Basic BMW a fine ride

By Derek Price
Automotive Writer

The 2-Series may be BMW’s entry-level model this year, but don’t let that fool you. It doesn’t drive anything like an entry-level car.
Granted, with a starting price of $32,100 — and escalating quickly when you add a few options — it’s hard to argue that it’s a clearance-rack compact car. But it does deliver the driving magic of BMW’s bigger sports coupes in a smaller, lighter, easier-to-handle package.
In fact, while it may be weird for a “car guy” to admit this, I actually enjoy driving BMW’s smaller, less powerful cars like the 2-Series even more than its bigger, faster and far more expensive siblings. The driving experience becomes more about balance, beauty and control than brute, overwhelming force.
And that’s important for one reason. The 2-Series lets you push the car’s limits without risking an arrest record.
Cars like the M3 and M5, as brilliant as they are, simply can’t be enjoyed to the max unless you buy expensive track time or don’t mind spending a few nights in the local sheriff’s hotel. Besides which, most drivers like me — those with mere mortal skills — can’t come close to wringing the full performance out of them. It’s a waste unless your last name is Andretti, Vettel or Earnhardt.
But cars like the 2-Series, and especially the 228i with the entry-level engine like I tested, can be pushed hard enough to make you grin on public roads.

The BMW 2-Series is a modern take on the classic, timeless sports coupe. It offers impressive balance and grip, particularly with the new Track Handling Package, along with BMW’s signature styling.

The BMW 2-Series is a modern take on the classic, timeless sports coupe. It offers impressive balance and grip, particularly with the new Track Handling Package, along with BMW’s signature styling.

I loved just about everything on my $37,550 tester. From its timeless good looks to its precision-built cabin, it’s tough to find anything to complain about on this car. It feels like a gift from the German engineering gods.
Back seat room and trunk space are both limited, if you want to get picky, but that should be no surprise in a small coupe.
I was particularly happy that BMW fitted the test car with its new Track Handling Package ($2,200), which gives you upgraded brakes, an adaptive M suspension, variable steering and wonderfully sticky Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires. It seems like a bargain for what you get.
Also new for this year’s 2-Series is xDrive, BMW’s all-wheel drive system that can improve traction and handling on slick roads. It’s an $1,800 upgrade.

The BMW 2-Series’ cabin has a level of precision that matches the German brand’s reputation. While not as luxurious as BMW’s bigger cars, it exudes a higher quality and more attention to detail than most small sports coupes.

The BMW 2-Series’ cabin has a level of precision that matches the German brand’s reputation. While not as luxurious as BMW’s bigger cars, it exudes a higher quality and more attention to detail than most small sports coupes.

It’s also worth mentioning that there is a convertible version of the 2-Series starting just under $38,000. The coupe is a blast to drive, but personally, I think the drop-top version would be even better.
While I was perfectly satisfied with the 240-horsepower base engine in the 228i, speed freaks would be more pleased with the 320 horses on tap in the M235i model. It offers more performance upgrades on top of the power boost, starting at $43,100 for the coupe and $47,700 for the convertible.

At a Glance

What was tested?
2015 BMW 228i xDrive Coupe ($33,900). Options: Track Handling Package ($2,200), brushed aluminum trim ($500). Price as tested (including $950 destination charge): $37,550
Wheelbase: 105.9 in.
Length: 174.7 in.
Width: 69.8 in.
Height: 55.8 in.
Engine: Turbocharged 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder (240 hp, 255 lbs.-ft. torque)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Estimated Mileage: 23 city, 35 highway

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

Video Review:
2015 BMW 2 Series
bit.ly/2015BMW2

Why buy it?
It’s BMW’s most affordable model but still handles like a premium product. It’s got a balanced, easy-to-handle driving feel that makes it fun to push the performance envelope.

Posted in BMW

Nissan Maxima goes big

By Derek Price
Automotive Writer

When Nissan wanted inspiration for its all-new Maxima, it knew one place to go: the Blue Angels’ Naval Air Station in Florida.
Plenty of cars have named fighter jets as their muse through the years, but Nissan took it a step further by looking at where some of the most prestigious pilots in the world spend their working hours.
The result? The Maxima’s interior is one of the best on the market, and that includes cars from luxury brands like Lexus and BMW. Nissan’s interior designers really hit it out of the park.
Not only does it get the obvious stuff right — putting all the controls within easy reach — but it adds some fighter-jet drama by angling the entire center stack toward the driver and lifting up the console higher than in most cars.
You don’t sit in the new Maxima so much as you let the car wrap around you like a cocoon. It’s a cool feeling.
Nissan is wild about the Maxima’s “four-door sports car” nickname, but I’m a skeptic. In a presidential debate, I’d have to say, “I’ve known sports cars. I’ve driven sports cars. And you, sir, are no sports car.”

New for 2016, the Nissan Maxima sports a fresh look that makes it stand out on the road. Its body is bolder and more inventive than most four-door cars.

New for 2016, the Nissan Maxima sports a fresh look that makes it stand out on the road. Its body is bolder and more inventive than most four-door cars.

Still, it’s faster and more fun than most four-door cars are. It has a solid, almost German driving feel to it, taking a much more heavy-handed approach to its sports-car ambitions than, say, Mazda does with its light, nimble feeling Mazda6.
Power from the Maxima’s 300-horsepower V6 feels spectacular despite being shoved through a continuously variable transmission (CVT), which I would normally consider a mortal sin in a sporty car.
Nissan, though, seems to be making better CVTs with each new car it introduces, and that’s certainly the case with this one. While its first efforts a few years ago felt strange and rubber-band-like, this all-new transmission does a great job mimicking the feel of a traditional automatic — even faking “shift points” when you really nail the accelerator. Its fast response makes it my favorite Nissan CVT to date.
A specially tuned sport suspension on the SR version ($37,670) does a good job flattening out the car in corners without making it too harsh on the highway. Enthusiasts might prefer firmer shocks and springs, but I think this is a sport package I could live with every day.

The Maxima’s cabin is spectacular, especially in the upscale Platinum trim level.

The Maxima’s cabin is spectacular, especially in the upscale Platinum trim level.

My favorite trim, though, isn’t the sporty one. It’s the fancy Platinum level ($39,860), which was created when a FedEx driver made a mistake by accidentally delivering Rolls-Royce’s leather to the Nissan factory. At least, that’s how I imagine it. The diamond quilted seats just seem way too sumptuous to belong in a $40,000 car, but kudos to Nissan for getting it done.
Pricing starts at $32,410 for the 2016 Maxima, which is about $10,000 more than the starting point for Nissan’s smaller, less luxurious Altima sedan.

At a Glance

What was tested?
2016 Nissan Maxima Platinum ($39,860). Options: None. Price as tested (including $825 destination charge): $40,685
Wheelbase: 109.3 in.
Length: 192.8 in.
Width: 73.2 in.
Height: 56.5 in.
Engine: 3.5-liter V6 (300 hp, 261 lbs.-ft. torque)
Transmission: Xtronic CVT with manual shift mode
Estimated Mileage: 22 city, 30 highway

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

Video Review:
2016 Nissan maxima
bit.ly/16maxima

Why buy it?
It has the premium feel and performance you would expect from a luxury brand. It’s totally new, inside and out, with aggressive body styling and one of the best interiors available in any car today.

Posted in Nissan

New Ford is true innovator

By Derek Price
Automotive Writer

Ford’s all-new F-150 pickup is getting lots of attention for its pioneering aluminum body structure — and rightfully so.
But before we get to what makes this truck so innovative, let’s get one thing out of the way first: it’s just a great truck.
Even without the exotic metal, Ford has managed to pack enough technology and performance into this truck to set a new industry standard. You can get it with a 360-degree camera view to help you when parking and maneuvering in tight spots, for example, along with integrated loading ramps in back and LED headlamps up front.
One of my favorite features is a camera in the rear that lets you back up to hitch a trailer without the help of a spotter. It shows the steering wheel angle on a digital display to help you line up the truck and trailer by yourself.
And then there’s the remote-controlled tailgate, a feature that, personally, I don’t see tons of practical value for — but it sure is cool to show off in a parking lot when you press a button on the remote and watch the tailgate slowly lower itself down.

The 2015 Ford F-150 makes extensive use of aluminum body panels to shave 700 pounds from its weight.

The 2015 Ford F-150 makes extensive use of aluminum body panels to shave 700 pounds from its weight.

Then again, a great truck isn’t about packing in the most gadgets. It’s about doing a job, and the new F-150 is rated to do tougher work than ever before.
It raises the bar for both towing and payload capability, with 12,200 and 3,300 pounds respectively, and handles better than any other full-size truck on the market today. The way it changes direction so crisply in corners is remarkable for a full-size truck, and its fuel efficiency ratings are anywhere from 5 to 20 percent better than the outgoing F-150, depending on the exact model you pick.
Of course, the handling and fuel economy are directly related to the most amazing thing about this truck: the fact that it’s using aluminum construction on a scale never before attempted in the history of automobiles.
Aluminum isn’t new to the car world. It’s been around since the early days of motor racing, where weight savings made the difference between winning and losing. And it’s been used on exotic sports cars and a few high-end luxury cars for years.
But aluminum is very new to the truck world, especially on the kind of scale required for the F-150, one of the best-selling vehicles on Planet Earth. Ford is seriously, bravely breaking new ground with this truck by using aluminum to shave its weight by an incredible 700 pounds.

Don’t think for a second that an aluminum truck is a flimsy truck, though. You can knock on any of the panels, and they feel solid and strong, nothing like a Coke can or the sheet of metal foil covering potato salad in your fridge.
Ford worked with Alcoa to develop a special aluminum alloy for the F-150, sort of like what the U.S. armed forces use to armor-plate their vehicles. It feels just as tough and strong as you would expect in a truck designed to do dirty jobs.
So, my hat’s off to the folks at Ford. They’ve built an amazing truck that just happens to show the globe what it means to be truly innovative in the auto industry.

At a Glance

What was tested?
2015 Ford F-150 4×4 Supercab ($37,005). Options: Equipment group 301A ($2,150), 2.7-liter V6 EcoBoost engine ($795), remote start ($195), LED side mirror spotlights ($175), tailgate step ($375), integrated trailer brake control ($275), LED box lighting ($125), XLT chrome appearance package ($1,695), cloth 40 console 40 ($125), spray-in bedliner ($475). Price as tested (including $1,195 destination charge): $44,585
Wheelbase: 145 in.
Length: 231.9 in.
Width: 96.8 in.
Height: 75.5 in.
Engine: 2.7-liter EcoBoost V6 (325 hp, 375 lbs.-ft. torque)
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Estimated Mileage: 18 city, 23 highway

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

Video Review:
2015 Ford F-150
bit.ly/newf-150

Why buy it?
It’s a huge improvement in terms of handling, fuel economy and technology. It makes Ford an industry leader once again.

Posted in Ford

Reviews