Looking for a New Service Van? 2012 AUTOWEEK New Truck Buyers Guide Reviews Vehicles

Oct. 7, 2011
Reviews include Ford Transit Connect and Nissan NV commercial vans

If we only included traditional trucks in our New Truck Buyers Guide, it wouldn't be much of a read, with only one entry for the updated Toyota Tacoma. Luckily, the definition of "truck" now stretches wider, including SUVs, crossovers and minivans, to bring our list of new or substantially updated trucks to 12.

The new hardware includes everything from a big 470-hp Jeep to a handful of fresh compact-SUV offerings. So, without further adieu, we present our 2012 New Truck Buyers Guide.


Highlights: Not ignored in Ford's drive to offer five electric vehicles in 2012 are fleet customers. For them, Ford released an electric version of its Transit Connect for the 2012 model year. Ford says that the Transit Connect EV's 28-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery is integrated without compromising passenger room or the 135 cubic feet of cargo space and can be recharged on either a 240-volt or a standard 120-volt outlet. A range of up to 80 miles is claimed, which makes the EV ideal for businesses with short-range deliveries or with routes through stop-and-go traffic.

Base price: $58,350

Our opinion: With prospects of lower maintenance costs and respectable range, the Transit Connect EV could be ideal for many businesses.


Highlights: A stale commercial-van segment is something Nissan hopes to cash in on with its first production commercial vehicle for the United States: the ladder-frame NV (for "Nissan Van"). The interior has ample leg-room and foot room, large armrests, supportive seats and a fold-down passenger seat, which can be used as a work table. A removable center console is also available. Customers can choose between a 264-hp, 4.0-liter V6 and a 317-hp, 5.6-liter V8. Standard and high-roof (available only on 2500 HD and 3500 HD trims) bodies are offered. The NV's cargo area has 120.0 inches of cargo-floor length and a 70.2-inch cargo-floor width.

Base price: $25,930

Our opinion: Good road manners, a comfortable seating position and tons of cargo space make this a serious threat to the old Ford E-series and Chevrolet Express guard.


Highlights: A fourth-generation CR-V will land for the 2012 model year, and Honda has shown a concept to preview what the new model will look like when it goes on sale by year's end. Its styling features a more aggressive stance and a bolder front end with deeper-set headlamps. Honda promises that the new interior will be roomier, with a lower cargo floor. Details remain scarce, but we expect a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine to continue with roughly 180 hp and better fuel economy available in front- and all-wheel-drive configurations.

Base price: $22,900 (est)

Our opinion: A new model with sleeker looks should help Honda continue its dominance of the small-SUV market.


Highlights: Three-row luxury crossovers are among the fastest-growing segments, and Infiniti will toss its hat into the ring with the seven-passenger JX, due next April as a 2013 model. Power will come from a V6 connected to a continuously variable transmission (the first for Infiniti), which will behave like a traditional step transmission when in sport mode. Front- and all-wheel-drive versions will be offered. The exterior design draws on the Essence concept for inspiration, while the third row will have "adult-size room," according to Infiniti. Available premium features include a Bose stereo system and a telematics system, which has a new personal-concierge service with 24-hour access to live personal assistants.

Base price: $41,000 (est)

Our opinion: It's a handsome crossover with a tried-and-true V6 powerplant. However, we haven't been thrilled by CVTs.


Highlights: Jeep's hot-rod Grand Cherokee SRT8 returns to the lineup with a 6.4-liter Hemi V8 churning out 470 hp and 465 lb-ft of torque, connected to a five-speed automatic transmission. An active-damping suspension is new to provide a smoother on-road ride while still offering a stiffer setting for aggressive handling. Brembo brakes and 20-inch Pirelli P Zero tires complete the performance enhancements. In addition to the 20-inch wheels, the SRT sets itself apart from lesser Grand Cherokees with a one-piece fascia, LED running lights, a sculpted hood, wheel flares and a rear spoiler. Cabin touches include a flat-bottom SRT steering wheel, deeply bolstered front seats and carbon-fiber trim.

Base price: $55,295

Our opinion: Not quite as raw as before, this is still a great performance bang for your buck in the SUV realm.


Highlights: Mazda's new-generation mini-minivan debuted in early 2011 as a 2012 model, wearing sheetmetal that fully embraced the company's flowing "Nagare" design theme, which has since been dropped. A 157-hp, 2.5-liter I4 is the only engine offered, with a six-speed manual (available only on the base Sport version) or a five-speed automatic gearbox. Like those of a proper minivan, the rear doors are manual sliders to provide easy access to the flexible six-passenger interior. Handling improves with the help of stiffer springs and front lower control-arm bushings for sharper steering response.

Base price: $19,990

Our opinion: It's the only entry in the class. Luckily, it's a good one.


Highlights: After limping along with the Ford-supplied Tribute small SUV for years, Mazda is taking a serious stab at the popular but crowded market with its own in-house-developed CX-5. The CX-5 will also be the first vehicle to adopt Mazda's fuelefficient Skyactiv equipment, which includes a new 2.0-liter, direct-injection I4 and six-speed manual and automatic transmissions. A 2.2-liter turbocharged diesel will be available in other markets but hasn't yet been confirmed for the States. U.S. specs aren't finalized, but front- and all-wheel drive will be available. We expect the gasoline I4 to make about 160 hp, and Mazda says that fuel economy will be class-leading when the CX-5 goes on sale in February.

Base price: $19,975 (est)

Our opinion: This should be the best-driving ute in the class, with good fuel efficiency-something Mazda has lacked. We want the diesel.


Highlights: Volkswagen freshens its Tiguan in hopes of making a bigger dent in the U.S. small-SUV market, with refined looks and better fuel economy. The 200-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 remains the sole engine, with a six-speed manual (front-drive only) or a six-speed automatic transmission. Fuel economy is now rated at 22 mpg city/27 mpg highway on front-wheel-drive models and 21/27 mpg on all-wheel-drive versions with the automatic. Styling updates include a fresh grille, new taillights and additional chrome accents on select models.

Base price: $23,660

Our opinion: Improvements help, but before an all-new Tiguan gets here, VW will continue to struggle in this segment.


Highlights: Slated to go into production during 2012, the C-Max will be available in the United States only as a five-passenger car and will serve as Ford's dedicated family of electrified vehicles. Plans for a sevenpassenger version were binned in favor of a five-passenger model with hinged rear doors, available as the C-Max hybrid and the C-Max Energi. Ford says that the hybrid 2.0-liter Atkinson-cycle I4 and the electric motor will achieve better fuel economy than the Fusion hybrid's 41 mpg city/36 mpg highway. The Energi plug-in hybrid is targeted to achieve a range of more than 500 miles using the lithium-ion battery and the gasoline engine, which would be more than the range of any other current plug-in vehicle.

Base price: $28,000 (est)

Our opinion: We're disappointed that the seven-passenger isn't coming, but if Ford can achieve its targeted mileage and range, the C-Max could give Toyota's Prius a run for its hybrid money.


Highlights: The new, smaller Range Rover Evoque was developed from the LR-X concept and aims to broaden Land Rover's customer base as it takes on the likes of Audi's Q5 and BMW's X3. With development including 5,000 miles around Germany's Nürburgring, we expect the most responsive on-road Range Rover to date. Power comes from a Ford-supplied 240-hp, 2.0-liter I4 connected to a six-speed automatic, which powers a standard all-wheel-drive system. Five-door wagon and three-door coupe bodies will be offered. Being a Range Rover, it will feature a full double-stitched leather interior, metal or wood trim and an 825-watt, 17-speaker Meridian audio system.

Base price: $43,995

Our opinion: Impressive on the road while possessing healthy off-road chops, the Evoque should become Range Rover's best seller.


Highlights: In hopes of reclaiming the crossover-utility-segment crown, Mercedes-Benz rolls out a new ML-class for 2012, with more power and better fuel economy. Two engines are offered, including a 302-hp, directinjection, 3.5-liter V6 and a 240-hp, 3.0-liter turbocharged diesel V6. Fuel economy for the gasoline engine is 17 mpg city/22 mpg highway, while the diesel comes in at 20/25 mpg. Both engines come bolted to a seven-speed automatic transmission. More power will come next year, when a 4.6-liter biturbo V8 is due, along with an AMG variant. For those who need third-row seating, that option is scheduled to appear in the ML-class-just not until after 2013.

Base price: $49,865

Our opinion: We're suckers for diesels, but the ML's minimal styling changes will make it difficult to get notice.


Highlights: The industry's best-selling compact pickup is updated for 2012 with a new front-end design, including a fresh grille, headlights, bumper and hood. Improvements also find their way into the cabin, with a new center instrument panel and controls, a new gauge cluster, a new steering wheel and upgraded available audio systems. The new look is finished off with black high-contrast center console, dash and upper door trim. Two engines continue to be offered: a 159-hp, 2.7-liter I4 and a 236-hp, 4.0-liter V6.

Base price: $17,685

Our opinion: It's this or the Nissan Frontier when it comes to small trucks.

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