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  • 2017 Nissan Titan XD

    Bridges the gap between light and heavy-duty pickups

    By Nina Russin

    Nissan Titan XD Crew Cab

    Nissan Titan XD Crew Cab

    Nissan calls the XD a niche vehicle that created its own niche, by bridging the gap between light and heavy-duty pickup trucks. Drivers who need more payload and towing capacity than a light-duty truck provides, but don’t have the parking space or fuel budget for a heavy-duty truck can find a lot to love in the Titan XD.

    Buyers can choose between a gasoline or Cummins turbo-diesel engine. The diesel option develops up to 555 peak horsepower as engine speeds as low as 1600 rpm, making it ideal for towing and hauling. The rear-wheel drive model tows up to 12,640 pounds, while the four-wheel drive truck tested has a 12,360-pound rating. Either way, the XD tows about 3,000 pounds more than its light-duty sibling: something that could make a critical difference when hooking up a large boat or trailer.

    The Platinum Reserve model tested comes with a Class IV gooseneck hitch with integrated 4 pin/7 pin wiring harness-connector, trailer brake controller and trailer light check function, spray on bedliner, Utili-track tie down system, LED under-rail bed lighting, rearview and around-view monitors. Pricing starts at $61,960 excluding the $1195 destination charge. A bed utility package adds the Titan Box integrated storage system in the side walls of the cargo bed, an electronic tailgate lock and rear bed step, bringing the final MSRP to $63,905. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Ford F-150 Raptor

    Off-road racer is top tier at any speed

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Ford Raptor

    2017 Ford Raptor

    This year, Ford introduces an all-new version of its off-road race-ready Raptor, based on the F-150 light-duty pickup truck. Powered by an EcoBoost V-6 engine that delivers a whopping 450 horsepower and 510 lbs.-ft. of peak torque, the Raptor is a formidable competitor on any terrain.

    To prove its mettle, Ford Performance entered a Raptor in the Baja 1000: the granddaddy of Mexican off-road SCORE races. It’s a grueling test for any vehicle, with roaming cows, seas of loose sand, boulders and rattlesnakes all in a day’s work. The Raptor placed third in its class, after which Greg Foutz and his team drove the car back to their shop in Phoenix, Arizona, almost 400 miles away.

    What makes the Raptor even more amazing, and what distinguishes the 2017 model from the first-generation car, is how well it functions as a daily driver. Small but significant design changes such as the dropped side windows that lower the driver’s sight-line to better spot low-profile cars, a more versatile, quieter interior make the Raptor a competent contender in the Monday-Friday 9-5.

    2017 Ford Raptor

    2017 Ford Raptor

    The twin turbocharged V-6 engine gains three miles-per-gallon over the 2014 model and accelerates faster. The ten-speed automatic transmission on the 2017 model that replaces a six-speed gearbox on the 2014 truck does a better job of matching power needs to output, making for a smoother and more fuel-efficient ride.

    Engineers utilized high-strength military grade aluminum alloy for the body to shave off 500 pounds compared to the outgoing model. In addition to improving gas mileage, the rigid body produces remarkably good steering feedback from the EPAS system, on par with vehicles having less suspension travel and lower centers of gravity. Drivers can select from three steering modes- normal, sport or comfort- depending on their needs.

    Base price for the Raptor is $48,325 excluding the $1,195 destination charge. Options on the test car include a power sliding rear window, 360-degree camera, automatic temperature control, LED cargo box lighting, trailer brake control, trailer backup assist, remote start, voice-activated navigation, tailgate step, 17-inch forged alloy wheels, and a technology package with adaptive cruise control. Final MSRP is $64,420. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 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 Sierra 1500 4WD Crew Cab

    Full-size pickup raises the bar for engineering and performance

    By Nina Russin

    2016 GMC Sierra

    2016 GMC Sierra

    Let’s face it: any vehicle costing upwards of $50,000 needs to fill a lot of squares. For most truck owners, it means multi-tasking as a work and family vehicle, with the capability to tow and haul, accommodate at least four passengers and provide respectable fuel economy.

    From and engineering stance, these are lofty goals, since high profile, two-box vehicles aren’t aerodynamic. Ever. Despite that, the performance gurus at GMC have created a full-size pickup with astonishingly good fuel economy and ride comfort rivaling passenger cars.

    The 5.3-liter Ecotec engine and eight-speed automatic transmission beneath the Sierra’s chiseled hood give the 1500-series crew cab the heart of an athlete. The truck idles smoothly at 600 rpm and cruises at speeds up to 65 miles-per-hour below 2,000 rpm. In endurance athlete terms, it’s the equivalent of a marathoner with a resting heart rate in the high 30s.

    Base price for the SLT test truck is $46,970 excluding the $1,195 destination charge. Options include twenty-inch rims, Z71 off-road suspension, spray-on bedliner, special seats and center console, front and rear park assist, LED headlamps, power sunroof, navigation, premium audio system and a trailer brake controller. Final MSRP is $53,845. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2016 Toyota 4Runner 4X4

    Off-road SUV is the ultimate active lifestyle vehicle

    By Nina Russin

    2016 Toyota 4Runner

    2016 Toyota 4Runner

    Although Toyota continues to use the Land Cruiser nameplate on its most upscale SUV, the feisty 4Runner with available seating for seven comes closer in spirit to the FJ40s of the 1960s and 70s. Launched in 1984 as the smaller, more affordable sibling to the Land Cruiser, the 4Runner has grown over the years in size and capability. These days, it’s marketed as the off-road Yin to the seven-passenger Highlander’s Yang, the Highlander offering a more car-like ride and limited primarily to use on-road.

    Because the 4Runner is a purpose-built truck, engineers have the ability to incorporate the OEM’s most advanced off-road technology, one example of which is crawl control. Integrating the functions of hill start assist, antilock braking and hill descent control into a single function, crawl control allows the driver to select a speed with which to cover extreme grades and the truck does the rest.

    2016 Toyota 4Runner

    2016 Toyota 4Runner

    The system is proprietary to Toyota and unlike competitive products, utilizes a hydraulic system from the throttle to the wheels without a traditional vacuum-operated brake booster to interrupt the power flow.

    To be honest, this feature alone makes the 4Runner Trail Premium’s rather high base price of $39,095 worth every penny. Other off-road specific features on the test car include skid plates, two-speed transfer case with shift on the fly, locking differential, multi-terrain select system, off-road wheels and tires.

    An optional kinetic dynamic suspension system disconnects sway bars when the vehicle is off-road to increase wheel travel. The sway bars remain in place on paved roads to keep the chassis flat while cornering.

    Other options on the test truck include a sliding rear cargo deck and under-floor storage area. With the $900 destination charge, final MSRP is $41,345. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2016 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Z71 Crew Cab

    Light-duty pickup truck ready for off-road adventure

    By Nina Russin

    2016 Chevrolet Silverado LTZ

    2016 Chevrolet Silverado LTZ

    If you need a pickup truck with towing, hauling and off-road capability capability but don’t want to be stuck with poor fuel economy, the Chevrolet Silverado with available Ecotec 5.3-liter engine should be on the short list. The 355-horsepower V-8 block delivers up to 383 pound-feet of peak torque: enough to tow up to 10,800 pounds when equipped with the optional trailering package.

    Average fuel economy is 17 miles-per-gallon thanks to a cylinder cutoff feature when engine loads are low. An eight-speed automatic transmission provides large overdrive gears, extending gas mileage to 21 mpg on the highway.

    Base price for the four-wheel drive test truck is $47,700, excluding the $1,195 destination charge. Options include 20-inch alloy rims, chrome running boards, leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, a center console with wireless phone charging and USB ports, trailer brakes, all-terrain tires and a set of moveable upper tie-down cleats, bringing the final MSRP to $52,585. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2016 Toyota Tacoma Limited

    Best-selling midsize pickup truck improves power and performance

    By Nina Russin

    2016 Toyota Tacoma Limited

    2016 Toyota Tacoma Limited

    There’s a reason the Toyota Tacoma pickup tops sales in the United States in the midsize segment: it’s a great truck. And it just got better with an all-new 2016 model that incorporates more fuel-efficient powertrains, a roomier interior and some pretty amazing off-road driving technology.

    Buyers can choose between an inline four-cylinder and new Atkinson cycle V-6 engine. All models are available with a six-speed automatic transmission. A manual gearbox is still available for the off-road specific trucks.

    There are five trim levels that range from the work-focused SR to upscale Limited. Toyota eliminated two-seat models for this generation, offering a choice between access and double cabs.

    The TRD Off-Road grade features a terrain selection feature on automatic transmission trucks that adjust wheel spin and brake pressure according to the types of surfaces the truck is covering: in other words, no more spinning out in deep sand.

    2016 Toyota Tacoma Limited

    2016 Toyota Tacoma Limited

    Even more exciting is new crawl control technology that maintains a preset speed when the driver is ascending and descending steep grades. At a media event this summer outside Seattle, this writer used the crawl control to climb a 40-degree sheer rock face and descend an equally steep grade. With the truck controlling the throttle and braking, the only thing the driver needs to worry about is steering.

    The test truck is the upscale Limited grade priced from $37,820, excluding the $900 destination charge. Standard equipment on the double cab model includes the 278-horsepower V-6 engine, six-speed automatic transmission and four-wheel drive with a two-speed transfer case for driving over uneven trails.

    A standard rear backup camera and blind spot monitoring make it easier to back out of parking slots in crowded lots and weave through dense rush-hour traffic. Standard convenience features include keyless entry and push-button start, Entune with app suites and navigation, leather upholstery, power moonroof, satellite radio, Qi wireless charging, a tie-down deck rail system and dual-zone climate control.

    There are two options: a towing prep package and cargo box tonneau cover, bringing the final MSRP to $40,020. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Land Rover Discovery Sport

    Family-friendly SUV with off-road capability

    By Nina Russin

    Land Rover Discovery Sport

    Land Rover Discovery Sport

    The Discovery Sport is Land Rover’s offering for active families who don’t want a full-sized sport-utility vehicle, but need the versatility traditionally only available in those types of cars. Although the newest Range Rover has a similar powertrain to the Evoque, the car’s character is completely different, catering more to buyers who want to spend time off the grid, and need a versatile cargo area to pack the toys.

    Power comes from a two-liter turbocharged engine rated at 240 horsepower and nine-speed automatic transmission: the same components found in the Evoque. All models come with full-time all-wheel drive and the ability to climb up a 45-degree incline.

    Land Rover was the first to market with a terrain response system that automatically adjusts braking, throttle, shift points etc. for a variety of off-road surfaces such as mud and ruts, rocks, sand and snow. The Discovery Sport comes with the newest version of that technology.

    With over eight inches of wheel travel, drivers don’t need to worry about bottoming out of rocks or roots on rugged trails. The cabin is also watertight in case the vehicle needs to cross a small stream. Wading depth is a tick under two feet.

    Land Rover Discovery Sport

    Land Rover Discovery Sport

    On the other hand, the Discovery is very much a road car, with a four-wheel independent suspension and available active safety features that include lane keeping assist, park assist and traffic sign recognition. Electric power steering saves space and weight under the hood, helping to extend fuel economy.

    An optional HSE package on the test car adds xenon headlamps, a panoramic sunroof, 10-way power leather front seats, power tailgate and front fog lamps. Other options on the test car include automatic climate control with heated front seats and steering wheel, 20′ alloy wheels with black exterior trim, an audio upgrade, app infotainment package and cargo area cover, bringing the final MSRP to $49,470. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Toyota 4Runner Trail Edition

    Fifth-generation SUV appeals to active families

    By Nina Russin

    2015 Toyota 4Runner

    2015 Toyota 4Runner

    In the close to thirty years I’ve been writing about cars, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what differentiates a good vehicle from a bad one. These days, there are very few bad cars thanks to improvements in on-board computers and better construction materials such as high strength steel. So why do some vehicles stand out as truly great while others migrate to the middle of the pack’

    I think the answer has to do with a sense of purpose. Great cars have it; not-so-great ones don’t. The Toyota 4Runner remains true to its mission of off-road capability three decades and five generations after the original model debuted.

    The body-on-frame sport-utility vehicle isn’t for everyone, nor is it intended to be. While the truck-based 4Runner can’t compete against unibody crossovers for ride comfort, it is more durable off-road, and can tow up to 4500 pounds. A new crawl feature on the Trail edition gives drivers more control over extremely uneven trails, while an optional slide-out cargo floor on five-passenger models holds up to 400 pounds, making it much easier to load heavy items in back.

    An available third row of seating sets the 4Runner apart from products such as the Jeep Grand Cherokee that max out at five passengers. Active families will also like standard safety features such as roll-sensing side curtain airbags that protect all three rows of occupants.

    Power comes from a 270-horsepower V-6 engine and five-speed automatic transmission. Because the transmission lacks a second overdrive gear, fuel economy isn’t particularly great: 18 miles-per-gallon on average according to the EPA.

    Base price for the 4X4 Trail Premium model is $38,655 excluding the $885 destination charge. Options on the test car include the sliding cargo floor and the kinetic dynamic suspension system that disconnects the axles when the car is driven off-road to provide more suspension travel. Final MSRP is $40,890. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2014 Chevrolet Silverado High Country 4WD Crew Cab

    Engineered to overachieve and styled to stand out

    By Nina Russin

    2014 Chevrolet Silverado High Country

    2014 Chevrolet Silverado High Country

    There’s a reason that the Silverado has been a consistent best seller for Chevrolet since the model launched fifteen years back. It’s a really good truck, with the ability to haul, tow and crawl through muck. The 2014 model also handles very much like a passenger car: a difficult challenge to fulfill with a single product.

    The High Country is a premium version of the base model, with unique exterior and interior trim. With a base MSRP of $47,380, the Silverado High Country targets the heart of the luxury market. Although its four-wheel drive system makes it capable of serious off-road terrain, I doubt many owners will want to tackle the Rubicon trail with twenty-inch chrome rims.

    Entrepreneurs needing a prestigious yet versatile vehicle for their businesses should find a lot to love in the new premium model. Payload capacity is 1957 pounds, and the Silverado can tow up to 9800 pounds. The optional 6.2-liter V-8 engine has 460 foot-pounds of peak torque: an important component for off-the-line performance. Basically, it’s a Corvette engine in a light-duty truck.

    To enhance fuel economy, engineers added a cylinder deactivation feature when engine loads are light. Direct injection delivers gasoline directly into the engine cylinders to improve throttle response and reduce parasitic fuel loss. Despite having a relatively high compression ratio (11:1), the engine does not require premium gasoline.

    Options on the test truck include the 6.2-liter engine, special exterior paint, a premium package that includes forward collision alert and lane departure warning, a heated steering wheel, power adjustable pedals, trailer brake controller, running boards and cargo box LED lighting. Final MSRP, including the $995 destination charge, is $53,075. Read the rest of this entry »