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2019 Mercedes-AMG G 63 Officially Starts at $148,495

Mon, 11/19/2018 - 8:35pm

Earlier this year, Mercedes introduced the completely redesigned 2019 G-Wagen. Among other changes, it got a new chassis, dropped the live front axle in favor of an independent front suspension, and added a much more luxurious interior. But as great a luxury off-roader as the new G-Wagen proved to be, we still didn’t know how much it would cost—until now.

Today, Mercedes announced that the G 63 will start at $148,495 including destination. That’s $4,700 more than the G-Wagen it replaces and only slightly less than the cost of an S 63. By comparison, the G 550’s base price of $125,495 seems relatively affordable. Of course, you could also get an S 560 and save around $25,000, but then you wouldn’t be able to go off-road.

Both the G 550 and G 63 use a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8, with the former making 416 hp and 450 lb-ft of torque and the latter good for 577 hp and 627 lb-ft of torque. The AMG also gets a sport-tuned suspension, five on-road drive modes, three off-road modes, and a dual-mode side exhaust.

But while customers with exceptionally deep pockets could order the previous G-Wagen with a V-12, don’t expect Mercedes to offer the new one in G 65 form. Unless you’re looking at a Maybach, it sounds like Mercedes plans to kill off its V-12. We have, however, heard rumors that a hybrid G-Wagen could be in the works.

Source: Mercedes

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2018 Jeep Wrangler Plant Tour: 5 Crucial Steps in Building an Off-Road Icon

Mon, 11/19/2018 - 6:46pm

Love your new Jeep Wrangler? We went to the Toledo Assembly Complex to see how Fiat Chrysler is pumping out as many of these off-road babies as humanly and robotically possible. It takes about 24 hours from start to finish and there are two 10-hour shifts, six days a week.

The Toledo complex is huge—3.9 million square feet and employing 5,600—and has a rich history. It dates back to 1904 when it was a bicycle factory before it made its first vehicles in 1910. The first Jeep was assembled in 1941, officially called the Willys-Overland MB but the “Jeep” nickname it earned during its military service has stuck to this day.

The Ohio factory grew substantially in 2001 with the addition of Toledo North which started building the 2002 Jeep Liberty. The South building, also known as the Supplier Park, made the Wrangler and Wrangler Unlimited from 2005 until April 2017. It was experimental in that robotics company Kuka owned and ran the body shop, Magna ran the paint shop, Hyundai-Mobis made the chassis, and then-Chrysler was in charge of final assembly. In time, Chrysler bought out most of the supplier operations for control of the entire assembly process.

In 2013, the complex launched the Cherokee and continued to build it until April 2017 when it was moved to the FCA plant in Belvidere, Illinois. That allowed the automaker to move Wrangler production to the larger North part of the complex. The success of the Wrangler had assembly bursting at the seams and unable to keep up with demand.

The vacated Supplier Park was retooled to make the new Jeep Gladiator pickup that will be shown next week at the Los Angeles auto show.

Here are five cool parts of the Wrangler assembly process.

Rotisserie Skillet

Yes, rotisserie, as in chicken turning on your BBQ. This refers to a piece of equipment that rides on a moving platform and can rotate the freshly painted SUV body to make it easier to add the roof and underbody work for off-roading. The rotisserie can flip the SUV a full 180 degrees. I’ll have mine well done with no body panel gaps please.

Robotic Frame VIN Etch

Gigantic programmable robots grab a chassis and it is turned upside down to take advantage of gravity to make it easier to install the suspension components. Electrical components are also added and the VIN is etched into the frame. Jeep has 12 frame variations to accommodate a lineup of two- and four-door Wranglers with gas and diesel engines. Next year, a plug-in hybrid will be added to the lineup.

The frames ride on battery-free self-guided carts and the electricity comes from the floor that offers induction charging—like your phone charger. The system makes it easy to update the assembly line for future products. As long as the floor is mapped and prepped ahead of time, the path the carts take can be changed easily to accommodate a new station. That will be the case when additional hybrid component stations are added to the line next year.

Marrying Station

Formally known as Body and Chassis Decking, this is the where the car becomes a car. It is where the body meets the chassis for the first time and after the marriage, it looks like a Wrangler. A robot plucks a body from above and brings it down to the chassis that is inching its way to the marrying station. Once they are bolted together, the Wrangler continues on to receive seats, wheels, doors, and more.

Glass Cell

This is where the windshield is attached. The windshield is prepped, and a robot applies the urethane that acts as glue. Then another robot picks up the windshield and puts it into place.

Final Certification

Before any Wranglers leave the plant, they go through a series of tests. Among them is the “rolls test,” which brings the Jeep to highway speeds to test the powertrain and brakes and validate electrical systems and diagnostics. From there the line continues to a station to make sure the headlights are aiming in the right direction and the wheels are properly aligned. There is a regular water station test and also a new nine-position water test the randomly selected vehicles enter. It can change the pitch and roll of the vehicle while it is being showered with water from nozzles pointed in all directions.

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2019 Subaru Crosstrek Plug-In Hybrid is Both Quicker and More Efficient

Mon, 11/19/2018 - 3:59pm

In general, the Subaru Crosstrek is a great little hatch. Not only did we name it an SUV of the Year finalist for 2018, we also liked it enough to add one to our long-term test fleet. Its biggest downside, though, it that it’s pretty slow. So now that Subaru has officially revealed the Crosstrek Hybrid, we’re happy to report that the more fuel-efficient Crosstrek is also quicker.

Starting with a more efficient version of the regular Crosstrek’s 2.0-liter engine and CVT, Subaru added two electric motors and an 8.8-kWh battery. The first serves as a starter motor and generator that can charge the battery, while the second powers the wheels with a maximum output of 118 hp and 149 lb-ft of torque. That brings the total system output up to 148 hp and an undisclosed amount of torque.

Whatever that torque figure is, it must be quite a bit higher than the 145 lb-ft you get from the regular Crosstrek. That’s because Subaru claims the Crosstrek Hybrid is a full second quicker to 60 mph than the non-hybrid. That would make its 0-60 mph time about 9 seconds, which isn’t truly quick, but it’s certainly an improvement. That estimate might be on the conservative side, as we managed to get a 2018 Subaru Crosstrek to 60 mph in 9 seconds in our testing.

Acceleration also probably won’t be most Crosstrek Hybrid buyers’ top priority. Instead, they’ll focus more on its 17 miles of all-electric range, 35-mpg combined rating, and ability to go about 480 miles between fill-ups. With all-wheel drive and 8.7 inches of ground clearance, the Crosstrek Hybrid should still make a great all-weather vehicle and mild off-roader. It can even tow up to 1,000 pounds. Charging should take about two hours on a 240-volt charger.

To visually differentiate the hybrid, Subaru added blue headlight accents, as well as silver trim on the grille, lower front bumper, body cladding, and foglights. Around back, you also get a “Plug-In Hybrid” badge. The Crosstrek Hybrid rides on 18-inch wheels and comes in four colors, including the blue shown here.

As you would expect, the hybrid version of the Crosstrek is priced at a premium. While the non-hybrid starts at $22,870 including destination, the PHEV will run you at least $35,970 before applicable tax credits. Granted, it comes equipped like a top-of-the-line Limited model with a few hybrid-specific touches, so that’s not as big of a price increase as it looks. There’s also a $2,500 option package that includes a power moonroof, heated steering wheel, navigation, and a premium Harman Kardon sound system.

Subaru hasn’t said exactly when the Crosstrek Hybrid will go on sale, but look for it to hit dealers “near the end of this year.”

Source: Subaru


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2019 Nissan Kicks Gets Small Price Bump

Mon, 11/19/2018 - 2:16pm

When we first got behind the wheel of the Nissan Kicks, we discovered a quickness and level of content we had not expected for its low price tag. Now, Nissan is changing the formula ever so slightly. The subcompact crossover returns for its sophomore year with a small increase in price and a little less power.

The 2019 Nissan Kicks starts at $19,535 for the base S model. That’s up $200 from last year. Standard features include automatic emergency braking, three USB ports, push-button start, keyless entry, Bluetooth, roof rails, and automatic headlights.

Despite the price hike, the base Nissan Kicks is still a good deal. Competitors have higher starting prices, including the 2019 Hyundai Kona ($20,970), Toyota C-HR ($21,990), Mazda CX-3 ($21,385), and Honda HR-V ($21,515).

The SV adds essential goodies, such as Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and automatic temperature control. The mid-level trim starts at $21,245, up $210. At the top of the lineup is the SR, priced from $21,865, up $230. LED headlights and special exterior and interior trim set the model apart, and buyers can still splurge for the Premium package with an upgraded Bose sound system and other features.

The Kicks was originally rated at 125 hp and 115 lb-ft. But for 2019, Nissan says the 1.6-liter four-cylinder makes 122 hp and 114 lb-ft of torque. We’ve reached out to Nissan to find out why this is the case. Fuel economy remains 31/36/33 mpg city/highway/combined.

The 2019 Nissan Kicks is now on sale.

Source: Nissan

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Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn to Be Removed for “Serious Misconduct”

Mon, 11/19/2018 - 11:59am

Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn has been arrested over allegations of financial misconduct and is expected to be removed from his position shortly.

Over the past several months, Nissan has been conducting an internal investigation on Ghosn and fellow board member Greg Kelly. “The investigation showed that over many years both Ghosn and Kelly have been reporting compensation amounts in the Tokyo Stock Exchange securities report that were less than the actual amount, in order to reduce the disclosed amount of Carlos Ghosn’s compensation,” Nissan said in a statement. The automaker added “numerous other significant acts of misconduct have been uncovered, such as personal use of company assets.”

Nissan’s statement was issued soon after Japanese newspaper Asahi Shinbun first broke the story of the investigation. CNN reports prosecutors in Japan arrested the two men Monday evening. Nissan Chief Executive Officer Hiroto Saikawa will propose to the board of directors the removal of Ghosn and Kelly from their positions at Nissan.

Ghosn’s removal will reverberate throughout the world’s largest global carmaking alliance. Ghosn is the head of the Nissan-Renault-Mitsubishi alliance, which produces one out of every nine cars sold around the globe, according to CNN. Mitsubishi said in a statement that it is also preparing to take action against Ghosn following the reports.

The scandal likely marks the end of Ghosn’s long history with the automakers. He joined Renault in 1996, and three years later, he became Chief Operating Officer for Nissan. At the turn of the new millenium, he was credited with taking Nissan from near-bankruptcy to profitability in two years. He served as Nissan CEO starting in 2001, and in May 2005, he added Renault CEO to his title and became the first person to run two global Fortune 500 companies simultaneously. He stepped down as Nissan CEO in 2017 after Mitsubishi joined the Nissan-Renault alliance, although he remained chairman of Nissan.

Nissan says it has been cooperating with Japanese prosecutors in their investigation. “Nissan deeply apologizes for causing great concern to our shareholders and stakeholders,” the automaker said in a statement. “We will continue our work to identify our governance and compliance issues, and to take appropriate measures.”

In its own statement, Renault acknowledged the contents of Nissan’s press release. The French automaker didn’t say what actions it would take against Ghosn, but noted the board will meet shortly. “Pending provision of precise information from Carlos Ghosn, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Renault, the above directors wish to express their dedication to the defense of Renault’s interest in the Alliance,” the statement said.

Source: Nissan, Asahi Shinbun via CNN

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2019 Chevrolet Silverado 2.7T First Drive: Mighty Mouse

Mon, 11/19/2018 - 8:00am

Quick question: Are you the fleet manager at your company? No? Then the Chevrolet Silverado 2.7T probably isn’t for you. Wait! Keep reading, weekend warrior! You should take a look at it anyway. Why? Because the 2019 Silverado and its 2.7-liter turbo-four are built to work as hard as possible for as little money as possible.

Now the standard engine on the LT and RST trims, the 2.7T effectively replaces the long-running 4.3-liter V-6, which is now only available on the base WT trim for fleets that don’t like change. That’s your first clue what this engine is about. The next one comes from the window sticker: 310 hp and 348 lb-ft. The old 4.3 produces just 285 hp and 305 lb-ft.

The 2.7-liter’s output is also more than the competition offers. Ford’s base 3.3-liter V-6 makes 290 hp and 265 lb-ft, while Ram’s new mild-hybrid 3.6-liter V-6 makes 305 hp and 269 lb-ft. Point for Chevy there, though both the Ford and Ram out-tow the Chevy by thousands of pounds (7,200 versus up to 12,900) and the Ford can handle about 30-percent greater payload than the other two (3,270 pounds versus up to 2,280).

Other numbers on the window sticker also muddy the water: 18-20 mpg city, 21-23 mpg highway, and 19-21 mpg combined depending on configuration. The old 4.3 in the last-generation truck (the 2019 model hasn’t been rated yet) was 17-18 mpg city, 22-24 mpg highway, and 19-20 mpg combined depending on configuration. Not much of an improvement to you and me, but when we’re talking about fleets of potentially thousands of vehicles, a one mpg improvement could save big money over the lives of those vehicles. Although Chevy is quick to point out it didn’t need a hybrid system to get that fuel economy, the 2.7 does employ auto engine stop/start, variable valve lift, and cylinder deactivation.

But what about the competition? The 3.3-liter F-150 returns 18-19/23-25/20-22 mpg while the 3.6-liter Ram nets 19-20/24-25/21-22 mpg. All right on top of each other, so no real argument for any of them there.

In truth, the Silverado’s 2.7-liter engine doesn’t make the case for itself on paper. It makes it behind the wheel. Knowing full well it still has 4,700 pounds of truck to move despite the weight lost during the redesign, Chevy engineers tuned this thing for torque, torque, and more torque. Sliding camshafts with different profiles and a small, twin-scroll turbo that gets evenly spaced exhaust pulses from the paired inner and outer cylinders work to make big, steady power throughout the rev range. Throttle response is immediate and turbo lag is imperceptible. Chevy’s dyno chart says the torque drops off as it approaches its startlingly low 5,700-rpm redline, but you wouldn’t know it from behind the wheel.

Chevy also says it’s a full second quicker to 60 mph than the old 4.3, and I believe it. Per our past testing, that would put it at 6.4 seconds, the same as the optional 5.3-liter V-8 and less than half a second behind the big 6.2-liter V-8. Regardless of the number, it feels much more responsive than the 5.3. The two engines share the same eight-speed automatic, but here again the 2.7 shines. Paired with the 5.3, we found the eight-speed clunky and stubborn about shifting down. The 2.7 and the eight-speed, though, feel like they were made for each other. Shifts are buttery smooth, it’s always in the right gear, and it’s not shy about downshifting when it needs to.

Thing is, it doesn’t need to that often. Unless you have your foot to the firewall, the 2.7 rarely sees more than 2,200 rpm as it surfs that wave of torque. Cruising at 70 mph up a seven-percent grade, it hummed right along at 1,700 rpm without a downshift. The cams slide seamlessly into their high-lift profiles, the turbo huffs up some 22 psi, and it just goes with a pleasant snarl and no turbo whistle. Passing uphill, it drops a couple gears and scoots right around whatever’s in your way. Going down the other side, it likewise drops a couple gears when you touch the brakes and leans on its surprisingly high 10.0:1 compression ratio to keep you from gaining speed. Critically, at no point does the engine ever feel stressed.

These impressions came with an empty bed and just two guys in the truck—we’re eager to see how it handles towing and hauling, but there wasn’t an opportunity during this drive.

Chevrolet did, however, provide competitors’ trucks for a short back-to-back evaluation. Putting its LT trim against Ford’s XLT and Ram’s Bighorn, the Silverado 2.7 shined in throttle response and outright power. Ram’s 3.6 makes its power up high and has to be wrung out, while Ford’s 3.3 just feels slow. On the other hand, the Ram self-reported better fuel economy on Chevy’s prescribed driving route than the Silverado, 22.8 mpg to 20.8 mpg (19.8 for the Ford). The Ram’s coil-sprung rear axle also rides substantially better, and it has by far the best interior.

That all might influence my decision if I’m buying the truck just for me. But if I’m buying a company work truck, the conversation changes. Chevy’s superior bed volume, abundance of hard-mounted tie-downs (three at each corner), and standard bumper steps make it a better hauler. The remote tailgate release in the cab comes in handy. It’s also the easiest to tow with, provided you can live with its lower tow rating. The trailer-detecting reverse camera, trailer light test, and trailer tire pressure and temperature monitoring make hooking up and pulling a breeze.

So no, the new Silverado 2.7T wasn’t meant for the weekend warrior, and it won’t save you a bundle at the pump. This truck is built to save fleet managers money whether they’re running five trucks or 500. It might not be the one you put in your own driveway. But if your boss is going to put you in a stripped-down work truck eight hours a day, this is the right tool for the job.

2019 Chevrolet Silverado (2.7T) BASE PRICE $38,395-$43,595 VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, RWD/4WD, 5-6-pass, 2-4-door truck ENGINE 2.7L/310-hp/348-lb-ft turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4 TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic CURB WEIGHT 4,700 lb (mfr) WHEELBASE 147.4-156.9 in LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT 231.7-241.2 x 81.2 x 75.3-75.6 in 0-60 MPH 6.4 sec (mfr est) EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 18-20/21-23/19-21 mpg ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY 169-187/147-160 kW-hrs/100 miles CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 0.91-1.01 lb/mile ON SALE IN U.S. December 2018

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Dirty Deeds: Lexus LX vs. Jeep Wrangler vs. Mercedes-Benz G-Class vs. Land Rover Discovery

Mon, 11/19/2018 - 4:00am

Born and raised among the skyscrapers of New York City and now living in sprawling Los Angeles, I’m used to city life. I’m inured to creeping rush-hour traffic, to stepping over sidewalk trash, to the ever-present light pollution; they’re sacrifices we make to live in the places we love. But city life wears on you, a realization that can hit in an instant. A knowing glance or diverted gaze during a chance encounter with one of the millions of others beaten down by the daily grind could be all it takes to want to get away.

But I—perhaps like you—have life to deal with. I work during the week and spend my weekends playing catch-up. Memories of my first sleepaway camp and seeing the Milky Way pop from the inky, unadulterated night sky and dreams of escape remain just that. Breaking free ain’t easy.

For those who must reconnect with nature, these four SUVs make it easier to stay alive during the week and live on the weekends.

For our comparison test, we wanted SUVs comfortable on a daily commute or road-trip but also able to turn well off the beaten path for a night of primitive camping to escape our fellow man. That meant we needed the everyday comfort of a crossover, the features and technology of a modern sedan, and the off-road capability of a ZVM-2901. (YouTube it. You’re welcome.)

Because American roads aren’t quite ready for screw-driven off-roaders, we assembled four legendary and street-legal nameplates: Jeep Wrangler, Land Rover Discovery, Lexus LX, and Mercedes-Benz G-Class. This group will get you out of town—and then some.

Our test would have us driving north from Los Angeles along the eastern portion of the Sierra Nevada to Bishop, California, where the following day we’d tackle the trail to Coyote Flat, about 10,000 feet above sea level. Then we’d camp. It’s not Moab, but this 20-odd-mile trail includes deep sand, rocks, cliff faces, and multiple water crossings.

The winner would be the vehicle that best balances off-road performance with on-pavement drivability. We wanted something that the average Joe or Jane could take off-road with confidence after a tough week crushing soybean futures. To level the playing field, price is ignored.

The Field

The 2018 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon is the latest evolution of the vehicle that launched this segment. The new Wrangler Rubicon wears 33-inch BFGoodrich Baja Champion All-Terrain KO2 tires at either end of front and rear live axles, each of which boasts a locking differential and an electronic anti-roll bar disconnect. Under the hood, our tester packs an electrified 2.0-liter turbocharged I-4 making 270 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. It’s paired with an eight-speed automatic and Jeep’s beefiest part-time four-wheel-drive system.

Land Rover, meanwhile, has come a long way from building British Jeep knockoffs. The 2018 Land Rover Discovery HSE Luxury Si6 looks the part of a suburban mall crawler, with soft lines and a beautiful tech-forward leather-upholstered cab with room for seven. But it still hasn’t lost its ruggedness. Under the hood, a supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 turns out 340 hp and 332 lb-ft of torque, backed by an eight-speed automatic and a full-time four-wheel-drive system. This Disco also gets an available air suspension, plus an automatically locking rear differential and Land Rover’s All Terrain Progress control system—both part of the $1,275 Capability Plus package.

The redesigned 2019 Mercedes-Benz G 550 is another off-road legend in our midst. Our metallic olive green G-Wagen is bigger and far more luxurious than its previous iteration, but it doesn’t appear to have lost the sparkle that made the original so beloved. Its old-school ladder frame, live rear axle, and three independently locking differentials team with an independent front axle, an electronically dampened suspension system, and a modern 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 producing 416 hp and 450 lb-ft of torque. The V-8 runs through a nine-speed automatic and Mercedes’ full-time four-wheel-drive system, which operates with a permanent 40/60 front/rear torque split that switches to a 50/50 split once low range is selected and the center differential is locked.

In 2016 we compared the Toyota Land Cruiser to the previous generations of the Wrangler and G-Class as part of our “Apocalypse Soon” comparison test. The Toyota won that comparison, and we extended an invite to defend its crown. No Land Cruisers were available, so we got the next best thing: the mechanically identical 2018 Lexus LX 570. The Lexus takes all we loved about the Toyota, including its crawl-control and turn-assist features, and adds a fancy height-adjustable hydraulic suspension system to ensure a smooth ride both on- and off-road. Our LX 570 also deletes the rather useless third row as a new-for-2018 option, boosting usable cargo space. Power comes courtesy of a 5.7-liter V-8 with 383 hp and 403 lb-ft of torque, paired with an eight-speed automatic and full-time four-wheel-drive system.

With our quartet of off-roaders picked, I assembled a team of three other like-minded editors whose off-road experience ranged from “literally tackled the Rubicon Trail last weekend,” to “drove on a dirt road that one time.” In other words, a perfect representation of the audience that buys these super SUVs. Yet all were seeking respite from city living: MotorTrend en Español managing editor Miguel Cortina and associate online editors Collin Woodard and Stefan Ogbac. We loaded up with our camping and off-road kits and met up with our photo team in their 2018 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro (see “Aging Lion,” page TK) on the outskirts of Los Angles to make our escape.

The Road

If there’s one constant about off-roading, it’s that no one can agree on what “real” off-roading is. For some it’s rock-crawling or dune-bashing. For others, it’s thick woods and deep mud. Fortunately, we had six hours to argue over walkie-talkies as we launched our way up Route 395 toward the trailhead.

Despite our differing opinions, we do all agree that on-road performance is an important part of the off-road formula because to get off-road, you gotta drive on-road first.

It’s fair to say that previous versions of both the Jeep Wrangler and Mercedes-Benz G-Class have been livable (at best) on pavement. The old Wrangler was loud and unrefined, while the previous G-Wagen, as rapper Quavo so eloquently put it in a Rolling Stone interview, was “wobbly as f—.” Thankfully both have been dragged into the 21st century.

“On the road, the G-Wagen does a sold impression of a car-based crossover,” Woodard said. With its trucklike live front axle tossed in the scrap heap and with fancy computer-controlled dampers, the G 550 experience mimics that of Mercedes’ other flagship, the S-Class. It’s quiet and hushed as it goes down the highway, its cabin featuring comfortable seats and nice-looking—if cumbersome—twin infotainment displays on the dash.

That serenity disappears once you open the taps on the G 550’s twin-turbo V-8. Few things are as satisfying as watching the scenery change from the street to sky as the Benz’s nine-speed fires off rapid downshifts and the V-8 lets out a guttural roar. Once cooking at speed, the G 550 handles a corner or two well, considering its size and weight, but it definitely prefers long sweepers to tight switchbacks—and it lets you know it.

The Wrangler Rubicon is impressive in its own way. Just opening the door sets the expectation that the new Wrangler is a league above the old. Gone are the shiny, rock-hard plastics, replaced with high-quality materials and a cabin you no longer needing excuses. No excuses are necessary for the way it drives, either. Its eTorque 2.0-liter turbo I-4 is down 14 hp from the standard V-6, but its extra 35 lb-ft of torque make the Wrangler feel spritely. Even better, its small electric motor helps provide light power assist when cruising, smooths power delivery, and improves fuel economy. “The eTorque mild-hybrid is worth the $1,000 extra,” Ogbac said. “It has lots of power and torque on tap, passing on the highway is easy, and the eight-speed automatic pairs well with quick, smooth shifts.”

While the Mercedes-Benz and Jeep have matured greatly, the Lexus LX 570 has aged a bit. Updated with a new nose and an eight-speed automatic in 2015, the LX still rides on essentially the same platform with basically the same engine from its 2007 debut.  It feels it. Despite making a healthy amount of horsepower, the LX’s big V-8 feels neutered by its transmission; it’s geared tall and also programmed to get to eighth gear and stay there. The ride is hit or miss, too. While cruising down the highway, the LX rides phenomenally; however, there’s a huge amount of body roll when cornering and a preposterous amount of brake dive on every stop.

We were a bit surprised by the LX’s road manners, but not by the Land Rover Discovery’s. The Discovery is a smooth sailor. Thanks to its four-corner air suspension, its ride is composed through corners yet cushy on rough patches of pavement. The Disco’s V-6 is punchy and quite fun, Cortina said, driving more like a sporty, luxurious crossover than the rest of our pack.

After a long day eating pavement, we pulled into Bishop. We were itching to hit the trail in the morning.

The Flats

The Coyote Flat trail starts on the outskirts of that small town in the shadows of the Sierras, whereupon the scenery quickly transitions from trees to desert sagebrush. The trail then snakes steeply up Round Mountain—starting as loose sand that hardens and eventually transforms into big, slippery shale so pockmarked by erosion that it felt like driving through an artillery range.

It’s the kind of trail that lulls you into complacency before snapping you out of it by tossing your rear end sideways. I (over)confidently started in the Jeep in two-wheel drive—until I hit a patch of deep, loose rock on a hairpin that sent me sliding toward a 100-foot vertical drop. With Jeep halted and heart started, I used four-wheel drive from then on.

As we neared the flat, winding our way up through the timber, we had to deal with water crossings, muddy passes, and more steep rock climbs as we approached our campsite. It’s the best of the Golden State’s wilderness in a tidy 20-mile climb into the Sierra Nevada.

From the start, our four off-roaders displayed their disparate feats and foibles.

For a just-redesigned vehicle, the Wrangler feels pure old school. Cliff slide aside, it had a pretty easy time dealing with the first half of the trail. Its tires gave it a huge grip advantage. Once the rear axle started hopping around searching for traction, four-high engaged quickly with a pull of a lever. The Jeep’s body control was especially impressive considering it’s the only vehicle of our four to forgo adaptive shock absorbers.

The G 550 was having a pretty easy time, too. It offered a commanding view over the hood and fenders and a full-time four-wheel-drive system that was initially unchallenged. It was also smart enough to quickly figure out it was off-road, helpfully displaying off-road info on the center display and priming its suspension for more challenging conditions.

In contrast to its ungainly manners on the freeway, the LX 570 was pleasant crawling in the dirt. The brake dive, body roll, and ever-hunting transmission all seem cured of their ills at low off-road speeds. The suspension’s ability to soak up impacts before transferring them to the driver’s seat was particularly impressive. There’s still room for improvement; like off-roaders of yesteryear, the Lexus’ steering wheel violently seesaws from left to right as it deals with obstacles. (Be sure to keep your thumbs on the rim of the steering wheel and not inside its arc.)

The Discovery was impressive in how straightforward it was. Rather than fiddling with its terrain selection features, we left it in auto and let the Disco’s computers sort things out for us. Pulling up the off-road displays in the Land Rover’s fussy infotainment system gave us two mirror-mounted cameras allowing us to properly place the front wheels; another screen allowed us to watch the Discovery lock its center and rear differentials and adjust its suspension in real time. “I really like the way the Land Rover’s four-wheel-drive system works,” Cortina said. “It seemed like the system was reading the terrain ahead and never experienced any loss of traction despite its street tires.”

That was, until we punctured one such street tire.


Flat tires never happen at a convenient time. This couldn’t be more the case in our situation. Eleven miles into our expedition, Cortina and the Discovery were straddling a stream on the middle of a steep grade.

With some help, he babied the stricken Land Rover down to a relatively level clearing so we could survey the damage.

The tire wasn’t just flat—it was straight-up destroyed. A sharp rock went directly through the sidewall of the right-rear mud/snow-rated all-season tire.

I’d like to tell you that this was a quick tire change, but it took an embarrassingly long time. Whether it was altitude, stress, or impatience, I couldn’t tell you—but I’ve never seen my co-workers as dejected as they were when we finally lowered the Discovery’s spare tire from its perch only to discover it was a space-saving donut. The Discovery’s day was done. We swapped on the “tire,” transferred our gear, and abandoned ship.

We’d burned an hour and a half changing the Discovery’s tire—and worse still, we were behind schedule and racing daylight. Tough times give people a chance to shine. In our case, it gave the three SUVs we had left a chance to really prove their worth as we scrambled up the trail.

From the abandoned Land Rover to our eventual campsite, the trail got exceedingly more challenging. Here, finally, were our multiple water crossings, muddy ascents, and off-camber climbs so narrow that the LX would ultimately return with pinstripes down its flanks.

It was the Lexus that felt most out of its element up here. As we climbed in altitude and the trail deteriorated underneath us, the LX started to struggle. Its naturally aspirated V-8 began to gasp in the thinner air, and its tall transmission tuning was doing it no favors. It became an unspoken group challenge to resist the mechanical advantages of using low range, but I was first to succumb while behind the wheel of the LX.

Low range woke up the Lexus somewhat and had the added bonus of activating both its Multi-Terrain Select and Crawl Control systems. The latter was especially helpful while climbing narrow, steep, loose grades. “The best part of the Lexus’ Crawl Control system is the Turn Assist feature,” Ogbac said, speaking of the system that drags the inside rear tire when turning, effectively letting the Lexus pivot on its axis. “It makes this behemoth more maneuverable.”

Although Lexus uses electronics to make the LX feel more like horse than hippo, Mercedes uses them to make its brick fly. On the rare wide-open sections of the trail, the G 550 drove like a miniaturized Ford Raptor—floating over all but the toughest obstacles at high speeds, with the braking power to slow down in a hurry for technical stretches. Racing on the open stretches became a game of sorts—mostly because the Benz could be a bit frustrating in technical parts. Its fixed 40/60 power split became a liability here— separated from the group exploring a (not so) shortcut, I suddenly found myself staring at the sky, with a 6-foot rock wall looming on both sides of me—the G-Wagen straining for traction against the slick rock.

Every dip into the throttle brought the passenger side (and $6,500 paint job) ever closer to the wall. I needed grip. Badly. I shifted into neutral, stabbed the 4-Low switch, and … nothing. I slowly rolled the Benz back with gravity as I held my breath. Four-low engaged. I locked the center differential and tried again. The G leapt about a foot to the right. Now I had literal inches before I’d have to make an apologetic call to Mercedes. I engaged the rear diff, stomped on the brake and gas, and slowly lifted off the brake. Finally, I cleared the gauntlet. Some shortcut that turned out to be.

Why does Mercedes hate America? In Europe, simply hitting the G-Wagen’s center-differential switch gets you equal power going to the front and rear wheels without skipping a beat. For reasons that are beyond us, U.S.-market G-Wagens must be in low range to engage any of the G-Wagen’s mechanical differentials. Shifting into four-low takes longer than in the Lexus or Jeep; the neutral detent in its shifter is easy to miss, and the electronic shift mechanism is just plain slow. By the time you’re in four-low, any forward momentum you had is likely gone. If you didn’t need to lock the differentials before, you do now.

The Jeep is the Apple to the Benz’s Microsoft; it couldn’t be easier to operate. For those with zero off-road experience, the Rubicon is capable enough to just set and forget in four-high. But even those with little mechanical understanding will quickly be able to figure out how to lock the Jeep’s differentials (frustratingly, also only in low range) if necessary or toggle the “Sway Bar Disconnect” button. The latter feature is one we made good use of on the trail. The disconnecting the anti-roll bar does two things: It significantly increases front-axle articulation, helping your tires maintain contact with the ground, and as a bonus, it significantly improves low-speed ride quality. Even cooler is that after you press the disconnect button, the mechanism will automatically reconnect the bar once you exceed 20 mph then disconnect it again when you drop below 15 mph, meaning the driver can focus on the road (or lack thereof) rather than pondering, “What systems do I have activated?” in the cabin.


The sun was beginning to dip below the horizon as we crested 10,000 feet and found a level clearing to set up camp. We tucked the Jeep, Mercedes, and Lexus in among the trees and began to unpack. Each off-roader was packed to the gills with gear, tents, and food, but some used their space more efficiently than others.

The Lexus’ surprisingly plasticky cabin was comfortable but not user-friendly; buttons littered the front half of the cabin, and even with the third-row seats deleted, the smaller-than-expected cargo area was hard to access due to its tailgate.

The Benz had some similar issues. Although its cabin was more efficiently laid out, we were bummed that its rear seats didn’t fold flat, making unloading around the bulky folded seats difficult.

On paper, the Wrangler’s cargo capacity comes up short. But we found it used its space more efficiently thanks to fold-flat rear seats and its modular seat back and swing-gate storage systems.

As for the Discovery—well, it wasn’t there.

Even in late August, the Sierras at altitude get damn chilly after dark. With a roaring fire defying the encroaching night and our luxurious spread of hotdogs and boil-in-bag meals at hand, we grabbed a drink and sat down. Our talk inevitably turned to the cars. To say we were bummed the Land Rover didn’t make it is an understatement.

“Up until the tire went flat, the Discovery was unexpectedly impressive,” Woodard said. “It looks like a regular crossover, but raise the suspension, and it’s ready to play. You don’t even have to select an off-road mode. Auto handled everything. It was like off-roading for dummies.”

Yet there’s no getting around the fact that the G 550, LX 570, and Wrangler were sitting in the shadows next to us while the Land Rover was abandoned a dozen miles down the trail.

“It’s a shame that Land Rover doesn’t offer off-road tires; this experience proves how vital tires are,” Cortina said. Although a customer could buy off-road tires from a third party, it doesn’t change the fact that this Discovery fresh from the showroom floor couldn’t complete our test, and we agreed it earned a DNF. A Discovery equipped with standard 19- or even optional 20-inch tires might have fared better, but off-road, you’re only as strong as your weakest link.

As disappointed as we were with the Discovery, we were pleased with the Lexus after its performance that day. The old dog may have been just that on the road, but it proved a dogged climber on Coyote Flat Trail. “As challenging as that trail was, the Lexus deserves credit for never letting us down. It was too big for the surroundings, but even on the mildest of truck tires, it never struggled,” Woodard said. The LX made it up the trail, but it left us wanting for more refinement.

The G-Class and Wrangler were both quite good on the road and even better off it. Woodard made an argument for the G. “Despite having the aerodynamic properties of a cement block, it drove like a crossover on the highway,” he said. “The fact that it did everything the Wrangler did off-road, on tires with street-oriented tread, is impressive.”

Impressive, yes, but so is the Jeep, Ogbac pointed out. “This thing will make you feel like a hero off the beaten path,” he said before praising its punchy little four-pot. G-Wagen defender Woodard also had to give the Jeep praise. “It is hard to overstate how easily the Wrangler handled the trail,” he admitted. Surprise, surprise, a Jeep is good off-road—but it’s civilized and refined on pavement, too.

When it’s this close, it ultimately comes down to whose flaws you could forgive. On a day-to-day basis we’d grow tired of the G-Wagen’s function-follows-form cabin and its inefficient cargo area. On the trail, we were frustrated by the boneheaded decision to make the differentials, in particular the center, lock only in four-low—and they’re finicky to boot.

As for the Jeep, it’s quite simple—it’s finally as good to drive on the road as it is off it. It’s not only the most capable off-roader we have parked up at camp with us, but it’s arguably also the most capable and approachable off-roader ever offered from an automaker to civilians.


It was a restless night. Some say it was the cold. Others say it was Ogbac honking the LX’s horn at some ungodly hour when he crawled into it for warmth.

It didn’t matter. We were happy to have hot coffee, happy with our rankings, and looking forward to rescuing the Discovery.

Mountaineers say the hardest part of summiting is getting back down. And we were thankful for the capability of the Jeep, Mercedes, and Lexus on the steep descent.

A few hours later—dealing with frequent opposite-way traffic on the narrow trail—we rendezvoused with our disabled Discovery. I volunteered to drive it off the mountain. We aired down its tires in hopes that we wouldn’t lose another one and put it between the Jeep and Mercedes in our convoy. If worst came to worst, the Wrangler and G-Wagen would drag me down the mountain.

Getting down a trail on a donut is something I never want to do again. Every obstacle, every river crossing, every rock—torture. Keenly aware of my situation, I drove in four-low, doing my best to arrest my speed and fight gravity as we navigated downhill. It wasn’t ideal—there were a few close calls as the Rover slid sideways—but the Discovery eventually limped across the finish line.

As we broke out our air compressor to air the Land Rover’s tires back to proper pressure, we discovered that my efforts had failed—there was a deep gash in another one of the Discovery’s street tires. If we hadn’t aired down, I have no doubt we would have had to break out the tow ropes.

When traveling to remote areas, it’s important to be prepared. Thankfully, our winner gave us all the tools we needed from the get-go. The Wrangler is the one we all wanted to drive to escape civilization, but it’s also the one we wanted when it came time to rejoin it.

DNF: 2018 Land Rover Discovery—A tech tour de force brought down by the factory’s choice of tires.

3rd Place: 2018 Lexus LX 570—Its old Land Cruiser roots shine through off-road. Unfortunately, they show on-road, too.

2nd Place: 2019 Mercedes-Benz G 550—Faithfully lives up to its G-Wagen badge, but just a bit too complex for its own good.

1st Place: 2018 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon—The ultimate no-compromises off-roader, and worthy on-pavement, as well.

2018 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4×4 2018 Land Rover Discovery HSE Si6 2018 Lexus LX 570 2019 Mercedes-Benz G 550 4Matic DRIVETRAIN LAYOUT Front-engine, 4WD Front-engine, 4WD Front-engine, 4WD Front-engine, 4WD ENGINE TYPE Turbocharged I-4, alum block/head Supercharged 90-deg V-6, alum block/heads 90-deg V-8, alum block/heads Twin-turbo 90-deg V-8, alum block/heads VALVETRAIN DOHC, 4 valves/cyl DOHC, 4 valves/cyl DOHC, 4 valves/cyl DOHC, 4 valves/cyl DISPLACEMENT 121.7 cu in/1,995 cc 182.8 cu in/2,995 cc 345.6 cu in/5,663 cc 243.0 cu in/3,982 cc COMPRESSION RATIO 10.0:1 10.5:1 10.2:1 10.5:1 POWER (SAE NET) 270 hp @ 5,250 rpm 340 hp @ 6,500 rpm 383 hp @ 5,600 rpm 416 hp @ 5,250 rpm TORQUE (SAE NET) 295 lb-ft @ 3,000 rpm 332 lb-ft @ 3,500 rpm 403 lb-ft @ 3,600 rpm 450 lb-ft @ 2,250 rpm REDLINE 5,800 rpm 6,800 rpm 5,800 rpm 6,300 rpm WEIGHT TO POWER 17.6 lb/hp 16.1 lb/hp 15.7 lb/hp 13.6 lb/hp TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic 8-speed automatic 8-speed automatic 9-speed automatic AXLE/FINAL-DRIVE/LOW RATIOS 4.10:1/2.75:1/4.00:1 3.73:1/2.49:1/2.93:1 3.31:1/2.22:1/2.62:1 3.45:1/2.07:1/00.0:1 SUSPENSION, FRONT; REAR Live axle, coil springs, adj anti-roll bar; live axle, coil springs, adj anti-roll bar Multilink, air springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, air springs, anti-roll bar Control arms, coil and hydraulic springs; multilink, coil and hydraulic springs Control arms, Multilink, coil springs, adj shocks anti-roll bar; live axle, coil springs, adj shocks STEERING RATIO 15.6:1 17.6:1 14.2-17.6:1 18.2-12.5:1 TURNS LOCK-TO-LOCK 3.2 2.8 2.6 2.6 BRAKES, F; R 12.9-in vented disc; 13.4-in disc, ABS 14.2-in vented disc; 13.8-in vented disc, ABS 13.9-in vented disc; 13.6-in vented disc, ABS 13.9-in vented disc; 13.6-in vented disc, ABS WHEELS 7.5 x 17-in cast aluminum 8.5 x 20-in cast aluminum 8.5 x 20-in cast aluminum 8.5 x 20-in cast aluminum TIRES 285/70R17 (M+S) BF Goodrich Bojo Champion All-Tarrain T/A K02 275/45R21 110W (M+S) Goodyear Eagle F7 SUV 4×4 285/50R20 112V (M+S) Dunlop Grandtrek PT2A 275/50R20 113V (M+S) Pirelli Scorpion Zero DIMENSIONS WHEELBASE 118.4 in 115.1 in 112.2 in 113.8 in TRACK, F/R 62.9/62.9 in 66.6/66.4 in 65.0/65.0 in 64.5/64.5 in LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 188.4 x 73.8 x 73.6 in 195.7 x 81.6 x 73.46 in 200.0 x 78.0 x 75.2 in 189.7 x 76.0 x 77.2 in GROUND CLEARANCE 10.8 in 11.14 in 8.9 in 9.5 in APPRCH/DEPART ANGLE 43.9/37.0 deg 29.5/25 deg 25-27/20-23 deg 30.9/29.9 deg TURNING CIRCLE 39.4 ft 40.4 ft 38.7 ft 44.6 ft CURB WEIGHT 4,755 lb 5,463 lb 6,009 lb 5,665 lb WEIGHT DIST, F/R 52/48% 48/52% 52/48% 53/47% TOWING CAPACITY 3,500 lb 8,201 lb 7,000 lb 7,000 lb SEATING CAPACITY 5 7 8 5 HEADROOM, F/R 40.7/40.2 in 39.4/39.0/37.9 in 38.3/38.9/35.8 in 41.9/40.5 in LEGROOM, F/R 41.2/38.3 in 39.1/37.6/33.5 in 42.9/34.4/28.3 in 38.7/ 39.5 in SHOULDER ROOM, F/R 55.7/55.7 in 60.4/59.5/47.1 in 61.0/59.1/62.3 in 57.8/ 57.4 in CARGO VOLUME BEH F/R 72.4/31.7 cu ft cu ft 82.7/45.0/9.1 cu ft 9.1/24.8/44.7 cu ft 68.5/38.1 cu ft TEST DATA ACCELERATION TO MPH 0-30 2.6 sec 2.2 sec 2.3 sec 2.0 sec 0-40 4.1 3.4 3.6 3.0 0-50 5.8 4.6 5.1 4.1 0-60 8.0 6.4 7.0 5.4 0-70 10.7 8.1 9.3 7.0 0-80 14.7 10.6 11.9 9.0 0-90 — 13.3 15.0 11.4 0-100 — 16.8 — PASSING, 45-65 MPH 4.4 3.3 3.8 2.7 QUARTER MILE 16.2 sec @ 83.2 mph 14.8 sec @ 94.7 mph 15.3 sec @ 90.8 mph 14.1 sec @ 98.4 mph BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 145 ft 116 ft 126 ft 136 ft LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.68 g (avg) 0.69 g (avg) 0.73 g (avg) 0.61 g (avg) MT FIGURE EIGHT 29.9 sec @ 0.56 g (avg) 29.2 sec @ 0.57 g (avg) 28.3 sec @ 0.59 g (avg) 30.7 sec @ 0.53 g (avg) TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH 1,750 rpm 1,700 rpm 1,500 rpm 1,400 rpm CONSUMER INFO BASE PRICE $42,940 $66,485 $86,375 $125,495 PRICE AS TESTED $55,400 $80,210 $86,375 $145,265 (est) STABILITY/TRACTION CONTROL Yes/Yes Yes/Yes Yes/Yes Yes/Yes AIRBAGS 4: Dual front, front side 7: Dual front, front side, f/r curtain, driver knee Dual front, f/m side, f/m/r/head, front knee 8: Dual front, front head, f/r curtain, front knee BASIC WARRANTY 3 yrs/36,000 miles 4 yrs/50,000 miles 4 yrs/50,000 miles 4 yrs/50,000 miles POWERTRAIN WARRANTY 5 yrs/60,000 miles 4 yrs/50,000 miles 5 yrs/70,000 miles 4 yrs/50,000 miles ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE 5 yrs/60,000 miles 4 yrs/50,000 miles 6 yrs/Unlimited miles 4 yrs/50,000 miles FUEL CAPACITY 21.5 gal 23.5 gal 24.6 gal 26.4 gal EPA CITY/HWY/COMB ECON 22/24/22 mpg 16/21/18 mpg 13/18/15 mpg Not Yet Rated ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 153/140 kW-hrs/100 miles 211/160 kW-hrs/100 miles 259/187 kW-hrs/100 miles Not Yet Rated CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 0.85 lb/mile 1.08 lb/mile 1.31 lb/mile Not Yet Rated RECOMMENDED FUEL Unleaded premium Unleaded premium Unleaded premium Unleaded premium

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2019 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth Track Drive: The Scorpion Turns 70

Sat, 11/17/2018 - 4:00am

One wrong step in the Mojave Desert can bring you within striking distance of a scorpion. This is something I know all too well.  One recently followed me around at Honda’s desert proving ground with its arms raised and its beady eyes staring like it wanted me for dinner. Could you imagine coming face-to-face with one weighing 2,500 pounds?

Fortunately, I don’t mean one of those giant arachnids from a ’50s sci-fi movie. But rather, my encounter was with the much sleeker 2019 Fiat 124 Spider, decked out in Abarth’s famous red and yellow scorpion logo.

The Abarth emblem was inspired by Carlo Abarth’s astrological sign—Scorpio. For 70 years it’s been intimidating competitors in its various incarnations as a race car and performance road-car builder, as a demon tuner, and since 1971, a symbol of adrenaline-addled Fiats.

In commemoration of Abarth’s seven decades, Fiat invited us out to the Mojave’s best 1.55 miles of asphalt designed for determining handling and cornering prowess and faults—the Streets of Willow road course—for some laps in the 124 Spider Abarth (as well as a Fiat 500 Abarth) under the tutelage of the friendly Skip Barber Racing School. With a heart full of excitement, I stepped into the Spider without hesitation.

Prior to transforming into its Abarth form, the base 124 Spider is already an excellent sports car. A 23andMe test would find that most of its DNA has been replicated from the spritely Mazda MX-5 (it’s even manufactured in Hiroshima). However, don’t let that information fool you. Although it shares a similar foundation, the 124’s 160-hp 1.4-liter turbocharged heartbeat, handling poise, and coachwork couture are all-Italia.

To explain its Scorpion details, Daniel Fry, the Fiat 500 vehicle development engineering manager for North America, walked us around the 124 Spider Abarth before setting us loose on the track.

Give me Sport mode

Car journalism 101: The first thing to do is select Sport mode. In the case of the Abarth, Fry says, it “quickens acceleration response, changes [the automatic’s] shift points and quickness, and turns up [the manual’s] boost.” Plus, it slides the 184-lb-ft torque peak down from 3,200 rpm to 2,500 rpm for better acceleration exiting the corners. To me, acceleration felt instant. The throttle was significantly more responsive, and steering had better precision than before. It made it very easy to maneuver spiritedly through corners. And on the notorious L.A. freeways, gliding around traffic as to not miss the oncoming exit proved to be an effortless task. In its default drive mode, the 124 was already a fun car, but Sport mode makes the drive more engaging and zippy. Like adding jalapenos to a burger, it gives it that extra kick that allows it to surpass its already glorious experience without overwhelming you.

Ever heard a scorpion growl?

Sound plays a key role in the way many of us experience driving. There are some cars that you want to be a quiet, elegant ride and others that need to roar. This edition of the 124 Spider Abarth features an available Record Monza exhaust, which adjusts exhaust tone and flow in response to driving dynamics and engine load.

I first heard it as I slithered through the autocross course with a Skip Barber instructor riding shotgun. Just idling, it sounded majestic, but on the course its real growl properly emerged—a stunning aria that sounds like the aggressive howl of a beast right before it attacks. The Record Monza exhaust runs an additional $995 on top of the $30,535 base price, but I believe it’s more than worth its price tag.

As a back-to-back, I went out again in a 124 sans Monza exhaust, and it was so quiet that it sounded dull—an acoustic 180 that significantly diminished my initial excitement to drive. Safe to say, this one needs to roar.

Veleno Appearance Group

In addition to its ferocious snarl, the 124 Abarth also has an aggressive look that truly distinguishes it from the tamer Classica and Lusso models. Veleno, which translates to “poison,” symbolizes the iconic Abarth scorpion, and this exclusive appearance group ($495) gives the Scorpion a unique exoskeleton that goes hand in hand with the Monza Exhaust. This option includes a bright footrest, Abarth-branded carpeted mats, red exterior mirror caps, a red lower fascia lip, and a red front tow hook. These pops of red provide a beautiful contrast against the neutral exterior colors, which include Puro White Tri-Coat Pearl, Brillante White, Forte Black Metallic, and Chiaro Silver Metallic. As for the interior, the two options include Nero (black) or Nero/Rosso (black/red). On the track, the 124s with this option significantly stood out from the crowd. And when it was “first come, first served” to choose which 124 to lap around the track, I was always immediately drawn in by the poison.

Sharp handling

In conjunction with lapping Streets of Willow, Fiat and Skip Barber ran us around a skidpad and autocross course, where I was most struck by two things: the 124’s minimal body roll around the racetrack and autocross (compared to the Mazda version) and its electric power-assist steering’s responsiveness, which made for some pretty quick recoveries on the skidpad.

Simply put, if you wanted the car to follow an intended course, that’s exactly where it took you. The Skip Barber instructors were very thorough in providing us with the necessary protocols should we find ourselves spinning out or losing control. However, there was no point in time when I felt uneasy with the 124’s handling capabilities, which made it a very predictable and continuous drive. I asked instructor Terry Earwood how to improve my skills on the skidpad. “Buy a 124,” he said. Good comeback.

Smooth shifting

Like a lot of Gen Zs, I haven’t grown up driving many manual transmissions. But the Spider’s light effort and short-throw shifter quickly made me more confident, as did the easy-to-engage clutch—an important point for a relatively short girl like me.

The whole car is like this. It builds your confidence almost instantaneously. With every new corner and straightaway, it makes you comfortable to test yourself that much more. It begs you to try harder and explore your capabilities and limits, as well as those of the car. I admired the natural feel of this manual transmission, which fooled me into believing I had been driving this car for years rather than one day. You forget the shifter is its own entity and not an extension of your own arm.

There are bound to be skeptics who protest that the Abarth version of the 124 Spider offers no significant increase in performance over the base model. In that case, they would be right—and wrongish, too. It’s true that this scorpion doesn’t deliver a gut-wrenching sting that would send you to the hospital. However, it’s a genuinely built sports car that succeeds in being both fun and affordable.

I can only hope to have this much fun on my own 70th birthday.

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BMW 330e Plug-In Hybrid Returns With 50 Percent More EV Range

Fri, 11/16/2018 - 8:26pm

When we first drove the 2016 BMW 330e, we came away impressed with how much the plug-in hybrid felt like a regular 3 Series. Well, a regular 3 Series with way more torque. Even with a tiny 14-mile range when running on electricity alone, the 330e showed that hybrids can actually be pretty fun to drive. And now that BMW’s redesigned the 3 Series, the 330e is back, looking more appealing than ever.

Perhaps the most important thing to know about the BMW 330e is that its EV range is now 50 percent better than before. Battery size is up from 8.8 to 12 kWh, which BMW says is enough to drive 37 miles (60 km) on a single charge. European range tests tend to be extremely generous, though, so when the EPA tests the 330e, expect that number to drop to about 21 miles. Still, that’s enough to allow most commuters to get to work without using a drop of gasoline.

But the electric motor can do more than maximize fuel economy. BMW also used it to give the 330e a temporary power boost. When needed, the motor can add an extra 40 hp, bringing the system total to 288 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque. According to BMW, that’s enough to launch from 0-60 mph in less than 6 seconds. Top speed is 143 mph. In EV mode, top speed drops to 87 mph.

In addition to the battery and electric motor, the 330e gets its power from a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, while power goes to the rear wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission. BMW says the 330e will also be available with almost every option the regular 3 Series gets. In addition to having your choice of colors and leather upholstery, that means you can also add the adaptive M suspension, sports steering, and M sport brakes.

BMW has yet to announce pricing or an on-sale date in the U.S., but considering how promising the new 3 Series prototype felt, we’re looking forward to getting our hands on this hybrid. As long as it doesn’t get too pricey, it sounds like a great way to have some responsible fun.

Source: BMW

The post BMW 330e Plug-In Hybrid Returns With 50 Percent More EV Range appeared first on Motor Trend.

Refreshing or Revolting: 2020 Toyota Corolla Sedan

Fri, 11/16/2018 - 6:00pm

The Toyota Corolla hatchback returned to the U.S. market earlier this year, bringing with it a sleek exterior design, modern interior, and all the benefits that come with the TNGA platform. Now, Toyota has taken that car and tweaked its body to create the 2020 Corolla sedan. With the obvious exception of the trunk, the Corolla sedan looks a lot like its hatchback sibling. But how does it compare to the car it replaces? Take a look below and decide for yourself.

Up front, the 2020 Corolla sedan looks pretty close to the hatch, wearing similar angular headlights and a wide-open lower intake area covered by black mesh. The sedan moves its Toyota emblem out of the grille and onto the piece just before the hood. The outgoing Corolla sedan was last refreshed for the 2017 model year, which brought an equally gaping mesh lower valance and more creases and vents in the front bumper.

When viewed from the side, the front end remains the biggest distinguishing feature between the new and old sedan. The new Corolla has a more natural slope to its C-pillar, and the greenhouse shape is less angular than before. Thanks to the TNGA switch, the 2020 Corolla sheds 0.8 inch in height and has a hood that’s 1.8 inches lower, which lowers the beltline compared to its predecessor. Top trim levels get the 18-inch alloy wheels seen here, which are lifted straight from the Corolla hatch.

The rear end is much more conservative than the front, but there are a few details that help it stand out. Perhaps due to the 0.9-inch wider rear track, the new model looks more planted than before with rear fenders that bow out ever so slightly. The taillights have been redesigned, but rather than make a statement like those on the Camry or Avalon, these are just kind of there. We like them better than the old Corolla’s notched lamps, but they’re not terribly distinctive. To help offset that plainness, there’s a black lip spoiler for the trunklid, a rear bumper with black mesh valance and faux-diffuser, and dual exhaust tips. This is a sportier XSE model though, so keep in mind that not all Corolla sedans will get the same exterior treatment.

Inside, the 2020 Corolla sedan looks nearly identical to the hatch, using the same Avalon-derived dashboard design and free-standing Entune 3.0 touchscreen. Given this development, the dash is much less cluttered than the one on the old Corolla since most of the controls are now consolidated in the infotainment screen. The cockpit also looks more open now that the center console no longer connects to the dash.

So how does the 2020 Toyota Corolla sedan compare to its predecessor in the styling department? Tell us in the comments on Facebook.

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Hyundai, Jaguar Top 2019 IntelliChoice Certified Pre-Owned Car Awards

Fri, 11/16/2018 - 5:30pm

Hyundai and Jaguar beat the competition in IntelliChoice’s 20th annual Certified Pre-Owned Car Awards this week. With the awards in its 20th year, Hyundai won in the Popular category while Jaguar earned top scores in the Premium category.

IntelliChoice, a MotorTrend Group subsidiary, evaluates manufacturers’ certified pre-owned vehicle programs in nine areas for its CPO Car Awards: warranty coverage, inspection criteria, title verification, roadside assistance, special financing, return and exchange policies, dealer compliance, used cost of ownership, and market penetration. A total of 24 manufacturer-backed programs were analyzed in two different categories—Popular and Premium—based on market position and pricing of their vehicles. This year’s study looked at 12 Popular and 12 Premium programs.

IntelliChoice praised Hyundai for its “excellent warranty coverage coupled with a more consistent offering of special incentive financing over their competitors.” Jaguar is a return winner, having taken the same award in 2016. This year, Jaguar won because of its strong warranty program and consistently high marks in all other weighted areas.

In addition to the overall awards, IntelliChoice gave out awards in the Popular and Premium categories for best warranty and used ownership costs. Kia won the Best Popular Warranty Award with its 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain coverage and 1-year/12,000-mile platinum comprehensive coverage. In the Premium segment, Lexus snagged the warranty award for its L/Certified Limited Warranty offering six years of coverage with no mileage cap. General Motors swept the Used Ownership Costs Awards, with mainstream GM brands taking the award in the Popular category and Cadillac winning for the Premium segment.

Check out IntelliChoice’s page on MotorTrend for more info.

Source: IntelliChoice

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2019 Kia K900 Priced From $60,895

Fri, 11/16/2018 - 4:00pm

After a year-long hiatus, the Kia K900 is back with an updated exterior and interior design, new technologies, and the 3.3-liter engine from the Stinger. But with all these improvements,  you also get a much higher starting price.

The 2019 Kia K900 is priced from $60,895, according to the official configurator. With this price, the K900 is still less expensive than the 2019 Acura RLX, which goes from $62,895. But it’s a huge price jump from the last K900 that Kia offered.

The 2017 Kia K900 started at just $50,850. Note that rear-wheel drive was standard instead of the rear-biased all-wheel-drive system that’s standard on the new model.

Kia streamlined the K900 line, moving it slightly upmarket. Instead of the V6 Premium, V6 Luxury, and V8 Luxury trims, Kia is now offering a single Luxury model with the new V-6 engine replacing the 3.8-liter V-6. On the generous list of standard features, you’ll find quilted Nappa leather seats, rear seat heaters, 64-color interior ambient lighting, a 9.7-inch head-up display, and rear seat ski pass through opening. Very few options are available, the main one being the VIP Package. Priced at $4,000, this package brings ventilated rear seats, a 12.3-inch full LCD TFT instrument cluster, rear wireless phone charging, tri-zone climate control, and more.

Source: Kia

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2020 Toyota Corolla Sedan: 10 Things to Know

Fri, 11/16/2018 - 3:10pm

When we last tested a Toyota Corolla, we found it slow and outdated. It wasn’t a bad car, though. Just badly in need of a redesign. Well, the long-awaited redesign is finally here, and we have to say, we like what we see. If you’re interested in the 2020 Toyota Corolla when it goes on sale next spring, here’s what you need to know.

Ban that Bloat

While cars tend to get bigger with each redesign, Toyota chose to keep the new Corolla’s wheelbase the same at 106.3 inches. The engineering team widened the track to improve handling, but the roof is 0.8 inch lower than it is on the outgoing Corolla, the front overhang is 1.3 inches shorter, and the center of gravity is now 0.4 inch lower.

Small but Spacious

The 2020 Corolla’s roofline may be lower, but Toyota promises there’s still plenty of headroom. Expect a front seat with an improved driving position and a spacious rear seat with more than enough legroom for passengers.

Way More Power

The current Corolla’s 1.8-liter I-4 only makes 132 hp and 128 lb-ft of torque, which makes it one of the slowest, least powerful cars in the segment. For 2020, the Corolla gets a 2.0-liter four-cylinder good for 169 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque. That’s 1 hp more than the same engine in the Corolla hatch.

Electrifying Fuel Economy

We don’t have many details at the moment, but Toyota says it plans to introduce a hybrid version of the new Corolla. Based on Toyota’s history with hybrids, expect the Corolla Hybrid to be the quickest version, as well as the most fuel-efficient.

Roll in Style

Base Corollas may get 16-inch steel wheels with hubcaps, but for the first time ever, you’ll be able to order yours with 18-inch wheels. They’re standard on SE and XSE trims, while the XLE gets 16-inch alloy wheels.

Shifting Gears

Most Corollas will come with a continuously variable transmission that uses a launch gear to take off from a stop more smoothly. But drivers who prefer to shift their own gears haven’t been left out. Toyota will also offer the Corolla with an optional six-speed manual transmission.

Quieter Ride

Toyota says it worked hard to make sure the 2020 Corolla was as quiet as possible, using several sound-absorbing materials to minimize powertrain and road noise. In addition to using thicker insulation and better seals, the engine is said to run quieter, as well.

Safety Standard

In addition to eight airbags, stability control, traction control, and anti-lock brakes, the 2020 Corolla comes with several more advanced safety features. That includes automatic emergency braking and lane departure alert.

Road Trip Convenience

Toyota also made adaptive cruise control with lane-centering steering assist standard on the new Corolla. Technically, it’s considered a safety feature, but it should make highway driving much more relaxing, too.

Tons More Technology

The new Corolla gets a 7.0-inch touchscreen (an 8.0-inch unit is optional) with Toyota’s latest infotainment system, Apple CarPlay support, Amazon Alexa integration, multiple USB ports, and available in-car WiFi. Higher trims also come with a nine-speaker, 800-watt JBL audio system.

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Toyota Gives Camry, Avalon the TRD Treatment

Fri, 11/16/2018 - 1:00pm

Toyota is expanding its TRD lineup in an unexpected way. The 2020 Toyota Camry TRD will arrive alongside a new Avalon TRD next year, and both will come with significant performance upgrades.

The models receive chassis tuning by Toyota Racing Development. Special shock absorbers, thicker underbody braces, and unique coil springs promise better body control and handling, as well as a 0.6-inch lower ride height. Meanwhile, the front brakes have been upgraded with larger 12.9-inch diameter rotors and dual-piston calipers.

2020 Toyota Camry TRD

Both TRD vehicles receive a familiar 3.6-liter V-6 engine making 301 hp. Thanks to a cat-back dual exhaust, that engine should sound more impressive than before. Like on standard Camrys and Avalons, the engine pairs to an eight-speed automatic transmission.

In the looks department, the Camry and Avalon TRD gain red brake calipers, 19-inch black wheels, TRD exhaust tips, and TRD badges. Supersonic Red, Windchill Pearl, Celestial Silver Metallic, and Midnight Black Metallic are your available color choices. Beyond that, an aerodynamic body kit adds a special front splitter, side aero skirts, a rear diffuser, and trunk lid spoiler. Inside either model, you’ll find red seatbelts and plenty of red stitching. A TRD-badged shift knob completes the look.

2020 Toyota Avalon TRD

The Avalon TRD and Camry TRD go on sale in fall 2019. Before that, the vehicles will debut at the L.A. Auto Show.

Source: Toyota

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2019 Lamborghini Urus Review (W/Video): The Age of Exploration

Fri, 11/16/2018 - 4:00am

The driver’s window was down long before he stopped next to me, so I rolled mine down. Clearly, he wanted to talk, but the driver stared at me a few seconds first. Then his eyebrows raised, but his face otherwise remained deadpan. Over the clatter of his diesel, finally: “Holy s–t.”

It was a common sentiment, if not always so eloquent. In a land where “Super Jeeps” like his—all 40-plus-inch tires and snaking snorkels up the windshield pillars—are a common sight, my Lamborghini Urus attracted as much attention as Ed Sheeran, who’d recently added a second night to his debut Icelandic performance due to popular demand (fun fact: Iceland has half the population of Vermont).

That it was, as far as I could tell, the only yellow vehicle on the island certainly contributed.

For an automaker looking to make a splash in the frigid North Atlantic, that’s reason enough for us to be here. Being the first X to do Y always gets attention, and Lamborghinis are all about attention. In a place where sports cars are nonexistent and luxury cars appear to be outnumbered by American heavy-duty pickups (seriously), the locals took up a nationwide game of “spot the Lamborghini” on Snapchat.

Lamborghini doesn’t have an Icelandic distributor, and it’s not because Iceland threw all the bankers in jail a few years ago for transgressions related to the Great Recession. There’s simply never been any good reason to import one. With a maximum national speed limit of 56 mph (90 kph) and more gravel roads than paved ones, it’s not supercar country. That the long, harsh winters wreak havoc on the roads they do have only reinforces the argument against it.

Why are we here, then, other than novelty? Because this is only the second time in the company’s history there’s a reason to be. And really, the first time around only resulted in 300-odd “Rambo Lambos” worldwide, so the likelihood of one making it out here was so low as to be inconsequential. The Urus, though, is predicted to double Lamborghini’s global sales, and it’s capable of doing that specifically because it’s designed for places Lamborghinis don’t go.

Places like this.

I wince at the thought of pulling a supercar onto a dirt shoulder. Getting it dirty is bad enough, but what if the edge of the pavement isn’t level with the dirt and I bottom out? It’s not something you think about when driving the Urus, or at least you shouldn’t. After all, it’s an SUV, and it shares its bones with the Bentley Bentayga, Porsche Cayenne, and Audi Q7, all of which have proven themselves capable off-roaders. Still, there’s a mental hurdle tall enough to require pole vaulting before you just wing it into the dirt.

Part of that is knowing the smallest wheels you can get on an Urus are 21 inches, and even the custom-made winter tires only have rubber band–thick 35-section sidewalls. The other part is knowing Iceland is composed entirely of lava rock, which might as well be called razor rock. I’d successfully compartmentalized such concerns for several hours before our Lamborghini support staff thought to mention his pickup didn’t have any spare tires in the back of it. I probably should’ve asked, or at least looked.

By that point, I’d been ripping up and down the long, winding dirt road to a remote campsite for more than an hour, crashing through deep potholes and powering up steep, narrow passes. In fact, I’m glad he waited to tell me, because by then I was confident the Pirelli Scorpion Winters were as tough as the rest of the vehicle.

It would’ve been easy enough to shred one if I was feeling masochistic. Just a bit of rock crawling would’ve done it—and busted up the lower half of the vehicle for good measure. Air suspension and a maximum of 9.8 inches of ground clearance be damned, the Urus is very clearly the Lamborghini of SUVs. The way it looks, the sound it makes, the way it slams gears in a straight line, they all make it very clear: The Urus is about being fast first and an off-roader second.

Which makes its off-road abilities that much more impressive, frankly. The third thing the Super Jeep driver asked me, after engine size and price, was how it was holding up in Iceland. “Oh, it’s fine,” I said. It was. By the time we met, I’d spent two days roaming the southwest corner of the island, banging down back roads over and over to make sure the videographer got the shot. We never needed a spare tire, or anything else but fuel, for that matter.

It wasn’t just sturdy, though. It was actually fun. When an automaker sends you to an off-road course, you can bet it’s been pre-run a dozen times to make sure the vehicle can handle it, if not deliberately designed to the vehicle’s capabilities. This time, though, Lamborghini didn’t ask where I was going, and I didn’t tell. If the Urus were nothing but a big, yellow mall crawler, it would’ve been obvious pretty quickly. Instead, it was a 641-hp, carbon-fiber WRX.

Even on studless snow tires, the grip impressed in the dirt. Each wheel digs in and goes, letting you drive it like a nose-heavy rally car. As we’ve reported previously, the Urus is incredibly stable off-road and doesn’t respond to Scandinavian flicks. It does push, though, if you muscle it into a corner, a relic of its Audi-derived, engine-forward layout. It’s easy enough to drive around. Finish your braking ahead of the corner, let the grip carry you through, and stand on the throttle when you unwind the wheel. The stability control’s “off-road” setting doesn’t let you get away with much, but the Urus is so completely predictable that you don’t worry at all about turning it off. Goose the throttle midcorner, and you can hang the tail out with good old-fashioned power oversteer, but it would really rather just go. Let up on the power just a little, and it comes right back in line and shoots you down the road.

Does a Lamborghini have any right to do that, though? Yes, actually. Really, Lamborghini is the only supercar builder with any historical claim to SUV heritage, and the Urus has more in common with the LM002 than you might think. The Urus is, of course, the first Lamborghini SUV since the LM, but it’s also the first Lamborghini with a front-mounted engine since the LM, the first four-seat Lamborghini since the LM, and the first V-8 Lamborghini since the LM001, the LM002’s prototype.

It’s also the first Lamborghini since the LM to require you to fiddle with a bunch of levers on the center console while you drive, though the functionality is a bit different. Manual transmission and transfer case shifters are out, lever-actuated electronics with sexy-sounding Italian names are in. I’m still not clear on whether “Tamburo” refers to a specific lever or all three together, but from left to right we have “Anima,” which changes the drive mode, “Reverse,” so cleverly disguised as a hand rest you’ll struggle to find it the first time, and “Ego,” which overrides Anima and loads your personal steering, damping, and drivetrain settings.

There are also levers behind the steering wheel, more commonly referred to as paddles. You’ll use them far more than you think, but only because pulling the one on the right is how you put the Urus in drive. The transmission doesn’t need your input otherwise.

Likewise, reverse will get the biggest workout back down on the Tamburo. Whether you use Anima or Ego more, or at all, depends on the driver. Knowing most of you will keep it on the street, Strada (street) is the default, then Sport and Corsa (race). For the adventurous, keep tugging at it, and you’ll get Sabbia (sand), Terra (dirt), and Neve (snow). Take a guess where Lamborghini expects to sell most of these.

Despite its mountainous terrain, Iceland isn’t suffering an abundance of great driving roads for its depressingly mundane speed limit to ruin. The best ones aren’t paved, which is its own sort of fun, but there are a few tarmac gems scattered here and there. The easternmost stretch of Route 435 near its terminus at Lake Thingvallavatn is the crown jewel. Sure, the twisty bit lasts only 3 or so miles and the best of it is the very last mile and a half, but what a hill climb it is. Climbing more than 1,000 vertical feet through craggy rocks and tufts of moss, it’s a thrilling string of high-speed yet technical corners with precious little guardrail to save what stability control can’t. The view from the top has to be seen to be believed.

Sport is all you really need on the street, but Corsa makes the exhaust sound so much better. Even on winter tires, the Urus has so much grip on pavement that you won’t give a second thought to the “ESC Corsa” message on the digital instrument cluster. Between the rear steering, the adaptive damping, adaptive anti-roll bars, and torque vectoring rear axle, you have to drive like an absolute maniac to get the ESC’s attention at all. Understeer is your primary spoiler, and it’s avoided the same way as on dirt: slow in, fast out. Weld the brake pedal to the floor, let the superlative 17.3-inch carbon-ceramics and their 10 binders each up front eradicate speed, then breeze through the corner and roll the throttle right back to the floor as soon as you pass the apex. The seemingly endless, nose-lifting thrust is accompanied by the best noise a factory-built twin-turbo V-8 has made yet, convincingly naturally aspirated in timbre and appropriately loud for super SUV, if not a supercar.

In the style of famous Italian explorers (Christopher Columbus, Amerigo Vespucci) following in the footsteps of criminally underappreciated Norse explorers before them (Erik the Red, Leif Erikson), Lamborghini has not discovered Iceland but instead opened it to the world of exotic automakers. Although others will follow, the Urus is the first because it is the only one that has any historic and functional right to be. Iceland does not tolerate automotive pretenders, and Lamborghini hasn’t built one.

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Celebrity Drive: Steve Darnell of “Vegas Rat Rods”

Fri, 11/16/2018 - 4:00am

Quick Stats: Steve Darnell, Discovery’s “Vegas Rat Rods”
Daily Driver: 1957 Chevy 210 (Steve’s rating: 10 on a scale of 1 to 10)
Other cars: See below
Favorite road trip: Vegas to Pomona
Car he learned to drive in: Old Ford and Chevy truck
First car bought: 1973 Datsun

A 1928 Dodge from his late grandfather started it all for Steve Darnell of Vegas Rat Rods.

“He was a World War II vet, he was a bad-ass, and he was the nicest guy on the planet. I rebuilt the car and I called it ‘The Destroyer’ because he was on a destroyer battleship and he did nine battles and he lived through two or three typhoons. I feel like such a wuss compared to what he went through as a young man at 22 years old.”

Inspired by his grandfather, Darnell dedicated the rat rod to him. “He was a pretty amazing guy, there’s a lot about him here at WelderUp and my life,” he says.

Even though Darnell has built many cars since then, the Destroyer remains WelderUp’s mascot. “It sits in my showroom and we have a lot of people who come to Vegas and … want to see that car,” he says.

This rat rod, a perfect 10 in Darnell’s eyes, epitomizes the world of fabricators and welders who want to channel their creativity into something automotive. Darnell says he’s built fantasy cars for professionals including doctors who drive Porsches during the day, but these rat rods induce a different effect.

“They jump in the front seat of this thing, and it just changes their whole way. They want to go out and do burnouts and piss people off a little bit, be somebody different for a minute,” he says. “And a lot of these are people going back in time of like, ‘Dude, my grandpa had one like that.’ We’re building out now an inspiration for all these kids and their dads. They’re all out building cars in their garages because of this TV show. I hear it every day, ‘You’ve inspired me and my kid to build a rat rod.’ We’re bringing families together, they’re out in the garage and they’re building stuff and it goes from something that looks like you’re a bad-ass to where it’s actually a family thing.”

Besides the WelderUp mascot car, Darnell has a few other favorites in his garage of about 30 cars, such as his 1957 Chevy 210.

1957 Chevy 210

Rating: 10

“What I like about it, is it’s drivable, it’s got a fuel injected motor in it. It’s turbocharged, it makes about 740 horses, it’s no joke,” Darnell says. “What I like about it is I can pull up next to somebody and they’re in their brand-new Camaro and Mustang and I [can smoke them]. That’s what makes it fun. It’s a sleeper.”

View this post on Instagram

The 57!!!

A post shared by Steve Darnell (@welderupvegas) on Mar 1, 2017 at 1:12pm PST

1968 Dodge Charger

Rating: 10

“I love it. It’s got a diesel engine in it, which doesn’t belong in the car, two superchargers, two turbos on it, sticking right through the hood, and the car is just insane,” he says about the Charger, which was built for a music video.

View this post on Instagram

Overcharged!! @fassfuelsystems

A post shared by Steve Darnell (@welderupvegas) on Nov 21, 2017 at 2:48pm PST

1930 Ford Model A sedan

Rating: 20

This Ford is like WelderUp’s own Trevi Fountain, drawing fans in for what it stands for, and a place they can toss coins for good wishes.

“My general manager, his little boy had cancer and I decided to do it right in the middle of our filming season the year before this one. We stopped the shop and I said, ‘I want to build a car about cancer.’ I built a car that literally looks like it has cancer in the front of the car and it just goes through the car, it’ll come out to being brand new,” Darnell says.

That’s a car Darnell had to set aside in its own area. “We’re like a family, so when you have a little boy who barely can talk, already dealing with this, it was a lot to go through as I built the car,” he says.

On a scale of 10, Darnell rates it off the charts with a 20, commenting on how each one motivates him in a different way.

“Every time I build one, I have to go into that place and live it. They’re all different to me. The motivation for most of my builds are something positive, even if it’s creepy.”

He says he’s built scary cars and over-the-top crazy fast cars, but this one is in a whole different place of its own because it’s dealing with a disease that kills people every day.

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Missed an episodes of #vegasratrods don't worry head over to the #DiscoveryGO !!!! #vegasratrods #cancersucks #welderup #vegas

A post shared by Steve Darnell (@welderupvegas) on Jun 13, 2017 at 9:19pm PDT

“It was really weird to do it because I was like, ‘Oh man, I hope people don’t get offended by me building this car,’ but people love it and they walk in my showroom and they throw money in the car. It’s really cool,” he says.

Darnell wanted to do something positive with the money people throw in the car, so they’re putting it in a college account for Preston, the boy who inspired this car.

Although Darnell isn’t quite sure why people began to and continue to throw coins, he surmises that perhaps many have lost loved ones to cancer or have gone through it themselves.

“I’ve had women come in here that have had breast cancer and they’re like, ‘The car is exactly what I felt like. I can’t believe how spot on you are.’ I just figured this is how cancer feels; I haven’t been through it personally yet myself,” he says. “But I think a lot of people, they come in, they feel bad or someone’s died and they want to give help to somebody, and the good thing is that they know it’s going to something good.”

Car he learned to drive in

As a kid, Darnell would drive an old Ford truck on his uncle’s cattle ranch in eastern Montana.

“I’d have to feed cows with the truck or a tractor and that was when I was 7 years old because a lot of times back in them old days, you’d sit in the front seat and drive while the other guys sat out the back. So somebody had to steer and drive the truck. That’s when I learned how to drive a stick. You’d have learn how to let the clutch down easy because if not, you could throw a load of hay off and everybody off the back of the truck,” he says, laughing.

When visiting his grandfather in southern Utah, Darnell also drove the old Chevy truck that was there. “He’d put me on his lap and I’d drive his old truck around all the time with him,” Darnell says.

And in Vegas with his dad, Darnell grew up in steelyards. “I’d come here and work for my dad. I learned how to drive a forklift when I was really little,” he says. “I knew how to operate equipment. My dad had me on a forklift moving steel around or I was riding with him. As I got older I started running all kinds of different equipment. Being around all that is really what got it happening. Between the steel industry and out on the ranch and learning all that stuff, it’s good for you when you get older.”

First car bought

The story of how Darnell bought his first car started with a bicycle he bought for $80. “I sold my pedal bicycle that I paid for mowing lawns, a Redline bicycle. I fixed it up, I sold it for $300. I took my $300 and I went over and I bought a 1973 Datsun right out of a guy’s backyard,” he says. “I didn’t have a driver’s license; I was 13 or 14.”

When he tried to start the car, it had problems, so he started it in gear because the clutch didn’t work. “Then I’d ride my bicycle to the junkyard and get parts in Billings, and the old man used to give me parts; he knew I was broke. We’re still friends today,” he says. “I’m friends with him and his family all these years later. It’s been 35 years.”

Darnell got enough parts to get the Datsun running and drove that every day during his first year of high school, without a driver’s license. “Then I got a job so I could really make money. I was mowing lawns and fixing dirt bikes, people would bring motorcycles, I’d fix them in their garage, and I was building bicycles and selling them to people.”

The manual Datsun wasn’t easy to drive without air or power steering, but it meant the world to Darnell.

“The feel of the freedom of knowing that you just went and took your hard-earned money and bought your own vehicle—that day was one of the most satisfying days of my life,” he says, exuberantly.

For Darnell, the Datsun was about the independence of being a young man. “Nowadays, kids don’t even get their driver’s license until they’re 20. We were driving before our driver’s license, we were so excited to drive,” he says. “I couldn’t wait to get behind the wheel of something and turn that radio on and just live and be free. I think that adrenaline rush, now I don’t know how many cars I have, and I’ve been through hundreds of cars, but that Datsun was one of the first ones. It was cool. I wish I could find that one actually.”

Darnell also had a 1970 Chevrolet Blazer during his teenager years. “That was probably the coolest thing when I was in high school that I drove,” he says. “I had a lot of different cars and trucks even when I was younger; I was buying and selling go karts. Since I was a little kid I had dirt bikes.”

It was a struggle to maintain his cars back then in high school. “I went to work when I was 16 years old so I could afford to drive my cars, and before that I shoveled walks and mowed lawns and did side jobs and whatever I could do,” he says.

Although Darnell lived in Montana during his teenager years, every summer he’d go work for his dad in Las Vegas. “I had an old Camaro here and we used to cruise the Strip and Fremont Street and chase girls and have a good time back in the late ’80s,” he says. “I had four different cars before I graduated high school because I was buying them, selling them, fixing them up, selling them.”

Darnell first got the bug for working on cars back in high school, inspired also by stories his parents would tell him of a glorious past with their cars in old Vegas. “My mom and dad in the ’60s were cruising Fremont Street in their ’56 Chevy,” he recalls. “All those stories stayed in my head and I thought it was so cool, so I’ve always been into cars because of that.”

Favorite road trip

One of Darnell’s favorite road trips was driving up to his grandfather’s place in Utah. “I knew that once I got there I could drive his truck and drive the tractor and shoot the guns. So that was always a thrill too when I was younger,” he says.

But today, Darnell’s favorite road trip is from Vegas to Pomona, California. “Some of my favorite highways is the 210, getting ready to get off on Fruit Street so I can go to Pomona for the swap meet,” he says, with a laugh. “Coming down the highway, knowing that I’m getting closer to the Pomona Swap Meet is always a thrill, because I can’t wait to get there.”

Darnell loves the swap meet so much, he tries to go every five weeks when he can. “It’s a blast. For me in my world and what I do, I find stuff and … build something out of it. So it’s fun to go there and find the parts and pieces that I need to be able to create these creatures that I build, but at the same moment it’s like a family reunion. Everybody’s barbecuing in the parking lot, they sleep in their cars right on the grounds, it’s crazy,” he says, laughing.

Now that he stars in his own show, some people are surprised when he camps out like they do. “People trip out because they can’t believe that I’m sleeping out there on the parking lot. I’m like, ‘I’m just hanging out with you guys, man,’” he says, laughing. “But it’s fun, it’s a good time. That’s where I came from, my dad took me there in the late ’70s, so I’ve been there since ’78 or ’79.”

Vegas Rat Rods on Discovery, Tuesdays at 9 p.m.

Darnell’s 1928 diesel rat rod started it all because it went viral before that was even an everyday term. “It was the first rat rod with a twin-turbo six-cylinder diesel engine in it,” he says. “I did this big, big, huge burnout in this parking lot of this church. The church was having a car show and they said, ‘You can do a burnout.’ It went to YouTube and it went viral, a couple million views right away, and that’s when people didn’t really know a whole lot about YouTube.”

He was approached by production companies and they tried to build cars out of ranch finds—they’d go to a ranch and dig around old stuff from years of farming and build a rat rod, Darnell says.

Although a production company in Canada produced the show and it ran on Discovery, Darnell says the current season feels new because it’s now a Discovery Studios production here in the States.

“My exec at Discovery, Kyle Wheeler, had seen value in this show and he’s like, ‘Look, I want you to come to L.A., we need to sit down and talk about this show and see about putting it back on American ground.’ I said, ‘I’ll be there.’ Kyle, he’s a miracle worker, and he’s a straight-up dude and we made it happen, and we did Season Four, which is the best season I’ve ever done.”

His kids now appear on the show, too. “My two boys have been around me since they were little, so they know how to weld,” he says

It’s easy to see why Darnell has helped make the show a hit among his fans, always speaking with genuine conviction and unfiltered passion.

“We’ve got my ex-brother-in-law Justin, a great fabricator, very intelligent. He’s great this year on the show. We’ve got Merlin, my newer mechanic who is very intelligent. Of course my goofy cousin Dave is on the show. And Travis, my artist that helps me with design on paint,” he says. “We’ve been a lot freer, they let us produce the show this year.”

Being able to produce has made a big difference for Darnell, as well. “The pick sites where we go find this stuff, it’s like a mixture of American Pickers and building cars, in a way. I get to down out and find an old sign that has history and I get to tell about it. It’s just so much cooler.”

They also got to film at his favorite swap. “That was what was so cool about our production this year; we got to go to Pomona and I got to go show them how I do it,” he says.

They built a car this season that was haunted. “The guy I got it from, this creepy dude that I know from frickin’ Pomona, his name is Joe, he’s an awesome dude. [A ’55 Chevy we built this year] is called the Haunted Rod, because the car is haunted, but it’s like that Christine feel, like the movie,” he says.

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The Haunted Rod!!!!! #welderup #vegasratrods #sema #55 #chevy

A post shared by Steve Darnell (@welderupvegas) on Oct 31, 2018 at 8:48am PDT

With his success, Darnell makes sure to cater to fans who come to Vegas wanting to make a stopover at WelderUp. On an average day, WelderUp might have up to 150 people. “This morning I did a private tour with 22 people and I take them through the showroom, I explain who I am, I show them some of the cars, I answer any of their questions, and they love it,” he says. “They leave here loving that they came and that they met me and they know that I’m real. Not a lot of these celebrities will take the time to come out and be with the people.”

He says if it wasn’t for these people watching TV, he wouldn’t be where he is today. “I feel like I have to contribute to that and set aside time for the people that really want to know about me and really want to know about what’s going on at WelderUp and Vegas Rat Rods—‘Do we build the cars that fast?’ and ‘Does Discovery tell you what to build and what not to build?’ They just have so many questions,” he says. “They think it’s a big fake thing behind the scenes because TV has got so much drama over the past years that the more real it is, the more they like it.”

Darnell doesn’t have time for drama, he says. “I’m building a car in here with my guys. I’m not an actor, I’m not a host, I am the guy designing and doing all the detailed fabrication, going on the picks, doing everything for the show,” he says. “I’m in here on my hands and knees welding right alongside the rest of these guys in here. And they love that. They love the fact that it’s real and that we’re at the same level. But when you’re a baller, when you’re so far up there, people can’t relate with someone who flew in on their helicopter. And that’s what I like, they feel at home when they come in my shop, they hug me like they’ve known me.”

Darnell is excited about this season and the story behind its production move to Los Angeles. “I’m excited about the help I’ve got this year from everybody, the show runner that I have this year [is] working hard, he wants the best show on TV, so that inspires me and makes me go, ‘OK, now I have something to fight for because we’re working together here,’” he says.

Darnell hopes the show continues to inspire viewers at home to build their own rat rod creatures. “Dads want to go out and build a car, and moms are taking stuff out of the kitchen going, ‘Hey, can we put this in the car, too?’” he says.

See Vegas Rat Rods right here.


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2020 Toyota Corolla Sedan First Look: Civic’s Prime Competition Is Back

Thu, 11/15/2018 - 10:00pm

Toyota’s freshly minted Corolla hatch, based on the hot new TNGA architecture, has been winning friends and influencing editors ever since we first clapped our eyes on it in March. We’ve since buckled in and strapped our gear on a few times and lauded the little hatch for its quantum-leapfrogging of its dreary Corolla iM predecessor. Sprightly dynamics and an upscale cockpit have drawn praise, while stingy rear-seat and cargo space drew raspberries. Those problems would seem to be easily solved by stretching the wheelbase (and rear leg environment) by 2.4 inches and grafting on a trunk. Yes, after testing out the tooling and letting the youth troubleshoot its hatchback for a few months, Toyota is now revealing the Corolla sedan for sale to everybody else starting in March.

Like the 2019 Corolla hatch, the 2020 Corolla sedan gets a broader stance, with its front and rear track widened by 0.5 and 0.9 inch, respectively, relative to the outgoing sedan. It also gets the hatch’s new 18-inch aluminum wheels on top trim levels, with lesser trims making do with steel or alloy 16s. Following a trend that started with the Camry, the whole car stands a bit lower—the height comes down 0.8 inch, the hood sits 1.4 inches lower, and with it the cowl, beltline, and instrument panel each come down a bit. The driver even sits an inch lower and 1.6 inches further rearward. All of this helps lower the center of gravity by 0.4 inch, while thinner A-pillars improve outward visibility.

Other refinements include a huge new one-piece floor silencer pad to hush road and tire noise, and a clever stratified climate control system that can feed fresh dehumidified air to the greenhouse to prevent fogging while recirculating warm air lower in the cabin. A killer nine-speaker 800-watt JBL stereo is offered featuring the brand’s Clari-Fi technology, which can analyze, rebuild, and restore audio details lost to compression.

The top powertrain offering in the SE and XSE models matches that of the sportier hatch—Toyota’s new 2.0-liter port- and direct-injected engine featuring a lofty 13:1 compression ratio, electric cam phasing, and variable cooling and lubrication circuits. Here it produces 169 hp (1 more than in the hatch) and 151 lb-ft of torque and comes teamed with a six-speed manual (featuring new micro-polished gear teeth for reduced noise, hill-holding, and downshift rev-matching) or a CVT that uses a torque converter and a conventional first gear, which then hands off to the belt-and-pulleys system. Base L, LE, and XLE grades get an updated version of the last model’s 1.8-liter engine in essentially what was its Eco trim, producing 139 hp and 126 lb-ft of torque. We’re told the fuel economy improves, but no numbers have been shared yet. But the big news, fuel economy-wise, is the later arrival of a hybrid model. We’ll learn more about its specifics in a few weeks at the L.A. auto show.

The sedan and hatch share most of what’s forward of the B-pillar, with the notable exception of the sedan’s two new fascia and grille designs. The Toyota sombrero moves up from its central grille location on the hatch to that little island of painted bodywork that sits forward of the hood on the sedan. The Avalon-esque dash carries over, complete with its 8.0-inch touchscreen featuring the Entune 3.0 infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Amazon Alexa compatibility (sorry, no Android Auto yet). Base L models must make due with a less feature-rich 7.0-inch screen. Top models share the hatch’s 7.0-inch digital instrument cluster speedometer display, while lesser grades get a 4.2-inch multi-information display flanked by analog speedo and tach dials. A full suite of connectivity features is available, including accident reporting, remote vehicle status reporting via phone app, onboard Wi-Fi powered by Verizon, and concierge services.

Continuing where the last-gen model left off and matching the 2019 Honda Civic, every 2020 Toyota Corolla will feature Safety Sense 2.0 gear as standard. This includes a radar- and camera-based pre-collision system that warns and brakes, adaptive cruise control (on CVT models it even handles stop-and-go traffic), lane-departure alert that will steer to prevent lane departure, or with the CVT, “Lane Trace Assist,” which keeps the car centered in its lane. There’s even auto-high-beam assist and Road Sign Assist to interpret and display speed limit, stop, yield, and do-not-enter signs.

Many of us were underwhelmed by the 11th-generation Corolla. The 2020 Corolla’s predecessor placed a disappointing sixth out of seven compacts in a 2016 Big Test comparison. This new car’s TNGA bones, high level of standard equipment, and improved refinement seem poised to regain our respect. Once it arrives, we look forward to seeing whether its performance improves without overshadowing the practical strengths that have made the car a sales success for so many years. Of course, the proof of this rice pudding will be in the driving—and determining how eagerly its new and retuned engines can pull the skin off said pudding…

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Rivian Teases Electric Pickup Ahead of L.A. Debut

Thu, 11/15/2018 - 5:30pm

Rivian will beat Tesla to the punch by introducing an electric pickup at the Los Angeles auto show later this month.

In the teaser below, Rivian shows off a unique headlight design for the new full-size truck. We don’t know much else about the vehicle at this point, but we do know it will be named R1T and feature an all-electric powertrain. Rivian will also debut a three-row, seven-passenger electric SUV at the show. That model will be named the R1S. And apparently, it will mix Ferrari acceleration with Jeep off-road capability.

Rivian promises the models will feature “impressive on- and off-road performance figures and class-leading specifications including range, power, torque, and off-road articulation.” As we learned earlier this year, Rivian has purchased a 2.6-million-square-foot former Mitsubishi plant in Normal, Illinois. Having a real plant with real manufacturing equipment goes a long way in dispelling vaporware suspicions. But if Rivian wants to compete with Tesla, it will have to offer a range in the high 200s, as the Model X tops out at 295 miles.

Less than a year ago, we heard Tesla wants to build an electric pickup right after the Model Y crossover. Knowing Tesla, though, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly when this model will debut. Meanwhile, Bollinger Motors will build functional prototypes of this all-electric pickup early next year.

The Rivian R1T will debut online on November 26, while the R1S will be revealed November 27 ahead of the L.A. Auto Show. Deliveries for both models start in 2020.

Source: Rivian

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Jaguar Tests V2X Tech That Can Help Drivers Avoid Red Lights

Thu, 11/15/2018 - 4:30pm

Jaguar Land Rover is one of the many automakers exploring a future that involves cars communicating with road infrastructure to minimize traffic jams and improve safety. It participated in a U.K. research project testing technologies that can help drivers avoid red lights and handle intersections more effectively.

When properly set up, roads can send traffic light information to a connected car. With that info, the car calculates an optimal traveling speed that will help it avoid red lights, which not only reduces traffic congestion but also curbs emissions. Jaguar vehicles are also testing technology that warns a driver if it’s unsafe to enter an intersection, and assigns priority when multiple connected vehicles come to an intersection and there is no traffic light to dictate the vehicle that should go first.

These Vehicle-to Infrastructure (V2X) technologies have been trialed on F-Pace crossovers in the U.K. It’s part of a $25 million research project funded by the U.K. government and industry members to accelerate the development of self-driving cars. Ford and Tata Motors European Technical Center were also involved in the three-year project that ended in October.

Other technologies that came out of the program include a feature that warns drivers when an emergency vehicle is approaching, a feature that provides real-time parking information, and an in-car display feature that alerts drivers of current road conditions. Another feature alerts a driver when a vehicle ahead brakes suddenly, even if the weather conditions are poor or there are other vehicles in between the driver and the braking vehicle.

Audi has already rolled out a traffic light information system that can tell drivers how long they’ll be stuck at a light. Of course, the feature only works in cities with the infrastructure to support such technology, including Las Vegas, Washington, D.C., Dallas, Denver, and a few others. Meanwhile, Cadillac plans to introduce V2X technologies on a high-volume crossover by 2023.

Source: Jaguar Land Rover

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2020 Kia Soul Shows Off New Headlights

Thu, 11/15/2018 - 3:30pm

Kia has released its second teaser for the next-generation Soul before it debuts at the Los Angeles auto show later this month.

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– Unique style with high-tech design #Soul – 독보적 스타일, 하이테크한 디자인 – #기아자동차 #쏘울 #티저이미지 #공개 #LA모터쇼 #KIA #NewSoul #teaser #image #release #LAAutoShow #debut #HMG #HMGjournal

A post shared by Hyundai Motor Group (@hyundaimotorgroup.official) on Nov 14, 2018 at 4:57pm PST

The new teaser reveals a much more polished headlight design for the 2020 Kia Soul. The lights are narrower and integrate more naturally into the grille. Kia is also showing off a striking white and red paint job.

Just yesterday, Kia teased the Soul’s rear end. It keeps its boxy shape, as well as the vertical-oriented taillamps. But it adopts a new floating roof that incorporates a “Soul” badge.

It’s likely the new Soul will adopt the same platform as the Hyundai Kona. If so, it could share the same 1.6-liter and 2.0-liter engine options. Kia hasn’t confirmed specs, but says it will offer “several drivetrains,” including turbocharged and electric versions.

The 2020 Soul is a bit overdue for a full redesign, considering the previous generation debuted for the 2014 model year. The design of the second-generation model didn’t change radically from the first generation, but this third model looks like it could shake up that trend. Judging from the new headlights, we’re thinking the change will be for the better.

Source: Hyundai Motor Group via Instagram

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