Featured Reviews

Titan a pickup powerhouse before and after Midnight

Nissan's Titan competes at the top level of pickup engineering, and attracts new attention with its black-on-black Midnight Edition.

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New Pacifica Hybrid Limited combines 3.6-liter V6 with electric hybrid power for smooth operation and high fuel economy.

Pacifica now offers electrifying performance

FCA reawakened the minivan industry with its new Pacifica two years ago, and for 2018, it offers a plug-in hybrid system to supplement the V6 power for the highest miles per gall

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Redesigned GMC Terrain might be choice alternative SUV.

Downsizing leads GMC across new Terrain

With its showrooms full of larger SUVs, General Motors made the Terrain more compact for 2018, with new styling and power as attractions.

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At the most-compact end of the spectrum is Ford's new EcoSport, with a 1.0-liter turbocharged 3.

Ford covers the long and short of SUV field

There are so many SUVs of all sizes these days, we may as well give in and accept Ford's long (Expedition) and short (EcoSport) marketplace entries.

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Graceful lines, moderate price should make TourX popular.

New Buick Regal, Avenir stretch expectations

Buick has added an upgraded Avenir to the Enclave, and unveils an all-new TourX wagon to replace the Regal midsize sedan.

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Mazda6 bridges model gap with 2017.5

Nobody questions the beauty of the Mazda6, but to add new features, Mazda chose to bring out an upgraded 2017.5 model.

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Sweeping fastback lines imply 2-seater, but Q60 has fair room in the rear, too.

Q60 Coupe means alpha-numeric sports-luxury

The alpha-neumeric trend in identifying automobiles has led Infiniti over the top, but the Q60 Coupe will eave a distinct impression.

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Continental grille recaptures various touches from Lincoln's luxury car past.

Lincoln Navigates back to top of luxury SUVs

Once nearly extinct, large SUVs have made a big comeback, and Lincoln's new 2018 Navigator might be the best of the lot.

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If you choose wisely, you can get either an Audi Q5 or A5 sedan with the same drivetrain.

Audi eases -- or adds to -- sedan-SUV debate

For those pondering whether to choose a midsize SUV or a sporty midsize sedan, Audi has two options with the same powertrain in the A5 Sportback and Q5.

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Dramatic change from grille, to interior, frame ride, handling mark 2019 Ram.

Redone 2019 Ram moves to top of pickup class

The pickup wars get bigger and better, and the 2019 Ram might just move to the top of the list for discerning buyers.

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Titan a pickup powerhouse before and after Midnight

May 18, 2018 by · Comments Off on Titan a pickup powerhouse before and after Midnight
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

Nissan’s Midnight Edition of the Titan can come out to play in daylight, too.

By John Gilbert

     If you’re into large pickup trucks, what is your favorite feature?

    Is it the Cord F150‘s low-cut leading edge of the side window design that greatly enhances side vision, or its pull out and drop down little stepladder off the rear of the Ford F150 bed, with its neat little pull-up helping pole? Or Chevy’s little slotted grooves in the outside rear corners of the rear bumper to provide step-up access to the bed? Maybe it’s the soft-touch tailgate on the Toyota Tundra, or Ram’s wider bed sides, which open from the top and can store virtually anything. The Honda Ridgeline has its entire bed made out of the composite material you needn’t buy as a bedliner, with a deep, watertight trunk cut into it. Or Nissan’s own clever slotted strips on either side and the front edge of the Titan’s bed, allowing infinite anchoring locations for sliding tie-down cleats.

   How about “all of the above?”

   Nissan didn’t quite corral all the top features but did incorporate its version of most of them in the 2018 Midnight Edition of the Titan. The Midnight Edition package costs $1,250, and boosts the total of the Titan to $54,775. That is not outrageously steep these days, and I also found that our overall combined fuel economy was 18.1, which also was acceptable, based on where we’ve come in the large V8-power truck biz. 

Black finish, rich in highlights, makes the black-on-black trim stand out.

   Competition has driven the manufacturers to build extremely competitive pickups, so whatever you choose you know you’ll be getting great power output, heavy-duty towing and hauling capability, not much fuel economy, but interior accommodations that rival fine luxury sedans. So maybe the little extra touches can sway an undecided buyer.

   Nissan has shamelessly broken down all the competitive barriers in building the 2018 Titan Midnight Edition, catching many by surprise, because the Titan had been left out of a lot of comparisons because there really wasn’t anything new on the truck. Nissan, however, had accomplished all the engineering and design stuff it felt was required, so it turned to cosmetic touches to set off a new fleet of special-edition vehicles for its cars and SUVs, and the Midnight Edition gives the same striking appearance benefit to the new Titan.

   My test-drive Titan SL Midnight Edition came in a glossy black, which was more than just black when you got close enough to see the sun’s reflection reveal an amazing mixture of colorful highlights under the surface. The trick is to put black-on-black touches to every trim item, including the grille, the 20-inch alloy wheels, to the large Titan logo on the doors, and to every emblem all around.

Living quarters feature luxurious leather bucket seats and high-tech instruments and connectivity.

   It seems somewhat surprising that a company that has made its tremendous success on pragmatic but solid engineering and design would stoop to cosmetics, and, of course, it would be a mistake to accuse the Titan of making only cosmetic touches to create the Midnight Edition. The company has reached technical highs with things like its new variable compression ratio, even though it already has attained a high level of technology for its cars and trucks.

   At the Chicago Auto Show in February, Nissan rolled out specially monochromatic editions of its cars and smaller SUVs, so following the same principles for its full-size pickup was only logical. The Titan drives well, and is agile and maneuverable beyond expectations for such a large, lane-filling vehicle.

Performance is quick and translates well for towing and hauling.

   Nissan still has its muscular 5.6-liter V8 with 390 horsepower and 394 foot-pounds of torque, and a 7-speed automatic with 2-speed transfer case and shift-on-the-fly all-wheel drive, capable of towing 9,740 pounds. And it has all the safety and driver-assist features that all contemporary vehicles have, including blind-spot and rear cross-traffic alerts. And naturally it still has those best-in-class sliding “Utili-track” slots for adjustable tie-downs.

 

Titan bed features side storage bins, and familiar slides for adjustable tie-down cleats.

Door window design slopes for better idea of side vision.

  But Nissan also shamelessly — and wisely — incorporated virtually every impressive feature from all its competitors, making the new Titan Midnight Edition sort of a rolling all-star collection of all that is best in pickups. A few years from now, Titan owners will be sure Nissan invented all those features.

   The front doors are designed with a graceful slope to the front edge of the windows, creating a very useful and Ford-like extra scope when you glance at the outside mirrors and see a lot more ground than you expect. At the tailgate, the Titan looks pretty imposing to climb up and into, until you spot those neat little corner Silverado-ish steps.

    Once up and looking into the bed, you are impressed with the quality of the factory-installed bed-liner, and you notice both sides have neat little form-fitting vertical boxes, which are very Ram-like, and supply the same usefully concealed storage.

   Inside, leather-covered bucket captain’s chair front seats flank a large console that has assorted little cubbies ahead and around it. In the rear, comfortable seating for three includes a 60-40 flip-up design that has storage underneath and the capability of folding to make a flat floor.

Roomy interior, firm but not harsh highway manners enhance Midnight Edition looks.

   Also in the rear there are controls on the back of the front console, including a household electrical plug-in, which I used to charge up my iPad when we took the Titan on a Mother’s Day cruise up the North Shore to tour Split Rock Lighthouse, and then we descended the long wooden staircase to get to Lake Superior level, from where we could hike up through the woods and circle back to the lighthouse.

   After that hike, the presence of compact but useful running board rails helped us climb into the comfort of the seats, and the inviting touch of gave us the option of playing some choice CDs or satellite radio as well as the more modern digital gadgets to blast through the 12-speaker Rockford Fosgate audio system.

  

Black grille, headlight and foglight surrounds, wheels contribute to Midnight look.

Our older son, Jack, had done a fabulous job of washing and polishing the Titan just because he knew it was great looking and didn’t want to have it appear without full-gloss shine.

   The black-on-black appearance makes the Midnight Edition something special, with subtleties such as dark interior outlines of the headlights, black finish on the foglight enclosures, black mirrors, black door handles, black front and rear bumpers and step rails, and even black interior trim.

   Every company seems to have evolved toward special editions of their full-sized pickups, and most of them are impressive. But it would be a mistake to overlook Nissan’s Titan, whose only fault may be that the Midnight Edition did sneak up on the marketplace.    

   

   

    

Pacifica now offers electrifying performance

May 10, 2018 by · Comments Off on Pacifica now offers electrifying performance
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

New Pacifica Hybrid Limited combines 3.6-liter V6 with electric hybrid power for smooth operation and high fuel economy.

Road-testing different vehicles every week can be similar to playing a real-life scene in “The Three Bears.” Open the door of a big pickup or large SUV, and you might say, “This is too high” as you high-jump aboard. Open the door of a normal size car the next week and you might say,  “This is too low,” as you duck your head and drop down into the seat. And catch one of the dozens of new compact crossover SUVs, and be ready to adjust to either climbing up a lot or a little.

   Then the 2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid Limited shows up. You open the door, mentally prepared to climb up, then realizing you don’t need to, so you anticipate dropping down, but no. You simply step in and you are aboard.

   “This,” says everyone from Papa Bear to Mama Bear to Baby Bear, “is just right.”

   It wouldn’t seem so startling, except for all the variations that require ducking heads or hand-grip helpers to climb up or down. Indeed, we have almost caused minivans to skip out of our consciousness, and we shouldn’t.

   My wife, Joan, and I took some good friends out for $1 Taco Night at Gronk’s in Superior, Wis., and we heard a number of comments, mostly of surprise. “There’s a lot of room in here.” Or, “Look at the cordless headphones.” Or, “There’s a lot of room in the third row, too.”

   And that was before they had noticed what Joan and I caught almost immediately: The Pacifica Hybrid

Side doors that open by key fob open the Pacifica to comfortable seating for five behind the front buckets.

Limited rides with amazing smoothness, and corners and even swerves without leaning, without losing its poise, and without anything approaching concern. It goes where you point it, and wherever the front end goes, the rest follows willingly along.

   Chrysler, under Fiat fiefdom, made the switch a year ago, ending the long and highly successful run of the Dodge Caravan, and sister ship Plymouth-then-Chrysler Voyager, replacing them with an entirely new vehicle in the Pacifica. It was designed as a people hauler, as are all minivans, but this idea was to make it a stylish, contemporary family hauler that might someday elevate owning a minivan back to its once-exalted status.

    You know the story. Station wagons gave way to minivans, and one day somebody woke up and decided minivans were “mom-mobiles,” good for hauling kids to soccer games and practices — or hockey, if you’re a Minnesotan — but outmoded for going to real events where a luxury sedan or SUV was the order of the day.

   Minivans have soldiered on, and after the Pacifica made its worthy bid, and Honda followed with a much improved Odyssey, the realization hit those of us who test and compare different vehicles to realize that despite the scorn, minivans are still the most efficient, comfortable and economical way to haul families or, yes, soccer or hockey players,  anywhere.

   For 2018, there isn’t much change in the Pacifica, except the promised hybrid model is up and running, and it makes the Pacifica Hybrid the most fuel-efficient minivan in the industry.

  

Normal Pacifica Limited has plenty of V6 power and costs the same as the smoother hybrid model.

The timing of my test week was interesting, because a “normal” Pacifica Limited was scheduled, but the week before it came, the scheduled vehicle had to be whisked away and sent elsewhere, and the substitute was the Pacifica Hybrid, also in top-end Limited livery. That meant I would have the unusual opportunity to drive both versions, back to back, for comparison purposes.

   Also, this was not “just” a hybrid, although that’s big news on its own. This one is a plug-in hybrid, which has a neat little trap door on the front left flank, with a serious, industrial-strength outlet inside. Open the rear hatch and you will see a couple of small doors on the inner walls. On the lower left, you find a coiled cable with a serious-looking plug.

   Now, California and the West Coast, and places on the East Coast are way ahead of Duluth, Minnesota, when it comes to electric car and even hybrid sophistication, but I was surprised and impressed recently when we went for a walk along that part of the Lake Walk that survived the late-winter battering from Lake Superior waves that a storm sent crashing out of its rather spacious basin. We walked for a few blocks, but the wind whistling off the big lake made our walk more of a challenge than we were looking for, so we turned inland and walked over toward 1st Avenue East. As we got there, we noticed three rows of parking with odd signs and devices. They are charging stations.

On-board plug and cable attach Pacifica to available charging stations for 2-hour replenishment.

    Electric car and plug-in hybrid charging stations in Duluth, Minnesota? Are you kidding me? Great!

   Typical hybrids, you realize, have high-output but diminutive electric motors that can supplement a small engine’s power and even replace it for a few miles of moderate use, then normal driving lets the gas engine recharge the battery pack for further hybrid-electric help. Electric cars, on the other hand, don’t have any gas engine to recharge, and must be plugged in.

   Plug-in hybrids are, to me, the best available compromise for everyday people. You don’t have the feeling of latent panic wondering if your electric car is going to run out of stored electricity, and you also don’t have to wonder how much of a charge your normal hybrid has executed. You can do a shorter plug-in at a charge site, and get your electricity fully loaded.

   The Pacifica is the first minivan to have such a feature. It comes with a 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 in the normal Limited, which has a healthy 287 horsepower and 262 foot-pounds of torque, driving the front wheels. The battery pack and hybrid paraphernalia weigh a little, and cause the V6 to be tuned much differently, but then it combines to provide a total of 260 horsepower that moves the Pacifica with smooth force.

Rear seats fold forward for easy far-rear access, and can disappear into the flat floor.

Comfortable and rich interior features real leather, complete controls.

   Despite what the numbers hint, the Hybrid Pacifica combines its two power sources in a manner that feels significanly quicker and faster than the normal one.

   The other thing hybrids do along with coordinating and supplementing power from the gas engine is they can allow the vehicle to operate on electric power only. You don’t get much distance out of electric-only driving. Maybe 10 miles, before you’ll need to coast and brake and recharge the system internally. But with the plug-in charge filling the eletric capacity, you can go a reported 35 miles on electric power only.

    To do that, you’d want to push the start button, and don’t think it failed you. It will be silent, but will notify you that it’s ready. Put the 9-speed transmission in gear and feather the gas, and off you go. You don’t want to stand on the gas, just creep away and you could make it to work and all the way home without exhausting the electric charge.

   Stepping on it hard, to accelerate swiftly or to climb a steep hill, will cause the electric motor to hustle to help the gas engine and provide surprisingly strong force. It also will drain the electric juice long before that 35-mile range.

   But it is fun to give it a little “gas” for brief moments now and then, just to surprise yourself with how swift the Pacifica Hybrid is. When adequately charged, you get smooth and seamless power that fits the Pacifica so well.

Hybrid instruments show assorted information, despite ever-present glare.

   As gasoline rises inexorably up, up and away, you also can appreciate the fuel economy. The Limited non-hybrid showed us mid-20s for fuel economy, which isn’t bad. The hybrid, however, stayed mostly above 30 mpg, and that was without plugging in but trusting the normal hybrid system to do its charging.

    The EPA estimates show the Pacifica Limited at 29 city and 28 highway, while the Pacifica Hybrid Limited shows 32 combined city-highway mpg, and a whopping 84 miles per gallon with the fully-charged hybrid system for combined city-highway driving, and plugging in for a 2-hour high-potency charge provides the top numbers.

   Both vehicles came loaded with options, including all the safety stuff, a full-length panoramic sunroof, adaptive cruise, lane-departure warning, autostart, Apple CarPlay and Google Android capable, park assist, and both with Chrysler’s creative and imaginative power rear seat flip, hide, fold and disappear, plus power sliding side doors and both with opening side windows(!).

SUVs are all the rage, but top-level minivans like the Pacifica remain the best family-friendly way for feature-filled travel. .

   The Hybrid Limited has a base price of $44,995 and an as-tested sticker of $48,580; the non-hybrid Limited starts at $43,695 and as-tested $49,665. Amazing, but the non-hybrid is a thousand more than the hybrid.

   The hybrid model was Jazz Blue, and the non-hybrid was Velvet Red, both pearl-coat paint jobs. That made it easier to tell the difference after we had swapped one for the other.

   And our friends, who own SUVs, trucks, and cars, joined our surprised impression after a couple of stops and reloads. “You just step into this, with no climbing,” they said.

Downsizing leads GMC across new Terrain

May 2, 2018 by · Comments Off on Downsizing leads GMC across new Terrain
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

Redesigned GMC Terrain might be choice alternative to larger GM SUVs..

By John Gilbert

   It has always seemed as though vehicles with “GMC” logos on their grilles have gotten the short end of the promotional emphasis from General Motors, which seems to emphasize Chevrolet on about a 50-to-1 ratio in their advertising. But when you start evaluating the 2018 models, those GMC models are proving capable of standing by themselves.

   It’s certainly a lot simpler to promote a big pickup truck, the Sierra, and a midsize pickup, the Canyon, and then line up your three GMC SUVs: the giant Yukon, the midsize Acadia, and the Terrain. The Yukon, of course, runs and is equipped parallel to Chevy’s Suburban and Tahoe, while the Acadia is paralleled by the Chevy Traverse.

   The Terrain, meanwhile, has been made more compact and runs alongside Chevy’s Equinox. They are more compact than the midsizers, but that gives them a couple of very large advantages. For one, they are lighter and feel quicker than their more ponderous brethren farther up the size scale, and second, they don’t need the giant 6.2-liter V8 or even the 3.6-liter V6 to get around with quick agility in virtually every circumstance.

   But it’s right about there that GM has allowed a split of the otherwise twin-running vehicles. True, they are still competitors for each other, but you can get the Equinox for somewhere between $24,500 and $35,000, and it has been entirely redone for 2018 and looks better than it ever has. The GMC Terrain also has been entirely redesigned, and its price ranges from a base $26,000 to a smidge over $40,000. The difference may be close to imperceptible, but I figure it goes for a few more luxury touches, and more sound-deadening in the GMC, which stands about one rung higher on the stepladder of GM SUVs. The Terrain seemed quieter than the Equinox I recently had driven, but that could be sound-deadening, or even a difference in tires.

   I enjoyed my week-long test drive with the Terrain, which came at a time when I was required to make a couple runs from Duluth to Saint Paul for a hockey tournament. Any vehicle could breeze through that 400-mile round trip without breathing hard, but this particular week was one of those when Spring was engaged in mortal combat with Winter, and we were as likely to see sunshine and blue skies, or grey clouds and a snowstorm. Or maybe both, in the same day.

Rear styling houses generous cargo area in new Terrain.

   So having the GMC Terrain with its all-wheel drive was a nice comforting thought, knowing I wouldn’t get back home until 1 a.m. or so. Curiously, the Terrain’s all-wheel-drive system can be controlled by a knob on the console, rather than being the trendy automatic system so popular these days. Personally, I prefer having the right to make that adjustment myself, because you can improve fuel economy by a couple mpg-s if you are in front-wheel drive. I did, however, make sure to remind my wife, Joan, who is an excellent driver but needed to know that if you’re headed for a snow-covered hillside or it starts snowing, make sure to click into AWD.

   The Terrain (and the Equinox) actually are smaller than they used to be, another refreshing twist by GM, which tended to always go bigger when given the option. With the runaway popularity of the SUV segment, GM is maneuvering to make sure they are competing in all the niches.

   By making it smaller, the GMC Terrain has a base engine that measures only 1.5 liters, with a turbo bringing it up to adequate. My test vehicle had the optional 2.0-liter 4, also turbocharged, with 252 horsepower and 260 foot-pounds of torque. That’s more torque than the newly available 1.6-liter tiurbo-diesel by 10.

 

Not everyone needs a third-row seat, and without it, storage space grows.

  That made an interesting aside for my test-driving. The comfort and the neat driving and occupant features were all duly noted, and the numerous safety stuff, including a larger 8-inch touchscreen at the top of the center stack, and a new 360-degree camera that gives a top-down view of anything and everything around your Terrain. Then there’s the center console, cavernous in its capacity. It also has lane-keep assist, which some critics hate, but merely keeps you more advised on how you’re driving.

   But the small engine made me always aware of how efficiently I could take off when pulling onto a freeway or highway, and it never faltered. That left the other key element to me, which was fuel economy.

  The turbo adds power, and the 9-speed automatic worked well, so I had no trouble holding it at freeway maximums of 70 or so. I also anticipated that a long drive with the cruise at 70 would assure me of very strong fuel economy. I was wrong. I averaged between 24.8 and 25 miles per gallon, highway or city, AWD or FWD.

   Now, we’re a spoiled lot here in the U.S., where as soon as gas prices drop, we all forget buying enery efficient cars and small SUVs and go after bigger, stronger, more powerful and less fuel-efficient vehicles. We’ve been riding a long crest of the gas price roller-coaster, and car dealers and salesmen will scoff at such nitpicking, but when gas prices start to rise, we know they can keep on a-rising.

   Now the word comes that since our gas prices shot up by about a dime, then by another 15 cents, during the last two weeks of August, there’s a good chance they won’t be coming back. Summer, and a couple of major holidays, are on their way, so why would we expect fuel companies to drop their prices now?

The interior of the new Terrain also got a complete makeover.

    In my usual grumbling about fuel economy, I always try to make the point that people really don’t seem to mind the rise and fall, once gas is less than $3 a gallon. But everyone who discusses it talks about the price of regular, without checking on the disparity between regular and premium. Used to be a nickel, then a dime, then it spread apart until now, when you might pay 30 or 50 cents a gallon more for premium.

   If regular goes to $3.25, and you’re paying $3.70 a gallon because your car requires premium, or 91 octane, a tankful can be a pinch. It is a good reason to check when you’re buying a new vehicle and find out if it will run fine on regular. Over the course of five years, that could save you a lot of money.

   Meanwhile, back to the advantages of the downsized Terrain, they come mostly in agility and the ease of handling in traffic, biut since GM is aiming the Terrain at top-selllng midsize SUVs like the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, and Mazda CX-5 — all of which deliver over 30 mpg — then the Terrain should give me more than 25 mpg.

   For those who don’t care about such trivia, the Terrain offers anybody who ever owned any GM SUV a lot to like. I think the new Equinox is much more attractive, and the Terrain is, as they say, industrial-strength handsome. The new grille might have started out trying to be a trapezoid, but with all four corners rounded elegantly, it makes a striking first impression. The silhouette also is dramatically more appealing, and my favorite view of the vehicle is the rear corner.

  

New instrumentation can be clicked to different information with concise driver aid..

I didn’t realize that until the week following my test drive, when I was driving along on a short freeway stretch and spotted a very handsome car ahead and one lane over to my left. The way the side contours rose up slightly as they approach the rear, and almost meet the roofline caught my eye. I accelerated a bit so I could read the lettering on the rear: Terrain.

   That says a lot. I spent so much of the week driving the Terrain I didn’t spend any of it outside it, where I could appreciate the redesign.

Ford covers the long and short of SUV field

April 25, 2018 by · Comments Off on Ford covers the long and short of SUV field
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

 

At the most-compact end of the spectrum is Ford’s new EcoSport, with a 1.0-liter turbocharged 3-cylinder engine.

  Here is an interesting irony I’ve stumbled across — or maybe run over — while alternately complaining and evaluating the runaway passion U.S. consumers have for SUVs: In the ongoing race to fit an SUV into every available niche in the marketplace, we haves reached the point where all of them have positive reasons for their existence.

   Consider Ford. While reaching out all over the world, Ford has a pretty impressive stable of SUVs, starting with the compact Escape, then moving up to the Edge, then the Explorer, and finally the Expedition. Nice group, there. But wait, we have to plug in the Flex, which is that boxy but eminently useful midsize wagon/SUV compromise. And for 2018, there is a new player at the short end of the roster.

   The surprising and often-overlooked new entry in the Ford array is the EcoSport, a stubby little vehicle I drove briefly and saw at the Detroit and Chicago Auto Shows. Because I am most attracted to reduced-size vehicles that do the work of their larger brethren, I was happy to get an EcoSport for a week’s analysis, right after I had driven an Expedition for a week. With late-spring winter storms coming and going, it gave me an interesting perspective on how both might handle nasty weather, too. The EcoSport might be the biggest surprise of the whole batch, but hitting the high spot and the low spot of them all is required.

    If you tow an RV trailer or horse trailer, or have otherwise realistic needs to tow large objects, and you can afford to buy and drive a large SUV, the crop now on the marketplace makes an impressive group. If you prefer a card, you’d better hurry. Ford announced the last week of April, 2018, that it intends to phase out its North American sales of all cars except the Mustang and Focus over the next few year because of the greater popularity of trucks and SUVs.

  

Need a large SUV for hauling and towing? Redone Expedition has aluminuim body, 3.5-liter EcoBoost power, and impressive features..

The Expedition got Ford’s major makeover for 2018, switching to add power and lose weight at the same time. Going to a lot of aluminum in the body, similar to the latest F-150 pickup, relieved a lot of weight without compromising the solild structure over the steel frame.

   For power, the Expedition  offers only one engine, the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6, which comes with 375-400 horsepower and 470-480 foot-pounds of torque, blown through twin-turbochargers. With a 10-speed automatic, that powertrain sends the Expedition sailing off in a quick and sprightly manner, and it handles well in curves and corners, while riding smoothly in all circumstances. It may also leave you with barely 20-mpg or maybe just under 20, which is OK with all that available power, but could be a shortcoming against some competitors.

   You can get an off-road package on top of that, although it’s hard to visualize many cognizant folks taking such a large land-yacht off-road. Of more use is the towing capacity, which registers 9,300 pounds.

  

Classy leather seats set the tone for Expedition’s rich new interior features.

The Expedition Limited 4×4 has a starting price of $65,705, and with “stone” leather seats contrasting with the steely-blue exterior, and a few options, the sticker shows $70,155. For that you get the full suite of safety stuff, such as blind-spot detection, reverse sensors, auto start-stop, trailer-sway control, and all the various warning devices. 

   Of more use every day, there are some very neat features. A two-level glove box arrangement, various nooks and cubicles, a panoramic vista roof, voice-activated touchscreen navigation, and power control for all three rows of seats. For the front, that handles lumbar support, etc., in the second row, a power switch helps you tilt the backrest forward and tumble the buckets for easy entry into the third row. But the treat comes when you want to stash stuff in the way-back. Open the hatch and you see a large storage area behind the third row. On the left side of the body, there are a couple rows of buttons. The left panel causes the third-row seatbacks to fold, or the whole seat to disappear. The right side does the same for the second row, so without moving from the open hatch, you can power down the second and third rows and create an enormous storage space for all your worldlies.

  

Stowing goes from spacious to enormous at the touch of a rear-panel switch.

Expedition size fills the normal garage opening.

For the size of the Expedition, automatic running boards and handgrips are welcome additions. Its surprising agility is impressive, but its need for more room than you anticipate in order to park is something you need to learn immediately.

   There are no parking issues, on the other hand, with the EcoSport. I think the name is unfortunate, because Ford has its EcoBoost name for turbocharged engines, and Chevrolet tags every engine it turns out as EcoTech, so the “Eco” prefix has become almost generic. And this little beast deserves some credit for breaking new trails.

   Aerodynamically rounded, the EcoSport is blunt in front and compact from every angle. Four can fit inside comfortably, and while all-wheel-drive is a great asset, the test vehicle was only front-wheel-drive, but it showed no reluctance to track straight even in ferocious cross-winds coming off Lake Superior and hitting 54 mph in velocity.

 

Surprising room in the EcoSport makes it a useful city runabout with 30 miles per gallon.

  The reason for accepting the FWD plan is that the EcoSport comes with two engines. With the 2.0-liter normally-aspirated 4, you can get all-wheel drive. With the FWD, you get an amazing little 10-liter 3-cylinder EcoBoost engine — yes, three turbocharged cylinders. It turns out 123 horsepower, which isn’t a lot, but 148 foot-pounds of torque, which is actually a shade above the 146 foot-pounds of the larger 4.

   Besides, while driving it through all manner of city congestion, snowy hills, and freeway stretches, I was able to record 32 miles per gallon in most driving, and a “low” of about 29.5 in city only.

    Of course, you aren’t going to be towing anything with the EcoSport, but its quick-handling and lively acceleration, it qualifies as an SUV but it really is the ideal compromise between a small SUV and an economy hatchback.

   With the 1.0 turbo and 6-speed automatic, the EcoSport lists for $25,740 in Titanium trim as top of the line, but the test vehicle had the 1.0’s incentive package that reduced its sticker to $24,380 even fully-equipped.

  

Compact outside houses roomy EcoSport interior.

Stylish and efficient instruments work for all.

Its stop-start, blind spot information, hill-start assist, autostart, rear-view alerts and power moonroof work just as well as they do on the Expedition, and just as I was going to write that it was half the price, I looked again and realized the EcoSport is closer to one-third the price of the Expedition.

   After driving both vehicles, you come away impressed with all the nice features housed in the Expedition, but more amazed at all Ford could stuff int the comparatively tiny EcoSport.

   

    

       

   

   

New Buick Regal, Avenir stretch expectations

April 18, 2018 by · Comments Off on New Buick Regal, Avenir stretch expectations
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

Buick Regal sedan disappears for 2018, replaced by the TourX wagon.

    Buick has led a charmed life through the pitfalls of General Motors cutbacks and a highly competitive global auto industry. Some are puzzled by Buick’s continued success, or even existence. But it all makes sense, even if some of its newest vehicles are both surprising and intriguing.

   The biggest surprise is the Regal TourX, a curiously sized and shaped station wagon that seems surprisingly low and amazingly long.

   More subtle, perhaps, is the curiously named high-end version of the very successful Buick Enclave SUV, named the Avenir. It conjures up the idea that somebody, perhaps with a New Jersey accent, might have meant to name it “Avenue,” but missed, just a bit.

 

Popular Enclave SUV adds the Avenir as top-line model.

  By chance, I got the opportunity to spend a week test-driving both vehicles, which was a coincidence on its own. I got the two Buicks together, during one of those rare spells of Upper Midwest springtime — a rare couple of days of 50 degrees and sunshine on the North Shore of Lake Superior. As if to make sure I got valid tests of both vehicles, Mother Nature kicked in one of those 2018-special weeks, blasting Duluth with an 8-inch blizzard and accompanying it with some harsh winds off the big lake.

   No worries, because both vehicles have all-wheel drive, and are either “soft” SUVs or can impersonate them.

 

Plain but cautiously luxurious is the Avenir’s interior.

  I don’t mean soft in the weak sense, but more in the less-than-harsh suspension area, where both handle well enough but don’t conjure up the idea that you probably should go barreling through the woods on off-road adventures.

   The Enclave has been a favorite of mine since it was introduced, because it came out about the time that the huge General Motors group of SUVs — the Suburban, Tahoe, Escalade, and GMC Yukon and Ford Expedition and Navigator — had all seemed to be headed for extinction, and the Enclave seemed perfectly sized to step in as a three-row people hauler. The Enclave even sprung a smaller sibling, the Encore, as in what can you do for an Encore? Then came the Envision, as in, can you envision enough room in the marketplace to fit another SUV in between the Enclave and Encore?

Pleasing silhouette of redone Enclave offers upgrades to 3-row GM family of SUVs.

   Of course, we all know that the lowering of gas prices prompted American buyers to turn away from even slightly smaller SUVs and start clamoring again for the big guys. The Enclave comes with a 3.6-liter V6 with 302 horsepower and a lot of style in its just revised shape. The top of the line is called Avenir, and it has all the imagined luxury touches. There is no optional engine, and it comes connected to a 9-speed automatic transmission that works efficiently.

   The interior is nice, and in Avenir form has all the connectivity stuff.

   Now let’s switch to the Regal TourX. You can get the Regal in a nice-looking hatchback sedan, too, but if you really liked the basic Regal in all its forms, you might be disappointed to learn that there is no longer a garden-variety Regal.

Lower and longer, the TourX is a rebadged version of Germany’s Opel Insignia.

   Europeans always have retained a fondness for station wagons, while we in the Colonies have zig-zagged back and forth from wagons to minivans to SUVs, and continue to be all over the map. The European tie-in is significant, because if we go back to when GM discontinued Oldsmobile, Pontiac and Saturn. Those were shocking to most of us. Pontiac was GM’s performance outlet, Oldsmobile its high-tech brand, and Saturn its futuristic model. All gone, while Buick was retained, along with Chevrolet and Cadillac. And Buick’s reputation was the favorite of an aging population.

   Ah, but GM had an eye on China’s looming market, where a car company needed to partner with a Chinese company in order to sell cars in that vast country. Buick had become solidly imbedded, and was quite successful in China. Check on the history and you’d learn that Buick wasn’t selling Roadmasters and LaCrosses, but instead was selling rebadged Opels, from GM’s German line.

   So the first thing GM did at that stage was to rejuvenate Buick by giving it an all-new Regal midsize sedan. It quickly became my favorite GM sedan. Turns out, it was a rebadged Opel Vectra sedan. It was even built in Germany for a year, until GM could retool a North American plant.

 

Large storage area behind second row ofs seats adds to TourX versatility.

 

Comfortable leather buckets adorn new TourX interior.

All of that brings us around to this long, low wagon called the Regal TourX. It is a rebadged German wagon, the Opel Insignia wagon. The only catch in the story is that GM recently sold Opel to Peugeot in Europe. But in the process, GM kept a part of the contract alive, so that Opel would continue to build a version of the Insignia as the new Buick Regal wagon.

   The TourX has a U.S. built 2.0-liter 4-cylinder, attached to an 8-speed Aisin transmission, built in Japan. We’re told that the new GM 9-speed, as in the Avenir, will be coming soon to a Regal TourX near you.

   As it is, I thought the whole package came together well. Perhaps the best reason was that there also is a turbocharger fitted to the engine, so it delivers 250 horsepower and 295 foot-pounds of torque. That’s enough, in the all-wheel-drive version like I drove, to make the low and slinky TourX feel strong and swift, although when you pull onto a freeway and notice a large semi barreling down on you at 70-mph-plus, you stand on the gas and realize it’s not as sporty or quick when you need it as you anticipated.

  

Graceful lines, moderate price should make TourX popular.

If TourX is too small, larger Avenir expands Enclave line.

Handling is good, but not what you might call sporty. It is stable and secure, but  it fits that Buick reputation of being pleasantly cushy and comfortable, without leaning toward stiff or, dare we say, sporty. There are numerous sportier sedans and wagons, from BMW, Volkswagen, Audi, Volvo, but for a base price that starts around $25,000 and can rise to $40,000 with all the available attributes, the new Buick does its namesake proud.

   I don’t like the idea of the Regal going away in its normal form, but I’m willing to wait and see how the TourX does in the showroom. As some cynic said, and wagon, even if it’s not sporty or swift, is better than another in the seemingly endless list of SUVs. And if you must have an SUV, you can always walk across the Buick showroom and check out the Enclave. Take it for a drive, down the Avenir.

    

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