Passionate Italian Practicality

By Derek Price

I already thought the Alfa Romeo Stelvio was one of the best premium SUV bargains on the market. For 2020, it gets even better.
With a starting price of $41,400, the Stelvio delivers exotic Italian looks, a distinctive and rewarding feel from the driver’s seat and a lot of luxury content for the money. At that price, I can’t think of any other crossover vehicle that turns heads and makes you feel as special as this one.
To me, this is the solution to America’s inexplicable obsession with boring crossovers. It still seats five people comfortably, has good forward visibility and a hatch in back for carrying cargo, but that’s where the boring stuff stops.
Everything else about it is actually interesting.
The front end looks like no other vehicle on the road, with a triangular grille that evokes the idea of historic Alfa race cars. Thankfully, it eschews the tendency for modern designers to pen ever bigger and gaudier grilles with gaping holes up front. And while the rest of the body is styled more conventionally, it still manages to please the eye with its blend of muscular and sophisticated lines.

The 2020 Alfa Romeo Stelvio is powerful, alluring and distinctive. Its turbocharged, 2.0-liter base engine makes the most power in its class: 280 horsepower and 306 pound-feet of torque.

It’s one of the few crossover vehicles I think is genuinely pretty.
It’s also noticeably better for the 2020 model year, at least as experienced from the inside.
While the body gets relatively minor tweaks that only enthusiasts would notice at first glance — optional body appearance kits, a carbon fiber package and some new colors — the cabin gets a much more thorough makeover.
An 8.8-inch touchscreen is now standard, and I found it easier to use than similar systems from Mercedes-Benz, Lexus and BMW. It’s brilliantly designed, and it doesn’t force you to use an awkward rotary knob or laptop-style touchpad like some of its fussier competitors.
A 7-inch digital display behind the steering wheel is also standard. It has beautiful new graphics and can be configured to show all kinds of useful information for the driver. It also gets a host of connectivity upgrades, including an app that lets you connect with the vehicle remotely, a mobile WiFi hotspot, and the ability to get over-the-air updates to the vehicle’s firmware.
New driver assistance features this year give it Level II autonomy, which is the ability to drive itself for short periods of time. It does a good job keeping itself centered in the lane and following the speed of traffic, whether on the highway or in urban traffic jams.

The Stelvio’s cabin gets a noticeable upgrade for 2020 with a standard digital display behind the steering wheel, 8.8-inch touchscreen and redesigned center console.

A new center console and redesigned steering wheel add to the functionality and style inside. It has more space for storage, a wireless charging pad for mobile phones and a more upscale look overall.
At the bottom end of its pricing, around $40,000, the Stelvio feels like a screaming bargain to me. It comes standard with leather seats, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, remote start and some active safety features.
Like most luxury brands, though, options can quickly drive up the price. My tester added more than $10,000 in optional upgrades that were nice but hardly necessary. Adding $1,100 for extra leather on the doors and dash, for example, and another $1,100 for 20-inch wheels and black trim in the Nero Edizione Sport appearance package are things value shoppers can live without.
Combined with the eye-catching Italian looks and a powerful and soul-stirring base engine — a 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder that makes 280 horsepower and 306 pound-feet of torque, all while sounding delicious through the tailpipes — it’s a compelling mixture.
A whopping seven different grades are available, topped by the high-performance Quadrifoglio at $80,500. It’s powered by a 505-horsepower, twin-turbocharged V6 derived from a Ferrari powerplant.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2020 Alfa Romeo Stelvio TI Sport AWD ($45,800). Options: Package 22S ($2,500), Nero Edizione Sport ($1,100), active driver assist package ($3,250), security and convenience pack ($500), TI Sport performance package ($1,350), dual-pane sunroof ($1,350), Harman Kardon premium sound system ($900), wireless charging pad ($300), leather dash and upper doors ($1,100), hands-free power lift gate ($300). Price as tested (including $1,295 destination charge): $59,745
Wheelbase: 110.9 in.
Length: 184.6 in.
Width: 74.9 in.
Height: 66 in.
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged four cylinder (280 hp, 306 ft.-lbs.)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 22 city, 29 highway

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

Why buy it?
It makes you feel special, both from the way it looks and how rewarding it is to drive. It’s one of the few crossover vehicles that appears and drives in a distinctive way, and it’s an even better value with upgrades this year.

Posted in Alfa Romeo

Four-Door Muscle

By Derek Price
Last week I wrote about the Nissan LEAF, an electric car that doesn’t burn a drop of gasoline.
If you believe in balance, you’ll love how this week’s review is the yin to the LEAF’s yang.
I just spent a week driving the Dodge Charger Hellcat, a four-door sedan for people who don’t care one iota about fuel economy, and it couldn’t be more different from the electric cars that are generating breathless headlines and illogical stock returns in recent years.
It starts with a huge V8 engine, which already is unusual in 2020, and adds a supercharger to generate 707 horsepower, enough to spin the tires effortlessly and be as socially unacceptable as you choose. If you want to rage against electric cars and everything they stand for, the ear-splitting roar of a Hellcat engine emanating from a cloud of tire smoke is a great way to do it.
As if the Charger Hellcat wasn’t rebellious enough already, it’s now only available in the even more aggressive, in-your-face Widebody format. The narrow-body Charger Hellcat has been discontinued.

The Dodge Charger Hellcat makes more power than many exotic supercars — 707 horsepower from a supercharged V8 — and is only available with wide tires and fender flares starting this year.

The extra 3.5 inches of width isn’t just for appearance. The insanely large fender flares make it look even more menacing, sure, but the real benefit is in handling and traction. The wider stance makes it feel more secure when cornering, adding a noticeable amount of grip compared to the previous Hellcat with its comparatively narrow tires.
Even with the wider rubber, the four-door Hellcat has no trouble lighting the tires up. Press the throttle into the floor mat — or, heck, just give it slightly too much pressure — and the back tires can lose grip virtually any time you want.
It’s equal parts thrilling and terrifying.
The most remarkable thing about driving it, aside from the ever-present sound and fury under the hood, is just how practical it is.
Four wide doors and a spacious trunk make it an ideal family car. The interior matches the meaty, muscular and intentionally retro style of the outside, with wide but supportive seats, a chunky gear selector and expansive dash.
With a compliant highway ride, the Charger Hellcat is even impressively comfortable on road trips, as long as you don’t mind filling up with gas so frequently.
That’s the only practical downside to this wild car. Masochists will enjoy reading its federal city fuel economy rating of 12 mpg. Ouch.
Of course, gas mileage in a Hellcat matters about as much as quarter-mile times in a Toyota Prius. If you care, you’re looking at the wrong car.

The Charger Hellcat’s interior is surprisingly practical, including four doors that open wide, spacious bucket seats up front and roomy back seat for passengers. A massive trunk makes it more practical than many small SUVs, too.

As for the price, at $69,995, it’s a lot of money for a toy. But it’s also a screaming bargain in terms of dollars per horsepower, making it one of the best performance-car deals on the planet. There are cars that cost several times that much that don’t offer as much excitement or raw power.
A limited-edition Daytona 50th Anniversary Edition is available with a sticker price of $74,140.
People on a strict budget can still find fun and practicality in other versions of the Charger, starting with the SXT priced under $30,000 with a standard 300-horsepower V6 engine, or $33,595 with all-wheel drive.
Other versions include the sporty GT at $31,895, the V8-powered R/T for $36,395, or the loud and powerful Scat Pack at $39,995. A Widebody upgrade is available on the Scat Pack for $6,000 more.

At A Glance
What was tested? 2020 Dodge Charger Hellcat Widebody ($69,995). Options: Harman Kardon Audio group ($1,995), power sunroof ($1,995), carbon suede interior package ($1,595), silver dual stripes ($995). Price as tested (including $1,495 destination charge and $2,100 gas guzzler tax): $80,170
Wheelbase: 120 in.
Length: 201 in.
Width: 78.3 in.
Height: 57.6 in.
Engine: 707 hp, 650 ft. lbs.
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 12 city, 21 highway

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

Why buy it?
In terms of horsepower per dollar, the Charger Hellcat is one of the best bargains on the market. It’s a practical, spacious, four-door family car with 707-hp supercharged engine.

Posted in Dodge

Singing Its Praises

By Derek Price

Today’s electric cars can be quirky, fun and futuristic, but one of the most unique things they do is make silly noises at low speeds.
Because electric motors are almost completely silent, car manufacturers create artificial sounds to warn pedestrians when the vehicle starts to move. And I think that’s bound to be one of the most fun jobs in the transportation business.
Think of all the creative options. You could make the car say “Whee!” You could have it scream “Watch out, buddy!” You could make it generate pulsating sounds like it just hit warp speed in a cheesy science fiction movie.
In reality, the noises are a bit more subtle, as I experienced in the latest Nissan LEAF.
It makes a pleasant chime when backing up and an orchestral glissando when moving forward, which is even louder this year thanks to government regulations that take effect in September. Nissan beat the deadline by pumping up the volume and adding an extra speaker in the engine compartment for all the 2020 LEAF models.
Nissan calls the sound “Canto,” based on the Latin word for singing. It definitely has a musical sensibility, although not as melodic as “La Cucaracha,” which would be near the top of my list if I were designing Nissan’s sounds.
Much more relevant this year, albeit less entertaining, is the addition of standard safety equipment.

With an optional high-capacity battery, the Nissan LEAF has a range up to 226 miles on a full charge.

Nissan Safety Shield 360 is now standard across the lineup. That includes automatic emergency braking that can detect pedestrians in the vehicle’s path, automatic braking when backing up, blind-spot warnings, sensors that can warn you of cross traffic from behind, and high beam assist.
Also standard this year are Intelligent Lane Intervention and Blind Spot Intervention. Basically, if the car senses you’re drifting from your lane or about to change lanes where you could hit a vehicle in your blind spot, it will gently nudge the steering wheel in the correct direction.
I found the intervention a mixture of comforting and alarming. Under normal driving, I like the idea of an electronic guardian angel watching over me. In heavy traffic with frequent lane changes, though, unwanted steering nudges can add anxiety to an already stressful situation. It seems to prefer gentle cruising over lane jockeying at rush hour.
Content is upgraded on several grades, including standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto on the LEAF S and a standard 8-inch touchscreen on all the 40 kWh models.

The LEAF is an impressively sophisticated car to drive. It has surprisingly muscular acceleration and a solid-feeling, well-designed, comfortable cabin.

My tester was the upgraded 62 kWh version, the LEAF PLUS. Aside from the obnoxious capitalization, it’s a great car.
And I don’t mean it’s just great for an electric car. It’s genuinely fun to drive, with outstanding handling, honest-to-goodness muscular acceleration with instant response, and even a serene cabin for everyday driving.
Basically, it’s everything I want from my perfect compact car, just without the gasoline engine.
The big question, of course, is how far it can travel. The LEAF PLUS with its bigger battery capacity can drive up to 226 miles on a full charge, a number I found slightly optimistic for my lead-footed driving style.
I could see it being more realistic for people actually trying to eke the full range out of it. I also noticed myself instinctively driving more gently at times when I would be pushing the limits of its electric range.
The standard LEAF has a range of 149 miles.
Pricing for the base LEAF S starts at $31,600. The longer-range PLUS version starts at $38,200 for the S trim and ranges up to $43,900 for the more luxury-laden SL PLUS.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2020 Nissan LEAF SL PLUS ($43,900). Options: Splash guards ($200), premium paint ($695), carpeted floor mats ($195), kick plates ($130). Price as tested (including $925 destination charge): $46,045
Wheelbase: 106.3 in.
Length: 176.4 in.
Width: 70.5 in.
Height: 61.6 in.
Motor: 214 hp, 160 kW
Transmission: Single speed reducer
Fuel economy: 104 combined MPGe

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

Why buy it?
A fast and supple driving feel combined with an electric range of up to 226 miles makes the LEAF both rewarding and easy to live with.

Posted in Nissan