Every brand has its calling card.
For some in the auto world, the focus is all about safety (i.e. Volvo); For others, it’s power (see: Dodge); For some it’s about reliability (Toyota, for one).
And then there’s Mazda, a smaller brand but one with many diehard fans -- and for a very good reason. They have perhaps the best calling card of all -- their vehicles are a blast to drive. Period.
They’re not the most powerful brand, wouldn’t win a drag race, and are far from the fanciest or most high-tech. But the overall experience of driving the Mazda lineup ranks well against any of the competition in the non-luxury segment of modern vehicles.
While their lineup comes in many sizes -- from Miata sports car up to CX-9 three-row SUV, in this review I’m going to focus on a couple vehicles on the smaller side of their lineup that I recently got to spend some time in -- the 2018 Mazda compact sedan, and the 2018 Mazda CX-3 subcompact SUV, which is essentially a raised-up version of a Mazda2 sedan.
It’s been nearly a decade, but the Chevy Traverse is at long last getting an overhaul.
Lower in annual sales that most of its three-row SUV competition, it’s made some needed changes (slimmer weight, boosted power, tech upgrades) to help catch up to the many vehicles in a class that only continues to grow (Its competitors include the new Volkswagen Atlas; Ford Explorer; Dodge Durango; GMC Acadia; Honda Pilot; Toyota Highlander and Mazda CX-9).
I recently spent some time in a 2018 Traverse and I’m back with a full report on how it holds up.
With some auto brands, there’s often debate about how to classify them. With Buick, the debate centers on whether it’s truly a luxury brand (like fellow GM stablemate Cadillac) or something less -- perhaps more of a premium brand that’s more plush than Chevy but not quite at a Cadillac level.
Either way, it’s really all semantics. Because in the end, what matters is that a vehicle is well-built, performs well and looks great. And with the vehicles Buick has been putting out in recent years, they are certainly meeting that expectation.
I recently spent some time in Buick’s largest SUV -- the three-row Buick Enclave, which can be considered the crown jewel of the Buick lineup -- and I’m back with a full report.
Long overdue for an upgrade (it hasn’t had one since being introduced in 2009), the GMC Terrain compact SUV finally gets one for the 2018 model year.
In a segment that continues to be hot and see more entries, it’s critical to stay fresh.But is it fresh enough? I recently spent some time in a 2018 Terrain and I’m back with a full report.
Less boxy and rigid, and more sleek and aerodynamic, than its predecessor, the 2018 GMC Terrain is seriously upgraded in exterior looks for 2018. It’s not so extreme a change that it blends in with the crowd now (the grille still screams GMC), but it’s enough of a change that you definitely won’t confuse it with the prior version. In the process of the upgrade, the Terrain lost a few inches of length and shed several hundred pounds of weight.
The interior is high-end and comfortable, especially on the Denali model, which is at near luxury level. It’s one of the most comfortable small SUVs you will find on the market.
It also feels surprisingly roomy for a small SUV, not claustrophobic like some of them can be. A power sunroof is offered too.
Appealing to everyone is the goal of some vehicles. Those are the ones that generally top the sales charts.
In the meantime, there are plenty of other vehicles that focus on what they do best, and aim for their niche market, and the Toyota 4Runner is one of those. This longtime favorite of drivers who love to go off-road continues to play to that crowd and remains successful, because it knows what it is and builds on those strengths.
I recently spent some time testing a 2017 4Runner 4x4 TRD Off-Road, and here’s my report on what it has to offer. (Note: the 2018 4Runner is essentially the same vehicle)
“Go big or go home!” is a saying I seem to hear often these days, with everyone from poker players to “Jeopardy!” contestants spouting this all-or-nothing wisdom.
But when it comes to buying a vehicle, the good news is you can go big AND go home -- you just need to get one of the few remaining truck-based full-size SUVs that are still available to consumers to do so.
One such entry in this small (but very profitable) segment is the 2018 Chevy Tahoe, which I recently had a chance to test. I’m back now with a full report on how it compares to the other remaining big boys on the battlefield including some others from within the GM stable (which collectively dominate this segment in sales) and the Ford Expedition.
The general thoughts of someone buying a three-row SUV tend to focus on things other than power and the ride quality -- Buyers seek out storage space, they want maximum seating and they want safety features on the family vehicle. Often, people will settle for a disappointing ride if the other boxes are checked, since their priorities have changed due to that thing called family.
Luckily, they don’t always have to make that sacrifice, as evidenced by vehicles like the 2018 Mazda CX-9, which I was recently able to spend some time in. Despite being a three-rower with capacity for seven, the experience of driving the CX-9 is not what you would expect -- in a good way..
Did I hear the word diesel?
It’s pretty rare these days … as diesels were never that hot on this side of the pond, and after the scandals involving Volkswagen and other automakers in recent years it’s a format that few automakers are eager to explore here, as they choose to leave their diesel offerings overseas and not stateside.
But for those who dare (GM is offering diesel engines on the Chevy Cruze and GMC Terrain in addition to the Equinox), it remains an alternate way to offer better fuel milage without offering hybrid or electric vehicles.
The question is: Can diesels ever really catch on the U.S.A.? I recently tested a 2018 Equinox diesel and I’m back with a full report.
Even as they rose in popularity, SUVs weren’t always something that people thought would make their way to every single automaker -- particularly sports car brands like Jaguar.
But Jaguar couldn’t resist, and it’s even spread from there (Alfa-Romeo, Maserati and Lamborghini now have SUV offerings, and Ferrari is reportedly has one in the pipeline -- who woulda thunk it?).
As much as the sports car purists are made sick by this development (“how dare they tarnish the brand” or something like that is often muttered), there’s no denying the SUV and its practicality are here to stay -- even in the upper echelons of the automotive world.
Having debuted for the 2017 model year (and now already updated for 2018 edition with more engine options and other additional features), the F-Pace made its mark in the luxury SUV class instantly. As the brand continues to grow its offerings in this segment (the compact E-Pace and electric I-Pace are just around the corner), the F-Pace was their opening shot.
I spent some time in an F-Pace 35t R Sport, and here’s my take on how it fits in the scheme of luxury SUVs.
Nissan Titan (Price as tested: $39,505)
While truck sales are dominated by the trio of Ford, Chevy and Ram, we shouldn’t forget that there are other capable options out there worth considering. And I’m not talking about getting a truck for a Sunday drive: I’m talking about the Nissan Titan, which comes ready to do some work, whether it be hauling or towing, as a pickup truck should do.
With a starting price under $30K, the Titan is a strong option -- especially if you opt for the 5.6-liter V8 engine and its 390 horsepower/394 lb.-ft. of torque.
I used a Titan to haul some large loads of metal and appliances to the scrap yard, and it held up well throughout. It gets the job done, which is the point of a truck like this. Towing capacity is over 9,000 pounds, and payload capacity is just over 1,900 pounds.
Official mpg numbers on the Titan are 15 city/21 highway and 18 combined.
Bottom line: I wouldn’t want this big machine as my daily driver, as it’s too slow and lumbering for that, but if I was in the hauling and towing business on a daily basis, i would have to give it serious consideration.
2017 Infiniti QX60 (Price as tested: $60,045)
When people have money to spend, they’re often going to spend in on cars. That’s why it’s so important for automakers to get their big luxury vehicles right, as brand loyalty is a key factor so you don’t want to screw that up from the start.
I’ve driven multiple versions of this next vehicle, the Infiniti QX60 (previously known as the JX35 upon its initial launch), and it only gets better with time. It remains one of my favorite luxury SUVs, inside and out.
Recent upgrades to the QX60 include boosted power from the engine, as well as a larger infotainment screen up front. Outside design is sharp, recognizable and smooth looking -- typically the case with Infiniti. Inside layout is created for comfort for driver and passengers, with quality leather plus wood grain touches to enhance look.
Its 3.5-liter V6 (295 horsepower, 270 lb.-ft. of torque) isn’t best in class but still doesn’t disappoint. The tech setup is a bit too button-laden; could be simplified. But that’s a minor quibble since the vehicle’s drive quality is smooth to the point I’d call it silky. Fuel mileage numbers are 19 city/26 highway/22 combined, and safety ratings are top-notch.
Bottom line: Unless you absolutely need the most powerful engine in class, the QX60 is one of your most comfortable, safest and family-friendliest options in the luxury SUV category.
Matt Myftiu can be found on Twitter @MattMyftiu.