Category Archives: Auto Reviews

Wrangler Rubicon sparks Jeep sales


I was crawling over a snow-covered trail in a 2015 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Hard Rock the same day the final 2014 U.S. car/truck sales results were announced from Detroit.

Jeep showed the largest sales jump among all makes in the country – from 490,454 units the previous year to 692,348, a 41 percent increase. The Wrangler, Cherokee and Grand Cherokee accounted for almost 80 percent of the Jeep total.

Ram, Mitsubishi, Subaru and Audi followed with 28, 25, 21 and 15 percent, respectively, behind Jeep’s 41 percent gain.

The Ford F-series, with 753,851 sales, was the best-selling vehicle in the U.S. for the 32nd consecutive year and the top-selling pickup for the 43rd straight year. Other category leaders were the Toyota Camry among cars with 428,606 sales, the Honda CR-V among SUVs with 335,019 and the Chrysler Town & Country among vans with 138,040 sales.

Ford said if all the F-series trucks sold last year were parked bumper-to-bumper, they would stretch from Los Angeles to New York City, with 50 miles to spare.

The weather was ideal (for a Jeep, anyway) the week I spent with the Wrangler; below-freezing cold and lots of snow. I engaged low range to access one steep, snow-covered hill and again in the descent of that hill. The two-door Wrangler’s wheelbase (only 95.4 inches), short overhangs and tight turn radius lend opportunity to successfully tackle most any type terrain. Jeep is protective of Wrangler’s stiff frame/body and offroad ways, even as those 4wd qualities and stiff suspension are detriments to a better ride in town and on the highway.

The Rubicon is equipped with red tow hooks in front and back, as well as removable end wings on the front bumper for increased access in rugged territory and BF Goodrich Mud-Terrain LT 255/75R17 tires.

Jeep bumper shows removable end wings.
Jeep bumper shows removable end wings.

Moving the Wrangler about is a 3.6-liter V-6 engine (285 horsepower and 260 lb.-ft. of torque) with 6-speed manual transmission. It’s not overly powerful, yet easily outperforms Jeep’s former 3.8-liter V-6 in acceleration and torque. The Wrangler carries an EPA fuel mileage estimate of 17/21; I averaged 16.9 miles per gallon.

Interior highlights with the Hard Rock package are an Alpine nine-speaker audio system with all-weather subwoofer and UConnect voice command with Bluetooth, along with heated leather front seats with embroidered logos, black leather-wrapped steering wheel and quick silver HVAC accents.

I remember back in 1994 driving a new Wrangler with one of those tall manual floor shifters, priced at less than $15,000.

Sticker on the ’15 Rubicon Hard Rock edition was $39,255, including heavy-duty front and rear axles, skid plates for transfer case and fuel tank, all-weather slush mats, power windows/locks/mirrors, rear window wiper/washer/defroster.

Base price for a 2015 Wrangler 4×4 is $21,695, with a soft top.

Following are sales leaders of new cars, SUVs, trucks and vans in the U.S. in 2014:


  • Toyota Camry              428,606
  • Honda Accord             388,374
  • Toyota Corolla/Matrix   339,498
  • Nissan Altima              335,644
  • Honda Civic                325,981
  • Ford Fusion                 306,860
  • Chevrolet Cruze           273,060
  • Hyundai Elantra           222,023
  • Ford Focus                   219,634
  • Hyundai Sonata            216,936
  • Toyota Prius                208,372
  • Chevrolet Malibu         188,519
  • Nissan Sentra               183,268
  • Volkswagen Jetta         160,873
  • Kia Optima                  159,020
  • Kia Soul                       145,316
  • BMW 3/4 series           142,232
  • Chevrolet Impala         140,280
  • Nissan Versa                139,781
  • Subaru Outback          138,790
  • Chrysler 200                117,363
  • Mazda3                         104,985


  • Honda CR-V                 335,019
  • Ford Escape                  306,212
  • Toyota RAV4                267,698
  • Chevrolet Equinox       242,242
  • Ford Explorer              209,994
  • Nissan Rogue               199,199
  • Jeep Grand Cherokee  183,768
  • Jeep Cherokee             178,508
  • Jeep Wrangler              175,328
  • Subaru Forester            159,593
  • Toyota Highlander       146,127
  • Ford Edge                     108,864
  • Honda Pilot                  108,857
  • Hyundai Santa Fe        107,906
  • Lexus RX                       107,490
  • GMC Terrain                 105,016
  • Chevrolet Traverse      103,943
  • Kia Sorento                   102,520


  • Ford F-series                753,851
  • Chevrolet Silverado    529,755
  • Ram                              439,789
  • GMC Sierra                  211,833
  • Toyota Tacoma            155,041
  • Toyota Tundra             118,493
  • Nissan Frontier             74,323
  • Honda Ridgeline          13,389
  • Nissan Titan                 12,527


  • Chrysler Town & Country  138,040
  • Dodge Grand Caravan 134,152
  • Toyota Sienna             124,502
  • Honda Odyssey          122,738
  • Ford E-series                88,896
  • Chevrolet Express        79,352
  • Ford Transit Connect   43,210
  • Nissan NV                     28,275
  • GMC Savana                 26,641
  • Mercedes Sprinter        25,745
  • Ram ProMaster             18,039
  • Kia Sedona                     14,567
  • Mazda5                            11,613
  • Nissan Quest                   9,833

New RAV4 rolls down memory lane

The 2015 Toyota RAV4 Limited. (BudWells photo)
The 2015 Toyota RAV4 Limited. (BudWells photo)

Toyota provided me with a 2015 RAV4 all-wheel-drive crossover for a drive to Sterling and a final editorial meeting with J. Howard Crooks.

Well, it wasn’t actually an editorial session; it was a memorial service at Chaney-Reager Funeral Home for Crooks, a longtime Sterling newspaperman who died Dec. 28.

As I drove the RAV4 compact down I-76, I got to thinking about an editorial meeting we did put together at the Sterling Journal-Advocate 50 years ago.

The bells ringing on the Associated Press teletype machine early in the afternoon of Friday, June 4, 1965, alerted us to “something big” in the news world. Four employes of the Farmers State Bank at Big Springs, Neb., had been shot execution-style in a robbery; only one, Franklin Kjeldgaard, survived.

Bob Petteys, the Sterling paper’s publisher, was out of town. Our editorial team, consisting of Crooks, Bob Sheldon, Don Miles and me, gathered to discuss one issue – The J-A’s area of coverage extended northeast to Julesburg; could we stretch that 10 miles farther, across the state line to Big Springs. For a tragedy of this consequence, of course we could, we decided, and within 15 minutes the four of us squeezed into the company’s Mercury Comet and headed up U.S. 138.

On our arrival, and with the killer still at large, the little town was abuzz with fear and trepidation. Only FBI agents were gaining admittance to the bank; I got in, though, by virtue of my appearance. Like most of the FBI reps, I was wearing dark pants, short-sleeved buttoned-up white dress shirt and narrow black necktie (and close-cropped hair), and walked in where the investigation was ongoing. Crooks and I had bylined stories in the next day’s edition of the J-A.

By Sunday, June 6, Duane Earl Pope had been arrested and charged with the crime. He had graduated from McPherson, Kan., College, on Thursday and driven to the bank the next morning. Testimony indicated he ordered the employes to lie face down on the floor, where he shot them in the back and in the neck. He was convicted and today remains in federal prison in Lincoln.

For Crooks, Sheldon, Miles and me, it is something we have talked of when we’ve seen each other through the years.

As for the new Toyota RAV4, it was third best seller in the country among SUVs and crossovers in the past year, falling behind rivals Honda CR-V and Ford Escape.

A sharply finished exterior is attractive for the RAV4, though turns somewhat awkward-looking at the back with an extended spoiler and bumped-out ridge below. The fact its spare tire has been removed from the tailgate helps appearance and also allows use of a liftgate. The liftgate opens to a huge 38-cubic-feet cargo area and a flat load floor, very handy.

Aided by the easy-driving 200-mile round-trip to Sterling, the RAV4 averaged a commendable 26.2 miles per gallon of regular unleaded fuel.

It’s not a powerful engine, the 2.5-liter 4-cylinder with 176 horsepower and 172 lb.-ft. of torque, mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission. Push of a sport-mode button tightens steering and increases throttle response and shift points, and downshifts will “blip” the throttle for smoothness in the changes of gear.

The ride of the RAV4 Limited model, with its 18-inch wheels, turns harsh occasionally from rough roads. The RAV4’s overall length of 179.9 inches is sandwiched between the Escape’s 178.1 and CRV’s 179.4 and the longer Jeep Cherokee’s 182-inch length.

An easy-to-use Entune touch-screen audio system with navigation boosted sticker price of the RAV4 to $33,808. It included USB port with iPod connectivity, voice recognition, hands-free phone capability, music streaming via Bluetooth, HD radio and Doppler weather. Among a safety technology package are blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic and lane-departure alert and auto high beam. Backup camera was also a feature. Heated front seats are trimmed in leather-like softex material.

Here are the specifications for the 2015 Toyota RAV4 Limited:

  • Capacity 5-passenger compact crossover
  • Wheelbase 104.7 inches
  • Length 179.9 inches
  • Width 72.6 inches
  • Height 67.1 inches
  • Curb Weight 3,585 pounds
  • Track 61.4 front and rear
  • Ground Clearance 6.3 inches
  • Turn Circle 36.8 feet
  • Drivetrain All-wheel-drive
  • Engine2.5-liter 4-cylinder
  • Horsepower/Torque 176/172
  • Transmission 6-speed automatic
  • Steering electric power
  • Suspension front strut, double-wishbone rear
  • Fuel mileage estimate 22/29
  • Fuel mileage average 26.2
  • Fuel Tank 15.9 gallons, regular unleaded
  • Wheels 18-inch
  • Tires Toyo Open Country 235/55R18
  • Cargo Volume 38.4 cubic feet
  • Warranty 3 years/36,000 miles basic, 5/60,000 powertrain

Competitors Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, Mazda CX-5, Jeep Cherokee, GMC Terrain, Volkswagen Tiguan

Assembly Plant Tahara, Aichi, Japan

Parts Content N.A.

Base Price of Lowest Model $24,500; Base Price of Review Model $29,850; Destination Charge $885; Sticker Price $33,808.



AWD, 6-cyl., app lift Volvo V60

The 2015.5 Volvo V60 T6 R-Design boasts four-wheel grip. (Bud Wells photos)
The 2015.5 Volvo V60 T6 R-Design boasts four-wheel grip. (Bud Wells photos)

My son Dale and I about 9 p.m. on a recent cold night had parked and were out pushing a neighbor woman in her front-wheel-drive Hyundai from deep snow along the side of the street.

About the same time, my iPhone, left at home, was informing Jan and daughter-in-law Sandy where we were. The iPhone pinpointed on a map the address of where our car was parked, actually only half a block from home (we were driving toward home when we came across the car in distress).

The next morning, adding to the iPhone’s involvement in this automotive review, I parked the car in my driveway after a drive-through at a Starbucks, walked into our house and my phone beeped, then messaged me that “Your Volvo is unlocked.”

Not only was I able to lock and unlock the car from my phone, I could also remote-start the vehicle.

It is the 2015.5 Volvo V60 T6 R-Design Sportswagon featuring the Volvo on Call Smartphone App.

At the suggestion of Dan Lantowski, representing Volvo for Waggener Edstrom Communications, I downloaded the Volvo on Call app onto my iPhone shortly after the V60 was delivered to me. It (the app) allowed me to access a status overview of the vehicle and recent drives, determine its current position, and enjoy the aforementioned connections.

The arrival of the new V60 wagon in the past year is inspiring to the future of Volvo, which had been in somewhat of a slowdown mode since the Swedish firm was sold to China’s Zhejiang Geely four years ago.

I drove the V60’s initial offering last spring, a sleek, low-slung, front-wheel-drive T5 wagon powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder engine and 8-speed automatic transmission.

A turbocharged inline-6 powers V60 T6.
A turbocharged inline-6 powers V60 T6.

Showing up last week, though, with all-wheel drive and enhanced performance was the T6 R-Design with twin-scroll turboed inline-6-cylinder which “out-horses” the T5 by 325-hp to 240. Mated to the inline-6 is a 6-speed automatic transmission. With 354 lb.-ft. of torque, outstanding power is delivered, particularly with the steering-force level set on high and paddleshifters at hand in Sport shift mode. Handling is improved with a low-riding sport chassis, and acceleration and cornering are excellent.

All that power and yet the T6 carries a decent EPA fuel-mileage estimate of 19/28; my overall average was 22.8.

The V60 center stack is angled toward driver.
The V60 center stack is angled toward driver.

The R-Design package includes soft, stitched luxury leather seats. The center stack is angled toward the driver, controls within easy reach and storage behind and below the stack. Sensus Connect navigation/audio is highlighted with a 7-inch color monitor, with MP3, USB, Bluetooth and Sirius radio.

Luxurious leather seats are well-bolstered.
Luxurious leather seats are well-bolstered.

The rear cargo area provides 28 cubic feet of storage space. The review model had no spare tire; one is offered as an option, though it must rest in the cargo space.

Sticker price on the V60 T6 was $49,275; the lesser-equipped 4-cylinder model I drove last spring carried a price of $42,225.

Adding $1,550 to the R-Design’s price were heated front and rear seats, heated steering wheel and windshield and heated windshield-washer nozzles. Blind-spot detection, cross-traffic alert, lane-change aid and front and rear park assist were added as options, though the vehicle had no rearview camera.

Volvo’s 19-inch Ixion alloy wheel.
Volvo’s 19-inch Ixion alloy wheel.

Volvo was founded in Sweden in 1924 by Assar Gabrielsson and Gustaf Larson; their first car, the 1,944-cc Jakob, was in production three years later.

Sales in the U.S. began in 1955, when the Volvo PV444 cars arrived in Los Angeles. In 1956, Volvo sold 5,047 cars here.

In 1958, Volvo invented the three-point safety belt, considered one of the most important safety features of all time.

Some of its better-known cars, after coming to America, were the P1800 coupe of 1961 and the 240 series, beginning in 1974. Some of those 240s, now 20 to 40 years old, are still seen about the streets of Denver.

Volvo, bought by Ford Motor Co. in 1999, was re-sold to Geely in 2010.


Here are the specifications for the 2015.5 Volvo V60 T6 R-Design:


  • Capacity 5-passenger wagon
  • Wheelbase 109.3 inches
  • Length 182.5 inches
  • Width 73.4 inches
  • Height 58.4 inches
  • Curb Weight 3,790 pounds
  • Track 62.1 inches front, 62 rear
  • Ground Clearance 5.4 inches
  • Turn Circle 39 feet
  • Drivetrain All-wheel-drive
  • Engine 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-6
  • Horsepower/Torque 325/354
  • Transmission 6-speed automatic
  • Steering rack and pinion
  • Suspension McPherson strut front and multilink rear
  • Fuel mileage estimate 19/28
  • Fuel mileage average 22.8
  • Fuel Tank 17.8 gallons, regular unleaded
  • Wheels 19-inch
  • Tires Michelin 235/40R19
  • Cargo Volume 28 cubic feet
  • Warranty 4 years/50,000 miles basic, powertrain

Competitors Audi allroad, BMW 3 series, Subaru Outback 3.6R

Assembly Plant Gothenburg, Sweden

Parts Content Sweden 31%, Great Britain 18%, Japan 10%, U.S./Canadian 1%

Base Price of Lowest Model $35,300; Base Price of Review Model $45,150; Destination Charge $925; Sticker Price $49,275.

AWD adds appeal to IS250’s small V-6

The 2015 Lexus IS250 AWD in New Year’s Day snow. (Bud Wells photos)
The 2015 Lexus IS250 AWD in New Year’s Day snow. (Bud Wells photos)

Even with the added grip of all-wheel drive, we sometimes churned and skidded through the deep, soft snow during the New Year’s holidays aboard the 2015 Lexus IS250 AWD sedan.

Jan and I on New Year’s Day drove to Sterling to check in with my sis, Norma, and brother-in-law, Dave Wagner. The streets there were covered with relatively deep snow, the same as the northern Colorado area we’d left earlier in the morning.

The Lexus’ AWD system, in adverse conditions, can allocate engine torque from 30/70 between front and rear axles to 50/50 for improved traction and control.

The sleek and sporty IS250, offering the four-wheel grip option, helped Lexus finish 2014 exceptionally strong, posting a one-year sales record for the luxury division. Only Lexus’ entry-level ES sedan and the popular RX crossover sell more units than does the IS.

Lexus’ sales in ’14 totaled 311,384, third-best in the U.S. among all luxury builders. BMW led with 339,738 sales, followed by Mercedes-Benz 330,591, Lexus, then Audi 182,011, Cadillac 170,750, Acura 167,843, Infiniti 117,330, Lincoln 94,474 and Volvo 55,000.

The IS250 is little changed for 2015. It was restyled a year ago and, with a 3-inch longer wheelbase, created additional rear-seat legroom.

Under hood is a small 2.5-liter V-6, producing only 204 horsepower and 185 lb.-ft. of torque, tied to a 6-speed automatic transmission. Its tepid pace can be improved upon just a bit by moving the drive mode dial knob from Normal to Sport, then using paddle shifters at the steering wheel for better response. Pushing a “snow-mode” button will lessen torque on takeoff for minimal spinning of tires.

Still, though, for performance more fitting of a Lexus, buyers can opt for the more expensive IS350, which generates 306 horsepower from a 3.5-liter V-6.

The interior of the IS250 is quiet, and its well-bolstered leather seats are comfortable. Wood trim adds a feel of luxury. There is no storage space in the center console and the cupholders are positioned so far back in the console that they’re awkward to use. A 6-inch shelf in front of the display screen atop the center stack is handy for placement of incidentals; of course, then the lower portions of the screen are blocked from view. A small trunk provides 13.8 cubic feet of space.

The center stack and instrument panel for IS250.
The center stack and instrument panel for IS250.

Fuel-mileage average of 22.2 was at the low end of the IS’s EPA estimate of 20-27, due in part to the fact it was driven much of the time over ice and snow-covered streets and highways.

A base price of just over $39,000 for the IS250 jumped to sticker value of $46,395 after the addition of a luxury package of navigation, backup camera, heated and ventilated front seats, LED headlamps, rain-sensing wipers, power tilt/telescope steering wheel and blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert.

Here are the specifications for the ’15 Lexus IS250 AWD sedan:

  • Capacity 5-passenger
  • Wheelbase 110.2 inches
  • Length 183.7 inches
  • Width 71.3 inches
  • Height 56.3 inches
  • Curb Weight 3,461 pounds
  • Track 60.4 inches front, 61 rear
  • Ground Clearance 5.3 inches
  • Turn Circle 35.4 feet
  • Drivetrain All-wheel-drive
  • Engine 2.5-liter V-6
  • Horsepower/Torque 204/185
  • Transmission 6-speed automatic
  • Steering electric power
  • Suspension double-wishbone front and multilink rear
  • Fuel mileage estimate 20/27
  • Fuel mileage average 22.6
  • Fuel Tank 17.4 gallons, regular unleaded
  • Wheels 18-inch
  • Tires Bridgestone Turanza 255/35R18
  • Cargo Volume 13.8 cubic feet
  • Warranty 4 years/50,000 miles basic, 6/70,000 powertrain

Competitors Acura TLX, Cadillac ATS, BMW 328ix, Audi S4, Volvo S60

Assembly Plant Tahara, Japan

Parts Content N.A.

Base Price of Lowest Model $36,550; Base Price of Review Model $39,085; Destination Charge $925; Sticker Price $46,395.


Hybrid sales slip; Camry is smooth

The 2015 Toyota Camry Hybrid SE. (Photo by Bud Wells)
The 2015 Toyota Camry Hybrid SE. (Photo by Bud Wells)

No matter how I drove the 2015 Toyota Camry Hybrid during a week in December – in town or out on the highway – it seemed to average 38 to 40 miles per gallon.

That’s how it should be, I guess, for its EPA estimate is 40 mpg in town driving and 38 on the highway.

The Camry was the third-best-selling hybrid in the country for 2014, behind two other Toyotas. The Prius Liftback was the runaway sales leader, as it has been since it was introduced 15 years ago; it sold 122,776, followed by the Prius C with 40,570 and the Camry hybrid with 39,515 (an 11percent drop).

Sales of gas/electric hybrid cars slumped 8.8 percent in ’14, slipping from 495,771 sales in 2013 to 452.152 in the past year. This, even though the overall car/truck market jumped 6 percent last year.

Toyotas, including luxury division Lexus models, captured 62 percent of the hybrid market in the past year.

Following are the top 15 sellers of gas/electric hybrids in the U.S. for 2014:

  • Toyota Prius Liftback            122,776
  • Toyota Prius C                         40,570
  • Toyota Camry                           39,515
  • Ford Fusion                             35,405
  • Toyota Prius V                         30,762
  • Hyundai Sonata                       21,052
  • Ford C-Max                               19,162
  • Lexus CT200h                          17,673
  • Toyota Avalon                          17,048
  • Lexus ES                                    14,837
  • Honda Accord                          13,977
  • Kia Optima                               13,776
  • Lincoln MKZ                           10,033
  • Lexus RX450h                           9,351
  • Subaru XV Crosstrek               7,926

Introduction of the new BMW i3 and sharp gains by the Nissan Leaf and Ford Fusion Energi boosted total sales of plug-in electric vehicles to a 23 percent rise in the past year. A total of 118,682 plug-ins were sold, compared with 96,516 in 2013.

Following are sales of the top 10 plug-in electrics for ’14:

  • Nissan Leaf                    30,200
  • Chevrolet Volt                18,805
  • Tesla Model S                 16,550
  • Toyota Prius Plug-in    13,264
  • Ford Fusion Energi      11,550
  • Ford C-Max Energi        8,433
  • BMW i3                            6,092
  • Smart for Two EV          2,594
  • Ford Focus EV                1,964
  • Fiat 500E                         1,503

The combined total of gas/electric hybrids and plug-in electrics took 3.4 percent of the total U.S. new car market for 2014.

In my December driving, the Camry hybrid posted an overall average of 38.5 mpg; I’d averaged 34.9 with a similar model in 2011 and 37.1 in 2012.

The five-passenger, front-wheel-drive Camry hybrid is powered by a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine and electric motor with a continuously variable transmission. Performance is smooth; only a bit of shudder is felt on shift of electric to gas power in low range. Acceleration is strong through midrange.

The hybrid setup beneath the Camry hood.
The hybrid setup beneath the Camry hood.

For even more efficiency than the normal driving mode, the press of an Eco button will cut down the level of throttle input and reduce fan speed of the air conditioner. This takes away from the Camry hybrid’s normally satisfactory performance.

The hybrid weighs 100 pounds more than the Camry gas version due primarily to the battery pack stored beneath the floor at the rear. That pack also takes away cargo space, which measures 13.1 cubic feet in the hybrid, 15.4 in the gas model.

The Camry is one of the more comfortable and better-handling hybrid four-door sedans.

The review model in my possession was the SE; also available are a less expensive LE and a high-end XLE. The SE was sticker-priced at $32,233, including an easily controlled Entune audio system with navigation and Bluetooth, power moonroof, remote start capability and illuminated door sill enhancement.

The cheapest model of the gasoline-powered Camry is $3,000 less than the lowest-priced hybrid version.

Here are the specifications for the ’15 Toyota Camry Hybrid SE:

  • Capacity 5-passenger
  • Wheelbase 109.3 inches
  • Length 190.9 inches
  • Width 71.7 inches
  • Height 57.9 inches
  • Curb Weight 3,585 pounds
  • Track 62.4 inches front, 62 rear
  • Ground Clearance 6.1 inches
  • Turn Circle 36.7 feet
  • Drivetrain Front-wheel-drive
  • Engine 2.5-liter 4-cylinder with electric motor
  • Horsepower/Torque 200/156 combined
  • Transmission Continuously variable
  • Steering electric power
  • Suspension sport-tuned front and rear strut
  • Fuel mileage estimate 40/38
  • Fuel mileage average 38.5
  • Fuel Tank 17 gallons, regular unleaded
  • Wheels 17-inch
  • Tires Michelin P225/45/R17
  • Cargo Volume 13.1 cubic feet
  • Warranty 3 years/36,000 miles basic, 5/60,000 powertrain

Competitors Hybrid models of Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata

Assembly Plant Georgetown, Ky.

Parts Content N.A.

Base Price of Lowest Model $26,790; Base Price of Review Model $27,995; Destination Charge $825; Sticker Price $32,233.

Dodge Charger aims AWD, V-6 at snow

The 2015 Dodge Charger SXT AWD sedan.  (Bud Wells photos)
The 2015 Dodge Charger SXT AWD sedan. (Bud Wells photos)

Dodge on and off over the years has built a strong performance image for its Charger.

It’s been based on Hemi V-8s and rear-wheel-drive power.

Let me tell you, though, with 8 to 10 inches of snow in the streets and frigid air hovering around minus-2 – you can forget all about that.

Another side of the 2015 Dodge Charger emerged as I drove it through all that snow last week.

We were in the new Charger SXT all-wheel-drive edition.

The new Charger at The Other Side restaurant in Estes Park.
The new Charger at The Other Side restaurant in Estes Park.

This SXT is the family sedan side of the Charger, with an excellent AWD system, Pentastar V-6 and 8-speed automatic transmission. It performed very well for the deep snow and subzero cold we maneuvered through in northern Colorado, with Michelin all-season tires.

The 292-hp, 3.6-liter V-6 moves the Charger about with ease and the 8-speed automatic is controlled electronically, with a large T-grip handle like those of linkage connection of the past. There are no paddle shifters, though manual mode is available with a quick move of the shifter handle.

The AWD system gripped and churned well, with minimal slip or slide. It’s an effective active transfer case which, innovatively, disengages the front axle when all-four grip is not needed – an effort at improved fuel mileage. The system automatically engages in cold weather, when slip is detected or when wipers are on in wet weather.

The AWD model carries an EPA estimate of 18 miles per gallon in the city and 27 on the highway; my overall average slipped to 20.8 due to all the cold, snow and ice.

A new electric power steering system has replaced the old electromechanical power type. It has three driver-selectable steering modes – eco, comfort and sport – contributing to a more nimble response that, on occasion, belies the car’s large size.

This is a car with a 120-inch wheelbase, 198 inches overall and 4,150 pounds. It is 7 inches longer in wheelbase than the Ford Taurus AWD and 9 inches beyond that of the Buick LaCrosse AWD.

The Charger’s exterior has been refreshed for 2015, with crosshair grille, chiseled and scalloped bodysides. A “racetrack” LED taillight spreads across the entire rear width of the body, similar to that which showed up on the Dodge Durango a year ago.

The full-sized four-door boasts a roomy interior, with wide cloth-covered seats (heated in front), lightly bolstered for long-distance comfort. The heated seats are extremely popular; I seldom use them, though, and would have traded them for a heated steering wheel in a minute. Legroom is sufficient in the rear seat and a good-sized trunk measures out to 16 cubic feet.

Adding to the V-6-powered, AWD-equipped Charger SXT’s family appeal is a large 8.4-inch touch-screen infotainment system with navigation maps from Garmin. Bluetooth syncing is part of the package. The screen is easily used, as are the redundant dials beneath the screen.

Base price on the SXT AWD is $32,995; the sticker totals $35,485 with the addition of ivory tricoat pearl paint, the navigation, backup camera and SiriusXM travel link. Automatic headlamps, remote start and dual-zone temperature control are among a long list of standard items.

The Charger serves a younger buyer than does its stablemate, the Chrysler 300. They’re identically sized. Buyers of the Charger, with its performance image, are 10 years younger on average than buyers of the luxurious 300.

The Charger was introduced in the fall of 1965 as a ’66 model and continued production through 1977. Its most popular models were the good-looking, coke-bottle shaped 1968, ’69 and ‘70s. The Charger name was used on a Dodge Omni 024 compact from 1982-87, then discontinued until the 2006 model on the chassis of the Chrysler 300.

Here are the specifications for the ’15 Dodge Charger SXT AWD:

  • Capacity 5-passenger
  • Wheelbase 120.2 inches
  • Length 198.4 inches
  • Width 75 inches
  • Height 58.2 inches
  • Curb Weight 4,157 pounds
  • Track 63.4 inches front, 63.8 rear
  • Ground Clearance 4.9 inches
  • Turn Circle 38.7 feet
  • Drivetrain All-wheel-drive
  • Engine 3.6-liter V-6
  • Horsepower/Torque 292/260
  • Transmission 8-speed automatic
  • Steering rack/pinion, electric power assist
  • Suspension front high upper A arm, rear multilink, coils all around
  • Fuel mileage estimate 18/27
  • Fuel mileage average 20.8
  • Fuel Tank 18.5 gallons, regular unleaded
  • Wheels 19-inch
  • Tires Michelin Pilot P235/55/R19
  • Cargo Volume 16.1 cubic feet
  • Warranty 3 years/36,000 miles basic, 5/100,000 powertrain

Competitors Ford Taurus, Buick LaCrosse, Toyota Avalon, Chevrolet Impala, Cadillac ATS, Hyundai Genesis, Kia Cadenza

Assembly Plant Brampton, Ontario, Canada

Parts Content U.S./Canadian 67%, Mexico 20%

Base Price of Lowest Model $28,990; Base Price of Review Model $32,995; Destination Charge $995; Sticker Price $35,485.



Stars of 2014, from Fit to Jag

The 2015 Acura TLX AWD sedan in Vail. (Bud Wells photos)
The 2015 Acura TLX AWD sedan in Vail. (Bud Wells photos)

“Happy New Year,” I shout from the driver’s seat of the 2015 Dodge Charger AWD to readers of my automotive columns.

I opened year 2014 aboard the Nissan Rogue all-wheel-drive compact crossover and ended it this week in the full-sized Charger sedan. In between, I drove 67 other new cars and trucks.

The decision for my favorite car of the year, the 2015 Acura TLX AWD sedan, came to light during a drive to Vail and back. Fashioned so elegantly with a much sleeker design than the two old bodies it replaced, those of the TL and TSX, and with a 9-speed automatic transmission and push-button shifts, the TLX made a hit with me. A 290-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 with Sport mode and paddle shifters kept pace, often on the inside fast lane, with no problems on the I-70 climb up the mountains.

3.0-liter EcoDiesel V-6 adds strong torque to 2014 Ram 1500 Crew Cab.
3.0-liter EcoDiesel V-6 adds strong torque to 2014 Ram 1500 Crew Cab.

Truck of the year? It is the 2014 Ram 1500 Crew Cab 4X4 with 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V-6 and 8-speed automatic transmission, carrying an EPA highway rating as high as 28 miles per gallon. This one boasts a torque rating of 420 lb.-ft., a standout in the half-ton field. An optional electronically controlled air suspension will, with the push of a button, adjust the height of the pickup.

Other highlights among my automotive drives for 2014:

Weighting game – Ford, on a cold, windy November morning, showed off its new aluminum-bodied F-150 pickup at a parking lot in Broomfield. It is 700 pounds lighter than last year’s steel bodies, and time will tell the durability of the new skin. For me, a big impression was the ease with which Ford’s little 2.7-liter V-6 engine moved the full-size truck.

2015 Honda Fit was least-expensive car driven in past year.
2015 Honda Fit was least-expensive car driven in past year.

Cheapest – The little 2015 Honda Fit 5-door EX, which carried Jan and me to Shanahan’s in southeast Denver on Labor Day weekend to join our kids and their mates for an excellent dinner, at $18,225 (the car, not the dinner). The Fit offers lots of quality for reasonable price. Another cheapie was the Nissan Versa Note at $21,015 with heated seats and rearview camera.

’15 Jaguar F-Type R Coupe boasted 550 horsepower.
’15 Jaguar F-Type R Coupe boasted 550 horsepower.

Most expensive – The 2015 Jaguar F-Type R Coupe, with 550-hp supercharged 5.0-liter V-8 and 8-speed automatic transmission, at $102,825, nosed out the 2014 Audi A8L TDI, $99,445 with massaging front seatbacks and Bang & Olufsen advanced sound system.

MPG – 40.1 by 2014 Volkswagen Jetta TDI diesel, 35.6 by the 2014 Nissan Versa Note and 35.1 by the Honda Fit.

Hybrids – 46.4 by the 2014 Ford Fusion Energi plug-in, 38.9 by ’14 Honda Accord Hybrid and 38.5 by ’15 Toyota Camry Hybrid.

Guzzling – In cold and snow of February, with brief warm-ups on a couple mornings, the 2014 Nissan Titan and its 5.6-liter V-8/5-speed automatic transmission averaged 13.4 mpg.

Most horsepower – 550 from the 5-liter supercharged V-8 in Jaguar’s 2015 F-Type R Coupe, which will run 0 to 60 in 4 seconds.

Surprise transaction – Christmas Eve a year ago, it was 100-year-old O’Meara Ford buying a Volkswagen store from Doug Moreland. This time, a week before Christmas, it is John Elway swapping his Chevy store on South Colorado Boulevard for the Don Massey Cadillac dealership in Lone Tree. This gives Elway a luxury marque to go along with his other Chevy store on south Broadway and his Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep/Ram business in Greeley, and Massey, owned by Sonic Automotive Group, lands the Chevy property on South Colorado Blvd., adjacent to Mercedes-Benz and BMW locations, formerly owned by Mark Murray, bought by Sonic in 2013.

Falls flat – An August test of the 2014 Ford C-Max Energi plug-in would have been perfect – a drive to Coors Field in Denver for the Colorado Rockies’ retirement of Todd Helton’s No. 17 jersey. A flat tire, though, threw a wrench into that. The C-Max has no spare tire, as the car’s large battery pack fills the rear area where a spare would normally be stored. In place of a spare, it has a sealant compound in a canister and an air compressor to inflate the tire. The kit can be used only to seal punctures within the tire tread, not in the sidewall. So, Jan’s C280 4Matic sedan got us to Denver for the big show.

Extremes – Delivered to me back-to-back last January were the 5,850-pound Infiniti QX80 and the 2,500-pound Nissan Versa Note. Sit them side by side and the little Nissan falls short of the luxury make by 3 ½ feet.

Cold ride – In a 2014 Dodge Durango R/T in February, it was 11 below when we left home, still 11 below with 11 inches of snow when we arrived in Sterling for the funeral of Delbert Davis, an uncle of Jan’s.

Warm touch – Heaters beneath the head restraints in the 2014 BMW 435i retractable hardtop convertible blow warm air on the necks of front-seat occupants in cold weather. This feature was introduced several years ago by Mercedes-Benz.

Great catch – Halibut shared with General Motors executives at the Oceanaire Seafood Room two blocks from the Colorado Convention Center on opening night of the Denver Auto Show in April.

Velocity yellow was suitable for ’14 Chevy Corvette.
Velocity yellow was suitable for ’14 Chevy Corvette.

Best color – Velocity yellow tintcoat on the 2014 Corvette C-7 coupe in August.

Best book – “The 100-Year Deal,” the 100th anniversary volume published by the Colorado Automobile Dealers Association. It includes a reprint of The Colorado Car Book, which I produced in 1996.

Jan’s favorite – The Chrysler 200C AWD.

Best greeting – Happy New Year!


Sporty XSE retains Camry qualities

The XSE is a sportier version of the 2015 Toyota Camry. (Bud Wells photo)
The XSE is a sportier version of the 2015 Toyota Camry. (Bud Wells photo)

“The sportiest Camry yet,” Toyota says of its new 2015 XSE sedan.

It does have a stiffened sport suspension and 18-inch wheels; in reality, though, it’s simply another model that reinforces Camry’s rank as one of the finest of family four-doors.

I remember years ago driving a Toyota Supra Turbo – that one was sporty. I wrote of it, “This 320-horsepower, 6-cylinder dynamo will get you from Franktown to Castle Rock in about five blinks. I’m talking wide-awake blinks, of course; sleepytime driving isn’t permitted in a car of this type.”

The front-drive Camry today is the best-selling sedan in the U.S.

Adding appeal to the XSE’s ruby flare pearl finish are a wide black-mesh grille and redesigned headlights and taillights. The Camry’s overall length of 190.9 inches is within a half-inch of matching those of the Ford Fusion and Mazda6.

Mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters, Toyota’s 268-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 engine turns out decent, smooth performance. Standard offering for the Camry is the 178-hp, 2.5-liter 4-cylinder, which earns an EPA mpg estimate of 35 on the highway.

I averaged 26.8 mpg with the V-6, which is rated at 21 in town and 31 on the highway. The V-6 operates adequately and quietly in low-range demands. The XSE rides on Michelin P225/45R18 tires.

Positions of the brake and accelerator pedals near the same level gave me opportunity twice on the highway to experience Toyota’s Smart Stop technology. As my foot touched both pedals at cruising speed, the vehicle’s speed quickly dropped 15 miles per hour from an immediate cut in engine power along with the light touch of the brake. It is noticeably effective, designed to help bring the vehicle to a stop. The feature is standard on the Camry for 2015. Smart Stop engages in the event of simultaneous brake and gas pedal applications, with immediate reduction of engine power to idle.

Inside, the Camry dashboard is stylish with the look of a leather overlay, stitched in red, and the seat inserts are of microsuede with good comfort. Touchscreen usage for a 7-inch display set is fairly simple and reaction is quick; audio channel listings are larger than many of those in competitive makes. The system includes navigation with traffic and weather, a USB port and Bluetooth.

The rear seating area is very roomy and the trunk is of 15.4 cubic feet, enough to hold family luggage.

The Entune premium audio, rearview camera, blind-spot monitor, lane-departure warning and automatic high beams pushed price of the Camry XSE to $35,668 from a base of $31,370.

Here are the specifications for the ’15 Toyota Camry XSE V-6:


  • Capacity 5-passenger
  • Wheelbase 109.3 inches
  • Length 190.9 inches
  • Width 71.7 inches
  • Height 57.9 inches
  • Curb Weight 3,480 pounds
  • Track 62.4 inches front, 62 rear
  • Ground Clearance 6.1 inches
  • Turn Circle 36.7 feet
  • Drivetrain Front-wheel-drive
  • Engine 3.5-liter V-6
  • Horsepower/Torque 268/248
  • Transmission 6-speed automatic
  • Steering electric power
  • Suspension sport-tuned front strut, multilink rear
  • Fuel mileage estimate 21/31
  • Fuel mileage average 26.8
  • Fuel Tank 17 gallons, regular unleaded
  • Wheels 18-inch
  • Tires Michelin P225/45/R18
  • Cargo Volume 15.4 cubic feet
  • Warranty 3 years/36,000 miles basic, 5/60,000 powertrain

Competitors Honda Accord, Ford Fusion, Hyundai Sonata, Chrysler 200, Chevrolet Malibu

Assembly Plant Georgetown, Ky.

Parts Content N.A.

Base Price of Lowest Model $23,795; Base Price of Review Model $31,370; Destination Charge $825; Sticker Price $35,668.



Chrysler 200C AWD is ’15 on 12-13-14

The 2015 Chrysler 200C AWD at Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. (Bud Wells photos)
The 2015 Chrysler 200C AWD at Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. (Bud Wells photos)

Today, I review a ’15 on 12-13-14.

It’s the Chrysler 200C all-wheel-drive midsize sedan, which posted the hottest sales gain in the auto industry last month.

Whether the numerically based lead of the column is liked, or disliked, it is the last one this century. Three years ago, in the fall of 2011, an opportunity arose when I wrote, “Two-doors continue to roll my direction, and I have a ’12 for you on the morning of 9-10-11.” It was the 2012 Honda Civic Coupe. The year 2015 will be a step beyond linking up consecutively with months (which, of course, end with 12) and date numericals. Something else will come to mind, I’m sure.

To put Chrysler’s AWD system to some use, we drove it to 9,500-feet-high Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park where 17 inches of snow was on the ground. That’s 17 more than was in the lower lands of northern Colorado.

The all-wheel-drive option makes the 200C a nice entry in Colorado country. Few midsize sedans offer grip at all four wheels – Toyota Camry doesn’t, nor does Honda Accord. It is available on the Ford Fusion and Subaru Legacy, and the Volkswagen Passat has recently added 4Motion. It is more common on luxury models.

The 200C handled easily the little bit of ice we encountered near the parking lot of Bear Lake. The new AWD system, when called upon, instantly splits torque between the front and rear wheels for optimal traction. When front-wheel-drive performance is sufficient, the system disengages power to the rear axle, gaining increased fuel efficiency.

A powertrain highlight is Chrysler’s 9-speed automatic transmission, tied to its 295-horsepoower, 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 engine. A rotary dial on the center console, something like that used by Jaguar, has replaced the traditional shifter for the 200. It simplifies the shift process and is enhanced by paddle shifters at the steering wheel. Using the paddles in manual mode, the driver controls limitless gearing possibilities among the nine speeds. A Sport mode increases throttle response, quickens shifts and lessens the normal traction control.

The 200’s rotary dial shifter
The 200’s rotary dial shifter

The Pentastar, smoothed by the 9-speed, seems to work very hard and noisily under stressful acceleration demands. A bit more oomph is needed on occasion. And that may soon be at hand. One afternoon while the 200 was in my possession, a daily Internet newscast from Detroit (Tom Worobec, Automotive News) informed me that Chrysler plans to turbocharge the Pentastar V-6 later in 2015.

This, if added to the 200C, will make it a leader among the midsize sedans.

Overall driving, including the climb to Bear Lake, averaged 26.9 miles per gallon.

With improved soft-touch, high-end materials, the 200’s cabin has gained a spot on Ward’s 10 Best Interiors List for the year. The upgraded 200C has power controls for both front seats; a complaint with lower-end models is that the front-passenger seat is positioned very low and there is no height adjustment. A large storage bin has been carved out in the center console, and another wide opening has opened beneath the center portion of the dash, designed somewhat like those in Volvos for a number of years.

A heated steering wheel is among interior niceties; the heat into the steering wheel can be set to turn on automatically when a temperature drops to a certain cold level.

A peek through the Chrysler 200C steering wheel.
A peek through the Chrysler 200C steering wheel.

An impressive Uconnect 8.4 infotainment system, navigation, adaptive cruise, automatic high beams, park assist, premium leather heated and cooled seats and lane-departure system helped push sticker price of the Chrysler from a base of $30,425 to sticker of $35,900.

Base engine for the Chrysler 200 is a 184-hp, 2.4-liter 4-cylinder.

Sales of the 200 sedan last month totaled 14,317, a 156 percent increase over the previous month. It has been years since a Chrysler midsize model has sold that many units in a month. It outsold the Chevy Malibu, Subaru Outback, Kia Optima and Volkswagen Passat for the month.


Here are the specifications for the ’15 Chrysler 200C AWD:

  • Capacity 5-passenger
  • Wheelbase 108 inches
  • Length 192.3 inches
  • Width 73.6 inches
  • Height 58.7 inches
  • Curb Weight 3,473 pounds
  • Track 62.1 inches front, 62 rear
  • Ground Clearance 5.8 inches
  • Turn Circle 39.8 feet
  • Drivetrain All-wheel-drive
  • Engine 3.6-liter V-6
  • Horsepower/Torque 295/262
  • Transmission 9-speed automatic
  • Steering variable-assist power
  • Suspension strut front, multilink rear
  • Fuel mileage estimate 18/29
  • Fuel mileage average 26.9
  • Fuel Tank 15.8 gallons, regular unleaded
  • Wheels 18-inch
  • Cargo Volume 16 cubic feet
  • Warranty 3 years/36,000 miles basic, 5/100,000 powertrain

Competitors: Ford Fusion, Acura ILX, Volkswagen Passat, Subaru Legacy, Toyota Camry

Assembly Plant: Sterling Heights, Mich.

Parts Content: U.S./Canadian 67%, Mexico 16%

Base Price of Lowest Model: $21,700; Base Price of Review Model: $30,425; Destination Charge: $995; Sticker Price: $35,900.


BMW’s new X4 shaped like small X6

The ’15 X4 is coupelike with four doors. (Bud Wells photos)
The ’15 X4 is coupelike with four doors. (Bud Wells photos)

It’s a beautiful finish, in melbourne red metallic, which adds $550 to its cost.

Impressive, too, is its interior, white nevada leather with red contrast stitching, and that’s an extra $1,450.

It is BMW’s new 2015 X4 crossover hatchback, which looks like a coupe, even with its four doors. It is styled like the bigger X6, which was introduced seven years.

Of the X6 when I reviewed it in The Denver Post of July 4, 2008, I said, “Its new look is hot as a firecracker.”

The BMW X6 was first reviewed back in ’08.
The BMW X6 was first reviewed back in ’08.

The same holds true now for the new X4, still a hot coupelike look, even in December.

Interestingly, the X6’s review model back in ’08 was $63,700, just $100 higher than sticker price on the ’15 X4, which is a size smaller. Price bumps along the way have pushed the total on a well-equipped X6 into the $80s.

From the driver’s seat of the X4, the results for pushing the Sport driving button are under-hood performances fitting of a BMW – tightened steering, stiffened suspension, more responsive shifts, capped by paddle-shift capability. Three other modes are Eco (mild), Comfort (normal) and Sport-plus (blast-off).

Driver controls for the BMW X4 crossover.
Driver controls for the BMW X4 crossover.

A twin-power turbocharged, direct-injection 3.0-liter, inline-6-cylinder engine mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission provides the multilevel power modes. It generates 300 horsepower and 300 lb.-ft. of torque.

BMW’s xDrive all-wheel-drive system uses dynamic stability control to send torque to the outside rear wheel when cornering to improve traction, turn-in and directional stability.

The inline-6 with the 8-speed carries an EPA estimate of 19/27 miles per gallon. My overall fuel mileage average was only 21.5; I didn’t often call on the Eco mode. An optional power source for the X4 is from a 2.0-liter, turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, also tied to the 8-speed.

The X4 is built on the chassis of BMW’s X3 SUV and is much the same size. The X4 is a half-inch longer than the X3 and its roofline is 1.5 inches lower than that of the X3. Its roofline slopes back to the trailing edge of the tailgate; that and its low-slung structure create shallow vision out the rear window.

Among interior highlights are M leather steering wheel and M door sill finishers. The rear seat is split 40/20/40, and cargo space behind is 17.7 cubic feet. Rear-seat footroom is somewhat tight.

A few of the many options are heated front and rear seats, heated steering wheel, blind-spot detection, automatic high beams and stop/start system.

Here are the specifications for the ’15 BMW X4:

  • Capacity 5-passenger
  • Wheelbase 110.6 inches
  • Length 184.3 inches
  • Width 74.1 inches
  • Height 63.9 inches
  • Curb Weight 4,260 pounds
  • Track 62.8 inches front, 63.4 rear
  • Ground Clearance 8 inches
  • Turn Circle 39 feet
  • Drivetrain All-wheel-drive
  • Engine 3.0-liter twin-scroll turbo inline-6-cylinder
  • Horsepower/Torque 300/300
  • Transmission 8-speed automatic
  • Steering rack-pinion
  • Suspension strut front, multilink rear
  • Fuel mileage estimate 19/27
  • Fuel mileage average 21.5
  • Fuel Tank 17.7 gallons, premium unleaded
  • Wheels 19-inch
  • Tires Goodyear Eagle 245/45R19
  • Cargo Volume 17.7 cubic feet
  • Warranty 4 years/50,000 miles basic, 4/50,000 powertrain

Competitors Porsche Macan, Lincoln MKC, Range Rover Evoque, Acura RDX, Meercedes-Benz GLA

Assembly Plant Spartanburg, S.C.

Parts Content N.A.

Base Price of Lowest Model $44,700; Base Price of Review Model $48,000; Destination Charge $950; Sticker Price $63,600.