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[REVIEW] 2015 Subaru WRX STI

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Hey Readers, I’ll let you in on a little secret. When it comes to motorsports, I’m a snob. Sure, I may watch the British Touring Car Championships, DTM racing and the occasional Formula 1 or LeMans race. But there has only been one form of motorsports that I’ve consistently kept up with. The World Rally Championship.

Nothing thrills me more on screen than watching these production-looking cars hurtling down a narrow icy path in the middle of nowhere in Scandinavia at death defying speeds. The frozen wonderland of many WRC races is a pleasant contrast to the controlled road circuits of many other motorsport races.

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I always find it astounding that WRC drivers have to be able to work with a co-driver, drive consistently well on paved, rutted, rocky, icy roads, and yet also be able to fix mechanical issues often without a pit crew’s assistance.

Why am I bringing this up? Because one of the much-haloed World Rally cars is, of course, none other than the Subaru Impreza WRX.

WRX…REX, Imprezd

WRX stands for “World Rally eXperimental” although others have also suggested that it’s a throwback to World Rally Cross.

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Whatever the case, those three letters have caused grown men and teenage boys alike to drop their Playstation controllers and come running up to their windows.

To be honest, in standard trim, the latest non-WRX Impreza is a bit of a snoozer. Sure it’s a nice compact car that is a comfortable and practical, with the added safety and security of all-wheel-drive for Canadian winters.

However in the quest to gain more sales, Subaru has made the Impreza more conservative looking, and some say a little more mainstream looking. While pundits may lament, sales numbers are telling and Subaru Canada has been reporting record sales month over month.

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Luckily for its fan boys though, in WRX trim and especially in STI fare, the Subaru engineers have still managed to sprinkle a whole lot of magic to make the car ride, handle, and feel significantly different from its more pedestrian base Impreza platform.

The Go-Fast Bits

The WRX STI is a whole different beast from even the standard WRX. A quick look under the car will show you where all of the engineering dollars have been spent.

Not on making the interior more luxurious, per se, but on the go-fast bits.

The throwback to the WRX STI’s rally heritage is still ever apparent with its large (but functional) rear wing and light weight forged 18” BBS wheels.

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The STI retains its EJ25 turbocharged 2.5L boxer-four engine with its signature engine and exhaust burble due to the unequal length headers.

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The 305 hp mill is hooked up to a short throw six-speed shifter that has been improved with triple-cone synchronizers on first and second gear, and double-coned on third gear.

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What all of this engineering jargon means is that the 2015 STI is quieter, smoother, and shifts easier than ever before.

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I did find the clutch a little tricky with a slightly difficult bite point. Make no mistake that this is a driver’s car that makes you work for fun. Want an automatic? Sorry that’s not available on the STI. You really have to want this car and be willing to row the gears in order to be properly rewarded.

Intake noise is pumped into the cabin via what Subaru calls the “Sound Generator”, which is linked to throttle position. Want more roar? Step on the throttle more.

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Where the WRX STI truly excels is on the twisty bits. In an era where automakers such as Infiniti are reserving the hydraulic steering rack for their base Q50 models with higher end models receiving the supposedly superior electric power steering, it’s nice to see a manufacturer do the exactly opposite.

The WRX has a pretty decently sorted power steering system but the WRX STI has a deliciously weighted hydraulic rig with an even quicker ratio. There is loads of road feel and precision. You only have to look and point where you want to go and the car follows with puppy dog eagerness.

The STI high-performance sport-tuned suspension features race car-like inverted-strut front suspension with forged aluminium alloy lower A-arms. Make no mistake, this is a stiffly sprung car. Others in the media have said that it is too harsh to use the STI as a daily driver but I beg to differ. While the ride is very firm indeed, it’s never punishing.

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Much of the credit is due to the new body structure that makes greater use of high-tensile steel and has special stiffening elements at key locations. The car feels communicative not just through the steering wheel, but also by the seat of your pants.

Active Torque Vectoring further increases handling performance by applying the brake to the inside front wheel to hold the vehicle in a tighter line when carving corners.

The Beauty of All-Wheel-Drive

I know it’s perhaps an overused marketing tag line. But nothing else does such a succinct job of describing Subaru’s Unique Selling Proposition.

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Like other Subarus, the WRX STI comes with an all-wheel-drive system. But this is no ordinary system.

One major differentiator between the WRX and the WRX STI is that the latter has a Driver Controlled Centre Differential (DCCD) with three automatic performance modes.

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While normal torque split fore and aft is 41% and 59% respectively, the driver can even alter the mechanical limited-split centre differential to six manual control settings.

A helical gear-type limited slip front differential and TORSEN rear limited-slip differential are other pieces of the puzzle that allow the WRX STI to put down its power not just in a straight line but also in the corners.

This is one serious bit of kit.

The cabin

And now the interior. It’s nice, has luxury features, but it’s not luxurious. Sure there is a bit of soft-touch material on the dash, door trim, and centre console armrest. The new flat-bottom, leather-wrapped steering wheel has just the right thickness and perforated leather texture to be interesting.

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However, there is a fair amount of wind and tire noise above 90 km/hr. You do have to raise your voice if you want to have a conversation at higher speeds. BMW M3 this is not.

The STI’s electroluminescent gauge cluster has a 3.5-inch LCD screen to display various functions and warning lights. But a new 4.3-inch LCD multi-function display now flanks the top of the dash providing useful functions such as a virtual turbo boost gauge display, rear camera view, as well as HVAC settings.

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And now for the bad news. The WRX STI’s infotainment system is a few years behind its competition. Its uninspired graphics and slowish performance is nothing to boast about. It’s functional but that’s about it.

For me, the main reason to upgrade to the Sport-Tech package is not for the GPS navigation system, but for the 440-watt 9-speaker harmon/kardon premium audio system. It’s a much improved upgrade over the base sound system and you don’t have to be an audiophile to appreciate the benefits.

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Fortunately Subaru has been listening to its customers and the fully redesigned headunit in the 2015 Impreza is heads and shoulders over that in the 2015 WRX STI. It is all but certain to trickle to the 2016 WRX as well.

So in summation, compared to its predecessor, this new WRX STI has a much nicer interior, more legroom, improved visibility, more comfortable seats, and a larger trunk.

Altogether, the car feels significantly more mature and more civilized. Think of it as being less boy racer and more rally-inspired.

Final thoughts

Is the STI perfect? No, far from it. But what car is? There are a few silly little niggly things that I wish the car did or had or didn’t do. But ladies and gents, this is one seriously good performance car.

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An auto journalist in Australia recently wrote a brilliant editorial on how kids today are more interested in the latest iPhones than the latest cars. That makes me sad.

However if there is one saving grace for car fans out there, it’s that the WRX and WRX STI still grace the TV screens connected to today’s video game consoles.

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With its giant (and ostentatious) rear wing, the STI awakes the 7-year old boy in me. In my week with the car I have never received as many thumbs-up or stares from guys ranging from 6 to 40 years of age. Awesome.

Perhaps there is hope after all for car culture, also evidenced by the several month long wait list for the STI.

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Subaru’s latest tag line is “confidence in motion” and their confidence is certainly shining bright and true with the STI.

I’ll take mine in World Rally Blue please.

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Andrew is a proud car and tech geek who has worked in Surrey for over the last 10 years. He comes from a communications/marketing background and has worked for automotive-related companies such as Edmunds.com, BenzWorld.org since 1999. From track driving, to rally driving to autocross, he has done it all! When he’s not reading about the latest automotive news, he can be found outdoors snapping pictures at various events around town.

Automobiles

[REVIEW] Polestar 2 EV – First impressions

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If you’re an avid Volvo fan and the Polestar 2 looks vaguely familiar to you, there is a reason why. Firstly, both Volvo and Polestar are owned by the same Chinese parent company, Geely. Secondly, the Polestar 2 was originally unveiled in Gothenburg as a concept, named the 40.2, alongside the brand’s XC40 crossover concept, called the 40.1.

Polestar’s chief designer, Maximilian Missoni, has acknowledged that the Polestar 2 was originally designed as a Volvo concept car intended to test the water for a compact sedan. But the car was so different from the rest of the Volvo family that he realised that his team hadn’t designed a Volvo at all, but inadvertently, a Polestar.

Despite the logo-less grille, there are some tell tail Volvo design cues such as the Thor’s Hammer LED daytime running lights as well as the fat taillamps.

Unlike the 40.2 concept car though, Polestar has created a full-width taillight with 288 ultra-bright LEDs to combine a vivid, dramatic, and unique design signature.

Who is Polestar?

Polestar once used to be Volvo’s racing skunkworks division which eventually became the performance-tuning arm of the Swedish automaker. Think of the relationship between AMG and Mercedes-Benz or the John Cooper Works division of MINI and you wouldn’t be too far off.

While Polestar is still up to its old tricks in tuning Volvos into powerhouses, parent company Geely’s masterplan is to transform it into an EV-focused brand.

As the Polestar 2’s name might suggest, this is second model to come from Volvo’s now completely separate performance brand. First launched was the uber expensive, limited-run plug-in Polestar 1 coupe, a stunningly attractive halo model. However, the all-electric Polestar 2 that I had a brief one day taster test drive in is more representative of the wares that the company hopes to attract the masses to.

What is the Polestar 2?

In short, the Polestar 2 is a compact high riding near luxury hatchback that is sized and priced to compete with the Tesla Model 3. Aside from the Model 3, the company also hopes that it will be able to temp Volvo owners, as well as people out of their Audis, BMWs, and Mercedes-Benzes.

As it rides on a modified CMA (Compact Modular Architecture) platform which underpins both Volvo’s smaller products, such as the XC40, and those of its Chinese parent company Geely, the 2 has tallish, chunky proportions that make it look quite different from anything else on the market.

If anything, the raised bodyline reminds me of the Subaru Outback Sport Utility Sedan. Officially, Polestar says that the vehicle’s proportions transfer the comfort and utility of an SUV or crossover but yet the looks inspire sport sedan imaginings.

Missoni says the Polestar 2 is “urban” and “robotic” with its straight and square glasshouse, quite the polar opposite to a curvy Tesla. Compared to the Model 3, it is 100 mm shorter and 100 mm wider. Although a grille is strictly not needed, the Polestar 2 does indeed have one and behind which will house even more safety equipment (radar sensors etc) in the future.

Starting at a base price of $69,900 (before government incentives), my press vehicle was a fully loaded Launch Edition model equipped with the optional Performance Pack. This is initially how all of the Polestar 2’s will be configured. However, in the future, many of the 2021 Polestar 2’s standard features will be grouped in separate Plus and Pilot Assist packages.

The Performance Package, priced at $6,000, adds adjustable Ohlins dampers, gold coloured four-piston Brembo front calipers, 20-inch lightweight forged aluminium wheels with Continental SportContact 6 tires, upgraded spring and stabilizer bar rates, as well as a high-gloss back roof and gold seatbelts and tire valve caps.

Other options include a Nappa leather interior for an extra $5,000 as well as a choice of three different wheel and tire packages, ranging up to $1,200.

The interior – environmentalists and techies rejoice

You sit up quite high in the Polestar 2 with a relatively commanding view of the road ahead. I loved the frameless door mirrors in which the whole mirror housing moves to adjust the view rather than just the mirror itself.

Due to its higher bodyline and high beltline, the 2 looks bigger than it is. The cabin is roughly the size of a BMW 3-series so it’s not actually hugely spacious. Nonetheless, four adults of average height should be comfortable enough. Despite not having a driveshaft, unlike the Model 3, there is a centre rear hump in the middle which eats into the rear legroom.

Thanks to the power hatchback design and flat and flush folding rear seats, there is a lot of versatility when it comes to cargo hauling thought the car is not overly cavernous. Cargo volume is 14 cubic feet plus another one cubic foot in the frunk.

Polestar grabbed some headlines during the Polestar 2’s launch due to their entirely vegan interior as fitted to the standard car. The company says that zero animal products are applied, and the vehicle represents the company’s aim to accelerate the change to more sustainable mobility.

If you skip the Nappa leather interior in my Launch vehicle, you get a Polestar 2 WeaveTech interior which utilizes a high quotient of recycled materials in its construction. WeaveTech is said to almost entirely eliminate plasticizers, substances which increases material flexibility, commonly found in automotive interior vinyl.

The 2’s interior is modern and minimalistic, but not in a Tesla barren way. Polestar calls it a “product of Scandinavian design ethos, minimalism and modernism”.

There are areas of high quality brightwork, around the vents, and a simplified version of the Volvo shift knob. The major trim pieces have textures that feel new and different versus cheap and unpleasant.

The illuminated Polestar logo, which reflects off the panoramic moonroof, is a nice branding touch and is also visible from the outside.

By and large, the 2’s quality seems to be on par with that of Volvos, not surprising since many parts (such as the turn signal and wiper stalks, window switches) are shared.

A simplified virtual instrument cluster is set up in a conventional hooded pod behind the steering wheel, and there is a portrait-orientated tablet-like touchscreen infotainment system. The latter is one of the crowning achievements of the Polestar 2 in that it is the world’s first implementation of an Android Automotive infotainment system.

Co-developed with Google, the operating system integrates Google Maps, Google Play, Google Assistant. It is fully compatible with Apple’s iPhones and can receive over-the-air updates but does not alas does not support Apple CarPlay.

If you own an Android phone or have even used Google apps, the look and feel of the system will be immediately familiar as there is a crisp, clean, and simple design thanks to the Polestar’s designers placing an emphasis on having an uncluttered interface with large touchscreen-friendly buttons. Google’s team developed all of the system’s functionalities and a basic design template, but Polestar’s designers customized the skin for their purposes.

While I only had a very limited amount of time to play with the system, the home screen consists of four customizable “cards” that categorize the main apps based on one of a few main themes chosen.

Android Automotive OS was designed to eliminate the extra step of looking up something on your phone before inputting it into your car. This does also mean that for much of this functionality to work, the Polestar 2 does need an active internet connection (it has an integrated one).

Perhaps the most visible and familiar aspect of the system is the integration of Google Maps into the system, including real-time traffic information, points of interests, and suggested destinations. Quick to respond and with high-resolution renderings on both the main touchscreen and the virtual cockpit gauge cluster, the Android Automotive OS’s version of Maps has also been specifically designed with electric vehicles in mind.

For example, much like Tesla’s system, the system can show the expect charge level when you arrive at a programmed destination. Charging stations can be shown along the way to help the driver plan on when to charge.

The Polestar 2 supports Google Assistant voice commands meaning that the familiar “OK, Google” keywords even supports climate control functionality and app features in addition to the requisite audio and navigation functions.

Range and charging

With a 78 kWh lithium-ion liquid cooled battery and a 11 kW on-board charger, the Polestar 2 supports up to 150 kW DC fast charging capability. The company claims that this capability will recharge an almost spent battery to 80 per cent in about 40 minutes.

Since Level 3 DC chargers may be few and far between compared the much more common Level 2, 240 volt stations, the latter will require about 7 to 8 hours of charging to get to the recommended 90 per cent level. Using the 120 volt travel charger and your typical home socket will require a painstakingly slow 22 hours of charging to get to that same level of charge.

The US EPA estimates that the 2 has a driving range of 233 miles (375 kilometres) which is less than a Tesla Model 3 standard range’s 300 plus-mile (482 kilometre) EPA range. But real world tests seem to indicate that Tesla’s range estimate is overly optimistic whereas the Polestar’s is the opposite.

How does it drive?

Aside from the fancy infotainment system, the Polestar 2 is a really fun all-wheel-drive car to drive. With one electric motor on each axle and a combined output of 408 horsepower and 487 lbs-ft of torque, the Polestar 2 sprints from 0-100 km/hr in 4.5 seconds with a top speed of 201 km/hr.

These are rather impressive numbers especially given its rather heavy 4,680 lbs curb weight. Tesla fans will note that the mid-level Tesla Model 3 Dual Motor is slightly faster, but the Polestar 2 is a great deal behind the top-spec (and more expensive) Model 3 Performance which has a sub-4 second 0-100 km/hr time.

There is no dedicated sport mode within the Polestar’s interface, but drivers can choose up to three levels of regenerative braking. On the most aggressive setting, the 2 feels close to the Nissan Leaf’s e-Pedal system which essentially allows for one-pedal driving. Unlike e-Pedal though, it does not automatically apply the brakes when the car is at a stop.

An ESP Sport mode loosens the reins on the nanny driver aids, allowing for more liberal throttle applications before the system intervenes. Aside from that, you can toggle the steering weight, but that’s about it. There isn’t even a start button as you climb in, step on the brake, and the car turns itself on by itself. You can also prod the Start/Pause button in the middle of the volume control knob to wake the 2 up.

The Performance Pack fitted to my car adds manually adjustable Ohlins dampers and stiffer suspension components. I suspect that most owners won’t be crawling under the car with an allen key to adjust the ride quality and will simply have their dealer set it and forget about it.

Riding on winter tires and adjust to the softest setting, the ride was still firm but comfortable. Despite only a short stint behind the wheel, the Polestar 2 feels like a properly developed car and not just a straight-line dragster.

The gold finished Brembo brakes look impressive, but the brake feel felt a little bit dead underfoot. I look forward to a longer driving experience in the future to see if my impressions change. At least you won’t have to touch the brake pedal that often if you use the most aggressive regen mode as I did.

How do I buy one?

Sales of the Polestar 2 follow an online retail model but supplemented with showrooms in strategic cities such as Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver. From the press release, Polestar says that unlike conventional dealerships, Polestar’s unique retail “spaces” are staffed by non-commissioned staff and “designed to inform and educate visitors in a relaxed way”.

Customers will also be able to test drive cars and learn about the brand at these new Polestar Spaces.

Final thoughts

Polestar’s CEO, Thomas Ingenlath (an ex-Volvo design boss himself) hints that Polestar’s focus will not be on social media friendly 0-100 km/hr times. Instead, the company’s Unique Selling Propositions will be on the holistic ownership experience, the refinement of the vehicles, and the build quality of their cars.

The Polestar 2, in effect, is intended to play the role of both mass-market leader and rival disruptor to the Tesla Model 3.

On the design front, the 2 is a head turning vehicle in the flesh. It’s clean-cut, fresh, and surprisingly loaded in presence. While it looks related to the Volvo S60, it’s also distanced far enough from to look like a car that will age well in the years to come.

Time will tell as to whether Polestar will succeed in swaying any potential Tesla customers, or those looking at upcoming EV models from the other European manufacturers. If you’re in one of these camps, you might want to take the 2 for a test drive yourself.

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[REVIEW] 2020 Mercedes-AMG CLA45 4MATIC+

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The second-generation Mercedes-Benz CLA-class, launched in 2020, was a huge jump in terms of styling, quality, and refinement. While the original CLA45 made a bonkers 188 horsepower per litre, its scrappy attitude and raucous mechanical noises traded some of the typical Mercedes-Benz polish for boost pressure and exhaust blats.

With the CLA now in its second iteration, a whole host of significant updates transform what used to be a serious performer to one which also has the refinement that befits the Mercedes-AMG brand.

Let’s take a closer look at this Sun Yellow example of the full fat version of the CLA from the AMG internal-combustion madhouse in Affalterbach.

What’s new?

The boffins at Mercedes-AMG have managed to lower the CLA’s nose by taking the new hand-crafted M139 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine and rotating it 180 degrees so as to fit the exhaust manifold at the rear. This then feeds into a new BorgWarner twin-scroll turbocharger.

The result is one of the most power dense forced induction four-cylinders on the market, with 208.9 horsepower / litre for a total of 382 horsepower at 6,500 rpms and 354 lb-ft of torque from 3,000-4,000 rpms. Other markets outside the USA and Canada are able to get their hot little hands on the new 416 horsepower CLA45S model, but alas for now, we will only get the standard tuned version.


Paired up with this new engine is a standard dual-clutch automatic transmission, fitted with an extra gear. Now at eight speeds instead of seven, it feeds power to all four wheels via an updated 4MATIC+ all-wheel-drive system which gains a torque-vectoring rear differential that can help the CLA45 AMG carve around corners more easily.

Select the $3,500 optional AMG Track package, as fitted to my test vehicle, and not only will you get an AMG High-Performance Composite Braking system with enormous 13.8 inch front perforated and ventilated front discs and powerful six-piston fixed calipers plus 13.0 inch rear discs with single piston calipers.

You will also get a beautiful AMG performance steering wheel in DINAMICA microsuede and the much reported about AMG Race and Drift modes.

The RACE mode within AMG DYNAMIC SELECT is ideally suited for track driving by an experienced operator. It reprofiles the throttle, transmission, steering and suspension calibrations for more direct response. A special DRIFT mode utilizes innovative AMG TORQUE CONTROL to precisely send torque to each rear wheel, allowing a degree of handling expertise never before possible in a CLA.

My test vehicle was also fitted with the $3,700 AMG Driver’s package and the $1,900 Drive Package. The former includes 19-inch AMG forged cross-spoke lightweight wheels, the AMG Drive Unit set of controls on the AMG steering wheel, an AMG Track Pace system which lets you store performance data from your CLA45 in the MBUX infotainment system, AMG Real Performance sound (aka partially synthesised exhaust sounds), and arguably, the piece de resistance, the AMG Ride Control Sports suspension with 3-stage dampening.

How does it drive?

Have you been eyeing Audi’s RS3 but want something a bit more distinctive and more involving to drive? The CLA45 is certainly a worthy contender at tempting you away from Audi Sport’s five-cylinder rocket and into the most powerful 2.0-litre car currently on sale.

As James May would say, the CLA45 AMG goes like a stabbed rat. It’s brutally quick with 0-100 km/hr dashes completed in under 4 seconds.

AMG has applied much of its knowledge from its turbocharged V8s here. The expertise shows up in the form of a baffled sump for the engine, extra cooling for the turbo, and much more.

There is remarkably little turbo lag from the class-leading engine even during small throttle pedal loads. This force-fed four-banger engine positively howls as the virtual tachometer revs climb higher towards the redline.

Performance or techies will positively geek out at the many dozens of on-screen menus which can display various read-outs including boost pressure, horsepower, torque, and much more.

To add even more pantomime, the standard AMG exhaust system has a flap that automatically opens or closes, depending on the driving mode, for better noise. Or you can permanently invoke the “powerful” mode’s sound manually.

Whereas the CLA250 that I previously reviewed was more of a sheep in wolf’s clothing, the CLA45 AMG delivers on Mercedes’ dynamic selling pitch. With a ridiculous outright level of grip that will scare all but the most experienced drivers, the car is an absolute hoot to drive.

Part of this credit goes to the CLA45’s 4MATIC+ system, which uses a pair of multi-disc clutches that can variably apportion torque to each wheel as part of the new AMG Torque Control set-up at the rear differential.

The other part of the equation is the well-tuned three stage driver-selectable adaptive dampers which cushion on even the most challenging surfaces. Included as part of the AMG Driver’s package, this AMG Ride Control option includes AMG-developed springs and shocks as well as corresponding modes of AMG Dynamic Select which changes the steering feedback to match.

The ride is suitably firm without being too punishing. Unlike the CLA250, which I found to be most natural-feeling in its default Comfort mode of operation, the CLA45 shines at its more “cooking” modes.

Left in Auto mode, the eight-speed dual-clutch gearbox is intelligent enough to be in the correct gear most of the time. The extra cog is a welcomed addition in keeping noise level and fuel consumption levels down while cruising on the highway.

Click on the AMG’s driving mode selector and you’ll find adjustments of everything from power steering weight and power calibration to suit your preference, to exhaust sound and dampener stiffness settings. I do wish, like in BMW M division cars, there was the option of selecting the speed at which the transmission could shift or the steering feel (independent of other settings), but these are small asks and there is enough feel that can be dialed in for 99 per cent of the situations I encountered.

Like the CLA250, the CLA45 is a pretty comfortable car to live with as a daily driver, although there is a fairly insistent amount of background noise to the car’s ride on certain surfaces. Chalk it up partially to the sticky performance rubber I suppose.

For those who are larger in stature, be sure to test out the front seats before you sign on the sales paperwork’s dotted line. Despite many different adjustments available, the AMG Recarro-styled seats are one of the tightest fitting ones that I’ve experienced in a while, even at their most relaxed settings.

While I found it them to be rather comfortable, I’d expect that some may find the aggressive thigh and lateral bolstering to be confining. As they say, your mileage may vary.

Other techie bits and bobs

The CLA45 offers more semi-autonomous driver aid technology than most cars of its size, including the Audi RS3 and BMW M2.

My fully loaded CLA45 tester included the $1,900 Intelligent Drive Package which included a wack load of features too long to speak in detail in this review. If you’re going to buy this car, this (and the $3,700 Driver’s Package) is a no-brainer.

The Drive Package bundles no less than 13 features including:

  • Active Steering Assist
  • Evasive Steering Assist
  • Active Brake Assist with Cross-Traffic Function
  • Active Emergency Stop Assist
  • Active Speed Limit Assist
  • Active Lane Keeping Assist
  • Active Blind Spot Assist
  • Active Lane Change Assist
  • PRE-SAFE
  • PRE-SAFE PLUS
  • PRE-SAFE Sound
  • Enhanced Stop-and-Go
  • Route-based Speed Adaptation

As mentioned, the list is positively mind boggling. All you really need to know is that by checking off this box, you’ll get a car that can change lanes by itself on the highway (Active Steering Assist and Active Blind Spot Assist); can intervene with emergency braking if you’re about to make a left hand turn and there is an oncoming car; can even be configured to read speed limits and stick to them.

Folks, let me remind you that this is Mercedes-Benz S-class levels of technology in one of the company’s “entry-level” AMG cars!

Final thoughts

Overall, the 2020 Mercedes-AMG CLA45 is a far better hornet’s nest of a sports car than its predecessor. It is prettier to look at, has a more adjustable and involving chassis, and the tech-laden interior is just far nicer to live with.

Crucially, the car has lost none of its raucous four-cylinder blat or its scrappy personality. Its rip-snorting exhaust note brought a smile to my face every time, and thanks to the ease of the MBUX system, it’s now possible to dial back much of the car’s rambunctiousness, something that made the first-generation CLA45 difficult to live with as a daily driver.

With over $14,000 in options added to my Sun Yellow (an extra $890) CLA45 test vehicle’s base price of $60,590, all of this play time doesn’t come cheap. In fact, the 45’s closest competitor is its little brother, the less powerful but cheaper CLA35 with 302 horsepower.

But skip a few of the optional appearance packages on the 45 and you’ll get a all-weather rocket of car that delivers oodles of fun even below maximum attack mode.

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[REVIEW] 2020 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio

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When Alfa Romeo released its Giulia Quadrifoglio sports sedan in 2017, car reviewers were stunned. All of this excellence seemingly came out of the blue, evidently by the company enlisting a crack skunkworks-like team of designers and engineers. In very Italian form, it is said that these teams designed almost every part of the Giulia from scratch without real oversight.

Designed to compete with the likes of the BMW M3, the Alfa Giulia Quadrifoglio has been regaled as an impressively fast and well sorted European sports sedan from a company which hasn’t competed in this sector for at least a decade, and hasn’t produced a contender for the top spot since the 1960s.

At 4.7 metres long, 1.95 metres wide, and 1.68 metres tall, the Giulia’s performance SUV sibling, the Stelvio Quadrifoglio, was expected to be every bit as wholesome as the sedan upon which it shares the same chassis.

Unlike it’s smaller brethren though, as an SUV, the Stelvio is also expected to be spacious enough to collect the kids home from school in comfort and safety on a rainy Monday evening. It is also expected to be able to swallow a week’s worth of shopping at Costco on the way home from work.

Let’s take a closer look.

Engineering and Design

The Stelvio’s flamboyant styling is instantly recognisable from the Giulia, with a similar prominent shield-shape grille dominating a large amount of the front-end real estate.

As with the Giulia Quadrifoglio, Alfa Romeo leaned heavily on Ferrari’s expertise, including the acquisition of Philippe Krief, the Ferrari’s 458 Speciale’s chassis engineer, to deliver all that expertise to a vehicle in a category that Alfa has never competed in before.

With aggressive detailing, a pumped-up shape, those classic telephone dial wheels, the Stelvio looks like little else on the road. Its proportions make it look like a very large hatchback when seen in the context of other cars perhaps due to the lack of a three-quarter window.

The Stelvio’s designers certainly didn’t go for any sort of rugged styling elements as with other SUVs. As far as performance SUVs go, it is even more distinctive than the Porsche Macan, particularly due to its aggressive snout and offset exhaust pipes.

Swaths of aluminium are used for weight-saving reasons, including in the suspension componentry and body panels such as with the fenders, hood, and doors. Even the driveshaft is made of carbon fibre, and lightweight carbon-ceramic brakes are offered as an option (my tester had it).

Oh and in case you’re wondering about the four-leaf clover that makes its appearance all around the vehicle, it references the “Quadrifoglio Verde” motif that first appeared on Ugo Sivocci’s Alfa Romeo RL Targa Florio, with which he won the race of the same name in 1923.

Record setting Performance

7 mins 51.8 seconds. That’s how fast the Stelvio Quadrifoglio lapped the famed Nürburgring Nordschleife track.

As another manufacturer that has fallen at the altar of the SUV, Alfa Romeo wanted to launch Stelvio Quadrifogolio with some numbers to back its performance claim in this crowded space. As for benchmarking, Alfa’s engineering chief, Roberto Fedeli – formerly of Ferrari – said that he wanted to reproduce the Giulia in the way the Stelvio drives. In that, I think he largely succeeded.

Although the Nürburgring record has now been broken by the Mercedes-AMG GLC63 S, a lot of credit needs to be given to the fantastic powerplant under the Stelvio QV’s hood for making the record-setting run possible. This firepower is provided by an all-aluminium 2.9-litre twin-turbocharged V6 that can trace its lineage to Ferrari’s F154 family of modular V8s.

Though liberated of two cylinders and reconfigured for use under both the Stelvio’s and the Giulia’s hoods, the V8 equivalents have been used in everything from the Ferrari 488 Pista to the Maserati Quattroporte GTS.

Developing 503 horsepower at 6,500 rpms and 443 lb-ft of torque at 2,500 rpms, this is a cracking engine in a genuinely fast performance SUV. There is a ferocity and freedom that perhaps can only be expected of a turbocharged engine developed partly in part by Ferrari. It sounds soulful at mid-revs and absolutely explodes in an almost savage manner over the last 2,000 rpms of its rev range from 5,000 rpms to redline.

Paired with the eight-speed automatic gearbox in its fastest-shifting mode, the hot Stelvio can crack the 0-100 km/hr run in just about 4 seconds despite not having a formal launch control system. The autobox is cooperative when driving with gusto, delivering quick and direct shifts. Some shifts come with an underlying jolt though.
Left in automatic mode the ZF gearbox delivers each ratio with an instant, seamless shift. For ultimate fun, you’ll want to use the beautiful aluminium paddles fitted to the steering column and change gear yourself.

Unless you’re in Race mode, the gearbox doesn’t change as you approach a corner, instead waiting for you to get on the power before kicking down.

Full throttle acceleration runs are aided by Alfa’s Q4 all-wheel-drive system which is rear wheel drive biased in normal conditions The system can proactively or reactively sent frontwards up to 50 per cent of the engine’s power when needed.

How else does it drive on the road?

Since we’re on the topic of the transmission, anyway, let’s continue on with those delightful oversized metal paddle shifters. Fixed in place so they don’t move with the wheel and long enough so that you can reach them easily, they ping beautifully with every pull back in the way that the typical stubby little plastic shifters don’t in most rival vehicles. This is just one of the tangible ways that drivers can instantly realise that Alfa has done this properly.

The Stelvio QV’s defining character is that of agility. W its quick steering (perhaps a bit too quick), this vehicle executes direction changes like no other, living up to the Alfa Romeo’s brand hallmark. With good feedback and a fantastic amount of precision, the Stelvio drives around corners eagerly, showing off its sporty character. Thanks to a very composed amount of body roll, there is a high degree of driver confidence.

Suspension is by the way of a front double-wishbone arrangement and a multi-link set-up at the rear. Adaptive dampers are standard fare here and can be tightened up or slackened off via the Alfa Pro-DNA drive mode selector. This also works in alliance with Alfa’s Chassis Domain Control system to alter and manage throttle response, shift severity and calibration of the traction and stability software. I found it rather strange how there wasn’t a fully customizable “individual” mode with the Chassis control system as with many other vehicles on the market.

For the most fun behind the wheel, you’ll want to select Dynamic or Race mode on the Pro-DNA system. In either mode, not only does the throttle’s response and the ZF’s shifts sharpen up, but the stability control system loosens its reins and the exhaust valves open to increase the volume. The result is rabid performance and an evocative soundtrack as the Stelvio bursts from corner to corner.

Simply put, piloting the Stelvio is fun and most drivers will leave with smiles on their faces.

Other Bits and Bobs

As far as ride comfort, the road’s texture does comes through the cabin due to those big wheels and performance tires, creating an underlying jitter to the Stelvio’s ride. Yet, when it comes to managing a real bump or a rut, the suspension does a good job absorbing it and keeping the body steady. By comparison, other performance SUVs such as the Jaguar F-Pace and Porsche Macan are stiffer.

My car’s optional carbon-ceramic brakes certainly looked good, but despite Alfa’s changeable brake-by-wire pedal, I found that the pedal lacked some natural feel, grabby and over-sensitive at times but strangely dead when the brakes were wet. I’m sure they would perform fantastically on a track, but in everyday situations, bragging rights are perhaps what they’re best for.

Unlike carbon-ceramic brakes from other manufacturers, I didn’t hear any of the despised squeaking from the pads when cold.

Inside the Cabin

Although there is plenty to like about the Stelvio’s skunkwork’s development style, the result is the outright packages just aren’t as polished and premium as those of most rivals.

As with the Giulia sedan, the Stelvio’s interior has some well-done facets, but overall, the cabin doesn’t have the presence and feeling of quality found in many competitors, at least not for the price that Alfa is charging for the vehicle.

Cheaper plastics — such as the trim around the shifter, the steering wheel buttons, and the stalks — bring the feeling of craftsmanship down. At least in my well-spec’ed tester, there are swaths of carbon fibre trim and the alcantara seating surfaces looked premium.

Don’t get me wrong though, the basics are done right, such as the well-shaped and nicely trimmed split carbon fibre / leather / Alcantara flat-bottomed steering wheel and wonderfully tactile aluminium paddles behind. However, the interior is just not up to the high standards seen in rivals such as the Mercedes-AMG GLC, the BMW X3M, or the Porsche Macan.

Soft-touch materials do cover the entire upper and middle dash, and most of the door trim. The nicely grained, metal-looking inserts, as well as the stitching on the door trim, armrest, and elsewhere do score some high points as well.

The rubber-covered control knobs around the climate controls and infotainment system are easy to grip. Plus, extra credit for the carpet-lined door pockets and the felt-lined glove box. The cargo area is also nicely finished.

Space inside is reasonable, sitting somewhere between an Audi Q3 and Q5 in terms of interior accommodation.

Something that also seemed a tad compromised was the seating position. While there is a nicely placed dead pedal, I found the hard, intrusive centre console a bit restricted as it occasionally connected with my right knee. I also never really felt comfortable in the sporty looking seats, perhaps due to the length of the bottom seat cushion and the overly aggressive lumbar support (even when adjusted to the flattest setting).

Technology

The Stelvio comes with one USB port in front of the gear selector, as well as another USB port and one AUX port under the armrest. Rear-seat passengers get one charging-only USB port.

Starting in 2020, a new 8.8-inch touchscreen infotainment system is standard.  A rotary controller also serves as a secondary interface for screen functions. It’s a bit tricky to use the rotary knob when Apple CarPlay is displayed, and the titled design of the various pages seemed a lot more cumbersome to use than other systems on the marketplace.

At least the optional 3D graphic navigation look great, especially with building graphics and floating navigation directions. But that’s where the good news ends.

Rerouting calculations take longer than average compared to other integrated navigation systems, and it takes a while for the system to fire up upon starting. Natural voice commands or Siri Hands Free for Bluetooth-paired iOS devices isn’t supported either.

One of the weirdest and most problematic features of Alfa’s previous system was a backup camera display that not only had poor resolution, but also used only a small portion of the available screen real estate, devoting another portion to a virtual display of the parking sensors.

The new system follows the same basic plan, unfortunately. The camera view seems larger, but it still takes up only a portion of the screen and still has poor resolution.

As far as passive and active safety systems, the Stelvio comes with all the requisite systems including blindspot warning, rear cross traffic alert, and lane departure warning.

The forward collision warning system alerts the driver if the Stelvio is considered to be approaching a car too rapidly, and can be set for different sensitivities (far, middle, and near). It may also give a quick brake jerk to get the driver’s attention.

When an impact is anticipated, the system will pre-charge the brakes to help the driver with maximum braking force. If no action is taken by the driver, the automatic emergency braking will deploy and try to mitigate the anticipated crash.

Final Thoughts

Overall, the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio is stimulating to drive and has special appeal for drivers in search of a rewarding road experience.

It oozes Italian flair and is one of the best handling SUVs available, shining especially brightly when driven with gusto. Masking its weight well, it has impressive body control and can really be manipulated by the driver.

Still, it is not without fault as there are some rougher edges when compared with its high-priced rivals in the class. The overall experience is very Alfa then, in that it has some odd annoyances in terms of the interior and infotainment system. It may well be fast, but the vehicle is not simply a fuss-free point A-to-B machine. Chalk it up to “character-building”.

The Stelvio’s engine, steering, brakes, and chassis combine to deliver an unexpected but welcome level of enjoyment. Just make sure that you can live with the vehicle’s quirks before it lives in your garage permanently.

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[REVIEW] 2020 Jeep Wrangler Sahara EcoDiesel

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Recognized around the world even in remote places, the latest generation Jeep Wrangler (named the JL) retains the storied model’s rustic charm and distinct proportion. Built on nearly 80 years of heritage, Jeep is the “O.G.” as they would say; the original SUV with capability and versatility.

Decades after its launch, Jeep continues to refine its iconic and successful Wrangler. This vehicle, born out of necessity during war time, has stood the test of time.

Whether you’re just an urban adventurer or a hardcore off-roader, the Jeep brand and the Wrangler’s basic shape is seemingly timeless.

Like many other SUVs and pickup trucks on the market, whether or not the vehicles are actually taken off-road is debatable. However, what many people are buying into is the sense of possibility and the limitless confidence that the Wrangler offers.

Now available with the much anticipated EcoDiesel powertrain, the Wrangler has more open-air options and is loaded with more advanced technology and safety features than before.

Let’s take a closer look.

A Retro-Modern Design with an advanced new diesel powertrain

After years of anticipation, Jeep has finally added their EcoDiesel engine for the 2020 model year onwards. Available on only four door Wrangler models paired with the eight-speed automatic transmission, this Italian-made 3.0-litre EcoDiesel V6 engine can also be found in the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel which I reviewed earlier this year.

Making a healthy 260 horsepower and 442 lb-ft of torque in the Wrangler, this third generation EcoDiesel engine absolutely trounces the Wrangler’s gas engine options.

In comparison, the Wrangler’s 2.0-litre turbocharged inline four-cylinder makes 270 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. The larger 3.6-litre V6 makes 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque.

Jeepheads can rejoice because, in addition to the EcoDiesel being the torquiest Wrangler to date, at least until the bonkers 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 arrives with it’s monster 6.4-litre 470 horsepower V8, it is also currently the most fuel efficient.

With 0-100 km/hr runs completed in a brisk 6.8 seconds, the Wrangler is surprisingly quick, matching the time of the gas V6. From behind the wheel though, the EcoDiesel feels quicker thanks to the prodigious amount of torque peaking from a low 1,600 rpms.

Equipped in Sahara trim, my test truck’s more street-focused Bridgestone Dueler A/T tires are sure to eek out the best fuel economy numbers when compared to the Rubicon trim’s knobby BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO2 tires and the higher rolling resistance associated with them.

Over the week that I had the Wrangler Sahara EcoDiesel, I averaged an astonishing 8.9 litres/100 kms in mixed city and highway driving. Folks, that’s subcompact car territory.

Given the large 69.3 litre fuel capacity, the fuel economy savings from the diesel translates into well over 140 kilometres of extra range in the real world. More range also suits the choose-your-own-adventure Jeep owners who will be able to get lost deeper into the wilderness.

To clean up the diesel emissions, a new 19.3 litre Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF) tank is located immediately behind the Wrangler’s fuel tank. The refill location is located next to the normal fuel filler cap and aligns its refills roughly with the standard oil changed intervals.

What about the rest of the Wrangler?

All new for the 2018 model year, the Wrangler was developed and engineered with more safety features and advanced technology than before. No doubt as consumers’ tastes become more sophisticated, Jeep’s engineers have had to keep up as well with unique and innovative vehicle connectivity.

There is no hardware revolution here as far as the basic tried-and-true design though. The Wrangler retains its solid axles and body-on-frame construction. Though many owners will never venture off-road, this is one rig that will actually climb mountains, cross rivers, and bash boulders.

As part of its appeal, the Wrangler keeps its removable doors, fold-down windshield, exposed roll bars, rear mounted spare tire with swing gate and hatch, as well as a removable roof. These all come with compromises such as somewhat awkward access and excessive wind noise, but that’s part of the storied model’s rustic charm.

My particular Wrangler EcoDiesel was fitted with Jeep’s new Sky One-Touch Retractable Roof. This feature is designed to give you the best of both worlds between the standard Sunrider soft top or the three-piece Freedom hard top with removable panels.

It’s a pricey option, but you get the added security, quieter cabin, and body-colour look of the Freedom hardtop with the opportunity for both the first and second rows to enjoy the sunshine overhead on-demand.

The roof’s functionality is in its name, “One Touch”, and it’s as simple as pressing a button on the windshield header to roll back the accordion-like fabric roof panel all the way to the cargo area. Compared to the Sky One-Touch option, the standard Sunrider soft top needs you to get out, unzip things, store panels in place.

Aside from the cost, the only downside of the One-Touch roof is that it’s not going to be as silent as the Freedom hardtop’s panels. Because of the Wrangler’s body shape and lack of a headliner, wind noise permeates substantially at highway speeds and you’ll hear every one of those rain drops falling over your head. But that’s like being connected with nature, isn’t it?

If you’re already going balls out on your Wrangler’s spec, this roof may not be a bad option to consider.

Aside from the powertrain, how does it drive?

As you might expect, the Wrangler’s on-road behaviour is old school compared to modern day crossover SUVs. While it is secure, it’s clearly not designed for grip and precision on the track.

Kudos where it’s due as the handling is vastly improved versus Wranglers prior to this JL model, with quicker steering, less body roll, and much improved ride.

Though not fitted to my test vehicle, selectable full-time four-wheel-drive on the Sahara can now remain engaged indefinitely, adding some added confidence to the driving experience. The well-tuned stability control will quickly throw out its safety net if things go awry.

Ride-wise, broken pavement, bumps, and ruts transmit through the occupants. For the most part it is quite acceptable considering the heavy-duty suspension and solid axles, but don’t expect it to ride like a typical car or crossover SUV.

Interior and Technology

Drivers get a high, commanding seating position thanks to the wide windshield, thin A-pillars, and the flat hood. Awkwardly, the Wrangler doesn’t offer a driver’s side dead pedal footrest. While there are several aftermarket solutions, it is a notable omission as it is a valuable way to keep the driver securely planted both on-road and off.

One tech highlight is the addition of much improved LED headlamps and foglamps which do a tremendously better job of highlighting the road ahead despite having the styling reminiscent of the old-school round sealed beam lamps.

The new Wrangler has made a huge leap forward in interior materials and quality, My tested Sahara model even featured contrast stitching on the armrest, soft-touch panels on the doors, and stitching on the dashboard. While there is still a lot of hard plastic throughout, the texture is pleasant versus cheap.

I liked the small Easter eggs of various Jeep logos around the cabin, which adds to the charm. Even the cover for the RainSense wipers (for when the windshield is folded down) can be used as a sand scoop. The owner’s manual comes in a camo print bag.

The burly gearshift knob has a red trigger release and a classic Jeep image on top, as does the corner of the windshield.  Most controls have grippy rubber knobs and large buttons, and I particularly liked the chrome-rimmed dash vents.

Retro styling cues aside, the JL Wrangler has modern-looking controls and gauges including the optional UConnect 8.4 inch touchscreen infotainment system in my test vehicle. Reskinned for Jeep-duty, this easy-to-use system is the benchmark in the industry.

Not only are there app icons around the screen for commonly used features for navigation, media, radio, and phone, but there are also plenty of off-road screens and customizable virtual gauges sure to please any off-road enthusiast. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto work are integrated into the system, and there is even a UConnect Smartwatch app that allows owners to remotely start their vehicles, lock and unlock doors, sound the horn and flash lights directly from their smart watches.

From new teen drivers to an aging parent, a Family Alerts feature provides peace of mind when they are out on the road. Vehicle owners can set boundary limits, monitor driving speed and pinpoint vehicle location at any time via the Uconnect Smartphone app.

In addition to the infotainment touchscreen, there is also a highly customizable full colour 7 inch information display between the instrument cluster gauges.

For 2020, adaptive cruise control, forward-collision and automatic emergency braking are finally available on the Wrangler. My tester was also fitted with the optional blind spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert system as part of an optional package. Both are must-haves in my book, given the blindspots that this vehicle has.

Final Thoughts

Simple and straightforward, flashy or fancy? There are so many choices available to consumers these days.

While owning and operating a Jeep Wrangler may present some compromises, the availability of the EcoDiesel powertrain reduces a couple of these downsides so long as you can swallow the $7,000+ price premium for this engine option.

Given its much improved mileage, power delivery, and smoothness, it is the Wrangler to have for me, at least until the new plug-in hybrid 4xe version arrives next year.

Ultimately, this unique vehicle offers what car crossover SUVs cannot. Unparalleled 4×4 capability, a presence like no other, plus the ability to take the doors and roof off yourself with the provided tool kit. How cool is that?

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[REVIEW] 2020 Dodge Challenger Scat Pack Widebody

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In pony car ranks, the Dodge Challenger has always been somewhat of an underdog. As the last entrant in this category of Detroit’s Big Three, the original car only lasted for five model years.

However, in that half a decade, the Challenger became one of the most storied muscle car nameplates in automotive history. This is in part due to something its competitors didn’t have: the greatest range of powertrain choices in the industry, from the “Slant Six” to the “Elephant Motor” 426 Hemi.

What is old is new again

This large retro-looking coupe was reborn again 2008, when the auto industry was big on retro-inspired designs.

With underpinnings shared with the Chrysler 300/Dodge Charger siblings and with styling inspired by the original 1960s muscle car, the Challenger once again became a favourite amongst the trio of retro-modern muscle cars.

While superficially resembling its namesake, today’s Challenger has continued to be updated with improved handling, comfort, technology, and a series of civilizing upgrades to the interior.  Rest assured though, that the brazen attitude remains, particularly with the addition of the widebody option.

Let’s take a closer look.

The Big Bruiser

Just as in the 1960’s, the Challenger lineup includes an almost bewildering number of different trim lines, from V6 to V8, with various cosmetic changes, performance-orientated features, all culminating in the outrageous 797 horsepower SRT Hellcat Redeye model.

The current iteration of the Challenger has actually been with us since 2008 and underwent an extensive facelift in 2015. While the Mustang and Camaro have both evolved, especially as of late, to leaner and more technologically sophisticated versions of themselves, Dodge is content with leaving the Challenger as a tire-shredding brute.

In fact, aside from the wide body option and the automatic gearbox, this vehicle is largely the same as that which I reviewed several years ago! Yet, there’s something unmistakably charming about its old school easy-going cruiser personality.

With the 392 Hemi’s baritone exhaust note gurgling at idle, the Challenger’s big-bruiser design makes an unmistakable statement even when stopped.

For 2020, the sexy Widebody option is limited to the Challenger R/T 392 Scat Pack (as tested) and the Challenger SRT Hellcat and Redeye. For 2021, Dodge expands the option to more grades, including the Challenger R/T Scat Pack Shaker and the Challenger T/A 392.

Aside from looking unbelievably cool, the pumped-up fenders add a substantial 3.5 inches of width and track to the standard car, allowing the fitment of the massive 20 x 11-inch “Devil’s Rim” wheels all around. These huge steamroller tires are arguably necessary to handle the torque and weight of the Challenger.

Other Big Performance Numbers

Like other Scat Pack Challengers, the Widebody model is powered by Dodge’s 392 cubic inch Hemi V8 producing 485 horsepower and 475 lb-ft of torque.

This big displacement engine needs so much air that it breathes through its “eyes”. All kidding aside, Dodge’s engineers cleverly redesigned the headlamps so that the inner lights are actually air intakes versus the “normal” Challenger. I particularly liked the Easter Egg checkered flag pattern inside them!


While initially slightly disappointed that my test car was specified with the optional ZF eight-speed automatic transmission versus the standard six-speed manual gearbox, I was pleasantly surprised at how well it was calibrated with the engine’s powerband, shifting crisply in sport mode, yet smoothly when cruising.

Contrary to conventional pricing, the manual gearbox actually costs $1,000 more to spec out.

The Wide Body option also includes massive six-piston front calipers clamping down on sizeable 15.35 inch front rotors. Not only are they bragging rights at car shows, but they do a damn good job of hauling this heavy brute down from speed.

What does it feel like behind the wheel?

As you might expect, the Challenger is blisteringly quick in a straight line, so long as you can get traction. Launch control is, of course, available for the appropriate environment, and 0-100 km/hr runs can be had in about 4.3 seconds. The brawny V8 emits an invigorating growl both under the hood and from its cannon blast exhaust system.

While the Challenger can be had in both rear-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive, the Scat Pack is only available in the former configuration.

Suspension tweaks done during the last major refresh resulted in more responsive handling, but the latest addition of driver-selectable adaptive shocks allows for a mostly comfortable ride despite the large wheels and tires.

Still though, the Challenger’s enormous girth means that it feels bulky in routine driving.  Push it a bit harder, and it’s surprisingly more capable than you might think. Like a hungry French bulldog doing zoomies, it snarls and hangs on in corners like you wouldn’t believe, aided by the extra wide tires that come with the Widebody option.

Various track-driving apps integrated into the excellent UConnect infotainment system let you limit the aggressiveness of the driver nanny aids like stability control.

I have no doubt that an experienced pilot on a closed track will be able to play with the Dodge’s docile nature even as its tires are on the edge of adhesion. The steering is precise and has decent feedback, but requires more turns lock-to-lock than expected.

If there is a price to be paid for the wide tires and the prodigious amount of torque going to the rear wheels, it’s that the car is a bit skittish to drive on Vancouver’s rainy roads.

Despite the stability and traction control system at in full standby mode, touching the throttle pedal from a dead stop on wet roads can result in the rear end stepping out momentarily.

The wide tires, despite being high-performance all-season models on my test car, are also a lot more prone to hydroplaning on rain-soaked highways. It’s the price to play for the Challenger’s macho stance.

How about the inside?

Think of the cockpit as a man-cave finished in 1970’s muscle-car chic. It’s low, dark, with over-bolstered furnishings but a lousy view out. There are flashes of chrome and metallic-looking trim to help to brighten things up.

The Scat Pack’s bee logo makes an appearance in several places. It’s a welcomed classic touch and a bit of eye candy from those who know the story behind it.

In every day driving, the cushy seats are nice but sometimes you might feel like you’re sitting in a bit of a basement with high doors and window sills. Retro-styled circular door mirrors may look cool but have limited usefulness.

The wide rear roof pillars also create giant blindspots to the back corners. It’s fortunate that there is an excellent blindspot warning system and a back-up camera to compensate for the styling.

The driver-focused cockpit is angled away from the passenger, and a pair of old-school analogue speedometer and tachometer dials flank the instrument cluster. Personally, I found the throwback font on the speedometer a bit challenging to read at a glance, so it was nice to see a versatile full-colour information screen between the dials.

Like other FCA products, it can be customized to show a host of useful information including multiple trip computer screens, a digital speedometer, audio settings, and even virtual equivalents of gauges such as coolant temp, oil pressure, and even transmission temperature.

There is even a track-only screen for bragging rights, displaying braking distances, lateral-g’s, and 0-100 km/hr and quarter-mile acceleration runs.

FCA’s larger 8.4 inch UConnect infortainment touch screen is a must-have. Straight forward system menu logic, easy-to-use soft buttons, very clear graphics, supplementary conventional physical knobs and buttons, as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility make this touchscreen-based system an industry benchmark.

There is a comprehensive list of apps and connectivity options, and apps can be added via a Uconnect Access subscription. GPS navigation is done by Garmin, meaning that anyone familiar with a Garmin portable navigation device should feel right at home.


Aside from the front cup holders, you’re sorely out of luck if you’re looking for an open bin to store your smartphone. There are two measly nets flanking the center console, but they don’t seem sturdy enough to hold anything stouter than a candy bar.

At least the glovebox is huge (and comes with three dividers for the owner’s manual, paperwork, and travel sundries). Also, the bin between the front seats is reasonably sized and nicely padded on the lid.

Overall, good controls, decent interior quality and the ability to seat five are pluses.


Final Thoughts

Compared to European vehicles offering the same horsepower and performance numbers, this vehicular time machine is a relative bargain.


Dodge has been doing a decent job keeping the aging Challenger up to date with the times. Despite its nostalgic exterior, its 1970’s soundtrack, and its bold styling, there are still modern features and enough serious performance hardware to make the Challenger a mix of old-school cool with today’s performance. The optional Widebody kit just adds further cool points to this equation.

While the Ford Mustang and Chevy Camaro may offer more precise handling, the Challenger’s roomier cabin and larger trunk capacity make it all the more friendly for daily driving or fair-weather road trips.

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