Along with writing about automotive history, I also test drives cars, SUVs and trucks each and every week, and I have been doing so in print since 1994 with many publications.
When you test drive a vehicle that states on the dashboard “cruise control not operative in race mode,” you know you’re driving something special.
1. 2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio
When you test drive a vehicle that states on the dashboard “cruise control not operative in race mode,” you know you’re driving something special. This Italian built small to midsize SUV arrived in Quadrifoglio trim with AWD featuring an all-aluminum, Ferrari-designed, 2.9-liter V6 that produces 505 horsepower and 443 lb./ft. of torque from its twin-turbo, four-valves per cylinder design. As noted in the review, the trio of Fiat, Ferrari and Alfa has been engaged in joint efforts for decades and the Stelvio Quadrifoglio co-op just might be its very best effort to date.
This Alfa Romeo is clearly one of the most exciting vehicles I’ve ever driven and this includes over 1,500 different vehicles test driven over a career that now spans five decades. Stelvio feels both like an SUV and a sport sedan with a top speed of 176 thanks to the special Pirelli performance tires in 20-inch design and all that Ferrari power. Be it a race track event lapping day or cruising the freeway, this Alfa Romeo delivers in spades whenever called on. Entry $79,995, As Tested $85,890.
2. 2019 RAM 3500 Mega Cab
Easily making the “5 Most Impressive” list was the RAM 3500, delivered in dually rear tire Mega Cab 4x4 dress with a Cummins Diesel under the hood. Outwardly, RAM 3500 is both intimidating in a good way and stunning thanks to its overall mass. Our RAM 3500 4x4 featured the optional 6.7-liter Cummins 1000 lb/ft torque High Output (HO) Turbo Diesel hooked to a heavy duty AISIN 6-speed automatic. This option will set you back $11,795, but in the world of truck lovers this RAM garners respect from onlookers wherever you take it.
Built for serious work, the RAM 3500 Mega Cab is also a mover of passengers weather headed for work at the quarry or taking the kids to a little league game. Family and friends will marvel at the spectacular interior, loaded with every amenity option and safety feature found in today’s top luxury vehicles. Entry $33,245, As Tested $84,370.
3. 2019 Jeep Wrangler/Jeep Gladiator
Making the top five list is the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4x4, which happened to be named Motor Trend Magazine’s “SUV of the Year” for 2019. This new generation Wrangler 4x4 offers numerous off-road improvements over and above previous Wranglers. Our tester was the upper class and more rugged Rubicon two-door, Jeep’s top liner that features many exclusive features, including the extreme duty and off-road inviting 4:1 Rock-Trac HD Part Time 4WD System. Wrangler also comes in 4-door dress and its new Gladiator Pickup is similar when it comes to off-road abilities and 4x4 strength.
Under the hood sits a powerful 24-valve 3.6-liter, 285-horse Pentstar V6 engine delivering 285 horses and 260 lb/ft of torque. New to Wrangler is an eight-speed automatic transmission that costs $2,000 more than the standard six-speed manual and comes with hill descent and Tip Start features. Built in Toledo, Ohio, all Wranglers are classified as SUVs and do not compare well to automobile style SUVs in safety ratings or ultimate comfort features. However, when you take this same Jeep off road or drive in a snowstorm, the Wrangler transforms into an outstanding vehicle far superior to the many AWD/4x4s on the road today. Entry $28,045, As Tested $51,645
4. 2019 Nissan Armada
One of the bigger SUV's on the road, the 2019 Nissan Armada came in Platinum Reserve 4WD trim and is near fully loaded including a Tri-Zone DVD entertainment system with dual 8-inch monitors. Sharing many dimensions and mechanicals with big brother luxury SUV Infiniti QX80 4WD, Armada features an enhanced 7-speed automatic transmission with downshift rev match and a new chassis that debuted in 2018 that is two-inches shorter. Gone is the rough riding Titan truck chassis, which previously served as the base for Armada underpinnings.
With a final assembly point in Los Angeles, CA, Armada for 2019 is powered by a 5.6-liter V8 that delivers 390-horses and best-in-class towing of 8,500 pounds for both the 4WD and rear 2WD models. Delivering 394 lb. ft. of torque, serious towing or transporting up to 8-passengers in comfort is a breeze. Armada delivers 13 city and 18 highway in 4WD dress and 14 and 19, respectively, for the 2WD trim. Included as standard equipment are high-tech features like lane departure, electronic brake force, intelligent distance cruise control, emergency braking, forward collision warning, blind spot intelligence, back-up intervention, all around view safety mirror, and more. Entry $47,100, As Tested $69,425.
5. Dodge Durango SRT 392
Rounding out our top five for the SUV/ truck division is yet another performance SUV, namely the Dodge Durango SRT. Assembled in Detroit, Michigan, the SRT Durango has a 6.4-liter 392 Hemi sitting under the hood delivering 475 horses and 470 lb. ft of torque. By the way, SRT stands for Street & Racing Technology in the Chrysler dictionary.
Unlike its first and second generation models which were built on the Dodge Dakota full truck chassis from 1997 to 2009, the current generation Durango is built on a Jeep Grand Cherokee car like unibody chassis available in either rear or AWD formats. When you choose the SRT 392, they all come with Quadra-Trac Active On-Demand AWD as standard fare. Few if any AWD three-row SUVs built today can compare with Durango SRT, which is built exclusively for consumers who still seek American-built high performance. Clearly, the 1960 decade of MOPAR muscle car domination ala Hemi Road Runners, Six-Pack Super Bees and 440 GTXs have been reinvented into these modern-day marvels that carry the SRT logo. Entry $62,245, As Tested, $76,450.