Off-Road Swagger

By Derek Price
This is an SUV for people who believe less is more.
It’s the Defender 90, the two-door version of Land Rover’s newest off-road beast that looks and feels as if it could cross Africa without breaking a sweat.
While the four-door Defender 110 is sure to be more popular with the masses thanks to its roomier seating, easier access and ample cargo space afforded by its extra 17 inches of length, it’s the sportier 90 that wins my heart.
This is a vehicle designed for looks and capability first, practicality second. It’s exactly what the car world needs more of at a time when lookalike, mom-and-dad crossovers are ubiquitous.
Nothing looks quite like a Defender, although it’s striking enough that I wish more vehicles did.
While it shares the same look in front and back as the four-door version, the Defender 90 walks with a thousand times more swagger thanks to what happens in the middle: removing doors and shortening the cabin.

Land Rover’s Defender 90 has a bold, two-door layout that reimagines the classic safari vehicle for a modern era. It’s also available as the four-door Defender 110.

The overall look is a case study in how designers should mix old with new.
Its shape is clearly based around the classic Defender made famous in countless Saharan safaris and adventure films, yet it has the polish and sparkle of a freshly deployed spacecraft. It’s the kind of flashy, audacious vehicle in which Richard Branson or Jeff Bezos would feel great driving before blasting themselves into space atop piles of smoking money.
Of course, being a Land Rover, the capability backs up the tough look.
Power comes from a turbocharged incline six-cylinder engine with a mild electric boost to help performance. It makes 395 horsepower that lets it scoot up to highway speed quickly.
Gas mileage is — predictably for a heavy, off-road vehicle — not that impressive. It’s rated for 17 mpg in city driving and 22 on the highway.
The new Defender is fitted with an advanced version of the customizable Terrain Response system that uses hardware and software to set up the vehicle for varying conditions.
There are ample high-tech choices for playing in the wilderness, including electronic locking of the center and rear differentials via the touchscreen, but two new features in particular stood out to me.
One is the Wade Sensing system. It measures how high the water is when crossing a stream, an important number to know in a vehicle designed to operate perfectly fine in almost three feet of standing water — 35.4 inches, to be precise.
The other is ClearSight Ground View, a feature that blew my mind the first time I saw it on the Defender’s screen.

Both the two- and four-door versions of the Defender share a dash layout that blends form and function. Many of the vehicle’s customizable off-road settings can be accessed via the central touchscreen.

ClearSight uses cameras to look underneath the vehicle to see obstacles, something I wish I had in the past when off-roading without a spotter. Even better, like magic, it shows you an overhead view of the vehicle that makes the Defender look transparent, as if you have Superman’s X-ray vision to see what’s underneath it. Potholes and rocks are clearly visible under the floor, as seen from the video screen.
While I think the styling is masterful on the Defender 90’s chiseled, blocky body, it may even be surpassed on the inside.
The whole cabin is designed in a way that Land Rover describes as a “constructivist modular” architecture, designed to be taken apart if needed. It’s as beautiful as it is functional, though, with a color palette that matches the body because the exterior panels seem to flow right inside.
Wood and leather give it the Old World charm that any proper British-branded vehicle out to carry, but there’s also no mistaking this for an Old World vehicle. The lighting and clean, minimalist design could have been pulled straight from a trendy nightclub.
Pricing starts at $46,100 for the oh-so-cool 90 or $50,500 for the four-door 110.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2021 Land Rover Defender 90 First Edition ($58,995). Options: Tow hitch receiver ($675), off-road tires ($350). Price as tested (including $1,350 destination charge): $66,475
Wheelbase: 101.9 in.
Length: 180.4 in.
Width: 82.9 in.
Height: 77.5 in.
Engine: Turbocharged 3.0-liter six cylinder (395 hp, 406 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 17 city, 22 highway

Style: 10
Performance: 10
Price: 4
Handling: 6
Ride: 9
Comfort: 8
Quality: 7
Overall: 9

Why buy it?
It’s flat-out cool. It mixes incredible capability with cutting-edge tech and heritage-inspired looks.

Posted in Land Rover

Posh and Capable

By Derek Price

It has seven slots on the grille. It’s designed for off-roading, and it’s sumptuous on the inside.
None of that is different, yet the Jeep Grand Cherokee has been completely redesigned to continue its longstanding mission in a new world.
Debuting first as the three-row Grand Cherokee L this year, followed by the regular two-row Grand Cherokee as a 2022 model, this all-new Jeep feels fresh in some ways and familiar in others after driving it for a week.
The creamy highway ride and confidence-inspiring traction and ground clearance off the pavement are instantly recognizable Grand Cherokee hallmarks, but they’re encased under a fresh  layer of technology and luxury.
A new platform underpins the whole thing and accounts for the most noticeable changes in the way it feels over the road.
The freshly designed architecture does the heavy lifting — figuratively and literally — for the Grand Cherokee L. It’s engineered to meet several important but seemingly contradictory goals, including getting better gas mileage, keeping noises at bay and withstanding the brutal off-road conditions Jeeps are expected to face.
More than 60 percent of it is made from high-strength steel, Jeep claims, including some next-generation blends that give designers more options for stamping detailed parts with extraordinary strength.
Overall, it feels more sprightly now, despite having bigger dimensions and more ground clearance than before. That means the new Grand Cherokee, debuting next year, ought to feel even more dramatically light and nimble with its shorter wheelbase.

The Jeep Grand Cherokee L, the first of a new generation of Grand Cherokee models, has a longer layout with a third-row seat. The familiar two-row Grand Cherokee is expected to debut next year.

Of course, true off-road capability is what sets Jeeps apart from the plethora of crossovers and SUVs available today, and the new design helps this new vehicle live up to the brand’s reputation.
There are three different 4×4 systems available, plus the Quadra-Lift air suspension that can raise or lower the vehicle more than 4 inches for different situations. Its highest setting, only available at low speeds for off-roading, provides 10.9 inches of ground clearance and 24 inches of water fording depth, which is four more than the last Grand Cherokee.
It’s also capable of lowering the vehicle when parked to make loading cargo and passengers easier, or when driving at highway speeds to improve fuel economy.
I loved the air suspension on my tester, and not just for the “check out what this Jeep can do” flashiness of the system. It delivered one of the silkiest, smoothest rides of any off-road vehicle I’ve driven, including Toyota Land Cruisers and Range Rovers that cost a whole lot more.
The highest trim levels in the Grand Cherokee L easily rival those pricey luxury brands. Open-pore wood trim, soft Palermo leather, active noise cancellation and ventilated rear seats — all part of the $3,000 Summit Reserve Group — made my tester feel indulgent, not just nice.

The fresh interior design in the next-generation Grand Cherokee is spectacular, particularly on the high-end Summit Reserve trim that rivals pricey luxury brands in content and materials.

And that’s before you look at the technology packed inside.
The new Grand Cherokee is available with the latest UConnect system that runs wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a heads-up display that projects onto the windshield, digital rear-view mirror and camera that shows the back-seat passengers.
I loved the design and functions on the new UConnect system, but I did experience some bugs in it. Apple CarPlay would randomly stop working on my iPhone 10, a problem I haven’t experienced in other cars.
A 950-watt McIntosh premium audio system is optional. It sounds fantastic pumping music through 19 speakers, including a 10-inch subwoofer, but the bodacious size and placement of all the “McIntosh” logos that come with it seems obnoxious.
Overall, though, the new Grand Cherokee L is exactly what it ought to be. It coddles passengers in luxury, has real Jeep capability baked inside and comes in a family-friendly, three-row format.
It even gets decent gas mileage. My tester was rated for 25 mpg on the highway and a less impressive 18 in city driving.
Pricing for the Grand Cherokee L starts at $38,635 and tops out at $63,635 for the Summit Reserve.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L Summit Reserve 4×4 ($58,995). Options: Premium paint ($345), Summit Reserve Group ($3,000), Luxury Tech Group ($245). Price as tested (including $1,695 destination charge): $64,280
Wheelbase: 121.7 in.
Length: 204.9 in.
Width: 77.9 in.
Height: 71.5 in.
Engine: 5.7-liter V8 (357 hp, 390 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 18 city, 25 highway

Style: 9
Performance: 8
Price: 6
Handling: 7
Ride: 8
Comfort: 9
Quality: 7
Overall: 9

Why buy it?
A complete overhaul makes the new Grand Cherokee more of what it’s always been: capable and luxurious. The extended-length L model, the only one available at launch, includes a third-row seat.

Posted in Jeep

A Smaller Tiguan

By Derek Price

You could say the all-new Volkswagen Taos is just a smaller version of the Tiguan, and you’d be right.
For a vehicle that’s completely fresh, including a new name, the 2022 Taos feels extremely familiar. Everything about it is designed to fit with the Volkswagen family: its squared-off shape, its neatly designed cabin, and especially its zippy driving feel.
To me, the Taos seems like my VW soulmate, the vehicle I feel as if I knew from the moment we met.
Assuming one likes Volkswagen’s contemporary blend of value and spunk, that’s a good thing.
Every Taos is powered by a 1.5-liter, four-cylinder turbocharged engine. It’s a modified version of the Jetta’s turbo four, and it works remarkably well in the bigger Taos with one exception.
At times during my test, it made lumpy, jerky power at low RPMs, at least in my test example. Most modern engines aim for a smooth, linear, predictable power output, but I struggled to get the Taos to launch smoothly at times, either surging ahead or loafing slowly. Getting the pedal position right was trickier than most new vehicles.
Other than that quibble, the Taos drives remarkably well. Handling is dramatically better than most of its competitors, making it a hoot to drive on winding roads. It’s almost as fun as the Golf, albeit with a higher center of gravity.

The 2022 Volkswagen Taos is an all-new SUV that slots below the Tiguan. It starts under $23,000 and has VW’s characteristic fun-to-drive appeal.

Its eight-speed transmission feels flawless, serving up fast, crisp, seamless shifts at every point in the rev range.
It’s also remarkably efficient, rated for 28 mpg in city driving and 36 on the highway, very impressive for a vehicle this size. All-wheel drive drops those numbers down to 25 and 32.
The Taos is designed to slot below the Tiguan in Volkswagen’s SUV lineup, but it looks and feels roughly the same size to me. It’s a little smaller, if you trust the measurements, but visually it punches above its class.
That might be because some of the lines seem to match the Atlas, VW’s biggest SUV, more than the sprightlier Tiguan. A boxy back end gives it a masculine look and utilitarian space at the same time.
Inside, the Taos will feel instantly familiar to anyone who’s driven a VW the past few years. It has the same clean, modern dash layout and easy-to-use buttons.
In a world packed with strong competitors — of which the new Taos is one of many fresh entries — it has to stand out on value, and Volkswagen did a good job living up to the brand promise on this vehicle.

The Taos’s cabin will look familiar to anyone who has ridden in a modern Volkswagen. It follows the VW family design theme both inside and out.

The Taos aims to deliver lots of content for the money at every price point. I thought the equipment on my tester made it seem more expensive than its $33,885 sticker price reflected, including the IQ.DRIVE system with Travel Assist. When you turn that feature on using a button on the steering wheel, the Taos does an outstanding job essentially driving itself on the highway, albeit with the driver’s hands on the wheel and attention on the road.
I also loved the Digital Cockpit on my test Taos, which replaces analog gauges with a customizable digital display behind the steering wheel.
From the cynical, purist, car-guy perspective I gravitate toward, I struggle to love cars like this. It’s clearly designed to fill a niche in an increasingly sliced-and-diced world of crossovers and SUVs of every shape and size. I have the same complaint about all its competitors, too, which tend to be derivative and unoriginal.
As a realist and a dad, though, I get it. Vehicles like this are extremely useful and sell like crazy for a reason.
There are likely plenty of buyers lining up for an ever-so-slightly smaller, more affordable version of the Tiguan. Now it’s here, and it’s named after a picturesque town in New Mexico.
Pricing starts at $22,995 for the Taos S with front-wheel drive, or $25,040 if you opt for all-wheel drive. The SEL trim with all-wheel drive tops the lineup at $33,045.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2022 Volkswagen Taos 1.5T SEL ($31,490). Options: Panoramic sunroof ($1,200). Price as tested (including $1,195 destination charge): $33,885
Wheelbase: 105.6 in.
Length: 175.8 in.
Width: 72.5 in.
Height: 64.6 in.
Engine: 1.5-liter turbocharged four cylinder (158 hp, 184 ft.-lbs.)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 28 city, 36 highway

Style: 9
Performance: 7
Price: 9
Handling: 9
Ride: 6
Comfort: 7
Quality: 7
Overall: 8

Why buy it?
It delivers the classic Volkswagen traits: a fun-to-drive spirit and bang-for-the-buck value. It’s an all-new vehicle that’s almost sure to be a hit with buyers.

Posted in Volkswagen