Cadillac CTS Vsport: Twin Turbo Performance

Cadillac CTS Vsport

Automotive analysts drive me nuts! Well, not all — after all, I am an analyst myself.

What infuriates me is when any purported expert or analyst takes data and uses that to argue a point, a baseless one in particular. For example, some people are pointing to Cadillac’s current sales decline (2.4 percent through July 2015) and juxtapose that figure with the 5 percent increase in general sales and 10 percent increase in luxury sales through the same period, and use those numbers to conclude that Cadillac is in trouble.

Agreed, on the surface it appears that Cadillac is getting spanked. But what is actually happening is that GM’s luxury brand is showing much discipline by not selling Cadillacs at fire sale prices as they have done in the past. Moreover, on close scrutiny you will understand what is ailing Cadillac — if you want to call it that — and that is a paucity of utility vehicles in a segment where its competitors sell far more SUVs than Cadillac’s two — the compact SRX crossover and the behemoth Escalade SUV.

Indeed, BMW (5), Audi (7) and Mercedes-Benz (7) have more of the kinds of vehicles people are buying at the moment in this crossover-crazed world. Further, Cadillac won’t be catching up anytime soon as it aligns its strategy into expanding its sedans first to four product lines when the Cadillac CT6 arrives later this year.

New utility vehicles will follow the CT6, but not immediately.

Cadillac CTS Vsport

I am supposed to be dispassionate when writing about cars, especially when presenting a review, but I must say I like the direction Cadillac is heading. The XTS, ATS and Escalade have each been driven and reviewed by me and just this past week I added the CTS to my Cadillac review portfolio.

And not just any CTS, mind you. This one was a 2015 Cadillac CTS Vsport, a midsize luxury rear-wheel drive sedan powered by a twin-turbo V-6 engine. This same engine was found under the hood of an XTS I drove nearly two years ago, an all-wheel drive model also finished in dazzling crystal white tricoat.

The Vsport line should not be confused with the V-Series, the ultimate in Cadillac performance. But unlike Lexus which offers an ornamental “F Sport” line with no added performance and an “F” series with real kick, both Cadillac Vs do, indeed, provide the requisite bite.

The CTS-V (V-Series) model was last offered in 2014 and will return for 2016. A supercharged 6.2-liter making a jaw-dropping 640 horsepower moves that puissant beast, providing one of the best combinations of luxury and performance anywhere. In comparison, the CTS Vsport has an output of 420 horsepower by means of its 3.6-liter twin turbo, but those numbers shouldn’t be easily dismissed. This sedan rocks and you will hardly roll as you navigate the twisty roads. Composed? Most definitely.

Cadillac CTS Vsport

2015 Cadillac CTS Vsport

View manufacturer details and pricing

Cadillac CTS Vsport

The twinned turbo engine comes paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission. The normally aspirated engine has a 6-speed automatic with all-wheel drive and an 8-speed automatic with rear-wheel drive. The potent Vsport has the 8-speed automatic. Paddle shifters are included across the product line.

The Cadillac CTS offers a commanding presence. Now in its third generation, the current model advances the brand’s modern Art & Science design language.

That language includes a revised grille with Cadillac’s updated crest, deep crease lines running from the base of the front fascia to the windshield, angular headlamps, distinctive LED daytime running lights, and scalloped lower grille openings. On the sides, upper and lower character lines, alloy wheels and a roof line that flows to the raised rear deck are apparent. At the rear, this sedan is marked by the expected capacious horizontal tail lamps common to all Cadillacs and a pair of embedded exhaust finishers.

Cadillac CTS Vsport

Cadillac CTS Vsport

Inside, Cadillac makes every effort to match the fit, finish and the quality of materials you would find in a Mercedes-Benz E-Class, an Audi A6, or in a BMW 5 Series. It is my estimation that Cadillac succeeds in that endeavor.

To wit, the CTS Vsport comes trimmed in leather with only choice materials used such as anodized aluminum or carbon fiber, and your choice of fine woods. Each CTS Vsport is equipped with a 20-way power driver’s seat with lumbar support, a heated steering wheel, a power tilt and telescopic steering column, heated and ventilated front seats, a 12.3-inch configurable center color display, power accessories, a hand-wrapped and motorized front cup holder assembly, auxiliary power points, an SD card and USB ports, and wireless charging.

Two matters of note: I was disappointed that the CTS Vsport did not include a driver’s seat extender, what provides an extra measure of support for those long trips. Nor could I make the wireless charging system work. That wireless charger can be found in a hidden storage compartment located behind the climate control section of the center stack — the accompanying placard showed how it was done, but it didn’t get it done.

Cadillac CTS Vsport

Cadillac’s center stack is capacitive controlled, with sensors detecting when you want to raise or lower the volume or adjust the climate control, with sliders controlling it all. I have a love/hate relationship with this arrangement. Notably, I love it when I can figure it out. But I hate it when it doesn’t respond as I would like. Furnish elegant buttons, switches and knobs instead — just leave the high tech controls out.

The CTS Vsport does have two notable attributes on its side. First, the interior is quiet, just as you would expect in a Cadillac. Second, the cabin is supremely comfortable, bright, roomy and exquisite. While you would also expect the latter in a Cadillac, the CTS is far different from the pillowy land barges Cadillac produced for much of the last century. This one provides a wholly European feel, with its simple, yet elegant style and on-road prowess.

Indeed, it is on the road where any sedan of the CTS Vsport’s caliber will either succeed or fail. Happily, the Vsport is and was up to the task.

Generally, when it comes to forced induction, I prefer superchargers over turbochargers. Superchargers quite frankly have no lag, but they are considered less efficient and more prone to reliability issues. But a twin turbo represents a parallel system where each turbo feeds off of half of the engine’s cylinders. Cadillac has these and an air cooler to deliver instant power. Turbo lag? It simply isn’t there. Optimum performance? Absolutely.

Cadillac CTS Vsport

Ignite the starter, slip the Cadillac in gear and you are ready to head out. But not so fast: you can select touring, sport or track modes, the latter adjusting throttle progression and the magnetic ride control calibrations while on the track. Moreover, track mode is also ideal for curvilinear roads, pavement imbued with the twists, turns, rises and falls that makes sport sedan driving a most excellent experience.

Cadillac says that the CTS Vsport hits 60 mph from a dead stop in just 4.4 seconds and I won’t argue with that contention, despite not having a stop watch to confirm same. Press on the pedal and immediately you have all 420 stallions galloping forward.

Copious amounts of energy is unleashed and if paddle shifters are your deal (not for me — give me a manual), then you are ready to explore the Vsport’s driving side. ZF Steering supplies the electric variable-assist power steering, with quick flicks of the wheel moving this hallowed four-door with ease. No mushy feel here — the connection to the Vsport is confident and nailed down.

The chassis and suspension underpinning the CTS Vsport is what places the emphasis on enthusiasm in this model. Magnetic ride control represents the world’s fastest reacting suspension system, adjusting upwards of 1,000 times per second to ensure the best ride possible. The system is not new — it originated with the Chevrolet Corvette and found its way to the Cadillac Seville STS early in this century. Other manufacturers have tried to match it, but have yet to replicate its adeptness.

For diehard luxury performance enthusiasts, nothing less than the CTS-V will do. For those who want to balance luxury, performance and affordability, the CTS Vsport merits your consideration, notwithstanding what some automotive analysts might opine.

2015 Cadillac CTS Vsport

  • Sticker price from $59,340
  • Price as tested: $62,280
  • Seats 5 occupants
  • 3.6-liter 24-valve twin turbocharged gasoline engine
  • 420 horsepower @ 5,750 RPM
  • 430 foot-pounds of torque @ 3,500 RPM
  • 3.70 inches bore by 3.37 inches stroke
  • Engine compression ratio: 10.2-to-1
  • 8-speed automatic transmission
  • Wheelbase: 114.6 inches
  • Length: 195.5 inches
  • Width: 72.2 inches
  • Height: 57.2 inches
  • Passenger volume: 97
  • Storage volume: 13.7 cubic feet
  • Towing capacity: 1,000 pounds
  • EPA: 16 mpg city, 24 mpg highway
  • Premium grade gasoline
  • Fuel tank: 19 gallons
  • Curb weight: From 3,952 pounds
  • IIHS safety rating: Good
  • Limited vehicle warranty: 4 years/50,000 miles
  • Powertrain warranty: 6 years/70,000 miles
  • Corrosion warranty: 6 years/100,000 miles
  • Vehicle assembly: Lansing, Michigan

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2015 Cadillac CTS Vsport photos copyright Auto Trends Magazine.

Return of the Ford Ranger?

Updated Aug. 27, 2015, to reflect information about a second model, the Ford Bronco.

Ford Bronco

Ford may build the Bronco (concept pictured) and the Ranger at its Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, pending talks with the UAW.

By now, you probably have heard reports that the UAW and the Ford Motor Company are actively discussing new products that may be manufactured at the Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, Michigan. Several of the current products, including the Ford Focus, are being moved out — possibly to Mexico where labor rates are inexpensive.

According to multiple credible sources, including the Detroit Free Press, one new product seems a strong possibility once small car production ends at the plant in 2018. And that would be none other than the Ford Ranger, a pickup truck last built and sold in the US in 2011, but currently available in more than 200 markets worldwide.

Michigan Made?

Ford RangerThe Michigan Assembly Plant has been a hot button in negotiations between Ford and the UAW as both parties seek to come to an agreement before the current four-year covenant expires on September 14.

The union wants Ford workers to receive a pay raise and it is also seeking to eliminate the two-tier pay system instituted in 2007. That system pays new workers $15.78 per hour initially, rising to $19.28 per hour after four years. Thus, moving the new workers to the current $28 per hour pay scale represents one key point in the negotiations. Preserving jobs is another essential point, something that would be accomplished by building the Ford Ranger in the states.

But building the Ford Ranger in Michigan means the union will most certainly have to work with the automaker to make that move worthwhile and profitable. Ford has long pointed to start up costs when explaining why the next generation and current Ranger would not be sold here. Others have contended that a unibody Ranger would not be appropriate in a segment dominated by body-on-frame pickup trucks. Only the Honda Ridgeline is a unibody model; all other competitors, including the Toyota Tacoma and Chevrolet Colorado are underpinned by a traditional truck chassis.

Ford RangerFord Ranger fans should restrain their excitement, at least for now. A new Ranger does not offer hardly enough volume to keep a plant running, therefore the two sides must continue to negotiate in a bid to bring in another model line. [Update: Bloomberg Business reports that the Ford Bronco is also being considered and would be built at the same manufacturing plant]. Also, by the time the Ranger arrives, the small truck market may have shifted again. Moreover, with a Jeep pickup truck a distinct possibility, Ford may find the going especially rough.

About the Global Ford Ranger

Dubbed the “global” Ranger by Ford, the current model is larger than the previous generation compact model last produced at Ford’s Twin Cities Assembly Plant in Minnesota in 2011.

In Australia, where the Ford Ranger was designed and built, the current Ford Ranger is powered by a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder gasoline engine making 164 horsepower and 167 foot-pounds of torque. Ford also offers a pair of diesel engines, including low- and high-output versions of its 2.2-liter four-cylinder making 118 or 148 horsepower and 210 or 277 foot-pounds of torque. A 3.2-liter, inline five-cylinder diesel is also available and is rated at 197 horsepower and 347 foot-pounds of torque.

Ford RangerFord pairs theses engines with 5- and 6-speed manual transmissions or a 6-speed automatic transmission. The base gasoline engine and the high output diesel could make it in the US. Offer the 2.7-liter EcoBoost V-6 and you will have a pickup truck offering optimum wallop.

The global Ranger is available in double and super cab layouts — the super cab is essentially an extended cab design. Both 4×2 and 4×4 drivetrains are available. Maximum towing is a whopping 7,385 pounds.

Tipping the scales near 4,500 pounds, the double cab 4×4 truck measures 126.8 inches between the wheels and is 210.9 inches long by 72.8 inches wide by 71.5 inches tall. It comes equipped with ventilated disc brakes up front and drum brakes at the rear.

The front double wishbone suspension system is composed of MacPherson strut, coil spring, and hydraulic double acting shock absorbers. A leaf spring arrangement with hydraulic double acting shock absorbers constitute the rear suspension.

Photos courtesy of the Ford Motor Company.

Making a Case For a Jeep Pickup Truck

Jeep pickup -- Gladiator

Secretive FCA Meetings Reveal New Jeep,
Dodge, Ram & Chrysler Products

See AlsoNot US Bound: Ram 700 Pickup Truck

For several days this week, Fiat Chrysler (FCA) dealers have been in Las Vegas, previewing upcoming Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep models. Like two such meetings held previously, the dealer representatives cannot bring smartphones and cameras to the Mandalay Hotel ballroom where the products are being showcased.

Automotive News and other sources were speculating on just what products will be revealed. We already know that the next generation Chrysler Town & Country is one of those vehicles, including a plug-in hybrid variant intended to shake up the segment. A three-row Jeep Grand Wagoneer, a compact Chrysler 100, and the next generation Dodge Journey are also likely taking the big stage.

None, however, will likely draw as much interest as a pair of midsize trucks destined for Jeep and Ram dealers. Jeep at least is a sure bet for the new model, one that would be based on the platform underpinning the next generation Jeep Wrangler.

Although our sources are mum (at least as of this writing) that a Jeep pickup truck will happen, Auto Trends has connected the dots and sees the long-rumored truck finally becoming a reality. This is how we believe FCA makes a case for the pickup truck.

1. The midsize pickup truck segment is back.

Jeep Pickup -- J12 Concept.

Jeep J-12 Concept.

The US manufacturers each exited the midsize pickup truck segment around the same time three years back. Ram had the Dakota, Ford the Ranger and GM offered the Chevrolet Colorado and the GMC Canyon. Unlike Ford and Ram, GM promised to make a return.

GM kept its promise and the 2015 Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon have returned with a big splash. The new pickup trucks have had such a positive impact on the market that even Toyota credited GM’s trucks with breathing new life into what most had thought was a dying segment. Indeed, Toyota told journalists previewing the next generation Tacoma earlier this month that the new GM trucks have benefited the segment as online searches for midsize trucks are up sharply. Further, sales of the 10-year-old Tacoma has also risen by nearly 20 percent year-to-date.

FCA has been watching the segment intently and sees room for additional growth. And with Ford now considering bringing the Ranger back, FCA will need to make its move now (Updated on Aug. 26, 2015 to reflect breaking news about the Ford Ranger).

2. It justifies the cost for an all-new Wrangler.

Jeep pickup -- Gladiator

Jeep Gladiator concept.

When FCA stated that it might transfer Wrangler production abroad and build a unibody model, the faithful protested mightily. Likely, FCA had no intention of shifting production or emasculating Jeep’s standard bearer. Instead, they wanted to gauge public reaction. But they also knew that they needed to justify the cost of devoting a dedicated platform to the Wrangler.

Yes, Jeep sales are up across the board, way up in new markets at that. There is a lot of room for growth, but that alone isn’t enough to justify the cost of spending northwards of $1 billion on a new Wrangler.

Fortunately, another product can be based on the Wrangler platform and that would be a pickup truck. Jeep faithful who follow the regular Moab Easter Jeep Safari product teasers have seen multiple variations on the Jeep pickup theme showcased. Whether that model will be based on the Comanche, Gladiator, J-12 or some other concept doesn’t matter. Jeep will get a pickup truck and it will sell like hotcakes.

3. Ram will help spread those costs further.

Jeep pickup truck.

Jeep Wrangler Sport pickup truck.

When you have two truck brands, you don’t dare neglect one at the expense of the other. Just as Chevrolet trucks and GMC are represented in the segment, Ram most likely will get a pickup truck of its own.

That theme was played out recently when both Fiat (500X) and Jeep (Renegade) were awarded with subcompact crossover SUVs. Both models share the same underpinnings, but have different bodies and unique interiors. The Renegade is suited for off road, the 500X for around town.

An all-new Ram Dakota will likely be differentiated to give each model certain distinctions to allow them to aim for different audiences. The Jeep pickup might be better suited to tackle the Toyota Tacoma with its own trail-rated capabilities while a Ram pickup might battle the GM models in all things payload and trailering. Look for an assortment of four- and six-cylinder engines (2.4- and 3.2-liter gas; and a 3.0-liter turbo-diesel) paired with nine-speed transmissions.

Eyes On: Upcoming Auto Shows

I have friends in FCA dealer places and may learn early on what the automaker has going on. Unfortunately, I’ll be muzzled from sharing this information with you, but a pair of upcoming major auto shows in November (Los Angeles) and January (Detroit) are logical places for Jeep and Ram pickup trucks to debut. Stay tuned!

Jeep pickup photos copyright Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

Labor Bargaining Chip: The Made in China Buick Envision

GM and the UAW are at the negotiation table with both parties seeking the upper hand with the next labor contract. A new bargaining chip, a Chinese-built Buick Envision crossover, may give GM some leverage. Negotiations are expected to conclude in September.

GM sales are up nearly 4 percent through July, coming in slightly below the market’s 5 percent growth pace. Chevrolet and GMC combined are contributing to the pace, but the premium Buick and luxury Cadillac brands are down year-to-date, falling 3.1 and 2.4 percent respectively.

A highly competitive luxury market is one reason why both brands are down, but the most compelling reason is a lack of utility vehicle model lines. Buick has the diminutive Encore crossover and the large Enclave crossover, while Cadillac offers the compact SRX crossover and the king-of-bling Escalade SUV. On the other hand, the strongest mainstream and luxury competitors typically offer at least three or four utility vehicles (usually crossovers), providing more of the types of vehicles that customers want than what Buick and Cadillac presently offer.

Buick Envision

GM will rectify the crossover deficiency for both marques, but sooner with the Buick. That’s because the automaker has its eyes set on its Chinese manufacturing base to supply a midsize model, the Buick Envision. The new model may appear stateside as soon as next year, despite strong opposition from the rank and file.

Indeed, the UAW has said that it opposes GM importing the Envision, a model the automaker could build in the US. The union and the automaker are currently negotiating in a bid to hammer out the next four-year labor agreement. GM’s factory employees have not seen a raise in 10 years and are clamoring for a wage increase. At the same time, GM is hinting that more products may be imported from abroad with the possibility that some North American production could be shifted to Mexico, a NAFTA nation.

Importing the Buick Envision comes on the heels of Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) ratification in July. The TPP seeks to lower trade barriers, including tariffs, what union leaders have argued would be poorly enforced and lead to job loss. Importing the Buick from China would mean that American workers would not have the opportunity to build the vehicle, resulting in a loss of job opportunities.

GM, however, cannot delay for what would likely take much more time to build the Envision in North America and at a greater cost too. The tooling and suppliers are in place in China, and the crossover would only need to be modified to meet current American safety and emissions testing requirements. Some changes might also be handled at the port of entry.

Buick Envision

Although GM has not publicly committed to bringing the Buick Envision to US, the company is pleased that this model has caught on so well in China where it went on sale just over a year ago.

That US media sources are reporting on the vehicle possibly heading to the US also gives GM some leverage as it prepares for contract talks in September.

Specifically, GM has a few scenarios in mind for how they want the labor talks to proceed. The Buick Envision may be held as a bargaining chip as the UAW wants to both expand jobs and procure raises.

GM, however, will continue to point to the labor advantage enjoyed by its foreign competition, specifically manufacturing plants in the southern United States owned by Mercedes-Benz, Hyundai, BMW, Kia, Toyota, Nissan and others. Look for the two parties to come to an agreement this September where either the pay is raised or more jobs are created, but not both.

From a customer’s standpoint, the Buick Envision fills a void in the brand’s lineup. The crossover sits on a 108.3-inch wheelbase, and is 183.7 inches long by 71 inches wide and 65.3 inches tall. Those dimensions parallel the Acura MDX, one of several models the Envision would most likely battle.

The Chinese-spec model is powered by a turbocharged, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine paired with a six-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel drive is standard; all-wheel drive is optional. A second powertrain choice, such as GM’s 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine used in the Chevrolet Malibu and Impala might also be considered. It is a normally aspirated engine at that.

As for bringing the Envision to the US, Buick spokesman Nick Richards told CNN, “It is all speculation at this point. To this point we haven’t disclosed any plans for it outside of China.”

Buick Envision photos courtesy of General Motors Company.

On the Road With the All-New 2016 Hyundai Tucson

2016 Hyundai Tucson

After several years of strong year-over-year sales, the Hyundai engine has transitioned from a raucous roar to a subdued purr. Much of that change can be attributed to a scarcity of utility vehicles in its product line, just when consumers are snapping up SUVs and choosing fewer cars.

That product scarcity means that the two SUV lines Hyundai currently offers — the compact Tucson and the midsize Santa Fe (standard and stretched wheelbase versions both) — must perform well. Additional models are in the works, but in the meantime, Hyundai has updated the Tucson to begin its third generation. This model competes with the segment leading Honda CR-V as well as the Toyota RAV4, Chevrolet Equinox, Nissan Rogue, Ford Escape, Mazda CX-5, Subaru Outback, Volkswagen Tiguan and the GMC Terrain.

The first generation Tucson was sold from 2005 to 2009, the second generation model from 2010 to 2015. The third generation model begins with the 2016 model year and is available in SE ($22,700), Eco ($24,150), Sport ($26,100), and Limited ($29,900) editions.

2016 Hyundai Tucson

The 2016 Hyundai Tucson

My test model was a 2016 Hyundai Limited FWD model with a sticker price of $31,100. The higher price came by means of carpeted floor mats ($125), a cargo cover ($190), and delivery charges ($895). Choose all-wheel drive and that adds $1,400 to your price across the Tucson line. Moreover, if you choose the Limited AWD with the Ultimate package (i.e., panoramic sunroof, advanced safety features, ventilated front seats and heated rear seats) your final price would run $34,945 before taxes and tags.

Price creep is affecting the entire market and budget-minded Hyundai is no stranger to the phenomenon. However, there is one important consolation here: Hyundai models come generously equipped and have the best warranty in the business (please see the specifications box that follows this article). Consider these factors when cross shopping the Tucson.

2016 Hyundai Tucson

A More Polished Tucson

Even just a cursory look at the 2016 Hyundai Tucson reveals a more elegant and polished model. Its visage aligns closely with the Santa Fe, with both models reflecting a more contemporary expression of the brand’s fluidic design language.

That language is quite evident up front with a fascia that is at once bold as it is stylized with a pronounced horizontal grille offset by sporty headlamp assemblies with striking LED daytime running light highlights. A sporty lower lip grille opening and a creased hood completes the formulation.

The Tucson’s profile is marked by the wheel well trim and pronounced character lines — the first line runs from the front wheel arches to the rear deck and is located between the belt line and the door handles, the second represents a strong indentation toward the base of the doors and just above the rocker panels.

At the rear, the Hyundai Tucson is equipped with a rear spoiler, a power liftgate, wraparound tail lamps, rear fog lights and paired chrome exhaust finishers. Sporty wheels and roof side rails complete this small SUV’s complexion.

One of my favorite Hyundai features was present in the Tucson — the automatically opening liftgate. This component works when you approach the lift gate from the rear, stop and remain still with your key fob on your person. The Tucson senses your presence, slowly beeps four times and then the lift gate rises automatically. There is no need to swish your foot under the rear bumper ala the Ford Escape or fumble for your keys — you can do this effortlessly. Alas, only the Sport and Limited trim has this feature.

2016 Hyundai Tucson

2016 Hyundai Tucson

View manufacturer details and pricing

2016 Hyundai Tucson

New Engine and a Dual-Clutch Transmission

For 2016, Hyundai made some powertrain changes, although the base 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine remains. The base engine makes 164 horsepower and 151 foot-pounds of torque, and comes paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission. It is the engine of choice for both the front- and all-wheel drive versions of the Tucson SE.

Hyundai discarded the larger 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine in favor of a 1.6-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine. The new engine, also available on the midsize Sonata sedan, makes 175 horsepower and 195 foot-pounds of torque. That compares to the 182 horsepower and 177 foot-pounds of torque the 2.4-liter naturally aspirated engine offered. The turbo is the standard engine for the Eco, Sport and Limited editions.

The powertrain pairing for the turbo engine brings in a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission. The advantage here is that the transmission provides rapid shifts between gears for a more sporty feel. The combination has also been tweaked in the Eco edition to help this crossover deliver a competitive 33 mpg on the highway for a 10 percent mileage improvement over the standard model. Notably, there are not too many dual-clutch transmissions on the market, most certainly not amongst crossovers.

2016 Hyundai Tucson

Exterior Features and Embellishments

As is common for most media fleet vehicles, usually top-of-the-line editions are presented for the test drive. Consequently, reviews are often skewed toward the models that few consumers will choose, mostly for price reasons. But the one thing about Hyundai is that even base models share many of the features found elsewhere in the model line.

For instance, all models come with alloy wheels, power accessories, a rear view camera, a tilt and telescopic steering wheel, an adjustable driver’s seat, a touchscreen audio system, and air conditioning. The front bucket seats are comfortable and supportive; the rear seat can hold three with relative ease.

Move up to the Eco model and the front and rear fascia gain a more premium look. LED daytime running lights and halogen front fog lights are included, the side mirrors add turn-signal indicators, roof rack side rails are standard, and the driver’s seat gets lumbar support. The Sport model brings in larger wheels, the hands-free smart lift gate, push button start, heated front seats, and important safety features such as blind spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert, and lane change assist.

Choose the Limited and your Tucson receives everything this model has to offer: exterior chrome embellishments, a shark-fin antenna, leather seating surfaces, a power front passenger seat, an 8-inch touchscreen navigation system, an 8-speaker premium audio system, dual-zone climate control, an upgraded instrument panel, Blue Link telematics, and premium door sills.

2016 Hyundai Tucson

Cabin Amenities and Upscale Features

If you forget that you’re driving in a mainstream vehicle when behind the wheel of most any Hyundai vehicle, that’s understandable. The automaker has long sought to provide premium features to its model line, giving it a definite mainstream+ feel inside and out.

From the driver’s perspective the cabin folds out perfectly. All controls are within reach, canted toward the driver and easy to decipher. Some car interior layouts are almost a mess with too many switches and knobs to work with.

But in the Tucson you have a center stack that is clean and sensibly arranged with color display above the climate control. At the base of the stack 12 volt outlets, an auxiliary input port and USB port are neatly arranged with an open compartment large designed to house your smartphone. To this day I still find that some manufacturers consider smartphones an afterthought — and it shows as the only place to house them is on top or inside the covered center storage compartment. In like manner, you may find that only a cup holder is suitable for the phone.

Hyundai is also especially adept at creating useful storage compartments. For example, each door has generous storage with large drink holders present. Moreover, growing families should find the rear seat ideal for their needs. The two outboard seats can hold a car or booster seats with the center position folded down to provide the drink holders. The rear seats, by the way are reclinable, tilting slightly to allow the rear passengers to relax.

2016 Hyundai Tucson

Hitting the Road

On the road this turbo provided the necessary kick to show that it means business. As is common to this type of forced induction scheme, slight hesitation is noted, what becomes most apparent when you want to floor it. It can seem like an eternity when you have only seconds to spare — a disconcerting feeling that some people refuse to utilize.

Nevertheless, the little four is a potent engine and is especially juiced for highways. You will have no trouble passing as you zip down the boulevard.

Most crossovers are not known for exceptional handling and the Tucson is in the middle of the pack. Generally speaking, the all-important NVH — noise, vibration and harshness — has been successfully managed. Braking is enhanced in the all-wheel drive model as it has active cornering control, what mitigates understeer and cornering performance by braking the inside rear wheel and sending more torque to the outside rear wheel.

Segment and Model Considerations

So, will the 2016 Hyundai Tucson meet all the requirements for a shopper in the small crossover segment? It should and then some — with generous standard features and equipment not offered elsewhere (i.e., the automatic power lift gate, reclining rear seat, and a right knee pad) — the Tucson has an important edge and a compelling reason to purchase one in a crowded and highly competitive sector.

2016 Hyundai Tucson Limited FWD

  • Sticker price from $29,900
  • Price as tested: $31,110
  • Seats 5 occupants
  • 1.6-liter 16-valve turbocharged gasoline engine
  • 175 horsepower @ 5,500 RPM
  • 195 foot-pounds of torque @ 1,500 to 4,500 RPM
  • 3.03 inches bore by 3.36 inches stroke
  • Engine compression ratio: 10.1-to-1
  • 7-speed dual clutch automatic transmission
  • Wheelbase: 105.1 inches
  • Length: 176.2 inches
  • Width: 72.8 inches
  • Height: 64.8 inches
  • Passenger volume: 102.2
  • Storage volume: 31.0/61.9 cubic feet
  • Towing capacity: 1,500 pounds with trailer brakes
  • EPA: 25 mpg city, 30 mpg highway
  • Regular grade gasoline
  • Fuel tank: 16.4 gallons
  • Curb weight: From 3,369 to 3,580 pounds
  • IIHS safety rating: Not Yet Rated
  • Limited vehicle warranty: 5 years/60,000 miles
  • Powertrain warranty: 10 years/100,000 miles
  • Corrosion warranty: 7 years/unlimited miles
  • Vehicle assembly: Ulsan, Korea

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2016 Hyundai Tucson photos copyright Auto Trends Magazine.

Looking Ahead: 2017 Mercedes-AMG C63 Coupe

AMG C63 Coupe

At the Frankfurt International Motor Show next month, count on a number of eye-catching new models making global debuts. One of the most anticipated and visually appealing vehicles will come from the host country, Germany, as Daimler unveils the sinewy 2017 Mercedes-AMG C63 Coupe.

Dubbed by the manufacturer as “the sportiest C-Class ever,” the new coupe does what every product from Mercedes-AMG does best: advance the latest technical features while lifting design and performance benchmarks.

C63 and C63 S Coupes

Available in standard and S Coupe models, the snazzy coupe is powered by a 4.0-liter, V-8 biturbo engine with 469 standard horsepower and 503 horsepower in the S Coupe. The engine is the workmanship of the AMG engine plant in Affalterbach. AMG also contributes the rear-axle limited-slip differentials, the engine mounts, the ride control system with electronically controlled shock absorbers, and the dynamic select transmission modes.

Mercedes-AMG will premier the C63 Coupe on September 15, 2015, in Frankfurt. US dealers will begin receiving the new model by early summer 2016.

AMG C63 Coupe

An Exceptional C63 Coupe

Much about the Mercedes-AMG model is different from the standard Mercedes-Benz C-Class Coupe. Indeed, only the doors, roof and trunk are the same, while the rest of the body is unique to the C63 Coupe. Notably, an increased track width required changes to the front and rear axles, affecting everything from the front end to the rear assembly. Moreover, new front and rear fenders, and wider, flared wheels are also evident.

The aluminum hood measures 2.36 inches longer and is marked by a pair of power domes, what advances this model’s muscular countenance. Large air inlets, a twin blade grille with AMG lettering, and a three-dimensional front spoiler that does double duty as an air deflector for the three cooling air inlets are also present. The front splitter, set at the bottom of the front apron, is tasked with reducing front-axle lift.

Large wheels enhance the coupe’s profile, which finish flush with the body on the far outside and stand out side skirts. Distinctive character lines run from the headlamps to the tail lights; a second set of profile lines sweep up from the rocker panel. The roof line suggests a coupe always in motion with the narrowest of B pillars present.

To the rear, a pair of chrome-plated twin tailpipes are mingled with the diffuser. Rear air flow is managed by means of laterally optimized optical air outlet openings. Even the trunk lid has been specially designed to incorporate a spoiler lip that is both stylish and functional. Specifically, it is tasked with reducing rear-axle lift.

AMG C63 Coupe

AMG Motoring Heritage

The 2017 C63 Coupe features an interior that Mercedes says is composed of only the finest high-grade materials. To advance the coupe’s motoring heritage, numerous AMG-specific controls are present. Available performance seats provide a lower seating position and come with more generously formed bolsters in a bid to enhance lateral support.

The C63 Coupe accelerates from 0-to-60 mph in 3.9 seconds and in 3.8 seconds with the S Coupe. Wider tires and shorter-legged rear-axle ratios give this model a slight performance edge over the sedan.

Mercedes-AMG pairs the biturbo engine with a 7-speed sport automatic transmission with steering wheel-mounted shift paddles. The AMG Speedshift MCT transmission is designed to execute upshifts and downshifts faster than the previous model. Four different transmission modes are present; the S Coupe gains an additional “Race” mode.

AMG C63 Coupe

Suspension Changes and New Differentials

Changes to the suspension system equipment and geometry include a four-link front suspension with radial, racing-style brake connections with proprietary steering knuckles and a wider track, to provide greater lateral acceleration.

A newly redesigned rear axle advances a multi-link concept with the wheel bearing contact surfaces shifted slightly to the outside when compared with the sedan. Camber and tuning changes were also accomplished.

The C63 Coupe is outfitted with a mechanical rear-axle limited-slip differential; the S Coupe has the electronic rear-axle limited-slip differential. Both differentials act to reduce slippage on the inside wheel when cornering without activating the control interventions from the braking system.

Better handling, increased stability and a more satisfying driving experience are among the positive results evident.

AMG C63 Coupe

See AlsoTesla Owners Gripe Over Supercharger Abuse Warning

Photos copyright Mercedes-AMG.

Sporty Crossover: 2015 Nissan Murano

2015 Nissan MuranoThere are no lack of SUVs on the market and Nissan itself is well represented. From its diminutive Juke to its burly Armada, there is something for everyone — six lines of utility vehicles to choose from.

A Nissan Murano was a recent weekly driver, a five-passenger midsize crossover SUV. It is the car-based alternative to the rugged Nissan Xterra SUV and is situated between the compact Rogue and the larger Pathfinder in the Nissan pecking order.

Four Grades and All-Wheel Drive

The 2015 Nissan Murano is priced from $29,560 (S edition) and is available in three other grades: SV ($32,620), SL ($36,950) and Platinum ($39,000). All-wheel drive adds approximately $1,500 to the price. Choose a top-of-the-line AWD model with the technology package and 20-inch chrome wheels and you’ll pay north of $45,000 for this vehicle.

A Murano SL FWD model was the specific model tested and the $2,260 technology package was added, bringing its final price to $40,095. That package brought in a power panoramic moon roof, intelligent (adaptive) cruise control, forward collision alert and forward emergency braking. The safety side of the package will give you enough of a taste of autonomous driving to help you understand where the industry is going. Furthermore, you can also turn off the nanny controls should you tire of the incessant warnings.

2015 Nissan Murano

Murano: A Matter of Style

Polarizing describes the styling of not a few Nissan vehicles, with the Juke and the now retired Cube amplifying that design boldness. The Murano also disjoins itself from the expected styling convention, delivering a visage that is at once sporty and controversial.

But there is an intrinsic allurement in the Murano that shouldn’t easily be dismissed. This model introduced a new design direction for Nissan’s larger models, what is also now evident in the 2016 Maxima.

What you have is a strikingly pronounced front fascia marked by an upswept grille will an oversized U-shaped bar. The sleek headlamps are accented by wing-shaped LED daytime running lights that emphasize a vehicle that appears to always be in motion. Arched lines dominate the sporty lower grille opening. Distinctive fog lights are found near the lower grille opening as well.

Chiseled lines on the hood, along the profile and to the rear hatchback advance the Murano’s distinctive look. Curvilinear lines run from the hood to the rear deck and also from wheelbase to wheelbase at the rocker panels. The look of the former shapes the window outlines, the latter mien accents the Murano’s muscular demeanor.

To the rear are wing shaped tail and LED lights that flow from the hatch to the profile. A rear spoiler, rear fog lights and oversized exhaust finishers complete the appearance. Some may find the Murano’s countenance appealing while others may be entirely put off by the contentious expression.

2015 Nissan Murano

2015 Nissan Murano

View manufacturer details and pricing

2015 Nissan Murano

A generously apportioned cabin provides excellent room for five. There is no lack of head, shoulder, hip or leg room anywhere.The cabin projects a clear upscale aura, with chrome accents, leather seat covers, ambient lighting, heated and cooled front seats, dual zone climate control, and a Bose audio system standard with the SL edition.

The instrument panel is marked by a pair of analog displays, tachometer and speedometer, surrounding a digital driver’s information center. Steering wheel-mounted climate and auxiliary controls are found on the leather-wrapped wheel.

An 8-inch color display dominates the center stack, offering a gateway to the NissanDirect telematics system for climate, media and navigation controls. Voice, touchscreen access as well as nearby switches and knobs control these systems. Additional switches and knobs underneath as well as USB ports, a 12-volt outlet and an auxiliary audio port are also present.

2015 Nissan Murano

Between the seats is the transmission shifter, two cup holders and a covered compartment that can house your smartphone. A luxuriant, padded storage compartment between the seats, indoor pockets and a deep glove box are among the storage compartments present. This model also came with a panoramic automatic sliding moonroof, a tilt and telescopic steering column, stainless steel kick plates, and eight cargo area tie down hooks and rings are also present.

Speaking of the cargo area, it is huge and much more so with the rear seat folded. For a vacationing family, there is ample room behind the second row seat. For people seeking yard sale finds, the area is cavernous. That sideboard you have in mind just may fit with a little maneuvering on your part.

On the Road

The Nissan Murano offers satisfactory off the line acceleration and ample passing power. It is the same engine found in the Maxima, but it is tuned to 260 horsepower versus 300 for the 2016 Maxima. Nevertheless, there was no stress with this crossover and the CVT performed as well in the Murano as it did in the Maxima.

Handling equals that of other models in this segment — nothing exciting, but a curious lack of torque steer considering that the test model was front-wheel drive, not the available all-wheel drive. Braking is firm and far from the mushy feeling you may experience with some ponderous SUVs.

2015 Nissan Murano

Top Safety Pick+ Recipient

On the safety side of matters the 2015 Nissan Murano garnered a Top Safety Pick+ rating from the trustworthy Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The IIHS gave the Murano its highest scores in small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength, and head restraints & seat tests. The Murano also scored “superior” in front crash testing with its available equipment.

Besides the usual suite of airbags, traction control, stability control, brake assist and electronic brake-force distribution, the Murano offers such safety features as blind sport warning, forward collision alert, adaptive cruise control, moving object detection, a 180-degree rear view camera, and other features. Together, these safety features make the Murano one of the best in its class.

2015 Nissan Murano

Concluding Matters

The Nissan Murano provides the styling flair, comfort, upscale accoutrements, and the safety factors that many people prize. A nicely loaded model can be had for about $35,000, putting it in competition with the Ford Edge, Hyundai Santa Fe Sport, and the Jeep Cherokee. The Nissan SUV lineup is a strong one with the Juke, Rogue, Xterra, Pathfinder, and Armada also available.

To sum up, the Nissan Murano delivers much of what a small family or empty nesters may want. It is a versatile vehicle and with its limited towing capacity (1,500 pounds) it can pull a skiff as well.

2015 Nissan Murano

2015 Nissan Murano SL FWD

  • Sticker price from $36,950
  • Price as tested: $40,095
  • Seats 5 occupants
  • 3.5-liter 24-valve gasoline engine
  • 260 horsepower @ 6,000 RPM
  • 240 foot-pounds of torque @ 4,400 RPM
  • 3.78 inches bore by 3.19 inches stroke
  • Engine compression ratio: 10.3-to-1
  • Continuously variable automatic transmission
  • Wheelbase: 111.2 inches
  • Length: 192.8 inches
  • Width: 75.4 inches
  • Height: 66.6 inches
  • Passenger volume: 108.1
  • Storage volume: 39.6/69.9 cubic feet
  • Towing capacity: 1,500 pounds
  • EPA: 21 mpg city, 28 mpg highway
  • Regular grade gasoline
  • Fuel tank: 19 gallons
  • Curb weight: From 3,847 pounds
  • IIHS safety rating: Top Safety Pick+
  • Limited vehicle warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles
  • Powertrain warranty: 5 years/60,000 miles
  • Corrosion warranty: 60 months/unlimited miles
  • Vehicle assembly: Canton, Miss.

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2015 Nissan Murano photos copyright Auto Trends Magazine.

Apple’s Project Titan Autonomous Car

Apple CarPlay

From the rumor files.

Computer and consumer electronics authority Apple Inc. has its eyes intently focused on the automotive industry. And not just through its Apple CarPlay initiative, what works with the telematics systems found in select new cars.

Automobile by Apple: iCar?

No, Apple wants to manufacture the car itself and those rumors are hardly new. Indeed, earlier this year the scuttlebutt had Apple purchasing Tesla Motors, a report that has since been dismissed. At the same time Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk has said that he welcomes the competition, believing that Apple’s entry would provide a “broader consumer acceptance of electric vehicles.”

Why would Apple manifest interest in building cars, especially since it would enter an industry where it has no experience? There are a few reasons for this, including two that should be examined.

First, Google is jumping in. Google and Apple are arch rivals and are currently battling each other to gain access to influence in-cabin telematics systems. Just as Apple’s CarPlay is rolling out throughout the auto industry, Google’s Android Auto is doing likewise. There’s a lot be gained by banding together with car manufacturers. And, by the way, Google is already working on its own autonomous vehicle. Apple wants in and they are not about to allow Google to win the day without putting up a valiant effort.

Second, market convergence is here. Cars are computers and computers are in cars. The marriage of cars and computers has been underway for two decades now as in-car computers essentially control your vehicle. Car manufacturers need technology to help them build autonomous vehicles, something Apple, Google and others are flaunting their expertise. If you want vehicles to talk with each other, then a system has to be in place that permits this. Once driverless vehicles are approved for everyday use, the market convergence will be complete. Complete, but still in its infancy.

Apple CarPlay

Project Titan will go far beyond Apple CarPlay.

Let’s Call it Project Titan

Apple’s new car initiative has a name, dubbed Project Titan. AppleInsider reported on the project this past March, uncovering a secret facility just minutes away from the company’s Cupertino, California, headquarters. That news followed earlier reports that Apple was luring engineers from Tesla Motors and other manufacturers to launch the project. Furthermore, a Sunnyvale location was identified and a sprawling “repair garage” is just one component in that complex.

Project Titan is an appropriate name, but it should not be confused with the Nissan pickup truck bearing the Titan name. But just as Titan in Greek mythology represented one of a family of giants, the Apple car is an enormous initiative much in the same way that the first Mac and iPhones also were. Steve Jobs may have died, but the desire to innovate lives on in Apple Inc.

California Track Time

Project Titan, however, appears much larger than the Sunnyvale location. Just this week, The Guardian (UK) newspaper claimed that it obtained correspondence confirming Apple’s agendum. The periodical says that Apple’s engineers recently met with officials from GoMentum Station, what composes a 2,100-acre former naval weapons base near San Francisco.

That garrison may be leased by Apple and used as the proving ground for an autonomous vehicle. It would be the ideal place too as it is composed of some 20 miles of urban streets and highways, an ideal arrangement for testing driverless cars. The Guardian noted that both Honda and Mercedes-Benz have tested their own self-driving vehicles, a secured facility surrounded by barbed wire and patrolled by security teams.

Automotive Manufacturers and Driverless Technology

While Project Titan may be what Apple has in mind, it still might want to consider what other manufacturers are doing. The Volkswagen Group, Tesla, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and a handful of undisclosed manufacturers are heavily invested in autonomous technology and could assist Apple in its endeavor.

Then again, Apple is used to hatching its products in house and delivering them to customers with overwhelming acclaim. That’s a tall order for Project Titan, but it appears that Apple isn’t shrinking from this titanic enterprise.

See Also — Tesla Owners Gripe Over Supercharger Abuse Warning

Photo copyright Apple Inc.

Tesla Owners Gripe Over Supercharger Abuse Warning

Tesla owners are a unique lot as they have the privilege of driving an extended-range electric vehicle in addition to having access to free supercharging stations across the country, indeed around the world. Those stations are typically located in shopping centers near major highways connecting cities.

Last week, Tesla Motors fired off an email to an undisclosed number of owners, asking them to stop abusing the free network. Apparently, Tesla discovered that some Model S owners are recharging at the quick charging stations instead of recharging at home. The email did not sit well with a number of recipients, including some who took to the private Tesla Motors Club forum to share their outrage.

Tesla Model S Owners Object

Several of the recipients voiced their objections, particularly as they believed that they were being singled out by the automaker. Some claimed that they do use the network, except while taking extended road trips.

Tesla Supercharger

A Tesla supercharging station in Burlington, NC.

This was not the first time that the company broached the subject of supercharger station abuse. A thread in the same forum posted this past June said that CEO Elon Musk himself raised the topic at a shareholder meeting. The forum member claimed that Musk explained that some people use the supercharger station for their daily driving. As a result, they would receive a note asking them to stop.

Auto Trends obtained a copy of the note from one recipient whereby the company reiterated the network’s purpose and articulated that the EVs should be regularly charged at home. Further, the company offered a juxtaposition for the cost of charging at home, stating that it cost less than $2 to charge at home for a 40-mile daily trip. The note also explained that in some cases the rate is halved when electric customers choose to charge during off-peak hours.

The snippet of language that caused the most upset for Tesla owners was the following statement: “As a frequent user of local Superchargers, we ask that you decrease your local Supercharging and promptly move your Model S once charging is complete.” This particular statement seemed to elicit the most umbrage, leading to major publications, including Bloomberg and Automotive News to share the story.

Free Supercharging for Life

While most recipients and commentators expressed annoyance over the issue, others claimed that the supercharger network was bought and paid for as part of the ownership experience.

Others recall Musk stating “free supercharging for life” in meetings, according to Green Car Reports. Furthermore, the company states on its supercharging web page, “Supercharging is free for the life of Model S, once the Supercharger option is enabled.”

Tesla Supercharger StationAs far as restrictions on the number of times an owner can use the network, nothing of the kind is mentioned.

Common Stock Offering

Whatever push-back comes from the announcement, the brouhaha will probably fade away, disgruntled Tesla Model S owners may be or not. The company has far more weightier matters at hand, including a pending stock offering and a new model, the Tesla Model X.

Concerning finances, Musk announced a $500 million common stock offering last week, then quickly boosted that figure by more than $140 million as its stock price rose. The new offering might top $750 million if the offering’s underwriters opt to purchase shares too reports the Wall Street Journal.

Since 2013, Tesla Motors has raised more than $4 billion to pay for product development, to institute the supercharger network and break ground for a new assembly plant.

Tesla Model X

As for the Tesla Model X, the company’s first crossover SUV with standard all-wheel drive and Falco Wing rear doors is expected to be officially revealed in September with production commencing early next year. The Model X has been much delayed, but it is also a wildly anticipated electric vehicle at that.

Revealed: 2016 Toyota Tacoma

2016 Toyota Tacoma Limited

The next generation Toyota Tacoma pickup truck rolls out with available crawl control and a GoPro mount among its changes. A new V-6 engine, improved towing and payload capacities, and an upgraded interior are among the more noteworthy updates. This truck is priced from $23,300 and is available in five grades.

2016 Toyota Tacoma Limited

The 2016 Toyota Tacoma Limited in Blazing Blue Pearl.

Among smaller pickup trucks, the Toyota Tacoma has long held a special position. Even as many of its competitors have participated in the segment for some time, stopped, and then returned, the Tacoma has steadfastly held its own and is the best seller time and again.

2016 Toyota Tacoma

But time moves on and with those changes has come a new Tacoma model. The 2016 edition is the first full generational metamorphosis we have seen in a decade, a model employing updates that are at once evolutionary as well as revolutionary.

As for evolutionary, the new truck shares the same size as its predecessor. What has changed is its visage with a more aggressive design marked by a trapezoidal grille with distinct designs for each grade. The Tacoma’s hood now features sharper lines and TRD Sport models outfitted with a (nonfunctional) head scoop. Projector beam headlights, available LED daytime running lights, wide angle fog lights, and a more aerodynamic fascia are also attendant.

Additional changes can be seen with the side mirrors and in the sophistication of the profile character lines. Moreover, Toyota improved the cab to bed seal to reduce noise-vibration-harshness (NVH).

2016 Toyota Tacoma

Debossing gives this 2016 Toyota Tacoma a distinctive flair.

To the rear, the lockable tailgate now has a stamped TACOMA brand or hallmark at the base of the gate, paralleling a similar stamping on the larger Tundra. Furthermore, that tailgate has a rotary bumper for ease of lowering, an integrated spoiler, and a redesigned structure for increased tailgate strength.

Additional exterior changes include a segment-first, trifold tonneau cover, aero fin tail lights, and an assortment of wheel choices. Likewise, new colors are available too — Quicksand, Inferno, and Blazing Blue Pearl. Inferno was previously called Inferno Red, but people such as yours truly insist that it is orange. No matter, it is a color that has been popularized on the Tundra pickup truck and the 4Runner SUV.

Stronger Overall Structure

The overall structure of the 2016 Toyota Tacoma has been improved too, with cabin strength and rigidity increased without adding mass. Greater use of high strength and ultra-strength steel was employed in the cabin structure. The bed structure also gains a fiber-reinforced, sheet-molded composite inner bed, a standard deck rail system with four adjustable tie-down cleats and four fixed cargo bed tie-down points as well as a deck-mounted 120-volt/400-watt AC power outlet in TRD and Limited editions.

Speaking of editions, the 2016 Toyota Tacoma is now composed of SR, SR5, TRD Sport, TRD Off-Road and Limited editions. Both 4×2 and 4×4 layouts return with Access (seating four) and Double (seating five) cab models available. A standard 6-foot bed for the Access cab is a 5-foot bed elsewhere.

2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road

This TRD edition is finished in Inferno, one of three new colors for 2016.

New V-6 Engine and Transmission Changes

Returning for 2016 is the base 2.7-liter, four-cylinder engine making 159 horsepower and 180 foot-pounds of torque. Toyota pairs this engine with a five-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic transmission.

New and perhaps most revolutionary for the 2016 Tacoma is a 3.5-liter, V-6 engine. This engine replaces the previous 4.0-liter V-6 and makes 278 horsepower and 265 foot-pounds of torque. That’s a huge improvement in horsepower over the previous engine which had an output of 236 horsepower and 266 foot-pounds of torque. The V-6 comes paired with a 6-speed manual or a 6-speed automatic transmission and is standard in the TRD Sport, TRD Off-Road and the Limited edition. The Limited comes with the automatic transmission only.

The engine’s size is familiar, but its composition is not. Indeed, Toyota designed the engine to seamlessly switch between Otto and Atkinson cycles by means of its variable valve timing system. Both direct and port fuel injection are utilized, the former representing self-cleaning, high-pressure injectors.

2016 Toyota Tacoma SR5

The Toyota Tacoma SR5 is the second of five model grades.

As for the transmissions, Toyota says the new automatic transmission has fewer components as it found ways to improve gear train and direct clutch pressure control with lower friction materials and bearings. Equally important, the automatic gearbox is lighter, more efficient and is more durable than the previous unit.

Fans of manual transmissions should find the new gearbox an improvement as well. Likewise, it offers improved shifting feel and is equipped with a more substantial bearing reinforcement and tougher carbon synchronizers.

Suspension, Payload and Towing

Other changes of note include a revision to the front double wishbone suspension, what now features retuned shock absorbers, reinforced stabilizer brackets, and a lower A-arm, among other changes. The rear leaf spring system also returns, but changes to the shock absorbers and tuning options are also apparent.

Though the Tacoma can be an off-road brute, it also comes with robust towing capabilities. In fact, for 2016 the maximum towing capacity is now 6,800 pounds, up from 6,500 pounds. Payload is now 1,620 pounds, up from 1,500 pounds. A V-6 tow package brings in trailer sway control, a 130-amp alternator with the manual transmission, a heavy-duty oil and transmission cooler, and a Class IV receiver hitch.

As befitting its name, Toyota flew teams of media folk to Tacoma, Washington, for its national press roll out earlier this month. From there, the company established several off-road courses for participants to test the machine’s off-road prowess. It was at these locations where its TRD Off-Road models equipped with an electronically controlled locking rear differentials were showcased.

2016 Toyota Tacoma V-6 Engine (3.6 liters)

A smaller, but more powerful V-6 engine is now available.

Crawl Control Feature

But the biggest change for the 2016 Tacoma is something not available in all models. Indeed, the word CRAWL should be kept in mind as those five distinguished letters represent a segment-first crawl control system. Crawl control allows drivers to maintain a constant low speed when traveling over tough terrain, including rocks, across the sand, or up and down steep inclines.

The Toyota CRAWL system controls engine and brake torque at each individual wheel. Furthermore, no driver interaction with the accelerator or the brake is necessary — you simply concentrate on your steering. Auto Trends covered that experience in our teaser article here.

Crawl control, while new to the Tacoma, is not new to Toyota. Indeed, it was first introduced in the 2008 Toyota Land Cruiser and later found its way to the Lexus LX and the Toyota 4Runner. Neither the Nissan Frontier, the Chevrolet Colorado, or the GMC Canyon offer crawl control, a feature that is certain to give Tacoma an important competitive edge in a strengthening segment. And with Toyota reporting more than 40 percent of Tacoma owners participating in off-road adventures, interest in this feature should only be heightened.

Updated Interior With a GoPro Mount

The most revolutionary change to the 2016 Tacoma can be found inside the vehicle. Again, the dimensions are largely unchanged, but the features are new or upgraded.

One feature that should increase interest much in the same way that crawl control will up the 4×4 allure, is a GoPro mount to the right of the rear view mirror and affixed to the inside of the windshield. Notably, GoPro is the remarkable go anywhere camera used to film things that couldn’t be captured previously without risking damaging the camera. Toyota provides the mount and Tacoma aficionados will supply the camera. The GoPro feature means that Toyota will be paying close attention to what Tacoma fans upload to YouTube. To be sure, enthusiasts will be jockeying to curry the favor of the automaker with their more outlandish pursuits.

2016 Toyota Tacoma

The interior of a Tacoma SR5 edition.

The Tacoma’s cabin receives a nice appearance boost with its sport-themed instrument panel and a more driver-focused encounter. It represents a look that is more upscale than ever before, especially evident in the higher trim level packages.

For 2016, smart key with push button start/stop, dual-zone climate control, an improved touchscreen audio system and leather-trimmed seats can be had. Also, a blind-spot monitor with rear cross traffic alert, a power tilt and slide moonroof, and Qi wireless charging are available. Incidentally, Qi works by placing a smartphone on a wireless pad utilizing induction transfer to charge the battery. Gone are the days where cable and adaptors got in the way or were forgotten for the long road ahead.

Telematics and Safety Enhancements

All grades come with Toyota’s Entune telematics system. A standard 6.1-inch touchscreen display, an audio package with six speakers, an auxiliary audio jack, a USB port, voice recognition, hands-free phone capability and Siri Eyes Free is standard. For 2016, an integrated backup camera display is included.

Every model comes equipped with power accessories, air conditioning, four-way adjustable front seats, a tilt and telescopic steering column, eight air bags and Toyota’s Star Safety system of safety technologies. In addition, a seven-speaker JBL premium sound system is available, representing a 440-watt unit with lower distortion, greater sonic resolution, and improved spectral accuracy.

2016 Toyota Tacoma Limited

Entune telematics in a Tacoma Limited edition.

Out and About

As for driving the Tacoma, only models outfitted with the V-6 engine were available. That shouldn’t be too surprising as the take rate for the standard four-cylinder powerhouse is quite small.

One certain way to freak out Tacoma owners is to mention “Atkinson” in the same breath as engine. The Atkinson cycle represents a method whereby the intake valve is left open longer to created a shorter compression stroke, an important way to conserve fuel. However, it isn’t a matter that the average driver will notice or even care about. What he or she wants to know is if the truck has the power potential they crave.

Happily, I can confirm that the V-6 is up to the task and does not behave like the more tepid Prius. Besides its off-road proclivities, the truck supplies excellent power throughout the RPM band. The Tacoma moves away from a dead stop with authority and the transmission shifts smoothly through all six forward gears. On the highway it contributes wholly sufficient passing power, a level of performance that should have zealots glad that the older engine has been consigned to the archives, at least as far as this truck goes.

One side note: I queried Toyota about the 4Runner getting the new engine, given that this popular body-on-frame SUV shares the same underpinnings as the Tacoma. The Toyota representative neither confirmed nor denied that a change is in the works, but that is one conversion that seems likely. If not for 2016, by the 2017 model year the engine swap out should be accomplished.

2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road edition.

No off-road experience is too tough for this Tacoma.

Maintaining Market Leadership

The new truck is priced from $23,300 or about $2,400 more than the previous model and tops out at $37,820 for the Limited Double Cab 4×4 V-6 automatic transmission edition. The truck is built at factories in Texas and Baja California and will arrive in dealer showrooms over the coming weeks.

To summarize, Toyota didn’t want to mess with a proven formula in releasing its next generation Tacoma model. It did have to modernize the truck to make it a better competitor in the segment, what should empower it to maintain leadership even as the GM pickup trucks gain market share. And with crawl control and a GoPro mount exclusive to the segment, Tacoma devotees should find those changes entirely to their liking.

Photos courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales, Inc.

Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport 08 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport 09 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport 10 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport 11 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport 12 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport 13 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport 14 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport 15 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport 16 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport 17 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport 18 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport 19 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport 20 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport 21 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport 22 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport 23 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport 24 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport 25 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport 26 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport 27 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport 28 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport 29 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport 30 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport 31 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport 32 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport 33 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport 34 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport 35 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport 36 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport 37 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport 38 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport 39 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport 40 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport 41 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport 42 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport 43 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport 44 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport 46 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport 47 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport 48 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport 49 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport 51 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport 07 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport 06 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport 05 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport 04 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport 03 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport 02