The New ‘Family Car’

By Derek Price

Sensible and stylish, crossovers like the Chevrolet Equinox have replaced sedans as the “family car” of contemporary America.
After driving one for a week, it’s easy to see why.
The Equinox has all the strong points of an SUV — an upright seating position, good visibility, rugged styling and flexible cargo space — without many drawbacks. Its fuel economy and comfortable ride rival the best-selling sedans for sale today: the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.
Today’s vehicles hand out turbochargers like candy at a parade, and the Equinox is no exception. All three of its engine choices are turbo’d, and all three deliver a distinctive flavor profile.
The base engine, a 1.5-liter four-cylinder, offers good gas mileage and reasonable performance at the lowest price point. It makes a mundane 170 horsepower and more impressive 203 pound-feet of torque. With front-wheel drive, it’s rated for 32 mpg on the highway (30 with AWD).
Drivers who want the best performance will upgrade to the 2.0-liter, 252-horsepower engine. It felt and sounded fantastic in my Equinox tester, with smooth shifts and quick response paired with a nine-speed automatic transmission. Perhaps more importantly, it’s rated to tow a useful 3,500 pounds.

The Chevrolet Equinox offers three different turbocharged engines, including a diesel. All three are geared toward pairing efficient, car-like fuel economy with the confidence and functionality of a crossover vehicle.

The most interesting engine, though, is one none of its competitors offer: a diesel.
While “clean” diesel engines have gotten a bad rap thanks to Volkswagen’s emissions-cheating sleaze, they still make a lot of logical sense. Diesels can deliver fantastic fuel economy — GM estimates up to 40 mpg on the highway, in the Equinox’s case — along with torquey acceleration and clean emissions, as long as you’re willing to fill it with a special fluid every few thousand miles.
Diesel engines also enjoy a reputation for durability, something that helps in the used-car market. If I had to bet on resale value, I’d figure the $30,795 price of the diesel LT trim would return the most of any Equinox when the time to sell arrives.
I wish Chevy offered its advanced driving features at lower price points, though, something its competitors are starting to commonly do. If you want adaptive cruise control — something that comes as standard equipment on even the cheapest Toyota Corolla, for example — Chevrolet makes you buy the top-level Premier trim on the Equinox. That feels greedy to me.
Even on the Premier trim, it’s an optional upgrade. Adaptive cruise is part of the $2,145 Confidence and Convenience II package on my tester, which comes with a number of other active safety features including lane keep assist and forward collision alert.
On the bright side, the newly designed Equinox gets the all big things right, starting with its cabin layout.

The Equinox looks sleek and contemporary, including on the inside. A sculpted dash is dominated by a responsive, high-resolution touchscreen.

It’s spacious and smartly designed, with reasonable knee, hip and shoulder room, along with a very usable cargo area in back. Even the old, worn-out gripe about Chevrolets from the ‘90s and ‘00s — too much hard plastic — seems fixed in this new-generation Equinox, particularly on the upper trims with their supple, soft materials and wonderfully quiet, well-insulated cabins.
It comes with four standard USB ports, with two additional ones available as options, something vital in any modern family car where smartphones and tablets are often an integral part of the driving experience.
Pricing starts at $24,995 for the base L model with the 1.5-liter engine. The 2.0-liter is available from $30,895 on the more fully equipped LT trim and tops out at $36,895 when you opt for all-wheel drive on the comfort- and luxury-oriented Premier level.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2019 Chevrolet Equinox AWD Premier 2.0T ($35,600). Options: Confidence & Convenience Package II ($2,145), cajun red tint coat ($395). Price as tested (including $995 destination charge): $39,135
Wheelbase: 107.3 in.
Length: 183.1 in.
Width: 72.6 in.
Height: 65.4 in.
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder (xxx hp, xxx ft. lbs.)
Transmission: Nine-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 22 city, 28 highway

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

Why buy it? 
It offers impressive gas mileage, a refined driving experience and very family-friendly cabin. It’s also available with something unusual in small crossovers: a diesel engine.

Posted in Chevrolet

Rebellious Refinement

By Derek Price

The first time I drove the new generation Ram 1500, I marveled at just how much it felt like a car: smooth, silent and refined.
Never before has a truck delivered so fully on the promise of what a modern pickup should be, feeling like it combines several competent vehicles into one package. It has the cabin space and utility of an SUV, the quiet, relaxing experience of a nice car, mixed with build quality and technology that’s up to snuff — and in some ways surpasses — the newest and best crossovers.
How will this kinder, more cultured Ram formula fit in with a rugged off-road package?
That’s the question I was asking myself while driving the new Rebel, Ram’s aggressive-looking trim that comes from the factory with serious off-the-pavement chops.
A beefed-up suspension and massive off-road tires — Goodyear’s 33-inch Wrangler DuraTracs — both noticeably detract from the ordinary Ram’s magical smoothness. But they do add considerable capability, especially when you weigh the entire suite of goodies a Rebel comes with.
It includes a one-inch suspension lift, electronic locking differential, underbody skid plates, hill descent control and new Bilstein shocks with remote reservoirs for cooling under extreme use. It’s a well-rounded package, made even sweeter by the assertive grille with RAM lettering, unique vented hood and menacing, blacked-out accents.

The new 2019 Ram 1500 Rebel has black trim, a vented hood and aggressive stance to go along with its off-road upgrades.

One potential downside: while Ram made its outstanding four-corner air suspension system standard on the Rebel in the past, it’s an optional upgrade for 2019. The new Rebel comes standard with coil springs now.
For a truck with such serious capability, the drawbacks are minimal. The off-road tires have a barely noticeable hum at low speeds, and the strengthened suspension is stiffer over bumps and less composed in turns. But all those differences are subtle and easily livable for everyday driving, in my view.
One thing the Rebel is not, though, is a Raptor. Ford’s off-road monster remains untouched in capability, occupying a planet of its own as the king of high-speed blasts through the wilderness.
I’m not alone in wishing Ram and Chevrolet would build a head-on Raptor fighter, but the expense and — let’s face it — lack of a real-world need for trucks like that make it a hard sell. I’ve never met anyone who needs to race through a Mexican desert to get to work. It’s just cool to think you could.

Recently introduced, the Ram Rebel 12 includes a gigantic 12-inch touchscreen that is among the most advanced and eye-catching tech systems on any vehicle for sale today.

The Rebel benefits from the same upgrades that make the 2019 Ram 1500 such an impressive product, enough to win Truck of Texas, Motor Trend’s Truck of the Year and number of magazine and internet comparison tests so far.
Lighter weight, a stronger frame, an aerodynamic profile and unmatched cabin materials and construction all combine to make the new half-ton Ram stand out against the competition. It’s more fuel efficient, more capable in towing and payload numbers, and dramatically more comfortable thanks to innovative ways of reducing noise and vibration in the cabin.
Pricing starts at $44,095 for the Rebel crew cab with two-wheel drive. 4×4 versions start at $44,795 for the quad cab or $47,595 for a crew cab.
Ram has also introduced the Rebel 12, featuring its massive 12-inch touchscreen system, for an additional $2,995.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2019 Ram 1500 Rebel Crew Cab 4X4 ($47,495). Options: Tri-fold tonneau cover ($450), 5.7-liter HEMI V8 engine ($1,195), panoramic sunroof ($1,295), rear wheelhouse liners ($195), 33-gallon fuel tank ($425), 9 speakers with subwoofer ($495), four-corner air suspension ($1,795), blind-spot detection ($595), spray-in bedliner ($495). Price as tested (including $1,645 destination charge): $59,680
Wheelbase: 144.6 in.
Length: 232.9 in.
Width: 82.1 in.
Height: 77.6 in.
Engine: 5.7-liter HEMI V8 (395 hp, 410 ft. lbs.)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 15 city, 21 highway

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

Why buy it? 
It has handsome, aggressive styling and serious off-road ability. Combined with the many upgrades and innovations on Ram’s new half-ton platform, it’s a compelling truck for people who want added capability in their daily-driver pickup.

Posted in Ram

Passat Gets Sportier

By Derek Price

It’s easy to imagine many of Volkswagen’s cars on the streets of their close-to-home markets in Europe. That’s part of their charm.
The compact Golf, zippy Jetta and nostalgic Beetle have global appeal but seem to unabashedly draw their spirit from German roots.
The big Passat, in contrast — with its gigantic cabin, syrupy ride and wide-swinging doors — feels like it’s built not just for Americans, but for an outsized caricature of Americans with our Big Gulp drinks, cowboy hats and beer bellies.
It’s interesting, then, to see that after collecting new data from actual Americans — not cartoon stereotypes of us — Volkswagen is delivering a Passat that looks and feels more like its Europe-focused models.
The special-edition Passat GT was designed in Tennessee “based on extensive feedback from U.S. customers and dealers,” VW says.

A lowered suspension, blacked-out trim, black roof and GTI-like red stripe make the new Passat GT stand out visually.

And what did we Americans demand? Basically, a roomier version of the Golf GTI.
With a lowered suspension, V6 power and aggressive body styling including a blacked-out roof, mirrors and trim, plus bright red accents ripped straight from the GTI history books, the GT feels like the most German flavor yet wrought from the current, highly Americanized generation of Passat.
The Passat GT starts with the sporty R-Line trim and takes it a step further. It includes standard LED headlights, a honeycomb grille and low-slung stance that makes it look much leaner and meaner than the ordinary Passat.
Inside, it continues the sporty, blacked-out theme. A shiny piano black center stack, black headliner, aluminum badges and carbon-style trim give it a cool, contemporary feel.
My favorite thing about driving it for a week was the engine. With a 280-horsepower V6 under the hood — something becoming rare these days as sedans, including luxury models, switch to turbocharged four-cylinder power plants — the Passat GT feels potent at all times, whether launching from a full stop or passing on the freeway.

The Passat feels luxuriously spacious inside, especially for the money. It starts around $25,000 and offers ample hip, knee and head room.

My least favorite thing? Realizing how spectacular this car could be, but isn’t.
Years ago, the Passat felt like a slightly toned-down Audi, complete with a supple cabin and engaging, sparkling handling. Even with the GT’s suspension improvements, it never handles like a true sports sedan, and its cabin is minimalistic to the point of being dull. Straight horizontal lines and so-so materials make it feel like a roomy VW instead of the pseudo-Audi that it could be.
Then again, a pseudo-Audi would almost certainly have to be more expensive than this. The Passat starts around $25,000, and my tester — with its handsome looks, roomy cabin, V6 power, 6.3-inch touchscreen, blind-spot sensors and autonomous emergency braking — still rang up under $30,000. It’s a whole lot of car for the money.
Volkswagen sweetens the value proposition even further with its standard warranty. It offers what it calls “America’s best bumper-to-bumper new vehicle limited warranty” for six years or 72,000 miles.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2018 Volkswagen Passat GT V6 ($29,145). Options: None. Price as tested (including $850 destination charge): $29,995
Wheelbase: 110.4 in.
Length: 191.9 in.
Width: 72.2 in.
Height: 58.5 in.
Engine: 3.6-liter V6 (280 hp, 258 ft. lbs.)
Transmission: Six-speed DSG automatic
Fuel economy: 19 city, 28 highway

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

Why buy it? 
A roomy trunk and spacious cabin make the Passat impressively practical. A new GT trim adds a more European look and feel to the equation. It’s a lot of car for the money.

Posted in Volkswagen