Nissan’s Sales Leader

By Derek Price

Altima, Sentra and Maxima may be the Nissans with the best name recognition, but their importance pales in comparison to the one I’m driving this week.
The midsize Rogue crossover has risen to become Nissan’s top selling vehicle, easily surpassing the sedans that once served as the bread and butter for this Japanese brand. It’s been such a hit that Nissan spun off an ever-so-slightly smaller sibling, the Rogue Sport, last year to give buyers a subtly different twist and juice its sales numbers even further.
Why has the Rogue become such a hot seller?
Part of it is sheer luck, as buyers’ fickle tastes have switched away from sedans and toward crossovers. If you want a trendy car for the family in 2018, you’ll shop for something like the Rogue with its SUV-inspired looks, upright stance and big honkin’ cargo door in back.
Another part is more logical, though. The Rogue offers some key advantages and very few drawbacks, both compared to its competition and to other vehicles parked next to it on your Nissan dealer’s lot.

The Rogue outsells more long-running nameplates including the Altima, Maxima and Sentra in Nissan’s lineup.

For one, it doesn’t have much of a price or fuel-economy downside compared to a traditional sedan. Unlike the SUV craze of the 1990s, which was focused on huge vehicles that guzzle gas and cost a small fortune, today’s crossovers are downright sensible.
The Rogue’s base price of $24,800 is within spitting distance of the Altima sedan, and its EPA fuel economy ratings of 26 mpg in the city and 33 on the highway are miserly for something this roomy.
That’s not to say it’s perfect. I wish it offered a power upgrade, seeing how its 170-horsepower, 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine feels merely adequate at times. Its mediocrity is highlighted by the power going through a continuously variable transmission (CVT), giving its acceleration a markedly rubber-band-like sound and feel when you stomp on the gas pedal.
Granted — and consider this a huge compliment given my loathing of CVTs — the version in the Rogue isn’t too awful. Many buyers won’t notice the difference because it’s thoughtfully tuned to mimic shift points like a traditional automatic. It’s also a big reason for the Rogue’s impressive fuel-burn numbers.
My picky car-nerd gripes about the drivetrain are offset by a new feature available this year: ProPilot Assist.
In this class of vehicle, with an as-tested price around $36,000 thanks to all-wheel drive and options that pumped the cost up, I’ve never driven a better semi-autonomous system. ProPilot Assist can brake and accelerate in stop-and-go traffic, maintain a set distance from the vehicle in front of you and keep itself perfectly centered in a well-marked lane. It’s also easy to use, with only two buttons needed to activate it.
I found it comparable to systems found on dramatically more expensive Volvos and Cadillacs. It offers a refined, well-sorted semi-autonomous driving experience that I didn’t expect from a vehicle at this price point.

The Rogue’s interior features good visibility, ample cargo space and a roomy cabin for passengers.

ProPilot Assist is available as part of the Platinum Package, a $790 option only available on the upscale SL trim level.
Other upgrades for the Rogue in 2018 include standard NissanConnect smartphone capability featuring Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, along with a new Midnight Edition that offers a villainous, blacked-out look to the grille and emblems.

At A Glance

What was tested?
2018 Nissan Rogue SL AWD ($32,410). Options: Premium Package ($1,820), Platinum Package ($790), Platinum Reserve interior ($250). Price as tested (including $960 destination charge): $36,230
Wheelbase: 106.5 in.
Length: 184.5 in.
Width: 72.4 in.
Height: 68.5 in.
Engine: 2.5-liter four cylinder (170 hp, 175 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: Continuously variable
Fuel economy: 26 city, 33 highway

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

Why buy it?
Handsome looks, a family-friendly layout, affordable pricing and good gas mileage make it a compelling alternative to the traditional sedan.

Posted in Nissan

Beauty and Power

By Derek Price

If sports coupes rarely sell in big numbers, why do car companies build them?
More than anything else, it’s to make a statement. And Infiniti is practically shouting bout innovation and style with its sexy, two-door Q60.
This is a car that makes a visual statement, first of all, setting the tone for the entire Infiniti brand with its sleek lines and deeply sculpted curves.
The basic proportions are classically beautiful with an elongated hood, raked-back roofline and large, 19-inch wheels tucked right at the corners.
In the details, though, Infiniti’s designers get more adventurous.
For an unusual touch, the C-pillars have a crescent shape that dramatically lunges forward. Combined with angular LED headlights, an inset grille and scooped-out character lines on the sides, the Q60 exudes a sense of motion from every angle.
Even more than the way it looks, though, this car creates a halo for Infiniti in two other areas: technology and performance.

The Infiniti Q60 is one of the most eye-catching sports coupes on the market today.

The high-performance version I tested, called the Red Sport 400, delivers 400 horsepower to its extra-wide rear tires via a 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged V6. It’s phenomenally fast, as you’d expect with that much power on tap, but it also delivers its force to the pavement brilliantly through curves.
A major reason for that is the Dynamic Digital Suspension, which comes standard on both the Q60 Sport and Red Sport 400. It lets the driver adjust the firmness of the suspension between the relatively compliant Sport mode and the noticeably firmer Sport+.
An innovative steer-by-wire system, called Direct Adaptive Steering, can transmit input from the driver to the front wheels even faster than a traditional mechanical linkage, Infiniti claims.
In addition to the range-topping, 400-horsepower model, the Q60 is also available with a 208-horse turbocharged four-cylinder engine or a 300-hp V6.
All versions of the Q60 are available with either rear- or all-wheel drive.
Inside, Infiniti tries to mix two philosophies: traditional craftsmanship and heavy technology.
For the most part, the mixture works, with an artistic sense of design that matches the outgoing body and tech that’s omnipresent but never too intrusive.

The Q60 brings INFINITI’s powerful design language into the sports coupe segment with remarkable success, with its daring curves, deep creases, and flowing lines intensifying its low, wide, powerful stance. The look is progressive and modern, yet dynamic and moving.

The center stack is dominated by two touchscreen displays — 8 inches on top and 7 inches on bottom — that combine to keep all the vehicle’s functions within easy reach. I also like how it doesn’t force you to use the digital screen for simple tasks. Commonly used features like changing the radio station and volume all have their own dedicated, old-fashioned buttons and knobs.
It’s also impressively quiet inside thanks to good sound insulation and active noise cancellation that comes standard on all models.
Pricing starts at $38,950 for the base Pure trim, $44,300 for the Luxe version with the 300-horsepower V6, and $52,000 for the Red Sport 400.
All-wheel drive adds $2,000 to the price on all models.

At A Glance

What was tested?
2018 Infiniti Q60 Red Sport 400 ($52,000). Options: Sensory package ($2,250), ProAssist package ($2,250), ProActive package ($2,850), upgraded paint ($800), illuminated kick plates ($400), carbon fiber package ($2,250). Price as tested (including $905 destination charge): $63,705
Wheelbase: 112.2 in.
Length: 184.4 in.
Width: 72.8 in.
Height: 54.5 in.
Engine: 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 (400 hp, 350 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 20 city, 27 highway

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

Why buy it?
It’s stunning to look at and offers eye-popping performance for the money, especially in the powerful, range-topping Red Sport 400 trim.

Posted in Infiniti

A Self-Driving Sensation

By Derek Price

In the rarefied air of full-size luxury cars, where prices start around $60,000 and buyers’ expectations are just as lofty, it’s tough to find a one-of-a-kind, breakout feature.
Cadillac has done it this year, though, by rolling out the best self-driving system on the market. Called Super Cruise, this fresh technology is so impressive that it overshadows everything about the car it’s attached to, the underrated CT6 sedan.
It even leapfrogs the much-hyped Autopilot capability Tesla rolled out in 2015, bringing the world one huge step closer to the promise of cars that can fully drive themselves.
Before you run to your local Cadillac dealer expecting to buy a car that lets you prop your feet on the dash and read a book while being whisked from place to place, you need to understand that even as the best system in the world, Super Cruise has some serious limitations.
The first is where it’s designed to work. If you’re on a limited-access freeway like most of America’s interstate highway system, you can turn on Super Cruise and take your hands and feet off the controls indefinitely.

The 2018 Cadillac CT6 will feature Super Cruise™, the industry’s first true hands-free driving technology for the highway. Pre-production vehicle shown here in Stellar Black Metallic exterior and Very Light Cashmere with Maple Sugar accented interior.

In theory, it can drive you from city to city all day long. It’s absolutely incredible to experience a car driving itself on freeways, staying perfectly centered in the lane and moving with the flow of traffic for long periods of time.
In reality, though, the experience can be frustrating when Super Cruise turns itself off for unknown reasons. Perhaps the visibility isn’t good enough, the lanes aren’t marked clearly enough or it senses you’re driving in a construction zone, but it seems to disengage randomly without explaining its rationale.
The way it engages and disengages, though, is brilliant in its simplicity. When you’re on the freeway and press the Super Cruise button on the steering wheel, the entire top section of the wheel lights up in bright green to show you the system is active and the car is essentially driving itself.
When it disengages, it’s just as intuitive. The light bar changes from green to red, letting the driver know they need to take control once again.
Another important limitation: Super Cruise is not designed to let the driver stop paying attention to the road. Even though your hands and feet are completely free, you’re still expected to watch the road around you and be prepared to take over control in an instant.
To make sure the driver doesn’t nod off or start daydreaming, Super Cruise also uses an ingenious system to track how well you’re paying attention. A small camera at the top of the steering column is constantly watching your face, helping a computer judge where you’re looking and how well you’re paying attention.

A green light bar at the top of the steering wheel and icons on the digital gauge cluster show when the Super Cruise system is activated.

If the camera sees you’re not paying attention to the road ahead for too long a period of time, it will first try to get your attention, and eventually prompt you to take control.
If the driver still doesn’t respond — perhaps because of a medical emergency — the car is capable of bringing itself to a full stop and automatically calling first responders through its OnStar system.
Compared to the vast majority of semi-autonomous systems available today, starting on cars as affordable as the base Toyota Corolla, Super Cruise is worlds ahead. It comes closer to true self-driving ability than anything else for sale today, including Tesla’s similar system I tested in the Model X SUV.
Traditionally, state-of-the-art technology starts in expensive cars and filters down to more affordable models over a number of years. That’s certainly the case with Super Cruise, which is only available as a $5,000 option on the CT6’s Premium Luxury trim. That puts its price tag somewhere around $75,000.
My hope is that General Motors can find a way to do two things with Super Cruise. One is very quickly making it available on a wider range of vehicles, from affordable Chevrolet hatchbacks to tough trucks and SUVs. The other is continuing to invest, improve and refine this system to make it function in more places, more consistently, with automatic upgrades available as it gets better in the years to come.
One exclusive Cadillac model that drives itself on the highway is amazing. But a whole fleet of vehicles that does this, as the technology gets smoother and more reliable, will change the world forever.

At A Glance

What was tested?
2018 Cadillac CT6 Platinum AWD ($88,295). Options: None. Price as tested (including $995 destination charge): $89,290
Wheelbase: 122.4 in.
Length: 204 in.
Width: 74 in.
Height: 57.9 in.
Engine: 3.0-liter twin turbo V6 (404 hp, 400 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 18 city, 26 highway

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

Why buy it?
The Cadillac CT6 is available with Super Cruise, the most advanced self-driving system on the market today. It lets the car drive itself for long periods of time on the highway.

Posted in Cadillac