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  1. Let us go back in time to October 2013 and my review of the 2013 Hyundai Sonata SE 2.0T. This is how I ended the review, “The current Sonata started a revolution in the midsize sedan and the fact it's still selling so well means the next-generation model has a tough act to follow.” Well the Korean automaker revealed the next act of the Sonata at the New York Auto Show back in April and it seemed that something was amiss. It was named Sonata, had the Hyundai badges, and was powered by a selection of four-cylinder engines. But it didn’t look like a Sonata. The new model had lost that stylistic edge that the previous one had. Not a good sign considering that most people correlate the Sonata with the Hyundai brand. Was Hyundai going backwards? This past week, I had the chance to check out the 2015 Sonata lineup to see if any of those fears I had were true. The 2015 Sonata features Hyundai’s latest design language called Fludic Sculpture 2.0. The new language is an evolution and provides a more mature look for Hyundai’s midsize model. The front end features a wider grille, reshaped headlights, and a new bumper. The side profile features a toned-down version of the coupe roofline and distinctive character line running from the front fender to the rear. Hyundai designers also increased the window space along the side to improve the feeling of interior space. The back has a reshaped trunk lid and taillights. New for this generation is the introduction of a Sport model which adds a more aggressive front grille and bumper; side skirts, eighteen-inch alloys, and quad exhaust pipes. I’m not sure toning down the Sonata’s look is a good decision. When the last-generation Sonata debuted, it stood out in the plain and bland midsize class. Now with the new one, it kind of blends in with everyone else. Sure, you can tell there are design cues that come from the previous model and the Sport models does add some aggression. I just think Hyundai is going a little bit backwards here. Moving inside, the 2015 Sonata feels much more spacious and high-quality than the last-generation. The waterfall center stack and dual-cockpit front seat layout has been put out to pasture. In its place is a wider center stack which not only improves the feeling of spaciousness, it also improves the control layout. Material quality has also seen a noticeable improvement with the lineup getting soft-touch materials and different trim pieces dependent on the model (Limited: Wood trim, Sport: Aluminum and faux Carbon Fiber). Back-seat passengers will see and feel a noticeable improvement in head and legroom. Equipment is generous across the lineup with all Sonatas getting alloy wheels ranging from sixteen to eighteen-inches, full power accessories, remote keyless entry, premium cloth upholstery, and 60/40 split-fold rear seats. For your entrainment needs, the base Sonata gets a standard radio with iPod/USB/AUX inputs, SiriusXM satellite radio, and Bluetooth. Next up is a five-inch touchscreen radio, followed by an eight-inch touchscreen with the latest version of the automaker’s infotainment system. Coming soon to the Sonata will be Apple CarPlay and Android Car integration. On the powertrain front, the 2015 Sonata has three different engines to choose from. The base is the 2.4L Theta II GDI four-cylinder engine. Standard on the SE, Limited, and Sport models, the 2.4 makes 185 horsepower and 178 pound-feet of torque (slightly down from the 190 horsepower and 179 pound-feet from the previous model). Next is the turbocharged 2.0L Theta II GDI four-cylinder with (down from 274 horsepower and 269 pound-feet of torque). The reason for the decrease in power is due to both engines getting Electronic Intake Continuously Variable Valve Timing (E-CVVT) and the turbo engine getting a smaller turbocharger to improve responsiveness and drivability. Both engines come with a six-speed automatic transmission. New for the 2015 Sonata is the turbocharged 1.6L inline-four which is standard on the new Eco model. The 1.6L makes 177 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. To get all of the power to the road, Hyundai fitted a new seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. The suspension setup is mainly the same with MacPherson struts up front and a multilink system in the rear. Sport models gain aggressively tuned dampers and springs. For steering, Hyundai employs two different steering systems. Most Sonatas use a column-mounted electric power-assist system, while the Sport 2.0T gets a rack-mounted setup which is said to improve responsiveness. Alright, enough information about the 2015 Sonata. Time to take it for a spin. See The Next Page For Drive Impressions. Before I dive into my impressions, I should say I didn’t get the chance to take a spin in the Sonata Eco. I hope to rectify that when I get a Sonata in for review in the coming months. First up was the Sonata Limited with the 2.4L engine. The 2.4L gets up to speed quickly when driving in the city limits, but begins to lose some steam as you climb higher in speed. I wasn’t sure if the power band dropped off at a certain point or if the gearing was tuned more for economy. As for the engine itself, it was very refined with minimal NVH levels. The automatic transmission goes about its business without making itself noticed at all. Ride quality is improved with a smooth ride and making imperfections seem like they don’t exist. Body monitions are kept in check when taken around corners. Steering is somewhat numb, but provides good weight. In other words, its pretty much par for the course in the midsize sedan class. Then I hopped into the Sonata Sport 2.0T. The 2.0T in the 2015 Sonata doesn’t quite feel as fast as the one in 2013 Sonata I drove last year. What has been improved is acceleration when leaving a stop. In the old Sonata, it felt like the turbocharger took a few seconds to spool up before delivering that punch. In the 2015 model with the smaller turbocharger, the response is improved and makes it feel a bit more punchy. Like in the standard Sonata, the automatic transmission does a fine job without bringing any attention to itself. Ride and handling is pretty much the same as the standard model which is surprising considering this is the Sport model. Steering oddly feels the same as the standard Sonata, despite a different steering system. Something tells me that I need to spend some more time with the Sport to see if there is really a difference, As for pricing, the 2015 Sonata lineup starts at $21,150 for the base SE model. Compared to the outgoing Sonata, the new model costs about $300 less. But don’t expect the removal of features. The base SE gets such items as LED daytime running lights, a driver knee airbag, blind spot mirror for the driver, and a rear lip spoiler as standard equipment. From there, the Sonata lineup climbs to $33,525 for the Sport 2.0T with the Ultimate Package. While the 2015 Hyundai Sonata has lost some of the edginess that made the previous-generation a standout in the midsize class, the 2015 model shows that Hyundai wants to move up and provide a vehicle that is seemingly well-rounded. The 2015 Sonata should be able to do something that the last-generation model started, bringing more buyers into Hyundai showrooms. Disclaimer: Hyundai Provided the Sonatas, Refreshments, and Lunch For This First Drive Event Year: 2015 Make: Hyundai Model: Sonata Engines: 2.4L DOHC D-CVVT Four-Cylinder (SE, Sport, Limited) 2.0L Turbocharged DOHC D-CVVT Four-Cylinder (Sport 2.0T) 1.6L Turbocharged DOHC D-CVVT Four-Cylinder (Eco) Driveline: Front-Wheel Drive, Six-Speed Automatic (2.4 and 2.0T) Front-Wheel Drive, Seven-Speed Dual-Clutch Automatic (Eco) Horsepower @ RPM: 185 @ 6,000 (2.4) 245 @ 6,000 (2.0T) 177 @ 5,500 (Eco) Torque @ RPM: 178 @ 4,000 (2.4) 260 @ 1,350 – 4,000 (2.0T) 195 @ 1,500 - 4,500 (Eco) Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined 25/37/29 (SE 2.4) 24/35/28 (Sport and Limited 2.4) 23/32/26 (Sport 2.0T) 28/38/32 (Eco) Curb Weight: 3,252 – 3,466 lbs (Models equipped with the 2.4) 3,505 – 3,616 lbs (Sport 2.0T) 3,270 – 3,298 lbs (Eco) Location of Manufacture: Montgomery, Alabama Pricing: SE: $21,960 - $23,160 Sport: $23,985 - $27,435 Eco: $24,085 - $28,185 Limited: $27,335 - $32,385 Sport 2.0T: $29,385 - $34,355 (Note: All prices include $810 destination charge.) William Maley is a staff writer for Cheers & Gears. He can be reached at william.maley@cheersandgears.comor you can follow him on twitter at @realmudmonster.
  2. To say Hyundai grabbed everyone’s attention when they launched the Genesis at the 2008 North American International Auto Show is a true understatement. Here was a model that came with rear-wheel drive, a choice of either a V6 or V8 engine, many luxury appointments and features, and the value the company was known for. The Genesis left many wondering what the devil the company was doing, but Hyundai had a plan. The Genesis was a model they thought would not only bring new people into the Hyundai fold; it would raise the allure of the brand. That’s just what the model did. Consider this: In 2009 when Genesis was on sale for a full year, Hyundai sold 13,604 Genesis models. In 2013, that number rose to 19,804, an increase of 46 percent. Now enter the 2015 Genesis. The second-generation models builds on what the first has done with improvements to theinterior, powertrain, chassis, and refinement. But Hyundai also has bigger ambitions as well with this model. During the presentation at the Detroit Media Preview, Hyundai named the likes of the BMW 5-Series, Cadillac CTS, and Mercedes-Benz E-Class as competitors to the Genesis. Big names to say in the least. Does the Genesis have what it takes? Read on. The 2015 Genesis is the first model in Hyundai’s lineup to introduce their latest design language named Fluidic Sculpture 2.0 which basically boils down to the design being a bit more restrained and losing a bit of the curvy-ness that the company was known for. Despite the loss in curves, the 2015 Genesis still seems to stand out. Cues such as the large, hexagonal grille up front; a choice of eighteen or nineteen-inch wheels, LED lighting along the outer edges of the headlights, and chrome exhaust tips give the 2015 model an identity. The same cannot be said for the first-generation Genesis. Overall length has increased to 196.5 inches, which allowed Hyundai’s designers to give the model a bit more aggressiveness by sharply raking the roofline at the rear to give a somewhat of a fastback shape. After seeing the Genesis in person, I can say for the most part that I like the design. My only problem is the front with the large grille. It makes the Genesis look too comical. Moving inside, the 2015 Genesis’ interior has been fully changed. The dash is logically laid out and controls are within easy reach of the driver and passenger. Materials are top notch with leather on the seats, an abundance of soft-touch materials on the dash and door panels, and real aluminum and wood trim. Seats offer a nice balance of comfort and support, along with twelve-way power adjustments. The seats were so comfortable in fact, my drive partner was falling asleep during the drive. Back seat passengers will be impressed by the amount of head and legroom on offer. Hyundai says the Genesis has more cubic feet of interior room than just about anything in the class. On the technology front, all Genesis models come with eight-inch touchscreen with navigation, a 4.3-inch color screen in the instrument cluster providing trip computer info, BlueLink telematics, and what the company calls Smart Trunk. Smart Trunk is where you stand near the back of the vehicle with the proximity key on you and within three seconds, the trunk will automatically open. Now before you think that the trunk will open up whenever you are near the vehicle, Hyundai says you have to have the vehicle locked and away from it for fifteen seconds before you can use this feature. Options include a 9.2 HD touchscreen, head-up display, and a 17-speaker Lexicon audio system.Powertrains carry over from the last-generation model, but have received a number of tweaks to improve drivability. The 3.8 V6 now makes 311 horsepower and 293 pound-feet of torque, while the 5.0L V8 makes 420 horsepower and 383 pound-feet of torque. An updated eight-speed automatic is the sole transmission for both engines. New for this generation is HTRAC all-wheel drive. The system which was developed in-house by Hyundai utilizes an electronic variable-torque-split clutch with active torque control between both the front and rear axles. The system normally operates at a 40/60 split, but can send up to 90 percent of power to either the front or rear axle. The system is available on the V6 only. Alright, enough about the details on the 2015 Genesis. Lets take a drive. Even though the 2015 Genesis weighs more than the outgoing model (4,138 lbs for the V6, 4,295 lbs for the V6 HTRAC, and 4,541 lbs for the V8), both engines are up to task of moving the vehicle at a brisk rate. The V8 produces a nice growl when you step on it and power comes very effortlessly. However the V6 engine is the sweet spot as feels just as powerful as the eight and gets better fuel economy overall. During the drive loops, I recorded an average 22 MPG in the V8, while the V6 with HTRAC AWD system got 25 MPG. The eight-speed showed the same characteristics as in theEquus I drove last year; smooth and quick shifts up and down the eight speeds. As for the all-wheel drive system, I couldn’t say if it improved handling or not. I’ll need to spend some more time with a Genesis to find out. Under the skin is a stronger structure with high-strength steel used throughout, revised multilink suspension front and rear, new variable-ratio, electric power-assist steering, and an optional continuous damping control system on the V8. What this means is that the Genesis is one of the first Hyundai models that actually drives pretty well. Both models showed no body roll and stability when pushed into corners, while steering provided good feel and weight. Now I can’t say whether it's as good to drive as a BMW 5-Series or Cadillac CTS till I drive either one. What I can say is compared to past Hyundais, the Genesis shows signs of improvement. Now all of those changes I talked about which improving the driving dynamics also help in thecomfort and quiet department. The Genesis’ suspension setup was able to soak up potholes and imperfections like they were nothing. Wind and road noise were kept to a minimum. Now onto the price tag. Hyundai has bumped the price of the 2015 Genesis by $2,500. So the base Genesis with the 3.8 V6 will now cost $38,000 (not including a $950 destination charge). That price increase nets you more standard features such as navigation, backup camera, Hyundai’s BlueLink Telematics, power folding mirrors, rain sensing wipers, and much more. With the first-generation Genesis, Hyundai made a statement of intent. The brand who was known for the Pony and the 10 Year/100,000 Mile warranty wanted to show that it could reach higher and become something to aspire to. With the second-generation Genesis, Hyundai begins to solidify that. Disclaimer: Hyundai provided the vehicles and a lunch during this first drive event. Year: 2015 Make: Hyundai Model: Genesis Engines: 3.8L V6 (311 Horsepower, 293 Pound-Feet of Torque), 5.0L V8 (420 Horsepower, 383 Pound-Feet of Torque) Driveline: Rear-Wheel Drive, All-Wheel Drive Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 18/29/22 (3.8L V6 RWD), 16/25/19 (3.8L V6 AWD), 15/23/18 (5.0L V8 RWD) Curb Weight: 4,138 lbs (3.8L V6 RWD), 4,295 (3.8L V6 AWD), 4,541 lbs (5.0L V8 RWD) Location of Manufacture: Ulsan, South Korea Base Price: $38,950 (3.8L V6 RWD), $41,450 (3.8L V6 AWD), $52,450 (5.0L V8 RWD) (Includes a $950 destination charge) William Maley is a staff writer for Cheers & Gears. He can be reached at william.maley@cheersandgears.comor you can follow him on twitter at @realmudmonster.
  3. William Maley Staff Writer - CheersandGears.com November 26, 2012 Toyota is in the midst of a sea change. The company who is currently known as the brand who builds bland, boring, and reliable vehicles has been issued an edict by CEO Akio Toyoda to design and build vehicles with passion. We’re beginning to see some of the fruits of this edict bear out with the Scion FR-S and Lexus GS. Now, Toyota has introduced the next vehicle to follow this in the form of the 2013 Avalon. You might be wondering, the Avalon?! Well yes, Toyota wants break the adage that Avalon is for old people by giving the new Avalon a very sleek look, new interior, and a sporty ride. Does the change from couch on wheels to sport-infused big sedan work? The big thing Toyota hammered into our heads during the regional press preview in Ann Arbor, MI besides 'the new Avalon isn’t your grandfather’s car', was that the new Avalon was built with America in mind. Bill Fay, Group Vice President & General Manager, Toyota Division said during the Detroit launch, the new Avalon is “designed, engineered, manufactured, sold and serviced in America, the 2013 Avalon marks the beginning of a new era for Toyota… with the company developing more vehicles here specifically for the U.S. market.” Toyota's CALTY Design Research group was in charge of the new Avalon’s design and they did an excellent job. The overall look chucks the plain box look of past Avalons and goes for something that is very sleek and muscular. Up front, the most prominent design touch is a two-tiered grille layout. The bottom features a large chrome grille that makes a reference to new Aston Martin models. Above the chrome grille is a wide chrome strip with the Toyota emblem sitting in the middle. The side profile features a lot of deep contours, a coupe-like roofline, and a raked c-pillar. The back end gets two-tiered taillights and dual exhaust outlets. Inside the Avalon, Toyota put a lot of emphasis on making the Avalon look and feel very special. Materials range from soft-touch plastics, stitched door and dash panels, and leather seats. The only ding I’ll give the Avalon’s interior is the use of ‘plood’, it really doesn’t belong in this very handsome interior. The center stack features either a 6.1 or 7-inch touchscreen (depends on model), climate control, and what Toyota calls IntelliTouch controls, which are capacitive buttons. The capacitive buttons responded very quickly when pressed. Also appearing inside the new Avalon is Toyota’s Entune infotainment system. Entune uses your smartphone to provide applications like Bing, OpenTable, iHeartRadio, and Pandora in the vehicle. Entune also provides traffic, weather, fuel prices, sports, and stocks info. Sadly, I didn’t get the chance to play around with Entune during the event. Hopefully when I do get a vehicle equipped with Entune, I can go deeper into it. While the outgoing and new Avalon share the same wheelbase length, the new model is actually smaller in all exterior dimensions. Interior dimensions are largely unchanged from the outgoing model, meaning there is a load of head and legroom through out the new model. For safety, the new Avalon comes equipped a Rear Cross Traffic Warning system which warns the driver of vehicles in the way when reversing. There is also a Blind Spot Monitoring system, ten airbags, radar cruise-control, and optionally, a Pre-Collision System. Next: Shall We Drive? The new Avalon uses the same 3.5L V6 engine from the last-generation Avalon. The engine is rated at 268 HP and 248 lb-ft of torque going through a six speed automatic. The engine has got the oomph to move car at a very rapid pace, something that cannot be said of the previous Avalon. This is mostly due to weight loss of the new Avalon, dropping around 110 lbs from the outgoing model. The engine is also very smooth and quiet when you decide to drive it at a normal pace. The six-speed automatic provides is well-suited for this application providing some very smooth shifts. Toyota also fitted paddle shifters and ‘Dynamic Rev Management’, which blips the throttle on a downshift. On paper this sounds completely ridiculous for a big sedan like the Avalon, but when you actually try it, it works beautifully. I do wonder though if the age group that the new Avalon is targeted at (40 to 60 year olds) will actually use this feature. For those who are looking for some greenness in their big sedan will lean towards the new for this generation Avalon Hybrid. The Hybrid comes equipped with Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive which in this uses a 2.5L Atkinson-Cycle four cylinder producing 156 HP and 156 lb-ft of torque, a electric motor with 105 kW and 199 lb-ft of torque, and a nickel-metal hydride battery. Total system output is 200 HP going through a CVT. Performance is adequate with the run to 60 MPH taking about 8.2 seconds, about 1.5 seconds slower than the V6. Otherwise, the powertrain is very quiet and smooth whenever you’re in electric or hybrid mode. The CVT is a does a good job of keeping you moving and doesn’t make its presence known unless you push the pedal further down and the engine noise is abundant. The handling characteristics of the new Avalon and Avalon Hybrid can be described as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. When driven normally, the Avalon provides a very luxurious and gentle ride. Wind and road noise are kept to a minimum. It’s only when you take the Avalon onto a curvy road and show it some aggression that Mr. Hyde appears. Despite being a large sedan, the Avalon shows a surprising amount of agility when driven through a corner. The suspension keeps the Avalon planted while the steering has the right amount of weight and firm feel that you would want in a sporty vehicle. This is a one-eighty from the last-generation Avalon which had all the steering feel of a used-and-abused arcade racing game. Plus, the old Avalon felt like it going to tip over when driven enthusiastically due to its marshmallow-fluff suspension. So how was Toyota able to pull this coup off with the new Avalon? For one, Toyota added a number of welds to the new Avalon’s body giving it more rigidity. Toyota also fitted Dual link MacPherson struts in the back, stabilizer bars, and a new electric rack-and-pinion steering system. Finally, there is drive mode select which offers three different modes (four in the Avalon Hybrid) which modifies throttle response and steering effort. The modes are as followed, EV Mode (Only on Avalon Hybrid): Allows a vehicle to travel on electric power for a short distance Eco Mode: Increases the resistance to push down on the pedal, adjusts engine and climate control for better fuel economy. Sport Mode: Adjusts throttle and steering response Normal Mode: Balance between Eco and Sport The new Avalon goes on sale next month with a base price around $31,750 (includes the $760 destination charge) for the XLE V6. If you want the Avalon Hybrid, be prepared to shell out $36,315 for the XLE Premium. Toyota expects to sell around 70,000 Avalons within the first year, a huge increase from 23,078 Avalons sold through October this year. Toyota expects 80% of the new 2013 Avalon to be the V6 while the rest will be the hybrid. Toyota has taken their couch on wheels and has made the new Avalon into a big sedan that is able to balance comfort and sport pretty well. Will the Avalon's new balancing act bring in the younger generation of buyers that Toyota is aiming for? Author's Note: Special thanks to Toyota and Toyota’s Midwest PR office for inviting Cheers & Gears to check out the new Avalon, and providing breakfast and lunch at the Weber’s Boutique Hotel in Ann Arbor, Michigan. -WM Year - 2013 Make – Toyota Model – Avalon Engine – 3.5L DOHC 24-valve dual VVT-i V6 Driveline – Front-Wheel Drive, Six-Speed Automatic Horsepower @ RPM – 268 HP (@ 6,200 RPM) Torque @ RPM – 248 lb-ft (@ 4,700 RPM) Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 21/31/25 w/17-inch wheels, 21/31/24 w/18-inch wheels Curb Weight – 3,461 lbs Year - 2013 Make – Toyota Model – Avalon Hybrid Engine – Hybrid Synergy Drive: 2.5L 16-valve DOHC with VVT-i Atkinson cycle 4-Cylinder, Electric Motor Driveline – Front-Wheel Drive, CVT, Nickel-Metal Hydride (Ni-MH) Battery Pack Horsepower @ RPM – 2.5L: 156 HP (@ 5,700 RPM); Electric: 105 kW (@ 4,500); Combined: 200 HP Torque @ RPM – 2.5L: 156 lb-ft (@ 4,500 RPM); Electric: 199 lb-ft (@ 0-1,500 RPM) Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 40/39/40 Curb Weight – 3,585 lbs - 2013 Avalon Pricing: XLE: $31,750 XLE Premium: $33,955 XLE Touring: $36,260 Limited: $40,410 - 2013 Avalon Hybrid Pricing: XLE Premium: $36,315 XLE Touring: $38,010 Limited: $42,160 *Note: All prices include a $760 destination charge. William Maley is a staff writer for Cheers & Gears. He can be reached at william.maley@cheersandgears.com or you can follow him on twitter at @realmudmonster.
  4. William Maley Staff Writer - CheersandGears.com October 10, 2012 1989 was a pivotal year in the automotive world. That would be the year when Toyota would introduce the Lexus brand and its first vehicle, the LS400. The LS shattered expectations of what a luxury car and quality should be. This startled the old luxury guard and caused many buyers to take a look at this newcomer. Twenty-three years later, the LS still carries the flag of what a luxury sedan should be to many. But Lexus hasn’t been one to rest on its laurels. The competition has learned and implemented many ideas from the LS, and Lexus tries its best to stay one step ahead. The LS has grown from single model to a range of short and long-wheelbase models packing either a gas or hybrid powertrain and a load of new technologies. The new 2013 LS hopes to continue that trend. Lexus invited me to down to The Townsend Hotel in Birmingham, Michigan to drive the LS 460 F-Sport and 600h L. This happens to be a big deal because an automaker outside of the big three has invited Cheers & Gears; a site was started as a place for GM fans to gather in 2001. Since that time, we’ve expanded the focus and coverage of the site to all automotive brands. Having an automaker that’s not based in the Detroit area, reach out and invite you to a drive event is a big deal. Previously known for its conservative outward appearance, Lexus chose a more audacious look on the 2013 LS. Up front, the new LS drops the Plain Jane front end styling of the last-generation model. The new model falls in line with other redesigned Lexus models by sporting the new spindle grille with chrome running along the length of it and a set of HID or optional LED headlights. The hood features a slight bulge running along the middle. In the back, Lexus designers took the current LS rear end and tapered it to match the aggressive look of the front. The interior has also been given a dramatic change, featuring a design similar to new GS and ES. Materials used throughout the interior include leather seats and dash, five different choices of trim including a new Shimamoku ("striped") wood trim, and soft touch materials. There’s a new instrument cluster with a 5.8-inch full-color TFT multi-function display sitting in the middle. The centerstack has a new 12.3-inch multimedia display sitting on top. The screen is controlled by Lexus’ Remote Touch, a Joystick controller. Using the remote touch system for the short time left me frustrated since it would take me longer to perform a function than using a touchscreen. Some people who have used the system a bit longer say it’s very easy to use once you get the hang of it. Safety-wise, the new LS comes with a new version of the Pre-Collision Safety (A-PCS) system with Collision Avoidance Assist. The system uses cameras and radar mounted on the front end to monitor the road. If the system detects an obstruction on road, whether it is another vehicle or a person, the system will intervene, provide an audible alert to driver, and begin to slow the vehicle down. If the vehicle is traveling under 24 MPH, the system will actually bring the car to a stop. I didn’t get the chance to try the system out for the fear of it not working and having to explain to Lexus why one of their priceless prototypes is sitting on a flatbed tow truck. Next: Shall we take a drive? Lexus will offer the LS in the following seven configurations: LS 460 LS 460 AWD LS 460 L LS 460 L AWD LS 460 F-Sport LS 460 F-Sport AWD LS 600h L (AWD) First up was the new for this generation LS 460 F-Sport. The LS 460 F-Sport is much like the GS 350 F-Sport that I drove back in May at the MAMA Spring Rally; appearance and suspension changes. The F-Sport gains a mesh grille, nineteen-inch alloy wheels, Torsen limited-slip differential on RWD models (AWD models have a Torsen center differential), sport tuned air suspension with drive mode select, Brembo brakes, bucket seats, aluminum trim, and paddle shifters. Under the hood lies a 4.6L V8 that carries over from the last-generation LS. Power is up from 380 to 386 HP (@ 6400 RPM) while torque remains unchanged at 367 lb-ft (@ 4100 RPM). For the AWD models, the power and torque numbers are 360 HP (@ 6400 RPM) and 347 lb-ft (@ 4100 RPM), respectively, an uptick of 3 HP and 3 lb-ft from previous generation. A smooth-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission seamlessly channels the power to the drive wheels. Driving in the LS F-Sport was a bit of surprise because of how sporty it felt. Turn the drive mode select to the Sport+ function and the personality of the car changes. The air-suspension firms up and keeps the car planted while the steering is weighted and provides a good response for each input. Even the engine has a bit of growl, thanks to an intake sound generator. When you decide to stop having fun, just turn the knob back to comfort and it’s almost like driving a normal Lexus. The ride is mostly comfortable, with a few bumps making their way into the cabin. I would put the nineteen-inch wheels and the vehicle being a pre-production model as to why those bumps made it in. Wind and Road noise were kept to a minimum. After returning the F-Sport, it was time to jump into the LS 600h L. The 600h L has been the flagship of the LS lineup since it was first introduced back in 2006. The 600h uses a hybrid system comprised of 5.0L V8 producing 389 HP (@ 6400 RPM) and 385 lb-ft (@ 4000 RPM), a 165 kW electric motor, and a nickel-hydride battery pack. Total output is 438 HP that goes through a CVT down to all four wheels. First climbing into the back seat of the LS 600h L, I was amazed at how much head and legroom there was. Compared to the short-wheelbase LS, the LS600h L’s wheelbase are about five inches longer. This allows Lexus to fill the back seat with many luxuries, including optional rear seats that recline and give you a massage. This is where you want to be sitting if you get the chance to ride in a LS 600h L. Leaving the back seat to sit in the front, I found the 600h L to be a big, soft luxury car. Lexus’ hybrid system provided enough power and was surprisingly quiet. Transition from electric power to hybrid was very seemless as was the CVT. Steering was what you expected from a big luxury car; light and not that much feel. The 600h L’s ride was very comfortable and quiet. Pricing for the 2013 LS lineup hasn’t been announced, but most likely the LS lineup would be structured as the base LS models being on the bottom, the F-Sport models in the middle, and the LS 600h L taking the top spot. The new LS will be arriving at dealers beginning sometime in November. Has Lexus raise the bar of what a luxury car should be with the new LS? Yes, but it is not the game changer as the original LS. Despite this, I predict this new LS will keep the other high end luxury sedan makers on their toes. Author's Note: Special thanks to Lexus and Toyota’s Midwest PR office for inviting Cheers & Gears out to breakfast and lunch at The Townsend Hotel in Birmingham, Michigan for this event. -WM William Maley is a staff writer for Cheers & Gears. He can be reached at william.maley@cheersandgears.com or you can follow him on twitter at @realmudmonster.
  5. William Maley Staff Writer - CheersandGears.com October 9, 2013 While Toyota gets most the of spotlight when talking about hybrid vehicles, it is Honda that deserves a lot of credit for introducing hybrids to North America. In 1999, the Japanese brand introduced a weird looking two-seater vehicle called the Insight. The egg-shaped vehicle hid a very unique powertrain for the time; a gas engine paired with electric motor and a set of batteries. This combination helped the Insight get amazing fuel economy numbers. But since the first-generation Insight, Honda has played second-fiddle to Toyota in the hybrid marketplace. It isn't due to Honda sleeping on the job. It's more due to the majority of vehicles being flops. There was the 2004 to 2007 Accord Hybrid which put performance as the big priority and not fuel economy. There's also the second-generation Insight which looks very much like the Toyota Prius, but doesn't get the same or better fuel economy. Finally, we have the CR-Z which caused outrage because it wasn't anything like the original CR-X. The only real success since the first-generation Insight has been the Civic Hybrid which does decently in fuel economy and sales. But that isn't stopping Honda at all. Last year, the company announced two new hybrids for the Accord lineup; an Accord Plug-In Hybrid that would compete with the Ford Fusion Energi and a return of the Accord Hybrid. This time, the Accord Hybrid's main focus is fuel economy. Can the Accord Hybrid help boost Honda's credibility in the hybrid marketplace? To find out, Honda flew me down to Columbus, Ohio to investigate. Honda is making a big break with their past on the 2014 Accord Hybrid; you will not find the Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) system found in many of their hybrid vehicles. Instead, the Accord Hybrid gets the new Sport Hybrid intelligent Multi-Mode Drive (i-MMD) system that made its debut in the Accord Plug-In Hybrid. Sport Hybrid i-MMD is comprised of five different components: 2.0L DOHC i-VTEC four-cylinder Atkinson-Cycle engine producing 141 horsepower and 122 pound-feet of torque Two 124 kW electric motors - One acting as a propulsion motor, one acting as a generator 1.3 kWh Lithium-Ion battery Electronic Continuously Variable Transmission (E-CVT) Power Control Unit These five pieces help the Accord Hybrid produce a total output of 196 horsepower and EPA fuel economy ratings of 50 City/45 Highway/47 Combined. To pull those numbers off, the Accord Hybrid has three different drive modes: EV Drive Mode: Uses the electric motor to power the vehicle in light acceleration and cruising. The gas engine is decoupled from the drivetrain via a clutch to help reduce friction and increase fuel economy. Hybrid Drive Mode: Electric motor and gas engine work together to provide power. Engine Drive Mode: Engine is coupled back up to the drivetrain via a clutch and helps provide power during heavy acceleration and high speeds. You can also put the Accord Hybrid into a EV mode via a button on the center console. Once the battery is depleted to a certain point or the vehicle reaches a certain speed, the hybrid system will kick back on and charge the battery. Even with all of this technology, the Accord Hybrid is still very much an Accord in its design. You'll find blue accents on the grille and headlights for the Accord Hybrid. You also have a unique set of seventeen-inch wheels and hybrid badges on the front fenders and trunk lid to help it stand out from other Accords. Inside, the Accord Hybrid is almost the same as the standard model. The only difference between the Hybrid and the standard model is a new gauge cluster that displays information about the battery and other information about the system. Otherwise, the Accord Hybrid has the same nicely appointed interior with soft touch materials and wood trim. The front seats were comfy with a fair number of power adjustments on EX-L and Touring models. The back seats provided excellent head and legroom. Controls are somewhat of a mixed bag. The steering wheel controls and climate control system are easy to understand and use. Then there is Honda's i-MID infotainment system. It begins with a large, eight-inch screen sitting on top of the dash. On the base model, you have a set of large buttons and a knob sitting just below the screen to move around. EX-L and Touring models push the buttons and knob towards the bottom of the center stack. In its place is a small screen that controls the radio presets and hands-free calling. My first impression with this system wasn't good. It took me a few moments to find the button to move from the radio to hybrid information. Trying to get those controls is a bit of a reach as well. Then there is the touchscreen which is not always the fastest nor most responsive when changing stations. If I had more time to play with the system, maybe my tune would change. Now that I have given you a lesson on the Accord Hybrid, it's time to see how it works on the road. During my time behind the wheel, I was impressed by how seamless the system would transition between the three different modes. Unless I was paying attention to the gauge cluster, I wouldn't notice the change of drive modes. That is less true under hard acceleration or when EV recharge mode is needed. One worry I did have is that engine was very loud when it turned on. I hoping this is an oddity with the pre-production models we're driving. Aside from this, the hybrid powertrain is able to get up to speed at a very decent clip. Leaving a stop or merging onto some of Ohio's highways, I found that I wasn't wanting to more power. The Accord Hybrid had enough to keep up with traffic. Fuel economy wise, the Accord Hybrid was able to meet the EPA fuel economy ratings. During my time behind the wheel, I saw an average of 48 MPG. Out on the highway, I was able to see 50 MPG. 50 MPG out a midsize sedan?! Yeah, I was pretty impressed. The Accord Hybrid's ride was on the comfortable side with expansion joints and potholes being mostly ironed out. Wind noise is kept down, but the same cannot be said for road noise. Driving on rural roads or the highway, there was a noticeable amount of tire noise coming inside. Steering in the Accord Hybrid provided good weight and feel. One other feature I should point out is Honda LaneWatch. Mounted on the bottom edge of passenger's side view mirror is a camera that give you a view of what's to the right of you. You can activate LaneWatch by either pressing a button on the turn stalk or by signaling right. The system will pop up on the screen with a shot the road to let you know if its safe to pass or not. Its a creative solution, but I'm wondering why Honda doesn't also add a blind spot system to go with it as well. As for pricing, the Accord Hybrid sits between the Accord and Accord Plug-In Hybrid. The base Accord Hybrid starts at $29,945 (includes $790 destination charge) and will come with dual-zone climate control, power locks and windows, LaneWatch, and Bluetooth. Next is the Accord Hybrid EX-L which starts at $32,695 and comes with leather, upgraded audio system with a subwoofer, moonroof, backup camera, forward collision warning, and lane departure warning. Finishing off the Accord Hybrid lineup is the Touring which begins at $35,695 and includes navigation and adaptive cruise control. After spending some time with the Accord Hybrid, I think Honda has a very credible contender in the class. It has the performance and fuel economy that either matches or beats all of the competitors in the class. Plus, the value for the money equation is very strong here. But this is a big question looming for the Accord Hybrid: Can it be the model to put Honda as one the front runners in the hybrid class once again? We'll have to wait and see on that. Disclaimer: Cheers & Gears was invited to a first drive event by American Honda and provided the travel, vehicles, breakfast, and lunch for the event. Year - 2014 Make – Honda Model – Accord Hybrid Engine – Sport Hybrid intelligent Multi-Mode Drive (i-MMD): 2.0L DOHC i-VTEC four-cylinder Atkinson Cycle engine, two 124 kW electric motors, Driveline – Front-Wheel Drive, Electronic Continuously Variable Transmission (E-CVT) Horsepower @ RPM – 141 @ 6200 (Gas Engine), 124 kW @ N/A (Electric Motor), 196 (Total Output) Torque @ RPM – 141 @ 6200 (Gas Engine), N/A (Electric Motor), N/A (Total Output) Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 50/45/47 Curb Weight – 3,550 lbs (Accord Hybrid), 3,595 lbs (EX-L), 3,602 lbs (Touring) 2014 Accord Hybrid Pricing*: Accord Hybrid - $29,945 Accord Hybrid EX-L - $32,695 Accord Hybrid Touring - $35,695 *Includes $790 Destination Charge William Maley is a staff writer for Cheers & Gears. He can be reached at william.maley@cheersandgears.comor you can follow him on twitter at @realmudmonster.
  6. William Maley Staff Writer - CheersandGears.com July 18, 2013 Hyundai is building a competitor to the Lexus LS and Mercedes-Benz S-Class? That was my first thought when the Korean automaker announced their luxury flagship, the Equus was coming to the U.S. a few years ago. I was wondering if Hyundai was bitting off a bit more than they could chew. Going after the stalwarts of the luxury flagship was not an easy task, just ask the Volkswagen Phaeton. However the Equus has turned out to be more of a Lexus LS than Volkswagen Phaeton. Sales of the model last year are seven percent of the total luxury flagship market and is stealing customers away from the likes of Lexus and Mercedes-Benz. Why? Hyundai focused on its major strength on offering a whole lot car of for the money with the Equus, a formula employed by both Lexus and Volkswagen with different results. With a base price of $61,900, the Equus undercuts many of its competitors by an average of around $15,000. Now entering its third year in the U.S. marketplace, Hyundai is doing a mid-cycle refresh to keep the Equus fresh in light of new and refreshed models on the marketplace. How does it fare? I recently found out this past week at Hyundai's Technical Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan as Hyundai invited us to take a first drive in the 2014 Equus. The 2014 Equus mostly looks the same as the model that was introduced back in 2011; a conservative, yet handsome luxury sedan. The most obvious change in the design is up front where Hyundai designers changed the grille and bumper, added a set of fog lamps, and dropped the chrome accents on the bumper. The other change of note is a set of nineteen-inch turbine wheels that add a touch of class. The Equus' interior also saw a number of changes for 2014. Starting up front, the 2014 Equus gets a redesigned dashboard and center stack that gives off a more premium feel. There is a larger 9.2 inch screen for the infotainment system and new seven-inch screen in the instrument cluster. Equus Ultimate models get a 12.3 TFT screen in the instrument cluster, a heads-up display system, and a haptic feedback dial on the steering wheel. Moving to the back seat, Hyundai dropped the reclining back seat with the footrest and is just offering reclining for both back seats. There is also a new rear console that folds down and provides controls for the rear climate control and audio system. Seated in the back, I found myself being very comfortable and having more than enough head and legroom, even with the seat reclined. Those looking for more backseat luxuries should look at the Equus Ultimate, since it adds dual 9.2 inch screens and power door closure. Taking off from the technical center to begin the drive, I found the Equus to be very spritely. Leaving a stoplight, the Equus moves with authority like any luxury car should. Making a pass or merging onto a freeway was no sweat. This is thanks to the Equus' 5.0L Tau V8 with 429 horsepower and 376 pound-feet of torque. An eight-speed transmission is paired with V8 and sends the power to the rear wheels. The eight-speed is very smooth and seamless, what you expect in a big sedan. The shift logic worked brilliantly. Whether I buried my foot into the throttle or lightly touched it, the transmission went about its way with no sweat. The ride is up to par in the luxury flagship class. A revised air suspension system and bushings help make you and your passengers feel like you're driving on glass. Also, the Equus is eerily quiet at speed. Those who are hoping for a sporty drive with those revisions will be disappointed. The Equus leans when cornered and the steering really isn't set up for it. If handling is at the top of your priorities, you should be looking at the Germans. As for safety, the Equus has the usual assortment of features; nine airbags, stability control, traction control, brake assist, lane departure warning, and pre-collision warning. The Equus also comes with blind-spot warning with rear-cross traffic alert as standard equipment. Hyundai says the Equus is the only car in its class with this feature standard. Also standard in the Equus only is Smart Cruise Control with Stop/Start. The system uses radar to monitor what is in front and bring it to a full stop if it detects the vehicle in front is coming to a stop. Once the vehicle is moving, the system will accelerate the Equus back to its set speed. I can attest this system works very well as the Equus was able to stop to start back up with no problems at all. The price? Much lower than you think. $61,920 will get you into the base Equus Signature and $68,920 for the upper level Equus Ultimate. Those prices include three years of no-cost maintenance with someone picking up the Equus and leaving you with a loaner till your vehicle is done, and three years of Hyundai's BlueLink Assurance Connected Care. At first, you might have laughed at the notion of a Hyundai luxury vehicle. But after driving the 2014 Equus, I can say it's the real deal. While it might not be most distinctive nor the sportiest luxury sedan, Hyundai nailed the basics; smooth ride, powerful engine, number of luxury appointments and features, and value for money. The big question remains: Will the Equus take a place in history along side the Lexus LS by moving the barometer of what a flagship luxury sedan can be or will it suffer the same fate as the Volkswagen Phaeton; a capable entry into the marketplace but ignored due to it not having the brand equity needed to command the premium price? Disclaimer: Cheers & Gears was invited to a first drive event by Hyundai Motor America and provided the vehicles, breakfast, and lunch for the event. Year - 2014 Make – Hyundai Model – Equus Engine – 5.0L GDI DOHC D-CVVT Tau V8 Driveline – Rear-Wheel Drive, Eight-Speed Automatic Horsepower @ RPM – 429 HP (Premium Fuel)/421 HP (Regular Fuel) (@ 6,400 RPM) Torque @ RPM – 376 lb-ft (Premium Fuel)/365 lb-ft (Regular Fuel) (@ 5,000 RPM) Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 15/23/18 Curb Weight – N/A 2014 Equus Pricing: Equus Signature - $61,920 Equus Ultimate - $68,920 Includes $920 Destination Charge William Maley is a staff writer for Cheers & Gears. He can be reached at william.maley@cheersandgears.com or you can follow him on twitter at @realmudmonster.
  7. Last week, we introduced to the Scion iA. This model is part of a two-prong attack for Scion to get themselves out of the dark hole they currently find themselves in. The second prong to this attack is the Scion iM. Like the Scion iA, Scion turned to another maker - in this case Toyota - to see about using a current model to help revitalize their lineup. What they got was the European-market Toyota Auris hatchback as a replacement for the boxy xB. We came away impressed with the iA, will the iM be the same? The only real difference between the Auris sold around the world and the iM that will be sold in the states is the change from Toyota to Scion badging. Otherwise, the iM is one of the best-looking vehicles that Scion, let alone Toyota has brought out in a while. Such details as a narrow grille, 17-inch wheels with a black outline, and distinctive side sculpting give the iM a sleek look in a class that tends to play it safe. Moving inside, the iM isn’t going to set the world on fire in terms of looks. The dashboard is a simple design with a mix of hard and soft touch materials. Scion did a couple of things to the interior to make it look somewhat premium. Along the bottom edge of the dashboard on the passenger side and center stack, there is a piece of soft-touch plastic with stitching. Also, the center stack is finished with piano black plastic. Interior space is average for the class with the iM offering 90.4 cubic feet of passenger volume and 20.8 cubic feet of cargo space. What that means is that you and a few your friends will be comfortable no matter where they sit and be able to carry all of their stuff. You’ll also be able to expand that space with a set of 60/40 split folding seats. Standard equipment is quite generous on the iM with automatic climate control, heated outside mirrors, 4.2-inch TFT screen in the instrument cluster, six-speaker audio system, and a 7-inch touchscreen. The touchscreen is easy to use thanks to a simple interface and clear graphics, but Toyota’s infotainment system could use an update to make it slightly modern. Power comes from the Corolla Eco’s 1.8L four-cylinder 137 horsepower and 126 pound-feet of torque. There is a choice of either a six-speed manual or a CVT. For fuel economy, the iM is rated at 27 City/36 Highway/31 Combined for the manual, and 28 City/37 Highway/32 Combined for the CVT. The 1.8L has to be worked to get to its power zone. Now this would be great if the engine wanting to be worked with a nice engine note. This isn't happening in the iM as the engine sounds very unpleasant, telling you that you don't want to push the engine at all. Not helping matters is the standard six-speed manual transmission which has long throws and doesn’t feel precise when you put it into gear. Some people we talked to after the event said the CVT was the better as it seems more in tune with the engine’s behavior. We should state here that the particular iM we drove was equipped with some TRD parts - lowering springs and strut bar. This means we have some different ride impressions of this iM than other iMs available at the event. We’ll have some thoughts on the ride of the standard iM when we get one in for review in the future. On some back roads, the iM felt planted and showed little sign of body roll. However, the iM’s steering felt rubbery and didn’t have much feel. But for most owners, this isn’t such a big deal. In city and highway driving, the iM did a mostly decent job of dealing with bumps and imperfections. Some bumps did make it into the cabin, mostly due to the TRD suspension components fitted on our iM. Road and wind noise were about average for the class. The iM follows Scion’s ‘Mono spec’ mantra. That means every iA will come equipped with automatic climate control, 7-inch touchscreen, 17-inch alloy wheels, Bluetooth, and a number of other features. The only real choices for a buyer are color, transmission, and if they want to spring for navigation. Pricing for the Scion iM starts at $19,255 for the manual, and $19,995 for the CVT. The prices put the iM in a good spot as many competitors such as the Mazda and Ford Focus are a bit more to match the iM in terms of features. After spending some time with the iM, we came away somewhat mixed. While Scion has done a lot in terms of filling the iM with a lot a value, the powertrain doesn’t seem quite in tune with the vehicle. Now a lot this comes down to the manual transmission which isn’t a good fit. Pair this with the TRD parts which tended to make the ride a little bit worse, and it has left us confused about our feelings. We’ll admit that Scion is on the right track with iM with trying to reach a more mainstream audience, but we need some more drive time with it before we say whether or not it's a good fit for Scion. Disclaimer: Scion Invited Cheers & Gears to a Two-Day Driving Event In Grand Rapids Year: 2016 Make: Scion Model: iM Trim: N/A Engine: 1.8L DOHC, VALVEMATIC, 16-Valve Four-Cylinder Driveline: Front-Wheel Drive; Six-Speed Manual, CVT Horsepower @ RPM: 137 @ 6100 Torque @ RPM: 126 @ 4000 Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 27/36/31 (Manual), 28/37/32 (Automatic) Curb Weight: 2,943 lbs (Manual), 3,031 lbs (Automatic) Prices: $19,255 (Manual), $19,995 (Automatic) - Prices includes a $795 Destination Charge On Sale: September 1st
  8. Scion appears to be growing up. The brand which launched in 2003 with non-mainstream vehicles, a unique buying process, and a marketing campaign aimed at young buyers was a breath of fresh air. But the industry collapse back in 2008 and an aging lineup has seen Scion lose their key audience and drift into obscurity. So what does a brand aimed at young people that is treading water do? For Scion, it was time to get creative and work somewhat outside the box. Thus at New York, Scion introduced the iA and iM. What makes both of these vehicles different is they are actually rebadged version of other models. The iA is the sedan version of the new Mazda2, while the iM is the European Toyota Auris. So how do both of these new models stack up? First up is the 2016 Scion iA. For the most part, the iA is quite the sleek looking vehicle with sharp lines and a distinctive profile. This is due to the Scion iA being a slightly restyled Mazda2, which itself is quite the good looking subcompact. The one part where Scion had responsibility in the design was creating a unique front fascia. It looks like Scion squished the tC's front clip into the space for the front fascia. Many journalists who saw the iA thought it was ugly. But Scion explained they wanted something that was polarizing to stand out in a somewhat crowded class. They got that with the Scion iA for better or worse. Inside, the Scion iA is pure Mazda. This means we’re treated to a simple dashboard design with a fine mix of hard plastics, paired with soft-touch materials and stitching on the dashboard.. Also, the iA gets Mazda’s latest seven-inch infotainment system with a screen on top of the dash and set of controls on the center console. This system is easy to use and simple to navigate around. In terms of seating, the front passengers get a set of supportive bucket seats. The back seat is standard for the class with enough head and legroom for most passengers. However, you should tell your passengers to put the seat rests up Otherwise, they’ll be wondering why the backseat is trying to eat their back. Power comes from a 1.5L four-cylinder with 106 horsepower and 101 pound-feet of torque. There is a choice of either six-speed manual or automatic. In terms of fuel economy, the iA is rated by the EPA at 31 City/41 Highway/35 Combined for the manual, and 33 City/42 Highway/37 Combined for the automatic. For the suspension, the iA employs a McPherson strut front suspension and a torsion-beam axle in the rear. As for braking, the iA uses disc brakes around. On to the drive! The Scion iA seems perfectly suited for the city as the 1.5L engine is more than capable of getting up speed at a decent rate. On the expressway and country roads, the engine struggles to get up to speed. This is somewhat surprising when you take into account the iA's curb weight of 2,416 pounds for the automatic. At least the six-speed automatic is smooth and quick. But the iA begins to redeem itself when it comes to ride and handling. Ride quality was very composed and was rarely unsettled by any potholes or bumps. Handling reveals a bit of Mazda influence with iA feeling planted when pushed. The steering has a good feel and weight when you are hustling around. Like other Scions, the iA will be offered in what the brand calls ‘Mono spec’ - which means there is one configuration that boasts a lot of standard equipment including air conditioning, Bluetooth, the seven-inch infotainment system, 16-inch alloy wheels, and a low-speed pre-collision system. The only things a buyer needs to pick is whether to go with the manual or automatic transmission, color, and whether or not to go for the optional navigation system. Pricing starts at $16,495 for the manual, and $17,595 for the automatic (prices include a $795 destination charge). Scion appears to be going in gracefully with maturing if the 2016 iA is any indication. Teaming up with Mazda to build this subcompact sedan proved to be right call since a lot this vehicle just works and drives pretty well. If you can get over the front end, then the Scion iA is worth a look. Disclaimer: Scion Invited Cheers & Gears to a Two-Day Driving Event In Grand Rapids Year: 2016 Make: Scion Model: iA Trim: N/A Engine: 1.5L DOHC, Direct-Injected, 16-Valve Four-Cylinder Driveline: Front-Wheel Drive; Six-Speed Manual, Six-Speed Automatic Horsepower @ RPM: 106 @ 6000 Torque @ RPM: 103 @ 4000 Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 31/41/35 (Manual), 33/42/37 (Automatic) Curb Weight: 2,385 lbs (Manual), 2,416 lbs (Automatic) Prices: $16,495 (Manual), $17,595 (Automatic) - Prices includes a $795 Destination Charge On Sale: September 1st
  9. Americans can’t seem to get enough crossovers. A study done by IHS Automotive showed that one out of every three vehicles sold in the U.S. is a crossover of some various size. Hence why it seems a week doesn’t go by without an announcement of a new crossover from ‘x’ automaker. One area that seems to have new or redesigned models coming fast and furious is the compact crossover class. New models are wanting to take a nice chunk of sales from the stalwarts such as the Honda CR-V, Subaru Forester, and Toyota RAV4. Whether it's with impressive handling characteristics (Mazda CX-5) or the availability to have three rows (Nissan Rogue), new models are beginning to take a stand on the sales chart. Hyundai is the latest automaker to ready an attack on the old guard with the third-generation Tucson. The Korean automaker hopes the formula it has seemingly perfected over the past few years of great looks, an impressive feature set, and a low price tag can make the Tucson a contender in the class. I recently spent some time in Minneapolis and parts of Wisconsin driving the new Tucson to see if the model has a chance. One of the key focuses for Hyundai on the 2016 Tucson was style. How do you make your model stand out in a crowded class? Hyundai decided to grace the 2016 Tucson with its Fluidic Sculpture 2.0 design language complete with sharp lines, hexagonal grille, and a set of slimmer head and taillights. One key design item Hyundai pointed out during the briefing was how the wheel arches were raked forward to promote the feeling of movement. I have to admit that Fluidic Sculpture 2.0 has been hit and miss on some of the Hyundai models. I think it works great on the Genesis as it gives it an identity, while it makes the Sonata quite boring. For the Tucson, it works very well. The model is very striking and at certain angles, reminds me of the Mazda CX-5. The interior doesn’t have quite the same flair as the exterior, which is kind of a shame. But that doesn’t mean Hyundai left the interior as an afterthought. The design is simple with a wraparound dashboard and the use of contrasting materials. There is an equal mix of hard and soft-touch materials throughout, common for the class. Higher trims get a bit more soft-touch materials to make it feel more premium. In terms of standard equipment, the Tucson comes loaded. The base model boasts spilt-folding rear seats, a five-inch touchscreen radio, backup camera, and Bluetooth. Climb up to higher trims and features such as an eight-inch touchscreen with navigation, blind-spot monitoring, dual-zone climate control, heated and cooled front seats, and leather seats become available. In terms of comfort, the Tucson scores well when it comes to passengers. The front seats have a fair amount of adjustment to get you into the right position, and also provide enough support for short and long trips. Back seat passengers will find a fair amount of head and legroom. The only disappointment in the Tucson’s interior is cargo space. Compared to the best-selling CR-V, the Tucson is 4.2 cubic feet smaller with the seats up (31 vs. 35.2) and 9 cubic feet smaller with the seats down (61.9 vs. 70.9). For power, the Tucson comes with two engines. The base SE model uses the 2.0L GDI four-cylinder from the Elantra with 164 horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque. This paired to a six-speed automatic. Front-wheel drive comes standard, though if you want all-wheel drive, you’ll need to order the SE Popular package. Eco and trims above it come with the turbocharged 1.6L four-cylinder found in the Sonata Eco. The 1.6 makes 175 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. This comes paired with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic and the choice of front or all-wheel drive. Fuel economy numbers for both engines are as followed: 2.0L FWD: 21 City/31 Highway/26 Combined 2.0L AWD: 21 City/26 Highway/ 23 Combined 1.6T FWD Eco: 26 City/33 Highway/29 Combined 1.6T AWD Eco: 25 City/31 Highway/27 Combined 1.6T FWD Sport/Limited: 25 City/30 Highway/27 Combined 1.6T AWD Sport/Limited: 24 City/28 Highway/26 Combined Now the slight difference in fuel economy numbers between the Eco and Sport/Limited models mostly comes down to wheel size. The Eco comes with 17-inch wheels, while the Sport and Limited use 19-inch wheels. Let’s move on to the drive. Now before we dive into my impressions of the 2016 Tucson, I need to make note of something important. I didn’t get the chance to get behind the wheel of the Tucson equipped with the 2.0L engine. Hopefully in the future, I’ll be able to provide some impressions on that model. Getting behind the wheel of the 1.6T, I found it to be a very potent engine. This is thanks in part to the 195 pound-feet of torque that arrives at 1,500 rpm and continues to 4,000 rpm. No matter when I needed to make a pass or merge onto the expressway, the engine was ready to get moving. Hyundai also deserves some credit for making the engine very quiet at idle. The seven-speed dual-clutch automatic did cause me some worry as I had an unpleasant experience in a Sonata Eco I drove a couple months back. The transmission in the Eco was very sloppy in its shift and seemed to be confused with the 1-2 shift. For the Tucson, Hyundai has made a number of improvements to the transmission to make the shifts much smoother. The difference is very apparent with the transmission delivering smooth and quick shifts. As for ride and handling, the Tucson strikes a balance between sport and comfort. Hyundai has put a bit work into the suspension with a multi-link rear setup coming to all models - the last-generation Tucson used a single-link rear setup on the front-wheel drive model. The Tucson’s structure has also seen some improvements, with the body seeing a 48 percent bump in rigidity thanks to increasing the use of high-strength steel. Driving on a wide range of roads, the Tucson impressed in how it managed all manner of bumps and imperfections. The suspension was able to keep the impacts from reaching the passengers inside. More impressive was how quiet the Tucson was. Even on rough, gravel roads, the Tucson was able to keep road noise at a minimum. The Tucson’s handling may be Hyundai’s best effort yet. The crossover feels planted and shows no sign of body roll when being pushed. The only downside is the steering has a dead-zone when you begin to turn the wheel. Some resistance does appear when you turn the wheel further. This will annoy some people, but many will not even notice it. Pricing for the new the 2016 Hyundai Tucson begins at $23,595 for the base SE front-wheel drive (includes an $895 destination charge) and climbs to $34,945 for the Limited all-wheel drive equipped with the Ultimate package. Considering the amount of standard equipment for each trim level, the Tucson is quite the value. The third-generation Hyundai Tucson looks be the model to take on the old-guard in the compact crossover class. The new Tucson does mostly everything a crossover should do, along with impressive exterior design, an extensive feature set, and a turbocharged engine that is punchy. It may be that the 2016 Hyundai Tucson can be considered one of the best in its class. Disclaimer: Hyundai Invited Cheers & Gears To A National Launch for the Tucson. Year: 2016 Make: Hyundai Model: Tucson Engine: 2.0L GDI DOHC Four-Cylinder, Turbocharged 1.6L GDI DOHC Four-Cylinder Driveline: Front-Wheel Drive, All-Wheel Drive: Six-Speed Automatic, Seven-Speed Dual Clutch Horsepower @ RPM: 164 @ 6,200 (2.0L); 175 @ 5,500 (1.6T) Torque @ RPM: 151 @ 4,000 (2.0L); 195 @ 1,500-4,500 (1.6T) Curb Weight: 3,325 to 3,710 lbs Prices: $23,595 to $34,595 (Includes $895 destination charge)
  10. At the end of my review of the 2013 Nissan Maxima, I said “The 2013 Nissan Maxima is a very special car, but it's time for this 'four-door sports car' to take its final curtain call and have a new model ready in the wings.” Little did anyone know outside at Nissan that the current Maxima was possibly going to be its last. A recent report says that a next-generation Maxima wasn’t on the table due to the recession and Nissan focusing on fuel-efficient vehicles. But with a bit of convincing due to Nissan’s vice president of product planning, the Maxima was able to live on. This brings us nicely to the eighth-generation Maxima which debuted at the New York Auto Show in April. The new model is quite the departure from the last-generation Maxima in terms of looks and features available. Nissan says the 4-Door sports car is back. Well, is it? To find out, I drove two versions of the 2016 Maxima at a first drive event in Detroit. Lets begin with the elephant in room of the Maxima - the design. Compared to past Maximas, the new one is very much a shock. Nissan graced the 2016 Maxima with the design from the Sport Sedan Concept shown at the 2014 Detroit Auto Show. Such cues as the V-Motion grille, boomerang headlights, blacked-out pillars, kicked-up belt line and a floating roof are present on the production model. A set of wheels ranging from 18 to 19-inches finish off the look. The new Maxima is very much a polarizing vehicle with a number of people who either like it or hate it. Personally, I fall into former as it gives the Maxima the ability to standout not only in the full-size sedan class, but also in Nissan’s crowded lineup. The interior also got a major revamp. During the briefing, Nissan explained the development team went down to where the Blue Angels are stationed and studied the cockpit of their jets. What they took away was how the controls and information were in easy sight and reach of the pilot. Nissan took this and some design ideas from the GT-R and placed them into the Maxima. Sitting in the driver’s seat, you find that you are surrounded by a new instrument cluster with a 7-inch color screen and a center console that is angle towards the driver - that idea comes from the GT-R. The layout makes you feel that you are one with the car. Nissan also worked making the Maxima feel more premium - an issue I had with the previous Maxima. Better quality materials such as machined-look wood and aluminum trim, more soft-touch plastics, and contrasting stitching. The base S trim gets cloth, while higher trim levels get leather or a combination of leather and real Alcantara. The use of these materials really help move the Maxima up in the full-size class. As for the seats, they are the Zero-Gravity variety found on the Altima. They come with a little bit more bolstering to keep up the Maxima’s sporting intentions. I found the seats to be quite comfortable and provided good support for the route Nissan has us drive on. The back seat is also a little bit more roomy than the last Maxima thanks to increase in overall length - about 2.2 inches. The center stack boasts a new 8-inch touchscreen with navigation which comes as standard on all Maximas. It comes with a new interface which brings Nissan into the current century with a bright screen and more modern looking graphics. Nissan also falls into the pit of trying to mimic smartphones and tablets with the ability to swipe from screen to screen, and pinch and zoom on the navigation. I was worried that they system would fall apart as it would either not respond or respond slowly. The system did pretty well when it came to the swipe as the transition was very fluid and I saw no performance issues. Trying the pinch-and-zoom was another matter as it didn’t respond at all when I did the motion. There’s also a control knob near the driver which allows the driver to access more functions of the system. Power comes 3.5L VQ V6 with 300 horsepower and 261 pound-feet of torque. Compared to the older 3.5, the one found in the 2016 Maxima features around 61 percent of new parts including a new cylinder head, intake manifold, and sodium filled exhaust valves to pull heat away from the combustion chamber. Nissan also quick to point that per liter, the 3.5 in the Maxima is best in class with 85.7 horsepower. The V6 paired up to Nissan’s XTronic CVT which has been altered with a wider range of ratios, new shift logic to provide ‘shifts’ when driving exuberantly, and sport tuning. Under the skin is a redesigned platform with a lot of high-strength steel. Nissan claims that with this new platform, the 2016 Maxima is about 82 pounds lighter and 25 percent more rigid. The suspension has also been given the once-over with new rear dampers and some special goodies for the sporty SR trim. Lets move onto the drive shall we? The first Maxima I took out was the SR. Nissan is positioning the SR as the enthusiast’s choice with a number of changes in the suspension and interior. The Maxima SR’s suspension gets a set of retuned dampers, springs and stabilizer bar. There’s also a set of Goodyear F1 Eagle tires to improve grip and steering response. Inside, SR models get leather and Alcantara on the seats and the steering wheel. You’ll also notice a set of paddles to control the transmission in sporting situations. Taking it out on the route for our drive, I was impressed how the Maxima SR drove. Put the SR into the sport mode, and it becomes a ‘sports car’. The V6 accelerates harder while the CVT enters a mode to allow for stepped shifts. I was impressed with how the V6 never felt like it was out breath no matter where it was on the RPM range. In corners, the SR’s suspension hunkered down and provided excellent stability. Steering provided good weight and feel during the enthusiastic driving period. Also impressive were the seats which were able to hold me when I put it through it paces. Putting the Maxima SR back into normal, I found that it rode smooth for the most part. I could tell that a few bumps and imperfections were making their way into the interior, but its not to the point where it will become a concern to anyone. Wind and road noise were kept to acceptable levels. As for the CVT, I found it to be ok. There was none of CVT whine that has been accustomed to previous CVTs. The stepped shifts appeared when I was making a pass on the freeway, a nice touch. After driving the SR, I took out the top of line Maxima Platinum to see how it compared. Now the Platinum is quite a luxurious model with such appointments as quilted leather, wood trim, and the contrasting stitching. Out on the road, the Platinum felt slightly more comfortable than SR as bumps and road imperfections were kept at bay. On the curvy bits, the Maxima Platinum didn’t feel out of place when compared to SR. The steering still boasts the good weight and feel in the corners. The only real difference is in the suspension where the Platinum felt a little bit softer, which does let in some body roll. But if you’re not looking for it, then you’ll really won’t notice a difference. The Maxima lineup begins at $33,235 for the base S trim and climbs to $40,865 for the top-of-the-line Platinum - prices include a $825 destination charge. Interestingly, Nissan isn’t offering any options on the Maxima. Instead, the Maxima will be offered in five different trim levels with additional features on higher trims. Here’s a basic outline of how it will work. S - Base SV - Leather SL - Panoramic Roof SR - Sport Suspension and 19-inch Wheels Platinum - Quilted Leather So is the 4-Door Sports Car back? In short, Yes. Nissan has put a lot of work in the Maxima to it bring back into the spotlight and make it a contender in the full-size sedan class. Whether this helps the Maxima in the long run remains to be seen. Disclaimer: Nissan Invited Cheers & Gears to a Local Drive Event Year: 2016 Make: Nissan Model: Maxima Trim: SR, Platinum Engine: 3.5L VQ V6 Driveline: Front-Wheel Drive, CVT Horsepower @ RPM: 300 @ 6,400 Torque @ RPM: 261 @ 4,400 Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 22/30/25 Curb Weight: 3,488 to 3,593 lbs Location of Manufacture: Smyrna, TN Base Price: $32,410 (S) As Tested Price: $38,495 (SR), $40,865 (Platinum) (Includes $825.00 Destination Charge)
  11. Nissan debuted their 2016 Nissan Maxima at the New York Auto Show on April 2nd, and I was among the first to get to tag along for a drive in a pre-production model later that evening. I will get to the ride along later, but first some background. Going on sale in the summer, the new Maxima ups the ante over the outgoing model with very bold styling. No longer the conservative, big brother to the Nissan Altima, the new Maxima sports the new "V-Motion" style grille that first debuted on the 2015 Nissan Murano. The Maxima, once nearly a legend in its segment, has been in the doldrums lately. One of the problems with the current Maxima is that it is really no larger than the Altima yet costs substantially more money. Customers comparing a base V6 Maxima and a base V6 Altima could see up to a $4,800 difference in sticker price, and a loaded V6 Altima SL with all the options checked has a sticker price virtually identical to that of the base Maxima. With a value equation like that, it is not hard to see why Maxima sales were still one of the dark spots in the Nissan lineup, despite Nissan having a record breaking year in 2014 with an 11% sales increase. Related: Review - 2013 Nissan Maxima SV With the 2016 Maxima, Nissan hopes to change the value proposition. As is the trend across the industry lately, the Maxima is larger while dropping weight. Horsepower has increased to an even 300, up 10hp over the outgoing model and torque remains at 261 lb-ft. The only transmission will be a new version of Nissan's front-wheel drive CVT which features a wider range of ratios to allow for quicker starts and lower RPM cruising speeds. During aggressive driving, the CVT can “down-shift” more rapidly than before and will hold engine RPM when it detects high-G cornering to improve acceleration out of a turn. Click to Enlarge Up Next – The Ride Along On the final evening of the 2015 New York Auto Show, I was invited on a ride-along in a pre-production 2016 Nissan Maxima SR. This, the third highest trim the Maxima will be offered in, is also the sportiest. The SR trim will come with a sport-tuned suspension, 19” wheels, paddle shifters for CVT control, a more aggressive CVT sport mode, front chassis performance damper, and a larger front stabilizer bar. Arguably the most important change to the Maxima is with the interior. I described the inside of the 2012 Nissan Maxima during my review as “Modern minimalist”. In 2012, I was being polite. By 2015, the interior is decidedly dated. For 2016, the conservative interior is replaced with a bold and luxurious feeling design. Related: Road Masters - 2012 Nissan Maxima Review While this was a pre-production car, materials and fit appeared to be excellent. There is a deep, useful center console with contrast stitched rails on either side, an attractive departure from industry norm. The controls here feel more up-market than the brand suggests. Nissan has moved away from the push button seat temperature controls to the dial type found on the Nissan pathfinder. As this was an SR, the seats come with a faux-suede seat trim stitched in a triangle pattern. The front seats are Nissan's Zero-Gravity type up front, though they didn't feel quite as comfortable as those I have sampled in the Nissan Altima. The flat-bottom steering wheel rim is thicker than what is typical with sumptuous feeling materials including perforated leather. The steering wheel even features a homage to the V-Motion front grille. Click to Enlarge During our ride through Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn, one of the first things that stood out to me was how much quieter the Maxima was over its predecessor; likely a product of the new chassis and active noise control which not only quiets ambient noise, but also pumps select engine sounds into the passenger cabin. Most of the ride was spent in the SR's sport-mode. In city traffic, this made the Maxima feel stiff and throttle response feel jumpy even to those of us not behind the wheel. I will need more time in the car, and behind the wheel, to get an accurate perception of the Maxima's performance characteristics. Standard on all Maximas is Nissan's next generation NissanConnect with Navigation. It features an 8.0 inch color display with multi-touch. With the multi-touch feature, users will have familiar smart-phone like controls such a pinch-to-zoom and swiping for easier use. While I did not get to get deep into the system, I found it to be crisply responsive to commands and generally easy to find my way around. Unlike some of the Maxima's competitors, Nissan wisely decided to stick with real buttons instead of capacitive touch controls. The Platinum trim will offer a whole host of additional tech features including a drowsy driver alert. The 2016 Maxima will have a limited option list and instead be offered in five trims. The base Maxima S starts at $33,235, putting it about $1,000 more than the base 2015 model. That also makes the 2016 Maxima about $1,000 more than a base 2015 Toyota Avalon XLE and about $1800 more than a base 2015 Chrysler 300 Limited, both of which will be recently refreshed by the time the 2016 Maxima goes on sale. You can read about the entire list of features and options in our New York Auto Show: 2016 Nissan Maxima article. Related: Chicago Auto Show: 2016 Toyota Avalon, LA Auto Show: 2015 Chrysler 300 The original Maxima was considered one of the best family sedans on the market in its day, but it then faded into the background and has been largely unchanged and ignored since 2009. Do you think this bold new styling will allow the former king to regain his crown? Sound off below. The Live Shots Album has been updated with additional pictures since its original publication. Disclaimer: The Pre-Production 2016 Nissan Maxima was provided by Nissan to an event I attended after the 2015 New York Auto Show Press Days
  12. William Maley Staff Writer - CheersandGears.com October 9, 2013 While Toyota gets most the of spotlight when talking about hybrid vehicles, it is Honda that deserves a lot of credit for introducing hybrids to North America. In 1999, the Japanese brand introduced a weird looking two-seater vehicle called the Insight. The egg-shaped vehicle hid a very unique powertrain for the time; a gas engine paired with electric motor and a set of batteries. This combination helped the Insight get amazing fuel economy numbers. But since the first-generation Insight, Honda has played second-fiddle to Toyota in the hybrid marketplace. It isn't due to Honda sleeping on the job. It's more due to the majority of vehicles being flops. There was the 2004 to 2007 Accord Hybrid which put performance as the big priority and not fuel economy. There's also the second-generation Insight which looks very much like the Toyota Prius, but doesn't get the same or better fuel economy. Finally, we have the CR-Z which caused outrage because it wasn't anything like the original CR-X. The only real success since the first-generation Insight has been the Civic Hybrid which does decently in fuel economy and sales. But that isn't stopping Honda at all. Last year, the company announced two new hybrids for the Accord lineup; an Accord Plug-In Hybrid that would compete with the Ford Fusion Energi and a return of the Accord Hybrid. This time, the Accord Hybrid's main focus is fuel economy. Can the Accord Hybrid help boost Honda's credibility in the hybrid marketplace? To find out, Honda flew me down to Columbus, Ohio to investigate. Honda is making a big break with their past on the 2014 Accord Hybrid; you will not find the Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) system found in many of their hybrid vehicles. Instead, the Accord Hybrid gets the new Sport Hybrid intelligent Multi-Mode Drive (i-MMD) system that made its debut in the Accord Plug-In Hybrid. Sport Hybrid i-MMD is comprised of five different components: 2.0L DOHC i-VTEC four-cylinder Atkinson-Cycle engine producing 141 horsepower and 122 pound-feet of torque Two 124 kW electric motors - One acting as a propulsion motor, one acting as a generator 1.3 kWh Lithium-Ion battery Electronic Continuously Variable Transmission (E-CVT) Power Control Unit These five pieces help the Accord Hybrid produce a total output of 196 horsepower and EPA fuel economy ratings of 50 City/45 Highway/47 Combined. To pull those numbers off, the Accord Hybrid has three different drive modes: EV Drive Mode: Uses the electric motor to power the vehicle in light acceleration and cruising. The gas engine is decoupled from the drivetrain via a clutch to help reduce friction and increase fuel economy. Hybrid Drive Mode: Electric motor and gas engine work together to provide power. Engine Drive Mode: Engine is coupled back up to the drivetrain via a clutch and helps provide power during heavy acceleration and high speeds. You can also put the Accord Hybrid into a EV mode via a button on the center console. Once the battery is depleted to a certain point or the vehicle reaches a certain speed, the hybrid system will kick back on and charge the battery. Even with all of this technology, the Accord Hybrid is still very much an Accord in its design. You'll find blue accents on the grille and headlights for the Accord Hybrid. You also have a unique set of seventeen-inch wheels and hybrid badges on the front fenders and trunk lid to help it stand out from other Accords. Inside, the Accord Hybrid is almost the same as the standard model. The only difference between the Hybrid and the standard model is a new gauge cluster that displays information about the battery and other information about the system. Otherwise, the Accord Hybrid has the same nicely appointed interior with soft touch materials and wood trim. The front seats were comfy with a fair number of power adjustments on EX-L and Touring models. The back seats provided excellent head and legroom. Controls are somewhat of a mixed bag. The steering wheel controls and climate control system are easy to understand and use. Then there is Honda's i-MID infotainment system. It begins with a large, eight-inch screen sitting on top of the dash. On the base model, you have a set of large buttons and a knob sitting just below the screen to move around. EX-L and Touring models push the buttons and knob towards the bottom of the center stack. In its place is a small screen that controls the radio presets and hands-free calling. My first impression with this system wasn't good. It took me a few moments to find the button to move from the radio to hybrid information. Trying to get those controls is a bit of a reach as well. Then there is the touchscreen which is not always the fastest nor most responsive when changing stations. If I had more time to play with the system, maybe my tune would change. Now that I have given you a lesson on the Accord Hybrid, it's time to see how it works on the road. During my time behind the wheel, I was impressed by how seamless the system would transition between the three different modes. Unless I was paying attention to the gauge cluster, I wouldn't notice the change of drive modes. That is less true under hard acceleration or when EV recharge mode is needed. One worry I did have is that engine was very loud when it turned on. I hoping this is an oddity with the pre-production models we're driving. Aside from this, the hybrid powertrain is able to get up to speed at a very decent clip. Leaving a stop or merging onto some of Ohio's highways, I found that I wasn't wanting to more power. The Accord Hybrid had enough to keep up with traffic. Fuel economy wise, the Accord Hybrid was able to meet the EPA fuel economy ratings. During my time behind the wheel, I saw an average of 48 MPG. Out on the highway, I was able to see 50 MPG. 50 MPG out a midsize sedan?! Yeah, I was pretty impressed. The Accord Hybrid's ride was on the comfortable side with expansion joints and potholes being mostly ironed out. Wind noise is kept down, but the same cannot be said for road noise. Driving on rural roads or the highway, there was a noticeable amount of tire noise coming inside. Steering in the Accord Hybrid provided good weight and feel. One other feature I should point out is Honda LaneWatch. Mounted on the bottom edge of passenger's side view mirror is a camera that give you a view of what's to the right of you. You can activate LaneWatch by either pressing a button on the turn stalk or by signaling right. The system will pop up on the screen with a shot the road to let you know if its safe to pass or not. Its a creative solution, but I'm wondering why Honda doesn't also add a blind spot system to go with it as well. As for pricing, the Accord Hybrid sits between the Accord and Accord Plug-In Hybrid. The base Accord Hybrid starts at $29,945 (includes $790 destination charge) and will come with dual-zone climate control, power locks and windows, LaneWatch, and Bluetooth. Next is the Accord Hybrid EX-L which starts at $32,695 and comes with leather, upgraded audio system with a subwoofer, moonroof, backup camera, forward collision warning, and lane departure warning. Finishing off the Accord Hybrid lineup is the Touring which begins at $35,695 and includes navigation and adaptive cruise control. After spending some time with the Accord Hybrid, I think Honda has a very credible contender in the class. It has the performance and fuel economy that either matches or beats all of the competitors in the class. Plus, the value for the money equation is very strong here. But this is a big question looming for the Accord Hybrid: Can it be the model to put Honda as one the front runners in the hybrid class once again? We'll have to wait and see on that. Disclaimer: Cheers & Gears was invited to a first drive event by American Honda and provided the travel, vehicles, breakfast, and lunch for the event. Year - 2014 Make – Honda Model – Accord Hybrid Engine – Sport Hybrid intelligent Multi-Mode Drive (i-MMD): 2.0L DOHC i-VTEC four-cylinder Atkinson Cycle engine, two 124 kW electric motors, Driveline – Front-Wheel Drive, Electronic Continuously Variable Transmission (E-CVT) Horsepower @ RPM – 141 @ 6200 (Gas Engine), 124 kW @ N/A (Electric Motor), 196 (Total Output) Torque @ RPM – 141 @ 6200 (Gas Engine), N/A (Electric Motor), N/A (Total Output) Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 50/45/47 Curb Weight – 3,550 lbs (Accord Hybrid), 3,595 lbs (EX-L), 3,602 lbs (Touring) 2014 Accord Hybrid Pricing*: Accord Hybrid - $29,945 Accord Hybrid EX-L - $32,695 Accord Hybrid Touring - $35,695 *Includes $790 Destination Charge William Maley is a staff writer for Cheers & Gears. He can be reached at william.maley@cheersandgears.comor you can follow him on twitter at @realmudmonster. View full article
  13. To say Hyundai grabbed everyone’s attention when they launched the Genesis at the 2008 North American International Auto Show is a true understatement. Here was a model that came with rear-wheel drive, a choice of either a V6 or V8 engine, many luxury appointments and features, and the value the company was known for. The Genesis left many wondering what the devil the company was doing, but Hyundai had a plan. The Genesis was a model they thought would not only bring new people into the Hyundai fold; it would raise the allure of the brand. That’s just what the model did. Consider this: In 2009 when Genesis was on sale for a full year, Hyundai sold 13,604 Genesis models. In 2013, that number rose to 19,804, an increase of 46 percent. Now enter the 2015 Genesis. The second-generation models builds on what the first has done with improvements to theinterior, powertrain, chassis, and refinement. But Hyundai also has bigger ambitions as well with this model. During the presentation at the Detroit Media Preview, Hyundai named the likes of the BMW 5-Series, Cadillac CTS, and Mercedes-Benz E-Class as competitors to the Genesis. Big names to say in the least. Does the Genesis have what it takes? Read on. The 2015 Genesis is the first model in Hyundai’s lineup to introduce their latest design language named Fluidic Sculpture 2.0 which basically boils down to the design being a bit more restrained and losing a bit of the curvy-ness that the company was known for. Despite the loss in curves, the 2015 Genesis still seems to stand out. Cues such as the large, hexagonal grille up front; a choice of eighteen or nineteen-inch wheels, LED lighting along the outer edges of the headlights, and chrome exhaust tips give the 2015 model an identity. The same cannot be said for the first-generation Genesis. Overall length has increased to 196.5 inches, which allowed Hyundai’s designers to give the model a bit more aggressiveness by sharply raking the roofline at the rear to give a somewhat of a fastback shape. After seeing the Genesis in person, I can say for the most part that I like the design. My only problem is the front with the large grille. It makes the Genesis look too comical. Moving inside, the 2015 Genesis’ interior has been fully changed. The dash is logically laid out and controls are within easy reach of the driver and passenger. Materials are top notch with leather on the seats, an abundance of soft-touch materials on the dash and door panels, and real aluminum and wood trim. Seats offer a nice balance of comfort and support, along with twelve-way power adjustments. The seats were so comfortable in fact, my drive partner was falling asleep during the drive. Back seat passengers will be impressed by the amount of head and legroom on offer. Hyundai says the Genesis has more cubic feet of interior room than just about anything in the class. On the technology front, all Genesis models come with eight-inch touchscreen with navigation, a 4.3-inch color screen in the instrument cluster providing trip computer info, BlueLink telematics, and what the company calls Smart Trunk. Smart Trunk is where you stand near the back of the vehicle with the proximity key on you and within three seconds, the trunk will automatically open. Now before you think that the trunk will open up whenever you are near the vehicle, Hyundai says you have to have the vehicle locked and away from it for fifteen seconds before you can use this feature. Options include a 9.2 HD touchscreen, head-up display, and a 17-speaker Lexicon audio system.Powertrains carry over from the last-generation model, but have received a number of tweaks to improve drivability. The 3.8 V6 now makes 311 horsepower and 293 pound-feet of torque, while the 5.0L V8 makes 420 horsepower and 383 pound-feet of torque. An updated eight-speed automatic is the sole transmission for both engines. New for this generation is HTRAC all-wheel drive. The system which was developed in-house by Hyundai utilizes an electronic variable-torque-split clutch with active torque control between both the front and rear axles. The system normally operates at a 40/60 split, but can send up to 90 percent of power to either the front or rear axle. The system is available on the V6 only. Alright, enough about the details on the 2015 Genesis. Lets take a drive. Even though the 2015 Genesis weighs more than the outgoing model (4,138 lbs for the V6, 4,295 lbs for the V6 HTRAC, and 4,541 lbs for the V8), both engines are up to task of moving the vehicle at a brisk rate. The V8 produces a nice growl when you step on it and power comes very effortlessly. However the V6 engine is the sweet spot as feels just as powerful as the eight and gets better fuel economy overall. During the drive loops, I recorded an average 22 MPG in the V8, while the V6 with HTRAC AWD system got 25 MPG. The eight-speed showed the same characteristics as in theEquus I drove last year; smooth and quick shifts up and down the eight speeds. As for the all-wheel drive system, I couldn’t say if it improved handling or not. I’ll need to spend some more time with a Genesis to find out. Under the skin is a stronger structure with high-strength steel used throughout, revised multilink suspension front and rear, new variable-ratio, electric power-assist steering, and an optional continuous damping control system on the V8. What this means is that the Genesis is one of the first Hyundai models that actually drives pretty well. Both models showed no body roll and stability when pushed into corners, while steering provided good feel and weight. Now I can’t say whether it's as good to drive as a BMW 5-Series or Cadillac CTS till I drive either one. What I can say is compared to past Hyundais, the Genesis shows signs of improvement. Now all of those changes I talked about which improving the driving dynamics also help in thecomfort and quiet department. The Genesis’ suspension setup was able to soak up potholes and imperfections like they were nothing. Wind and road noise were kept to a minimum. Now onto the price tag. Hyundai has bumped the price of the 2015 Genesis by $2,500. So the base Genesis with the 3.8 V6 will now cost $38,000 (not including a $950 destination charge). That price increase nets you more standard features such as navigation, backup camera, Hyundai’s BlueLink Telematics, power folding mirrors, rain sensing wipers, and much more. With the first-generation Genesis, Hyundai made a statement of intent. The brand who was known for the Pony and the 10 Year/100,000 Mile warranty wanted to show that it could reach higher and become something to aspire to. With the second-generation Genesis, Hyundai begins to solidify that. Disclaimer: Hyundai provided the vehicles and a lunch during this first drive event. Year: 2015 Make: Hyundai Model: Genesis Engines: 3.8L V6 (311 Horsepower, 293 Pound-Feet of Torque), 5.0L V8 (420 Horsepower, 383 Pound-Feet of Torque) Driveline: Rear-Wheel Drive, All-Wheel Drive Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 18/29/22 (3.8L V6 RWD), 16/25/19 (3.8L V6 AWD), 15/23/18 (5.0L V8 RWD) Curb Weight: 4,138 lbs (3.8L V6 RWD), 4,295 (3.8L V6 AWD), 4,541 lbs (5.0L V8 RWD) Location of Manufacture: Ulsan, South Korea Base Price: $38,950 (3.8L V6 RWD), $41,450 (3.8L V6 AWD), $52,450 (5.0L V8 RWD) (Includes a $950 destination charge) William Maley is a staff writer for Cheers & Gears. He can be reached at william.maley@cheersandgears.comor you can follow him on twitter at @realmudmonster. View full article
  14. William Maley Staff Writer - CheersandGears.com October 10, 2012 1989 was a pivotal year in the automotive world. That would be the year when Toyota would introduce the Lexus brand and its first vehicle, the LS400. The LS shattered expectations of what a luxury car and quality should be. This startled the old luxury guard and caused many buyers to take a look at this newcomer. Twenty-three years later, the LS still carries the flag of what a luxury sedan should be to many. But Lexus hasn’t been one to rest on its laurels. The competition has learned and implemented many ideas from the LS, and Lexus tries its best to stay one step ahead. The LS has grown from single model to a range of short and long-wheelbase models packing either a gas or hybrid powertrain and a load of new technologies. The new 2013 LS hopes to continue that trend. Lexus invited me to down to The Townsend Hotel in Birmingham, Michigan to drive the LS 460 F-Sport and 600h L. This happens to be a big deal because an automaker outside of the big three has invited Cheers & Gears; a site was started as a place for GM fans to gather in 2001. Since that time, we’ve expanded the focus and coverage of the site to all automotive brands. Having an automaker that’s not based in the Detroit area, reach out and invite you to a drive event is a big deal. Previously known for its conservative outward appearance, Lexus chose a more audacious look on the 2013 LS. Up front, the new LS drops the Plain Jane front end styling of the last-generation model. The new model falls in line with other redesigned Lexus models by sporting the new spindle grille with chrome running along the length of it and a set of HID or optional LED headlights. The hood features a slight bulge running along the middle. In the back, Lexus designers took the current LS rear end and tapered it to match the aggressive look of the front. The interior has also been given a dramatic change, featuring a design similar to new GS and ES. Materials used throughout the interior include leather seats and dash, five different choices of trim including a new Shimamoku ("striped") wood trim, and soft touch materials. There’s a new instrument cluster with a 5.8-inch full-color TFT multi-function display sitting in the middle. The centerstack has a new 12.3-inch multimedia display sitting on top. The screen is controlled by Lexus’ Remote Touch, a Joystick controller. Using the remote touch system for the short time left me frustrated since it would take me longer to perform a function than using a touchscreen. Some people who have used the system a bit longer say it’s very easy to use once you get the hang of it. Safety-wise, the new LS comes with a new version of the Pre-Collision Safety (A-PCS) system with Collision Avoidance Assist. The system uses cameras and radar mounted on the front end to monitor the road. If the system detects an obstruction on road, whether it is another vehicle or a person, the system will intervene, provide an audible alert to driver, and begin to slow the vehicle down. If the vehicle is traveling under 24 MPH, the system will actually bring the car to a stop. I didn’t get the chance to try the system out for the fear of it not working and having to explain to Lexus why one of their priceless prototypes is sitting on a flatbed tow truck. Next: Shall we take a drive? Lexus will offer the LS in the following seven configurations: LS 460 LS 460 AWD LS 460 L LS 460 L AWD LS 460 F-Sport LS 460 F-Sport AWD LS 600h L (AWD) First up was the new for this generation LS 460 F-Sport. The LS 460 F-Sport is much like the GS 350 F-Sport that I drove back in May at the MAMA Spring Rally; appearance and suspension changes. The F-Sport gains a mesh grille, nineteen-inch alloy wheels, Torsen limited-slip differential on RWD models (AWD models have a Torsen center differential), sport tuned air suspension with drive mode select, Brembo brakes, bucket seats, aluminum trim, and paddle shifters. Under the hood lies a 4.6L V8 that carries over from the last-generation LS. Power is up from 380 to 386 HP (@ 6400 RPM) while torque remains unchanged at 367 lb-ft (@ 4100 RPM). For the AWD models, the power and torque numbers are 360 HP (@ 6400 RPM) and 347 lb-ft (@ 4100 RPM), respectively, an uptick of 3 HP and 3 lb-ft from previous generation. A smooth-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission seamlessly channels the power to the drive wheels. Driving in the LS F-Sport was a bit of surprise because of how sporty it felt. Turn the drive mode select to the Sport+ function and the personality of the car changes. The air-suspension firms up and keeps the car planted while the steering is weighted and provides a good response for each input. Even the engine has a bit of growl, thanks to an intake sound generator. When you decide to stop having fun, just turn the knob back to comfort and it’s almost like driving a normal Lexus. The ride is mostly comfortable, with a few bumps making their way into the cabin. I would put the nineteen-inch wheels and the vehicle being a pre-production model as to why those bumps made it in. Wind and Road noise were kept to a minimum. After returning the F-Sport, it was time to jump into the LS 600h L. The 600h L has been the flagship of the LS lineup since it was first introduced back in 2006. The 600h uses a hybrid system comprised of 5.0L V8 producing 389 HP (@ 6400 RPM) and 385 lb-ft (@ 4000 RPM), a 165 kW electric motor, and a nickel-hydride battery pack. Total output is 438 HP that goes through a CVT down to all four wheels. First climbing into the back seat of the LS 600h L, I was amazed at how much head and legroom there was. Compared to the short-wheelbase LS, the LS600h L’s wheelbase are about five inches longer. This allows Lexus to fill the back seat with many luxuries, including optional rear seats that recline and give you a massage. This is where you want to be sitting if you get the chance to ride in a LS 600h L. Leaving the back seat to sit in the front, I found the 600h L to be a big, soft luxury car. Lexus’ hybrid system provided enough power and was surprisingly quiet. Transition from electric power to hybrid was very seemless as was the CVT. Steering was what you expected from a big luxury car; light and not that much feel. The 600h L’s ride was very comfortable and quiet. Pricing for the 2013 LS lineup hasn’t been announced, but most likely the LS lineup would be structured as the base LS models being on the bottom, the F-Sport models in the middle, and the LS 600h L taking the top spot. The new LS will be arriving at dealers beginning sometime in November. Has Lexus raise the bar of what a luxury car should be with the new LS? Yes, but it is not the game changer as the original LS. Despite this, I predict this new LS will keep the other high end luxury sedan makers on their toes. Author's Note: Special thanks to Lexus and Toyota’s Midwest PR office for inviting Cheers & Gears out to breakfast and lunch at The Townsend Hotel in Birmingham, Michigan for this event. -WM William Maley is a staff writer for Cheers & Gears. He can be reached at william.maley@cheersandgears.com or you can follow him on twitter at @realmudmonster. View full article
  15. William Maley Staff Writer - CheersandGears.com November 26, 2012 Toyota is in the midst of a sea change. The company who is currently known as the brand who builds bland, boring, and reliable vehicles has been issued an edict by CEO Akio Toyoda to design and build vehicles with passion. We’re beginning to see some of the fruits of this edict bear out with the Scion FR-S and Lexus GS. Now, Toyota has introduced the next vehicle to follow this in the form of the 2013 Avalon. You might be wondering, the Avalon?! Well yes, Toyota wants break the adage that Avalon is for old people by giving the new Avalon a very sleek look, new interior, and a sporty ride. Does the change from couch on wheels to sport-infused big sedan work? The big thing Toyota hammered into our heads during the regional press preview in Ann Arbor, MI besides 'the new Avalon isn’t your grandfather’s car', was that the new Avalon was built with America in mind. Bill Fay, Group Vice President & General Manager, Toyota Division said during the Detroit launch, the new Avalon is “designed, engineered, manufactured, sold and serviced in America, the 2013 Avalon marks the beginning of a new era for Toyota… with the company developing more vehicles here specifically for the U.S. market.” Toyota's CALTY Design Research group was in charge of the new Avalon’s design and they did an excellent job. The overall look chucks the plain box look of past Avalons and goes for something that is very sleek and muscular. Up front, the most prominent design touch is a two-tiered grille layout. The bottom features a large chrome grille that makes a reference to new Aston Martin models. Above the chrome grille is a wide chrome strip with the Toyota emblem sitting in the middle. The side profile features a lot of deep contours, a coupe-like roofline, and a raked c-pillar. The back end gets two-tiered taillights and dual exhaust outlets. Inside the Avalon, Toyota put a lot of emphasis on making the Avalon look and feel very special. Materials range from soft-touch plastics, stitched door and dash panels, and leather seats. The only ding I’ll give the Avalon’s interior is the use of ‘plood’, it really doesn’t belong in this very handsome interior. The center stack features either a 6.1 or 7-inch touchscreen (depends on model), climate control, and what Toyota calls IntelliTouch controls, which are capacitive buttons. The capacitive buttons responded very quickly when pressed. Also appearing inside the new Avalon is Toyota’s Entune infotainment system. Entune uses your smartphone to provide applications like Bing, OpenTable, iHeartRadio, and Pandora in the vehicle. Entune also provides traffic, weather, fuel prices, sports, and stocks info. Sadly, I didn’t get the chance to play around with Entune during the event. Hopefully when I do get a vehicle equipped with Entune, I can go deeper into it. While the outgoing and new Avalon share the same wheelbase length, the new model is actually smaller in all exterior dimensions. Interior dimensions are largely unchanged from the outgoing model, meaning there is a load of head and legroom through out the new model. For safety, the new Avalon comes equipped a Rear Cross Traffic Warning system which warns the driver of vehicles in the way when reversing. There is also a Blind Spot Monitoring system, ten airbags, radar cruise-control, and optionally, a Pre-Collision System. Next: Shall We Drive? The new Avalon uses the same 3.5L V6 engine from the last-generation Avalon. The engine is rated at 268 HP and 248 lb-ft of torque going through a six speed automatic. The engine has got the oomph to move car at a very rapid pace, something that cannot be said of the previous Avalon. This is mostly due to weight loss of the new Avalon, dropping around 110 lbs from the outgoing model. The engine is also very smooth and quiet when you decide to drive it at a normal pace. The six-speed automatic provides is well-suited for this application providing some very smooth shifts. Toyota also fitted paddle shifters and ‘Dynamic Rev Management’, which blips the throttle on a downshift. On paper this sounds completely ridiculous for a big sedan like the Avalon, but when you actually try it, it works beautifully. I do wonder though if the age group that the new Avalon is targeted at (40 to 60 year olds) will actually use this feature. For those who are looking for some greenness in their big sedan will lean towards the new for this generation Avalon Hybrid. The Hybrid comes equipped with Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive which in this uses a 2.5L Atkinson-Cycle four cylinder producing 156 HP and 156 lb-ft of torque, a electric motor with 105 kW and 199 lb-ft of torque, and a nickel-metal hydride battery. Total system output is 200 HP going through a CVT. Performance is adequate with the run to 60 MPH taking about 8.2 seconds, about 1.5 seconds slower than the V6. Otherwise, the powertrain is very quiet and smooth whenever you’re in electric or hybrid mode. The CVT is a does a good job of keeping you moving and doesn’t make its presence known unless you push the pedal further down and the engine noise is abundant. The handling characteristics of the new Avalon and Avalon Hybrid can be described as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. When driven normally, the Avalon provides a very luxurious and gentle ride. Wind and road noise are kept to a minimum. It’s only when you take the Avalon onto a curvy road and show it some aggression that Mr. Hyde appears. Despite being a large sedan, the Avalon shows a surprising amount of agility when driven through a corner. The suspension keeps the Avalon planted while the steering has the right amount of weight and firm feel that you would want in a sporty vehicle. This is a one-eighty from the last-generation Avalon which had all the steering feel of a used-and-abused arcade racing game. Plus, the old Avalon felt like it going to tip over when driven enthusiastically due to its marshmallow-fluff suspension. So how was Toyota able to pull this coup off with the new Avalon? For one, Toyota added a number of welds to the new Avalon’s body giving it more rigidity. Toyota also fitted Dual link MacPherson struts in the back, stabilizer bars, and a new electric rack-and-pinion steering system. Finally, there is drive mode select which offers three different modes (four in the Avalon Hybrid) which modifies throttle response and steering effort. The modes are as followed, EV Mode (Only on Avalon Hybrid): Allows a vehicle to travel on electric power for a short distance Eco Mode: Increases the resistance to push down on the pedal, adjusts engine and climate control for better fuel economy. Sport Mode: Adjusts throttle and steering response Normal Mode: Balance between Eco and Sport The new Avalon goes on sale next month with a base price around $31,750 (includes the $760 destination charge) for the XLE V6. If you want the Avalon Hybrid, be prepared to shell out $36,315 for the XLE Premium. Toyota expects to sell around 70,000 Avalons within the first year, a huge increase from 23,078 Avalons sold through October this year. Toyota expects 80% of the new 2013 Avalon to be the V6 while the rest will be the hybrid. Toyota has taken their couch on wheels and has made the new Avalon into a big sedan that is able to balance comfort and sport pretty well. Will the Avalon's new balancing act bring in the younger generation of buyers that Toyota is aiming for? Author's Note: Special thanks to Toyota and Toyota’s Midwest PR office for inviting Cheers & Gears to check out the new Avalon, and providing breakfast and lunch at the Weber’s Boutique Hotel in Ann Arbor, Michigan. -WM Year - 2013 Make – Toyota Model – Avalon Engine – 3.5L DOHC 24-valve dual VVT-i V6 Driveline – Front-Wheel Drive, Six-Speed Automatic Horsepower @ RPM – 268 HP (@ 6,200 RPM) Torque @ RPM – 248 lb-ft (@ 4,700 RPM) Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 21/31/25 w/17-inch wheels, 21/31/24 w/18-inch wheels Curb Weight – 3,461 lbs Year - 2013 Make – Toyota Model – Avalon Hybrid Engine – Hybrid Synergy Drive: 2.5L 16-valve DOHC with VVT-i Atkinson cycle 4-Cylinder, Electric Motor Driveline – Front-Wheel Drive, CVT, Nickel-Metal Hydride (Ni-MH) Battery Pack Horsepower @ RPM – 2.5L: 156 HP (@ 5,700 RPM); Electric: 105 kW (@ 4,500); Combined: 200 HP Torque @ RPM – 2.5L: 156 lb-ft (@ 4,500 RPM); Electric: 199 lb-ft (@ 0-1,500 RPM) Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 40/39/40 Curb Weight – 3,585 lbs - 2013 Avalon Pricing: XLE: $31,750 XLE Premium: $33,955 XLE Touring: $36,260 Limited: $40,410 - 2013 Avalon Hybrid Pricing: XLE Premium: $36,315 XLE Touring: $38,010 Limited: $42,160 *Note: All prices include a $760 destination charge. William Maley is a staff writer for Cheers & Gears. He can be reached at william.maley@cheersandgears.com or you can follow him on twitter at @realmudmonster. View full article
  16. William Maley Staff Writer - CheersandGears.com July 18, 2013 Hyundai is building a competitor to the Lexus LS and Mercedes-Benz S-Class? That was my first thought when the Korean automaker announced their luxury flagship, the Equus was coming to the U.S. a few years ago. I was wondering if Hyundai was bitting off a bit more than they could chew. Going after the stalwarts of the luxury flagship was not an easy task, just ask the Volkswagen Phaeton. However the Equus has turned out to be more of a Lexus LS than Volkswagen Phaeton. Sales of the model last year are seven percent of the total luxury flagship market and is stealing customers away from the likes of Lexus and Mercedes-Benz. Why? Hyundai focused on its major strength on offering a whole lot car of for the money with the Equus, a formula employed by both Lexus and Volkswagen with different results. With a base price of $61,900, the Equus undercuts many of its competitors by an average of around $15,000. Now entering its third year in the U.S. marketplace, Hyundai is doing a mid-cycle refresh to keep the Equus fresh in light of new and refreshed models on the marketplace. How does it fare? I recently found out this past week at Hyundai's Technical Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan as Hyundai invited us to take a first drive in the 2014 Equus. The 2014 Equus mostly looks the same as the model that was introduced back in 2011; a conservative, yet handsome luxury sedan. The most obvious change in the design is up front where Hyundai designers changed the grille and bumper, added a set of fog lamps, and dropped the chrome accents on the bumper. The other change of note is a set of nineteen-inch turbine wheels that add a touch of class. The Equus' interior also saw a number of changes for 2014. Starting up front, the 2014 Equus gets a redesigned dashboard and center stack that gives off a more premium feel. There is a larger 9.2 inch screen for the infotainment system and new seven-inch screen in the instrument cluster. Equus Ultimate models get a 12.3 TFT screen in the instrument cluster, a heads-up display system, and a haptic feedback dial on the steering wheel. Moving to the back seat, Hyundai dropped the reclining back seat with the footrest and is just offering reclining for both back seats. There is also a new rear console that folds down and provides controls for the rear climate control and audio system. Seated in the back, I found myself being very comfortable and having more than enough head and legroom, even with the seat reclined. Those looking for more backseat luxuries should look at the Equus Ultimate, since it adds dual 9.2 inch screens and power door closure. Taking off from the technical center to begin the drive, I found the Equus to be very spritely. Leaving a stoplight, the Equus moves with authority like any luxury car should. Making a pass or merging onto a freeway was no sweat. This is thanks to the Equus' 5.0L Tau V8 with 429 horsepower and 376 pound-feet of torque. An eight-speed transmission is paired with V8 and sends the power to the rear wheels. The eight-speed is very smooth and seamless, what you expect in a big sedan. The shift logic worked brilliantly. Whether I buried my foot into the throttle or lightly touched it, the transmission went about its way with no sweat. The ride is up to par in the luxury flagship class. A revised air suspension system and bushings help make you and your passengers feel like you're driving on glass. Also, the Equus is eerily quiet at speed. Those who are hoping for a sporty drive with those revisions will be disappointed. The Equus leans when cornered and the steering really isn't set up for it. If handling is at the top of your priorities, you should be looking at the Germans. As for safety, the Equus has the usual assortment of features; nine airbags, stability control, traction control, brake assist, lane departure warning, and pre-collision warning. The Equus also comes with blind-spot warning with rear-cross traffic alert as standard equipment. Hyundai says the Equus is the only car in its class with this feature standard. Also standard in the Equus only is Smart Cruise Control with Stop/Start. The system uses radar to monitor what is in front and bring it to a full stop if it detects the vehicle in front is coming to a stop. Once the vehicle is moving, the system will accelerate the Equus back to its set speed. I can attest this system works very well as the Equus was able to stop to start back up with no problems at all. The price? Much lower than you think. $61,920 will get you into the base Equus Signature and $68,920 for the upper level Equus Ultimate. Those prices include three years of no-cost maintenance with someone picking up the Equus and leaving you with a loaner till your vehicle is done, and three years of Hyundai's BlueLink Assurance Connected Care. At first, you might have laughed at the notion of a Hyundai luxury vehicle. But after driving the 2014 Equus, I can say it's the real deal. While it might not be most distinctive nor the sportiest luxury sedan, Hyundai nailed the basics; smooth ride, powerful engine, number of luxury appointments and features, and value for money. The big question remains: Will the Equus take a place in history along side the Lexus LS by moving the barometer of what a flagship luxury sedan can be or will it suffer the same fate as the Volkswagen Phaeton; a capable entry into the marketplace but ignored due to it not having the brand equity needed to command the premium price? Disclaimer: Cheers & Gears was invited to a first drive event by Hyundai Motor America and provided the vehicles, breakfast, and lunch for the event. Year - 2014 Make – Hyundai Model – Equus Engine – 5.0L GDI DOHC D-CVVT Tau V8 Driveline – Rear-Wheel Drive, Eight-Speed Automatic Horsepower @ RPM – 429 HP (Premium Fuel)/421 HP (Regular Fuel) (@ 6,400 RPM) Torque @ RPM – 376 lb-ft (Premium Fuel)/365 lb-ft (Regular Fuel) (@ 5,000 RPM) Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 15/23/18 Curb Weight – N/A 2014 Equus Pricing: Equus Signature - $61,920 Equus Ultimate - $68,920 Includes $920 Destination Charge William Maley is a staff writer for Cheers & Gears. He can be reached at william.maley@cheersandgears.com or you can follow him on twitter at @realmudmonster. View full article
  17. Let us go back in time to October 2013 and my review of the 2013 Hyundai Sonata SE 2.0T. This is how I ended the review, “The current Sonata started a revolution in the midsize sedan and the fact it's still selling so well means the next-generation model has a tough act to follow.” Well the Korean automaker revealed the next act of the Sonata at the New York Auto Show back in April and it seemed that something was amiss. It was named Sonata, had the Hyundai badges, and was powered by a selection of four-cylinder engines. But it didn’t look like a Sonata. The new model had lost that stylistic edge that the previous one had. Not a good sign considering that most people correlate the Sonata with the Hyundai brand. Was Hyundai going backwards? This past week, I had the chance to check out the 2015 Sonata lineup to see if any of those fears I had were true. The 2015 Sonata features Hyundai’s latest design language called Fludic Sculpture 2.0. The new language is an evolution and provides a more mature look for Hyundai’s midsize model. The front end features a wider grille, reshaped headlights, and a new bumper. The side profile features a toned-down version of the coupe roofline and distinctive character line running from the front fender to the rear. Hyundai designers also increased the window space along the side to improve the feeling of interior space. The back has a reshaped trunk lid and taillights. New for this generation is the introduction of a Sport model which adds a more aggressive front grille and bumper; side skirts, eighteen-inch alloys, and quad exhaust pipes. I’m not sure toning down the Sonata’s look is a good decision. When the last-generation Sonata debuted, it stood out in the plain and bland midsize class. Now with the new one, it kind of blends in with everyone else. Sure, you can tell there are design cues that come from the previous model and the Sport models does add some aggression. I just think Hyundai is going a little bit backwards here. Moving inside, the 2015 Sonata feels much more spacious and high-quality than the last-generation. The waterfall center stack and dual-cockpit front seat layout has been put out to pasture. In its place is a wider center stack which not only improves the feeling of spaciousness, it also improves the control layout. Material quality has also seen a noticeable improvement with the lineup getting soft-touch materials and different trim pieces dependent on the model (Limited: Wood trim, Sport: Aluminum and faux Carbon Fiber). Back-seat passengers will see and feel a noticeable improvement in head and legroom. Equipment is generous across the lineup with all Sonatas getting alloy wheels ranging from sixteen to eighteen-inches, full power accessories, remote keyless entry, premium cloth upholstery, and 60/40 split-fold rear seats. For your entrainment needs, the base Sonata gets a standard radio with iPod/USB/AUX inputs, SiriusXM satellite radio, and Bluetooth. Next up is a five-inch touchscreen radio, followed by an eight-inch touchscreen with the latest version of the automaker’s infotainment system. Coming soon to the Sonata will be Apple CarPlay and Android Car integration. On the powertrain front, the 2015 Sonata has three different engines to choose from. The base is the 2.4L Theta II GDI four-cylinder engine. Standard on the SE, Limited, and Sport models, the 2.4 makes 185 horsepower and 178 pound-feet of torque (slightly down from the 190 horsepower and 179 pound-feet from the previous model). Next is the turbocharged 2.0L Theta II GDI four-cylinder with (down from 274 horsepower and 269 pound-feet of torque). The reason for the decrease in power is due to both engines getting Electronic Intake Continuously Variable Valve Timing (E-CVVT) and the turbo engine getting a smaller turbocharger to improve responsiveness and drivability. Both engines come with a six-speed automatic transmission. New for the 2015 Sonata is the turbocharged 1.6L inline-four which is standard on the new Eco model. The 1.6L makes 177 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. To get all of the power to the road, Hyundai fitted a new seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. The suspension setup is mainly the same with MacPherson struts up front and a multilink system in the rear. Sport models gain aggressively tuned dampers and springs. For steering, Hyundai employs two different steering systems. Most Sonatas use a column-mounted electric power-assist system, while the Sport 2.0T gets a rack-mounted setup which is said to improve responsiveness. Alright, enough information about the 2015 Sonata. Time to take it for a spin. See The Next Page For Drive Impressions. Before I dive into my impressions, I should say I didn’t get the chance to take a spin in the Sonata Eco. I hope to rectify that when I get a Sonata in for review in the coming months. First up was the Sonata Limited with the 2.4L engine. The 2.4L gets up to speed quickly when driving in the city limits, but begins to lose some steam as you climb higher in speed. I wasn’t sure if the power band dropped off at a certain point or if the gearing was tuned more for economy. As for the engine itself, it was very refined with minimal NVH levels. The automatic transmission goes about its business without making itself noticed at all. Ride quality is improved with a smooth ride and making imperfections seem like they don’t exist. Body monitions are kept in check when taken around corners. Steering is somewhat numb, but provides good weight. In other words, its pretty much par for the course in the midsize sedan class. Then I hopped into the Sonata Sport 2.0T. The 2.0T in the 2015 Sonata doesn’t quite feel as fast as the one in 2013 Sonata I drove last year. What has been improved is acceleration when leaving a stop. In the old Sonata, it felt like the turbocharger took a few seconds to spool up before delivering that punch. In the 2015 model with the smaller turbocharger, the response is improved and makes it feel a bit more punchy. Like in the standard Sonata, the automatic transmission does a fine job without bringing any attention to itself. Ride and handling is pretty much the same as the standard model which is surprising considering this is the Sport model. Steering oddly feels the same as the standard Sonata, despite a different steering system. Something tells me that I need to spend some more time with the Sport to see if there is really a difference, As for pricing, the 2015 Sonata lineup starts at $21,150 for the base SE model. Compared to the outgoing Sonata, the new model costs about $300 less. But don’t expect the removal of features. The base SE gets such items as LED daytime running lights, a driver knee airbag, blind spot mirror for the driver, and a rear lip spoiler as standard equipment. From there, the Sonata lineup climbs to $33,525 for the Sport 2.0T with the Ultimate Package. While the 2015 Hyundai Sonata has lost some of the edginess that made the previous-generation a standout in the midsize class, the 2015 model shows that Hyundai wants to move up and provide a vehicle that is seemingly well-rounded. The 2015 Sonata should be able to do something that the last-generation model started, bringing more buyers into Hyundai showrooms. Disclaimer: Hyundai Provided the Sonatas, Refreshments, and Lunch For This First Drive Event Year: 2015 Make: Hyundai Model: Sonata Engines: 2.4L DOHC D-CVVT Four-Cylinder (SE, Sport, Limited) 2.0L Turbocharged DOHC D-CVVT Four-Cylinder (Sport 2.0T) 1.6L Turbocharged DOHC D-CVVT Four-Cylinder (Eco) Driveline: Front-Wheel Drive, Six-Speed Automatic (2.4 and 2.0T) Front-Wheel Drive, Seven-Speed Dual-Clutch Automatic (Eco) Horsepower @ RPM: 185 @ 6,000 (2.4) 245 @ 6,000 (2.0T) 177 @ 5,500 (Eco) Torque @ RPM: 178 @ 4,000 (2.4) 260 @ 1,350 – 4,000 (2.0T) 195 @ 1,500 - 4,500 (Eco) Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined 25/37/29 (SE 2.4) 24/35/28 (Sport and Limited 2.4) 23/32/26 (Sport 2.0T) 28/38/32 (Eco) Curb Weight: 3,252 – 3,466 lbs (Models equipped with the 2.4) 3,505 – 3,616 lbs (Sport 2.0T) 3,270 – 3,298 lbs (Eco) Location of Manufacture: Montgomery, Alabama Pricing: SE: $21,960 - $23,160 Sport: $23,985 - $27,435 Eco: $24,085 - $28,185 Limited: $27,335 - $32,385 Sport 2.0T: $29,385 - $34,355 (Note: All prices include $810 destination charge.) William Maley is a staff writer for Cheers & Gears. He can be reached at william.maley@cheersandgears.comor you can follow him on twitter at @realmudmonster. View full article
  18. Americans can’t seem to get enough crossovers. A study done by IHS Automotive showed that one out of every three vehicles sold in the U.S. is a crossover of some various size. Hence why it seems a week doesn’t go by without an announcement of a new crossover from ‘x’ automaker. One area that seems to have new or redesigned models coming fast and furious is the compact crossover class. New models are wanting to take a nice chunk of sales from the stalwarts such as the Honda CR-V, Subaru Forester, and Toyota RAV4. Whether it's with impressive handling characteristics (Mazda CX-5) or the availability to have three rows (Nissan Rogue), new models are beginning to take a stand on the sales chart. Hyundai is the latest automaker to ready an attack on the old guard with the third-generation Tucson. The Korean automaker hopes the formula it has seemingly perfected over the past few years of great looks, an impressive feature set, and a low price tag can make the Tucson a contender in the class. I recently spent some time in Minneapolis and parts of Wisconsin driving the new Tucson to see if the model has a chance. One of the key focuses for Hyundai on the 2016 Tucson was style. How do you make your model stand out in a crowded class? Hyundai decided to grace the 2016 Tucson with its Fluidic Sculpture 2.0 design language complete with sharp lines, hexagonal grille, and a set of slimmer head and taillights. One key design item Hyundai pointed out during the briefing was how the wheel arches were raked forward to promote the feeling of movement. I have to admit that Fluidic Sculpture 2.0 has been hit and miss on some of the Hyundai models. I think it works great on the Genesis as it gives it an identity, while it makes the Sonata quite boring. For the Tucson, it works very well. The model is very striking and at certain angles, reminds me of the Mazda CX-5. The interior doesn’t have quite the same flair as the exterior, which is kind of a shame. But that doesn’t mean Hyundai left the interior as an afterthought. The design is simple with a wraparound dashboard and the use of contrasting materials. There is an equal mix of hard and soft-touch materials throughout, common for the class. Higher trims get a bit more soft-touch materials to make it feel more premium. In terms of standard equipment, the Tucson comes loaded. The base model boasts spilt-folding rear seats, a five-inch touchscreen radio, backup camera, and Bluetooth. Climb up to higher trims and features such as an eight-inch touchscreen with navigation, blind-spot monitoring, dual-zone climate control, heated and cooled front seats, and leather seats become available. In terms of comfort, the Tucson scores well when it comes to passengers. The front seats have a fair amount of adjustment to get you into the right position, and also provide enough support for short and long trips. Back seat passengers will find a fair amount of head and legroom. The only disappointment in the Tucson’s interior is cargo space. Compared to the best-selling CR-V, the Tucson is 4.2 cubic feet smaller with the seats up (31 vs. 35.2) and 9 cubic feet smaller with the seats down (61.9 vs. 70.9). For power, the Tucson comes with two engines. The base SE model uses the 2.0L GDI four-cylinder from the Elantra with 164 horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque. This paired to a six-speed automatic. Front-wheel drive comes standard, though if you want all-wheel drive, you’ll need to order the SE Popular package. Eco and trims above it come with the turbocharged 1.6L four-cylinder found in the Sonata Eco. The 1.6 makes 175 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. This comes paired with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic and the choice of front or all-wheel drive. Fuel economy numbers for both engines are as followed: 2.0L FWD: 21 City/31 Highway/26 Combined 2.0L AWD: 21 City/26 Highway/ 23 Combined 1.6T FWD Eco: 26 City/33 Highway/29 Combined 1.6T AWD Eco: 25 City/31 Highway/27 Combined 1.6T FWD Sport/Limited: 25 City/30 Highway/27 Combined 1.6T AWD Sport/Limited: 24 City/28 Highway/26 Combined Now the slight difference in fuel economy numbers between the Eco and Sport/Limited models mostly comes down to wheel size. The Eco comes with 17-inch wheels, while the Sport and Limited use 19-inch wheels. Let’s move on to the drive. Now before we dive into my impressions of the 2016 Tucson, I need to make note of something important. I didn’t get the chance to get behind the wheel of the Tucson equipped with the 2.0L engine. Hopefully in the future, I’ll be able to provide some impressions on that model. Getting behind the wheel of the 1.6T, I found it to be a very potent engine. This is thanks in part to the 195 pound-feet of torque that arrives at 1,500 rpm and continues to 4,000 rpm. No matter when I needed to make a pass or merge onto the expressway, the engine was ready to get moving. Hyundai also deserves some credit for making the engine very quiet at idle. The seven-speed dual-clutch automatic did cause me some worry as I had an unpleasant experience in a Sonata Eco I drove a couple months back. The transmission in the Eco was very sloppy in its shift and seemed to be confused with the 1-2 shift. For the Tucson, Hyundai has made a number of improvements to the transmission to make the shifts much smoother. The difference is very apparent with the transmission delivering smooth and quick shifts. As for ride and handling, the Tucson strikes a balance between sport and comfort. Hyundai has put a bit work into the suspension with a multi-link rear setup coming to all models - the last-generation Tucson used a single-link rear setup on the front-wheel drive model. The Tucson’s structure has also seen some improvements, with the body seeing a 48 percent bump in rigidity thanks to increasing the use of high-strength steel. Driving on a wide range of roads, the Tucson impressed in how it managed all manner of bumps and imperfections. The suspension was able to keep the impacts from reaching the passengers inside. More impressive was how quiet the Tucson was. Even on rough, gravel roads, the Tucson was able to keep road noise at a minimum. The Tucson’s handling may be Hyundai’s best effort yet. The crossover feels planted and shows no sign of body roll when being pushed. The only downside is the steering has a dead-zone when you begin to turn the wheel. Some resistance does appear when you turn the wheel further. This will annoy some people, but many will not even notice it. Pricing for the new the 2016 Hyundai Tucson begins at $23,595 for the base SE front-wheel drive (includes an $895 destination charge) and climbs to $34,945 for the Limited all-wheel drive equipped with the Ultimate package. Considering the amount of standard equipment for each trim level, the Tucson is quite the value. The third-generation Hyundai Tucson looks be the model to take on the old-guard in the compact crossover class. The new Tucson does mostly everything a crossover should do, along with impressive exterior design, an extensive feature set, and a turbocharged engine that is punchy. It may be that the 2016 Hyundai Tucson can be considered one of the best in its class. Disclaimer: Hyundai Invited Cheers & Gears To A National Launch for the Tucson. Year: 2016 Make: Hyundai Model: Tucson Engine: 2.0L GDI DOHC Four-Cylinder, Turbocharged 1.6L GDI DOHC Four-Cylinder Driveline: Front-Wheel Drive, All-Wheel Drive: Six-Speed Automatic, Seven-Speed Dual Clutch Horsepower @ RPM: 164 @ 6,200 (2.0L); 175 @ 5,500 (1.6T) Torque @ RPM: 151 @ 4,000 (2.0L); 195 @ 1,500-4,500 (1.6T) Curb Weight: 3,325 to 3,710 lbs Prices: $23,595 to $34,595 (Includes $895 destination charge) View full article
  19. Scion appears to be growing up. The brand which launched in 2003 with non-mainstream vehicles, a unique buying process, and a marketing campaign aimed at young buyers was a breath of fresh air. But the industry collapse back in 2008 and an aging lineup has seen Scion lose their key audience and drift into obscurity. So what does a brand aimed at young people that is treading water do? For Scion, it was time to get creative and work somewhat outside the box. Thus at New York, Scion introduced the iA and iM. What makes both of these vehicles different is they are actually rebadged version of other models. The iA is the sedan version of the new Mazda2, while the iM is the European Toyota Auris. So how do both of these new models stack up? First up is the 2016 Scion iA. For the most part, the iA is quite the sleek looking vehicle with sharp lines and a distinctive profile. This is due to the Scion iA being a slightly restyled Mazda2, which itself is quite the good looking subcompact. The one part where Scion had responsibility in the design was creating a unique front fascia. It looks like Scion squished the tC's front clip into the space for the front fascia. Many journalists who saw the iA thought it was ugly. But Scion explained they wanted something that was polarizing to stand out in a somewhat crowded class. They got that with the Scion iA for better or worse. Inside, the Scion iA is pure Mazda. This means we’re treated to a simple dashboard design with a fine mix of hard plastics, paired with soft-touch materials and stitching on the dashboard.. Also, the iA gets Mazda’s latest seven-inch infotainment system with a screen on top of the dash and set of controls on the center console. This system is easy to use and simple to navigate around. In terms of seating, the front passengers get a set of supportive bucket seats. The back seat is standard for the class with enough head and legroom for most passengers. However, you should tell your passengers to put the seat rests up Otherwise, they’ll be wondering why the backseat is trying to eat their back. Power comes from a 1.5L four-cylinder with 106 horsepower and 101 pound-feet of torque. There is a choice of either six-speed manual or automatic. In terms of fuel economy, the iA is rated by the EPA at 31 City/41 Highway/35 Combined for the manual, and 33 City/42 Highway/37 Combined for the automatic. For the suspension, the iA employs a McPherson strut front suspension and a torsion-beam axle in the rear. As for braking, the iA uses disc brakes around. On to the drive! The Scion iA seems perfectly suited for the city as the 1.5L engine is more than capable of getting up speed at a decent rate. On the expressway and country roads, the engine struggles to get up to speed. This is somewhat surprising when you take into account the iA's curb weight of 2,416 pounds for the automatic. At least the six-speed automatic is smooth and quick. But the iA begins to redeem itself when it comes to ride and handling. Ride quality was very composed and was rarely unsettled by any potholes or bumps. Handling reveals a bit of Mazda influence with iA feeling planted when pushed. The steering has a good feel and weight when you are hustling around. Like other Scions, the iA will be offered in what the brand calls ‘Mono spec’ - which means there is one configuration that boasts a lot of standard equipment including air conditioning, Bluetooth, the seven-inch infotainment system, 16-inch alloy wheels, and a low-speed pre-collision system. The only things a buyer needs to pick is whether to go with the manual or automatic transmission, color, and whether or not to go for the optional navigation system. Pricing starts at $16,495 for the manual, and $17,595 for the automatic (prices include a $795 destination charge). Scion appears to be going in gracefully with maturing if the 2016 iA is any indication. Teaming up with Mazda to build this subcompact sedan proved to be right call since a lot this vehicle just works and drives pretty well. If you can get over the front end, then the Scion iA is worth a look. Disclaimer: Scion Invited Cheers & Gears to a Two-Day Driving Event In Grand Rapids Year: 2016 Make: Scion Model: iA Trim: N/A Engine: 1.5L DOHC, Direct-Injected, 16-Valve Four-Cylinder Driveline: Front-Wheel Drive; Six-Speed Manual, Six-Speed Automatic Horsepower @ RPM: 106 @ 6000 Torque @ RPM: 103 @ 4000 Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 31/41/35 (Manual), 33/42/37 (Automatic) Curb Weight: 2,385 lbs (Manual), 2,416 lbs (Automatic) Prices: $16,495 (Manual), $17,595 (Automatic) - Prices includes a $795 Destination Charge On Sale: September 1st View full article
  20. At the end of my review of the 2013 Nissan Maxima, I said “The 2013 Nissan Maxima is a very special car, but it's time for this 'four-door sports car' to take its final curtain call and have a new model ready in the wings.” Little did anyone know outside at Nissan that the current Maxima was possibly going to be its last. A recent report says that a next-generation Maxima wasn’t on the table due to the recession and Nissan focusing on fuel-efficient vehicles. But with a bit of convincing due to Nissan’s vice president of product planning, the Maxima was able to live on. This brings us nicely to the eighth-generation Maxima which debuted at the New York Auto Show in April. The new model is quite the departure from the last-generation Maxima in terms of looks and features available. Nissan says the 4-Door sports car is back. Well, is it? To find out, I drove two versions of the 2016 Maxima at a first drive event in Detroit. Lets begin with the elephant in room of the Maxima - the design. Compared to past Maximas, the new one is very much a shock. Nissan graced the 2016 Maxima with the design from the Sport Sedan Concept shown at the 2014 Detroit Auto Show. Such cues as the V-Motion grille, boomerang headlights, blacked-out pillars, kicked-up belt line and a floating roof are present on the production model. A set of wheels ranging from 18 to 19-inches finish off the look. The new Maxima is very much a polarizing vehicle with a number of people who either like it or hate it. Personally, I fall into former as it gives the Maxima the ability to standout not only in the full-size sedan class, but also in Nissan’s crowded lineup. The interior also got a major revamp. During the briefing, Nissan explained the development team went down to where the Blue Angels are stationed and studied the cockpit of their jets. What they took away was how the controls and information were in easy sight and reach of the pilot. Nissan took this and some design ideas from the GT-R and placed them into the Maxima. Sitting in the driver’s seat, you find that you are surrounded by a new instrument cluster with a 7-inch color screen and a center console that is angle towards the driver - that idea comes from the GT-R. The layout makes you feel that you are one with the car. Nissan also worked making the Maxima feel more premium - an issue I had with the previous Maxima. Better quality materials such as machined-look wood and aluminum trim, more soft-touch plastics, and contrasting stitching. The base S trim gets cloth, while higher trim levels get leather or a combination of leather and real Alcantara. The use of these materials really help move the Maxima up in the full-size class. As for the seats, they are the Zero-Gravity variety found on the Altima. They come with a little bit more bolstering to keep up the Maxima’s sporting intentions. I found the seats to be quite comfortable and provided good support for the route Nissan has us drive on. The back seat is also a little bit more roomy than the last Maxima thanks to increase in overall length - about 2.2 inches. The center stack boasts a new 8-inch touchscreen with navigation which comes as standard on all Maximas. It comes with a new interface which brings Nissan into the current century with a bright screen and more modern looking graphics. Nissan also falls into the pit of trying to mimic smartphones and tablets with the ability to swipe from screen to screen, and pinch and zoom on the navigation. I was worried that they system would fall apart as it would either not respond or respond slowly. The system did pretty well when it came to the swipe as the transition was very fluid and I saw no performance issues. Trying the pinch-and-zoom was another matter as it didn’t respond at all when I did the motion. There’s also a control knob near the driver which allows the driver to access more functions of the system. Power comes 3.5L VQ V6 with 300 horsepower and 261 pound-feet of torque. Compared to the older 3.5, the one found in the 2016 Maxima features around 61 percent of new parts including a new cylinder head, intake manifold, and sodium filled exhaust valves to pull heat away from the combustion chamber. Nissan also quick to point that per liter, the 3.5 in the Maxima is best in class with 85.7 horsepower. The V6 paired up to Nissan’s XTronic CVT which has been altered with a wider range of ratios, new shift logic to provide ‘shifts’ when driving exuberantly, and sport tuning. Under the skin is a redesigned platform with a lot of high-strength steel. Nissan claims that with this new platform, the 2016 Maxima is about 82 pounds lighter and 25 percent more rigid. The suspension has also been given the once-over with new rear dampers and some special goodies for the sporty SR trim. Lets move onto the drive shall we? The first Maxima I took out was the SR. Nissan is positioning the SR as the enthusiast’s choice with a number of changes in the suspension and interior. The Maxima SR’s suspension gets a set of retuned dampers, springs and stabilizer bar. There’s also a set of Goodyear F1 Eagle tires to improve grip and steering response. Inside, SR models get leather and Alcantara on the seats and the steering wheel. You’ll also notice a set of paddles to control the transmission in sporting situations. Taking it out on the route for our drive, I was impressed how the Maxima SR drove. Put the SR into the sport mode, and it becomes a ‘sports car’. The V6 accelerates harder while the CVT enters a mode to allow for stepped shifts. I was impressed with how the V6 never felt like it was out breath no matter where it was on the RPM range. In corners, the SR’s suspension hunkered down and provided excellent stability. Steering provided good weight and feel during the enthusiastic driving period. Also impressive were the seats which were able to hold me when I put it through it paces. Putting the Maxima SR back into normal, I found that it rode smooth for the most part. I could tell that a few bumps and imperfections were making their way into the interior, but its not to the point where it will become a concern to anyone. Wind and road noise were kept to acceptable levels. As for the CVT, I found it to be ok. There was none of CVT whine that has been accustomed to previous CVTs. The stepped shifts appeared when I was making a pass on the freeway, a nice touch. After driving the SR, I took out the top of line Maxima Platinum to see how it compared. Now the Platinum is quite a luxurious model with such appointments as quilted leather, wood trim, and the contrasting stitching. Out on the road, the Platinum felt slightly more comfortable than SR as bumps and road imperfections were kept at bay. On the curvy bits, the Maxima Platinum didn’t feel out of place when compared to SR. The steering still boasts the good weight and feel in the corners. The only real difference is in the suspension where the Platinum felt a little bit softer, which does let in some body roll. But if you’re not looking for it, then you’ll really won’t notice a difference. The Maxima lineup begins at $33,235 for the base S trim and climbs to $40,865 for the top-of-the-line Platinum - prices include a $825 destination charge. Interestingly, Nissan isn’t offering any options on the Maxima. Instead, the Maxima will be offered in five different trim levels with additional features on higher trims. Here’s a basic outline of how it will work. S - Base SV - Leather SL - Panoramic Roof SR - Sport Suspension and 19-inch Wheels Platinum - Quilted Leather So is the 4-Door Sports Car back? In short, Yes. Nissan has put a lot of work in the Maxima to it bring back into the spotlight and make it a contender in the full-size sedan class. Whether this helps the Maxima in the long run remains to be seen. Disclaimer: Nissan Invited Cheers & Gears to a Local Drive Event Year: 2016 Make: Nissan Model: Maxima Trim: SR, Platinum Engine: 3.5L VQ V6 Driveline: Front-Wheel Drive, CVT Horsepower @ RPM: 300 @ 6,400 Torque @ RPM: 261 @ 4,400 Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 22/30/25 Curb Weight: 3,488 to 3,593 lbs Location of Manufacture: Smyrna, TN Base Price: $32,410 (S) As Tested Price: $38,495 (SR), $40,865 (Platinum) (Includes $825.00 Destination Charge) View full article
  21. Last week, we introduced to the Scion iA. This model is part of a two-prong attack for Scion to get themselves out of the dark hole they currently find themselves in. The second prong to this attack is the Scion iM. Like the Scion iA, Scion turned to another maker - in this case Toyota - to see about using a current model to help revitalize their lineup. What they got was the European-market Toyota Auris hatchback as a replacement for the boxy xB. We came away impressed with the iA, will the iM be the same? The only real difference between the Auris sold around the world and the iM that will be sold in the states is the change from Toyota to Scion badging. Otherwise, the iM is one of the best-looking vehicles that Scion, let alone Toyota has brought out in a while. Such details as a narrow grille, 17-inch wheels with a black outline, and distinctive side sculpting give the iM a sleek look in a class that tends to play it safe. Moving inside, the iM isn’t going to set the world on fire in terms of looks. The dashboard is a simple design with a mix of hard and soft touch materials. Scion did a couple of things to the interior to make it look somewhat premium. Along the bottom edge of the dashboard on the passenger side and center stack, there is a piece of soft-touch plastic with stitching. Also, the center stack is finished with piano black plastic. Interior space is average for the class with the iM offering 90.4 cubic feet of passenger volume and 20.8 cubic feet of cargo space. What that means is that you and a few your friends will be comfortable no matter where they sit and be able to carry all of their stuff. You’ll also be able to expand that space with a set of 60/40 split folding seats. Standard equipment is quite generous on the iM with automatic climate control, heated outside mirrors, 4.2-inch TFT screen in the instrument cluster, six-speaker audio system, and a 7-inch touchscreen. The touchscreen is easy to use thanks to a simple interface and clear graphics, but Toyota’s infotainment system could use an update to make it slightly modern. Power comes from the Corolla Eco’s 1.8L four-cylinder 137 horsepower and 126 pound-feet of torque. There is a choice of either a six-speed manual or a CVT. For fuel economy, the iM is rated at 27 City/36 Highway/31 Combined for the manual, and 28 City/37 Highway/32 Combined for the CVT. The 1.8L has to be worked to get to its power zone. Now this would be great if the engine wanting to be worked with a nice engine note. This isn't happening in the iM as the engine sounds very unpleasant, telling you that you don't want to push the engine at all. Not helping matters is the standard six-speed manual transmission which has long throws and doesn’t feel precise when you put it into gear. Some people we talked to after the event said the CVT was the better as it seems more in tune with the engine’s behavior. We should state here that the particular iM we drove was equipped with some TRD parts - lowering springs and strut bar. This means we have some different ride impressions of this iM than other iMs available at the event. We’ll have some thoughts on the ride of the standard iM when we get one in for review in the future. On some back roads, the iM felt planted and showed little sign of body roll. However, the iM’s steering felt rubbery and didn’t have much feel. But for most owners, this isn’t such a big deal. In city and highway driving, the iM did a mostly decent job of dealing with bumps and imperfections. Some bumps did make it into the cabin, mostly due to the TRD suspension components fitted on our iM. Road and wind noise were about average for the class. The iM follows Scion’s ‘Mono spec’ mantra. That means every iA will come equipped with automatic climate control, 7-inch touchscreen, 17-inch alloy wheels, Bluetooth, and a number of other features. The only real choices for a buyer are color, transmission, and if they want to spring for navigation. Pricing for the Scion iM starts at $19,255 for the manual, and $19,995 for the CVT. The prices put the iM in a good spot as many competitors such as the Mazda and Ford Focus are a bit more to match the iM in terms of features. After spending some time with the iM, we came away somewhat mixed. While Scion has done a lot in terms of filling the iM with a lot a value, the powertrain doesn’t seem quite in tune with the vehicle. Now a lot this comes down to the manual transmission which isn’t a good fit. Pair this with the TRD parts which tended to make the ride a little bit worse, and it has left us confused about our feelings. We’ll admit that Scion is on the right track with iM with trying to reach a more mainstream audience, but we need some more drive time with it before we say whether or not it's a good fit for Scion. Disclaimer: Scion Invited Cheers & Gears to a Two-Day Driving Event In Grand Rapids Year: 2016 Make: Scion Model: iM Trim: N/A Engine: 1.8L DOHC, VALVEMATIC, 16-Valve Four-Cylinder Driveline: Front-Wheel Drive; Six-Speed Manual, CVT Horsepower @ RPM: 137 @ 6100 Torque @ RPM: 126 @ 4000 Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 27/36/31 (Manual), 28/37/32 (Automatic) Curb Weight: 2,943 lbs (Manual), 3,031 lbs (Automatic) Prices: $19,255 (Manual), $19,995 (Automatic) - Prices includes a $795 Destination Charge On Sale: September 1st View full article
  22. Nissan debuted their 2016 Nissan Maxima at the New York Auto Show on April 2nd, and I was among the first to get to tag along for a drive in a pre-production model later that evening. I will get to the ride along later, but first some background. Going on sale in the summer, the new Maxima ups the ante over the outgoing model with very bold styling. No longer the conservative, big brother to the Nissan Altima, the new Maxima sports the new "V-Motion" style grille that first debuted on the 2015 Nissan Murano. The Maxima, once nearly a legend in its segment, has been in the doldrums lately. One of the problems with the current Maxima is that it is really no larger than the Altima yet costs substantially more money. Customers comparing a base V6 Maxima and a base V6 Altima could see up to a $4,800 difference in sticker price, and a loaded V6 Altima SL with all the options checked has a sticker price virtually identical to that of the base Maxima. With a value equation like that, it is not hard to see why Maxima sales were still one of the dark spots in the Nissan lineup, despite Nissan having a record breaking year in 2014 with an 11% sales increase. Related: Review - 2013 Nissan Maxima SV With the 2016 Maxima, Nissan hopes to change the value proposition. As is the trend across the industry lately, the Maxima is larger while dropping weight. Horsepower has increased to an even 300, up 10hp over the outgoing model and torque remains at 261 lb-ft. The only transmission will be a new version of Nissan's front-wheel drive CVT which features a wider range of ratios to allow for quicker starts and lower RPM cruising speeds. During aggressive driving, the CVT can “down-shift” more rapidly than before and will hold engine RPM when it detects high-G cornering to improve acceleration out of a turn. Click to Enlarge Up Next – The Ride Along On the final evening of the 2015 New York Auto Show, I was invited on a ride-along in a pre-production 2016 Nissan Maxima SR. This, the third highest trim the Maxima will be offered in, is also the sportiest. The SR trim will come with a sport-tuned suspension, 19” wheels, paddle shifters for CVT control, a more aggressive CVT sport mode, front chassis performance damper, and a larger front stabilizer bar. Arguably the most important change to the Maxima is with the interior. I described the inside of the 2012 Nissan Maxima during my review as “Modern minimalist”. In 2012, I was being polite. By 2015, the interior is decidedly dated. For 2016, the conservative interior is replaced with a bold and luxurious feeling design. Related: Road Masters - 2012 Nissan Maxima Review While this was a pre-production car, materials and fit appeared to be excellent. There is a deep, useful center console with contrast stitched rails on either side, an attractive departure from industry norm. The controls here feel more up-market than the brand suggests. Nissan has moved away from the push button seat temperature controls to the dial type found on the Nissan pathfinder. As this was an SR, the seats come with a faux-suede seat trim stitched in a triangle pattern. The front seats are Nissan's Zero-Gravity type up front, though they didn't feel quite as comfortable as those I have sampled in the Nissan Altima. The flat-bottom steering wheel rim is thicker than what is typical with sumptuous feeling materials including perforated leather. The steering wheel even features a homage to the V-Motion front grille. Click to Enlarge During our ride through Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn, one of the first things that stood out to me was how much quieter the Maxima was over its predecessor; likely a product of the new chassis and active noise control which not only quiets ambient noise, but also pumps select engine sounds into the passenger cabin. Most of the ride was spent in the SR's sport-mode. In city traffic, this made the Maxima feel stiff and throttle response feel jumpy even to those of us not behind the wheel. I will need more time in the car, and behind the wheel, to get an accurate perception of the Maxima's performance characteristics. Standard on all Maximas is Nissan's next generation NissanConnect with Navigation. It features an 8.0 inch color display with multi-touch. With the multi-touch feature, users will have familiar smart-phone like controls such a pinch-to-zoom and swiping for easier use. While I did not get to get deep into the system, I found it to be crisply responsive to commands and generally easy to find my way around. Unlike some of the Maxima's competitors, Nissan wisely decided to stick with real buttons instead of capacitive touch controls. The Platinum trim will offer a whole host of additional tech features including a drowsy driver alert. The 2016 Maxima will have a limited option list and instead be offered in five trims. The base Maxima S starts at $33,235, putting it about $1,000 more than the base 2015 model. That also makes the 2016 Maxima about $1,000 more than a base 2015 Toyota Avalon XLE and about $1800 more than a base 2015 Chrysler 300 Limited, both of which will be recently refreshed by the time the 2016 Maxima goes on sale. You can read about the entire list of features and options in our New York Auto Show: 2016 Nissan Maxima article. Related: Chicago Auto Show: 2016 Toyota Avalon, LA Auto Show: 2015 Chrysler 300 The original Maxima was considered one of the best family sedans on the market in its day, but it then faded into the background and has been largely unchanged and ignored since 2009. Do you think this bold new styling will allow the former king to regain his crown? Sound off below. The Live Shots Album has been updated with additional pictures since its original publication. Disclaimer: The Pre-Production 2016 Nissan Maxima was provided by Nissan to an event I attended after the 2015 New York Auto Show Press Days View full article

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