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    The Brief: Closing Out the 2015 Reviews (Part 2)


    • Closing out 2015 with the final reviews of vehicles from this year (Part 2)

    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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    I noticed on the Kia that you said it got great fuel economy but the engine felt sluggish with poor gearing.. Those things go hand in hand perfectly. lol.

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      The QX50 Concept also features Infiniti's upcoming variable-compression 2.0L turbo-four. Bear with us as we try our best to describe how this engine work. Instead of having the pistons connected to a crankshaft, they are hooked up to a pivot arm. The arm is also connected to a second lower shaft, which is controlled by an actuator arm. The action of the variable-compression engine is the same as a gas engine - pistons move up and down when crankshaft or pivot arm turns. The trick comes with the actuator arm which can alter the angle of the pivot arm up and down. This is turn changes the engine compression. When the arm is up, you get a higher compression ratio. Move the arm down and the engine has a lower compression ratio. Infiniti says this engine offers more power and better fuel efficiency. 
      Back to the turbo 2.0L at hand. The engine is rated at 268 horsepower and 288 pound-feet.
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      INFINITI's latest concept is the next step toward the company's future autonomous drive support technologies. Central to the strategy for the development of all future INFINITI autonomous drive support systems, they ensure the driver retains ultimate control over their vehicle – in keeping with INFINITI's focus on driver engagement.
      Furthermore, the QX50 Concept illustrates a potential application for INFINITI's advanced Variable Compression Turbo (VC-Turbo) engine, offering drivers a powertrain that adapts to offer both power and efficiency.
      An evolution of INFINITI's 2016 QX Sport Inspiration mid-size crossover
      The QX50 Concept shows how INFINITI could develop its future presence in the world's fastest-growing vehicle segment INFINITI seeks to explore a more emotional execution of crossover design than existing models in the class "With the unveiling of the QX Sport Inspiration at the 2016 Beijing Auto Show, we showed the future of INFINITI QX models. The new QX50 Concept evolves this concept further and shows how INFINITI could develop its future presence in what is the fastest-growing vehicle segment globally." Roland Krueger, President of INFINITI
      With the QX50 Concept, INFINITI seeks to explore a more emotional execution of crossover design, bringing a degree of elegance and artistry to a segment typified by an uninspiring, clinical aesthetic. Marrying human artistry with utility, the QX50 Concept fulfills the expectation of practicality with a spacious cabin and cargo area. Furthermore, with a design adapted for the greatest possible packaging efficiency, the QX50 Concept previews how INFINITI could adapt future vehicle designs to accommodate a compact powertrain, such as the company's VC-Turbo engine.
                     
      The QX50 Concept marks the next stage in INFINITI's continued renewal of its product range. INFINITI designs concepts with production intent, such as true-to-concept production versions of the Q30, QX30 and Q60 concepts. The creation of each of these has previewed the design and layout of the brand's next-generation models. The QX50 Concept previews the evolving signature INFINITI design elements, demonstrating how they could be adapted for a mid-sized premium crossover.
      With its ground breaking proportions, the 2003 INFINITI FX45 set the template for future crossovers to follow throughout the last decade. The world's first mid-size multi-purpose sports vehicle, the INFINITI FX is still considered a crossover design icon today. Last year's QX Sport Inspiration sought to rekindle that excitement – and in an increasingly crowded and popular market segment, the new QX50 Concept now illustrates how these design themes could be translated into a production reality.
      Exterior: an artistic execution of functional crossover design
      QX50 Concept represents the latest interpretation of INFINITI's 'Powerful Elegance' design language Its design combines taut and muscular lines with heavily profiled surfaces QX50 Concept demonstrates how the design of the 2016 QX Sport Inspiration could be adapted for future production models Influenced by the design of the INFINITI QX Sport Inspiration, the QX50 Concept expresses its crossover purpose through proportional clarity, clearly telegraphing its power and dynamic capabilities. The QX50 Concept eschews many of the familiar, 'me too' design forms and themes shared by established models in the mid-size premium crossover segment. The result is a highly original yet practical new crossover form, demonstrating how the design of INFINITI's earlier concept could be adapted for future production models.
      The QX50 Concept is the latest embodiment of INFINITI's 'Powerful Elegance' design language and is both aesthetic and functional. The exterior of the concept combines taut and muscular lines with flowing, heavily profiled surfaces. A sharp, straight character line runs from the clamshell hood and along the length of its shoulders, giving the QX50 Concept a commanding presence and extending the vehicle's visual length. A wide, muscular stance accentuates its versatile capability.
      INFINITI's signature design elements are evident on the QX50 Concept, each subtly evolved for their new application. At the front, INFINITI's double-arch grille conveys an immediate sense of power and purpose and provides a focal point for every line on the concept's body. A taller, wider and more practical vehicle than the QX Sport Inspiration, the QX50 Concept's grille adds a greater sense of presence to the front of the car. At the rear of the vehicle, the leading edge of the crescent-cut D-pillar is higher than on any current INFINITI production car, further extending the visual length of the roofline.
      The interplay of the exterior lines and surfaces is accentuated by a newly-created Forged Bronze paint finish, with three times the amount of metal flake compared with standard production paint finishes.
      In profile, the hood is shaped like the rise of a snake's head, with a pair of sharp creases extending upwards from the base of the A-pillar, then plunging down the hood, leading into the edges of the expansive 'double-arch' grille. These lines disguise the hood's relatively short length, suggesting how the appearance of a production car could be adapted for a more compact engine, such as INFINITI's VC-Turbo, applying power to the road through an intelligent all-wheel drive powertrain.
      Functionality is a necessity in the mid-sized crossover segment and is central to the QX50 Concept's design. More practical than its QX Sport Inspiration progenitor, the QX50 Concept has a 'cabin-forward' silhouette and a slightly more vertical rear hatch, both reference points for a versatile and accommodating interior. The new shape of the crescent-cut D-pillar provides clearer over-the-shoulder visibility for the driver and a better view out for rear passengers.
      Interior: Challenging conventional thinking on premium cabin design
      Concept cabin demonstrates new direction of thinking with premium materials and craftsmanship Authentic materials and artistic design execution is at the heart of the concept's carefully curated cabin Driver-centric, yet passenger-minded, the cabin places similar importance on both form and function Blending progressive design with elevated levels of modern craftsmanship, the cabin of the QX50 Concept demonstrates INFINITI's desire to challenge and reinterpret conventional thinking on premium crossover interior design and material usage.
      In the place of high-gloss woods and soft-touch plastics, the interior of the QX50 Concept features a more modern application of wood, leather and stitching. Each material is treated and applied in a way to establish new trends in the design of premium crossover interiors.
      Deliberately articulating a sense of advanced human artistry, the QX50 Concept's cabin espouses a handmade feel and is the result of two Japanese approaches to craftsmanship – 'mitate' (pronounced "mee-ta-teh") and 'shitate' ("shee-ta-teh"). 'Mitate' relates to the practice of curating and bringing together the best possible selection of materials. 'Shitate' is the desire to tailor the chosen combination of materials, bringing out the best. With fine attention to detail and finish, such an approach creates an appearance and ambience throughout the cabin greater than the sum of its parts.
      The combination of materials and the way in which they have been applied has allowed INFINITI designers to demonstrate some of the highest levels of craftsmanship ever seen in a crossover in this segment.
      The QX50 Concept is wrapped in a variety of different leathers – genuine, semi-aniline, and synthetic nubuck – for a rich variety of textures and visual depth. The eyes naturally follow each different surface as it flows around the cabin. The QX50 Concept's cabin hints at a widening range of interior finishes for INFINITI customers to choose from, including a carefully selected three-tone color scheme.
      Adopting different leathers for the interior allows INFINITI to imagine how this three-tone cabin could look. Rich, brown leather lines the upper layer of the cabin, contrasted with white leather for the lower dashboard, door trim and seats. Between the two runs a line of navy blue synthetic nubuck, which also finishes the front center console. A line of close twin stitching runs along the top of the dashboard and doors, and around the seats.
      INFINITI has applied for a patent for a new 'dot quilting' method for the leather that lines the doors and seats. Inspired by classic buttoned leather sofas, dot quilting is sewn into place at individual points. The physical characteristics of the leather produce a more informal interpretation of the diamond lozenge shape that gives classic Chesterfield lounge chairs their distinctive appearance.
      Where many expect premium vehicle interiors use high-gloss wood surfaces to create the perception of quality, the QX50 Concept is trimmed in real, open-pore ash. The wood is treated to retain its natural, and sometimes irregular, characteristics in texture and appearance. Running a hand over it, the grain of the ash is still present, providing an authentic, modern appearance and enhanced tactility.
      The natural, flowing shapes of the cabin harmonize with those of the QX50 Concept's exterior, contrasting with the technical, linear – even austere – designs of other vehicles in the segment. A blend of positive and negative surfaces adds a level of visual depth to the cabin, with a complex interplay of light and shade. The organic lines of the cabin follow a similar form to the interior of the QX Sport Inspiration, referencing how they could be progressed from the original concept to a production car.
      Both 'driver-centric' and 'passenger-minded,' the layout of the QX50 Concept's cabin is divided into distinct zones for the driver and passengers. Consistent with its conceptual predecessor, the dashboard is focused on the driver, using its form and appearance to engender a true sense of confidence at the wheel.
      The horizontal forms of the dashboard wrap around the driver and passenger, with twisting, uninterrupted character lines flowing from the center console, along the dashboard and out to the rear of the cabin. The seats feature an ergonomic hexagon motif, for a wide and welcoming appearance, and maximum back and shoulder support for occupants.
      The QX50 Concept places form on the same level as function, with utility at the heart of its remit.
      In moving the base of the A-pillar further forward than on the QX Sport Inspiration, and shortening the hood to accommodate a more compact engine, the QX50 Concept's cabin-forward design creates a longer, more spacious passenger compartment. The upright stance of the rear hatch – more vertical than its forebear – is designed to give the QX50 Concept exceptional cargo space. The Concept's cargo bay is, for instance, long enough to store a stroller, suggesting how such a vehicle could suit a young family.
      The QX50 Concept's Graphic User Interface shows how new technologies could be incorporated into future INFINITI vehicle cabins.
      The center of the dashboard features a wide touchscreen HMI (human-machine interface). As well as displaying navigation and infotainment features, the QX50 Concept's touchscreen could display to occupants the current status of other technologies in the vehicle. The dashboard could display to all occupants the status of the vehicle's various driver assist technologies, as well as how the VC-Turbo variable compression ratio engine adapts as it shifts seamlessly between offering greater fuel efficiency and performance.
      INFINITI engineers continue to develop autonomous driving support technologies
      INFINITI's future autonomous drive support technologies will allow the driver to  retain ultimate control over their vehicle Future package of technologies will take a proactive approach to driver assistance and delegate elements of driving to the car The INFINITI QX50 Concept's driver assist system is part of the company's development of autonomous driving support technologies.
      The development strategy for all future INFINITI autonomous drive support systems is that they should ensure the driver retains control over their vehicle – in keeping with INFINITI's focus on driver engagement.
      In the future, INFINITI autonomous drive support technologies will continue to make driving less stressful – such as navigating stop-start traffic on the highway or keeping track of the positions of surrounding vehicles.
      Since its inception in 1989, INFINITI has brought pioneering driver-assistive technologies to the customer. The company has been responsible for a series of world-first technologies, including Predictive Forward Collision Warning, drive-by-wire Direct Adaptive Steering® and Active Lane Control.
      The QX50 Concept's INFINITI driver assistance technologies preview the first production-ready incarnation of this package.
      With a proactive approach to safety, the QX50 Concept assists the driver in identifying and responding to other road users and potential hazards. Future technologies will draw on inputs from a network of laser scanners, radar and cameras to read the road ahead and monitor the vehicle's surroundings, allowing the car to react accordingly.
      This framework of sensors will be developed in future production models with a series of new functionalities.
      VC-Turbo – the world's first production-ready variable compression ratio engine
      QX50 Concept suggests a potential application for INFINITI's VC-Turbo engine Packaging benefits for a mid-size crossover, powered by a compact engine with high specific power and efficiency INFINITI engineers target a 27-percent improvement in fuel efficiency compared to V6 gasoline engines The INFINITI QX50 Concept demonstrates a potential production application for INFINITI's advanced new VC-Turbo engine. INFINITI has yet to confirm which of its future vehicles could benefit from its variable compression ratio engine, though a mid-sized crossover could be one of the ideal applications for the 2.0-liter VC-Turbo power unit revealed by the company in 2016.
      The QX50 Concept's packaging efficiency and spacious cabin are due in part to a compact, space-efficient engine bay design. With its proportionately shorter hood, the QX50 Concept suggests how the 2.0-liter gasoline engine could power a front-biased intelligent all-wheel drive system.
      INFINITI's production-ready 2.0-liter VC-Turbo engine represents a compelling alternative to diesel powertrains, particularly in the mid-sized premium crossover segment. The VC-Turbo engine is able to adapt its compression ratio according to driving conditions to deliver optimal levels of performance and efficiency. It challenges the notion that hybrid technology and diesel are the only powertrains capable of offering high efficiency and torque. For its application in the QX50 Concept, the human-machine interface (HMI) demonstrates to the driver and passengers how the VC-Turbo is adapting according to driving conditions. The HMI displays the engine's current status as it intelligently chooses appropriate levels of performance and high efficiency.
      With a downsized capacity and high power and torque, the 2.0-liter VC-Turbo engine boasts an impressive specific power output – higher than many competing four-cylinder turbocharged gasoline engines, and close to the performance of some V6 gasoline powertrains. In time for the engine's production debut in 2018, INFINITI engineers are targeting a 27-percent improvement in fuel efficiency over V6 gasoline engines of similar power output.
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