Living in the Moment

By Derek Price

Timeless or trendy? That’s the question I’m asking myself from behind the wheel of the Audi S5, a sleek sports coupe that’s been totally redesigned for 2018.
On the one hand, this car is a monument to contemporary style, a rolling Museum of Modern Art. Its squinty LED headlights, neatly pressed body creases and acres of digital screens in the cabin make it a vehicle that’s clearly designed for this fleeting moment in time.
That makes the case for the S5 being a trendy blip, a car that will look “so 2018” a couple of years from now when surely Audi will offer a new-and-improved version for people fortunate enough to upgrade their cars as readily as their wardrobes.
Today’s Audis are nothing if not large, mobile fashion accessories.
Take another look, though, and it also makes the case that this is a vehicle for the ages.
It takes some cues from two-door cars that never seem to wither, like the long hood of the Jaguar E-Type or the muscular grace of a Mercedes SL. It’s lower, wider and cleaner now, all things that will help it turn heads when it crosses the Barrett-Jackson auction block in a few decades.

An all-new design for the Audi A5 and S5 makes it a contemporary masterpiece. It wraps fresh technology in clean, timeless lines.

Aside from its design statement — this car’s most noteworthy selling point — there are two more reasons premium buyers should take a look at it: performance and technology.
While the basic A5 is no slouch with a turbocharged 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine that makes 252 horsepower, the performance-boosted S5 convertible I tested is a different animal. It features a golden-throated V6 that routes 354 horsepower through an all-wheel-drive system that makes it stick to pavement like Super Glue.
The result is a car that can reach 60 mph from a standstill in just 4.4 seconds and turn corners with awe-inspiring speed. I wouldn’t call it a track-day car, but you definitely need track access to explore its performance envelope.
It’s also got a cabin that feels like it came from the future.
That real-life science-fiction feeling is reinforced with Audi’s “virtual cockpit” display behind the steering wheel. This screen alone has tech specs that read like a high-end gaming system, including a quad-core NVIDIA processor driving its foot-wide display that delivers gorgeous, vivid color and refreshes at 60 frames per second — twice the speed of regular televisions. It uses large images from Google Earth to enhance the navigation experience like no other car I’ve tested.

Audi’s virtual cockpit display is the most sophisticated looking digital dashboard on the market today, using images from Google Earth to enhance its navigation experience.

A full-color heads-up display, touchpad that can recognize your handwriting, excellent smartphone integration from Apple and Google, and breathtaking 755-watt Bang & Olufsen sound system round out the “impress your friends” list.
The streamlined design of the dash compliments all the technology nicely, essentially creating a movie set where all the digital action can take place on a stage of carefully positioned screens and knobs. Aluminum and optional carbon trim in the S5 make it feel more futuristic than the warmer, more traditional A5’s cabin.
Pricing, as you can probably guess on a German luxury car, isn’t for penny pinchers. The A5 starts at $42,800 for the base Premium trim, $45,800 for the mid-grade Premium Plus and $50,400 for Prestige.
The powerful S5 coupe starts at $54,600 before you add any options. The drop-top S5 cabriolet starts at $62,300, and upgrades vaulted the price of my tester over the $70,000 mark.

At A Glance

What was tested?
2018 Audi S5 Cabriolet 3.0T quattro Tiptronic ($62,300). Options: Navigation package ($2,600), premium sound ($950), 19-inch wheel package ($800), carbon inlays ($500). Price as tested (including $975 destination charge): $70,625
Wheelbase: 108.9 in.
Length: 184.7 in.
Width: 79.9 in.
Height: 54.4 in.
Engine: 3.0-liter V6 (354 hp, 369 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 20 city, 29 highway

Style: 10
Performance: 9
Price: 5
Handling: 9
Ride: 8
Comfort: 10
Quality: 9
Overall: 9

Why buy it?
It’s as impressive to look at as it is to drive. It combines sleek, eye-catching design, muscular performance and leading-edge luxury features in the cabin.

Posted in Audi

Practical Italian Mystique

By Derek Price

I’ve long joked that if Alfa Romeo made a minivan, that’s what I’d drive.
Now Alfa is offering the next best thing: a four-door SUV that’s a good fit for families while still delivering Italian mystique.
New for 2018, it’s called the Stelvio — a name that makes it sound like it should be modeling on the cover of romance novels — and is the most practical vehicle Alfa has sold in the United States since its re-launch in 2014.
If you don’t know much about Alfa Romeo, you can be forgiven because the brand spent nearly two decades without selling any cars here. When Alfa came back, it started with only one vehicle: a drop-dead gorgeous, but eminently impractical, sports car called the 4C that sold in microscopic numbers.
While the 4C embodies everything enthusiasts love about Alfa — gorgeous styling, operatic exhaust notes and a driving experience that borders on the spiritual — it isn’t something that appeals to the masses.
That’s what the Stelvio is supposed to do.

The 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio draws attention with its unusually styled front end, offering a healthy does of Italian design in a category more often known for looking boring.

As a crossover, the Stelvio checks all the boxes that make this category the fastest growing part of the automotive industry today. It has reasonable space for families, a generous cargo area in back, an upright stance for a good view of the road and not-so-bad gas mileage at 28 mpg on the highway.
The fuel-burn number looks even better when you hear what’s under the hood. The Stelvio makes 280 horsepower and 306 pound-feet of torque from its 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, giving it muscular performance to justify its premium starting price around $42,000.
What sets it apart, though, can’t be quantified in numbers.
Alfa Romeo’s vehicles have a spirit about them that’s difficult to describe. You have to drive one to understand it, but every Alfa I’ve driven has a unique swagger that makes it feel less like a machine and more like an animal. And with the Stelvio, Alfa is trying to inject some of those animal spirits into a category that typically feels like an appliance.
To do that, the Stelvio relies on three key techniques: styling, sound and braking.
Alfa’s designers did a remarkable job sculpting the basic crossover shape, which often comes across as frumpy to my eyes, into something sexy and elegant. In my week driving the Stelvio, I heard lots of compliments about how great it looked, mainly thanks to its unusual front end that draws to a point like a distinctively Roman nose.

The Stelvio’s distinctive design carries over into its cabin, with a steering wheel inspired by Formula One and tasteful aluminum trim.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard more compliments about a family-friendly vehicle before.
The sounds are also spectacular. The exhaust note in my Stelvio Ti tester had a deep, rich, song-like resonance under acceleration that makes it sound like something special. At the same time, it doesn’t drone or make too much of a racket at highway speeds like aftermarket exhausts tend to do.
Finally, the brake feel in the Stelvio is unlike any other crossover. The connection between the driver’s foot and the four-piston Brembo front brakes feels instant and metallic, a dramatic difference from the spongy sensation of most modern SUVs.
Pricing starts at $41,995 for the base model and $43,995 for the sportier Ti. My tester with the sport package, sunroof and several tech upgrades rings up at $53,640.

At A Glance

What was tested?
2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti AWD ($43,995). Options: Metallic paint ($600), sport package ($2,500), convenience package ($200), driver assistance static package ($650), driver assistance dynamic package ($1,500), dual-pane sunroof ($1,350), 8.8-inch navigation radio ($950), Harman Kardon premium audio ($900). Price as tested (including $995 destination charge): $53,640
Wheelbase: 111 in.
Length: 184.6 in.
Width: 74.9 in.
Height: 66 in.
Engine: 2.0-liter turbo four cylinder (280 hp, 306 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 22 city, 28 highway

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

Why buy it?
It injects the Italian character of Alfa Romeo into a practical, popular crossover package. Its looks, sound and driving feel are all distinctively different from most SUVs.

Posted in Alfa Romeo

A Crazy-Powerful Jeep

By Derek Price

Putting a 707-horsepower engine in a steet-legal car is crazy enough.
Now Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has gone off-the-charts insane by cramming the supercharged Hellcat V8 under the hood of a Jeep Grand Cherokee, creating one of the strangest and most exciting Frankenstein SUVs the world has ever seen.
It’s called the Trackhawk, and it’s hard to believe a vehicle like this even exists.
It does, though, and I just spent a week driving one in its powerful, wonderful, illogical glory.
Track-capable Grand Cherokees are nothing new, as Jeep has been thrilling enthusiasts with fast, surprisingly nimble versions under the SRT badge for years, carving out a microscopic niche within the already tiny world of high-performance SUVs. But the 707-horsepower Trackhawk takes things to a completely different level, starting by making its mind-blowing power actually usable.
I’ve driven the Hellcat-powered Charger sedan and Challenger coupe from Dodge, and they’re basically 707-horsepower monuments to tire smoke. That’s fun, sure, but it takes a skillful touch — something I don’t have — to get all that power to the pavement without vaporizing the back tires on those rear-wheel-drive monsters. It’s difficult to get full use out of all the power, ample as it may be.
The Trackhawk, on the other hand, makes it easy.

Jeep claims its new Grand Cherokee Trackhawk is the fastest SUV in the world, accelerating from 0-60 mph in 3.5 seconds en route to a top speed of 180.

Stomp on the gas pedal, and the all-wheel-drive system spreads the astronomical torque between four tires, helping it comfortably stick to the road with nary a tire chirp while it rockets forward with unimaginable force. It goes from 0-60 mph in a supercar-like 3.5 seconds, Jeep claims, all while blasting a throaty death shriek from under the hood that makes you want to summon an exorcist.
Seriously, hearing a Hellcat V8 at full throttle is a spiritual experience. Like a Ferrari V12, it’s an unforgettable sound that leaves a mark on your heart for life.
Assuming you keep a delicate touch on the throttle, the Grand Cherokee Trackhawk is impressively easy to drive around town. It’s quiet, spacious and smooth riding, with a reasonably demure personality that helped me pick up kids from school and get groceries without drawing much attention to the wild, rare and ridiculously overpowered vehicle I was driving.
Enthusiasts, though, will notice the styling and functional changes that set the Trackhawk apart. “Supercharged” badges on the side and a sculpted hood with two heat extractors make it clear that this Grand Cherokee is very different from the rest, all without resorting to juvenile wings and garish paint schemes.

On the inside, the Trackhawk is impressively spacious and luxurious, as it should be with a starting price of $85,900.

It’s classy — at least as classy as a pricey, overpowered, track-day toy SUV can be.
It should go without saying that buying a vehicle like this makes little logical sense. Its fuel economy ratings (11 city, 17 highway, 13 combined) and price tag ($85,900 to start, or a hair under $100,000 with options on my tester) make it something that attracts only the most wildly enthusiastic buyers, not your average mom or pop who walk into a Jeep dealer.
It’s also so fast, with a top speed of 180 mph, that the limits of its performance can’t even remotely be explored safely on public roads.
Fortunately for those adrenaline junkies who want a lightning-quick, 707-horse vehicle that can go straight from the racetrack to the trails, Jeep was crazy enough to make this thing. Thank goodness.

At A Glance

What was tested?
2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk ($85,900). Options: Rear seat Blu-Ray DVD player ($1,995), trailer tow group IV ($995), signature leather wrapped interior package ($4,995), high performance audio ($1,995), panoramic sunroof ($2,095), three-season tires ($895). Price as tested (including $1,095 destination charge): $99,965
Wheelbase: 114.7 in.
Length: 189.8 in.
Width: 84.8 in.
Height: 70 in.
Engine: 6.2-liter supercharged V8 (707 hp, 645 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 11 city, 17 highway

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

Why buy it?
It’s a four-wheel-drive Jeep that accelerates like a supercar and still lets you do some off-roading. It’s 707-horsepower insanity, in a good way.

Posted in Jeep