A straightforward approach

By Derek Price
Automotive Writer

Nissan should have changed the name of today’s Pathfinder, a comfy, family-friendly crossover that shares nothing with its rough-riding, off-roading ancestors.
Then again, maybe Pathfinder is the perfect name for a vehicle that’s blazing a new trail for itself.
Whatever you call it, the current generation Pathfinder has morphed into something quite different for the Nissan brand. It doesn’t rely on avant-garde styling like its smaller cousin, the Murano, nor does it try to be sporty and thrilling like the Altima and Maxima sedans.
Unlike the style-oriented Nissan Murano, the Pathfinder takes a more traditional approach to design. This three-row crossover is a great fit for family road trips.

Unlike the style-oriented Nissan Murano, the Pathfinder takes a more traditional approach to design. This three-row crossover is a great fit for family road trips.

It simply does its job as a family hauler, which is unusually straightforward for this Japanese brand.
The Pathfinder is certainly spacious, offering NBA-caliber knee room in all three rows of seating, and exudes a sense of higher quality than many of its competitors. Honda and Toyota in particular ought to be jealous that Nissan has managed to cram acres of soft-touch materials and tightly assembled parts into the Pathfinder’s logical, practical cabin.
That used to be their turf.
It also drives as nicely as any big crossover on the market — assuming you’re not expecting something sporty. A soft, compliant suspension and highly effective sound insulation make it a great highway cruiser.
If I want to get picky, there are two things I’d like to see changed on it.
One is adding Bluetooth to the base model. Believe it or not, Nissan provides the wireless hands-free phone connection on the $11,990 base Versa Sedan but not on the $29,630 base Pathfinder. That’s crazy.
The other is adding a little more cargo space behind the third-row seat. You can fold down the back seat to have tons of room for hauling your stuff, but with the seat up it seems rather limited. Nissan favors legroom over cargo volume in this cabin configuration, which is great for carrying people but not so great when you need to load up their luggage.
My tester rang up at $39,160, or about $10 grand more than the base version, and it reminded me of the higher priced luxury crossovers sitting on Infiniti lots. The Infiniti QX60 starts at $42,400, and that’s before you add any options, making the Nissan seem like a steal when you look at the polish and features you get for the money.

The Pathfinder has one of today’s best designed cabins, including dedicated buttons for the navigation system and radio. That means the driver doesn’t have to use a complicated touchscreen interface as often as in some cars.

The Pathfinder has one of today’s best designed cabins, including dedicated buttons for the navigation system and radio. That means the driver doesn’t have to use a complicated touchscreen interface as often as in some cars.

Another plus is how easy all those features are to use. Connecting your smartphone and running the navigation system are super simple, so you shouldn’t have to constantly refer to the owner’s manual to figure it out.
I also like how the Pathfinder doesn’t force you to use the touchscreen all the time. It’s got enough physical knobs and buttons to let you quickly change the radio station or zoom in on the map, for example, without sending you to the Land of Digital Confusion — a popular destination for too many of today’s cars.
It’s a three-row crossover that does its job without any gimmicks, a rare and wonderful thing in 2015.

At a Glance

What was tested?
2015 Nissan Pathfinder SL 4×2 ($36,060). Options: Carpeted floor mats ($210), SL Tech Package ($2,030). Price as tested (including $880 destination charge): $39,160
Wheelbase: 114.2 in.
Length: 197.2 in.
Width: 77.2 in.
Height: 70.2 in.
Engine: 3.5-liter V6 (260 horsepower, 240 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: Xtronic CVT with D-Step Logic Control
Estimated Mileage: 20 city, 27 highway

RATINGS
Style: 7
Performance: 7
Price: 8
Handling: 6
Ride: 9
Comfort: 9
Quality: 9
Overall: 8

Video Review:
2015 Nissan Pathfinder
bit.ly/2015pathfinder

Why buy it? 
It’s a comfortable, practical family hauler with a quality feel. It has ample knee space a smooth, luxurious ride on the highway.

Posted in Nissan

A new path for SUVs

By Derek Price
Automotive Writer

Take a look at pictures of this car, the Trax, and guess how big it is.
This newest crossover from Chevrolet may look like a roomy family car in photos thanks to its SUV-like face, but in reality it’s about a foot shorter than compact sedans like the Kia Forte and Honda Civic. And that means you have to re-think exactly what the word “crossover” means when you drive one.
Fortunately for General Motors, pint-size crossovers like the Trax are a fast-growing niche in today’s car world. They have the fuel efficiency and nimble driving feel of compact cars, but they look more upscale and have more practical interiors for busy lives.

The Chevrolet Trax has the styling swagger of a big, SUV-like crossover, but it’s actually dramatically smaller than most.

The Chevrolet Trax has the styling swagger of a big, SUV-like crossover, but it’s actually dramatically smaller than most.

That’s why sales in this category are expected to grow a whopping 80 percent in the next few years.
They also can be surprisingly comfortable on road trips, as I found out on a long drive from Texas to Ohio in the new Trax. Its suspension is tuned to be softer — and hence much more comfortable for long days on the interstate — than sportier competitors like the Nissan Juke and Kia Soul.
The Trax shares its family tree with the Buick Encore, so that squishy ride shouldn’t really be a surprise. The Chevy version will save you around $4,000 compared to its luxury-oriented cousin from Buick, but it’s got the same basic architecture, spaciousness and practicality.
It’s obvious where GM cut corners to save that four grand, though. Compared to the Encore, my Trax test car had more wind and road noise and a cheaper feeling cabin with a disappointing abundance of hard plastics.
Still, it’s hard to complain about a car that starts under $21,000, an almost unheard-of price for crossovers in 2015.
And it’s even harder to complain when you look at the standard features it includes at that price. There’s the air conditioning and power windows and locks, which you’d expect, but also a long list of things you wouldn’t: a seven-inch touch screen, built-in Wi-Fi hotspot, 10 air bags, USB port and remote keyless entry.
You can also rack up the luxury options, if you choose, by adding all-wheel drive, a Bose sound system, heated front seats, rear park assist and 18-inch wheels on the higher-end trim levels.
Just for fun, I spec’d out a loaded Trax on Chevy’s website to see what it would cost. A fully optioned LTZ with all-wheel drive can cross the $30,000 mark, but it takes some work. You’ve got to go crazy on the option boxes to get there.

Because of its bulbous shape, the Trax interior feels spacious and airy, despite its short length. It has more than 48 cubic feet of cargo space when you fold the rear sets down.

Because of its bulbous shape, the Trax interior feels spacious and airy, despite its short length. It has more than 48 cubic feet of cargo space when you fold the rear sets down.

Power comes from a turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine that’s a good fit for this car. It makes 138 horsepower, which is adequate, while earning a 34-mpg highway rating for fuel economy.
It’s also only available with one transmission: a six-speed automatic.

At a Glance

What was tested?
2015 Chevrolet Trax LT FWD ($22,445). Options: LT Plus Package ($670). Price as tested (including $875 destination charge): $23,990
Wheelbase: 100.6 in.
Length: 168.5 in.
Width: 69.9 in.
Height: 65.9 in.
Engine: 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder (138 horsepower, 148 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Estimated Mileage: 26 city, 34 highway

RATINGS
Style: 7
Performance: 5
Price: 10
Handling: 6
Ride: 8
Comfort: 8
Quality: 7
Overall: 7

Video Review:
2015 Chevrolet Trax
bit.ly/2015trax

Why buy it?
It has the bold SUV styling of a crossover vehicle and a lot of standard features for the money. It also has the nimble maneuverability and fuel efficiency of a compact sedan, but with more cargo space and versatility.

Posted in Chevrolet

Safe, solid performer

By Derek Price
Automotive Writer

Volvo ought to be shouting from the rooftops about its new lineup because they’re some of the best driving, most solid-feeling cars for sale today.
Weirdly, though, I rarely see any ads for this Swedish brand, making me wonder whether I’m just watching the wrong TV channels or whether Volvo poured all its capital into developing awesome new products, leaving only a few crumbs left for marketing.
Usually it’s the other way around: mediocre cars backed up by a gazillion-dollar marketing campaign that makes so-so vehicles seem more palatable.
The Volvo XC60 is a handsome looking crossover that doesn’t follow the pack. From its styling to its safety innovations, it would rather set the tone than follow the herd — a rare thing in mid-size crossovers.

The Volvo XC60 is a handsome looking crossover that doesn’t follow the pack. From its styling to its safety innovations, it would rather set the tone than follow the herd — a rare thing in mid-size crossovers.

Volvo has even managed to create a vehicle that gets attention in the most competitive, least forgiving segment of the car industry. Every single manufacturer is offering a great two-row family crossover this year — their sales would get hammered if they didn’t — but Volvo’s XC60 entry stands out from this near-perfect pack for several reasons.
One, it looks different. With very rare exceptions, crossover vehicles are all copying the same dull theme with jellybean bodies, squinty headlights and big, bold grilles. And when everybody does that, it doesn’t seem so bold anymore.
The XC60 takes a more original tack with its body styling, using deeply carved shoulders and a squarish stance that makes it seem more utilitarian. It has an honesty to it with just a hint of athleticism, and I like that.
Two, its engines are some of the world’s best. Volvo has started using various combinations of turbochargers and superchargers across its lineup to squeeze crazy amounts of horsepower and fuel economy from small-displacement engines.
An engine that makes 302 horsepower and still ekes out a 30-mpg highway rating in the roomy XC60? Yes, please.
And three, it drives with a solidity that’s becoming rarer with each passing year. In a race to get better fuel economy and meet government standards, many of today’s newly designed cars are starting to feel more hollowed-out, but that’s not the case with Volvos. My tester felt like I was driving around in a brick, and I love that feeling when I’ve got kids in the car.

Split-folding rear seats in the XC60 can create a flat loading surface, giving lots of versatility for hauling gear and passengers. It’s a two-row crossover with a generous cargo area behind the back seat.

Split-folding rear seats in the XC60 can create a flat loading surface, giving lots of versatility for hauling gear and passengers. It’s a two-row crossover with a generous cargo area behind the back seat.

Of course, being a Volvo, the XC60 is available with well-executed versions of all today’s hottest safety gadgets. Its optional electronics will warn you before you do anything stupid, whether backing out into crossing traffic, changing lanes when another car is in your blind spot, or even hitting a car in front of you. I had the impression that the electronics in my test car were always looking over my shoulder, trying to keep me from being an idiot.
Luxuries and safety upgrades can quickly add to the price, though. While the base XC60 starts at $36,200, my all-wheel drive, loaded test vehicle rang up at $52,225.

At a Glance

What was tested?
2015.5 Volvo XC60 T6 AWD ($42,400). Options: Platinum package ($4,400), climate package and child booster seats ($1,550), sport seats ($500), BLIS ($900), metallic paint ($550), 20-inch wheels ($1,000). Price as tested (including $925 destination charge): $52,225
Wheelbase: 109.2 in.
Length: 182.8 in.
Width: 74.4 in.
Height: 67.4 in.
Engine: 3.0-liter Six Cylinder Twin Turbo (300 horsepower, 325 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: Six-speed Geartronic automatic
Estimated Mileage: 17 city, 24 highway

RATINGS
Style: 9
Performance: 10
Price: 7
Handling: 6
Ride: 8
Comfort: 8
Quality: 10
Overall: 10

Video Review:
2015.5 Volvo XC60
bit.ly/2015volvo

Why buy it? 
It stands out in the hotly competitive family crossover space. Its Swedish good looks, best-in-class powertrains and high-tech safety features make it a winner.

Posted in Volvo

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