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

V8-powered Titan still strong

By Derek Price
Automotive Writer

First things first: The Nissan Titan is in need of an update, which is why there’s an all-new version of this pickup coming out for 2016. I can’t wait to drive it.
For now, though, the current generation Titan can still get the job done for certain types of buyers as it reaches the end of its lifespan. People who need a powerful V8 and a brilliantly designed cargo tie-down system for a work truck could be well served by the big Nissan, and they might find some great bargains on dealer lots as the new truck gets ready to launch.

The 2015 Nissan Titan has a rugged, sturdy driving feel and standard V8 engine.

The 2015 Nissan Titan has a rugged, sturdy driving feel and standard V8 engine.

This pickup’s strongest and weakest point is, paradoxically, the same thing: its engine.
The huge, 5.6-liter, 317-horsepower V8 in the Titan remains a muscular performer, allowing for a tow rating of 7,400 pounds even on the base model. It can pull up to 9,500 pounds with the proper equipment and offers a wild, bellowing kick when you stomp on the gas pedal.
Unfortunately, that sense of endless torque comes with a price: a city fuel economy rating of just 13 mpg, or 12 mpg with four-wheel drive. The lack of a smaller, more efficient option under the hood remains this truck’s greatest drawback.
Other things I’m looking forward to seeing improved on the new 2016 Titan include its plastic-laden interior, stiff ride and slightly dated exterior styling.
Yes, those are picky things, but you’ve got to be picky in today’s competitive truck market.
On the flip side, there were several features I loved on my $47,100 test truck in addition to the ample V8 power.
One is Nissan’s Utili-Track system for tying down cargo in the bed. It uses big, strong cleats that can slide along sturdy rails to make it easy to secure cumbersome or odd-shaped cargo. Other trucks are offering similar tie-down systems, but I’m a fan of Nissan’s version because of its simplicity and solid, heavy feel.
Another nice feature is the bedside storage bin Nissan has managed to squeeze behind the rear wheel. This optional, lockable storage compartment is perfect for tossing small tools or gloves into, giving you easy access to frequently used items without having to climb into the bed and unlock a big tool box.

Hard plastic surfaces and an awkward digital screen placement make the Titan’s cabin look a bit dated, but an all-new version coming out for 2016 should fix those picky things.

Hard plastic surfaces and an awkward digital screen placement make the Titan’s cabin look a bit dated, but an all-new version coming out for 2016 should fix those picky things.

With its rugged feel and smart storage options, I love the Titan as a work truck. I’m not as wild about it as a comfortable, drive-around-town truck, though, because of all those picky things that its recently redesigned competitors have improved upon.
If you’re looking for a good value on a V8-powered work truck, the 2015 Titan could make a great choice.
And if you’re looking for the latest and greatest in pickups, mark your calendar to get some seat time at your Nissan dealer later this year. The all-new Titan was unveiled at the Detroit Auto Show recently and will be available in “late 2015,” Nissan says.

At a Glance

What was tested?
2015 Nissan Titan Crew Cab 4×4 SL ($43,860). Options: Utility accessory package ($370), rear bumper step assist ($235), Texas Titan floor mats ($165), Texas Titan package ($1,375). Price as tested (including $1,095 destination charge): $47,100
Wheelbase: 139.8 in.
Length: 224.6 in.
Width: 79.5 in.
Height: 76.3 in.
Engine: 5.6-liter V8 (317 horsepower, 385 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: Five-speed automatic
Estimated Mileage: 13 city, 18 highway

RATINGS
Style: 6
Performance: 8
Price: 7
Handling: 5
Ride: 4
Comfort: 5
Quality: 6
Overall: 6

Video Review:
2015 Nissan Titan
bit.ly/2015titan

Why buy it? 
If you need a V8-powered work truck, the Titan can do the job. Its Utili-Track cargo tie downs and standard V8 power make it a capable performer.

Posted in Nissan

Making the Case for Midsize

By Derek Price
Automotive Writer

Without getting too deep into the psychology behind it, it’s safe to say many people in the pickup truck world assume bigger is better.
If a half-ton truck is good, a one-ton truck is better. If the RockCrusher 1500 is good, the RockCrusher 2500 is better. So goes their logic, at least.
Well, the Chevrolet Colorado is making the case that smaller pickups can be a better fit for many of today’s truck drivers. Like its cousin from GMC, the Canyon, it’s showing a new generation of buyers that there are some big-time advantages to driving a smaller truck.

The 2015 Chevrolet Colorado is the first all-new midsize truck to hit the market in many years. It’s dramatically raising the bar in this segment and winning awards like Motor Trend’s “Truck of the Year” in the process.

The 2015 Chevrolet Colorado is the first all-new midsize truck to hit the market in many years. It’s dramatically raising the bar in this segment and winning awards like Motor Trend’s “Truck of the Year” in the process.

It’s easier to maneuver. It gets better gas mileage. It doesn’t feel so bulky over the road, giving you a more controlled ride than any full-size truck for sale today.
It’s such an eye-opener, in fact, that the folks at Motor Trend magazine shocked the world by naming the 2015 Colorado their “Truck of the Year.” Everyone — and I mean everyone — assumed the Ford F-150 would be a shoo-in for the big award after getting a much-lauded overhaul with a new, advanced aluminum body.
Nope. The prize went to the humble new Chevy instead.
And after driving the Colorado for a week, I see exactly why.
Not only does it have all the advantages of a smaller truck, making me wonder why so many people pay the big bucks for a full-size pickup that burns more fuel and isn’t as enjoyable to drive, but it also can do a lot more work than its “midsize” label would suggest.
With a V6 engine and the towing package, it’s rated to pull up to 7,000 pounds. And with a brilliant lineup of optional storage accessories called GearOn, its bed can be configured to haul all kinds of large, bulky items, including 4-by-8-foot sheets of plywood above the wheelhouses.
In other words, it’s a serious truck that makes the old, trusty Ford Ranger look like a joke.
Granted, the Colorado benefits from some unusually weak competition. The tiny Ranger is long gone now, and both the Nissan Frontier and Toyota Tacoma have limped along with only minor changes for many years, making them look like shrines to hard plastic and rough rides at a time when the rest of the automotive industry has moved on to soft-touch materials and more sophisticated suspension dampening.
New, vastly improved versions of the Tacoma and Frontier are reported to be on their way soon, but for now, GM’s midsize twins are in a class by themselves.

The Colorado’s interior and ride quality are lightyears ahead of the competition. Tight construction, some use of soft-touch materials and a modern layout make it the only up-to-date midsize truck on the market — at least for now.

The Colorado’s interior and ride quality are lightyears ahead of the competition. Tight construction, some use of soft-touch materials and a modern layout make it the only up-to-date midsize truck on the market — at least for now.

My Colorado tester was as quiet, comfortable and modern feeling as most crossover vehicles, yet its 4×4 system and 305-horsepower V6 eclipsed the capability of some full-size trucks.
Unfortunately, so did its price. The base Colorado starts around $20,000, but my test vehicle rang up at $36,710, which is $10 grand more than a base Silverado. You can get a crew-cab Silverado for roughly the same price as my well-equipped Colorado tester, but the Silverado would feel stripped down in comparison.
A premium Bose stereo and a navigation system with eight-inch touchscreen made the Colorado feel like a more upscale truck. As for me, I’d much rather drive the midsize Colorado every day than its full-size counterpart. It’s easier to live with.
The Colorado can do the jobs most people need from a truck without the heft and fuel bills of a bigger pickup, which makes for a great combination.
Motor Trend, you’ve made your point.

At a Glance

What was tested?
2015 Chevrolet Colorado 4WD Z71 Crew Short Box ($34,115). Options: Premium Bose audio system ($500), Chevrolet MyLink with Navigation ($495), spray-on bed liner ($475), trailering equipment package ($250). Price as tested (including $875 destination charge): $36,710
Wheelbase: 128.3 in.
Length: 212.7 in.
Width: 74.3 in.
Height: 70.6 in.
Engine: 3.6-liter direct injected V6 (305 horsepower, 269 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Estimated Mileage: 17 city, 24 highway

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

Video Review:
2015 Chevrolet Colorado
bit.ly/2015colorado

Why buy it? 
It’s the obvious standout in the midsize truck category, offering impressive capability in a pickup that’s easier to live with and gets better gas mileage than its full-size counterparts.

Posted in Chevrolet

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