types made our annual pilgrammage to Elkhart Lake, Wis., for the MAMA Spring Rally.

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Black alloys, black trim and tiny "392" badge tips off that this is the loaded Durango.

Durango gets racier with SRT 6.4 Hemi

Every manufacturer has its SUVs these days, but if you think large utility vehicles are doomed to be boring, try the SRT 392 Dodge Durango, which is strong, quick and agile.

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Titan a pickup powerhouse before and after Midnight

Nissan's Titan competes at the top level of pickup engineering, and attracts new attention with its black-on-black Midnight Edition.

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Kona gives Hyundai high-caffeine CUV

June 13, 2018 by · Comments Off on Kona gives Hyundai high-caffeine CUV
Filed under: New car introductions, Autos 

New Kona fills out subcompact, high tech end of SUV fleet.

By John Gilbert

DETROIT, Michigan

    Driving in Northern Minnesota requires extra diligence because of the long winters and severe ice and snow circumstances, and while moving toward all-wheel-drive has led to enormous growth of Sport Utility Vehicles segment with AWD, the new preference seems to be for the smallest possible vehicle with the attributes of larger SUVs.

    Actually, that’s where my wife, Joan, and I are at in considering a new vehicle for the wilds of the North Shore near Duluth, MN. It is difficult to make a decision, however, among the many exceptional small crossovers. And now, bursting upon the scene, is the Hyundai Kona, which meets just about every requirement we have on our list of “finalists.”

    Not the least of Kona’s assets is that I attained 33.5 miles per gallon with the optional turbo engine while negotiating the all-terrain roads of suburban Detroit.

    If you think you’re keeping up to date on the auto industry, you’re aware how rapidly SUVs are taking over, and how rapidly compact SUVs are going past midsize SUVs. However, while we weren’t paying close attention, something called “subcompact CUVs” were growing faster than even the compact SUVs in the marketplace.

   While cars of all sizes suffered in the highly competitive market over the last year, midsize SUVs grew by 9.4 percent in sales. Compact SUVs — the popular gang that includes the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Nissan Rogue, Mazda CX-5, Jeep Compass, Ford Escape and others — grew 1.7 percent. Meanwhile, Subcompact CUVs grew at a 4 percent clip, more than twice as fast as compacts.

   That Subcompact CUV group, Hyundai, suggests, includes the Chevrolet Trax, Honda HR-V, Toyota C-HR, Mazda CX-3, Jeep Renegade, Subaru Crosstrek, Ford EcoSport, and Nissan Kicks, and is projected to grow another 16 percent this yearit is that segment that Hyundai has aimed the Kona.

Headlights are high, ruinning lights middle, and foglights low on the unique Kona front end.

   Named after Hawaii’s elite coffee, the Kona drives similar to how a swig of Kona’s caffeine might give you a quick uplift. Its looks are, in a word, quirky but unobtrusive. Contemporary in its collection of accent lines, contours and grooves, the Kona comes in four varieties, which are the base SE, the SEL, the Limited, and the Ultimate, ranging in price from just a shade under $20,000 to loaded form right up there at $30,000. Read more

Platform, engine, design turn page on Jetta

June 13, 2018 by · Comments Off on Platform, engine, design turn page on Jetta
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

Luxury-look grille sets off all-new 2019 Jetta.

By John Gilbert

   For decades, I’ve been a loyal fan of Volkswagen. It dates back to when I was a kid and my mom bought a 1960 Volkswagen Beetle, equipped to survive Northern Minnesota winters with an add-on gas heater, which was an amazing device that could transform 20-below winter nights — at the pull of a switch to activate the 747-like roar of the under-dash device —  to 90 above tropical temperature in about  minute, after which you could choose 20 below or 90 above, with no intermediary stops.

   Following along through the era of Rabbits, then Golfs, GTIs, Jettas, Passats, with side-trips to a Scirocco or Corrado here or there, our family, and particularly our two sons, got exceptional service from such VWs.

   So it was with considerable distress that I followed along with the incredible world-wide scandal of the alteration of VW’s 40-plus miles-per-gallon turbo-diesels, which were configured to disable the emission-control stuff except when being tested by the EPA. It turns out, there have been various other companies caught in the same scandal — including virtually all turbo-diesel pickups from the U.S. — but because of the mountain of publicity, it is VW’s to own, and be fined for.

    Most impressive, though, is that Volkswagen didn’t just pull out of the U.S., it made an enormous corporate changeover to rally and stay in the market as a solid performer. Adding SUVs, such as the Tiguan, and the Atlas, helped immeasurably. But with the 2019 Jetta compact sedan, we get to experience the best in German engineering, from a high-tech plant in the U.S., at an amazing bargain price.

Quick, agile Jetta is still roomy family bargain.

   Volkswagen, which owns Audi, has worked with them to develop and perfect a couple of 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engines, with and without turbochargers, depending upon the application. VW also reduced the displacement of the 2.0 to 1.8 and got almost as much performance with even better fuel efficiency. In the process, Volkswagen created an all-new platform, called the MQB, which, after translation, stands for Modular Transverse Matrix.

   An all-new platform can be significant, allowing a vehicle’s unerpinnings to be designed for stiffness from which high-tech suspension and steering geometry can be engineered to be firmed up, balanced, and safer.

  

SEL Premium Jetta has angled cockpit dash, excellent leather buckets.

With that MQB basis, the new Jetta adds a striking design. The sixth generation served VW well, outselling the popular Golf in the U.S., but its styling was unobtrusively boring, at best. It looked like a child’s soap-carving — and I liked the car! The new Jetta, hitting showrooms by the end of June, 2018 as a 2019 model, has a neater shape, and a very stylish front end and grille. Read more

MAMA Spring Rally springs best new vehicles

June 5, 2018 by · Comments Off on MAMA Spring Rally springs best new vehicles
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

Acura made an official debut of the 2019 RDX at the MAMA Spring Rally, raising technology and performance of the midsize SUV.

By John Gilbert

    The opportunity to test drive a car or two every week adds unquestionable zest to the life of an auto journalist. And then there is the MAMA Spring Rally, which sets new standards every spring for members of the Midwest Auto Media Association. True, I’m prejudiced, but I believe the MAMA spring and fall rallies are the best functions any auto membership outfit offers.

   This year’s Spring Rally was conducted on the week leading up to Memorial Day. Over the course of the two days, I drove 17 different vehicles, on the Road America race course, on surrounding rural roads, and on a very challenging autocross circuit. And I still left almost that many more I wanted to get into, but ran out of time. I will be reporting on almost all the new vehicles that were provided for the Rally when they get to the press fleet, but it was good to get a taste of some of the more enticing cars.

   MAMA also has its members vote for Family Car of the Year, and to qualify a car must cost less than $50,000 and have four doors and be aimed at hauling a family. This year, they added a Luxury Family Car of the Year. It won’t be announced until next February at the Chicago Auto Show, but the candidates this year are many.

   Starting in reverse order here, the top vote-getters for Family Car of the Year established the early top candidates: the Hyundai Kona compact SUV, the Ram 1500 full size pickup truck, the new-for-2019 Volkswagen Jetta, the renovated Mazda6 sedan, the Buick Regal Tour-X station wagon, and the Ford Expedition large SUV. In the companion Luxury Car of the Year category, the early favorites are the Volvo XC40 compact crossover SUV, the Acura RDX midsize SUV, the Kia Stinger large performance sedan, and the Range Rover Velar SUV. These are not in order of votes, but make a preliminary list of favorites for the two categories, awaiting final vote-offs at the MAMA fall rally. 

   My personal picks were the Kona, the Ram 1500 the Jetta and Mazda6. Among luxury vehicles, the Volvo XC40, the RDX, and the Jaguar E-Pace were my anticipated favorites, but the vehicle that stole the show for me was the new BMW X2, a low and flashy new compact SUV with a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine. Maybe it’s too new, but it somehow escaped the scrutiny of most voters.

BMW showed up with its new M5 sedan, left, and newly created X2 compact crossover.

   What we do is gather at the Osthoff Resort in the tiny southeastern Wisconsin town of Elkhart Lake, which includes the legendary 4-mile road-racing circuit in the rolling hillside just outside of town. Our esteemed group’s board of directors stays in running contact with all the auto manufacturers, and they work out agreements to bring their newest vehicles to the track, where close to a hundred media types get to take turns driving nearly a hundred vehicles for one-lap circuits around the track.

 

Cadillac’s ATS-4 is a coupe version of its hot new turbo-4 sedan.

  Driving all these new cars on the nation’s most legendary road-racing track would be highlight enough for us, but we also get to make some real-world road tests around the winding roads outside the track, and, for good measure, some hot laps around a special autocross track located within the track’s borders. In addition, the folks from Range Rover have set up a special inside off-road track amid the hills and trees of the far side of the track property to test off-road vehicles. Read more

Durango gets racier with SRT 6.4 Hemi

May 31, 2018 by · Comments Off on Durango gets racier with SRT 6.4 Hemi
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

Durango always looks aggressive, and its new SRT with the 6.4 Hemi is more potent than it looks.

By John Gilbert

    Memorial Day weekend is celebrated by many as the ultimate race weekend, mainly because of the Indianapolis 500. Fittingly, then, our subject during Indy week is a vehicle that not only embraces the American drivers’ love of speed with the American family’s current love of SUVs

   We’re talking the Dodge Durango SRT 392, and the test vehicle came in a gleaming white paint exterior, called, cleverly enough, “White Knuckle,” a clearcoat finish that makes its point: Drive this beast, but be ready for lightning quick power requiring maximum driver attention.

   If this all seems familiar, it might be because loyal readers of New Car Picks may recall seeing an all-white hot-rod Dodge Durango, just a few months ago. It was the Durango GT, which came with almost all the visual tricks of the SRT, and with a properly spunky 3.6-liter V6 and an option available up to the 5.7-liter Hemi V8.

Spacious rear can be filled with all that’s needed to move the family — swiftly!

  But it is time to give the Durango SRT 392 its moment in the sun, partly because of the tie-in with Race Weekend, and because the SRT 392 could leave all other Durangos in the weeds. This is more like a Dodge Charger SRT with three rows of seats and a bit more road clearance. And it is just as hot as the car-version Charger or Challenger SRT, because it has the same powertrain.

   The SRT — for street, racing technology — gang hangs out behind the scenes at Dodge, thinking up ingenious ways to get more power out of its pride-and-joy Hemi V8 engines. The “392” is the monster engine, a 6.4-liter V8 fastened to an 8-speed heavy-duty transmission and steering wheel paddles, just in case the highly efficient transmission doesn’t up- or downshift quickly enough.

   Trust me on this: Everything the Durango SRT 392 does it does swiftly enough for any normal performance-driving zealot. With all the firming-up and strengthening of the powertrain and suspension, the SRT 392 sticker price was $75,550. That’s a healthy leap from the more basic models’ range of mid-$30,000 to $60,000, but those who select it are not interested in moderation from a vehicle or its drivetrain or its image. And yet, while the more basic Durango won’t do what the sizzling SRT will do, the SRT 392 will easily settle in and do what a family hauler will do. Read more

Titan a pickup powerhouse before and after Midnight

May 18, 2018 by · Comments Off on Titan a pickup powerhouse before and after Midnight
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

Nissan’s Midnight Edition of the Titan can come out to play in daylight, too.

By John Gilbert

     If you’re into large pickup trucks, what is your favorite feature?

    Is it the Cord F150‘s low-cut leading edge of the side window design that greatly enhances side vision, or its pull out and drop down little stepladder off the rear of the Ford F150 bed, with its neat little pull-up helping pole? Or Chevy’s little slotted grooves in the outside rear corners of the rear bumper to provide step-up access to the bed? Maybe it’s the soft-touch tailgate on the Toyota Tundra, or Ram’s wider bed sides, which open from the top and can store virtually anything. The Honda Ridgeline has its entire bed made out of the composite material you needn’t buy as a bedliner, with a deep, watertight trunk cut into it. Or Nissan’s own clever slotted strips on either side and the front edge of the Titan’s bed, allowing infinite anchoring locations for sliding tie-down cleats.

   How about “all of the above?”

   Nissan didn’t quite corral all the top features but did incorporate its version of most of them in the 2018 Midnight Edition of the Titan. The Midnight Edition package costs $1,250, and boosts the total of the Titan to $54,775. That is not outrageously steep these days, and I also found that our overall combined fuel economy was 18.1, which also was acceptable, based on where we’ve come in the large V8-power truck biz. 

Black finish, rich in highlights, makes the black-on-black trim stand out.

   Competition has driven the manufacturers to build extremely competitive pickups, so whatever you choose you know you’ll be getting great power output, heavy-duty towing and hauling capability, not much fuel economy, but interior accommodations that rival fine luxury sedans. So maybe the little extra touches can sway an undecided buyer.

   Nissan has shamelessly broken down all the competitive barriers in building the 2018 Titan Midnight Edition, catching many by surprise, because the Titan had been left out of a lot of comparisons because there really wasn’t anything new on the truck. Nissan, however, had accomplished all the engineering and design stuff it felt was required, so it turned to cosmetic touches to set off a new fleet of special-edition vehicles for its cars and SUVs, and the Midnight Edition gives the same striking appearance benefit to the new Titan.

   My test-drive Titan SL Midnight Edition came in a glossy black, which was more than just black when you got close enough to see the sun’s reflection reveal an amazing mixture of colorful highlights under the surface. The trick is to put black-on-black touches to every trim item, including the grille, the 20-inch alloy wheels, to the large Titan logo on the doors, and to every emblem all around.

Living quarters feature luxurious leather bucket seats and high-tech instruments and connectivity.

   It seems somewhat surprising that a company that has made its tremendous success on pragmatic but solid engineering and design would stoop to cosmetics, and, of course, it would be a mistake to accuse the Titan of making only cosmetic touches to create the Midnight Edition. The company has reached technical highs with things like its new variable compression ratio, even though it already has attained a high level of technology for its cars and trucks. Read more

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