Category: Autos

Jaguar’s Activity Key Gives Outdoor Enthusiasts A Sense Of Security

After test driving the 2019 Jaguar F-Pace for a few days I couldn’t help but notice a black wristband sitting in the glove compartment. I thought it was a fitness watch that was left behind by another auto journalist. On closer inspection I saw the word “Jaguar” printed on the black, rubber band and then did some digging in the thick manual.

As it turns out, this buckled strap is an add-on feature in newer-model Jags along with certain Land Rovers – Jaguar’s sister-company. It’s called the Activity Key and offers a solution to a problem I have had for decades. I am a runner and often drive to training grounds, parks and races. I don’t like carrying my car key when I run for fear I may lose it as I traverse up hills and bumpy paths. So I generally hide the car key somewhere around my parked car and hope no one finds it during my run.

The Activity Key takes my worry away. An RFID chip is embedded in the strap which is then worn on your wrist when you are away from the locked car. In fact, you can lock the actual car key inside the vehicle. Once the driver’s door is closed you have 30 seconds to walk to the back of the car and place the Activity Key atop the letter “J” in Jaguar. A small antenna receives the wireless signal from the strap and locks all the doors. You are now free to run, hike, picnic and even swim (the Activity Key is waterproof up to 30m) knowing that no one will find a hidden key in obvious places such as on top of a tire (my usual hiding spot).

To unlock the vehicle, press the trunk release just above the license plate and then touch the Activity Key to the letter “J” again. Boom. All of the doors – including the trunk – are unlocked.

The Activity Key is a $410 option on the F-Pace I tested.

I just want to know where this technology was back in 1995 when I was training for my first marathon. See how it works below:

[via iHeartVehicles.com]

Nissan’s AWD Altima Handles Ice Like A Pro

Mont-Tremblant, Canada – If there is one thing I learned from my 28 hours here in the frozen north, it’s that -40 degrees Celsius is the same as -40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Though our group did not see that number on the digital thermometers of our vehicles, we got very close.  But that was the point.  Driving, braking and learning to control a vehicle when on snow and ice.

Lots of ice.  So hello, Montreal.

Nissan invited a small group of auto journalists and enthusiasts from across the U.S. to test the latest technology on its all-wheel drive (AWD) versions of its 2019 Altima sedan and Murano CUV.  The winding, wintry roads here in early March proved to be the perfect proving ground for these tasks that seem simple in normal weather.

The Altima is the first AWD sedan that Nissan has sold in the U.S. market.  This affordable ride starts at $23,900 and has several configurations scaling up to the Platinum version at $31,930.

With gas mileage at 26/36/30 mpg, Nissan says it’s the most fuel efficient AWD in its class. 

We weren’t too concerned about fuel efficiency on this particular venture as we kept the speedometer in check most of the time due to the snow-packed roads around this beautiful mountain village.  But our destination, Circuit Mecaglisse, had more than white fluff waiting for us.

This famed, looped driving track has been groomed since November to pack 8-12 inches of solid ice on top of its paved curves and straightaways.  Nissan figured there was no better place to than bring unskilled winter drivers like us there and let us have our way for a few hours.

Alas, we did have professional drivers in our passenger seats giving us detailed instruction on when to brake, hit the gas and start a controlled turn. 

The Altima handled the icy track with very little sliding and taking off from a stop was not an issue.  There’s an initial 50-50 split front-rear power before the drive shifts to 70/30 when road conditions become slick.  When the ground is nicely thawed the car rolls along in front-wheel drive mode.

This sixth-generation Altima has a 2.5-litre engine and boasts 182 hp – a bit higher than the previous model. The AWD is pretty techy but Nissan’s ProPilot Assist continues to wow me.  This driving aid, found on several of the company’s other vehicles, offers semi-autonomous acceleration, braking and steering.

The heated seats and steering wheel were a bonus and the inside is quite spacious.  An 8” nav/entertainment screen in the center of the dashboard was easy to read.  The other displays and readouts were intuitive.

The look is sharp and sleek with LED lights all around and a floating roof.  I’d call it stylish especially for a sedan – a shrinking segment that many people think has had its time. 

I doubt I will personally need the driving skills nor the new technology in the AWD Altima on a daily basis as my home base of Texas keeps the winter weather in check.  But should I one day move to a cooler climate where I have to learn how to shovel my driveway, I could totally see an Altima backing out of garage.

CES 2019 – 12 Minutes of Everything You Missed

My 15th year of covering CES brought a slew of things I never thought I would see.  Let’s start with 5G…because I didn’t see it!  Rumors swirled for weeks that many companies would be touting new 5G services and products that could utilize the highspeed bandwidth.  Bust.  I saw a few products that wanted to latch on to the 5G hype but nothing solid because there is no actual 5G yet.  I’ll save that story for CES 2020.

What I did see was plenty of companies touting partnerships with Google and Amazon, the leaders in voice assistants. Alexa was the only player here a few years ago but this week was tough to get away from a product that didn’t turn on after hearing “Hey Google.”  The search company which is much more than search built a monstrosity of a booth in front of the Las Vegas Convention Center that was part mansion, part “It’s A Small World” ride.

A Google rep told me they had to pour a slab of concrete – on top of the current parking lot concrete – to construct the temporary shrine to the five colors.  Visitors walked through “rooms” made to mimic a kitchen, living room and even a garage complete with Google-made and 3rd party-made products.  The other part of the building housed a roller coaster-like ride that moved through scenarios of a typical day in a home.  Voice activated curtains opened in the morning continuing to mom asking the Google Assistant how to make a birthday cake.  The queue had a waiting line of sometimes up to 45 minutes; not really worth it save for the Google Home Hub that was given out to all riders at the end (so yeah, I guess it was worth it).

TVs continue to be a big thing and 8K was the winning number-letter combination at CES (sorry again 5K).  LG showed a 65″ TV that rolls up-and-down at the push of a button.  Samsung, TCL, and other manufacturers had so many monitors I was afraid of getting sunburned as I walked by.  8K screens (twice the resolution of 4K) looked great even side-by-side of 4K monitors.  But wake me up when networks and providers start delivering even 4K content on a prevalent basis.  My guess is my grandkids may one day enjoy 8K TVs with content to fill the screen.  Note: my kids are relatively young.

CES has seemingly become the de facto national car show as most every major OEM – from Audi to Mercedes to Hyundai – had massive booths and displays to tout their new vehicles and concepts.  Audi always brings it A-game booth design and tricked out an A8 with front and rear seat video screens along with seats similar to a D-BOX rumble seat found in movie theaters.  A quick screening of “The Avengers” while sitting in the back seat reminded me of a 4D ride at Universal Studios.  All they needed were motion sickness bags.

No new smartphones were announced at the trade show; most companies are waiting to release them next month at GSMA Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.  Bad news: my travel budget does not reach that far so I’ll have to report from afar.  While smartphones were not found amongst the 4,000+ exhibitors it seemed like half of the vendors were handing out smartphone cases.  I got one for my Samsung Galaxy S9 that apparently can withstand a drop from 5 floors up and continue to work in 10 meters of water.

My main takeaways from CES 2019 were that this massive gathering of tech giants, buyers and media does not seem to be slowing down despite the dearth of new products that are already on the market or planned to be released soon.  But it is OK to dream and ooh and ahh.  Because I certainly did.  Especially when I went to sleep each night after walking an average of 18,000 steps each day (according to my high-tech watch).

For all the highlights, join me in a 12 minute video recap:

NASCAR Champ Joey Logano Takes A Victory Lap in Houston

2018 NASCAR Champion Joey Logano stopped in Houston recently during his tour to thank sponsors and share stories of his success.  Logano’s local pitstop was at Shell’s headquarters on the west side of town.  He spent a few hours taking photos, signing autographs and attempting to shake hands with Shell employees despite wearing a heavy, diamond-laden championship ring.

Logano’s #22 racecar is sponsored by Shell Pennzoil.  He spoke to employees and the media with his success stories of winning the Monster Energy NASCAR series using the company’s lubricant product.

Here is a clip of a few fun moments chatting with the champion:

Nissan’s New CUV Kicks You-Know-What

It’s the middle of June and I’m driving south on I-95 headed for Key Largo, Florida.  Temperature 95 degrees with humidity to match.  There may be better times of the year to visit this tropical escape but I’m not feeling the heat as I push down the pedal on the all-new Nissan Kicks.

Nissan hosted a select number of auto journalists to kick the tires on their new CUV.  So as I wind my way from Miami Beach down to the land of Bogie and Bacall, I crank the A/C and enjoy a comfy ride in what seems to be a deceivingly large yet smallish looking Kicks.

First, about that name.  I assumed it was a tie-in to the World Cup but Kicks is not related to soccer and is oddly plural.  Nissan is targeting this vehicle to the young-minded and creative types so maybe they can work the name into daily conversations better than me.

The Kicks is not a flat-out replacement for the recently killed Juke but it does fill the void of the not-too-expensive crossover SUV with an attitude.  You can first see the attitude in the shape of the vehicle with its short wheelbase and sloping roof.

Color is a big theme for Nissan here as the Kicks is offered in five colors and several two-tone combinations.  The French Powder top on Deep Blue Pearl base caught my eye and I can only imagine the customization that can take place with colored door handles and mirror caps via Nissan’s Color Studio.

The steering is smooth and the stop-and-go city driving is comfy with good braking.  But taking it up to highway speeds took a little effort as the power is on the low side, as it is with most inexpensive crossovers.  A 1.6-liter engine pops out just 125 horsepower.  But I didn’t feel too concerned about getting it up to fast lane speed limits due to its power-to-weight ratio.  The base model Kicks weighs just over 2,600 pounds making it a good competitor in the lightweight category.

The South Florida winds were whipping hard during my drive to the Keys yet the noise level was minimal.  That could have been the result of the optional Bose audio system with eight speakers, including two right behind my head in the driver’s headrest.  It is clear that Nissan wants to attract not just the young-minded set but also the people who like to listen to their tunes.

The Kicks has two 1-inch tweeters, one in each A-pillar; two 6.5-inch wide-range speakers, one in each front door; two 2.5-inch speakers built into the driver’s headrest; and two 5.25-inch speakers, one in each rear door.  To balance out this impressive sound there is a digital amplifier with six channels of custom equalization and digital signal processing.

Nissan partnered with Bose to create this “Personal Plus Sound System” and is an option on the highest-level trim – about a $2,500 upgrade.  This upgrade also includes heated front seats and a security system.  Though I didn’t need the heated seats on this summertime jaunt I would recommend this upgrade package to audiophiles and those who want to crank up the jams.

My 65-mile drive was exceptionally comfy on my posterior thanks to NASA-inspired zero gravity seats.   I’m not sure if there is gel or air inside but Nike may learn a thing or two about adding more comfort to its shoes by sitting in these bad boys.

There are three USB ports and the availability of Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.  A seven-inch touchscreen fits nicely into the modern, gliding wing dashboard.  There is no onboard navigation but that is a growing trend among all manufacturers as smartphone mirroring is on the rise.

Nissan touts that automated emergency braking comes standard on all Kicks.  The mid-level SR model adds blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert.

For a low-to-the-ground CUV I had no problem getting my 6 foot-tall frame in the front and back.  In fact I had several inches of headroom clearance and 43.7 inches of front leg room, which Nissan claims to be best-in-class.  Three people easily fit in the back seats and, I imagine, baby and child seats would have a lot of room back there, too.

Cargo space in the Kicks is typical for a small-size CUV.  There is 25.5 cubic feet behind the back seats that expands to 53.1 cubes when those seats are folded.  Still plenty of room for a combination of luggage, gym bags, baby strollers or possibly a small surfboard.

I didn’t have to stop for refueling on my journey, in fact I barely noticed the gas level go down as I head south.  The Kicks gets an estimated fuel rating of 31 mpg in the city, 36 on the highway for a 33mpg combined average.  These numbers are a bit better than other vehicles in its class such as the Mazda CX-3.

As I pull into our seaside stopping point for lunch I park the Kicks in the glistening sun near the hot, white sand.  A few gawkers approach and ask me about the unique shape and wanted to sit in it.  It seems Nissan doesn’t have to worry about getting people to notice the Kicks and taking it for a test drive.

The impromptu audience may have been impressed when a Nissan representative told them the Kicks started under $18,000.  No response when asked if dealers would accept Venmo for payment (oy, kids!).  For me, that may be biggest selling point for this crossover as it is difficult to find a ride in this category at that inexpensive price point.

The S base model starts at $17,990 and is less than a Hyundai Kona, Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross and the Ford EcoSport.  The SV adds Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, an intelligent key and a few other features sets you back $19,690.  The SR begins at $20,290 with additional things like LED low beams and signature accents, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, and fog lights.  My ride this afternoon was in the SR Premium package at $21,290 which allowed for that big time Bose audio system and speakers.

After contemplating my 90 minute trip over fish tacos and key lime pie I kicked back and stared out at the Atlantic Ocean.  A parasail boat was pulling a young couple in the blue sky while a group of what looked to be new college graduates hung out near a pool dancing to thumping music.  These are the people, I thought, who are the low-hanging fruit that Nissan covets for the this new CUV.

I then promptly got out of the blazing tropic sun, hopped back into the Kicks, and cranked up the A/C to head back up north to our starting point.  All the while listening to the sultry sounds of Bertie Higgins (look him up) at crystal clear, noise shattering levels.  Thanks, Bose.  Thanks Nissan.

REVIEW: 2018 Toyota RAV4

Toyota RAV4 Shows Why It Was Top-Selling Passenger Vehicle Last Year

That headline most likely took you by surprise. Though the top three spots in U.S. vehicle sales went to pickup trucks in 2017, over 407,000 Toyota RAV4 CUVs were sold making it the top seller in the passenger vehicle category.

RAV4 stands for Recreational Activity Vehicle 4-wheel drive. Like its name, it delivers a smooth ride while hauling both passengers and gear on- and off-road. The 4 door CUV seats five people and – when the back seats are folded flat – has 73 cubic feet of space. Those rear seats recline to allow for ample headroom and legroom for adults.

The 2018 model comes in 6 trim levels – the LE, XLE, SE, Limited, Platinum, and the new Adventure. Toyota added the Adventure to the lineup with a slightly higher ride height and ground clearance. This version sets itself apart from other trims with 18-inch black aluminum wheels, black headlight bezels, roof rack and special badges.

A few things that impress me are the standard and available features like Bluetooth, a rearview camera, Toyota’s Entune infotainment system with a 6.1 or 7 inch touchscreen, sunroof, LED headlights, 18” alloy wheels, and a 360 degree view camera system.

As with other Toyota models, the 2018 RAV4 has a long list of safety equipment as standard on every model. These include forward-collision warning, lane-departure alert, lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, and automatic high-beam headlights.

You can compare the RAV4 to the Honda CR-V, Jeep Cherokee, Kia Sportage, Mazda CX-5 and others in this category.

One of the reasons Toyota sells so many of these is the value. The LE starts around $24,500 – and there is also a hybrid version priced from $27,200. The new Adventure is priced from $27,800 and top-level Platinum begins around $35,000.

If you want to follow the lead of many other consumers that made this the biggest seller last year then hop in the driver for a test drive. And don’t forget to bring some friends and recreational gear for most any activity you feel like.

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: 2018 Toyota 4Runner

Toyota 4Runner Handles Road Well But Built For Serious Adventures

I love the outdoors – primarily because we have to be outdoors to drive cars and trucks. But when you want to get around the real outdoors for off-roading, climbing big hills, and crossing ranches, you need a real outdoor vehicle. Preferably a truck or an SUV and quite possibly one like the 2018 Toyota 4Runner.

The 4Runner is built for adventures. If you have an active lifestyle you will like its durable, spacious interior. This is also one of the few SUVs in this price range that can take on a rough trail with seven people onboard.

Even though the 4Runner can hold that many passengers, when the third row is in use there is very little cargo space. The back row seats are a bit tricky to fold down but when it is flat you have almost 90 cubic feet of cargo space.

Not much has changed on the outside for the 2018 version. Toyota gave the fascia some large, boomerang-shaped indentions below the slanted headlights. The signature boxy shape is still here along with a roof rack. Active owners will enjoy a power-retractable rear window built into the rear liftgate. Lowering the window allows for gear to more easily be loaded into the cargo bay.

Most people will be driving their 4Runner on city streets and highways. To me, this drives more like a pickup truck than a car.

It leans a bit when cornering but the 270 hp, V6 is a great engine with strong power for merging, passing and towing. Fuel economy is not the best in this class of midsize SUVs (17 in the city, 21 on the highway), mostly because it is a 5-speed automatic and weighs a hefty 4500 lbs or so.

But te 4Runner is a superior off-road vehicle thanks to its body-on-frame construction – one of the last SUVs to still be built this way.

It has standard Hill Start Assist Control that keeps it from rolling backward when switching from brake to accelerator on a steep incline. The available Downhill Assist Control selectively applies the brake to help keep a controlled speed on steep descents.

Skid plates underneath the vehicle help protect the engine front suspension and fuel tank in case some of those boulders or terrain gets in the way. And a full-size spare tire is standard on all trim levels.

Though the interior is rather simple, the 4Runner’s cabin is roomy and versatile. The large center console has a power outlet and USB with 4 other power outlets throughout. The rear area is equipped with a household-style power outlet – perfect for plugging in a blender for those margarita tailgate parties.

Every 4Runner comes with navigation, voice recognition, and Toyota’s Entune infotainment system.

The screen high-resolution screen is 6.1” – I wish it were a bit larger for being in such a big vehicle. But I like the large knobs and buttons and all the apps it works with. 8 speakers are the norm but you can get 15 of them if you upgrade to the Entune JBL Audio package.

Toyota’s 2018 4Runner SUV starts just under $35,000 for a base 2WD SR5 model. TRD models begin closer to $38,000 and Limited models start around $43.

If you care about where your vehicle can take you a little bit more than how comfy it is along the way, this is definitely worth getting into.

Now go hit the great outdoors.

REVIEW: 2018 Toyota Corolla

The Compact Corolla Carries Tech With Comfort

Fun fact: The Toyota Corolla is the best-selling car ever. It’s fuel efficient, affordable and always reliable thanks to Toyota’s reputation for build quality. Over 43 million Corollas have been sold since 1966 and the 2018 version will push those sales numbers higher.

This year’s model includes the L, LE, LE Eco, SE, XLE and the top-level XSE trim levels. The reasonably priced L starts near $18,500 and maxes out with all the bells-and-whistles on the XSE around $23,600.

Not many people buy the Corolla for top speed or acceleration but the 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine has a nice giddy-up with 132 hp. The L and LE trims get 32 mpg combined (28 city/36 highway) while the SE and XSE with larger wheels will get 31 mpg combined (28/35).

I was impressed with the cabin for a compact car as it is roomy for my 6 foot-tall frame in both the front and back seats. The XSE has a large moon roof and trimmed heated seats. Trunk volume is a pretty standard 13 cubic feet.

As technology goes the new Corolla has a lot of it. Toyota Safety Sense P is standard which includes a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert with steering assist, automatic high beams and dynamic radar cruise control.

All trim levels come with backup cameras with projected path guidelines, smart-stop brake-override technology, vehicle stability control, traction control, ABS, electronic brake-force distribution, brake assist tech, and electronic tire pressure monitoring.

The 2017 model received Top Safety Pick+ status from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), and the 2018 model earned a 5-star overall rating from the National Highway Traffic and Safety Association (NHTSA).

Bottom line – there is a ton of great features in here that utilize some of the best technologies in the auto industry.

While I’m not the biggest fan of Toyota’s infotainment system, the Corolla does feature the Entune Audio multimedia bundle. The XSE has a 7” touchscreen, AM/FM CD player, 6 speakers, auxiliary audio jack, USB port, voice recognition system and Bluetooth.

The Premium audio package has a suite of apps including traffic and weather overlays, streaming services like iHeartRadio and fuel price searches.

Interestingly enough, Toyota remains the only major global automaker with no plans to incorporate the popular Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connection packages. So until that happens, Entune is all you got.

VIDEO: One-on-One with NASCAR’s Joey Logano

The Super Bowl was just held in Houston to end the NFL season.  The “Super Bowl of NASCAR” will be held in just two weeks as the Daytona 500 begins the racing season.  Last year’s runner-up Joey Logano was in town to see his New England Patriots pull a great come from behind win.  I caught up with him the day after the big game to talk about his love of sports, changes to the NASCAR points system and what a new title sponsor to the Championship series means.  As we all know it’s all about sponsors so thanks to the Shell Pennzoil team for having me out at their headquarters to hang with Joey.

 

 

VIDEO: 5 Minutes with the 2016 Nissan Sentra

20160125_095839The Nissan Sentra has a 34 year history of being a solid, compact sedan.  2016 is not the year Nissan will introduce an “all new” model but they are releasing a mid-cycle refresh (aka “facelift”).

On a recent trip to Orange County, California, Nissan offered a group of automotive journalists and enthusiasts the opportunity to put the car through paces up-and-down the Pacific Coast Highway.  The smooth-rolling Sentra carried me past some of the most beautiful scenery in the country including a quick ride on a ferry boat.

Several new safety features debut on the car include rear cross-traffic alerts, blind-spot warning system, and NissanConnect emergency telematics with vehicle monitoring.  A thicker windshield, new engine mounts and more insulation make the car quiet – potentially a good spot to broadcast one of my radio shows from.

Competition in this segment include the Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, and Toyota Corolla.

It’s a nice vehicle and with a starting price of $16,780, this could be a smart choice for a first car purchase and certainly a first family vehicle.

Check out my video review here:


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