Trucks are macho, always have been. But as our society becomes more confrontational and in-your-face attitudes more commonplace it’s only natural truck styling sheet metal follows suit.
Today’s Toyota Tacoma will go toe-to-toe with any pickup in the attitudinal Olympics. Its fenders bulge like a body builder’s abs and its hood bulges like pecs gone wild. Muscular doesn’t begin to describe it.
That’s to be expected from the new, restyled 2016 Tacoma, the leading mid-size pickup in the U.S. market, the pickup that has been kicking sand in the faces of its competition for years. Market reports say Tacoma owns more than half of the truck sales in its segment.
And now, as if it weren’t already dominant enough, Tacoma is marking its territory with increased horsepower, better gas mileage and a quieter interior. Take that Nissan Frontier, Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon. Never mind that a few of those will tow more or still get better gas mileage, Tacoma is ready to rumble.
Let’s start with power, as that’s what most pickup owners are looking for, whether to tow, haul or simply impress their buddies and significant others.
Tacoma features a 278-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 that uses the Atkinson cycle, technology that burns fuel more efficiently than a standard V6. Several Mazda engines use the Atkinson design. Tacoma’s torque is 265 foot-pounds and tow capacity is 6,400 lbs. Read more
Back in the automotive heydays, car stylists were intent on giving their cars distinctive grilles, fins, headlights, taillights, profiles, you name it. Today we must satisfy ourselves with whatever styling cues designers can muster in a cookie-cutter marketplace.
Happily, Nissan designers have fashioned a swanky looking 2016 Maxima that’s svelte in profile and features sculpted taillights similar to those on its sexy sports car, the 370Z. This is as close to pizazz in a sedan as I’ve seen in a sedan of late.
Nissan also blends sports sedan with luxury sedan, a strong mix that comes in an attractive price range of $32,125 to $40,685. My test car was a dark metallic red Platinum version, the model atop that price list. It was a dandy.
At its base, the mid-size Maxima is a stylish sedan that will haul five adults in comfort and not blend in with the car-pool lane crowd. Even the base S model features Nissan’s 3.5-liter V6 that creates 300 horsepower and a torque rating of 261. Throughout the five trim levels that engine is well paired with Nissan’s Xtronic continuously variable transmission that shifts smoothly and yet gives the sedan well above average oomph. Nissan uses D-step shift logic to simulate gear changes and it feels convincingly like a standard automatic, but smoother. Nissan and Subaru seem to have best mastered CVTs to this point. Read more
Don’t read this on an empty stomach!
Or if you just happen to have an unused airline puke bag, have it handy. What? One of the other things I collect is airline memorabilia, like these seats from a KLM DC-9, which included three. Yup, I’m slowly collecting parts and should have a full airliner in about…..long story. One of my favorite Apps on my iPhone is Hemmings Motor News. On the top of the page they have featured cars for sale along with stories about classic cars farther down. I love seeing mostly cars I will never own but lust over. That doesn’t cost a dime. I recently viewed two cars that stood out. Not that they were cool or collectible but because one was repulsive and the other is an “A” for effort but really? I’ll save the first one for last and build up to it. Read more
Jeep became an automotive icon as the soldier’s best friend during World War II. Now that the brand is owned by Fiat Chrysler, some may have forgotten it was originally primarily built by Willys-Overland.
Autoart’s 1/18 scale version is of that early Jeep along with a U.S. Army trailer with fuel drum and other accessories. But a model of only the Jeep also is available.
How the Jeep came to be is a lengthy tale, but here’s the short version. First government specs went out in 1940 calling for a 1,300-lb. vehicle with 80-inch wheelbase and an engine generating at least 85 ft.-lbs. of torque.
Out of 135 U.S. automakers, just Willys and American Bantam Car Co., sought the contract, Ford entering the fray later. The government ordered 1,500 from each of the three makers, but later settled on the Willys design while using Ford’s wide, low hood.
Ford’s version was called the GP, but it’s said that nomenclature didn’t spur the Jeep name. Instead many say that mechanics coined the Jeep phrase and then it was repeated when the vehicle was introduced on the steps of the Capital in Washington, D.C. Newspapers picked it up and the Jeep name grew from there. Read more
Subaru’s Forester remains one of my favorite small SUVs because of its handling, spunky power, smooth CVT, quiet interior and sure-footed AWD capability.
That doesn’t even get at its other attributes, like reasonable starting price, good gas mileage, comfortable interior, top-notch safety rating and its overall usefulness.
The Forester was redesigned for 2014 and just keeps getting better with little tweaks. The handsome metallic (Venetian) red test model was the mid-level Limited that includes leather seats, an automatic climate control system, and power hatch.
Like its stablemates (there are four trims, plus the XT models that include a gutsier 2.0-liter turbocharged engine), the Limited delivers good interior space with wide comfortable seats and one of the quieter small SUV interiors.
The 2.5-liter boxer (horizontally-opposed) 4-cylinder engine is strong, delivering 170 horsepower and 174 ft.-lbs. of torque. While some small SUVs and crossovers may offer more pony power, few feel as spunky as this Subaru engine. Touch the gas pedal and the Forester jumps away from stoplights. In fact, it takes a couple days to get the feel of the pedal. You can startle yourself a bit the first few times you accelerate. Read more
Almost like a big barn find
It’s winter as I write this blog post in Wisconsin. Gotta tell you that as I’ve gotten older I’ve grown more of a distaste of winter. It’s cold and snowing which means all the collector cars are taking their long winter naps. Not one wanting to hibernate, I grabbed my camera and my daughter and took a ride up to the Wisconsin Automotive Museum. Read more
While Auto World’s new 1/18 scale Chevrolet Biscayne Coupe is a lot snazzier looking in its Aztec Bronze paint scheme, it reminds me of some of the Plain Jane Chevy’s my great uncle and other relatives used on their Indiana farms.
Those were usually white, tan or black, but no matter the color, the Biscayne was the go-to car for utility, size and comfort back in the mid-1960s, especially in rural areas where value was, and is, highly, well, valued.
Biscayne came into Chevy’s lineup in 1958 as its entry-level full-size car and lasted until 1972, so the ’66 model was roughly halfway in its shelf life, and was the car’s third generation. Biscayne replaced the Chevy 210 and featured little chrome trim inside or out, while the Bel Air was a step up and Impala was next up the totem. Read more
Ford’s Edge is a good looking crossover that puts Ford’s boxy Flex to shame in handling and looks , but won’t haul as many people. Edge is a top-flight mid-size crossover with a comfortable ride, good power and an excellent interior for five adults.
My test unit was the almost top-level Titanium model with all-wheel-drive, so started at $38,490, including delivery. Only the Edge Sport is more upscale, starting at $40,990 and packs a turbocharged V6.
I found the metallic gray (magnetic) test Edge’s turbocharged 2.0-liter EcoBoost I4 to be sufficient. It delivers a healthy 245 horsepower and boasts a 270 torque rating. So it’ll get up and go. Besides you’re not gonna take a crossover to Union Grove’s dragstrip anyway.
Ford’s EcoBoost engine works well with the standard 6-speed automatic, runs smooth and quiet and when you tromp the accelerator to get on the highway it’ll jump up to 70 mph quickly. Edge also gets away from stoplights well in town, not feeling as heavy as it’s nearly 4,100 lbs.
But the ride is what the family will like. Edge’s suspension is tuned to control rough Midwest roads and coddle passengers without making them feel they are floating along on a pillow. There’s little jostling and even railroad tracks don’t disturb the ride. Read more
Truck sales are booming
Thanks in part to cheap gas (yup, that’s the price I payed yesterday in the Milwaukee area), all the major manufacturers of truck saw big sales gains to end the year. In December the Ford F series led the way of all vehicles producing 780,354 units leading to a 3.5% increase over last year. Chevy’s Silverado was second producing 600,544 units as sales increased 13.4% while Ram produced 451,116 units for a 2.6% increase. The 4th vehicle on the list was the Toyota Camry a touch back from Ram (Source: WSJ).
Collecting Classic Trucks also following the trend
Right now they are the fastest growing segment among collectors according to analysis conducted by the Hagerty Valuation Team. Their values have more than doubled over the past five years in relationship to other vehicle segments. It’s a great starting point for collectors too. Prices range from about $15,000 for a driver to upwards of $45,000 for an over restored ’50s Chevrolet Cameo. Read more
Small scale Indy-winning Millers simply beautiful
Back before hearing the word “Miller” made us think of beer, the name meant winning at the Indianapolis 500, and elsewhere on the nation’s numerous board tracks. That’s right, they used to make race track surfaces out of wood!
Millers were simple yet sleek racers that the best drivers, or their sponsors, bought to race at the highest levels throughout North America. Indy was, and is, the crown jewel, and Miller racers were the cars to beat in the 1920s and early 1930s.
Now, Replicarz has produced two Indy 500 winners in 1:43 scale and in the limited quantities of just 250 each. Due to be released shortly are the 1926 Miller Special driven by Frank Lockhart, and the 1929 Simplex Miller driven to victory by Ray Keech. Replicarz’s earlier gold Miller driven by three-time winner Louis Meyer, sold out. So snagging one of these early probably would be wise, as only 250 of each are to be made.
Harry Miller was a noted engine maker and race car designer. Cars he designed won the Indy 500 nine times and three more times cars that were using his engines won the race. I’d say “think Roger Penske” as far as success, but Penske never designed cars or engines himself.
Millers, which were front-wheel-drive, were so dominant that they made up 83% of the Indianapolis fields from 1923 through 1928. Miller’s won 73 of 92 major U.S. auto races from 1922-29 and in 1929, 27 of the 33 racers in the Indy 500 were Millers.
After working with Ransom Olds (remember Oldsmobile?) early on and creating the first aluminum pistons and then the aluminum alloys used in engines, Miller became wealthy from a carburetor business he started. Read more
Small crossovers are growing in popularity and car makers are falling all over themselves to deliver a robust selection of these little SUV-hatchback-wagons.
In essence they are mix of those three categories, offering more cargo room, AWD or 4-wheel-drive capability and hatches for easy cargo carrying and better looks.
Fiat joins the parade with its 500X using cute styling from its tiny Fiat 500, raising the vehicle some and stretching its wheelbase, just not quite as much as its 500L (as in longer wheelbase), and offering AWD in its various trim levels.
I drove an orange (yes, orange) Fiat 500X Trekking right up through our first snow this winter. The Trekking is up two levels from the base Pop model and starts at $23,200, so is value priced. This one was front-wheel-drive, but as with the other 500X models, comes with Dynamic Control Selector that allows you to engage a traction system, or go sporty when pavement is dry.
At this price point, DCS is a rare treat and indeed, using Sport mode allowed the Fiat’s 2.4-liter MultiAir 4-cylinder engine to kick up its heels a bit. The engine makes 180 horsepower with 175 ft.-lbs. of torque, so has plenty of energy to get the slightly less than 3,000-lb. car moving. But Sport mode lets the somewhat unrefined feeling 9-speed automatic transmission shift more quickly, giving the car more kick from a standing start. It also firms the steering for a sportier feel. Read more
I learned to drive a stick shift on my Uncle Wink’s 1967 Camaro SS, so I’ll forever have a soft spot for 1960s Camaros. Auto World seems to too, creating numerous muscular 1960s die-cast Camaros in various scales.
Serious model car builders love their muscle in 1/24 scale and Auto World now delivers a handsome 1969 Camaro SS in bright orange in that scale. This isn’t as detailed as Auto World’s fine American Muscle series in 1/18 scale, but the body is well shaped and the car has the aggressive Camaro stance. Pricing is value minded too and there’s a lot to like about that.
Dodge’s Journey is a good example of a carmaker not being satisfied with its work, with its own status quo.
How so? To look at the Journey you’d think it’s long in the tooth. On its face, that’s true. Journey joined the Dodge lineup 7 years ago and looks pretty much as it did then, when it was one of the first mid-size crossovers on the market, a blend of minivan and sport-utility vehicle.
But Dodge has kept improving the Journey year after year to keep it relevant as a low-cost option for folks needing to haul up to seven people along with their stuff, plus providing enough power and all-wheel-drive security to get them where they want to go.
This year, for example, Dodge has broadened Journey’s lineup of 10 models in 5 trims to include the Crossroad Plus model with leather seats and Dodge’s large 8.4-inch nav/radio screen. I tested a bright red Journey Crossroad Plus with AWD that started at $29,595 and after options ended up at $34,360. That’s at the lower end of pricing for mid-size crossovers with AWD. Read more
I’m an Indiana boy at heart and that means Studebaker has always been near the top of my favorite U.S. car makes list.
The South Bend, Ind.-based company ceased production in the mid-1960s, but many of its cars were styling successes. Certainly in 1951 when this 1951 Studebaker Champion Starlight Coupe was roaring up and down U.S. 31 the car’s bullet nose and wraparound rear window were standout features that quickly identified it as a Studebaker. It certainly got folks attention, although some joked that you couldn’t tell if the car was coming or going.
Here Best of Show-Models (BoS) produces a fine 1/43 scale version at a high-value price, making it an easy addition to your collection of 1950s cars and trucks.
Studebaker, which had been making wagons and carriages for a century already in 1951,quickly took to the lean aircraft styling that was gaining popularity after World War II. The result was the sleek rounded fenders of the Champion with similarly pointed nose and tail styling, plus a wraparound rear window that gave it an airy, bright interior. It also gave the driver excellent rear visibility. Read more