Each car manufacturer has a top selling model that rakes in money. Here are five examples that were acquired for testing. First up was the most expensive–the Infiniti QX-80 SUV. It was tricked-out with all the options, which accounts for the sticker price of $89,845. Yes, fewer options can bring this fee down, but after living with this loaded luxury boat, why want the cheaper version? Lots of wood, high-grade leather, and topped off with a 360-degree camera. Under the hood is a 400 horsepower V-8, hooked to a 7-speed automatic gearbox, which moves this 3-ton mass with ease. It moves the gas gauge with ease as well. EPA figures for the 2-wheel drive is 14/20 mpg. The heavier 4-wheel drive as shown here is listed at 13/19 mpg. In the real world, this one got 13-18.
The drive system has settings for all-wheel drive, 4×4 high, 4×4 low, snow, and tow. With about a foot of ground clearance and those 22-inch wheels, this one was taken off road. The large size can be an issue when putting this wide beast through narrow trails, as the thorn bushes were waiting. Still, this is the top-line Infiniti product and they did a great job creating a combo street/off-road machine. The lucky people who can afford it will be happy. So will the local gas station owner who will see this often.
MERCEDES E-350 WAGON
The Mercedes E-series is a great money-maker, and comes in far too many configurations to list here. This one is the wagon version. It starts out at $56K. The tester was loaded up, so it listed at $71K. This included the 4-Matic drive that provides four-wheel traction, which is great when driving in snow or rain. Under the hood is a 3.5 liter V-6 cranking 302 horsepower, hooked to a 7- speed gearbox. Gas mileage is listed at 19/26 mpg. This one averaged 20 overall.
Mercedes says the tire pressures should be set at 35 pounds front, and 40 rear. This is unusually high, and in other cars, it would result in a stiff ride. Not here, as it gave a smoother than expected experience. Steering, handling, and brake performance were first rate. Interior materials are top-notch, but there were too many look-alike buttons on the dash. The glove box has room, but only if you take the huge owner’s manual out, which is thicker than a phone book. The buyer’s wallet will also have to be thick to get this car, but it is a nice one.
GMC DIESEL TRUCK
The GMC pickup truck was the largest vehicle here, due to its double cab body. It also had the most expensive engine–a turbo diesel that cost $8.5K over the base 360 horse gas motor. Total horsepower is 397, with a whopping 765 lb./ft. of torque-pulling ability kicking in at a low 1,600 rpm. Towing on this test truck was listed at 14,000 pounds, but with the optional 6-wheel dually, this can be stretched to 23,000 pounds! The bed can hold 4,000! This is a real work vehicle! Gas mileage is not listed by the EPA, but this one got 13/17 in most commuting and 20 at 60 mph cruising. This is about the same as the 360 horse gas engine, but with an empty bed. Put five tons of gear on here, and the diesel will pull better and get far superior mileage. That is what the consumer is paying for . . . the King Kong of trucks!
There were two Highlander test vehicles here. First was the standard model with a 270 horsepower V-6 that got 18/24 mpg in real-world driving. Next was the hybrid version with a total of 280 horsepower. Gas mileage is listed at 27/28, but this one saw 24/24. The highway mileage was the same as hybrid battery systems don’t operate much at highway speeds. It is in the city where the battery power takes the strain off the engine that the figures improve.
Although the hybrid has more horsepower, it is also about 300 pounds heavier, so it is slower at 0-60 mph. In low-speed city commuting below 40 mph, the hybrid moves out quicker thanks to the torque of the battery. It is a great system, but adds about $5K to the cost. Also Toyota likes to load these up with all the goodies. So what started out as a $29K purchase with a 2.7 liter four- banger rated at 20/25 mpg, grows into a $50K-plus luxury machine, getting 24/24 mpg. And the luxury is there, with great interior materials and smooth ride. Just keep it in the city if great fuel economy is wanted.
The big news on the new F-150 is the new aluminum body that is said to save 700 pounds in weight. That means more power and better gas mileage. For engine choices, there is the 5.0 liter 385 horsepower V-8, 3.5 liter 282 horse V-6, 3.5 liter Ecoboost turbo V-6 at 365 horse, and finally the small 2.7 liter Ecoboost turbo cranking out 325 horsepower. The test truck had the tiny 2.7 engine, which is the smallest to be found in a full-size truck. It is also one of the fastest, as it puts out more torque than the V-8 at low speeds. It is claimed to get 23 mpg on the freeway, but the best this one got was 19 mpg. This was with the heavier 4×4 system, but still, thanks to the aluminum body, overall mass was only 4,300 pounds.
The combination of light weight and the 2.7 turbo power make this combination fun to drive. Ford has improved the steering feel and brake performance. The ride comfort is the best of any of the current trucks sold at the moment. The 2015 model year is the best of the past 30 years, and Ford will sell a lot of these . . . and rightfully so.