The Texas Auto Writers Association is celebrating its 30th year of existence, and held its annual Auto Roundup in Denton April 14-16. I went and spent a day and a half testing a few dozen vehicles from several manufacturers on both a street-test loop and a performance-handling course. When I review vehicles, the manufacturers provide a car for a one-week review period, so the added benefit of getting to test competitors in a back-to-back manner is hugely beneficial. While not all manufacturers participated (GM and Ford being notably absent), there were still enough vehicles that my back started to hurt from getting in and out of cars dozens of times. I’m going to briefly profile a few of the vehicles that stood out from the pack.
Car of Texas:
Mid-Size Luxury Car:
Lexus ES 350 F Sport
Volkswagen GTI SE
Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Redeye
2019 Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio
Mazda CX-5 Signature AWD
Mercedes-Benz E63 S Wagon
2019 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid
I’m sure you’re asking yourself, “He’s starting with a minivan?” But it’s true, I was really taken aback by how good this car is. Chrysler sells a non-hybrid version, but I would recommend the more eco-friendly version. It actually operates as a plug-in hybrid, so the first 32 miles that you drive every day are purely electric, and the gas engine takes over after that. It qualifies for the $7,500 tax rebate, so the net cost starts in the low 30s. It drove and handled more like a car than a van and provided some ride height that modern drivers crave. Chrysler offers a $795 “S Appearance Package” which gives you black badging, wheels and other stealthier styling cues and pushes the Pacifica more towards executive airport pickup, especially if you go with the Limited trim, which offers Nappa leather-trimmed seats.
2020 Kia Telluride
Kia just launched their first ever eight-passenger SUV and they smashed a grand slam. Kia provided a version with every option checked off at a cost of roughly $47,000, but it was absolutely delightful. Nappa leather, a stunning dash, heated and ventilated first and second-row seats, LED headlights, and so much more. My favorite feature was the 7-inch color LCD in between the speedometer and tachometer. When you turn your blinker on, it shows you live video of your blind spot on that side of the car. Right in the gauge cluster! It was exceptionally handy. This car delivers incredible bang for the buck. The EX trim starts at $38,135 and provides many of the luxury features of the top tier, including the large 10.25-inch infotainment system and wood trim.
2019 Nissan LEAF
Most people would assume that a Tesla is the most popular electric vehicle in the world with all of the press coverage and buzz, but it’s actually the Nissan LEAF. It’s all new for 2019 and starts at $29,999. The test version available was the PLUS model, which includes a larger battery (226 vs. 151 miles) and a more powerful motor (214 vs. 147 horsepower). The extra power really livens the car up, and the switch to smaller and lighter lithium ion-based batteries provide more storage space and range. EVs are getting better and cheaper with each new generation and the new LEAF is continuing that.
2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio
I may have hinted at my displeasure with the mostly bland compact crossovers that everyone is buying (and that I’ve been reviewing), but there is absolutely nothing bland about the Stelvio. The Quadrifoglio trim is Alfa Romeo’s performance version and it’s powered by a 2.9-liter turbocharged V6 that delivers a vision-blurring 505 horsepower and 443 lb-ft of torque. Paired with a performance-oriented AWD drivetrain, it delivers blistering performance. The interior was awash with red leather, carbon fiber and high-end finishes everywhere you look. When you flip the car into race mode, the exhaust baffles open and it creates an intoxicating symphony. They somehow managed to keep a 50/50 weight distribution, and the Stelvio handles like it is on rails as a result. The Stelvio is the right kind of combination of aesthetics and craziness.