QX80 Gets New Look

By Derek Price

Infiniti’s gigantic, smooth-riding SUV, the QX80, gets a new look that makes it slightly less polarizing this year.
Long defined by its love-it-or-hate-it snub nose, Infiniti is hoping refreshed styling will move the QX80 into the “love” column for more buyers.
The hood is longer and higher now, giving it a more upright, truck-like look, and its previously rotund curves have been replaced by gentle, sleek creases. Its overall look is more contemporary now.
Still, you don’t have to look hard to see within those pretty new lines echoes of its close corporate relative, the Nissan Armada. And that raises the chief question about the biggest Infiniti: is it worth the premium over its Nissan cousin?
If the Armada Platinum, priced at $59,190, weren’t such a competent product, the decision would be easier. With the similarly polished base QX80 priced at $64,750, and considerably more once you start adding content packages, it’s a tougher choice.

The QX80’s distinctive nose looks more truck-like after a styling update for 2018. Its rounded body panels now look more creased and athletic.

Infiniti makes its case to keep buyers off the Nissan lot — not to mention Lincoln, Cadillac and GMC — with two key selling points: a premium feel and sumptuous cabin.
Every time I drive a QX80 I’m struck by just bow brilliantly it nails how a luxury SUV should ride. It unapologetically isolates you from the road in the tradition of Rolls-Royce or the great American luxury barges of the past. It’s not trying to be sporty or thrilling. There’s no pretension of athleticism.
Instead, there’s just silence.
It really is one of the quietest, smoothest riding vehicles I’ve ever been in. Combine that with its chromed and creased body of heroic proportions, and it carries the aura that any good luxury car needs to stand out.
Its cabin plays the upscale role to perfection, too.
Soft, perforated and quilted leather on the seats, door panels and armrests give it the air of a hand-crafted English sedan, despite being a body-on-frame SUV built in Japan with that country’s characteristic mechanical perfection.
The refreshed cabin includes more storage space, including much-appreciated smartphone and tablet stowage in the center console.

Quilted leather on the seats, door panels and arm rests adds to the QX80’s hand-crafted look and feel.

Just as before, power comes from a gigantic V8 engine, something that gives me mixed feelings.
On one hand, I can’t complain about the performance. Acceleration is brisk and effortless with 400 horsepower at your disposal, and towing capacity of 8,500 pounds means it can do a lot more than run errands around town.
On the other hand, big V8s are going extinct for a reason. The QX80’s two-wheel-drive fuel economy ratings of 14 mpg in the city and 20 on the highway explain why many competitors are putting smaller, often turbocharged, engines in their full-size SUVs.
For an over-the-top driving experience, though, it’s hard to beat the feeling of a rumbling eight cylinders under the hood of a supple, incredibly roomy, luxury machine like this.

At A Glance

What was tested?
2018 Infiniti QX80 4WD ($67,850). Options: Deluxe technology package ($5,700), theater package ($2,450), 22-inch tire and wheel package ($2,800), driver assistance package ($2,900), cargo package ($225), roof rail cross bars ($400), illuminated kick plates ($465), WiFi ($450), welcome lighting ($425). Price as tested (including $995 destination charge): $84,660
Wheelbase: 121.1 in.
Length: 208.9 in.
Width: 79.9 in.
Height: 75.8 in.
Engine: 5.6-liter V8 (400 hp, 413 ft-lbs)
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 13 city, 19 highway

Style: 9
Performance: 9
Price: 5
Handling: 6
Ride: 10
Comfort: 10
Quality: 9
Overall: 9

Why buy it? 
A new look inside and out is an important, contemporary update for one of the smoothest riding vehicles on the market today.

Posted in Infiniti

German-Style Speed

By Derek Price
When an SUV’s starting price is around $63,000, it’s hard to think of it as a bargain. One thought when driving this one, though, makes it feel like a steal.
“It reminds me of a Porsche Cayenne.”
That’s the recurring impression I had when driving the Durango SRT 392, the high-performance version of Dodge’s roomy family hauler.
Perhaps with the exception of snob appeal, the Dodge offers everything the German super-SUV does and then some, starting with raw power.
A massive, 6.2-liter HEMI V8 engine roars with 475 horsepower, making it the fastest three-row SUV in the world, Dodge claims. The National Hot Rod Association certified its quarter-mile time of 12.9 seconds, a remarkable feat for a vehicle that can haul a soccer team.
Its power and speed both beat the $83,000 Porsche Cayenne S. You can go faster in a Cayenne Turbo with its 541-horsepower black magic under the hood, but it also starts at $124,600 — about twice the cost of this nearly-as-fast Dodge.
That’s how it starts to look like a sale-rack bargain.

A menacing hood scoop offers a hint of the power lurking in the Dodge Durango SRT 392. It’s an incredibly fast, track-capable vehicle that happens to come with three rows of family-friendly seating.

As much as I enjoyed the deeply satisfying rumble and mind-bending torque from the big, American V8, it actually wasn’t the most impressive thing about the SRT Durango.
That would be the way it handles.
While a number of SRT products, including the Challenger Hellcat, feel designed primarily around going fast in a straight line, this one is an exception. It’s tuned to take corners like the best of its European competitors.
For starters, it has an active damping system that opens and closes valves to improve its handling or its ride comfort, depending on what the driver selects. There are seven different driving modes ranging from the track setting that delivers crisp suspension response, 160-millisecond shifts and 70 percent of its power to the rear wheels, to a comfort setting for the street that makes it ride like Grandma’s Cadillac.
The guts of its suspension were upgraded, too. It has stiffer springs in front and back and a stiffer rear sway bar, but the brilliant ride tuning and active damping mean it doesn’t sacrifice ride comfort at the same time. It really is one of the most well-sorted, wide-ranging, confidence-inspiring suspensions I’ve ever experienced, and not just in an SUV.
That confidence was boosted by sticky Pirelli P Zero three-season tires on my tester, a $595 option.

Red leather seats are an option in the wild, powerful Durango SRT with its huge, 475-horsepower HEMI V8 engine.

While it feels perfectly at home on a track, it’s also got the ability to handle more mundane duties. Ample cup holders, storage bins and gigantic dual DVD screens in my tester give it a family-friendly side that very few 475-horsepower vehicles can match — and certainly not at this price.
And that brings us to the big question: How many people will spend $63,000 — more than twice the Durango’s base sticker — for an American vehicle that takes on Porsches and BMWs? It can’t be a huge number.
Dodge’s decision to not only build this vehicle, but also execute it so well, speaks to two things. It’s committed to being a world-class performance brand, and it’s building ordinary vehicles with the backbone to handle a lot more speed.

At A Glance

What was tested?
2018 Dodge Durango SRT 392 ($62,995). Options: Customer preferred package 27L ($2,495), rear DVD entertainment center ($1,995), trailer tow group IV ($995), SRT interior appearance group ($1,500), 3-season tires ($595), 20-inch wheels ($595). Price as tested (including $1,095 destination charge): $72,265
Wheelbase: 119.8 in.
Length: 201.2 in.
Width: 85.5 in.
Height: 71.9 in.
Engine: 6.4-liter V8 (475 hp, 470 ft-lbs)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 13 city, 19 highway

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

Why buy it? 
It’s the fastest and most powerful three-row SUV for sale today. It’s tuned beautifully for the track, but its adjustable damping allows for comfort on the road, too.

Posted in Dodge

Atlas Lifts VW higher

By Derek Price

This vehicle carries a lot of weight on its shoulders.
It’s called the Atlas, and it bears the burden of Volkswagen’s longtime dream for the American market: offering a full-size SUV for full-size families.
Until this year, VW’s largest vehicle was the Touareg, a two-row crossover that seats five people. That’s big enough for most buyers in Volkswagen’s core European territory, but American buyers who needed more space simply outgrew the VW brand. Many turned to domestic SUVs — Ford Explorers, Chevrolet Tahoes and the like — to meet their needs.
The Atlas aims to keep those buyers under the Volkswagen banner instead.
For people who already are fans of Volkswagen’s cars and crossovers, the Atlas makes perfect sense. It has the brand’s familiar look and feel, from its clean, largely unadorned body to its snappy, firm, responsive driving impression that makes it seem like a smaller vehicle from behind the wheel. More importantly, it can hold up to seven people spread across three rows of spacious seats.

The Atlas, a new SUV with three rows of seating, is the biggest vehicle Volkswagen has ever sold in America.

In many ways, it’s like driving a giant Passat. That means there are pluses and minuses.
On the upside, its smooth, quiet ride and nimble maneuverability make it a good fit for both city and highway driving. It feels spacious, much like the Passat, even in the third-row seat. And its fuel economy ratings of 22 mpg in the city and 26 on the highway are good for this size vehicle.
It also shares some of the Passat’s downsides, most notably its cabin design that explores the boundary between minimalistic and dull. I thought there was a bit too much plastic inside for an all-new vehicle, and its biggest engine — a 3.6-liter, 276-horsepower V6 — feels competent but uninspiring.
It is impressively capable, though, with a tow rating of up to 5,000 pounds when properly equipped. And even with the V6, highway fuel economy ratings don’t take a major dip, still checking in at 25 mpg on two-wheel-drive models according to government tests.

The Atlas’ interior features simple, clean, horizontal lines that emphasize its spacious dimensions. It feels wide and roomy inside.

Other than its sheer size, the Atlas’ top selling point is its technology. Every model comes equipped with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard equipment, a wise move for an era when smartphone connectivity is high on many buyers’ wish lists.
Optional technologies include the Digital Cockpit instrument cluster that can be customized to show various bits of information; Volkswagen Media Control, which lets you control the car’s entertainment system via mobile devices, including from the back seat; and a custom tuned Fender premium sound system that VW claims can “recreate the emotion of a live performance for all three rows of passengers.”
The Atlas is available in five trim levels. Pricing starts at $30,750 for the base S model with a four-cylinder engine and front-wheel drive, and it tops out at $48,490 for the SEL Premium trim with a V6 and all-wheel drive.

At A Glance

What was tested?
2018 Volkswagen Atlas V6 SEL Premium with 4MOTION ($48,490). Options: None. Price as tested (including $925 destination charge): $49,435
Wheelbase: 117.3 in.
Length: 198.3 in.
Width: 78.3 in.
Height: 70 in.
Engine: 3.6-liter V6 (276 hp, 266 ft-lbs)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 17 city, 23 highway

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

Why buy it? 
It has the clean look and German driving feel of a Volkswagen but the carrying capacity of an American-style SUV. Three rows of seating and 5,000 pounds of towing capability bring a new level of utility to Volkswagen lots this year.

Posted in Volkswagen