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  • First Drive: 2017 Nissan Titan, Armada and Pathfinder

    New truck line-up appeals to buyers with active lifestyles

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Nissan Armada

    2017 Nissan Armada

    Nissan has redesigned its core truck models for 2017, including all new Titan and Armada plus a significant refresh for the Pathfinder. In each case the automaker responded to buyer demands for enhanced active safety technology and more capable off-road performance.

    The 2017 Titan Crew Cab follows on the heels of the diesel-powered XD introduced earlier in the year: a slightly smaller more affordable offering with plenty of towing and payload capacity. There are five trim levels, including the off-road oriented PRO-4X.

    2017 Nissan Armada

    2017 Nissan Armada

    The full-size Armada sport-utility vehicle remains the brand’s flagship, with seating for up to eight passengers. Active safety features include intelligent cruise control with forward emergency braking, lane departure warning, backup collision intervention and an around-view monitor. Pricing starts at $44,000 plus destination for the base SV 2X4 model. The new Armada rolls out this month.

    The Pathfinder, produced at Nissan’s Smyrna, Tennessee assembly plant, competes against the Ford Explorer and Honda Pilot. Changes to the 2017 model include a redesigned exterior, new powertrain featuring a 3.5-liter direct injection V-6 engine, enhanced towing capability and more responsive handling on paved roads. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2016 GMC Canyon 4WD SLT Crew Cab

    Midsize pickup combines value and versatility

    By Nina Russin

    2016 GMC Canyon

    2016 GMC Canyon

    Buyers looking for versatility but not needing the towing capabilities of a full-size pickup truck should seriously consider the midsize GMC Canyon. The Canyon’s dimensions aren’t significantly different than that of the full-size Sierra. The Canyon’s wheelbase is about 13-inches shorter for the crew cab, and the truck is six-inches narrower.

    But there’s a significant difference in cost and fuel economy. Pricing for the Canyon starts at $21,880 as compared to $27,815 for the Sierra. The available Duramax turbo-diesel engine on the Canyon test truck averages 29 miles-per-gallon on the highway: seven MPG higher than the EcoTec V-6 available on the Sierra.

    2016 GMC Canyon SLT Diesel

    2016 GMC Canyon SLT Diesel

    The biggest reason for sizing up to the Sierra is its 12,000-pound towing capacity versus 7600 for the Canyon. Bottom line: if you’re planning to tow a travel trailer buy the Sierra, but if the most you’re planning to tow is a couple of jet skis, save some money and get the Canyon.

    Base price for the four-wheel drive test truck is $37,450 excluding the $925 destination charge. Options include the diesel engine that comes with a tow/haul trailer brake controller package, Bose premium audio system, eight-inch color touchscreen with navigation and Intellilink infotainment, spray-on bed liner and an active safety package including forward collision and lane departure warning. Final MSRP is $44,365. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2016 Toyota Tacoma

    All-new midsize truck is the king of the rock pile

    By Nina Russin

    2016 Toyota Tacoma

    2016 Toyota Tacoma

    I’m sitting behind the wheel of the 2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD pickup truck and all I can see is sky. The forty-degree grade the truck is climbing has me pinned back against the headrest, with no view of the horizon.

    As the name of the park we suggests, this is the Black Diamond of off-road driving: requiring a vehicle with exceptional capability and a certain amount of driving skill. Trails of this type can intimidate experienced drivers because of the risk of rollover. The old adage: ‘Go as slowly as possible and as fast as necessary,’ applies, since cresting the hill requires gunning that throttle at just the right time and then backing off to remain directional control at the summit.

    A new feature called crawl control on the 2016 midsize pickup takes the guesswork out of the scenario by using anti-slip regulation, throttle and antilock braking to maintain a preset speed.

    Think of it as downhill descent control, only better, because in this case the vehicle controls uphill speed as well. After selecting one of five speeds using controls on the truck’s overhead console, the driver eases off the gas pedal and lets the truck take over.

    The sheer rock face is one of several off-road exercises Toyota’s product team has devised to show off the new Tacoma’s off-road capability at a former coal-mining site outside Seattle. Others include a steep downhill called Wicked Hill that is about the same grade as the sheer rock uphill, but comprised of loose dirt and rocks. In this case, a multi-terrain select system that adjusts throttle, braking and suspension for a variety of surfaces ranging from rock to mud and ruts works in tandem with the crawl control to get the truck down the hill safely.

    Finally, there is a rock pile known as the Bone Yard to demonstrate wheel articulation and traction over that type of unstable surface. In each case, the newest Tacoma proves that it is a force to be reckoned with: a proud descendent of a heritage dating back to the end of the Second World War. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Jeep Patriot Latitude 4X4

    Affordable off-road fun for growing families

    By Nina Russin

    2015 Jeep Patriot

    2015 Jeep Patriot

    The Jeep Patriot is for growing families what the Renegade is for urbanites: an affordable path to the road less traveled. Seating up to five passengers with a versatile cargo area that holds soup-to-nuts, the trail-rated Patriot Latitude 4X4 starts at $24,795 excluding the $995 destination charge.

    The Patriot is available with two four-wheel drive systems, of which one, the Freedom Drive II has a low gear range and carries the Jeep trail rating. New for 2015 is a High Altitude appearance package that adds leather seating, 17-inch alloy rims, power sunroof and manual lumbar adjustment.

    Other options on the test car include a digital information display in the gauge cluster, roof rail crossbars, tonneau cover, premium audio system with satellite radio, Uconnect infotainment center with voice command and Bluetooth interface and remote start. Final MSRP is $29,510. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro

    Midsize truck is all business on-road and off

    By Nina Russin

    Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro

    Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro

    Toyota is the king of small trucks. While the Big Three automakers focused on full-size vehicles, Toyota built its reputation on small and midsize trucks, dating back to the first models following the Second World War.

    The Tacoma that debuted in 1995 grew out of the Hi-Lux: a vastly popular global platform that is still sold in other parts of the world. In the states it was simply called the compact Toyota pickup. The truck sold like hotcakes because it was cheap and unbelievably durable. We used to joke that the only way to stop the truck’s 22R engine was to take it out in the field and shoot it.

    The 2015 model year is the last for the current generation Tacoma: a new midsize model debuts next fall. Rather than treating the current model as a lame duck, product planners added a TRD Pro package that gives the truck the chops to blast across the Baja peninsula in style.

    Priced from $37,415 excluding destination, the Tacoma TRD Pro comes with 16-inch TRD wheels and off-road tires, Bilstein shocks with remote reservoirs to increase shock oil capacity, a modified suspension that adds 1.75 inches to the truck’s ride height and increases wheels travel and a cat-back exhaust. A unique blacked-out grille, inferno red exterior paint and special badging throughout give the Tacoma irresistible charisma for anyone with a love of off-road racing.

    The test car comes with a few additional options- a performance air filter, paint protection film, front skid plate, enhanced security system and bed mat, bringing the final MSRP to $39,579. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Chevrolet Colorado

    Midsized truck yields maximum fun

    By Nina Russin

    2015 Chevrolet Colorado

    2015 Chevrolet Colorado

    The new midsized Chevrolet Colorado light-duty pickup truck might be the perfect fit for buyers with active lifestyles. While it doesn’t have the payload and towing capacity of the full-sized Silverado, it is capable of serious work. Towing capacity for the 4×4 model tested with the trailering package is 7,000 pounds. Without the option, the Colorado tows up to 3,500: plenty for a smaller trailer.

    Comparing wheelbases, the Colorado crew cab with the larger of two available cargo boxes is about three inches shorter than the Silverado with the smaller of two available boxes. Equipped with the smaller cargo box, the crew cab on the Silverado holds 53.4 cubic feet of cargo as opposed to 49.9 cubic feet for the Colorado with the bigger box.

    Buyers on a budget can opt for the base rear-wheel drive Colorado with a 200-horsepower four-cylinder engine and six-speed manual gearbox priced from just under $21,000. At a time when pickup truck prices climb well into the $40,000 range, that’s a bargain.

    2015 Chevrolet Colorado

    2015 Chevrolet Colorado

    The test truck is the four-wheel drive Z71 model with the short cargo box, priced from $34,115 excluding the $875 destination charge. Power comes from a 3.6-liter V-6 engine rated at 305-horsepower and six-speed automatic transmission.

    Standard comfort and convenience features include four-way power driver and front passenger seats, a folding bench rear seat, heated front seats, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, Chevrolet MyLink infotainment system, OnStar, XM satellite radio.

    The Colorado also comes with a standard rearview camera to eliminate blind spots in the back corners and make it easier to monitor cross traffic in crowded parking lots.

    Options include a Bose audio upgrade with 8-inch color touchscreen and navigation, spray-on bedliner and trailering package, bringing the final MSRP to $36,710. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Jeep Renegade Sport

    Compact SUV goes off the grid

    By Nina Russin

    2015 Jeep Renegade

    2015 Jeep Renegade

    I’m sitting behind the wheel of the new Jeep Renegade Trailhawk on top of an impossibly steep hill at the off-road driving park in Hollister, California. Our Renegade is number three in the caravan of vehicles on the longer of two trails Jeep has mapped out to show us the car’s off-road capability.

    The driver in front of me is waffling, not sure if he should trust the car to get him down the hill. The grade is so steep that anyone trying to walk down would end up butt surfing.

    I can see his brake lights flicker on and off as he inches his way along. The spotter is losing patience, as am I. As a Jeep owner, I’m confident that the Renegade will do exactly what the engineers have promised, if this guy would simply lock the differential, engage the rock crawl mode and slip the car into first gear.

    2015 Jeep Renegade

    2015 Jeep Renegade

    After what seems like an eternity, it’s my turn. I engage the downhill descent control and steer into the trail. I can hear the antilock system chugging away beneath my feet, doing the work of a very skilled stunt driver. My job is easy. With my feet off the brakes, I enjoy the scenery on the way down.

    Its off-road prowess makes the newest Jeep seem like a baby Wrangler, but the small SUV is more than that. Engineers developed an all-new small wide 4×4 platform, incorporating two Fiat engines and two transmissions: a six-speed manual and nine-speed automatic.

    Unlike the Wrangler, the Renegade is unit body constructed and features a four-wheel independent suspension. Its smaller size and improved aerodynamic profile give the Renegade better fuel economy than its larger sibling: 31 miles-per-gallon on the highway. The independent suspension yields a smoother ride over uneven terrain such as the pothole-filled streets Midwestern drivers experience on a daily basis. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk 4X4

    The freedom to go anywhere

    By Nina Russin

    2014 Jeep Cherokee

    2014 Jeep Cherokee

    Jeep Wrangler or Jeep Cherokee: that is the question. Both have serious off-road capability, but they target different audiences. The Wrangler is the purist’s car: no messing around for a Wrangler owner. With its live axles and worm gear steering, it’s not for the faint of heart. But as a rock crawler in Moab, the Wrangler can’t be beat.

    The Cherokee can’t match the Wrangler’s capability on extreme terrain, but it will do more than most people who purchase four-wheel drive vehicles expect. I have driven the Trailhawk model on some pretty gnarly terrain and it went through like a champ.

    On paved roads, there is no question that the Cherokee offers more creature comforts, including an independent suspension, quieter interior, electric power steering, and a very sophisticated terrain control system that automatically adjusts the suspension, throttle and brakes to the type of surface the car is traveling over.

    The 2.4-liter Tigershark engine and nine-speed automatic transmission on the Cherokee Trailhawk average up to 27 miles-per-gallon on the highway as opposed to 21 for the four-door Wrangler Unlimited with the Pentastar V-6 engine.

    Bottom line: the Cherokee may better fill the squares for buyers who have active lifestyles, but also commute through heavy traffic on a daily basis and need a more spacious interior for their growing families. The Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk combines the car-like ride and handling of a crossover with Jeep’s legendary off-road finesse. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2014 Subaru Outback 2.5i Limited

    Five passenger crossover gains more fuel-efficient powertrain

    By Nina Russin

    Subaru Outback

    Subaru Outback

    It would not be an exaggeration to say that Subaru invented the active lifestyle vehicle. The brand’s commitment to athletes dates back to its sponsorship of the US Ski Team in the 1970s. Although Subaru commands a relatively small portion of the global automotive market, it remains the Big Kahuna within the athletic community.

    Of all the vehicles in its current lineup, the Outback wagon expresses this focus the best. From its 8.7-inches of ground clearance and standard all-wheel drive to the standard roof rails and rubber cargo mat, the Outback is clearly designed for outdoor enthusiasts who like to venture off the grid.

    The newest model introduced in 2013 features a more powerful 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, with slightly improved gas mileage as compared to the 2012 car. Engineers improved the car’s torsional stiffness to make it more responsive and quieter.

    Infotainment features now include navigation with real-time traffic updates and Bluetooth streaming audio.

    Buyers can opt for an EyeSight safety system that includes adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and pre-collision braking. The system is capable of stopping the vehicle if the driver fails to recognize pedestrians or cars in its path at speeds below 20 miles-per-hour.

    Base price for the upscale Limited grade is $29,395. Standard convenience features include leather upholstery, keyless entry, Harman Kardon audio with satellite radio, Bluetooth audio and iPod interface, heated front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, and fold-flat second-row seats.

    The test car comes with two options packages: a power moonroof with rearview camera and voice-activated navigation. Final MSRP, including the $825 destination charge, is $33,030. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2014 Subaru Forester 2.0XT Premium

    Crossover gains more powerful engine and enhanced interior

    By Nina Russin

    2014 Subaru Forester

    Subaru is evidence of how successful a niche manufacturer can be if it listens to its audience. The automaker has affiliations with athletes dating back to its sponsorship of the US Ski Team in the 1970s: a network now vastly expanded four decades later.

    Because of that, product planners understand what buyers with active lifestyles need and value in a vehicle. Standard all-wheel drive, easy-to-clean interiors, large, versatile cargo bays and a high level of standard safety are part of the brand’s DNA.

    Although the Forester began as an all-wheel drive wagon in the late 1990s, it has evolved into a larger crossover. The newest model has a slightly longer wheelbase than the outgoing car, but is significantly longer, wider and taller, translating to a roomier interior.

    A new two-liter turbocharged and intercooled engine is available on the XT model, mated to a six-speed manual or continuously variable automatic transmission. All-wheel drive is standard on all trim levels. There are four grades: base, premium, limited and touring.

    Base price for the Premium 2.0XT test car with the automatic transmission is $27,995, excluding the $825 destination charge. Standard comfort and convenience features include air conditioning, iPod connectivity, Bluetooth interface, rearview camera, a 10-way power driver’s seat and fold-flat second row seats. Read the rest of this entry »