Review: 2014 Scion FR-S

Tuesday November 25th, 2014 at 1:1111 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2014 Scion FR-S

By David Colman

Hypes: Handles Better Than a Bug Eye Sprite
Gripes: Some Interior Ergonomic Improvements Needed

Over the course of a car model year, I typically test 50 new vehicles. Of those, fewer than 10 make the cut as cars I would buy and own. The Scion FR-S is one of those 10 for 2014. The FR-S’ fun-to-price ratio pegs it as a best buy in the sports coupe category. If you’re an enthusiast driver looking for slot car handling in a practical, economical package, this Scion fits the bill. Every time you slip behind its perforated black leather steering wheel, you know you’re in for a spell of undiluted driving entertainment. Only a car as nimble and light (2,758 lb.) as the FR-S can provide the immediate feedback that is this Scion’s defining trait. The interface between driver and machine is so polished and rewarding that you will never look at recreational driving the same way again. That you can experience automotive nirvana for a base price of just $24,700 defies logic.

2014 Scion FR-S

It certainly isn’t the FR-S’ Subaru power plant that evokes such jubilation. The 2.0 liter opposed 4 cylinder engine is hard pressed to make 200hp and just 151lb.-ft. of torque without also producing substantial noise and vibration. The silver faced tachometer, which features a programmable rev indicator, reads to 9,000rpm. Although the Boxer motor reaches redline at 7,600rpm, you’ll want to up shift sooner than that to avoid the racket at redline. Although the FR-S is not blindingly quick in a straight line, it’s so well balanced that you hardly notice the power shortfall. The superb steering feel, ultra precise shift linkage, and highly retentive sport seats foster the illusion that you’re driving a race car. Only the similarly priced Mazda MX-5 comes close to emulating the responsiveness of the FR-S. And the petit Mazda roadster offers none of the FR-S’ practicality: roomy interior, hatchback storage access, abbreviated rear seat, and permanently enclosed construction. You get the same kind of performance as the MX-5 without making the kind of concessions that render the Mazda comparatively impractical for daily use. This Scion can be your daily driver all week long, then play racer for you on the weekends.

2014 Scion FR-S

Of course, you will notice a few price point-bred drawbacks to FR-S ownership. When you open the cabin door, you will be hard pressed to stuff your bag or purse into the rear seat area without first tilting the front seatbacks forward. When you flop them backwards in order to climb in, the back rest returns, not to your pre-selected angle, but rather to the full upright position. After you’ve dealt with this 2 or 3 times in the course of a day’s errands, you’ll wonder why Scion didn’t endow these otherwise excellent seats with backrest position memory. The rather elemental beverage holder between the front seats also garners a cost cutting demerit. It contains 2 identically sized receptacles, neither of which feature prongs to adapt to smaller diameter cups. As a result, my co-pilot was forced to stabilize a Starbucks “tall” size cup by hand, rather than rely on the sloppy fit of the holder. These shortcomings are a surprise in a cabin that is otherwise thoughtfully designed, with unexpectedly lavish attention to detail.

For example, the clutch, brake and accelerator “sport” pedals are furnished with slip free surfaces fashioned from rubber and aluminum that match the threshold scuff plates. This intricate bright work looks like it belongs on a Ferrari, not a bargain Scion. Likewise, the dash face looks suitably business like and racy thanks to a faux carbon fiber strip that garnishes the understated interior with just the right touch of glamour. Red contrasting stitching on the steering wheel, seat bolsters and door kick plates are the only traces of flamboyance in the tightly focused driving environment Scion has perfected here.

2014 Scion FR-S

The 215/45R17 Bridgestone Turanza R400 tires provide a slight handling improvement over the Michelin all-season radials fitted to previous FR-Ss throughout the first year of production. But given this coupe’s inherent balance and grip, it cries out for the stickiest aftermarket tires you can afford. If this FR-S landed in my garage on a permanent basis, it would be wearing a set of BFG, or Hoosier soft compound autocross rubber that would transform it into the go-kart Scion meant to be at birth.

2014 Scion FR-S

  • Engine: 2.0 liter opposed 4 cylinder DOHC, 16 Valve
  • Horsepower: 200hp
  • Torque: 151lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 22 MPG City/30 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $25,455
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2014 Chrysler 300S

Thursday November 20th, 2014 at 8:1111 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2014 Chrysler 300S

By David Colman

Hypes: Perfect Ride/Handling Compromise, Value Pricing
Gripes: Overstuffed Front Chairs

Chrysler offers more varieties of its 300 sedan than Baskin Robbins sells flavors of ice cream. Our test car this week, the 300S, stands tall as a best buy in the 300 model range. It offers excellent performance and handling with enough luxury amenities to make you wonder how Chrysler can build it for a base price of just $34,395. Of course, this wouldn’t be a press test car without a substantial list of options, so add $1,995 for Customer Preferred Package 22G (Blind Spot Detection, Park Sense, Adaptive Speed Control, Forward Collision Warning). Tack on another $895 for Bi-Xenon HID Headlamps, $1,595 for the Dual Pane Panoramic Sunroof, and $995 for an infotainment system that features Garmin Navigation. So you’re out the door price swiftly rises to $40,870. Is the 300S still a best buy at that elevated figure? You bet it is.

Among the varietals of 300, the 300S offers the best compromise between economy and performance. It utilizes the fuel efficient 3.6 liter V6 to achieve a reputable 31MPG on the highway. Yet this engine, in its elevated “S” stage of tune, is sophisticated enough to produce 300hp and 264 lb.-ft. of torque. That’s 8hp and 4 lb.-ft. more than the base 300′s V6. Chrysler couples this S engine to its new 8-speed automatic gearbox, so you have a huge range of gear ratios to select for every application. Need more than 300hp? If so, opt for either the 5.7 liter HEMI (363hp) or the monster 6.4 liter HEMI (470hp). Either of those optional V-8s are available in the 300S, but neither of them use the slick new 8-speed “Autostick” transmission. Rather, both make do with a 5-speed automatic, and both will barely break 20MPG in highway cruising.

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Besides the up-rated motor, the following improvements set the S apart from other 300 models: performance tires, sport mode, fog lamps, premium sound system, power seats, passenger lumbar adjustment, keyless start, universal garage door opener, remote engine start, security system and back-up camera. You will also discover discrete “300S” identifiers on the trunk lid and the front seat headrests. The most obvious clue to S identity resides in the wheel wells, where handsome, rugged looking 8×20 inch “Black Aluminum” wheels support beefy Firestone Firehawk GT radials measuring 245/45R20 at all corners. These alloys are actually finished in a dark vapor chrome that demands use of mild soap and water and soft cloth ONLY for cleaning. In concert with the S’s “4- wheel independent touring suspension,” this big Chrysler combines adept handling with a relaxed ride that comes close to achieving the ideal compromise between two disparate goals. The Firehawk tires, an unusual choice for an OEM application, play a significant role in adding traction while calming the ride. The other factor playing into the performance equation is the “Sport Mode” feature of the S model, which firms up the damping of the electronically adjustable shock absorbers while also resetting shift points for maximum acceleration. To select Sport Mode, simply pull the floor-mounted Autostick lever back into its rear most “S” slot. The gearbox will then remain locked in whatever gear you select.

2014 Chrysler 300S

The luxuriant cabin of the 300S is enhanced by the panoramic sunroof. Because the beltline of the 300 is relatively high, the side windows are necessarily short. This might lead to a touch of claustrophobia were it not for the huge overhead light source provided by the double pane roof. The elegantly understated detailing of the 300′s interior will exceed your expectations for a car in this price range. Chrysler’s selection of seat material, headliner fabric, and dashboard covering all blend harmoniously to form a comfort zone that you will always look forward to enjoying. Although I found the front seats to be a bit overstuffed, the driving controls are so well placed in relation to the leather rimmed steering wheel that everything falls readily to hand. Particularly appreciated are the stubby flaps just behind the wheel rim that allow you to control transmission gear choice manually. With 8 nicely spaced ratios from which to choose, you will never be at a loss for the proper gear.

2014 Chrysler 300S

The 300S is the perfect sedan choice for someone who relishes fast but efficient transportation for 4 adults. While the S’s V6 will never match the torque nor head snapping performance of the optional HEMI V8s, you won’t find yourself making fuel stops nearly as often either. Chrysler advertising touts the 300 as being “Imported – from Detroit.” In fact, it would be more accurate to say that the 300S is “Imported from Canada,” where it is assembled (Brampton, Ontario) from an engine made in the USA and a transmission constructed in Mexico. Despite that, the 300S is as American as you can get. Brawny motor, luxo-cabin trappings, startling styling, and domestic pricing. This one is an all around winner.

2014 Chrysler 300S

  • Engine: 3.6 liter V6, 24 Valves with VVT
  • Horsepower: 300hp
  • Torque: 264 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 19 MPG City/31 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $40,870
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Audi A3 1.8T FWD

Wednesday November 19th, 2014 at 12:1111 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Audi A3 1.8T FWD

By David Colman

Hypes: Best Value Audi of All
Gripes: MMI computer interface system needs work

Shopping for an Audi is like shopping for a suit at Brooks Brothers. Audi’s top line models such as the A8 are equivalent to custom tailored Brooks Brothers dress ware in terms of price and quality. At the other end of the spectrum is their mass produced sedan, our A3 test car. Yes, it too carries the Audi name, but like a Brook Brothers “346″ Outlet Store suit, it offers less costly admittance to the store through the side door. Our A3 is really Audi’s loss leader, with its base price of just $29,900. Even decked out with a smattering of extras (Glacier White Metallic paint for $550, Navigation Plus for $1,900, Cold Weather Package for $500, Aluminum Style Package for $450), this Audi slides out the dealer’s front door for just $34,195. Welcome to your back row balcony seat in the Audi/torium.

2015 Audi A3 1.8T FWD

Conspicuously absent from this A3′s standard fitment is Quattro, Audi’s all-wheel-drive system. The entry level model is a front-wheel-drive sedan, powered by Volkswagen’s turbocharged 1.8 liter inline 4, making 170hp and 200 lb.-ft. of torque. The engine drives the front wheels through an “S Tronic” 6-speed automatic gearbox. If you want Quattro you’ll need to pay $3,000 to upgrade to the 2.0 liter engine and all-wheel-drive version of the A3. If you are familiar with current VW products like the Golf, Jetta and Passat, the A3 will feel very familiar. The 1.8 liter turbo takes some judicious management via the shift lever to deliver maximum thrust. Unfortunately, you can only swap gears manually with the floor stick itself, as the steering wheel lacks paddles for shift changes.

Since the A3′s suspension geometry derives largely from that of the VW Golf, handling is dependably sure footed. Even when the first rains of winter slickened the oily pavement, the A3 stuck to its line through a succession of testy curves. The Audi’s simplified 5-spoke “star design” alloy wheels mount Continental Sport Contact tires (225/45R17) at each corner. Speed sensitive electronic power steering transfers information from the front contact patches of the Continental tires to your hands with informative alacrity.

2015 Audi A3 1.8T FWD

You can perform some neat parlor magic tricks by inserting the ignition key into the slot of the driver’s door and holding it to the right. This will close all open windows and sunroof as well as locking the car. Turn and hold it the other way and you’ll open and unlock all windows and sunroof. The Panorama sunroof is notable for its extravagant size and nicely finished sliding interior shade panel. The front seats are definitely a grade above VW issue. Finished with leather surface, the driver’s seat offers 12 way adjustment, though fore and aft travel is curiously manual. The passenger’s seat makes do with manual adjustment for rake and slide, and both seats could do with more lateral bolster support. The rear seats fold flat in a 60/40 split. The A3 also enjoys a cavernous trunk with a sub-floor compartment for space saver spare, jack and small tool roll. The MMI navigation color display ingeniously pops out of the dash when you start the A3, and becomes the focal point for all your climate, navigation and entertainment needs. In an effort to keep the dash face free of incidental controls, Audi moved nearly all switches to the center tunnel surface between the seats. You will struggle to figure out exactly what the big knob controls without taking your eyes off the road. The system verges on dysfunctional. Relocation of the radio volume knob to the center console is particularly annoying. On the other hand, Audi has produced the very best vent controls in the car business. Each of the 4 gaping supply orifices on the dash face are encircled by knurled aluminum rings that can be twisted to admit more or less air. Absolutely brilliant engineering.

2015 Audi A3 1.8T FWD

The A3, which is built by Audi in Hungary, presents an affordable route to Audi ownership for the new car buyer. For this kind of money, you won’t get Audi’s trademarked Quattro system, but you will enjoy a level of build quality, sleek German Bauhaus design, and responsive performance that is hard to match for the price.

2015 Audi A3 1.8T FWD

  • Engine: 1.8 liter inline DOHC 16-valve 4, turbocharged and intercooled, direct injection
  • Horsepower: 170 @ 6,200rpm
  • Torque: 200lb.-ft. @ 1,600rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 23 MPG City/33 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $34,195
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2014 Toyota RAV4 Limited AWD

Tuesday November 18th, 2014 at 4:1111 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2014 Toyota RAV4 Limited AWD

By David Colman

Hypes: Spacious, Utilitarian, Affordable
Gripes: Down on Power, Cheap Interior Touches

This compact crossover has enough cargo capacity (37 cubic feet) to compete with mid-size crossovers. I was frankly surprised at the ease with which the RAV4 swallowed my mountain bike without requiring the usual twist and fold routine. In fact, the bike slid right into place without so much as a snag anywhere. The Limited version of this petite Toyota even includes electronic operation for the tailgate. Low loading height further insures easy stowage and retrieval. I have driven many compact and mid size SUVs that could not match the RAV4′s magnanimous cargo access.

The latest iteration of the RAV4 came to market in 2013 and remains largely unchanged this year. A large displacement (2.5 liter) in-line 4 cylinder engine makes 176hp and 172 lb.-ft. of torque. This fuel efficient motor posts a commendable EPA average of 25 MPG overall. But fuel savings come at the expense of straight line performance. Because this SUV weighs 3,535 pounds, each one of those 176 horses are tasked with moving 20 pounds. Consequently, the RAV4′s throttle pedal must be pushed hard to keep up with traffic flow. It takes nearly 17 seconds to run the quarter mile from a standing start. However, you can upgrade to a Tesla designed electric version of the RAV4. This EV’s rated at 154hp but delivers a whopping 273 lb.-ft. of torque. But hurry, because Toyota plans to phase out the RAV4 EV in the near future. If you like the compact dimensions of the RAV4, but seek more power, you may want to cross shop the 2015 Lexus NX, which shares its platform with the RAV4. The Lexus offers 235hp thanks to its turbocharged 2.0 liter four cylinder engine.

2014 Toyota RAV4 Limited AWD

Toyota includes a number of active safety measures in the DNA of the RAV4. This assortment of innovations, which Toyota calls its Star Safety System, contributes to your well being by providing stability control, traction control, anti-lock brakes, electronic brake force distribution, and brake assist. Although passive safety boasts 8 airbags, the RAV4 scores a “Poor” Rating on the Front Small Overlap test administered by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. This crash test, first administered in 2012, measures damage incurred when just 25 percent of a vehicle front hits a fixed object at 40mph. The RAV4′s poor result in this category has caused Consumer Reports to retract its “Recommended” endorsement.

The RAV4 is tow rated at 1,500 pounds. Although it will tow a modest trailer, the RAV4 itself is not meant to be towed behind a motor home, dinghy style. In its latest iteration, the RAV4 has matured into a utilitarian device that will fill the bill if you need a do-it-all urban companion. Responsive handling is augmented by 235/55R18 Bridgestone Dueler H/T tires at each corner. Ride quality is never harsh thanks to the Bridgestone’s tall sidewalls and the RAV4′s soft spring rates.

2014 Toyota RAV4 Limited AWD

From its introduction as a petite SUV offering limited space for passengers or storage, this compact cross over now provides seating for 5, easy access to the folding rear bench seat, lots of side window glass for great outward visibility, and enough orchestral choices to make even the shortest trip a music endowed vacation. The “EN” option package, which costs an extra $785, is well worth the cost if you value entertainment while driving. For this relatively modest outlay, Toyota will provide you with a laundry list of extras that start with a 6.1 inch touch screen on the dash. This interface controls a premium JBL AM/FM/CD player with 7 speakers and a subwoofer. You also gain access to HD radio, traffic reports and a suite of Toyota backed “Entune” applications to simplify your cruising life. The touch screen also provides navigational assistance and serves as a back-up camera projector when reverse gear is engaged. However, you would do well to avoid paying $725 extra for the “TP” Technology Package, which contributes lane departure warning advice, monitors blind spots, and regulates use of high beam headlights.

The Toyota RAV4 presents an inexpensive route to all-wheel-drive mini SUV ownership. While it may not be the fastest, or the best handling choice in the marketplace, it does administer a solid dose of Toyota virtue: RAV4 is inexpensive to own and operate, with good value retention over the life of the vehicle.

2014 Toyota RAV4 Limited AWD

2014 Toyota RAV4 Limited AWD

  • Engine: 2.5 liter DOHC, 16 Valve inline 4 with Dual VVT-i
  • Horsepower: 176 @ 6,000rpm
  • Torque: 172 lb.-ft. @ 4,100rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 22 MPG CITY/29 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $32,315
  • Star Rating: 7 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Volkswagen Passat TDI SEL

Tuesday October 21st, 2014 at 8:1010 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Volkswagen Passat TDI SEL

By David Colman

Hypes: Tremendous Range, Low Speed Torque, Luxury cabin
Gripes: VW lags competitors in JD POWERS IQS (Initial Quality Survey)

It’s really too bad that you can’t use your X-ray eyes to look through the engine shroud covering VW’s all new turbo diesel EA288 engine. If you could, you would realize just how much more sophisticated this new diesel is than its predecessor, the EA189. Only the cylinder bore center dimension remains the same. Everything else about the EA288 is new and improved. Inside you’ll find a cast iron block mated to an aluminum cylinder head, with overhead camshafts operating both intake and exhaust valves from the same cam. This novel arrangement promotes greater air delivery and swirl in the combustion chambers. Net result to you is improved performance and better mileage than before. The new diesel bumps horsepower output to 150 hp (from the EA189′s 140 hp). Torque is abundant, with a wallop of 236 lb.-ft. hitting home at just 1,750 rpm. Best of all, the new diesel’s intelligent architecture yields an eye popping mileage dividend. If you order your TDI with 6-speed manual transmission, expect 44MPG on the highway and a cruising range of 814 miles between refueling stops.

2015 Volkswagen Passat TDI SEL

Our test TDI was equipped with VW’s dual clutch automatic DSG gearbox, a no-charge option on the SEL Premium model. Although the DSG slightly lowers highway mileage to 42MPG, you can still expect 34MPG in overall driving. The DSG is unquestionably one of the best automatic transmissions on the market today. Like the manual, it also offers 6 speeds, with an opportunity to select individual ratios by slotting the floor mounted stick into the manual segment of its gate. However, because the diesel affords so much torque so low in its rpm range, manual gear control is hardly ever necessary. Just press the accelerator and feel that gratifying rush of instant torque.

2015 Volkswagen Passat TDI SEL

The rich interior of the Passat SEL belies its reasonable $33,585 window sticker. If you opt for the SEL Premium version, you will receive leather, rather than vinyl seating surfaces, comfort sport seats, rain sensing wipers, Fender premium audio with 8 speakers and sub woofer, RNS 510 navigation system, 8 way power seats for both driver and passenger, and wood grained dash and door trim. In other woods, the appropriately named “Corn Silk Beige” cabin of this Passat matches up well with BMW and Mercedes products costing twice as much. We put the Fender audio to the test by slipping Linda Ronstadt’s new Starbuck’s CD into the dash slot and cranking the volume way up. The 8 speakers and sub woofer translated her old standards into concert hall sound while conveniently displaying the name and time of each cut on the navigation screen panel. In an increasingly digitized world, the Passat’s interior strikes a calming classic note, with its analog clock face prominently displayed atop the center stack of the dash. Large, round, easily read instrument faces of the 6,000rpm tachometer and 160mph speedometer also fly in the face of the flashy, confusing TFT dials that have become so popular today.

2015 Volkswagen Passat TDI SEL

Handling has long been a VW asset, and the latest Passat continues the tradition, with its finely balanced strut front/multi-link rear independent suspension design. Ride comfort is excellent, thanks in part to the cushy all-season Continental Pro Contact tires (235/45R18) which stress bump absorption over ultimate grip. New for 2015 is electro-mechanical power steering, which places a premium on feedback and precision. Turning radius of the Passat is a scant 36.4 feet, making this sizeable four door feel more like a sports car than a ponderous sedan.

2015 Volkswagen Passat TDI SEL

VW stresses horizontality in the styling of the Passat. Strong chrome grill bands emphasize the sedan’s substantial 72.2 inch width. A swept back roofline culminates in a nearly flat rear window which gives this sedan coupe-like grace. Understated elegance characterizes the interior and exterior design language of the Passat. There is a certain timeless quality to good design, and the latest Passat enjoys that ephemeral virtue. Build quality from VW’s new plant in Chattanooga, TN matches the best output from Wolfsburg, Germany. Doors open smartly to pre-determined detents, interior trim surfaces mate precisely, even the glovebox door glides open slowly and deliberately. No obvious corners have been cut in fabricating this VW.

2015 Volkswagen Passat TDI SEL

  • Engine: 2.0 Liter inline 4 diesel with Direct Injection and turbocharging
  • Horsepower: 150ho @3,500rpm
  • Torque: 236lb.-ft.@1,750rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 30 MPG City/42 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $34,405
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Porsche Macan Turbo

Monday October 20th, 2014 at 8:1010 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Porsche Macan Turbo

By David Colman

Hypes: Breakthrough SUV/Sports Car
Gripes: Needs Passenger Controlled Rear Seat Ventilation

How do you define sports car? If your description includes “low slung two seat conveyance,” you’re hopelessly out of touch with the times. Porsche has just redefined the concept of sports car to include elevated ride height and seating for five. They call their new segment buster the Macan. In Turbo trim, this stubby and potent compact SUV will run the wheels off any “sports car” you care to choose — including such stalwarts from Porsche as the Cayman and 911. The Macan Turbo, thanks to 400hp and 406 pound-feet of torque, will cover the 0-60MPH run in 4.4 seconds and top out at 164mph. Is that sporty enough for you?

Macan shares some similarities with VW family tree relative, Audi’s Q5. But unlike Porsche’s full size SUV Cayenne, which is closely related to VW’s Touareg, the Macan neither resembles nor performs like the Q5. In fact, the Macan Turbo occupies an SUV niche of its own, capable of providing top echelon sports car performance on paved roads or Baja busting transit over special outback stages. The trick to unleashing Macan’s double edged potential lies in checking the right boxes when you configure your order. You will want to specify the following essential options: Sport Chrono Package ($1,290), Air Suspension including Porsche Active Suspension Management ($1,385), and 21″ 911 Turbo Design Wheels ($3,300). Our test Macan (Base price: $72,300), finished in Agate Grey Metallic ($690), also included a scrumptious Natural Leather Interior in Espresso, Brushed Aluminum door, dash and shifter trim (NC), and a sensational Burmester High-End Surround Sound music system ($4,290).

2015 Porsche Macan Turbo

The Sport Chrono option, signified by the presence of a stop watch mounted atop the dash, works in consort with the standard PDK 7-speed double clutch automatic gearbox to unleash brutal standing start acceleration with launch control. Chrono equipped Macans run to 60mph from a dead stop 2 tenths of a second quicker than non-Chrono Macans. Chrono also enhances your driving menu with selections ranging from “Comfort,” to “Sport” and “Sport+.” Comfort is freeway plush, Sport tightens up responsiveness of steering and shocks considerably, while Sport+ nails the platform to the road with vise-like precision. The air suspension option provides four ride height settings (Normal, Low, Loading and Off-Road), choices unavailable on Macans with standard steel suspension. The Low setting drops your Macan 15mm below the ride height of a standard suspension Macan. When that reduced ride height is coupled to the adhesive Michelin Latitude Sport 3 tires (265/40R21 front, 295/35R21 rear) that shoe the 21 inch 911 Turbo alloys, the Macan Turbo transforms itself into a potent canyon carver that will stick with any model Porsche “sports car.” As an added incentive, the dazzling 21s make the Turbo look just like a Hot Wheels dream toy.

2015 Porsche Macan Turbo

Yet inside this potent bomb, all is serene and elegant. The Espresso leather, immaculately stitched and complemented by understated brushed aluminum trim, imparts an elegance level befitting a $90,000 vehicle. The Burmester system will rip your ear drums to shreds or murmur sweet nothings with the twist of a dial. The steering wheel in the Macan, the first to be borrowed from the design used in Porsche’s million dollar 918, features knurled thumb knobs to control stereo volume (left thumb), or access informative diagnostics (right thumb). Porsche’s excellent 18-way adjustable Sport Seat, a carryover from the Boxster, Cayman and 911, is standard issue on the Macan Turbo. It is impossible to fault for comfort or adjustability, with 3 memory positions available for each front seat occupant. The Macan’s ample window height insures excellent side vision. Rear seat passengers will enjoy the exaggerated greenhouse effect, though they are not given ventilation outlets of their own to control. With rear seats erect, you are left with a useful flat trunk space of 17.7 cubic feet, which expands to 53 cubic feet when you drop the 60/40 split rear seats flat. Don’t forget that lowering the air suspension to the “Load” setting will facilitate any Sherpa detail you might have in mind for your Macan. You’ll be hard pressed to find that kind of luxuriant and accessible storage in any other sports car.

2015 Porsche Macan Turbo

When I first read Porsche’s brochure claim that the new Macan is “The first true sports car among compact SUVs,” I was highly dubious about the merit of this accolade. After spending a fairly euphoric week behind the Macan’s 918-style wheel, I would have to agree with the conclusion that this brutal looking Leatherman tool defines a new category of its own. Porsche has devised a 4-door 5 seat sports car that may look like an SUV but drives like something else entirely.

2015 Porsche Macan Turbo

2015 Porsche Macan Turbo

  • Engine: 3.6 liter V-6 Twin Turbo
  • Horsepower: 400hp @ 6,000rpm
  • Torque: 406 lb.-ft. @ 1,350-4,000rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 17.1 MPG (Observed)
  • Price as Tested: $87,940
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Chrysler 200C

Sunday October 19th, 2014 at 8:1010 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Chrysler 200C

By David Colman

Hypes: Stunning Design, 9 Speed Gearbox, Well Focused Interior
Gripes: Needs Rear Wiper

The 200 series sedan has long been important to Chrysler’s overall sales success. The 200 competes in the industry’s most significant mid-size segment, which accounts for 2 million sales across all brands each year. One of every six cars sold is a mid size sedan. Chrysler’s previous effort in this segment, the outgoing 200, sold 125,000 units in 2012. Since then, Chrysler has become part of the Fiat empire. With design help from Fiat subsidiary Alfa Romeo, Chrysler brings to market an all new 200 for 2015. This is not a freshened remake of the previous car, but a new offering based partly on Alfa’s Giulietta sports sedan.

The 200 is available in 5 different flavors (including AWD), with the 200LX being the most affordable with its base price of $21,700. As you work your way up the food chain, you encounter the 200 Limited, 200S and finally the premium model we tested, the 200C, with a base price of $25,995. Letter cars (i.e. 200 “C”) have traditionally stood for something special from Chrysler, and this 200 carries on that proud tradition. Under its hood sits the most potent engine available for the 200 model line, a 3.6 liter Pentastar V-6 producing 295hp and 262 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,250rpm. Unlike the car it’s powering, the Pentastar V-6 is not a new offering. More than 3 million have been built since Chrysler introduced the current V-6 in 2011. This engine costs an extra $1,950, an option that also provides heavy duty 4-wheel ABS disc brakes, as well as shift paddles connected to the steering wheel.

2015 Chrysler 200C

What is new, however, is coupling the V-6 to the first 9-speed automatic transmission ever offered in the mid size market segment. The 9HP78 gearbox maximizes not only performance, but fuel economy as well. The new 300 records a 9% improvement in mileage over the outgoing model. In the lower 4 gears, this sedan is a strong runner, with instant acceleration on tap provided you use the paddles to downshift into an appropriate rpm range for maximum lift off. The transmission control unit is a rotary dial that sits inconspicuously atop the center console. It takes a bit of familiarization before you feel fully comfortable with its operation and location, but you can’t quibble with its ease of use or space saving size. Its selections include a sport detent labeled “S” that not only disables Traction Control, but also insures that the gear you have selected with the paddles remains in force until you decide to change it. The system works flawlessly, and pays proper homage to the kind of engineering advance long typical of Chrysler “letter” cars.

2015 Chrysler 200C

Design inspiration for the sleek looks of the 200 comes from a bevy of familiar American idioms like Chris Craft boats, Eames furniture, Airstream trailers, and Apple’s iPhone. For example, the handy sliding drink holder between the front seats operates like a fine piece of Eames design furniture. Chrysler designers tried to emulate the stripped modern look of bentwood furniture in their overall design brief for the 200′s interior. You’ll find countless cleverly hidden cubbies for stowing your belongings. Instead of garish chrome trim, you’re treated to high gloss piano black highlights on the door panels and dashboard. Particularly well handled are the floating instrument cluster design and the optional HD 8.4 inch TFT touch screen which controls most cabin and entertainment functions. Thoughtfully provided are redundant buttons for temp control and fan speed so you aren’t forced to rely on display screen sub-menus while trying to concentrate on driving.

2015 Chrysler 200C

Handling of this mid size sedan is so sporting that drivers addicted to zipping around corners will find its rewarding behavior far exceeds their preconceptions. The design team has utilized much light weight aluminum in the fabrication of the front MacPherson strut suspension’s lower control arms, as well as the cross member which supports the independent rear suspension. Even the boldly designed optional 19″ x 8″ alloy wheels ($995) have been designed specifically for use on the 200C. They replace standard 17″ alloys, and support a set of suction inducing Nexen 235/40R19 tires that really get with the sport program.

2015 Chrysler 200C

Chrysler’s attention to detail in the engineering of the 200C is enough to make you marvel at the operation of the simplest features. Take the air ducts on the dashboard, for example. These open and close with the precision of a Swiss watch because they are actuated by rack and pinion gearing. It’s a small touch, but indicative of the level of forethought that went into the construction of this splendid new sedan.

2015 Chrysler 200C

  • Engine: 3.6 liter V-6, 24 Valves, VVT
  • Horsepower: 295hp
  • Torque: 262lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 19MPG City/32 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $33,240
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2014 Nissan Juke Nismo RS

Saturday October 18th, 2014 at 8:1010 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2014 Nissan Juke Nismo RS

By David Colman

Hypes: Go-Kart handling, Best Seats in the Biz
Gripes: Still Looks Homely

Nismo is the competition arm of the Nissan empire. Any vehicle bearing the Nismo badge is sure to appeal to the driving enthusiast. Currently, Nismo’s best effort is also their most affordable one, the $26,120 Juke Nismo RS. Now, the Juke is never going to win anyone’s beauty prize, thanks to its bulbous headlights, angular planes, and ungainly tall stance. But to Nismo’s credit, the stylists and engineers in the competition department have orchestrated a makeover that turns the homely Juke into a fearsome canyon carver with looks to match.

2014 Nissan Juke Nismo RS

Let’s start with the carefully contrived cosmetic surgery. Because the letter “O” in NISMO is red – like the Japanese setting sun – everything else on the Juke RS derives from that chroma key. A neat red pinstripe decorates the RS-specific front and rear fascias as well as the rocker panels of the Sapphire Black body. Red rear view mirrors complete the two tone appearance of the exterior. Inside, the color symphony continues with racing Recaro front buckets with black suede seating surfaces, red side bolsters and red “Nismo RS” embroidered headrests. Black front and rear seats display contrasting red stitching, and even the 8,000rpm tachometer face (redline 6,500) is anodized red to match the rest of the bi-color decor.

Simulated carbon fiber surrounds the 5.8 inch color touchscreen in the center of the dash face. This navigation device, which also offers various Nissan Connect applications, is part of the $1,200 optional Navigation Package that includes Voice Recognition for Audio and Navigation, Sirius XM Traffic and Travel Link, and Streaming Audio via Bluetooth. A Rockford Fosgate “ecoPUNCH” audio system with subwoofer, and USB Connection Port for iPod-like devices completes the benefits package.

2014 Nissan Juke Nismo RS

But the hospitality of the interior furnishings are secondary components of the Juke’s DNA. This is primarily a tightly focused driver’s car, with an unforgiving ride quality, and a peaky but powerful engine. Likewise, the Recaro seats offer heavenly support when you’re strapped in, but are maddeningly difficult to enter or exit. If you’ve got racer genes, the performance of the Juke Nismo RS will be more than worth the tradeoff in comfort and ease of operation. The uprated 197hp “DIG Turbo” direct injection motor is 10hp stronger than that of the base Juke. It also produces 184 lb.-ft. of torque, 7 pounds more than the standard Juke. The suspension is considerably stiffer than the stock Juke, so you will feel more road imperfections but enjoy greater control when the road turns twisty. The premium performance biased Continental tires (225/45R18 ContiSportContacts) ride on Nismo specific 7 x 18 inch alloys with enough tiny spokes to keep you busy for hours at car wash time.

Rear seat passengers in this Juke will long for their trip to conclude. The exceptionally tall Recaro front seat backs impede frontal vision for rear seat riders, as well as knee room. Although the Juke offers a fifth door hatchback, cargo space is so limited that you’ll want to fold flat the 60/40 split rear seats to make room for anything bulky. A nice feature is the under-floor rear cargo bin, ideal for hiding valuables from sight.

2014 Nissan Juke Nismo RS

The Juke Nismo RS is a hard core enthusiast sedan which makes few concessions to comfort or ease of drivability in its quest to provide maximum thrust on twisty roads. If you enjoy road racing, you will love this little rocket. Kudos to Nissan for having the resolve to offer such a tightly focused sports package at such an affordable price. The Recaro seats alone are worth the paltry price of admission.

2014 Nissan Juke Nismo RS

  • Engine: 1.6 liter inline 4, turbocharged with direct injection
  • Horsepower: 197hp.
  • Torque: 184 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 25 MPG City/31 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $28,345
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2014 Lexus IS-F 4-DR Sedan

Friday October 17th, 2014 at 8:1010 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2014 Lexus IS-F 4-DR Sedan

By David Colman

Hypes: Thumper Motor, Superb Fit and Finish
Gripes: Bi-Xenon Headlights Need to Swivel

Attention BMW M Customers: Be sure to check out this Lexus before you buy Bavarian. The newest version of the Lexus IS-F is without question the most hard edged performance car the company has built since the $400,000 LFA ceased production three years ago. Now that BMW has forsaken V-8 power for the M4 in favor of a turbocharged 6, Lexus maintains a performance advantage over the German benchmark by offering the IS-F with a throbbing 416hp 5 liter V-8 that pulverizes pavement with 371 pound feet of torque.

This is a true muscle car motor, worthy of any drag strip you care to attack. But Lexus conceived of the F as a complete package, with the kind of suspension refinement period muscle cars never came close to achieving. You will appreciate the IS-F’s finely tuned, race bred double wishbone front suspension, which reads pavement changes like a savant. With the added benefit of sophisticated multi-link rear geometry, the IS-F steers and adheres better than any product Lexus or parent company Toyota currently offer.

2014 Lexus IS-F 4-DR Sedan

If you have any doubt about the F’s handling supremacy, just look at those 19 inch forged BBS alloy wheels and super sticky tires Michelin Pilot Sport tires. The 14 spoke wheels, finished in fetching liquid graphite, measure 19 x 8 inches front and 19 x 8.5 inches rear. They are shod with rubber measuring 225/40R19 front and 245/35R19 rear. Recessed behind the alloys are massive 14.2 inch Brembo style 6 piston front disc brakes backed up by 13.6 inch double piston rear discs. With high friction pads, these stoppers will let you spend a day at the track without losing your brakes.

2014 Lexus IS-F 4-DR Sedan

The idea of taking the IS-F to the track is not at all farfetched. With its standard TORSEN limited slip differential, you are assured of intelligent torque distribution through the F’s rear wheel drive. You’ll also never be at a loss for the correct gear ratio since the IS-F’s Sport Direct Shift automatic offers 8 gears controlled by either the stick between the front seats or the oversize paddles attached to the steering wheel. The steering wheel itself is eminently grip worthy thanks to a fat rim covered in perforated leather. The front seats can be configured to encapsulate you like racing buckets, or relaxed to emulate the comfort of your favorite lounge chair. Both seats are heated, and covered entirely in red and black leather, with 10 modes of power adjustment available plus memory settings for both sides. Front seats feature the letter “F” embroidered on the side bolsters and headrests.

2014 Lexus IS-F 4-DR Sedan

Especially effective are the Optitron electroluminescent gauges, which come alive during night driving with a brilliance that will shock you. Right under your nose is a pie plate sized tachometer that reads all the way to 9,000 rpm. Redline is 6,800rpm. Flanking it on the right is a much smaller 210 (!) mph analog speedometer, augmented by a digital speed readout window. The important gear selection indicator could stand to be larger and more prominently displayed, since its current location in the upper right quadrant of the display panel plays hide and seek with the steering wheel. All trim surfaces on the dash and door panels are done in a silver carbon fiber like material that reinforces the F’s image as a race track bred machine. The cockpit is seamlessly constructed, with the kind of panel fit you’ve come to expect from Lexus. Most cars with track aspiration tend to look like boy racers designed them. The IS-F, on the other hand, with its merciful lack of flamboyant flourish, was expressly designed to appeal to the mature adult.

2014 Lexus IS-F 4-DR Sedan

This Lexus shows just how many cannons Lexus has stored in its go-fast arsenal. It’s not often that parent corporation Toyota displays this much technology. But every few years, the world’s leading auto manufacturer takes the wraps off something special. Last time it was the LFA, this time the IS-F. You might think it looks like just another gap-mouthed Lexus family sedan until you notice the bevy of subtle F monikers on its flanks, or the sizeable carbon fiber tail spoiler anchoring its trunk lip. At that point you realize this Lexus is in many ways directly related to the splendid prototype sports cars Toyota fielded at Le Mans in this year’s 24 hour race. No clearer example than the IS-F can be found to prove once again the adage that racing improves the breed.

2014 Lexus IS-F 4-DR Sedan

  • Engine: 5.0 liter V-8, DOHC, 32 Valves, Direct and Port Injection, VVT intake and exhaust
  • Horsepower: 416hp
  • Torque: 371 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 16 MPG City/23 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $67,419
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit 4×4 Diesel

Thursday October 16th, 2014 at 8:1010 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit 4x4 Diesel

By David Colman

Hypes: Solid Power Team, Efficient Use of Space
Gripes: Vague Steering Feel, Ergonomic Cabin Issues

The big news at Jeep this year is availability of a diesel engine for the Grand Cherokee model. Although this Eco Diesel option is not inexpensive, at $5,000, it will pay back dividends in mileage and cruising range unavailable with either of Grand Cherokee’s other gas engine offerings (3.6 liter V6 and 5.7 liter V8). If you opt for the diesel, your 24.6 gallon fuel tank will take you more than 700 miles between visits to the pump island. In addition, you will be able to tow a 7400 pound trailer thanks to the diesel’s 420 pound feet of torque. That prodigious torque output makes the Grand Cherokee diesel your best bet for towing duties. By comparison, the 5.7 liter V8 makes 390 pound feet of torque.

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit 4x4 Diesel

Also new for 2014 is the appropriately named Summit model, a range topper which outranks the Overland as the most luxurious Grand Cherokee of all. If you haven’t examined a Jeep interior in a while, you will be smitten with the attention to detail inside this cabin. Our test Jeep, done up in Jeep Brown, is meant to emulate the colors of the Grand Canyon. To me it looked more like an advertisement for See’s Chocolates. Vast swatches of glove soft “Natura-Plus” mocha leather cover the seating surfaces and complement the matching open pore wood of the dash and center console. Even the steering wheel rim features real wood top and bottom segments. The suede-like headliner and A-pillars beg you to touch them. The instrument panel can be configured with a variety of displays thanks to thin film transistor (TFT) technology. The huge double paned panoramic sunroof blasts the interior with enough daylight and fresh air to dispel any trace of back seat claustrophobia. Though it’s hard to find demerits inside the Summit Jeep, flat, hard front seats cry for softer cushions and additional side support.

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit 4x4 Diesel

Also new for 2014 is an 8 speed automatic transmission which offers torque multiplication in gears 1 through 5, direct drive (1:1) in gear 6, and overdrive ratios in speeds 7 and 8. The transmission up shifts and downshifts seamlessly. For 2014, all Grand Cherokees include paddle shifts for gear changes. The gear selection controller sits atop the center console, activated by a stubby T-handle lever with detents set so close together that it’s easy to get Neutral or Park when seeking Reverse.

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit 4x4 Diesel

Although you might mistake this Jeep’s many luxury indulgences for a soft underbelly, that is hardly the case. In fact, the Summit is well equipped to conquer any unpaved road you care to tackle. This Jeep is Trail Rated, an honor bestowed only on vehicles which meet strict guidelines for ground clearance, maneuverability, traction, articulation and water fording. In the case of the Grand Cherokee, you can count on its sophisticated full time 4 Wheel Drive Quadra Trac II system to guarantee traction and maneuverability in the outback. As far as ride height is concerned, the Summit provides a Quadra Lift air suspension system that affords 8.7 inches of ground clearance in normal daily driving. You can elevate it 1.3 inches by selecting the Off Road 1 setting, or 2.6 inches for Off Road 2. With 11.3 inches of ground clearance in this rock avoidance mode, you can clear most any obstacle, or dare to ford stream beds. If you choose Aero Mode, or Sport setting, the Jeep drops 0.6 inch to a ride height of 8.1 inches for less wind resistance and better fuel economy.

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit 4x4 Diesel

The Summit edition of the Grand Cherokee is a styling exercise that ticks all the right boxes for clean design. First you’ll notice new LED head and tail lights, and new charcoal rocker panels which match dark gray lower valences front and rear. The rear under tray houses exhaust tips, the front sports newly integrated fog lights. Bi-Xenon headlights swivel from side to side for improved back road illumination as you turn the steering wheel. Model specific polished aluminum alloy rims measure 8 x 20 inches and plant hefty contact patches on the road thanks to Goodyear Fortera HL tires measuring 265/50R20.

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit 4x4 Diesel

The Summit diesel weighs 5,149 pounds, so you won’t be whipping it through S curves like a sport SUV. You’ll also become quickly cognizant of its heft when you make your first U-turn, an undertaking that uses up 37 feet of road and forces you to swing the steering wheel through 3.7 turns from lock to lock. But once you’ve seated four or five adults inside this luxurious cabin, and headed off road to do some serious trail blazing, you’ll marvel at just how much power, range and competence $59,000 will buy when you select this Detroit-built bargain of a Jeep.

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit 4×4 Diesel

  • Engine: 3.0 liter V-6 Diesel, turbocharged, common rail direct injection
  • Horsepower: 240hp
  • Torque: 420lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 27 MPG City/ 28 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $50,875
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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