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  1. Very few things can cause utter surprise for me when it comes to reviewing vehicles. But there are those moments where it does happen. Recently, I spent some time in a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited 75th Anniversary. I had driven a Wrangler last year and knew what I getting myself into. It was when I looked at my paperwork that my jaw dropped to the floor. The Wrangler Unlimited I was driving carried a price tag of $48,530. I had to do a double-take to make sure I wasn’t misreading it. Once the shock passed me, I found myself whether I would be willing be pay this much for Wrangler or if it would be better to put the money towards a vehicle I drove the week before, a Grand Cherokee Summit. Both of these Jeeps stand at opposite ends of the exterior design spectrum. The Grand Cherokee has an understated look with a shape that can trace its roots back to the original model from 1993. There is a fair amount of chrome used on the grille slots, rear bumpers, and side window trim. The Wrangler is the bolder of the two with a squared-off body, flared wheel arches, and spare tire carrier on the back. The 75th Anniversary edition brings 17-inch bronze wheels, new bumpers, dark green paint, and 75th Anniversary badging. While these two models have differing approaches, the end result is the same; both are quite handsome. In terms of the interiors, it is clear these vehicles are aimed at different audiences. The Grand Cherokee Summit stands as the Grand Cherokee’s flagship (aside from the SRT) and it shows with high-quality materials such as real wood, soft touch plastics, and brown leather. This helps bring a sense of luxury that hasn’t appeared in a Grand Cherokee till this generation. Seats provide excellent support, and there is enough space for passengers sitting in the back. The only downside to Grand Cherokee’s interior is the center stack. Compared to the rest of the interior, it seems completely out of place. At least UConnect is still one of the easiest infotainment systems to use. The Wrangler’s interior, on the other hand, isn’t as luxurious with loads of hard plastics and a more utilitarian look. There is a benefit to this as you’ll know the interior will stand up to the harshness of mother nature. Plus, you can use a hose to wash out the interior - drain plugs are underneath the floor mats. The Unlimited does bring forth a longer wheelbase which allows for more leg and cargo room, plus two rear doors. The added space is appreciated for anyone sitting in the back. Getting into the back is another story with a narrow opening will cause some folks to contort their body to get in. Both models feature the same 3.6L Pentastar V6, albeit with different outputs. The Grand Cherokee features 295 horsepower and the Wrangler gets 285. Not much difference on paper, but the road tells a different story. The Grand Cherokee’s V6 feels slightly more flexible with power coming at a linear rate. The Wrangler’s V6 feels somewhat anemic and one where you have to work it to get up to speed at a decent clip. The difference most likely comes down to the transmission. The Grand Cherokee gets an eight-speed automatic, while the Wrangler makes due with a five-speed. This also explains the difference in the average fuel economy for both vehicles: 19 MPG for the Grand Cherokee and 16.4 MPG for the Wrangler. When it comes to the ride, the Wrangler Unlimited almost matches the Grand Cherokee. The longer wheelbase on the Unlimited helps provide a smoother ride than the standard model. However, bigger bumps will make their way inside. Contrast this with the Grand Cherokee where most bumps are nonexistent to those sitting inside. It should be noted that compared to the previous Grand Cherokees I drove back in 2014, this one had a lot more tire noise coming into the cabin. Blame the low-rolling resistance tires fitted onto our tester. But the Wrangler Unlimited begins to gain some ground back when it comes to off-road driving. With meaty off-road tires, flexible suspension, and a simple to engage four-wheel drive system, the Wrangler Unlimited can go anywhere with no issues. Going through a dirt trail with mud pits, I was amazed as to how the Wrangler shrugged it off like it was nothing. That isn’t to say the Grand Cherokee isn’t a slouch off-road. It features the Quadra-Trac II full-time four-wheel drive system with Terrain Select - a system that can alter various settings for the various terrains you find yourself on. The Grand Cherokee Summit also features an air suspension that can be raised to improve overall ground clearance when tackling an off-road trail. Sadly, I didn’t get the chance to drive the Grand Cherokee off-road during my week with it. If you were to ask me which of the two Jeeps I would buy, I would have to say it would be the Grand Cherokee. That isn’t to say the Wrangler Unlimited 75th Anniversary is bad. I just feel for the price that is being asked is too much for what you get. You would be better off getting a hold of either a Sport, Willys Wheeler, or Rubicon as the value argument works for them. The Grand Cherokee Summit, on the other hand, can more than justify its price tag as most of the equipment such as navigation, panoramic sunroof, dual-zone climate control, heated and ventilated front seats, and more are standard. The only option on our tester was the brown leather. Both of these vehicles are aimed at different audiences and do a very good job of satisfying them. But when it comes down to prices being asked for either vehicle, the Wrangler Unlimited comes up short. Disclaimer: Jeep Provided the vehicles, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas Year: 2016 Make: Jeep Model: Grand Cherokee Trim: Summit Engine: 3.6L 24-Valve VVT V6 Driveline: Eight-Speed Automatic, Full-Time 4WD Horsepower @ RPM: Torque @ RPM: Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 18/25/21 Curb Weight: lbs Location of Manufacture: Detroit, MI Base Price: $52,595 As Tested Price: $54,085 (Includes $995.00 Destination Charge) Options: DarkSienna Brown/Black Interior - $495.00 Year: 2016 Make: Jeep Model: Wrangler Unlimited Trim: 75th Anniversary Engine: 3.6L 24-Valve VVT V6 Driveline: Five-Speed Automatic, Part-Time 4WD Horsepower @ RPM: Torque @ RPM: Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 16/20/18 Curb Weight: lbs Location of Manufacture: Toledo, OH Base Price: $33,695 As Tested Price: $48,530 (Includes $995.00 Destination Charge) Options: Jeep 75th Anniversary Package 24H - $4,680.00 Dual Top Group - $1,785.00 Tru-Lok Differential - $1,500.00 Five-Speed Automatic - $1,350.00 Freedom Top Body Color Three-Piece Hardtop - $1,100.00 Alpine Premium Nine-Speaker Audio System w/All-Weather Subwoofer - $945.00 Radio 430N - $600.00 Hard Top Headliner - $495.00 Supplemental Front-Seat Mounted Side Airbags - $495.00 Remote Start System - $495.00 View full article
  2. Like it or not, crossovers are dominating the automotive landscape. This is nowhere more apparent than the compact crossover class as it seems a month doesn’t go by without a new model, redesign, or refresh being announced. Case in point is the vehicle seen here, the 2016 Subaru Forester. Just a few weeks after we drove it, Subaru announced mid-cycle refresh which brings a slightly revised exterior, new interior bits, and an upgraded EyeSight system. Now is that going to stop us from reviewing the 2016 model? No. Here is what we thought of the pre-refreshed Forester. In the spectrum of crossover design, the Forester would be at the boring end. This is a model that doesn’t have any hint of style. It is just a box on wheels. There is a positive to this shape as it gives the Forester a large area of glass. Not only does this improve overall visibility, it also makes the interior feel quite airy and huge. Speaking of which, the Forester’s interior is one of the most spacious in the class. No matter if you’re sitting in the front or back, you’ll have plenty of head and legroom. The seats themselves provide the right the amount of comfort and support for long trips. Cargo space is towards the top with 31.5 cubic feet with the rear seat up and 68.5 cubic feet with the rear seat down. It should be noted models without the panoramic sunroof have a larger cargo area - 34.4/74.7 cubic feet. As for the dash, it is similar to the one you’ll find in the Impreza and XV Crosstrek. On the one hand, it is very simple with a logical control layout. On the other hand, Subaru’s choice in materials is slightly disappointing with a fair amount of hard plastics on the dash and door panels. All models feature Subaru’s Starlink infotainment system that comes with either a 6.5-inch or 7-inch screen. Our tester came with latter via an option package. Starlink is one of the better infotainment systems in the marketplace with a simple interface, quick performance, and touch buttons that actually respond on a consistent basis. Most Foresters will feature the engine found in our tester; a 2.5L boxer-four with 170 horsepower and 174 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed manual is standard on the base model, but most Foresters will come equipped with a CVT. Around town, the 2.5 provides a decent amount of power. We do wish the responsiveness of the engine was a little bit better, but that could be fixed with some tweaks to the CVT. On the freeway, the Forester does take its time to get up to speed. Again, this is likely due to the CVT needing some tweaking. At least the CVT does help with fuel economy. The EPA rates the Forester 2.5i with the CVT at 24 City/32 Highway/27 Combined. Our average for the week landed around 27 MPG. For the daily grind, the Forester’s suspension delivers a smooth and cushy ride. Another plus is how much quieter Subaru has been making their vehicles. Compared to previous Subarus we have driven, the Forester has a noticeable decrease in road and wind noise. Handling can be described as meh. The Forester does show good body control when going around corners, but the steering feels somewhat rubbery. For most people, this isn’t a deal breaker. The Forester may not be the sharpest looking compact crossover in the class. But it does have a number of traits that buyers will find as positives such as a spacious interior, high fuel economy figures, all-wheel drive as standard equipment, and Subaru’s excellent EyeSight system that brings lane departure warning, pre-collision braking, and adaptive cruise control that is available on models such as the Premium. A competent crossover that goes about its business without shouting about it, the Forester in a nutshell. Disclaimer: Subaru Provided the Forester, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas Year: 2016 Make: Subaru Model: Forester Trim: 2.5i Premium Engine: 2.5L Boxer-Four Driveline: CVT, All-Wheel Drive Horsepower @ RPM: 170 @ 5,800 Torque @ RPM: 174 @ 4,100 Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 24/32/27 Curb Weight: 3,391 lbs Location of Manufacture: Ōta, Gunma Japan Base Price: $24,795 As Tested Price: $28,540 (Includes $850.00 Destination Charge) Options: All-Weather Package - $1,895 Lineartronic CVT - $1,000 View full article
  3. Whenever you walk onto a dealer’s lot and look at the selection of midsize sedans, they are for the most part equipped with their base four-cylinder engine. It is what most people buy as they provide the balance of power and fuel economy they are looking for. But among the base four-cylinders lie a few of the models equipped with the more powerful engine, whether it be a turbocharged four-cylinder or V6. Are you missing out by not going with the larger engine? We decided to investigate this with the recently updated 2016 Volkswagen Passat and its optional V6. The V6 in question is a 3.6 with 280 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. This engine also powers the CC and Touareg. Drop it into the Passat and it makes the vehicle a hot-rod. If you’re not careful with the accelerator when leaving a stop, you will spin the front tires easily. Once you figure out how lightly you need to step on the accelerator when the light turns green, you’ll be impressed at how fast the Passat pickups speed. More impressive is how V6 goes about its business with barely any noise or vibrations. I know four-cylinders, in general, have gotten better in terms of NVH, but the V6 still holds a clear advantage in this regard. There are some pitfalls the Passat’s V6 option. First is the standard DSG dual-clutch transmission. At low speeds, this transmission exhibits hesitation and causes the vehicle lurch and even bog down. The DSG does get its act together at higher speeds where it delivers some of the fastest shifts in the class. But I can’t help but wonder how much better it would have been if the V6 was paired with an automatic. Second is fuel economy. The Passat is rated by the EPA at 20 City/28 Highway/23 Combined, which is the lowest fuel economy numbers in the class. Our average for week reflects this with an average of 22.1 MPG. In terms of the ride, the Passat feels like a big American sedan. Bumps and road noise barely make their way inside, making it the perfect long-distance cruiser. Around corners, the Passat shows a little bit of body roll. Steering feels direct, but I did find myself wanting a bit more weight. Volkswagen made some much-needed changes to the Passat’s exterior. The front end gets a larger grille, new headlights, and a reshaped hood. Other changes include a new trunk lid and revised wheels. Yes, the Passat still looks a bit dull when compared to the competition. But to be fair, the changes do give the Passat some semblance of style. The interior hasn’t changed much since we checked out the Passat back in 2014, and that isn’t a bad thing. There is still the well laid out dashboard and a spacious back seat that could rival flagship luxury sedans. New for 2016 is the ability to run Apple CarPlay and Android Auto through the infotainment system. Unlike some of other the vehicles I have tried with CarPlay, I didn’t run into any issues. The system recognized my phone within seconds of plugging it in and brought up the CarPlay moments thereafter. Also, I found that none of the apps I used through CarPlay crashed or have some sort of other problem. There is one big problem with the V6 option for the Passat, the price. To get into the V6, you need to opt for the top SEL Premium trim which starts at $36,835. Add in destination and you’re looking at a final price of $37,655. You do get a lot of equipment such as blind spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, dual-zone climate control, navigation, and Fender audio system as standard. But that same amount of money can get you into a decently equipped luxury sedan. Making this more problematic is you can get the SEL Premium with the 1.8 turbo for only $2,300 less. The 1.8 turbo is a great engine as it delivers decent power and refinement, and features excellent fuel economy figures (25 City/38 Highway/29 Combined). The Passat’s V6 option isn’t as great as you might think. The engine gives the model some real thrust, but, the 1.8T feels just as fast and doesn’t have to visit the gas station as often. Plus the high point of entry makes this a non-starter for more people. Think of it this way, the Passat V6 is the model that will sell you into getting a lower trim of the Passat or even another midsize sedan. Disclaimer: Volkswagen Provided the Passat, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas Year: 2016 Make: Volkswagen Model: Passat Trim: V6 SEL Premium Engine: 3.6L FSI VR6 Driveline: Six-Speed Dual-Clutch Automatic, Front-Wheel Drive Horsepower @ RPM: 280 @ 6,200 Torque @ RPM: 258 @ 2,500 Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 20/28/23 Curb Weight: 3,571 lbs Location of Manufacture: Chattanooga, Tennessee Base Price: $36,835 As Tested Price: $37,655 (Includes $820.00 Destination Charge) Options: N/A View full article
  4. At the end of my Lexus NX 300h review last year, I said this, “You’re better off sticking with the regular NX 200t and having that extra $5,000 going towards some options.” Recently, I had the chance to put part of that ending line to the test as a 2016 Lexus NX 200t F-Sport came in for week’s evaluation. The NX F-Sport follows the formula of other F-Sport models with a more aggressive look. Up front is a new mesh grille insert and a lower air dam to give it some aggression. Lexus has also fitted a set of 18-inch wheels to fill in the wheel wells. I have complained previously about how the F-Sport package looks ridiculous on the RX. But the on the NX, the exterior changes of the F-Sport package work. Lexus used the new NX to introduce their first turbo engine; a 2.0L turbo-four with 235 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. This is paired up with a six-speed automatic and the choice of front or all-wheel drive. Our tester came with all-wheel drive. Despite what numbers say, the turbo 2.0L doesn’t feel that fast. From a stop, the engine doesn’t have the immediate rush of power that the current crop of turbo engines. You have to wait till the engine goes above 2,000 rpm before the rush happens. Not helping matters is the six-speed automatic that prioritizes fuel economy over performance. The transmission is quick to upshift, but seems somewhat hesitant to downshift when it comes to making a pass. This powertrain needed more time in the engineering department to make it a strong point, not a weak link. Aside from the exterior bits, the F-Sport package for the NX also includes a sport-tuned suspension. It does make some difference in the corners as body motions are kept in check and the vehicle changes direction very well. Disappointingly, the steering still feels rubbery. Being an F-Sport, you would think Lexus would make some improvements to steering to make it feel more natural. As for the daily grind, the F-Sport suspension will let in a few more bumps into the cabin. Road and wind noise are kept to very acceptable levels. Considering what I know now, I’m not sure that I would recommend the NX 200t. It is a better value than the hybrid and it still retains a number of items that I liked - distinctive design and well-appointed interior. But the turbo engine sours the experience as it suffers from a bad case of turbo lag. As for the F-Sport package, it sharpens up the exterior and does make the NX slightly more capable around corners. The steering needs a bit more work. If Lexus can reduce the amount of turbo lag and improve the steering, then the NX might have a fighting chance. As it stands, you’re better off looking at the Germans or the Lincoln MKC. Disclaimer: Lexus Provided the NX 200t, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas Year: 2016 Make: Lexus Model: NX Trim: 200t F-Sport Engine: 2.0L Turbocharged DOHC 16-valve with Dual VVT-iW Four-Cylinder Driveline: Six-Speed Automatic, All-Wheel Drive Horsepower @ RPM: 235 @ 4,800 - 5,600 Torque @ RPM: 258 @ 1,650 - 4,000 Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 22/27/24 Curb Weight: 4,050 lbs Location of Manufacture: Base Price: $38,365 As Tested Price: $46,440 (Includes $940.00 Destination Charge) Options: Premium F-Sport Package - $2,045.00 Navigation Package - $1,875.00 LED Headlamps without Auto High Beams - $1,160.00 Pre-Collision System w/All-Speed Cruise Control - $900.00 Electrochromic (Auto-Dimming) Outer Mirrors with Blind Spot Monitoring and Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Reverse Tilt, Heated, Memory - $660.00 Qi-Compatible Wireless Charger - $220.00 Heated Perforated Leather-Trimmed Steering Wheel with Paddle Shifters - $150.00 Electrochromic (Auto-Dimming) Rear View Mirror with and Lexus Homelink Garage Door Opener - $125.00 View full article
  5. Has it really been almost four years since we last took at the Kia Optima? Going back through our review archives, the answer is yes with the 2012 Optima Hybrid. Since this time, we have driven the full gamut of midsize sedans that have impressed us (Honda Accord EX) or ended up to be a big dud (Chevrolet Malibu Eco). The Optima hasn’t been resting on its laurels during this time either. Kia has been improving the sedan over time with new features and trim levels. Last year, the company introduced an all-new Optima which looks similar to the previous one. So we wondered what changes had been made and if it still remains one of our favorite midsize sedans. Compared to the last-generation Optimas, the 2016 model looks the same at a glance. But there are some key differences that set the new model apart from the old one. The most apparent one is around back where there is a new trunk lid design with a higher decklid. A set of LED taillights finishes it off. The front also sees some changes, but you’ll need to look closely. The grille is slightly narrower and there are new headlights. Some will be disappointed that Kia didn’t do any drastic changes, but I’m ok with it. It is still one of the best looking midsize sedans on sale. The interior is where you’ll begin to see some major changes. The dashboard is all-new with a design borrowed from the Cadenza and K900 with more soft-touch materials and a revised center stack. We like the new center stack as it is easier to find to various functions at a quick glance. The 2016 model also gains an updated version of Kia’s UVO infotainment system with eServices. eServices allow you to do various functions such as run diagnostics on the vehicle and schedule a service appointment. It will also call 911 if the airbags deploy. Like in previous Kia models we have driven, UVO is towards the top of our favorite infotainment systems as it is simple to use and offers a lot of features for the money. Overall comfort in the Optima hasn’t changed much since we last checked it out. The front seats still offer excellent levels of comfort and support. Opt for the Premium Package on the EX and you’ll gain power adjustments for the passenger, and heated and ventilated seats. In the back, there is plenty of legroom for any sized passenger. Headroom is a different story as tall passengers will be hitting the headliner due to the sloping roofline. If you get the optional panoramic sunroof, this cuts headroom even further. Our EX tester came with 2.4L direct-injected four-cylinder with 185 horsepower and 171 pound-feet of torque. This is paired with a six-speed automatic. The 2.4 provides enough power for most people with decent acceleration and a smooth delivery of power. The engine, for the most part, keeps to itself it terms of noise. But this changes during hard acceleration as the engine begins to sound very gravely. The six-speed automatic goes about its business with delivering smooth shifts. As for fuel economy, we got an average of 30.2 MPG for the week. One item we wished Kia would work on is the Optima’s ride. We found it to be a little bit too harsh with many of bumps and imperfections making their way into the cabin. We know Kia is trying to set itself apart from Hyundai by having an edge of sportiness. But you can have good handling along with a comfortable ride. Noise isolation isn’t great as a decent amount of road and wind noise come into the cabin. In terms of handling, the Optima doesn’t embarrass itself. Body motions are kept in check and the steering feels slightly heavy when turning. The 2016 Kia Optima does bring some improvements to already good sedan. But a couple of items keep the Optima back from being towards the top in the midsize class, mostly the ride and noise isolation. If Kia can address both of these issues, then the Optima will be a true threat. Disclaimer: Kia Provided the Optima EX, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas Year: 2016 Make: Kia Model: Optima Trim: EX Engine: 2.4L GDI Four-Cylinder Driveline: Six-Speed Automatic, Front-Wheel Drive Horsepower @ RPM: 185 @ 6,000 Torque @ RPM: 178 @ 4,000 Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 24/35/28 Curb Weight: 3,362 lbs Location of Manufacture: West Point, GA Base Price: $24,890 As Tested Price: $30,615 (Includes $825.00 Destination Charge) Options: EX Premium Package - $3,700 EX Premium Audio Package - $1,200 View full article
  6. Here is something to consider; the current Buick Enclave has been with us since 2007. In that time, Buick has sold almost 500,000 Enclaves and stands as one of the best-selling models for the brand. The most impressive part? The Enclave hasn’t changed that much. Usually, a vehicle’s lifecycle involves a refresh within two to three years and a redesign in about six. The Enclave has only received minor changes - new V6 and small changes for the exterior and interior. Everything else is much the same as it was in 2007. You would think the old age of the Enclave would hurt it. But as this model enters its ninth year, it is still towards the top of Buick’s best sellers. Why is that? We spent some time in the 2016 Enclave Premium AWD to find out. One of the smart things GM did when designing their three-row crossovers was going with a long-wheelbase. This allowed them to use a large body and provide a massive interior. For example, in most large crossovers, the third-row is only usable for small kids. In the Enclave, full-size adults can fit back here and be comfortable. In terms of cargo space, there is 23.3 cubic feet of space with the second and third rows up. Fold both rows of seats and you’ll have 115.2 cubic feet, the largest cargo area in the class. In terms of ride, the Enclave is one of the smoothest in the large crossover class. With a fully independent suspension and dual-flow dampers, the Enclave glides over bumps and road imperfections like they were nothing. Road and wind noise are almost non-existent in the Enclave. Step outside of the massive interior and you’ll see another key item that draws people to the Enclave; the design. The front end features a large waterfall grille and HID headlights with LEDs. Around back is a unique shape for the rear window. 19-inch chrome-clad wheels come standard, while our test Enclave came with 20-inch wheels with Bronze pockets via a new Tuscan Package for 2016. Where the Enclave starts to show chinks in its armor is in the interior. There is an abundance of plastic wood trim that looks awful. You can’t help but wonder why this vehicle has an almost $54,000 price tag and it comes with this cheap looking trim. The Enclave also features the last-generation of Buick’s Intellilink infotainment which is starting to show its age in terms of the interface and performance. The second-row seats aren’t comfortable due to how low they are set in the vehicle, giving passengers that feeling of their knees in their chest. But the biggest problem for the Enclave is the engine. Like the Chevrolet Traverse and GMC Acadia, the Enclave comes with a 3.6L SIDI V6 with 288 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque. This is paired with a six-speed automatic and all-wheel drive. This engine is quite sluggish and takes a fair amount of time to get up to speed. It feels like you are towing a circus elephant. This is due to the Enclave’s curb weight of 4,922 pounds. The weight also hurts fuel economy as we only eked out 15.6 MPG for the week. Keep in mind that the Enclave AWD is rated 16 City/22 Highway/18 Combined. Is it easy to see why the Enclave is a big seller. It offers a lot of space for passengers and cargo. Plus it provides one of smoothest and quietest rides in the class. But the negatives outweigh the positives. The engine is overwhelmed by the Enclave’s weight, fuel economy is pretty, and the interior has a number of small issues that show how old the crossover is. We know that a new Enclave is coming next year. It can’t come soon enough. Disclaimer: Buick Provided the Enclave, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas Year: 2016 Make: Buick Model: Enclave AWD Trim: Premium Group Engine: 3.6L VVT DI V6 Driveline: Six-Speed Automatic, All-Wheel Drive Horsepower @ RPM: 288 @ 6,300 Torque @ RPM: 270 @ 3,400 Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 16/22/18 Curb Weight: 6,459 lbs Location of Manufacture: Lansing, MI Base Price: $49,515.00 As Tested Price: $53,835.00 (Includes $925.00 Destination Charge) Options: Dual Moonroof - $1,400.00 White Frost Tricoat Paint - 995.00 Tuscan Package - $795.00 Universal Tablet Holders - $205.00 View full article
  7. Last year at the LA Auto Show, Chrysler gave the 300 lineup a modest refresh. A new grille and headlights for the exterior, while interior boasted a new gauge cluster and dial for the gear shifter. Some people thought Chrysler should have gone farther, but we think the right call was made here. Our 300 came in the S trim which brought a blacked-out grille, headlights, wheels, and new lip spoiler. Paired with a coat of red paint, the 300S strikes a nice balance of aggression and handsomeness. Despite the looks, the 300 is still a tricky vehicle when it comes to overall visibility. Due to the limited area of glass, the 300 has large blind spots that make it tricky to park or safely change lanes. We highly recommend optioning the park assist and blind spot systems to make the 300 that much easier to live with. Powertrains haven’t changed much since we last checked out the 300 back in 2013. A 3.6L V6 with 292 horsepower (300 horsepower for the S) comes standard, while a 5.7 HEMI V8 with 364 horsepower is an option. No matter which engine you choose, an eight-speed automatic is standard. We had the V8 in our 300S tester and it fits the vehicle's persona. With a distinctive engine note at idle and plenty of punch throughout the rev range, the V8 is perfect for those who want power. The new eight-speed automatic is very fast with shifts and helps boost fuel economy to 16 City/25 Highway/19 Combined. In terms of handling, the 300S gets a retuned suspension to help reduce body roll and feel more planted. It does make a difference as the S feels slightly more capable around corners than the standard 300. Steering is quite good with the right amount of weight and feel. For day to day driving, the 300S is very comfortable as the suspension is able to glide over bumps. Wind and road noise are kept in check. The Chrysler 300S starts at $34,895 for the V6 and $37,895 for the V8. Our tester came to an as-tester price of $42,865 with a couple of options. So while the Chrysler 300 may not have gone under the dramatic changes many wanted, the changes Chrysler did make keep the 300 as one of the best bang for your buck vehicles. Disclaimer: Chrysler Provided the 300S, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas Year: 2015 Make: Chrysler Model: 300 Trim: S Engine: 5.7L HEMI MDS VVT V8 Driveline: Eight-Speed Automatic, Rear-Wheel Drive Horsepower @ RPM: 363 @ 5,200 Torque @ RPM: 394 @ 4,200 Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 16/25/19 Curb Weight: 4,326 lbs Location of Manufacture: Brampton, Ontario Base Price: $34,895 As Tested Price: $42,685 (Includes $995.00 Destination Charge) Options: 300S Premium Group - $3,295 5.7L HEMI MDS VVT V8 - $3,000 Redline 3-Coat Pearl Exterior Paint - $500 Next Page: 2015 Dodge Durango R/T The Dodge Durango is already an imposing looking crossover with its boxy shape, crosshair grille, and a long taillight. But what if you want something more aggressive in a Durango? Dodge has you covered with the R/T trim. The R/T begins with changes to exterior such as a body-colored grille element, twin-exhaust ports, and a set twenty-inch wheels finished in a dark gray. These little changes increase the aggressive look that Dodge is conveying with the Durango. The interior is the same as any other Durango with a clean dash and seating for six or seven people. But the Durango is on the lower end in terms of cargo space. With all three rows up, the Durango offers 17.2 cubic feet. This increases to 47.7 cubic feet with the third row folded and 84.5 with both rear rows folded. Those who want more cargo space should look at GM’s full-size crossovers. The other change for the R/T is the 5.7L HEMI V8 with 360 horsepower becoming standard. This engine fits the attitude that the R/T is presenting. Start the Durango R/T and the V8 comes alive with a burble that is reminiscent of a muscle car. That impression continues when you step on the accelerator and engine roars to life, delivering power at a very quick rate. This is helped by a new eight-speed automatic which provides lightning-fast shifts to keep the V8 in the zone of power. Fuel economy may be the big downside to the V8 as it is rated at 14 City/22 Highway/16 Combined. We got 17.1 MPG during our week. Handling-wise, the Durango is a delight. Body motions are kept in check and the steering provides a nice feel of the road. The ride is very smooth and quiet, making it a perfect long distance cruiser. As for pricing, the 2015 Dodge Durango R/T starts at $42,495. Our tester with a few options climbed to $48,525. Considering the performance and styling tweaks the R/T offers, along with the amities of the standard Durango, the R/T is very much worth a look. Disclaimer: Dodge Provided the Durango R/T, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas Year: 2015 Make: Dodge Model: Durango Trim: R/T AWD Engine: 5.7L HEMI MDS VVT V8 Driveline: Eight-Speed Automatic, All-Wheel Drive Horsepower @ RPM: 360 @ 5,150 Torque @ RPM: 390 @ 4,250 Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 14/22/16 Curb Weight: 5,331 lbs Location of Manufacture: Detroit, MI Base Price: $42,495 As Tested Price: $48,525 (Includes $995.00 Destination Charge) Options: Rear DVD Entertainment Center - $1,995 Premium Nappa Leather Group - $1,295 Second-Row Fold/Tumble Captain Chairs - $995.00 UConnect 8.4AN AM/FM/SXM/HD/BT/NAV - $750.00 View full article
  8. The end of another year is upon us and I’m in the process of picking my favorite vehicles from the year. But before we get to that, I need to give some vehicles their time in the review spotlight. Trying to crank a review or a two a week is a hard task for some folks, myself included. I tend to spend a week with a vehicle, driving it in my daily routine, taking notes and photos, and hopefully beginning the review before the vehicle leaves. But that last part is the thickest part as it doesn’t always work out because of life. Whether it's a personal or family emergency, vacation, changes in work, or just being distracted, life always finds a way to get in and mess up whatever you are trying to do. Towards the end of every year, I have a small number of vehicles that have fallen between the cracks and are just waiting for me to find them and write something up. This year is no different as seven vehicles have been waiting patiently for their turn and their time has come. We're going to be looking at the last three of the seven. For this piece, I’ll be listing the good and bad of each vehicle, along with some notes that I took on each vehicle. 2015 Infiniti Q70L 3.7 3.7L VQ DOHC 24-valve V6 (330 Horsepower, 270 Pound-Feet) Seven-Speed Automatic Base/As-Tested: $53,500/$62,755 Cheers: Comfortable ride, large back seat, still looks stylish on the exterior Jeers: Interior is starting to look dated, Fuel economy could be better, Competitors are much more modern Notes: Let’s play a game. See if you can try to spot the differences between the 2015 Infiniti Q70L and the 2012 Infiniti M35h. Ready? Go. Now if you figured out the Q70L is longer than the M35h, then pat yourself on the back. Since Infiniti went to the Q nomenclature, the only real change to their midsize luxury sedan was to introduce a long-wheelbase model. Compared to the standard Q70, the adds about 5.9 inches to the wheelbase. Sitting in the back seat was very pleasurable thanks to a large amount of legroom on offer. Disappointingly, there isn’t any seat adjustments for the rear passengers, nor any heat. Despite getting up in age, the Q70L is still a striking vehicle to look. The flowing lines up front and along the side still look fresh as the day it was first introduced into the world. Twenty-inch wheels only add a bit of prestige to the model. But the interior is where you begin to feel the age of the Q70. Despite the model being trimmed in leather and wood, the Q70’s interior hasn’t changed at all since we last drove it back in 2012. The center stack is pushed out, giving a cramped feeling for passengers sitting up front. Not helping is the very dated infotainment system which looks like it has come from the Windows 98 era. For the Q70L, there is a choice of a 3.7L V6 or a 5.6L V8. Our tester had the V6 with 330 horsepower paired up to a seven-speed automatic transmission. Power comes on a very linear rate though you’ll need to plant your foot to the pedal if you are making a pass. This introduces a sound of the engine being put under a lot of strain. The ride is somewhat stiff as it seems to pick out a fair amount of imperfections on the road and transmit them to the passengers. A lot of this comes down to the optional twenty-inch wheels, and we expect the standard eighteen-inch wheels to provide a much better ride. At least, wind and road noise are kept to near-silent levels. While the introduction of the long-wheelbase for the Q70 does give it some new blood, there isn’t a good reason why anyone should choose it over one of the new midsize luxury sedans in the class. Let’s hope Infiniti has a replacement coming very soon. 2015 Kia Forte5 SX 1.6L Turbocharged GDI Four-Cylinder Six-Speed Manual Base/As-Tested: $20,890/$26,035 Cheers: Exterior Styling, Fuel Economy, Space Jeers: Wrong gearing in vehicle, Engine doesn’t feel quick, Interior looking very dated, not really sporty Notes: We have hot hatches and we have cold hatches (the non-sporty variety). Is there space for something warm? Maybe if the 2015 Kia Forte5 SX is something to go on. The Forte5 as the name suggests is a five-door hatchback and looks much sportier than the Forte sedan. This is thanks to a new front end with a wide and narrow grille, and a set of eighteen-inch alloy wheels done in a five leaf pattern. These wheels might be my favorite OEM wheels. Inside is where the Forte5 begins to lose some points. The dashboard makes the interior feel much older than it is (Forte5 was introduced back in 2013 as a 2014 model) thanks to hard plastics and parts having a scratchy texture. We hope a Kia is planning a refresh for the interior in the near future. Not helping are the leather power seats which comes as part of the SX Premium package. While they do provide a decent level of comfort and support for short trips, the seats cannot provide long-distance support. My brother and I learned this as the Forte5 was pressed into Christmas travel duty. But Kia wins some points back in the interior. The back seat is large, providing more than enough head and legroom for anyone sitting back here. Also, the Forte5 can be equipped with everything except the kitchen sink. Our tester boasted heated seats for front and rear passengers, a cooled seat for the driver, memory seat for the driver, a touchscreen with navigation, dual-zone climate control, and a sunroof. Power comes from a turbocharged 1.6L four-cylinder with 201 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. Our tester came with the standard six-speed manual, but you can go with a six-speed automatic. This is the same engine we liked in the Hyundai Veloster Turbo, but in the Forte5, it is a bit of a mess. The engine seems smothered and not as powerful as the Veloster Turbo. The cause is due to the manual. The gears are too short to allow the engine to fully produce all of the power it is capable of. Also, the short gearing means you’ll be seeing the revs up at 3,000 rpm at a 70 MPH cruise. Some longer gearing could solve both of these problems. At least, fuel economy wasn’t badly affected. Close to 700 Miles were put on the Forte5 SX and we got an average of 33.2 MPG on mostly highway and rural roads. Ride and handling are somewhere in the middle. The Forte5’s suspension is able to deal with most bumps and imperfections on the road with no problem. Bigger bumps do unsettle the vehicle a little bit. In the corners, the Forte5 feels steady and doesn’t show any sign of roll. But it isn’t any fun to pilot around such as a Mazda3. This mostly comes down to the steering with Kia’s FlexSteer system that allows you to vary the weight from light to heavy. We don’t like this system as the light setting is way too light and the heavy setting doesn’t feel hefty. Kia would do itself a lot of good by throwing out the FlexSteer system and do a new steering system that is somewhere in the middle. 2015 Toyota Tundra TRD Pro CrewMax 5.7L DOHC 32-Valve Dual Independent VVT-i V8 Six-Speed Automatic Base/As-Tested: $44,000/$45,465 Cheers: Off-Road Package Comes With Everything, Excellent Value, Comfortable Ride Jeers: V8 Feels Sluggish, Fuel Economy Notes: Toyota decided to go back to some of their roots when it comes to their trucks and SUVs. Earlier in the year, the automaker launched the TRD Pro series for the 4Runner, Tacoma, and Tundra. The TRD Pro boasts changes to suspension, wheels, and exterior to make them ready to go off the beaten trail. Our first taste in the TRD Pro came in the form of a Tundra CrewMax. There is no mistaking the TRD Pro Tundra as it comes in a wild orange paint, paired with an old school Toyota grille (reminiscent of Toyota’s SUVs in the late eighties and early nineties) and eighteen-inch off-road alloy wheels finished in black and wrapped in meaty off-road tires. We like the TRD Pro embossed into the rear fenders as it adds a touch of distinctiveness. Inside is your standard Tundra interior with black cloth seats embroidered with the TRD Pro logo. Under the skin, Toyota made some small changes to the Tundra TRD Pro with revised suspension tuning, new front springs, outboard off-road shocks in the rear, and skid plates. We gave the TRD Pro a light exercise around a dirt field and it passed with flying colors. The suspension has more than enough travel to traverse various heights of terrain and the steering provides a good feel on the terrain you are driving on. This is a truck I love to go on a trail to see what it is fully capable of. These changes to make the Tundra a capable off-roader don’t hurt it on a day to day basis. The suspension provides a smooth ride, and there isn’t much noise coming from the tires. The one problem that is holding the Tundra TRD Pro back is the engine. Toyota uses a 5.7L I-FORCE V8 with 381 horsepower and 401 pound-feet of torque. This engine never feels powerful due to two reasons; a curb weight of 5,625 lbs and a lazy throttle. These two cause you to put your foot farther down on the pedal to get to that power. That also means your fuel economy will be hurting. Average for the week in the Tundra TRD Pro was 12.9 MPG. Toyota really needs to go back to drawing board and figure out how to make a V8 that can balance power and fuel economy. Otherwise, Toyota has a really interesting offering in the truck market with the TRD Pro. Disclaimer: Infiniti, Kia, and Toyota Provided the Vehicles, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas View full article
  9. The end of another year is upon us and I’m in the process of picking my favorite vehicles from the year. But before we get to that, I need to give some vehicles their time in the review spotlight. Trying to crank a review or a two a week is a hard task for some folks, myself included. I tend to spend a week with a vehicle, driving it in my daily routine, taking notes and photos, and hopefully beginning the review before the vehicle leaves. But that last part is the thickest part as it doesn’t always work out because of life. Whether it's a personal or family emergency, vacation, changes in work, or just being distracted, life always finds a way to get in and mess up whatever you are trying to do. Towards the end of every year, I have a small number of vehicles that have fallen between the cracks and are just waiting for me to find them and write something up. This year is no different as seven vehicles have been waiting patiently for their turn and their time has come. We're going to be looking at the first four of the seven. For this piece, I’ll be listing the good and bad of each vehicle, along with some notes that I took on each vehicle. 2016 Acura ILX A-Spec 2.4L 16-Valve, DOHC i-VTEC Four-Cylinder (201 Horsepower, 180 Pound-Feet of Torque) Eight-Speed Dual-Clutch Automatic Base/As-Tested: $31,830/$32,830 Cheers: Excellent handling in the corners, improved styling, large back seat Jeers: Engine has to be worked hard, a large amount of wind and road noise, bouncy ride, questionable material choice, poor value when compared to competitors. Notes: Acura went back to the drawing board this year with the ILX in an effort to fix the slumping sales of the model. Some of the fixes do make a difference such as a new front clip and headlights that give some much need aggression. Inside, a set of leather and suede seats add a nice touch and provide good comfort. It should be noted the seats come with the A-Spec package. The engine lineup which included a 2.0L, 2.4L, and hybrid has been simplified to just the 2.4 with 201 horsepower. This eliminates one of the big problems for the ILX of being too slow if you opted for the hybrid or 2.0L. One item that Acura didn’t mess with was the handling. The ILX is a sweetheart around corners as it provides minimal body roll and excellent steering. Acura also made sure that the ILX’s suspension was compliant when dealing with bumps on a day-to-day basis, something it does very well. Sadly, that is where the good points of the ILX end. Despite Acura’s attempt on improving the ILX’s interior, it looks and in some parts, feels like the Civic that it is based on. Not something you want to be said since this vehicle competes in the same class as the Audi A3 and Buick Verano, both with impressive interiors. The 2.4L has the power to compete with the vehicles in the class. But to access this power, you’ll need to be working the engine somewhat hard - around 3,000 to 4,000 rpm. This would be ok if the ILX had a six-speed manual. But Acura dropped it for this year, replacing it with an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic. There isn’t anything wrong with the dual-clutch transmission, it’s quite smooth and doesn’t hesitate when going up or down. But it makes working the engine to its fullest, boring and not joyful. But the biggest problem for the ILX is the price. This particular ILX came with an as-tested price of $32,830 and that doesn’t include one of the huge changes for the model, a load of additional safety equipment. Acura added a number of safety systems such as blind-spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, collision mitigation, and road departure mitigation. To get all of this, you need to either get the ILX Technology Plus ($32,990) or the ILX Technology Plus and A-Spec ($34,890). Around that price, you could get yourself into a well-equipped Buick Verano Turbo with much more amenities and better performance. 2015 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk 3.2L 24-Valve VVT V6 (271 Horsepower, 239 Pound-Feet of Torque) Nine-Speed Automatic Base/As-Tested: $30,395/$36,869 Cheers: Sharp Looks, Very Capable Off-Road, V6 Performance Jeers: Ninth-Gear Seems Non-Existent, Price-Tag, Annoying Stop-Start System Notes: In my original review of the 2014 Jeep Cherokee, I said that I was very impressed as Jeep made the leap from a boxy, go-anywhere SUV to sharp looking crossover with some Jeep DNA still there. But I wasn’t as impressed with the nine-speed automatic as it shuddered through the first three gears and wouldn’t go into ninth. At the time, I put the Cherokee on the wait and see list. A year has passed and another Cherokee has come in for a review. This particular Cherokee is the top of the line Trailhawk and it features a number of changes to make it a ‘Trail-Rated’ model by Jeep. Outside are a set of tow hooks on the front and rear bumper to pull out the vehicle if it gets stuck. A set seventeen-inch aluminum wheels come wrapped in meaty all-terrain tires to get you through whatever muck you decide to go through. Done up in a sharp red, the Cherokee Trailhawk makes no apologies of what its intended purpose is - going off-road. Under the skin, the Cherokee Trailhawk comes with Jeep Active Drive II. This four-wheel drive system is quite advanced as it offers a low-range setting for rock crawling and a rear lock to improve traction. Other changes for the Trailhawk include an off-road suspension with a one-inch lift, skid plates, and a 56:1 crawl ratio. We did some light off-roading on a dirt trail and found the Trailhawk to very capable as the four-wheel drive kept power flowing to us moving. Also, the suspension provided a very comfortable ride over the trail. Power for the Trailhawk comes from the optional 3.2L V6 with 271 horsepower and 239 pound-feet. This engine feels plenty powerful for any situation that it is thrown at it. It also very refined during acceleration and at cruise. One part of the engine we aren’t keen on is the stop-start system. We found it be somewhat annoying as the engine wouldn’t always shut off, despite our foot planted firmly on the brake pedal. We mostly left it off for the majority of the week. As for the nine-speed automatic, it has been cleaned up for the most part. Gone is the shuddering we experienced in our first Cherokee, replaced by smooth and crisp shifts. Still, the transmission was very hesitant to go into ninth gear. We drove about 50 miles on the freeway at a 70 MPH cruise to see if it would go into ninth and no luck. At least, the ride is smooth and refined, even with the off-road tires. The big problem for the Cherokee Trailhawk is the price. The base model will set you back $30,395. Our test Trailhawk with a few options such as the V6, navigation, and a couple of other packages to reach an as-tested price of $36,869. That is a lot of money for a small crossover. But considering the number of changes to make the Trailhawk a very capable model, we think that for some folks who want the capability of something like a Wrangler, but with a bit more comfort should give this model a look. Everyone else should stick with the Latitude or Altitude models. 2016 Mazda CX-5 Touring 2.5L Skyactiv-G Four-Cylinder (184 Horsepower, 185 Pound-Feet of Torque) Six-Speed Automatic Base/As-Tested: $26,465/$28,835 Cheers: Improved Dash Makes Huge Difference, New Infotainment System, Performance and Fuel Economy, Excellent Handling Jeers: Road and Wind Noise are still in abundance Notes: It seems every time we get into the CX-5, Mazda has done some sort of change to it. The last time we drove a CX-5, it came with the new 2.5L version of the Skyactiv-G four-cylinder. The 2016 model fixes two of the biggest complaints we had in previous CX-5’s; the plain dashboard and poor infotainment system. We’ll start with the dash. First seen in the 2016 Mazda6, the dashboard looks more premium thanks to improved materials and new shapes. The new dash also brings in Mazda Connect, the latest infotainment system. This system is a huge improvement over the old system in terms of overall performance and usability. We didn’t have the issue of the navigation system showing you traveling on a different than the one you were on like we did in the 6. The CX-5 is still a joy to drive thanks to the 2.5L Skyactiv-G four-cylinder providing more than enough power for any situation and the chassis that provides superb handling in the corners. One issue we hope Mazda addresses in the future is noise isolation. There is still an abundance of wind and road noise entering the cabin. The 2016 Mazda CX-5 shows the continual improvement that the Japanese automaker has been doing is making it a better vehicle. 2015 Toyota Avalon XLE Touring 3.5L DOHC 24-Valve Dual VVT-i V6 (268 Horsepower, 248 Pound-Feet of Torque) Six-Speed Automatic Base/As-Tested: $36,080/$37,130 Cheers: Stylish Look, Powerful V6, Upscale Interior, Excellent Fuel Economy Jeers: Sporty ride may turn off some buyers Notes: I came away very impressed when I drove the Avalon Hybrid a couple years ago. The combination of sharp styling, sporty ride, and amazing fuel economy made me pick this as one of my favorite vehicles of that year. But would the regular Avalon receive the same praise? Mostly. The Avalon is still one the sharpest looking full-size sedans with a low-slung front end, narrow grille, and coupe-like roofline. The interior is much the same as the hybrid with loads of space for both front and rear seat passengers, comfortable leather seats, and a impressive design with quality materials used throughout. Unlike the hybrid, our XLE Touring came with the smaller seven-inch Entune infotainment system. It still is easy to use and quick to respond whenever you touch the screen or one of the capacitive touch buttons. Power comes from a 3.5L V6 which is used in a number of other Toyota and Lexus products. Horsepower is rated at 268 and torque is rated at 248 pound-feet. The engine is quite a peach as speed comes on at a very quick rate. But the engine is also quiet during acceleration, making a perfect highway companion. In the corners, the Avalon displays a level of athleticism not seen in other full-size sedans. Body roll is kept in check and the steering provides decent weight. This does mean the Avalon isn’t as comfortable as competitors as some bumps do make their way into the interior. Disclaimer: Acura, Jeep, Mazda, and Toyota Provided the vehicles, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas View full article
  10. The idea of the luxury pickup has only come into spotlight during the last decade thanks to GMC. In the early-oughts, the truck manufacturer introduced the Sierra C3 which offered a number of luxury appointments never really seen on a truck - leather, premium audio system, power everything, new wheels, and a more potent V8. The C3 and the Denali which took its place a couple years later became big sellers and created a market for luxury pickups. Now most of truck players offer two luxury variants - one for those who dream of being a cowboy and one for those believe in up-town luxury. So how has the father of the luxury pickup compare to the new competitors? I spent a week in the Sierra 1500 Denali to find out. Compared to the standard Sierra 1500, the Denali gets minor changes such as a mesh grille insert, chrome trim pieces, Denali badges, and 20-inch aluminum wheels. These small changes make the Denali quite the standout in the Sierra lineup. It looks more at home at an upscale restaurant than a work site. The interior is somewhat lacking though for a luxury pickup. Yes, there are swaths of leather for the seats and dash, along with nicer looking plastic wood trim and Bose sound system. But compared to the likes of the Ford F-150 Platinum and Ram 1500 Laramie Limited which boast better leather and trim choces, the Denali just feels like a pretender. Tech-wise, the 1500 Denali gets the large screen from the heavy duty trucks to provide trip, infotainment, navigation, and powertrain information. There’s also GMC’s Intellilink infotainment system which seems to be getting worse everytime I use it. Case in point was the constant crashing of my iPod Classic and the disappearance of the map when using the navigation system. Like other Sierras, the Denali has a choice of engines. Base is the 5.3L V8, while optional is the 6.2L V8. I had the latter engine which produced 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque. This comes paired with a new eight-speed automatic. As I wrote in my Escalade review, the engine has power available throughout the rev range and sounds more like a Corvette. That pretty much carries over to Sierra Denali except for one key item. The 6.2 feels slightly more potent in the truck thanks to a lower curb weight. If you are not careful with the accelerator you will cause the rear wheels to chirp. The eight-speed automatic kept the truck going with smooth shifts and a noticeable improvement in fuel economy. My average for the week in the Sierra Denali was 16 MPG. Not bad considering the EPA ratings of 15 City/21 Highway/17 Combined. One item that surprised me when driving the Sierra Denali was how bouncy the ride was when compared to the last Sierra 1500 I drove. Despite the truck featuring GM’s Magnaride shocks, the Sierra 1500 Denali was bouncy and choppy thanks to the 20-inch wheels. If you have a load in the bed, the choppy ride goes away. Also expect a fair amount of wind and road noise due to the large tires and boxy shape. While the current-generation GMC Sierra Denali 1500 is a step forward from its predecessor, it falls way behind the competition in terms of luxuries and ride. The 6.2L V8 and eight-speed combination do claw back some good points. But I think its time for GMC to step back and figure out what Denali means to the Sierra. Disclaimer: GMC Provided the Sierra Denali 1500, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas Year: 2015 Make: GMC Model: Sierra 1500 Trim: Denali 4X4 Engine: 6.2L EcoTec3 V8 Driveline: Eight-Speed Automatic, Four-Wheel Drive Horsepower @ RPM: 420 @ 5600 Torque @ RPM: 460 @ 4100 Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 15/21/17 Curb Weight: 5,434 lbs Location of Manufacture: Silao, GJ Mexico Base Price: $52,155 As Tested Price: $57,820 (Includes $1,195 Destination Charge) Options: 6.2L V8 EcoTec3 - $2,495 Power Sunroof - $995.00 Driver Alert Package - $450.00 20" Polished Aluminum Wheels - $300.00 Trailer Brake Controller - $230.00 View full article
  11. Late last year, I had the chance to pilot the 2014 Lexus ES 350. In my review I said that while the new ES is a noticeable improvement over the old one, competitors such as the Buick LaCrosse have surpassed it. But Lexus has an possible ace up their sleeve and it happens to be the hybrid version of ES. Not many competitors offer a fuel efficient version, so does it give the ES an edge? What differentiates the ES 300h from the ES 350? Not much from the exterior aside from blue tint on the badge, hybrid badges on the door sills, and the"h" on the rear badge. The interior is the same aside from a new instrument cluster with an eco/power gauge and a EV mode button. One item I do have to call out on the ES 300h’s interior is the optional Bamboo trim. Not only is it sharp looking, but adds a nice touch of class to the interior. Power comes from Lexus’ Hybrid Drive system which pairs a 2.0L four-cylinder and a electric motor producing a total output of 200 horsepower. A CVT sends power to the front wheels. This powertrain seems more attune the ES’ mission of providing a smooth and quiet ride. The powertrain is able to get the vehicle moving without much stress or noise in city traffic. Merging onto freeway or trying to make a pass does reveal some noisy clatter from the engine. The CVT doesn’t help matters as the drone that plagues many CVTs when you push further down on the accelerator pedal comes in. Fuel economy for the ES 300h is rated 40 City/39 Highway/40 Combined. My week saw an average of 37 MPG. This was slightly disappointing, but at the time I was driving the ES Hybrid, temps were below freezing which would explain the drop. As for ride and handling, the ES 300h follows in the footsteps of the standard ES 350. The suspension provides a smooth ride. Any imperfections on the road are dealt with and don’t make they way into the cabin. Also not making an appearance inside the cabin is road and wind noise, Thanks to thicker windows and added insulation, the ES is a very quiet car. Helping matters is one of the smoothest transitions from hybrid power to electric power. The only way to know that the hybrid system has kicked on or off is a EV Mode light in the instrument cluster. If your planning to tackle the winding roads, then leave the ES Hybrid at home. Like the standard ES, the hybrid shows a bit of body roll and steering doesn’t have any sign of feel. If I was considering an ES, I would go for the 300h since it fits the ideals of the model - a quiet and comfortable ride paired with a somewhat upscale cabin. Add in the fuel economy and the ES 300h might be a compelling choice for those who just want something luxurious. But for almost the same price as this ES 300h, you can get into a fully loaded Toyota Avalon Hybrid which offers most of the same features as the ES, along with a much better look and a more sporty drive if you are interested in that. So while the ES 300h does give a slight edge to ES, it gets undercut by another member of the family. Disclaimer: Lexus Provided the ES300h, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas Year: 2015 Make: ES Model: 300h Trim: N/A Engine: 2.5L DOHC, 16-Valve with VVT-i Four-Cylinder, Electric Motor Driveline: Front-Wheel Drive, CVT Horsepower @ RPM: (Gas) 156 @ 5,700, (Total) 200 Torque @ RPM: (Gas) 156 @ 4,500 Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 40/39/40 Curb Weight: 3,660 lbs Location of Manufacture: Miyawaka, Fukuoka Base Price: $40,430 As Tested Price: $46,995 (Includes $925.00 Destination Charge) Options: Hard Disk Drive Navigation system with Backup Camera - $1,795 Luxury Package - $1,370 HID Headlamps - $565.00 Blind Spot Monitoring with Rear Cross Traffic Alert - $500.00 Intuitive Parking Assist - $500.00 Power Trunk Closer - $400.00 Bamboo & Leather Trimmed Steering Wheel - $300.00 Power Rear Sunshade - $210.00 View full article
  12. The past few months at the Cheers & Gears Detroit Bureau has seen some midsize sedans make a second appearance. One has gone the eco-friendly route, another came with some added zip in its sporty model, and the last has undergone some significant changes. The three sedans in question are the Hyundai Sonata Eco, Toyota Camry XSE V6, and 2016 Mazda6. Now if you want to know what we thought of these vehicles originally, you check out our reviews here. 2015 Hyundai Sonata Sport 2014 Mazda6 Grand Touring 2015 Toyota Camry SE Hybrid Next: 2015 Hyundai Sonata Eco The current Hyundai Sonata is a bit head scratcher. When the new model was shown last year at the New York Auto Show, it looked like Hyundai dropped the ball. While the automaker had made a number of improvements in terms of the interior and the engine, the big item of the exterior design was somewhat forgotten. The sleek shape had been changed for something a bit more conservative. This has caused sales to slump and Hyundai to order a refresh a year sooner than expected. But even with these problems, is there a Sonata model that can stand above the rest? As we found out earlier this year, it isn’t the Sonata Sport 2.0T as it has a number of problems with being sporty. Let’s see if the Hyundai Sonata Eco can do it. What makes the Eco different from other Sonata models is under the hood. Hyundai employs a turbocharged 1.6L four-cylinder with 177 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. This is paired with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. Aside from this and an Eco badge on the trunk, it looks like the standard Sonata. But the Eco doesn’t drive like the standard model. With the torque arriving at 1,500 and continuing towards 4,500 rpm, this means the Eco’s has power readily available when you’re leaving a stop and continues onwards. Power comes on smoothly and linearly. The only downside to this powertrain is the dual-clutch transmission stumbles a bit due to slow shifts and occasional juddering. It should be noted that Hyundai has made some improvements to the DCT since we’ve driven the Sonata Eco, and the improvements are noticeable when we drove Tucson with this transmission. The other difference between the Sonata Eco and other trims comes in the form of fuel economy. The EPA rates the 2015 Hyundai Sonata Eco at 28 City/38 Highway/32 Combined. This is slightly better than the standard Sonata with 25 City/37 Highway/29 Combined. My week of driving saw an average of 33.4 MPG, slightly above the combined figure. In the ride and handling department, the Sonata Eco is quite a comfortable car as the suspension keeps most bumps from reaching the interior. Road and wind noise are kept to acceptable levels. Those who want a bit of sport should look towards the Mazda6 as it offers the driver a bit more information and enjoyment on the curves. The 2015 Hyundai Sonata Eco starts at $23,275, about $2,125 more than the base SE model. Considering what comes standard - a power drivers seat, backup camera, five-inch touchscreen radio, and a chrome front grille - the Eco is quite a good value. Our test Eco came with the optional tech package which adds $4,100 to the base price. But the package transforms the Eco into a handsomely loaded model with such features as blind-spot monitoring, dual-zone climate control, eight-inch touchscreen with navigation, leather seats, heated front seats, and push-button start. The Eco may be the best all-around trim in the Hyundai Sonata lineup. Not only does it offer impressive fuel economy for a midsize sedan, it comes well equipped and boasts a price tag that will not make you wonder if you spent too much. For many, it might be the right sedan. Disclaimer: Hyundai Provided the Sonata Eco, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas Year: 2015 Make: Hyundai Model: Sonata Trim: Eco Engine: 1.6L Turbocharged, Direct-Injected Four-Cylinder Driveline: Seven-Speed Dual Clutch, Front-Wheel Drive Horsepower @ RPM: 178 @ 5,500 Torque @ RPM: 195 @ 1,500 - 4,500 Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 28/38/32 Curb Weight: 3,250 lbs Location of Manufacture: Montgomery, AL Base Price: $23,275 As Tested Price: $28,310 (Includes $810.00 Destination Charge) Options: Tech Package - $4,100 Carpet Floor Mats - $125.00 Next: 2016 Mazda6 Grand Touring Small changes can make a big difference to a vehicle. No one is a bigger believer to this mantra than Mazda. A classic example is the CX-5. When it launched in 2013, the crossover drew me in with its sharp looks and impressive handling dynamics. But the 2.0L four-cylinder was a bit of a let down as it was a bit underpowered for the vehicle’s weight. Mazda went back and installed a larger 2.5L four-cylinder for the CX-5 and it made a world of difference in overall performance. So imagine taking this idea of making small changes and doing it to another vehicle. Mazda has done that with the 2016 Mazda sedan. Let see what the changes are and if they make the 6 an even better sedan. The outside get some minor changes such as the grille slats draped in chrome and a longer chrome bar that runs underneath the grille. The big changes for the 2016 model are for the interior as Mazda has taken the interior from 3 and placed it into 6. The new dash brings forth improved materials to make it look and feel more premium, along with Mazda’s new infotainment system. This system is a massive improvement over the older one in terms of performance and overall usability. However, Mazda’s system has an odd problem with the navigation system as it shows you traveling on a different road a few hundred feet away than the one you are currently on. Now the system does correct itself, but it takes up to half a minute. One other change for the 2016 Mazda6 is the optional i-Eloop system. This is a regenerative braking system that recycles the kinetic energy that is moving the vehicle into electricity that is stored in a capacitor. The capacitor then feeds that power to various electronic components to help reduce the load on the alternator and improve fuel economy. Now Mazda says the system delivers up five percent better fuel economy. This shows in the 2016 Mazda6’s fuel economy numbers of 28 City/40 Highway/32 Combined, slightly better than the 26 City/38 Highway/30 Combined on the 2014 model. So does it make a difference? Most likely as my average for the week in the 2016 model was 31 MPG, three MPGs higher than the 2014 model. Aside from all of these changes, the Mazda6 is still one of the best driving midsize sedans on sale. The 2.5L Skyactiv-G engine gets up to speed at a quick rate, while the six-speed automatic is one the fastest and smoothest shifting transmissions on sale. Mazda also hasn’t changed the fun-to-drive characteristics we loved in our original road test of the 6. One item we wished Mazda would work on is noise isolation. Road and wind noise were very apparent when driving the 6 on the expressway. The 2016 Mazda6 shows the little changes can take a sedan that is considered by many to be one of best and make and make it that much more. Disclaimer: Mazda Provided the 6, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas Year: 2016 Make: Mazda Model: 6 Trim: Grand Touring Engine: Skyactiv-G 2.5L DOHC Four-Cylinder Driveline: Skyactiv-Drive Six-Speed Automatic, Front-Wheel Drive Horsepower @ RPM: 184 @ 5,700 Torque @ RPM: 185 @ 3,250 Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 28/40/32 Curb Weight: 3,250 lbs Location of Manufacture: Hofu, Japan Base Price: $30,195 As Tested Price: $33,395 (Includes $820.00 Destination Charge) Options: GT Technology Package - $2,180 Door Sill Trim Plates - $125.00 Cargo Mat - $75.00 Next: 2015 Toyota Camry XSE V6 Can a Toyota Camry be sporty? Before you start writing comments saying no and telling me that I’m crazy, it is a legitimate question. Consider Toyota’s pledge a couple years ago where it pledged to make their vehicles more engaging. So far, Toyota’s vehicles have looked more exciting. In terms of making them more engaging with driving, it has been mixed. The Avalon Hybrid we thought was a good driving vehicle, while the Corolla S wasn’t. So with that in mind, let us see how the sportiest Camry, the new XSE fares. The 2015 Camry went through a substantial refresh with most of body being changed - aside from the roof. It’s quite dramatic when compared to the previous model. The Camry XSE gets some unique tweaks to make it stand out further such as new mesh grille insert, 18-inch wheels, and dual-exhaust ports. The changes do make the Camry XSE stand out, but it also makes the XSE look like it's trying a bit too hard. Inside the XSE features a number of changes that we delved into our Camry Hybrid SE review including the revised dash with stitching. The only differences for the XSE is a set of faux-suede seats and red stitching. It would be nice if Toyota could do something more to differentiate the Camry XSE from other Camry models in the interior like some new trim pieces specific to the XSE. Power for the XSE comes in the form of a 2.5L four-cylinder as the base, with a 3.5L V6 as an option. Our XSE tester came with the optional V6 which packs 268 horsepower and 248 pound-feet. No matter which engine you pick, a six-speed automatic comes standard. The V6 is quite the surprise as it pulls very strong through the rev range and will cause the front wheels to break loose if you aren’t careful with the accelerator. Toyota should also be given some credit for building one of the smoothest and quietest V6 engines on sale. The six-speed automatic shares the smooth characteristics of the engine. Fuel economy for the Camry V6 is rated at 21 City/31 Highway/25 Combined. I saw an average 24 MPG for the week. Now Toyota has made a number of improvements to the XSE to make it sporty such as firmer shocks and springs, new bushings, and a revised ­electric power steering system. So does it make a noticeable improvement to the Camry’s handling? Somewhat. The changes to the suspension do help in terms of body control. But the steering feels a little-bit rubbery and doesn’t provide any increased weight from the standard Camry. At least the Camry XSE provides a somewhat smooth ride. The big problem for the Camry XSE is the value proposition. The base price of the Camry XSE V6 starts at $31,370 and includes LED headlights, a seven-inch touchscreen with Toyota’s Entune infotainment system and navigation; power seats, and dual-zone climate control. However, our test vehicle was fitted with a number of options such as blind-spot monitoring, a JBL audio system, radar cruise control, and lane-departure warning which caused our as-tested price to be $35,768. Considering what you get and how the model doesn’t live up to its sport pretensions, it makes us question whether or not the XSE is worth it. While the XSE is a step in the right direction for in terms of making the Camry a bit more sporty, we think Toyota could have gone a little bit farther in this regard. Also, the value for money equation doesn’t quite work for the Camry XSE. It is a good effort, but Toyota needs to do a bit more work. Disclaimer: Toyota Provided the Camry XSE, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas Year: 2015 Make: Toyota Model: Camry Trim: XSE V6 Engine: 3.5L DOHC 24-Valve w/Dual-VVTi V6 Driveline: Six-Speed Automatic, Front-Wheel Drive Horsepower @ RPM: 268 @ 6,200 Torque @ RPM: 248 @ 4,700 Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 21/31/25 Curb Weight: 3,480 lbs Location of Manufacture: Georgetown, KY Base Price: $31,370 As Tested Price: $35,768 (Includes $525.00 Destination Charge) Options: Entune Premium JBL Audio with Navigation - $805.00 Technology Package - $750.00 Blind Spot Monitor with Rear-Cross Traffic Alert - $500.00 Remote Start - $499.00 Special Color (Ruby Flare Pearl) - $395.00 Four Seasons Floor Mat Package - $325.00 Illuminated Door Sills - $299.00 View full article
  13. The Nissan Versa Note is a competent subcompact. I know, that sounds like damning praise. But the Versa Note has a lot of good points to it. The model is efficient on fuel, has loads of space, and comes with a fair amount of tech features for the low price. But the Versa Note is a bit dull in terms of design. Nissan has decided to address this issue by introducing the Versa Note SR. This model boasts a number of sporty touches to make the Versa Note more appealing. Let's see if this fixes the dullness problem. The SR treatment begins on the exterior with new fascias, side sills, headlights, and a set of 16-inch alloy wheels. Paired with the breadbox van shape of the Versa Note, the SR model makes the Note a bit more interesting to look at. Inside, Nissan has fitted suede seats with an orange accent stripe running down the middle. Not only are the seats very stylish, they provide excellent levels of comfort. Also new is a updated version of NissanConnect, the company’s infotainment system. The system boasts an improved interface that makes it easier to find things and offers the ability to use applications via your smartphone. Finishing the inside are a new instrument cluster and shiny plastics for the center stack which makes the interior less dull. If you’re expecting any changes to powertrain or suspension, prepare to be disappointed. The Versa Note SR retains the 1.6L four-cylinder with 109 horsepower and 107 pound-feet of torque. The only transmission on offer is Nissan’s XTronic CVT. The engine is quite comfortable around urban environments as it gets up to speed quickly and without a fuss. On the expressway, the engine feels out of place as it struggles to get up speed at a decent clip. Adding more problems is the extensive noise coming engine and CVT. Meanwhile, the suspension is great at isolating bumps and providing a comfortable ride, but not so much at keeping body motions in check when cornering. So has the SR trim made the Versa Note less dull? Yes. The changes inside and out give the Versa Note a bit of style that was missing from the standard model. While I do wish Nissan had made some changes to the engine and suspension amp the sporty attitude, many buyers will be happy with just the looks. Disclaimer: Nissan Provided the Versa Note, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas Year: 2015 Make: Nissan Model: Versa Note Trim: SR Engine: 1.6L DOHC 16-Valve Four-Cylinder Driveline: CVT, Front-Wheel Drive Horsepower @ RPM: 109 @ 6,000 Torque @ RPM: 107 @ 4,400 Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 31/40/35 Curb Weight: 2,523 lbs Location of Manufacture: Aguascalientes, Mexico Base Price: $17,530 As Tested Price: $19,180 (Includes $810.00 Destination Charge) Options: SR Convenience Package - $680.00 Carpeted Floor Mats and Cargo Mat - $180.00 View full article
  14. There are two ways you can go when building an electric vehicle, either you start with a clean sheet design or you take a vehicle you currently build and modify it. Both methods have their pluses and minuses. Going with a clean sheet gives you the ability to design a vehicle with an electric powertrain in mind, but the costs can grow exorbitantly. The opposite is true when taking a vehicle and modifying it electrification. This was a decision Kia was faced with a few years ago when they began working on their first electric vehicle. Ultimately, the company decided to use one of their current vehicles. But which one would offer the least amount of problems in the transformation? To their eyes, the Soul would be the perfect candidate. Let’s see if this decision paid off. The standard Kia Soul is already a vehicle that stands out thanks to the funky boxy design and range of wild colors. The electric version steps it up with small changes such as lighting with a blue tint, wheels painted in white, and a new front fascia with a closed off grille. That grille hides the Soul EV’s recharging ports. Inside, the Soul EV is mostly the same as the standard Soul with an expressive design and high-quality materials. Kia added some unique touches to the Soul EV’s interior such as a white trim around the gear shift and center console, and blue piping for the seats. One of the key issues when converting a standard vehicle to electric power is the loss of space due to the batteries. The Soul EV is no exception to this rule. Compared to the standard Soul, the EV has less cargo space as the batteries take up space that is normally part of an underfloor storage tray. But most owners won’t notice this loss in space as the Soul EV can still take in a lot of cargo thanks to the boxy shape. Power comes in the form of an 81kW electric motor delivering 109 horsepower and 210 pound-feet of torque. While the Soul EV is 600 pounds heavier than the standard Soul, it doesn’t feel like it has gained any weight. With torque fully available at zero rpm, the Soul EV moves quite quickly. Moreover, the electric powertrain was able to provide power instantaneously whenever I needed to make a pass or merge onto a freeway. Kia says the Soul EV has a range of 93 Miles on a full charge, which is higher than the Ford Focus EV and Nissan Leaf EV. A full charge takes about four to five hours when plugged into 240V charger, or 24 hours when plugged in 120V outlet. During the week, it took about eight to ten hours for the Soul EV to charge back up from a day of driving (about 40 miles in my case). The Soul EV retains the same ride qualities as the standard Soul as it seems to glide over bumps and imperfections. There is barely any road noise entering the cabin, but wind noise is somewhat apparent. This is due to the shape of the Soul. Kia has done an excellent job with their first electric vehicle. The Soul EV shows that with that with the right base vehicle, you can create an electric vehicle that is vying for best in class honors. The big downside to the Soul EV is that Kia is only selling it certain markets. At the time of this writing, Kia is selling the Soul EV in California, Georgia, Hawaii, Oregon, Texas, and Washington. If you happen to be considering and are in one of the states where Kia is selling the Soul EV, then be sure to give it a look. Disclaimer: Kia Provided the Soul EV and Insurance Year: 2015 Make: Kia Model: Soul EV Trim: + Engine: 81 kW Electric Motor Driveline: Single-Speed Automatic, Front-Wheel Drive Horsepower @ RPM: 109 @ 0 Torque @ RPM: 210 @ 0 Fuel Economy: N/A Curb Weight: 3,289 lbs Location of Manufacture: Gwangju, South Korea Base Price: $35,700 As Tested Price: $35,700* (*Note: Price doesn't include destination charge or Federal and State incentives.) Options: N/A View full article
  15. September 30, 2013 Drew Dowdell Managing Editor - CheerandGears.com Some Crossovers are too this; some Crossovers are too that; and some Crossovers are just right. This is the Goldilocks’ impression I walked away with after my quick drive of the 2013 Toyota RAV-4 AWD. Toyota rarely releases radical designs, but the first visual impression of the RAV-4 is that Toyota is trying to break that habit, though cautiously. The RAV-4 seems to drop the family face shared by the rest of the Toyota line, yet retains enough familiarity to fit in. I admit to not being a fan of the new look at first, but it has grown on me. Step inside and you are greeted with a roomy interior for the class. The dashboard continues the unconventional look from the outside with an unusual two tier dash. Upscale materials are found on most places you would normally touch, however some of the lower panels have clearly been through some cost-cutting. The overall look of the dash layout is what one might expect if a car manufacturer produced a luxury compact pickup, with a very upright and blocky appearance. Most of the switchgear is standard Toyota and the everyday buttons are easy to reach and have a simple layout. Lesser used switches are low on the center stack and a bit harder to operate by touch. Though dimensionally similar to vehicles like the Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, and Ford Escape, the Toyota RAV-4 makes the most of those dimensions and feels larger and roomier inside thanks to its light and airy cabin. Click picture to enlarge Like the interior? How does the RAV-4 drive? On to page 2! One area that Toyota has nailed it is in overall refinement. From the perky 2.5 liter 4-cylinder with Lexus like manners, to the buttery smooth 6-speed automatic transmission, to the supple yet spritely independent suspension, the RAV-4 would keep Goldilocks happy for a long while. The 2.5 liter produces 176 horsepower at 6,000rpm and 172 lb-ft of torque at 4100rpm. Though lacking the absolute highest of 4-cylinder engine power, the engine never feels overworked. Around town, the RAV-4's engine feels very energetic. It pushes that power through a buttery smooth 6-speed automatic to all 4 wheels netting an EPA 22 mpg City/ 29mpg Highway/ 25mpg combined. The suspension is soft without being spongy, soaking up road imperfections but maintaining a firm and confident feel in corners.The Toyota RAV-4 has been one of the best selling vehicles in its segment for years, often taking the best seller crown. While Toyota has gotten a little out of their comfort zone on styling, they have put together a total package in the 2013 model that only strengthens their solid market position. I'll bet a whole lot of Goldilockses out there will end up finding the 2013 RAV-4 to be just right. As Tested Price: $31,869 Related Reviews: Review: 2013 Nissan Rogue Review: 2014 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring Review: 2013 Kia Sportage AWD Disclaimer: Toyota provided the 2013 Toyota RAV-4 during a drive event held for members of the International Motor Press Association. Drew Dowdell is Managing Editor of CheersandGears.com and can be reached at Drew.Dowdell@CheersandGears.com or on Twitter as @Cheersngears Click picture to enlarge View full article
  16. The current crop of full-size sedans are venturing out of their comfort zone in terms of styling. But that wasn’t something you could say a few years back. Automakers played it safe with bland and boring design as not to scare buyers away. Hyundai decided to challenge the status quo when it came to designing the second-generation Azera full-size sedan. When it was introduced for the 2012 model year, the Azera was a shock to the system with sharp lines and a distinctive profile. Since then, other automakers have introduced full-size sedans that you would be glad to show off and not hide in the garage. But looks can only get you so far. How does the rest of the Hyundai Azera compare to the competition? Hyundai has gotten parts of the Azera’s interior right with a premium design and the use of soft-touch plastics and faux-wood trim. However, there are some cheap feeling plastics being used in certain parts interior which puts a damper on the upscale feeling Hyundai is trying to go after. The center stack underwent some changes for 2015 with Hyundai adding some new buttons and knobs to make it easier to control various aspects of the vehicle. An eight-inch touchscreen is standard on all Azeras and boasts a simple interface and crisp graphics to make it easy to use. In terms of comfort, the Azera mostly scores well here. Seats come wrapped in perforated leather and provide a good level of support. Driver and passenger get power adjustments, along with heat and ventilation. Rear seat passengers will find a decent amount of legroom, but headroom is tight for tall people due to the shape of the roof. For comparison, the similarly sized Hyundai Genesis has bit more headroom thanks to a different shape of the roof. Power comes from a 3.3L V6 with 293 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed automatic gets the power to the front wheels. The engine needs to be given some revs to get the vehicle moving. But once moving, the engine feels up to the task of dealing with most driving situations. The six-speed automatic provides smooth shifts, but it tended to hold on to gears much longer than we wanted it to. Fuel economy numbers for the Azera stand at 19 City/28 Highway/22 Combined. My average for the week in the Azera landed around 22.4 MPG. The Azera’s ride is reminiscent of old Buick and Lincoln sedans where it seems to glide over bumps and imperfections. Road and wind noise are kept out the cabin, providing something akin to a library. Handling is similar to other full-size sedans as the Azera shows a little bit of body roll in the corners. Where the Azera falls flat is in the steering as it feels way too light and numb. Now this would have been ok a few years back, but competitors such as the Chevrolet Impala, Chrysler 300, and Toyota Avalon show that its ok to have some weight and feel for the steering. The Hyundai Azera is still a very capable full-size sedan with a some sharp looks to go with it. But sadly, the model is overshadowed by new models which offer a bit more room in the back and better steering. The Azera is worth a look, but only after you spent some time looking at some of the other full-size sedans on offer. Disclaimer: Hyundai Provided the Azera, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas Year: 2015 Make: Hyundai Model: Azera Trim: Limited Engine: 3.3L GDI Dual-CVVT DOHC V6 Driveline: Six-Speed Automatic, Front-Wheel Drive Horsepower @ RPM: 293 @ 6,400 Torque @ RPM: 255 @ 5,200 Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 19/28/22 Curb Weight: 3,871 lbs Location of Manufacture: Asan, South Korea Base Price: $38,200 As Tested Price: $39,220 (Includes $895.00 Destination Charge) Options: Carpeted Floor Mats - $125.00 View full article
  17. Next up in the 2014 review wrap-up is sporty cars. Originally I was going to call this sports cars, but only one can be considered it. The other two happen to be sporty takes on standard models. First: Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring PHRT For an automobile to remain true to its mission for a quarter-of-a-century is an amazing feat. Such is the case for the Mazda MX-5 Miata. When it first was shown back in 1989, it promised to bring fun and sporty driving that roadsters from the fifties and sixties, but with better reliability. Throughout its three generations, the MX-5 Miata has achieved this, along with a loyal and rabid fan base. With a new MX-5 Miata coming over the horizon, I wanted to give the third-generation model a final spin. Well a 2015 MX-5 Miata Grand Touring PHRT arrived for a week to do just that. Mazda decided to stick with the shape from the first-generation MX-5 Miata and make evolutionary changes to it. I think this is a wise decision as you can tell there is a direct lineage from first model to the current one. The front end has a rounded shape and the smiling grille that has been a key part of Mazda’s last-generation designs. There is also a lip spoiler which comes as part of the Grand Touring trim level. Along the side are some the largest wheel flares I have ever come across on a vehicle. Its a nice touch as it makes the Miata that much more distinctive. Now the third-generation Miata is special because it introduced a power hardtop. The hardtop gives the Miata a coupe look when it is up and provides extra sound deadening. Putting the hardtop up or down only takes around ten seconds. One note, the hardtop when folded does take up a majority of trunk space. So pack really lightly if you decide to take a trip in one.Getting inside the Miata is a bit of an acrobatic act as the way you have enter involves folding your legs and then lowering yourself into the seat. Once you are settled in, you feel that you have become one with the vehicle thanks to the low seating position which means all controls are in easy reach. The leather bucket seats provide a multitude of adjustments so you can your find your perfect spot. The dash is nothing fancy with black plastics and aluminum trim which helps reduce distraction while driving. Standard on the Grand Touring is a Bose sound system. The system sounds great when you are puttering along in the city or along a back road. But if you decide to hit the freeway, the sound system has it work cut out as it has to try to drown out an abundance of road noise. Power comes from a 2.0L MZR four-cylinder paired with the optional six-speed automatic. This combination produces 158 horsepower and 140 pound-feet of torque. Go for the six-speed manual on the Grand Touring and it nets you an additional nine horsepower. Those numbers are somewhat worrisome when you also take into account a curb weight of 2,619 pounds for the power hardtop model. But once you slip behind the wheel and get moving, those thoughts of being underpowered wash away. The engine has to be worked to use all that power, but Mazda made sure that you enjoyed doing it by making the engine pop and rev freely, giving you the thoughts of driving a sixties roadster.. The six-speed automatic was very smooth and provided crisp shifts. Fuel economy is rated at 21 City/28 Highway/23 Combined. My week saw an average of 25.1 MPG. Of course the real story of any Miata is its handling. I heard all of the superlatives and cheers about the MX-5 Miata’s handling, and I have to say those claims are very much true. The Miata is a joy around curves as the suspension keeps the vehicle steady and makes sure no body roll makes an entrance. Steering was excellent thanks to the right amount weight and feel. This is a vehicle that wants to be pushed and it rewards you when you decide to. When you decide to drive the Miata on a daily basis, the ride does let in a few bumps. After spending a week with the MX-5 Miata, I was sad to see it go. Mazda has been able to keep the spirit of the original Miata with the third-generation model. With excellent handing characteristics, the addition of a power hardtop, and a design all its own, it shows why the Miata has been able to last as long as it has. Disclaimer: Mazda Provided the MX-5 Miata, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas Year: 2014 Make: Mazda Model: MX-5 Miata Trim: Grand Touring PHRT Engine: 2.0L DOHC 16-Valve VVT Four-Cylinder Driveline: Six-Speed Automatic, Rear-Wheel Drive Horsepower @ RPM: 158 @ 6700 Torque @ RPM: 140 @ 5000 Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 21/28/23 Curb Weight: 2,619 lbs Location of Manufacture: Hiroshima, Japan Base Price: $30,550 As Tested Price: $32,735 (Includes $795.00 Destination Charge) Options: Premium Package - $1,390 Next: Ram 1500 R/T The past ten to twenty years in the pickup truck market has seen an explosion in trims and model variations. You can get a standard work truck with the vinyl seats or go all the way for a luxury model with such amenities as heated and cool seats, and dual-zone climate control. But one area in the marketplace that has been neglected for sometime is the sports truck. Models such as the Chevrolet 454SS, Ford Lightning, and Dodge Ram SRT-10 really don’t exist anymore. But Ram wants to let you know that sport truck is still a thing and it comes in the form of 1500 R/T Regular Cab. Ram has got the basics down on the 1500 R/T. The R/T comes when you order the Sport trim level with the standard cab and 6’4” bed. Exterior changes include a blacked-out mesh grille, a new hood with faux air vents, twenty-two inch chrome wheels, and dual exhaust pars. Donning a red paint job, the R/T gives the Ram 1500 a mean look. Inside are a set of bucket seats wrapped in cloth and leather, and dash layout familiar to anyone who has been in a recent Chrysler product. This means an eight-inch screen for the UConnect infotainment system and a compressive gauge package. Getting in truck was a little bit of a hassle as its quite leap to get in. A set of step bars would be nice feature for this truck. But once inside, it was easy to get settled and understand where everything was. Power for the R/T is the 5.7L HEMI V8 with 395 horsepower and 410 pound-feet of torque. This comes paired up with an eight-speed automatic. Despite a curb weight of 5,106 pounds, this powertrain is able to get the Ram 1500 moving at a rapid rate. 0-60 will take you around the mid-5 second area. The eight-speed automatic provides lightning fast shifts and keeps the truck in the zone of power. I should also mention the noise of HEMI makes you want to push the go pedal that little more to enjoy the sweet sounds. Don’t expect to win any fuel economy awards though. The 1500 R/T is rated at 15 City/22 Highway/17 Combined. I got 18 MPG during my week. As for the ride, the Ram 1500 R/T has to be one of the smoothest rides I have ever experienced in a truck. Thanks a to multi-link, coil spring setup in the rear, bumps and imperfections were mostly ironed out. Even when the Ram was called in to haul a freezer and a wood lathe, the suspension was able to keep the truck level and provide a comfortable ride. Don’t expect the R/T to be a handling champ. Ram didn’t lower the suspension, which means you’ll have a bit of body roll. Also the steering is a bit slow and somewhat light in feel. But for many buyers, this isn’t a big deal. While the marketplace for sport trucks has dwindled a bit, the 2014 Ram 1500 R/T shows that you can still make a decent case for having a fun truck that can still do its fair share of work. Now if we could only convince them about stuffing the 6.4L HEMI into it… Disclaimer: Ram Provided the 1500 R/T, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas Year: 2014 Make: Ram Model: 1500 Trim: R/T Engine: 5.7 HEMI V8 Driveline: Eight-Speed Automatic, Rear-Wheel Drive Horsepower @ RPM: 395 @ 5,600 Torque @ RPM: 410 @ 3,950 Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 15/22/14 Curb Weight: 5,106 lbs Location of Manufacture: Saltillo, Mexico Base Price: $35,105 As Tested Price: $38,595 (Includes $1,195 Destination Charge) Options: Uconnect 8.4N AM/FM/BT/ACCESS/NAV - $500.00 Convenience Group - $495.00 Spray-In Bedliner - $475.00 Remote Start and Security Group - $350.00 Class IV Receiver Hitch - $335.00 Rear Sliding Windows - $140.00 Next: Lexus LS 460 F-Sport Most of the luxury manufacturers have a high-performance model of their flagship sedan to entice those who want a bit of sport along with the amenities of a flagship. Mercedes-Benz is the best known with their S-Class AMG models, followed by the Audi S8 and Jaguar XJR. The latest one to join the fun is Lexus with the LS 460 F-Sport. Is it possible for a company known for producing some of the softest and most comfortable vehicles to embrace the sporty side? The LS hasn’t changed much since we last looked at it in our review of the 600h L last year. What has changed is what the F-Sport package adds. Up front, the spindle grille gets a new mesh insert and larger air intakes. A set of nineteen-inch multi-spoke wheels hide a set of large, Brembo brakes. Around back is a new bumper with chrome exhaust ports. These changes do give the LS a sporty outlook. Although, I not sure if red suits LS as it makes it look a bit gangly. White or black suits it much better. Inside is the same as the exterior. The only real changes of note are new brushed aluminum trim pieces, F-Sport embossed seats, and aluminum pedals. The LS is nice place to sit in and the controls are in easy reach. But I think its aging quite fast, especially when you compare it to like of the Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG. Not helping matters is the Remote Touch interface which is slow to react and quite jumpy when moving around. Under the hood, you’ll find a 4.6L V8 with 386 horsepower and 367 pound-feet. Opt for the all-wheel drive model and those numbers drop to 360 and 347 respectively. Whichever way you decide to have your power sent to wheels, an eight-speed automatic is standard. Acceleration is very strong and power comes on very smoothly. However if you were expecting some theatrics from the V8 with loud noises, prepare to disappointed. The only real noticeable change from the standard LS to the F-Sport is new piping to channel some of the engine noise inside. The eight-speed automatic is barely noticeable when it shifts. On the fuel economy front, the LS 460 F-Sport RWD is rated at 16 City/24 Highway/19 Combined. I saw 18.6 MPG during my week. Now the big changes the F-Sport brings to the LS deals with the suspension. The air suspension has been lowered by 20 millimeters and has been tuned for more sporty driving. Other changes include low-profile summer tires and a limited-slip differential. I can say there is a difference when you have the LS in the Sport or Sport+ setting when compared to the LS in normal. The suspension stiffens up a bit and keeps the vehicle stable when you decide to have a bit fun in the curves. However, the steering doesn’t have the weight or feel that is needed for a sporting sedan. It veers more to the light and numbness most owners of the LS are used to. As for day to day duties, the LS 460 F-Sport handles that about as well as a standard LS with a quiet and smooth ride. So the LS 460 F-Sport has shown that Lexus is capable of building sporty flagship up to a point. If they can work on the steering, they might have a real contender on their hands. Maybe that’s for the next-generation model. Disclaimer: Lexus Provided the LS 460 F-Sport, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas Year: 2014 Make: Lexus Model: LS Trim: 460 Engine: 4.6L DOHC 32-valve VVT-iE V8 Driveline: Eight-Speed Automatic, Rear-Wheel Drive Horsepower @ RPM: 386 @ 6,400 Torque @ RPM: 367 @ 4,100 Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 16/24/19 Curb Weight: 4,365 lbs Location of Manufacture: Tahara, Aichi, Japan Base Price: $72,140 As Tested Price: $88,080 (Includes $910.00 Destination Charge) Options: F-Sport Package - $8,350.00 F-Sport Comfort Package - $1,650.00 Mark Levinson 19-Speaker Audio System - $1,580.00 Pre-Collision System - $1,500.00 LED Headlamps - $1,450.00 View full article
  18. With 2014 coming to a close and your's truly still having a number of vehicles that need to have reviews written up, I thought it would be a good idea to finish up the year with the remaining vehicles from the 2014 model year. Over the next few weeks, I'll be posting a number of quick reviews. This will be leading up to my favorite vehicles I drove in the past year. Let's begin with the smallest vehicles that I reviewed: subcompacts and compacts. First Up: 2015 Honda Fit EX If there was one model that defined the current subcompact class, it would have to be the Honda Fit. When it was first introduced back in 2006, the Fit featured a clever back seat to increase the practicality of the vehicle; impressive driving dynamics, and sipping fuel like no other. Now the subcompact field has grown in terms of quantity and quality of vehicles. Honda has responded by introducing the third-generation Fit this year. How does the new Fit stand up to the new crowd? The Fit retains the shape it has for the past two-generations, but it gets a bit more aggressive and sleeker. The front looks like Honda’s designers watched a bit too much of Iron Man with the solid one piece grille. Other items of note on the front include larger air ducts and slimmer headlights. The side profile boasts two character lines to help give it an identity. Around back are a set of tall taillights and a set of faux vents in the bumper. Stepping inside the Fit, Honda has reworked the dashboard layout with controls for the radio and climate control system angled towards the driver. Material quality has seen a noticeable improvement with soft-touch materials and faux aluminum trim used throughout. The touchscreen radio is easy to use and quick to respond. The big downside is Honda deciding use capacitive-touch buttons for volume and home. There were times when I had to hit the volume button more than once to get it to respond. Honda, please go back to normal buttons and knobs.Even though the new Fit is about 1.6 inches shorter than the previous model, Honda was able to increase passenger space by 4.9 cubic feet. This is due to a longer wheelbase and a thinner, center-mounted gas tank. Sitting in the back. I found more than enough head and legroom. Now the increase in passenger space means cargo space has dropped by about 4 cubic feet. Still, the Fit cargo’s space is impressive with 17 cubic feet with the rear seats up and 53 cubic feet with the seats down. The back seat is also one of the most versatile I have ever come across in a vehicle. The Fit’s ‘Magic’ seat can be set up in four different ways to provide added functionality. Those include: Folding the rear seats down to create more space Folding one part of rear seats (60/40 split) to make room for cargo, while retaining some seat space for a passenger Folding the seat bottoms up to carry tall items Folding the front seats back to create a sudo-bed Power comes from a 1.5L EarthDreams four-cylinder with 130 horsepower and 114 pound-feet of torque. In my tester, the engine was paired up to a CVT. The engine has to be worked to get up to speed which is normal for this type of car. What I’m not so happy with is the amount of buzzy-ness that is coming from the engine. Honda has said they have worked on trying to improve NVH levels in the Fit, though I find that hard to believe due to the amount of engine noise in the cabin. Thankfully, the powertrain does quiet down when you settle into speed. The CVT does behave nicely and doesn’t have the whine that most transmissions of this type are known for till you get higher in the revs. Fuel economy wise, the Fit with the CVT is rated by the EPA at 33 City/41 Highway/36 Combined. My week saw an overall average of 38 MPG. I should note that I did see 40 MPG when I took the Fit on a trip to Northern Michigan. The Fit earned a reputation for being a fun to drive subcompact, and for the most part that still holds true. It feels playful when going through the curvy bits and the chassis keeps the car grounded. The steering is a bit too light, and it doesn’t have quite the feel that the last generation model was known for. But what surprised me is how Fit did on a long drive. Being a subcompact, I thought the Fit would be uncomfortable due to its short wheelbase. But Honda has made some improvements to the suspension to make it more comfortable for long trips. This means the Fit was able to deal with bumps and imperfections without having any of the passengers feeling it. After doing a drive to Northern Michigan, I had no aches or pain when I got out of the Fit. The Honda Fit still stands tall in the subcompact class with its impressive versatility, fuel economy, and driving dynamics. Hopefully Honda has plans in the works for improving the NVH levels in the engine. Otherwise, the Fit is worth a look if you’re shopping for a new subcompact. Disclaimer: Honda Provided the Fit EX, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas Year: 2015 Make: Honda Model: Fit Trim: EX Engine: 1.5L 16-Valve DOHC i-VTEC four-cylinder Driveline: Front-Wheel Drive, CVT Horsepower @ RPM: 130 @ 6600 Torque @ RPM: 114 @ 4600 Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 33/41/36 Curb Weight: 2,630 lbs Location of Manufacture: Yorii, Japan Base Price: $17,560 As Tested Price: $19,180 (Includes $820.00 Destination Charge) Options: N/A Next Page: 2014 Kia Soul ! (Exclaim) The automotive marketplace is known sometimes for being the arbiters of fads. Consider such models as Mazda Miata and the clones that followed soon after; or the Chrysler PT Cruiser. The most recent fad that we went through were the box cars, started by the likes of the Nissan Cube and Scion xB. These two models enjoyed some success in sales. Kia would become the third entrant in the box class, with the Soul. Like the Cube and xB, the should would become a decent seller. But in recent years, sales began to wane on the Cube and xB, while Soul continued to rise in sales. So what is it about the Soul that makes it a shining star, while its competitors dim out? The Soul’s overall design hasn’t gone through a major transformation. The reason for that is Kia moving 112,000 Souls last year and the thought of a dramatic change could spell doom for sales. But that doesn’t mean Kia hasn’t made any changes. The front end now features a new lower fascia with a trapezoidal grille and a set of fog lights sitting on either side. The back takes some ideas from the 2012 Soul Trackster concept with a new rear tailgate design and large, wrap-around taillights. Those sharp looking eighteen-inch wheels come as part of the Exclaim (!) model. Moving inside, the Soul underwent a massive change. The interior looks and feels more mature with improved materials and layout. My top-of-line tester came equipped with a number features such as heated and cooled seats, panoramic sunroof, a color LCD in the instrument cluster, automatic climate control, and the latest version of Kia’s UVO infotainment system which uses Google’s Android operating system. Getting myself situated in the Soul was easy enough thanks to the power adjustments on the seat and tilt-telescoping wheel. Back seat passengers might find legroom being a little bit tight, but headroom is very much in abundance thanks to the boxy shape.Power comes in the form of two engines. The base is a 1.6L four-cylinder, while my tester featured the 2.0L GDI four-cylinder. The 2.0L produces 164 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed automatic is the sole transmission choice. The 2.0L engine can be classified as being adequate as it seems to produce the same amount power as it does in noise. Stay on flat surfaces and around town duties and the engine does a fine job. But if you need to merge or tackle a steep hill, you’ll need to put the pedal to the floor and enjoy the noises coming from the engine. To be fair, the six-speed automatic does a decent job of keeping the engine right in the sweet spot of power. As fuel economy, the EPA rates the Soul Exclaim at 23 City/31 Highway/26 Combined. I got 27.3 MPG during my week of testing. On the ride and handling front, the Soul did pretty well over some of Michigan’s ‘fantastic’ roads. Bumps and imperfections were mostly ironed over. As for the curves, the Soul’s suspension mostly keeps the vehicle planted. However, the tall shape does mean some body lean appears. The Exclaim model came equipped with the flex-steer system which varies the steering weight. I really don’t like this system as the comfort and sport settings are on the extreme ends (one is really light, while the other is too heavy). I left in normal which provided a nice balance. Much like Kia, I can’t fully explain why the Soul is doing so well. But I have a good guess. Kia has a really impressive package in the Soul with an improved interior, good ride quality, and a funky look that makes it stand out. Whatever the reason is, Kia is doing something right with the Soul. Disclaimer: Kia Provided the Soul !, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas Year: 2014 Make: Kia Model: Soul Trim: ! (Exclaim) Engine: 2.0L GDI Four-Cylinder Driveline: Front-Wheel Drive, Six-Speed Automatic Horsepower @ RPM: 164 @ 6,200 Torque @ RPM: 151 @ 4,000 Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 23/31/26 Curb Weight: 2,837 lbs Location of Manufacture: Gwangju, South Korea Base Price: $20,300 As Tested Price: $26,195 (Includes $795.00 Destination Charge) Options: Sun & Sound Package - $2,600 The Whole Shabang Package - $2,500 Next Page: 2014 Mazda3 Grand Touring Hatchback Its hard to believe that only a couple of years ago, Mazda was beginning to roll out its Skyacitv technologies in the last-generation Mazda3. In my review of the 3, I praised the Skyactiv powertrain for being a clever way of increasing fuel economy without resorting hybrid technologies. I also wondered how the 3 would be once it received the full suite of Skyactiv technologies. Well I had my chance when a 2014 Mazda 3s Grand Touring hatchback arrived for a week-long evaluation. Mazda has been producing some of most distinctive vehicles on the road and the 3 is no different. Armed with the Kodo design language and lovely Soul Red color, the 3 stands out in the compact car crowd. Up front is a tall grille with a slim chrome bar running from underneath the emblem into the front headlights. The side profile reveals stylish curves for the fenders and roofline. Inside, the 3 has really stepped up in terms of design and quality. Materials are top notch, even though Mazda is sticking with the blackout theme. Some contrasting colors would be nice Mazda. Despite an increase an overall size, interior space is still small. Sitting in the back, I found myself wishing for bit more leg and headroom. One big change for the 3 deals with technology. Previous Mazdas featured one of most infuriating infotainment systems I have ever come across with dated graphics, slow response times, not being able to connect phones with Bluetooth, and number of other problems. The 3 now features a new infotainment system with a seven-inch screen mounted on the dash and iDrive-like controller. This new system is easier to use and quick to respond when selecting a function. Also, it quickly connected to my phone. One other technology change deals with heads-up display. Mazda uses a screen that rises from the top of the instrument cluster and projects key information onto it. The trick is that screen is right in line of sight of the windshield which makes you think the information is being projected onto the windshield. Very clever.The Mazda3 comes with two different powertrains. i models get the 2.0L Skyactiv-G four-cylinder while s models come with the larger 2.5L. My 3 was equipped the latter which packed 184 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque. This is paired up to a six-speed automatic, but you’ll be able to get a six-speed manual. The 2.5 packs quite the punch and gets the 3 moving at a quick pace. Also, Mazda deserves credit for building a four-cylinder that’s refined and smooth. The six-speed automatic is quick on shifts and provides a good pairing for the 2.5. EPA rates the Mazda 3s Grand Touring at 28 City/38 Highway/32 Combined. I saw an average of 31 MPG. The Mazda’3s handling is amazing. Along a curvy stretch of road, the 3’s chassis keeps the model flat. Meanwhile, the steering has good heft and provides a sporting driver the details of the road. It may not be a sports car, but 3 sure acts like one. Now the sports car aspirations do mean the 3 is a little bit more bouncy when dealing with potholes and bumps. Road and wind noise are kept at decent levels. There is one concern I do have with the Mazda3. As tested, my 3s Grand Touring cost $30,415. The price includes $2,500 tech package which includes blind spot monitoring and radar cruise control. It made me wonder if Mazda was asking a bit too much for the new 3. It has value to justify it, but I wonder if someone is willing to drop that much for a Mazda3. So the new Mazda3 is very much improved with the full suite Skyactiv technologies that it could be considered as best in class. The price however does give me pause from fully recommend it. Disclaimer: Mazda Provided the 3 S Grand Touring, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas Year: 2014 Make: Mazda Model: 3 Hatchback Trim: s Grand Touring Engine: 2.5L DOHC Skyactiv-G Four-Cylinder Driveline: Front-Wheel Drive, Six-Speed Automatic Horsepower @ RPM: 184 @ 5700 Torque @ RPM: 185 @ 3250 Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 28/38/32 Curb Weight: 3,002 lbs Location of Manufacture: Hofu, Japan Base Price: $26,495 As Tested Price: $30,415 (Includes $795.00 Destination Charge) Options: 5GT Technology Package - $2,500 Soul Red Paint - $300 View full article
  19. For awhile, the best Buick you could buy was a Lexus ES. Lexus was able to take the formula that Buick had worked so hard on proving a smooth and comfortable car and just do it better. But Buick is back on the upswing. The recently refreshed LaCrosse shows that Buick is back and wanting to challenge the ES on territory it once held. So which is the better model; the LaCrosse or the ES? I spent some time in the 2014 ES 350 to try answer this. The ES 350’s exterior looks awkward as it seems Lexus was trying to make the ES look somewhat sportier, while retaining some of the handsomeness of previous models. The front has the spindle grille with flat bars running across and a set of headlights with LEDs running along the outer edges. Around back, Lexus designers gave it upright and flat look with a new trunk lid. While the ES now has some style, it comes at the cost of looking like a bloated GS. Thankfully the interior avoids the awkwardness. Again, there is a bit of GS influence for the ES’ interior, but Lexus made sure to make ES a bit more inviting. That means cream leather for the seats and bamboo trim along the dash and door panels. The dashboard itself is similar to the GS with a flat face and simple layout of controls. Space-wise, the ES 350 is very impressive. Back seat passengers will find plenty of legroom and headroom. Trunk space measures out to 15.2 cubic feet, slightly larger than the Buick LaCrosse’s 13.3 cubic feet trunk. Lexus’ Enform infotainment system came equipped on my tester which features a new interface which makes it easier to navigate around. However, the remote touch controller is still makes controlling the system tough since you have to move it and press down on it carefully on the function you want. One wrong move and you’ll end up in a function that you didn’t want. Power comes from a 3.5L V6 with 268 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque. This is paired up to a six-speed automatic. The 3.5L V6 is a perfect match for the ES as it provides smooth acceleration throughout and NVH levels that rival Buick’s LaCrosse. The six-speed automatic provided silky smooth shifts and didn’t show any signs of confusion. Fuel economy is rated at 21 City/31 Highway/24 Combined. My average landed around 23 MPG. On the ride and handling front, the ES 350 provides a seemingly smooth ride. The suspension makes sure potholes and road imperfections are smoothed out and don’t make their way into the cabin. One downside is the amount of road noise that come into the cabin. I put the blame on the Bridgestone tires that the ES came equipped with. Out on the curves, the ES 350 does show some sign of body roll if you push it. Keep in mind the ES 350 is meant to be a cruiser, not a curve bruiser. After a week with the Lexus ES 350, I think it does certain things better than the LaCrosse and vice versa. The ES 350 has a much more potent engine, better NVH levels in the engine, and a larger trunk than the LaCrosse. However, the LaCrosse is a bit more quieter, features a better infotainment control system, and looks much nicer than the ES 350. So which is better car? While the Lexus ES 350 is a nice improvement over previous models, the Buick LaCrosse is the better car. Disclaimer: Lexus Provided the ES 350, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas Year: 2014 Make: Lexus Model: ES Trim: 350 Engine: 3.5L DOHC 24-valve VVT-i V6 Driveline: Six-Speed Automatic, Front-Wheel Drive Horsepower @ RPM: 268 @ 6,200 Torque @ RPM: 248 @ 4,700 Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 21/31/24 Curb Weight: 3,549 lbs Location of Manufacture: Miyawaka, Fukuoka, Japan Base Price: $36,470 As Tested Price: $43,105 (Includes $910.00 Destination Charge) Options: Hard Disk Drive Navigation with Lexus Inform: $2,625 Luxury Package: $1,370 High Intensity Discharge (HID) Headlights: $565.00 Intuitive Parking Assist: $500.00 Bamboo & Leather Trimmed Shift Knob and Heated Wood & Leather Trimmed Steering Wheel: $300.00 Power Rear Sunshade: $210.00 Rain Sensing Wipers with Deicer: $155.00 View full article
  20. Next in the wrap-up in 2014 vehicle reviews, I take look at green vehicles. In this case they all happen to be the hybrid variety. 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring The second time is the charm? That’s the hope for Honda with the 2014 Accord Hybrid. The previous incarnation of the hybridized Accord was a sporty model that really didn’t see any improvement in fuel economy. This in turn caused it to be a flop.Honda went back to drawing board and have introduced an Accord Hybrid that promises best-in-class fuel economy. Can it right the wrong of the previous model? The Accord Hybrid looks for the most part like your standard Accord sedan with a two bar grille, large greenhouse, and a short rear end. The differences are mostly cosmetic as certain chrome pieces and the headlights have a blue tint. Theres also a set of hybrid badges on the front fenders, and a set of seventeen-inch wheels. Inside is the same story as the exterior, with the only real changes for the Accord Hybrid are a new instrument cluster to display information about the hybrid system and a EV button to put the vehicle into a fully electric mode. Getting inside, you find a nice selection of quality materials and loads of space for front and rear passengers.My Touring tester came with Honda’s dual-screen infotainment system which features an eight-inch screen sitting on top of the dash and a smaller touchscreen to change stations/tracks or whatever audio input. There’s also a set of buttons and a knob sitting right above the transmission tunnel to take you to different parts of the system. As I wrote in my first drive of the Accord Hybrid in 2013, the system is a bit of a mess. The touchscreen is slow to respond when you’re trying to change stations or switch from the radio to the USB input. Also, reaching for the controls towards the bottom is quite a reach. Honda really needs to go back to the drawing board with their infotainment system. The Accord Hybrid features Honda’s newest hybrid system called Sport Hybrid intelligent Multi-Mode Drive (i-MMD) system. This system is comprised of, 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 Impressive to say in the least. It’s even better when the system is engaged. The Accord Hybrid never felt lacking in power as the electric motor and 2.0L engine worked together to provide enough thrust for whatever situation I found myself in. More impressive was the seemless transition from electric only to hybrid power. There was no sign of the change over unless I was watching the gauge cluster. Fuel economy is rated at 50 City/45 Highway/47 Combined. I got close to those numbers with an average of 42 MPG for the week. I think I could have matched or even surpassed those numbers if given another week with the Accord Hybrid.On the ride and handling front, the Accord Hybrid is very similar to the standard Accord. The suspension is able to cope with bumps and imperfections with no problem at all. On the curves, the Accord Hybrid is a joy as it keeps you grounded and provides little body roll. Steering has good heft and feel. Wind noise is kept to a decent level, but road noise is very apparent. I would put some of the blame on the low-rolling resistance tires. The Accord Hybrid puts Honda in a good position within the midsize hybrid sedan class with an impressive powertrain layout placed in the well-regarded package that is the Accord. Its going to take something big to knock off the Accord Hybrid as the best in class. Disclaimer: Honda Provided the Accord Hybrid, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas Year: 2014 Make: Honda Model: Accord Hybrid Trim: Touring Engine: Sport Hybrid intelligent Multi-Mode Drive (i-MMD) Driveline: Front-Wheel Drive, CVT Horsepower @ RPM: Gas Engine - 141 @ 6200, Electric Motor - 166 @ 3857-8000 Torque @ RPM: Gas Engine - 122 @ 3500-6000, Electric Motor - 226 @ 0-3857 Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 50/45/47 Curb Weight: 3,602 lbs Location of Manufacture: Marysville, Ohio Base Price: $34,905 As Tested Price: $35,695 (Includes $795.00 Destination Charge) Options: N/A Next: 2014 Toyota Prius Plug-In Advance There are some cars that your’s truly finds impressive and would gladly buy, but knows that he wouldn’t recommend it because of some issue. That’s the case with the 2014 Toyota Prius Plug-In, a model that somehow I liked after spending a week in it, but has a key problem that makes it hard to recommend. The Prius Plug-In looks for the most part like the standard Prius. The only differences between the two is Plug-In Hybrid badging on the front fenders, new wheels, and a additional fuel filler door on the passenger side where the charging port lives (more on that in a moment). As for the interior, my tester came fully loaded with such items as leatherette, infotainment system with a JBL audio system, and heads-up display. Nice items for the most part, but I should warn that the leatherette feels very synthetic and nasty. I would go with the cloth. On the plus side, the Prius Plug-In does feature a lot of room for your passengers and cargo.Under the hood, you’ll find the almost the same Hybrid Synergy Drive powertrain as in the the standard Prius. A 1.8L Atkinson Cycle four-cylinder paired up to a 60 kW electric motor delivering a total output of 134 horsepower. The difference is in the batteries. While the standard Prius has a Nickel-Metal Hydride battery, the Plug-In gets a Lithium-Ion battery. The new battery allows the Prius Plug-In to travel up to 11 Miles on electric power alone. During my week, I found myself using the EV mode a lot as it provided decent power to get around town and was very quiet. On the range front, I was able to get around 10 to 12 miles per charge. As for the charging port I mentioned earlier, that allows the Prius Plug-In to charge in 1.5 hours when plugged into a 240V charger or 3 hours when plugged into a 120V outlet). For other situations such as the freeway, I left the vehicle in the hybrid mode. This highlights a couple problems with the Prius. First it takes a few seconds longer for it to get up to speed. Second is the amount the noise that comes up when you decide that more power is needed. It sounded like a weed-whacker was being thrashed under the hood. As for fuel economy, I got around 51 MPG for the week. On the ride and handling front, the Prius Plug-In is much the same as the standard Prius; providing a comfortable, albeit noisy ride. So while I liked the Prius Plug-In, there is a big problem; price. A base Prius Plug-In will set you back $29,990 which seems somewhat reasonable. My tester which was the Advance model and came to an as-tested price of $38,907 with options. No that is not a misprint. Now the Prius Plug-In does qualify for a few tax incentives which helps offset the price somewhat. But for around the same money, you could get into a Chevrolet Volt. You do lose some practicality, but gain more in EV range.So the Prius Plug-In is a vehicle I like, but the pricetag makes it one I would pass on.' Disclaimer: Toyota Provided the Prius Plug-In, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas Year: 2014 Make: Toyota Model: Prius Plug-In Trim: Advance Engine: Hybrid Synergy Drive (1.8L DOHC 16-valve VVT-i four-cylinder, 60 kW Electric Motor) Driveline: Front-Wheel Drive, CVT Horsepower @ RPM: Gas Engine - 98 @ 5,200, Electric Motor - 80 @ N/A, Total Output - 134 Torque @ RPM: 105 @ 4,000, Electric Motor - 153 @ 0 Fuel Economy: 95 MPGe, 50 MPG Curb Weight: 3,216 lbs Location of Manufacture: Tsutsumi, Japan Base Price: $34,905 As Tested Price: $38,907 (Includes $810.00 Destination Charge) Options: Technology Package - $2,610 Illuminated Door Sill - $279.00 Carpeted Floor Mats & Trunk Mat - $225.00 Cargo Net - $49.00 First Aid Kit - $29.00 Next: 2014 Lexus CT 200h F-Sport The Lexus CT 200h F-Sport is an intriguing idea. A luxury compact hatchback that is fuel efficient and sporty. So while the idea seems ok in theory, how does it work in the real world? The CT 200h in my eyes happens to be black sheep in Lexus family mostly because of how it looks. A five-door hatchback with a long front end and a new spindle grille which you either love or hate it. Around back is a flat rear tailgate which I think makes the CT a bit ungainly to look at. A set of seventeen-inch alloy wheels and F-Sport badging on the front fenders which come as part of the F-Sport package finish off the look. Inside is a nicely trimmed interior with supportive leather seats and handsome trim. The layout of dashboard is easy to understand and controls are in easy reach for the driver and passenger. The optional Lexus Inform infotainment system has been updated to look a bit fresher and improve user experience. However, the Lexus Remote Touch controller makes using the system a frustrating experience as it seems to be really sensitive. On the plus side, the CT 200h is spacious for back seat passengers and cargo.Power comes from Lexus Hybrid Drive which pairs a 1.8L four-cylinder and 60 kW electric motor to produce a total output of 134 horsepower. This is paired up to a CVT. Now most reviews of the CT 200h say its painfully slow, but I care to disagree. Despite a curb weight of 3,130 pounds, I found the powertrain to be adequate as it took a few ticks longer for the CT to get up to speed than other comparable models. I should warn that if you decide to slam the pedal to floor, the engine and CVT will make a horrific noise that will make you think twice of doing that. As for fuel economy, the EPA rates the 2014 CT 200h at 43 City/40 Highway/42 Combined. I saw an average of 39 MPG. Now this particular CT 200h was equipped with the F-Sport package which adds a sport tuned suspension and that’s about it. Compared to other Lexus models equipped with F-Sport package, I felt the CT F-Sport was somewhat lacking as the suspension was the only real mechanical change to it. Maybe there was some limitations to it being a hybrid, but I think there is room for improvement. The revised suspension means there is a noticeable difference in how the CT handles. Body roll and lean is decreased somewhat when compared to the standard CT. Steering is decent with good weight, but those hoping for an improvement in feel will be disappointed. For day to day driving, the CT 200h F-Sport is a bit more stiff than the standard CT, but not to the point where you’ll be crying uncle.So for the most part, the CT 200h F-Sport succeeds in its mission of providing a fun to drive luxury hatchback that is also ok on fuel. I would like to like to see Lexus do some more with the F-Sport package such as adding more sport goodies to the drivetrain and suspension. Maybe that’s in store for the next-generation. Disclaimer: Lexus Provided the CT 200h, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas Year: 2014 Make: Lexus Model: CT 200h Trim: F-Sport Engine: Lexus Hybrid Drive(1.8L DOHC 16-valve VVT-i four-cylinder, 60 kW Electric Motor) Driveline: Front-Wheel Drive, CVT Horsepower @ RPM: Gas Engine - 98 @ 5,200, Electric Motor - 80 @ N/A, Total Output - 134 Torque @ RPM: 105 @ 4,000, Electric Motor - 153 @ 0 Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 43/40/42 Curb Weight: 3,130 lbs Location of Manufacture: Miyawaka, Fukuoka, Japan Base Price: $32,050 As Tested Price: $39,030 (Includes $910.00 Destination Charge) Options: Navigation System - $3,490 F-Sport w/NuLuxe Interior - $1,180 F-Sport Premium Package - $900.00 Intuitive Park Assist - $500.00 View full article
  21. We're now at the end of our 2014 review wrap-up which deals with the largest group of vehicles I dealt with this past year: Crossovers. Next: Dodge Journey Crossroad Let us go back to the most recent dark age of Chrysler. During the floundering years of DiamlerChrysler to Cerberus ownership, Chrysler produced some of the worst vehicles to ever appear. Models such as the Chrysler Sebring, Dodge Avenger, Caliber, Jeep Compass, and Patriot left a bad taste in buyer’s mouths and would be one of the factors that would lead the company into bankruptcy. But after going through bankruptcy and being under the guidance of Fiat, Chrysler would rise from the ashes. One of the first things Fiat did for the company was to infuse the company with some much needed funds to give some of their vehicles much needed changes. One of those vehicles was the Dodge Journey, a small five to seven seat crossover that received mixed reviews when introduced back in 2007. With the changes that Chrysler and Fiat bestowed on the Journey, is it one that you should consider? The basic shape of the Journey hasn’t really changed much since it was first introduced back in 2007, which unfortunately means that it looks like other crossovers in the marketplace. The Crossroad trim adds some ruggedness to the Journey with dark grille inserts and surrounds, off-road inspired front and rear fascias, 19-inch wheels in a dark finish, and black headlight housings. Inside is where some of the major changes happened as Dodge ripped out the old interior layout and materials and replaced it with a new dashboard with a better control layout and better materials. The excellent UConnect infotainment system with an 8.4 inch screen was in my tester and it still remains very easy to use. Seats are leather with "sport mesh" inserts which were kind of odd feeling, but providing a nice level of comfort. My Journey was a five-seater version which I think is the best way to configure the Journey as there is enough space for passengers and cargo. Jumping to seven-seat model means cramped space for passengers in the third row and barely any cargo space.The Journey has a choice of two different engines. The base is a 2.4L four-cylinder, while my tester came with the optional Pentastar 3.6L V6. The V6 produces 283 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. This is paired to a six-speed automatic and optional all-wheel drive system. The V6 is more than capable of moving the 4,238 pound as power is very abundant throughout the rev range. The six-speed automatic showed no signs of confusions when going through the gears, although on my tester, downshifts seemed to a take a second or two longer. One downside to the V6 is fuel economy. The EPA rates the Journey V6 with AWD at 16 City/24 Highway/19 Combined. My week of driving returned an average of 18. Not bad, but not good when compared to such competitors as the Kia Sorento and Toyota Highlander. The Journey’s ride is mostly composed over smooth and somewhat rutted roads. On rougher surfaces, the suspension has its work cut out and some road jostles do make their way into the cabin. Cornering is what you expect in a crossover, a bit of lean and body roll. Steering feels somewhat rubbery, but provides some decent feel.The changes Chrysler and Fiat did to the Journey did give it a new lease on life. However, the Journey doesn’t really have anything that sets it apart except price. A base Journey will $20,295, while my somewhat optioned Journey Crossroads hits the road $31,380. If price your main concern, then give the Journey a look. Otherwise, you might be better off with another crossover. Disclaimer: Dodge Provided the Journey Crossroad, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas Year: 2014 Make: Dodge Model: Journey Trim: Crossroad AWD Engine: 3.6L Pentastar V6 Driveline: Six-Speed Automatic, All-Wheel Drive Horsepower @ RPM: 283 @ 6,350 Torque @ RPM: 260 @ 4,400 Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 16/24/19 Curb Weight: 4,238 lbs Location of Manufacture: Toluca, Mexico Base Price: $28,395 As Tested Price: $31,380 (Includes $995.00 Destination Charge) Options: Navigation and Sound Group I - $995.00 Popular Equipment Group - $995.00 Next: Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 2.0T When I reviewed the Hyundai Sonata Fe Sport back in 2013, I said that it was a mostly competent crossover. The only downside was the base 2.4L four-cylinder as it felt that was under a lot of stress to get the vehicle moving. I said that 2.4 would be ok for most buyers if you decided to get the Santa Fe Sport with front-wheel drive. But if you were to go for all-wheel drive, the optional 2.0T would be a better choice. But is it? Well I had some time in a Santa Fe Sport 2.0T to find out if my original opinion was right. The turbocharged 2.0L four-cylinder in the Santa Fe Sport produces 264 horsepower and 269 pound-feet torque. This comes paired up to a six-speed automatic with the choice of either front or all-wheel drive. In my tester, I had the front-wheel drive version. Compared to the somewhat out-of-breath 2.4, the 2.0T seems like the perfect match for the Santa Fe Sport. With the turbo spooled up, the Santa Fe Sport moves with authority. With torque arriving at 1,750 rpm, the Santa Fe Sport gets out of its own way and feels like power is always available. Even though this is a four-cylinder, Hyundai has done a lot of work in refinement to make it feel more like a V6. There’s barely a hint of buzzing or racket that is common to four-cylinders. As for fuel economy, the EPA rates the Santa Fe Sport 2.0T FWD at 19 City/27 Highway/22 Combined. My average for the week landed around 23.1 MPG.Aside from the different engine, the Santa Fe Sport 2.0T is very much the same as the model I drove back in 2013. The styling is very distinctive for the class and equipment is very generous with such features as dual-zone climate control, heated leather seats, and sun shades for the rear windows. Making this even sweeter is a base price $30,650 which for what you get makes it quite a steal for the class. So if you were considering getting a Santa Fe Sport, you might want to consider the 2.0T. It makes a good crossover into an impressive one. Disclaimer: Hyundai Provided the Santa Fe Sport 2.0T, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas Year: 2014 Make: Hyundai Model: Santa Fe Sport Trim: 2.0T Engine: 2.0L Turbo GDI DOHC 16-valve Four-Cylinder Driveline: Six-Speed Automatic, Front-Wheel Drive Horsepower @ RPM: 264 @ 6,000 Torque @ RPM: 269 @ 1,750 - 3,000 Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 19/27/22 Curb Weight: 3,569 lbs Location of Manufacture: West Point, GA Base Price: $30,650 As Tested Price: $33,385 (Includes $875.00 Destination Charge) Options: Navigation Package - $1,750.00 Carpeted Floor Mats - $110.00 Next: Volkswagen Tiguan SEL Within the past few years, the compact crossover market has been booming. It seems every year that a new automaker joins the group with their interpretation of a compact crossover. But what about the old guard? How do they stack up? Well I spent some time in one of them, the Volkswagen Tiguan to find out. Looking at the Volkswagen Tiguan, you can’t help but think its a smaller Touareg. The overall profile and shape make you think the Volkswagen just left their larger crossover in the wash a bit too long. Up front is Volkswagen’s two slim bar grille with large headlights and a strand of LEDs. Along the side is a lot of glass area to make the interior feel more spacious, along with body cladding and a set of eighteen-inch wheels. The back features flared haunches and a set of large taillights.Inside is a mixed bag. Let’s begin with the good points. Controls for the standard infotainment system is in easy reach for the driver and passenger. Seats came wrapped in a beige leatherette which felt fine and provided good support. Back seat space is excellent with an abundance of head and legroom. Now onto the bad points. To start, material quality is somewhat disappointing. There is some spots of soft touch material, but the majority of the interior is made up of hard plastics. This would be fine if this was a crossover around the high $20,000 mark, not one that costs $35,490. Then there is the standard infotainment system on the SEL. This is the small screen system Volkswagen uses on many of their vehicles and comes with a litany of problems. To start is the graphic interface looks it has come from the early to mid-2000s which also means the touch points are very small, making them somewhat hard to hit. Also the small screen makes it hard to look at glance, meaning you have to take your eyes off the road for a few seconds longer than looking at larger screen. Then there is the rear cargo space which measures out to 23.8 cubic feet, which makes it the smallest in the small crossover class. Powering all Tiguans is Volkswagen’s well known turbocharged 2.0L four-cylinder with 200 horsepower and 207 pound-feet. This is paired to a six-speed automatic and optional 4Motion all-wheel drive system. The turbo 2.0L gives the Tiguan some scoot with torque coming in 1700 rpm and it never feels that it will run out of power the higher you climb in the rev range. Plus the turbo-four is very refined with no hint the buzz that is common in four cylinders. The six-speed automatic makes the most of the power and delivers quick shifts. Fuel economy is somewhat of a disappointment with ratings of 20 City/26 Highway/23 Combined. I got around 22.4 MPG during my week. Some reviewers have called the Tiguan’s handling GTI-like. I thought that was a bit dubious, but I have to admit that is the best way to describe it. The suspension limits the amount of body roll, while the tires and 4Motion all-wheel drive kept the Tiguan glued to the road. Steering has good feel and weight to it. On the day to day front, the Tiguan does ok with minimizing road imperfections and bumps. It likely helps that my Tiguan was equipped with the 18-inch wheels and not the optional 19-inch wheels which make the ride unbearable.The Volkswagen Tiguan is a bit of a mixed bag. On one hand, it has some good looks and impressive handling characteristics. On the other hand, there is a number of problems with the interior, fuel economy is a bit meh, and the price tag of $35,490 is a bit too much. You’ll be better off with looking at a Mazda CX-5 or a Subaru Forester. Disclaimer: Volkswagen Provided the Tiguan SEL, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas Year: 2014 Make: Volkswagen Model: Tiguan Trim: SEL 4Motion Engine: 2.0L TSI Turbocharged Four-Cylinder Driveline: Six-Speed Automatic, All-Wheel Drive Horsepower @ RPM: 200 @ 5100 Torque @ RPM: 207 @ 1700 Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 20/26/23 Curb Weight: 3,591 lbs Location of Manufacture: Wolfsburg, Germany Base Price: $34,625 As Tested Price: $35,490 (Includes $865.00 Destination Charge) Options: N/A Next: 2015 Kia Sorento SX AWD The current Kia Sorento is one of my favorite crossovers on sale as it has a nice equation of standard equipment and improvements, with similar pricing to the older model. One downside to the Sorento I drove last year was the price tag. With an as-tested price of $41,600 for the SX Limited I drove, I felt it was bit much for what you got, especially considering you could get mostly everything in the SX model for about $2,000 less. So when a 2014 Kia Sorento SX AWD arrived for weeklong test, it was time to see if I could stand on that opinion. Now compared to the Sorento SX Limited I drove back last year, the SX really doesn’t have any differences on the exterior when compared to SX Limited aside from wheel finish. The SX came with nineteen-inch alloy wheels, while the Limited gets a chrome finish. Inside there are only few minor differences between the two trim levels such the SX Limited getting Napa leather and premium black trim. Otherwise there isn’t any real difference between the two trims as they both have heated and cooled seats, Kia’s UVO infotainment system, push-button start, and sunroof. So unless you really want Napa leather and chrome wheels, the SX seems like the better buy.Now not much has changed under the Sorento since we last reviewed it. The standard 3.3L GDI V6 still makes 290 horsepower and 252 pound-feet of torque, and comes paired with a six-speed automatic and optional all-wheel drive. Like I said in my review of the Sorento SX Limited, the V6 is quite punchy and has no problem of getting the vehicle up to speed. Fuel economy is rated at 18 City/24 Highway/20 Combined. I saw an average of 21.3 MPG. The Sorento’s ride still retains its comfortable characteristics of isolating bumps and imperfections. So after spending a week in the Sorento SX, I would stand by my opinion of going with this model than the Sorento SX Limited. It just makes more sense as it does cents. Disclaimer: Kia Provided the Sorento SX, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas Year: 2015 Make: Kia Model: Sorento Trim: SX AWD Engine: 3.3L GDI V6 Driveline: Six-Speed Automatic, All-Wheel Drive Horsepower @ RPM: 290 @ 6,400 Torque @ RPM: 252 @ 5,200 Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined -18/24/20 Curb Weight: 3,894 lbs Location of Manufacture: West Point, Georgia Base Price: $38,300 As Tested Price: $39,195 (Includes $895.00 Destination Charge) Options: N/A Next: Toyota Highlander Limited Platinum In the talk of the seven-seat crossovers, we tend to mention the likes of the Chevrolet Traverse and its ilk; the Ford Explorer, Dodge Durango, and Honda Pilot. But there some models that deserve a spot in the light. Case in point is the redesigned Toyota Highlander. The Highlander retains the boxy silhouette that has been a part of the vehicle for the past two-generations. But Toyota has given the Highlander a bit more of of muscular attitude to fit it more in line with Toyota’s SUV lineup. The new model has wider haunches, a more imposing trapazodial grille, larger head and taillights, and five spoke wheels. Moving inside, the Highlander has gone under a massive change. Higher quality materials and new dash layout help make the Highlander feel more premium.The dash layout now features a shelf sitting underneath the climate control and passenger side airbag to provide a spot for your phone or any small product. My particular Highlander comes equipped with seating for seven, though you can get seating for eight. Second row passengers get an impressive amount of head and legroom, however the flip-up cupholder on the passenger side seat is a bit flimsy and I worry it could break. Third-row passengers get decent headroom, but legroom is non-existent.Power comes from Toyota’s 3.5L V6 with 270 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque. This is paired up to a six-speed automatic and optional all-wheel drive system. This is the powertrain I would go for instead of the base 2.7L four-cylinder as its up to the duty of moving the portly Highlander (can get up to 4,500 lbs). The V6 has enough grunt to get the Highlander moving and keep up with the flow of traffic. Engine refinement is tops with barely any noise or harshness coming from the V6. The transmission is smart enough to keep the engine in the area of power and provides smooth shifts. As for fuel economy, Toyota says the Highlander V6 AWD gets 18 City/24 Highway/20 Combined. During my week, I saw an average of 21.1 MPG. Toyota must have borrowed some of Lexus’ ride engineers to work on the new Highlander because it rides like a Lexus. Driving on some of the roughest roads in Detroit, the Highlander’s suspension was able to cope and provide a very smooth ride. There has also been work done on noise isolation to make road and wind noise almost non-existent.My Highlander Limited Platinum rolled up with an as tested price of $46,156, making it one of the more expensive choices in the crossover arena. But with all of the changes and improvements, I think the Highlander can justify the price. If you are considering a seven-seat crossover, the Highlander deserves a space at the top of the list. Disclaimer: Toyota Provided the Highlander, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas Year: 2014 Make: Toyota Model: Highlander Trim: Limited Platinum Engine: 3.5L DOHC Dual VVT-i V6 Driveline: Six-Speed Automatic, All-Wheel Drive Horsepower @ RPM: 270 @ 6,200 Torque @ RPM: 248 @ 4,700 Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 18/24/20 Curb Weight: 4,508 lbs Location of Manufacture: Princeton, IN Base Price: $43,590 As Tested Price: $46,156 (Includes $860.00 Destination Charge) Options: Tow Hitch w/Wiring Harness - $699.00 Remote Start - $499.00 Glass Breakage Sensor - $299.00 Body Side Molding - $209.00 View full article
  22. Oh Toyota. I’m not sure who was it at the company who decided to market the Sienna with ‘Swagger Wagon’ tagline, because at first I thought it was kind of crazy. The tagline first appeared in an ad featuring the van and two parents rapping. At first I thought someone at the marketing department was having a YOLO moment. But the crazy thing was it worked. People took notice of the Sienna and began to put on their list of vehicles to look at. So when a Sienna XLE came in for week’s review, I wondered if there was something to this van or if the tagline Toyota had created was only promoting something mediocre. You can’t miss the Sienna due to how big it it. With measurements of 200.2 inches for overall length and 78.2 inches for overall width, the Sienna has to be the biggest minivan on sale. It also looks like Toyota did some rummaging from other vehicles in their lineup as the front grille looks to come from the Venza crossover, while the rear tailgate appears to come from one of Toyota’s large SUVs. The Sienna isn’t the the ugliest minivan on sale, but it isn’t the best looking either. Heading inside and its apparent Toyota has done a lot to make the Sienna feel more like a luxury car than a minivan. My XLE tester featured a leather interior with heated seats for the front passengers; Toyota’s Entune infotainment system, tri-zone climate control, backup camera, and a rear infotainment system. Controls are within easy reach for the radio and climate control, though I had to remind myself to look at the top of dash to the trip computer to see where I set the temperature and fan speed. Bit of an odd choice to put it there and not on the infotainment screen. Second row passengers get captain chairs with the ability to recline with a foot rest. My brother named the seats the ‘kickass seats’ and the idea of them are kickass. In practice, the idea falls short as you won’t be able to fully recline with the footrest because there isn’t enough space in the van to pull this off. Even with the seat fully back, there isn’t enough space. If Toyota was to do a Sienna XL or Grand version which adds a few more inches to the length, it might be plausible. At least head and legroom for both second and third row passengers are very generous. Cargo space is right in the midpack with the Sienna offering 39.1 cubic feet with all three rows up and 150 cubic feet with the third row folded and the second row removed.Power comes from Toyota’s venerable 3.5L V6 with 266 horsepower and 245 horsepower. It can be paired with front-wheel or my tester’s all-wheel drive system. Both drivetrains feature a six-speed automatic. The V6 is very much able to hold its own in the Sienna as power was abundant and was able to get the van up to speed in no problem. The six-speed automatic delivers smooth $h!s, while the optional all-wheel drive keeps the vehicle on the road with almost no hint that its working. Fuel economy for the Sienna XLE AWD is rated at 16 City/23 Highway/19 Combined. My week average landed around 18 MPG. The Sienna’s ride is what you would expect in a minivan; a suspension that has been tuned for coddling its occupants with nary a bump or road imperfection. This does mean the Sienna rolls when cornering, but then again this isn’t meant to a sports car. Noise levels are kept to a decent level in day to day driving, though freeway driving does bring in a bit more road noise than any other minivan I have driven. So while the ‘swagger wagon’ tagline may make some people scratch their heads, it does give a light to the Sienna which I think is one of the best vans I have driven yet. It has more than enough luxuries and space for you and your passengers to enjoy wherever they are going, along with a ride that makes you feel you’re in a luxury car. Win win in my book. Disclaimer: Toyota Provided the Sienna, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas Year: 2014 Make: Toyota Model: Sienna Trim: XLE AWD Engine: 3.5L DOHC 24-Valve V6 Driveline: Six-Speed Automatic, All-Wheel Drive Horsepower @ RPM: 266 @ 6,200 Torque @ RPM: 245 @ 4,700 Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 16/23/19 Curb Weight: 4,735 lbs Location of Manufacture: Princeton, Indiana Base Price: $36,185 As Tested Price: $40,322 (Includes $860.00 Destination Charge) Options: XLE Navigation Package with Entune App Suite - $1,735.00 Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert - $500.00 XM Satellite Radio - $449.00 Carpet Floor Mats w/Door Sill Protector - $330.00 Roof Rack Cross Bars - $185.00 Cargo Net - $49.00 First Aid Kit - $29.00 View full article
  23. Movie sequels can be a hit or miss affair. They can either be more memorable than the first movie (example: Empire Strikes Back) or leave a bad taste in your mouth (example: The Matrix Revolutions). This is true for vehicles as well; get it right and you’ll elevate yourself into a real player in the class. Get it wrong and you’re destined to become a nobody. So where does the new 2015 Hyundai Sonata fall? Well I spent a few days in the Sonata Sport 2.0T to find out. I think it is fair to say the new Sonata’s design has arrived with a bit of a thud. It isn’t to say the new Sonata isn’t a good looking sedan, but compared to the groundbreaking design of the previous-generation model, the new Sonata doesn’t have the same excitement. Such details as the coupe-like roofline and chrome trim running along the underside of windows are still there, but with a splash of boringness. The front and rear-ends feature a more upright design that makes it more Genesis-like. Sport models come with unique rear fascia treatment and quad exhaust tips to try and give it an aggressive look, something I think actually works. While the exterior is slightly disappointing, the interior is a massive step forward. Thanks to increase in the overall size of the Sonata, the interior has grown as well. This is noticeable when sitting in the back as there is more legroom then in the last-generation model. Headroom is still bit tight for taller passengers due to the sloping roofline. Other interior improvements include more soft-touch materials on the dashboard and a new centerstack design which makes it easier to find the HVAC and radio controls. On my Sport tester, it boasted a flat-bottom steering wheel and charcoal leather with burnt orange body-matching piping and thread. Seats provided good comfort and support. Now the Sport is available with either 2.4L four-cylinder or turbocharged 2.0L four-cylinder. I had the latter engine which produced 245 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. This is paired up to a six-speed automatic. As I wrote in my first-drive last year, the Sonata 2.0T feels a bit more punchy and has improved acceleration thanks to a smaller turbocharger. This very much holds true during my week long test as the turbo-four feels very lively. Stepping on the accelerator, it felt like I was unleashing a cannon as power came on instantaneously. NVH levels are kept down, making it more akin to a six-cylinder. The six-speed automatic delivers smooth and unobtrusive shifts. The EPA rates the 2015 Sonata Sport 2.0T at 23 City/32 Highway/26 Combined. My week saw an average of 26.1 MPG. As for ride and drive, the Sonata Sport gets aggressively tuned dampers and springs, along with a new steering system to make it a bit more fun in the corners. But it doesn’t feel any more sporty than the standard Sonata. It might corner slightly better, but you really can’t tell if it does. Now on the positive, the Sport 2.0T provides a comfortable and smooth ride. But if this is a Sport model, there should be a noticeable difference. Steering also has the same problem as there isn’t a real difference between this system and the steering system found on the standard Sonata. Both systems feel slightly numb, but provide decent weight. I hate to say it but the Sonata Sport 2.0T is quite the disappointment. Hyundai dropped the ball on some key areas such as exterior design and making the Sport model feel sporty. In fact, Hyundai Motor America’s CEO Dave Zuchowski said the current Sonata doesn’t have the same impression as the last-generation one and they are planning to do a redesign in a year. But there has been some improvements that has improved it for the better such as the interior and changes to the turbo engine. However, those changes can’t save the Sonata Sport 2.0T from falling down. Disclaimer: Hyundai Provided the Sonata, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas Year: 2015 Make: Hyundai Model: Sonata Trim: Sport 2.0T Engine: Turbocharged 2.0L DOHC D-CVVT Four-Cylinder Driveline: Six-Speed Automatic, Front-Wheel Drive Horsepower @ RPM: 245 @ 6,000 Torque @ RPM: 260 @ 1,350 – 4,000 Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 23/32/26 Curb Weight: 3,505 lbs Location of Manufacture: Montgomery, Alabama Base Price: $28,575 As Tested Price: $29,510 (Includes $810.00 Destination Charge) Options: Carpet Floor Mats - $125.00 View full article
  24. How do you set yourself apart in the compact crossover class? At the start, it was an easy task. You could build a vehicle that was similar in terms of power, equipment, and even design to competitors. It would sell because there was a small number of them. But in the past few years, the market has exploded with consumers buying crossovers like they are going out style. It seems every automaker is announcing either a new or redesigned model to take advantage of this. But there comes a problem with the expansion, how do you stand out? For Nissan, they decided to make their compact crossover very practical with a large cargo space and a third-row option. Thus, we have the 2016 Rogue. The Rogue’s design can be described as a smaller and better Pathfinder. A lot of this comes down to the small size of the Rogue as the shape and lines seem to fit better on a small vehicle than the Pathfinder. The trademark V shape chrome bar is there, along with LEDs running along the edge of the headlights. Inside the Rogue, it’s nothing special to write about as there are not any fancy design cues or clever storage tricks. What you do get a is a well-built interior with controls that are easy to find and use. The Rogue earns more praise with comfortable and supportive cloth seats. Cargo space is towards the larger end of the class with 32 cubic feet behind the second row and increases to 74 cubic feet when the fold the second row. Nissan says the Rogue is the only crossover in the class that offers the option of a third-row seat. But the third-row offers barely any legroom, even with the second-row pushed forward. Also, the space to get into the third-row is nonexistent. At least, the third-row is an option and one I would recommend skipping. Power comes from a 2.5L four-cylinder making 170 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque. Nissan’s Xtronic CVT is the sole transmission choice, but you do have the choice of either front or all-wheel drive. The performance of the 2.5 is sufficient around town as power comes on a decent and smooth rate. On the expressway is another story as the engine loses steam around 50 MPH and you’ll need to push the pedal almost to the floor to safely merge or make a pass. This also brings up the never-ending drone of CVT when you are trying to perform these tasks. The CVT does quiet down when you are cruising or driving around town. In terms of fuel economy, the Rogue AWD is rated at 25 City/32 Highway/28 Combined. My average for the week came to 22.3 MPG. Disappointing at first glance, but it should be noted that the particular Rogue came in with only 620 miles. Once the vehicle is fully broken-in, I wouldn’t be surprised if it hits 25 MPG easily. Nissan decided to go with a relaxed setting for the Rogue’s suspension. It was a good call as the Rogue provides one of the smoothest rides I have experienced in a compact crossover. Bumps and imperfections don’t make inside. Road and wind noise are kept to near silent levels. Trying to set yourself apart in a crowded class is a difficult task. In the case the Rogue, Nissan has succeeded for the most part. It is quite a handsome vehicle with a well-built interior and provides a smooth ride. But the third-row option is a gimmick that should be shown the door and the powertrain needs a bit more. But for someone who wants a practical compact crossover, the Rogue is worthy of your consideration. Cheers: Much better looking than the larger Pathfinder Comfy ride Large cargo area Jeers: Optional third-row is unusable Engine runs out of steam quickly Disclaimer: Nissan Provided the Rogue SV, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas Year: 2016 Make: Nissan Model: Rogue Trim: SV AWD Engine: 2.5L DOHC Four-Cylinder Driveline: Xtronic CVT, All-Wheel Drive Horsepower @ RPM: 170 @ 6,000 Torque @ RPM: 175 @ 4,400 Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 25/32/28 Curb Weight: 3,554 lbs Location of Manufacture: Smyrna, TN Base Price: $25,940 As Tested Price: $29,595 (Includes $885.00 Destination Charge) Options: SV Premium Package - $1,620 SV Family Package - $940.00 Floor Mats with Cargo Area Protector - $210.00 View full article
  25. Ever since Ford introduced the F-150 SVT Raptor back in 2009, there hasn’t been a manufacturer that has built a true competitor to it. Models such as the Ram 1500 Rebel and Toyota Tundra TRD Pro seem ok playing underneath the Raptor by offering a middle ground between it and your standard four-wheel drive pickup. But there is another truck that shares the Raptor’s trait of not having a true competitor. What truck may that be? That would be the Ram 2500 Power Wagon. The Power Wagon is based on the bones of the Ram 2500 heavy duty and features numerous upgrades to make it an off-road beast. The list of upgrades includes a beefy ladder chassis, solid axles, electronically disconnecting sway bar to allow for more flex when tackling difficult terrain; locking differentials, meaty off-road tires, and a new front bumper with a winch. The only powertrain on offer is the 6.4L HEMI V8 with 410 horsepower and 429 pound-feet of torque. This is paired with a six-speed automatic and four-wheel drive. I really didn’t get the chance to put all of the Power Wagon’s upgrades to the test. But with the small amount of off-road driving I was able to do, I can say Ram has a very capable truck. The four-wheel drive system is activated by a floor-mounted shifter and has a nice solid feel when moving into 4HI or 4LO. Once activated, the system paired with the locking differentials keeps power flowing to all of the wheels, despite the conditions. The suspension has excellent articulation and helps the Power Wagon drive over logs or rocks. A set of Goodyear Wranglers tires provided decent grip on loose gravel. In the mud, the Wranglers were struggling. The tires were slipping around, giving the impression that the truck on ice. Keep that in mind if you plan on taking your Power Wagon to any muddy place. Leaving the beaten path, the Power Wagon is surprisingly very refined. Despite the changes made to the suspension, the ride is very smooth and the truck glides over bumps. Ram’s engineers also did an excellent in noise isolation, a bit surprising considering the off-road tires fitted to this vehicle. The one thing that you notice is how big the Power Wagon is. Due to its size and slow steering, trying to navigate the Power Wagon into an average parking space was almost ‘Mission Impossible’. The 6.4L HEMI V8 is used in a number of FCA’s performance vehicles such as the Charger R/T Scat Pack I drove a few weeks back. But don’t think this makes the Power Wagon into a speed demon. With a curb weight that tips over 7,000 pounds, a lot of the V8’s power is used to overcome this. Despite the weight, the V8 didn’t feel overwhelmed. It was more than able to keep up with traffic. There is the added bonus of a distinctive engine note. It should be noted that 2500 Power Wagon has a max towing capacity of 9,790 pounds. In terms of fuel economy, I got an average of 12 MPG for the week. The EPA doesn’t provide fuel economy numbers since the Power Wagon is over a certain weight. The exterior is a bit much with ‘Power Wagon’ decals on the doors and tailgate, and an interesting splatter pattern on the rear fenders. I found it to be a bit much. At least on the SLT trim, there is an option to delete the graphics. Also, you can order the Power Wagon in the Tradesman and Laramie that don't come with the graphics. Getting into the Power Wagon does require some athleticism as you’ll need to leap into the cabin, despite there being some entry rails. Once inside, you’ll find a decently finished cabin with supportive cloth seats for five passengers. No one will feel uncomfortable in the back as there is more than enough head and legroom. Infotainment duties are handled by Chrysler’s eight-inch UConnect system. The system is very easy to use and quite responsive when changing from screen to screen or choosing a various audio source. The 2016 Ram 2500 Power Wagon starts at $50,715 and my tester came to a final price of $57,480 with a fair amount of options. The Power Wagon is an interesting beast in the truck landscape. It offers a surprising amount of off-road capability while retaining a high tow rating and having a very comfortable ride. But it is built for a specific audience. One that will be putting all of the off-road parts to work and being ok with having a high gas bill. It is in a class of one, much like the Raptor. Disclaimer: Ram Provided the 2500 Power Wagon, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas Year: 2016 Make: Ram Model: 2500 Trim: Power Wagon SLT Engine: 6.4L HEMI MDS V8 Driveline: Six-Speed Automatic, Four-Wheel Drive Horsepower @ RPM: 410 @ 5,600 Torque @ RPM: 429 @ 4,000 Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - N/A Curb Weight: 7,056 lbs Location of Manufacture: Saltillo, Mexico Base Price: $50,715 As Tested Price: $57,480 (Includes $1,195 Destination Charge) Options: Ram Box Cargo Management System - $1,295 UConnect 8.4 - $1,005 Cloth 40.20/40 Premium Bench Seat - $900 Luxury Group - $695 Spray-In Bedline - $475 ParkSense Front/Rear Park Assist System -$395 Center High-Mount Stop Lamp w/Cargo View Camera - $325 ParkSense Rear Back-Up Camera - $200 Remote Start System - $200 Front and Rear Rubber Floor Mats - $80 View full article

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