Wednesday, November 29, 2017

LINCOLN BRINGS BACK THE CONTINENTAL, AND IT’S NOT WHAT YOU MAY BE EXPECTING 


Twice since introducing it as a luxury convertible in 1939, Ford has suspended production of the Lincoln Continental for extended periods of its own volition.

We’re not counting the hiatus in production from 1942-45 brought on by the U.S. entry into World War II, though the first gap in production came shortly after that.

The 1948 Lincoln Continental was the last American-made car from a major manufacturer with a V12 engine, and it also was the last Continental off the Lincoln assembly line until 1956.

When it was brought back as a Continental Mark II, it carried a nearly $10,000 price tag, making it the most expensive American car on the market that year, equivalent to over $90,000 in today’s dollars. The Continental “spare tire” at the rear’s exterior was a distinctive styling feature.


For several decades after that, the Continental was recognized as a top-flight American luxury car and even served as a presidential limousine. Yes, it was a Lincoln Continental, a four-door convertible, that President Kennedy was riding in that tragic day in Dallas. Continentals were even in use when assassination attempts were made on Presidents Ford and Reagan.

But Continental sales began to decline as it moved into its ninth generation with the 1995 model and by 1999, numbers had dipped below 30,000. Soon after, Lincoln announced that the 2002 Continental would be the last.

What happened? Frankly, I don’t now, but I figure that Lincoln people either had taken for granted their status in the segment or simply run out of ideas to keep the Continental competitive.


Quality was an issue, of course. One critic referred to the Continental as a “tarted-up Taurus.” Its appeal was pretty much limited to an older generation perhaps reflecting on the glory days of the car’s past. By the end, the average age of a Lincoln buyer was dead.

But fear not! Lincoln showed off a concept of a potential new Continental at the New York Auto Show in 2015, and the positive reception it garnered led to its second (or third, if you’re counting the WWII years) resurrection.

But the 2017 Lincoln Continental is a much different animal from its stodgy predecessor. The large luxury sedan field has grown many times since the Continental’s early incarnations, especially with the emergence of imports (speaking of WWII) from Germany and Japan, and the newest Continental doesn’t take a backseat to any in the segment.


It has the looks of a luxury car inside and out, delivers a quiet, smooth ride, and, though it may not match the performance of so-called luxury “sport” sedans, has a nice response when the accelerator is punched.

The top-of-the-line Black Label edition that served as my test vehicle came with an optional 3.0-liter, twin-turbo V6 engine pumping out 400 horsepower and delivering 400 pound-feet of torque. It is mated to a 6-speed, SelectShift automatic transmission with paddle shifters and a sport mode to enliven the driving experience. All-wheel drive is standard with this engine.

Other models get a 3.7L V6 or a 2.7L twin-turbo V6. Estimated fuel mileage for the 3.7L is 17 miles-per-gallon city, 26 highway, and 20 combined and 18/27/21 for the 2.7L turbo, both with front-wheel drive. Those numbers are slightly down about a mile per gallon with all-wheel drive models, and they are 16/19/24 for the 3.0L turbo with its AWD.

It would be nice if those numbers were slightly higher, but all the engines run on 87 octane fuel to compensate for that, though 93 is recommended to meet the top performance numbers.


The Continental Black Label’s exterior comes with such standard features as Lincoln’s chrome-mesh grille, HID headlamps with signature LED lighting, LED tail lamps, and a hands-free, foot-activated trunk opener — nice when your arms are full of packages.

The interior features heated and cooled seats, leather-wood steering wheel, power telescoping steering wheel, tri-zone automatic climate control, Venetian leather trim, heated and cooled seats, and heated steering wheel (of no use at all in South Florida), all standard.

Other standard features include a rear-view camera, blind-spot warning, keyless entry and push-button start, a remote start, voice-activated navigation systems, and Ford’s Sync3 system to operate infotainment functions — a really user-friendly system that always gets points with me.

All that is included in the base price of $66,000 including destination and delivery charges. Such a low MSRP leaves you plenty of room to add options like a Technology Package that includes parking assist and adaptive cruise control among its functionsm the 3.0L twin-turbo engine, and a Continental Climate Package (heated rear seats, windshield wiper de-icer, and rain-sensing wipers ) that ran the total for my test vehicle to $73,065, still a bargain in a class that has vehicles running into six figures.

Extras with the Black Label edition include a 4-year, 50,000-mile maintenance plan, remote new vehicle delivery, remote service pickup and return (20-mile limit), anytime car wash, annual detailing, and a Culinary Collection membership that gives you access to a curated list of exquisite restaurants from coast to coast, including a complimentary dinner for two for new members. 

What I liked about the 2017 Lincoln Continental Black Label: The infotainment system is very accommodating for those of us who are technologically challenged, a big bonus in the segment filled with techno wonders. The front offered up to 44.4 inches of legroom, the back an accommodating 41.3.

What I didn’t like about the 2017 Lincoln Continental Black Label: The seat bolster on the driver’s side actually got in my way numerous times when I would get in and out of the vehicle. But that may have been an issue with his particular car, or maybe with me. The trunk (16.7 cubic feet) could be bigger.

Would I buy the 2017 Lincoln Continental Black Label? Frankly, the base Premier, Select and Reserve trims all may be worth a look. The base starts at just over $45,000 including destination and delivery and with no skimping in quality of materials that makes it an even bigger bargain. But if money was no object, yes, I would definitely buy the Continental Black Label.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

2017 VOLKSWAGEN PASSAT 1.8T R-LINE

A WINNER IN A SHRINKING SEGMENT


One can never be sure — there are always grammar nazis around ready to jump on you for the slightest misuse of a term — but I think I have this right.

One of the ironies in the automotive world today is that the better manufacturers are making sedans, the fewer the public seems to be interested in buying.


If that doesn't fit the exact definition of the term “ironic” or “irony,” please take your complaint elsewhere because that’s not the point here. Just reread the part of the second paragraph that starts with the words “… that the better,” which is the gist of today’s blog.

Yes, we are headed into a country where crossovers and SUVs overrun our streets, if we haven’t gotten there already. The family sedan? Not so much.

Consider, the latest U.S. sales numbers show that last October seven of the top 10 selling family sedans — Honda Civic and Accord, Toyota Camry and Corolla, Nissan Sentra and Altima, Ford Fusion, Hyundai Elantra, and Chevrolet Malibu and Cruze — all showed declining numbers for the month over the same time period last year.

Same thing for year-to-date sales comparing 2017 to 2016. They are down anywhere from 2.3 to 22.6 percent for seven of the top 10.



To be fair here, sales of seven of the top-10 selling SUVs were also down for October, but only two of the top 10 were down for the year-to-date.

As a segment, passenger car sales were down 600,000 units over the same time a year ago, according to data compiled on the website goodarbadcar.net.

Analyzing the reasons for all this is something that is beyond my pay grade. I’m just here to say that, despite the declining sales numbers, it appears to me that the choices in the affordable sedan segment long dominated by the likes of the Toyota Camry and Corolla and Honda’s Civic and Accord are more varied than ever.

If you don’t like the Japanese imports, you have many other quality options for sensible, comfortable, and affordable family transportation.

I would include the 2017 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T R-Line high in that group.

The R-Line is one of four trim lines VW offers on the Passat for 2017. The German manufacturer — though the Passat comes out of the VW assembly plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee — calls it the “most sporting variant” of the group with 19-inch wheels, unique rocker panels and grille, a different front bumper, and chrome-tipped exhaust among distinguishing marks.



Other standard equipment includes 8-way power adjustable driver’s seat with lumbar support (manual for the passenger), leatherette seat surfaces, leather-wrapped steering wheel, brake lever, and shift knob, R-line interior trim, Bluetooth phone connectivity, a rearview camera and blindspot monitoring system with rear traffic alert, a six-speaker sound system, and a 6.3-inch touchscreen for the infotainment system.

It also features VW’s Intelligent Crash Response System, which in the event of a crash unlocks all the doors in the car (making for quicker access by emergency responders), activates all the interior lights, and disengages the fuel pump (stopping the engine and reducing the risk of fire) and all high-voltage electronics.


Oh. And the ICRS also turns on the hazard lights to let others know where you are and that you are in trouble. (Three words here to you who turn on your hazard lights when driving in the rain: STOP DOING THAT!)

All that is included in the base MSRP of $24,795 including the $820 destination and delivery charge. That’s a small step up from the $23,260 asking price for the base 1.8T S and well under the $34,715 tag for the top of the line V6 SEL Premium model.


Often, an “R” designation on a car model denotes a vehicle with enhanced performance, but that’s not so much the case with the Passat R-Line. Handling is improved, but it comes with a 1.8-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine also found in the S, SE, and SEL trips. You can get a V6, which boosts the MSRP up to $30,115 for the SE w/Technology and $34,815 for the SEL Premium.



The 1.8T produces 170 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque, the V6 280/258, respectively. Mated with a 6-speed automatic transmission, the 1.8T is rated at 23 miles-per-gallon city, 34 highway, and 27 combined, which a bit below average for its class, but the overall driving experience is enhanced when the sport mode setting is engaged, which makes up for that.

I just reminded myself that I wasn’t driving a sport sedan and was OK with the 1.8T experience.



The interior is a tad short of luxury class, but easy on the eyes. It is functional, comfortable, quiet and also roomy. Front legroom is over 42 inches, rear just over 39.

The infotainment system is easy to operate (thank you, VW, for providing knobs to adjust volume and surf the radio dial and knobs for the A/C). The touch screen is on the small side, but my test vehicle did not come with navigation so screen size really wasn’t an issue this time.


I’m not sure why VW went back to a pull-lever on the console for the parking brake after earlier models, like the 2007 Passat Wagon my wife drives, operated with the push of a button, but that’s not really a deal breaker. Think of it as exercise.

In short, the Passat 1.8T R-Line is a very capable sedan that provides a choice for the buyer who likes to think outside the box. If it doesn’t stand out from its competitors as exceptional, it does everything well and is a solid entrant in a competitive class.

What I liked about the 2017 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T R-Line: The cabin is very roomy, and it also has good trunk space for a midsize (15.9 cubic feet). 

What didn’t like about the 2017 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T R-Line: I’d like a little more kick when it comes to throttle response.

Would I buy the 2017 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T R-Line? Yes. My recommendation may be influenced by the good experience I have had with my wife’s Passat Wagon for nearly a decade, but the new sedan stands solidly on its own as well.

Monday, October 30, 2017

YES, A MUSCLE CAR CAN HAVE FOUR DOORS; DODGE CHARGER DAYTONA SHOWS IT CAN!


Muscle Car aficionados and automotive purists may have been unhappy when Dodge resurrected the Charger as a four-door sedan instead of the two-door coupe from the 1960s and ’70s, but a little over a decade later, it seems to have worked out just fine.

The Charger in four-door form is the brand’s best-seller among coupes and sedans and actually is outselling the Durango crossover so far in 2017. Dodge reported sales of 9,230 Chargers for September to 6,207 for the Durango.

For the year to date, the Charger was holding a nearly 15,000 advantage in sales over the Durango through September.

With the Charger in four-door form, buyers who really want a Muscle Car but need transportation for the family have an easy decision.

They can have both!

As a full-size sedan, the Charger offers such family family features as a nice-sized trunk (16.5 cubic feet), room for three in the backseat (and two rear doors to give them easy access back there), and a 5-star overall safety rating from the government.

In SE or SXT trim, the Charger comes with a V6 Pentastar engine rated at 292 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque, which is adequate for most everyday driving situations. 

Call it the Clark Kent version.


But move up to V8 power, and the Charger becomes Superman.

The 2017 Dodge Charger Daytona I recently had the opportunity to drive for a week (yes, the name is taken from the Daytona 500; a Dodge Charger Daytona was the first stock car to break 200 mph, though it was at Talladega, not Daytona) is in the middle of the Charger lineup but definitely leans toward Muscle Car. It will take a nano-second after you push the star/stop button and those deep bass exhaust notes emanate from the rear to convince you of that.

Hey! Does this thing have a HEMI?

Of course, it does!

The Charger Daytona (and R/T trim) gets a 5.7-liter HEMI V8 that sends 370 horsepower and 395 pound-feet of torque to the rear wheels via an 8-speed automatic transmission with optional Sport mode or paddle shifters for manual gear selection. (All-wheel drive is optional on SE and SXT models.)

Not enough power?

You can always opt for the 6.4-liter HEMI V8 (485 hp, 475 lb.-ft. of torque) standard in the R/T Scat Pack, Daytona 392 and SRT 392 trims or the 6.2-liter supercharged beast (707 hp/650 lb.-ft.) in the Hellcat.

Too much of a fuel eater?

Well, the 5.7L V8 in the Daytona features what Dodge calls “fuel saver technology” that turns theV8 engine into a 4-cylinder operation when cruising at highway speed or operating under light conditions. That doesn’t make the Charger a Prius hybrid, but it does make for slightly better mileage (16 miles-per-gallon city, 25 highway, and 19 combined) than you might expect.

Recommended fuel is 89 octane for the 5.7-liter V8, though the company says regular is acceptable. (The V6 runs on regular 87 octane; premium 91 octane is recommended on the 6.4L V8, and the Hellcat V8.)

Obviously, with power numbers like those above, you’re never going to be lacking for punch when it comes to performance. But in addition to the straight-line get-up-and-go, the Charger handles corners well while delivering a firm, but not overly stiff ride, that has good road manners.


Some Muscle Cars can take, well, muscle to maneuver, but not the Charger. You may get the impression the Charger Daytona is about a half-acre wide when you look over the flat hood, which includes huge HEMI lettering over the large functional hood scoop, but it doesn’t drive that big.

Still, it is a full-size sedan, so the front especially is roomy, and the backseat offers just over 40 inches of legroom.


The Daytona also gets some extra styling touches, like heated and ventilated sport, suede/leather seats with “Daytona” embroidered on the backrests, special floor mats, a performance steering wheel, and extra stitching on the seats and door panels.

It’s not a luxurious interior, but is functional and nicely laid out.

The exterior, too, gets attention with prominent “Daytona” and “HEMI” markings and badges in several prominent spots (including the front grille), 20-inch black forged aluminum wheels, and a satin black performance spoiler.

There’s no mistaking this car when you are coming down the street either visually or audibly.


All that does come with a cost, though. You can get into a base Charger SE for just over $29,000 (when destination and delivery charges are thrown in), depending on your negotiating skills, of course. The Daytona with the 5.7-liter V8 starts at $40,985 and gives you pretty much all the fun that the Hellcat does for nearly $29,000 less.

The Daytona 392, which has the 6.4-liter V8, has a listed MSRP of 46,095, which is close to the listed $46,315 that was listed on the Monroney sticker for my test Daytona.

I will say that a price topping the $40,000 mark is rare territory for a Dodge, but if you're looking for performance in a full-size sedan/Muscle Car, the Charger is hard to beat.

What I liked about the 2017 Dodge Charger Daytona: The fun-to-drive quotient is pretty much off the char.  I also liked he optional UConnect 8.4 Nav system for the simplicity of its operation.

What I didn't like about the 2017 Dodge Charger Daytona: Rear vision is somewhat restricted. The interior, while not bad, could use a bit more refinement. 

Would I buy the 2017 Dodge Charger Daytona? Yes. It's a bit on the expensive side, but if you're considering a Charger, this is no time to skimp.




Saturday, October 21, 2017

THINKING PINK? THE GOOD FOLKS AT VW CERTAINLY DID WITH THE 2017 BEETLE


This was a few years ago when Volkswagen was bringing updated versions of its famed Beetle back to the U.S. that it cleverly labeled the New Beetle. (I wonder what kind of bonus the deep thinker who came up with that got for Christmas?)

I was to have a New Beetle Convertible for the week and was stumped by what was stuck on the dash.

It was a plastic cylindrical tube that seemed to serve no real purpose other than to distract me.

Was it a place to store coins for tolls? No, because it was too thin for anything but a dime, and even back then the toll collectors were demanding more than 10 cents a pop. Not to mention it would be tough to get even a dime out of it, let alone a quarter.

A champaign flute? Of course not. No way would an automaker include such a blatant promotion to drinking and driving among its options.

A finger bowl?

Of course, if you know the history of the original Bug, which I obviously didn’t, you are aware that the object that had me stumped was a bud vase. It was put back in when the Beetle was revived in 1998 as a nod to the 1950s and ‘60s models and their appeal to the “flower children” of that generation. I was never a “flower child” and missed out on that. (I wasn’t at Woodstock either.)


In my defense, the fleet manager had neglected to put a bud or any kind of flower into the New Beetle I was driving to give me a hint, so how was I to know?

VW dispensed with this particular option in the major redesign it gave the Beetle for 2012, because, the thinking went, the Bug had become too much of a “chick car” and the bud vase played a major part in promoting that image. (Hey. Don’t blame me for that phrasing. It’s what Adweek said when it reported that the vase had been scrapped.)

Apparently, that is no longer a concern with the VW image makers.


If I thought a bud vase was stretching the limit when it came to automotive cuteness and the VW Beetle, and I did, I was wrong.

Witness the latest version of the Bug, the 2017 #PinkBeetle.

Yes, it comes with a hashtag. Yes, pink is incorporated into the name. And yes, of course, it comes in a shade of pink — VW dubs it Fresh Fuchsia Metallic — that changes color depending on the lighting. At times, it can look red or raspberry, though in struck me as looking more like a huge purple grape as I walked up to it in the parking lot one evening last week.

#PurpleBeetle?

No. #PinkBeetle.


The color scheme is carried over to the interior but not overly so. Doors and the dash get touches of the color., and pink stripes replace red ones in the plaid cloth seats,. The restraint makes it easier on the eyes.

Other than the color scheme and other design notes like the gloss black mirror caps and black side skirts with chrome accents, the #PinkBeetle is very much a regular Beetle. It has a 1.8-liter turbo 4-cylinder engine that produces 170 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque, and a shiftable, six-speed automatic transmission is standard. 

That combination provides enough oomph for a vehicle of this size (168.4 inches long with a wheelbase of 100, 71.2 inches wide, 58.5 inches tall and a little over 3,000 pounds) and results in fuel economy ratings of 24 miles-per-gallon city, 33 highway, and 28 combined, which, frankly, are somewhat disappointing for the class.

As is usually the case with smaller vehicles (the Smart ForTwo being an exception), it gives you a feeling of speed, agility and sharp handling that larger vehicles don’t provide even if they are faster, more agile, and sharper handling. Motor Trend reported a zero-to-60 mph clocking of 7.3 seconds for the #PinkBeetle in coupe form. (It also is available as a convertible.) For more in the way of response, you can shift into Sport mode. Alas, no manual transmission is offered.


The #PinkBeetle gives you a comfortable, fairly quiet ride on the highway, and its compact size makes it an ideal vehicle for crowded city environs. Obviously, you can squeeze into small parking spaces and still have room to open its doors without dinging a car next to it. But it’s big enough that it isn’t intimidating to be around SUVs or even semi trucks. The government gave it a five-star overall safety rating.

The #PinkBeetle comes with a nice list of standard equipment that includes 17-inch alloy wheels, a rear spoiler, rearview camera, keyless access with push-button start, an adjustable, flat-bottom, leather-trimmed steering wheel, heated front seats with manual lumbar support, manual climate control, eight-speaker sound system, satellite radio capability (three-month trial subscription included), Bi-Xenon headlights with LED daytime running lights, Bluetooth and USB connectivity, and VW’s Car-Net suite of features.

That’s all included in the starting MSRP of $22,710 (including destination and delivery), which is about $1,500 more than the standard Beetle’s price tag.

That’s if you can find one. The 2017 #PinkBeetle is a limited edition model that went on sale some time ago, and you won’t find it in the 2018 list. You will find a new “Coast” trim, however, and the Beetle Dune is a nice alternative with a distinctive, though less polarizing, look. But the Dune’s MSRP approaches $27,500 including the destination and delivery charge.

If you want to stand out from the crowd, the new Coast trim comes in an optional “Deep Sea Teal” color. Frankly, my impression of “Deep Sea Teal” is that it would make a great color scheme for a bathroom, but not so much on a car.

But, as they say, to each his own. Which explains the #PinkBeetle. The young lady in the drive-thru loved it.


What I liked about the 2017 Volkswagen #PinkBeetle: It’s a small thing, but I liked the double glove box for extra storage. I also liked the car’s handling. Like many small cars (with the exception mentioned about), it’s fun to drive. And the front seat is comfortable and roomy enough for two.

What I didn’t like about the 2017 Volkswagen #PinkBeetle: Fresh Fuchsia Metallic just doesn’t do it for me.

Would I buy the 2017 Volkswagen #PinkBeetle? Yes -- as a graduation gift for my daughter/granddaughter. It's not that I don’t like the Beetle, because I do. But I can’t get away from that color.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

IT WASN’T THE FIRST, BUT FORD EXPLORER SET THE BAR FOR SUVs TO COME


The Ford Explorer wasn’t the first SUV, which dates back to the 1930s with the wagon-like Chevrolet Carryall Suburban, nor was it the first of the modern version inspired by the post-World War II Land Rover and Jeep.

In fact, it wasn’t even the first vehicle of it type out of Ford factories. That would be the Ford Bronco that was promoted as a multi-purpose vehicle and was manufactured from 1966 through 1996, long enough for Al Cowlings to try to spirit away O.J. Simpson on the infamous low-speed chase through Los Angeles freeways.

But certainly the case can be made that the Ford Explorer quickly became the iconic vehicle of its class when it was introduced in 1991, outselling (according to Motor Trend’s history of the Explorer) the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Chevrolet S-10 Blazer combined with 300,000 units the first year and over 400,000 units by the end of the second generation a decade later.


It took just three years (1994) for the Explorer to become the No. 9 best-selling motor vehicle of any type, not just trucks and SUVs.

It no longer occupies such a lofty perch, ranking behind the Escape as far as Ford’s SUV sales and behind the F-Series, Escape, and Fusion for all Ford cars/trucks. Not that it is anywhere near it deathbed.

According to September reports taken from the website goodcarbadcar.net, the Explorer ranked 16th in U.S. September sales and a total of 21,207 vehicles sold, an increase of nearly 11 percent over the 19,146 reported for 2016 with an increase of 5.6 percent to 199,034 for year-to-date sales.


Considering all the bad publicity that the Explorer got in the late 1990s and early 2000s (Remember the Firestone rollover controversy?), it’s a wonder it isn’t on life support if around at all.

The Explorer of today is very different from its predecessors in one especially key aspect. It no longer is of body-on-frame construction as typical of early SUVs. The truck-based platform is good for off-road vehicles and towing but the ride is generally less than friendly, and, considering the time most people spend off-roading with their SUVs is minimal, that makes them less practical for most buyers than the unibody frame crossovers. (Think sedan.)


Ford made the switch for unibody construction for the Explorer with the 2011 model after a 20-year run, so, no, the 2017 Ford Explorer is probably not your father’s Explorer and certainly not your grandfather’s. (Or grandmother’s. I don’t want to be sexist here.)

That’s not a bad thing, but maybe kind of a good thing. After all, the Wilderness Society estimates the percentage of people who use their vehicles to actually go off-roading at a mere 1.5 percent.

As with many Ford products, the Explorer comes with a lot of choices. It is offered in five trims — base, XLT, Limited, Sport, and Platinum — with three engines available. Sport and Platinum editions are all-wheel drive only, but others get front-wheel as standard with optional AWD. All models get a six-speed automatic transmission.


As is usually the case, my vehicle for the week was the top-of-the-line Platinum edition that bears an MSRP of $54,180 including the $945 destination and delivery charge. That’s about a $22,000 jump over the price for the base model, but naturally, you get a whole bunch of equipment that is standard on the Platinum but optional (if available) on the base or other trims.

That list includes (but is not limited to) LED signature lighting, chrome exhaust tips, power moonroof, rear spoiler, roof rack with side rails, heated and ventilated front seats, second-row heated seats, adaptive cruise control, leather touches throughout the interior (including seat surfaces), power-fold third-row seat, power tilt and telescope steering wheel, woodgrain interior accents, a trailer towing package (towing capacity is only 5,000 pounds), park assist, lane-keeping assist, premium audio, front 180-degree and rearview camera, remote start, Sync3 infotainment functions (including voice-activated navigation) with 8-inch screen, and a terrain management system that adapts to different conditions (normal, mud, snow, and sand) and includes hill descent control.


That eliminates the need for a lot of options, but the model I had was a special red color (ruby red metallic tinted) and featured 20-inch bright machine face wheels, second-row bucket seats, and a second-row console that put the final tab at $55,420.

The Explorer is smaller than the full-size Expedition, but that doesn’t make it a small vehicle, of course. I prefer to drive it in Sport mode, which adds to the driving experience and gives you more active responses, but no doubt impacts the fuel mileage ratings of 16 miles-per-gallon city, 22 highway, 18 combined for the optional 3.5-liter V6 Ecoboost engine (365 horsepower, 350 pound-feet of torque).

You can shift gears via steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, which you don’t find on every SUV, though with Sport mode setting available, there really isn’t a lot of reason to use them.

Other engines available on the Explorer are a 2.4-liter, Ecoboost 4-cylinder that offers the best fuel mileage (19/27) while compromising only slightly on power (280 hp, 310 lb.-ft.) and a 3.5-liter V6 rated at 17/24 (290 hp, 255 lb.-ft.)

The Explorer is an excellent highway cruiser and not all that difficult to negotiate around town taking into consideration its size. It looks bigger than it really is, which is 198.3 inches long and 70 inches tall with a curb weight of 4,453 pounds. It seats seven, though those in the back get less than 34 inches of legroom. The two in the front get over 41 inches, and the second row is in-between, a cozy 39.5 inches.

All in all, it’s easy to see why the Ford Explorer enjoyed the success that it has, but unlike when it was introduced, it has a lot of competitors in the segment now, especially since it now is a crossover. Maybe it should have kept that body-on-frame construction.


What I liked about the 2017 Ford Explorer Platinum: There’s a lot of room for storage behind that third row (21 cubic feet) and if you need more, the back row seats fold flat with the push of a button giving you nearly 44 cubic feet of cargo volume with a flat floor.


What I didn’t like about the 2017 Ford Explorer Platinum: The starting price tag of over $53,000 seems a bit much for an Explorer, but it does include a lot of equipment. But even the Explorer’s base MSRP starts at well over $31,000.

Would I buy the 2017 Ford Explorer Platinum? I’d give it a look. I liked the performance and it does a lot of things well, which accounts for its popularity. No, the rollover issue is not a concern. It got a 4-star safety rating from the federal government in rollover and 5-star score in other crash tests (front and backseats, front and side crash) an 5-star overall mark.



Sunday, October 8, 2017

IT’S A TRUCK! A CROSSOVER! A TRUCK!

NO, IT’S A 2018 NISSAN PATHFINDER SUV!


A few years back I had a friend who said the reason she had bought her Pathfinder was because she had decided that if she was going to buy an SUV, she wanted a real, truck-basedSUV with body-on-frame construction, not one of the new unibody crossovers that were just coming onto the market.

Like she was going to go rock crawling or drive it up a mountain or something. Right.

I don’t remember what year that was, but the considering the time frame here (sometime in the early 2000s), she may not have gotten what she wanted.


Unless she had bought an older, used model from the Pathfinder’s first generation (1987-95), she just may have gotten the crossover SUV she was trying to shun. That’s because for its second generation (1996-2004), Nissan switched the Pathfinder to a unibody platform.

Or maybe my memory is such that this actually came up later than I recall and she got a third generation (2005-12) Pathfinder, which was back to body-on-frame.

Does Nissan have trouble making decisions? Well, yes and no.


Frankly, though, unless she really was going to take an off-roading adventure, my friend probably was better off in the crossover version of the Pathfinder. It has all the hauling capability of the truck-based model while providing the kind of smooth ride and handling that I suspect she is used to.

Nissan moved the Pathfinder back into the crossover genre in 2017 for its fourth generation. Following that makeover, it has added several new features for 2018 some of which are standard (Automatic Emergency Braking and a Rear Door Alert system that lets you know if you have left a package, pet,  bottom of milk, or child in the backseat after you have turned off the ignition and left the vehicle).

The Rear Door Alert system is one of the best innovations I have seen recently. It works simply enough. If you have opened the rear door prior to driving to put a package, pet, bottle of milk, or child in the backseat but haven’t opened the rear door at the end of your trip, it alerts you to the fact that you might have forgotten something (like a package, pet, bottle of milk, or child) if you leave the vehicle without opening that door.


After making its debut on the 2018 Pathfinder, it will be made available later on other Nissan models. The system can be turned on or off, though that would seem to defeat its purpose.

That the system is standard may be what the Pathfinder needs to set it apart in what is a very crowded midsize SUV segment with offerings like the Honda Pilot, the Toyota Highlander, and new Volkswagen Atlas, not to mention Nissan’s own Murano, all competing for buyers’ attention.

The Pathfinder also offers three-row seating for up to seven passengers with a decent amount of space behind the back row for storage. It’s kind of a pet peeve with me that engineers would design an interior to hold that many people and then not give them any room for their stuff.

If you need more cargo capacity than the 16 cubic feet behind the third row, you can fold that back row and capacity is boosted to nearly 48 cubic feet. For really big hauls, nearly 80 cubic feet is available with the second row folded as well.

Nissan offers the Pathfinders in four models starting with the base S followed by SV, SL, and Platinum trims.

All come with a 3.5-liter V6 engine that got a power boost for 2017 up to 284 horsepower and 259 pound-feet of torque. The only transmission offered with either standard 2-wheel or optional  4-wheel drive is a CVT (continuously variable transmission) that functions as an automatic.


I’m not a big fan of a CVT, but Nissan, generally recognized as the first mainstream company to go with the technology in a big way, has refined it to the point where I can live it.

CVTs are supposed to provide better fuel economy, and that is reflected in numbers for the Pathfinder of 20 miles-per-gallon city, 27 highway with FWD and 19/26 with AWD. Zeroto60times.com clocked the 2017 Pathfinder going from zero to 60 mph in 7.4 seconds. Towing capacity is cited at a hefty 6,000 pounds.

I found the ride comfortable and quiet with little to no wind noise, and features like the navigation system — optional on SV models and standard on SL and Platinum editions — are fairly easy to operate. NissanConnect, which features automatic collision notification, emergency call and stolen vehicle locator, and other customizable alerts, also is standard on SL and Platinum models, optional on SVs.


Consumer Reports recently included the Pathfinder on its list of 10 vehicles as the worst for visibility, citing its small back windows and the head restraints on the back rows as major factors. But, as with lots of things the magazine dives into when it comes to automotive vehicles, I find the criticism overwrought.

The Intelligent Around View system (standard on the SL and Platinum models) helps alleviate visibility issues when parking, and setting the mirrors right eases the issue when at speed.

The 2018 Pathfinder S with FWD starts at $31,765 including the $975 destination and delivery charge and the top-of-the-line Platinum with AWD checks in at $44,985. That’s well within line of its competitors as well.

What I liked about the 2018 Nissan Pathfinder Limited: The list of standard equipment on the lower trims is fairly extensive. It’s nice to see that Nissan didn’t keep the Rear Door Alert system just to the more expensive models.

What I didn’t like about the 2018 Nissan Pathfinder Limited: I am not a big fan of CVTs, but that’s what you often have to live with with Nissan vehicles.

Would I buy the 2018 Nissan Pathfinder Limited? I’d give it a good look, but with so much competition, I’m not sure where I would wind up. If I didn’t need a third row of seating, which I personally don’t, I’d likely go for the Murano.