2017 Honda Civic Si 2DR Review

Thursday October 19th, 2017 at 1:1010 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Honda Civic Si 2DR

Hypes: Ultimate Street Fighter Born Again
Gripes: Lack of Rear Wiper, Menu Driven HVAC

Honda scores a perfect 10 out of 10 on this latest iteration of the evergreen Civic Si. I speak from long term ownership experience here because I bought the very first generation Civic Si when Honda introduced it as a 2 door hatchback in 1987. It was an outstanding performance car 30 years ago and a much better one today. If you like to wear your heart on your sleeve, order one in Energy Green and no one will ever lose track of you, since this shade of chartreuse is brighter than a Cal Trans worker’s vest. The downside of Energy Green is that no police officer will miss you either.

2017 Honda Civic Si 2DR

The beauty of the Civic Si package is apparent from the moment you grab the wheel and sense the precision feedback available from the minimally boosted electronic power steering. Honda has achieved a level of refinement here by which all other cars should be measured. Turn the wheel an inch and the car moves exactly one inch. With this fine tuned registration, you can place the Si with unerring accuracy. You have no excuse for missing an apex when driving hard. The rest of the suspension system is equally well calibrated to get the job done. Front MacPherson strut architecture combines well with multi-link independent rear design to provide a supple yet precise ride. Honda does not stint in supplying just the right tires for ultimate cornering grip, with Goodyear Eagle F1 rubber (235/40R18) refusing to lose contact with the pavement thanks to a super soft treadwear rating of TW 240 and an extra sticky traction rating of AA.

2017 Honda Civic Si 2DR

All the grip in the world wouldn’t matter much if the Si didn’t have the drivetrain to make
the grip work for a living. In the Si’s case, the tiny 1.5 liter inline 4 receives a healthy
dose of turbo boost every time you light the accelerator. This 205hp motor passes its
power through a limited slip differential which parcels out power to just the front wheels.
As an added incentive, you get to choose exactly which of the 6 speeds in the
transmission is optimal for a given situation because the Si is equipped with a manual
transmission only. If you don’t enjoy shifting and clutching, then find yourself a
different Honda. If, on the other hand, you love to shift, the Si will be your best friend
for life. Clutch action is light and precise. shift throws short and buttery. The Si really
scoots when you’ve got everything hooked up: right gear, on the boost, sticky tires. Few
cars will beat it on a curvy road, and none in its price range.

2017 Honda Civic Si 2DR

Inside, cabin design celebrates Honda’s endless years of perfecting track worthy cars. The Si-embroidered cloth seats are a masterpiece of comfort and support: not so high-sided as to make entry and egress problematic, but sufficiently bolstered to keep you planted when those Goodyears do their thing. The instrument module is dominated, in true racer fashion, not by a speedometer, but by a huge backlit tachometer face reading to 8000rpm. Of course, you’ll never get near that number, as the little Honda mill is redlined at 7000rpm, a number which comes up so quick that you have to be on your toes for each upshift. In other words, the Si is a fun challenge to drive well, the kind of delightful game partner sporting drivers find ever less frequently these days.

2017 Honda Civic Si 2DR

The best part of the Si deal is its exceptionally reasonable price tag, with a list of just $24,100, and an out-the-door figure of $24,975. About the only thing you might need that’s missing here is a Navigation System. In the would-be-nice department, the flat rear window really cries out for a standard wiper, and the digital display for climate control is menu-driven and distracting. Another annoying habit that has made it through 3 decades of Civic Si build-out: when you flip the front seat backs forward to throw something into the back seat area, the front seats always returns to their full upright position rather than the setting previously selected.

2017 Honda Civic Si 2DR

But what a short gripe list this Honda carries. It is without question the premier affordable/ practical sports car today, a pocket rocket that actually does double duty as a useful everyday hatchback. You really can’t ask for more, and we’re thrilled that Honda has decided to reinvent this scintillating icon.

2017 Honda Civic Si 2DR

  • Engine: 1.5 liter Direct Injection, Turbocharged Inline 4
  • Horsepower: 205hp
  • Torque: 192lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 28MPG City/38MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $24,975
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD Review

Wednesday October 18th, 2017 at 1:1010 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD

Hypes: Exquisite Interior Detailing, Responsive Handling
Gripes: Obtuse Infotainment GUI, Manual Hood Lift

During the recent unprecedented heat wave in Northern California I took refuge from our non air conditioned house inside Mazda’s plushest SUV, the Signature edition CX-9. With the air conditioning cranked down to 60 degrees, I spent enough time in this 3 row, 7 passenger SUV to appreciate fully the comfort and beauty of its cabin design. The Signature edition is Mazda’s top offering in the CX-9 model line, with real aluminum embellishing real rosewood everywhere you look. The Signature’s luxurious matte finished wood comes from Fujigen, the Japanese guitar maker. This interior quality substantiates Mazda’s television commercials showing artisans finessing steering wheel leather and fashioning rosewood accent panels. Everything about the CX-9 Signature reeks quality and care of construction.

2017 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD

My stint in the cool cabin also gave me the unaccustomed opportunity to become well acquainted with the CX-9′s arcane dial-controlled infotainment system. After a half hour of self-motivated study, I reluctantly concluded that this dial and screen pony show is way too difficult to learn, let alone master. Even the simplest entertainment requests require much dial twisting and bumping to accomplish. The standard navigation system is somewhat easier to operate, and rather more logical in its demands. Since all this proved confusing and obtuse from the passenger’s seat of a stationary CX-9, I can only imagine how much concentration it would demand while actually driving.

2017 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD

Fortunately, the act of driving the CX-9 is ever so much more pleasurable than trying to retune its infotainment complex. Under that long snout of a hood (heavy and unequipped with hydraulic struts) lies a very impressive engine. Of modest size (inline 4) and displacement (2.5 liters), this turbocharged torque maker produces a surprising 310lb.-ft. of motivation, good for a two rating of 3,500 pounds. But its horsepower rating of 227hp remains rather modest for a 4,585lb. vehicle. You can up horsepower output to 250hp by spending extra for hi-octane fuel. There’s really no need to do so, however, as the CX-9, at 227hp, moved out smartly thanks to its compliant and smooth shifting 6-speed gearbox. Though you can do the manual gear dance with the shift lever on the console, paddles at the wheel would have been nicer. However, you can control the gearbox shift points by selecting “Sport” on the console mounted mode switch.

2017 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD

As you might expect from the company that still builds the world’s number one affordable sports car/race car (The MX-5 Miata), the CX-9 stints on absolutely nothing when it comes to suspension, brakes, wheels or contact patch. Take suspension, for example, which is fully independent front and rear for a leech-like grip on the road and a plush ride in the cabin. The electronic power assisted steering provides solid road surface feedback, and the Signature’s standard 20 inch alloy rims second the motion through the substantial footprints of the Falken Ziex CT50 AS tires, which measure 255/50R20 at each corner. Standard anti-sway bars front and rear are another Mazda hallmark that insure flat cornering in tight turns. While I wouldn’t put the CX-9 in the Miata class for sheer driving fun, compared to most elephantine SUVs in this 3-row class, it’s a joy to drive.

2017 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD

In addition to its athletic prowess as a sporty driver, the CX-9 does duty as a pack horse with room to spare. For example, if you drop the pair of rear seats, plus the 60/40 second row, you open up 34 cubic feet of interior storage. If you need more than that, you should be looking at Chevy Suburbans or Silverado pickup trucks. Now that it’s getting oppressively hot inside my house again, it’s time to seek refuge once again inside the welcoming, ritzy, comfy cabin of that Machine Gray ($300 option) over Auburn leather (standard) Mazda lurking in my driveway this week.

2017 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD

2017 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD

  • Engine: 2.5 liter inline 4 Skyactive turbo
  • Horsepower: 227-250hp
  • Torque: 310lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 20 MPG City/26 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $45,655
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 2.0T Ultimate FWD Review

Tuesday October 17th, 2017 at 9:1010 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 2.0T Ultimate FWD

Hypes: Does Everything Well
Gripes: Stickier Tires Would Improve Handling

You have to love an SUV with a list price of $35,650 that carries the notation “Included” 37 times on its window sticker. Unlike many other manufacturers, such inclusionary generosity is par for the course at Hyundai. On a cold and dreary week by the seaside in Northern California, my favorite “included” item was the heater for the front seats and steering wheel. That steering wheel warmer turns itself on each time you re-start the Santa Fe. It’s a small detail, but one that a lot of other car companies need to learn: you don’t have to reconfigure your car every time you restart it.

2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 2.0T Ultimate FWD

Hyundai has quite an assortment of Santa Fe configurations available for 2018. There are two model lines, one with 3 seating rows providing 7 seats (Santa Fe) and one with two rows providing 5 seats (Santa Fe Sport). All 7 seat Santa Fe models use a 290hp V6, while all Sport models use either a base 2.4 liter inline 4 (185hp) or a turbocharged 2.0 liter inline 4 (260hp) fitted to our test Sport. All versions of both models utilize an excellent 6 speed automatic gearbox. Our turbo Sport proved exceptionally lively, with more than enough power to break the front wheels loose under full throttle acceleration from a standing start. If you need All Wheel Drive, the Sport is available with such a system which will tame the front axle wheelspin we experienced. The transmission features a floor mounted select lever which permits individual gear ratio choice and retention. Hyundai calls this very effective control mechanism “Shiftronic” and conjoins it to a Drive Mode selector that also tailors shift points to normal or sport oriented driving styles.

2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 2.0T Ultimate FWD

At a curb weight of just 3,760 lb., the 5 seat Sport is significantly lighter than its bigger sibling, the 7 seat Santa Fe (4,210 lb.). This weight reduction contributes to the Sport’s solid handling on twisting two lane roads. 235/55R19 mud and snow rated Kumho Crugen radials, mounted on 19 inch alloy rims, with a treadwear rating of 440, yield good but not great traction while maintaining a comfortable ride. The airy cabin offers excellent sight lines to all quarters, and the standard panoramic sunroof exposes both front and rear seat occupants to plenty of sky and fresh air. Hyundai instituted several safety improvements to the Sport for 2017, which resulted in improving its IIHS small overlap crash protection rating from Marginal to Good.

2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 2.0T Ultimate FWD

Our test Sport enjoyed further safety augmentation from a $1,600 “Ultimate Tech Package” that provided Smart Cruise Control with Stop/Start, Automatic Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure Warning, Electronic Parking Brake, and swiveling head lights called Dynamic Bending Lights. The Electronic Parking Brake proved easy to use because it was well positioned on the center console between the front seats. The Lane Departure Warning proved more annoying than helpful because it chirped loudly and incessantly even when we were well clear of adjacent traffic.

2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 2.0T Ultimate FWD

The rear seats split into a 40/20/40 fold pattern. You can drop them flat by lifting a large lever attached to their base, though you may have to slide the front seats forward to clear the back headrests. Doing so opens a vast amount of space for storage, with 35.5 cubic feet of cargo room available with the rear seats dropped. We managed to carry a full size bicycle back there, with plenty of room to spare for 6 bags of grocery goods at the same time. The rear hatch opens with the touch of a button on the remote fob, and shuts with the push of a button located on the edge of the rear liftgate.

2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 2.0T Ultimate FWD

The Hyundai Santa Fe Sport proved itself to be an adept and resourceful companion on a daily basis. It was plenty fast, economical enough, and ingeniously well thought out. All the cabin controls work so well you never have to give their design or placement a second thought. Clearly, the engineers at Hyundai are well versed in making the complexities of the modern SUV convenient, straight forward and intelligible. You really can’t ask for a more amenable beast of burden than the latest turbocharged version of the Santa Fe Sport.

2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 2.0T Ultimate FWD

  • Engine: 2.0 liter inline 4, turbocharged, gasoline direct injection
  • Horsepower: 240hp @6000rpm
  • Torque: 260lb.-ft. @1450-3500rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 20 MPG City/27 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $38,325
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD Review

Thursday October 5th, 2017 at 12:1010 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD

Hypes: Plush and Luscious Interior
Gripes: Needs Paddle Shifts, Jerky Gearbox Shifts

Volvo’s nomenclature can seem mysterious to the uninitiated. Our rather deliciously appointed test car this week is the wagon (“V”) version of the all-new “90″ series model line. This 90 model line replaces the aging 70 and 80 series cars from Volvo. Volvo also offers its 90 as an “S” (sedan) version and as an “XC” (SUV) type. “Cross Country” describes our test wagon’s level of trim, while “AWD” refers to our test car’s all-wheel-drive system. The V90 is also available in rear wheel drive trim. Volvo began importing the S90 last year, and the V90 completes the company’s move to the new model range.

2017 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD

As a top drawer offering, the V90 Cross Country AWD carries a base price of $55,300. Our test sample upped the ante with a Convenience Package which added $1,950 to the bottom line for “Heated Washer Nozzles, Park Assist Pilot, and 360 Degree Surround View Camera.” A Bowers and Wilkins Premium Sound System boosted the price by a whopping $3,200. Graphical Head Up Display added another $900, Osmium Gray Metallic Paint contributed $595 to the final tally, and another $1,200 went for “Premium Air Suspension in rear.” Final out-the-door cost for this metallic grey Volvo totaled a tidy $64,640.

Is it worth that much money? As a driving experience, probably not. As a living room environment, definitely yes. Volvo recently announced that in the near future, all their new products would either be electric or hybrid powered. The latest V90 we drove, however, is neither. Rather it utilizes a very small displacement (2.0 liter) four cylinder engine which has been tweaked with both turbocharging and supercharging to produce 316hp and 295lb.-ft. of torque. The fuel efficiency of this motor is remarkable, with an overall EPA MPG figure of 25.

Although the engine produces peak torque at just 2200rpm, you really have to twist it to gain maximum horsepower at 5700rpm. In everyday terms, the 2.0 direct injected motor launches with a boot, then hesitates to follow through until the revs rise above 5000rpm. Even though it’s coupled to an 8-speed automatic, the Geartronic transmission stumbles while selecting the appropriate ratio for maximum acceleration. A lack of paddle shifts exacerbates the problem.

2017 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD

The net effect is that this combination makes passing with authority on two lane roads something of a crapshoot. You have to time your move with precision. On the other hand, the upside of this sophisticated engine is its ethereal soundtrack. The turbo kicks in with a base note while the supercharger contributes its soprano whine. For the record, the V90 is also available with a hybrid drive unit that will undoubtedly overcome the hesitancy of the gas-only engine we tested. The optional hybrid is good for 400hp. In the handling department, this beefy, 4,220 pound Volvo offers moderate understeer coupled with decent traction from its Pirelli Scorpion Verde tires (235/50R19) mounted on standard 19 inch alloy rims. For better cornering performance, you can select the “Dynamic” handling option from the 4-item menu of adjustable “Drive-mode” settings.

2017 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD

Drivers not centrally focused on ultimate performance, however, will not be phased in the least by the big Volvo’s slight acceleration or handling shortcomings. That’s because the V90 Cross Country is so regally appointed and handsomely finished. The interior is really a Swedish work of art. The seating surfaces are not only exceptionally comfortable, but exquisitely tailored in Cross Country specific crackle grained mocha hides. The central dash pillar contains a 9″ “Sensus” touchscreen which controls virtually all infotainment and HVAC controls. This screen illuminates with startling clarity, but can be difficult to manipulate when fingerprints build up on its surface. Virtual instruments fill the dash behind the steering wheel, and, as with the latest Audis, a Google Earth type map spans the distance between the tachometer and the speedometer.

2017 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD

The most incredible aspect of the V90′s interior is neither its 10-way adjustable seats, nor its Sensus interface, nor its cabin length smoked glass moonroof. Rather, its signature item is that expensive, but worth-every-penny, Bowers and Wilkins Premium Sound system. When you chose “Concert Hall” mode from among its three settings, prepare yourself for the listening adventure of a lifetime. In conjunction with the virtually unlimited musical offerings from Sirius radio, this mega system will have your tympanic membranes flapping with such vehemence that you’ll want to take up permanent residence in your V90 Volvo.

2017 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD

2017 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD

  • Engine: 2.0 liter inline 4, direct injection, supercharged and turbocharged
  • Horsepower: 316 @ 5700rpm
  • Torque: 295lb.-ft. @ 2200rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 22MPG City/30 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $64,640
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Lexus RC F 2-DR Coupe Review

Tuesday October 3rd, 2017 at 11:1010 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Lexus RC F 2-DR Coupe

Hypes: IMSA Race Car for the Street
Gripes: Needs a Nose Job

Lexus has been nibbling around the edges of the ultra high performance market for more than a decade without much to show for it in terms of sales or showroom rub-off. Their first efforts in this field were timid indeed, with Lexus “F-Sport” options that were more cosmetic than operational. Several years ago, they sold a few hundred of their remarkable LF A two seat rocket ships for about $350,000 each. But in order to buy one, you not only had to have the necessary cash, but also submit to a vetting process stricter than a TSA strip search.

2017 Lexus RC F 2-DR Coupe

But Lexus has finally seen the light this year with the introduction of the RC F, an eminently affordable supercar that requires no background check or half million dollar investment for purchase. Just regular car money will do. $64,165 buys you the base car. If you want to duplicate the one we drove, however, you will end up paying $80,314 because our test car was equipped with the following improvements: Premium Triple Beam LED Headlights ($1,160), Leather Trimmed Seats ($800), Navigation System with Mark Levinson Audio ($2,550), Performance Package with carbon fiber roof, rear wing and torque-vectoring differential ($5,500), and Premium Package with heated/ventilated front seats, carbon fiber interior trim, and a suite of safety information devices ($3,240). If you think the bottom line here is expensive, you have not priced comparable products from BMW, Mercedes Benz or Audi. In fact, the fully loaded RC F we drove comes off looking like a real bargain compared to the pricier competition from Germany.

2017 Lexus RC F 2-DR Coupe

This year, for the first time since Lexus dabbled in sedan racing more than a decade ago with their IS 250, the company has launched a full race campaign in IMSA’s incredibly competitive GT Daytona race series with a two-car team of RC Fs. These Lexus coupes, race prepared by Paul Gentilozzi’ Rocket Sports Racing, are battling on even terms with 911 Porsches, NSX Acuras, and M635 BMWs. Though they have yet to score their first win, the Lexus coupes are getting closer to the top rung with each passing event. The reason for their imminent success lies in the beautiful bones of the RC F we drove for a week. In terms of high performance acceleration and handling this car wants for absolutely nothing.

2017 Lexus RC F 2-DR Coupe

Under the long and chiseled hood lies a monster V8 displacing 5 liters and producing 467hp and 389 lb.-ft. of torque. It’s coupled to an 8-speed automatic gearbox with big aluminum “F Spec” paddle shifts for quick manual ratio changes. A Torsen (torque sensing) differential is further refined by the addition of torque vectoring thanks to that Performance Package. In best race car practice, the suspension of the RC F is fully independent with double wishbones up front and multiple links in back. The prodigious power of the V8 is regulated by a supremely competent braking system. Brembo-sourced, ventilated front rotors measure 14.9 inches in diameter, with slots for water dispersion, and 6 piston calipers for immediate deceleration. Rear Brembo brakes measure 13.5 inches, with slotting and 4 piston calipers. Capping off the techno extravaganza are forged 19 inch alloy rims (9″ wide front, 10″ wide rear) planting 255/35R19 front and 275/35R19 rear Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires. Despite the prodigious output of the V8, it’s almost impossible to get the RC F to break traction with these large sticky Michelins hanging on well past all logic. The RC F is one of the quickest, best handling cars from any manufacturer that I have ever had the pleasure of driving hard.

2017 Lexus RC F 2-DR Coupe

Yet despite all its techno refinement and race breeding, the RC F is a marvelously comfortable street car. We ran it down to Car Week in Monterey from the Bay Area, and found it to be comfortable, and quiet, with good visibility in all directions, and informative, clear instrumentation. The only problem you will encounter with the RC F on long trips is its tendency to sneak over 80mph when it feels like you’re travelling 60mph. To drive this car on the freeway without hazarding a speeding ticket, you need to recalibrate your seat of the pants speed meter.

2017 Lexus RC F 2-DR Coupe

Granted, the frontal appearance of the RC F can be off-putting. I would not place it among my own top ten in terms of appearance. But when you set the RC F next to its progenitor, the LF A, you realize just how many advance design features both cars share, from their slotted intakes to their bulging tail light clusters. It’s amazing that Lexus has been able to tame the RF A into such a fully domesticated but still vicious street car as the RC F.

2017 Lexus RC F 2-DR Coupe

  • Engine: 5.0 liter DOHC 32 Valve V8 Direct and Port Injection, VVT Intake and Exhaust
  • Horsepower: 467hp
  • Torque: 389lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 16MPG City/25 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $80,314
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Kia Sorento SXL AWD Review

Wednesday September 20th, 2017 at 8:99 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Kia Sorento SXL AWD

Hypes: Best Dash Layout and Controls of Any SUV
Gripes: Tiny Third Row Seats

Kia has been on a winning streak for so many years now that it’s hard to remember the automotive landscape in the USA before this Korean powerhouse arrived. But I clearly recall the advent of Kia here, back in 1994, when I rented a subcompact in Las Vegas. Hertz turned me loose in a boxy little Kia Pride badged as a Ford Festiva. The car was so remarkably lively and inspiring to drive that I thought Kia would soon make a major impact on the North American auto landscape. But the company declared bankruptcy in 1997, and its resurgence in the USA did not regain a foothold until recently. Now Kia, which is partially owned by Hyundai, offers a full model range of sedans, crossovers and SUVs. One of their best models is the Sorento, a midsized SUV with a wide choice of power trains and luxury accoutrements. We spent a productive and comfortable week test driving the top model in the Sorento range, the all-wheel-drive SX Limited (SXL) powered by an exceptionally responsive 3.3 liter, 290hp V6. This Titanium Metallic over White Leather beauty priced out at $46,595

2017 Kia Sorento SXL AWD

The appeal of the Sorento model line lies in the many echelons of equipment on offer, starting with the SX base model (2.4 liter 185hp Inline 4 at $26,295), escalating to the intermediate EX grade (2.0 liter turbocharged 240hp Inline 4), and topping out with our SXL, which gets 19 MPG overall and can tow 5000 pounds of trailer. 52% of Sorento buyers opt for the SX, 13.5% choose the LX, and 35.5% pick the AWD SXL. New for 2017 is a very effective Autonomous Emergency Braking System (AEB), which is standard on the EXL and optionally available on other models. Kia has also made Android Auto and Apple Car Play standard on EX and SX levels of the Sorento.

2017 Kia Sorento SXL AWD

Although you could conceivably carry a couple of tykes in this SUV’s third row seat, don’t plan on doing it regularly since ingress and egress is very tight. As a 4 or 5 seater, however, this Kia accommodates a full passenger load with grace and comfort. The Nappa leather seats are well contoured for long distance cruising comfort and stylish looking, with perforated inserts that contain both heating and cooling elements for the front row. Even the grab areas of the steering wheel are heated and come to full temperature gratifyingly quickly on cold mornings.

2017 Kia Sorento SXL AWD

The beauty of the Sorento is that Kia engineers have achieved a perfect combination of fixed dashboard buttons for full operation of all critical systems (heat, ventilation, lights). Unlike so many manufacturers, who insist on embedding these command controls inside layer upon layer of screen menus, Kia takes a distinctly opposite tack in making the basics clearly and instantly available to the driver. This is a huge benefit in terms of peace of mind and safety in operation. It’s just one of the many factors responsible for Kia winning the JD Powers Initial Quality Survey for the last two years running.

2017 Kia Sorento SXL AWD

But the Sorento is more than just a well tailored living room. This is one of the most responsive and quick SUVs we’ve driven in a long time. By coincidence, we parked the SXL next to a slightly earlier version of the same vehicle. Kia has really improved the Sorento’s appearance at the front with ice cube tray LED light clusters, and at the back, with new LED tail lights and a stainless ribbed diffuser spanning the distance between the twin exhaust outlets. But the single most noticeable difference between the older Sorento and our SXL was the stance of the vehicle produced by tire and wheel differences. The earlier version rode on nondescript 17″ rims with tall sidewall 65 series radial tires (235/65R17). The SXL’s highly polished 19″ alloys are fitted with excellent Michelin all season rubber (235/55R19 Premier LTX) that provide good cornering grip, immediate response to steering input, and AWD-augmented wet weather adhesion.

2017 Kia Sorento SXL AWD

Recently I drove an Acura MDX on the same 120 mile roundtrip through the North Bay that I completed with the Sorento. In both cases, I set the radar cruise control to a speed of 65mph and let the system do its thing. As traffic ebbed and flowed, he MDX constantly accelerated and slowed to the point that I deactivated the cruise control and used my throttle foot instead. The Sorento, on the other hand, maintained a serene pace under all circumstances, without surges or brake slams. This operation of the Kia cruise control is emblematic of the Sorento’s unobtrusively well honed behavior. If you’re looking for a top line family mover with lots of guts under the hood and an equal measure of refinement and thoughtful operational design in the cabin, then the SX Limited Sorento is an optimal choice.

2017 Kia Sorento SXL AWD

  • Engine: 3.3 liter Gas Direct Injection (GDi) V6
  • Horsepower: 290hp
  • Torque: 252lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 17 MPG City/23 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $46,595
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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2018 Honda Odyssey Elite Review

Friday September 8th, 2017 at 9:99 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2018 Honda Odyssey Elite

Hypes: Lively Drivetrain, Well Crafted Interior
Gripes: The minuscule Tachometer reads like a Fever Thermometer

If any race sanctioning body comes up with a series for vans, the Honda Odyssey Elite will win hands down. Just look at the list of performance goodies the all new 6th generation Odyssey brings to the table: 280hp V6 engine? Check. 10-speed automatic transmission? Check. Paddle shifts? Check. 19 inch alloy wheels? Check. High Performance Bridgestone Turanza EL440 235/55 R19 radial tires? Check. Granted, potential customers will not be buying the 8-passenger Odyssey for its speed potential. But thanks to the foregoing list of standard performance attributes, the Odyssey is no slouch in the go department.

2018 Honda Odyssey Elite

Although the Japanese nameplate reads Honda, this is really an American built product. Four generations of Odyssey vans have been constructed in Lincoln, Alabama. The V6 engine, which produces 32hp more for 2018 than it did in 2017, is also built in Lincoln, while that all-new 10-speed gearbox comes from nearby Georgia. Four levels of Odyssey will be available for 2018. The price pyramid starts with the EX model at $34,760, the EX-L at $38,260, and the Touring at $45,410. At the apex stands the model we test drove for a week, the Elite, with a base sticker of $46,670. All Odyssey models for 2018 get the uprated 3.5 liter V6. Our Elite carried an out-the-door price of $47,610, which included $940 for destination and handling, but not a single optional package.

2018 Honda Odyssey Elite

In truth, the Elite requires no further lily gilding since it includes a monumental number of standard features. Both side doors are powered, and respond to buttons located on the cabin’s B-pillars for open/close actuation. Or you can use the keyfob remote to duplicate these commands. The rather complicated keyfob pad also actuates the rear lift-gate. Or you can open and close the tail door with a button under the left side of the dash. After easily folding flat the rear most bench seats, I was able to slide a mountain bike into the storage area created by flattening those back seats. The lift-over threshold is low, which facilitates loading and unloading chores. This is one of the few vehicles which will carry a bike inside the cabin without the need to fold the second row of seats. Space utilization here is excellent, with up to 61 cubic feet of space available if needed.

2018 Honda Odyssey Elite

The Elite is the only Odyssey with standard ventilated front seats and a wireless cell phone charging pad. However, we could not make the charger work with our LG phone. Chrysler has taken direct aim at the Odyssey in recent ads showing a Honda van owner struggling to remove the heavy second row seats while the Chrysler van owner simply folds them flat with the flip of a lever. “Don’t Be That Guy” intones the ad, referring to the Honda owner. The second row seats in the Odyssey Elite boast a “Magic Slide” feature that requires removal of the center cushion. Be advised that the center seat cushion, with its flop-down beverage armrest, weighs well north of 30 pounds. I didn’t actually remove it, or undertake second seat removal, however, because I didn’t want to “be that guy.”

2018 Honda Odyssey Elite

Acura had equipped most of its passenger car fleet with an annoying gear selector mechanism that is floor mounted and requires you to eyeball it when operating it. In those Acuras which use the system, it is a major annoyance. However, Honda has moved this button farm to the center of the dash in the Odyssey, where it is much easier to see, and thus operate. In this application, the system works well enough to justify elimination of a floor-mounted lever. Relocation to the dash of gear shift duties frees up precious center console floor space for pair of lidded storage bins.

2018 Honda Odyssey Elite

Those of us with sporting proclivities will simply have to face the fact that there will never be a race series for minivans. In fact, Honda introduced the model with a whimsical nod to Disney and a pink wrap of the 2018 Odyssey as a “Minnie” van. In that familiar family context, the Odyssey Elite is a home run. You can thank a bevy of family friendly innovations, including an 8.5 inch rear entertainment screen with wireless headphones, “Cabin Talk” which allows parents to address offspring via a PA system, and the unique Cabin Control App which allows the driver’s cell phone to access and adjust many Odyssey functions remotely. Though you might be able to put the athletic Elite on pole position, don’t forget you’ve got the whole pit crew with you back there on every lap.

2018 Honda Odyssey Elite

  • Engine: 3.5 liter VTEC V6 with Variable Cylinder Management
  • Horsepower: 280hp
  • Torque: 262lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 19 MPG City/28 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $47,610
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid AWD Review

Thursday September 7th, 2017 at 9:99 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid AWD

Hypes: Strong Acceleration, Excellent Fit and Finish
Gripes: Hard-to-Read Lower GUI Screen

New for 2017 is the Hybrid version of Acura’s popular MDX. This addition to the model line boasts four engines – 1 gas powered, and 3 electric. The gas powered V6 displaces 3.0 liters, and features 24 valves managed by Honda’s patented VTEC camshaft technology. In consort with the triple electric motors, the MDX V6 produces 321hp and is capable of towing a 5,000 lb. trailer. If you forego the Hybrid’s electric motor complexity and opt for a straight gas-powered MDX, Acura will sell you a 3.5 liter V6 good for 290hp. Despite the fact that the Hybrid weighs more than 4,200 pounds, it still produces laudable economy figures of 26MPG in town and 27 MPG on the highway, with an overall rating of 27 MPG. The 3.5 liter V6 manages only 21 MPG overall. Regardless of engine choice, all MDX variants transfer power through a 7 speed dual clutch gearbox. Our top line Hybrid also included all-wheel-drive which continuously fed torque through all four Continental Cross Contact tires (245/50R20).

2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid AWD

All MDX models this year, regardless of engine choice, are fitted with the AcuraWatch suite of safety measures, including Adaptive Cruise control, Collision Mitigation Braking, Road Departure Mitigation, Forward Collision Warning, Lane Departure Warning, and Lane Keeping Assist. During my week with the MDX, I experienced one false positive with the Forward Collision Warning which blinked brightly to warn of an impending crash despite the fact that there was nothing in view to trigger the alert. I also found that it was easier to control the throttle on long freeway drives with my own right foot than it was to depend on the Adaptive Cruise Control which over managed acceleration and deceleration.

2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid AWD

The interior of this loaded MDX lives up to expectation in a vehicle priced at $58,975. Four lavishly padded captain’s chairs occupy the front two-thirds of the cabin, with a useful but restricted third row bench completing the 6 slot interior layout. The rear most bench easily folds flat to increase storage room. The rear captain’s chairs also fold flat with the pull of a lever, opening up the MDX interior to 34 cubic feet of storage space. A low rear lift-over threshold eases insertion and removal of bulky bike-size items like a bike. The keyfob activated tailgate assures ease of cargo insertion. A fixed button on the tailgate does the same for electric closure.

2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid AWD

This SUV is perfectly configured to provide a high level of comfort and roominess for a quartet of family members on holiday. The “Sport” seats are handsomely done, with contrasting stitching and perforated premium leather trim. Nor does Acura skimp on the back seats, which are every bit as comfortable and inviting as the pair up front. Matching center consoles front and rear offer a huge amount of deep storage.; Our test sample’s interior, finished in a delicious shade called “Espresso” also featured insert panels of real wood cleverly patinated to resemble reclaimed barn wood.

2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid AWD

The dashboard’s central column displays two separate screens. The lower screen is dedicated to HVAC settings, fan control and SiriusXM pre-sets. The upper screen carries some of the same infotainment information, plus maps for the Acura Navigation System and real time traffic reports from the AcuraLink communication system. Because the upper screen is shielded by an effective visor, it remains easy to read in broad daylight. The unshielded lower screen, however, is impossible to decipher when sun shines directly on its surface. At that point you only see dust and fingerprints.

2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid AWD

The MDX in Hybrid form is an exceptionally useful transportation module. It serves the needs of large families with the peace of mind that only Acura (Honda) products bring to the table. Since the MDX model line starts at about $45,000, the $58,000 base price of the Hybrid is significantly more expensive than an entry level MDX. But in the long run, this Hybrid’s excellent fuel economy and luxury appointments will pay for themselves over time. And you simply can’t get the kind of acceleration boost out of the gas-only V6 that the Hybrid provides. All in all, the Hybrid is the best version of the MDX you can buy. This MD is just what the doctor ordered.

2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid AWD

  • Engine: 3.0 liter V6, SOHC, 24-Valve, Variable Cylinder Management
  • Horsepower: 321hp
  • Torque: N/A
  • Fuel Consumption: 26 MPG City/27 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $58,975
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport M/T Review

Wednesday September 6th, 2017 at 9:99 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport M/T

Hypes: Phenomenal Cornering Grip, Zinger Motor, Slick Manual Gearbox
Gripes: Flat Bottom Steering Wheel Mounted Too High

Hyundai has comprehensively redesigned the Elantra sedan for 2017. In particular, the Sport model we drove features a package of visual enhancements that distinguish it from all lesser models. Hyundai stylists have cleaned up the front end by better integrating new HID headlights into streamlined fender caps. They’ve also added a model specific Sport grill featuring a large one piece hexagonal opening. New LED driving lights meld into slits flanking the central radiator intake. The sedan’s side profile gains sleekness from a higher, more prominent character line that stretches from front to rear wheel wells. At the tail end, a lower valance diffuser enhances both the appearance and aerodynamics of the Sport model. The valence incorporates a pair of chrome tipped exhausts on the passenger side of the panel. New LED tail and stop lights complete the rear redo.

2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport M/T

But the Sport’s attributes are much more than skin deep. Stunning 20 spoke 18 inch diameter alloy wheels mount Hankook Ventus S1 Noble2 tires measuring 225/40R18.

Under the hood of the Sport lies the most important component of the entire exercise: a 1.6 liter turbocharged in-line 4 mounted sideways, with double overhead cams and direct injection. This highly sophisticated engine produces 201hp and 195lb.-ft. of torque. That’s by far the most power available in the Elantra line, which consists of three other lesser engines (128hp, 147hp and 173hp). Our test Sport fed its abundant thrust through a 6 speed manual transmission that proved delightful to operate.

2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport M/T

The Sport is exceptionally quick in a straight line, with sub-7 second runs to 60mph from a standing start easy to achieve. The engine comes alive over 3000rpm, and can be safely twisted to redline at 6800rpm. 6th gear is well chosen for freeway romps, pulling just 2500 quiet rpm at 70mph. But the strong point of this Hyundai is not its ability as a drag racer, rather its utter composure as a twisty road master. The suspension is independent front and rear, with a sophisticated multi-link design in back that keeps the Hankook tires planted all the time. There’s a slight trace of torque steer from the front wheels when you pin the throttle wide open exiting a bend. But other than that predictable feedback, the Sport remains precise and predictable no matter how hard you thrash it through bends. The Ventus S1 tires are exceptionally sticky, belying their mid-range tread wear rating of 500. Overall, this car’s performance behavior is outstanding, with the added benefit of upsized disc brake rotors to help it stop extra short.

2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport M/T

You can comfortably order a base model Sport for just $21,550. As is the custom with press evaluation vehicles, however, our test Sport included a $2,400 optional Premium Package which added an 8 inch Navigation screen and system to the base car’s standard 7 inch screen without Navigation. This option group also adds a power sunroof, blind spot detection with rear cross traffic alert, dual automatic temperature controls, and a boosted stereo system with 8 speakers and a center channel subwoofer. That’s 2 more speakers than the standard issue audio system, plus that thumping base to keep your ears vibrating.

2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport M/T

This is one sport sedan that lives up to its billing. Take the seats and steering wheel, for example. The wheel is a work of art, with its flat bottom, indented pistol grips, and red stitching. The front seats offer tremendous lateral support, and sport double red stitched bolster seams. Lately I have been driving a plethora of so-called “sport” sedans from various manufacturers that are sporty only in looks, not performance. Hyundai has taken the challenge of building a real sport sedan quite seriously here. This Elantra will run the socks off a wide variety of much more expensive Asian and European “sports” sedans.

2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport M/T

The Elantra Sport is without question the best of this pretender filled bunch when it comes to go and handling. In fact, the only real challenger for this car is the VW GTI, which is substantially more expensive and less reliable. Consumer Reports blesses the new Elantra with a “Recommended” check mark and predicts that its reliability will be “Better than Average.” So if you want to have your go-fast cake and eat it too, give this super bargain sleeper one hard long look.

2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport M/T

  • Engine: Inline DOHC 4-cylinder, turbocharged with GDI
  • Horsepower: 201hp
  • Torque: 195lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 22 MPG City/30 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $25,010
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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2018 Acura TLX A-Spec Review

Wednesday August 16th, 2017 at 11:88 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2018 Acura TLX A-Spec

Hypes: Greatly Improved Looks, High Quality Build
Gripes: Bouncy Back Seat Ride, Puzzling Transmission Controls

After years of motorsports inactivity, Acura is making a big push to gain race wins for the brand in IMSA GT Daytona class competition. In their first year of combat in this very tough class, the new Acura NSX posted back-to-back wins in the hands of Andy Lally and Katherine Legg over Audi’s R8, Porsche’s 911, Mercedes’ AMG and Ferrari’s 488. The corporate bosses at Acura are hoping the halo effect from NSX success will rub off on their more prosaic and much less expensive line of sedans, like the newly reconfigured TLX A-Spec we recently drove for a week.

2018 Acura TLX A-Spec

Acura thankfully revamped the exterior look of the old TLX, which has been steadily losing sales since the beginning of 2017. In a successful effort to freshen its appearance, they remodeled the tiresome bird beak grill which has marred Acura front ends since 2009. The new frontal look comes direct from the show circuit, where Acura presented a “Precision Concept” sedan in 2016 with a grill featuring hexagonal shields that appear to be moving when they are not.

The frontal redo is quite entertaining, and the rest of the redesign does not let you down. Outlined LED turn signals surround Jewel-eyed headlamps above the new grill. Intriguing power bulges surface the hood, and a conspicuous beltline crease rises from the front fender to a point just below the rear door handle. This character line imparts a fluid sense of motion to even a stationary TLX.

2018 Acura TLX A-Spec

If you opt for the A-Spec package, more goodies are in store. That kaleidoscope grill is blacked out, along with a lower valence that contains inset driving lights that look like they’ve been daubed with mascara. The dramatic effect continues at the back, where a lower skirt beneath the bumper contains a series of vanes to help evacuate rushing air from underneath the body. A quartet of prominent chrome exhaust tips underline the rear guard. Color keyed rocker skirts make the TLX look longer and lower than it really is, while tasty 19 inch alloys finished in gunmetal gray, mount 245/40R19 Michelin MXM4 Primacy tires at all 4 corners.

2018 Acura TLX A-Spec

Inside the cabin, Acura has spiced up the proceedings with their interpretation of sport front seats. These overstuffed lounge chairs are more Barca-lounger than Recaro, however. They aren’t particularly retentive under cornering duress, but they certainly look sporty, with their contrasting piping and multiple pleats. The rear seats lack any pretense at sportiness, and their flaccid belt receptacles make fastening you safety harness more of a challenge than it should be.

2018 Acura TLX A-Spec

Our test model included virtually everything Acura can throw into the TLX A-Spec mix. Along with all-wheel drive (or SH-AWD in Acura-speak) comes a creamy gem of a V6 motor attached to a 9-speed automatic transmission. The paddle shift equipped gearbox run through its gears in such short order that you barely realize it has shifted at all. Unfortunately, the piddling paddles look and feel like cereal box premiums. The 290hp V6 provides authoritative poke when you tromp the accelerator, and a very mellifluous soundtrack through those trumpets below the diffuser. Steering feedback from the low profile Michelins is solid and informative, and the ride and reactions of the A-Spec can be tailored to taste via a command control button on the center console for economy, normal, sport and sport plus modes of driving. If you chose sport plus, you will find the steering akin to rowing an oar in molasses.

2018 Acura TLX A-Spec

If you live where the roads are not always smooth, the TLX A-Spec will be the first to let you know their deteriorated condition. I spent too long pulling passenger duty in the back seat, where every crease in the pavement sent me bouncing aloft. The situation is much better in the front seats, where all that stuffing dampens the pogo pitch. Another source of irritation is the button farm Acura has decided to institute across their entire model range to control transmission shifts. Instead of the reliable, old-school stick with detents, the TLX requires you to evaluate a daunting array of slides, lifts and pushes every time you hope to effect a gear change. It’s completely unnecessary technology that doesn’t even save space on the center console for other purposes.

2018 Acura TLX A-Spec

2018 Acura TLX A-Spec

  • Engine: 3.5 liter V-6
  • Horsepower: 290hp
  • Torque: N/A
  • Fuel Consumption: N/A
  • Price as Tested: N/A
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

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