Title: 2015 Volvo V60 T6 R-Design

Tuesday July 28th, 2015 at 1:77 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

Title: 2015 Volvo V60 T6 R-Design

By David Colman

Hypes: Handsome, Useful and Fun to Drive
Gripes: Tight Rear Seat

Volvo’s Polestar Program is such a well kept secret that the company provides each new purchaser with a presentation kit explaining the virtues of this hottest Volvo you can buy. Polestar is Volvo’s racing arm, an outfit that has won the Swedish Touring Car Championship for many years running. Here’s a brief list of the V60’s many special attributes. Under the hood lies a tweaked 3.0 liter V6 that produces 325hp, 25hp more than the standard V6. This motor also makes 354lb.-ft. of torque, 29 pounds more than the standard B6304T4 engine. To handle the extra power, the V60 station wagon version of the S60 sedan drives through all four wheels with a highly evolved system using torque vectoring to disseminate power where needed. Although Volvo has introduced a new 8 speed automatic gearbox for 2015, it is available only with 4 cylinder versions of this wagon. Thanks to the ample torque of the turbocharged 6, the Polestar doesn’t need the extra gears provided by the 8-speed. Rather, it connects through a 6 speed Geartronic automatic that provides manual shifting with aluminum paddles mounted on the steering wheel. The combination of the quick boost provided by the twin scroll turbo, and the instant gear selection afforded by the paddle shift automatic make this V60 the fastest accelerating Volvo I have ever driven.

Title: 2015 Volvo V60 T6 R-Design

The beauty of the Polestar package lies in the fact that the suspension is perfectly calibrated to enhance the performance of the drive train. Volvo’s sport chassis provides an authoritative sense of control. The ride is firm but never punishing. Especially welcome are the top notch set of Bridgestone Potenza S001 tires (235/40R19) mounted on matte black “IXION” rims ($750 extra) that look like Cuisineart blades. Exterior flourishes are handsomely integrated into the sleek lines of this model. At the back, you’ll find a small Polestar identifier attached to the R-Design rear diffuser with polished tail pipes. The front fascia sports a more aggressive splitter and a discreet R-Design offset badge. Climb into the spacious cabin, and sink into special R-Design, race inspired front seats that offer accentuated thigh and lower back support. These carefully tailored buckets feature grey leather with contrasting white stitching. Matching R-Design shift knob and fat-rimmed steering wheel complete the high performance touches.

Title: 2015 Volvo V60 T6 R-Design

Although the Volvo’s interior cabin measures just 69 inches from the front seat backs to the tailgate, I was able to slip a mountain bike into this cavity without removing a wheel. Granted, it was a tight fit, but it does reveal just how much storage space is available in a car with a wheelbase of just 109 inches. Note, however, that seating for two on the rear bench is tight, especially if tall occupants have positioned the front seats far aft. When lifted, the rear storage area floor board reveals a large number of hidden compartments that would be perfect for secreting valuables. Underneath that sub floor you discover that the V60 has no spare tire, but does provide a sealant can and a tire inflator.

Title: 2015 Volvo V60 T6 R-Design

According to Motor Trend Magazine, Volvo is only bringing over 120 Polestar S60s and V60s for the rest of this model year. This adds a rarity quotient to an already highly desirable package. For the money, you can’t find a better sports wagon than the Polestar equipped V60. A Polestar information kit provided by Volvo suggests that you register your VIN number with the company as soon as you buy it. They will then provide a certificate indicating your wagon is equipped with “Polestar Power Optimisation,” a document that is “especially important when it’s time to sell your car, since a Polestar optimization is likely to increase the resale value.”

2015 Volvo V60 T6 R-Design

  • Engine: 3.0 liter alloy V-6 with twin scroll turbo, CVVT and DOHC
  • Horsepower: 325hp @5400rpm
  • Torque: 354lb.-ft.@3000rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 19 MPG City/28 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $48,225
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Dodge Challenger SXT Plus

Monday July 27th, 2015 at 1:77 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Dodge Challenger SXT Plus

By David Colman

Hypes: Show car Looks, Ease of Operation
Gripes: Slow KIckdown Gear, Limited Rear Vision

In the prime of the muscle car era, back in 1970, Chrysler fielded an SCCA Trans Am racing team of Dodge Challengers and Plymouth Barracudas. These were basically the same car, with only stylistic differences between them. Although Chrysler never won the Trans Am series title with either model, the cars were successful brand ambassadors, especially the Barracudas entered by Dan Gurney’s All American Racers. Gurney’s AAR ‘Cuda, as it was known by its laser stripes then, lives on today as the Dodge Challenger SXT Plus. Optimal Challengers are available either with a 375hp, 5.7 liter HEMI V8, or a 470hp, 6.4 liter HEMI. The model we tested, however, was powered by a fuel conserving 3.6 liter V6 good for 23 MPG in overall driving, and 30 MPG on the highway. The V6 Challenger SXT Plus is plenty quick as long as you’ve selected the right gear in the 8-speed Torqueflite transmission. Otherwise, acceleration is rather leisurely, as it takes the drive train a full second to get with the program when you floor the throttle with Torqueflite in Drive. Overall performance is more AARP ‘Coulda than AAR ‘Cuda.

2015 Dodge Challenger SXT Plus

Despite this occasional power outage, the Challenger is still rewarding to hustle through curves. You can thank the big footprint of the standard Firestone Firehawk GT tires (245/45R20) for the extra stability. These beefy rollers are enhanced by optional polished alloy 20 inch wheels ($795) with “Graphite Pockets.” Their hexagonal spoke pattern and dazzling finish look especially good when bolted to a Challenger finished in “Phantom Black Metallic Tri-Coat Pearl” exterior paint. Though you might expect to pay extra for this show car finish, it’s available as a standard shade. Complementing the sparkly black is an eye-popping Ruby Red interior. The SXT is definitely a looker, with sleek body contours and twin faux hood scoops imparting that just-raced look so much a part of muscle car credibility.

2015 Dodge Challenger SXT Plus

Weight saving has never been a muscle car strong suit, and the Challenger, at 4,195 pounds, continues that dubious tradition. You sense the SXT’s mass every time you flick the steering wheel from lock to lock through a series of switchback curves. While the Challenger obediently follows your lead, it takes a couple of milliseconds before the chassis settles down. In fact, the SXT version seems rather softly sprung, a trait which imparts a cushy ride at the expense of fully snubbed handling. It’s actually a worthy trade-off for real world driving, a compromise that pays off in comfort every time you’re confronted with an array of speed bumps.

2015 Dodge Challenger SXT Plus

With a length of 16.5 feet, and a wheelbase of 116 inches, the cabin of the Challenger is a spacious enclosure. Although access to the back seat is somewhat impeded by the aft positioning of the front seats, once passengers are ensconced in the rear they will enjoy a moderately pleasurable ride. The Challenger’s sheer size also endows it with a flat floored, 16 cubic foot trunk. Rear seat backs can be dropped to access interior space for lengthy items. The heavily sloped rear roof and small backlight limit rear visibility, so the standard Park Sense rear park assist system and standard Park View rear back-up camera are essential safety components for maneuvering the Challenger in tight quarters. Our test example also featured an optional, $1,195 Power Sunroof which helped to shed light on the many black door and dash panels that engulf the Ruby Red seats. For $795, you may also want to upgrade to the Driver Convenience Group, which endows the Challenger with a slick Remote Start System, as well as Blind Spot and Rear Cross Path Detection, plus HID headlamps. The Blind Spot monitors illuminate handily under the rear view mirror stalks, and the Cross Path alert sounds when you are backing out of a parking space into circulating traffic. Both aids are worth having in view of the Dodge’s limited rear vision.

2015 Dodge Challenger SXT Plus

The basic Challenger SXT Plus provides a number of luxurious and surprising standard fitments in a vehicle with a base price of just $29,995. Chief among them are Keyless Enter ‘n Go, a terrific system which allows you to forget about fiddling with your key forever more. Just slip the fob into your pocket, and every time you approach your locked Challenger, it opens magically when you touch the door release. A voice activated Uconnect Access system affords voice texting of 140 character messages, plus a mobile Access App (free for the first 6 months) that provides restaurant, hotel, entertainment, gas, bank and parking information. A 7 inch reconfigurable display on the instrument panel makes Uconnect surfing easy.

With its comfy and inviting interior, stealthy exterior, and long list of standard features, the affordable V6 version of the Challenger is the Big Easy of today’s muscle cars.

2015 Dodge Challenger SXT Plus

  • Engine: 3.6 liter V6 with 24 valves and VVT
  • Horsepower: 305hp
  • Torque: N/A
  • Fuel Consumption: 23 MPG City/30 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $34,175
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Nissan Altima 2.5 SV

Thursday July 23rd, 2015 at 12:77 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Nissan Altima 2.5 SV

By David Colman

Hypes: Zero Gravity Seats, Excellent Mileage
Gripes: Imprecise Steering, Pitchy Ride

Let’s say you prefer mild cuisine, vanilla ice cream and colorless clothing. Has Nissan ever got the perfect set of wheels for you. It’s called the Altima, it costs just $28,180, and it will serve your family with faithful, if innocuous obedience. With its spacious 109 inch wheelbase, and 15 cubic foot trunk, the Altima is perfectly suited to whisking 4 adults and 4 suitcases away for extended drives. This car shows its virtue on the freeway, where its CVT transmission slots soundlessly into its highest cruising range and the 2.5 liter inline 4 loafs along at 70mph without making a peep. When you arrive at your destination, you will give the gas gauge a second look, because the needle never appears to move from full to empty. In fact, this is not optical illusion. The 182hp motor sips fuel like a teetotaler sips wine: judiciously. On the freeway, this fully equipped, 3,130lb. four-door sedan returns a startling 38MPG. A series of lengthy trips around the Bay Area failed to dislodge the gauge needle from its seemingly permanent position at half full. You won’t do much complaining about the Altima’s overall rating of 31MPG.

2015 Nissan Altima 2.5 SV

What you may complain about is this model’s inaccurate steering, excessive body roll in turns, and floundering response to acceleration requests. Let’s start with the feedback at the steering wheel. On a jaunt up Highway 101 with few curves I found myself constantly administering small course corrections to stay in my lane. Now mind you, this test sedan was equipped with a $1,090 Technology Package which provided, among other features, Lane Departure Warning. Every few seconds the LDW buzzer would activate as the Altima migrated hither and yon like a yacht tacking upwind. The solution to the problem is forgo the Technology Package, and pay real close attention to lane position, even when you’re driving this Nissan in a straight line. When the road gets curvy, the ultra soft suspension heels over onto its bump stops, the shocks cease to absorb bumps, and the middle-of-the-road Michelin Energy tires hang onto your prescribed arc with increasing difficulty. Nissan makes no pretense that the Altima 2.5 SV is a sports sedan.

2015 Nissan Altima 2.5 SV

On the other hand, the soft suspension and pillow-like steering provide a cloud-calm ride that will eat up freeway miles faster than a bullet train. If you do a lot of I-5 cruising, the Altima is perfectly suited to your needs. The interior features what Nissan calls “Zero Gravity” seats. These offer a suspension system perfected in conjunction with NASA that makes you feel like you’re suspended over an air cushion rather than strapped into an unyielding bolster. The effect of this technology advance is much appreciated by your derriere. The interior fixtures of our test SV benefited from a $1,350 Convenience Package upgrade that added a power sliding Moonroof and a “Mood Lamp” in the roof console that will save you trips to the Disco joint or Studio 54. In fact, the interior of the Altima is a most hospitable space, with extra A/C vents added for rear seat passengers as part of the Convenience Package.

2015 Nissan Altima 2.5 SV

The SV version of the Altima includes a Nissan Intelligent Key with a remote engine start feature. This means you can start the engine even when you are not seated in the driver’s seat, a nice bonus if you live in, or visit cold climes where pre-heating your car is a way of life.

However, we ran into one transient problem with the Intelligent Key when we returned to the locked Altima, used the key fob to unlock the doors, then pressed the engine start button on the dash. But the instrument panel informed us that it sensed an “incorrect” key and refused to start the car. So we climbed out of the Nissan, relocked the doors, then unlocked them, climbed back in and again pressed the start button. Once again we got the “incorrect” key read-out. So we scoured the owner’s manual for advice. The best it could offer was “See your Nissan Dealer.” After a few more minutes of “now what are we supposed to do?” the Altima finally decided it was OK to start. The problem never occurred again. But this episode certainly left us wondering about the dependability of such now common remote start systems. At the very least you should always carry a spare battery for your key fob transmitter.

2015 Nissan Altima 2.5 SV

2015 Nissan Altima 2.5 SV

  • Engine: 2.5 liter DOHC, 16 valve inline 4 cylinder
  • Horsepower: 182hp
  • Torque: 180lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 27 MPG City/38 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $28,180
  • Star Rating: 7 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Volkswagen Touareg Executive

Monday July 20th, 2015 at 2:77 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Volkswagen Touareg Executive

By David Colman

Hypes: Super Clean Fit, Finish and Appearance
Gripes: Sloppy Throttle, V6 Needs More HP and Torque

Volkswagen has refreshed the appearance of the Touareg SUV for 2015. Most noticeable is the revamped prow, with seven horizontal strakes emphasizing the platform’s 76 inch width. New 20 inch alloy rims complement the new grill’s linearity with their triple ribbed five spoke design. All in all, VW has successfully infused the aging Touareg platform with a new visual vocabulary. Yet all the previous virtues of this luxury SUV remain: all-wheel-drive (4Motion), sumptuous accommodations for 4, excellent all-around visibility, and rock solid handling. The 4 Motion system benefits from a self-locking center differential that will extricate you from virtually any traction robbing situation. The grabby Goodyear LS2 Eagles (275/45R20) contribute high levels of wet and dry traction. And if you do get yourself well and truly stuck, VW provides 3 years and 36,000 miles of 24 Hour Roadside Assistance including towing, jump starts, tire changes, plus remedies for out-of-fuel and lock-out problems.

2015 Volkswagen Touareg Executive

The upgraded interior of the Executive model rivals the best offerings from Range Rover or BMW for understated good taste. Our “Black Oak Brown Metallic” test model featured a “Cornsilk Beige” interior as easy on the eyes as it was on the torso. The enormous power lifting and sliding panoramic sunroof (standard issue) brightens both rows of the interior, even when shut. Both front and rear seats are trimmed with exceptionally pliant leather, carefully tailored into bolstered sections that look like recliners you might find at Scandinavian Designs. In fact, that same clean European design idiom permeates the interior, from the precision feel of the center console lid to the ancillary controls on the steering wheel and dashboard. VW charges $2,500 for the Executive Driver Assistance package, which adds Adaptive Cruise Control and Lane Assist, a lane departure warning system. Both offerings add to the Touareg’s ease of operation and your own peace of mind. VW’s Lane Assist is one of the best on the market, with a mutable chime and a useful blinker under each exterior rear view mirror to remind you of adjacent traffic.

Also new is an 8-speed automatic transmission which VW imports from Japan. This unit insures decent highway fuel mileage of 23MPG, as well as manual gear override via a stubby floor mounted selector lever. Unfortunately, steering wheel mounted paddles are not offered as part of the gear changing system. Still, it’s easy to lock the transmission in a gear ratio of your choice. Doing so insures that the gearbox will not up-shift on its own accord, especially handy when you are pulling a trailer. Touareg is well equipped for such towing duty, with its standard receiver jack, and standard “Area View” camera system to help position hitch on ball. Trailer rating is a generous 7,700 lbs.

2015 Volkswagen Touareg Executive

If you do plan on towing a substantial load, opt for the diesel engine or the Hybrid Touareg, because the base model V6 we tested is short on pulling power. Bear in mind that this VW weighs in at 5,060 pounds. If you select the TDI turbo diesel option (base price $62,200), you get just 240hp, which gives you a power-to-weight ratio of 21lb./hp. But the diesel’s exceptional torque output of 406 lb./ft. more than covers the horsepower shortfall. If you opt for the top model 380hp V6 Hybrid ($66,995), your power-to-weight ratio drops to a very lively 13.3 lb./hp. Our gas powered V6 Touareg Executive ($58,700 base price) makes just 280hp and 266lb.-ft. of torque. That’s a burdensome power-to-weight ratio of 18.07lb./hp. Further complicating the gas V6′s lack of thrust is a throttle pedal that is not linear in its application. When you mash the throttle, you encounter considerable pedal free play before the engine responds to your input.

2015 Volkswagen Touareg Executive

The Executive version of the Touareg is loaded with comfort and luxury features you will pay dearly to match should you chose a similar product from Porsche (Cayenne) or BMW (X4 or X5). For example, standard inclusions from VW are adaptive Bi-Xenon headlights, park distance control, 10 speaker Dynaudio sound system, Climatronic dual zone automatic climate control, keyless access with push button start, remote power lift gate with easy opening feature, rain sensing wipers, and a dozen more useful additions. Life with this Volkswagen is pleasurable, and its promise of future benefit recently reached maturity with a full blessing from Consumer Reports. CR just conferred “Recommended” status on the Touareg, since reliability has finally improved to “average” after many years in the sub-par category.

2015 Volkswagen Touareg Executive

  • Engine: 3.6 liter VR6, 24 valve narrow angle V6 with FSI direct fuel injection
  • Horsepower: 280hp
  • Torque: 266lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 19 MPG City/23 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $62,110
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Subaru Legacy 2.5i Premium

Tuesday June 16th, 2015 at 1:66 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Subaru Legacy 2.5i Premium

By David Colman

Hypes: Lovely Revamped Looks, Upgraded Interior Touch Zones
Gripes: No Exterior Trunk Release, Erector Set Nuts and Bolts Exposed

Subaru has always been known for its idiosyncratic vehicles, from the humorous Brat mini pickup with seating for 2 in the bed, to the other-worldly SVX coupe with fixed side windows and doors extending well into the roof. As always, Subaru designers put more of a premium on functionality than beauty. This guiding principle left the potent but ugly WRX with more bumps and welts than a rhino’s hide. But a new day has dawned at Fuji Heavy Industries, parent of Subaru. The all-new Legacy comes as a stunning and pleasant surprise, the product of what the company calls its “new design language.” Since the Legacy currently accounts for just 1 percent of all sales in its market segment, Subaru has been compelled by practicality to rethink the dated architecture of its mid-size sedan. The objective was to incorporate a “coupe-like profile and up-market interior with extensive soft-touch materials used throughout.”

The latest, 6th generation Legacy is undeniably handsome, especially in the muted Lapis Blue Metallic shade that graced our $27,480 test model. Although it occupies no more real estate than its predecessor, the new Legacy boats best-in-segment interior volume of 104.6 cubic feet, backed up by a newly enlarged 15 cubic foot trunk. You can easily transport 4 adults plus all their belongings on long trips. Legacy excels at freeway travel, thanks to a revamped platform and suspension aimed at ride comfort. The Goodyear Assurance radials (225/55R17), mounted on 7.5 x 17 inch alloys, contribute their share of supple comfort at the expense of cutting edge handling. All Legacy models utilize Subaru’s exceptional all-wheel-drive system, which provides Active Torque Vectoring as a standard feature for the first time.

2015 Subaru Legacy 2.5i Premium

Our test Legacy couples Subaru’s CVT transmission to the base model 175hp flat four motor for acceptable performance. Subaru, which pioneered CVT propulsion back in the late 80s with its Justy model, has been improving this mode of transmission for longer than any other manufacturer. The refinement shows in this Legacy application, with a 6-speed system so responsive in manual mode to paddle input that you will be hard pressed to tell the Lineartronic CVT transmission uses variable bands rather than toothed gear sets.

But even the crisp transmission cannot cover the Boxer engine’s limited power output in situations that require immediate acceleration. I recommend opting for the available 3.6 liter flat 6, which raises Legacy base price from $23,495 to $29,995. Such a move insures your peace of mind for any passing maneuver on any piece of road.

2015 Subaru Legacy 2.5i Premium

The Legacy’s interior is appreciably better than anything previously offered by Subaru in this model. The first thing you notice after climbing in is the compliance of the material covering the shut panel on the door. Instead of hard plastic, this surface is now resilient foam covered with matte vinyl. The cloth seating surfaces feature an interlaced vinyl overlay that looks good and deters wear. The Premium model includes a new 7 inch color touch screen that reads swipe and scrolling commands. This works well when the Legacy is parked, but underway, it’s difficult to coordinate your gestures without inadvertently bumping the screen and losing your intended command. Steering wheel mounted controls for audio cover some of the problems by offering volume and station manipulation via secure thumb switches.

2015 Subaru Legacy 2.5i Premium

Subaru fitted our Legacy with Option package 14, which costs $1,195 and provides Pre-Collision Braking, Adaptive Cruise Control, Blind Spot Detection, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, and Lane Change Assist. Although the Adaptive Cruise Control takes the hassle out of interval maintenance at freeway speed, the Lane Change Assist became annoying rather quickly as it beeps every time you switch lanes without first using your turn signal. This beeper can be deactivated via a panel of switches inconveniently located out of sight near your left knee.

2015 Subaru Legacy 2.5i Premium

The new Legacy’s most prominent claim to fame is not its new found good looks or upgraded interior. What distinguishes this practical family sedan from anything else in its class is its distinguished safety record. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recently determined that only 9 models of car have unblemished safety records, with no deaths recorded over an entire year (2011) of operation. the Subaru Legacy was one of those 9.

2015 Subaru Legacy 2.5i Premium

  • Engine: 2.5 liter DOHC Boxer 4
  • Horsepower: 175hp
  • Torque: 174lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 26 MPG City/36 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $27,480
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Lexus LS460

Friday June 12th, 2015 at 5:66 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Lexus LS460

By David Colman

Hypes: Sleeper Sports Sedan, Ultra Luxury Accommodations
Gripes: Ugly Trapezoid Grill

The LS460 is the decathlete of luxury sedans. Feel free to enter it in any competition you choose, from freeway jaunts to back road bashes, and it will come out on top. From the standpoint of sheer luxury, it’s hard to beat the 460′s comprehensive portfolio of burnished features.

Navigation is standard, as is the huge 12.2 inch screen to decipher the map and directions. The LS offers you a gentle welcome ritual. When you lock your Lexus, it folds its exterior mirrors like a sleeping puppy. When you approach the locked Lexus, you needn’t bother to activate the key fob button because the car’s proximity sensor (called Smart Access) already senses your presence and has unfolded the mirrors and unlocked the doors for you. In the course of a busy day of errand running, this kind of time saving luxury feature is worth more than you could ever pay for it.

2015 Lexus LS460

But it’s just one component of a suite of thoughtfulness that includes doors that shut themselves automatically when they sense that is your intent. When you pop the trunk button on your key fob remote, the lid lifts without intercession on your part. When loading is done, just touch the button on the lid’s underside and it closes itself. For this parlor trick you will need to order the $1,650 extra F Sport Comfort Package. In addition to the trick trunk, the package also provides climate controlled front seats, and a power rear sunshade.

2015 Lexus LS460

But luxury is more than the inclusion of useful gimmicks. In the case of the 460, the fit and finish of the interior is so stout that you will never find an errant seam or loose thread. JD Power Initial Quality Surveys repeatedly place Lexus in the very top echelon of automotive makers, and one look at the interior of the 460 confirms why: the seat leather is softer than any gloves you’ve ever owned, the wood that graces the dash and doors is luminously real, the headliner is butter soft to the touch, and the tactile surfaces on the door armrests are loose and impressionable rather than taut and hard. This is the kind of detail attention that distinguishes the flagship 460 not only from lesser Lexus products, but also sets it apart from top drawer competition from Audi, Mercedes and BMW.

2015 Lexus LS460

In the not too distant past, you would never consider a 460 to be a competitor to the German troika as a sports sedan. Although always wonderfully appointed, the LS placed a premium on luxury over performance. But all that has changed with the advent of the F Sport Package for the LS460. This admittedly expensive ($8,350) grouping of assets transforms the previously stodgy Lexus into a genuine fast lane screamer. Start with the tire/wheel combo which increases from 18 to 19 inch diameter in F Sport trim. Gone are the standard, undersized 235/50R18 tires in favor of ultra high performance Bridgestone Turanzas ER33s measuring 245/45R19, mounted on understated 19 x 9 inch alloy rims finished in gun metal pewter. The F Sport gambit also installs Variable Gear-Ratio Steering which works in conjunction with Adaptive Variable Suspension to offer you a wide range of behavior from Comfort to Sport to Sport+. Dial your level of choice into the system via a large knob mounted on the center console. In the Comfort setting, the 460 tends to float over bumps and potholes, and the steering is so light that you find yourself constantly feeding in minor corrections to maintain proper freeway lane position. But if you run the big knob all the way to the Sport+ position, the LS hunkers down like a big cat hunting a gazelle. The steering ratio tightens up instantly, eliminating lane wander. Ride stiffens noticeably, and back road fun beckons. Only the overly aggressive traction control prevents you from exercising the LS with true abandon. If the protection system feels you are about to exceed its authorized limits, it will shut down gas supply and provide braking whether you or not you feel the intercession is necessary. One nice feature added for 2015 is a reduction in turning circle geometry that allows you to complete a U-Turn with ease in a very small area. This unexpected nimbleness comes as a pleasant surprise from this 4,515 lb. sedan.

2015 Lexus LS460

Topping off all the other virtues is a stellar V8 that produces 386hp in F Sport tune. You can harness the 32 valve, 4 cam engine’s 367 lb.-ft. of torque by playing mellifluous exhaust tunes with the help of an 8-speed, paddle-shifted gearbox. Feeling lazy? Just drop the rig into Drive, and the LS will baby you with easy shifts and quiet running. Feeling the need for speed? Slot the gearbox into manual mode, pick a gear and fire away. This sport sedan will explode with a velocity that will knock your knees. Best of all, Lexus has equipped it with suspension, steering and contact patch upgrades that make the most of that screaming engine’s full potential.

2015 Lexus LS460

2015 Lexus LS460

  • Engine: 4.6 liter V8, 4 Cams, 32 Valves, Electrically Controlled Intake Valve Timing
  • Horsepower: 386hp
  • Torque: 367lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 16 MPG City/24 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $85,525
  • Star Rating: 9.5 out of 10 Stars

Posted in Expert Reviews, Feature Articles, Lexus |Tags:, , || No Comments »


Review: 2015 BMW X4 xDrive28i

Thursday June 11th, 2015 at 8:66 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 BMW X4 xDrive28i

By David Colman

Hypes: Sportiest All Activity Vehicle Ever From BMW
Gripes: Poor Rear Visibility

On a winding back road, the $54,550 28i version of the X4 will match a twin turbo Porsche Macan, move for move, while costing you $33,000 less. What’s the secret recipe here that BMW used to transform the practical but ponderous X3 platform into an Olympic grade decathlete? It’s the X4′s brilliant front mid-engine configuration. One look under the counter balanced hood reveals a vast empty crush space stretching from the radiator to the front face of the compact twin turbo four. Less weight over the front axle eliminates understeer. The central concentration of mass results in low polar moment of inertia, the key ingredient in the handling equation. The little 240hp 2.0 liter is tucked so far back against the firewall that it sits over and behind the front axle.

2015 BMW X4 xDrive28i

BMW capitalizes on this nearly ideal 49.3% front/ 50.7% rear weight distribution by pinning the X4 to the road with massaged suspension components. Buried at the rear of the engine bay is a tubular strut tower brace tying the cast alloy upper shock absorber mounts to the firewall. The optional $2,300 M Package further stiffens the underpinnings with “sport suspension” upgrades, making for a tolerably firm ride. Handling gains precision through M Package 19 inch light alloy rims which replace available 17 and 18 inch stock variants. These double-spoke pewter alloys, shod with 245/45R19 Goodyear Eagle LS2 tires, drop aspect ratio from 55 or 50 to 45 series sidewalls that are much more responsive to steering input. The blocky all weather Eagles proved surprisingly agile, carving apexes without any loss of adhesion or audible protest. The X4′s tight 39 foot turning circle further enhances maneuverability.

2015 BMW X4 xDrive28i

Variable power distribution to each wheel afforded by xDrive’s all-wheel-drive system ensures relentless adhesion. You can even tailor the grip to your personal preference by selecting – via a slide switch on the center console – one of four available “Performance Control” dynamic driving programs. Most insidious to performance is “Eco Pro” which minimizes fuel consumption (20 MPG City/28 MPG Highway/23 MPG Combined) by imposing glacial acceleration strictures on throttle response. More acceptable to the enthusiast is the “Comfort” setting which achieves what BMW calls “a balanced tuning” of all parameters. Added performance leeway is available in “Sport” mode which provides, according to the owner’s manual, “consistently sporty tuning of the suspension and engine controls.” In practice, “Sport” allows you to boogie within the limits dictated by Dynamic Stability Control (DSC). My favorite choice invariably became “Sport+” because it reconstitutes the entire feel of the X4 in a way that emphasizes sports over utility. “Sport+” switches on Dynamic Traction Control (DTC), a higher performance version of Dynamic Stability Control favoring forward momentum over driving stability. In other words, you’re still allotted some CYA insurance coverage, but not the platinum policy offered under DSC. “Sport+” also tightens steering response. Feedback at the wheel becomes more precise and rewarding. Ride firms measurably as the shocks assert more jounce and rebound control. The throttle responds with dispatch to the most minute pedal application. The X4 is now prepped to rumble in full beast mode.

2015 BMW X4 xDrive28i

The gearing for the 8-speed Sport Automatic transmission is delightfully short and peaky, perfect in fact for autocrossing, with a top sped of just 50mph in second gear. Third and fourth are equally short and closely spaced. For maximum enjoyment you will want to slip the console lever into the manual slot and control all shifts with the oversize aluminum paddles appended to the steering wheel. The gear chosen indicator window located in the base of the tachometer is 12 point typeface, when it really needs to be 24 point for instant reference. It’s hard enough to see in the daylight, and really gets lost in a sea of orange illumination at night.

2015 BMW X4 xDrive28i

The interior feels much more sports car like than any comparable SUV because BMW lowered the seats, front and rear, 1 inch to compensate for the reduced height of the fastback (or “Sport Activity Coupe”) roofline. This shuffle plants your butt crucially closer to the ground than the X3, or the Macan, for that matter. Instead of enduring the usual sports futility sensation of swaggering through turns on a barstool, the X4 feels reassuringly squat and glued. The fastidious level of interior refinement is soothing in the way you’ve come to expect from BMW. Concierge lit exterior door handles guide your way at night. Though BMW’s brave new confection may look like a Bavarian Cream Puff, it’s got a molten lava core ready to bubble over with a little help from your right foot.

2015 BMW X4 xDrive28i

2015 BMW X4 xDrive28i

  • Engine: 2.0 liter 16 valve inline 4 with twin power turbo, direct injection and double VANOS variable valve control
  • Horsepower: 240hp
  • Torque: 258lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 20 MPG City/28 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $54,550
  • Star Rating: 9.5 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Ram Promaster City Tradesman Cargo Van

Thursday June 11th, 2015 at 6:66 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Ram Promaster City Tradesman Cargo Van

By David Colman

Hypes: Knock-out Styling, More Space Then a 747
Gripes: Cheap Fittings, Rudimentary Traction Control

When this Ram van appeared in my driveway I thought UPS was making a delivery to my house. Though the Ram Promaster reeks of industrial chic, it proved to be an able and willing companion for a week of test driving. This windowless van, introduced last year, has a rather circuitous background. After Fiat took over Chrysler, they separated Ram trucks from the Dodge Division by eliminating the Dodge name from the Ram brand. To complicate matters further, Fiat began selling its own Italian brand of truck last year in America. The Ram Promaster is actually an Americanized version of Fiat’s Ducato, an Italian commercial van. To put a cap on the van’s confusing national identity, it’s built for Fiat/Chrysler/Ram in Bursa, Turkey!

When you see this Ram you immediately know its derivation is European. Americans are conditioned to expect delivery and tradesman trucks like this to look utilitarian and humble. The Promaster looks nothing of the sort. For what is essentially a moving brick, it eschews banality in favor of Italian flare. Just look at the graceful swept arc that connects the grill to the roofline. The heavily slanted windshield fits right into this continuous line, making the van look aeronautic rather than pedestrian. Upturned side windows and headlight nacelles confer an elegance rarely seen in American truck design. Considering the Promaster’s resoundingly low base price of $24,130, you’re getting a design brief worthy of the museum of modern art for the price of a T-shirt print. This Ram does for tradesfolks what the Olivetti typewriter did for secretaries six decades ago: provide affordable, utilitarian modern art.

2015 Ram Promaster City Tradesman Cargo Van

The irony of driving this Ram on a daily basis, however, is that although you’ve got enormous space inside the windowless cargo area, there’s absolutely no way to prevent your cargo from flying about like gravity free astronauts. Our sample van was “unequipped” at the factory level by deletion of the following items: rear seating, second row side curtain airbags, sliding door glass windows on both sides, and rear door glass. As a result, from the floor-to-ceiling partition that separates the driver’s compartment back to the double rear doors, this van is completely unfinished inside. The floor, walls and roof are painted gloss white, with a couple of hefty tie downs sunk into the floor. That’s it: no windows, no racks or bins of any sort, no hooks or pegs. This blank canvas awaits conversion to specific use by the tradesperson who buys it. As an incentive to purchasing this stripper, Ram deletes $1,000 from the base price for “Tradesman Cargo Van package 24C.”

2015 Ram Promaster City Tradesman Cargo Van

Driving the Ram comes as a pleasant surprise, since its hefty 2.4 liter Multiair inline 4 cylinder engine makes more than enough horsepower (174hp) to move this rig with alacrity. Helping extract maximum performance is a sweet 9 speed 948TE automatic transmission that allows you to select any of its multiple ratios manually. The front-wheel-drive Ram will tow up to 5,100 lbs. and carry 5,274 lbs. of cargo. Its tall roofline makes it possible to stand nearly erect in the cargo area, and I could easily envision turning this space into a rather nifty camper unit offering maximum security thanks to the lack of windows. Even with its substantial frontal area, the Ram still manages 29 MPG on the freeway. Although the 16 x 6.5 inch silver steel wheels look rather undersized on such a large vehicle, the 215/55R16 Continental tires manage to deal with even the sharpest curves without protest.

2015 Ram Promaster City Tradesman Cargo Van

The cabin proved comfortable and useful. Door pockets include receptacles for water bottles, a netted overhead bin runs the full width over the windshield, and the seats offer excellent lower back support. While rear vision is nil due to the cargo embargo, a backup camera ($495 extra) serves as an admirable guide on the 5 inch touch screen display ($465 extra). Surprisingly, the two elephantine outside rear view mirrors are manually controlled rather than power assisted. The joystick on the right hand mirror failed to operate properly, and the receptacle for the prop supporting the hood was already broken due to poor fit. So don’t expect Ferrari quality from this Fiat masquerading as a Ram.

2015 Ram Promaster City Tradesman Cargo Van

2015 Ram Promaster City Tradesman Cargo Van

  • Engine: 2.4 Liter Multiair inline 4
  • Horsepower: 178hp
  • Torque: 174lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 21 MPG City/29 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $26,245
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Lexus RX450h

Tuesday June 9th, 2015 at 1:66 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Lexus RX450h

By David Colman

Hypes: Most Solid Build Quality in the Industry, Great Hybrid Grunt
Gripes: Dash Controls Starting to Look Dated

Why is the Lexus RX the best selling luxury SUV in the US? According to the Institute for Highway Safety, only nine vehicles sold here had zero deaths per million registered vehicles. The RX350 was one of those nine. It also sells itself because it does everything you’d expect from such a premium vehicle, and does it all well. This universal approbation applies even more emphatically to the hybrid version we drove. This RX450h is both faster and more economical than the standard RX350, albeit at higher initial cost. The front wheel drive (FWD) RX350 depends on a 270hp V6 for motivation, and retails for a base price close to $41,000. Its fuel economy hovers around 21 MPG in all types of driving. the FWD RX450h of our test produces 295hp thanks to the boost of twin electric motors added to the standard V6. This combo yield an impressive 29 MPG in overall driving, and carries a base price of $48,845.

What’s most impressive about the hybrid drive train is its instant supply of torque. When you lean hard on the accelerator, this beefy, 4,870 lb. hauler jumps forward with cat like agility. You can abet the thrust by judicious use of the continuously variable transmission, which yields simulated gear ranges that boost acceleration dramatically, especially when you select 2nd or 3rd gear simulacrums from the CVT’s floor mounted bump stick. Paddles are not offered for shifts from the steering wheel

2015 Lexus RX450h

Like all Lexus products, the RX is handsomely crafted and pleasurable to operate. In particular, the $3,060 Premium Package which graced our test vehicle included bamboo interior trim and steering wheel. This matte finished wood not only brightens otherwise dark interior surfaces, but also provides the perfect gripping surface for the steering wheel’s upper and lower quadrants. It’s so delightful it’s almost worth the Premium Package price all by itself, but the package also includes leather interior trim, blind spot monitoring, one-touch open/close moon roof, auto folding, heated and self dimming exterior mirrors, 3 memory settings for both driver and front passenger seats, and finally a pair of anodized aluminum roof rails. Any way you cut it, the Premium Package makes financial sense, and adds immeasurably to your comfort and the RX’ ease of operation. In particular, the blind spot monitors are effective tools, with their subliminal suggestive orange lights that blink in the outside rear view mirrors when side traffic impinges.

2015 Lexus RX450h

Due to its weight and tall stance, handling is not the forte of the hybrid RX. Although our sample was fitted with new for 2015 triple-split, five spoke alloy wheels finished in light gray, the all season tires these wheels support (Michelin X 235/55R19) are configured more for comfort than adhesion. Notably, the front end of the RX washes out early in turns due to lots of under steer built into the design of the suspension and chassis platform. While losing traction in the front wheels is always preferable and more controllable than losing grip in the rear wheels, the FWD RX’ tendency to continue on a straight course even after you have cranked the steering wheel for the next turn feels a bit disconcerting.

The RX, with its strong sales lead in the luxury SUV segment, remains mostly unchanged for 2015, In addition to the new 19 inch rims, other minor improvements this year include standard auto-display backup camera, new LED fog lamps, new three flash turn signals, new Lexus Enform Apps, and finally, a revised and improved control knob on the center console for manipulation of the infotainment system. After having spent the previous week aboard the all new Lexus RC350 coupe, the control apparatus in the RX seemed somewhat dated and inferior by comparison. For example, the mouse on the RX’ central tunnel is not nearly as slick as the iPad-like finger slide interface on the RC coupe. Also the RX’ screen seems too small when compared to the Vista Vision unit of the new coupe. You can look for improvements in these areas when Lexus introduces a revamped version of the RX expected to debut in the 2016 model year.

2015 Lexus RX450h

2015 Lexus RX450h

  • Engine: 3.5 liter V6 with VVT plus twin front electric drive motors
  • Horsepower: 295hp
  • Torque: N/A
  • Fuel Consumption: 30 MPG City/28 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $58,315
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

Posted in Expert Reviews, Feature Articles, hybrid, Lexus |Tags:, , , , || No Comments »


Review: 2015 Lexus RC350 2DR Coupe

Tuesday May 19th, 2015 at 11:55 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Lexus RC350 2DR Coupe

By David Colman

Hypes: Arresting Looks, Finely Tuned Chassis
Gripes: Hard Backseat Access, Obnoxious Grill

Short of a tech session at the dealership, there are few better ways to learn the secrets of your vehicle than to wash and dry it yourself. The all new Lexus RC350 provided just such an opportunity for driveway therapy, The complexity of this coupe’s shape defies easy description. Every facet of its voluptuous body is so thoroughly sculpted that there are no flat surfaces anywhere. Running your hands over its sinuous flanks helps you understand what a sleek facade Lexus stylists have devised to cheat the wind. In many ways, this coupe pays homage to the outrageously sleek $400,000 LF-A supercar Lexus produced in very limited numbers several years ago. If your RC350 happens to be painted Molten Pearl (metallic orange), like our test vehicle, you will have such a show stopper on your hands that slower cars will pull over to let you pass, after taking one amazed look in their rear view mirror. Although the RC’s double trapezoid “spindle” grill is overly fussy, the rest of the design brief is stunningly effective.

2015 Lexus RC350 2DR Coupe

The RC tested here is the V6 model, which retails for a base price of just $42,790, and an all inclusive price of $53,140. The extra ten thousand goes for such niceties as an “F Sport Package” ($3,985) a Navigation System ($1,530), a Moonroof ($1,100) and a very pricey Variable Gear Ratio Steering (VGRS, $1,900). You can probably live without VGRS, but the F Sport group is essential to defining the coupe’s character. From a performance standpoint, the F Sport’s most important inclusions are Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS), and fat wheels with sticky tires. Up front, you get 8 x 19 inch F Sport rims with 235/40R19 Dunlop SP Sport tires, while rear rims measure 9 x 19 inches and carry 265/35R19 Dunlops. Clearly, Lexus is going after potential BMW and Audi buyers with this F Sport Package, which transforms a good handling coupe into a premium back road weapon. The package also includes heavily side bolstered, extremely supportive front seats that are both heated and ventilated. A multi-function steering wheel, electrically adjustable for height and reach, completes the F group upgrade.

2015 Lexus RC350 2DR Coupe

If there’s a chink in this coupe’s armor, it lies under the hood, where a 3.5 liter V6 makes just 306hp and 277lb.-ft. of torque. Coupled to a sweet, paddle-shifted 8 speed automatic transmission, the V6 provides excellent throttle response in 1st, 2nd and 3rd gears, but once you shift into the taller ratios of 4th through 8th, the moderately powerful engine has a tough time matching the vivid acceleration on tap in the lower gears. If you’re after true supercar poke, opt for the 467hp V8 available in the RC F, a BMW M4 eater which retails for a cool 20 grand more than the base price of our RC350. As you would expect in a coupe with the refinement of the F Sport Package, handling is excellent. But in order to coax maximum proficiency out of the car, you must first learn the secret handshake to configure it to your needs. A large, knurled knob on the center console allows you to tailor the Adaptive Variable Suspension to your taste, by rotating the knob through 4 stages ranging from “Eco” to “Sport+” Even when you slot into “Sport+,” however, you will find that Lexus provides an overly assertive nanny that constantly corrects your enthusiasm by killing the engine at inappropriate junctures or applying the brakes when it judges you need them. To avoid these intrusions, you need to disengage “Traction Control” by depressing a button located just aft of the AVS knob. Although the Owner’s Manual states that a notation will appear on the TFT screen reading “Expert,” we never elicited this display. Regardless, once you’ve gone through all these pre-configuration measures, the RC350 is good to go, and go fast. With all systems maximized for instant gratification, this coupe becomes extremely responsive. The expensive VGRS steering option buttons down steering control, immediate throttle response kicks in, and the suspension vectors itself into closer proximity to the pavement. This Kabuki flyer will never be shamed by any German sedan on any back road. The downside is that you have to reconfigure the RC for maximum performance every time you re-start it. The upside is that this exotic looking BMW slayer puts you in the driver’s seat for thousands less than you’ll pay for a similar Bimmer.

2015 Lexus RC350 2DR Coupe

2015 Lexus RC350 2DR Coupe

  • Engine: 3.5 liter V6, 24 Valve DOHC, Direct and Port Injection, Variable Valve Timing
  • Horsepower: 306hp
  • Torque: 277lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 19 MPG City/28 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $53,140
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

Posted in Expert Reviews, Feature Articles, Lexus |Tags:, , , || No Comments »


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