Comfort and Capability

By Derek Price

Even in the face of stiff competition, the Jeep Grand Cherokee remains unique in its mixture of spacious comfort, serious off-road chops and a reasonable price.
As brands such as Kia, Hyundai, Subaru and even Volkswagen jump into the full-size SUV market — making 2019 feel like a flashback to the 1990s — the Grand Cherokee remains remarkably relevant and, in some ways, dominant even as it ages.
Why is that?
Part of it boils down to the platform on which it’s built, a modified Mercedes-Benz design that dates back to the tie-up between Daimler and Chrysler. While that business arrangement turned into a dud, it still resulted in a jewel of a chassis that seemingly won every award under the sun after it was introduced in 2010. It was ahead of its time.
Part of it also is the breadth of flavors the Grand Cherokee comes in, ranging from the Laredo family hauler priced around $32,000 to the Summit luxury vehicle with quilted leather and premium features for well over $50,000.

The Grand Cherokee combines legitimate Jeep off-roading performance with a comfortable, roomy cabin.

If you want to get really crazy, you can buy the Trailhawk that’s optimized for off-roading, the SRT designed for track-day thrills, or even the 707-horsepower Trackhawk with mind-blowing speed for $87,150.
That’s what makes shopping for a Grand Cherokee so unusual. Are you talking about the one that costs around $30 grand or the one that costs around $90 grand? Or somewhere in the middle? They’re all vastly different but carry the same name.
The version I tested this week is the Summit, priced in the top half of that range with several options and a hefty $1,495 destination charge that pushed its cost to $67,720.
At that level, the Grand Cherokee competes with pricey SUVs from the traditional luxury brands, and it has the cabin to prove it. Quilted Laguna leather on the seats and door panels looks and feels spectacular, while its overall design and sound insulation deliver serenity at highway speeds.
What sets the Grand Cherokee apart, though, is its legitimate Jeep capability.

Available at a wide range of price points — anywhere from around $30,000 to $90,000 — the Jeep Grand Cherokee stands out for its breadth of capability.

Between its four different 4×4 systems, the Selec-Terrain electronic traction control and its adjustable Quadra-Lift suspension, this vehicle goes quite literally where others in its class can’t. And it does so while coddling its passengers in peaceful silence and soft, heated and cooled seats, a dichotomy that makes the high-end Grand Cherokees so special.
You can get a similar feeling from other brands, but it doesn’t come cheap. The Range Rover ($90,900) and Toyota Land Cruiser ($85,165) offer a similar level of go-anywhere-in-comfort capability for considerably more money.
The downside to all that capability is fuel economy. It simply takes more power, which means more fuel, to lug around all those off-roading bits and a big, soundproof body. My tester was rated at 14 mpg in city driving and 22 on the highway with its 5.7-liter HEMI V8.
To be fair, one version of the Grand Cherokee — powered by a six-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine — is rated for 28 mpg in highway driving, a remarkable achievement.
It’s proof that Jeep wants to make a flavor of this vehicle for everybody, even fuel misers.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2019 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit 4X4 ($54,445). Options: Rear seat dual-screen Blu-Ray player ($1,995), platinum series group ($995), signature leather-wrapped interior ($4,995), 5.7-liter V8 engine ($3,795). Price as tested (including $1,495 destination charge): $67,720
Wheelbase: 114.7 in.
Length: 189.8 in.
Width: 84.8 in.
Height: 69.3 in.
Engine: 5.7-liter HEMI V8 (360 hp, 390 ft. lbs.)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 14 city, 22 highway

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

Why buy it? 
It’s a handsome, comfortable and highly capable 4×4 that does a good job mixing luxury with off-road prowess at a reasonable price.

Posted in Jeep

Past and Future

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

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

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

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