Nissan’s Fresh Armada


Cargazing
By Derek Price

In recent years, the Infiniti QX80 has topped my list of dream SUVs for road trips.
It’s so spacious, so quiet and so sumptuously smooth that it makes a Cadillac Escalade shod with 22-inch wheels feel like a dump truck in comparison, so I can’t think of any SUV I’d rather drive on the highway. The QX80 is just that good, assuming you want an old-school, cotton-candy luxury ride like I do.
Well, now the big Infiniti has some fresh competition from its corporate cousins at Nissan. The new 2017 Nissan Armada rides on the same platform, drives with almost the same panache and even shares much of the same styling with the QX80, all while starting at a dramatically lower price.
The new Armada starts at $44,400, which is not only a far cry from the QX80’s $63,250 base price but also very competitive with full-size SUV stalwarts like the Chevy Tahoe ($47,000) and Ford Expedition ($46,225).
Powered by a deep-throated but buttery-smooth 5.6-liter V8, the Armada makes 390 horsepower, letting Nissan claim best-in-class bragging rights. Interestingly, it’s also a bit less horsepower than this same engine makes in the QX80, which is tuned to burn premium fuel.
Longtime Nissan fans will note that this new Armada is no longer based on the Titan pickup truck’s underpinnings. Instead, it’s built around the legendary, tough-as-nails Patrol off-roader that Nissan sells globally.

Based on the same architecture as the Infiniti QX80, the new Nissan Armada is a spacious, powerful, off-road-capable SUV that starts around $44,000.

Based on the same architecture as the Infiniti QX80, the new Nissan Armada is a spacious, powerful, off-road-capable SUV that starts around $44,000.

The new design is roomier and much more comfortable to drive than the previous generation and still allows for some serious off-road capability when needed.
I drove the Armada both on-road and off, and it managed to shine equally well in both settings.
On the highway, it’s brilliantly composed as it smooths over the bumps without making you feel overly isolated from the road. Wind and road noise are impressively absent, a factor I’ve always loved about its Infiniti cousin.
It also manages to traverse steep hills and loose dirt with ease, something I wasn’t expecting from a vehicle that feels so nice on the pavement. Most SUVs make you choose one or the other — either go-anywhere capability or a comfortable ride on the street — but the Armada manages to do both jobs better than any vehicle I’ve seen in this price class.
In fact, the closest vehicles it compares with in capability and comfort both start around $85,000: the Toyota Land Cruiser and the Range Rover. It seems Nissan has found a way to offer a big, do-it-all vehicle for a fraction of the entry cost of those luxury models.

The new Armada’s cabin is roomier and better designed than the previous, Titan-based generation. It’s remarkably quiet and smooth over pavement.

The new Armada’s cabin is roomier and better designed than the previous, Titan-based generation. It’s remarkably quiet and smooth over pavement.

While I’ll admit it’s completely subjective, the biggest downside I see in the Armada is the way it looks. I can’t pin down one singular thing that bothers me about it, but I suspect that it’s trying to combine too many styling tricks at once — off-road bits, truck-like bits, luxury bits — and ends up smearing them together inelegantly into one vehicle. In the end, it looks like it came from an unfortunate gene pool.
Not everyone agrees. Innovative cars, just like innovative art, can be incredibly polarizing at first.
In fact, despite my reservations about this particular design, I’m thrilled that Nissan isn’t following the well-beaten path of lookalike, cookie-cutter SUVs and crossovers that are cluttering up our highways with their inoffensiveness. Too many of them are hard to tell apart these days, making you ask yourself, “Is that a Hyundai or a Honda? A Chevy or a Subaru?”
You never have to ask that about the new Nissans. Like the new Maxima sedan and gorgeous Murano crossover, the fresh Armada looks — and for that matter, drives — like nothing else on the road.

At a Glance

What was tested?
2017 Nissan Armada 4×4 Platinum ($59,990). Options: None. Price as tested (including $995 destination charge): $60,985
Wheelbase: 121.1 in.
Length: 208.9 in.
Width: 79.9 in.
Height: 75.8 in.
Engine: 5.6-liter Endurance V8 (390 hp, 394 ft. lbs.)
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 14 city, 19 highway

RATINGS

Style: 4
Performance: 9
Price: 10
Handling: 7
Ride: 9
Comfort: 10
Quality: 9
Overall: 9

Video Review:
2017 Nissan Armada
bit.ly/17armada

Why buy it?
An all-new generation of this three-row SUV makes it a capable off-roader with a soft, comfortable, quiet highway ride. It’s a rare combination, especially in this price range.

 

Posted in Nissan

A Super Makeover


Cargazing
By Derek Price

In more than 15 years of writing about the auto industry, this is the most dramatic turnaround I’ve ever seen.
It’s the new 2017 Ford Super Duty, and it’s such a monumental leap over the outgoing generation 2016 truck that they hardly seem like they could have come from the same firm.
Granted, I’ve never seen any company let an important vehicle get as crusty as Ford did with the old Super Duty, either. It’s been 18 years since an all-new, heavy-duty Ford truck came out.
Most truck makers move faster than that. Heck, continental plates move faster than that.
But for the construction workers, plumbers, contractors, oilfield workers and countless small businesses that rely on Ford trucks to do their jobs, the wait was worth it. This new generation truck is phenomenal.
For starters, it wins the all-important numbers war with a diesel engine that makes 440 horsepower and 925 pound-feet of torque, enough for 21,000 pounds of conventional towing or 32,500 pounds with a gooseneck trailer.
Yes, that means you’d need a commercial driver’s license to tow at its full capacity. Personally, I had no trouble towing up and down steep mountain grades northwest of Denver, including pulling a trailer with an F-150 pickup inside it. The Super Duty made it effortless. But with a 30,000-pound load, more similar in weight to what an 18-wheeler might pull, I had to ride along as a passenger while a CDL-carrying driver showed off what it could do.
So yes, it can do its job unbelievably well.

Like the Ford F-150, the new Super Duty makes extensive use of aluminum panels to save weight in the body. It used that weight savings, though, to dramatically beef up its frame for more capability and better performance than before.

Like the Ford F-150, the new Super Duty makes extensive use of aluminum panels to save weight in the body. It used that weight savings, though, to dramatically beef up its frame for more capability and better performance than before.

Much of the performance increase boils down to the materials used. Like the new F-150, it uses far more aluminum to reduce weight. But unlike the light-duty truck, Ford used much of that weight savings from the body to add additional weight to the frame, making it bigger, stronger and beefier than before — thus dramatically better for pulling heavy trailers or payloads.
What makes it remarkable, though, is how easy the Super Duty makes all that work seem. It’s the first heavy-duty truck available with adaptive cruise control, for example, with the ability to automatically speed up and slow down with traffic, even when pulling a loaded trailer up and down hills.
In fact, this truck is packed with impressive technology, most of which is centered around making towing easier, safer and more intuitive.
For example, Ford’s optional Trailer Reverse Guidance system uses a graphical icon to show you which way to turn the steering wheel if you want to back straight up — something surprisingly tricky that can make an inexperienced truck driver quickly look like a doofus.
Basically, this system is doofus insurance. It even warns you when there’s a risk of jackknifing, a potentially deadly form of doofery.

The Super Duty’s cabin mirrors the refinement of Ford’s latest-generation F-150 now. It offers an impressive array of high-tech features, many of which are centered around towing trailers — the job this truck was born to do.

The Super Duty’s cabin mirrors the refinement of Ford’s latest-generation F-150 now. It offers an impressive array of high-tech features, many of which are centered around towing trailers — the job this truck was born to do.

It’s also available with adaptive steering, a feature famously used by expensive European sports cars that makes it easier to turn at low speeds and less sensitive at highway speeds to keep the vehicle from feeling too twitchy. Comparing the trucks with adaptive steering to those without, the system makes a night-and-day difference to maneuverability, and I’m surprised it’s taken the world so long to bring this sports-car tech to big, honkin’ pickups where it makes so much more sense.
The new Super Duty is available with up to seven cameras, including ones that help you line up a trailer hitch or see remotely behind a trailer when backing up. A bird’s-eye-view mode lets you see 360 degrees around the truck, another feature more helpful on giant trucks than on the luxury cars where they’re more common.
How much does all this cost? Well, the base model starts around $33,000, just $150 more than the previous generation truck. The more luxurious F-250 Platinum costs around $62,000, while an F-450 Platinum with every option box checked will set you back a mind-blowing $87,000, according to Ford’s online configurator.

At a Glance

What was tested?
2017 Ford F-250 Platinum ($62,110). Options: None. Price as tested (including $1,195 destination charge): $63,305
Wheelbase: 159.8 in.
Length: 250 in.
Width: 105.9 in.
Height: 78.3 in.
Engine: 6.7-liter PowerStroke turbo diesel (440 hp, 925 ft. lbs.)
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy: Not rated

RATINGS

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

Video Review:
2017 Ford Super Duty
bit.ly/17superduty

Why buy it?
An all-new design — its first in 18 years — makes the 2017 Ford Super Duty lineup dramatically better and more capable. It has class-leading power, towing capacity and technology, along with a surprisingly quiet, smooth ride.

Posted in Ford

Cherokee Adds Luxury Trim


Cargazing
By Derek Price

If you want a Jeep that’s grand, there’s an obvious place to turn. It’s even in the name: the Grand Cherokee.
While high-end versions of the Grand Cherokee can easily top $50,000, there’s a new luxury Jeep that’s considerably smaller but also doesn’t require such a grand bank account. It’s a fresh, premium trim level for the smaller Cherokee called the Overland.
The 2017 Cherokee Overland has two rows of seats — again, not to be confused with the roomy, three-row Grand Cherokee that shares nothing but its Native American name — and has a layer of polished, sumptuous luxury that’s usually reserved for more expensive vehicles.
Priced around $35,000, the Cherokee Overland costs nearly $11,000 more than the base Cherokee and $5,000 more than the entry-level Grand Cherokee. It’s not cheap. But it justifies that price with premium content, including soft Nappa leather seats that are both heated and ventilated, a dream-car feature in the South.

The Jeep Cherokee has added a new, more luxurious Overland trim level with a higher grade of materials and quieter ride, mainly thanks to acoustic glass in the windshield and front doors.

The Jeep Cherokee has added a new, more luxurious Overland trim level with a higher grade of materials and quieter ride, mainly thanks to acoustic glass in the windshield and front doors.

The interior refinement is better than any Cherokee I’ve driven before, both from how the materials feel and how quiet it sounds over the road.
Silver anodized finishes on trim pieces remind me of the sleek look of new Apple phones. Still, the modern bits are overpowered by soft leather on the dash, Berber floor mats under your feet, and a leather and wood steering wheel, all of which leave a hint of the old-world British luxury that Land Rover has long succeeded at leveraging in expensive off-roaders.
Acoustic glass in the windshield and front doors helps to keep the wind noise out, too, adding to the upscale impression over the road.
Granted, the Overland is not the kind of Jeep I’d pick for serious off-roading. The Trailhawk remains the only beefed-up, trail-ready version of the Cherokee that I’d want to actually take on an expedition through the deep woods. If you’d like, though, you can get your Overland fitted with an optional “heavy duty protection group” that includes skid plates and a full-size spare tire, a must-have item if a sharp rock gives you a puncture when crawling through the middle of nowhere.

Heated and ventilated Nappa leather seats are part of the Overland package, along with extensive leather trim on the dash and a gorgeous wood steering wheel.

Heated and ventilated Nappa leather seats are part of the Overland package, along with extensive leather trim on the dash and a gorgeous wood steering wheel.

You can also opt for a trailer tow prep package that lets you take advantage of its respectable 2,000-pound towing capacity.
Interestingly, the Cherokee Trailhawk also moves more upscale this year with many of the same features the Overland gets, including a power lift gate, remote start, and those sweet heated and ventilated leather seats.
What sets them apart, then? It’s the suspension and styling.
The Trailhawk is the bad boy of the Cherokee lineup, with aggressive black and red badging, beefy tow hooks and a taller, tougher, stiffer suspension designed for crawling over rocks. That makes it great for traversing out in the wilderness but also less comfortable and quiet on pavement.
The Overland, in contrast, feels much better on the road, with a soft, reasonably supple suspension and classier looking exterior bits, including 18-inch wheels, chrome trim and body-color moldings.
Yes, you can get an Overland with skid plates, but I think all that chrome would look out of place on the trails. It’s much better suited for looking suave in the bright city lights.
As a whole, if you’re looking for a luxury SUV but don’t want to spend a fortune, the Cherokee Overland could make sense. It’s the nicest, plushest Cherokee to date. And most importantly, compared to a traditional, full-size luxury ride, it’ll save you a few grand.

At a Glance

What was tested?
2017 Jeep Cherokee Overland ($34,695). Options: 3.2-liter V6 ($1,745). Price as tested (including $995 destination charge): $37,435
Wheelbase: 105.26 in.
Length: 182 in.
Width: 73.2 in.
Height: 66.2 in.
Engine: 3.2-liter V6 (271 hp, 239 ft. lbs.)
Transmission: Nine-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 21 city, 29 highway

RATINGS

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

Video Review:
2017 Jeep Cherokee Overland
bit.ly/17cherokee

Why buy it?
The new Overland trim offers many of the same luxurious amenities and materials as upscale versions of the Grand Cherokee but in a smaller, more nimble and efficient package.

Posted in Jeep

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