’16 Maxima shines in Tabernash setting

’16 Maxima shines in Tabernash setting

Fall foliage backdrop in high country brings out best of 2016 Nissan Maxima Platinum sedan. (Bud Wells photo)

Fall foliage backdrop in high country brings out best of 2016 Nissan Maxima Platinum sedan. (Bud Wells photo)

Sun’s rays filtering through low-hanging clouds high in the Colorado Rockies added luster to the “coulis red” finish on the 2016 Nissan Maxima, one of the most beautiful sedans introduced for the coming model year.

The Maxima, featuring a “floating roof” style and V-motion front end, was one of 40 new cars and trucks shown to members of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Press in a mid-September gathering at Devil’s Thumb Ranch, near Tabernash in Grand County.

First opportunity for driving the Maxima was mine; I drove it 3 miles back to U.S. 40, north to Granby and continued a 30-minute cruise. The smoothness and quietness of the Maxima were impressive; its 300-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 engine was strong in performance. Even its continuously variable transmission, called the Xtronic, was more responsive and “less whiney” than previous versions. Rather than traditional shift points, the CVTs move up and down gear ratios with a belt/pulley system.

Highlighting the cabin are ascot leather seats with diamond-quilted leather inserts.

The red Maxima is the high-end Platinum edition, with a sticker price of $40,905. Cheaper models are the S, which starts closer to $33,000, the SV, SL and SR. All are equipped with the same 3.5-liter V-6 and CVT and carry EPA estimates of 22/30 miles per gallon.

They’re all front-wheel-drive sedans, with wheelbase of 109.3 inches, overall length of 192.4 and curb weights of 3,450 to 3,500 pounds. If all-wheel drive was an option, the Maxima would compete head-on with the Chrysler 300, Buick LaCrosse and Ford Taurus as favorite full-size four-doors in Colorado. There are no plans presently for adding AWD, said Steve Parrett, a corporate communications executive for Nissan.

Some of the younger members of the automotive press at the ranch event were more enamored with the 2016 Jaguar F-Type R convertible ($121,000) and selected it as “best-driving car.” I had driven and reviewed the Jag convertible before the meeting at Devil’s Thumb. Picked as “best-driving truck” was the 2015 Ram Rebel.

The 2016 Mazda CX-3 compact crossover parks briefly out front of the Tabernash Tavern. (Bud Wells)

The 2016 Mazda CX-3 compact crossover parks briefly out front of the Tabernash Tavern. (Bud Wells)

My second drive of the day was the 2016 Mazda CX-3, an entry into the emerging small crossover category. The little Mazda, on a wheelbase of only 101 inches, was equipped with all-wheel drive and powered by a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine and 6-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters. It averaged close to 30 miles per gallon in my testing.

The Grand Touring edition of the CX-3 carried a sticker price of $29,890, which included the AWD, navigation, Bose sound system, 18-inch wheels, leather-trimmed heated front seats, rearview camera, radar cruise control and lane-departure warning. Cheaper versions are the Touring and Sport.

A twisting gravel road was excellent test for the 2015 GMC Canyon 4WD Crew Short Box. (Bud Wells)

A twisting gravel road was excellent test for the 2015 GMC Canyon 4WD Crew Short Box. (Bud Wells)

I found a several-mile narrow gravel road west of U.S. 40 which was well-suited to testing the 2015 GMC Canyon Crew Cab 4X4 Short Box. The Canyon, which even with its V-6 engine seemed somewhat pale in power on steep climbs, excelled in grip on the gravel and handled the many curves like a smaller, lighter vehicle. Wheelbase of the four-door Canyon SLE is more than 2 feet longer than that of the Mazda CX-3.

The GMC Canyon 4WD, with a 3.6-liter V-6 engine, 6-speed automatic transmission and electric two-speed transfer case, had an optional terrain package of offroad suspension, hill-descent control, transfer-case shield and heated front seats. It boosted sticker price to $38,345.

Devil’s Thumb Ranch near Tabernash provided setting for test-driving of new cars and trucks. (Bud Wells)

Devil’s Thumb Ranch near Tabernash provided setting for test-driving of new cars and trucks. (Bud Wells)

My drive to the ranch and back home was in a 2015 Toyota Highlander. The day previous to the mountain run, the Highlander carried Jan and me to a memorial service for Bill Barrow at the Colorado Automobile Dealers Association building in Denver. Barrow, who died Aug. 22 in Arizona, for 28 years headed the CADA.

Bill Barrow.

Bill Barrow.

I met Bill Barrow for lunch at the Senate Lounge in the Argonaut Hotel building across Colfax from the Capitol one noon in the fall of 1977. Barrow had assumed the position as head of the Colorado Automobile Dealers Association, I was the automotive writer in the business news department at The Denver Post.

He drove to our meeting in a “plain jane” Ford Granada, and commented on his plans to soon replace it with something more stylish. It would be one of the last “run of the mill” models he would drive, for he loved the pizazz of the car business and in the years ahead drove about in lots of flash and performance.

Barrow played a role in promoting The Colorado Car Book; shortly before its publication in December 1996, I stopped by his office. He motioned me outdoors – there sat his newest auto purchase, a 1997 “Speed Yellow” 993 Porsche Carrera, one of the last of air-cooled Porsches.

Of it, his son Paul said, “It was the one car Dad regretted selling out of all the great ones he ever had.”

To help launch the first of “a new era” of auto shows in the spring of 1978, Barrow hired one of the country’s greatest auto show masters, Bruce Kenyon of Detroit; and for virtually every hour of the five-day show at Currigan Hall, the eager young exec Barrow, watching the aged veteran Kenyon’s every step, tagged him from one end of the hall to the other. Downsized models were the big attraction that year, along with front-wheel-drive technology, sunroofs and AM/FM 8-track stereos.

Barrow never forgot the lessons learned from that initial show, improved upon them and guided the Denver extravaganza to prominence.

Sharing comments following Bill Barrow memorial service are, from left, Tim Jackson, head of CADA; A.J. Guanella, longtime Chevrolet specialist in Denver, and Jana and Vince Schreivogel, auto dealers at Burlington. (Photo by Jan Wells)

Sharing comments following Bill Barrow memorial service are, from left, Tim Jackson, head of CADA; A.J. Guanella, longtime Chevrolet specialist in Denver, and Jana and Vince Schreivogel, auto dealers at Burlington. (Photo by Jan Wells)

In addition to visiting with Paul at the memorial service, Jan and I paid our respects to Bill’s wife, Merilee Keene Barrow, who said she’ll remain in their retirement home in Arizona.