Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos
By John Gilbert
When the Twin Cities Auto Show arrived on the same weekend as the Minnesota state high school hockey tournament, I knew I’d find a way to get to both events, even though they are separated by the 10 miles from the Minneapolis Convention Center to St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center ice arena.
The Twin Cities Auto Show, scheduled through March 19, is not one of the nation’s major shows, more of a dealer-oriented and operated show with vehicles contributed by the regional dealerships, and without the Detroit-Chicago-L.A.-New York displays of concept cars and futuristic things. The theme is similar, however, with an emphasis on trucks and SUVs, and reflecting the nation’s sudden urge for compact crossovers (CUV), and electrified vehicles.
The “Car of the Show” was the new Chevrolet Cruze Coupe, and after strolling through the dozens of Chevrolets looking for a two-door Cruze, I asked somebody and learned that the “Coupe” term is in roofline silhouette only, which other manufacturers call “Four-door coupe” styling.
Aside from drawing the scorn of our new President Trump for having the audacity to build the Cruze Coupe in Mexico, instead of the United States, Chevrolet has designed a winner with the Cruze Coupe, which has a neat style and a fastback roofline that ends in a hatchback.
While I never tire of strolling among a lot of new cars at any auto show, I had a couple of specific reasons for my search at the Minneapolis Convention Center. I had been doing a test drive on a 2017 Mercedes Metris that week, and I was quite curious about that vehicle, spooky as it was handling a light snowfall on top of some serious melt-then-freeze ice in my driveway.
The Metris has a front engine with rear-wheel drive, which is not the right prescription for driving through Duluth, MN., in wintertime in any reasonably competent manner. But I made it.
The Metris also comes two ways — as a cargo van, or a passenger van. I wound up with the cargo van, which meant no seats back of the driver-passenger pair up front, and no windows in the back walls. Still, the Metris performed well, with a -liter dual-overhead-cam 4-cylinder turbo engine, and a 7-speed automatic transmission that could be operated with steering wheel paddles. That amused and amazed me, because a lot of sporty cars don’t have paddles, and here was a windowless cargo van, plain as could be, with paddles.
Then I stepped on it once when some approaching freeway traffic was getting closer sooner, and the Metris took off like a drag-racer! I ran it through the gears with the paddles, and I was very impresed by its performance. It functioned so well that I wanted to check out the passenger van for comparison. I found a couple of them parked alongside each other at the Twin Cities show. The passenger van has impresive rows of seats and windows, with the same drivetrain.
Mercedes makes the Sprinter, a larger than van-sized van, which is perfect for converting into a mini motorhome. It is powered by either a 4 or V6, diesels both, ranging from 181 to 188 horsepower and from 266 to 325 foot-pounds of torque.
The smaller, more compact, and sleeker Metris has 208 horsepower and 258 foot-pounds of torque from its comparatively small 2.0 gas engine, because the turbocharger can be tweaked to whatever you need. That’s one of those intriguing engines that is somewhat jointly designed and built with Nissan, and versions of it can be found in assorted Infinitis as well as Mercedes sedans, coupes and SUVs.
The show has a Camp Jeep display where you can see how high you can climb, and even how easy it is to scale a five-step staircase. It has an electric room to check out various electric cars, as well s a luxury lane and other specialty areas. But the best viewing is to have an idea of some of the just-introduced new stuff.
I checked out the Volvo XC-60 and the V90 wagon, and the various new Honda, Toyota, Nissan, Subaru and Mazda vehicles. Also, the new Ford EcoSport, its new smaller-than-Escort CUV that looks interesting.
The Jeep Compass is another new product, completely redesigned, where I thought Jeep might drop it from existence because it has the Cherokee above it and the Renegade below it. But there it is, looking good, like a downsized Grand Cherokee. I’ll be reporting on the Compass after another week-long road test.
Kia has its new Niro, a 50-plus-mpg hybrid powered by the very strong 1.6-liter 4-cylinder and an electric battery pack — but with no available AWD at introduction time.
Some of my favorite vehicles are the new-breed Lexus sporty CUVs, some with hybrid powertrains and new small but potent gas engines.
Same with Nissan, which has its own and its Infiniti brand CUVs — my favorite of which is the new QX-30. On the Nissan side is the new Rogue Sport, which is a foot shorter than the standard, and very popular, Rogue crossover, with good head and legroom and only reduced storage.
Mazda remains high on my list of new vehicles too, with high-tech Skyactive engines and now with G-vectoring steering-handling technology. The new Mazda3 and Mazda6 sedans look outstanding, and the SUV range now includes the large CX-9, the midsize CX-5, and the compact CX-3, which is a great size, but maybe a little too cramped in the rear seat.
While looking at Asian vehicles, don’t pass up Hyundai and Kia, which have impressive cars from subcompact to large, and a similar stock of SUVs from compact to large. Plus, their new engine and transmission technology promises excellent fuel economy, and they are going to new hybrid systems for 2017.
Volkswagen has its new Atlas large SUV, and you can examine the Tiguan, restyled and lengthened to be larger than the stubby but efficient original. Check also the Jetta with the 1.4-liter 4-cylinder, from a new family of engines, turbocharged for high performance as well as high mileage.
While I await the Alfa Romeo Giulia that was supposed to be headed my way for a test but was intercepted by some pre-production glitches that needed attention, I was able to look one over at length at the show and enhance my impatience for the car.
There are plenty of exotic cars, too, although among my favorites are the Jaguar and Land Rover display, which are now jointly owned by Tata Motors of India. They have built new powerplants, and they both make use of a high-tech 2.0-liter 4 as well as larger engines, including supercharged models. The new Jaguars are, in a word, spectacular, including the new F-Sport SUV and XE sports sedans.
Then, of course, there are enough pickup trucks to fill a normal sized hall on their own. You can find them in assorted sizes at Ford, Chevrolet, GMC, and Ram, but don’t forget to also check on the Honda, Nissan and Toyota locations. As for SUVs, a good project would be to see which company has more SUVs of various sizes, because every company that has huge, normally large, full-size, mid-size, and compact SUVs is now scrambling to produce compact crossovers.
My theory is that even if President Trump follows through abandoning the stiffer EPA regulations which can produce high-mileage concepts, and we go back to larger, more-foul, and lower-mpg engines, it’s still going to be a major attraction to find a good-handling, modestd-sized CUV that will get over 30 mpg.
And if you get a small-enough CUV, you could always stow it in the rear of your Mercedes Metris, and hit the road.
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos
When the Ford Fusion was first introduced, I thought it was the most appealing design ever slapped onto the sheetmetal of a Detroit sedan. It still stirs the senses when one drives by.
For 2017, it was time for a major revision and upgrading of the Fusion, and Ford has done the job well. Particularly well, in the case of the Fusion Sport, which is a high-performance version of the venerable family sedan.
As a member in good standing of the midsize segment, which has come under heavy pressure from the enlarging gang of compacts below and the larger crossover SUVs coming at it from above. But the best midsize cars hold their own well, including the Accord, Camry, Mazda6, Altima, Sonata, Optima, Malibu, and Passat sedans == and the Fusion is right in there.
The Sport, however, is something else. Not since Ford made a top-level Taurus in high-performance SHO form has the company made such a stirring everyday driver as the Fusion Sport.
In keeping with Ford’s concept of downsizing in the engine bay, to let V6es do the job of V8s, and hot 4s replace V6es, the Fusion Sport makes top use of its EcoBoost plan to replace a solid engines with an enlivened but smaller engine, turbocharged to jack-up performance.
The garden-variety Fusion comes with your choice of a 1.5 or 2.0 liter 4-cylinders, where the 2.0 can be turbocharged to meet EcoBoost standards, plus there’s a hybrid that adds an electric motor to the 2.0’s output. Or, you can move up to the Sport.
That gets you some subtle trim touches, a neat interior, slick wheels that are 19-inchers, sportier suspension, and two major features that should leave the more mundane members of the competition wheezing and looking at the Fusion Sport’s quad tailpipes.
One of those is a twin turbocharged 2.7-liter EcoBoost V6. The 2.7 gets twin turbochargers to boost — literally — power up to 325 horsepower and 380 foot-pounds of torque. All that power makes great use of the other major feature — all-wheel drive.
Back when the Taurus SHO came out, it was powered by a Yamaha built 3.0-liter V6 that had fantastic power and made the car a true sports sedan, albeit with front-wheel drive. It was worthy of running up against the best European sports sedans.
A good friend of mine, who had lusted for a high-performance car from teenage years up to middle age, bought an SHO and loved it. He had one that had some problems, but he loved it all the same for its shrill sound of power. He later switched through a couple of Mustangs, and now he’s up to a late model Fusion.
I’m going to have to suggest he should go back and test-drive a new Fusion Sport, because I know it’s going to stir the old juices in him all over again.
The test car I drove arrived amid a mixture of dry but chilly weather and a couple of snowstorms along the North Shore of Lake Superior, which made things interesting. The Fusion Sport was an outstanding sports sedan in the dry, cornering on the proverbial dime and steering with razor-sharp precision.
All the interior features were there, too, including a changeable instrument panel, firmly supportive seats, good room in the rear seat, and a sizeable trunk. It also has setting to upgrade the steering and suspension to sportier tastes, but was never harsh over road irregularities.
Then it snowed on the North Shore, and it was with a considerable feeling of security that I ventured down to a couple of parking areas along the shore to watch the waves come a-crashing, while snow flurries filled the air. The all-wheel drive made the Fusion Sport convert nicely from all-out sports sedan to trusty weather-beater.
The 6-speed automatic shifted as hard as you wanted, and the turbo’s responsive 380 foot-pounds sent the Taurus Sport off with great force any time you wanted to depart in a hurry.
Technical features always have put the Fusion at the head of the class, even though a few of the SYNC system’s early years were met with hot and cold reception. There always was an interesting irony when I learned that JD Powers rated the SYNC connectivity as enough of a nuisance-problem-filled device to lower its initial quality number from among the best to among the worst. Then I learned that buyers complained about the complexity of operating the SYNC system — but they demanded to have it on the cars they bought.
In other words, it might have been complex, but it also was on the leading edge of auto technology. The newest SYNC system worked flawlessly during my week-long test drive, and was simple to operate.
My biggest complaint was that while the power of the turbocharged 2.7 was as good if not better than most V6 or V8 engines, the fuel economy was also no big leap of improvement over such larger powerplants. I would settle for dialing the power back a little and increasing the fuel economy by 5.
The Sport with all its added features costs $40,000, although adding the trick wheels and the engine, transmission, suspension, steering benefits of the upgrades make it worth a larger investment, because it pays you back every time you climb behind the wheel.
As for extra features, everybody knows about back-up cameras and lane-departure warning and blind-spot detection, and we like all those benefits. But how about an electronic system that includes a pothole detection capability?
That’s right; If you’re driving along on your winter-ravaged asphalt roadway and you come upon a terrible chuckhole, as your tire starts to drop down into the crevasse, the computer reads the abrupt move and reduces the impact severity of the tire hitting the far edge of asphalt.
Now there’s a feature that should rank right up there with autostart, keyless entry, and all the rest. The Fusion Sport is the only Fusion that has that device, which is just another reason that if you like the Fusion, it might be worth it to be a Sport.
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos
By John Gilbert
A couple of decades — and an SUV craze or two — ago, a good friend of my younger son asked me how wise it would be to buy a used Audi allroad, which was a very nice and svelte station wagon-type vehicle that you could actually take off the road because of some armor-plating underneath.
Now, I’ve always been a big fan of Audi’s technology, and I’ve visited the Audi home plant in Ingolstadt, Germany, a couple of times, but I issued a word of caution to my young friend, because the word behind the scenes at that time was that Audi was going to discontinue the allroad because of slow sales. So he bought something else.
Flash forward a few years, and I saw an allroad and I realized that the drivetrain and all the mechanicals were all fine in the car, and my advice was premature for a young family in St. Paul. Now it is 2017, and while Audi is at the top of its game in competing with BMW and Mercedes for fine German car sales, I paused in my favorable impression of a new Audi A4 sedan because my test car for a mid-February week was (trumpets, please) a 2017 Audi allroad.
After this review gets filed, I’m going to notify my son’s friend and apologize for my hasty suggestion years ago, and advise him that maybe he should look anew at the allroad. Incidentally, at Audi’s insistence, allroad is spelled with a lower-case “a” just as its quattro all-wheel-drive system is spelled with a lower-case “q.” In fact, it’s amusing to note that Motor Trend, Car & Driver, and other auto publications insist on spelling it with a cap Quattro, as though that distinction makes them superior in some fashion.
The new allroad is all-new, and it is a superb vehicle, with, of course, quattro, which made confronting a Northern Minnesota snowstorm and its below-zero after-effects a simple matter, both for traction, stability, and exercising those seat-heaters.
It is based on the platform of the new A4 sedan, which has grown up in recent years with its price rising with its sophistication. It is now Audi’s base compact/midsize sedan, pushing the larger A6 and A8 up a couple of price categories.
You could think of the allroad as an A4 station wagon, if that term wasn’t so outdated by contemporary customers. That means it is compact, smooth, agile, has a lot of storage space, and can be handled well by the ubiquitous 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder gasoline engine, tweaked to develop 252 horsepower and 273 foot-pounds of torque.
It will tow 1,000 pounds, and, like its predecessor, it will serve for some light off-road duty — although it is so classy that taking it into the rugged underbrush might qualify you for a therapy couch.
Because it’s based on the A4, the allroad looks lower and sleeker than you anticipate, despite the fact it is built with nearly an inch and a half more ground clearance than the A4.
The turbo gives the comparatively small 2-liter plenty of punch, and it’s all coordinated through Audi’s 7-speed dual-clutch automatic, which is basically a clutchless manual that has two separate clutches within the transmission, one handling first-third-fifth and seventh, and the other engaging second-fourth and sixth. If you want to use the paddles to shift, you get instantaneous upshifts or downshifts, because all that’s required is the computerized transmission to switch which clutch is engaged.
Audi’s proliferation of models means that the allroad is not to be confused with the “Q-ships,” the large Q7, midsize Q5, compact Q3, and the soon to be introducted Q2. Those are definitely SUVs of the crossover variety.
The allroad’s appeal includes all sorts of high-tech connectivity tricks, including 4GLTE connectivity, Audi’s MMI interface, the allroad drive-select system, which allows you to choose comfort, dynamic, or individually set preferences for steering, suspension and shift-points.
And it has one of my favorite features, which Audi calls its virtual cockpit. Along with a very efficient normal-sized navigation and information screen atop the dashboard, you can fiddle with the steering wheel switchwork to change the normal tach and speedometer-based instrument panel into an incredible, 12.3-inch panoramic scene of where you’re going. It’s a glorified GPS, but it is indeed glorified.
When you rack it over and get the GPS background behind the tach and speedometer, you can click a “view” button, and the tach and speedometer instantly are reduced to very small instruments in the lower left and lower right, while the whole rest of that giant screen display becomes a large screen to show your directions and destinations, easily magnified.
It occurred to me that you could paint your windshield black, and still drive to work by magnifying the instrument panel screen and following wherever the blue directional arrow takes you. Besides, with the screen, you also get cross-street identification. I know it sounds like a gimmick, but everyone I showed that virtual cockpit to met me wherever I stopped, with a friend in tow, and asked me to show how the display works.
The Prestige package, and the driver assistance package, helped boost the allroad price from $44,000 to the sticker’s full $55,575. That included $575 for the “midnight blue” paint job, which was worth whatever they wanted to charge.
The Drive Select switch set to dynamic makes the allroad spring to life with much more quickness because shift-points come up more quickly and the car rockets up through all seven gears. It also stiffens the suspension and steering.
Switch it to comfort and it’s not necessarily soft, just less-firm. If you switch it to off-road mode, the many active-safety features are all disabled, because serious off-roaders don’t want anything to do with the normal traction control and lane-changing prevention tricks when driving off-road.
Normal freeway or highway cruising comes easily, because the allroad is over-engineered for such routine duty, and its highway pedigree steps to the fore.
Emergency handling is quick-reacting and precise, and harsh roadways are easily overcome, if you’re in comfort mode, and not overly harsh even in dynamic.
The design of the allroad seems lower and sleeker, which completely nullifies any on-stilts perception residue from having 1.3 inches of increased ground clearance. So when it snakes around curves like a sports car, it’s just another asset of the allroad’s prowess.
In its never-ending quest to overtake Mercedes and BMW, Audi has truly turned it into a 3-way battle among top German marques. All three companies have superb sedans, impressive coupes, and upper-crust SUVs, but inserting the once-and-future allroad into the mix gives Audi a vehicle that may run circles around its competitors for all-around utility.
I’m going to have to trace down my son’s friend, Steve, and see if, now that he has a family, he’s still in the market for a do-everything family hauler.
Filed under: Features, Autos
By John Gilbert
CHICAGO, ILL. — The available shelf-life of an auto show is brief, but for Midwesterners who can get to the fine city of Chicago before February 20, there is a chance to turn a short trip to enjoy countless fine restaurants, nightclubs and blues joints into the chance to see all the newest stuff available from the top automakers of the world.
This may not be the most scintillating season for new vehicles, because Los Angeles and Detroit have already run their car-show course before the annual Chicago Auto Show hits McCormick Place, and most new cars have been shown already. But the nation’s best exhibition hall has a lot of things consumers will find of great interest. Mainly, the current upsurge in interest in small crossover SUVs is evident everywhere.
You can range from Ford — featuring the return of the gy-normous Expedition for large family and trailer hauling, but also tipping off its mini EcoSport, just a bit downsized from the populsr compact Escape. And the tiny but roomy C-Max which is nothing if not electrifying, remains.
The Mustang has been revised again, but its various recent styling twitches and tweaks have reached the point where a variety of them might prove impossible to discern from the others. No more V6, however, as Mustang goes from stalwart V8 to EcoBoost 4s.
KIA is showing off the all-new Stinger luxury/sports sedan in all its South Korean sleek splendor, but it also has the intriguing new Niro Hybrid compact SUV.
Toyota displays TRD sporty versions of the Tundra and Tacoma pickups and Sequoia large SUV, but finds it difficult to hide the swoopy little C-HR that starts out south of the popular RAV4 in both size and price. Its upscale Lexus display features the LS large sedan, which has taken on a much sportier demeanor, and a couple of SUVs that also play to the small but high-performance concept.
The Mazda display is easy to overlook, because the stylish group of vehicles is familiar. But they deserve scrutiny. The large CX-9 has been out a while, and the Mazda6 and Mazda3 sedans look quite the same, too, as do the new small crossovers, the CX-3 and the CX-5. The CX-5 actually is all new, and if you look closely, the red one is a red that is exclusive only to the CX-5. The true newness of all the Mazdas is something called G-Vectoring — an incredible new technological concept that gives all 2017 Mazdas the ability to tip off the driver to turn and swerve in a predictable manner that means the elimination of steering correction. The cars are beautiful, but beauty is “only” skin deep, so look closer!
Nissan, on the other hand, is leading the way in using graphic design, such as solid paint schemes of white, grey, red or black, all with stark black trim, to promote a new Midnight fleet of virtually everything it makes, from the more powerful half-ton Titan XD pickup, on down to the Rogue and all the sedans, down to the Sentra. Yet the display might be stolen by the subtly downsize Rogue Sport, which is a foot shorter than the regular Rogue. The all-new Armada stands above the other Nissans in size and capability, and a new Pathfinder, which benefits from Nissan’s new engine upgrades.
General Motors is taking a similar route, coming out with a Red Line trim feature on a large group of its vehicles. It’s a familiar idea, to use paint schemes to disguise the fact that you’ve already shown most of your stable, but of course Chevrolet has the all-electric Bolt, which continues to wrack up assorted Car of the Year awards, even though it is not yet out on the streets, and may not be until mid-summer.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles have all sorts of new toys, featuring the Alfa Romeo Giulia — finally — and the Stelvio, which is a brother in arms with a crossover SUV so flashy that Alfa is pulling back its idea of a Giulia wagon. Also, yet another variation for the Challenger, which just introduced the AWD Challenger GT and now is hitting us with the Mopar Challenger with a giant 6.4-liter Hemi, and a Durango SRT hot rod SUV. Meanwhile, its Jeep arm displays its array and gives proper reason for why the compact Compass still exists by showing off the to-be-introduced new model with refined restyling that stays just north of the Renegade.
The Germans are not to be outdone, of course, with Volkswagen’s new Atlas large SUV as well as the Golf Alltrack and the elongated Tiguan — which will join and then probably replace the blunt but roomy-enough Tiguan, an under-appreciated vehicle that might have been well-sized for this current compact crossover trend.
BMW has its latest SUVs and also the new 5-Series, while Mercedes now has so many SUVs, crossovers and sports cars — many of them with added AMG potency — that it’s hard to find room to walk among them and identify the alphabetized nameplates that only a marketing whiz can remember.
Audi has a fine spread of Q-ship SUVs of all sizes, and sedans and coupes to seduce anyone with a tidy checkbook.
Jaguar also has a dazzling display, with its slinky coupes and new high-tech sedans, as well as the F-Pace, a hot-looking vehicle that indicates the folks at Coventry catch on when it comes to building a promising SUV. Adjoining the Jaguars is the off-road cousin Land Rover display, with new and fancy top-end SUVs and also the newly redesigned Discovery, which now has its name spelled out on the upper lip leading edge of its hood, where it used to say Land Rover.”
Subaru has a new Legacy, and it advances the company farther along the lines of being less quirky and more mainstream. Which is a good thing for Subaru, as it continues to make durable and strong flat-opposed engines that I wish would get better fuel economy.
Mitsubishi is another Japanese company that always seems to be seeking an upturn, and it now is being propped up by Nissan.Its new Outlander SUV is the only new thing, offsetting the elimination of the Lancer and its much-loved Evolution.
Hyundai is about to introduce its new Ioniq, which may indeed be iconic — or iconiq — with a choice of all-electric, hybrid or plug-in hybrid. Meanwhile, Hyundai added to its complement with the new GT version of the popular Elantra, its Civic-Corolla-Mazda3 sized compact, now with about double the high-grade steel, to 53 percent. It has a fresh new style with a hatchback-wagon theme that Hyundai designers have turned into a true sporty vehicle. So sporty, in fact, that I asked Hyundai folks why, since they offer the same 1.6-turbo 4 as the Tucson crossover, they don’t add the AWD platform under the Hyundai GT. All I got were blank stares.
But arming compacts with the very feature that is allowing compact crossovers to crowd small sedans to a lesser corner in the marketplace might be the one distinct way to fight back and change the all-out crossover SUV trend to trend of compact sedans that do the work of crossovers.
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos
By John Gilbert
Even the best cars in the world are met with mixed reactions. But if no car seems capable of being all things to all customers, spend a short time with the Infiniti Q50 and you may decide it comes awfully close.
The Q50 is a sleek midsize sedan, and it can be bought in two forms, which might be considered great and greater. The top model was the one I test-drove for a week in Northern Minnesota, and it was well into winter in Duluth. Which was a good thing, for our test. The car in question was called the Q50 Red Sport 400 AWD, and it had all the goodies Infiniti could fit into that curvacious form, not the least of which was all-wheel drive.
Nissan’s potent 3.0-liter V6 is a new and high-tech powerplant that adds the extra punch of turbocharging. As in high-capacity twin turbochargers, making 400 horsepower with 350 foot-pounds of torque.
A 7-speed automatic transmission doles out all that power to the four wheels, and if you didn’t really care much for maximum fun, you could just leave it in “D” and enjoy its smooth power. Ah, but if you do enjoy driving thrills, you can shift the automatic manually with the best-designed paddle shift levers in the industry.
Companies that install paddles for fingertip shifting almost always mount them on either side of the steering wheel where they can be easily reached by thumbs, ethe right on for upshifting and left for downshifts. That works well, almost all the time.
But if you’re starting up at a T intersection, and you turn 90 degrees while accelerating, you can lose the paddle locations momentarily, usually when you shift hands, and almost always when you lost the exact location of the right paddle. Not with the Q50.
Nissan always has used long, magnesium paddles, attached to the steering column rather than the wheel. That way, if you turn the wheel hard to the left, say, and shift your hands on the wheel, as you run out of revs, you can quickly grab anywhere along the right side and you will find the paddle to upshift. Nissan uses those affixed paddles with the Infiniti Q50, meaning it begs you to shift for yourself.
When Nissan comes out with a new engine, it is always worth close scrutiny, and both engines in the Q50 are new. Without a doubt, the twin-turbo V6 boosts the Q50 to elite sports sedan prestige, comparable to, and maybe superior in some views, to BMW.
However, I am going to make a plea for anyone who is interested to first try the Q50 with the 4. It, too, is turbocharged, and even though it only has 2.0 liters of displacement, it will supply all the enthusiastic spirit you could want. The 3.0 V6 can get up to mid-30 miles per gallon in highway driving; the 2.0 turbo 4 can easily surpass and stay above 30 mpg wherever you drive.
Of course, with all-wheel drive, the Q50 AWD plowed through a 6-inch snowfall we had just up the North Shore of Lake Superior from Duluth, Minnesota, with an ease that was Jeep-like even in such foul winter weather
And here’s the less-known fact: Nissan has an arrangement with none other than Mercedes to build dual-overhead-cam, turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engines. I spent some time with the Mercedes crossover SUVs last fall, and whether you drive the GLA, GLC, or the new GLC Coupe, as well as the C or E Class sedans, you start with a base 2.0-liter 4-cylinder turbocharged engine.
What impressed me most when I spent a week driving a Mercedes GLA was that it had plenty of punch. Its computer automatically reset itself for fuel economy each time you started up, and in a week’s time without ever getting it out for a highway road trip, I never once went anywhere up the hills of Duluth when it registered less than 32 miles per gallon.
Even more impressive, after I enjoyed the power, responsiveness and fuel-efficiency of that 4, I learned Nissan had built the engine for Mercedes. With their joint venture, some of these engines are built in various plants around the world. The 2.0 turbo 4 in the C-Class sedan is the same as the 2.0 engine built in Nissan’s Tennessee plant, while the 2.0 4 in the QX30 crossover SUV is built in Germany, then sent to the United Kingdom plant for installation.
It’s confusing, but the Infiniti engine was designed with Daimler as part of the alliance with Nissan, and while Mercedes always has had a legendary reputation with its engines, it is indeed impressive on the resume for Nissan to be building some Mercedes engines. Having the Q50, Q60, and QX30 share a 4-cylinder turbo with the C-Class, CLA, E-Class sedan and wagon, and the SLC roadster is impressive.
The 4-cylinder Q50 starts at $35,000, while the twin-turbo V6 starts at $50,700. The test car I drove had all the specialty Red Sport features. It also had hill-start assist, automatic on-off LED headlights, foglights, brake lights and turn signals. Leather trim on the seats and steering wheel set off the classy interior, which also featured Kacchu aluminum interior trim, rain-sensing wipers, power sunroof, keyless entry and push-button start, Bluetooth phone system, and Bose surround sound.
Two USB ports, cruise, voice recognition for audio, information, and Bluetooth, and the full complement of safety technology also were in place. Dynamic control, brake force distribution, traction control, tire pressure monitoring, and a vehicle immobilizer system all came standard.
The option bin produced the special Red Sport seats, matte-finish natural maple wood trim, adaptive cruise, lane-departure warning and prevention, blind spot warning, predictive collision warning, emergency braking, surround video monitor with moving object detection, backup collision intervention with rear cross-traffic alert, InTouch navigation and voice recognition, and, of course, heated front seats and steering wheel, plus remote start.
All of that lifted the price from the $50,700 Red Sport price to $62,220. That’s a long way up from the $35,000 base price for the 4-cylinder turbo Q50. Which means you can load it up any way you choose. It’s easy to become entangled in the alphabet-soup, or alpha-numeric confusion, of identifying the occupants of Nissan’s luxury branch stable, but we’re now down to the Q50, Q60 and Q70 models among the cars, where the numbers represent size, and are not to be confused with any QX things, such as QX30, QX50, QX60, QX70 or QX80 — all of which are SUVs of ever-increasing size.
As an aside, I can always be accused of favoring the most compact model of a given line, as long as it’s big enough. And in this case, it’s also true, because I found the Infiniti QX30 to be my runaway favorite among Infiniti SUVs, both because of its swoopy, low-slung styling and the inclusion of that 2.0-liter turbo 4-cylinder.
It’s hard to say whether consumers are aware of all that intermingling engine-building stuff, but Nissan’s reputation for making strong and sporty engines helped it make the largest gains in sales of any car-maker in 2016. As is the case throughout the industry, trucks led the way. Nissan sold 53,313 trucks in the U.S. in January of 2017, with the Rogue accounting for 28,760 of them, rising 46 percent. Pathfinder increased sales by 13 percent, the Quest minivan 32 percent, and the new full-size Titan pickup up by 195 percent in its reintroduction.
Nissan’s Infinity upscale brand improved SUV sales, too, and overall it increased sales by 36 percent in January 2017 compared to January 2016, with 11,558 sold. It was led by the new nQ50. One test-drive will convince you why.