Affordable, Cute Rides

August 31st, 2020

By Don Armstrong

Even COVID-19 cannot stop Bay Area car buyers from shopping sensibly priced transportation. We recently drove a couple of contenders, a cute, small SUV and sedan, both attractive players in extremely competitive categories.

Fiat 500X

Off-roadable is all the rage these days, but did you know the Fiat 500X is an all-wheel drive off-roader too? Just to be perfectly clear, the 500X is a first cousin to the Jeep Renegade, yep, a Jeep, so you know that rock crawling and beach running are in its DNA.

The 500X competes in the sub-compact arena of 4-door SUVs, but it wins hands down in the “cuteness” category. Like most vehicles from FCA, options define the brand and this Fiat is no different. Paint color can make or break a car and the new black roof paint option is one to check out. It is available on all trim levels; Pop, Trekking, Sport and Trekking Plus.

No matter which trim you choose, the interior is inviting and well thought out. Seating is comfortable and supportive and there are plenty of storage nooks and crannies. Technology is abundant too.

A 9-speed automatic transmission manages power from its 1.3-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine. A disconnecting rear axle helps fuel economy.

Fiat 500 X pricing starts at $24,590.

Nissan Versa

Completely redesigned for 2020, the Nissan Versa may be the best bargain in the sub-compact sedan category. Even though this new rendition is $2,000 more than the outgoing model, a $14,830 starting price still rings our bell.

The Versa is lower, longer, and wider than before and bears a striking resemblance to its larger sibling, Altima. Trunk space is much larger than you’d expect and with the rear seats folded down you can sneak a bunch of friends into the drive-in.

The interior has grown up too, with more pizzazz in design and contrasting color options. The infotainment system is intuitive, making it easy to use. Front collision warning with emergency braking, automatic headlights, rear view camera and Bluetooth is standard. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are available.

The 1.6-liter engine ekes out a mere 122-horsepower through a manual transmission, but an optional continuously variable automatic is the best we’ve driven, and helps return a 35-MPG average fuel economy rating.

About 20-large will get a nicely equipped, top-of-the-line SR version.

Truck Scene 2017

March 1st, 2017

By Don Armstrong

Trucks and SUV’s are now outselling cars and manufacturers are doubling down variety. This month we focus on a car-based, light duty hauler and a gutsy bruiser that could be your new catamaran tug.

The 2017 Nissan TITAN XD and TITAN Single Cab models are the first-ever single cab offering in TITAN history. The trucks are designed to provide an affordable and rugged entry-point in the commercial fleet/work truck market.

Nissan Titan XD single cab diesel
The Titan XD could be classified as a “tweener,” with price and capability that fits between a standard ½ ton and a heavy duty ¾ ton pickup. The base version XD gets a 5.6-liter V-8 but the optional, purpose-built 5.0-liter Cummins V-8 diesel delivers 555 lb-ft of torque to pull up to 12,300 pounds. The engine’s grunt is delivered to all-four wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission. Two-wheel drive is standard.

The 2017 Nissan TITAN King Cab is marked by its available 6-person seating, wide-opening rear doors and available “rear seat delete” option that is ideal for commercial use with its flat floor and secure in-cab storage space.

The XD offers similar interior option packages as the regular Titan. A crew cab edition arrives at dealers later this year. So, for now anyway, only a single cab model is available. I don’t know about you, but what was once the only cab size available, today looks out of place among the popular 4-door versions.

Our Titan XD single cab came with the long bed that was equipped with Nissan’s Utili-track system that offers a variety of cleats and tie-downs. Handy, under-bed rail and tailgate lighting is a terrific option and one that every trucker will appreciate.

Nissan Titan XD pricing starts at $34,780

2017 Honda Ridgeline

Honda Ridgeline
Car-based, truck-like utility vehicles have been around since the 1930s. You may be familiar with the Ford Ranchero and Chevrolet El Camino. Chevy ended its foray into this design in the late 80s, Ford in the 70s. Fast forward to this century when Honda decided it was time to pick up the baton and build the Ridgeline.

The second generation, 2017 Honda Ridgeline continues the tradition of the first but with more truck swagger and all the sought-after features that make this crossover so appealing. Crossover? Yes. It’s built on the same platform as the Honda Pilot CUV.

2017 Honda Ridgeline

With a sealed and lockable in-bed trunk, a dual-function tailgate, rear seat and 4-doors, this Ridgeline is like the Swiss Army knife of pick-ups. However, hauling and towing capacity is limited to about 1,500 lbs.

The ride quality and interior is that of the Pilot, nice, but depending on option choices, you could be pushing the price into the full-size truck category.

The 2017 Honda Ridgeline starts at $29,475. A Chevy Silverado 1500 Crew cab starts at $31,610.