The line is versatile enough for the sister Lincoln brand to take an F-150 and turn it into the Mark LT luxury truck starting around $40,000.
Ford's Lariat crew cab is pretty upscale by itself in the $36,515 King Ranch model. It comes with a leather console with floor shift, running boards, power-folding heated mirrors with signal lamps, a leather-wrapped steering wheel that matches the leather of the seats, and lots of fake wood trim. Even the instrument clusters are upgraded to black letters on a cream background with chrome trim around the air ducts.
Beneath the glitter is the basic truck, which despite its heft still drives like a smaller vehicle. It takes high-speed sweeper curves well if not eagerly. Front seats are nicely bolstered with oceans of front leg room. The 10.5 seconds it takes to achieve 60 mph is respectable. The 5.4.L V-8 gets 15 miles per gallon in the city and 19 on the road.
The F-150 has decent room for three in the back seat of the four-door vehicle, making it a spacious and comfortable family vehicle with a large trunk.
Prices start around $21,000 – another reason it's a best seller.
The Tahoe full-size SUV from Chevy is built off the Silverado, which is where it gets its muscle. The Tahoe keeps those on-the-road virtues and adds more creature comforts with lots of bins and cubbyholes. There's three-row seating for nine. There's power everything and a multilingual driver information center. The base price for a two-wheel drive starts around $35,000.
Best of all, the StabiliTrak backs up driver input by automatically braking to maintain the intended path. For instance, if the vehicle starts to snowplow or understeer, the inside rear brake is applied. For fishtailing or oversteering, it's the outside front brake. It inherits Silverado's leisurely jaunt to 60 mph in 10 or 11 seconds.
Toyota Corolla XRS
With the sporty XRS, it isn't a contradiction in terms to talk about a racy Toyota Corolla. For a base price just under $18,000, the 1.8L four cylinder comes alive with 164 horsepower. That gets it to 60 mph in a dashing 7.2 seconds via a six-speed manual transmission. No automatic is offered.
To squeeze that kind of brisk performance requires revving the four-banger to a high 7,600 rpm. That's where the real power joins in. Actually that 7.2 seconds came in second gear. The manual transmission requires a firm hand – it's a little notchy going into gear. The suspension is commendably firm via front and rear stabilizer bars. Firm also is the ride, which like the rear spoiler and front ground effects, cater to youthful drivers. The XRS is a pocket rocket.
The mid-size Altima is much improved over its predecessors.
Acceleration seems brisk partly because of the smaller, race-car styled steering wheel enhances the performance feel. Its 0-60 mph in 8.8 seconds is accompanied by front-wheel drive wheel spin. That's a commendable performance from a 2.5L four cylinder of 175 horsepower. The optional 3.5L V-6 trumps that.
The ride is taut. It's not a comfort cruiser but a sporty one. The driving position is good – you can even see a large part of the hood. Prices range upward from about $19,000.
The Honda Civic may come in a plain vanilla shape, but it earns kudos for its hybrid model that mates gas and electric engines. The result is stunning gas economy: it gets 47 miles per gallon in the city and 48 on the highway.
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