Versa Feels Upscale

Cargazing
By Derek Price
Nissan redesigned its Versa compact car to be dramatically more refined last year while keeping its starting price under $15,000.
It’s a remarkable upgrade for the plucky Versa, which until recently was noteworthy more for its low price than its driving experience. That changes with this third-generation design that looks and feels more like a premium product.
The superficial things are the easiest to notice, including fresh, modern styling on the outside and a completely revamped, feature-packed cabin inside.
The lower, wider, longer body looks more aggressive, especially up front where the current iteration of Nissan’s “V motion” grille seems fitting.
Inside, there’s a much more contemporary overall look, including a 7-inch touchscreen perched above the center console and push-button start. Soft materials and tight construction leave the impression of a more well-built, solid car than before.
The changes under the surface, though, are even more impressive, including a stiff-feeling chassis, compliant suspension tuning and good sound insulation to deliver a quiet, smooth ride for this price level.

Nissan’s Versa compact car got an all-new design recently with more content, a fresh look and a 40-mpg rating for highway fuel economy.

It’s a lot of little changes that add up to a big difference for the Versa. The power steering shaft is 30 percent stiffer than before, for example, and changes in the thickness and design of body panels help it feel more rock-like. The wider, lower stance also contributes to better handling that can feel sporty at times.
Fortunately, Nissan is keeping the Versa’s manual transmission available. It’s a great option for people who want a more responsive, engaging drive than the continuously variable transmission (CVT) “upgrade” can provide.
My tester came with the CVT. While it continues to get better and will surely be the most popular choice with buyers, I’d stick with the manual. A CVT detracts from what could be a really fun experience on the road.
Power comes from a 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine that makes 122 horsepower. It feels adequate but never exciting from the driver’s seat,  saving its wildest thrills for when you swipe your credit card at the gas pump.

The Versa’s cabin feels more upscale with better materials and tighter construction than the previous generation. New suspension tuning and better overall sound insulation make it much more pleasant to drive on the highway.

The Versa is rated for 32 mpg in the city 40 on the highway with the CVT transmission. The five-speed manual drops those numbers to 27 and 35.
A suite of safety features called Nissan Safety Shield 360 is impressive in this class. It includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection and rear automatic braking to prevent wrecks, lane departure warning, high beam assist, blind spot warning and rear cross traffic alert.
Pricing starts at $14,980 for the base S grade with a manual transmission or $16,650 with the CVT. The mid-range SV Is priced from $17,790, while the top-end SR starts at $18,390.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2021 Nissan Versa SR ($18,390). Options: Convenience package ($400), premium paint ($395). Price as tested (including $925 destination charge): $20,110
Wheelbase: 103.1 in.
Length: 177 in.
Width: 68.5 in.
Height: 57.7 in.
Engine: 1.6-liter four cylinder (122 hp, 114 ft.-lbs.)
Transmission: Continuously variable
Fuel economy: 32 city, 40 highway

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

Why buy it?
It’s a lot of car for the money. It looks and feels more substantial after a complete redesign last year that makes it roomier and more refined.

Posted in Nissan

F-150 All-New for 2021

Cargazing
By Derek Price
What I expected from the new Ford F-150 was evolution, the latest iteration of subtle changes that make “all-new” more hyperbole than reality.
What I experienced was revolution.
The new 2021 F-150, despite its glacially slow styling changes on the outside, really does seem all-new under the skin. It’s the lightest feeling, most nimble handling full-size truck I’ve ever driven, moving more like a swift wide receiver than the lumbering offensive linemen that most trucks embody.
A big part of that is because of continued revisions and improvements to the F-150’s ahead-of-its-time aluminum body, something Ford consistently and somewhat humorously reminds buyers is like the military, not like the foil.
Regardless of the associations, this newest aluminum-bodied Ford is remarkable in its ability to bridge comfort, capability, utility and efficiency. It can tow a class-leading 14,000 pounds, a mind-blowing number for what is technically considered a “light duty” truck, while still delivering a comfortable ride for everyday driving.

While its overall appearance has been a slower evolution than the Ram and Chevrolet trucks it competes with, the Ford F-150 gets an all-new design for 2021 that feels fresh and modern under the skin.

Even with the FX4 off-road package on my tester, a suspension package designed for trails and rocks that could create a rough feeling on F-150s of the past, this is an incredibly smooth and quiet pickup. It almost rivals the new-generation Ram 1500 in terms of silence and smoothness on the highway, something that wasn’t true last year.
The cabin is where the F-150 truly starts looking like a new-generation pickup, with the option for digital displays that seemingly cover acres of dash space.
A  gigantic, 12-inch touchscreen — standard equipment on XLT High trims and above — can be split multiple ways to control several functions at the same time. I used it to run Apple CarPlay on one section of the screen while using Ford’s interface to control other things simultaneously, something impossible without large digital real estate.
Another 12-inch screen behind the steering wheel provides the flashiest, most useful and modern looking instrument layout I’ve ever seen in a truck. It can be customized with the information and style the driver wants, showing everything from which gear is engaged to information about music playing through the sound system.
This is a truck, though, and truck technology should be more about work than flash. That’s another area in which the new F-150 shines.

The F-150’s cabin showcases new technologies, including the ability to estimate the weight of payloads using sensors in the truck.

Several innovative features on the new Ford pickup are the first ever offered in this class, including Onboard Scales that measure weights of payloads. It estimates the weight of cargo in the bed and shows a graphic for how much capacity is remaining to stay within limits.
In addition, the new Smart Hitch can measure the tongue weight of a trailer to minimize the risk of swaying when towing, while Continuously Controlled Damping adjusts the truck’s ride based on how much weight it senses.
Many of the things that make the F-150 the nation’s most popular vehicle continue for 2021. You can order it in an almost infinite number of combinations, including six powertrains, one of which is a hybrid for the first time ever. There are three cab styles, long beds, short beds, and trim levels that range from bare bones to sumptuous luxury.
The downside, like all of today’s pickups, is the price. The F-150 does a spectacular job as a “do it all” vehicle, but it comes with the expense to match. The most basic version is priced around $29,000, and outfitting it exactly how you want can quickly drive the price higher, as seen in my $68,000 tester.
The F-150 Limited tops the lineup at $70,825, before you add any options.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2021 Ford F-150 SuperCrew 4×4 Lariat ($50,980). Options: Equipment group 502A ($6,920), 3.5-liter V6 EcoBoost ($1,400), 3.55 electronic locking rear axle ($470), tow technology package ($880), power running boards ($1,220), Ford Co-Pilot360 Active 2.0 Prep Package ($995), Pro Power Onboard 7.2 KW ($750), interior work surface ($165), FX4 off-road package ($1,005), power tailgate ($695), Lariat Sport appearance package ($300), wheel well liner ($180), spray-in Berliner ($595). Price as tested (including $1,695 destination charge): $68,250
Wheelbase: 157.2 in.
Length: 243.5 in.
Width: 95.7 in.
Height: 77.6 in.
Engine: 3.5-liter turbocharged V6 (400 hp, 500 ft.-lbs.)
Transmission: 10-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 18 city, 23 highway

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

Why buy it?
It’s an improvement on the most popular vehicle in the United States, making it stronger, more refined and more capable. It can tow up to 14,000 pounds and has a smoother, quieter ride at the same time.

Posted in Ford

Expedition Can Do It All

Cargazing
By Derek Price

There’s a reason full-size, truck-based SUVs remain relevant in a world saturated with more fuel-efficient crossovers.
It’s all about what they can do.
A week behind the wheel of the beefy Ford Expedition reminds me just how much more these vehicles can accomplish than a regular passenger car.
Need to haul people? You and seven friends can pile in with room to spare.
Need to relax on the highway? This is a quiet and smooth way to gobble up miles of pavement from the comfort of soft, recliner-like seats.
Need to do some towing? The Expedition can pull up to 9,300 pounds, enough to eliminate the need for a separate pickup for some families.
Need to drive off road? Even the base version is built for it with nearly 10 inches of ground clearance, and the optional FX4 package adds premium off-road shocks, skid plates, protection under the fuel tank and a 360-degree camera to better see the trails.

The 2021 Ford Expedition tows up to 9,300 pounds, more than any other vehicle in its class, Ford claims.

It’s remarkable that one vehicle can do all this, combining the best traits of a Jeep, a Lexus and a pickup truck in one package. But there are some tradeoffs.
The Expedition suffers from the same downsides all body-on-frame SUVs: gas mileage, handling and price.
My tester is rated for 17 mpg in city driving and 22 on the highway. Two-wheel-drive versions aren’t much better, only upping the highway number to 23.
You can feel the Expedition’s hefty weight every time it changes direction, and a starting price nearly $50,000 keeps it out of reach for some families.
If you can afford it and don’t mind burning the gas, though, this is a great do-it-all vehicle for work and play. It can haul materials to a job site, take kids to school and tow a boat to the lake on weekends. It’s easy to see the appeal.
You can get an even bigger version, the MAX, for about $5,000 more. It adds around a foot in extra length to give you 17 more cubic feet of cargo capacity.
Power comes from a turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 that makes 375 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque. The power delivery reminds me of pickup-truck V8s from the past, but the sound and smoothness are more car-like, helped by Ford’s ever-unflustered 10-speed transmission.
An upgraded version of the same engine makes 400 horsepower in the top-of-range Platinum version.
Aside from the sheer audacity of driving something this big and capable, the most surprising thing about my test drive was how refined the Expedition has become for on-road driving.
A complete redesign for 2018 made it drive more like a car than ever before, including excellent wind and sound insulation and a softly sprung suspension for a floating, serene highway ride. I was pleasantly surprised at the turning radius for a truck this size.

The Expedition can be outfitted to a high level of luxury, including the Western-themed King Ranch version, pictured here.

My tester, the mid-range Limited grade, benefits from a plush, spacious cabin with lots of content. It has more hard plastics and glaringly artificial materials than I’d like to see with an as-tested price over $70,000, though.
As a whole, it delivers a lot of capability and comfort for people who want to get everything they need in one vehicle.
Pricing starts at $49,995 for the XL STX version, which only has seating for five. The more traditional Expedition with three rows of seats starts at $52,810 for the XLT trim.
The Limited adds a lot of luxury content, including power running boards, 20-inch wheels and premium sound, while the King Ranch starts at $72,735 with insanely huge 22-inch wheels and a Western-themed luxury cabin.
The Platinum trim tops the lineup at $73,775 with a more contemporary look and feel, plus the more powerful, 400-horsepower EcoBoost engine.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2021 Ford Expedition Limited 4×4 ($64,625). Options: Equipment group 302A ($3,820), Texas Edition Package ($2,075). Price as tested (including $1,695 destination charge): $72,215
Wheelbase: 122.5 in.
Length: 210 in.
Width: 93.4 in.
Height: 76.4 in.
Engine: 3.5-liter turbocharged V6 (375 hp, 470 ft.-lbs.)
Transmission: 10-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 17 city, 22 highway

RATINGS
Style: 6
Performance: 8
Price: 6
Handling: 5
Ride: 8
Comfort: 9
Quality: 6
Overall: 6

Why buy it?
The Expedition is all about capability. It can tow heavy loads, haul bulky cargo, go off-roading and carry eight people in luxurious comfort.

Posted in Uncategorized

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