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  • 2017 Chicago Auto Show

    Nation’s largest consumer show expands family-friendly activities

    By Nina Russin

    Nissan Midnight Edition

    Nissan Midnight Edition

    Those of us inside the car industry tend to forget the role consumers play in an auto show. In addition to new product introductions, these events are a rare opportunity for those outside the bubble to get up close and personal with cars they are thinking of buying. The driving public is the meat and potatoes of the Chicago Show, held each February at the McCormick Place convention center. In terms of attendance, it is the largest auto show in the United States.

    This year’s show features fun for all members of the family, including those too young to drive: a Lego Batmobile at the Chevrolet booth plus scale replicas of the Y-Wing Starfighter, X-Wing Starfighter, TIE Striker and AT-ACT, all displayed under the Death Star in Nissan’s special Rogue One Star Wars Limited Edition Display appeal to the kid in all of us.

    Nissan Rogue One Star Wars Display

    Nissan Rogue One Star Wars Display

    Those of driving age can get behind the wheel and have some fun at the show’s five indoor test tracks.

    Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles, Toyota and Mercedes-Benz include test tracks as part of their displays: an appeal to millennials who value experience over the written word. Mercedes-Benz’s Iron Schockl is a 45-degree grade, demonstrating the outstanding climbing ability of the G-Class, while Camp Jeep brings off-roading indoors with rock crawls, steep inclines and sandy surfaces. A Ram proving ground includes six stations that demonstrate the trucks’ work capabilities while Toyota enthusiasts can test drive the new RAV4 and Highlander midsize crossover. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Dodge Durango R/T

    Seating for seven and a HEMI to go

    By Nina Russin

    Dodge Durango R/T Blacktop

    Dodge Durango R/T Blacktop

    Who says family cars are boring? The 2017 Dodge Durango seven-passenger SUV is anything but, especially when equipped with the optional 5.7-liter hemi engine. The engine comes standard on the sporty R/T, priced from $42,095 excluding destination. Other standard features include 20-inch rims, heavy-duty brakes, trailer sway dampening and a 3.09 rear axle.

    An eight-speed automatic transmission extends fuel economy with large overdrive gears for the highway. Average fuel economy according to the EPA is 17 miles-per-gallon. The rear-wheel drive truck tested tows up to 7400 pounds.

    On the inside, the Durango gets heated and ventilated front seats, an 8.4-inch touchscreen, Uconnect infotainment, power tilt and telescoping steering wheel, tri-zone climate control, satellite radio, remote start and real-time traffic updates.

    Options on the test car include a technology group that adds blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning, front collision warning and adaptive cruise control that works to a full stop. Other options include a rear DVD entertainment system, second-row fold-and-tumble captain’s chairs, a power sunroof and third-row mini floor console. Final MSRP is $49,670. Read the rest of this entry »

  • Heels and Wheels 2015

    Women’s automotive conference charts changes in the industry

    By Nina Russin

    Heels and Wheels 2015

    Heels and Wheels 2015

    It’s been a long time coming, but the automotive industry has finally realized that women think about cars differently. Since female buyers account for 50 percent of all new car purchases, understanding how their preferences impact purchase decisions significantly impacts automakers’ bottom lines.

    For the past five years, my colleague Christine Overstreet has assembled a group of female journalists, product specialists, market analysts and engineers for Heels and Wheels, a conference focused on the growing impact women have on car design, engineering, media coverage and automotive sales. This year’s conference that took place in Southern California included market analysts from Kelly Blue Book, engineers from General Motors and FCA, products specialists from GMC, Buick, Dodge, Jaguar, Land Rover, Lexus, Mitsubishi, Kia, Nissan, Infiniti, Mazda and Volkswagen.

    Two-dozen journalists covered the gamut from traditional outlets such as Cars.com and Autobytel to electronic media, travel writers and mommy bloggers. While earlier Heels and Wheels programs focused primarily on the dealership experience, the 2015 event had a broader base, looking at recent trends and giving journalists a chance to spend time with women who work for the automakers on product development teams. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Dodge Charger SXT

    Not available in plain vanilla

    By Nina Russin

    2015 Dodge Charger

    2015 Dodge Charger

    The Dodge Charger might look like a midsized car but it’s really a two-plus-two, albeit a very big one. The newest Charger that rolls out for the 2015 model year builds on the heritage of the original 1966 model: a sporty coupe based on the four-door Coronet.

    Being bigger than the average two-plus-two has its advantages. In the 1960s the Charger’s large engine bay gave engineers room to stuff a Hemi engine the size of a grocery cart inside to earn some NASCAR bragging rights. The newest high-performance Charger called the Hellcat comes equipped with Dodge’s 6.2-liter 707-horsepower Hemi engine and has a top speed of 204 miles-per-hour.

    While its speed and performance rival some exotics, the Charger is also eminently affordable, with the base SXT model priced from $29,995 excluding the $995 destination charge.

    The SXT comes standard with Chrysler’s 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 engine: the same block used in the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Dodge Challenger and Jeep Wrangler. Those readers who think the base Charger is a plain vanilla version of the pricier Hellcat should think again. The Dodge Charger is not available in plain vanilla. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Dodge Challenger

    Millennial muscle car dusts the competition

    By Nina Russin

    2015 Dodge Challenger SRT

    2015 Dodge Challenger SRT

    If ever there were a car that breathed testosterone out of every pore, it would be the 2015 Dodge Challenger. Although it competes against the midsized Camaro and Mustang, the newest Challenger is really in a league of its own, with a larger chassis and available 707 horsepower hemi engine that not only dusts its direct competitors, but the Dodge Viper as well. Even Italian exotics will have a hard time keeping up.

    Dodge’s product strategy is to combine value with performance, offering the V-6, SXT model priced from $26,995. The top flight SRT Hellcat starts at $59,995.

    Buyers can also choose from the R/T with a 5.7-liter hemi engine and eight-speed automatic transmission, the 6.4-liter Hemi Challenger Scat Pack and the Challenger SRT 392, with 485 horsepower and 475 foot-pounds of torque. Two new Shaker models join the clan later on.

    Although its design isn’t a drastic departure from the 2009 car, the 2015 Challenger does have some distinct differences. Based on the classic 1971 model, the 2015 cars sport a new split grille, more pronounced hood bulge LED halo headlamps and LED tail lamps.

    The profile is essentially unchanged, maintaining its popular character line. Read the rest of this entry »

  • Dodge Brand Centennial

    A hundred years of challenges and triumph

    By Nina Russin

     

    1916 Dodge Assembly Plant

    1916 Dodge Assembly Plant

    On a hazy late June morning, several dozen journalists gather at Meadowbrook just outside Auburn Hills, Michigan for a program celebrating the hundredth anniversary of the Dodge brand. In addition to being close to the company’s corporate headquarters, Meadowbrook is the property on which the Dodge brothers built their first automobile in 1915.

    Born in nearby Niles, Michigan, the brothers began their careers in the bicycle business before becoming suppliers of engines, transmissions and axles to the burgeoning auto industry. Dodge was the first brand to produce an all-steel car, but is better known to the current generation of automotive enthusiasts for its performance products, particularly the Hemi engines, Scat Packs and Shakers of the muscle car era.

    For the media event, the public relations department has assembled a collection of historic models from the museum at Meadowbrook and offered journalists the unusual opportunity to get behind the wheel. I jump into one of the pre-War cars: a 35-horsepower cabriolet built in 1927. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2014 Dodge Durango

    Six-passenger crossover combines value and versatility

    By Nina Russin

    2014 Dodge Durango

    2014 Dodge Durango

    Of all new car buyers, the group that seems most focused on value is parents with growing families. It’s not cheap raising kids these days, as the recent holiday season has reminded us. When I was a kid, getting a baseball mitt and an Erector set was considered an epic Christmas. These days, parents who don’t deposit a new cell phone and iPad under the tree are bah humbug.

    Unfortunately, full-sized crossover vehicles don’t come cheap, with most models costing upwards of $40,000. One notable exception is the Dodge Durango. This week’s test car is the rear-wheel drive Rallye model, starting at $32,990.

    Power comes from a 295-horsepower V-6 engine and eight-speed automatic transmission. For those who don’t need the brute force of the available Hemi V-8, it’s a great alternative. Average fuel economy for my 250-mile test drive was 23 miles-per-gallon.

    The test car comes with an appearance package that adds 20-inch alloy wheels and a monochromatic exterior with dual chrome exhaust tips, bringing the final MSRP to $34,480. Read the rest of this entry »

  • Heels and Wheels 2013

    Annual conference puts women in the driver’s seat

    By Nina Russin

    Aston Martin DB9

    I feel like the Queen: not the one with the Queen wave and frumpy clothes, but rather a Pussy Galore queen with Sean Connery by my side, oozing sex appeal and confidence. I don’t typically have Pussy Galore hallucinations, but I don’t usually get behind the wheel of an Aston Martin DB9 either. The experience was the highlight of my trip to the third annual Heels and Wheels women’s automotive conference in Bend, Oregon

    Of course, there was a more serious aspect to the event, its primary focus being the buying power of women, which currently accounts for at least 50 percent of all new car purchases and up to 80 percent of car buying decisions.

    According to Kelley Blue Book research Toyota, Honda, Ford, Chevrolet, Nissan, Hyundai, Kia, Subaru, Mazda and Volkswagen are the most popular brands among female buyers. Women tend to favor crossover vehicles and SUVs over sports cars and pickup trucks, with models such as the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 topping the popularity charts.

    The internet has become the most popular source of information among women shopping for a new car, due partly to the unease with which many women approach dealerships. KBB visitors typically research a vehicle for two months, take about three more months for the purchasing process and keep their cars between 8 and 10 years.

    Connectivity features are playing a larger role in purchase decisions, with Bluetooth and GPS both included among must-haves. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2013 Dodge Charger SRT8

    SRT pumps up the muscle on Dodge’s fastback coupe

    By Nina Russin

    2013 Dodge Charger SRT8

    Some cars have sex appeal; others do not. The 2013 Dodge Charger SRT8 parked in my driveway has it in spades. I can literally feel the testosterone oozing out the pores of its Axis suede seat inserts.

    Of course, the SRT badge means that the Charger is more than a pretty face. The division that heads up the brand’s motorsports efforts segues that technology into high-performance street cars such as the Charger.

    A 6.4-liter Hemi V-8 engine propels the coupe from zero-to-sixty in just over four seconds. Twenty-inch alloy rims with R-rated tires are all business, as are the Brembo four-piston brakes.

    Base price is $44,995 excluding the $995 delivery charge and $1,000 gas guzzler tax. Options include a safety package that adds blind spot monitoring and cross path detection, heated side mirrors with indicator lamps and rain sensing wipers ($745); adaptive cruise control with forward collision warning ($795); Harman Kardon 19 speaker audio upgrade ($1995); power sunroof ($995) and 245/45ZR20 BSW performance tires ($150), bringing the final MSRP to $51,670. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2013 Dodge Dart

    Compact dimensions give midsized sedan big fuel economy

    By Nina Russin

    2013 Dodge Dart

    Dodge is resurrecting its popular nameplate from the 1960s and 70s for its first sedan based on Fiat architecture. The all-new Dart which rolls into dealerships at the end of the second quarter is, like its namesake, both thrifty and fun.

    Although the EPA classifies the Dart as a midsized sedan because of the car’s interior volume, its compact exterior dimensions are comparable to a Toyota Corolla or Chevrolet Cruze. This is a boon for buyers in urban areas who need to park on the street, and its relatively light curb weight (3200-3300 pounds) stretches fuel economy beyond what many drivers might expect.

    The sedan is based off the Alfa Romeo Giulietta platform. It’s wider and longer than the Alfa hatchback, with distinctively American styling and three engines which combine the best of both worlds: a 2-liter naturally-aspirated Tigershark engine rated at 160 horsepower, 1.4-liter, 160 horsepower multi-air block, and a 2.4-liter Tigershark engine which produces 184 horsepower and 171 foot-pounds of torque.

    Buyers can also choose from three transmissions, two of which are available at rollout: a six-speed automatic and six-speed wide ratio manual. A dual clutch automatic arrives in the third quarter.

    Base price for the SE grade with the two-liter naturally-aspirated block and six-speed automatic is $15,995, excluding the $795 destination charge. Buyers of the slightly pricier SXT can choose between the two and 1.4-liter blocks. The turbocharged engine comes with the six-speed manual transmission. Both engine combinations are also available on the sporty Rallye, priced from $$18,995 and upscale Limited ($19,995).

    The high-performance R/T with the 2.4-liter engine rolls out this fall. Read the rest of this entry »