Category: Autos

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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VIDEO: 5 Minutes with the 2017 Buick Cascada

20160119_164815A convertible from Buick?  Yessir.  I got a sneak preview of the car back in March 2015 at the Dallas Auto Show. It looked cool but then I didn’t hear much about it.  Until a few weeks ago.

The Buick peeps invited a select group of media to take the new ragtop on a drive from Miami Beach to Key West.  My hair was flying during the leisurely ride-and-drive as we hit the hot spots from Ocean Drive to Duval Street.

You’ll hear a lot more about the Cascada in the coming weeks as Buick will air an ad during the Super Bowl featuring NFL baller Odell Beckham, Jr.  His hair is much tighter than mine and won’t flow as freely as mine did.  But he will be smiling.

Check out my video review here:

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A Visit To The Cummins Engine Plant – What Will Drive The 2016 Nissan Titan XD

20150825_080117Nissan is excited.  Really excited.  The auto manufacturer will soon be launching its new 2016 Titan XD truck and they want the country – or at least the media here – to know about it inside and out.  I had seen photos of the body but Nissan could not be more proud of its relationship with Cummins as their engines will power this big boy.  So with an invitation I recently visited the Cummins Engine Plant in Columbus, Indiana, to see where the new 5.0L V8 turbo diesel engines will be built.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nissan and Cummins were gracious hosts during an extensive tour of the plant floor where my group saw the process of how these powerful engines will roll off the assembly line.  Cummins has a long history in the engine business dating back to 1919 and provides everything from power generation to fuel systems to emission solutions.  The 500,00 sq. ft. facility was in a test mode that day as they fine-tuned the many work stations it takes to assemble the heavy duty turbines.

Cummins expects to produce 150,000 of these engines each year and Nissan certainly expects them to move off dealership lots beginning in late 2015.

High-Tech Auto Reports – July 2015

Listen to the latest trends and news in the auto industry.  Michael Garfield covers all you need to know to keep up the rapidly changing world of cars and trucks.  Send questions or content suggestions here.

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