Jim Meachens’ Motorway America

2020 Dodge Charger Hellcat — Over-the-top performance

By Jim Meachen
Motorway America

For two generations the Nissan Versa was a subcompact sedan that lived at the bottom rung of the automotive ladder, and for years has had the distinction of being the “least expensive car in America.” The remarkable all-new 2020 Versa changes all that.

On rare occasions a low-priced car aimed at people who want to buy new, but have a limited budget, impresses us as much as a six-figure luxury car. That’s the case with the Versa, which is no longer the lowest priced car. With a complete redesign it has become a car that people want to purchase even though the price has escalated on average about $2,000. But that’s good news — and here is the impressive part of the equation when comparing apples (the mainstream sub-compact segment) to oranges (the luxury segments).

Not only can the new Versa be purchased with features that in many luxury cars are still sold as optional equipment, but it’s comfortable, relatively quiet, easy to drive, and with a very uncomplicated operating system. And it comes with a new stylish design that belies the bargain basement image of the past. The thing here in comparing two disparate groups of automobiles is how much $21,000 can purchase in the Versa compared to what $21,000 will buy in the luxury segment.

Yes, the Versa is still inexpensive in base trim starting at $15,625 including destination charge. But it’s the Versa in its top SR guise that is truly remarkable with just a couple of inexpensive, but noteworthy options that were included on our test vehicle for $21,885 (with destination charge), that makes this little car stand out.

The Versa comes in three trim levels — S, SV and SR. The SR’s list of features is long including automatic climate control, blindspot monitoring with cross-traffic alert, keyless entry and ignition, LED headlights with high beam assist, a 7-inch touchscreen with Bluetooth connectivity, full power equipment, lane departure warning, rear automatic emergency braking, frontal collision warning with automatic emergency braking, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, satellite radio, premium fabric seats, and 17-inch alloy wheels. Add the Convenience Package for $300 and you get heated front seats and adaptive cruise control.

The 2020 Hellcat also comes with a new electric power steering system that can be adjusted along with engine power, shift speed and traction control through the car’s 8.4-inch infotainment screen. As with most modern muscle cars, the Hellcat comes with standard launch control to aid the racing-inclined owner to get “off the line” quicker. A new feature is a Race Cooldown system that keeps the supercharger cooled after the engine has been cut off by continuing to run the intercooler pump and radiator fan.

In recent years Dodge has upped its game with stylish, user-friendly interiors that are as good as any in the industry at the various price points. Quality materials are used throughout, but expect some hard plastics in the lower trims.

The front seats are large, comfortable and roomy. Rear-seat room is plentiful for two passengers, but a center rider will find the position uncomfortable. Leg room is decent as it should be in a full-sized sedan. Trunk room is good at 16.5 cubic feet.

Uconnect is one of the easiest infotainment systems to use. It’s also one of the quicker systems, responding swiftly to both touch and voice commands. We are fans of satellite radio, and Uconnect is still unequaled in its ability to display information in large, easy-to-read-at-a-glance lettering.

While the Hellcat comes with an optional navigation system, we have relied more and more on Android Auto and Apple CarPlay to display clear, up-to-date route guidance with various apps available. On the safety front, the Hellcat is well equipped with most of the modern technology with one unfortunate exception — adaptive cruise control is not available.

So how much does all this performance goodness cost? The base Hellcat comes in at $71,140 including destination charge. Our test car with several options including a $1,595 19-speaker Harmon Kardon audio system, a $995 navigation package, and red brake calipers for $595, pushed the bottom line to $76,615. Bottom line on the Scat Pack we also drove was $60,250.

2020 Nissan Versa — A total makeover

By Jim Meachen
Motorway America

The Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Widebody may be one of the craziest family vehicles on the planet. But it’s easy to like crazy when there’s a monstrous 707-horsepower 6.2-liter Hemi V-8 engine under the hood that can turn a family cruiser into a tire-smokin’ dragstrip animal or a two-ton winding-road juggernaut.

Perhaps the craziest part of the equation is that this go-very-fast machine is one of the most practical family cars on the road with four doors, a roomy cabin, large trunk, pleasant ride, and an abundance of standard equipment. The current iteration of the big sedan has been around “forever,” undergoing its last complete redesign in 2011, and that’s perhaps one of the reasons it’s one of the most reliable and well-made American cars on the road today.

Beyond the muscle car guise, the Charger SXT or GT is still a good choice with a more responsible award-winning 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 making a very useable 292 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. As a bonus, the Charger V-6 can be ordered with all-wheel drive.

The Charger R/T, Scat Pack (which we also drove) and SRT Hellcat come with increasingly powerful Hemi V-8 engines. The R/T is outfitted with a 5.7-liter making 370 horsepower and 395 pound-feet of torque. The Scat Pack gets a 6.4-liter V-8 churning out 485 horsepower and 475 foot-pounds of torque.

Then there is the massive 6.2-liter supercharged V-8 under the hood of the SRT Hellcat mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission that pulls 4,335 pounds, the performance is remarkable measured from 0-to-60 in 3.6 seconds with a quarter-mile time of 10.96 seconds at 125 mph.

One of the great attributes of the Hellcat is its demeanor in everyday driving and commuting. It’s happy to just mosey along from stoplight to stoplight with a low burbling voice. But if you get the notion, blip the throttle and the big guy comes to life in a thunderous roar accompanied by the whining snarl of the supercharger.

For 2020 the Charger Hellcat gets the Widebody treatment as standard equipment that not only makes the car look fiercer, but gives it more stability in the corners. It also adds 3.3 inches of width in order to accommodate 11-inch wide, 20-inch diameter wheels that can be wrapped in optional Pirelli P Zero PZ4 summer tires. Brembo brake rotors with six-piston calipers in front and four-piston calipers in the rear are helpful in quickly pulling the car down from speed. An updated front end that gets a new fascia and revised grille opening creates a look that draws attention.

The exterior design advances from homely to rather handsome with a lot of the new mid-size Altima’s attractive qualities. The new design features lower, wider and longer exterior dimensions — it’s 1.6 inches longer, 1.8 inches wider and 2.3 inches lower than the outgoing car. The new Versa is the latest in the makeover of Nissan’s complete sedan lineup following the flagship Maxima and all-new Altima. Nissan says that “the result is an entry-level car that the designers describe as an energetic, provocative and engaging modern compact sedan.”

Inside, the Versa offers a conservatively handsome dashboard with easy-to-read gauges, well-placed steering wheel controls for adaptive cruise and audio, nice looking seat fabrics, and some upscale soft-touch surfaces not usually found in the this segment. The front seats proved comfortable, but lacked the sophisticated adjustments because of manual seat controls.

We found the front seating area spacious, but it seemed to us that rear legroom was not as generous as in the previous edition. And, indeed, legroom has shrunk about six inches with three inches added to the front seating area. On the upside, trunk space is a very generous 15 cubic feet, which is about the same as the outgoing model. Rear seatbacks fold down to allow for longer items.

While the Versa can be outfitted with a plethora of features, its drivetrain is what we’d call fairly ordinary for the segment, although it has been upgraded from the last generation. All Versa’s come with the carryover 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine, but with an increase in horsepower and torque. The four is now rated at 122 horsepower and 114 pound-feet of torque, up from 109 horsepower and 107 pound-feet. The standard transmission is a continuously variable automatic (CVT) that has been revised for 2020 and provides fake shifts that keep things moving without a lot of noisy drama.

While this doesn’t add up to racing in the streets (it has been clocked from 0-to-60 in about 9 seconds), we found the performance adequate for all driving occasions providing you don’t mind mashing the pedal to the floor in some passing and merging situations. The Versa is at its best during in-town driving, easily whizzing in and out of traffic.

If you are trying the make your dollar stretch as much as possible, but desire the many safety features found in the SR, the mid-level SV trim comes at more affordable $18,535 including destination charge.

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