Monday, June 18, 2018


After taking a year off, Nissan brought the Titan back to the market for 2017, moving the full-size pickup into its second generation with a new half-ton model that earned it honors that included 2017 Pickup Truck of the Year from Truck Trend magazine and three  awards — Full-size Truck of Texas, Commercial Vehicle of Texas, and Best Value — in the annual Texas Truck Rodeo conducted by the Texas Auto Writers Association.

For 2018, the Titan takes on a more aggressive, rugged appearance with a new optional Midnight Edition package that includes a body color front grille with dark insert, dark headlamps, black fog lamp finisher, black exterior badging, black mirrors, black door handles, 20-inch black wheels, body color front and rear bumpers, black step rails, charcoal interior trim and "Midnight Edition" exterior badge.

It kind of looks like a truck Batman might take if he had to make a Home Depot or Lowe’s run.

Pickups in general seem to be all about choices, and such is the case with the Titan.

Five trim levels — S, SV, PRO-4X, SL, and Platinum Reserve — are offered in either 4X2 or 4X4 configurations with one exception. The PRO-4X model is available as a 4X4 only.

Three cab styles — Single Cab, Crew Cab and a new King Cab — are offered as well as three bed lengths. Single Cab models get an 8-foot bed, Crew Cabs a 5.5-foot bed, and King Cabs a 6.5-foot bed.

And then, of course,there are all kinds of options, including the new Midnight Edition, to allow you to pretty much customize your truck to your own personal styling preferences.

Powering the Titan is a 5.6-liter V8 engine that boasts 390 horsepower and 394 pound-feet of torque, giving it slightly more punch than the 317/385 more than the previous generation offered.

It is mated to a 7-speed automatic transmission with 4X4 models getting a shift-on-the-fly system that allows you to go to automatic, 4-Hi or 4-Lo mode with the turn of a knob on the dash.

Maximum towing capacity and payload are 9,740 and 1,940 pounds, respectively, for 4X2 models, 9,560/1.950 for 4X4s.
My test drive for the week was an SL 4X4 crew cab model equipped with the Midnight Edition package with a list of features that, if purchased separately, would have added $1,810 to the base MSRP of $50,360. That’s almost $600 more than the $1,250 they cost as a package.

With other options like rear bumper step, Titan Box, electronic tailgate lock, and special floor mats plus the $1,295 destination charge, the final tab came to $54,775.

That is near the top of the price range for the Titan lineup as well as for the segment as a whole. The Titan S Single Cab 4X2 starts at just over $30,000, and even the S Crew Cab carries a price tag of well under $36,000.

The Crew Cab’s interior is very functional and roomy with those in the second row getting a generous 38.5 inches of legroom.

The SV has leather-appointed, heated captain’s chairs with an 8-way power adjustable driver’s seat as standard, and the 60-40 split leather-appointed rear seats flip up for under-the-seat storage and a fold-flat floor.

Standard features include Bluetooth hands-free phone system, front-and-rear sonar systems, a rearview monitor, dual-zone automatic climate control, NissanConnet with Navigation and voice recognition, and a 12-speaker Rockford Fosgate premium audio system that includes SiriusXM satellite radio.

All that makes the Titan not only a workhorse but a vehicle suitable for family transportation, too. Its ride is firm but comfortable enough and quiet as well, which keeps certain riding companions happy.

So why is the Titan lagging so far behind in sales in a segment dominated by Ford’s F-Series, Chevy’s Silverado (though Chevy numbers for May are not available because of GM’s quarterly reports), and the Ram?

Even Toyota’s Tundra is outselling the Titan for the year through May with 45,837 sold in the U.S. through May to the Titan’s 19,173. And the Titan’s year-to-date numbers through May were down 5.4 percent from last year. 

Brand loyalty no doubt has something to do with it. The domestic trio has long dominated the market, and though the Titan was developed with input from company teams located in Tennessee, California, Michigan, Arizona, and Mississippi, and is assembled in Canton, Mississippi, with the V8 coming from Decherd, Tennessee, its roots are still in the Far East.

Also, however, as nice as the Titan is — and U.S. News & World Report analysts rate it ahead of Toyota’s Tundra — it needs something to separate it from its competitors, to make potential buyers take notice.

Exactly what that would be I must confess I don’t know. Such things like that are well above my pay grade.

What I liked about the 2018 Nissan Titan: The cabin is comfortable and nice and roomy. Technology is user-friendly (it took mere seconds to link my cell phone). The standard running boards make getting in and out much easier, though I might like to see a grab handle above the front doors in addition to the one on the A-pillar.

What I didn’t like about the 2018 Nissan Titan: The standard navigation screen is on the small side and not easy to catch at a glance, but adjustments are easy enough. 

Would I buy the 2018 Nissan Titan? I’m not a pickup guy, so no, I wouldn’t buy it. But it is a very utilitarian truck with a long list of standard features. Optional “Midnight Edition” features give it an especially aggressive look. Overall, it’s worth a look if you are shopping in the segment.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018


I’m just guessing here, but it must be fun to be an engineer assigned to design AMG versions of Mercedes-Benz vehicles.

While many automotive thinkers today are concerned with computers for self-driving vehicles and/or getting extra mile out of a gallon of fuel, the AMG guys keep amping up the horsepower and taking Mercedes-Benz products to a new level in performance, looks, and handling characteristics.

Why don’t we put more carbon fiber in here must be heard a lot around the lab.

They don’t just think outside the box. They are never inside the box.

Just take a look at what they have done with the Mercedes-Benz E-Class.

A midsize luxury sedan that gets high ratings across the board with its posh interior and driving characteristics, the E-Class reaches a new level in performance and handling since AMG got its hands on it.

The 2018 Mercedes-AMG E63 S is the most powerful E-Class of all-time with its 4.0-liter,  biturbo V8 engine pumping out 603 horsepower and 627 pound-feet of torque to all  four wheels via a 9-speed automatic transmission. Its zero-to-60 mph time of 3.3 seconds makes it one of the fastest production sedans in the world.

It’s even a tick quicker than the Mercedes-AMG S65 with its 664 lb.-ft. torque number and a full 2.0 seconds faster than the base Mercedes-Benz E400 4MATIC on which the AMG E63 is based.

Tobias Moers, Chairman of the Board of Management of Mercedes-AMG, says "The new E63 S represents the biggest step forward we've ever taken from one generation to the next.”

Spend a week behind the wheel of the E63 as I recently was privileged to and you’ll find it hard to argue with that.

You can modify the performance characteristics to your liking with Comfort, Sport, Sport Plus, and Individual settings to alter engine, transmission, suspension, and steering response.

Want to shift gears manually? Simply press the “M” button and use the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.

Even with all that power, with a cylinder deactivation system as standard the E63 still delivers fuel mileage of 15 miles-per-gallon in the city, 22 on the highway, and 18 combined — not great numbers but decent considering the response you get when you press the accelerator pedal.

There is more to the AMG E63 than just performance, however. It’s impressive looking as well.

Designers gave the E63 special AMG touches to the exterior with a new radiator grille and hood that is inset coupe-style between the fenders and bumpers. At 83.9 inches (including mirrors), it is nearly an inch wider than its predecessor with larger wheels at the front.

It looks ready to scoop up anything in its way and spit it out the available twin tailpipe sport exhaust system at the rear.

Inside, the AMG E63 offers the most in comfort and high quality materials.The sport seats in the front are heated and ventilated with lumbar support and an available massage function, and they provide improved lateral support as well. Nappa leather seating surfaces with silver stitching comes with no charge.

Front-seat occupants get up to 41.4 inches of legroom. Thanks to its length of 208.5 inches (nearly 15 more than the E400) and wheelbase of 124.6 (nearly 9 more than the E400), the E63 offers backseat riders up to 43.1 inches of legroom.

Standard equipment for the E63 includes a refined 4MATIC all-wheel drive system, sport suspension, high-performance braking system, Bluetooth connectivity, dual-zone automatic climate control, multi-color ambient lighting, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, COMAND navigation, Active Brake Assist, rearview camera, blind-spot assist, and a parking assist system.

All that is included in the base MSRP of $104,400.

Adding extras like an upgraded sound system, exterior carbon fiber touches, heated rear seats and rapid heated fronts, an AMG Premium Package, AMG black forged cross-spoke wheels, and a performance exhaust package ran the total to my test AMG E63 S to $131,140 including the $995 destination and delivery charge.

What I liked about the 2018 Mercedes-AMG E63 S: The E63 S looks and acts the part of a performance vehicle. Few sedans are as fun to drive or look as cool just sitting still in your driveway. Designers also have done a nice job of incorporating the 12.3 display screen into the flow of the dash instead of leaving it sticking up like a misplaced iPad.

What I didn’t like about the 2018 Mercedes-AMG E63 S: To get really picky, the trunk (13.1 cubic feet) is on the small size. 

Would I buy the 2018 Mercedes-AMG E63 S? If money were no object, sure. But money often is, right? Even with a six-figure starting price, a lot of the good stuff (surround view camera, performance exhaust, front seat massage) comes as options and packages that can add another $30,000 or so to the cost. But I definitely could live without the Burmester High-End 3D Surround Sound system that added $4,550 to the bottom line. Perhaps you can, too.

Friday, June 8, 2018


Having moved it into its sixth generation with a makeover for 2015 that carried over the retro design theme first revealed a decade earlier, Ford has given the iconic Mustang a mid-cycle refreshing for 2018.

Included among new features the company notes are a more powerful 5.0-liter V8 engine that is mated with an all-new 10-speed automatic transmission, new driver-assist technologies like Pre-Collision Assist with Pedestrian Detection and SYNC Connect, as well as refreshed front- and rear-end designs that result in a more aggressive look while improving aerodynamics for more confident handling and improved fuel economy.

With Ford announcing it is pulling out of the sedan market, it will be up to the Mustang to carry the company’s load in the traditional coupe-sedan passenger vehicle segment once the Focus morphs into the Focus Active Crossover for 2019.

To which we say, Hooray!

Not necessarily for the disappearance of the Taurus, Fiesta, Fusion, and the Focus compact sedan but for the continued existence of the king of the Pony Cars, the Mustang.

An immediate success at its launching when 22,000 were ordered on the first day of sales on April 17, 1964, and two million sold by March 1966, the Mustang continues to be a fan favorite.

Ford reports that the Mustang has been the world’s most popular sports coupe for the last three years with the 2018 model playing a key role in that momentum.

Keeping things fresh while not forgetting its roots — as the company did with the Thunderbird  — is a key.

In addition to the changes already note, Ford also dropped the V6model from the 2018 lineup, leaving Mustang aficionados with a choice of a fuel-efficient turbo-4 (21 mpg city/31 mpg highway) or a robust 5.0-liter V8 that is rated at 460 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque that can get you from zero-to-60 mph in less than four seconds when in enhanced, drag strip mode, according to Mustang chief engineer Carl Widmann.

Those horsepower and torque numbers are up from the 435/400, respectively, of the previous V8 Mustang.

I drove the Ecoboost 4-banger convertible last summer (see the July blogs for my thoughts on it) and generally found it to be a very capable performer.

But let’s face it. Muscle Cars are about the big bang, and that’s why I would recommend the V8.

Of course, it’s more expensive with the Ecoboost I4 carrying a base MSRP of $25,680 while the GT Fastback checks in at $35,190. The more upscale GT Premium Edition adds another $4,000 to that number, but makes for a slightly more sophisticated vehicle than your standard Muscle Car. It’s just nice, period.

Adjustments for such functions as ambient interior lighting (you can personalize the colors) and exhaust sound ranging form quiet to track can be made through the information display in the middle of the instrument panel.

You can also change what info is displayed there. If you want your trip and fuel mileage displayed or prefer gauges to keep you updated on oil pressure and water temperature, you can set the display to that.

Among standard features on the GT Premium are leather seats and leather-wrapped tilt and telescoping steering wheel with cruise and audio controls, dual zone climate control, capless fuel filler, LED headlamps and tail lamps, LED fog lights, intermittent wipers, quad tip dual exhaust, push-button start, and a rear-view camera with guidelines.

Optional equipment includes adaptive cruise control, blind-spot warning with cross traffic alert, a Shaker 12-speaker sound system, 19-inch wheels, and a GT Performance Package. The latter adds $4,000 to the cost, but will help you get the most out of your ride.

What I liked about the 2018 Ford Mustang: The Ford people definitely got it right with this incarnation of the classic Pony Car. It looks fast even standing still, and the ability to tune the Performance Exhaust system to your liking (normal, sport, track, and quiet modes) via the digital instrument display is a great feature. It has a pretty good size trunk (13.5 cubic feet) for a coupe.

What I didn’t like about the 2018 Ford Mustang: The backseat is almost useless. It is suitable for children only, and not very big ones at that. The roof slant gives the Mustang a sexy profile but intrudes greatly on rear headroom.

Would I buy the 2018 Ford Mustang? Frankly, I probably would go for the convertible over the coupe, but if convertibles aren’t your thing, then the coupe style is the next-best thing.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018


They say that good things come to those who wait, and though as far as I know no automobile company has, like Guinness and Heinz, picked up on that as a slogan, it is what came to mind as I drove the Nissan Armada for a week.

Bear with me here.

The flagship of the Japanese manufacturer’s portfolio of SUVs and crossovers, Nissan gave the the Armada a big makeover for 2017.

It got a fresh exterior design, a new 5.6-liter V8 engine mated to a new 7-speed automatic transmission, and several new available safety features like Predictive Forward Collision Warning, Blind Spot Intervention, Backup Collision Intervention, and Around View Monitor with Moving Object Detection.

The inside was roomy with lots of high quality materials giving the cabin a premium feel, and the top-of-the-line Platinum edition features a power-sliding moonroof, front climate controlled seats, a Family Entertainment System and Nissan Safety Shield technology as standard.

Instead of the Nissan Titan pickup, the 2017 Armada shared its platform withe full-size luxury SUV the Infiniti QX80, which gave it a smoother, quieter ride than is typical of vehicles with body-on-frame construction while still offering more than capable off-road and towing ability.

If cargo space was a bit on the short side, the Armada made up for that shortcoming with lots of room for passengers, especially those riding in the second row.

But if you missed out on getting a 2017 Armada into your driveway, Nissan has something for you in the 2018 model as well.

The second-year of the second generation Armada keeps all the good stuff from last year while adding standard NissanConnectSM Services, an 8-inch multi-touch control display, HD Radio, SiriusXM Travel Link with three years of trial access (subscription required), enhanced voice recognition, hands-free text messaging assistant, and additional USB ports for all grade levels.

A new model, Platinum Reserve, has been added to the lineup, giving the Armada essentially four trim levels — SV, SL, Platinum, and Platinum Reserve — all in either 4X2 or 4X4 configurations.

The new Platinum Reserve model boasts dark chrome exterior trim (front grille, door handles, outside mirrors), 20-inch dark chrome wheels, two-tone leather-appointed seats with unique stitching, unique black quartz and premium wood tone interior trim, and embossed "Platinum Reserve" emblem on the console lid.

Also, for the first time on any Nissan vehicle, Platinum and Platinum Reserve models get a standard feature that I’m pretty sure you’re going to love. It’s what the company calls an Intelligent Rear View Mirror. It uses a High-Res camera mounted at the rear to project a clear image onto an LCD monitor built into the standard rearview mirror.

Flipping a switch at the bottom of the mirror, like you do when adjusting the standard mirror to reduce glard for night-time driving, allows the driver to use either the traditional rearview mirror system or the new Intelligent Rear View Mirror.

I would be very surprised if you wouldn’t opt for the camera-based view.

The high-res image not only is more distinct than the standard mirror but also offers a wider field of vision to the rear as well. I found it not quite as effective at night, but it still is a feature that I predict will be showing up on many luxury vehicles in the future. (In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve been wrong on my predictions before.)

To get down to the nitty-gritty, the 5.6L V8 generates 390 horsepower and 394 pound-feet of torque that gives the Armada a towing capacity of 8,500 pounds. All-wheel drive fuel economy is rated at 13 miles-per-gallon city, 18 highway, and a combined 15 mpg using regular fuel.

It seats seven or eight, depending on whether the second row has captain’s chairs, and those in the second row get up to 41 inches of legroom, less than an inch those in front are afforded. Third row occupants get just over 28 inches.

Cargo capacity is 16.5 cubic feet behind third row, 49.9 with third row folded. 

 MSRP for the new 2018 Armada 4X4 Platinum Reserve model starts at $62,885 including the $1,295 destination and delivery charge, but the base 4X2 SV model is considerably less, starting at $47,385.

What I liked about the 2018 Nissan Armada Platinum Reserve: Second-row seats easily flip over to provide easy access to the third row, and the third-row seats are power folding at the push of a button on the right side of the cargo area. Technology is user friendly, and the high-def rearview mirror (standard on Platinum and Platinum Reserve models) is really cool.

What I didn’t like about the 2018 Nissan Armada Platinum: Fuel mileage figures and cargo capacity don’t match up to competitors. 

Would I buy the 2018 Nissan Armada Platinum? As with its sibling, Infiniti’s QX80, I really don’t have the need for a full-size SUV, so, no I wouldn’t. But it’s worth a look, and the Platinum Edition enjoys a significant price advantage over the QX80. Even throwing in extras like the second-row captain’s chairs and the Platinum Reserve package runs the total to $66,645, still under the $67,850 starting price for a 4WD QX80 and significantly under the $84,660 a fully loaded QX80 might run you.

Friday, May 25, 2018


If you’re looking for a vehicle that tells the world “I’ve got it made” yet exudes a more carefree air and fun driving experience than you might ordinarily find in the Super Luxury Class, the Mercedes-AMG S63 Cabriolet may be a perfect fit.

The S-Class has served as the flagship sedan for Mercedes-Benz for quite some time and is always packed with the latest exotic technology (like its infra-red night-vision system for enhanced visual detection of pedestrians, animals and other object in the darkest of conditions) and is the ultimate in luxurious comfort.

After bringing the coupe back to the S-Class portfolio from under the CL banner for 2015, Mercedes unveiled its first S-Class convertible since 1971 with the the S-Class Cabriolet a year later as a 2017 model.

Like just about any vehicle that the German manufacturer puts its mind to, it’s a stunner.

The S-Class Cab comes is offered in three trim levels with the AMG S63 sitting between the S560 and the AMG S65.

All things considered, the AMG S63 hits the sweet spot

Its 4.0-liter biturbo V8 engine pumps out 603 horsepower and 664 pound-feet of torque which delivers a neck-snapping, zero-to-60 mph time of 3.4 seconds and an electronically limited top speed of 184 mph (16 mph than what is shown on the speedometer.

That’s less horsepower than what the AMG S65 offers with its biturbo V12 (621 and 738, respectively), but a slightly quicker zero-to-60 than the S65’s 4.0 seconds.

The biturbo V8 in the S560 is rated at 463 hp and 516 lb.-ft. with a zero-to-60 time of 4.5 seconds.

The 2018 AMG S63 gets a 9-speed, AMG Speedshift transmission to replace the 7-speed on the 2017 model.

Also, the 4.0L V8 in the 2018 S63 replaces the 5.5L V8 in the previous model and in addition to upping the power numbers from the 2017’s 577/664 also is slightly more fuel efficient with mileage ratings of 15 miles-per-gallon city, 24 highway, 18 combined to the 2017’s 15/23/18.

According to government figures (And who doesn’t trust the government?) that will result in your spending about $5,000 more for fuel over a five-year period compared to the average new vehicle. Like, if you’re driving an S-Class Cabriolet, you’re going to care about that.

While what’s under the hood is important, what’s in the cabin is impressive as well.

The leather front seats are heated and ventilated and come with an adjustable massage function for both driver and passenger. Despite a multitude of infotainment features, the dash has a clean appearance.

That’s because infotainment functions such as audio and navigation are operated via through the COMAND System screen using the ubiquitous knob at the center of the console.

A warning that flashes upon starting the engine cautions you not to let the COMAND System not to distract you from your driving, but frankly, that is hard to do. That is especially so if you are not all that familiar with the functions, though I have found that the more I operate the system, the easier and less-distracting it becomes.

The cabin is roomy enough upfront, but as with nearly all convertibles, the back can get a bit snug. Passengers over six-feet tall may find the back cramped both in legroom and headroom (with the top up, of course), and the front-seat riders will find their legroom a bit snugger when give those in back more space.

Front seats automatically move forward to free up access to the rear and then recede when the backs are returned in place. 

When it comes to price, all S-Series Cabriolets are six figures, but the S63 with its MSRP of $180,495 (including $995 destination and delivery) is closer to the S560’s $134,295 than the S65’s $251,895.

Adding such extras as a Carbon Fiber package (carbon fiber front splitter, rocker panel inserts, mirror covers, rear diffuser insert and engine cover) for $6500, a Burlmester High-End 3D sound system for $6,400), a Driver Assistance Package (active steering assist, active lane-change assist, lane-keeping assist, emergency steering assist and other such safety features) for $2,350, Night View Assist for $2,260, Swarovski Chrystal headlight accents for $1,750, 20-inch forged AMG wheels for $1,700, and AMG Night Styling for $750  ran the total for this particular 2018 AMG S63 Cabriolet to $208,645.

That’s a hefty chunk of change, but still less than the starting MSRP for the AMG S65 Cabriolet.

What I liked about the 2018 Mercedes-AMG S63 Cabriolet: Pretty much everything really. It surrounds you with luxury, and despite its heft (over 4,800 pounds), it drives like a much more sprightly vehicle. The zero-to-60 time is 3.4 seconds. The only time you really notice its size (198.9 inches long, 83 inches wide including mirrors) is when you’re parking in a crowded mall lot. It’s also very quiet with the top up. The screen for infotainment features is nicely incorporated into the flow of the dash instead of sticking up in the middle like an iPad as Mercedes has a habit of doing. Finally, the top operates (raises and lowers) at speeds up to 37 mph.

What I didn’t like about the 2018 Mercedes-AMG S63 Cabriolet: The rake of the windshield can make getting in somewhat tricky, more so for the passenger than the driver. You can easily bump your head if you’re not paying attention. As is typical of many modern droptops, trunk space is severely reduced when the top is lowered. It not that much to begin (12.4 cubic feet) and probably is no more than two-thirds that with the roof lowered.

Would I buy the 2018 Mercedes-AMG S63 Cabriolet? It’s at the top of its class, so it’s where I would start if shopping in the super luxury segment, and there’s a good chance I would go nowhere else.