Past and Future

Cargazing
By Derek Price

It’s remarkable that Volkswagen’s engineers spent years creating an all-new design for the 2019 Jetta, but my brain most loudly registers one crude thought after driving it.
“There’s a red stripe around the wheel!”
Yes, the freshly designed Jetta looks more svelte with coupe-like arches. It has a completely new interior that is built around the lightweight-but-solid MQB architecture, making it feel better than I can ever recall a Jetta feeling from the driver’s seat. It’s taller, wider and longer than before.
Still, my caveman brain is blinded by the wickedly cool red stripe on the wheels.
That’s because the all-new car I’m driving isn’t the ordinary Jetta, but the GLI 35th Anniversary Edition that pays homage to some of the most divine four-door cars Volkswagen ever created.
The GLI started as a 1984 model that essentially was a four-door version of the Rabbit GTI — known as the Golf GTI overseas — that pretty much invented the “hot hatch” car. The GLI was living, driving proof that four-door cars could actually be fun.
What was its signature design cue through the years? Just like the GTI hatchback, the GLI sedan got ridiculous but wonderful red accents inside and out.

The Volkswagen Jetta gets a completely new design for 2019. It’s based on a different architecture that feels nimble but stiff, and it looks more sleek and coupe-like.

The 35th Anniversary Edition takes the GLI back to its roots, and not just from a styling perspective.
Yes, it has plenty of tastefully diminutive red trim, including a stripe across the grille, “GLI 35” badges and the colorful ribbon around its timeless phone-dial wheels.
It also harkens back to another hallmark of the first GLI: technical innovation.
While the early version used fuel injection in its high-compression engine and a close-ratio, five-speed transmission, the 2019 iteration uses a 7-speed direct-shift automatic and 2.0-liter turbocharged engine that makes 228 horsepower.
If you want to feel old, here’s a fact. The 2019 GLI makes more than 2.5 times as much power as the 1984 classic that was considered fast in its day.
And it doesn’t stop with engine upgrades. Adaptive chassis control lets the driver adjust the damping force with three different firmness settings. It has big disc brakes with red calipers — of course — for spectacular stopping performance. And it has a wonderfully modern cabin with all the fixings you’d expect in a contemporary car, plus more, such as a performance monitor screen that shows G-forces and turbo boost pressure.

The Jetta’s newly designed cabin is centered around the driver, including a touchscreen on the center stack that angles toward the left seat.

Driving it is sheer bliss, especially for the price. I smile just as big behind the wheel of this Volkswagen as I do driving pricey sports sedans from Mercedes-Benz and BMW.
In addition to the super-cool GLI special edition touches, it benefits from all the other upgrades the 2019 Jetta enjoys. Roomier seating, sexier exterior styling, more premium materials on the inside, dramatic ambient lighting at night and a long list of modern tech features give buyers reasons to check it out.
Jetta pricing starts at $18,745 for the base S model with a manual transmission and ranges up to $27,695 for the luxury-oriented SEL Premium.
As for the Jetta GLI, the basic GLI S starts at $25,995, while the special-edition GLI like my tester is priced $100 more than the SEL at $27,795. There’s also a GLI Autobahn version with more luxury features priced at $29,995.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI 2.0T 35th Anniversary Edition ($27,795). Options: Pure Gray exterior with black roof ($295). Price as tested (including $895 destination charge): $28,985
Wheelbase: 105.7 in.
Length: 185.1 in.
Width: 70.8 in.
Height: 57.4 in.
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged four cylinder (xxx hp, xxx ft. lbs.)
Transmission: 7-speed DSG automatic
Fuel economy: 25 city, 32 highway

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

Why buy it? 
An all-new design is a noticeable upgrade to the popular German four-door sedan. A special edition of the performance-oriented GLI, in particular, pays respect to the car’s most glorious ancestors.

Posted in Volkswagen

Rogue Has Right Size

Cargazing
By Derek Price
There’s a reason the Rogue is Nissan’s top-selling vehicle these days. It gets the big things right.
It’s not perfect. If you want to be picky — as any smart shopper should — you’ll notice an unrefined engine and lethargic acceleration keep it from being among the best in its hyper-competitive class. But for checking off all the right contemporary-car boxes, and doing so at a great price, the Rogue has fast become the prototypical family car for modern America.
It starts with the perfect dimensions.
Shopping for a crossover can be tricky because there are so many choices, and pictures can be deceiving. In a photo, most modern crossovers look remarkably similar with their upright, macho, SUV-inspired bodies and big liftgates in back.
In person, though, it’s a different story.
Some are tiny. Some are massive. Some have three rows of seats and a cavernous cargo area. Others are sized more like what we called “economy cars” a few years ago, with a cargo space meant more for appearance than actually holding anything bigger than a grocery bag.
The Rogue seems to hit a happy medium, a Goldilocks size that works for many families. Back-seat passengers will be reasonably comfortable, while the front seats are surprisingly generous. In fact, the Rogue feels bigger once you step inside it, a pleasant revelation.

The 2019 Nissan Rogue, priced from $25,020, mixes a generous features list with family-friendly size.

While some of its competitors have cargo areas that are borderline comical, the Rogue has a road-trip-friendly 39.3 cubic feet when the back seat is up. Fold it flat, and it increases to 70 cubic feet.
The feeling of spaciousness is helped by back doors that open very wide to an almost perpendicular 77 degrees.
Still, from the driver’s perspective, the Rogue handles more like a zippy, sprightly compact car. It’s easy to maneuver in parking lots, has excellent outward visibility and responds quickly to driver input, with one exception: the gas pedal.
That’s not unintentional. It’s because this vehicle is designed to prioritize fuel economy, something its owners will appreciate the next time gas prices spike at the pump.
Three things drive its efficiency: its 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine, a lightweight body structure, and a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that translates infinite gear ratios into miserly fuel-burn numbers.
While I’d love to join the chorus of enthusiasts who lament the uninspiring feel of CVTs, the choice actually makes a lot of sense in this Nissan. The Rogue is designed to be budget-conscious. That’s a major reason it exists, which means the CVT fits the mission perfectly.

With two rows of seating and 39.3 cubic feet of cargo space, the Rogue has become Nissan’s best-selling model.

Putting a CVT in the Maxima, meant to be indulgent and exciting, remains blasphemous. In the Rogue, it’s hardly even noticeable.
What you will notice on every drive, though, is the technology in this vehicle.
If you buy one with ProPILOT Assist, Nissan’s suite of semi-autonomous driving and safety features, the Rogue will feel like it almost drives itself — and in a remarkably refined way. Steering assist and intelligent cruise control work together to help the driver follow the speed of traffic and stay safely in their lane.
A new Special Edition Package is available this year to add an upscale look, including 17-inch wheels and chrome trim. And all grade levels get Nissan’s smart Rear Door Alert that reminds you to check the back seat in case you left a child, pet or important cargo there by accident.
Pricing starts at $25,020 for the base S grade with front-wheel drive. It tops out at $32,840 for the luxury-oriented SL with all-wheel drive and ProPILOT Assist as standard equipment this year.
ProPILOT Assist is also now optional as part of a premium package on the mid-grade SL model.

At A Glance
What was tested? 2019 Nissan Rogue SL ($31,490). Options: SL Premium Package ($1,820). Price as tested (including $1,045 destination charge): $34,355
Wheelbase: 106.5 in.
Length: 184.5 in.
Width: 72.4 in.
Height: 68.5 in.
Engine: 2.5-liter four cylinder (170 hp, 175 ft. lbs.)
Transmission: Continuously variable
Fuel economy: 25 city, 32 highway

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

Why buy it? 
It’s Nissan’s most popular model for a good reason. Its mix of size, features and price point appeal to many families. With the optional ProPILOT Assist, it feels very modern to drive.

Posted in Nissan

A Track-Ready Wago

Cargazing
By Derek Price
There’s a smug satisfaction that comes from driving a car that you know is special but other people don’t.
And this car is definitely something special.
It’s the Mercedes-Benz AMG E63 S Wagon, a monumentally expensive car that feels like it’s powered by Greek gods but — to oblivious people who don’t know any better — looks harmless and almost ordinary.
That’s because it’s a station wagon, perhaps the lest-fashionable style of car for sale today.
If you’re looking for a sleeper, something that can win every stoplight race without drawing unwanted attention, a station wagon with a supercar-like 603-horsepower engine is a perfect place to start.
This isn’t a car that will earn a fortune for Mercedes. I can’t imagine more than a handful of people ponying up $108,850 to buy one. That’s before you add options, like $1,200 carbon-fiber mirrors, nearly $9,000 ceramic brakes and $1,320 massaging seats.
Fortunately, my very favorite options are available at no charge. You can tell Mercedes to delete the gaudy badges on the liftgate and front fenders to make this the ultimate “I’m secure enough to not need attention” performance machine.
From the driver’s seat, there’s no denying what a remarkable vehicle this is. It accelerates from a standstill to 60 mph in 3.4 seconds, Mercedes claims, which plants it firmly in exotic-car territory.
A 4.0-liter, twin-turbocharged V8 engine delivers even more torque than it does horsepower — 627 pound-feet — while routing it all through a brilliantly designed transmission. Mercedes calls it “Multi Clutch Technology,” mixing a nine-speed sport transmission with a wet clutch to enable a tasty combination of lightning-fast shifts at the track and creamy smoothness in the neighborhood.

The Mercedes-Benz AMG E63 S Wagon looks like an unassuming station wagon but packs a 603-horsepower punch.

The sensations feel exotic, too. While AMG’s Dynamic Select system lets you choose a relatively sedate Comfort mode for around-town driving, the Sport+ mode unbridles its exhaust note, tightens its air-sprung suspension and adds heft to its steering to give it a more beastly, intimidating demeanor.
It roars. It snarls. It screams. It does everything a wagon shouldn’t.
Yet it also exists when, logically speaking, it shouldn’t. It’s completely irrational, which makes me love it all the more.
The only sensible thing about this AMG product is the spacious, practical, family-friendly layout, something that leaves plenty of room for road trips. Not only is it cavernous on the inside, with the kind of practicality and cargo space people usually associate with SUVs these days, but it coddles its lucky passengers in a cocoon of silence, softness and opulence.
Digital screens in front of the driver should be measured in acres, not inches. The screen leaves plenty of space to operate the seemingly endless array of features available in a modern Mercedes, from constantly changing mood lighting in the cabin to collecting racing data from track-day jaunts.
It’s both functional and beautiful. Mercedes’ digital designers are some of the best in the industry, delivering a carefully thought-out user experience that’s as stunning in appearance as it is in ease of use.
If anything, the E63 validates a long-held but apparently unpopular opinion of mine: station wagons are fantastic, and more people should drive them.

While the E63’s body is understated, the interior is more unrestrained. Circular vents give it a classic look to contrast with the ultra-modern digital screens and futuristic lines.

While crossovers and SUVs are the ubiquitous family haulers of contemporary America, wagons — while temporarily out of fashion, for reasons that escape me — are vastly better.
They have a lower center of gravity, making their handling inherently more planted and stable. They’re as practical and voluminous on the inside as most crossovers. They get better gas mileage, assuming you don’t fit them with AMG engines that sound like thunderstorms. And they look better, with a lower, sleeker, more timeless profile than the bulbous vehicles that are inexplicably popular in 2019.
If there is a more perfect vehicle for well-heeled contrarians, I can’t think of it.

At A Glance
What was tested? 2019 Mercedes-Benz AMG E63 Wagon ($108,850). Options: Exterior lighting package ($800), AMG exterior carbon fiber package ($2,950), AMG carbon fiber mirror covers ($1,200) AMG performance front seats ($2,500), acoustic comfort package ($1,100), head-up display ($990), driver assistance package ($2,250), ceramic brakes ($8,950), carbon fiber engine cover ($1,500), AMG performance exhaust system ($1,250). Price as tested (including $995 destination charge): $137,885
Wheelbase: 115.7 in.
Length: 197.1 in.
Width: 81.3 in.
Height: 58 in.
Engine: 4.0-liter biturbo V8 (603 hp, 627 ft. lbs.)
Transmission: 9-speed multi-clutch automatic
Fuel economy: 16 city, 22 highway

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

Why buy it? 
There’s nothing else quite like it, a station wagon that’s as fast as some exotic supercars. Its comical mixture of speed and sensibility is the best kind of crazy.

Posted in Mercedes-Benz

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