Durango Offers Differences

By Derek Price

If you want to find another vehicle like the Dodge Durango, good luck.
Yes, it’s a three-row SUV, but it’s nothing like, say, the Ford Explorer or Honda Pilot. That’s like assuming, because they both have two legs, that an ostrich is the same as Jennifer Lawrence.
Drive one. You’ll see.
The Durango has carved out a niche that no other vehicle occupies, perhaps for a good reason: it’s a weird mixture of half truck, half muscle car. Nobody else builds a vehicle quite like this one.
On the one hand, with V8 power available, it can do some of the same jobs as big, traditional SUVs such as the Chevy Tahoe. It can tow 6,200 pounds and has seats that fold down to leave cavernous space on moving day.

The Durango has a snarling nose that emphasizes its sinister side. With a HEMI V8 engine and sporty suspension tuning available, it’s in a muscle-SUV class by itself.

On the other, it rides relatively low to the ground and handles more like a sports car than a truck.
With rear-wheel drive and a suspension that keeps body roll in check, it can change direction faster than a politician after election day. That makes it more fun to push hard than any other big SUV, unless you want to spend crazy money on something with a Mercedes, BMW or Porsche badge.
The question, then, is how long an outlier vehicle like the Durango can exist when the mass market has moved elsewhere.
There’s no question that mainstream buyers today are flocking to fuel-efficient, car-like crossovers that sort of look like SUVs, albeit ones with gutless engines and indistinct, cookie-cutter styling. Those are the vehicles that are hardest for me to write about because they’re so darn similar, like I’m reviewing flavors for Vanilla Magazine.
The Durango presents a different challenge. How do you review watermelon chocolate? Well, if you like watermelon and you like chocolate, you’ll probably enjoy watermelon chocolate.
If you like trucks and you like muscle cars, you’ll probably enjoy the Durango.
Personally, I relish that mixture because it’s so unusual. It has its drawbacks, starting with city gas mileage ratings of 19 mpg with the base V6 and 14 with the V8, but the benefits are plentiful. The Durango is a do-it-all vehicle that can haul your kids, tow your toys and make you smile on weekend drives, complete with a throaty roar and tire smoke if you’re so inclined.
It even looks the part, with a sleek, wagon-like profile and front grille that goes beyond aggressive. It’s almost murderous.

Also available with red leather, the Durango R/T’s cabin has a driver-centered layout with good visibility and a solid, weighty feeling from the front seat.

Even Dodge’s lineup changes this year bring out its homicidal side. The Durango GT supplants the Limited trim as the new volume model, with a monochrome, sinister, car noir look.
A new appearance package on the upscale Citadel models adds — I’m not kidding — “anodized gunmetal” trim on the steering wheel and speakers.
The Brass Monkey package is back this year, too, something I hope they’ll consider renaming Brass Knuckles.
The black leather interior in my Durango R/T tester added to my bad-guy impressions, but not all Durangos are so stark. Some are downright warm and cozy, a testament to the Dodge interior design team’s creativity.
Pricing starts at $29,995 for the SXT trim with rear-wheel drive. You can tack on an additional $2,600 to get all-wheel drive if you need it.
Topping the lineup is the R/T model starting at $44,695. Fancy options pushed the price of my tester up to $51,560, including some that surprised me: a nicely sorted adaptive cruise control system and a Blu-Ray player in the back seat.

At A Glance

What was tested?
2017 Dodge Durango R/T RWD ($42,095). Options: Technology group ($2,295), rear DVD player ($1,995), trailer tow group ($995), Brass Monkey appearance package ($595), second-row captain’s chairs ($995), second-row console ($300), power sunroof ($1,195). Price as tested (including $1,095 destination charge): $51,560
Wheelbase: 119.8 in.
Length: 201.2 in.
Width: 75.8 in.
Height: 70.9 in.
Engine: 5.7-liter HEMI V8 (360 hp, 390 ft. lbs.)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 14 city, 22 highway

Style: 8
Performance: 9
Price: 8
Handling: 8
Ride: 7
Comfort: 7
Quality: 4
Overall: 7

Why buy it?
With the optional HEMI V8 engine and sporty suspension, it’s an unusual combination of thrilling to drive and highly capable.

Posted in Dodge

Swedish Style and Substance

By Derek Price

Volvo has long been known, first and foremost, for safety.
Forget about that for a minute, though, because this Chinese-owned Swedish brand has just built one of the world’s best luxury cars in the new S90.
With one exception, this is among the top luxury sedans I’ve ever driven. It has sophisticated features to pamper you, materials that make you feel like royalty and stunning design to match, putting it squarely in the same caliber as — and in some cases surpassing — the best that Mercedes, BMW and Lexus have to offer in this class.
That one exception? The engine.
My tester came with what Volvo calls the T6, a supercharged and turbocharged 2.0-liter that — despite the “6” in its name — has but four cylinders. It looks great on paper, with a 316-horsepower output, but is less impressive on the road with a slightly raspy exhaust note and less low-end torque than I’d like to have at my toes’ disposal.

The new Volvo S90 sets high marks as a luxury car, from its calming cabin to its sleek body.

Granted, that’s getting very picky. And with a starting price over $48,000, I’m going to be.
Nitpick as I might, there’s not much else to complain about on the S90.
The digital interface, usually my first gripe in today’s luxury cars, is spectacular. Other than on Teslas, I can’t think of any digital systems that have a better interface than Google or Apple can create. This is one does. It feels as good as anything out of Silicon Valley with controls that are quick and easy to operate with the flick of a finger.
It’s also the first car to come with semi-autonomous driving features as standard equipment, Volvo says.
The Pilot Assist feature in the S90 uses adaptive cruise control and sensors to steer the car in a lane and follow traffic. Under the right conditions, it can virtually drive itself for short periods of time, but the driver still has to pay attention. I found it veering closer to roadside mailboxes than I would like, for example.
When it works right, though, Pilot Assist is a breathtaking and relaxing experience, made all the more so by S90’s spa-like cabin design.
Every time I sit inside this car, I feel like exhaling a slow, deep breath. It’s like driving a yoga class. Wood, metal, glass and clean European design tend to have that effect, and they all come together beautifully in the solid, silent cabin of the S90.

A beautifully designed touchscreen is the centerpiece of the S90’s European-style cabin.

The exterior design is eye-catching — a bit more aggressive than most of its competitors in this conservative luxury class, perhaps — but not as unusual as its interior. To my eye, it’s sleek and handsome without crossing the line into ostentatious.
If you want to have a car with monstrous power and some Earth-saving cred at the same time, Volvo offers the T8 plug-in hybrid powertrain. It makes 400 horsepower and a mind-blowing 472 pound-feet of torque while still delivering 29 mpg on the highway. While I haven’t driven the T8 powertrain in the S90, I have experienced it in the bigger, heavier XC90 SUV and thought it was brilliant.
Pricing starts at $48,100 with the base T5 engine and ranges up to $63,650 for the T8 hybrid. For the luxury Inscription line, the T8 will set you back $68,150 before adding any options, which can easily push it over $80,000 if start to load it with upgrades.

At A Glance

What was tested?
2017 Volvo S90 T6 AWD ($52,950). Options: Inscription package ($3,300), vision package ($1,950), climate package with HUD ($1,950), convenience package ($1,000) Bowers & Wilkins premium sound ($2,650), metallic paint ($560), 20-inch wheels ($1,010). Price as tested (including $995 destination charge): $66,365
Wheelbase: 115.8 in.
Length: 195.4 in.
Width: 79.5 in.
Height: 56.8 in.
Engine: 2.0-liter four cylinder (316 hp, 295 ft. lbs.)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 22 city, 31 highway

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

Why buy it?
It’s a luxury sedan that pampers you in every way: style, materials and technology. It’s a compelling car even when you don’t factor in Volvo’s advanced safety tech.


Posted in Volvo

American-Style Comfort

By Derek Price

When people want a roomy, comfy, American-style sedan, it’s ironic that the American brands have all but eliminated that type of car.
It’s not uncommon for me to hear someone say they want to replace their big ol’ Buick LeSabre, for example, but can’t find anything comparable at the dealerships today. Nobody makes that style of sedan anymore, with a syrupy suspension and front seats like media-room recliners.
The closest thing you can get to that old-style Buick these days is the Toyota Avalon.
But now I’ve got another surprising place to send those comfort-seeking buyers: their local Volkswagen dealer.

The 2017 Volkswagen Passat offers a lot of space and comfort for the money, starting around $22,000.

The VW Passat checks a lot of the same boxes as a classic American sedan. It’s got a spacious back seat, cavernous trunk and wide but supportive seats that don’t pinch your sides in place like so many sporty cars do these days.
While the Passat is technically considered a mid-size car, it doesn’t feel that way in person. It looks and drives more like a full-size sedan, with an impressive amount of knee room for back-seat passengers and good isolation from road and wind noise.
Even more importantly, it’s not priced for the luxury market.
While grandpa’s favorite car, the Avalon, starts over $33,000 and seems to be aimed at a higher-end market now, the Passat starts in the more budget-friendly $22,000 range. That’s also considerably less than the roughly $27,000 starting point of the Ford Taurus and Chevrolet Impala.
My Passat tester seemed like a good value, ringing up under $25 grand with dual-zone climate control, heated seats, blind-spot monitors, a 6.3-inch touchscreen display, automatic headlights and 19-inch wheels. The R-Line trim gave it a sportier look with a chrome exhaust tip, special bumpers and grille, and unique interior trim.
I also was glad to see it came with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, something I appreciate as a smartphone junkie.
The one thing I wish the Passat could change is a difficult thing to quantify: its personality. It feels bland in some ways — straight lines and smooth panels on the body, a driving feel that’s oh-so-ordinary — and doesn’t quite fit in with Volkswagen’s otherwise spunky, youthful lineup.
Power comes from your choice of a 1.8-liter, 170-horsepower four-cylinder engine or a 280-horsepower V6.

The Passat’s cabin looks sleek and contemporary with lots of horizontal lines and tasteful chrome trim.

After a major refresh in 2016, the changes this year are relatively minor.
The biggest news is the addition of forward collision warning and autonomous emergency braking as standard features on all Passat trim levels. The system uses radar sensors to detect a possible collision. It warns the driver if it senses a wreck is imminent and automatically applies the brakes if the driver doesn’t react.
Volkswagen is also taking some connectivity and convenience features and pushing them down to lower trim levels this year, letting buyers get a bit more content for the money. The SE trim, for example, adds keyless access with pushbutton start and a blind spot monitor with rear cross traffic alert.
Another addition is the new V6-powered “SE with Technology” model.
Pricing for the Passat starts at $22,440, including an automatic transmission on the 1.8T S model. The range tops out at $33,995 for the luxury-oriented V6 SEL Premium trim.

At A Glance

What was tested?
2017 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T R-Line ($23,975). Options: None. Price as tested (including $820 destination charge): $24,795
Wheelbase: 110.4 in.
Length: 191.9 in.
Width: 72.2 in.
Height: 58.5 in.
Engine: 1.8-liter four cylinder (xxx hp, xxx ft. lbs.)
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 23 city, 34 highway

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

Why buy it?
The Passat offers a lot of space for the money. With a roomy back seat and huge trunk, it feels more like a full-size than mid-size sedan.

Posted in Volkswagen