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    Afterthoughts: Favorite Vehicles of 2015


    • What were my favorite vehicles of 2015?

    As I hinted in my two final review pieces for 2015, I would be picking my favorite review vehicles from the year. Thus, here we are.

     

    2015 saw almost 80 vehicles being driven by yours truly. From subcompact hatches to heavy duty trucks. There seemed to be an endless variety of vehicles I got to lay my hands on.

     

    Trying to pick my favorite vehicles of the past year is a difficult task. To begin with, I have close to 60 vehicles to pick from. These are vehicles that spent a week with me, going through the various motions. Any vehicle that I drove in a first drive event or at media/manufacturer event don't qualify (the Scion iA, iM, and Hyundai Tucson will be eligible for next year). From there, I re-read my reviews and any notes that I have taken on to help jog my memory. Then I start the elimination process till I reach a point that I cannot take any more out. This year, 12 vehicles made the cut. A sizeable group but 2015 was an impressive year.

     

    Here are my 12 favorite vehicles of 2015, or as I call it, the dirty dozen.

     

    Cadillac CTS VSport
    Whenever I drive a Cadillac, I think how far the brand has come in a decade. They seem to be getting closer to their overall goal of beating the Germans. But the past two ATSes I have been in, they seem to be missing that final piece. Something that would put them over the top. I was worried the same fate would befall the CTS VSport when it came in. But I was shocked that CTS VSport was well above and beyond many competitors in the class. The twin-turbo 3.6L V6 provided instantaneous power, while returning decent fuel economy. Cadillac was able to find the right balance for the chassis between comfort and sport. Equipped with Magnetic Ride Control, the VSport showed athleticism that would be only reserved for Germans, while returning a ride that was magic carpet smooth.

     

    One other item that impressed me was the CTS' interior. Cadillac is finally getting the message that you cannot go most of the way with the design and materials used. High-quality materials paired with a modern design make the CTS a very enjoyable place to be in.

     

    Chevrolet SS
    When we learned that Holden would be ceasing the rear-drive Commodore along with production in 2017, I knew that my chance to get behind the wheel of Chevrolet SS was slipping. Thankfully, the GM Detroit fleet had an SS in the summer and I was able to drive what will be the last Australian-built RWD sedan.

     

    The styling I'll admit is the weak point to the SS. For what it is presumed to be - a sports sedan, it doesn't look the part. But the rest of vehicle more than makes up for it. Under the hood is a 6.2L V8 with 4105 horsepower paired with a new six-speed manual option, it makes leaving a stoplight almost like a drag race. What anyone sees of the SS after the light turns green is the rear end.

     

    But don't think the SS is just a four-door sedan dragster. The SS boasts excellent handling thanks in part to GM's Magnetic Ride Control. To put this in perspective, I had the chance to drive around some roads with a fellow writer in an ATS-V Coupe. While the ATS-V had a slight power and weight advantage, the SS was able to keep it in its sights partly due to the handling. The grunt of the V8 doesn't hurt either.

     

    Chrysler 300S
    If it ain't broke, why fix it? This one line summed up the 2015 Chrysler 300 when it debuted at the LA Auto Show in 2014. Some were disappointed that Chrysler didn't go far enough with changes for the model which included a new front grille, headlights, and rotary knob for gear selection.

     

    But I found it to be a wise decision as the 300 still looks quite modern. The 300S I had for review in the fall came with sharp looking wheels and a vibrant red paint that somehow doesn't make the 300 look like a complete mess. The optional 5.7L HEMI V8 is a delight as it delivers a burble that is reminiscent of muscle cars at idle. The V8 also packs the punch that 300S' exterior is conveying - this is a car you don't want to mess with. It helps that the V8 finally gets the eight-speed transmission that has been part of the V6 since the 2011 redesign. The eight-speed is very responsive and improves overall fuel economy to 19 MPG on the combined cycle.

     

    The 300S is still an excellent value for the money as well. The base S model with the V6 begins at $34,895. If you have your heart set on a V8, you only need to add $3,000 to the base price.

     

    Ford Fiesta ST
    The Ford Fiesta ST was one of most talked about vehicles last year when it launched. It got to a point that I had to basically go into radio silence mode about it. It wasn't because I was getting annoyed about everyone talking about the ST. It was more of a wanting to come in with a clear mind and not having my expectations hyped-up for this vehicle.

     

    After spending a week in the Fiesta ST, I fell under its spell. The exterior is a key item to this as Ford made the diminutive Fiesta look like villain thanks to a more aggressive front end, lower ride height, and gray wheels. Power comes from a 1.6L EcoBoost with 197 horsepower and it makes the Fiesta go like a rocket ship. The six-speed manual has to be one of the best as the motion of moving through the gears was really smooth, and putting the vehicle into gear felt positive.

     

    Then there is the handling. There are very few cars I have driven that have given me a bigger smile than the Fiesta ST. Its small size and suspension tuning means the vehicle quickly transitions from one corner to another without any sign of roll. The steering provides an excellent feel of the road and weight that makes you want to push the Fiesta ST a little bit more.

     

    GMC Yukon Denali XL
    Getting A Cadillac Escalade with a $10,000 discount. That's one way of describing the GMC Yukon Denali XL, but that doesn't tell the whole story. It might not have some of the distinctive features of the Escalade such as different dashboard and some luxurious materials, but the Denali comes very close.

     

    For starters, GMC made sure the Yukon Denali stood out from other Yukons. So there is a mesh grille, HID headlights, and twenty-two inch chrome wheels. Small changes but they do make a difference. Then there is the engine, a 6.2L V8 with 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet. The engine is more than enough to get the Yukon moving at a surprising rate. More impressive is an average MPG of 16 for the week I had it. This thanks to a new eight-speed automatic.

     

    Hyundai Genesis 3.8
    If you want proof that Hyundai is a quick learner, you just need to look at the current Genesis sedan. The first-generation model came with the traits you expected from a Hyundai vehicles; a lot of equipment at a surprising price, and the 10 Year/100,000 warranty. But it wasn't a vehicle that stood out in terms of looks or how it drove.

     

    Flash forward to the second-generation model and wow. The Genesis actually has a presence on the road thanks to a design that borrows a lot from the HCD-14 Concept. Then you have the engines. This particular Genesis came with base 3.8L V6 with 311 horsepower and paired with an eight-speed automatic. This powertrain provided more than enough power and was as refined as what you might find in a German vehicle. The ride is also a bright spot as the Genesis was smooth and relaxed, perfect for a holiday road trip.

     

    But the best part of the Genesis has to be the value. I drove a base Genesis which came with a price of $38,950 and it came with navigation, heated and powered front seats, dual-zone climate control, LED lighting, and Hyundai's BlueLink telematics system as standard. Value of the year?! I believe so.

     

    Hyundai Sonata Eco
    When I drove the Sonata Sport 2.0T back in 2014, I was very disappointed. The interior and turbo-four were huge improvements over the last-generation model. But the exterior lost a lot of pizzaz that the last Sonata featured, and handling of the Sport model was not sporty. If you were to ask me what were my disappointments of that year, the Sonata Sport 2.0T would be towards the top.

     

    I didn't have much hope when the Sonata Eco came around to do a weeklong test with me. But the Eco surprised me. You got the feeling of power thanks to 1.6L turbo four that delivers torque at @ 1,500 rpm and continues to 4,500 rpm. Then there is the fuel economy. I was able to achieve 33.4 mpg - the highest average I have seen in a midsize sedan. The comfortable ride was more fitting in the Eco than it was in Sport model. The best part is the value argument. A base Eco will set you back $23,275, but that will net you a power driver's seat, five-inch touchscreen radio, backup camera, and chrome grille. From a disappointment to being named one my favorites, the Sonata Eco should be very proud.

     

    Kia Soul EV
    The Soul EV is Kia's first electric vehicle and it doesn't feel like it. Faint praise, but here me out. Whenever an automaker builds an electric version of existing model, there comes a number of compromises. This includes how do you package the electric powertrain into the vehicle, range, and price to name a few. It becomes more difficult when it's your first production electric.

     

    But somehow, Kia was able to avoid a number of pitfalls that plague other electric vehicles. It begins with the vehicle itself. By picking the Soul, Kia was able to fit the electric powertrain with only one compromise. You lose out on some cargo space from a underfloor cargo tray. But with the boxy shape of the Soul, it isn't a big deal. The electric powertrain adds about 600 lbs to the Soul, but thanks to instantaneous torque of the electric, the Soul EV doesn't feel heavy. In fact, it feels spritely when compared to the standard soul.

     

    There are some clever features in the Soul EV such as having the climate control system only provide heat and cooling to the driver, a quick-charge port that drops charging time to around four hours, and the ability of the navigation system to guide you to the nearest charging station.

     

    Kia Sedona SXL
    Can a minivan be sexy? Seems like a contradiction at first. But when the minivan in question is the Kia Sedona, then the answer is a resounding yes. The overall look is sleek and daring with bits of chrome, a large glass area, and distinctive headlights. The interior feels more like a luxury car with leather and wood trim. Then there is the second row where you can recline and have a foot rest come up (but there isn't enough space for this work for all passengers). There is also more than enough power from a 3.3L V6 and a comfortable ride.

     

    This is a minivan that stands out from the usual suspects.

     

    Nissan Murano SL
    Whenever Nissan can put its head down and have everything work in sync, they can produce some magical stuff. Case in point is the Nissan Murano SL that came in towards the end of this year. The Murano is one of the elder statesmen in crossovers since being launched as a 2003 model. But what made it really stand out was the design. It stood out in a sea of boringness at Nissan.

     

    That why I was happy to see Nissan take some chances with the third-generation Murano. From the deep V-shaped front grille to the floating roof, it stands out in a growing crowd of crossovers. Then you step inside, and your jaw will drop to the floor. Nissan used a lot of high-quality materials to make the Murano feel as luxurious as certain luxury models. For example, the ivory wood trim in my tester added a nice touch of class.

     

    Nissan also worked on improving the Murano's ride. Driving over some of the roughest roads Michigan had on offer, the Murano just rolled over them like it was nothing.

     

    Ram ProMaster City Tradesman Cargo
    Even though Ram was somewhat late to small cargo van party, they have one of the best ones on sale today in the form of ProMaster City Cargo. The reason? Well, it's built for those who need a lot of space and can handle the tough duties that is thrown a cargo van's way.

     

    In terms of space, the ProMaster City is either best-in-class or up there. Consider this, a ProMaster City has a total cargo capacity of 131.7 cubic feet of space - which beats even the long-wheelbase Ford Transit Connect. It is also very versatile with sliding doors on either side and barn doors around. The van can also handle the rigors of work with durable plastics for the front and a limited amount of power accessories. For example, the side view mirrors are adjusted with a control arm.

     

    The ProMaster City also has a trick up its sleeve. Driving a cargo van shouldn't be a bouncy affair with or without cargo in the back, and in the case of the ProMaster City it isn't. The suspension is setup in such a way that it provides a comfortable with or without any cargo in the back.

     

    Volkswagen Golf GTI
    This past year hasn't been kind to Volkswagen. When allegations came out in September by the EPA say Volkswagen cheated emissions tests with their 'clean' TDI models. Since Volkswagen admitted they did cheat, it has ballooned into a giant clusterf$ck with people stepping down, large fines being considered, and a number of other issues.

     

    But if there is something that Volkswagen can hang their hat on being a success, that would be the seventh-generation Golf GTI.

     

    Ever since Volkswagen rediscovered its mojo with the fifth-generation model, the Golf GTI has impressed everyone with its performance and practicality. The seventh-generation model might be the best yet. Thanks to a modular platform known as MQB, Volkswagen was given a clean sheet to build on. It shows when you step inside and there is space for those sitting in the back seat.

     

    This also shows in the handling characteristics where Golf GTI feels composed on the curves. Nary a hint of body roll and the suspension quick to react in when going from corner to corner. But the suspension delivers one of the most comfortable rides when doing the daily commute. Volkswagen does offer adaptive dampers for Golf GTI, but I think the standard suspension is enough.

     

    And there you go. My favorite cars from 2015.

     

    If you're wondering about reviews for 2016 models. Those will be returning after the Detroit Auto Show.

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    • By William Maley
      The end of another year is upon us and I’m in the process of picking my favorite vehicles from the year. But before we get to that, I need to give some vehicles their time in the review spotlight. Trying to crank a review or a two a week is a hard task for some folks, myself included. I tend to spend a week with a vehicle, driving it in my daily routine, taking notes and photos, and hopefully beginning the review before the vehicle leaves. But that last part is the thickest part as it doesn’t always work out because of life. Whether it's a personal or family emergency, vacation, changes in work, or just being distracted, life always finds a way to get in and mess up whatever you are trying to do.
       
      Towards the end of every year, I have a small number of vehicles that have fallen between the cracks and are just waiting for me to find them and write something up. This year is no different as seven vehicles have been waiting patiently for their turn and their time has come. We're going to be looking at the last three of the seven.
       
      For this piece, I’ll be listing the good and bad of each vehicle, along with some notes that I took on each vehicle.
       
      2015 Infiniti Q70L 3.7
      3.7L VQ DOHC 24-valve V6 (330 Horsepower, 270 Pound-Feet)
      Seven-Speed Automatic
      Base/As-Tested: $53,500/$62,755
       
      Cheers: Comfortable ride, large back seat, still looks stylish on the exterior
      Jeers: Interior is starting to look dated, Fuel economy could be better, Competitors are much more modern
       
      Notes: Let’s play a game. See if you can try to spot the differences between the 2015 Infiniti Q70L and the 2012 Infiniti M35h. Ready? Go.
       
      Now if you figured out the Q70L is longer than the M35h, then pat yourself on the back. Since Infiniti went to the Q nomenclature, the only real change to their midsize luxury sedan was to introduce a long-wheelbase model. Compared to the standard Q70, the adds about 5.9 inches to the wheelbase. Sitting in the back seat was very pleasurable thanks to a large amount of legroom on offer. Disappointingly, there isn’t any seat adjustments for the rear passengers, nor any heat.
       
      Despite getting up in age, the Q70L is still a striking vehicle to look. The flowing lines up front and along the side still look fresh as the day it was first introduced into the world. Twenty-inch wheels only add a bit of prestige to the model. But the interior is where you begin to feel the age of the Q70. Despite the model being trimmed in leather and wood, the Q70’s interior hasn’t changed at all since we last drove it back in 2012. The center stack is pushed out, giving a cramped feeling for passengers sitting up front. Not helping is the very dated infotainment system which looks like it has come from the Windows 98 era.
       
      For the Q70L, there is a choice of a 3.7L V6 or a 5.6L V8. Our tester had the V6 with 330 horsepower paired up to a seven-speed automatic transmission. Power comes on a very linear rate though you’ll need to plant your foot to the pedal if you are making a pass. This introduces a sound of the engine being put under a lot of strain. The ride is somewhat stiff as it seems to pick out a fair amount of imperfections on the road and transmit them to the passengers. A lot of this comes down to the optional twenty-inch wheels, and we expect the standard eighteen-inch wheels to provide a much better ride. At least, wind and road noise are kept to near-silent levels.
       
      While the introduction of the long-wheelbase for the Q70 does give it some new blood, there isn’t a good reason why anyone should choose it over one of the new midsize luxury sedans in the class. Let’s hope Infiniti has a replacement coming very soon.
       
      2015 Kia Forte5 SX
      1.6L Turbocharged GDI Four-Cylinder
      Six-Speed Manual
      Base/As-Tested: $20,890/$26,035
       
      Cheers: Exterior Styling, Fuel Economy, Space
      Jeers: Wrong gearing in vehicle, Engine doesn’t feel quick, Interior looking very dated, not really sporty
       
      Notes: We have hot hatches and we have cold hatches (the non-sporty variety). Is there space for something warm? Maybe if the 2015 Kia Forte5 SX is something to go on.
       
      The Forte5 as the name suggests is a five-door hatchback and looks much sportier than the Forte sedan. This is thanks to a new front end with a wide and narrow grille, and a set of eighteen-inch alloy wheels done in a five leaf pattern. These wheels might be my favorite OEM wheels. Inside is where the Forte5 begins to lose some points. The dashboard makes the interior feel much older than it is (Forte5 was introduced back in 2013 as a 2014 model) thanks to hard plastics and parts having a scratchy texture. We hope a Kia is planning a refresh for the interior in the near future. Not helping are the leather power seats which comes as part of the SX Premium package. While they do provide a decent level of comfort and support for short trips, the seats cannot provide long-distance support. My brother and I learned this as the Forte5 was pressed into Christmas travel duty.
       
      But Kia wins some points back in the interior. The back seat is large, providing more than enough head and legroom for anyone sitting back here. Also, the Forte5 can be equipped with everything except the kitchen sink. Our tester boasted heated seats for front and rear passengers, a cooled seat for the driver, memory seat for the driver, a touchscreen with navigation, dual-zone climate control, and a sunroof.
       
      Power comes from a turbocharged 1.6L four-cylinder with 201 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. Our tester came with the standard six-speed manual, but you can go with a six-speed automatic. This is the same engine we liked in the Hyundai Veloster Turbo, but in the Forte5, it is a bit of a mess. The engine seems smothered and not as powerful as the Veloster Turbo. The cause is due to the manual. The gears are too short to allow the engine to fully produce all of the power it is capable of. Also, the short gearing means you’ll be seeing the revs up at 3,000 rpm at a 70 MPH cruise. Some longer gearing could solve both of these problems. At least, fuel economy wasn’t badly affected. Close to 700 Miles were put on the Forte5 SX and we got an average of 33.2 MPG on mostly highway and rural roads.
       
      Ride and handling are somewhere in the middle. The Forte5’s suspension is able to deal with most bumps and imperfections on the road with no problem. Bigger bumps do unsettle the vehicle a little bit. In the corners, the Forte5 feels steady and doesn’t show any sign of roll. But it isn’t any fun to pilot around such as a Mazda3. This mostly comes down to the steering with Kia’s FlexSteer system that allows you to vary the weight from light to heavy. We don’t like this system as the light setting is way too light and the heavy setting doesn’t feel hefty. Kia would do itself a lot of good by throwing out the FlexSteer system and do a new steering system that is somewhere in the middle.
       
      2015 Toyota Tundra TRD Pro CrewMax
      5.7L DOHC 32-Valve Dual Independent VVT-i V8
      Six-Speed Automatic
      Base/As-Tested: $44,000/$45,465
       
      Cheers: Off-Road Package Comes With Everything, Excellent Value, Comfortable Ride
      Jeers: V8 Feels Sluggish, Fuel Economy
       
      Notes: Toyota decided to go back to some of their roots when it comes to their trucks and SUVs. Earlier in the year, the automaker launched the TRD Pro series for the 4Runner, Tacoma, and Tundra. The TRD Pro boasts changes to suspension, wheels, and exterior to make them ready to go off the beaten trail. Our first taste in the TRD Pro came in the form of a Tundra CrewMax.
       
      There is no mistaking the TRD Pro Tundra as it comes in a wild orange paint, paired with an old school Toyota grille (reminiscent of Toyota’s SUVs in the late eighties and early nineties) and eighteen-inch off-road alloy wheels finished in black and wrapped in meaty off-road tires. We like the TRD Pro embossed into the rear fenders as it adds a touch of distinctiveness. Inside is your standard Tundra interior with black cloth seats embroidered with the TRD Pro logo.
       
      Under the skin, Toyota made some small changes to the Tundra TRD Pro with revised suspension tuning, new front springs, outboard off-road shocks in the rear, and skid plates. We gave the TRD Pro a light exercise around a dirt field and it passed with flying colors. The suspension has more than enough travel to traverse various heights of terrain and the steering provides a good feel on the terrain you are driving on. This is a truck I love to go on a trail to see what it is fully capable of. These changes to make the Tundra a capable off-roader don’t hurt it on a day to day basis. The suspension provides a smooth ride, and there isn’t much noise coming from the tires.
       
      The one problem that is holding the Tundra TRD Pro back is the engine. Toyota uses a 5.7L I-FORCE V8 with 381 horsepower and 401 pound-feet of torque. This engine never feels powerful due to two reasons; a curb weight of 5,625 lbs and a lazy throttle. These two cause you to put your foot farther down on the pedal to get to that power. That also means your fuel economy will be hurting. Average for the week in the Tundra TRD Pro was 12.9 MPG. Toyota really needs to go back to drawing board and figure out how to make a V8 that can balance power and fuel economy.
       
      Otherwise, Toyota has a really interesting offering in the truck market with the TRD Pro.
       
      Disclaimer: Infiniti, Kia, and Toyota Provided the Vehicles, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas
    • By William Maley
      The end of another year is upon us and I’m in the process of picking my favorite vehicles from the year. But before we get to that, I need to give some vehicles their time in the review spotlight. Trying to crank a review or a two a week is a hard task for some folks, myself included. I tend to spend a week with a vehicle, driving it in my daily routine, taking notes and photos, and hopefully beginning the review before the vehicle leaves. But that last part is the thickest part as it doesn’t always work out because of life. Whether it's a personal or family emergency, vacation, changes in work, or just being distracted, life always finds a way to get in and mess up whatever you are trying to do.
       
      Towards the end of every year, I have a small number of vehicles that have fallen between the cracks and are just waiting for me to find them and write something up. This year is no different as seven vehicles have been waiting patiently for their turn and their time has come. We're going to be looking at the last three of the seven.
       
      For this piece, I’ll be listing the good and bad of each vehicle, along with some notes that I took on each vehicle.
       
      2015 Infiniti Q70L 3.7
      3.7L VQ DOHC 24-valve V6 (330 Horsepower, 270 Pound-Feet)
      Seven-Speed Automatic
      Base/As-Tested: $53,500/$62,755
       
      Cheers: Comfortable ride, large back seat, still looks stylish on the exterior
      Jeers: Interior is starting to look dated, Fuel economy could be better, Competitors are much more modern
       
      Notes: Let’s play a game. See if you can try to spot the differences between the 2015 Infiniti Q70L and the 2012 Infiniti M35h. Ready? Go.
       
      Now if you figured out the Q70L is longer than the M35h, then pat yourself on the back. Since Infiniti went to the Q nomenclature, the only real change to their midsize luxury sedan was to introduce a long-wheelbase model. Compared to the standard Q70, the adds about 5.9 inches to the wheelbase. Sitting in the back seat was very pleasurable thanks to a large amount of legroom on offer. Disappointingly, there isn’t any seat adjustments for the rear passengers, nor any heat.
       
      Despite getting up in age, the Q70L is still a striking vehicle to look. The flowing lines up front and along the side still look fresh as the day it was first introduced into the world. Twenty-inch wheels only add a bit of prestige to the model. But the interior is where you begin to feel the age of the Q70. Despite the model being trimmed in leather and wood, the Q70’s interior hasn’t changed at all since we last drove it back in 2012. The center stack is pushed out, giving a cramped feeling for passengers sitting up front. Not helping is the very dated infotainment system which looks like it has come from the Windows 98 era.
       
      For the Q70L, there is a choice of a 3.7L V6 or a 5.6L V8. Our tester had the V6 with 330 horsepower paired up to a seven-speed automatic transmission. Power comes on a very linear rate though you’ll need to plant your foot to the pedal if you are making a pass. This introduces a sound of the engine being put under a lot of strain. The ride is somewhat stiff as it seems to pick out a fair amount of imperfections on the road and transmit them to the passengers. A lot of this comes down to the optional twenty-inch wheels, and we expect the standard eighteen-inch wheels to provide a much better ride. At least, wind and road noise are kept to near-silent levels.
       
      While the introduction of the long-wheelbase for the Q70 does give it some new blood, there isn’t a good reason why anyone should choose it over one of the new midsize luxury sedans in the class. Let’s hope Infiniti has a replacement coming very soon.
       
      2015 Kia Forte5 SX
      1.6L Turbocharged GDI Four-Cylinder
      Six-Speed Manual
      Base/As-Tested: $20,890/$26,035
       
      Cheers: Exterior Styling, Fuel Economy, Space
      Jeers: Wrong gearing in vehicle, Engine doesn’t feel quick, Interior looking very dated, not really sporty
       
      Notes: We have hot hatches and we have cold hatches (the non-sporty variety). Is there space for something warm? Maybe if the 2015 Kia Forte5 SX is something to go on.
       
      The Forte5 as the name suggests is a five-door hatchback and looks much sportier than the Forte sedan. This is thanks to a new front end with a wide and narrow grille, and a set of eighteen-inch alloy wheels done in a five leaf pattern. These wheels might be my favorite OEM wheels. Inside is where the Forte5 begins to lose some points. The dashboard makes the interior feel much older than it is (Forte5 was introduced back in 2013 as a 2014 model) thanks to hard plastics and parts having a scratchy texture. We hope a Kia is planning a refresh for the interior in the near future. Not helping are the leather power seats which comes as part of the SX Premium package. While they do provide a decent level of comfort and support for short trips, the seats cannot provide long-distance support. My brother and I learned this as the Forte5 was pressed into Christmas travel duty.
       
      But Kia wins some points back in the interior. The back seat is large, providing more than enough head and legroom for anyone sitting back here. Also, the Forte5 can be equipped with everything except the kitchen sink. Our tester boasted heated seats for front and rear passengers, a cooled seat for the driver, memory seat for the driver, a touchscreen with navigation, dual-zone climate control, and a sunroof.
       
      Power comes from a turbocharged 1.6L four-cylinder with 201 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. Our tester came with the standard six-speed manual, but you can go with a six-speed automatic. This is the same engine we liked in the Hyundai Veloster Turbo, but in the Forte5, it is a bit of a mess. The engine seems smothered and not as powerful as the Veloster Turbo. The cause is due to the manual. The gears are too short to allow the engine to fully produce all of the power it is capable of. Also, the short gearing means you’ll be seeing the revs up at 3,000 rpm at a 70 MPH cruise. Some longer gearing could solve both of these problems. At least, fuel economy wasn’t badly affected. Close to 700 Miles were put on the Forte5 SX and we got an average of 33.2 MPG on mostly highway and rural roads.
       
      Ride and handling are somewhere in the middle. The Forte5’s suspension is able to deal with most bumps and imperfections on the road with no problem. Bigger bumps do unsettle the vehicle a little bit. In the corners, the Forte5 feels steady and doesn’t show any sign of roll. But it isn’t any fun to pilot around such as a Mazda3. This mostly comes down to the steering with Kia’s FlexSteer system that allows you to vary the weight from light to heavy. We don’t like this system as the light setting is way too light and the heavy setting doesn’t feel hefty. Kia would do itself a lot of good by throwing out the FlexSteer system and do a new steering system that is somewhere in the middle.
       
      2015 Toyota Tundra TRD Pro CrewMax
      5.7L DOHC 32-Valve Dual Independent VVT-i V8
      Six-Speed Automatic
      Base/As-Tested: $44,000/$45,465
       
      Cheers: Off-Road Package Comes With Everything, Excellent Value, Comfortable Ride
      Jeers: V8 Feels Sluggish, Fuel Economy
       
      Notes: Toyota decided to go back to some of their roots when it comes to their trucks and SUVs. Earlier in the year, the automaker launched the TRD Pro series for the 4Runner, Tacoma, and Tundra. The TRD Pro boasts changes to suspension, wheels, and exterior to make them ready to go off the beaten trail. Our first taste in the TRD Pro came in the form of a Tundra CrewMax.
       
      There is no mistaking the TRD Pro Tundra as it comes in a wild orange paint, paired with an old school Toyota grille (reminiscent of Toyota’s SUVs in the late eighties and early nineties) and eighteen-inch off-road alloy wheels finished in black and wrapped in meaty off-road tires. We like the TRD Pro embossed into the rear fenders as it adds a touch of distinctiveness. Inside is your standard Tundra interior with black cloth seats embroidered with the TRD Pro logo.
       
      Under the skin, Toyota made some small changes to the Tundra TRD Pro with revised suspension tuning, new front springs, outboard off-road shocks in the rear, and skid plates. We gave the TRD Pro a light exercise around a dirt field and it passed with flying colors. The suspension has more than enough travel to traverse various heights of terrain and the steering provides a good feel on the terrain you are driving on. This is a truck I love to go on a trail to see what it is fully capable of. These changes to make the Tundra a capable off-roader don’t hurt it on a day to day basis. The suspension provides a smooth ride, and there isn’t much noise coming from the tires.
       
      The one problem that is holding the Tundra TRD Pro back is the engine. Toyota uses a 5.7L I-FORCE V8 with 381 horsepower and 401 pound-feet of torque. This engine never feels powerful due to two reasons; a curb weight of 5,625 lbs and a lazy throttle. These two cause you to put your foot farther down on the pedal to get to that power. That also means your fuel economy will be hurting. Average for the week in the Tundra TRD Pro was 12.9 MPG. Toyota really needs to go back to drawing board and figure out how to make a V8 that can balance power and fuel economy.
       
      Otherwise, Toyota has a really interesting offering in the truck market with the TRD Pro.
       
      Disclaimer: Infiniti, Kia, and Toyota Provided the Vehicles, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas


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    • By William Maley
      The end of another year is upon us and I’m in the process of picking my favorite vehicles from the year. But before we get to that, I need to give some vehicles their time in the review spotlight. Trying to crank a review or a two a week is a hard task for some folks, myself included. I tend to spend a week with a vehicle, driving it in my daily routine, taking notes and photos, and hopefully beginning the review before the vehicle leaves. But that last part is the thickest part as it doesn’t always work out because of life. Whether it's a personal or family emergency, vacation, changes in work, or just being distracted, life always finds a way to get in and mess up whatever you are trying to do.
       
      Towards the end of every year, I have a small number of vehicles that have fallen between the cracks and are just waiting for me to find them and write something up. This year is no different as seven vehicles have been waiting patiently for their turn and their time has come. We're going to be looking at the first four of the seven.
       
      For this piece, I’ll be listing the good and bad of each vehicle, along with some notes that I took on each vehicle.
       
      2016 Acura ILX A-Spec
      2.4L 16-Valve, DOHC i-VTEC Four-Cylinder (201 Horsepower, 180 Pound-Feet of Torque)
      Eight-Speed Dual-Clutch Automatic
      Base/As-Tested: $31,830/$32,830
       
      Cheers: Excellent handling in the corners, improved styling, large back seat
      Jeers: Engine has to be worked hard, a large amount of wind and road noise, bouncy ride, questionable material choice, poor value when compared to competitors.
       
      Notes: Acura went back to the drawing board this year with the ILX in an effort to fix the slumping sales of the model. Some of the fixes do make a difference such as a new front clip and headlights that give some much need aggression. Inside, a set of leather and suede seats add a nice touch and provide good comfort. It should be noted the seats come with the A-Spec package. The engine lineup which included a 2.0L, 2.4L, and hybrid has been simplified to just the 2.4 with 201 horsepower. This eliminates one of the big problems for the ILX of being too slow if you opted for the hybrid or 2.0L. One item that Acura didn’t mess with was the handling. The ILX is a sweetheart around corners as it provides minimal body roll and excellent steering. Acura also made sure that the ILX’s suspension was compliant when dealing with bumps on a day-to-day basis, something it does very well.
       
      Sadly, that is where the good points of the ILX end. Despite Acura’s attempt on improving the ILX’s interior, it looks and in some parts, feels like the Civic that it is based on. Not something you want to be said since this vehicle competes in the same class as the Audi A3 and Buick Verano, both with impressive interiors. The 2.4L has the power to compete with the vehicles in the class. But to access this power, you’ll need to be working the engine somewhat hard - around 3,000 to 4,000 rpm. This would be ok if the ILX had a six-speed manual. But Acura dropped it for this year, replacing it with an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic. There isn’t anything wrong with the dual-clutch transmission, it’s quite smooth and doesn’t hesitate when going up or down. But it makes working the engine to its fullest, boring and not joyful.
       
      But the biggest problem for the ILX is the price. This particular ILX came with an as-tested price of $32,830 and that doesn’t include one of the huge changes for the model, a load of additional safety equipment. Acura added a number of safety systems such as blind-spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, collision mitigation, and road departure mitigation. To get all of this, you need to either get the ILX Technology Plus ($32,990) or the ILX Technology Plus and A-Spec ($34,890). Around that price, you could get yourself into a well-equipped Buick Verano Turbo with much more amenities and better performance.
       
      2015 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk
      3.2L 24-Valve VVT V6 (271 Horsepower, 239 Pound-Feet of Torque)
      Nine-Speed Automatic
      Base/As-Tested: $30,395/$36,869
       
      Cheers: Sharp Looks, Very Capable Off-Road, V6 Performance
      Jeers: Ninth-Gear Seems Non-Existent, Price-Tag, Annoying Stop-Start System
       
      Notes: In my original review of the 2014 Jeep Cherokee, I said that I was very impressed as Jeep made the leap from a boxy, go-anywhere SUV to sharp looking crossover with some Jeep DNA still there. But I wasn’t as impressed with the nine-speed automatic as it shuddered through the first three gears and wouldn’t go into ninth. At the time, I put the Cherokee on the wait and see list. A year has passed and another Cherokee has come in for a review.
       
      This particular Cherokee is the top of the line Trailhawk and it features a number of changes to make it a ‘Trail-Rated’ model by Jeep. Outside are a set of tow hooks on the front and rear bumper to pull out the vehicle if it gets stuck. A set seventeen-inch aluminum wheels come wrapped in meaty all-terrain tires to get you through whatever muck you decide to go through. Done up in a sharp red, the Cherokee Trailhawk makes no apologies of what its intended purpose is - going off-road.
       
      Under the skin, the Cherokee Trailhawk comes with Jeep Active Drive II. This four-wheel drive system is quite advanced as it offers a low-range setting for rock crawling and a rear lock to improve traction. Other changes for the Trailhawk include an off-road suspension with a one-inch lift, skid plates, and a 56:1 crawl ratio. We did some light off-roading on a dirt trail and found the Trailhawk to very capable as the four-wheel drive kept power flowing to us moving. Also, the suspension provided a very comfortable ride over the trail.
       
      Power for the Trailhawk comes from the optional 3.2L V6 with 271 horsepower and 239 pound-feet. This engine feels plenty powerful for any situation that it is thrown at it. It also very refined during acceleration and at cruise. One part of the engine we aren’t keen on is the stop-start system. We found it be somewhat annoying as the engine wouldn’t always shut off, despite our foot planted firmly on the brake pedal. We mostly left it off for the majority of the week. As for the nine-speed automatic, it has been cleaned up for the most part. Gone is the shuddering we experienced in our first Cherokee, replaced by smooth and crisp shifts. Still, the transmission was very hesitant to go into ninth gear. We drove about 50 miles on the freeway at a 70 MPH cruise to see if it would go into ninth and no luck. At least, the ride is smooth and refined, even with the off-road tires.
       
      The big problem for the Cherokee Trailhawk is the price. The base model will set you back $30,395. Our test Trailhawk with a few options such as the V6, navigation, and a couple of other packages to reach an as-tested price of $36,869. That is a lot of money for a small crossover. But considering the number of changes to make the Trailhawk a very capable model, we think that for some folks who want the capability of something like a Wrangler, but with a bit more comfort should give this model a look. Everyone else should stick with the Latitude or Altitude models.
       
      2016 Mazda CX-5 Touring
      2.5L Skyactiv-G Four-Cylinder (184 Horsepower, 185 Pound-Feet of Torque)
      Six-Speed Automatic
      Base/As-Tested: $26,465/$28,835
       
      Cheers: Improved Dash Makes Huge Difference, New Infotainment System, Performance and Fuel Economy, Excellent Handling
      Jeers: Road and Wind Noise are still in abundance
       
      Notes: It seems every time we get into the CX-5, Mazda has done some sort of change to it. The last time we drove a CX-5, it came with the new 2.5L version of the Skyactiv-G four-cylinder. The 2016 model fixes two of the biggest complaints we had in previous CX-5’s; the plain dashboard and poor infotainment system.
       
      We’ll start with the dash. First seen in the 2016 Mazda6, the dashboard looks more premium thanks to improved materials and new shapes. The new dash also brings in Mazda Connect, the latest infotainment system. This system is a huge improvement over the old system in terms of overall performance and usability. We didn’t have the issue of the navigation system showing you traveling on a different than the one you were on like we did in the 6.
       
      The CX-5 is still a joy to drive thanks to the 2.5L Skyactiv-G four-cylinder providing more than enough power for any situation and the chassis that provides superb handling in the corners. One issue we hope Mazda addresses in the future is noise isolation. There is still an abundance of wind and road noise entering the cabin.
       
      The 2016 Mazda CX-5 shows the continual improvement that the Japanese automaker has been doing is making it a better vehicle.
       
      2015 Toyota Avalon XLE Touring
      3.5L DOHC 24-Valve Dual VVT-i V6 (268 Horsepower, 248 Pound-Feet of Torque)
      Six-Speed Automatic
      Base/As-Tested: $36,080/$37,130
       
      Cheers: Stylish Look, Powerful V6, Upscale Interior, Excellent Fuel Economy
      Jeers: Sporty ride may turn off some buyers
       
      Notes: I came away very impressed when I drove the Avalon Hybrid a couple years ago. The combination of sharp styling, sporty ride, and amazing fuel economy made me pick this as one of my favorite vehicles of that year. But would the regular Avalon receive the same praise? Mostly.
       
      The Avalon is still one the sharpest looking full-size sedans with a low-slung front end, narrow grille, and coupe-like roofline. The interior is much the same as the hybrid with loads of space for both front and rear seat passengers, comfortable leather seats, and a impressive design with quality materials used throughout. Unlike the hybrid, our XLE Touring came with the smaller seven-inch Entune infotainment system. It still is easy to use and quick to respond whenever you touch the screen or one of the capacitive touch buttons.
       
      Power comes from a 3.5L V6 which is used in a number of other Toyota and Lexus products. Horsepower is rated at 268 and torque is rated at 248 pound-feet. The engine is quite a peach as speed comes on at a very quick rate. But the engine is also quiet during acceleration, making a perfect highway companion. In the corners, the Avalon displays a level of athleticism not seen in other full-size sedans. Body roll is kept in check and the steering provides decent weight. This does mean the Avalon isn’t as comfortable as competitors as some bumps do make their way into the interior.
       
      Disclaimer: Acura, Jeep, Mazda, and Toyota Provided the vehicles, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas
    • By William Maley
      It may seem a bit odd to call the Nissan Murano a trailblazer in the crossover class. But when it launched in December of 2002 as 2003 model, it was quite the revelation. Here was a crossover from a volume manufacturer that was not only sharp looking, but had a lot of features were found on luxury models at the time. It proved to a winning formula for Nissan. With the second-generation Murano, Nissan focused luxury and refinement. But the Murano also lost some of the distinctiveness from the design of the first-generation model. Now enter the third-generation Murano. This version continues the second-generation focus on luxury, but also brings back sharp looks from the first. This combination should work, right? We spent a week in the Murano SL AWD to find out.
       
      Nissan goes one of two ways when it comes to designing vehicles; they either take their time and put a lot of effort into a vehicle or spend about 30 minutes drawing something and calling it good. The Murano is the former of the two. The Murano’s design is basically the Resonance concept from a few years back. The front end gets a deep V grille with a chrome bar running around the outside. The side profile shows a unique floating roof design that is accomplished by blacking out the D-Pillars. This could make anyone think the roof is only being supported by glass. Around back are a set of taillights that are shaped like boomerangs - much like the 370Z coupe.
       
      Some may criticize the Murano for being a bit polarizing. But considering the first-generation model had such design touches as a wide chrome grille and dark orange color, the third-generation appears to be taking the design ideals of the first-gen model and putting them to good use.
       




      The Murano’s interior has to be one of Nissan’s best efforts. The levels of quality and features blow many competitors out of the water and even embarrasses some models from luxury brands. This particular Murano was finished in an Ivory color that not only made the interior look vibrant, it also made it feel slightly larger. Most of the dash and door panels are covered in the soft-touch materials, increasing the premium feel. One nice touch in our Murano tester is the Ivory wood trim which adds a touch of elegance. 
      Seats are Nissan’s ‘zero-gravity’ seats which are said to use space-age technology to reduce fatigue and improve lower back support. While we aren’t fully sure on what ‘space-age tech’ Nissan is using, we’ll admit the seats for both front and rear passengers are quite comfortable and supportive. Front-seat passengers get power adjustments and heat in the SL trim. Rear seat passengers will find oodles of head and legroom, even with an optional panoramic sunroof.
       
      The Murano is one the first Nissan models to come with the latest version of Nissan Connect that comes with an eight-inch touchscreen and a updated interface. The system is now easier to use thanks to large touchpoints to various functions such as navigation and the radio. For those who rather control the system with actual buttons, there are those as well. Performance is ok with certain functions such as generating a route for the navigation system or changing to the various source. But it becomes somewhat sluggish when you are switch around to the various pages on the home screen.
       
      Nissan still has a couple of issues to iron out with their infotainment system. First, I had no metadata appear on the system when I was doing Bluetooth streaming from my phone. This could be an issue with this particular model as a Nissan Maxima equipped with the same system had no problem. The other was the system saying SiriusXM reception was lost despite there being a signal and broadcasting the station. I found that if I switched to a different source and went back to SiriusXM, the problem would be gone. A couple other colleagues who have driven Muranos have experienced the same problem. A software update might fix both problems I experienced.
       
      Power is provided by a 3.5L V6 with 260 horsepower and 240 pound-feet of torque (available @ 4,400 rpm). This paired to Nissan’s XTronic CVT and the choice of either front-wheel or all-wheel drive. The V6 is a perfect fit for the Murano as it provides more than enough power to get up to speed a decent rate. The XTronic CVT features artificial shift points to provide linear acceleration and cut a fair amount of droning. We found the shift points worked in situations where you accelerating at a steady rate such as going on a freeway. Other times such as making a pass, the points seemed nonexistent and the high rpm drone would appear. In terms of fuel economy, the Murano AWD is rated at 21 City/28 Highway/24 Combined. Our week with the Murano saw an average of 22 MPG in mostly city driving.
       




       
      The Murano’s ride is superbly comfortable. Equipped with 18-inch wheels, the Murano glides over bumps and imperfections. Road and wind noise are kept to near silent levels. Steering was a slight disappointment. You have to turn the wheel further than you might think to get the steering reaction that is needed. Some of this comes down to how light the weight for the steering was. It was like running your fingers through a pool of water.
       
      Another disappointment came in overall visibility as thick rear pillars block a fair amount of the rear view. At least, the SL comes standard with a backup camera and blind-spot monitoring. We also recommend opting for the Around-View camera system as it gives you a full 360 view of the vehicle when parking.
       
      While the Murano has some issues with the infotainment, overall visibility, and steering, it remains a very capable crossover. With sleek styling, loads of luxury equipment, and a plush ride, the Murano not only gives a number of mainstream models such as Ford Edge a run for their money, it could make anyone have second thoughts with a luxury model. Nissan says the Murano is their flagship for their crossover lineup. We cannot find a more fitting term for this vehicle.
       
      Disclaimer: Nissan Provided the Murano SL AWD, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas
       

       
      Year: 2015
      Make: Nissan
      Model: Murano
      Trim: SL AWD
      Engine: 3.5L DOHC V6
      Driveline: Xtronic CVT, All-Wheel Drive
      Horsepower @ RPM: 260 @ 6,000
      Torque @ RPM: 240 @ 4,400
      Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 21/28/24
      Curb Weight: 3,977 lbs
      Location of Manufacture: Canton, TN
      Base Price: $38,550
      As Tested Price: $41,905 (Includes $885.00 Destination Charge)
       
      Options:
      Technology Package - $2,260.00
      Floor Mats & Cargo Area Protection - $210.00
    • By William Maley
      If you needed a cargo van in the past, you could only get one in either large and extra-large. There wasn’t really an option for something smaller, which left a number of business in a tough spot. They needed something that could carry deliveries or equipment, but be somewhat maneuverable and get decent gas mileage. Sure, some automakers offered a cargo version of their minivans. But they were not big sellers and some worried about the overall durability.
       
      In 2009, Ford introduced the Transit Connect to the U.S. marketplace. This small van was aimed at small businesses who needed something that delivered good gas mileage, but was still capable of holding a fair amount of cargo. The van became an instant hit not only with small business, but also large corporations who saw the Transit Connect as a way to lower their fuel bills for their fleet.
       
      Now other automakers are throwing their hat into the small cargo van ring to serve this audience. The most recent is Ram with the introduction of the ProMaster City. Based on the Fiat Doblo sold in Europe, Ram hopes the ProMaster City can give the Ford Transit Connect and Nissan NV200 a run for its money. We spent a week in a ProMaster City Tradesman Cargo to find out.
       
      The basic shape of Fiat Doblo is unchanged. Ram has made some changes such as front bumper with a crosshair grille, and lights that are DOT compliant. The ProMaster isn’t going to be taking home any awards for design, most business/commercial buyers won't care. They're just looking for a flat surface to paint a logo.
       


      What they do care about is cargo space and that’s where the ProMaster City shines. Ram quotes total cargo space at 131.7 cubic feet which is larger than any other cargo van in the class, even the long-wheelbase Transit Connect. Other specs that make the ProMaster City perfect for cargo carrying duties include a low floor height (21.5 inches), wide cargo floor (60.4 inches and 48.4 inches at the wheel well), and payload capacity (1,886 lbs). The ProMaster also is very versatile thanks to split opening doors in the back, and sliding doors on either side. It was just the right vehicle for the week as the ProMaster was put on IKEA duty and easily swallowed the flat-pack furniture that we bought. 

      Move up front and you’ll find a sparsely furnished interior with seating for two. Much of interior is carried over from Doblo. The only changes Ram made are a new steering wheel with audio controls and an AM/FM radio. Hard plastics line the dashboard and door panels, which should stand up to the hard work this van will be put through. Seats provided decent comfort and support. Our only complaint is with the adjustment knob for the seat. It's too far back to reach easily and the narrow space between the knob and door pillar makes adjusting the seat a pain.
       
      Our ProMaster City tester came equipped with the optional Uconnect 5.0 system with a backup camera. This system offers AM/FM/Bluetooth/USB/Aux and a trip computer. The system is very easy to use with large touchpoints, quick performance, and redundant buttons around the screen. The backup camera is a godsend as the rear windows in the ProMaster City Cargo are covered. The camera makes it easy to backup into tight spaces or when you are pulling out from a parking space.
       
      For power, Ram called in the 2.4L Tigershark MultiAir inline-four with 178 horsepower and 174 pound-feet of torque (available at 3,800 rpm). This is paired to a nine-speed automatic transmission. The inline-four does feel torquey and willing to get up to city speed limits in a flash. Anything above that and the ProMaster City feels slow. Ram quotes a 0-60 MPH time of under ten seconds and it feels like it. The nine-speed automatic has been improving with every Chrysler vehicle that we have driven. The transmission smoothly transitions from gear to gear is willing to downshift when needed. Still, we weren’t able to get the vehicle into the mythical ninth-gear in our testing. Even doing an 80-Mile round trip on the freeway, we found the transmission would only go into eighth gear.
       




       
      The EPA rates the ProMaster City fuel economy at 21 City/29 Highway/24 Combined. Our average for the week landed around 22 MPG in mostly city driving.
       
      Ram made a number of changes to the suspension to get the ProMaster City ready for the U.S. Including raising the ride height and changing a number of components. It has paid off as the van provided a smooth ride even over some of the roughest roads. The ProMaster City also has one of the tightest turning circles of 32 feet, perfect for urban environments. However, the ProMaster isn’t what you would call fun to drive. There is an abundance of body roll when cornering, due to van’s height’s exceeding its width. Also, the steering a bit rubbery when you turn the wheel. This is pretty much expected for the class. Again, this isn’t a priority for most buyers.
       
      While Ram is late to small van party, it has very capable van in the form of the ProMaster City. It offers a number of best-in class figures, a comfortable ride, and decent performance. Paired with a lot of features for the price, the ProMaster City will give buyers what they want in a small van at a surprising price. Considering Ram has moved 8,113 ProMaster Cities through November, buyers seem to agree.
       
      Disclaimer: Ram Trucks Provided the ProMaster City, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas
       

       
      Year: 2015
      Make: Ram Trucks
      Model: ProMaster City
      Trim: Tradesman Cargo
      Engine: 2.4L Tigershark MultiAir Inline-Four
      Driveline: Front-Wheel Drive, Nine-Speed Automatic
      Horsepower @ RPM: 178 @ 6,400
      Torque @ RPM: 178 @ 3,800
      Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 21/29/24
      Curb Weight: 3,512 lbs
      Location of Manufacture: Bursa, Turkey
      Base Price: $24,130
      As Tested Price: $25,475 (Includes $995.00 Destination Charge)
       
      Options:
      Tradesman Cargo Van Package 24C - (-$1,000)
      Rear Back-Up Camera Group - $565.00
      UConnect 5.0 AM/FM/BT - $495.00
      Speed Control - $225.00
      Front Carpet Floor Mats by Mopar - $65.00
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