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  1. (Author’s Note: Before you ask, no this isn’t a typo. I really did drive a 2017 Tacoma in 2018. Due to some circumstances, the Tacoma took the place of another vehicle at the last minute. I didn’t realize it was a 2017 model until I saw the sticker. I’ll make note of the changes for 2018 towards the end of the piece.) I’ll likely make some people annoyed with this line: The Toyota Tacoma is the Jeep Wrangler of the pickup world. Before you start getting banging on your keyboard, telling me how I am wrong, allow me to make my case. The two models have a number of similarities; off-road pedigree, not changing much in terms of design or mechanicals; and somewhat uncomfortable when driven on the road. Since our last review of the Tacoma, not much has changed with the exterior. The TRD Off-Road package does make the Tacoma look somewhat mean with a new grille, 16-inch wheels wrapped meaty off-road tires, and a khaki paint color that looks like it came from an army base. The Tacoma’s interior is very user-friendly with a comprehensive and simple dash layout. Most controls are where you expect to find them and in easy reach. But some controls are placed in some odd locations. A key example is the hill descent control which is next to the dome lights on the ceiling. Comfort is still almost nonexistent in the Tacoma. The front seats are quite firm and provide decent support. No height adjustment means a fair number of people will need to make comprises in comfort to find the right seating position. The back seat can fit adults, provided you don’t have anyone tall sitting in the front. Otherwise, legroom becomes very scarce. Under the hood is a 3.5L V6 producing 278 horsepower and 265 pound-feet of torque. This is paired with a six-speed automatic and four-wheel drive. At low speeds, the engine pulls quite strongly and smoothly. It is very different when traveling on the highway as the engine really needs to be worked to get up to speed at a somewhat decent rate. Part of this comes down to the automatic which likes to quickly upshift to maximize fuel economy. There is a ‘sport’ mode on the transmission that locks out fifth and sixth gear, but only improves performance marginally. Fuel economy is towards the bottom with EPA figures of 18 City/23 Highway/20 Combined. My average for the week landed around 19.5 mpg. TRD Off-Road brings forth a retuned suspension setup featuring a set of Bilstein shocks. Usually, this makes the ride is somewhat softer. But in the Tacoma, the ride is quite choppy on any surface that isn’t smooth. Steering is very slow and heavy, making tight maneuvers a bit difficult. A fair amount of wind and road noise is apparent. Any changes to be aware of for the 2018 Tacoma? The only change of note is the addition of Toyota Safety Sense-P. This suite of active safety features includes automatic emergency braking, automatic high-beams, adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, and lane departure warning. The TRD Off-Road will set you back $35,515 for the Double Cab with the Long Bed - the 2018 model is about $1,410 more. With a few options, our as-tested price came to $40,617. Disclaimer: Toyota Provided the Tacoma, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas Year: 2017 Make: Toyota Model: Tacoma Double Cab with Long Bed Trim: TRD Off-Road Engine: 3.5L D-4S V6 with Dual VVT-i Driveline: Six-Speed Automatic, Four-Wheel Drive Horsepower @ RPM: 278 @ 6,000 Torque @ RPM: 265 @ 4,600 Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 18/23/20 Curb Weight: 4,480 lbs Location of Manufacture: San Antonio, TX Base Price: $35,515 As Tested Price: $40,617 (Includes $960.00 Destination Charge) Options: Premium & Technology Package - $3,035.00 Tonneau Cover - $650.00 Carpet Floor Mats w/Door Sill Protector - $208.00 Mudguards - $129.00 Bed Mat - $120.00
  2. I couldn’t believe my eyes as to what stood before me. In the driveway stood an Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio. I had to touch it to see if I was imagining it. Okay, I am being a bit hyperbolic, but considering the long time it took Alfa Romeo to get its affairs in some semblance of order, it is amazing that the Giulia is on sale. Still, I had a bit of trepidation with spending a week in the Giulia Quadrifoglio. The past year has seen a number of outlets reporting various gremlins pop up on their test vehicles. Would my particular one be spared? If so, what does the Giulia Quadrifoglio offer over the competition? Alfa Romeo is known for styling vehicles that stand out and Giulia Quadrifoglio is no exception. Up front resides the traditional Alfa triangle grille and large openings in the bumper with mesh inserts. The carbon fiber hood features gentle sculpting and a set of air vents in the channels. The side profile features more of the gentle sculpting on the doors, along with carbon fiber side skirts and 19-inch wheels finished in dark gray. The rear is where the Giulia Quadrifoglio makes its intentions known to the world with a carbon fiber lip spoiler and massive rear diffuser with large exhaust pipes sitting on either end. Finishing off the vehicle are cloverleaf badges on the front fenders and a dark blue finish. At first glance, the Giulia’s interior looks elegant. The dash has a flowing wave shape that is higher on the driver’s side to make space for the instrument cluster and infotainment system. Material choices such soft-touch plastics, carbon fiber accent trim, and a small-rimmed steering wheel with Alcantara and carbon fiber help set the Quadrifoglio apart from other Giulia models. But Alfa Romeo earns some red marks as the center console is littered with cheap plastics - the controller for the infotainment system and gear lever being the key offenders. Our test Giulia Quadrifoglio came with the standard leather and Alcantara sport seats. A set of carbon fiber Sparco racing seats are available as an option, but it is one we would recommend trying out first. Sitting in a Quadrifoglio with the optional seats, I found that I could not fully settle into them due to my wide shoulder blades. The standard seats offer increased bolstering to hold you and a passenger when the road gets twisty. I would like to see a little bit more cushioning in the seats as it becomes somewhat uncomfortable the longer you sit in them. The back seat in Giulia is average for the class, offering a decent amount of head and legroom for those under six-feet. Getting in and out of the back seat is not easy due to a narrow opening. All Giulia Quadrifoglios come equipped with an 8.8-inch infotainment system. Controlling this is a rotary knob in the center console, along with using voice commands. The system itself is very frustrating for a number of reasons. For one, the system is slow when put against competitors. It takes a few moments to switch between various menus. Also, certain functions don’t work as you might expect. For example, turning the knob in the navigation system doesn’t zoom in or out. You have to scroll the navigation menu to find the Zoom command to allow this function. Other issues I experienced during my week-long test of the Giulia included,: The system wouldn’t play my iPod if I had it paused for more than minute or if I switched to another audio source and then back to the iPod. Connecting my iPhone 7 Plus to the system via Bluetooth took on average about 45 seconds. I had the system crash on me twice during the week I had the Giulia. One of those crashes required me to turn off the vehicle and start it back up to get the system working again. Alfa Romeo needs to go back to the garage and do some serious work with this infotainment system. Underneath the carbon fiber hood lies the beating heart of the Quadrifoglio, a 2.9L twin-turbo V6 with 505 horsepower and 443 pound-feet of torque. Drive is sent to the rear-wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission. Quadrifoglio models have four drive modes - Race, Dynamic, Natural, and Advanced Efficiency and each one alters the engine’s behavior. Advanced Efficiency and Natural are about the same with the throttle being a bit more laid back. But that isn’t to say the Giulia isn’t quick in either mode. It has more than enough oomph to leave other cars in the dust when leaving a stop light or merging. But the engine really comes alive when in Dynamic or Race. The throttle sharpens up and the exhaust opens up to deliver a tantalizing soundtrack. Mash the pedal and hold on because this engine will throw you back. The engine sings at mid and high-rpms with speed coming on at an astonishing rate. Alfa says the Quadrifoglio can hit 60 mph in 3.8 seconds and I can say they are right on the money. The automatic transmission is quite impressive. In Normal and Advanced Efficiency, the transmission delivers smooth gear changes. Turn to Dynamic or Race and the gear changes are snappy and fast. Oddly, the automatic transmission exhibits some hesitation when leaving a stop. This is a problem more attune with dual-clutch transmissions. EPA fuel economy figures for the Giulia Quadrifoglio are 17 City/24 Highway/20 Combined. My average for the week landed at 19.7 mpg. Handling is where the Giulia Quadrifoglio truly shines. Enter into a corner and Giulia hunkers down with little body roll and gives you the confidence to push a little bit further. Steering is another highlight, offering quick response and decent weight. The only complaint I have with the steering is that I wished for some road feel. There is a trade-off to Giulia’s handling and that is a very stiff ride. Even with the vehicle set in Advanced Efficiency or Natural mode, the suspension will transmit every road imperfection to your backside. Wind and road noise isolation is about average for the class. It is time to address the elephant in the room and that is Alfa Romeo’s reliability record. Since the Giulia went on sale last year, numerous outlets have reported various issues from a sunroof jamming to a vehicle going into a limp mode after half a lap on a track. The only real issues I experienced during my week dealt with infotainment system which made me breathe a sigh of relief. Still, the dark cloud of reliability hung over the Giulia and I never felt fully comfortable that some show-stopping issue would happen. This is something Alfa Romeo needs to remedy ASAP. Now we come to end of the Giulia Quadrifoglio review and I am quite mixed. Considering the overall package, the Quadrifoglio is not for everyone. No, it isn’t just because of reliability. This vehicle is a pure sports car in a sedan wrapper. It will put a big smile on your face every time you get on the throttle or execute that perfect turn around a corner. But it will not coddle you or your passengers during the daily drive. Add in the material quality issues and concerns about reliability, and you have a mixed bag. To some, that is the charm of an Alfa Romeo. Within all of those flaws is a brilliant automobile. For others, it is something that should be avoided at all costs. Disclaimer: Alfa Romeo Provided the Giulia, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas Year: 2017 Make: Alfa Romeo Model: Giulia Trim: Quadrifoglio Engine: 2.9L 24-Valve DOHC Twin-Turbo V6 Driveline: Eight-Speed Automatic, Rear-Wheel Drive Horsepower @ RPM: 505 @ 6,500 Torque @ RPM: 443 @ 2,500 - 5,500 Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 17/24/20 Curb Weight: N/A Location of Manufacture: Cassino, Italy Base Price: $72,000 As Tested Price: $76,995 (Includes $1,595.00 Destination Charge) Options: Driver Assist Dynamic Plus Package - $1,500.00 Harman Kardon Premium Audio System - $900.00 Montecarlo Blue Metallic Exterior Paint - $600.00 Quadrifoglio Carbon Fiber Steering Wheel - $400.00
  3. The Toyota Highlander has an interesting selling point in the midsize crossover class. It is the only model that offers a hybrid version. Seems quite crazy that more automakers aren’t offering a green option due to the increasing popularity. But maybe there is a reason for that. (Author’s note: I don’t go into detail about the Highlander Hybrid’s exterior and interior as it is the same as the regular Highlander. If you want to get an idea of what I think, you can check out my quick drive review on the 2017 Highlander posted back in October. -WM) The Highlander Hybrid’s powertrain is comprised of a 3.5L V6, two electric motors, and a nickel-metal hydride battery pack. Total output is rated at 306 horsepower. This is paired up with a CVT. The electric motors are mounted on each axle and provide all-wheel drive. Despite the hybrid weighing 310 pounds more than the standard model, the instantaneous torque from electric motors disguises the extra weight at low speeds. This makes the hybrid feel slightly quicker around town than the standard model. But at higher speeds, the effectiveness of the electric motors begin to wane and the V6 begins to shoulder more of the burden. Merging onto a freeway, I found the hybrid to not be any quicker than the standard Highlander. Switching between hybrid and EV mode in the Highlander Hybrid is very seamless. You don’t notice the transition unless you have the hybrid powertrain screen up in the instrument cluster or infotainment system. Like most Toyota hybrids, the Highlander Hybrid can travel on electric power at speeds up to 25 mph for short distances. I found this was easy to sustain when driving in city areas or my neighborhood. EPA fuel economy figures on the Highlander Hybrid are 30 City/28 Highway/29 Combined for the base LE, and 29/27/28 for the rest of the lineup like our Limited tester. During my week, I was only able to achieve a disappointing 24 mpg on a 60/40 mix of city and highway driving. The Highlander I drove last year was only 2 mpg lower during my week-long test. Ride quality is similar to the regular Highlander as most bumps and potholes are ironed out. Road and wind noise are kept to very acceptable levels. Handling is not the Highlander Hybrid’s strong suit. Around corners, the hybrid shows an excessive amount of body roll and dull steering. On the upside, the hybrid does feel more planted to the road than the regular model thanks to the extra weight of batteries. Brakes are still an issue for Toyota’s hybrid vehicles. The Highlander Hybrid exhibits a vague and somewhat unpredictable feel from the pedal, which doesn’t inspire confidence. The 2017 Highlander Hybrid begins at $36,270 for the base LE, about $2,130 more than the standard Highlander LE V6 AWD. Our Limited tester starts at $44,760, and with a couple of options and destination, the as-tested price is $46,134. Is the hybrid worth it? In short, no. With gas prices the way they are at the moment, it will take a long time for you to break even on the extra cost of the Highlander Hybrid. Plus, I found the real-world fuel economy wasn’t that much better than the standard model. At the moment, I would stick with the standard Highlander and pocket the extra cash. Disclaimer: Toyota Provided the Highlander Hybrid, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas Year: 2017 Make: Toyota Model: Highlander Hybrid Trim: Limited Engine: 3.5L DOHC 24-Valve with VVT-iW V6, 2 Electric Motors, Sealed nickel metal hydride battery pack Driveline: CVT, AWD-i Horsepower @ RPM: 231 @ 5,800 (Gas); 167 @ 0 (Electric Motor 1); 68 @ 0 (Electric Motor 2); 306 (Total) Torque @ RPM: 215 @ 4,800 (Gas); 247 @ 0 (Electric Motor 1); 103 @ 0 (Electric Motor 2) Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 29/27/28 Curb Weight: 4,861 lbs Location of Manufacture: Princeton, Indiana Base Price: $44,760 As Tested Price: $46,134 (Includes $940.00 Destination Charge) Options: Carpet Floor Mats & Cargo Mat - $225.00 Body Side Molding - $209.00
  4. Can any automaker out-do the Toyota Prius? Some have tried and ultimately have failed in one way or another. But the latest challenger, the Hyundai Ioniq, appears to be a formidable opponent. On paper, the Ioniq boasts higher fuel economy figures than the Prius. It also features a design that will not scare people away. We spent a week in the midlevel SEL to find out if the Prius needs to watch its back. The Ioniq’s design appears to be heavily influenced by the second and third-generation Prius. This is shown in the overall profile and rear tailgate design. The front end comes with a large hexagonal grille, raked projector headlights, and deep cuts in the bumpers enclosing a set of LEDs. The only downside to the Ioniq’s design is the plastic rectangle around the Hyundai emblem on the front. It looks out of place, but that houses the radar system needed for the automatic braking and adaptive cruise control systems. “It seems quite normal,” will be thought of many when they come inside the Ioniq. There is no futuristic design, joystick controller for the transmission, or endless acres of white plastic trim. This is an interior you might expect to find in the Elantra compact sedan. Material quality is similar to what you’ll find in a Toyota Prius - a mix of hard and soft plastics. The control layout is simple and is within easy reach for those sitting up front. The SEL comes with cloth upholstery and a power driver’s seat. Finding a comfortable position isn’t too hard with the power adjustments and a tilt-telescoping steering wheel. But the Ioniq’s front seats do falter on long trips. I found myself squirming around the seat after driving the vehicle for an hour. The back comes up slightly short in terms of head and legroom for taller passengers. For example, I’m 5’9” and my head was touching the headliner. A 7-inch infotainment system featuring Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration is standard on all Ioniqs. A larger 8-inch system with navigation is only available on the top-line Limited trim. Hyundai offers one of the better infotainment systems with an easy-to-understand interface, quick performance, and having physical shortcut buttons to various functions. The only thing I wished Hyundai would do is making the 8-inch screen standard. This would make it easier to read the information at a quick glance. Hyundai employs a 1.6L Atkinson Cycle four-cylinder engine, a 32 kW electric motor, and a Lithium-ion Polymer battery for the Ioniq’s hybrid powertrain. Total output is rated at 139 horsepower, 18 more than in the Prius. Around town, the Ioniq is noticeably faster than the Prius. I had no problems with keeping up with the flow of traffic. Sport mode does sharpen acceleration, but it will eat into fuel economy. Like the Prius, the Ioniq does struggle with getting up to speed on the freeway. The six-speed dual-clutch automatic didn’t exhibit the hesitation to drop down a gear or the clunky gear changes that I experienced in the Kia Niro. It delivered smooth and quick shifts. The EPA rates the 2017 Ioniq SEL at 55 City/54 Highway/55 Combined - better the 54/50/52 for the Prius. My average for the week was a disappointing 45 mpg. Some of this can be explained by the extremely cold temps that hit the Detroit-area only a couple days into my loan. This caused the gas engine to run constantly to keep the vehicle warm. Like the Prius, the Ioniq is surprisingly fun to drive. There is little body roll and the vehicle quickly transitions from one turn to another. Steering has decent weight when turning, but is devoid of feel, something common in the class. The Ioniq comes up slightly short in terms of ride quality. On rough roads, the Ioniq lets in more bumps than the Prius. There is also a fair amount of tire roar that comes inside when driving on the freeway. Pricing is a strong point for the Ioniq. The midlevel SEL trim begins at $23,950. With the optional tech package (adds adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning) and floor mats, the as-tested price comes to $25,910. Taking into account what you get for the price, the Ioniq continues Hyundai’s reputation of delivering a lot of car for the money. As my time with the Ioniq was coming to a close, I found myself stumped between choosing the Ioniq and Prius. The Ioniq has the less outlandish design, better performance, higher fuel economy figures (on paper), and value. But the Prius can hold its own as it has a better balance between ride and handling, slightly larger back seat, and impressive real-world fuel economy figures. Plus, the Prius name holds a lot more recognition than the Ioniq. Despite the positives, the Ioniq finds itself between a rock and hard place. Disclaimer: Hyundai Provided the Ioniq, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas Year: 2017 Make: Hyundai Model: Ioniq Trim: SEL Engine: 1.6L GDI Atkinson Cycle Four-Cylinder, Electric Motor Driveline: Six-Speed Dual-Clutch Transmission, Front-Wheel Drive Horsepower @ RPM: 104 @ 5,700 (Gas), 43 @ 0 (Electric), 139 (Combined) Torque @ RPM: 109 @ 4,000 (Gas), 125 @ 0 (Electric) Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 55/54/55 Curb Weight: 3,031 lbs Location of Manufacture: Ulsan, South Korea Base Price: $23,950 As Tested Price: $25,910 (Includes $835.00 Destination Charge) Options: Tech Package - $1,000.00 Carpeted Floor Mats - $125.00
  5. Mazda has a big dream for itself. It is trying to stand out from the competition by becoming more premium. The first steps of this process took place last year with a refreshed Mazda6 sedan. As we noted in our review at the time, the 6 made great strides in improving noise isolation and material quality. Now, the premium dream is coming more into focus with the redesigned CX-5. Mazda is making some big promises with claims of improved refinement and an upscale look and feel for the interior. We spent a week in a 2017 CX-5 Grand Touring to see if those promises are met. The past few years have seen Mazda designing some distinctive looking vehicles and the redesigned CX-5 is no exception. The overall shape is an evolution of the first-generation model with smoother lines and more curves. The small details such as the wider front grille, slim LED headlights, 19-inch aluminum wheels, and a rear tailgate design similar to the Mazda3 really set the CX-5 apart from the competition. The only item that slightly ruins the design is the oversized Mazda emblem on the front grille. This is due to the emblem holding the hardware for various active safety equipment such as the radar cruise control. Moving inside, it is clear Mazda has put a lot of effort in making the CX-5 a cut above the rest. The modern design and appointments such as the stitching on the dash and bright trim around the vents make for a very classy cabin. Most materials are soft-touch which add another level of the premium-ness Mazda is pushing. Controls fall readily to hand for both driver and front-seat passenger. The front seats in the Grand Touring come wrapped in leather upholstery and feature power adjustments and heat. It would be nice if Mazda had the option of ventilation to prop up their premium image, but we’re nitpicking here. The seats offer excellent support over long trips and plenty of head and legroom. Back seat passengers will have no complaints as head and legroom are very competitive with other models, and there is the option of heated seats. Cargo space is where the CX-5 falters. Open the tailgate to be greeted with 30.9 cubic feet behind the rear seats. Fold the seats to expand space to 59.6 cubic feet. It pales in comparison to the likes of the Honda CR-V (39.2 and 75.8 cubic feet) and Volkswagen’s redesigned Tiguan (37.6 and 73.5 cubic feet). The Grand Touring comes with a 7-inch touchscreen with the Mazda Connect infotainment system and a control knob. It does take some time to learn the various idiosyncrasies such as the touchscreen functions being locked out when the vehicle is on the move and having to jump through various menus to switch between various audio sources. Once you get the hang of the system, it becomes easy to use. Mazda Connect is beginning to show its age with the dark color palate, somewhat dated navigation interface, and the lack of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration. Mazda only offers the 2.5L Skyactiv-G four-cylinder engine with 187 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque. This is paired with a six-speed automatic and the choice of either front-wheel or Mazda’s i-Active all-wheel drive. The engine is where Mazda’s premium image takes a serious hit. Around town, the engine is very peppy and is willing to get speed quickly. But the powertrain feels somewhat winded when power was needed to make a pass or merge on an expressway. Mazda has been working on a diesel engine option that was expected to arrive in the second half of last year, but hasn’t come out at the time of this writing. A fix that I’m willing to propose is to offer the turbocharged 2.5L four from the CX-9. The six-speed automatic goes about its business with crisp and smooth shifts. Fuel economy for the CX-5 AWD is rated by the EPA at 23 City/29 Highway/26 Combined. My average for the week landed around 25.7 mpg. We have praised the previous-generation Mazda CX-5 as being one best driving crossovers. The new one continues that with agile handling and excellent body control. The steering provides excellent feedback and weight when driving down a winding road. Mazda has fitted their G-Vectoring Control that monitors steering and throttle input, and will reduce engine power to improve overall handling. But as I noted in my Mazda6 quick drive last year, I couldn’t tell if the system made a difference or not. The same is true when it comes to the CX-5. This sporting edge does mean the ride quality is slightly rough with a fair number of road imperfections being transmitted inside. The 19-inch wheels don’t help with this and it might be worth considering dropping down to the Touring for the smaller 17-inch wheels. At least Mazda is continuing to improve road and wind noise isolation. Compared to the last CX-5 I drove, there is a reduction in road and wind noise inside. It is almost as quiet as what you might find in a luxury model. If I was to recommend a CX-5 for most buyers in 2017, that would be the Grand Touring. While I find the price to be slightly high and the 19-inch wheels make the ride uncomfortable, it was the only way to get a number of active safety features such as radar cruise control and the smart city brake support. Thankfully for 2018, Mazda has migrated a number of those features down to the Touring and Sport trims. If you’re considering a 2018 CX-5, the Touring is your best bet as you’ll get most everything on the Grand Touring at a price that won’t break the bank. Has Mazda accomplished their hopes of becoming more premium? The answer is a bit mixed. For the positives, Mazda has been making great strides in improving the noise isolation in their vehicles and the new CX-5 is no exception. There is also the distinctive exterior shape, noticeable improvement in material quality, and the sharp driving dynamics that have made the CX-5 a darling of the automotive press. The negatives on the CX-5 include a slightly stiff ride, smallish cargo area, and certain missing features that would really help with the premium image Mazda is trying to project. But the biggest issue has to be the engine. While 2.5 Skyactiv-G is perfectly adequate around town, it really struggles when more speed is called for. Dropping either the long-delayed diesel or the CX-9’s turbo-four would really do wonders and help foster the premium image. The 2017 Mazda CX-5 is so close to the premium edge. It just needs a few more tweaks to reach it. Disclaimer: Mazda Provided the CX-5, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas Year: 2017 Make: Mazda Model: CX-5 Trim: Grand Touring AWD Engine: 2.5L Skyactiv-G Four-Cylinder Driveline: Six-Speed Automatic Horsepower @ RPM: 187 @ 6,000 Torque @ RPM: 186 @ 4,000 Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 23/29/26 Curb Weight: 3,693 lbs Location of Manufacture: Hiroshima, Japan Base Price: $30,695 As Tested Price: $34,380 (Includes $940.00 Destination Charge) Options: Premium Package - $1,830.00 Soul Red - $595.00 Retractable Cargo Cover $250.00 Cargo Mat - $70.00
  6. I have been on record of not liking the 2.0L turbo-four Lexus uses in a number of their vehicles. Previous reviews have highlighted the horrendous turbo lag and power falling off a cliff after a certain point on the rpm band. But after spending a week with the 2017 Lexus GS 200t, I found that Lexus may have fixed one of the big issues with this engine. A quick refresher on the turbo 2.0L. The engine has ratings of 241 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. An eight-speed automatic is the only transmission on offer. The engine feels quite punchy when the boost kicks in as it moves the 3,805 pound sedan without breaking a sweat. Another positive is how quiet and refined the engine is during acceleration and at cruise. There are a couple of downsides. As I mentioned in the RC 200t review, the engine does run out of steam at higher rpms which makes merging onto a freeway slightly tricky. The transmission programming in the ‘Normal’ drive mode leans heavily towards boosting fuel economy with rapid upshifts and slow downshifts. This was easily remedied by putting the GS into the ‘Sport’ drive mode. EPA fuel economy figures for the GS 200t at 22 City/32 Highway/26 Combined. I only averaged a very disappointing 19.2 mpg for the week. A lot of this can be attributed to the cold snap where the high temperature at the times was around 10 to 15 degrees. This meant I was running the vehicle at idle for a fair amount of time to warm it up. The GS 200t’s suspension provides a mostly smooth ride with only a couple of bumps making their way inside. Road and wind noise are almost nonexistent. I cannot really comment on the GS 200t’s handling as most of the roads were snow-covered during the week and the Michelin GreenX tires were more keen on spinning in the snow than actually getting the car moving. A set of all-seasons or snow tires would have done wonders for it. Reading through some other reviews, the consensus seems to be the GS shows little body roll and has decent steering weight. Lexus updated the GS’ styling back in 2016 with a revised front end, complete with a spindle grille and upside-down eyelash LED lighting. I’m usually not a fan of the standard insert for the spindle grille - like the mesh insert on the F-Sport. But I will admit the slat grille on this particular model works quite well. Other changes include new wheels (18-inches on our tester) and taillights. The interior hasn’t really changed since I last drove the GS back in 2013. In certain respects, this is ok. The design still holds up with the brushed-metal accents and textured black trim. Material quality is top notch as well with many surfaces being covered in soft-touch plastics and leather. Seating offers the right amount of support and comfort needed for long trips. The only downside is the large transmission tunnel that eats into rear legroom. The GS still uses the first-generation Lexus Enform infotainment system, complete with the joystick controller. The controller is a pain to use with an inconsistent feeling when using it to move around the system. At times, you’ll find yourself either overshooting or not selecting the function because of the vague feeling provided by the controller. This hurts an otherwise pretty good system with a modern design and large 12.3-inch screen with the ability of split-screen viewing. The base price of the 2017 GS 200t is $46,310. Our test vehicle came equipped with a few options such as navigation, 17-speaker Mark Levinson audio system, heated and ventilated front seats, power trunk, and 18-inch wheels that raised the price to a very reasonable $52,295. Disclaimer: Lexus Provided the GS 200t, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas Year: 2017 Make: Lexus Model: GS Trim: 200t Engine: Turbocharged 2.0L DOHC 16-Valve with Dual VVT-iW Driveline: Eight-Speed Automatic, Rear-Wheel Drive Horsepower @ RPM: 241 @ 5,800 Torque @ RPM: 258 @ 1,650-4,400 Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 22/32/26 Curb Weight: 3,805 lbs Location of Manufacture: Aichi, Japan Base Price: $46,310 As Tested Price: $52,295 (Includes $975.00 Destination Charge and $1,730 Navigation Package Credit) Options: Navigation w/12.3-inch screen with Lexus Enform - $1,730.00 Premium Package - $1,400.00 Mark Levinson Premium Surround Sound Audio System - $1,380.00 18" All Season Tires - $905.00 Intuitive Park Assist - $500.00 Illuminated Door Sills - $425.00 One-Touch Power Trunk - $400.00
  7. Despite the popularity of compact crossovers, it seems somewhat odd there isn’t a large number of hybrid variants. In fact, there is only one available, the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid. Going hybrid usually means a hit in performance and cargo space. But in the case of the RAV4 Hybrid, it is quicker than the standard model and cargo space isn’t greatly affected. I spent some time with the RAV4 Hybrid over the holidays where it was driven to Northern Michigan and back. This is what I learned. The RAV4 Hybrid’s powertrain is comprised of a 2.5L four-cylinder, three electric motors (one acting as the engine starter and battery charger, the other two drive the wheels and provide AWD), and a Sealed Nickel-Metal Hydride battery pack. Total output is rated at 194 horsepower. Power is routed through a CVT. Fuel economy figures are noticeably better than the RAV4 SE AWD I drove last year - 34 City/30 Highway/32 Combined for the Hybrid vs. 22/29/25 for the standard RAV4. My average for the week landed around 30.7 MPG. I think the average could have been higher if Michigan had not experienced a cold snap where temperatures fell to single digits at times, causing the engine to run longer to keep the vehicle warm. The hybrid also feels slightly quicker than the standard RAV4 thanks to the electric motors providing instantaneous torque when leaving a stop. But merging on to a freeway or passing becomes a bit unpleasant as the engine pegs at high rpms to provide the power needed. This also brings forth a lot of noise from the engine and CVT. Doing a lot of driving on the freeway and country roads made me really appreciate the smooth and compliant ride of the RAV4 Hybrid. Most bumps and road imperfections are smoothed over. Some credit has to go to the 17-inch wheels on the XLE. Handling is competent as the suspension keeps body motions in check. However, the rubbery steering and low-rolling resistance tires will make drivers think twice about pushing the RAV4 Hybrid. The low-rolling resistance tires also hamper traction in snow. I could tell when driving in deep snow, the all-wheel drive was working a bit harder to keep the vehicle moving. If you live in a snowy area, I would highly recommend swapping the low-rolling resistance tires for a set of all-seasons or winter tires. At first glance, the RAV4 Hybrid looks like any other RAV4. It is only when you get closer that you will notice the blue-tinted emblems and ‘Hybrid’ badging on the front fenders and tailgate. The interior is much the same as any other RAV4 aside from a different gauge cluster and a button to activate the EV mode. This is ok as the RAV4 is an ok place to sit in with a utilitarian design that puts various controls within easy reach for driver and passenger. Materials are what you would expect to find in a vehicle of this class, a mix of soft and hard-touch plastics. The back seat is still a plus point to the RAV4 as there is plenty of head and legroom for most passengers. Cargo space in the hybrid is about 3 cubic feet smaller than the standard RAV4 due to the battery with the rear seats up or down. Still, the hybrid’s cargo space is one the of the largest in the compact crossover class and I was able to fit luggage for myself and my brother, along with gifts for various relatives with no issue. All RAV4 Hybrids come with Toyota’s Entune infotainment system with a 6.1-inch touchscreen. The system is becoming quite dated in terms of the interface and features - no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto for example. On the upside, Entune is easy to master thanks to a simple layout and physical shortcut buttons to various functions. 2017 saw Toyota make a number of active safety features standard on all RAV4s. That includes radar cruise control, pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, automatic high beams, and lane keep assist. I would like to see blind spot monitoring added to this suite. The 2017 RAV4 Hybrid begins at $29,030 for the base XLE, about $4,000 more than the RAV4 XLE. Taking into consideration the noticeable fuel economy increase and better performance, I would be willing to spend the extra cash. Disclaimer: Toyota Provided the RAV4 Hybrid, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas Year: 2017 Make: Toyota Model: RAV4 Hybrid Trim: XLE Engine: 2.5L Atkinson-Cycle 16-Valve DOHC with Dual VVT-i Four-Cylinder, Two 650V Electric Motors Driveline: CVT, AWD Horsepower @ RPM: 150 @ 5,700 (Gas), 105 kW (Front Electric Motor), 50 kW (Rear Electric Motor), 194 (Combined Output) Torque @ RPM: 152 @ 4,400 (Gas) Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 34/30/32 Curb Weight: 3,925 lbs Location of Manufacture: Obu, Aichi, Japan Base Price: $29,030 As Tested Price: $31,965 (Includes $940.00 Destination Charge) Options: Convenience Package - $1,905.00 Tonneau Cover - $90.00
  8. 2017, a year many people would like to forget for one reason or another. Here at the Cheers & Gears Detroit bureau, it has been an excellent year in terms of the vehicles I have driven. Compared to last year, the number of vehicles that stopped by our garage dropped (35 vs.44 from last year), But most of the vehicles in one way or another proved to really impressive. This year, eight models would earn the honor being named a favorite. Cadillac CT6 Platinum Why is the CT6 a favorite? No matter how many Cadillac vehicles I have driven, I come back to the same, tired, cliche line - so close, yet so far. It comes down to some bizarre decision made during the development of a model whether in terms of the interior, powertrain, etc. But somehow, the CT6 Platinum was able to avoid this. The interior has to be one of the best efforts done by Cadillac with high-quality materials, top-notch build quality, and a handsome design. The performance was another high mark as the 3.0L twin-turbo V6 moved the CT6 with authority and handling is quite shocking for a vehicle of this size. I really would like to see Cadillac offer a softer suspension option (possibly air suspension) as most buyers of flagship sedans want something comfort oriented. If the CT6 is a preview of what Cadillac has planned down the road, then I believe the “Standard of the World” tagline should make a return. Chevrolet Cruze Premier/Cruze Turbodiesel Why is the Cruze a favorite? Chevrolet’s previous attempts at building a compact vehicle has ranged from mediocre to terrible. But the new Cruze showed Chevrolet put a lot of care and effort into their newest compact. The Cruze is quite the handsome vehicle and really comes to life when you option the RS package. Inside, Chevrolet added some really nice touches such as heated rear seats, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, and high-quality plastics. The turbocharged 1.4L four-cylinder provided enough grunt for most driving situations. The turbodiesel was a huge improvement over the last one I drove. It was much quieter at idle and felt slightly quicker than the gas engine. The only downside to the diesel was the manual transmission which had a really short first gear. I liked the Cruze so much, that I’m seriously considering one when it comes time to replace my current vehicle. Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid Why is the Malibu Hybrid a favorite? The brakes. I know, picking a car as one of my favorites just for the brakes may seem like an odd reason. But seriously, the brakes in the Malibu Hybrid are the best of any hybrid vehicle I have driven as they feel like normal brakes with a linear feel. But there is more the Malibu Hybrid. For one, it doesn’t scream that it is a hybrid. The only indication is a small ‘H’ badge on the trunk lid. Otherwise, the hybrid version looks like your standard Malibu. A strong powertrain, similar handling characteristics, and a much nicer interior than the last Malibu I drove (thank you leather package) make for a very compelling package. The cherry on top? With an as-tested price of just $33,000, the Malibu Hybrid is quite the deal. Chrysler Pacifica Touring L/Pacifica Hybrid Platinum Why is the Pacifica a favorite? Fiat Chrysler Automobiles took quite the pummeling with their vehicles over the past year. But the Pacifica and Pacifica Hybrid were the bright spots for the automaker. The two vans were not only stylish inside and out, but Chrysler showed they hadn’t lost the practicality touch. All of the seats provide more than enough space for the tallest of passenger and cargo space is in line with other minivans. The standard Pacifica retains the Stow n’ Go seating for both rows of rear seats, while the Hybrid loses out on having them in the second-row due to the massive battery pack. Both vans excel at providing excellent performance and a very cushy ride. The Hybrid takes it one step further by allowing the van to travel on electric power only for 33 miles - I was able to squeeze out 34. Honda Ridgeline RTL-E Why is the Ridgeline a favorite? “To put it another way, the Honda Ridgeline is like Festivus from Seinfeld; they’re both for the rest of us.” That was how I ended my Honda Ridgeline review earlier this year and I still stand behind it. It may not fit the true definition of a pickup in terms of capability when compared to other trucks in the class. But for most people, the Ridgeline is very much capable for their needs as it provides an impressive max payload rating for the class and decent towing numbers. The Ridgeline has a couple of other tricks up its sleeve such as the in-bed trunk that provides a secure spot for carrying cargo, dual-action tailgate, and a ride that you expect to find in a sedan, not a truck. Toyota Prius Prime Plus Why is the Prius Prime a favorite? If I was to give an award out for most improved, the Prius Prime would be taking it home. When I drove the Prius Plug-In Hybrid a few years back, I couldn’t figure out why anyone should consider it due to its high price and limited range. Toyota addressed both with the Prime. A larger 95-cell, 8.8-kWh Lithium-ion battery pack bumps electric-only range from 11 to 25 miles, perfect for running errands around town. The electric-only mode also made the Prius Prime very zippy. I’m sure that I shocked some people by how fast the Prius Prime left the stop light. The price also came down considerably with my test vehicle sticking at $28,300, making this an impressive value. Volkswagen Golf R/Golf Wolfsburg/Golf Alltrack SEL Why is the Golf a favorite? The past couple of years when picking my favorites, a Golf has appeared. 2015 saw the GTI be christened with this honor, while the Sportwagen would follow a year later. 2017 saw the remainder of the Golf family come in for an evaluation and all of them would earn a place on my list. Despite the three models being designed with different use cases in mind, all of them have the same balance of sharp handling and comfortable ride that I loved about the previous Golfs. They also are quite practical due to their shape, offering loads of space for passengers and cargo. The Golf R is quite the monster in the snow with the 4Motion AWD system and boosted 2.0L turbo-four. The Wolfsburg is excellent value with the model coming with a lot of standard equipment such as leatherette, 6.5-inch touchscreen, sunroof, and blind-spot monitoring for a price that is very surprising. The Alltrack brings more capability to the Sportwagen with a slightly raised ride height and 4Motion AWD. It’s also the sweet spot in the Golf family with an impressive amount of standard equipment along with the option of various active safety features such as adaptive cruise control on all trims. Volvo S90 Inscription Why is the S90 a favorite? The S90 had a tough act to follow with the XC90 considered by many to be one of Volvo’s best efforts. Thankfully, the S90 was able to follow through with many of the same traits set forth by the crossover. The simple exterior is very handsome and features some nice touches such as rounded corners and the ‘Thor’s Hammer’ daytime-running lights. The interior is one of the nicest I have experienced with Nappa leather, matte wood trim, and the metal surrounds for the optional Bowers & Wilkins audio system. A smooth four-cylinder engine with twin-charging provides the performance and refinement of six-cylinder. I would say get the smaller wheels as the 20-inch ones fitted to my tester made the ride slightly rough. There was also a few vehicles that deserve an honorable mention. Fiat 124 Spider Abarth While the styling of the 124 Spider Abarth did put me off, I will admit that Fiat made a slightly better handling MX-5 Miata. The changes made to the suspension on the Abarth does wonders with the vehicle feeling very athletic. The big downside was turbocharged 1.4L four-cylinder as it had too much turbo lag to have any real fun. The optional automatic transmission doesn’t help matters due to the programming that loves to upshift quickly, leaving you without any turbo boost. Hyundai Elantra Sport Had I not fallen down a flight of stairs and fractured a bone in my right leg, I would have spent more time with the Elantra Sport. The small amount of time I did spend with it showed it to be a real improvement over the previous Elantra I drove last year. The small changes to the exterior did wonders and made the Elantra stand out. The turbocharged 1.6L four and seven-speed dual-clutch seemed to work in harmony with providing quick performance. Handling was the best part as Hyundai had finally figured out how to make a vehicle that handled superbly. I really do think the Sport would have been on my list had I not injured myself. Jeep Compass Limited Make no bones about it, the new Compass is such an improvement over the outgoing model. It is quite the looker outside and interior is noticeably improved in terms of space and quality. Ride and handling are nicely balanced. But the Compass has a huge weakness under the hood. The 2.4L four-cylinder has never been a favorite due to its poor performance and abysmal fuel economy figures. If FCA was to swap the 2.4L four-cylinder for something else, I think the Compass would be on my favorites list.
  9. It feels a bit odd to be spending some time in the 2017 Cadillac ATS coupe after driving the CT6 earlier this year. In a way, it felt like I was stepping back into the past where Cadillac was making some dumb decisions that ultimately would hurt their vehicles. The ATS coupe is a prime example of this where Cadillac had a legitimate challenger to likes of the BMW 3/4-Series and Audi A5 in terms of performance and handling. But some bone-headed decisions would regulate it to the mid-pack. The ATS Coupe is still quite the looker. It features the classic rear-wheel drive proportions of a long front end and a short rear deck.The low roofline and raised belt line give off an impression of aggressive elegance. Our test car came with a set of machined-finished, 18-inch wheels that help the design pop. Move inside and it is clear that the interior hasn’t aged so well. For example, the sheet of piano black trim with the silver capacitive touch buttons really look out of place. The trim is also a magnet for fingerprints. Cadillac’s designers deserve a bit of credit for providing a nice mix of materials such as the Bordello Red leather upholstery, suede microfiber covering parts of the dash and door panels, and carbon fiber trim. The front seats are very comfortable for long trips and do an excellent job of holding you in during an enthusiastic drive. The rear seats are best left to be used for additional storage as leg and headroom are minuscule. Trunk space is quite small for the class at 10.4 cubic feet. CUE is still a bit of a mixed bag. While the overall usability is better with quicker response times and the ability to use Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, the touch capacitive buttons are still hit and miss in terms of responding. Power comes from a 2.0L turbo-four producing 272 horsepower and 295 pound-feet. We had the eight-speed automatic that was introduced last year, but a six-speed manual is available as an option. The 2.0L turbo is a punchy performer. Power comes at a smooth and steady rate. The engine does lose some points under hard acceleration as it is not refined as some competitors. The eight-speed automatic is the weak point for the ATS. It is slow to downshift when you need the thrust to pass a slower vehicle. We have to assume this comes down to the programming which is tuned more for fuel economy than performance. Gear changes, for the most part, are seamless. One area that Cadillac hasn’t messed with is the ATS’ handling. The coupe is a willing accomplice down a twisty road with sharp reflexes, little body roll, and steering that provides the right balance of steering feel and weight. We had the optional V-Sport Suspension package which adds a performance suspension and a set of summer-only, run-flat tires which only improves the handling. The downside to this handling goodness is a very stiff ride. Compared to the last ATS we drove (not the ATS-V), this coupe transmitted more bumps and imperfections, making for a very uncomfortable ride. Some of this can be laid at the V-Sport Suspension package. The ATS coupe seen here is the Luxury model - one step above the base model. It carries a base price of $41,395. Our test car was loaded with $12,055 in options, bringing the as-tested price to $54,445. You might be wondering why not jump into the Premium Luxury or Premium Performance if you’re planning to spend that much cash. That is because those two trims only come with the 3.6L V6. If you want the 2.0L turbo, you have to go either the base ATS or Luxury. If I was to buy this car, I would skip the V-Sport suspension package, performance exhaust kit, slotted rotor and brake pad upgrade, and the 18-inch wheels. That would drop the price to a somewhat reasonable $48,490. Disclaimer: Cadillac Provided the ATS Coupe, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas (Author's Note: And that is the final review for 2017. (Hooray!) I'll be revealing my favorite vehicles before the end of the year, so stay tuned. As for 2018, there will be a mix of some leftover 2017 models mixed in with the first batch of 2018 models. Expect to see reviews start back up around the Detroit Auto Show. In the meantime, have a safe and joyous holiday. -WM) Year: 2017 Make: Cadillac Model: ATS Coupe Trim: 2.0T Luxury Engine: Turbocharged 2.0L DI VVT Four-Cylinder Driveline: Eight-Speed Automatic, Rear-Wheel Drive Horsepower @ RPM: 272 @ 5,500 Torque @ RPM: 295 @ 3,000 - 4,600 Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - Curb Weight: 3,571 lbs Location of Manufacture: Lansing, Michigan Base Price: $41,395 As Tested Price: $54,445 (Includes $995.00 Destination Charge) Options: V-Sport Suspension Package - $2,265.00 Performance Exhaust Kit - $1,650.00 Safety & Security Package - $1,500.00 Morello Red Semi-Aniline Leather - $1,295.00 Slotted Rotor and Brake Pad Upgrade Package - $1,190.00 Power Sunroof - $1,050.00 18" Bright Machined-Finish Alloy Wheels - $850.00 Black Chrome Accented Grille - $820.00 V-Series Rear Spoiler - $665.00 Phantom Gray Metallic - $595.00 Black Chrome Rear Trim - $175.00
  10. One thing Jeep is very good at is providing different variations of their models to fit a buyer’s desire and budget. The Grand Cherokee is an excellent example with seven different models on offer. Jeep is using this same strategy for the Cherokee with seven different trims ranging from the base Sport to luxurious Overland. We spent some time in the Overland to see if a luxury version of the Cherokee makes any sense. The Overland model stands out from other Cherokees as the lower body cladding is painted in the same color as the body. Depending on what color you select, it will either make the Cherokee look good or just a giant blob - the latter being the case for our silver test vehicle. A set of 18-inch polished aluminum wheels come standard and add a nice touch of class. Compared to other Cherokee’s I’ve driven, the Overland does feel a little bit more luxurious. This comes down to some of the appointments used such as cream leather upholstery for the seats and door panels, a texture dash cover finished in brown, and accent stitching. Overland models get power seats for driver and passenger. This makes it easy to find a comfortable position thanks to the adjustments on offer. Backseat passengers also get their own set of adjustments - reclining, and sliding the seat forward and back. Passengers will have no complaints in terms of space or overall comfort. One area that a fair number of people will complain about is cargo space. The Cherokee is towards the bottom of the class with only 24.6 cubic feet of space behind the rear seats and 54.9 cubic feet when folded. This comes down Jeep making certain compromises to be able to fit all of the off-road hardware to the Cherokee. The 8.4-inch UConnect system fitted to the Cherokee is the previous-generation version. While you do miss out on Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, UConnect still comes with one of easiest interfaces to wrap your head around with large touch buttons and redundant physical shortcut buttons. Powering the Cherokee Overland is a 3.2L V6 with 271 horsepower and 239 pound-feet of torque. This is paired with a nine-speed automatic transmission and Jeep’s Active Drive II 4WD system. With this Cherokee tipping the scales at 4,046 pounds, the V6 is the right engine for the job. It offers enough performance for everyday driving and is one of the most refined engines in the class. The nine-speed automatic provides smooth and quick upshifts. Downshifts are another story as the transmission seems somewhat reluctant whenever merging or making a pass. The Cherokee has some of the worst fuel economy numbers in the class with EPA figures of 18 City/26 Highway/21 Combined. I was able to eek out 22 MPG during my week of driving in mostly urban areas. Ride comfort is a plus point to the Cherokee as the suspension absorbs most impacts from bumps and other road imperfections. Road and wind noise are kept to very acceptable levels. One area that Cherokee does surprisingly well is in handling. Despite its off-road credentials, the Cherokee handles with confidence with a limited amount of body roll. The steering is precise and has some decent weight. Still, the Cherokee lacks the fun element you would find in competitors such as the Mazda CX-5. The Overland trim is quite expensive with a starting price of $38,690 with 4WD. This particular model seen here came with an as-tested price of $43,690 with a few options ticked such as the Active Drive II system, Technology Package (includes adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, parking assist, and rain-sensing wipers), and a panoramic sunroof. For that kind of cash, you can get into a Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited 4X4 that offers slightly more power and returns similar fuel economy figures. The Overland is nice a variant of the Cherokee. But there is no way it can justify a price tag of nearly $44,000. If you really want a nice Cherokee, drop down to the Limited and go easy on the options list. Disclaimer: Jeep Provided the Cherokee, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas Year: 2017 Make: Jeep Model: Cherokee Trim: Overland Engine: 3.2L DOHC 24-Valve V6 Driveline: Nine-Speed Automatic, 4WD Horsepower @ RPM: 271 @ 6,500 Torque @ RPM: 239 @ 4,400 Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 18/26/21 Curb Weight: 4,046 lbs Location of Manufacture: Belvidere, Illinois Base Price: $37,695 As Tested Price: $43,690 (Includes $1,095.00 Destination Charge) Options: CommandView Dual-Pane Panoramic Sunroof - $1,755.00 Technology Group - $1,645.00 Jeep Active Drive II - $1,205.00 Heavy Duty Package Group - $295.00
  11. Previous Page Next Page As the 2017 Los Angeles auto show wraps up today, let's take a look back at the new vehicles we saw. Part one, the largest grouping by far, the mainstream crossovers and SUVs. 2018 Nissan Kicks The Details: The Kicks has been sold in the South American market for a few years. It migrates north to replace the Nissan Juke. It comes with a 1.6 liter engine and CVT routing all 125 stampeding horses and 115 lb-ft of torque through the front wheels. Why it Matters: A rolling mass-market crossover cliche; Floating roof, genuine simulated contrast stitching, flat bottom steering wheel. Product planners pulled out all the stops when faced with trying to make a crossover that could only be had with front-wheel drive and a 125 hp 4-cylinder interesting and relevant. Expect performance to be sedentary and price to be cheap. The 2018 Kicks probably sell well for price alone, but the Kia Soul seems more interesting if AWD is not on the shopping list and Renegade or Ecosport if AWD is needed. Click here to read more about the 2018 Nissan Kicks. Competitors: Kia Soul, Chevrolet Trax, Jeep Renegade, Toyota C-HR, Honda HR-V, Ford EcoSport, Mazda CX-3, Ambien, Tylenol PM 2018 Jeep Wrangler The Details: New Turbo-4, updated V6, 8-speed auto or 6-speed manual, 3.0 liter diesel coming, plug-in hybrid coming. Lots more details at our 2018 Jeep Wrangler article. Why it Matters: The Wrangler was easily the most iconic vehicle shown at the 2017 LA Auto Show. FCA finally modernized the Wrangler, a feat hard to do with tons of purists out there. I think they have managed to pull it off in such a way that brings the Wrangler up to date and will still satisfy all but the staunchest of luddites. The Wrangler has been a segment of one for years with the only close competitor being the Toyota 4Runner. Click here to read more about the 2018 Jeep Wrangler Competitors: Toyota 4Runner, Mercedes-Benz G-Wagon with a 66% discount Next up: Subaru Ascent and Volkswagen Tiguan R-Line 2019 Subaru Ascent The Details: Subaru gets back into the mid-size crossover game with a conventional looking 3-row. Power only comes from an all new direct injected 260 hp, 277 lb-ft turbocharged boxer 4-cylinder. AWD and CVT are standard. Why it Matters: Subaru’s last attempt at a mid-size crossover bombed hard. It was odd looking, over priced, and had terrible fuel economy. This time Subaru took the safe route, put their Forester on the copy machine and enlarged it 150%. Of the mass-market crossovers I visited during the show, the new Ascent had one of the nicest interiors I encountered. That said, it will need that asset because it is definitely on the smaller side of the segment. People shopping the Chevrolet Traverse or Honda Pilot will probably find this Subaru to be too cramped. Subaru is one of the strongest growing brands in the US and the new Ascent is going to add to that momentum. Click here to read more information about the 2019 Subaru Ascent Competitors: Every mainstream 3-row crossover made, but especially the Mazda CX-9, Toyota Highlander, Kia Sorento, Volkswagen Atlas ,and Nissan Pathfinder 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan R-Line The Details: A sport appearance package for your smallish-midsize Volkswagen crossover. 19” wheels for R-Line SEL trims and 20” wheels for R-Line SEL Premium trims. Sportier bumpers with ample gloss black applique, black headliner, R-Line logos plastered on everything. Otherwise, it’s the same as any new Tiguan available at your local VW dealer since July. Click here to read more information about the Volkswagen Tiguan Why it matters: Audi tastes and Volkswagen budget? Say no more! Competitors: Every small crossover made, but especially Mazda CX-5 and Nissan Rogue Next up: Hyundai Kona, Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross, Kia Sorento 2018 Hyundai Kona The Details: A funky new compact crossover from Hyundai that you’ll either love or hate the looks of. All of the standard stuff is there, two choices of 4-cylinder, turbocharged and not, Front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, floating roof treatment. Why it matters: A Hyundai designer and Jeep designer snuck into a Citroen design studio one night and made a baby. As crowded as the compact crossover segment is getting, there are a lot of forgettable entries. Hyundai made sure you won’t forget theirs. Click here to read more about the 2018 Hyundai Kona Competitors: Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross, Toyota C-HR, Chevrolet Trax, Ford Ecosport, used Pontiac Azteks 2018 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross The Details: A compact crossover with more of an emphasis on sport than most of its peers. A 1.5 liter turbo direct-injected 4-cylinder offers a compelling 152 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque at 2,000 rpm. Super All-Wheel Control, Mitsubishi’s selectable all-wheel drive system offers a bit more control over exactly what the wheels are up to. The transmission is a CVT. All trims except the base model get Android Auto and Apple Car Play. Why it matters: I knew the Mitsubishi Eclipse. The Mitsubishi Eclipse was a friend of mine. You sir, are no Mitsubishi Eclipse. That said, Mitsubishi is clinging on for dear life in the US market at the moment, and sports hatchbacks are not where the money is at right now. Name issues aside, the Eclipse Cross was one of the bigger surprises for me at the 2017 LA Auto Show. It looks great in person, the interior is up-market for the segment, the powertrain sounds promising, and pricing is set to start at $23,295. Mitsubishi could have a hit on their hands if they manage to get the word out. Click here to read more about the 2018 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross Competitors: Jeep Renegade, Mazda CX3, Honda HR-V, Chevrolet Trax, Ford Eco-Sport, Subaru CrossTrek 2019 Kia Sorento The Details: The 2.0T is gone. The 2.4 4-cylinder and 3.3 V6 continue on, but now paired with a new Kia designed 8-speed automatic. Light interior and exterior refresh that won’t be noticeable to most people. Diesel option is on the way. Why it Matters: The Sorento is Kia’s 4th best selling models clocking in almost 92k units for 2017 so far. This incremental refresh keeps it up to date and relevant in a competitive market. The Sorento is Kia’s largest crossover, but like the Subaru Ascent, it is on the small side of the 3-row crossover segment. It’s most compelling feature being price and warranty. Click here to read more about the 2019 Kia Sorento Competitors: Subaru Ascent, Hyundai Santa Fe, Mazda CX9, Toyota Highlander, Mitsubishi Outlander Previous Page Next Page
  12. Ever since Mazda launched the MX-5 Miata back in 1989, competitors have been trying their best to out-maneuver it.; whether that is through better design, handling, or more power. While all have come and gone, while the Miata is still kicking around. What do you do in this case? If you can't beat them, join 'em. That's the case with Fiat as a few years ago, they would take the place of Alfa Romeo of developing a new roadster using the Miata as a base. The end result is the 124 Spider. Fiat’s designers wanted to do a modern interpretation of the 124 Spider designed by the legendary Pininfarina design house. The problem was trying to get that design to work with the MX-5 Miata’s structure. To pull this off, designers would add five inches to the overall length of the 124 Spider. The front end features many of the design touches found on the original 124 Spider with teardrop headlights, trapezoidal grille, raised fenders, and twin-power bulges on the hood. Around back is where the design begins to fall apart. The overall shape and certain choices such as the overhanging trunk lid don't fully mesh with the front. It looks like Fiat had two design teams working on either end of the vehicle, but put a curtain between them so they couldn’t see what the other was doing. The Abarth version of the 124 Spider does get some special touches to help it stand out from the other trims. They include a darker grille opening, 17-inch alloy wheels finished in a dark gray, and a quad-tip exhaust system. The only item we would change is making the Abarth badges smaller. The large size really detracts from the iconic look Fiat is trying go for. Putting the soft top down in the 124 Spider is very easy. Simply unlatch the mechanism holding the top in place and fold it back into its little storage space. Raising the top is just as painless as you just need to pull a latch behind the seats and pull the top forward. It will only take a few tries before you’re able to put the top up and down in just a few seconds. Moving inside, the only real differences between the 124 Spider and MX-5 Miata are the Fiat badge on the steering wheel, different fonts used for the gauges, and soft-touch plastics on the top of the door panels. Otherwise, the 124 Spider features the same layout and quirks of its donor vehicle. Controls readily fall to hand for either driver or passenger. Abarth models come with a 7-inch touchscreen with the Mazda Connect infotainment as standard equipment. On the plus side, Mazda Connect is easy to grasp thanks to an intuitive interface and a simple control knob. Downsides include the lack of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto;, and the awkward placement of the control knob. It will get in the way whenever you are shifting gears with either transmission. Snug is the keyword when describing the experience of sitting inside the 124 Spider. I’m 5’ 8” and had to set the driver’s seat almost all the way back to not feel cramped. Once I was able to find the right seat and steering positions, it felt like I was a part of the vehicle and not sitting on top of it. The passenger will complain about the lack of legroom as the transmission tunnel protrudes into the footwell. The seats themselves provide excellent support and will hold you in during an enthusiastic drive. The motivation for the 124 Spider is provided by Fiat’s turbocharged 1.4L MultiAir four-cylinder. The Abarth produces 164 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. The base Classica and up-level Lusso see a small decrease in horsepower to 160. The difference comes down to the Abarth featuring a different exhaust system. Our tester featured the optional six-speed automatic with steering wheel paddles. A six-speed manual comes standard. Although the 124 Spider has higher power figures than the Miata, it isn’t that much faster. Reviewers who have run 0-60 tests say the Miata does it under six seconds, while the 124 Spider takes over six seconds. There are two reasons for this: First, the Miata is lighter than the 124 Spider by an average of about 120 pounds. Second is the engine has a bad case of turbo lag. The turbo doesn’t fully spool up until about 2,000 to 2,500 rpm, leaving you wondering where all of this power is when leaving a stop. Once it’s going, power is delivered in a smooth and somewhat linear fashion. The automatic transmission is another weak point of this powertrain. It loves to upshift early and leaves you without any turbo boost. This can be rectified by using the paddles on the steering wheel or throwing the automatic into the manual shift mode. The manual transmission is the better choice as it allows more flexibility with the engine. EPA fuel economy figures for the 124 Spider stand at 25 City/36 Highway/29 Combined. Our average for the week landed around 28 MPG. If there is one place that the 124 Spider Abarth can give the MX-5 Miata a run for its money, it is in the handling. The Abarth feels more athletic and confident when entering a corner with little body roll and fast transitions thanks to a sport-tuned suspension. Steering is the same as Miata with excellent road feel and quick turning. The downside to the athletic handling is a very stiff ride. Road imperfections are directly transmitted to those sitting inside. There is also an abundance of wind and road noise coming inside the 124 Spider. In some ways, the 124 Spider is better than the MX-5 Miata. The Abarth provides crisper handling and the interior is slightly nicer than what you’ll find in the Miata. But in other areas, the Miata is the better vehicle. The turbo lag from the turbocharged 1.4L saps a bit of the fun out of the vehicle and the design is somewhat unflattering. We can understand why someone would pick the 124 Spider Abarth over the Miata as it is something different. But is it the better Miata? The answer is no. Disclaimer: Fiat Provided the 124 Spider, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas Year: 2017 Make: Fiat Model: 124 Spider Trim: Abarth Engine: Turbocharged 1.4L MultiAir Inline-Four Driveline: Six-Speed Automatic, Rear-Wheel Drive Horsepower @ RPM: 164 @ 5,500 Torque @ RPM: 184 @ 3,200 Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 25/36/29 Curb Weight: 2,516 lbs Location of Manufacture: Hiroshima, Japan Base Price: $28,195 As Tested Price: $30,540 (Includes $995.00 Destination Charge) Options: 6-Speed AISIN Automatic RWD Transmission - $1,350.00
  13. Most wagon options in the U.S. fall under the slightly-lifted off-road category. The reason is quite simple as buyers like the looks and capability on offer when compared to standard wagons. Case in point is the latest member of the Golf family, the Alltrack. Volkswagen recently revealed that 75 percent of Golf SportWagens sold in the U.S. are Alltracks. We happen to be big fans of the Golf SportWagen as it builds upon many of strong points of the regular Golf by making it more practical. Can the Golf Alltrack do the same? The small changes made to the Golf Alltrack’s exterior help make it stand out somewhat. It begins with the slight 0.6-inch increase in ride height and a larger tire and wheel combination. Our SEL tester feature 18-inch wheels, while the S and SE make do with 17-inch wheels. Other exterior changes include new bumpers and lower body cladding. Volkswagen didn’t make any changes to the Alltrack’s interior which is a good thing. It retains the clean if a somewhat boring design that makes it easy to find the various controls. Build and material quality is very solid. SEL models get a 6.5-inch touchscreen with Volkswagen’s Car-Net infotainment system and navigation. We like how fast the system is with switching between various functions, physical shortcut buttons, and integration with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Car-Net loses some points for low-resolution graphics and the navigation system looking very dated. The seats are quite comfortable with excellent support and good bolstering to keep you planted when traversing down a winding road. Head and legroom are excellent in both rows of seats. A turbocharged 1.8L four-cylinder with 170 horsepower and 199 pound-feet of torque provides the motivation for the Golf Alltrack. This is paired with a six-speed DSG transmission (a six-speed manual is available on the S and SE) and Volkswagen’s 4Motion all-wheel drive system. Despite being about 300 pounds heavier than the SportWagen, the Alltrack doesn’t break a sweat. It feels just as fast as the SportWagen we drove last year with strong acceleration throughout the rpm band. The DSG still exhibits some sluggishness when leaving a stop, but improves when you’re up to speed with rapid and smooth shifts. Fuel economy is disappointing with EPA figures of 22 City/30 Highway/25 Combined. We saw an average of 25 MPG with a mix of 70 percent city and 30 percent highway driving. Ride and handling characteristics is much like the standard Golf and SportWagen. No matter the road surface, the Alltrack’s suspension was able to provide a comfortable ride. Around corners, the Alltrack does show a little bit of body roll. However, it feels as agile as the standard SportWagen and the steering is quick to respond to inputs. The Golf Alltrack begins at $25,850 for the base S with manual transmission. Our loaded SEL tester totaled $35,705 with the Driver Assistance and Light package. That’s a lot of money for a compact off-road wagon, especially considering you can get into a larger Subaru Outback 2.5i Limited with the excellent EyeSight active safety system for around the same money. If we were buying a Golf Alltrack, we would drop down to the S with the DSG and order the Driver Assistance package, bring the total price to just over $28,500. The Alltrack is a worthy addition to the Golf family as it provides something a bit more capable while retaining many of the plus points of the standard Golf. We do wish the DSG was smoother during low-speed driving and fuel economy was slightly better. Disclaimer: Volkswagen Provided the Golf Alltrack, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas Year: 2017 Make: Volkswagen Model: Golf Alltrack Trim: SEL Engine: Turbocharged 1.8L TSI DOHC Four-Cylinder Driveline: Six-Speed DSG, All-Wheel Drive Horsepower @ RPM: 170 @ 4,500 Torque @ RPM: 199 @ 1,600 Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 22/30/25 Curb Weight: 3,351 lbs Location of Manufacture: N/A Base Price: $32,890 As Tested Price: $35,705 (Includes $820.00 Destination Charge) Options: SEL Driver Assistance & Lighting Package - $1,995.00
  14. There are some vehicles that leave you scratching your head, wondering why is anyone buying them. A perfect example is the previous-generation Jeep Compass. The model had a long list of negatives ranging from a very cheap interior to powertrains that could be beaten by a snail. But a number of folks bought the Compass and its sister car, the Patriot, in droves. It offered the looks and the image of owning a Jeep vehicle without the downsides of owning something that provided a rough ride or was too expensive. Almost a decade later, we have the new Compass which hopes to right the wrongs of the previous model. We spent a week in the Limited trim to see if Jeep was able to. First impressions seem promising when it comes to the exterior. There is a lot of Grand Cherokee in the Compass’ shape with similar profiles, angled front end, and rear tailgate. Our Limited tester came with 18-inch aluminum wheels and two-tone paint that helps make the model pop. Compared to the last Compass, the new model is slightly shorter (173.2 vs. 175.1-inches). A big complaint about the Compass/Patriot was their interiors. It was easy to tell they were built to the lowest cost possible with cheap plastics, a short list of standard features, and odd design decisions. The new Compass thankfully fixes many of those mistakes. Step inside and it becomes quite clear that Jeep focused on making the Compass a special place to be in. Again, there is a lot of Grand Cherokee influence with a similar dash design and the extensive use of soft-touch materials. We like the contrasting trim pieces around the vents that help make the interior not feel as dark. One thing we’re not so keen on is the low placement of HVAC and audio controls in the center stack. It is a bit of reach to adjust the temperature or change the volume. In terms of seating, you feel that you’re sitting on top of the Compass, not inside it. This is due to Jeep raising the seats to provide the high-riding experience of an SUV. The front seats provide decent support for long trips and optional power adjustments make it easier to find the right position. In the back, there is plenty of legroom for those over 6-feet. Headroom is tight for taller passengers if you get the optional panoramic sunroof. Cargo space measures out to 27 cubic feet with the rear seats up and 61 cubic feet folded. Our test Compass came with the 8.4-inch UConnect system. Recently updated for the 2018 model year, the system features an updated interface and integration with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Unlike other FCA vehicles equipped with UConnect, the system in the Compass was problematic. For starters, the system had trouble trying to pair an iPhone 7 Plus via Bluetooth. The system would try to connect to the phone for about 30 seconds and then give up. On the third attempt, UConnect froze and I had to shut off the vehicle and walk away for a minute before the system turned off. After doing some troubleshooting, I realized that I had too many UConnect pairings on my phone and deleted them all. After this, the system was able to connect to connect to my phone with no issues. Yes, this is only a problem to those of us who review a number of new cars. But other problems with this system would pop up such as the system taking a few moments to bring up certain functions, being unable to find my iPod or iPhone when plugged in, and the system crashing when I was trying to bring up navigation. I believe these most of these issues are isolated to this vehicle, but it doesn’t leave a good impression with the new version of UConnect. There is only one engine available for the Compass, a 2.4L four-cylinder with 180 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque. Our Limited came equipped with a nine-speed automatic and all-wheel drive. Front-wheel drive models have the choice between a six-speed manual or automatic. This engine has been a weak point in many Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ vehicles we have driven and the Compass is no exception. Acceleration is very anemic as the engine takes its sweet time to get up to speed. The engine is also very noisy when accelerating but thankfully quiets down when cruising at a steady speed. The nine-speed automatic is well-behaved for the most part as it smoothly and quickly upshifts to help boost fuel economy. There is some hesitation when it comes to downshifting. Fuel economy is not a strong suit for the Compass. EPA ratings for the nine-speed and AWD combination stands at 22 City/30 Highway/25 Combined. Our average for the week landed at 23 MPG. The tall height may hint that the Compass is a bit of handful when cornering, but the model is surprisingly agile. There is some lean when cornering, but the Compass feels planted and controlled. The steering feels nicely weighted and responds quickly to inputs. In terms of the ride, the Compass’ suspension is able to smooth over most bumps with no issue. We sadly didn’t get the chance to try the Compass’ off-road capability. AWD models come with Jeep’s Selec-Terrain system that offers four different driving modes that alter various settings. Those who have taken the Compass off the beaten path say it is surprisingly capable. The second-generation Jeep Compass is worlds better than the original model. A lot of the changes made to this model have been for the better with a sharp-looking exterior, pleasant interior, and surprising driving dynamics. But there are two issues that hold the Compass back from reaching greatness. First is the 2.4 four-cylinder engine which feels sluggish and fuel economy is somewhat poor. FCA really needs to come up with a replacement for the 2.4 ASAP. Second is the price. The Compass Limited starts at $28,995 and our as-tested price came to $34,955. This makes a bit of a poor value, especially when the Hyundai Tucson Limited we reviewed a few weeks ago was only $300 more. Given the choice, we would pick the Hyundai. Despite the changes made by the Jeep, the Compass is relegated to mid-pack. If they can get a new engine and work on the value argument, then the Compass could be a real threat. Disclaimer: Jeep Provided the Compass, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas Year: 2017 Make: Jeep Model: Compass Trim: Limited 4X4 Engine: 2.4L MultiAir 16-Valve Four-Cylinder Driveline: Nine-Speed Automatic, All-Wheel Drive Horsepower @ RPM: 180 @ 6,400 Torque @ RPM: 175 @ 3,900 Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 22/30/25 Curb Weight: 3,327 lbs Location of Manufacture: Toluca, Mexico Base Price: $28,995 As Tested Price: $34,955 (Includes $1,095 Destination Charge) Options: 19" x 7.5" Polished Black Pocket Aluminum Wheels - $895.00 Advanced Safety & Lighting Group - $895.00 Navigation Group - $895.00 Safety and Security Group - $745.00 Beats Premium Audio System - $695.00 Power Liftgate - $495.00 Compact Spare Tire - $245.00
  15. I happen to be a big fan of the Kia Soul. Its daring looks, spacious interior, and overall value make it an interesting option in the compact class. It seems many others would agree as the Soul is one of Kia’s best selling models. To help keep it up there, Kia has introduced a new turbo engine for the top-line Exclaim (!) model along with minor changes for 2017. Let's see how these changes affect the Soul. Aside from the turbo engine, Kia made some design tweaks to the Exclaim to have it stand out from other Soul trims. This includes a new front bumper, red accents, 18-inch alloy wheels, a twin-tip exhaust, and exclusive colors like this copper color seen here. The little changes really make the Soul stand out even further than before. Moving on to the turbo engine, it is a 1.6L four-cylinder packing 201 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. This is only paired with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. If you really want a manual with your turbo-four, Kia will gladly sell you a Forte5 SX which features the same engine. There is a brief moment of turbo lag when you step on the accelerator, but the engine comes into its own after this with power building smoothly. There are no issues with getting up to speed when merging or making a pass. The dual-clutch transmission is a bit of a mixed bag. In stop-and-go traffic, the transmission exhibits some jerkiness and lazy shifts. We also noticed the transmission was slow to respond in terms of downshifting, making us think the programming for this transmission was focused on fuel economy. At higher speeds, the transmission is better with rapid and smooth shifts. The turbo engine has the highest fuel economy fuel economy figures in the Soul lineup with an EPA rating of 26 City/31 Highway/28 Combined. We saw an average of 25.3 mpg during our week in mostly city driving, which is slightly disappointing. With the turbo engine and racy looks, you might think that this particular Soul is fun to drive. Sorry to burst your bubble, but that is not the case. Out on a winding road, the Soul is competent with minimal body roll and okay steering. This would be ok if it weren’t for the sporty image that is being portrayed by the exterior. We do wish that Kia had made some changes to the suspension to make it slightly sportier. The upside to not messing with the Soul’s suspension is it mostly retains the smooth and comfortable ride of other models. Mostly is the keyword as the 18-inch wheels do introduce some harshness to the Soul’s ride. There is a fair amount of wind and road noise, most of this due to the Soul’s boxy shape. The Soul’s interior is still as sharp looking as it first was when the current model was launched in 2013. Little touches such as the uniquely styled air vents and orange accent stitching give the Soul a bit of whimsy. The extensive use of soft-touch materials gives off an aura of quality. Driver and passenger get power seats which make finding a comfortable position very easy. Those sitting in the back will appreciate the large amount of head and legroom, due to the Soul’s boxy shape. Our test Soul came with optional Technology Package that includes an 8-inch touchscreen with Kia’s UVO infotainment system and navigation. It is beginning to show its age in terms of the graphics, but it is still one of the most intuitive systems on sale today. A simple layout and redundant physical buttons make it breeze to use. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration is an added bonus. The Exclaim begins at $22,650 and comes well equipped. Standard features include automatic climate control, 7-inch touchscreen with UVO, Bluetooth, leather and cloth wrapped seats, push-button start with proximity key, and automatic headlights. Opt for the technology to get the 8-inch system, blind spot monitoring with rear-cross traffic alert, heated seats and steering wheel, and power folding mirrors. For only $26,995, you get a nicely equipped vehicle. Our test vehicle is slightly more expensive at $27,620 due to an optional panoramic sunroof which we would skip. Disclaimer: Kia Provided the Soul, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas Year: 2017 Make: Kia Model: Soul Trim: ! (Exclaim) Engine: Turbocharged 1.6L GDI Four-Cylinder Driveline: Front-Wheel Drive, Seven-Speed Dual-Clutch Automatic Horsepower @ RPM: 201 @ 6,000 Torque @ RPM: 195 @ 1,500 - 4,500 Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 26/31/28 Curb Weight: 3,232 lbs Location of Manufacture: Gwangju, South Korea Base Price: $22,650 As Tested Price: $27,620 (Includes $850.00 Destination Charge) Options: Technology Package - $3,000.00 Panoramic Sunroof - $1,000.00 Carpeted Floor Mars - $120.00
  16. The Toyota Highlander may not be the flashiest or fun to drive. But it has many qualities to make it one of Toyota’s best selling models such as functional and spacious interior, long list of standard equipment, and high-reliability marks. Last year, Toyota unveiled an updated Highlander with tweaks to the exterior, revised V6, and more safety. Considering it has been a few years since we last checked out the Highlander, it seemed a revisit was in order. The 2017 Highlander boasts new front and rear fascias to give it a more SUV-appearance and we think Toyota has mostly succeeded in this regard. The only issue is the front end reminding us too much of a Cylon from the original Battlestar Galactica TV. Thank the new grille design for this. Move inside and the Highlander is the same as we last saw it back in 2014 when we did our original review. This is both good and bad. The good is that the controls for the various functions are easy to use. The center console features a huge storage bin that you can easily fit a large purse or a laptop computer. A shelf underneath climate controls provides a nice space to throw small items such as a smartphone. The bad is that the controls for certain functions are not in easy reach for the drive. We also not fans of the capacitive touch buttons around the 8-inch touchscreen as they didn’t always respond. There were times we found ourselves hitting the buttons two to three times to get something to happen. The infotainment system itself is beginning to look somewhat dated with an interface that looks like it comes from the Windows XP era and the screen is somewhat dim. But we cannot argue that the system is easy to use thanks to a simple layout. Passengers sitting in the front and second-row seats will appreciate the large amount of head and legroom on offer. Also, the seats themselves are padded quite nicely. We do wish the second-row was mounted slightly higher for better long-distance comfort. The third-row seat as the seats aren’t that comfortable due to the thin amount of padding. Legroom is also quite tight with only 27.7-inches of space, meaning this is a space best reserved for small kids. Most Highlanders like our XLE AWD tester will feature Toyota’s latest 3.5L V6 that comes with direct and port fuel-injection and an upgraded valve train. The end result is 295 horsepower and 263 pound-feet of torque - up 25 and 15 respectively. This is paired with a new eight-speed automatic. Other engines include a four-cylinder for the base LE and a hybrid powertrain. Toyota’s V6 engine is one our favorites as it provides impressive acceleration and a steady stream of power up to redline. This updated engine is no exception as it feels slightly quicker than the last Highlander we drove. The powertrain stumbles somewhat due to the eight-speed automatic’s programming. Toyota went for something that focuses on fuel economy which means the transmission is quick to upshift, but slow to downshift. This means you’ll be waiting for a moment or two for the transmission to get its act together when trying to merge onto a freeway. You might be fooled into thinking that you’re riding in a Lexus considering the smooth ride of the Highlander. Bumps are turned into minor ripples. Little road and wind noise that come inside. The Highlander is a vehicle you want to keep in its comfort zone when it comes to handling. Push it in a corner and you’ll experience excessive body roll. One thing Toyota deserves credit for the 2018 Highlander is having a number of active features standard across the entire Highlander lineup. This includes adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams, pre-collision warning with pedestrian detection and automatic braking; and lane departure warning with lane keep assist. The only item we would like to see added to this list is blind spot monitoring. You can only get it on XLE models and above. Disclaimer: Toyota Provided the Highlander, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas Year: 2017 Make: Toyota Model: Highlander Trim: XLE AWD Engine: 3.5L DOHC D-4S with Dual VVT-i V6 Driveline: Eight-Speed Automatic, Horsepower @ RPM: 295 @ 6,600 Torque @ RPM: 263 @ 4,700 Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 20/26/22 Curb Weight: 4,430 lbs Location of Manufacture: Princeton, Indiana Base Price: $39,980 As Tested Price: $43,184 (Includes $960.00 Destination Charge) Options: Rear Seat BluRay Entertainment System - $1,810.00 Carpet Floor Mats & Cargo Mat - $225.00 Body Side Molding - $209.00
  17. We had high hopes for the Hyundai Tucson when we did a first drive back in August 2015. But when we did our full review last April, we ended it by saying the model wasn’t “the slam dunk we thought it was.” This was due to some key issues such as a small cargo area, a tough value argument and a dual-clutch transmission having some hesitating issues. A year later, we find ourselves revisiting the Tucson. There has been a software update to the transmission, along with some minor changes to the infotainment system and interior. A quick refresher on the Tucson’s powertrain lineup: A 2.0L four-cylinder producing 164 horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque is used on the base SE and SE Plus. The rest of the Tucson lineup features a turbocharged 1.6L four-cylinder with 175 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed automatic comes standard on the 2.0L, while the turbo 1.6 gets a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. The engine does show some turbo lag when leaving a stop, but it will soon pick up steam and move the Tucson at a pretty decent rate. The engine doesn’t feel overtaxed when you need to make a pass. The seven-speed dual-clutch transmission still has issues. While Hyundai has reduced some of the hesitation issues we experienced in the last Tucson via a software update, there is still a fair amount of this when leaving from a dead stop. We also noticed some rough upshifts during our week. At least the ride and handling characteristics have not changed since our last test. The Tucson still provides one of the smoothest rides in the class, even with the Limited’s 19-inch wheels. It doesn’t flinch when going around a corner as body motions are kept in check. A Mazda CX-5 would be more fun to drive as it is quicker when transitioning from one corner to another and the steering has the right amount of weight and feel. Road and wind noise are kept to very acceptable levels. The interior remains mostly unchanged except for a couple of minor things. The 8-inch touchscreen system now features Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility. We’re impressed with how fast the system was able to find the iPhone and bring up the CarPlay interface. The other change deals with more soft-touch materials being added to various parts of the interior. There is still a fair amount of hard plastics, even on the high-end Limited model which is very disappointing. There is still a lot to like about the Tucson’s interior. Space is plentiful for those sitting in the front or rear seats, even with the optional panoramic sunroof. The list of standard equipment is quite extensive as well. Limited models get automatic headlights, power and heated front seats, an 8-speaker Infinity sound system, dual-zone automatic climate control, proximity key with push-button start, and blind-spot monitoring. Cargo space still trails competitors with only 31 cubic feet with the rear seats up and 61.9 cubic feet when folded. The CR-V offers 35.2 and 70.9 cubic feet respectively. The Limited seen here came with a $35,210 as-tested price, which is about average for a fully-loaded crossover in this class. But the Tucson becomes a bit of a tough sell when dropping to the lower trims as you cannot get certain features. As we noted in our full review last year, “if you want navigation or dual-zone climate control on the Sport, you’re out of luck.” Despite some of the changes made for 2017, our verdict is much the same as the 2016 Tucson. There is a lot to like about the Tucson, but there are still some issues the company needs to address - smoothing out the dual-clutch and trying to make the model a better value. Disclaimer: Hyundai Provided the Tucson, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas Year: 2017 Make: Hyundai Model: Tucson Trim: Limited AWD Engine: Turbocharged 1.6L GDI Four-Cylinder Driveline: Seven-Speed Dual-Clutch Automatic, All-Wheel Drive Horsepower @ RPM: 175 @ 5,500 Torque @ RPM: 195 @ 1,500-4,500 Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 24/28/25 Curb Weight: 3,686 lbs Location of Manufacture: Ulsan, South Korea Base Price: $31,175 As Tested Price: $35,201 (Includes $895.00 Destination Charge) Options: Ultimate Package - $2,750.00 Cargo Cover - $190.00 Reversible Cargo Tray - $100.00 Rear Bumper Applique - $70.00 First Aid Kit - $30.00
  18. After nearly a year-long hiatus, 2017 Ram 1500s with the EcoDiesel option are beginning to show up on dealer lots. According to Automotive News, some dealers started seeing EcoDiesel models arriving towards the end of last month. Other dealers are still waiting for the EcoDiesel models to show up. Back in January, the EPA accused Fiat Chrysler Automobiles of violating emission regulations by failing to disclose eight different software programs used in the EcoDiesel. The agency alleged the software allowed Ram 1500s and Jeep Grand Cherokee EcoDiesels to produce excess pollution. Then in May, the Justice Department filed a civil suit against FCA over the software. FCA has been working with the EPA and California Air Resources Board to try and settle this dispute. The company sent new emissions control software that would be used in the 2017 models to the EPA in May. If approved, FCA would install this software on 2014 to 2016 models. In late July, the EPA gave FCA the ok to begin selling Ram 1500s and Grand Cherokee EcoDiesels with the new software. It should be noted that FCA began building Ram 1500s with the EcoDiesel back in early July in anticipation of getting the ok. Though it is unclear why FCA waited over two months before shipping them out to dealers. But this good news may be short lived. A spokeswoman for the EPA told Automotive News that the 2018 models have yet to be certified. Source: Automotive News (Subscription Required)
  19. Chrysler isn’t the first, let alone the tenth automaker you would think of building a hybrid vehicle. Yet, they stunned the world last year as they introduced a plug-in hybrid version of the new Pacifica minivan. It currently holds the title of being the only full-size hybrid minivan sold in the world. On paper, the Pacifica Hybrid makes a good case for itself. Being able to travel up to 33 miles on electric power alone and returning a combined fuel economy figure of 83 MPGe. But how does it fare in the real world? The Pacifica Hybrid’s powertrain is comprised of a modified version of the 3.6L V6 that runs on the Atkinson cycle for improved efficiency; two electric motors and a 16-kW lithium-ion battery pack. Total output stands at 260 horsepower. Even though the Pacifica Hybrid is about 600 pounds more than the standard model, it doesn’t feel like it. The instant torque from the electric motors moves the van at a very brisk rate when leaving a stop. The gas engine will kick on when the battery is depleted or when more power is needed such as merging onto a highway. The transition between electric and hybrid power is barely noticeable. When the gas engine is on, it has more than enough power to get you moving on your way. An odd omission from the Pacifica Hybrid is being able to switch between electric and hybrid modes like you can do in other PHEVs. The van will automatically do it. This is a bit disappointing as some drivers would like to conserve battery when driving on a highway for example. The key numbers to be aware of are 33 miles and 84 MPGe on electric power, and 32 MPG when running on hybrid power. During my week, I was able to go about 34 miles on electric power alone and saw an average of 32 MPG for the week. Considering how big and heavy this van is, these numbers are quite impressive. Recharging times for the Pacifica Hybrid are 2 hours when plugged into a 240V outlet, or 16 hours for a 120V outlet. FCA is right on the money for the 120V time as it took around 16 hours for the van to be fully recharged. There isn’t any difference between how the Pacifica Hybrid rides and handles to the standard Pacifica. Both exhibit a smooth ride, no matter the road surface. Going around a corner is not a big deal as body roll is kept very much in check. There are only a few things that separate the Pacifica Hybrid from the standard model. Aside from the charging door, the hybrid gets a different grille and wheel design. While the Pacifica Hybrid is designed to carry families, you would think differently after sitting inside. Our Platinum tester was kitted out with leather on the seats, contrasting stitching, and an abundance of soft-touch materials. This interior gives certain luxury cars a run for their money. No matter where you’re sitting in the Pacifica Hybrid, there is plenty of head and legroom on offer. Comfort is also a major plus point as all of the seats provide excellent support for long trips. One downside to the hybrid powertrain is the loss of the Stow n’ Go seats for the second row. That space is taken up by the large battery pack. At least you can remove the second-row seats, but be prepared to have another person help you as they are heavy. At least the third-row seats do fold into the floor. There isn’t anything different with the 8.4-inch UConnect system aside from the usual screens you would expect on hybrid such as a power diagram. This system is very simple to operate, but the lack of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto leaves us slightly disappointed. Thankfully, this will be addressed with the 2018 model year as both become standard across the Pacifica lineup. We also had the chance to try out UConnect Access. This smartphone application allows you to check on how much charge is left on the battery, set up a charging schedule, trip information, remote lock and start, and vehicle location. While it is nice to have a key information within easy reach, it takes a long time for the application to pull it. We found on average that it took a good minute or two before updated information would arrive. For all of this tech, it comes at a price. The base Pacifica Hybrid Premium rings up at $41,995. Our Platinum tester came to $47,885 with an optional panoramic sunroof. That’s a lot of cash for a minivan, even one with a hybrid powertrain. But with the Platinum, you’re getting everything - navigation, rear-seat entertainment system, heated and ventilated front seats, and a ton of safety equipment. There is also the $7,500 federal tax credit and other incentives from various states that might sway some folks. But those only come into play when it comes time to do taxes. Disclaimer: Chrysler Provided the Pacifica Hybrid, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas Year: 2017 Make: Chrysler Model: Pacifica Hybrid Trim: Platinum Engine: 3.6L V6 eHybrid System Driveline: eFlite EVT, Front-Wheel Drive Horsepower @ RPM: 260 @ N/A (Combined) Torque @ RPM: N/A Fuel Economy: Gas + Electric Combined, Gas Combined - 84 MPGe, 32 MPG Curb Weight: 4,987 lbs Location of Manufacture: Windsor, Ontario Base Price: $44,995 As Tested Price: $47,885 (Includes $1,095.00 Destination Charge) Options: Tri-Pane Panaromic Sunroof - $1,795
  20. Lexus might not be the first choice when it comes to a compact luxury coupe. But when I drove the RC 350 F-Sport back in 2015, we found it to be a very capable coupe. Aside from the creamsicle paint color, the RC impressed me with distinctive styling, punchy V6, and sharp handling. Two years later, I find myself revisiting the RC - this time with the base 2.0L turbo-four engine. As I would find out during our week, there is a lot to like about the standard RC. But there is one glaring issue that would make me look at a competitor. The standard RC’s design somehow balances a handsome shape with extroverted details. The front features the widest version of the spindle grille, slits in the front bumper, and LED lighting under the headlights. Bulging fenders and rounded roofline make the RC stand out from the crowd. There are only two things I would change about this RC. First is the color. The silver paint on our tester makes the RC a bit dull to look at. Something more vibrant such as a red would really help out. We would also swap the 5-spoke, 18-inch wheels for the wheels found on the F-Sport package. The interior hasn’t changed since we last drove the RC and that’s both a good and bad thing. The good is that the RC still has the IS’ dash design which makes the vehicle’s sporting intentions clear. It is easy to find a comfortable position in the front seats thanks to the power adjustments on offer. The bad? It begins with the infotainment system. A 7-inch screen is nestled far back in the dash, making it hard to read at a quick glance. I wished Lexus had upgraded the screen to the 10.2-inch version found in the refreshed IS. The optional Remote Touch system is a bit frustrating to use as you have be very precise when making your selection. One slip of the finger and you’ll end up with a different selection. Don’t expect to carry passengers in the RC’s backseat as leg room is non-existent. It's better to use it as a place for cargo. What is that glaring issue I mentioned at the beginning? That would be the turbo 2.0L. It produces 241 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. Power delivery can best be described as the engine delivers enough oomph to move the vehicle from a stop, before falling off a cliff. There isn’t that rush of power throughout the rpm band that you would have in another model such as the Cadillac ATS 2.0T. On the upside, the 2.0L turbo in the RC didn’t have the horrendous turbo lag that I experienced in the IS 200t last year. The eight-speed automatic that comes standard on rear-drive models delivers smooth gear changes. I did find myself wishing the gear changes were somewhat quicker when the RC is put into the Sport mode via the drive selector. The standard RC fits the definition of a ‘Gran Tourer’. It may not handle as well as the RC 350 F-Sport in the bends - there is little bit more body roll and the steering isn’t as direct. But most people who drive it will be ok with that as it is ‘just right’. On rough roads, the RC 200t excels as bumps are smoothed over. Wind noise is mostly nonexistent, while there is a fair amount of road noise coming inside. The 2017 RC 200t begins at $40,155. With a modest amount of options such as navigation, blind spot monitoring, and adaptive cruise control, the as-tested price came to $45,234. The RC 200t is mostly show and not much go. For some folks, that’s all they want. A coupe that stands out in and tells the world to look at me. For others, save up a bit more money and go for the 350. The added performance of the V6 gives the coupe the go it deserves. Disclaimer: Lexus Provided the RC 200t, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas Year: 2017 Make: Lexus Model: RC Trim: 200t Engine: Turbo 2.0L DOHC 16-valve with Dual VVT-i Driveline: Eight-Speed Automatic, Rear-Wheel Drive Horsepower @ RPM: 241 @ 5,800 Torque @ RPM: 258 @ 1,650-4,400 Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 22/32/26 Curb Weight: 3,737 lbs Location of Manufacture: Tahara, Aichi, Japan Base Price: $40,155 As Tested Price: $45,234 (Includes $975.00 Destination Charge) Options: Navigation System - $1,470.00 Premium Package - $1,240.00 Dynamic Radar Cruise Control w/Pre-Collison - $500.00 Illuminated Door Sills - $449.00 Windshield Deicer and Headlamp Cleaner - $220.00 Door Edge Guards - $115.00 All-Weather Floormats - $110.00
  21. I’m one of the few people who actually like the current Toyota Prius - I named it one of my favorite vehicles last year. It offers excellent fuel economy and noticeable improvements to the interior and handling. So what happens when you add a plug to it? You end up with the Prius Prime which is much better than the last-generation Prius Plug-In and makes for an interesting alternative to Chevrolet Volt if you happen to be on a budget. The regular Prius was already a model that you either loved or hated the design. The Prime only exacerbates this as it comes with new front and rear styling to set it apart. The front end gets a new black treatment for the middle that makes it look like it is wearing a mask to hide its identity. A set of quad-LED headlights come from the Mirai and makes the Prime look futuristic. The back features a new tailgate design with what Toyota calls a “dual wave.” It may look ridiculous when put next to the standard Prius, but I dig it. One more thing about the rear tailgate; it happens to made out of carbon fiber to help reduce some weight out of the Prime. The weight loss is not really that impressive as the tailgate only drops 8 pounds from the curb weight. Move inside and the Prime is mostly similar to the Prius I drove last year with an abundance of soft-touch materials, color screens for the instrument cluster, and comfortable front seats. The key differences? You’ll only find seating for two in the back and cargo space is slightly smaller (19.8 vs. 24.6 cubic feet) due to the larger battery taking up some of the precious cargo space. One key item Toyota is proud of in the Prius Prime is an 11.6-inch, vertical touchscreen that controls many of the vehicle’s function such as navigation, audio, and climate control. But you may notice our test Prime doesn’t have it. That’s because the larger screen is only available on the Premium and Advanced models. The base Plus sticks with the 7-inch touchscreen with Entune. From reviews I have been reading about the Prime with the larger screen, it is a mess. The user interface is a bit of mess, performance is meh, and the screen washes out when sunlight hits it. The 7-inch system doesn’t have all of these issues - aside from the sunlight one. Entune may look a little bit dated, but the interface is easy to wrap your head around and performance is pretty snappy. The Prime’s powertrain is the same as the standard Prius; 1.8L Atkinson-Cycle four-cylinder engine and two electric motors/generators producing a total output of 121 horsepower and 105 pound-feet of torque. Where it differs is the battery. The Prime comes with a 95-cell, 8.8-kWh Lithium-ion battery pack. This allows for 25 miles of electric motoring - 14 miles more than the last-generation Prius Plug-In. In electric mode, the Prius Prime feels confident when leaving a stop as the electric motors provide that immediate thrust of power. This is a vehicle that will make other drivers question their thoughts about the Prius. When the Prime is put into the hybrid mode, it feels and goes like a slower Prius. A lot of this is due to extra weight brought on the larger battery - about 300 pounds. You will notice the vehicle taking a few ticks longer to get up speed, especially on hills or merging on to a freeway. How much range was I able to squeeze out of the Prime? I was able to travel between 24 to 27 miles on EV power. Average fuel economy landed around 75 mpg with mostly city driving. When I first got the Prius Prime, I had to plug it in to get the battery charged up. On a 120V outlet, it took 5 hours and 30 minutes to recharged - exactly the time listed by Toyota. If you have a 240V charger, a full recharge only takes 2 hours and 10 minutes on 240V When the battery is halfway depleted, it took about 2 hours and 30 minutes to fully recharge. The Prius was quite a shock when I drove it last year as it drove surprisingly well. It provided decent handling and the steering felt somewhat natural. The same is true for the Prime. You would think after four-generations of the Prius, Toyota would have finally figured out how to make the regenerative brakes feel like brakes in a standard car. But this isn’t the case. Like in the Prius I drove last year, the Prime exhibited brakes that felt numb and having to push further on the pedal to bring the vehicle to a stop. The Toyota Prius Prime is a huge improvement over the old the Prius Plug-In Hybrid as it offers a better EV range, short recharging time, and a much nicer interior. The exterior will put some people off and Toyota still needs to work on improving the Prius’ brakes. We have to address the elephant in the room, the Chevrolet Volt. The Volt does offer a longer range (53 miles), much better brakes, and a sharper exterior. The Prius Prime fights back with a larger interior, shorter recharging times, and low price. If I had the money, I would be picking up a Volt Premier as I think it is the slightly better vehicle. But if I only had $30,000 to spend and wanted something fuel efficient, the Prius Prime would be at the top of the list. Disclaimer: Toyota Provided the Prius Prime, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas Year: 2017 Make: Toyota Model: Prius Prime Trim: Plus Engine: 1.8L DOHC, VVT-i Atkinson Cycle Four-Cylinder, Two Electric Motors Driveline: Front-Wheel Drive, ECVT Horsepower @ RPM: 95 @ 5,200 (Gas), 71 @ 0 (Electric), 121 (Combined) Torque @ RPM: 105 @ 5,200 (Gas), 120 @ 0 (Electric) Fuel Economy: Electric + Gas, Hybrid City/Highway/Combined - 133 MPGe, 55/53/54 Curb Weight: 3,365 lbs Location of Manufacture: Aichi, Japan Base Price: $27,100 As Tested Price: $28,380 (Includes $885.00 Destination Charge) Options: Special Color (Hypersonic Red) - $595.00
  22. Sometimes, you find yourself scratching your head as you struggle to think if any more can be said about a vehicle. The two vehicles seen here, the 2017 Dodge Durango and Jeep Grand Cherokee have been reviewed by me numerous times - Durango has two, while the Grand Cherokee stands at three. Not much has changed on either vehicle since I last reviewed them. This puts me in a bit of quandary: What do I talk about? The answer was to delve into the trims themselves and figure out if they are worth the cash. The Grand Cherokee seen here is the top-line Summit. Jeep updated this trim last year with new front end treatment consisting of a new grille and LED fog lights. The exterior changes for the Summit do sharpen up the Grand Cherokee, a design which should be noted that has been around since 2011. One design touch we really like are the set optional 20-inch aluminum wheels as they dress up the Grand Cherokee quite nicely. The larger wheels don’t affect ride quality as the Grand Cherokee’s suspension turns bumps into light ripples. Road and wind noise are kept to very acceptable levels. The interior now has the option of the “Signature Leather-Wrapped Interior Package” that brings a leather covering for the dash and center console, and premium leather upholstery for the seats and door panels. My test vehicle came with this package and I am not sure its worth the $4,995. The key reason comes down to the leather used for the seats. I can’t tell the difference between the leather upholstery used for this package and the one used on lesser trims. Aside from this, the Summit retains many of the plus points found on other Grand Cherokees such as a roomy interior, simple infotainment system, and excellent build quality. The Summit begins at $50,495 for two-wheel drive and $53,495 for four-wheel drive. Our test vehicle came to an as-tested price of $60,675 with the leather package, skid plates, and 20-inch wheels. The upside to the Summit is you get most everything as standard such as navigation, premium audio system, sunroof, heated and ventilated front seats, and a power liftgate. Personally, I would skip all of the options as fitted to our test vehicle and get a base Summit. Now on to the Durango. This one is the GT which can be best described as the R/T minus the V8. This means you get similar exterior tweaks such as a body color grille surround, black mesh inserts, LED daytime running lights, and 20-inch wheels finished in black. Our model came with the Brass Monkey appearance package which adds brushed bronze wheels and blacked-out badges. This makes for a mean looking crossover that doesn’t break the bank - the Brass Monkey package will only set you back $595. The GT is also quite confident in the bends with minimal body roll and nicely weighted steering. Downsides? The Durango is starting to show its age inside. Various materials and the plain design put the Durango towards the back of the pack of the current crossover crop. Also, the value equation for the Durango can go downward with the number of options you add. The test Durango seen here comes with an as-tested of $49,660 with most the option boxes ticked. Not an absurd amount for a three-row crossover, but the Durango is missing out on features that many models feature such as adaptive cruise control, automatic braking, and compatibility for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. You may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned the powertrain. That’s because both models feature the same 3.6L Pentastar V6 producing 295 horsepower and paired with an eight-speed automatic. I have written a lot about this powertrain on both models before and my opinion hasn’t changed. The engine offers strong low-end power and minimal NVH levels. The automatic transmission, for the most part, does a decent job of being in the right gear at the right time. Though we found the transmission to be somewhat slow to respond whenever heavy throttle was suddenly applied. Fuel economy for both models landed around 20 mpg. Both the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango are still competitive in their respective classes, despite getting up there in age. Just be careful with your option selection as it can make both models very poor values. Disclaimer: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Provided the Vehicles, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas Year: 2017 Make: Dodge Model: Durango Trim: GT Engine: 3.6L 24-Valve VVT with ESS Driveline: Eight-Speed Automatic, All-Wheel Drive Horsepower @ RPM: 295 @ 6,400 Torque @ RPM: 260 @ 4,000 Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 18/25/21 Curb Weight: 4,987 lbs Location of Manufacture: Detroit, Michigan Base Price: $40,095 As Tested Price: $49,660 (Includes $1,095 Destination Charge) Options: Premium Group - $2,395 Rear Entertainment System- $1,995 Safety/Security and Convenience Group - $1,195 Second-Row Captain Chairs - $995 Trailer Tow Group IV - $995 Brass Monkey Appearance Group - $595 Second-Row Console - $300 Year: 2017 Make: Jeep Model: Grand Cherokee Trim: Summit Engine: 3.6L 24-Valve VVT with ESS Driveline: Eight-Speed Automatic, All-Wheel Drive Horsepower @ RPM: 295 @ 6,400 Torque @ RPM: 260 @ 4,000 Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 18/25/21 Curb Weight: 4,952 lbs Location of Manufacture: Detroit, Michigan Base Price: $53,995 As Tested Price: $60,675 (Includes $995 Destination Charge) Options: Signature Leather-Wrapped Interior Package - $4,995 Summit California Edition - $995 Skid Plate Group - $295
  23. The Volkswagen Jetta is an outlier in the compact class. Whereas other automakers have been stepping up with sharper designs, more tech, and improved driving dynamics, Volkswagen went in a completely different direction by offering the biggest amount of interior space for not that much money. But to accomplish this, Volkswagen made a number of sacrifices in terms of design, materials, and mechanical bits. This put the Jetta way behind the pack of the fresh competition. But Volkswagen has been working to try and right some of the wrongs of the Jetta. A couple of years ago, Volkswagen updated the model with a new front end, new dashboard, and a turbocharged 1.4L four-cylinder to take place of the decrepit 2.0L. It salvages the Jetta’s reputation somewhat. The current Jetta is slightly better in terms of looks. A new front end with a larger grille and headlights with LED daytime running lights help make the model look more interesting to look at. Sadly, the rest of vehicle is as nondescript as before with nothing that jumps out at you. If you were to ask a small kid to draw a car, it would most likely look like the Jetta. If you ever wanted a master class of in how not to do an interior, the Jetta is a perfect candidate. Whereas most compact sedans show marked improvements in design and materials, the Jetta is like stepping back a decade or so. Our mid-level SE came with a large amount of cheap and hard plastics that you don’t see most compacts now - aside from the base models. The mostly black interior makes for a dreary experience. On the upside, Volkswagen has improved the dash by taking some ideas from the Golf. A new instrument cluster and revised center stack layout helps make the Jetta not feel as cheap as the previous model. It also makes for an easier time to find various controls and reading things at a quick glance. All Jettas get Volkswagen’s Car-Net infotainment system. The base S makes do with a 5-inch touchscreen, while the SE and higher trims use a 6.3-inch screen. Car-Net is one of the best infotainment systems on sale today thanks to a sharp interface, simple layout of the various functions, and the ability to use Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Space is the Jetta’s key selling point. The back seat alone dwarfs most compacts and even gives some midsize sedans a run for their money. Sitting back here, I could stretch out with no issue. The trunk is also huge, offering up 15.7 cubic feet. I do wish the front seats were a bit more comfortable. Most of the week found me constantly adjusting the seat to try and find a position that wouldn’t cause me to ache after a drive. The SE comes with a turbocharged 1.4L four-cylinder offering 150 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. Our test vehicle came with the standard five-speed manual, but a six-speed automatic is available. On paper, the 1.4T should be a strong engine as it offers the same torque figure as the larger 1.8T at a lower rpm (1,400 rpm vs. 1,500 rpm). In the real world, this doesn’t happen. You’ll need to get the engine above 2,000 rpm to wake it up. At first, I thought we were dealing with a bad case of turbo lag. But further investigation revealed the five-speed manual is at fault. Volkswagen used taller gearing to make up for a missing sixth gear and improve fuel economy. I can’t help but wonder if the six-speed automatic alleviates this issue. Once you figure this out, the 1.4T is a surprising performer. Speed comes on at a rapid rate once your above 2,000 rpm. The engine is also very smooth and makes a pleasant noise when accelerating. The manual is somewhat difficult to work as the gear linkage feels somewhat stiff when moving through the gears. The clutch is light and it’s easy to find the take-off point. EPA fuel economy figures for the 1.4T manual stand at 28 City/40 Highway/33 Combined. I saw an average of 35 mpg that was a mix of 70 percent city driving and 30 percent highway driving. The automatic sees a slight drop in fuel economy to 28/38/32. One item we’re glad to see the lesser Jetta models get is a multilink rear suspension - replacing the rear beam axle of previous models. This makes a huge difference in ride and handling. On rough roads, the Jetta provides a compliant and comfortable ride. Handling is almost similar to the Golf Wolfsburg I drove earlier in the year - little body roll and excellent steering response. The SE seen here came with an as-tested price of $21,795 with destination. That includes 16-inch alloy wheels, heated front seats, blind spot monitoring, keyless entry, push-button start, cruise control, and a power sunroof. The 2017 Volkswagen Jetta is much better than the model that was launched only five years ago. But that isn’t saying a lot considering how much the compact class has moved up in this time frame. Price may be the Jetta’s ultimate strength as it offers a lot of features for the money with the 1.4T engine and interior space running slightly behind. Everywhere else, the Jetta is outmatched. Disclaimer: Volkswagen Provided the Jetta, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas Year: 2017 Make: Volkswagen Model: Jetta Trim: SE Engine: Turbocharged 1.4L 16V TSI Four-Cylinder Driveline: Six-Speed Manual, Front-Wheel Drive Horsepower @ RPM: 150 @ 5,000 Torque @ RPM: 184 @ 1,400 Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 28/40/33 Curb Weight: 2,939 lbs Location of Manufacture: Puebla, Mexico Base Price: $20,895 As Tested Price: $21,715 (Includes $820.00 Destination Charge) Options: N/A
  24. Chevrolet’s previous attempts at building a hybrid version of the Malibu are less than stellar. Their first attempt in the late-2000s was not well received due to mediocre performance and fuel economy figures that fell way behind the pack. The second attempt was the last-generation Malibu Eco. Chevrolet hoped to draw people in with a lower price and slightly better fuel economy figures due to the mild-hybrid system. But once again, it would prove to be a flop as the performance was meh and fuel wasn’t that noticeably better from the regular four-cylinder model. Chevrolet isn’t one to give up though. When the next-generation Malibu was revealed a couple of years ago, they announced a hybrid variant would be available. But this one was going to be different as the model would feature ideas and tech from the Volt. We spent over a week in a 2017 Malibu Hybrid to find out if Chevrolet has repeated the same mistakes as before or if they have learned from them. The Malibu Hybrid powertrain is made up of a 1.8L DOHC four-cylinder paired up to the Volt’s electric drive unit - comprised of two electric motors. Power for the electric motors comes from an 80-cell, 1.5 kWh lithium-ion battery pack. Total output is rated at 182 horsepower. This powertrain is quite surprising. The Malibu Hybrid leaves a stop effortlessly and quickly thanks to the instantaneous power available from the electric motors. If you keep a light throttle, you can get up to 55 mph on just electric power alone. If you need to make a pass or get up to speed somewhat quickly, the gas engine kicks on and delivers the extra shove. It needs to be noted that the gas engine will make a fair amount of noise when you have your foot to the floor. Otherwise, the engine is muted for the daily grind. Transitions between electric and hybrid power is mostly smooth thanks to the gear-free transmission and a number of clutches from the Volt. There were a few times during our testing that we felt the gas engine kick on, but this mostly happened at times where we needed the extra power. Fuel economy is rated at 49 City/43 Highway/46 Combined by the EPA. We saw an average of 45 MPG on a 50/50 mix of city and highway driving. Brakes are the key weak point on most hybrid vehicles as they tend to feel very grabby due to the regenerative system. The Malibu Hybrid may have the best brakes we have ever driven on a hybrid vehicle. They feel linear and have the bite of a normal braking system. Thank the Volt for lending its braking system. Despite being a few hundred pounds heavier than the last Malibu we drove, the Hybrid retains the balanced ride and handling characteristics we liked so much. The suspension keeps the vehicle composed over some of the roughest roads on offer in Detroit. On a winding road, the Malibu feels agile and stable. Some will be disappointed by the lack of feel offered by the steering, but most buyers won’t notice this. Unlike most hybrid midsize sedans, the Malibu Hybrid doesn’t scream about it. Looking at it from all angles, you would find it to look like the standard Malibu. Only the ‘H’ badge on the trunk reveals its true identity. One of the issues we had on the last Malibu was material choices. For the price, the fabric covering for the dash and a large amount of hard plastics felt like a huge misstep and put the Malibu way behind the pack. The Hybrid does show some improvements if you order the Leather package that replaces the fabric covering for leather on the dash. It not only makes the Malibu look more premium, it also feels much nicer. Now Chevrolet needs to work on adding more soft-touch materials around the dash, door panels, and center console to make the Malibu truly stand out. Trunk space is slightly smaller in the Hybrid - 11.6 cubic feet vs. 15.8 - due to the battery pack. There is a trunk pass-through, albeit a small slot. It's better than nothing. The Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid carries the most expensive base price of any midsize hybrid sedan of $27,875. But you do get a decent amount of equipment such as dual-zone climate control, push-button start, keyless entry, backup camera, automatic headlights, power driver’s seat, and a 7-inch touchscreen. Our tester came fully loaded with three packages - Leather, Driver Confidence, and Convenience & Technology - to bring the as-tested price to $32,730 with destination. For the money, it is quite the value. Disclaimer: Chevrolet Provided the Malibu Hybrid, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas Year: 2017 Make: Chevrolet Model: Malibu Trim: Hybrid Engine: 1.8L DOHC VVT Four-Cylinder with Direct Injection, Two Electric Motors Driveline: Two-Motor Drive, Front-Wheel Drive Horsepower @ RPM: 122 @ 5,000 (Gas), 182 Total Torque @ RPM: 130 @ 4,750 (Gas), 277 @ 0 (Electric) Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 49/43/46 Curb Weight: 3,366 lbs Location of Manufacture: Kansas City, Kansas Base Price: $27,875 As Tested Price: $32,730 (Includes $875.00 Destination Charge and $745.00 Leather Package Discount) Options: Leather Package - $2,140.00 Driver Confidence Package - $1,195.00 Convenience & Technology Package - $895.00 8-Inch MyLink System with Navigation - $495.00
  25. The Chevrolet Cruze Diesel comes at a time where diesel is being burned at the stake. Due to Volkswagen’s cheating on emission tests, the fuel has been vilified around the world. It also has meant more extensive testing, investigations into possible cheating from different automakers, and companies scrapping plans to introduce diesel models. Yet, General Motors sees an opportunity to take advantage of as there might be a group of diesel enthusiasts that still want a small and fuel-efficient sedan. The regular Cruze impressed me when I reviewed it earlier this year. Can the diesel do the same? Under the hood is an all-new turbocharged 1.6L diesel four-cylinder with 137 horsepower and 240 pound-feet of torque. Impressive numbers to say in the least. This is paired up to a six-speed manual (what I had) or a nine-speed automatic. In terms of fuel economy, the diesel is rated at 30 City/52 Highway/37 Combined with the six-speed manual, and 31/47/37 with the nine-speed automatic. The first thing I noticed when driving the Cruze Diesel is how much quieter it is. When I drove the last-generation Cruze Diesel back a few years ago, I described it being noisier than a cab-over truck at idle. The new engine is much better. The only real signs of it being a diesel are when you start it up after letting it sit for awhile. Otherwise, the engine produces little to no clatter that diesel engines are known for. Taking off from a stop, the diesel feels quicker than the standard gas engine. A key reason for this is torque arriving at a low 2,000 rpm. More impressive is how don’t always need to downshift when you need to make a pass. The engine has a fair amount of power on tap for these situations. The manual transmission is easy to use as going through the gears felt effortless and it was easy to figure where in the shift pattern you were. The clutch is light, but has a long travel. Still, you will be able to find the catch point very easily. The only downside to the manual is a very short first gear. Leaving a stoplight, you’ll find out very quickly that you need to shift immediately. For a time, I tried starting the vehicle in second. While this improves the overall drivability of the vehicle, I found it slightly tough to leave a stop somewhat cleanly. Fuel economy? I saw an average of 42 MPG in mostly city driving for the few days I had it. Sadly, I didn’t get the chance to put the Cruze on a long highway trip. But from reviews I have seen, you can easily get 50+ MPG. Everything else about the Cruze Diesel is mostly the same as the Cruze I drove late last year. The ride is smooth on most road surfaces. Road and wind noise are kept to near silent levels. Handling is about average as the Cruze goes a corner with body motions kept in check, but steering lacks the weight and feel some drivers are looking for in enthusiastic driving. It is a shame that the Diesel sedan doesn’t get the option of the RS appearance package as it makes the Cruze more interesting to look at. The standard design is ok with a similar profile to the Volt. But the back is where the design unfurls as it looks very plain compared to the rest of the model. Not helping is the silver-blue paint finish which makes it look somewhat dull. The interior is a pleasant and comfortable place to sit in with high-quality materials, comfortable seats, and plenty of room for passengers. A 7-inch touchscreen with Chevrolet MyLink comes standard, while an 8-inch system with navigation is available as an option. I have to admit I like this system slightly more due to the simpler interface. I do wish the touchscreen was better at detecting when one of the touch buttons is pressed. The touchscreen system was slightly hit and miss at detecting this. Pricing for the Cruze Diesel begins $23,795 - about $2,270 more than similar equipped Cruze LT manual. Part of the price increase is due to the Diesel getting the Convenience Package - includes a power driver’s seat, heated front seats, keyless start, and remote lock - as standard. With the Leather Package, our as-tested price of came $25,795. The 2017 Chevrolet Cruze Diesel is much better than the model it replaces with a more refined engine that delivers an impressive stream of power and high fuel economy numbers. It doesn’t hurt that the Cruze is a well-rounded compact to boot. But it is going to be a tough sell in this time where diesel is considered a great evil. Chevrolet might only be able to bring diesel fans to the Cruze Diesel, which is a great shame. Disclaimer: Chevrolet Provided the Cruze Diesel, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas Year: 2017 Make: Chevrolet Model: Cruze Trim: Diesel Engine: 1.6L Turbodiesel DOHC Four-Cylinder Driveline: Six-Speed Manual, Front-wheel Drive Horsepower @ RPM: 137 @ 3,750 Torque @ RPM: 240 @ 2,000 Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 30/52/37 Curb Weight: 3,091 lbs Location of Manufacture: Lordstown, Ohio Base Price: $23,795 As Tested Price: $25,795 (Includes $875.00 Destination Charge) Options: Leather Package - $1,125.00

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