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

CX-5 gets a makeover

By Derek Price
Automotive Writer

If you want a crossover that makes you feel connected to the road — not isolated from it — it’s hard to beat the Mazda CX-5.
This mid-size family hauler was the first vehicle to get Mazda’s Skyactiv treatment, which involves trimming the weight and refining the drivetrain and handling to make it more fun and more fuel efficient.
Now for 2016, Mazda is refining it even further with tweaks to the body styling and a heavily revamped interior.
The changes to the outside are notable but relatively modest. It has a bolder, higher front grille that stands out more, along with a new headlight design that looks almost like eyes. That may sound creepy, but I think the CX-5 pulls it off with grace.
New LED lighting gives it a unique look in back, too.
The biggest changes, though, come on the inside. The 2016 CX-5 has a higher quality cabin than ever before, not that the old car was any slouch in that department.
Added soft-touch materials and a more seamless, almost luxury-car-like assembly tightness take it a notch above many of its competitors.

The Mazda CX-5 gets new styling for 2016, including more modern headlights and a bolder, higher grille.

The Mazda CX-5 gets new styling for 2016, including more modern headlights and a bolder, higher grille.

Even the ominously named Human Machine Interface — which uses a rotating knob doodad to select items on the digital screen — is better designed than in most vehicles. I generally prefer a well-designed touchscreen interface over a knob or selector, but Mazda designed it to be intuitive enough and respond fast enough that I didn’t mind it in this car.
There are other crossovers that look pretty and have nice cabins, though. The real reason you’d want to buy a CX-5 is because of the way it drives.
More than any other crossover in this class, the CX-5 is infused with the spirit of a sports car. It stays relatively flat in corners and responds instantly, predictably and beautifully to driver input, letting you feel the road and get a good sense for what it’s doing at any given moment on the pavement.
Power comes from your choice of a 2.0-liter or 2.5-liter direct-injected gasoline engine. My test car came with the 2.5-liter version, called the Skyactiv-G, and it felt much quicker than you would expect from its 184-horsepower number.

The CX-5’s cabin gets a heavy overhaul with lots of soft-touch materials and a tight, seamless design.

The CX-5’s cabin gets a heavy overhaul with lots of soft-touch materials and a tight, seamless design.

That’s the magic of Mazda’s Skyactiv engineering process. Because the CX-5 is lighter than many of its competitors and is refined for that fast response feeling, it seems like it makes something on the order of 230 horsepower. But it doesn’t, which is a big reason it earns a 33-mpg highway rating for fuel economy.
For people who like that firm, fast Mazda driving feel, the CX-5 a family-friendly way to get it.

At a Glance

What was tested?
2016 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring FWD ($28,220). Options: Cargo mat ($60), rear bumper guard ($100), retractable cargo cover ($200), door sill trim plates ($125), GT i-Activesense Package ($1,500), Grand Touring tech package ($1,605). Price as tested (including $880 destination charge): $32,590
Wheelbase: 106.3 in.
Length: 178.7 in.
Width: 72.4 in.
Height: 65.7 in.
Engine: 2.5-liter Skyactiv-G (184 hp, 185 lbs.-ft. torque)
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Estimated Mileage: 26 city, 33 highway

RATINGS
Style: 8
Performance: 9
Price: 9
Handling: 10
Ride: 5
Comfort: 6
Quality: 9
Overall: 9

Video Review:
2016 Mazda CX-5
bit.ly/2016cx5

Why buy it?
It’s the sportiest handling crossover in its class, with a zippy, powerful driving feel. It’s seems like a fast car from the driver’s seat but still earns an impressive 33-mpg rating on the highway.

Posted in Mazda

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