Full-size American luxury

By Derek Price
Automotive Writer

Chrysler’s big, bad 300 sedan has long looked like it was styled by Al Capone.
This year’s version of it keeps that old-school gangster vibe — the upright grille, the sinister roofline, the giant trunk that could hide plenty of evidence from cops — but it puts a softer, more sophisticated veneer on top of it.
With a fresh design for 2015, the 300 drives like a more modern, upscale car than ever before, with a tailored, taut driving feel and a cabin that moves it further into luxury territory.
I spent a few hours driving the new car around Austin, Texas, and it seems like an impressive improvement over the last generation at first glance.
One of my favorite things about it is the dramatic separation between the sporty 300S model and the rest of the 300 lineup. The S has a racier look, a much firmer suspension, tighter feeling steering and faster shifting from the transmission. It was more rewarding to drive on winding roads, especially when you press the button to engage sport mode.
That said, my favorite version to drive was the 300C, which is the classic luxury flavor. It looks more expensive, with lots of chrome and shiny bits on it, but it was the soft, comfortable driving feel that really won me over.
There are so few cars like this on the market today — big ol’ four-door, powerful, soft-riding luxury cars — that it’s easy to fall in love with this one, especially for the price. It starts under $38,000. And to get a car like this from a luxury brand, you could easily spend $60 grand or more to find something with this level of power and spaciousness.
There are plenty of little changes that make the 300 a more sophisticated, upscale car now. It’s got a standard 7-inch screen on the dash, a new steering wheel with buttons that feel solid and precise, new digital features through Chrysler’s UConnect system, and my favorite thing of all: a new eight-speed automatic transmission that drives better and gets more impressive gas mileage.

The new Chrysler 300 gets a more aggressive grille and streamlined corners up front, but it keeps its all-American, upright proportions that make it instantly recognizable.

The new Chrysler 300 gets a more aggressive grille and streamlined corners up front, but it keeps its all-American, upright proportions that make it instantly recognizable.

Overall, there’s a lot to like about the new generation 300. It’s got a new look, a new driving feel and a nicer cabin, but it hasn’t lost the things that make it stand out: space, power, and that all-American body styling.
Pricing for the $300 starts at $31,395. You can get the 300S for $34,895 and the luxurious 300C for $37,895. A new 300C Platinum trim level tops the lineup at $42,395.

RAM PROMASTER CITY

The Promaster City is Ram’s latest weapon in the delivery-van wars. Smaller than the full-size Promaster, it’s designed for commercial customers who do urban deliveries and value efficiency in their jobs.

The Promaster City is Ram’s latest weapon in the delivery-van wars. Smaller than the full-size Promaster, it’s designed for commercial customers who do urban deliveries and value efficiency in their jobs.

While I was in Austin, I got the chance to drive Ram’s latest weapon in the delivery-van wars. The new Promaster City is aimed at commercial customers who work in urban environments, with a compact size and emphasis on efficiency that seem perfect for businesses that want lots of capability for the buck.
Based on the Fiat Doblo, which has twice been named the International Van of the Year, this new compact van comes standard with a 2.4-liter Tigershark engine that delivers the best standard horsepower and torque in its class, Ram says.
It has a surprisingly refined ride and cabin for a commercial vehicle. Driving it in Austin traffic — and around a special “work-cross” course that simulated doing deliveries in various conditions — I thought it was the kind of van I could live with every day, not just as a workhorse.
Pricing starts at $23,130.

At a Glance

What was tested?
2015 Chrysler 300S ($34,895). Options: None. Price as tested (including $995 destination charge): $35,890
Wheelbase: 120.2 in.
Length: 198.6 in.
Width: 75 in.
Height: 58.7 in.
Engine: 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 (300 horsepower, 264 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Estimated Mileage: 19 city, 31 highway

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

Video Review:
2015 Chrysler 300
bit.ly/2015chrysler300

Why buy it? 
It offers the space and power of a full-size luxury car without the overblown price. A redesign makes it more refined for 2015.

Posted in Chrysler

A flexible, efficient workhorse


By Derek Price
Automotive Writer

The delivery van wars are heating up.
If you didn’t know such wars existed, you’re not alone. Unless you’re a small business owner who uses your van to make money — as a plumber, florist or handyman, for example — you probably haven’t paid much attention to the revolution these workhorses have undergone in recent years.
While American vans like the Ford Econoline and Ram Van dominated the market for decades, today’s vans are more likely to have European roots with boxy, upright shapes and funkier styling. For better or worse, they look more like the tall Mercedes Sprinter in “American Pickers” than the Mystery Machine in “Scooby Doo.”
That’s certainly the case with Ford’s big, square Transit van, not to be confused with the smaller Transit Connect. The Transit replaces the E-Series in Ford’s van portfolio for 2015, and while it’s built in Kansas City, it shares some DNA with the Turkish-built Transit that sells in Europe by the millions.

The Ford Transit is a full-size delivery van that can be outfitted to meet a wide range of business needs. It’s a very flexible platform, available with three lengths, two wheelbases, three roof heights and three different engines.

The Ford Transit is a full-size delivery van that can be outfitted to meet a wide range of business needs. It’s a very flexible platform, available with three lengths, two wheelbases, three roof heights and three different engines.

Ordering a Transit isn’t like going to your local Ford dealer and picking one off the lot, either. Customers typically will want to customize their van for its exact job, which is why Ford offers so many different versions of the Transit.
It’s available in three body lengths, two wheelbases and three different roof heights to meet the demands of each job. It’s also available in van, wagon, chassis cab and cutaway body styles that can be further customized by outside companies called upfitters, who add things like storage bins and equipment racks to finish out the van.
Ford is emphasizing efficiency with the three engine choices in the North American Transit: a standard 3.7-liter V6, a 3.5-liter EcoBoost it shares with the F-150 pickup, and a new 3.2-liter, five-cylinder Power Stroke diesel. All three engines are paired with a six-speed automatic that sends power to the rear wheels.
That gives it a very different driving feel from the Ram Promaster, which uses a front-wheel-drive, Italian design from FIAT.
Driving the Transit was a blast for me because it was such a contrast from the ordinary crossovers, pickups, SUVs and economy cars I usually review. The medium-roof, long-wheelbase, bright red delivery van that Ford sent me to test drew a lot of attention as I drove it around town, making me wish I had a business to advertise on its billboard-size walls. It’s an eye-catcher.

The Transit’s interior is functional and thoughtful, with good visibility and plenty of storage spaces for tools and paperwork.

The Transit’s interior is functional and thoughtful, with good visibility and plenty of storage spaces for tools and paperwork.

While I’m a writer, not a plumber, I tried to notice the things I might appreciate if I had to make a living from a van like this. I liked how the back doors could be locked open so they couldn’t be closed by a gust of wind, and I loved all the storage spaces built into the driver’s area.
Of course, the people who buy this van — or a whole fleet of them — will be most concerned with its operating costs, and Ford says that’s one of the Transit’s strong points. Its global design is meant to be durable enough and affordable enough to operate in 116 markets around the world, and buyers can get extended-hours service and technical help at more than 600 Ford Business Preferred Network dealers when they need it.
It’s a new van that aims to meet the same needs business owners have always had: flexibility, reliability and affordability.

At a Glance

What was tested?
2015 Transit 250 Medium Roof Van ($37,555). Options: Fixed rear door glass ($75). Price as tested (including $1,195 destination charge): $38,825
Wheelbase: 147.6 in.
Length: 217.8 in.
Width: 97.4 in.
Height: 100.8 in.
Engine: 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 (310 horsepower, 400 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: Six-speed automatic

RATINGS
Style: 8
Performance: 9
Price: 8
Handling: 3
Ride: 4
Comfort: 5
Quality: 8
Overall: 8

Video Review:
2015 Ford Transit
bit.ly/15transit

Why buy it? 
It’s a flexible, capable platform for people who use their vans to make a living. Its three powertrain options, including a five-cylinder diesel, give customers several efficient choices.

 

Posted in Ford

Renegade blazes new trail

By Derek Price
Automotive Writer

Jeep has picked a brilliant name for its new, small crossover, the Renegade.
Not only is it exponentially cooler than the meaningless alphanumeric names that plague too many of today’s cars, but it’s also telling. It describes where this Jeep fits in the pantheon of off-road history by doing the most rebellious — some would say sacrilegious — thing in the history of the Jeep brand: being built outside the United States.
Granted, that’s not unusual for today’s cars. It’s common for the corporate owners to be in one country, senior executives in another, the factory in yet another, and the parts sourced from many different countries, making the difference between “foreign” and “domestic” brands virtually indistinguishable.
But for Jeep, which has wrapped itself in the American flag since helping the Allies win World War II, the Renegade’s assembly in formerly Axis Italy represents a dramatic departure that my grandmother wouldn’t have been happy to see.

The Renegade is the new, small Jeep with some serious off-road chops — at least on the beefed-up Trailhawk version, shown here.

The Renegade is the new, small Jeep with some serious off-road chops — at least on the beefed-up Trailhawk version, shown here.

Does that still matter today? I’m not so sure because, for one thing, buyers know today’s cars are a mishmash of parts and engineering from many, many different countries. For another, they’re far more concerned with whether a car is good or not than where it’s built.
And after driving the Renegade for a few hours, I think it clearly deserves that “good” label.
On the road, it drives with a smooth, comfortable feel that’s as poised as any small crossover. And off-road, as long as you opt for the beefed-up Trailhawk model, it shows why it’s worthy of the Jeep name.
I drove the Renegade Trailhawk on a challenging off-road course in California — the same one where Jeep showed off the limits of its much bigger Grand Cherokee a few years ago — and came away impressed at just how capable this little Jeep can be. Its ability belies its size.
Even when one wheel is lifted up in the air while two or three struggle to find traction on loose rocks, the Renegade can send 100 percent of its torque to any wheel that still has grip. With a rock-crawling mode, speed-adjustable hill descent and electronics that can compensate for different types of terrain, I’m surprised that Jeep can price the Renegade Trailhawk package under $26,000.
If you don’t need that dazzling off-road ability, you can buy a street-oriented Renegade for as little as $17,995. Granted, that’s for a true base model without air conditioning and some other basic goodies, so most buyers will opt for the Latitude for $21,295 or the fancy Limited grade for $24,795.
You can get it with a 1.4-liter engine and six-speed manual, which I thought was ridiculously fun to drive, or a 2.4-liter engine coupled to a nine-speed automatic. The nine-speed feels spectacular, with crisp, instant shifts almost like a dual-clutch transmission, and I didn’t notice it hunting for gears as much as it does in the Chrysler 200.

The Renegade has an optional roof with removable panels that can also slide electronically back and forth. When you take them off, it makes the Renegade seem almost like a convertible, giving you that classic Jeep open-air feeling.

The Renegade has an optional roof with removable panels that can also slide electronically back and forth. When you take them off, it makes the Renegade seem almost like a convertible, giving you that classic Jeep open-air feeling.

I like the way the Renegade looks, too, both inside and out. Jeep’s designers had a lot of fun with this car, and I love the playful little touches that they added throughout the cabin.
My favorite feature on it is a roof that can both slide electronically and be removed like those T-tops back in the ‘80s. When you take the roof off, it gives you an open-air feeling that’s so fun in classic Jeeps, almost like a convertible.
My only complaint is that the knobs and switches didn’t feel as nice and solid as some of Chrysler’s best products. It seemed a bit flimsy in places, but the brand representatives assured me that’s only because I was driving a pre-production car. It should be fixed on the cars for sale at the dealer, they say.

At a Glance

What was tested?
2015 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk ($25,995). Options: My Sky power retractable panels ($1,395), Navigation ($1,245). Price as tested (including $995 destination charge): $29,630
Wheelbase: 101.2 in.
Length: 166.6 in.
Width: 79.6 in.
Height: 66.5 in.
Engine: 2.4-liter Multiair2 Tigershark (180 horsepower, 175 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: Nine-speed automatic
Estimated Mileage: More than 30 mpg highway

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

Video Review:
2015 Jeep Renegade
bit.ly/15renegade

Why buy it? 
It has good, rugged looks and the efficiency of a small crossover. In the Trailhawk model, it has off-road ability worthy of the Jeep name.

Posted in Jeep

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