Tuesday, July 17, 2018


While most manufacturers try to squeeze as many miles they can out of the batteries of their electric vehicles, Mercedes-Benz has taken a different approach with the C350e.

This plug-in hybrid offers little in the way of electric-only drive, but packs a punch that rivals even AMG-tuned versions of the company’s fleet.

Consider, the 2.0-liter turbo 4-cylinder engine and electric motor propels the C350e from zero-to-60 mph in just 5.8 seconds, according to Mercedes-Benz clockers.

That’s the same as the C300 that traditionally has serveed as the entry point to the company’s luxury fleet and only 1.2 behind that for the AMG C43.

In fact, at 443 pound-feet (combined gas and electric) the C350e’s torque number is actually better than the 384 lb.-ft. offered by the AMG C43 and not all that short of the 479 the the 4.0-liter, biturbo V8 delivers to the AMG C63.

Plug-in hybrid indeed!

But about that electric-only driving. Though Mercedes-Benz touted a range of up to 20 miles of all-electric driving with the debut of the 2016 C350e, that figure has been tempered in bit. Cut in half, actually.

The spec sheet reports a range of 0-8 miles for the 2018 C350e, which isn’t going to take you far in run silent mode. But mileage ratings for electric-gas combined driving are 51 MPGe and gas-only 30 mpg, and you get a modicum of recharging while driving on gas as well. So it’s not all bad.

For the most part, you get the same classy cabin and features in the C350e that you do in other C-Class models with one notable exception.

The C350e sticks with a 7-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters while the C300 and C300 4MATIC get a new 9-speed tranny.

Among standard equipment included in the 47,900 base MSRP for the C350e or are no-charge items are LED headlights (new for 2018), LED tail lamps, 18-inch wheels, dual-zone climate control, Bluetooth connectivity, power tilt-and-sliding sunroof, rain-sensing windshield wipers, rear-view camera, Collision Prevention Assist Plus that uses radar to monitor vehicles around you, natural grain wood trim, and black fabric headliner.

The outlet to plug in the cord is at the rear bumper, a change from the customary spot up front on most other plug-in vehicles.

Dynamic Select lets you change driving modes to Sport or Sport-plus with Comfort as the default setting by flipping a switch on the console.

Adding such optional items and packages, like leather seating and thigh support for the drive’s seat, navigation with an 8.4-inch high-definition monitor, blind-spot and lane-keeping assist, and cross-traffic assist can run the total price up to $61,785 with the $995 destination and delivery cost included.

Yes, that’s a pretty big jump over the starting price of $40,250 for the C300, a bit more than the base price for the C43, and near the starting price for the C63. But you may be eligible for tax credits that will bring the cost down.

What I liked about the 2018 Mercedes-Benz C350e: This may be the liveliest hybrid on the market today. Throttle response makes you forget you’re driving a hybrid. The cabin is impeccable with high quality materials throughout.

What I didn’t like about the 2018 Mercedes-Benz C350e: The COMAND System for infotainment features, though simplified from the original version, still demands too much of the driver’s attention to perform functions. And the display monitor sticks up in the middle of the dash like a misplaced iPad. Watch your head when getting in, especially on the passenger side.

Would I buy the 2018 Mercedes-Benz C350e? Probably not, because I’m not a fan of plug-in hybrids. The extra $7,000-plus it costs over the base C300 could cause you some hesitation as well, though tax credits for buying a hybrid will cut down on that difference. Other than the drivetrain, the C350e is every bit high in quality as you would expect from the company.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018


Infiiniti’s switch to a new naming system for its products four years ago was intended to simplify things, making Nissan’s luxury portfolio easier for customers to understand.

Beginning in 2014, Infiniti designated its sedans, coupes, and convertibles“Q” while crossovers and SUVs were given “QX” badging. The number in the alpha-numeric nomenclature no longer reflected engine size but where the vehicle stood in the portfolio’s hierarchy.

Thus the Q50 and Q60 replaced the G37 sedan and coupe and the M sedan became the Q70 while QX50, 60, 70, and 80 replaced the myriad number of the company’s crossovers/SUVs.

Reaction to then-president Johan de Nysschen’s idea, however, was slightly less than enthusiastic. Sales took an immediate dip, though part of the reason for that likely was a failure to update the models along with the rebadging. (Sales showed an increase of 10.9 percent for 2017 over 2016, but are down 8.8 percent so far in 2018, though the QX50 crossover had its best month ever this past June.)

Something seemed to be lost in the transition, though, especially with the relabeling of the G37 to QX50 (sedan) and QX60 (coupe). Red Sport models jazzed things up a bit, but one reviewer’s comment that it was “still tough to get excited about the new 2017 Infiniti Q60” seemed to be a prevailing thought.

That may be no more.

The 2018 Infiniti Q60 S Red Sport has the verve and charm of the old G37 coupe. It’s beautiful inside and out, and it packs a 400 horsepower punch from its 3.0-liter V6 engine (350 pound-feet of torque), a boost of 100 hp over the V6 in other trims.

A 2.0-liter 4-cylinder is the other engine choice, and both it and the V6 are mated with a 7-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift mode. It is available in either rear-wheel or all-wheel drive.

Fuel mileage isn’t that great, 20 miles-per-gallon city, 27 highway, and 22 combined for the V6 Red Sport, 22/30/25 for the 4-banger, and premium fuel is recommended. Why would you not want to put the good stuff in? Just asking.

The 2017 model moved the Q60 into its third generation. Few changes were made for 2018. Infiniti adapted its global nomenclature (Pure, Luxe, Sport, and Red Sport 400) for its trim levels, and the Red Sport 400 now gets 20-inch wheels over the previous 19s.

The 2018 model also is lower and wider than its predecessors, and its bold design gives it an aggressive appearance befitting a sports coupe. Car & Driver called the Q60 Infiniti’s best-looking car to date, which is saying something considering the company’s portfolio is filled with refined, sharp-looking vehicles.

The inside has the usual assortment of niceties, though you will play extra for such functions as Infiniti’s InTouch infotainment system that includes navigation, blind-spot warning and cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure prevention, and high-beam assist.

The interior features comfortable, sport-type leather-appointed seats with a manual thigh extension and lumbar support for the driver, an 8-way adjustable passenger seat, a dual-display system with navigation on one screen and audio and other functions on another, and carbon-fiber trim throughout the cabin.

Though it still has the inconvenience of access to the backseat typical of a coupe, it offers 32.4 inches of legroom in the back and a spacious 43.1 in the front. You lose about a half-inch of headroom in front to 37.4 inches if you opt for the sunroof.

Pricing for the Q60 starts at just under $41,000 when the $995 destination and delivery charge is tacked on to the base MSRP of $39,950 for the Q60 2.0t PURE trim. RWD Red Sport starts at $52,995 with AWD adding another $2,000.

Loading it up, however, can put a well-equipped Red Sport at nearly $64,000.

What I liked about the 2018 Infiniti Q60 Red Sport: Frankly, just about everything. I liked being able to select to my preferred driving mode (Standard, Sport, Sport-plus, Personal) and the response I got when changing from Standard to Sport-plus. Technology was very easy to operate, and the dual screen lets you adjust many functions without the need to switch from the navigation system’s large display.

What I didn’t like about the 2018 Infiniti Q60 Red Sport: Headroom in the back was limited (34.5 inches). Just about anybody taller than 6-feet likely would have a real issue. Trunk volume is only 8.7 cubic feet, small even for a coupe.

Would I buy the 2018 Infiniti Q60S Red Sport? Yes. Its stunning looks and sporty performance make it a winner in just about every aspect.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018


The midsize family sedan may be a dying breed with the public’s infatuation with crossovers and smaller SUVs at least putting it on life support, but, with the exception of Ford, apparently that doesn’t mean automakers are giving up on the genre.

In fact, of the seven vehicles U.S. News & World Report lists as the “most improved” cars of 2018, four are sedans, including traditional midsize leaders Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.

So maybe there’s a bit of hyperbole when it comes to calling it the “death” of the midsize sedan, but there is no doubt sedan sales are ailing a bit. Of the top 10 selling midsize sedans for 2018, nine showed a decline in sales through May.

This included my recent ride, Volkswagen’s venerable Passat.

Passat sales also were down for June with 3,793 sold for the month, a drop of 28 percent from the 5,267 that were old in June 2017. Year-to-date numbers were even worse. Through the first six months of 2018, VW sold 22,356 Passats, a drop of 36.4 percent from the 35,137 sold in the first six months of 2017.

In addition to the disenchantment with sedans in general, another factor in Passat’s decline could be that VW has made few changes, certainly nothing major, to the Passat’s looks in recent years.

It has tweaked the headlight/foglight treatments a bit and given the 2018 model a sexier rear end, but overall you might have a hard time distinguishing the new Passat from an older one.

This can lead to a false impression that the Passat doesn’t have anything going in its favor and results in the word “aging” appearing in several current reviews.

But its roomy, comfortable cabin, smooth ride, and large trunk give it the kind of attributes many are looking for when shopping in the segment. The dash has a nice, clean look about itAnd if you are seeking something sportier, the GT trim comes with more horsepower and a more aggressive appearance.

The Passat was designed with an American audience in mind, resulting in a more spacious passenger room and a good-size trunk, and the car itself is put together in the company’s assembly plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

U.S. and Canadian sources account for nearly as much content (30 percent) as does that from Germany (36 percent), though both the engine and transmission come from the home country.

The 2018 Passat features two engine options: a new turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder with 174 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque and a 3.6-liter V6 rated at 280 hp and 258 lb.ft. of torque.

Both run on regular unleaded fuel, though peak power on the V6 is achieved with premium. Each gets a 6-speed automatic transmission with GT and top-of-the-line SEL Premium models getting paddle shifters for manual gear selection.

In fuel economy, the 4-banger is rated at 25 miles-per-gallon city, 36 highway while the V6 gets numbers of 19/28.

In addition to the GT and SEL models, the Passat comes in four other trims — S, R-Line, SE, and SE with Technology starting at just under $23,000. My ride for the week, the SEL Premium, carried a base price of $34,650. 

With a long laundry list of standard features that included navigation, 18-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, LED daytime running lights, rain-sensing wipers, power tilting and sliding moonroof, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front and rear leather seats, rear-view camera, blind-spot monitor, lane-keeping assist, Bluetooth connectivity, and Fender premium audio, the only additional cost was the $850 destination and delivery fee for a total of $35,000.

The company also has improved the warranty. As with most other 2018 VW models sold in the U.S., the Passat comes with the People First Warranty, a six-year or 72,000-mile (whichever occurs first) bumper-to-bumper New Vehicle Limited Warranty that can be transferred to subsequent owners throughout its duration.

What I liked about the 2018 Volkswagen Passat SEL Premium: It’s easy to get comfortable in this car. Controls for techno features are intuitive and simple to operate. The long list of standard features pretty much eliminates the need for costly options. And the trunk (15.9 cubic feet) is very spacious, especially for the segment.

What I didn’t like about the 2018 Volkswagen Passat SEL Premium: The navigation screen is on the small side, though to be fair it is very clear and easy to see at a glance. I’d like to see a bit better fuel mileage with the V6, but you’ve got to sacrifice something for the extra power.

Would I buy the 2018 Volkswagen Passat SEL Premium? Yes. The sedan segment may be shrinking, but this is a good alternative to a crossover or SUV.

Thursday, June 28, 2018



Though the vehicle starting arrive in showrooms in May, Nissan last week took time to “introduce” its latest model, a subcompact crossover dubbed Kicks, at a preview for media.

It is the second such session company publicists have conducted for automotive journalists, the first being earlier in June in San Diego.

Frankly, I think they may be missing an opportunity here. Shouldn’t such briefings/drives be conducted somewhere along Route 66, like Chicago, St. Louis, Oklahoma City, Amarillo, or even Joplin, Missouri? (If you don’t get that reference, just Google “Kicks and Route 66.”)

Ah, but as charming as it can be, nothing along U.S. Route 66 matches the ambiance of a drive to Key Largo in the Florida Keys on a sunny June morning, even if you do have to negotiate Miami traffic to start. Fortunately, school is out, tempering the rush hour traffic a bit.

It started at the 1 Hotel in Miami Beach, where our hosts from Nissan had previewed the first new model to the Nipponese automaker’s fleet in eight years. The Kicks joins the Rogue, Rogue Sport, Murano, Pathfinder, and Armada as the sixth crossover/SUV in Nissan’s lineup.

Nissan is looking to take advantage of what looks to be a substantial growth in the CUVsegment, which includes such competitors as the Kia Soul, Hyundai Kona, and Ford EcoSport. Sales are expected to increase from 119,700 in 2017 to over 306,000 by fiscal year 2022, a growth rate of 156 percent.

The Kicks is targeted for a mostly millennial audience of singles and couples with a median income between $45,000-$65,000 with no children who, Nissan marketing folks say, are “smart spenders, tech-dependent, image conscious, and socially responsible.”

Three things to know about the Kicks, according to James Marschner of Nissan Marketing:

1. The Kicks offers expressive style and smart design. The 2018 model was a joint design project from Nissan’s Design America facility n San Diego and new Nissan Design  America — Rio studios. The concept was shown four years ago at the Sao Paulo auto show, and the end result reflects the spirit of Brazil’s famous Carnival. It comes in seven exterior colors and five two-tone schemes utilizing the “floating roof” theme.

2. The Kicks is chock full of unexpected technology. Kicks is the only vehicle in its segment to offer standard Automatic Emergency Braking at a price that starts below $18,000. Also standard are a 7-inch touchscreen display, three USB ports, and Bluetooth Streaming Audio with  available Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Even the base S model has remote keyless entry and push-button start and cruise control. An SR Premium Package features the class exclusive Bose Personal Plus Audio System.

3. The Kicks offers “incredible” value. The S model starts at just under $18,000 before the $975 destination and handling fee is added. The SV is listed at $19,690, the SR $20,290, and the SR w/Premium Package $21,290.

Available options include driving assist features such as blind spot warning and rear cross traffic alert (SV) and intelligent around-view monitor (SR).

Unfortunately, my driving partner and I did not get to experience the new Bose Personal Sound system that Marschner and Steve Parrett, product communications manager, spoke so highly of, but I have kind of a tin ear anyway. Sound upgrades are kind of wasted on someone who spends a lot of time on AM talk radio, but I understand — and appreciate — those who feel otherwise.

The route for the 68-mile trip from the Miami Beach hotel to lunch at the Playa Largo Resort on Key Largo took us down Collins Avenue to Fifth Street, over to Interstate 95 and U.S. 1.

The planner also showed a little creativity by taking us through neighborhoods and eventually to Florida’s Turnpike, which takes you back to U.S. 1 in Florida City before the final 18-mile stretch on the mainland into Key Largo.

The Playa Largo Resort is situated on the Bay Side of the Keys, and it was tempting to extend the occasion as long as possible to take in the water views. This was indeed a post-card kind of afternoon that exudes the Margaritaville spirit of Jimmy Buffett, and the musical tones of the duo Gaby Gabriel and Lorena added to the “let’s-kick-back” atmosphere.

The Keys can do that to you — at least to me — at times.

But, alas, it soon was time to return to real life on the mainland.

The return trip took a different route and was longer by a couple miles, which gave me a bit more time behind the wheel. It’s a very comfortable vehicle to ride or drive, but I found myself wishing it had a bit more oomph to it.

The  1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine is rated at only 125 horsepower and 115 pound-feet of torque, numbers that Nissan folks acknowledge are on the low side, but say are compensated for by the light curb weight (2,672 pounds).

The real power killer to me is that a CVT (continuously variable transmission) is the only tranny offered. Though Nissan has improved it over the years, it still lacks the punch and driving fun a 6-speed manual would offer.

But if they want me to take it back down to the Keys, or even Route 66 for that matter, I’d be glad to oblige!

Monday, June 25, 2018



Chevrolet has managed to do with the Equinox what I wish someone, or something, would do for me in 2018, which is reduce my weight by 10 percent.

Not that I need to shed 400 pounds, which is what Chevy did in getting the Equinox down to just over 3,300 pounds, but 10 percent of that would get me down to my weight in college. (Quit laughing. I’ll accept 5 percent.)

Alas, Chevy is a bit light on details when it comes to what it did to get those pounds off other than referring to “an all-new, mass-efficient body structure,” which is a good idea but not very practical for me. At 183.1 inches long, the new Equinox is also nearly 5 inches shorter than its predecessor, and I don’t think I can get 5 inches shorter.

Oh, well. I’ll keep looking.

Back to the Equinox.

Chevy says the use of high-strength and ultra-high strength steel in the body structure has added to the safety and improved the ride and handling of the 2018 Equinox while making for a quieter, more fuel-efficient ride.

Among new safety features available in the upgrading for 2018 are a safety alert seat (it vibrates the driver’s seat if a crash risk is detected), surround vision system, forward collision alert with a following distance indicator, low-speed automatic braking, lane-keep assist with lane-departure warning, new rear-seat reminder (don’t forget the baby!), lane-change alert with blind-zone alert, and rear cross-traffic alert.

The Equinox is offered with three engine choices, all 4-cylinder turbos with a 1.5-liter (26 miles-per-gallon city, 32 highway) as standard. Optional are a 2.0-liter gas engine (22/29) and a segment exclusive 1.6-liter diesel (40 mpg highway).

At 170 horsepower and 203 pound-feet of torque, the 1.5L seems a bit underpowered. The optional 2.0L carries the day with 252 ponies and 260 pound-feet of torque, while the torque-heavy diesel is rated at 240 lb.-ft. to go with 137 hp.

The base and diesel get their own version of a 6-speed automatic transmission while the 2-liter turbo gets a 9-speed. The Equinox is offered in either front-wheel or all-wheel-drive configuration.

A five-passenger vehicle, the Equinox comes in four trim levels starting with the base L and continuing with the LS, LT, and Premier. The latter two are broken down into 1LT/1.5LT, 2LT/2.0L, and 3LT diesel and Premier into 1LZ/1.5L, 2LZ/2.0L and 3LZ/diesel.

My test vehicle was the top-of-the-line Premier with the 2.0L engine.

Standard equipment included keyless open and start, rear vision camera, teen driver technology (which allows you to set limits for speed and volume and provides a “report card” on your teen’s performance), rear park assist and rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot alert, 19-inch wheels, LED headlamps and tail lamps, power hands-free liftgate, trailer package, leather appointed seat trim, dual zone automatic A/C, leather-wrapped steering wheel, a 6-speaker audio system, and connectivity systems such as Chevy’s MyLink with Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, OnStar, and a 4G LET wi-fi hotspot.

There were no options, leaving the total cost to $34,480 with the $895 destination charge thrown in.

The cabin is roomy and nicely appointed, a big improvement over that found in earlier Equinox models. Legroom in the back is 39.7 inches, about an inch less than the 40.9 offered up front.

Without a third row to contend with, cargo capacity is a generous 29.9 cubic feet behind the second row and 63.5 with those seats folded. Chevy has somehow managed to reduce the overall size without making riders feel cramped.

Reducing overall size. If only I could accomplish a similar achievement.

What I liked about the 2018 Chevrolet Equinox: It’s big enough to handle five passengers comfortably with lots of room for their stuff. The wi-fi is very easy to sign on to.

What I didn’t like about the 2018 Chevrolet Equinox: There seemed to be a an excessive amount of road noise when driving on the interstate. It made conducting a conversation with the radio on difficult.

Would I buy the 2018 Chevrolet Equinox? It’s a very functional, competitive crossover and easy to see why it is Chevy’s second-leading selling vehicle behind the Silverado pickup. I’d certainly give it a look if I was shopping in the segment.

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.