Wednesday, January 29, 2020


At a time when some automakers are giving up on sedans or least pushing their SUVs/crossovers to buyers seeking family transportation, Dodge seems to be taking a different approach.

Since bringing back its famed Charger as a 2006 five-passenger large sedan after killing off the coupe version in 1987, the automaker has expanded the Charger portfolio from two versions (SE and R/T) to five trim levels for 2020 with the outrageous 707-horsepower SRT Hellcat sitting at the top of the class.

And it is getting some upgrades for 2020. A new Widebody Package that is standard on the Hellcat and available on the Scat Pack trim features new front and rear fascias with integrated fender flares that add 3.5 inches of width over the wider wheels and tires (Hence the “Widebody tag.).

That provides more room for 20- by 11-inch wheels that are shod with wider and stickier Pirelli 305/35ZR20 tires than were on its predecessor. Dodge trumpets that that combination, “paired with new competition suspension tuning with Bilstein three-mode adaptive damping, produces even more grip, delivering improved performance on the street, strip and road course, making this the quickest and best handling production Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat ever.”

As if 707 horsepower isn’t enough, the 6.2-liter HEMI V8 in limited production Daytona 50th Anniversary Edition models get a boost to 717 hp with torque at 650 pound-feet.

Dodge says that the 2020 Charger SRT Hellcat — the “SRT” stands for “street racing technology” — is the “the quickest and best-handling production Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat ever.”

As evidence, how about a zero-to-60 mph time of 3.6 seconds, quarter mile in 10.96, and .96g lateral grip on the skid pad.

The 8-speed manual transmission offers manual gear selection via steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. Drive Modes are pre-configured for Sport, Track and Default settings, and Custom Mode lets the driver select their preferred settings.

Charger SRTs come with rear-wheel drive as standard. All-wheel drive is available on some other Charger models.

Even with the emphasis on performance, the Charger SRT Hellcat is civilized enough to seat five passengers comfortably with 40.1 inches of legroom, 57.9 inches of shoulder room, and 36.6 of headroom in the back.

The seats are comfortable providing for a smooth ride experience, but with the rumbling exhaust, it is anything but quiet. Ventilated Laguna leather seats with the Hellcat logo are standard on the SRT Hellcat and come in black, black/sepia, black/demonic red colors.

The cabin probably isn’t as refined as you will find in luxury sedans with their genuine wood and brushed aluminum inlays, but it’s not the bleak, spartan interior typical of past Muscle Cars either. It would be nice, perhaps, if there were a bit fewer hard plastic surfaces.

The UConnect 4C infotainment system on the SRT Hellcat is one of the friendliest around and features a nice-sized 8.4-inch touchscreen display screen as well as knobs for operating such basic functions as audio adjustments and climate control. Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and satellite radio are included.

Also available is an upgraded UConnect 4C system with navigation.

Pricing for the Charger SRT Hellcat Widebody starts at $71,140 or more than double the $31,359 for the base Charger SXT. Both numbers include a hefty $1,495 destination and delivery charge, and the SRT Hellcat also is levied a $2,100 gas guzzler fee.

The bottom line on my test vehicle was $78,320.

What I liked about the 2020 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Widebody: Infotainment features are very user-friendly, and the display screen is of good-size. Obviously, the power is something to enjoy, and the interior is roomy. So is the trunk.

What I didn’t like about the 2020 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Widebody: Fuel mileage, as expected, is very poor. Premium fuel is required for the Hellcat, and EPA mileage figures are among the lowest I’ve seen in a while at 12 miles-per-gallon city, 21 highway, and 15 combined. Numbers from the computer readout on my test vehicle stayed mostly at 11-12 mpg and change and barely touched 13.

Would I buy the 2020 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Widebody? Mixed feelings here. I’d love to have one, but it’s not a great everyday vehicle for sure. Finding a spot where you can “stretch its legs” to full performance is virtually impossible outside the race track. But if you can afford a $70,000 toy, you won’t be disappointed.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020



For its first two generations, the Nissan Versa was the least expensive vehicle available on the market. That’s no longer the case, but that is good news.

The redesigned 2020 Versa subcompact sedan may be slightly more expensive but gives back with a long list of standard features that include many items often — make that usually — not available in the subcompact segment.

That holds true for even the formerly bare bones base S trim which shares such features as automatic on/off headlights with high-beam assist, Bluetooth hands-free phone, power windows with one-touch auto down for the driver’s side, 7-inch touchscreen, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, cruise control, and lane departure warning with its more upscale brethren SV and SR models.

The top-of-the-line SR trim, upon which this review is based, adds such niceties as a leather-wrapped steering wheel, 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels (the S model comes with15-inch steel wheels), LED headlights and fog lights, special SR fabric for the seats, automatic climate control, 6-speaker audio system with satellite radio, NissanConnect with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and blind-spot warning.

A Convenience Package that adds heated front seats and Intelligent Control is offered on the SR class as well for $800.

Imagine that. Adaptable cruise control in an economy vehicle.

All Versa models come with the a 1.6-liter, 4-cylinder engine. A 5-speed manual transmission is standard on the S model and a ontinuously Variable Transmission dubbed Xtronic is an option on the S and standard on SV and SR models. All Versas are front-wheel drive.

That power train could use a little more oomph with horsepower at only 122 ponies and torque at 114 pound-feet. Still, that's an increase of 14 and 7 percent over the previous model, and fuel numbers are outstanding. With the CVT, the Versa is rated at 32 miles-per-gallon city, 40 highway, and 35 combined using regular unleaded. Numbers are slightly lower (27/35,30) with the manual.

The extra features aren’t the only differences for the 2020 Versa. At 177 inches and 68.5 inches, the 2020 model is 1.6 and 1.8 inches longer and wider, respectively, than its predecessor. It also sits a bit lower, and cargo space is a generous 15.0 cubic feet in the SR and 14.7 for the S and SV.

As mentioned earlier, these improvements did come at a cost. The base Versa S with the manual transmission has a starting MSRP of $15, 625 including the $895 destination and delivery fee, a jump of about $2,200 over the cost of the 2019 model.

The SR starts at $19,135, and a well-equipped model with options like the Convenience, Electronics, and Lighting packages, center armrest with storage (very minimal storage), and carpeted floor and trunk mats ran the total on my test car to $21,490.

 The SV is in between at $18,355.

What I liked about the 2020 Nissan Versa SR: It comes with a lot of standard technological features that are easy to operate. The redesigned included use of some higher grade materials for the interior, which raises cabin ambiance. Fuel economy is among the best in its class.

What I didn’t like about the 2020 Nissan Versa SR: The console’s storage compartment is so small it is pretty much useless. Legroom in the back is a bit on the stingy side (31.0 inches).

Would I buy the 2020 Nissan Versa SR? I would give it more consideration now than in the past. It’s no longer the least expensive vehicle on the market today, relinquishing that distinction to hatchbacks Chevrolet Spark and the Mitsubishi Mirage. But the Versa comes with many features that usually aren’t found in the segment.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020


A Hyundai team of executives and publicists were in Miami January 15 to preview the latest edition to their fleet of SUVs/crossovers, the new 2020 compact Venue, for an audience of Southern Automotive Media Association members who gathered at a local restaurant.

It becomes the  seventh SUV model in the South Korean manufacturer’s U.S lineup that includes its hydrogen fuel cell Nexo.

Why come to Miami?

“The Venue is ideally suited for folks that are here in Miami,” said Mike O’Brien, Vice President, Product, Corporate and Digital Planning. “They’re young people, they’re people just starting out, and they generally have what’s called a ‘side hustle’.”

In addition to their day job, they are writers or musicians or artists, the kind of folks who want a vehicle they can be passionate about as well as versatile and affordable, O’Brien said.

“But most importantly, something that’s easy to park and maneuver in dense urban environments like Miami,” he said. "And it’s a car that allows me to express myself like I can’t with other vehicles.”

That may be the primary target for the Venue, but it’s not the only one.

“We’ll get empty nesters, too,” O’Brien said. “People who are looking to downsize with the kids off -- they’ve got their own jobs, they’ve got their own life and don’t need a big car any more.”

The Venue also gives those who have only been able to shop in the used car market before a viable option.

“Last year there were 41 million used cars sold in the United States,” O’Brien said. “Out of that 41 million cars sold in the United States, almost a third of the buyers tried to buy a new car.

“Maybe their FICO score hadn’t been good enough, maybe they didn’t have enough down payment, maybe their trade-in value had not been good enough. For whatever reason, they were forced instead of buying a new car that they started out shopping for they ended up buying a certified preowned car or a used car.”

A 2- or 3-year-old car doesn’t have all the features like Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, pre-collision braking or Smart Phone connectivity found on new cars today.

“That’s a key theme with our engineers and designers that they really tried to stick with when they were developing this car,” O’Brien said.

Thus technological features found on the new Venue include an 8-inch display screen featuring Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth hands-free phone system and next-generation Blue Link Connected Car System, dual-charging USB ports, a rear-view monitor, and heated front seats and side mirrors.

Safety features include Forward Collision Avoidance system, lane-keep assist, blind-spot warning, driver attention warning, and rear cross-traffic alert.

The new Venue comes in three trim levels starting at $17,350 for the base SE trim with a 6-speed manual transmission mated to the 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine. For $18,550, the SE also is available with a new “Smartstream” Intelligent Variable Transmission (IVT) that is standard on SE ($19,250) and top-of-the-line Denim ($22,050) trims.

Fuel efficiency in the SEL with the IVT is rated at an impressive 30 miles-per-gallon city, 35 highway, and 32 combined. The SE gets numbers of 27/35/30. The Venue is offered with front-wheel drive only, but a new, advanced “snow mode” gives the Venue near the capability of all-wheel drive without the extra cost or fuel penalty that comes with all-wheel capability.

Essentially, the IVT is the latest version of a Continuously Variable Transmission and in our brief driving experience had more the feel of a standard automatic than the older versions of the CVT.

There are all sorts of reasons for that and O’Brien can give you the briefing if you ever have the opportunity to speak with him. You can take our word that was no lag to throttle response when getting away from an intersection.

As O’Brien noted, the Venue is also a good vehicle for high traffic environs. 

Not that Hyundai has forgotten about shoppers looking for a bigger SUV.

“If you want a bigger vehicle, we’ve got it,” O’Brien said. “If you want something that’s more exciting and more affordable and easier to maneuver and part for people who seek that, we’ve got that covered, too.”


Despite an impressive appearance and refreshing for the 2017 model year, Infiniti’s Q60 small luxury sports coupe doesn’t get the respect it deserves from critics who generally give higher marks in their reviews to its mostly Teutonic competitors.

This is in direct contrast to the praise its predecessor received when Motor Trend named the G35 sedan and coupe its Car of the Year when it was introduced for the 2003 model year.

So has Infinity lost its way here? Or not kept up with modern tastes (which can be fickle at times).

I think not.

The 2020 Infiniti Q60 Red Sport 400 model is one of the most striking vehicles on the road today, fun to drive with an eye-catching design that is sure to attract attention if (when?) it shows up in your driveway. Coupes nearly always look sexier than sedans, and the Q60 is no exception.

Little change has been made since the third generation was introduced three years ago, and little had to be for 2020 after some tinkering was done the last couple of years.

The Q60 lineup for 2020 features six models with the 3.0t Pure, 3.0t Pure AWD, 3.0t Luxe, and 3.0t Luxe AWD getting a 300 horsepower, 3.0 twin-turbo V6 and both the Red Sport 400 and Red Sport AWDs getting a more powerful V6 version under its hood.

The 3.0-liter V6 in the Red Sport 400 (upon which this review is based) is rated at 500 horsepower and 360 pound-feet of torque and is mated to a 7-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters for manual gear selection.

In addition, the Red Sport 400 gets an extra Sport+ mode for enhanced performance in addition to the Personal, Standard, Snow, Eco, or Sport modes available in other models. Fuel economy is rated at 20 miles-per-gallon city, 27 highway, and 20 combined, 

The 2020 Q60 Red Sport 400 comes with a long list of standard features included in the base price of $58,175 (including the $1,025 destination and delivery charge.

Among them are exclusive 20-inch aluminum alloy wheels, exclusive Red Sport exhaust tips, LED headlights, chrome double-arch grille, dual-zone climate control, heated 8-way power front seats, leather-wrapped and heated steering wheel (not a big attraction in South Florida), power tilt and telescoping steering wheel, genuine carbon fiber interior trim and matte black interior accents, aluminum accent sport pedals, tinted glass moonroof, remote and push-button start, front and rear sonar system to aid maneuvering in close quarters, Bluetooth hands-free phone system, and a 13-speaker Bose audio system.

The Infiniti InTouch infotainment system includes navigation and voice recognition and is very user friendly.

In addition to the usual airbags and seatbelt systems, safety features include automatic collision notification and emergency call, forward emergency braking with pedestrian detection, electronic brake distribution, blind-spot warning and backup collision intervention, and a surround-view monitor with moving object detection.

Oh, yes, The Q60 is available with either rear-wheel or all-wheel drive.

With all those features as standard, the only options on my test Q60 were a cargo package (trunk protector, cargo net, console net, first-aid kit and shopping bag hook), illuminated kick plates, welcome lighting, and Infinity interior ambient lighting that ran the total to $59,880. 

What I liked about the 2020 Infiniti Q60 Red Sport 400: This is an attractive car inside and out. Adjusting settings to Sport or Sport+ upgrades the performance from the twin-turbo V6 even further.The interior has a sophisticated ambiance, and the ride is very comfortable. The dual touchscreen displays allow you make adjustments like changing audio settings without having to switch from the navigation screen. The exhaust notes are sweet.

What I didn’t like about the 2020 Infiniti Q60 Red Sport 400: The trunk was only big enough to handle just three bags we were taking on our trip, even though one was on the small side. Fuel economy is on the low side among its segment.

Would I buy the 2020 Infiniti Q60 Red Sport 400? Yes. There is a lot of competition among luxury coupes, but the Q60 and its eye-catching exterior is one of the most stylish in the small luxury segment. With its coupe form, it has more the feel of a sports car than simply a small luxury vehicle.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020


It doesn’t rank up in medical history with the discovery of penicillin or the development of the polio vaccine, but Nissan has found a remedy for a common complaint of owners of all-electric vehicles: range anxiety.

I remember when a few years ago I was sent a Nissan Leaf for week. Much of my time was spent calculating how far away it was that I wanted to go and if I would have enough charge to get back home later.

The Leaf at that time had a maximum range of about 90 miles, if I remember correctly, which is about the time my wife usually starts urging me to fill up the gas tank. On one trip I periodically would turn off the A/C to extend the range a couple of miles just to make sure I could get back home later.

But I had no such concern with the latest version of the Leaf I recently experienced.

The PLUS version of the Nissan Leaf that debuted for 2019 has an extended range that the company declares at 226 miles, though overnight charging indicated a range of 239 miles when in Normal mode and 251 when turned to Eco, at least based on my experience. That’s about 100 extra miles over the advertised 150-mile EPA range offered by the standard Leaf.

Range anxiety? What range anxiety?

The new high-capacity battery pack (62 kWh) and more powerful electric motor (62kW) in PLUS version Leafs also delivers more punch than the standard Leaf in the way of driving experience.

That battery-motor combination results in 214 horsepower, an increase of 45 percent over the base Leaf, and a whopping 250 pound-feet of torque, available at an instant and a big number for a compact hatchback.

You can feel the full effect of the extra torque when you shift from Eco to Normal mode. The jump in acceleration is very noticeable. Nissan estimates that the Leaf Plus gets from 50 to 75 mph about 13 percent quicker than the standard Leaf.

With a 100 kW Quick Charge Port and portable charge cable, charging time also is more efficient. I easily got it to full range overnight, which wasn’t always my experience with earlier electric vehicles.

The Leaf and the Leaf Plus each come in three trim levels — S, SV, and SL. This review is based on the SL PLUS that is at the top of the MSRP chart at $43,545 including the $995 destination and delivery charge.

That’s a pretty big jump over the standard Leaf S ($30,985) but within range of the S PLUS ($37,545) and SV PLUS ($39,505) and worth the extra cost.

The 2019 Leaf SL PLUS features such standard equipment Nissan’s ProPILOT assist with steering assist and adaptable cruise control, an around-view camera monitor, Intelligent Driver Alerts, automatic temperature control, leather-appointed seating surfaces, heated front seats, 8-way power driver’s seat with 2-way lumbar support, leather-wrapped steering wheel, 8-inch color display for the standard navigation system, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, voice recognition, Bluetooth hands-free phone, 7-speaker Bose audio system, NissanConnect services, 17-inch wheels, LED headlights and fog lights, LED daytime running lights, and more.

Standard safety features include automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, Intelligent lane intervention, blind-spot warning, electronic brake distribution and assist, rear cross-traffic alert and more.

Extras like splash guards, premium paint, carpeted floor mats and cargo bay area, and a safety kit ran the total for my test Leaf SV PLUS to $44,315. But don’t forget, you also get tax credits that can lower that cost.

What I liked about the 2019 Nissan Leaf SL PLUS: This is a fun car to drive with significant torque and throttle response. This trim also is packed with many standard features with infotainment functions easy to operate. It’s a small thing, but the placement of the charging port at the very front is a nice touch. It gives you more flexibility when it comes to parking your car for charging.

What I didn’t like about the 2019 Nissan Leaf SL PLUS: The e-pedal feature that combines acceleration when pressing the “gas” pedal and braking when easing off is a feature I can live without. It can be useful when backing up and slow speeds, but it is kind of annoying when driving under normal conditions. Also, the gear shifter is a little too funky for me. It’s a round knob in the center of the console that you must tug to the left and then move up (for reverse) or down (for drive). The steering wheel is adjustable tilt only, not telescoping.

Would I buy the 2019 Nissan Leaf SL PLUS? This version of the Leaf is the first all-electric vehicle that I would actually consider buying.