Category: Product Reviews

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.

Unboxing: CouchBed

I’ve tried this before with a bed.  Order it online and then a big box shows up at your door.  Carefully open it, stand back and – voila! – a piece of furniture pops out.  To me that is technology and convenience at its best as I didn’t have to deal with crazy mattress salespeople nor schlep it home on the roof of my car.

CouchBed uses the same business model plus one-half the product of those other “mattresses-in-a-box.”  The other half is a product to use during the day…a couch (the name gave it away, huh?).  With the functionality of two pieces of furniture in one, CouchBed is a cool-gel memory foam mattress that flips into a modern couch in seconds.

The process is simple enough. Choose a twin or queen size, pick one of the five colors (I opted for classic Charcoal) and place your order online.  Within a few days, FedEx delivers a golf bag-sized box with the CouchBed.  Unboxing the product is actually quite fun and most people capture the experience on video for social media.  I must say it pretty amazing when a large, 10″ mattress slowly unfolds and comes to life in front of your eyes.  I suggest placing the unopened box in the room where you plan to put the piece so you don’t have to carry or drag the CouchBed to its resting place in your home.

The upholstery is comfy yet built for durability.  I can see many people using it in playrooms for their kids to sit and jump on while playing video games or hosting sleepovers with friends.  I placed the CouchBed in my home office, which is actually an extra bedroom.  It sets mostly next to a wall as a couch but when guests stay the night…TA DA!!!   It takes just a few seconds to flip the back part of the couch down to form a flat mattress.  My CouchBed has actually become a conversation piece.

It’s made with 100% CertiPur certified ultra-dense memory foam combined with phase-change material to actively cool the sleeping surface and has a 10-year warranty.

It would make a great addition to a playroom as I noted above but apartments, dorm rooms and man caves would also be smart choices for CouchBed.  My only concern is that the piece sits directly on the floor and is a bit low for a couch.  The company will soon offer a 10″ wooden platform to raise the sitting and sleeping height.

Queen versions currently run $449 and a twin unit is $299.  FedEx shipping is free and there is a 30-day return policy.  I doubt many have been returned, not for the lack of comfort or usefulness, but maybe trying to figure out how to ship it back to the company is a bigger task than receiving the shrink-wrapped product.

Facebook Knows What???? Google Knows More!

Think Facebook knows a lot about you? Google is worse. From deleted files to location history, these companies know too much about us.

Here is a column that sheds more light onto the subject including tips on how to take back some of your personal information.

 

 

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.

Everyone is All In on AI at CES 2018

One of my post-CES rituals is whittling down all the products and services I saw to figure out who “won” the trade show. I remember falling in love with thin HDTVs in the early 2000’s, fawning over Blu-Ray and HD-DVD players and yearning for every smartphone I saw on the convention center floor.  This year I was impressed with camera-filled refrigerators that can recommend recipes and TVs that can be rolled up as flat as yoga mats.

But the darling of this year’s CES was not a gadget but the growing amount of artificial intelligence software helping these products run.  The proliferation of companies showing off their products was mind boggling.  Robots ran – and climbed stairs – amok, car simulators showed how they can be driven without a driver, even coffee makers that let you know when a fresh pot was ready. Google and Amazon were everywhere.  Literally everywhere including hotel and tram signage along with booth workers wearing ubiquitous “Hey Google” outfits.  Almost every product seemingly sported the message that it could be controlled with some faction of AI.

To make some sense of why 2018 may be the year that our voice and touch will be the key factors to hit the market, I spoke with Jeremie Capron, Managing Director of Research at ROBO Global.  His company created the first benchmark index to track the global robotics and automation market bringing solutions to investors.

Our conversation:

VIDEO: Cyber Monday Tips & Gift Ideas

We know Cyber Monday is a made-for-the-internet event but it keeps me busy every year.  I spent most of the morning speaking with radio stations across the country as I gave listeners tips on what to watch out for and avoid.  The afternoon found me in a few TV stations showing up some neat gear that was either on sale or to give viewers interesting ideas on what to buy.  Here are some clips from my HOUSTON LIFE (NBC) appearance.

This first clip includes the hot new Samsung Galaxy Note 8 smartphone, the Samsung IconX wireless earbuds and the Nest Thermostat E:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here I yapped about the Arlo Pro 2 security cameras, Saddleback Leather bags and the Weatherman Umbrella:

Cyber Monday Tips

I have no clue if Cyber Monday is the biggest day for online shopping in the U.S.  Some stat says it is while another disputes it.  It’s a made-up date anyway thanks to the National Retail Federation.  But it is my duty to write blogs like this and make media rounds each year to either hype up this “special” day or warn you about all those nasty, evil cyber criminals lurking to steal your credit card and personal information.  Since it is almost impossible to keep an updated list of every online store offering 50% off a kitchen blender or free shipping if you spend $100, I will go with the super hero angle of protecting the world from the bad guys.  But feel free to email me if you find a good deal on a pair of black, size 11 Chelsea boots.

Yes this is the most wonderful time of the year but here are a few things to keep in mind before you click the BUY button:

Use a credit card vs. a debit card – Your debit card is linked to your bank account, thus exposing your available funds. By using your credit card there is an added sense of security knowing that you are using borrowed money. If you see or sense something odd with a recent purchase contact your credit card provider and they can dispute the charges.

Don’t save your information – If you frequently shop on a specific website, you probably have an option to save your credit card information.  Definitely a convenient and time-saving trick but not the safest thing to do especially if you use a public computer or a device that others can access easily.  Suck it up and take the extra minute to enter your information each and every time.

Use a secure connection – We love WiFi but try to avoid making purchases through a public wireless network.  It’s not that difficult for cyber criminals (Boo! Hiss!) to hack into that WiFi signal and access your details.

Change your passwords frequently – Blah, blah. How many times have you heard this?  JUST DO IT!  NOW!  Especially when doing frequent online purchases. Changing your passwords often is important, but so is making sure you have strong passwords too.  Throw in some characters like $ or % or !.

Update your antivirus – This should happen automatically but check your computer’s software regularly to keep it up-to-date.  Don’t forget there is also antivirus software for your mobile phones.  Download a copy from either Avast, Trend Micro, or Sophos.

Happy shopping and get out there to find me those boots.

I remember not too long away perusing the Thanksgiving Day newspaper ads so I could plan out my route and shopping list for the next day…Black Friday.  The day after turkey, stuffing and the Cowboys’ game meant finding parking spaces along with finding good deals on products that I really didn’t need.

Nowadays there is no need to look at a newspaper just as there is no longer a wait until that Friday after Thanksgiving.  Black Friday has turned into Thrifty Thursday and now seemingly into Nifty Thrifty November.  Sales are either leaked or officially released online weeks before Black Friday and many stores begin selling these items immediately.

Before heading to stores (if you still dare) or click that link to buy a product, make sure to do some research.  Shipping costs can add up.  Some stores match competitor prices.  And batteries may not be included.  Plus if you happen to sleep in after all that tryptophan consumption, don’t worry.  Studies have shown that Black Friday deals are not the cheapest prices of the season.  Many retailers mark prices down further in December as the days before Christmas dwindle.

Here is a list from Mashable.com that tracks Black Friday deals from major stores like Amazon, Target, Walmart, and Nordstrom.  Happy hunting.

P.S.  If you do find some good deals my favorite color is purple and I’m a size Medium shirt.