2020 LAND ROVER DEFENDER TEST DRIVE BY CAR CRITIC STEVE HAMMES. Spurred by low gas prices, choking traffic and an insatiable appetite for SUVs, the off-road vehicle movement has never been riper. I’m talking about real capability that can get you away from all the craziness; from trucks to sport utilities there have never been so many competent choices. Enter the new Defender – a modern interpretation of the iconic original. The days of needing body-on-frame construction and solid axles to prove your off-road mettle are passé. This Defender is modern, smart and everyday luxurious while being respectful to its past. It’s purpose-built for off-roading but that’s not its only personality trait. Made from an all-new aluminum unibody Land Rover says is the stiffest platform they’ve ever created underpinned by a fully independent air suspension that bests a Wrangler Rubicon in ground clearance and hangs with it in other critical off-road geometry. It pairs a full-time 4-wheel drive system with a sophisticated Terrain Response System replete with automatic center and rear lockers making off-roading an absolute breeze. The electronics are amazing and configurable beyond the numerous pre-programmed surface types; I just wish the Terrain Response controls weren’t shared with the climate buttons and knobs over here at a decent reach from the driver. You can view the selections on the center screen or right here depending upon how you’ve configured the display. With these optional new Goodyear Wrangler Adventure tires, this Defender makes mud, ruts and rocks seem like a mere inconvenience.
When the Defender’s 67 year production run ended in 2016, it had already been nearly 2 decades since one could be found in a U.S. Land Rover dealership. The 1997 Defender 90 with its 4.0-liter V8, 4-speed auto and 13mpg was a British-born Jeep rival. But since, Land Rover’s SUV lineup has trended more towards afternoon tea and less to morning fox hunts. The Defender’s much anticipated return is finally here to recapture some of the original’s raw ruggedness with modern day accoutrements.
MSRP as-tested: $73,043
2021 HONDA RIDGELINE FIRST LOOK BY CAR CRITIC STEVE HAMMES
I’ve always wanted a Ridgeline; it’s a great lifestyles truck that’s as smart and versatile as they come, but like many of you, its soft, mini-van-like styling has kept me from pulling the trigger. Honda realizes that so to broaden its appeal they’ve toughened up its appearance. Going on sale early next year, the 2021 Ridgeline features all-new sheet metal from the A-pillars forward, with a power dome hood, more upright grille, brighter LED headlights and a prominent skid plate. Out back, the new bumper flaunts more aggressive exhaust outlets. And butching it up even more are rugged-looking 18” wheels and a wider stance. But if that’s still not enough testosterone for you the new Honda Performance Development package sports these bronze-colored wheels, unique grille, black fender flares and special graphics. And it’s available on all trims. Last year, the 9-speed auto became standard on all Ridgelines and is paired to a 280-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 with an available torque-vectoring all-wheel drive system. A unibody truck with car-like ride and handling yet capable off-road, the 2021 Ridgeline’s pricing will be announced closer to launch.
2020 Jeep Gladiator Mojave 4X4 Review By Car Critic Steve Hammes.
If you’re into 4-wheeling, then you know that not all off-roading is the same. So while the Trail-Rated badge graces Jeep 4X4s after they’ve proven themselves in 5 critical categories, this first-ever Desert Rated Jeep operates under a different set of criteria. Anyone who likes Jeeps would love to have this one in their garage for those doors off, windshield down, top removed kind of days…just ask Siri where the nearest desert is. MSRP as-tested: $61,315
2020 MINI John Cooper Works Countryman Review By Car Critic Steve Hammes. I love this current generation of MINIs for their balanced approach to performance, style and premium attitude. And the biggest Coopers also lend themselves to more versatility. Furthermore, this one takes the John Cooper Works approach to new heights. A lightly updated Countryman has been announced for the 2021 model year, but until then this JCW is an enjoyable take on a souped-up MINI capable of off-road adventures and racetrack jaunts. MSRP as-tested: $50,100
2020 Jeep Gladiator Mojave FIRST LOOK By Auto Critic Steve Hammes.
If you’re into 4-wheeling, then you know that not all off-roading is the same. So while the Trail-Rated badge graces Jeep 4X4s after they’ve proven themselves in 5 critical categories, this first-ever Desert Rated Jeep operates under a different set of criteria. The 2020 Gladiator Mojave is designed for a high-speed, sandy environment so it’s not as concerned with water fording and articulation as it is ride control and stability and desert prowess.