Built For Passengers

By Derek Price

The Nissan Murano avoids my two biggest complaints about crossovers: they all look the same, and they try to be all things to all people.
This is a crossover with a unique look and a very specific mission.
It doesn’t have any pretensions of sportiness, that silly idea that a practical family vehicle is supposed to drive like a sports car.
The Murano also doesn’t try to be a brutish off-road machine, a boxy delivery van or a truck that can tow a million pounds.
Instead, it focuses on one core job: carrying passengers in comfort.
The Murano floats, wafts and glides over the pavement, moving people in the kind of silent serenity that’s rare to find outside of luxury brands. And it does a good job on this people-carrying mission because it doesn’t get distracted by the many other things modern buyers expect their crossovers to do.
Some people see this as a weakness. The Murano sometimes gets criticism for not towing enough, not hauling enough or not being built for trail running.
I see it as a strength, though. Even as its platform ages, this is still one of the best riding over-the-road vehicles I’ve driven in the past year. A compliant suspension, excellent sound insulation and soft, squishy, recliner-like front seats make its cabin a plush place to spend hours on the highway.

Break-from-the-pack styling has been an important part of the Nissan Murano’s formula since it was introduced in 2003.

A standard 3.5-liter V6 makes 260 horsepower, plenty for merging and passing. The engine is pleasantly silky compared to the four-cylinder power plants in many of the Murano’s competitors.
A continuously variable transmission adds to the buttery experience. While I think CVTs are a scourge on Nissan’s smaller vehicles, where they sap all the zippy fun out of driving a compact car, they’re an ideal fit on a vehicle designed for comfort.
The CVT also helps it achieve decent fuel economy of 28 mpg on the highway. It’s rated for a less impressive 20 mpg in city driving which, interestingly, is exactly the same whether you pick the front-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive version. There’s no difference in the government’s gas-mileage rating.
It also looks refreshingly unique, something that’s been a part of its packaging since it was introduced in 2003. It stands out a bit from the lookalike crossover pack with waves, creases and swooping lines that add interest to its sheetmetal.

The Murano is designed first and foremost for passenger comfort. A quiet cabin, soft seats and compliant suspension tuning combine for a serene feeling on highway trips.

The Murano is a tool built to do one job well. I think buyers who understand that reality will be well served by it as a luxurious, passenger-wafting machine.
They’ll also benefit from more standard safety features. Nissan makes the Safety Shield 360 package standard equipment on all four trim levels, including rear automatic braking.
Buyers who need to do towing, off-roading or hauling bulky cargo would be better served by other vehicles, some of which will be parked next to it in Nissan’s showrooms.
Pricing starts at $32,610 for the S trim, while all-wheel drive adds another $2,000 if you want it. SV, SL and Platinum grades add more luxury content, topping out at $45,610 for the AWD Platinum model.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2021 Nissan Murano Platinum AWD ($45,610). Options: Carpeted floor mats ($250), interior accent lighting ($300), exterior accent lighting ($395), 20-inch wheels ($1,730). Price as tested (including $1,095 destination charge): $49,380
Wheelbase: 111.2 in.
Length: 192.8 in.
Width: 75.4 in.
Height: 67.8 in.
Engine: 3.5-liter V6 (260 hp, 240 ft.-lbs.)
Transmission: Continuously variable
Fuel economy: 20 city, 28 highway

Style: 9
Performance: 8
Price: 8
Handling: 4
Ride: 9
Comfort: 9
Quality: 8
Overall: 8

Why buy it?
It’s smooth, quiet and distinctive looking. It remains one of the best crossovers on the market for carrying passengers in silent comfort.

Posted in Nissan

Go-Anywhere Confidence

By Derek Price

There are some lessons that can’t be learned in the local Miata club.
Among them: When the temperature drops into the single digits, make sure you use an engine block heater and fuel additive if you’re driving a diesel.
That’s what I had to learn from experience, though, when snowmageddon hit Texas a few weeks ago and rendered the perfect vehicle for the circumstances — the new diesel-powered Jeep Gladiator — completely listless in my frozen driveway, unable to start in the frigid weather.
Fortunately for me, a Jeep-loving neighbor came to the rescue. I warmed up the engine block, added a dose of anti-gel chemicals to the fuel, and it fired up like magic, ready to do the job it was built for: getting people anywhere they need to go, even when there aren’t roads.
That’s a useful trait when you can’t see any pavement for miles around because it’s all buried under snow and ice. Texas looked and felt like Siberia for a few long days, but having a Gladiator Rubicon 4×4 at my disposal made the situation a mere inconvenience.

Even at the peak of the bitter cold, the Gladiator had no trouble getting around town when there were few other vehicles on the road. It struggled for grip at times, like every vehicle does when traversing a natural skating rink, but it never once got stuck. It drove with a self-confident swagger, bordering on smugness, past countless other vehicles stranded and mangled up in ditches on the side of the road.

The Jeep Gladiator pickup is now available with a diesel engine. The 3.0-liter EcoDiesel is rated for 28 mpg in highway driving, an impressive number for a heavy, off-road-capable truck.

Heck, the Gladiator was downright comfortable when just about every other aspect of life in Texas was not.
When rolling power outages shut off the lights at home, the Jeep’s power outlet always worked. It kept phones charged and modern life somewhat normal when the utility company couldn’t do the same.
The luxury of watching a Jeep start up by remote control, then melt ice off the windshield when it’s 6 degrees outside, felt more sumptuous and coddling under the circumstances than anything I’ve experienced in a Rolls-Royce before.
It also was a great reminder that a Jeep’s greatest appeal is something few other vehicles on the planet can match: confidence.
Any time disaster hits, some of the first vehicles you see out on the roads are Jeeps. Hurricanes, floods, ice storms and tornadoes create conditions on the ground that require vehicles like this with ridiculously high ground clearance, four-wheel-drive grip, traction-control wizardry and tires that can claw their way through all kinds of muck.
I’ve always been a sports-car person, but this experience makes me want to become a Jeep person. There’s a survivalist’s satisfaction in knowing that no matter what Mother Nature whips up, you’ve got a vehicle designed to help get you through it.
Aside from the cold-weather starting problem — something I chalk up to my inexperience in arctic weather, not a design flaw — the diesel engine seemed like a perfect fit for the Gladiator. It makes 260 horsepower and, more importantly in a heavy, built-to-work vehicle like this, 442 pound-feet of torque.

The Gladiator’s cabin closely mirrors the latest Wrangler. It’s designed to be driven without a top or doors for an open-air experience in nature.

It pulls like a tugboat yet still delivers decent fuel economy. The Sport and Overland trims are rated at 28 mpg on the highway with the diesel engine, compared to a thirsty 22 with the gasoline V6. My built-for-off-roading Rubicon tester is rated at a less impressive 25 mpg with the diesel, but still better than the gas-powered Jeep truck.
In addition to the diesel engine, two new special editions are available this year. The 80th Anniversary Edition has berber floor mats, special badges and handsome 18-inch wheels with a Crystal Granite finish. The retro-themed Willys comes with rock rails, a limited-slip differential and massive, 32-inch Mud-Terrain tires.
Pricing for the 2021 Gladiator starts at $33,565. The configurator at Jeep.com shows pricing for a whopping 11 different trims of this truck, topping out at $51,765 for the luxury-oriented High Altitude model. The new diesel engine is a $4,000 option.
Confidence during natural disasters comes at no extra charge.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2021 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon 4×4 ($43,875). Options: Premium paint ($245), leather-trimmed bucket seats ($1,595), trailer tow package ($350), cold weather group ($995), premium LED lighting group ($1,295), 8.4-inch radio and premium audio group ($1,895), active safety group ($895), hardtop headliner ($555), cargo management group ($895), roll-up tonneau cover ($595), Freedom Panel storage bag delete (-$120), 8-speed automatic transmission ($2,000), diesel engine ($4,000), keyless entry ($545), Freedom Top ($2,395), body-color fender flares ($695), steel bumper ($845), 17-inch wheels ($995), spray-in Berliner ($495), TrailCam ($595). Price as tested (including $1,495 destination charge): $67,130
Wheelbase: 137.3 in.
Length: 218 in.
Width: 73.8 in.
Height: 75 in.
Engine: 3.0-liter turbo diesel V6 (260 hp, 442 ft.-lbs.)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 21 city, 27 highway

Style: 9
Performance: 10
Price: 4
Handling: 4
Ride: 6
Comfort: 6
Quality: 7
Overall: 9

Why buy it?
It delivers confidence when Mother Nature is at her worst. It mixes the get-anywhere capability of a Jeep with the utility of a pickup truck.

Posted in Jeep

Icon Reimagined

By Derek Price

Close your eyes and imagine the classic safari Land Rover.
What you’re envisioning is the Defender, or at least one of its ancestors. The Defender’s roots stretch all the way back to World War II, and its combination of go-anywhere 4×4 capability, utilitarian layout and excellent visibility made it the classic choice for adventures the world over.
How many times has it been completely redesigned since its debut? Just once, and you’re looking at the new one.
While the old Defender had evolved thoroughly by the time it was discontinued in the United States in 1997 — and finally ended production altogether in 2016 — its bones dated all the way back to the war-era Land Rover Series I.
To off-road purists, making a new Defender is like making a new Mona Lisa. It simply can’t be done.
Land Rover must have channeled da Vinci, though, because the new Defender is a masterpiece of an attempt.
From the moment you see it, there’s no mistaking the fresh version is a contemporary machine. It looks sleek and modern on the outside, yet it still is instantly recognizable for what it is: the classic safari Land Rover.

After getting its first-ever redesign from the ground up, the Land Rover Defender is back in the United States after a break of more than two decades.

It’s also remarkably refined on the highway. It’s not Range Rover smooth, of course, but it’s lightyears ahead of its closest American competitor, the Jeep Wrangler. The Defender is smoother, quieter and roomier than the Jeep, making it a better choice for everyday, on-road driving.
Still, on-road driving isn’t the point.
The Defender offers 11.5 inches of ground clearance when you put it in off-road mode, which lifts the frame up higher to clear obstacles. That’s more than the Wrangler Rubicon and exactly the same as the Ford Bronco with the Sasquatch Package.
The base turbocharged four-cylinder engine makes 296 horsepower, enough to help it reach 60 mph in a reasonable 7.7 seconds. An optional 3.0-liter turbo six-cylinder makes a much more impressive 395 horses, enough for a 0-60 time of 5.8 seconds, Land Rover claims.
My tester came with a mild hybrid powertrain, which adds some electric boost to the V6 engine to help it achieve fuel-economy ratings of 17 mpg in city driving and 22 on the highway.

The Defender’s cabin matches its contemporary body by seamlessly mixing utilitarian design with high-tech amenities.

It can wade through nearly three feet of water — 35.4 inches, to be precise — and comes with a rear differential that automatically locks when needed to muster up traction in touch situations. It can handle inclines and slopes of up to 45 degrees, which feels more like 90 degrees from the driver’s seat, if you’ve never experienced that.
The equipment to make it do all that adds up to a hefty 6,610-pound gross weight. Coupling that with the Defender’s brick-like shape makes this a thirsty beast indeed, rated for 17 mpg in city driving and 20 on the highway.
It also creates some confusion about where it fits in the Land Rover lineup. The Defender is noticeably roomier than the Discovery but is priced almost $8,000 cheaper, which makes one wonder why the Disco still needs to exist.
Pricing starts at $46,100 for the two-door Defender 90, with the traditional luxury-brand caveat that options can rocket the cost higher. Still, if buyers exercise some self control on the upgrades, the Defender seems like an amazing value for the money. It offers a whole lot of capability and luxury for $46 grand, if you don’t mind its fuel-burn numbers.
The four-door Defender 110 starts at $50,500.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2021 Land Rover Defender 110 SE ($62,250). Options: Driver assist pack ($1,020), cold climate pack ($700), advanced off-road capability pack ($735), off-road pack ($1,345), sliding panoramic roof ($1,750), black contrast roof ($870), Gondwana Stone ($710), tow hitch receiver ($650), black exterior pack ($600), 14-way heated memory front seats ($500), Sirius XM Satellite Radio ($300). Price as tested (including $1,350 destination charge): $72,780
Wheelbase: 119 in.
Length: 187.3 in.
Width: 82.9 in.
Height: 77.4 in.
Engine: MHEV 3.0-liter six cylinder (395 hp, 406 ft.-lbs.)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 19 city, 22 highway

Style: 10
Performance: 9
Price: 6
Handling: 5
Ride: 6
Comfort: 7
Quality: 7
Overall: 8

Why buy it?
It mixes on-road comfort, modern styling and amazing off-road capability. It’s a worthy successor to the iconic Defender.

Posted in Land Rover