Wednesday, April 12, 2017


JAGUAR F-TYPE SVR ROADSTER FOLLOWS IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF AN AUTOMOTIVE LEGEND


Three years ago or so Jaguar paid homage to its illustrious past when it brought the F-Type to the market.

It was the first roadster from the company in 40 years and stirred memories of the legendary Jaguar E-Type, which was based on the British marque’s D-Type racing car and manufactured from 1961-75.

Such was the admiration for the E-Type that Enzo Ferrari, who had some great looking machines coming out of his own shop, flatly declared it “the most beautiful car ever made.” High praise indeed.

So the F-Type had a lot to live up to when it came out as a soft-top convertible for 2014 and coupe the following year.

I’d say it has done a pretty good job of meeting that standard. If not the “most beautiful car in the world” — a subjective observation if there ever was one — it certainly ranks among the top five or so in today’s vehicles, though frankly I’m not sure why I picked five because I can’t think of four others I would rank ahead of it.

It’s that eye-pleasing and draws admiring glances whether it is sitting in the driveway or cruising the streets.


But to attain potential legendary status as a sports car a vehicle has to deliver in performance, and there the F-Type lives up to its promise as well.

Originally offered with both supercharged V6s and V8s that ranged from 340 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque to 495/460, respectively, Jaguar upped the ante for the F-Type in succeeding years with S and R trims that boosted those numbers up to 550/502.

For 2017, the Jaguar F-Type SVR — my drive for the week — even blows away those numbers with 575 hp and 516 lb.-ft. of torque. It leaps from zero-to-60 mph in 3.5 seconds and from 50 to 75 in 2.3, which helps not only when passing a slower vehicle but finding an open spot when changing lanes in traffic. 

With five trim levels overall, F-Types with the V6 engine are available with rear-wheel drive and manual transmissions, but V8 models like the SVR come only with all-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic transmission. It has a sport mode and steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters for manual gear selection if desired.


That combination results in fuel mileage figures of 15 miles-per-gallon city, 23 highway and 18 combined with premium fuel recommended. Numbers for the V6 are 20/28/23 with an automatic and 16/24/19 with the six-speed manual. In the works for 2018 is a turbocharged 2.0-turbo 4-cylinder engine with 295 lb.-ft. of torque that claims a zero-to-60 time of 5.4 seconds.

In addition to appearance and performance, the F-Type also rates highly when it comes to the comfort and conveniences associated with the luxury class. The company didn’t skip when it came to quality materials. The power adjustable seats don’t recline all that far, this being a two-seater, but are power adjustable 14 ways and have adjustable side bolsters for support when pushing it around corners. The seats essentially envelop you when you get in.

Standard equipment on the F-Type SVR convertible includes a fully electric power top, premium Meridian sound system, touch-screen operation for the navigation system and other functions, automatic climate control, rearview camera, keyless entry and push-button start, blind-spot monitor (much appreciated with the restricted view you get with the top up), quilted leather seats, and suede dash trim.

Standard exterior features included HID headlights, a switchable active exhaust system, adaptive dynamic suspension, and a carbon fiber aerodynamic spoiler.

All that is included in the MSRP of $128,800 for the F-Type SVR — which approaches double the MSRP for the base F-Type convertible. Throw in the $995 destination and delivery fee and options like an extended leather package, carbon-fiber center console, illuminated treadplates, wheel locks, and a car care kit and the total for my test ride came to $132,283. 

One of the few shortcomings I found is in the technology. Jaguar always seems to be behind the curve when it comes to the operation of the gadgets and gizmos that fill modern luxury cars today, whether it be in the graphics or the steps needed to operate the functions. There was not a voice command system for audio or nav functions in the SVR, which doesn’t bother me but might some in the younger generation.


Here’s one of the mysteries in auto life. Why is it that the more expensive a car is, the more complicated operating the technological features becomes? At least the phone connects easily enough.

The shortfalls in technology, however, are trivialities compared to what the F-Type SVR offers in the way of performance, appearance, and luxury. Get behind the wheel and you’ll likely agree.


What I liked about the 2017 Jaguar F-Type SVR: The performance is exhilarating. Flipping the switch on the console to “Dynamic” even adds to the auditory experience with a staccato cadence coming from the dual-quad exhausts.

What I didn’t like about the 2017 Jaguar F-Type SVR: In addition to the techno quirks, the convertible trunk is small (only 7.3 cubic feet) and oddly shaped to accommodate the rear wheel wells. Not that you’re going to do a lot of hauling in it, but I’m not sure you could fit two average-size suitcases in there, especially if they were hard cases.

Would I buy the 2017 Jaguar F-Type SVR? Yes. Yes. Yes. it’s a great choice in the segment.






Sunday, April 9, 2017


INFINITI QX60 OFFERS A LOT FOR A LITTLE (COMPARATIVELY) AMONG LUXURY SUVS


If you do a Google search for the word “inexpensive,”  the first synonym that comes up is “cheap.”

I’m here to say they don’t mean the same thing.

For instance, the 2017 QX60, a luxury midsize SUV from Infiniti, is inexpensive when compared to some of its competitors. But it’s not cheap by any means. Far from it.

Cheap would indicate the luxury arm of Japanese automaker Nissan had cut corners, used lower grade materials, and did just enough to get by when it introduced the vehicle under the JX35 nameplate as a 2013 model. It did not.


Rebadged the QX60 for 2014 under the company’s new naming policy, it offers all the amenities shoppers expect — no, demand — from the segment, with all the comfort and eye-pleasing design touches like maple interior trim and a console that has two levers to allow access to a shallow compartment for keys and door openers and another deeper one for larger objects like a camera.

And it comes with a base MSRP of $43,100 plus the destination and delivery charge of $995, leaving well under the $45,000 threshold. It’s slso a chunk of change well under that of all but a handful of its competitors in the class.


Standard equipment included in that price are a 3.5-liter, V6 engine that has been juiced up to 295 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque from the 265/248 of the 2016 model, a continuously variable transmission (CVT), leather appointed seats, 8-way power driver’s seat with manual lumbar adjustment, leather-wrapped shift nob and steering wheel, tri-zone (left, right, rear) climate control, HID headlights and LED fog lights, 8-inch color information display, rearview monitor, voice recognition for audio and Bluetooth, push-button start, a power moonroof, and a raft of safety features that results in an overall five-star safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

To get more of the good stuff, yes, you’re going to have to delve into options and packages that are going to run the price up. In fact, a Premium Package (two-way power lumbar, heated steering wheel, remote engine start, etc.), Premium Plus Package (Infiniti InTouch with navigation, etc.), Theater Package (dual 8-inch rear-monitors for video playback, etc.), and Deluxe Technology Package (20-inch aluminum alloy wheels, Bose cabin-surround sound system, Intelligent cruise control, motion-activated rear liftgate, etc.) ran the total MSRP for my test QX60 to $58,245, which still is below base price for others in its class.

Remember, inexpensive, but not cheap!

Among other attributes, the QX60 seats seven with remarkable space for those relegated to the third row. With 30.8 inches of legroom, a couple of adults can easily fit back there, and second-row occupants have enough room (a maximum 41.7 inches of legroom) to move their seats forward to make life easier for those in the third row. Access to the far back also is quite good. You simply pull a knob on the back of the second row seats and they slide forward and you step in. The seats flip back into position easily as well.

The downside is that cargo space behind that third row is a somewhat meager. With all seats in place, stowage is listed at 15.8 cubic feet, hardly the size of a good-sized sedan trunk. Flip those third-row seats forward and the space increases to 40.8 cubic feet.

The infotainment systems is remarkably user friendly. Don’t like to use a touchscreen or the rotary knob for various selections? No worry. Duplicate buttons, including knobs to adjust audio sound levels and surf the dial, are there as well. There are plenty of USB ports, one in the console and three in the back, for charging your devices.


Though I’m not a big fan of CVTs, I found the QX60s performance adequate for the class. No, it’s not a Porsche Cayenne, but it’s not a slug either. You can adjust the transmission for Standard, Sport, Eco, or Snow mode, and I found leaving it in Sport resulted in somewhat livelier responses.

The website zeroto60.com clocked an all-wheel-drive version of the QX60 from zero to 60 mph in 7.1 seconds. That won’t give you whiplash, but it’s not going to have you banging the steering wheel for more speed.

The upside comes with fuel mileage ratings of 20 miles-per-gallon city, 27 highway, and 22 combined, among the best of the non-hybrids in the segment. Premium fuel is recommended for top performance, so why go chintzy?


The ride itself is quiet and smooth. I found the QX60 to handle normal road bumps quite well, and it was particularly at home for highway cruising. At the same time, it’s not overly big to cause you any concerns when it comes to navigation shopping mall parking lots.

What I liked about the 2017 Infiniti QX60: Technological functions are plentiful and very user friendly. You can use a rotary knob to adjust the cursor, use the hard-wired buttons on the center stack, or the touchscreen. (Touchscreen is not the best choice.) Response to voice commands also was good.

What I didn’t like about the 2017 Infiniti QX60: Storage is limited when all seats are in place. That’s the curse of three-row SUVs.

Would I buy the 2017 Infiniti QX60? I don’t have a need for a three-row SUV, but if I did, I would have this one on my shopping list. I’d had to overcome my antipathy toward CVTs, but this one has more the feel of an automatic than any I have encountered. The test model didn’t come with paddle shifters, but you can select corresponding gear ratios via the console shifter.


Thursday, April 6, 2017

VOLKSWAGEN HOPES TO GAIN SALES MUSCLE WITH INTRODUCTION OF NEW ATLAS SUV


A new SUV is coming to Volkswagen showrooms in May.

And yes, the VW folks say, its an SUV, not one of the growing numbers of “crossovers” that basically put an SUV body over a sedan chassis. (Though Mark Gillies, Senior Manager for Product Communications, sees them as “interchangeable terms.”)

The 2018 VW Atlas will be a second model to come out of the German automaker’s assembly plant in Chattanooga and will be distributed throughout the U.S., Canada, and Mexico on this side of the Atlantic and Russia and Middle Eastern countries on the other. It also will be manufactured and sold in China under the name Teramont.


VW chose the San Antonio suburb of Boerne (pronounced “Bernie”) in the heart of Texas Hill Country as the site to preview the new model to automotive media members from around the country and the world, really, with representatives from the Mideast, Russia, Canada, and Mexico included in one of the sessions as well.

Why Texas?

“If you look at it,” Gillies said, “the Atlas is a really big midsize SUV and it looks right at home here on the roads in Texas alongside all the trucks and SUVs here.”

A second reason, he added, is that the company tagline is “Life is as big as you make it,” and there’s no place bigger in the Lower 48 states than Texas. At 198.3 inches long, 78.3 inches wide and 70 inches high, the Atlas is larger than any other VW model on sale in the U.S.


Texas Hill Country also offered the opportunity for journalists to stretch the legs of the new vehicle over a series of curvy Texas roads, including one stretch of two-lane highway that featured a 70 mph speed limit! Yes, a road with driveways coming in at the edges and lots of yellow paint lines down the middle actually legally lets you hit what are usually interstate limits only with no fear of being introduced personally to a Texas lawman.

And the Atlas was easily up to the challenge.

My drive was spent in a top-of-the-line SEL Premium trim which features a 3.5-liter V6 engine (VR6 in VW vernacular) hooked up to an eight-speed automatic transmission and rated at 276 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque.

With all-wheel drive, this setup allows for up to 5,000 pounds of towing capacity when equipped with a factory-installed trailer hitch (only 2,000 with an aftermarket hitch). It seats up to seven passengers and gives those in the third row a decent amount of legroom for adults and fairly easy access thanks to second-row seats that slide forward even with baby carseats in place.

The Atlas has off-road capability as well — though you wouldn’t want to go challenge the Rubicon Trail with it —  and as evidenced by the number bicycles they loaded up on one of the display vehicles seems targeted not just for families but for active ones as well.  There are numerous driver assistance and safety features, many of them — like the Automatic Post-Collision Braking System that is designed to prevent a secondary collision, a segment first — coming as standard in all Atlas versions.


It comes in five trim levels, starting with the base S, which carries a base MSRP of $34,625 (including $925 destination and delivery) and will be available later. The SE starts at $37,715, the SE w/Tec $39,815, and the SEL $43,615. The SEL Premium tops the lists at $49,405 and that includes the V6 engine and VW’s 4Motion AWD system over the standard FWD.

A 2.0-liter, turbocharged 4-cylinder engine (235 hp, 258 lb.-ft. of torque) also is offered but wasn’t available at the preview. VW expects the V6 to be the far more popular choice among buyers. If you want AWD, it is available only on the V6. Mileage numbers for the V6 are 18 miles-per-gallon city, 25 highway, and 20 combined with FWD and 17/23/19 for AWD using regular fuel.

The SEL Premium model handled the bumpy Texas roads with assurance, and aside from the slightest bit of wind noise noticeable on the passenger side, was quiet as well. When pushed up grades or when revved up on a short stretch of interstate, the engine did not seem overly strained.

VW also seems to have hit the sweet spot as far as size — big enough to provide up to 96.8 cubic feet of cargo space with all seats folded (and 20.6 with all upright) but not so big it hogs the road. It was at home in both the tighter two-lane stretches for Hill Country roads and stretches of four-lane as well.

It has a nice exterior appearance about it as well with a nicely designed beltline that flows over the wheel wells and hits home at just the right level to keep the side from taking on a flat, bland appearance. The front grille is distinctive as well. Take away the VW logo in the center, however, and it has somewhat the look of a Land Rover Range Rover Sport. That’s not a knock. It’s just the impression I got. Not sure anybody else did, though.


How the Atlas fares in the very competitive midsize SUV market is going to be interesting to keep an eye on. Volkswagen has been working to regain the trust and confidence of the public since the diesel emissions scandal hit the company less than two years ago, and it seems to be succeeding.

Mike Lovati, Vice President of the Midsize/Full-size Product line, said VW sales for the first quarter of this year were at about 76,000 units, compared to less than 70,000 for the same period a year ago, and March numbers were up to 27,635 units, an increase of 2.68 percent over March 2016.

The Tiguan is enjoying its best sales ever, and the Golf sport wagon sales, including the new Alltrack, also are up significantly, Lovatti said.

The 10.3 percent increase in overall sales ranks VW fifth among carmakers in percentage growth, though you have to remember that with smaller overall numbers small increment increases result in bigger percentage jumps.

“Volkswagen becomes a full-line, family-focused auto manufacturer with the vehicles we are now bringing to the market,” Lovati said. “With the addition of the Atlas and the 2018 Tiguan we’ll be competitive in four of the five biggest segments of the U.S. market — compact sedan, midsize sedan, compact SUV, and, of course, the midsize SUV.


“So we’re really going at the core of the market at the sweet spot. The Atlas is helping us and the new Tiguan at the middle of this year is helping us as well.

“So our Atlas — built in America and designed for the American family. It’s built alongside the Passat at our Volkswagen assembly plan in Chattanooga, and it’s the result of an additional $900 million investment by Volkswagen over the past few years.

“We’re very proud about this.”


It will surprising if the Atlas doesn’t figure prominently in continuing that momentum.


Wednesday, March 29, 2017


2017 BMW 550i EARNS ITS REPUTATION 

AS AN ‘ULTIMATE DRIVING MACHINE’


It was over four decades ago that BMW came up with the slogan “The Ultimate Driving Machine” to promote its vehicles. Ten minutes behind the wheel of a 2017 BMW 540i recently convinced me the company has a strong case for the claim that came from the fertile mind of automobile legend Bob Lutz.

Oh, it’s not like BMW is the only manufacturer producing vehicles that combine performance, luxury, and comfort in an attractive package with all kinds of gee-whiz, technological functions. Its Teutonic brethren Mercedes-Benz and Audi do that quite well, too. But though competitors may do it as well, you’re not likely to find any that does it any better.

Although the 3-Series remains BMW’s best-seller, the 5-Series offers many of the same advantages for those shopping for a slightly larger vehicle in the luxury class. In fact, the 2017 5-Series grew slightly longer and taller than its predecessor as it moved into its seventh generation this year, resulting in slightly more legroom for backseat riders and increased trunk capacity to a generous 18.5 cubic feet. But it still managed to lose a little weight (137 pounds) through extensive use of aluminum, magnesium, and high-strength steel.


With a new 3.0-liter turbo inline 6-cylinder sending 335 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque to the rear wheels via an 8-speed automatic transmission, the 540i is a surprisingly nimble performer, scooting from zero-to-60 mpg in a tick under five seconds, according to company clockers.

I say “surprisingly” because from a driver’s perspective looking over the relatively flat hood design the impression is that this is a bigger car than it really is. At 194.6 inches long, however, it’s a foot shorter than the 7-Series, which also is a little over an inch wider than the 5-Series.

Fuel economy for the 540i is rated at 20 miles-per-gallon city, 30 mpg highway, and 24 mpg combined, which understandably is short of the numbers the 4-cylinder 530i delivers but still competitive for the class. BMW recommends premium fuel for both, and if you’re skimping on that, you’re probably not getting all the performance out of your car that you should. There could be even long-term effects that aren’t good.


Frankly, if you’re spending well over $50,000 for a car, why in the world would you risk that just to save a few cents on a gallon of gas? (At the same time, if regular fuel is all that is required for your vehicle, don’t waste your money buying an occasional tank of the “good stuff.”)

If you want to save a tiny bit of fuel, you can set the 540i in “Eco” mode instead of “Comfort.” Or if you want to bump up the driving fun, you may set it in Sport mode and or choose your own individual settings for throttle response and suspension, though leaving it in “Comfort” is not a bad choice.

In addition to the power, the 540i provides a steady, quiet ride, coddling the passengers with high quality materials and absorbing road bumps nicely even when the suspension is firmed up.

Standard features for the base MSRP of $56,480 for the 540i include dual zone climate control with individual blower settings, 16-way power adjustable front seats with 4-way lumbar support for the driver, moonroof, Bluetooth phone and audio, and navigation. Exterior standard features include adaptive LED headlights, LED fog lights, and chrome line exterior trim.


Of course, the 540i is packed with a ton of technology, some of which has trickled down from the flagship leading 7-Series. This includes an optional gesture control system that lets you operate some functions by waving your finger around. 

For instance, the radio too loud or too soft? You can adjust it by placing your elbow on the center console, holding your arm at about a 45-degree angle, and pointing your index finger toward the rearview mirror. Turn your finger clockwise and the volume gets louder. Turn it counter-clockwise and it gets softer.

The benefit of this?

Good question. Consider that a knob on the dash for adjusting the volume is just inches away from the steering wheel and also that there are buttons on the steering wheel to turn it up or down as well, the ability to accomplish the task by waving your finger around falls into the category of “just showing off.” It’s like the engineer wanted to show that he could do it.


The voice commands, however, are another matter. I was impressed, very impressed, when the system was able to input the address for my destination very quickly and respond to my request without hesitation even while I was driving at highway speed. That the recommended route took me a rather strange way, including a jaunt through a strip mall parking lot to a closed gate, was another matter. (I had been to where I was going before but I always like to see what the various navigation systems recommend.)

Unfortunately, so many of the good things that really make a luxury car a luxury car these days come in option packages that can really run up the base MSRP. Packages like M Sport (distinctive steering wheel and design touches), Cold Weather (heated seats and steering wheel), Driving Assistance (rearview camera displays to aid in backing/parking), Driving Assistance Plus (blind spot detection, etc.) Dynamic Handling (better handling on rough roads), and Premium (wi-fi, satellite radio, keyless entry) plus stand-alone options like M Sport brakes, self-close automatic doors, remote control parking, ceramic controls, power rear window shades, Apple CarPlay capability, a Bowers & Wilkins premium sound system and the gesture control capability ran the total to over $80,000.

Add in the $995 destination and delivery charge and the final tab for my test 540i came to $81,910. That’s a jump over the base of just over 45 percent (assuming I did the math right), which is quite a big jump. It might behoove BMW to include a few more things as standard and raise the base MSRP accordingly, but that is something that is above my pay grade. It all works out pretty much the same anyway.

What I liked about the 2017 BMW 540i: The power trunk opens with the wave of your foot under the rear bumper if you have the key fob (which is the size of an old flip phone) on you. I have seen this on several SUVs and crossovers, but this was a first for me on a sedan. The trunk is a spacious 18.5 cubic feet.

What I didn’t like about the 2017 BMW 540i: The iDrive system is getting easier to operate (maybe I’m just getting familiar with it) but it still seems to me to require some extra steps to perform simple functions.

Would I buy the 2017 BMW 540i: Yes, emphatically so. It at least should be on your list  to check out if you’re looking in the luxury midsize segment.



Wednesday, March 22, 2017

FIAT 500X ADDS FLAIR TO A GENRE 

KNOWN MORE FOR ITS ECONOMY


Subcompact cars are usually more about functionality and fuel-saving than they are about style. Not that they are all inherently ugly, but style is not the first thing that comes to mind about them.

Fiat’s 500 series, however, is one exception.

With its Italian lair and carefree air — the front fascia even has a rather impish look about it — the Fiat 500 series adds a little chicness to a segment that tends to lean toward “cute” when it comes to appearance.


The first Fiat 500s landed in the U.S. about five years ago with the 500 hatchback, convertible and performance-oriented Abarth models, and an electric version came a year later. They were all nimble two-door cars with an appeal to a young, fun-loving market.

A couple of years later Fiat added the 500L wagon and the 500X followed a couple of years ago. (You may remember 500X from the clever Super Bowl commercial in which a “little blue pill” bounced its way into its gas tank, giving the 500 hatchback bulging fenders and a couple of extra doors. If not, you can look it up on Youtube.)


My recent ride was the top-of-line Lounge model of the 2017 Fiat 500X. It comes in two other flavors, Pop and Trekking, for a total of three trims, two fewer than when it was introduced. Easy and Trekking-Plus trims were discontinued for 2017.

The Lounge trim features the larger of the two engines offered on the 500X, a 2.4-liter inline 4-cylinder rated at 180 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque. It’s also standard on 500X Trekking models and available as an option on the Pop, which gets a 1.4-liter 4-banger as standard.


Front-wheel drive is standard on all trims with AWD available as an option. The 2.4-liter gets a nine-speed automatic transmission as standard, the 1.4-liter a six-speed manual. That’s kind of a shame since I would have liked to tried out the manual with the larger engine. It would have been more fun to drive than the the automatic.

With the automatic, performance may fall short of some of its competitors, but when Sport mode is selected (accomplished by turning a knob on the console), the pace is picked up. Fuel economy is a bit on the low side for the class, however, with the 2.4-liter rated at 22 miles-per-gallon city, 30 highway, and 25 combined with FWD drinking regular 87 octane fuel. (Regular also is acceptable on the 1.4-liter, but premium 91 octane is recommended for it.)

The emphasis on design also carries over into the interior. It’s not luxury class, of course, and the dash features a wide band of plastic across the front, but the 6.5-inch display screen is nicely integrated into the flow of the dash. Overall, there is a nice ambiance about the cabin. The backs of the two-tone front seats are embossed with a “500” logo, a nice touch.

The Lounge trim comes with Fiat’s UConnect system for operation of the infotainment system with functions via the touchscreen or voice commands that responded readily, and accurately, during my week’s trial. There are also two knobs to operate the radio and three larger knobs for controlling the dual-zone air conditioner/heater.

The 6.5-inch NAV UConnect system is standard on the 500X Lounge (optional on Trekking). It includes navigation, Bluetooth handsfree phone, and satellite radio in the base MSRP of $25,150.

But to get the latest safety features you’re going to have to delve into the options. A rear-view camera is standard on the 500X Lounge (it’s only an option on the Pop and Trekking models), but to get the features like lane departure warning, full-speed frontal collision warning with active braking, rear park assist, blind-spot monitoring, automatic high beam headlight control, and rain-sensitive windshield wipers you’re going to have to add the Advanced Safety Package for $1,295.

Adding an optional Premium Package (upgraded sound system), dual-pane sunroof, and 18-inch wheels with all-season tires plus the $995 destination and delivery charge put the final price tag of my test 500X at $28,935. That put this 500X Lounge at the higher end of the segment pricing.

What I liked about the 2017 Fiat 500X Lounge: It’s pretty spacious for passengers and even offers pretty good legroom (up to 34.8 inches) in the second row. Features such as navigation, audio, and climate control systems are very user-friendly and respond quickly and accurately to voice commands. The ride is comfortable, especially for a vehicle this size.

What I didn’t like about the 2017 Fiat 500X Lounge: Gas mileage is disappointing. Storage behind the second row is a meager 12.2 cubic feet.


Would I buy the 2017 Fiat 500X Lounge? Don’t think so. Though the 500X (and other Fiat 500 models, for that matter)) are at the top of their class when it comes to out-of-the-box styling, it gets a bit too expensive when the extra safety features are added on.


Wednesday, March 15, 2017


2017 NISSAN ROGUE SL COMES 

PACKED WITH LUXURY-STLE FEATURES


The line between entry level luxury cars and well-equipped so-called “affordable” vehicles seems to get more blurred every year as what were once exclusive features in the more expensive segment trickle down the line.

Oh, you may not get all the styling tweaks, and the cachet a luxury logo give you may be missing, but if that doesn't bother you, you may be able to save some bucks by going with the top-of-the-line offering from an “affordable” brand over the luxury choice.

One such example is the Nissan Rogue.

The 2017 Rogue SL is a good-looking vehicle inside and out and comes with a long list of features, many of them standard, that provide about all you would want in a crossover.

Among standard features are NissanConnect with navigation, 8-way power adjustable driver’s seat with lumbar support, a backup and surround-view camera with rear cross-traffic alert, heated front seats with position memory settings, blind-spot warning, Bose premium sound system, Bluetooth handsfree phone, dual zone climate control with second row vents, keyless entry and push-button start, a power liftgate that opens with the wave of your foot under the rear bumper when the key is near, and more.


With all-wheel drive (over front wheel) and a couple of option packages that included a power panoramic moonroof, LED headlights, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and prevention, forward emergency braking with pedestrian detection, 19-inch alloy wheels over the standard 18s, and tan leather-appointed seats with quilted insets, the Rogue I had for the past week had just about everything you might want in such a vehicle for a price that came in at $35,475.

That’s a jump of about $11,000 over the base Rogue S model but near the bottom of the price range for the compact SUVs in the luxury segment, and some of the lower-costing luxury models don’t offer all the features the Rogue SL does.


With such advantages, it’s little wonder that the Rogue has become Nissan’s bestselling model, outpacing even the popular Altima sedan. Nissan reported sales of 61,909 Rogues for the first two months of 2017 to 45,474 Altimas. According to figures from goodcarbadcar.com, that placed the Rogue No. 4 among all vehicles behind only three pickup trucks — the Ford F-Series, Chevrolet Silverado, and Ram — and just ahead of one of its chief competitors, the Honda CR-V.

Apparently, buyers like the new features Nissan added to the Rogue for 2017 over the 2016 model. Among the changes were new front and rear fascias with a new grille and revised taillight treatment, the motion-activated liftgate, three new colors, body enhancements to minimize road and wind noise, a redesigned center console, new sport mode shifter, and available memory seats and mirrors. Adaptive cruise control, which Nissan dubs “Intelligent,” also was added for this year as well as several safety features.

Cargo space is a generous 32 cubic feet behind the second row and features what Nissan calls its “Divide-N-Hide” system. You can remove sections of the rear floor to build shelves in the rear cargo area, giving up to 18 adjustable variations for stowage. (It’s not available with the optional third-row seats that are available only on the S and SL trims.)

So, yeah, there’s a lot to like about the 2017 Nissan Rogue.

Except …

Yes, you expected that, didn’t you?

Except for driving fun.


When it comes to performance, the Rogue does the job of getting from Point A to Point B but without much in the way of flair. Nissan added a hybrid powertrain to the Rogue lineup for 2017, but more common is a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder gas engine.  Its numbers — 170 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque — aren’t all that bad. They pretty much fall in the middle of the segment. But that engine is hooked up with a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) and even when switched to Sport mode, you’re not going to get much in the way of kicks in driving fun.

On the other hand, fuel economy is at the high end of the segment with EPA ratings of 25 miles-per-gallon city, 33 highway, and 27 combined, and that’s with AWD. It does run on regular unleaded, which is a break over most luxury models as well.


What I liked about the 2017 Nissan Rogue SL: It comes packed with lots of features, both technological and in comfort and convenience. The technology is user-friendly, though there is an extra step in the voice commands that would be nice to cut out.

What I didn’t like about the 2017 Nissan Rogue SL: I’d like a slightly bigger display screen for the navigation map, but my real bone to pick here is with the CVT. It can be noisy when pushed, and even in Sport mode or operated as a manual it doesn’t offer much in the way of performance. It would have been nice had there been paddle shifters to take advantage of the seven artificial shift points that Nissan features with its CVT.


Would I buy the 2017 Nissan Rogue SL? I would if I could get past the CVT issue. I really do like its looks, comfort and style.


Wednesday, March 8, 2017

MERCEDES-BENZ G-WAGEN SEEMS TO DEFY LOGIC WHEN IT COMES TO STAYING POWER


The Mercedes-Benz G-Class seems to me to be a series of contradictions.

It’s a big vehicle that seems small inside.

It’s a luxury vehicle but lacks many of the features normally associated with the segment.


And at a time that it seems every manufacturer is trying to coax the maximum number of miles from a gallon of gas, it drinks fuel like frat boys attacking a keg on “free beer” night.

You’d think such a vehicle that also carries a healthy six-figure price tag would last about as long as, oh, maybe another vehicle that also had military roots when introduced to the public well over a decade ago. The Hummer H1 was on the market less than five years. The H2 and H3 that followed also were short-lived.

But Mercedes-Benz calls the G-lass (or G-Wagen/Wagon) a “resounding success with better-than-ever sales on a worldwide basis,” and there is little sign the G-Class is due to join the H1, H2, H3 as a fading memory. 

Guess that shows you what the three-prong star Mercedes-Benz logo in the front of the grille can do for a vehicle. At least that’s the opinion I got from some automotive friends when I raised the question of why the G-Class survives and the Hummer did not.

The G-Wagen came about from a suggestion by the Shah of Iran in the 1970s to Mercedes (he was significant stockholder in the company at the time) to develop a vehicle for his military to use (not that it did him a lot of good). Mercedes adapted a civilian version as far back as 1979. It was called the “Gelandewagen,” a German term for “cross-country vehicle,” and offered buyers a vehicle with heavy-duty off-road capability.

But the Germans didn’t bring it to the U.S. until 2002, which, coincidentally or not, was shortly after the Hummer H1 was introduced and just before the H2 came to market.

Mercedes-Benz apparently planned to discontinue exporting the G-Class to the U.S. in 2005, but when the U.S. Marines stepped in with a big order for use on desert patrols, that plan was scrapped.

The Marines to the rescue!

Still, sales did decline until fewer than 1,000 G-Wagens were sold in the U.S. as recently as 2010, but have picked up recently. Numbers show 3.950 were sold in 2016 compared to 3,616 for the previous year.


The G-500 Mercedes introduced to the U.S. featured a 5.0-liter V8 engine and came with a sticker price under $75,000. The next year the good folks in the AMG department got their hands on it and so today we have the AMG G63 and AMG G65 offered in the U.S. with another model, the G550 4x4(2), new for 2017. It has even more features to enhance off-road capability.

Would it surprise you to hear that the price has gone up several rungs over the last 15 years? I thought not.

The base G550 lists at $122,400, the AMG G63 at $141,400, and the AMG G65 at $220,400. That’s a $2,500 jump over 2016 prices. The new G550 4X4(2) starts at $225,925.

The thing that struck me with the AMG G65 that showed up in my driveway was the things you don’t get for that money.

For instance, when approaching a luxury car (and several so-called “affordable” models for that matter) with the key in my pocket, I’m used to hearing the door lock unlatching when I touch the door handle or push the appropriate button on it. But there is no keyless entry with the AMG G63. No push-button start either.

Getting in isn’t the easiest thing, but I’ve had vehicles that sat even higher and were much more of a chore. Once inside, I found accommodations on the cozy side. That isn’t to say the G-Wagon is cramped. It just doesn’t seem as roomy as other large SUVs I have driven.


And storage isn’t what you typically get in this genre. The glove compartment is only big enough to handle the thick owner’s manual and, well, a pair of gloves. Storage in the center console’s bin also is limited. Only one cupholder up front, and it sticks out from the console into the passenger seat footwell like it was an afterthought. The two in the back are on the floor behind the console. Five-passenger capacity, three cupholders. You do the math.

On the other hand, the quilted leather seats in my test G-Wagon were very supportive and both heated and ventilated. As usual with Mercedes, the materials throughout the cabin are top-notch. And storage capacity behind the second-row seats is listed at a generous 49.2 cubic feet. Fold them and max is 79.5 cubic feet.

The real kick is when you start up the 6.0-liter, biturbo V12 engine. With 621 horsepower and 738 pound-feet of torque, the AMG G65 has plenty of power, good for towing up to 7,000 pounds while getting you from zero-to-60 mph in sports-sedan territory at an estimated 5.2 seconds, according to the company.

It’s mated with a seven-speed automatic transmission that can be set to one of three modes: Comfort, Sport, or Manual, with gear selection for the latter via steering wheel mounted paddles. I mention the fuel economy earlier. The numbers are 11 miles-per-gallon city, 13 highway, and 12 combined with premium required.

MSRP for the test vehicle, which included an optional studio package (carbon fiber trim, contrast stitching to match the exterior paint color, silver brake calipers, and more) plus $925 destination and delivery, came to $236,935. That pretty much puts the AMG G65 in a class of its own.


What I liked about the 2017 Mercedes-Benz AMG G65: The cabin oozes luxury and has a kind of rugged sophistication (or sophisticated ruggedness) about it. 

What I didn’t like about the 2017 Mercedes-Benz AMG G65: Why can’t designers incorporate the display screen for the Mercedes’ COMAND system into the flow of the dash? Sticking up in the middle like it does, it looks like somebody just slapped an iPad to the center of the dash. The “alien green” color is polarizing to say the least. At least you won’t have any trouble finding this green G-Wagen in a mall parking lot.

Would I buy the 2017 Mercedes-Benz AMG G65: Don’t think so. It’s too much on the expensive side, especially with something like an extremely capable and well-equipped competitors available for much le$$.