2018 Mitsubishi Outlander 2.4 SEL S-AWC Review

Monday November 13th, 2017 at 4:1111 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2018 Mitsubishi Outlander 2.4 SEL S-AWC

Hypes: Elevated Cabin Yields Great Sightlines
Gripes: Weak Engine, Queasy Gearbox

The most significant number about this Outlander isn’t the seats (7), doors (4) cylinders (4) or gears (0 – it’s a CVT). Rather the digit to remember is 21.7. That’s the number of pounds each horsepower is tasked with carting around in this compact SUV. The higher the number the worse the performance. Dividing the Outlander’s curb weight of 3,610 pounds by the 166hp of its 4 cylinder engine yields the aforementioned 21.7lb/hp, a figure high enough to guarantee mediocre straight line performance. That CVT transmission is no help either, since it doesn’t allow you to select ratio ranges with its floor-mounted lever. Paddles are not offered to remedy the problem either.

2018 Mitsubishi Outlander 2.4 SEL S-AWC

But help is available if you opt for the 224hp V6, which significantly improves the power to weight ratio to 16.1 lb/hp. While the 23MPG overall fuel consumption of the V6 falls short of the four’s 26MPG rating, the tradeoff in performance is well worth the extra tab for gas. The V6 will jet the Outlander from 0-60mph in just 7.4 seconds versus 9.2 for the 166hp inline four. In both cases, however, you’re still stuck with the same non-responsive CVT transmission.

2018 Mitsubishi Outlander 2.4 SEL S-AWC

Aside from power train considerations, the Outlander presents a tidy and appealing package for family use. At the top of the list of attributes are those 7 available seats, a surprise bounty in any compact SUV. The two tail gunner seats are admittedly difficult to access, and tightly configured. But this extra duet is perfect for occasional usage, and folds neatly out of the way when unneeded. The second row also folds flat with ease, making the interior of the Outlander good for 32.5 cubic feet of storage space. We were able to slide a full size bike into that interior shelf. Just push the button to automatically swing the rear tailgate down. Note that the comparatively narrow (71 inch) width of this SUV made loading and unloading the bike more of a chore than you would expect.

The 2018 Outlander keeps pace with recent safety upgrades if you order the SEL Touring Package, a $3,000 option. This group includes the following driver assistance features: forward collision mitigation, lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control, and automatic high beam. The Touring Package also provides a sizeable tilt/slide sunroof, a 710 watt Rockford Fosgate Premium Audio System with 9 speakers, a multi-view camera system, a heated steering wheel, plus LED headlights and fog lights.

2018 Mitsubishi Outlander 2.4 SEL S-AWC

3 Stage heated front seats are already standard fitment on the Outlander, so the toasty steering wheel completes the heat source. The adaptive cruise control proved rather herky-jerky on extended freeway runs, constantly speeding up, then applying the brakes. The lane departure warning (LDW) proved difficult to muzzle. Although there’s a switch on the lower dash ostensibly provided to deactivate LDW, the system constantly reactivates when you restart the Outlander. If you love annoying and unnecessary alert chirps, you’ll appreciate this feature. Even if you don’t order the optional SEL Touring Package, Mitsubishi still provides your Outlander with lots of standard on board safety technology, including Blind Spot Warning (BSW) with Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA) and Lane Change Assist (LCA).

2018 Mitsubishi Outlander 2.4 SEL S-AWC

But because of sound cabin design, most of these acronym warning systems are superfluous. The best part of the Outlander’s design is its commanding full view seating position. Even with the interior of our test vehicle upholstered in basic black, the cabin proved airy, expansive, and comforting. In particular, the new-for-2018, 7-inch display terminal on the dash is easy to decipher in all light situations, and a breeze to program for your free 3 month subscription to SiriusXM satellite radio. Best of all, Mitsubishi has resisted the impulse to lump all critical HVAC system settings into screen programming menus. Much to my relief, this dashboard still contains clearly marked, separate buttons for temperature settings, fan speed, and air placement.

2018 Mitsubishi Outlander 2.4 SEL S-AWC

Handling of this Mitsubishi is predictable, with a low threshold of cornering speed. The fitted Toyo A24 tires (225/55R18) do little to generate grip. Push the Outlander hard in a turn and you quickly discover that soft springing and hard tires conspire to provide lots of initial understeer. But though it might lack sporting accolades, the mildly revised 2018 Outlander remains a viable and affordable alternative in the compact SUV field – provided you ditch the anemic 4 cylinder engine in favor of the available V6.

2018 Mitsubishi Outlander 2.4 SEL S-AWC

  • Engine: 2.4 liter inline 4, SOHC, 16 Valves
  • Horsepower: 166hp
  • Torque: 162lb./ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 24MPG City/29 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $32,280
  • Star Rating: 7.5 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Kia Forte5 SX Review

Sunday October 22nd, 2017 at 2:1010 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Kia Forte5 SX

Hypes: The Korean Version of the VW GTI
Gripes: Suspension Could Stand Slight Stiffening

The Kia Forte we drove had 4 cylinders, 5 doors and 6 speeds. All those elements combined to make it number 1 – the best compact sport sedan we have driven so far in 2017. From the outside, the Forte5 is a stunning looker, thanks to the rake produced by a low nose and high tail. Finely chiseled upper and lower belt lines accentuate the illusion of forward motion. A bold red stripe across the face of the piano black grill confers a sportiness reinforced by red bolstered deep bucket seats. This Kia impresses you up front with its alluring design, and the promise of high performance. In practice, the Forte5 does not disappoint.

2017 Kia Forte5 SX

Under the hood lies a turbocharged , direct gas injection, 4 cylinder engine displacing just 1.6 liters. This sideways mounted motor returns exceptionally good mileage, with an overall EPA rating of 25MPG. More important for enthusiast drivers, the little stormer really puts out the power, with 201hp enough to chirp the driven front wheels all the way through first gear. The acceleration doesn’t let up as you snick the 6-speed manual through its precisely designated slots. Kia has wisely chosen closely spaced gear ratios, with rpm drops of 500 or less as you upshift through the range. As a result, the Forte5 competently completes any passing maneuver you care to attempt, and proves especially strong at merging with freeway traffic.

2017 Kia Forte5 SX

The Forte5 is a Korean designed car. However, it is built in Pesqueria, NL, Mexico. Of the major components used in its construction, only the gearbox actually comes from Korea. Build quality is excellent, with interior seams that match perfectly, doors that shut cleanly with a resounding thunk, and high class materials used throughout. In fact, it should come as no surprise that the Forte model line, along with other Kia vehicles, has won the J.D. Power award for “Best Initial Quality” 2 years in a row. In addition to such celebrated delivery chops, this Kia also carries a 5 year/60,000 mile Limited Basic Warranty, a similar Roadside Assistance package, and 10 Year/100,00 mile Limited Powertra1n Warranty.

2017 Kia Forte5 SX

In addition to this long term practicality, the Forte5 also offers plenty of useful travel configurations thanks to that fifth door tailgate/hatchback. You can drop the rear seats flat for 15 cubic feet of interior storage, or with the seats elevated, carry 4 adults with their belongings hidden inside the fully covered trunk space. The Forte5 is really a best- of-both-worlds design solution, with a tailgate which does not suffer from the fishbowl display shortcomings of a true hatchback.

2017 Kia Forte5 SX

This turbocharged, manual transmission Kia is an absolute blast to drive. Start at the contact patch, provided by 225/40R18 Nexen CP671 rubber mounted on cleanly styled 18 inch alloy rims. Kia has selected a “Sport-Tuned Suspension” for the Forte5 that maintains a careful balance between comfort and adhesion. The bias here is on the soft side, which results in some slight pitch and wallow over major bumps taken at speed. But overall, the net effect is positive, and you can be thankful that this Kia will not beat you up every day with an unduly harsh ride.

2017 Kia Forte5 SX

If you do select the manual transmission we enjoyed, you will also appreciate the fact that it offers hill-start control. This feature prevents the Forte from sliding backwards as you endeavor to find the clutch engagement point. Even though our test car had logged nearly 5,000 miles, clutch engagement was always crisp and predictable. The gear synchronizers likewise operated with seamless engagement, and it was never a challenge to find the right slot for the right gear. A lift-up ring below the shift knob needs to be raised to engage reverse gear, an easy operation that prevents mistaken selection of reverse.

2017 Kia Forte5 SX

Steering is pleasurable thanks to the deftly contoured, flat bottomed, racing type steering wheel. While its spokes are festooned with the usual array of Bluetooth/Audio/Cruise controls, the wheel itself feels just right when you are carving apexes with those sticky Nexen tires. Steering feedback is exceptional, and the Forte responds to every twitch with an equivalent change in direction. This is way more response than you would expect from a 5 door family sedan costing just $27,020 all in.

2018 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription

  • Engine: 1.6 liter inline 4 turbocharged with gas direct injection
  • Horsepower: 201hp
  • Torque: 195lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 23MPG City/29 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $27,020
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD PRO 4×4 DBL. Cab Review

Saturday October 21st, 2017 at 2:1010 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD PRO 4x4 DBL. Cab

Hypes: Rugged Old School Pickup
Gripes: Needs Hydraulic Hood Prop

Opt for the TRD PRO version of the Tacoma compact pickup and you’ve got a military spec off-roader that will out-butch everything but a monster truck. Toyota Racing Development (TRD) is hardly a newcomer to assaults on Baja, or the urban jungle for that matter. TRD trucks have been running and winning the Baja 1000 for decades, and the breeding that goes into making the Tacoma competitive there shows everywhere you look here. First, there’s the truck’s sky high ride height which necessitates a healthy jump step to insert yourself in the cab. Next, there’s the no-nonsense look of this “Cement” colored brute. With its monochromatic grey paint highlighted only by “TRD PRO” informational placards on the flanks, this Tacoma stands ready to battle the toughest terrain you can throw at it.

2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD PRO 4x4 DBL. Cab

To that end, Toyota equips it with black alloy rims highlighted by red TRD center caps. On each rim you will find a 265/70R 16 Goodyear Wrangler off-road tire with more writing on its sidewall than a Dead Sea Scroll. The most pertinent notice concerns the wear rating (WR) of these Kevlar-reinforced Goodyears. With a WR of 640, you can bet these tires will take a real pounding while enjoying a long tenure on your Tacoma. You can also expect them to afford less than sticky traction on hard shell pavement, since their compound lies at the rock end of the tire wear spectrum. I found this out first hand when I pitched the TRD PRO into a tight turn. The front tires lost traction, and the truck washed out in understeer. Caution is essential when driving this Tacoma on pavement. In the dirt, however, no impediment is too great for this race bred package.

2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD PRO 4x4 DBL. Cab

Up front you’ll find a bullet proof TRD branded skid plate, which is easily seen because the TRD sits so high off the ground. Also a pair of sly looking Rigid Industries LED fog lamps. Do a walk around and you can peer into all four wheel wells and admire the structural soundness of the frame rails, the immense solidity of the TRD racing shock absorbers wrapped in coil springs, and the massive size of the front anti-sway bar and its drop links. Of course all this super size componentry affords the stiffest ride you can imagine. The TRD hops and bounces like a thoroughbred stallion kicking the stall at post time. Once you get acclimated to the handling idiosyncrasies of this Tacoma, it’s really a blast to drive. Its handling is so direct and elemental that nothing cushions or decompresses the joy of driving it. What you see is very much what you get. There are few vehicles left for sale as honest and straightforward as the TRD PRO, so enjoy this breath of fresh air.

2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD PRO 4x4 DBL. Cab

Like the ride, the interior too is uncomplicated, and as useful as a work boot from Acme. The dash is delightfully straightforward in an old fashioned way. There are big fat knobs for every vital HVAC function, and a useful 7 inch touchscreen for audio and navigation override. The seats slide and tilt with manual controls, but they are thoughtfully equipped (up front) with 3-stage heaters. There’s an electrically operated center rear window at the back of the cab, should you need to carry items longer than the 6 foot bed will accommodate. The back seats also flip and fold against the front seats, so you can easily convert unused cab space into additional storage room.

2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD PRO 4x4 DBL. Cab

The 3.5 liter V6 engine, which produces 278hp, sounds off through a TRD exhaust system that issues a guttural blat when you nail the throttle. The engine has enough torque (265lb.-ft.) to tow a trailer weighing 6,400 pounds, and the TRD comes equipped with a proper receiver hitch plus all the ancillaries needed to cool the driveline when towing: Automatic Transmission Fluid cooler, Power Steering cooler, Engine Oil cooler, plus a 130 Ampere Hour alternator. 4 Wheel Drive is available either full time or part time, and Toyota supplies the TRD PRO with an electronically controlled transfer case and a limited slip differential. It’s hard to imagine an on- or off-road situation that would stymie this truck.

2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD PRO 4x4 DBL. Cab

The TRD PRO version of the Tacoma pickup looks like a Baja winner. About the only phony note to its cowboy get-up is the hood scoop which doesn’t actually vent cold air into the engine room. That’s a mighty small complaint list for a very fetching truck.

2018 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription

  • Engine: 3.5 liter V6 with Dual VVT-i and TRD Exhaust
  • Horsepower: 278hp
  • Torque: 268lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 18MPG City/23 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $45,042
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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2018 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription Review

Friday October 20th, 2017 at 1:1010 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2018 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription

Hypes: Best Headlights Ever, Massage Front Seats
Gripes: iPad Style Control Panel

I spent more time driving this Volvo than normal because the XC90 arrived the same week the Indycar finale played itself out at Sonoma Raceway. So I commuted between home and the race track for three days in a row, and also spent a fair amount of down time between sessions inside the Volvo’s beautifully appointed, spacious cabin. You couldn’t ask for a more comfortable SUV than this particular Volvo.

2018 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription

But you have to be willing to take the big plunge on option packages to duplicate the model I enjoyed. While the XC90′s base price is reasonable ($54,050), Volvo slathered the sticker with enough options ($19,045) to buy a another car. Honda’s Fit, for example retails for as little as $16,090. Here’s the breakdown of optional equipment on the test XC90: Inscription Features ($5,100), Convenience Package ($1,950), Luxury Package ($3,150), Bowers and Wilkins Premium Sound ($3,200), Air Suspension ($1,800), Tailored Dash ($1,000), plus 5 other dingers costing under a grand apiece. Let’s assess the importance of each optional contribution.

2018 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription

The most beneficial elements among the Inscription Features are “Active Bending Lights,” LED lasers powerful enough to ferret out deer hiding in the woods at night. If this Volvo doesn’t have the best night beams in the universe, than nothing does. Inscription also provides heated and ventilated Nappa leather seats, handsomely set off by matte walnut inlays on the dash face, center console and door panels . The Convenience Package contributes a 360 degree camera system and Park Assist front and rear. The Luxury Package is worth its steep price because it includes backrest massagers for both front seats that provided much needed therapy after long days hoofing around Sonoma Raceway.

2018 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription

My initial appreciation of the XC90 was rather tepid thanks to Volvo’s unnecessarily complicated “Sensus Connect” protocol that channels virtually every control command through a series of menus illuminated on a 9 inch touchscreen on the dash. Need to change the temperature? Better bring up the correct screen for your side of the vehicle. Need to change the fan setting? Ditto. And so on and so forth, through the endless series of finger manipulations required to get this Volvo to do what you want it to do. The whole process is needlessly complicated and annoying, and at the very least, Volvo should install hard buttons for critical commands like the fan and temp settings.

2018 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription

After a couple of days frustration, I sort of got the hang of the Sensus Connect system. You should be aware, however, that the “Complimentary 6 Month/3GB Subscription” to the Sensus WiFi Hot-Spot will cost you $10/month to renew or $20/month for unlimited data usage. 2018 Volvos now provide Apple CarPlay/Android Auto without the additional charge that characterized previous Volvo policy. The Bowers and Wilkins stereo unit makes a sharp contribution not only to your ringing ears, but also your eyes, since all the speaker mounting plates are fabricated from matte aluminum and deftly inscribed with the Bowers and Wilkins logo. Combined with the contrasting stitching of the “Tailored Dash,” the interior of the Inscription Volvo is a real showplace.

2018 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription

From a driver’s standpoint, however, the XC90 leaves something to be desired. Clearly Volvo didn’t lavish any visual attention on the engine compartment, which is covered with a funereal flat black plastic shroud. There is nothing to alert you to the fact that this is a milestone engine design, with both turbocharging and supercharging working in consort to produce 316hp from just 2.0 liters of 4 cylinder motor. Coupled to an 8-speed automatic gearbox unfortunately devoid of paddle shifts, the XC90′s power train is hard pressed to motivate this 4,595 pound SUV with alacrity. Each one of those 316 ponies is tasked with moving 14.5 pounds, not a scintillating power-to-weight ratio. The shortfall shows up when you need to make a speedy lane change on the freeway, or initiate a pass on a two-lane back road. However, the XC90 does acquit itself well in handling tasks thanks largely to optional air suspension at all 4 corners and massive 275/40R21 Pirelli Scorpion Verde tires mounted on $800 optional 21″ 8-spoke Diamond Cut Alloy Wheels.

2018 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription

2018 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription

  • Engine: 2.0 liter inline 4, Direct Injection, Super and Turbocharged
  • Horsepower: 316@5700rpm
  • Torque: 295lb.-ft.@2200rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 20MPG City/27MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $74,090
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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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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