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.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 8, 2018


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

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

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

To which we say, Hooray!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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