The Review Garage

Rating the best and worst in cars, SUVs, trucks, motorcycles, tools and accessories.



2017 Nissan Armada: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The 2017 Nissan Armada should apply for membership in the Screen Actors Guild (SAG-AFTRA). It is a full size sport utility vehicle masquerading as a comfy crossover SUV.

Even as it mimics a crossover, it does not give up its essential character—a burly, eight-passenger SUV that weighs nearly three tons and can tow an 8,500-lb trailer. You also can order the tested top-of-the-line Platinum as a seven-passenger luxury barge with second-row captain’s chairs.

Generally, SUVs are defined as closed, truck-based vehicles built with a body on a separate frame—the same way almost all American cars and trucks were constructed for decades nearly up to the turn of the 21st century. They have V6 or V8 engines, rear wheel or four wheel drive and can tow heavyweight trailers.


Crossovers, on the other hand, are car-based with unit body construction. They usually have four cylinder or V6 engines, front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, and deliver better handling and fuel economy—sometimes as hybrids—than their SUV counterparts. Some people buy them as substitutes for minivans.

The Armada competes with such full size stalwarts as the Chevrolet Tahoe, Ford Expedition, GMC Yukon and Toyota Sequoia. But  behind the wheel the Armada doesn’t feel much different than some  crossovers like the Ford Explorer, Chevrolet Traverse or even Nissan’s own Murano.

On the scene since 2004, the Armada is based on the Nissan Titan full-size pickup truck. But it features independent double-wishbone suspension systems on both the front and rear wheels. The setup contributes to competent handling and an unexpectedly good ride.

There’s an old adage in vehicle design that says a small car should drive big, or feel bigger than it is, while a big truck or SUV should drive small, or feel smaller and nimbler than it is. The Armada falls into that latter category.

2017 Nissan Armada

Power comes from a redesigned 390-hp 5.6-liter V8 engine that makes 401 lb-ft of torque. It gets to the rear wheels or all four wheels through a new seven-speed automatic transmission that imparts increased flexibility and improved fuel economy compared to the previous five-speed automatic. Still, it’s a big vehicle and manages an EPA city/highway/combined rating of just 13/18/15 mpg.

The Armada’s forte is comfortable highway cruising. The front seats, outboard second row seats and optional captain’s chairs deliver relaxed support for long distances. The center rear seat in the second row, however, has a lumpy and uncomfortable cushion.

There are three seatbelts in the third row. But the space is cramped and should be reserved for children, munchkins or pet monkeys. Even if you fit, it takes a bit of athleticism to crawl back there despite second row seats that cleverly fold out of the way without removing infant or child seats.

2017 Nissan Armada

Nissan has kept the Armada lineup easy to understand. There are three trim levels: SV, SL and Platinum, and just four option packages. SV models come with rear wheel drive and a so-called driver package that includes a motorized 60/40 third row seat, fog lights, power lift gate and a trailer towing package with a wiring harness.

The SL and Platinum versions come standard with rear-wheel drive as well as four-wheel drive with high and low ranges. That’s appealing for owners who might occasionally want to tackle some trackless terrain. Though it has plenty of power for off-road maneuvering, the Armada lacks sophisticated equipment like automatic downhill braking or crawl control. Also, its size limits its capabilities in the boondocks.

The SL has two available packages: motorized glass sunroof and a technology package that includes adaptive cruise control and blind spot warning. The Platinum model, which is fully equipped, comes with only one option: captain’s chairs.

Prices for the base SV model will start at $45,395, including the destination charge. The price of the tested Platinum version with the captain’s chairs will be $59,990 (plus a $995 destination charge).



  • Model: 2017 Nissan Armada Platinum four door sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine:6-liter V8, 390 hp, 401 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Seven-speed automatic with four-wheel drive, high and low range.
  • Overall length: 17 feet 5 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 152/17 cubic feet (50, 95).
  • Weight: 5,963 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 8,500 pounds.
  • Estimated EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 13/18/15 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge (SV 2WD): $45,395.
  • Price as tested, including destination charge (Platinum AWD): $60,985.

Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.

Photos (c) Nissan

2017 Ford Super Duty Pickups

by Jason Fogelson

There are a few vehicles that dominate their class. The Ford Super Duty Pickup Trucks crush the competition, and the 2017 Ford Super Duty will maintain that dominance.

One of the most interesting statistics that I heard from Ford during a recent launch event in Denver, Colorado was that 90 percent of Super Duty owners use their trucks for towing. At first, I balked at this figure. How could that be true? But then I considered the truck’s capability, and realized that it made sense. If you’re not going to be towing, or if you only tow a light load, an F-150 or competitive light duty truck is robust enough, and you’ll get a better ride on a day-to-day basis when you’re not towing.

The gap has narrowed between F-150 and Super Duty (F-250, F-350 and F-450), however. The new Super Duty now has the same cab as the F-150, and a much better suspension system than before. The ride is better, and the available creature comforts are very similar.  Super Duty doesn’t punish you with a pogo stick ride when unladen, and new steering enhancements have improved low-speed handling significantly.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see more Super Duty trucks on the road as daily drivers and lifestyle vehicles in the future.

Read Jason’s 2017 Ford F-250 Super Duty 4×4 Crew Cab King Ranch Test Drive and Review at

Read Jason’s 2017 Ford F-Series Super Duty: First Drive Review at

Photos (c) Jason Fogelson

2016 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited 75th Anniversary Edition Real World Review

by Jason Fogelson

I’ve never owned a Jeep Wrangler, but I’m always tempted. The more that Jeep keeps tweaking the Wrangler, the more tempted I get. The 2016 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited 75th Anniversary Edition very nearly ticks all of my boxes.

It starts with styling. The exterior of the Wrangler has been a near-constant for years, with just a few changes here and there. The basics have remained the same, from the seven-bar grille to the level fender tops to the big flat hood. Headlight shapes have morphed from round to square to round again. The 75th Anniversary Edition comes with cool badging and graphics.

Two major features have made the Wrangler more appealing and more usable on an everyday basis. The Unlimited part of things is the big one. The four-door variant first appeared as a 2007 model, and along with two additional doors it has a longer wheelbase than the standard Wrangler. Off-road, this presents a compromise, as it has a worse breakover angle and turning radius. But on-road, the Unlimited’s longer footprint makes it much more stable and inspires more confidence. Unlike the standard Wrangler, the Unlimited isn’t twitchy, and doesn’t feel like a quick change of direction at speed might upset its apple cart.

And speaking of speed, that brings us to the other major feature upgrade that I appreciate. For most of its history, the Wrangler has derived its power from a straight-six engine. The torque characteristic of this workhorse made it great for off-roading, but it was honestly a dog on the road. In 2012, Jeep gave Wrangler the 3.6-liter PentaStar V6 engine, and purists howled – but the dog was dead, and a new beast was born. Finally, Wrangler could merge onto crowded highways without holding up traffic. It was transformed.

2017JeepWranglerUnl75thJF-9Some may quibble with the additional interior amenities, like power windows and door locks, a steering wheel with integrated audio buttons and cruise control. Wrangler’s interior is almost civilized, which doesn’t hurt at all.

Wrangler still has a horrible canvas top that’s impossible to retract and put back up without a manual. It still rattles like a Tonka truck, and blows all over the road like a kite.

Despite its flaws and throwback technology, Wrangler is still cool. And that’s why it remains popular among off-roaders – and people who just want to look like them.

Read my 2016 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Real World Review on

Photos (c) Jason Fogelson

2016 Mercedes-Benz G-Class Test Drive and Review: Old and New

Words and Photos by Tod Mesirow

There’s a certain skill to celebrating aspects that some may not view as positive. It’s not a problem, it’s an opportunity; those blue jeans aren’t ripped and torn, they’re vintage; it’s not a design that’s basically unchanged since its inception, it’s timeless.

Witness the Mercedes G-Class SUVs.  On their website they talk about the 37-year evolution of the vehicle, which is interesting, because while there have been some technological upgrades, the thing that makes these vehicles distinctive is that their appearance has hardly changed at all over the decades, from the time the Shah of Iran, a major shareholder, suggested Mercedes build the vehicle – according to Top Gear and others.  And while bigger, more powerful engines and better brakes, satellite radio, nav systems and the like may qualify as a veneer of evolution, the Geländewagen, which means “cross country vehicle,” often shortened to G-wagon, drives more like a relic than a modern SUV. Its height and boxiness are hard to overcome no matter how much technology or how big an engine is stuffed inside.

DSC_0878 - 2 - G550Stuffing is exactly what the AMG folks did to fit a biturbo V12 that churns out a crazy 621 horsepower under the G-wagon’s small hood. Which gives the AMG G65, the top of the line, some serious raw power, and also may help justify the $217,900 sticker.

Mercedes suggests that their main competitors for the G-class are the Land Rover Range Rover and the Toyota Land Cruiser.  But with the Toyota at $83,825 and a V8 producing 381 horsepower it doesn’t feel like a real hoof to hoof comparison.  Even the starter G-wagon, the G550, at $119,900 with a V8 that puts out 416 horsepower feels like a different type of vehicle. The Land Cruiser is a thoroughly modern vehicle that’s been through several top to bottom redesigns, unlike the G-wagons.  The Range Rover’s biggest engine is a 550 horsepower supercharged V8 and the base model with a smaller engine starts at $85,945. Again the whole Land Rover lineup has gone through many iterations of design and engineering over the years and the ones I’ve driven feel like modern vehicles.

Gas mileage is as what might be expected – the G550 hits 13 mpg in the city, and climbs to 14 on the highway. The AMG G63, which is a biturbo V8 producing 563 horsepower drops to 12 in the city, but also achieves 14 on the highway.  It lists at $139,900, not that crazy a jump from the starter G550 considering the engine is hand built, by one person, and adds almost 150 horsepower. The top tier AMG G65 is rated at 11 city, 13 highway. Impressive engineering, actually, to add that much horsepower and maintain an almost equivalent level of fuel economy.

DSC_0884 - 2 - G550Driving the G-wagons is an event.  And maybe that’s part of the appeal. They’re all tall – at least 76.3 inches, or six feet four inches plus a little.  The starter G-wagon is actually 76.9 inches tall. The full-sized Mercedes SUV line of GLS’ tops off at 72.8 inches. The Toyota Land Cruiser is 74 inches tall, a Land Rover Range Rover 72.24. Stepping up in to one is more like ascending than simply entering, like climbing into the saddle. Maybe that’s why Mercedes held their event in western Colorado, and offered the assembled journalists the chance to ride a horse to dinner.  In direct opposition to the “here are the keys go have fun on these amazing roads” that is the hallmark of an opportunity like what we were offered by Mercedes during the day, the cow folk (hard to call them cowboys and cowgirls – though that does match the anachronistic vehicle) were pretty strict in their instructions to us car folk to only WALK the horses.  Automatic transmission animals, after a fashion, with only one speed.

Whether I was driving the G550 or the AMG G65, the G-wagons felt top heavy.  It’s fun to be high above the earth, propelled by so much horsepower, but heading in to a curve it’s impossible not to lean your body away from the outside of the curve, as the G-wagon leans out from the turn. I’m on the tall side at 6’ 4” and there was barely enough room for me behind the wheel. Not quite the luxurious stretching opportunity presented by other SUVs. But again, it’s part of the deal with the G-wagons – I’m on patrol, at full alert, ready for any apocalyptic event. The driver’s seat feels more like a cockpit, and despite all the modern technology added to the G-wagons there’s an inescapable sense of driving something that’s more of a tribute to the past than a fully modern vehicle.

DSC_0951 - 2 - AMG G65 engineI was curious to see how the wizards at AMG – and they are wizards – were able to fit a biturbo V12 in the tiny front engine compartment. It took a bit more than muggle technology. Mash on the accelerator and the G65 takes off like a shot – square shaped and all, the lack of aerodynamics not withstanding – rapid acceleration achieved not through body shape but by brute force alone.

Which is part of the appeal. The G-wagons are expensive, distinctive, and a throw-back, with exhaust pipes peeking out of the sides of the vehicle at the rear edge of the rear doors. They’re a statement. They say “I’m kind of old school but I like all this new-fangled technology tossed on for good measure.” If you’re willing to trade the full complement of a truly modern vehicle for a pastiche of old and new – and you can absorb the price tag – then you are a G-wagoneer.  Giddy up.

2016 Infiniti QX80 Test Drive and Review

by Jason Fogelson

I like big SUVs, and I love luxury. So the 2016 Infiniti QX80 has always been on my radar, and I got a chance to test drive it for Autobytel a few weeks ago.

Body-on-frame SUVs have been disappearing over the past decade or so, replaced in the marketplace by unibody crossover vehicles. It makes sense — crossovers are generally lighter and more fuel-efficient than body-on-frame models, and CAFE standards get tougher every year. But there are still buyers who need and want full-size SUVs, and many of those buyers demand a luxury vehicle.

Infiniti’s take on the big SUV differs from the competition. Swoopy design, high tech features and four-wheel independent suspension make QX80 unique, and I like it.

You can read my 2016 Infiniti QX80 Test Drive and Review at

Photo (c) Infiniti

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