2015 Chrysler 300S AWD in red
  • Image Credit: Chrysler

2015 Chrysler 300S AWD

As you know, we drive lots and lots of cars and trucks, each and every day, week and month of the year. That means we have a lot to say about which ones are the best, which are the worst, and which fall comfortably in between.

This week, we found ourselves sitting in luxurious sedans, fullsize trucks, off-road specialists and hybrid crossovers from model years 2015 and 2016.

Without further ado, click on the image above to read more about some of the vehicles we've been driving lately.

2016 Acura ILX – Seyth Miersma

BASE PRICE: $27,900
AS TESTED PRICE: $35,810 (est)
FUEL ECONOMY: 25 mpg City, 36 mpg Highway
WARRANTY: 4 Yrs / 50,000 Miles
ENGINE: 2.4-liter I4
TRANSMISSION: 8-Speed DCT
PERFORMANCE: 201 hp, 180 lb-ft of torque, 0-60 mph in 7.1 seconds
SEATING: 5 people
COMPETITORS: Audi A3, Mercedes-Benz CLA250, Buick Verano

PROS:
• With the 201-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and an eight-speed DCT transmission now standard, the 2016 ILX is far more entertaining to drive than the underpowered outgoing model.
• Ride quality is smooth and composed, and the overall noise level is low (unless you floor the throttle, which produces a nice little engine note).
 
CONS:
• The infotainment screen does have a pleasant graphical treatment, but the menus feel weirdly organized and are tough to navigate quickly.
• You won’t confuse the cabin of the ILX for a true luxury space. As ever, Acura has designed a fairly conservative cabin here, with clean styling and good basic fit and finish, but the wow factor is lacking.
 
CLOSING THOUGHTS: The ILX is a much better car for Acura’s mid-cycle revision of it; refinement and driving pleasure are both better than ever for the model. The car also faces a stiffer-than-ever competitive set, though, with Audi’s A3 and Mercedes’ CLA both outstanding small luxury cars. Whether or not the Acura’s shortcomings in technology and prestige are overcome by its price advantage versus those two Germans is hugely personal, and best settled with a test drive.

  • Image Credit: AOL On

2015 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited X Edition – Adam Morath

BASE PRICE: $32,395
AS TESTED PRICE: $43,425
FUEL ECONOMY: 16 mpg City, 20 mpg Highway
WARRANTY: 3 Yrs / 36,000 Miles
ENGINE: 3.6-liter V6
TRANSMISSION: 5-Speed Automatic
PERFORMANCE: 285 hp, 260 lb-ft of torque, 0-60 mph in 7.1 seconds
SEATING: 5 people
COMPETITORS: Toyota 4Runner, Nissan Xterra, Land Rover LR2

PROS
• Brand heritage marked by iconic design
• Serious off-road capability
• 4-door alternative to standard Wrangler
• Flexible cargo area with fold-flat seats
• Rugged looks and driving experience, unique among new vehicles

CONS
• Improved ride over previous generation Wranglers, but still harsh compared to a standard vehicle
• Sluggish acceleration
• Difficult ingress/egress
• Cheap looking graphics and white plastic accents in X Edition 

CLOSING THOUGHTS: I love driving Wranglers because they are so different from any vehicle out there, especially now that Toyota has retired the FJ Cruiser. The Wrangler is rugged and capable, but the things that make this vehicle so appealing to off-road enthusiasts also make it the sort of SUV that many would not want to live with every day. The ride has improved over previous generations, but shoppers should expect an unrefined driving experience, more similar to a truck than a crossover. And, frankly, we wouldn't have it any other way.

2015 Chrysler 300S AWD in red in the forest
  • Image Credit: Chrysler

2015 Chrysler 300S AWD – Steven Ewing

BASE PRICE: $37,395
AS TESTED PRICE: $48,070
FUEL ECONOMY: 18 mpg City, 27 mpg Highway
WARRANTY: 3 Yrs / 36,000 Miles
ENGINE: 3.6L V6
TRANSMISSION: 8-Speed Automatic
PERFORMANCE: 300 hp, 264 lb-ft of torque, 0-60 mph in 6.5 seconds (est)
SEATING: 5 people
COMPETITORS: Toyota Avalon, Lincoln MKS, Buick LaCrosse

PROS
• This is a whole lot of car for under $50,000. Our test car had leather-trimmed, heated seats (with high-quality cloth surfaces), xenon headlamps, a panoramic sunroof, an upgraded Beats Audio stereo, Chrysler’s excellent UConnect infotainment system with navigation, all-wheel drive, and more, all housed in a large, comfortable sedan with spacious seating for five people.
• The 300 looks killer, easily packing more style than competitors like the Chevy Impala, Buick LaCrosse, Lincoln MKS, and so on. In 300S guise, the blacked-out trim pieces look upscale and sporty, and the dark-finish, 19-inch wheels give the car some nice presence on the street.
• Chrysler’s UConnect infotainment system is easily one of the best on the market, and it takes center stage here in the 300. The 8.4-inch touchscreen is bright and colorful, not to mention super quick to respond to inputs and loaded with a ton of functionality. Luxury buyers want tech, and the 300 has arguably the best system in the class.

CONS:
• The 300-horsepower, 3.6-liter V6 is plenty of engine for this car, but it feels a little anemic at times, especially considering how muscular and powerful this sedan looks. Never fear, though – Chrysler will happily sell you a 300 with the company’s 5.7-liter Hemi V8.
• Chrysler did a wonderful job designing the 300, but from inside, sight lines aren’t so great. The beltline is high, and you sort of sink into the cabin. Forward visibility is fine, but blind spots are tricky, and without the panoramic sunroof of this test car, we imagine the cabin could feel quite a bit more claustrophobic. 
• We’ve had problems with Chrysler’s nine-speed automatic transmission, but even the eight-speed in the 300 seems to hunt around at times, shifting unnecessarily while coasting, but then failing to kick down when power is demanded. Steering wheel-mounted paddles in the 300S allow the driver to choose their own adventure, of course, but the standard transmission mapping just doesn’t feel quite right here.

CLOSING THOUGHTS: The Chrysler 300 offers a different take on the modern fullsize sedan formula. It comes standard with rear-wheel drive, while its competitors use front-wheel drive. This makes it stand out, to me, as something a little more performance-oriented, even if this V6 AWD model isn’t exactly the most engaging version to drive. Still, with tons of style, excellent technology, and plenty of luxury within, the 300 is a great middle ground for people who want the best of fullsize accommodations but don’t need the performance (or price tag) of a German executive sedan.

2015 Lexus NX300h AWD in red
  • Image Credit: Lexus

2015 Lexus NX 300h AWD – Michael Austin

BASE PRICE: $41,310
AS TESTED PRICE: $52,013
FUEL ECONOMY: 33 mpg City, 30 mpg Highway
WARRANTY: 4 Yrs / 50,000 Miles
ENGINE: 2.5-liter I4, AC electric motors
TRANSMISSION: CVT
PERFORMANCE:  154 hp, 152 lb-ft of torque (gas engine), 141 hp (front electric motor), 67 hp (rear electric motor), 194 hp combined output; 0-60 mph in 9.1 seconds (est)
SEATING: 5 people
COMPETITORS: Acura RDX, BMW X3, Lincoln MKC

PROS:
• I'm a fan of the aggressive exterior styling. It's not for everyone, and that's the point. Even boring SUVs should generate opinions.
• Inside, the clean interior design and rich leather dash feels special. All the climate control settings have a physical button. It's a welcome relief from LCD screen menu hell found that pervades modern vehicles.
• Fuel economy is terrific. I saw 30 mpg in highway cruising, equal to the EPA sticker.

CONS:
• The remote touchpad interface for the infotainment system is terrible. Inputs are imprecise, and unintended clicks are frequent. It's a step backward from the force-feedback joystick on older Lexus models. At least you can avoid this by skipping the $2,140 navigation package.
• Speaking of navigation, can Toyota and Lexus please update the map design? The layout is circa 2004 and looks cheap.
• Typical of Toyota hybrids, the transition between regenerative and friction braking is sudden. The gas pedal has a similar disconnect between input and output. I expected better in a luxury car.

CLOSING THOUGHTS: This Lexus looks cool and is incredibly comfortable. That's enough to make most owners happy, as long as they didn't mind the stiff ride and disconnected, regressive steering. (In order, that's anybody living outside of Michigan and most drivers). But despite our earlier argument that the 300h is the pick of the lineup, I'd rather have the 200t. It's less expensive, more powerful, and still comes with the crazy pop-out lipstick/cocaine mirror in the center console.

2015 Ram Power Wagon in red off road
  • Image Credit: Ram

2015 Ram 2500 Power Wagon – Greg Migliore

BASE PRICE: $49,445
AS TESTED PRICE: $56,280
FUEL ECONOMY: N/A (Heavy Duty vehicle, no label required)
WARRANTY: 3 Yrs / 36,000 Miles
ENGINE: 6.4-liter V8
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed Automatic
PERFORMANCE: 410 hp, 429 lb-ft of torque, 0-60 mph in 8.4 seconds (est)
SEATING: 5 people
COMPETITORS: Chevy Silverado 2500HD, GMC Sierra 2500HD, Ford F-250 Super Duty
 
PROS:
• A total beast. It’s big, tall and commands the road.
• It’s surprisingly maneuverable. The steering is light enough that you’re not intimidated, and the visibility gives you confidence.
•The sound of the 6.4-liter Hemi is great. This big rig has tons of grunt, and you hear and feel it as the eight-cylinders propel you forward and the gears shift. It’s more fun than driving a sports car in some ways.
• I love the gaudy exterior graphics. In case you didn’t know what this thing was, the sides read: Power Wagon.
• Tons of storage spaces inside and out. The Ram Boxes are an intelligent use of real estate.
• It can ford two and a half feet of water. Even if I don’t need to do that, I like to know that I can.
 
CONS:
• Okay, it is a little gaudy. A black Sierra dripping in Denali chrome is more tasteful that the flames on the sides of the Power Wagon.
• Fuel efficiency. It’s a heavy-duty truck, so Ram doesn’t have to label it on the window sticker. But HD trucks slurp fuel, if you don’t need one, look at the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel or an EcoBoosted Ford F-150 for longer trips between fill-ups.
 
CLOSING THOUGHTS: I loved my long weekend in this Power Wagon. Everyone noticed it. It was lots of fun pulling up at family gatherings. This Ram makes a statement. Rolling around town is fun, and it’s a reasonably easy truck to steer and park. I wasn’t intimidated at all. Maybe I should have been, but it’s so much fun. There’s raw, visceral power, a commanding yet comfortable driving position and it’s all wrapped in an attractive package. This truck is expensive, so think carefully if you really need all of its grunt and off-road prowess. But if you do, buckle up and enjoy the raw power of the Power Wagon.


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