2016 Lexus RX-350 F Sport

20160922_100157Recently the Lexus RX-350 was taken to Pirate Radio FM-104.7 (KELS) for a Friday edition of “Stu’s Reviews” featuring George Gray and Matt Arguello:

Adaptive Variable Suspension – Full-time All Wheel Drive – Blind Spot Monitor – Power Tailgate – Moonroof – Heated Steering Wheel – 12.3” Touchscreen Navigation – 15  Speaker Stereo by Mark Levinson – “Caviar” Metallic Black paint – White leather seating for five – $57,375.00, as equipped

Styling of the RX has always been a hallmark and this 2016 had a revised (substantially) look that was an eye-catcher .  Chrome tailpipes were present at the rear, and a nice black cladding strip adorns the lower body panels.  Up front the car features Lexus’ new “spindle”, pinched-in, somewhat massive, grill design.

Power for this car is provided by a 3.5 liter, 295 horsepower V-6 with an EPA rating of 19-city and 26-highway miles per gallon.  I observed 25.1 mpg during my week driving around in the RX, predominately on the highway.  Zero to 60 acceleration is reportedly 7.8 seconds.  Behind the power plant is a eight speed automatic with manual shifting and snow mode.  It, of course, is an all-wheel drive configuration, and the wheels are twenty-spoke black alloys fitted with P235/55R20 Michelin Premier LTX all-season radials.

It’s not a surprise that the Lexus RX is the top-selling luxury SUV;  I can recommend the RX, as it was an enjoyable week with it in my possession.


2016 Toyota Land Cruiser 4WD


George Gray, DJ at Pirate Radio 104.7, recently was able to join me in an analysis of the Toyota Land Cruiser outside the studios at KELS FM:


Blue Onyx Pearl paint – 8 passenger – Power heated and a/c bucket seats – 9” touchscreen – Full time 4WD – LED running lights – XM radio and  premium 14 speaker stereo plus rear DVD player with dual 11” screens – Keyless entry – power windows and locks – pushbutton start – 5.7 liter V-8 with 381 horsepower – 8 Speed automatic transmission – Backup camera and navigation – $84,820.00  list price –  18 MPG Highway – 5,815 lb. curb weight – 16.1 cubic foot cargo space behind third row seats

2016 Volkswagen “Dune” 1.8T Turbo Beetle

20160825_163702Volkswagen Beetles were built from 1938 to 2003, and  over 20 million have been manufactured and sold worldwide since the inception of the car in Germany.  A man named Porsche designed the car, and along with the rear engine placement, the car was air cooled, without liquid coolant or a radiator.

What is commonly called a “New Beetle” with coolant, a front engine, and front-wheel drive, has been marketed on and off since 1997.  Such a car is what I picked up at General Mitchell Airfield in Milwaukee to drive on a midwest vacation.  It was a 2016 Turbocharged Sandstorm Yellow metallic unit with “Dune” equipment specified, including a rear spoiler, raised suspension, ten-spoke polished alloy wheels, exclusive bumpers and air intakes, black exterior cladding, aluminum pedal covers, and special badging and decals.20160825_153231

Power for my front wheel drive test car was supplied by a 1.8 liter, 170 horsepower (184 lb. ft. of torque) four cylinder gas engine with an EPA mileage rating of 25/city, 34/highway, 28 combined MPG.  The fuel tank capacity was 14.5 gallons.  The transmission on hand was a six-speed automatic, and it seemed sturdy and somewhat enjoyable.  For having a turbocharger, the engine had a definite grumble to it, belying the high RPM turbo operating in the power department.  Turbochargers whir at about 150,000 revolutions per minute – roughly 30 times as fast as the engine.  They are nice in Colorado, spinning faster at that altitude and mitigating power loss that can be associated with naturally-aspirated (i.e. fuel injected) engines.  I can’t say I hated having turbocharged power in Illinois and Wisconsin – the technology is just great.

Inside the four passenger Volkswagen, a Fender premium stereo was on hand as well as heated cloth and leatherette buckets with yellow piping and stitching, Bluetooth connections, pushbutton starter, flat-bottomed steering wheel, rear view camera, and satellite radio.  The theme inside was tasteful and coordinated well with the outside styling.  Beetle “Dune” looks was great, featured a wider track, honeycomb grill, LED tail lights, and while on our trip several tourists stopped by to comment on our ride.

Acceleration of the 3,093 lb. VW was great fun, road manners were on target, and handling/guidance were fine, as well.  It’s a pretty quiet sedan and visibility is fine.  List price was $25,065.00 for the 2016 that I drove and that included freight.  The only optional uncharge was for the Sandstorm paint, at $250.00.  The Volkswagen Beetle has a niche market and doesn’t sell over 400,000 per year (in the U.S.!) like the old days, but still has a nice following and a fan in this reviewer.

2016 Nissan Frontier PRO-4X Crew Cab

20160817_193554_HDRListen to a review of the Nissan that took place at Pirate Radio, 104.7FM:


This past week I received for review a new Nissan pickup, the Frontier 4×4 (PRO-4X) four-door crew cab.  Nissan, formerly Datsun, has been in business for 102 years (since 1914), and is now the sixth largest vehicle manufacturer in the world.  The original company name was derived from the three founders’ initials, DAT.  “Sun” was added 17 years later when the company introduced a small car (son of DAT).  “Son” means loss in Japanese; hence the name Datsun.    

At one time, I actually owned a brand new 1971 Datsun pickup when I lived near Cape Canaveral, Florida.  It was the model 1600 and I don’t think it cost over $1,600, even though it was brand new.  I bought it for going to the beach with surfboards loaded up in back, but I subsequently gave up surfing for marriage, and  traded off the Datsun for an automobile.

This Nissan pickup I recently tested was the PRO-4X upgraded model with Bilstein performance shocks, triple skid plates (oil pan/fuel tank/transfer case), 16” two tone finished, six-spoke alloy wheels, locking rear differential, P265/75R16 white-letter tires, hill descent/start controls, Rockford Fosgate CD/XM satellite stereo, spray-on bed liner, Bluetooth phone, and special white-faced gauges.  The Frontier pickup comes in a rear-wheel drive configuration, but the PRO-4X that I tested is four-wheel drive.

The M.S.R.P. for the 2016 PRO-4X is $36,525.00, including freight ($900.00), floor mats ($135.00), and the Pro-4X luxury package ($2,100.00).  The luxury package included navigation (5.8” screen), moon roof, hands-free text messaging assistant, and heated outside mirrors.  Power is supplied by a 4.0 liter, 261 horsepower V-6, backed up by a smooth, five-speed automatic transmission.  Torque rating in this truck is 281 lb. ft.  The four-wheel drive is “shift on the fly”, up to 62 mph – 2 speed transfer case included.  Weight of the vehicle is 4,548 lbs., and the wheelbase/length numbers are 125.9” and 205.5”, or just over 17 ft. long.  The fuel economy figures are 15 mpg city and 21 mpg highway, with a 21.1 gallon tank.  My observance for the week turned out to be 17.3 mpg.

I didn’t anticipate that the Frontier would offer such a comfortable ride and quiet cabin. I enjoyed the smooth five-speed automatic, and the vaunted V-6 performed a lot like a V-8.  Nissan builds this Frontier with a fully-boxed frame and they provide 10” of ground clearance, factors helping the pickup when encountering the bumps and boulders.  For my type of driving the 5’ bed keeps the vehicle manageable for maneuvering in traffic and parking.

The leather seating was coupled with a leather-wrapped steering wheel and console-mounted emergency brake.  The buckets (driver side – eight adjustments) kept me comfortable all week and the floor shift and storage compartments were sensible.  Styling of the truck is fine, and a feature that I liked was the Forged Copper metallic paint as well as the husky luggage rack on top of the cab.

Nissan has little competition in this mid-size pickup segment, so they get to enjoy brisk sales of the Frontier; 52,255 for the first seven months of 2016. They’ve gotten it just about right with this model, and to me it would be a safe pick if I were in the market for a new pickup.

2016 Volkswagen Tiguan SEL 4Motion


On a Friday in July, the Volkswagen Tiguan was taken to Pirate Radio (104.7 FM) for  “Stu’s Reviews” during the morning show, and both George Gray and Matt Arguello looked over the VW and made remarks on-air:


M.S.R.P. of this test Tiguan was $38,105.00, including freight, and the SEL 4Motion (all-wheel drive) model came handsomely equipped (including trailering equipment).  The drive train consisted of a 200 hp, turbocharged, 4 cylinder, 2 liter engine with 207 lb. ft. of torque.  And behind it was a 6 speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic shifting and sport mode.

Highway driving and manners of the Tiguan are nice, to be sure.  The interior had that Teutonic luxury look that you might expect, and on hand were the navigation system, satellite radio, tilt/telescope, heated buckets, fold down rear seat, Bluetooth and media device interface, and a huge panoramic power sunroof that extended over the back seats.  It was a lot of fun around town, especially so if you employed the Tiptronic transmission.  And doing so involved a city fuel economy rating of 20 mpg (26 highway, 23 combined).  I observed 22.5 during my week with the car, and it required premium unleaded gasoline.  Weight of the Tiguan was 3,434 lbs. and its wheelbase was 102.5”.  Styling was sleek and European, and the car rode on attractive, 19” alloy wheels with Pirelli Scorpion radials.

I enjoyed spending a week with the Tiguan, plus taking it to Pirate Radio; if I was in the market for a small SUV such as this VW, Toyota’s RAV4, or Honda’s CRV, I would be taking a long look at the Volkswagen.


2016 Buick Envision Premium II AWD Luxury SUV

20160620_200850_HDRBuick’s newest SUV offering comes in the form of the Envision, a mid-size luxury crossover made in China but designed and engineered in the U.S.  It is designed to take head-on the Audi Q5 and Acura RDX, et al.

I fell in love with my test Envision, right off the bat.  It handles like a dream, seems to be just the right size, and offers good ride and visibility while generating little road noise.  Buick has positioned the classy, analog clock angled towards the driver but to the right of the dashboard middle so that others can easily peek at it from elsewhere in the cabin.  A little thing, no doubt, but when you add up a lot of little things a great motoring experience generally unfolds.

My test Buick carried an M.S.R.P. of $47,525.00, including a panoramic moon roof for $1475.00, Ebony Twilight metallic paint for $395.00, and freight for $925.00. 20160621_072112 Base price was $44,710.00.  The Ebony (black) paint was offset by an interior with light neutral perforated leather seating (for five), front buckets (both heated and ventilated), and a 60/40 back seat with fore/aft and reclining feature.

Interior equipment included GPS navigation with 8″ touch screen, Bose 7-speaker stereo with satellite radio, OnStar 4G LTE and built-in WiFi hotspot, head-up display, remote/push button starter, and memory driver seating.  I liked the support of the driver seat and thought visibility was good.

Wheels on the Envision are 19″, ten-spoke alloy with Manoogian silver finish and they have Hankook Ventus S1 Noble2, 235/50R19 mud and snow radials installed.  The tires selected are biased toward traction first, ride quality second, and economy third.  Styling of the Buick stacks up well with the competitors mentioned earlier and the grill is designed in the company “waterfall” design that is seen on Veranos, etc.  Overall length of the Envision is 184″, wheelbase is 108″, and the car weighs 3,800 lbs.  Of course it fits in between the Buick Enclave and the Encore in terms of size and pricing.20160620_201143_HDR

The lone power option for the all-wheel drive Envision is a 2.0 liter, 4 cylinder engine with a turbocharger and 252 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 260 lb. ft. of torque at 2,000 rpm. I found the car to be quite peppy – transmission is a six-speed 6T70 electronically controlled automatic with floor shift.  Fuel economy ratings are 22 combined, 20 city, and 26 highway miles per gallon.  Premium fuel is burned in the car and it is stored in a 17.3 gallon tank.

General Motors says it wasn’t even sure about bringing the Envision to the United States when it made plans to build it in China years ago. The vehicle was designed for the Chinese market, where Buick is a sales leader and is General Motors’ top brand. The company has sold nearly 150,000 units there since the Envision went on sale about 12 months ago, even though the target was 100,000 so it was natural to take a shot at our market, where I think the car will be well-received.


2016 Mazda6 Grand Touring FWD Sedan


This Mazda6 Grand Touring was taken to Pirate Radio (104.7 FM) last week and inspected by the DJs, George “Elvis” Gray, and Matt “The Big Kahuna” Arguello:

Deep Crystal Blue metallic paint – Parchment leather buckets/5 passenger – Navigation system – 7” touchscreen – Radar Cruise control – LED running lights – Lane keep system – XM radio and  premium Bose stereo – Pushbutton starter – Power windows and locks – 2.5 liter 4 with 184 horsepower – Front Wheel Drive – 6 Speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters – Backup camera – Blind spot monitor with rear traffic alert – $33,395.00 M.S.R.P. – 40 MPG Highway

2016 Toyota Tundra 4X4 “TRD Pro” Pickup


George Gray and myself looked over the Tundra outside the Pirate Radio studios and went inside to discuss the unit:

 The Toyota Tundra full-size pickup, available since model year 2000, is a capable replacement to the old Toyota T100, and is available with three engine choices.  They are the 4 liter V-6 and two V-8s, with the largest one putting out 381 horsepower and 401 lb. ft. of torque.  It’s what’s called the iForce 5.7 liter DOHC aluminum V-8 with (i)ntelligent variable valve timing and flex fuel capability.  It is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission with console-mounted shifter, and such were the drive train specifications of my test vehicle this past week.20160531_124019_HDR

The Tundra that I drove was the TRD Pro CrewMax with an M.S.R.P. of $47,118.00, including options and freight.  Base price of this model is $45,060.00, and options on it were the paint protection film, chrome tailgate inserts, bed mat, spare tire lock, performance air filter, and allow wheel locks.  It was part-time four wheel drive with electric control and trailering equipment.  The interior was black leather and seated five, a premium stereo with satellite radio was on hand, and Bluetooth connectivity was present.  20160531_194851

      The “standard” bed that comes with this CrewMax is 78.7” long, wheelbase is 145.7”, length is 228.9”, width is 79.9”, height is 75.8”, and the truck weighs 5,375 lbs.

Styling of the TRD Pro was upgraded to include black door handles,  TRD badging, ten-spoke black finish alloy wheels, and BF Goodrich Rugged Trail T/A 275/65R18 black letter tires.  All the full-size pickups from GM, Dodge, Nissan, and Ford are good-looking, as is the Tundra.

Ride, cab noise, guidance, and visibility were all great in this vehicle.  The gas tank holds 26.4 gallons, and the EPA ratings on the previously described engine was 13 city, 17 highway, and 15 overall.  I observed 15 miles per gallons during my time with the Toyota.

Toyota sold well over 100,000 Tundras last year, so it is a popular choice for shoppers.

2016 Nissan Altima 2.5 SL FWD Sedan


For a recent test my wife and I went to Kearney, NE, for Memorial Day and a stop at Fort McPherson National Cemetery, where relatives’ remains are located.  The cemetery was created on a 20-acre plot over 140 years ago on the grounds of Fort McPherson, near North Platte.  The Fort was finished in October of 1863, and served as an outpost to protect travelers between Fort Kearny (now Kearney, NE) and Colorado.

The Cemetery has over 10,000 interments located there, and we visited the site in a 2016 Nissan Altima 2.5 SL sedan.  It was painted Pearl white and had beige leather seating for five inside.  I photographed it at the Julesberg, CO rest stop, and got over 31 miles per gallon on the round trip to Kearney.

Power for the front-wheel-drive Altima SL is supplied by a 2.5 liter, four cylinder engine with 182 horsepower (6,000 rpm) and 180 lb. ft. of torque (4,000 rpm).  Nissan gave in to the 4-cylinder trend with this car, and my trip was pleasurable, even thoughin the past I drove the V-6 Altimas.  A continuously variable automatic transmission is mated to the four cylinder engine, and acceleration was fine.  EPA mileage figures are 27/39 mpg for city and highway (18 gallon tank), and the combined rating is 31 miles per gallon.

The white Altima SL I tested had as options a moonroof package ($800.00), carpeting floor and trunk mats ($210.00), premium pearl paint ($395.00), and technology package ($1,700.00).  Total M.S.R.P., counting the $835.00 for freight, came to $32,510.00.  With rear backup camera, moon roof, navigation system, keeping this sedan under thirty-three  grand is an accomplishment.  Of course it had key-in-your-pocket ignition, tilt/telescope, power locks and windows, cruise control, satellite radio/CD, Bluetooth, and UBS connection.  Seating, as I mentioned, was for five, and the trunk held 15.4 cubic feet of cargo.

Styling for the new Altima, introduced in July of 2012, is an improvement over prior Altimas.  It looks bigger than it actually is, which is 191.5 “ in length and 3,177 lbs. in weight.  Chrome door handles are attached to the Nissan, and dual fog lights are up front along with a bold grill.  Ride is great, and it’s quiet in the cabin (71 decibels).  Ten-spoke, two-toned 17” alloy wheels are surrounded by P215/55R17 Michelin Primacy MXV4 all season radials.

Nissan’s best seller, this Altima, should hold up well in the sales wars with Honda’s Accord and Toyota’s Camry, as it doesn’t offer a person many opportunities to complain.  I spent a long couple of days on the Interstate with it, and the driving didn’t get tiresome, the audio was great, and time flew on our trip to Nebraska.