2020 Mercedes-AMG GLC 63
I’ve had bad luck with SUVs this winter. Especially performance ones. First, I got a 2019 Range Rover Sport SVR delivered on summers right as two feet of snow fell, rendering it undriveable. Then, coronavirus cancelled Easter Jeep Safari as well as my trip out to Moab in the 2020 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Diesel. Thankfully, when this 469 horsepower luxury mall crawler was dropped off, the sun shone down and the snow (mostly) held off.
The first thing that I noticed was there were a few blank buttons throughout the cabin, something that you may see in an entry model vehicle, but I’m not accustomed to seeing in an AMG. Not a great look for a vehicle with an $80,000 price tag. Thankfully that was where the disappointment ended. As soon as you press the start button, the engine fires up and the exhaust note is incredible. Hopping on the highway ramp near my house, I floored it, and the biturbo V8 had me pressed back into the driver's seat, and this wasn’t even the S version that our staff drove last year.
Inside and out, the GLC 63 was everything you’d expect from Mercedes. The interior was immaculate, and while the infotainment wheel and touch pad may take some getting used to for someone who isn’t familiar, by now I have it down so that I can use it without looking. And while the V8 left me smiling ear to ear, I was most impressed by the amount of useable interior space there is. I happened to be moving at the time of this review and while all of my large furniture was shoved into the back of a moving van, I was able to fit almost everything else in the back of the GLC.
2019 and 2020 Fiat 500X Trekking
It’s hard to say goodbye to an AMG and then turn around and be excited when a Fiat 500X pulls in your driveway (I know, I know, automotive journalist problems). That being said, when the red Fiat pulled up, I found myself admiring it. I am very familiar with the 500X. Back in 2016 Autoblog had one for a year as our long term test vehicle. I drove that car everywhere, multiple trips up north in Michigan, and even tracked it at Gingerman Raceway for a few laps before the brakes started smoking.
The 2019 model I had in my driveway and the 2020 model I drove in the snow up in the mountains feel very similar to that car. The interior is stylish and surprisingly roomy. The greenhouse is airy. The leather seats are comfortable enough that after a three hour drive in a blizzard with three feet of visibility, white knuckling it all the way, there is no soreness. But there is a big difference between the 2019/2020 model year and the one I had a few years back, and that big difference is fairly small. 1.3 liters to be exact.
The 1.3-liter turbocharged 4 cylinder engine that was introduced for the 2019 model year replaces a 2.4L four cylinder and in my experience, makes a world of difference. My first test: driving from Denver to Vail for the GMC Yukon reveal (you can watch that BTW episode here).
As you’ve no doubt heard me say before, turbochargers are almost essential up in the mountains. Unless you’re starting off with a lot of horsepower, you need them to mitigate the effects of elevation. Vail sits at 8,000 feet, and in order to get there you drive much higher.
In pure Colorado fashion, the sun was shining as I started my climb, but after a 20 minute stop on the freeway, the storm clouds quickly moved in. I switched the drive mode from Sport to Traction+, and began what ended up being a 3 hour drive. At points visibility was down to three feet, but the 18-Inch wheels wrapped in winter tires left me confident, though still a bit cautious, as I passed jackknifed semi after semi.
Two weeks later, in a snow covered parking lot in Winter Park, I met the 2020 model year. I thought the red exterior of the 2019 model had looked good, but the silver with orange accents was even better as was the price tag. The 2019 tester I had was a Trekking Plus, which included an optional sunroof, 18-inch wheels, a premium audio system, as well as a host of safety features, came with a sticker of $34,325. The 2020 model year dropped the Plus, losing the leather seats and sunroof, but kept the safety features, heated front seats and added the Adventure Edition, coming to a final price of $32,805.
2020 Dodge Charger GT
The early morning sun is a welcome sight. After months of thinking winter was never going to arrive in the front range, the past few weeks reminded me anything is possible here in Colorado, covering my driveway, as well as the streets of my hometown, in a couple feet of snow. Not ideal for a Dodge Charger, but exactly what I was looking for with a Charger GT.
The sun had tried its best to melt away the ice, but the short winter days and abundant shade had proven that task impossible. Still, I was confident behind the wheel. A week earlier I had spent a day at 10,000 feet in a snow covered parking lot taking the Charger GT around a makeshift road course.
Just because it’s all-wheel drive doesn’t make the Charger GT some kind of rally car. Instead, it offers itself as an option for those who love everything Dodge once the snow hits in November. But you’ll really have to love it to pull the trigger. The base MSRP isn’t too offensive, at $36,490, but, like every car these days, it’s easy to start adding options, which raises the price quickly. The tester I had included add ons, which tacked on another $9,895 to the sticker, which, for the non-mathletes out there adds up to a total as-tested MSRP of $46,385.
The Charger GT, much like its Challenger GT sibling, comes with one engine option, the Pentastar V6, which, in the Charger GT application makes 300 horsepower and 264 lb-ft of torque, slightly less than the 305 horsepower the Challenger GT makes. Dodge can explain until they’re blue in the face that the V6 is the best option for this vehicle, which may in fact be true, but it hasn’t stopped them from making AWD V8 Chargers as police vehicles for the past few years. In fact, a quick search of our used car pages brings up a whole host of 2016 models featuring the 5.7L V8 and all-wheel drive, albeit with an outdated 5-speed transmission. I did a quick poll of our staff and between the V6 Charger GT at $46k and the used V8 Charger Pursuit at $14k, the most common response I received was “don't buy a Charger” if you’re looking for all-wheel drive, a sentiment I can understand, even though it was ignoring the question at hand (on an unrelated note, never ask auto writers A or B questions, the response will most likely end on an option C and is generally unnecessarily verbose).
The interior is clearly Dodge. Uber masculine. Everything is covered in Nappa leather or Alcantara. The front and rear seats are heated, which is nice at first but when on full blast are slightly cooler than the surface of the sun. While the visibility is leaps and bounds better than in the Challenger GT, the A-pillar is fairly big and obstructs views on occasion. UConnect, one of my favorite infotainment systems works just as it is intended, even though I used CarPlay most of the time. Speaking of CarPlay, there is nowhere to set a modern sized smartphone, which became more of a projectile as we made our way through the hairpin turns on the mountain. Overall I found myself a bit surprised by this interior and not in a good way. The same company that makes the Ram 1500 makes this, yet, while I would gladly live out of a Ram for days, the interior is just passable in the Charger GT.
The real reason I am behind the wheel is to test out the all-wheel drive and I have to say, coupled with winter tires, the Charger GT inspires confidence on road, even the iced over ones. If you are really itching to get in a Charger but winter has stopped you before, and the price tag doesn’t bug you, this is a fine solution. That being said, once the weather warms, there are far better options for the price, even in the Charger lineup itself.
2020 Honda CR-V
The following is a winter driving review of the 2020 Honda CR-V. For a more general review of the car, check out our Buying Guide on Autoblog.
Having arrived in Denver, our first leg of the winter driving event was to get from a hotel outside of the airport, to the testing facility in Winter Park, Colorado, a 77 mile drive down I-70 and then up into the mountains. For this trip, the vehicles were chosen for us, and, luckily for me, I got to sit behind the wheel of the 2020 Honda CR-V.
Honda has been producing this vehicle for 25 years, and the 2020 has seen a refresh to this fifth generation crossover, it’s first change since the redesign for the 2017 model year. 2020 also brings along a hybrid variant, though the exact model I tested featured the gas-powered 1.5 liter four-cylinder turbo, which makes 190 horsepower and is mated to a CVT transmission. The CVT was something I was a bit concerned about, especially after having tested the smaller HR-V in our subcompact crossover comparison, but the CR-V’s faded into the background, barely noticeable on the highway drive.
Classified as a compact crossover, every inch of the interior is maximized so that it feels incredibly spacious. More than a few times over the course of this test was the CR-V filled with four automotive journalists, and a lack of space was never once mentioned (though heated rear seats would have been a great option for battling the near zero temperatures). The cargo space is abundant as well. As a photographer I don’t exactly pack light when traveling up into the mountains, and the trunk space was more than adequate for two adults.
A jack of all trades, master of none, the 2020 Honda CR-V is an incredibly well-rounded vehicle which boat loads of included features, especially in the Touring trim I tested. Leather trimmed heated seats and a heated leather wrapped steering wheel kept me separated from the wet, snowy weather outside, and there was less road noise than in other vehicles in its segment. It also came standard with Honda Sensing safety suite.
The 2020 Honda CR-V Touring with all-wheel drive will set you back $35,845 including destination and gets 27 mpg city, 32 mpg highway and 29 mpg combined.
2020 Acura RDX A-Spec
Two vehicles at the winter driving event stood out from the crowd when it came to looks, the previously mentioned Dodge Charger, and the 2020 Acura RDX A-Spec. It is no surprise that it came in at almost exactly the same price as the Charger at $46,795. It was the first car I hopped in, and while some vehicles performed horribly with traction control off, the RDX in Sport+ mode with everything off was a complete blast. The SH-AWD system in that vehicle, which literally stands for “Super Handling All-Wheel Drive” enabled me to rocket through the course without harming any cones.
The SH-AWD system is unique in that it can send 70% of the available power to the rear wheels, while 100% of that power can be sent to either the right or left wheel, which definitely helps in times of slippage.
This was also the vehicle I drove home throw the snow in, and while I wasn’t behind the wheel for this leg of the trip, I can say that the two of us in the car are both video producers, and the gear was plentiful, but still not enough to overpower the amount of cargo space in the RDX.
2020 Nissan Altima & 2020 Nissan Rogue Sport
I don’t know who decided that Sport should mean something slightly smaller than the original, even if it is unathletic in every way, but Nissan has embraced it fully with the Rogue Sport. This is a vehicle that only makes 144 horsepower, and it showed, both on the road and on the snow. The CVT didn’t help matters much either. That being said, it was the cheapest vehicle of the bunch, with a sticker of $30,460. For that you got a bare bones all-wheel drive vehicle, not something I really wanted to be in more than I had to.
The Altima was the second cheapest vehicle we tested, and while it only cost $32,495, it was packed with features that made it a much more appealing choice over the Rogue Sport. For that amount of cash not only did you get all-wheel drive, but a peppier 2.5-liter four cylinder that makes 182 horsepower and 178 lb-ft of torque, which definitely helped the CVT feel less bogged down than the one in the Rogue Sport. It also came with additional features, like Nissan ProPilot, which we didn’t test in this car but tested a few years back as part of our Tech of the Year award, heated seats and steering wheel, heated outside mirrors which worked great in the snow, and a moonroof.