Category - Model News

Driven: 2015 VW Jetta 1.8T SE

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Astute readers may recall that back in August, Volkswagen invited me to fly to Virginia to drive a smattering of their new and refreshed 2015 Jetta, Golf and GTI models. Well, one of those Jettas must have been really enamored with me, because it followed me back to Florida and showed up on my doorstep. Will a week with the Jetta do anything to dull the luster I saw in it over those Virginia hills? Read on to find out. SAMSUNG CSC As I reported a few weeks ago, the Jetta has once more become a pleasurable compact to drive. It carries itself like a larger, more upscale car, damping harsh bumps into distant memories before they ever hit the cabin, muting wind noise, and displaying a general smoothness and slickness that would justify a higher price tag than the Jetta demands. While this 2015 does sport slightly revised fascias front and rear, it doesn’t look noticeably different from the sedan that debuted four years ago. It’s still clean and handsome, though, and has aged remarkably well considering that visually, it still fits in with the rest of VW’s newer lineup. SAMSUNG CSC With nearly all of its former demons exorcised (rear drum brakes swapped for discs, torsion beam rear suspension ditched, thirsty 5-cylinder replaced), the remaining place VW needed to focus its attention was inside. This 2015 brings a soft-touch dash top and various chrome and piano black trim pieces that lift what was once a mostly coal-bin-black affair. SAMSUNG CSC Equipment levels have also been improved, and feature content on our mid-level SE w/ Connectivity tester ($23,145) is generous for this class. Heated leatherette seats, a power sunroof, remote entry with push-button start, a touchscreen stereo with Bluetooth audio streaming, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel are bundled with the turbocharged engine and 6-speed automatic to create a compelling, reasonably-priced package. SAMSUNG CSC SAMSUNG CSC The new 1.8T that Volkswagen started installing in the Jetta last year is a honey of an engine, feeling far more powerful and torquey than its on-paper stats suggest. It’s never wanting for poke, from essentially idle speed on up, and even at the top of the rev range it doesn’t feel out of breath. The fact that it’ll run happily on regular unleaded is an added bonus. SAMSUNG CSC If you didn’t know any better, you’d swear the 6-speed automatic hooked to the 1.8-liter EA888 was a dual-clutch unit – such is the way it’s programmed to shuffle smoothly between gears, though it does have a propensity to find 6th gear and stay there unless you’re hoofing it. The 1.8T has enough torque to cope with low revs in top gear, but if maximum forward thrust is desired, you’re better off leaving the transmission in the “S” setting or taking control manually. SAMSUNG CSC For the rare new car shopper that prefers to row their own gears, VW has added a tempting 1.8T Sport model to the 2015 lineup that includes 17” alloys (up one inch from our tester's), sport suspension, heated sport seats, navigation, fog lights, a black headliner, contrasting stitching on the seats, steering wheel, shifter and handbrake, and a rear spoiler – over and above the equipment already included on the SE w/ Connectivity. All of that comes at a price of $21,715 for a 5-speed manual or $22,815 for a 6-speed automatic – making the Sport the apparent bargain of the Jetta lineup for those willing to scour the option sheet for its existence. SAMSUNG CSC While the 1.8T Sport would be the trim level most likely to capture my dollars, it’s difficult to argue against our SE tester or indeed any of the 2015 1.8T and 2.0 TDI Jetta models. By offering more driving verve – and greater equipment levels – than the rest of the compact field, VW has righted its initial misstep and finally made the Mk6 the car it always deserved to be – a Jetta. SAMSUNG CSC [gallery ids="10943,10942,10940,10939,10938,10937,10936,10941,10944,10935,10934,10932,10931,10933,10929,10930,10927"]  2015 VW Jetta 1.8T SE w/ Connectivity Base price: $23,145 Price as tested: $23,145 Options on test car:  None Powertrain: 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, 6-speed automatic transmission, front wheel drive – 170 horsepower, 184 lb-ft torque EPA-estimated fuel economy: 25 mpg city/ 37 mpg highway Volkswagen provided the vehicle for testing purposes and one tank of gas. Photos by the author.

Speed Read: 2015 VW e-Golf, Jetta and GTI

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When Volkswagen offered to fly me up to drive a full smattering of their 2015 model lineup around Northern Virginia’s rolling hills and the quaint towns they are dotted with, they were ostensibly asking me to really focus on just two of those 2015 models – the fully electric e-Golf, and the refreshed Jetta. Still, though it already had its official launch and has been on sale for a few months now, I was also eager to sample the current GTI. Here’s a recap of what I drove, put in order from “really, really liked it” to “liked it”. There wasn’t a dud in the bunch, honestly, though I admit to steering clear of models like the Passat and Tiguan, which I’d already spent time in recently, and others that weren’t significantly changed for the 2015 model year. e-Golf - $36,265 So, full disclosure – the car I enjoyed driving the most was actually the 2015 GTI. But it’s too predictable to put that car in first place. Instead, the e-Golf tops this list for the following reason: significance. IMG_5707-17 It doesn’t seem that significant a car at first glance. After all, it’s just a Golf with an electric motor and battery in place of a gasoline or diesel 4-cylinder, right? Well, yes – and VW’s folks would be just fine if you came to the same conclusion. But somehow, the e-Golf manages to be more than the sum of its parts, which is one of the marks of a truly great automobile. You see, the e-Golf surprised me for the simple fact that it is just a Golf that burns kilowatts instead of liquid fuel. It drives exactly like a standard Golf, which is to say comfortably, competently, and without vice – but perhaps even better. Better because of that instant 199 lb-ft of torque available from rest that oooozes you up to 50 or 60 mph with so little effort. And the sheer quietness of the thing! This was my first encounter with a fully electric car, so excuse the fawning for a second, but silence really is golden. It made me smile far wider than I expected it to. IMG_5709-18 Without being subjected to the graunching sounds of an internal combustion engine, you can pay attention to other things – like how well this Golf VII chassis rides. It’s buttery smooth, yet free of float or wallow.  You’ll notice that because the battery pack’s weight is situated low in the chassis, the e-Golf’s cornering attitude is unexpectedly flat and it points into turns eagerly. And you’ll notice that they really got this Mk7’s interior just right, not just in materials or ergonomics, but also design and feature content. 2015 e-Golf Interior How compelling this package will seem to buyers is the ultimate question, perhaps proving once and for all whether shoppers are willing to purchase vehicles of this type on competence alone (in which case, the e-Golf should do quite well) or if a bit of “whizz-bang!” design slickness is a necessary part of it, as evidenced by the other EVs currently on the market. Either way, at $299/month to lease (the required down payment details are not readily available as I write this) and a fast-charge option that can replenish the battery back to 80% charge in just 30 minutes, there’s plenty to endear the e-Golf to the left side of your brain. Hopefully the right will feel the same way. 2015 e-Golf interior 3 GTI 3-door SE 6MT w/ Performance Pack - $29,710 IMG_5703-15 There’s little left to be said of the new Golf GTI that hasn’t already been said many times elsewhere; it’s the best all-around performance package available right now for around $30,000 or less, and I admit that wholeheartedly as an owner of competitive vehicle that occupies the same market territory. The GTI is a fully balanced package, with spirited, athletic handling, a tractable turbocharged engine that delivers just enough shove to put a smile on your face, a snick-snick gearbox and great brakes. Oh, and the rest of the car isn’t too shabby either, especially the wedgy yet finely detailed styling, handsomely trimmed and equipped interior (with great seats), and a more than decent stereo- in Fender-branded guise, anyway. IMG_5698-12 Similar to the last two iterations of the GTI that Volkswagen has sold in this country, now distilled down to the most refined elements of fun, luxury, and value, the Mk7 is a wonderful car. IMG_5699-13 2015 Jetta TDI SEL 6MT - $27,320 There’s more to the refreshed 2015 Jetta than meets the eye, at least in the TDI’s case. It uses the updated EA288 diesel engine that powers the new Mk7 Golf TDI, good for 46 MPG highway (an improvement of 4 MPG from last year) with the six-speed manual my tester was equipped with. IMG_5674-6 The new front fascia, including LED-bedazzled headlights, isn’t readily noticeable at a glance, but side by side with the old car, the new one does come across as slightly more modern. Inside, attention was paid to the areas that had previously been panned in the Mk6 Jetta – namely material quality. The door panels themselves still aren’t the same wonderfully squishy material as the dash top, but both armrests are comfortably trimmed, and piano black and silver accents lift the rest of the previously dour interior. Equipment levels are way up for the money, and are now arguably among the best in the mainstream small-car business. The standard 1.8T engine (not counting the special order, loss-leader 2.0L naturally-aspirated unit) also boasts the segment’s best power and torque figures. IMG_5672-5 Back to the diesel - that new EA288 power unit puts out 150 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque, 10 horsepower more than before thanks to simplified catalytic converters (among a litany of other tiny changes to the fuel and induction systems) that help reduce exhaust back pressure. Power delivery is smooth and quite potent from low revs, tapering off less noticeably toward redline than the previous diesel. The six-speed manual ‘box is smooth and pleasant to row, making it easy to keep the turbo on song. IMG_5684-10 Diesel clatter is almost non-existent, even with the windows down and sunroof cracked, with just a faint turbo whistle under boost and a chattering diverter valve upon throttle lift the only indications that something interesting resides under the hood. Elsewhere, the 2015 TDI is as pleasant on the road as the 1.8T SEL driven later in the day, and outlined below. And the TDI’s trump card – fantastic fuel economy no matter what you throw at it – is still present and accounted for. A spirited 40-minute drive over hilly, winding roads produced a 44 MPG average figure, according to the trip computer. IMG_5682-9   GTI 5-door Autobahn DSG w/ Performance Pack - $33,010 The exact same car as the 3-door GTI outlined above, save for the gearbox, which demotes it a few places on my scale from “great” to merely “quite good”. Both gearboxes have their supporters, some more staunch than others, but the fact that you can pick either transmission and get the same fundamentally fantastic car is encouraging. My interests lie primarily with manuals given the choice, simply for the engagement factor, and when that manual is as good as the one in the GTI, the choice becomes a no-brainer. Still, those who choose the DSG will not be disappointed – it’s a great gearbox in its own right. It’s just a little too competent and polished for its own good, at least for this driver. IMG_5667-4   2015 Jetta 1.8T SE w/ “Connectivity & Navigation” 6AT - $24,470 The fact that the Jetta in popular SE guise resides at the bottom of my list shouldn’t be taken as a ding against it. The 1.8T (170 hp/184 lb-ft) and 6-speed automatic are a perfect match for the volume model’s relaxed demeanor, and the improvements for 2015 are noticeable from behind the wheel. It’s just that the other four models above are a little bit more engaging. Still, there’s a lot to like about the new Jetta SE and SEL. IMG_5677-8 First of all, the thing is quiet – to use an over-quoted description, it’s bank-vault quiet at speed. Tire and wind noise are both well muffled up to and beyond 60 mph, and cracked pavement and undulations are dispatched with well-damped precision. The body leaned gently in bends on our tester’s 17-inch wheels, but this isn’t the performance model, anyway – the GLI is more apt to be judged on those merits. Weekend cone dodging wouldn’t interest this Jetta in the way it might a Mazda 3, at least not right out of the box, but that’s of little consequence to the Jetta’s target demographic. The interior renovations and better-honed driving dynamics truly recall the character of the Mk5 Jetta – that of a competent, comfortable, and solidly-built German sedan that drives like a bigger, more expensive car than it is. The rough edges of the early Mk6 Jetta seem to have finally been polished over completely, and VW would likely let the evidence of interior cost-cutting and bargain engineering recede into the rearview mirror – where they truly belong. IMG_5676-7   Volkswagen provided food, lodging, and travel to and from Virginia for the author for this event.

Driven: 2014 Infiniti Q60 Convertible

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When development work concluded on the V36 platform, which forms the basis for the 2014 Q60 seen above, it’s easy to believe that Nissan’s engineers had little inkling of the radical brand changes that would occur at Infiniti during their new model’s shelf life. Indeed, during Johan de Nysschen’s two-year tenure as the brand’s chief, much was changed – including their entire system of model nomenclature. Thus, the G37 convertible became the Q60 convertible that I recently spent a week with – but make no mistake, the G37 is still alive and well in this car. SAMSUNG CSC Let’s start with the four-seat coupe segment’s main draw – looks. People shopping this class are willing to trade a bit of practicality for something less tangible – an X-factor, if you will. The Q60 coupe and its two-door competitors have that in spades, but there’s usually a little something that’s lost in translation when coupe becomes hardtop convertible. A slightly contrived roofline with the top in place, or perhaps an ungainly hump at the back to remind you where the roof now resides. Not so with the Q60 – it remains as lithe and organic a shape in convertible form as in coupe. It’s a design that hasn’t become stale in the least, despite five model years on the market (under two different nameplates, no less). SAMSUNG CSC Inside, perhaps a couple of graying roots can be seen, but only because the interior’s design lacks the broad swath of glass that passes for a dashboard in so many near-luxury cars these days. Instead, the Q60’s infotainment system is operated through an intuitive combination of hard buttons and a well-placed rotary knob, a layout seen elsewhere in the Infiniti lineup for some time now (though the newer Q50 sedan employs trendier touchscreen panels – I’ve not yet sampled it, so cannot comment on effectiveness). It works well, and the rest of the interior is comfortable and attractive. SAMSUNG CSC Sampled solo, but especially in comparison to the Lexus IS 350C I sampled last week, the Q60 has an urgent, responsive on-road demeanor. Downshifts from the 7-speed torque converter automatic are delivered with less prodding from the gas pedal, and the steering is organic and features actual road feel, a trait that’s rapidly diminishing in new cars. The interior is less isolated from noise generated by the 3.7-liter V6 than in the Lexus, but that can be forgiven thanks to the engine’s pleasant snarl under acceleration. When the roof’s lowered, you’re treated to the signature VQ exhaust bark normally reserved for bystanders. SAMSUNG CSC SAMSUNG CSC The only aspects that somewhat dampen the fun are created solely as a result of opting for the convertible top – namely weight (as in more of it) and stiffness (as in less). There’s some cowl shake over large road imperfections, whether the top is in place or stowed, and the hardtop and its associated hardware saddle the Q60 convertible with a few hundred pounds of extra weight versus its coupe counterpart. Neither trait is likely to sway any buyers – these are characteristics that all four-seat droptops share to some extent, a direct result of being designed as a fixed roof vehicle first and being made into a convertible second. It does, however, make me question why I haven’t ever checked out a G37/Q60 coupe before this – the coupe must be really good to drive if this convertible is any indication. SAMSUNG CSC With the top dropped, the cooled seats on full blast, and the stereo (featuring well-placed speakers behind front occupants’ heads) cranked, there’s little wonder as to why these dual-character hardtop convertibles have become so popular with shoppers – and so important to their manufacturers. SAMSUNG CSC [gallery ids="10723,10722,10721,10720,10717,10716,10719,10718,10714,10715,10713,10712,10711"] 2014 Infiniti Q60 Convertible Base price: $48,805 Price as tested: $56,555 Options on test car:  Technology package ($1,250), Premium package ($3,400), Navigation package ($1,850), Performance 19” tire & wheel package ($650), Interior accents package ($600) Powertrain: 3.7-liter V6 engine, 7-speed automatic transmission, rear-wheel drive – 325 horsepower, 267 lb-ft. torque S:S:L-observed fuel economy:  21.1 mpg Infiniti provided the vehicle for testing purposes and one tank of gas. Photos by the author.

Tested: 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few weeks, you probably know there’s a new, heavily revised 2015 Dodge Challenger on the horizon. And for the last week or so, there’s been an inundation of media about the fastest, most powerful iteration of said new Challenger (actually, make that any muscle car, ever) known as the Hellcat. I went to the press introduction to spend a day with the Challenger, in the hopes of getting past the hype and finding out what this new Hellcat is really all about. Read on to find out. SAMSUNG CSC SAMSUNG CSC To start off with, this 2015 Challenger isn't just comprised of a few new trim packages - it's the most thorough revision the big Dodge coupe has seen since its intro back in 2008. The modern Challenger has always been a great looking car, combining its retro charm and modern touches more successfully than either of its Motown rivals. The 2015 revisions go just that little bit further toward evoking the spirit of the 1971 model, with modestly revised front and rear fascias that mimic the styling of that model year but also bring the Challenger into more modern territory with LED corona-ring headlights and LED taillights, plus a variety of functionally vented and scooped hood designs. It’s a great looking package, from V6 SXT to the halo Hellcat, and the extensive variety of paint and trim combinations accurately recalls the era of the 1970s original. 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT with the HEMI® Hellcat engine - Sepia 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT with the HEMI® Hellcat engine - tacho Clearly, Dodge spent a lot of the revised Challenger’s budget on the interior – it’s a massive leap forward. The previous Challenger always looked the business on the outside, but right from the get-go, it was apparent the DaimlerChrysler bean counters had stripped all the fun out of the cabin. This new interior makes up for that in spades, sporting a pleasantly driver-centric dashboard, throwback styling, far better materials, and enough tech to shame the rest of the segment. In fact, while the Challenger was always a comfortable coupe, it’s now actually got an interior that will make you want to spend time in it – turning it into quite the American GT car. The seats are still big-boy tailored – the bolsters look heavy-duty in photos, but the thinner of frame may find that they hug a little too lightly in hard cornering. The alcantara center fabric helps keep you from being flung out the side window, at least. 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT with the HEMI® Hellcat engine - Ruby 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT with the HEMI® Hellcat engine - 8.4 i The fully baked uConnect touchscreen system finally appears here as it does elsewhere in the Dodge lineup, controlling just about everything in the car but augmented by a helpful arrangement of buttons and knobs just below. Using the controls at knee level but looking up for the screen felt a little unnatural at first, but you quickly get used to it, and the rest of the cabin’s ergonomics are spot on. Also new is an in-depth suite of performance apps that let you easily tailor steering weight, damper firmness, automatic transmission response and traction/stability control settings completely independently of one another. 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat integrated climate and functio 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat 8.4 inch U-Connect Drive Modes   But let’s get to the real meat of this sandwich – the motor. The Hellcat engine is the revised Challenger SRT’s raison d’etre, so I’ll spend a bit more time dwelling on this 707-horsepower, 650 lb-ft behemoth than I otherwise might. SAMSUNG CSC   As you would expect, it’s the power that dominates the Hellcat driving experience. It’s simply omnipresent in a way that few other cars currently on sale can match, and none at a similar price point. Even toeing lightly into the gas sends shivers through the rear tires, such that you’d probably find it tough to drive a lesser car immediately after hopping out of the Hellcat, because it forces you to re-calibrate your right leg muscles. From idle to redline, there’s thrust everywhere, and the psychotic bellow that comes from the exhaust pipes is rivaled for sound quality only by the supercharger’s dominant whine. SAMSUNG CSC So how fast is it? Damn fast. Really, really damn fast. I can count the number of high-10/low-11 second cars I've driven on one hand, so for me, the experience was certainly eye-opening. You feel as if you can almost extract all the performance it’s capable of on a race track. But on the road, forget it – you’ll constantly be managing speed and acceleration in the back of your mind, knowing a ticket or jail time is close at hand. The transmissions tasked with getting all that power and torque to the ground have a lot on their plate, but perform admirably. The new 8-speed TorqueFlite automatic (an across-the-board addition, but beefed up for the Hellcat) quickly and reliably cracks off firm upshifts and rev-matched downshifts through the standard-issue paddles. It also helps free up processing power in your brain for dealing with blurring scenery and fast-approaching corners, which would otherwise be used to manage shifting the manual. The six-speed Tremec ‘box, tapped for duty from the Viper, operates smoothly as well, and would probably be my choice for street driving – shift action is tight and well-defined, the clutch is heavy enough - but in no way overpowering - and easily modulated. IMG_5477-3 Track Impressions: So here’s what we know so far: The Challenger SRT Hellcat is completely bonkers from a power delivery and noise perspective; simply on another level. As such, I was initially tentative in the car around the track, what with our day in Portland getting off to a very wet start and standing water crowding the straights in many places. But the Hellcat is very trustworthy in the rain - it'll let you play as loose or as tight as you want to, with enough grip if you can tailor your throttle inputs, or controllable sideways antics virtually anywhere, at any speed, if you so desire. Steering response is moderately weighted and decently quick, but while the Hellcat turns-in fairly well, this is nevertheless a car that carries 2,500 pounds or so of forward bias, and you can feel it in slower corners. Of course, oversteer is never more than a quick jab of the throttle away. The 15.4”, two-piece front steel rotors and 6-piston Brembo calipers do an admirable job of slowing the Hellcat on track from a decent clip, though with only two flying hot laps per session available during my time with the car, I probably wasn't even starting to push their heat management limits. Still, for those intent on tracking their Hellcats, I’m sure a set of steel braided lines, high-temp fluid and pads would be enough to shore up braking for just about any situation. SAMSUNG CSC Portland International Raceway, where a portion of the Challenger media release was held,  is a relatively small, straightforward track, with the "back straight" (the area between turns 8 and 10 on the map below) being the best place to gain a good bit of speed. As the day went on and the rain abated, a mostly dry line started to form around the track, though this curved back straight remained damp due to it being in the shade all afternoon. I was hitting about 120 mph in the 485-horsepower SRT 392 in the first (very) wet sessions of the day back here, and 128 or so in the Hellcat. On my last and driest lapping session of the day, I managed 134 mph along the back straight - still slightly damp, mind you, but nearly dry elsewhere. My instructor was saying the Hellcats were good for about 140 or so on a bone dry back straight in professional hands, so at my more novice skill level, the fact that the car created such a high level of comfort in just a handful of laps (I probably had 8 total laps in Hellcats by the end of the day, maybe 20 total in all Challengers) really speaks to the car's setup - Dodge got it dead on, making the car playful and oversteery enough to feel "untamed" to most mortals, but being fully planted and trustworthy enough to really lean on the car in the dry when properly driven. It's an amazing machine to experience fully uncorked – and an experience that’ll stick with you for some time. 1280px-Portland_international_raceway.svg

(Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Verdict:

Dodge has served up perhaps the biggest reason yet to believe that we’re living through an amazing time to be an car enthusiast. Performance and power at this heightened level would have been unthinkable just a few short years ago, but the fact that you can walk down to the Dodge dealer, plunk down $60 grand – roughly double the average new car transaction price but far from exorbitant – and walk away with a 707-horsepower missile with a full warranty is nearly unfathomable. Oh, and owners lucky enough to do so will also be treated to a day-long, on-track SRT driving experience similar to the one journalists received, so they can hopefully get beneath the surface of what the Hellcat is capable of.

Of course, on the other hand, using all that power on a daily basis is going to be pretty tough. It’s hilarious driving around in a car that will happily spin its tires at a 40 mph roll in third gear, all day long. But it’s also a bit of a chore, because you've got to give serious consideration to what will happen any time you brush the right throttle. Literally 10% throttle application had the rear tires chattering in the rain. In conditions other than a pelting Pacific Northwest rain, it’s probably more manageable. But nevertheless, you really need to take the Hellcat to a drag strip or a road coarse to do anything but scratch the surface of its abilities and accumulate speeding tickets. So, therein lies the rub. As a car lover, I’m thankful Dodge had the guts to engineer and build such a vehicle, and I’m even more thankful that they let me drive it on a race track. For most buyers, the sheer level of performance and character on offer will be more than enough to justify the $14,000 premium over an already-belting SRT 392. It’s also reasonable to expect that anyone not ponying up the extra cash for the Hellcat might have regrets later on that they didn't take the jump. Still, for my money, I might consider saving the dough and going with a SRT 392 or even the Hemi Scat Pack, both with a 6.4L, and putting the money saved toward spare rear tires. Ah, scratch that – gimme the Hellcat. IMG_5463 [gallery ids="10245,10244,10247,10246,10243,10242,10241,10239,10238,10237,10236,10235,10234,10233,10240"] 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT w/ Hellcat Engine Base price: $60,990 Powertrain: 6.2-liter supercharged V8, 8-speed automatic or 6-speed manual transmission, rear-wheel drive – 707 horsepower, 650 lb-ft. torque S:S:L-observed fuel economy: N/A Dodge provided travel to Portland, meals and accommodations for two days. They also provided the vehicles for street and on-track testing purposes and all gas. Photos by the author (interior and burnout shots – Dodge).

Decoding the 2015 Challenger line-up

Clockwise starting from top: 2015 Dodge Challenger SXT, 2015 Dod
Trying to figure out which 2015 Challenger best fits your desired performance goals and options list requires poring over a labyrinth of commingled model names and trim packages; we figured a basic primer would be helpful coming out of our press introduction with the cars yesterday in rainy Portland. Here goes: SXT – Also known as the base model. 3.6-liter V6, 305hp/268lb-ft. 8-speed automatic only, 18-inch wheels, 5” uConnect system. Starts at $27,990. Adding the Super Track Pack for $1,600 nets 20” Hyper Black wheels, high-performance brakes, steering and suspension, a rear spoiler and park assist. There’s also a Super Sport group below the track pack that features 20” wheels, paddle shifters, and performance brakes, but that’s it. This one hasn’t been priced yet but figure a few hundred bucks cheaper than the Super Track Pack. SXT Plus - Starts with the SXT and adds some cosmetic touches and 20” wheels outside, and the nicer 8.4” uConnect, heated and ventilated Nappa leather seats, and a 276-watt Alpine stereo on the inside. $30,990. The $1,600 Super Track Pack is available here, as well. SAMSUNG CSC

SXT Plus

R/T – This is the first foray into V8 Challenger territory. Featuring the 5.7-liter HEMI (375hp/410tq) w/ a standard 6-speed Tremec manual or optional 8-speed TorqueFlite auto ($1,400), the R/T starts at $32,490. For that price, you’ll have cloth seats, the base 5” uConnect system and 20” wheels as standard. You can add a R/T Classic Package, which gets you retro-looking polished wheels and stripes plus suede seats (not yet priced), and the aforementioned Super Track Pack. R/T Shaker - To the base R/T above, the Shaker adds the functional scoop hood and cold-air intake, different badging and satin black accents, performance seats w/ black cloth, 20” satin finish wheels and a beefier rear diff. This one’s not yet priced, but figure close to $34k. R/T Plus - Similar to the difference between SXT and SXT Plus, the R/T Plus gets you the base R/T with added luxuries like polished 20” wheels, heated and cooled Nappa leather seats, 8.4” uConnect, etc. $35,490. The same available option groups apply here, too. Add $1,400 for an automatic transmission. R/T Plus Shaker – Same deal with the R/T and R/T Shaker – add a couple grand to the R/T Plus’ price for the Shaker equipment. Around $37.5k would be likely. 6.4-liter Scat Pack – Here’s where it starts to get tricky. $39,490 buys you the big SRT- (but not Hellcat) engine from last year’s top dog SRT8, at 6.4-liters and 485hp/475lb-ft. But this one’s not actually an SRT model. It is, however, easily the performance bargain of the lineup. The rest of the car is pretty well-equipped, too: the 8.4” uConnect system is standard here, as are performance suspension and active exhaust systems, 20” wheels, Brembo 4-piston brakes, and cloth seats. Add $1,400 for the 8-speed auto; a six-speed manual is standard. You can add heated and cooled Nappa leather seats to the mix for $1,500, and the confusingly named Scat Pack Appearance Group (since it’s already a Scat Pack, wouldn’t it already have that appearance?) which brings matte black 20x9” forged wheels, black rear quarter stripes, and HID headlamps for $1,995. IMG_5474

6.4-liter Scat Pack (no Appearance Group)

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6.4-liter Scat Pack w/ Scat Pack Appearance Group

392 HEMI Scat Pack Shaker – To confuse things even further, there’s another Challenger model with the 6.4-liter, “Powered by SRT” HEMI V8, but this one’s called the 392 HEMI Scat Pack Shaker, instead of simply 6.4-liter Scat Pack Shaker. Same 485 hp/475 lb-ft as the model above, but this one’s the self-proclaimed “King of all Shakers” – basically, it’s a 6.4-liter Scat Pack with a Shaker hood, different wheels and stripes, and a new model name. Clear as mud, right? No pricing yet, but figure around $41,500. SRT 392 -  Alright – we’re finally in SRT territory! This would be the top Challenger in the lineup were it not for the Hellcat. So, it’s basically a SRT chassis, with the 6.4-liter naturally aspirated HEMI V8 making the same 485 hp/475 lb-ft featured elsewhere in the lineup. Over a Scat Pack, the full SRT 392 gives you 15.4-inch, two piece front brake rotors and 6-piston front Brembo calipers, a unique center-intake hood, special 20x9.5” Slingshot alloy wheels and 275mm wide Pirellis, adaptive dampers, a 900-watt Harman Kardon sound system, heated and cooled Nappa leather seats, and a price tag of $46,990 with the manual transmission. Add just $400 to step up to the 8-speed auto. SRT w/ HEMI Hellcat Engine – This is the one everyone’s buzzing about, for good reason. To the SRT 392 outlined above, we add the 707hp/650lb-ft supercharged Hellcat HEMI engine, a Viper-sourced 6-speed Tremec manual (or beefed-up 8-speed auto), and unique driveline, cooling, and active exhaust systems to support that massive powerhouse of an engine. $60,990, all-in for the manual. SAMSUNG CSC

SRT w/ Hellcat Engine

Daunting, right? It seems deliberately setup to deceive everyone but forum jockeys, because even major automotive news outlets have published incorrect model names since the media embargo lifted. All of the information above has been pulled straight from the press materials supplied by Dodge - if you spot any discrepancies, you know where to send your letters.  Our driving impressions will be for the model everyone’s calling simply the “Hellcat”, but which is published in Dodge’s literature as the “Dodge Challenger SRT with the HEMI Hellcat”. Try listing that on your registration slip. More news tomorrow, when I’ll post the track review of the Challenger SRT w/ Hellcat engine.

Driven: 2014 Nissan Rogue SL

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SAMSUNG CSC In what was to become the last true model year of its first generation, the 2013 Rogue I sampled last year exhibited all-around competence but little in the way of passion. Now that it’s got a fresh new wrapper, it might finally pack the combination needed to woo buyers from some of the segment’s most popular entrants. SAMSUNG CSC Still, despite all the work they’ve done on the redesigned 2014 model, it seems like the Rogue Nissan really wants to sell you is the leftover previous generation – to wit, when I attempted to build a 2014 Rogue on Nissan’s website, it directed me to build a 2013 instead. Furthermore, Nissan still sells the 2013 model in 2014, renamed the Rogue Select, akin to the way Chevy sold the Malibu Classic alongside the new Malibu for a couple of generations back in GM's dark days. However, rather than solely being foisted on fleet customers like the Classic, Nissan’s official line is that the Select exists to sell off remaining production stock of the 2013 design. That dream should come to fruition any day now, so if you really want a well-equipped “2014” Rogue for about $20 grand, act fast. We’re not here to talk about that car, though – our subject is the all-new Rogue. SAMSUNG CSC The crossover’s new skin might have a lot to do with any uptick in sales numbers this year – it’s a sharp-looking car, no doubt. Against competitors like the frumpy CR-V and stoic but plain Tiguan, the Rogue wears its Pathfinder-inspired styling arguably better than its bigger brother. The LED headlights and surrounding halo rings of our loaded SL tester are a particularly nice touch, and frame the V-split grille nicely. Around back are a more traditional tailgate design and three-quarter view, albeit one that bears a passing resemblance to what used to be one of the best looking vehicles in the segment, the now-forgotten 2nd-gen Mitsubishi Outlander. I’m not going out on a limb labelling the redesign a success, transforming the formerly blobby Rogue into a genuinely handsome vehicle. SAMSUNG CSC Inside, things are equally fresh compared to the previous Rogue but will look and feel familiar to anyone who’s spent time in a current-generation Altima. The gauge layout and center stack both ape that car’s design, and the “zero-g” front seats are also lifted from the midsizer – a good thing, as they prove comfortable and fatigue-free for hours upon end. These new Nissans are among the few vehicles I can endure for more than a few hours without acute lower back pain, and the so-called “sport seats” in my Caymans and FR-S are not counted among those ranks. The Rogue’s materials aren’t going to blow anyone away, but they are at least on par with anything else in this segment, except maybe the Tiguan. Also, more wind and tire noise makes it through to the cabin than I remember in the Altima. SAMSUNG CSC SAMSUNG CSC Room up front and in the second row is quite good, as is cargo space. Our tester wasn’t equipped with the newly-available third row seating, but you’ve got to believe that no matter how roomy this compact CUV is behind the second row (and it is class-leading in that respect according to Nissan), any third row chairs are going to be a strictly dogs-or-small-kids affair, for short trips at that. Still, it’s a unique selling point in a compact class full of strictly two-row crossovers. SAMSUNG CSC Things are mostly carried over in the powertrain and chassis department, with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that shuffles power through a continuously variable transmission remaining the only choice, aside from front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. Horsepower and torque numbers stand pat at 170 and 175, respectively. That CVT has been slightly revised for internal efficiency, and as a result the new Rogue posts up segment-topping EPA fuel economy estimates of 26 mpg city and 33 mpg highway. I saw 27.0 combined, beating not only the first generation Rogue but also my previous averages in the Escape 1.6L EcoBoost and Tiguan, although both of those turbocharged powertrains have this one beat for outright grunt. SAMSUNG CSC Nissan's obviously chosen to spend the lion's share of this generation's development dollars on tech and feature content, at least initially. Equipment levels are extremely generous in all trims, but noticeably so in our high-end SL tester. Heated leather seats, navigation, keyless entry and drive, nine-speaker Bose audio, Nissan's around-view backup monitor system, and a power liftgate are all standard fare for the SL's $29,140 price of entry. Our press car's bottom line was further bolstered by the $1,990 Premium Package, which includes a panoramic sunroof, excellent full-LED headlights, and a slew of safety apps - forward collision warning, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning and moving object detection. Both the entry-level S ($23,650) and mid-level SV ($25,350) trims can be had with the third row seat, and standard content levels are high in either. All-wheel-drive adds $1,350 to the bottom line no matter which trim level you choose. SAMSUNG CSC The compact CUV segment is one that's filled with fickle buyers, and sales are hard-fought regardless of manufacturer. Nissan's chosen path of feature content, value, styling and space improve the previous Rogue in all aspects, but don't tug at the heartstrings of buyers looking for an engaging driving experience. Happily for Nissan, the improvements they've made should be solid enough to tempt some buyers away that would have otherwise landed in Escapes, CR-Vs or RAV4s. [gallery ids="10059,10065,10066,10067,10060,10064,10057,10063,10062,10055,10054,10061,10058,10056"]   2014 Nissan Rogue SL Base price: $29,140 Price as tested: $31,265 Options on test car: SL Premium Package ($1,990), floor mats ($135) Powertrain: 2.5-liter four cylinder engine, CVT automatic transmission, front-wheel drive – 170 horsepower, 175 lb-ft torque S:S:L-observed fuel economy: 27.0 mpg Nissan provided the vehicle for testing purposes and one tank of gas. Photos by the author.