2016 Nissan Maxima Platinum Review

Friday May 27th, 2016 at 12:55 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Nissan Maxima Platinum

By David Colman

Hypes: Very Healthy V6, 4DSC Handling
Gripes: Pastiche Styling

As long ago as 1992, Nissan positioned the Maxima sedan as their “four door sports car.” They even went so far as to attach discreet notations reading “4DSC” to the rear windows of this ostensible family hauler. Back then the Maxima had a lot in common with the company’s 300ZX sports car, in that both vehicles were nimble. fast and affordable. While today’s Maxima looks nothing like the current 370Z, compelling similarities between the sedan and the sports car still justify Nissan’s inclusion of the “4DSC” notation. Today, it’s now located inside the tail light lenses.

2016 Nissan Maxima Platinum

Although Nissan has introduced a hard sprung “SR” version of the Maxima this year for sports attuned drivers, the Platinum version we drove will certainly get the back road job done without the harsh ride discomfort of the SR model. The Maxima has grown substantially over the years, to the point that it now bridges the gap between midsize and large. One look at it will have you wondering how they could possibly append the “4DSC” label to such a behemoth with a straight face. After all, the Maxima now weighs 3,618lbs, with an unfavorable front/rear weight distribution ratio of 61% front/39% rear. On top of that, the Maxima measures 192 inches in length, with a wheelbase of 109 inches. In other words, this is a big, spacious sedan with lots of swoopy styling curves and fillips aimed at making it look smaller. What it is not, however, is small.

2016 Nissan Maxima Platinum

It takes a lot of motor to make this ponderous rig feel lively, but Nissan has managed the trick by supplying the engine bay with a lovely 370Z-based V6 making 300hp and 261lb.-ft. of torque. In proving ground tests, this 24 valve DOHC engine propelled the Maxima through the quarter mile in 14.2 seconds at 100mph, and cranked off 0-60mph runs of 5.7 seconds. In other words, the Maxima, despite its ungainly size, fires off the starting line faster than many “real” 2 seat sports cars. 4DSC indeed. It also emits a very satisfying howl at full throttle which actually sounds better than the current 370Z. The Xtronic gearbox in the Maxima is the very first continuously variable transmission (CVT) that I could live with. In fact it’s so good at what it does that it took me three days before I realized that the Maxima’s transmission did its job without conventional gears. Xtronic operates seamlessly, with none of the usual droning or range hunting characteristic of CVTs. It responds instantly to the bump stick shift lever on the center console, and about the only thing missing here is the surprising lack of paddle shifts for manual operation.

2016 Nissan Maxima Platinum

Even with comparatively soft spring rates, and middling all season tires (Continental Conti ProContact 245/45R18), the Maxima holds its own admirably on twisting back roads. A Drive Mode Selector puts at your disposal a couple of switches labeled “Normal” and “Sport” on the center console. These allow you to tailor the Maxima’s handling to specific need. On back roads, “Sport” seems to calibrate the shock valving for hard driving. Unfortunately, it does little for the steering feedback, which remains over-assisted in both Normal and Sport modes. Nonetheless, the Maxima can be hustled through sections of curvy back roads with rewarding precision. If you want even more feedback, opt for the SR Maxima.

2016 Nissan Maxima Platinum

The interior treatment of the Maxima is both appealing and ergonomically sound. Especially comfortable and supportive are the Nissan’s “Zero Gravity” seats which are upholstered in a diamond pattern usually reserved for much more expensive cars like Bentley and Audi. The dash layout of the Maxima is well thought out, with its array of proper tachometer, speedometer and temperature and fuel level monitors spread out under your nose. These analog gauges are separated by an easy to read 7 inch “Advanced Drive Assist Display” that posits – in your immediate sightline – every additional piece of information you could possibly need. With equl facility it displays tire pressures, distance to empty, or the name of the SiriusXM artist currently playing on the 11 speaker Bose sound system.

2016 Nissan Maxima Platinum

The flat bottom, heated steering wheel is an innovation for Nissan, one which lends the cockpit a distinctive sporting flavor. The “Mahogany Wood-Tone Faceted Finishers” on the dash and door panels carry a diamond pattern that complements the diagonally boxed seats. These finishers also look good enough to make you think they’re made from wood, not plastic. In sum, the luxuriously fitted interior looks more expensive than you would expect from a sports sedan costing just $40,905.

2016 Nissan Maxima Platinum

  • Engine: 3.5 Liter DOHC, 24 Valve V6
  • Horsepower: 300hp
  • Torque: 261lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 22MPG City/30MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $40,905
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Lexus IS350 4-DR Sedan Review

Thursday May 26th, 2016 at 12:55 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Lexus IS350 4-DR Sedan

By David Colman

Hypes: Precise Apex Cutter, Ultra Luxe Interior Fittings
Gripes: Some Anomalies in Custom Programming

The descriptor that comes to mind regarding the IS350 is silk. The car, especially when finished in Ultra White, looks like a bolt of that foxy material. In operation, its 8 speed transmission and 3.5 liter V6 interact seamlessly. Inside, the cabin furnishings are unobtrusively situated for flawless operation. Comfort on demand is never more than a minor adjustment away. This plush, fast and comparatively affordable sports sedan defines the very essence of silken smoothness.

2016 Lexus IS350 4-DR Sedan

You will never experience the following failings in an IS350: harsh ride, jerky shifts, engine imbalance, passenger discomfort, handling deficiency, lack of power. One look at the IS350 equipped with the F Sport Package ($3,155) might lead you to assume that its ultra low profile Dunlop Sport Max tires (225/45R18 front, 255/35R18 rear) would degrade ride comfort excessively. You would be mistaken in that assumption, because this Lexus negotiates the worst pavement irregularities without disrupting life inside the plush cabin. Yet when it’s time to hit the after burners for a quick trip up a back road, those gunmetal gray, split 5-spoke alloys and Dunlop Summer Tires stand up to the job.

2016 Lexus IS350 4-DR Sedan

The F Sport Package includes more than just wheels and tires. You also receive ultra supportive F Sport front seats which will lock you into position for high lateral g-Force loads. Heating and Ventilation are standard inclusions on the front sport seats. Lexus also provides a perforated leather shift knob to match the open pore grips on the leather steering wheel. Aluminum pedals add a dash of racing insouciance to the mix, and a TFT instrument display brilliantly illuminates rpm and gear number information.

Best of all, the F Sport Package also allows you to tailor the behavior of this sedan to your need of the moment. If you’re just plunking around downtown the “Comfort” setting on the center console knob will do. But if you plan to put those sticky Dunlops to the test, you’ll want to turn the knob far right to recalibrate suspension and steering for sporting work. In the “Sport” mode the steering response stiffens perceptibly, while the Adaptive Variable Suspension tightens shock valving to eliminate slack.

With 306hp on tap, and 8 speeds to harness that power, the IS350 is a fleet sports sedan that is fun to drive near its limit. The torque output of 277lb.-ft. is sufficient to produce 0-60mph times of 4.5 seconds. This performance puts the IS in some very fast company indeed, like BMW’s newest 340i. The beauty of this IS350 is that the suspension and tires are more than worthy of the drive train’s strong output. The IS350′s various parts are well integrated into a harmonic whole.

2016 Lexus IS350 4-DR Sedan

If you opt for the $2,645 Navigation System, you will also receive a one year free subscription to the newest version of the Lexus Enform Destinations service. A complimentary “App” suite is included as well, with recently upgraded selections. Also adding to the Navigation Package fun is a knockout Mark Levinson Audio System with 17 speakers, 5.1 Surround Sound, and 835 watts of output. The only demerit is that we could never figure out how to retain the “Radio” information on the dashboard’s multi-information display screen. This unit always reverted to showing the Navigation Map after the 10 second “radio” display expired. Another annoying trait is the valet system’s insistence on folding the steering wheel up and away every time you shut the IS350′s ignition down. No amount of exploring menu options for alternate settings redressed this behavior.

2016 Lexus IS350 4-DR Sedan

For $75,000 you would be hard pressed to locate and purchase a better long distance cruiser than this IS350. For just $49,205 as fully equipped, this Lexus stands out as one of the brightest stars in the sports sedan firmament. If you’re in the market for a BMW, you owe it to yourself to explore this alluringly silky option from Japan.

2016 Lexus IS350 4-DR Sedan

  • Engine: 3.5 liter V6, 24 Valves, DOHC, Direct & Port Injection, Variable Valve Timing
  • Horsepower: 306hp
  • Torque: 277lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 28 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $49,205
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Chevrolet Volt Premier Hatchback Review

Wednesday May 25th, 2016 at 11:55 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Chevrolet Volt Premier Hatchback

By David Colman

Hypes: The Electric Car Finally Reaches Maturity
Gripes: Rear View Mirrors A Tad Small

The completely revised 2016 Volt is a triumph of engineering for the Chevrolet Division of GM. In every way, Volt 2.0 is better than the original. This improvement is all the more impressive since Volt 1.0 was a very fine tool indeed. What’s most attractive about the 2016 Volt is its complete assimilation into the driving mainstream. Unlike the first iteration, the 2016 version has lost the need to proclaim how different and revolutionary it is. Gone is the annoying Chiclet-style dashboard surface of Volt 1.0. Gone too are the first offering’s corny Jetson styling touches. And best of all, the 38 mile electric travel range of Volt 1.0 has been superceded by a genuine, dependable 53 mile range which we proved in repeated usage.

2016 Chevrolet Volt Premier Hatchback

At first glance, the interior of the new Volt looks rather subdued, especially for such a ground breaking piece of equipment. The semi-gloss “Jet Black” cloth upholstery looks almost funereal, save for some counterpoint blue stitching around the edges. The exterior of the compact sedan hardly screams “I Sing The Car Electric.” With the exception of some matte aluminum tin foil burnishing the front grill bars, this new Volt could easily be mistaken for a two-year old Toyota Corolla. Maybe it was the muted tonality of its “Heather Gray Metallic” exterior shade, but our Volt tended to get lost in a sea of small sedans wherever we parked it.

That anonymity happens to be just what I liked about Volt 2.0. Since inception, revolutionary electric cars like the Volt, and especially the Prius, have found it necessary to scream about their world saving power source at top stylistic decibel. The Prius has always been most annoying in this respect, with its silly vent windows, goofy instrument graphics, and kindergarten control stalks. The first Volt was also complicit in this regard, with faux alligator upholstery and over-the-top styling aimed at declaring its revolutionary altruism. Chevy has really detuned all that bombastic noise, and the new Volt is ready to stand on its own as an engineering masterpiece rather than a styling exercise.

2016 Chevrolet Volt Premier Hatchback

In our week with Volt, we used exactly 1 gallon of gas! Only once did our normal daily commute involve a trip longer than 53 miles. At that point, the Volt cut seamlessly over to its 1.5 liter gasoline fueled engine for the 53 mile return voyage. By EPA estimates, the Volt’s “Range Extender” gas motor gets 42 MPG in combined city/highway driving, using 2.4 gallons for 100 miles of travel. In pure electric form, it returns 106 MPGe. Now we religiously recharged the Volt overnight every day. This is especially easy to accomplish since Chevy provides a recharge unit which stores neatly out of the way in a side compartment of the trunk. This recharger weighs about half what the same unit did in an Audi A3 e-tron we recently tested. It plugs into 120V household current and will recharge the Volt fully in about 14 hours, i.e. overnight. If you opt for the 240V recharge system, a full charge on a depleted battery takes just 4.5 hours. In other words, living with Volt on a gasoline free basis is very much a reality if your daily drive is under 53 miles.

2016 Chevrolet Volt Premier Hatchback

By every other metric of performance, the new Volt exceeds expectations. First and foremost, it handles really well since Chevy reduced its battery weight and curb weight. The Volt has lost 200 pounds, and now weighs just 3,543 pounds. Since Chevy added a new two-motor drive unit that is 12 % more efficient than before, the 0-30 mph acceleration is much quicker and overall performance verges on scintillating. Look to the torque figure of 294 lb.-ft. and you will see a thrust output unequalled by small sedans in this price range. Although the Volt utilizes relatively hard, small footprint tires in order to improve mileage figures, the car is so well-balanced that it will scoot through turns quicker than its Michelin Energy saver tires (215/50R17) would have you think possible. The only downside is they do tend to squeal when pushed hard. Chevy has done wonders with a suspension that uses a rear torsion beam axle and is not fully independent. The Volt hardly ever leans excessively in tight turns, and the overall ride quality provided by the torsion beam’s hydraulic bushings is excellent.

2016 Chevrolet Volt Premier Hatchback

Volt 2.0 is a winner in every regard. The hatchback configuration meant we could easily slide a couple of 4 foot long boxes containing metal shelves through the trunk and into the passenger compartment, after dropping just the 40% side of the 60/40 folding rear seat. While rear seating is tight, the Volt suffices as a usable 4 seater for adults, and the trunk area is plenty large without resorting to folded rear seats. If the parameters of the Volt’s range meet your needs you can forget about regular trips to the gas station from now on.

2016 Chevrolet Volt Premier Hatchback

2016 Chevrolet Volt Premier Hatchback

  • Engine: Voltec electric drive system With 18.4 kWh lithium-ion battery and Ecotec 1.5L gas-powered engine
  • Torque: 294 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 104 MPGe/42 MPG (Gas) Combined City/Highway
  • Price as Tested: $39,850
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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


2016 Audi S7 4.0T Review

Monday April 25th, 2016 at 10:44 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Audi S7 4.0T

By David Colman

Hypes: The Magic Carpet Ride
Gripes: Heated Steering Wheel and Rear Wiper Should Be Standard

Since its recent introduction, the Audi S7 has quickly matured into one of the most athletic and expensive hatchbacks you can buy today. Normally, hatchbacks fill utilitarian needs in the lower end of the market spectrum. VW started the craze back in the 1970s with the original Rabbit, which allowed you to load all manner of cargo through its huge lift-up rear door. VW also turned the cargo hatch into the hot hatch by introducing the GTI version of the Rabbit. The GTI started other manufacturers on a stampede to emulate its practicality and scintillating performance. In short order, everyone was offering a hot hatch to combat the GTI invasion. It should thus come as no surprise that Audi, a division of VW, has upped the ante in the hot hatch field from the original $10,000 GTI to the current $100,000 Audi S7. Well, okay, the $95,525 Audi S7.

2016 Audi S7 4.0T

You can chose from 3 different engines for the S7. The base model uses a 3.0 liter V6 making 333hp. Our test quattro-equipped S7, dubbed “4.0T” by Audi, carries a base price of $82,900, and utilizes a 4.0 liter, twin turbo V8 good for 450hp and 406lb.-ft. of torque. If that isn’t enough motive power, the $109,825 RS7 bumps engine output to 560hp and torque to 516lb.-ft. Several expensive option packages boosted the final tally of our test car. You’ll gladly pay $3,500 for the “S7 Sport Package” which consists of Audi Dynamic Steering, Quattro Sport Rear Differential, and Sport Exhaust With Black Tips. While you don’t absolutely need these three additions to enjoy life with this Audi, the adjustable steering calibration adds to your driving precision, the special differential aids all weather traction, and the sport exhaust really enhances the sound of the engine’s peak thrust.

2016 Audi S7 4.0T

Also elevating the price were a $2,700 optional set of 21 inch “5-Arm Rotor” alloy wheels with 275/30R21 tires that were supposed to be “summer performance” rubber, but were in fact Dunlop Winter Sports 4D snow tires. Since it rained for much of the week we spent with the S7, these massive Dunlops were perfect for exploring the handling limits of the hefty 4,235lb. Audi. Rest assured that those limits are so high in all circumstances that you will never find yourself exceeding them, even in the heaviest rain or snow. This Audi is prepared to transit anything short of the Rubicon Trail with grace, ease and consummate finesse.

2016 Audi S7 4.0T

The $2,500 optional “Audi Design Selection” interior upgrade moves the cabin of the S7 into the Rolls Royce/Bentley realm of opulence. Its “Arras Red Interior” converts all Valcona leather seating surfaces to box quilted brick red leather that feels scrumptious and looks palatial. It also includes “Carbon Twill Decorative Inlays” which are so attractive they make common carbon fiber look prosaic. Audi has managed to weave a reddish strand through the carbon nexus that invests the material with a depth and vitality that transforms the look of the entire cabin. In addition, medium gray ultra-suede covers the door panels and roof liner, with discrete matte aluminum tags reading “Design Selection” appended to each door card.

2016 Audi S7 4.0T

Finally, another $2,450 buys you the “Driver Assistance Package” which includes adaptive cruise control with stop and go, active lane assist, a corner view camera system, and a high beam assistant. We tested the stop and go feature and decided we’d rather trust our instincts than depend on the electronics to keeps us out of trouble. The lane keep flashes a bevy of orange lights under each exterior mirror when proximate traffic is detected. These flashing lights mimic those you might see on an adjacent police cruiser, and proved to be a constant source of irritation. Do yourself a favor and save $2,450 by not ordering this accessory group.

2016 Audi S7 4.0T

The S7 is a phenomenally fast, handsome and comfortable long distance cruiser. It will cover virtually any terrain in any kind of weather without giving you pause. The interior fitments are so beautifully and elegantly devised that passengers will think they’re riding in a car costing $200,000. It’s not often that a $100,000 Audi manages to look like a terrific bargain, but this one most certainly does. Hatchback have come a very long way since VW brought that first Disco-era Rabbit to market so many years ago.

2016 Audi S7 4.0T

  • Engine: 4.0 liter twin turbo V8, TFSI
  • Horsepower: 450hp
  • Torque: 406lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 17 MPG City/27 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $95,525
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Toyota Tacoma Limited 4×4 Double Cab Review

Wednesday March 30th, 2016 at 12:33 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Toyota Tacoma Limited 4x4 Double Cab

By David Colman

Hypes: Ferocious New Look, Beefy V6 Power
Gripes: Hood Prop Hard To Operate, Unsupportive Seats

The Tacoma’s legion of young followers will love the changes Toyota has wrought with the latest version of this sturdy off-road capable sport truck. The Tacoma has come a very long way from its introductory appearance and size. Toyota debuted the Tacoma in February, 1995 as a compact pickup intended for personal rather than business use. Two four cylinder engines (142hp and 150hp) were available at the time, as well as one V6 (190hp). Muted styling and rounded edges keynoted the truck’s initial appearance.

2016 Toyota Tacoma Limited 4x4 Double Cab

Now shift to 2016. The Tacoma has grown so much in size that when we passed an original version on the highway, I could hardly believe that it too was a Tacoma. The new version absolutely towers over the original in every way. Look at the new sheetmetal for 2016, and you’ll see trace design elements from the latest Ram truck, as well as Chevy’s Colorado, and GMC’s Canyon. The Tacoma’s blunt snout looks like it could survive a Monster Truck bash without damage. Beneath the grill lies an ABS skid plate. Driving lights are embedded in protective alcoves, and headlamp jewels stand tall in the blocky fenders.

Side profile reveals that the bodywork of the truck is substantially elevated to allow generous vertical suspension travel at all four corners. This 70.6 inch height, in turn, means climbing into the cab poses something of a chore. But it’s a chore eased by a well-placed grab handle on the passenger’s side of the cab. Running boards would be useful, though detrimental to off-road clearance.

2016 Toyota Tacoma Limited 4x4 Double Cab

And make no mistake, the prime mission in life of the new Tacoma 4×4 is to promote off-road fun. To start with, Toyota has provided a windshield mount for a Hero G-Pro camera. They’ve fitted the polished alloy rims with Michelin’s best outback rubber, 265/60R18 LTX MS tires. On pavement, these tires provide a springy ride thanks to their tall 60 series sidewalls. But when you tackle unpaved surfaces, they come into their own. In fact, the entire suspension system of this Tacoma is calibrated for unimproved driving conditions. Four wheel drive is available on demand, and offers two different speed ranges. An electrically controlled transfer case and automatic limited slip differential insure that even the most daunting off-road travails will be dealt with successfully. Toyota fitted our test Tacoma with its most powerful available engine, a 3.5 liter V6 which makes 278hp and 265 lb.-ft. of torque. If you don’t require this much motor, you can order a 159hp 2.7 liter inline 4. But really, for a Double Cab model weighing in at 4,525 pounds, the V6 is the only way to go. It even posts a respectable EPA fuel economy rating of 20 MPG in overall driving.

2016 Toyota Tacoma Limited 4x4 Double Cab

Although the Tacoma’s jacked up Hitachi shocks will never let you down, the interior of this truck is a bit disappointing. The front seats, although heated, are flat and hard, fitted with manual adjustment paddles for both fore-aft travel and backrest inclination. The steering wheel lacks telescopic adjustment, and we found the air vents blowing cool air even when the fan was shut off. Our test vehicle included an optional $650 hard plastic folding tonneau cover for the truck bed. Years ago, this was an item I made for myself out of plywood to protect goods stored in the bed of a pickup going cross country. Now all you have to do is pay $650 and Toyota takes care of the rest. The Double Cab’s rear seats can be folded up for interior storage, and Toyota provides a couple of side lockers inside the pickup bed. The tailgate of the Tacoma is hydraulically actuated so once you unlatch it, the gate glides open without the usual clatter. However, we found it odd that when you lock the truck with the keyfob remote, the tailgate remains unlocked until you physically turn the key in the lock. Some thefts might occur before owners discover this idiosyncrasy.

2016 Toyota Tacoma Limited 4x4 Double Cab

The new Tacoma has strong competition in the marketplace from Chevy’s Colorado and GMC’s Canyon. Toyota’s answer to them is this attractive redo of the Tacoma for 2016. This truck is fast enough to cut a 15.4 second quarter mile at 91mph when equipped with the V6 engine. If you pay an extra $650, Toyota will add a Class IV towing hitch, an engine oil cooler, a power steering cooler, a 130 amp alternator, and 5 and 7 pin connectors for trailer lights and brakes. Even if you don’t tow so much as a dinghy, this package is worth its weight in gold. If you do plan to tow a trailer, your weight limit is a whopping 11,330 pounds.

2016 Toyota Tacoma Limited 4×4 Double Cab

  • Engine: 3.5 liter V6 with Dual VVT-i
  • Horsepower: 278@6000rpm
  • Torque: 265lb.-ft.@4600rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 18 MPG City/23 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $40,020
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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


2016 Lexus ES350 4-DR Sedan Review

Tuesday March 29th, 2016 at 12:33 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Lexus ES350 4-DR Sedan

By David Colman

Hypes: Matte Bamboo Interior Trim Lovely, Levinson Audio Outstanding
Gripes: Maddening Seat Slide Routine, Needs Rear Wiper

This sedan isn’t outstandingly fast in a straight line. Nor does it corner with sports sedan agility. But if there’s one thing the mildly refreshed 2016 Lexus ES350 does really well, it’s playback music. Lexus equipped our $38,000 test vehicle with the $2,650 optional Navigation System/Mark Levinson Premium Audio Package. This entertainment center positions 15 speakers inside the cabin and feeds them with an 835 watt premium surround sound system that made Subterranean Homesick Blues sound like Bob Dylan was sitting on the dash. It was the one unforgettable impression this Lexus made during its very wet week in our driveway .

2016 Lexus ES350 4-DR Sedan

Lexus stylists have updated the appearance of the ES to mirror the wide mouth bass look of the company’s other products. This year, the ES receives the full spindle grill treatment. Gone is the horizontal bar differentiating upper and lower front fascia sections. Both headlights and tail lights now feature subtle “L” motifs in their design. At the rear, an undercar diffuser incorporates new twin chrome plated exhaust finishers. With the exception of the gaping front grill, the evolved styling of the ES pleases the eye.

However, the biggest change takes place in the interior, where the formerly understated ES now takes on more of a lavish personality. This upgrade is especially apparent if you order the optional ($1,670) Luxury Package, which provides perforated leather seats with embossed stitching, a power tilt and telescoping steering wheel, and a mirror-seat memory system for the driver offering three setting choices.

2016 Lexus ES350 4-DR Sedan

The steering wheel in our ES was a real work of art. First, Lexus improved its appearance by making it sportier looking. Secondly, our rim was heated at the handgrip positions, and fitted with matte bamboo on the remainder. The bamboo sections were not heated however, which led to much gripping of the leather sections on cold mornings. Lexus has fitted the heater on the wheel with a timer that automatically turns the feature off with no warning. The 3 position seat heaters (and ventilators) stay on indefinitely, however, including after restarts.

Whenever you trigger the ignition stop button, the driver’s seat shoots rearward while the steering wheel lift itself up and away. This annoying valet routine seems immune from disablement by the owner, since no “car settings” menu mentioned it at all. After you light off the ES’ 268hp V6, the driver’s seat scurries back to its preordained position, and that expensively detailed steering wheel settles into your hands. Although the ES provides adequate grunt for most passing situations, you will never be overwhelmed by an abundance of power here because the ES weighs in at 3,575 pounds. The power-to-weight ratio stands at 13.3 pounds per horsepower.

2016 Lexus ES350 4-DR Sedan

In a sedan world where 225mm-275mm is the normal section width for tire size, the Lexus ES350 is decidedly under-tired. All four Bridgestone EL400 Turanza tires measure just 215/55R17. Their skinny footprint barely fills out the ES350′s fender wells. The message here is that the ES is designed more for straight line work than attacking backroad zig-zags. Lexus does give you the opportunity to dial up a “Sport” setting from the console-mounted “Drive Model Select” but any difference in feedback is so subtle as to be virtually imperceptible.

On the other hand, the feedback from the “Steering Assist” that is part of the $1,015 optional Lexus Safety System will drive you nuts in short order. This gratuitous mechanism shakes the wheel in your hand every time you change lanes without using your turn indicator. It also wobbles the wheel whenever you touch a center line or dive for an apex on a twisty road. Do yourself a big favor and eliminate this annoyance from your build selection sheet.

2016 Lexus ES350 4-DR Sedan

The ES350 has always Lexus’ entry level sedan, a warmed over version of Toyota’s best selling Camry. This year, the Lexus Division has moved its ES350 cover of the Camry to much higher ground, with a pleasing exterior refresh, and an interior redo that make it much harder to discern its humble Toyota origins.

2016 Lexus ES350 4-DR Sedan

  • Engine: 3.5 liter V6, 24 Valves, All Aluminum, Dual VVT-i
  • Horsepower: 268hp
  • Torque: 248lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 21MPG City/31MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $46,679
  • Star Rating: 7.5 out of 10 Stars

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


2016 Toyota Land Cruiser Review

Monday March 28th, 2016 at 12:33 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Toyota Land Cruiser

By David Colman

Hypes: Goes Where Others Fear To Tread
Gripes: Ugly Fuel Numbers

Understated elegance is the byword to describe Toyota’s most expensive product, the $84,820 Land Cruiser. Although a mild 2016 restyle of the Cruiser’s front end and double bubbled hood imbue it with a newfound chrome snarl, you won’t be buying this legendary SUV for its ingratiating appearance. Compare the Land Cruiser to such like-priced competitors as Porsche’s Cayenne, BMW’s X5, GMC’s Denali and Cadillac’s Escalade, and the sedate looks of the Cruiser lose traction to these much more stylish vehicles. Where the Toyota gains traction over all of them, however, is when the going gets rough in real world driving. In off-road circumstances, there isn’t another SUV capable of outrunning this Toyota. The list of its attributes for such usage is seemingly endless.

2016 Toyota Land Cruiser

Unlike so many cross country pretenders, the Land Cruiser has a Torsen locking center differential, an increasing rarity in this market segment today. That differential feeds power as needed to all four wheels at all times, and can be locked for maximum traction in adverse conditions. Fat control knobs on the center console permit easy selection of power application for all varieties of terrain. A “Crawl” choice is available for traversing rugged outback trails, and “Hill-Start Assist” insures momentum resumption over mountainous terrain. Sizeable (285/60R18) Dunlop Grandtrek AT 23 tires cope well with both pavement and dirt. Toyota’s “Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System” keeps the passenger platform stable while allowing the big Dunlops to surmount any obstacles. There’s even a new “Turn-Assist” feature to ease acute off-road directional changes.

2016 Toyota Land Cruiser

But all this sophisticated technology remains hidden to the casual observer. Inside the Cruiser’s elevated flying bridge of a cabin, you are treated to every luxury amenity imaginable. This year, Toyota has swathed the interior seating surfaces in an ultra-soft material called “Terra Semi-Aniline Perforated Leather.” This exquisite tanning imparts a handsome matte look to the leather, and a glove softness that will take the sting out of the Cruiser’s astronomical purchase price. The interior is configured to seat 8 adults in remarkable comfort. The third row of seats fold sideways against the rear fender wells when not in use, leaving a huge 43 cubic foot expanse of storage space for cargo as bulky as two bicycles. The second row seats offer heating, and full AC/Heat controls located in the back of the front row center console. New for 2016 is a pair of standard 11 inch viewing screens located behind the front seat headrests. After some experimentation, these proved a mixed blessing. There is no DVD slot in the rear console, so you must insert viewing matter up front in the dash slot. The remote control stashed in the back seat arm rest worked sporadically, and the sound level for the rear seat cordless headphones proved too low for me to hear.

2016 Toyota Land Cruiser

Sort these minor issues out, however, and you have a theater on wheels for a family of 8. The interior of the Cruiser is spacious, airy and even equipped with a sizeable sunroof to shed outdoor light on those sumptuous seating surfaces. New for 2016 are a bevy of safety assistances that have been offered for years on other Toyotas, but not the Land Cruiser. Standard issue now are Pre-Collision Braking with Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure Alert, Automatic High Beam activation, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, and Dynamic Radar Cruise Control. Most of these systems work flawlessly to ease your job as driver of this large and rather unwieldy vehicle. Despite offering 381hp and 401lb.-ft. of torque, the Land Cruiser never lets you forget it weighs nearly three tons (curb weight: 5,800 pounds). But to its utility credit, it will tow a trailer weighing 8,500 pounds. A new 8 speed automatic transmission can be manually manipulated by slotting the console stick into the gate reserved for specific ratio selection. Unfortunately, Toyota does not provide shift paddles next to the steering wheel for this function.

2016 Toyota Land Cruiser

Only 2,700 of these luxurious and complex terrain dominators will make their way into new owners’ hands this year. So you won’t see many examples of this flagship of the Toyota fleet. Rest assured that the Land Cruiser offers enough technological wizardry, attention to luxury, and utter practicality to make it the SUV of choice for a very select few.

2016 Toyota Land Cruiser

2016 Toyota Land Cruiser

  • Engine: 5.7 liter V8, DOHC< 32 Valve, VVT-i
  • Horsepower: 381hp
  • Torque: 401lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 13 MPG City/18 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $84,820
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Volkswagen Jetta 1.4T SE Review

Friday March 18th, 2016 at 12:33 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Volkswagen Jetta 1.4T SE

By David Colman

Hypes: Fantastic Performance/Mileage Balance
Gripes: What’s Not To Like?

If there’s a better buy in the compact sedan marketplace than VW’s turbocharged Jetta, I have yet to find it. The new 1.4 liter four cylinder turbo becomes the base model engine for 2016, replacing the 2.0 liter straight four of previous years. The new engine produces 150 hp and 184 lb.-ft. of torque. These numbers compare very favorably with the discontinued base motor, which made just 115 hp. Although you can still option up your Jetta to GLI specification with a 2.0 liter turbo producing 210hp, the 1.4 turbo is such a gem of an engine that you have little incentive to do so. It produces all of its torque as soon as you level the throttle. There’s absolutely no turbo lag, and the standard 6 speed automatic hooks up power so quickly that there’s no need to shift gears yourself. However, VW does afford you the opportunity of prolonging up changes and performing earlier down changes by utilizing the “S” (for Sport Drive) quadrant of the gearbox. There’s even a full manual mode, should you so desire, which VW dubs “Tiptronic,” that allows full manual gear ratio selection with the console mounted stick. Paddles, however, are absent.

2016 Volkswagen Jetta 1.4T SE

The 1.4 liter turbo Jetta, which is built in VW’s Mexican factory, achieves a remarkable 39 MPG on the highway. In a full week of sustained driving around town, we barely dropped the fuel level gauge below the half tank mark. With a capacity of 14.5 gallons, including a reserve of 2 gallons, the range of the Jetta 1.4T on the open road stands at a stunning 565 miles.

2016 Volkswagen Jetta 1.4T SE

While the interior of the Jetta is not luxurious, neither is it plebeian. The seating surfaces are cloth, with bolsters done in a sturdy woven material, and inserts finished in high sheen, triangle patterned brocade. The front seats are heated, a bonus you don’t expect to find on a $20,000 car. Another nicety is the presence of a full size spare tire stored beneath the floor of the Jetta’s sizeable 16 cubic foot trunk. The roof of the trunk also provides pull releases to lower both folding back seats. There’s even a couple of tools included in the tire change kit. That’s more than BMW gives you in the $84,000 6 Series Gran Coupe.

2016 Volkswagen Jetta 1.4T SE

Inside the cabin, industrial grade, ribbed rubber floor mats are more practical than beautiful. Likewise, expanses of pebbled black vinyl that cover the dash, flat bottom steering wheel, and center console are serviceable rather than charming. But the Jetta offers undeniable practicality, from its exposed engine components under the hood to its easily accessible engine compartment battery location. Where other manufacturers strive to hide the location of the all important battery under the seat or in the trunk, VW is literally up front about the location of this important piece of equipment. Likewise, the interior designers are honest about the design and use of all HVAC (Heat/Ventilation/Air Conditioning) controls. On the center stack of the Jetta, you’ll find three large, simple dials. The left one controls temperature, the center operates fan speed, and the right one changes airflow position. This tried and tested system has evolved over years of automotive practice. It remains the best of all layouts, superior in every way to the current trend to bury HVAC options within layers of digital menus. You will never have an accident in this Jetta while searching hard-to-decipher menus, because VW refuses to succumb to the idiocy of such needless complication.

2016 Volkswagen Jetta 1.4T SE

Driving the least expensive Jetta turbo is a joy. Although its diminutive Bridgestone Ecopia tires may not look the part of performance rubber – with a width of just 205/45R16 – they definitely get the job done on twisty back roads. The Jetta SE strikes an intriguing balance between ride softness and buttoned down control. The key to the rarely achieved combo is perfectly calibrated shock absorber valving. When you accelerate this Jetta over pavement height changes, the snubbing of the shocks instantly compensates for pitch change. There’s absolutely no follow-on wallowing so typical of sedan’s with comfort biased suspensions. On snaky back roads, the Jetta SE is all business, but on pock-marked freeways, it’s all about comfort.

2016 Volkswagen Jetta 1.4T SE

The Jetta for 2016 constantly surprises you with amenities you would never expect to discover on a $20,000 car: electric window lifts with automatic up and down, heated front seats, push button start and stop, and standard 6 speed transmission containing real gears rather than funky CVT belts. If you’re searching the sports sedan market for an ultra high mile-per-gallon candidate that’s still fun to drive, the eminently affordable 1.4 liter Jetta SE turbo is your number one choice.

2016 Volkswagen Jetta 1.4T SE

  • Engine: 1.4 liter inline 4, DOHC, turbocharged, direct injection
  • Horsepower: 150hp
  • Torque: 184lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 28 MPG City/38 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $20,915
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Jeep Renegade Trailhawak 4 x 4 Review

Thursday March 17th, 2016 at 1:33 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Jeep Renegade Trailhawak 4 x 4

By David Colman

Hypes: Fetching Appearance, True Jeep Genes
Gripes: Rear Visibility Poor

The Jeep-Chrysler-Fiat merger has resulted in engineering collaboration responsible for this Italian Jeep. Based on the platform of the Fiat 500L, the Renegade is built in Melfi, Italy and presents Jeep customers with the company’s first ever compact crossover SUV. In the Trailhawk form we tested the Renegade, this Jeep provides true off road capability. First, it offers Jeep “Selec-Terrain,” which offers you the ability to select optimal performance in snow, sand, off-road and rock modes. Only the Trailhawk offers the rock mode category. Also, only the Trailhawk offers maximum ground clearance of 8.7 inches, 0.8 inches higher than the standard Renegade. The Trailhawk, with its generous angles of approach (30.5 degrees), and departure (34.3 degrees), is capable of fording water 19 inches deep. Finally, the perfectly geared Trailhawk also boasts a rear axle ratio of 4.33:1 for ultra low speed trail creeping. Other Renegades make do with a 3.73:1 final drive.

2016 Jeep Renegade Trailhawak 4 x 4

Under the taut little hood sits the model’s top optional engine, the 2.4 liter Fiat-based Multiaire (turbo) engine which produces 184hp and 177lb.-ft. of torque. This respectably powerful motor passes its energy to all four wheels through a nifty nine-speed 948TE automatic gearbox which offers good low speed dig and silent freeway cruising thanks to its wide variety of gear sets. The Trailhawk alone offers what Jeep calls “Active Drive Low” for crawling along rocky roads. The transmission also automatically disconnects rear-wheel-drive when unneeded to improve overall fuel economy. The Renegade 4 x4 manages 24 MPG in combined city/highway use and posts a moderate annual fuel cost of $2,200.

2016 Jeep Renegade Trailhawak 4 x 4

The styling of the Renegade is joyful Early Boom Box. The stunning shade of Omaha Orange which graced our Renegade does wonders for the slinky contours of this smallest Jeep. The $150 optional matte black Hood Decal added yet another intriguing complexity to the look of the Renegade. Jeep ingeniously carried the exterior orange into the interior trim, with bright colored rings surrounding the dash vents and shift console. These orange surrounds were designed to mimic latches, giving the interior an outdoorsy cachet that has long been the hallmark of Jeep. The twin removable “My Sky” sunroof panels (a $1,395 option), can be stored in their own tonneau cover ($75) in the trunk area. The panels detach via star bolts for which Jeep provides a special tool. This wrench, cast in aluminum alloy, replicates the classic 7 bar grill of the Jeep. This grill has been a trademark of the company since Willys built the first Jeep in 1941. In fact, the proud moniker “Since 1941″ appears above the TFT screen in the center of the dash.

2016 Jeep Renegade Trailhawak 4 x 4

The Renegade is surprisingly agile on paved roads, given its high center of gravity and off road capable Goodyear Wrangler SR-A tires (215/65R17). These raised white letter Goodyears perform well when pressed hard on twisty roads. The little Jeep takes a quick set as you maneuver it through tight turns. All in all, its performance in these circumstances exceeds what you might expect when you first note its tall center of gravity. But if you’ve driven a Fiat 500L, you know what to expect from the Renegade in terms of tidy driving feedback. Although vision is terrific from the Jeep’s front seat to the front and sides, the Renegade’s beefy rear quarter pillars and bevy of backseat headrests conspire to make backing up a real pain. To ease the problem, you can equip your Trailhawk with the $1,395 optional “Safety and Security Group I” which includes Blind Spot and Cross Path Detection. The “Parkview” rear back-up camera is thankfully standard issue, and projects its image on a 7 inch TFT color display screen.

2016 Jeep Renegade Trailhawak 4 x 4

As if to confirm the bonafides of the Renegade, Jeep has equipped it with substantial fixed tow hooks (two front, one rear) painted international orange to match the exterior of the vehicle. There’s no mistaking the implication of these hooks. The Trailhawk carries a “Trail Rated” badge, and is meant to be used and sometimes abused in the outback. It looks the part because it has earned the part. Despite its engaging good looks and playful design, this is a trail rated Jeep through and through, making no concessions to a lesser role in life.

2016 Jeep Renegade Trailhawak 4 x 4

  • Engine: 2.4 liter inline 4, SOHC, 16 valves, turbocharged
  • Horsepower: 184hp
  • Torque: 177lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 21 MPG City/29 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $31,690
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Volvo S60 T5 Inscription FWD Review

Friday March 4th, 2016 at 11:33 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Volvo S60 T5 Inscription FWD

By David Colman

Hypes: Beautifully Crafted, Ultra Comfortable Interior
Gripes: Unwieldy Suspension, Poorly Indexed Owner’s Manual

When Geely, the Indian automaker, took Volvo off Ford’s hands several years ago, many fans of the Swedish marque wondered what the future might hold in store for this revered, safety conscious label. Well, the future is here now in the form of the Volvo Inscription S60, a special lengthened version of the S60 sedan. At 185.6 inches in length, it stands 3.5 inches longer than the base model S60 four door. The Inscription is the first Volvo built in Chengdu, China, of parts that are 60 percent Chinese and 10 percent Japanese. This luxurious and expensive ($45,925) sedan carries a turbocharged 2.0 liter engine also built in China. Its 8-speed automatic transmission comes from Japan. In view of this disparate sourcing of parts, just how much Volvo DNA remains? Thankfully, quite a bit.

2016 Volvo S60 T5 Inscription FWD

For starters, the Inscription has so many available safety features that its Swedish reputation for precaution remains strong. For example, “City Safety” – a low speed collision avoidance system – is standard issue on this car. Even the engine cover is made of dense, pliable foam. If you order the “Platinum” group of accessories ($3,000 extra), Volvo includes a “Technology Package” which provides collision warning with full auto brake, as well as pedestrian/cyclist detection with full auto brake. In a world replete with drivers more intent on reading their handheld devices than the road ahead, these safety features greatly improve your chances of accident avoidance.

Some of the other features of the Platinum group, however, are more annoying than useful. For example, the Lane Keeping Aid is helpful in the sense that warning lights on your exterior rearview mirrors illuminate when hidden traffic pulls alongside. But the same system goes overboard when you change lanes without using your blinker, something I prefer to do with no traffic nearby. Under these circumstances, the Volvo’s steering goes artificially light and the steering wheel itself wobbles gently in your palms. The feedback is similar to having your front tires aquaplane in heavy rain. It’s completely distracting and unnecessary, and thankfully Volvo provides a switch to delete this lane change punishment.

2016 Volvo S60 T5 Inscription FWD

Although Volvo offers a number of more powerful engines in the S60 range (250hp inline 5, 302hp turbo inline 4, 345hp turbo inline 6), our test Inscription made do with the adequate but unexciting 2.0 liter turbo inline 4, which returns the best fuel consumption of the bunch at 29 MPG overall. The 8 speed gearbox compensates nicely for the underwhelming output of the 240hp motor by allowing you to stage your passing needs by selecting an appropriate gear before stomping the accelerator. You’ll need to plan ahead with this package for your acceleration requirements, because the engine must spool to 5600rpm for maximum thrust. Luckily, the 3,610 lb. sedan makes peak torque of 258lb.-ft. at just 1500rpm, so launch from a dead stop is decent. Volvo has incorporated an automatic start/stop system, ostensibly to save fuel while idling at traffic lights. This device shakes the whole car every time it re-fires the ignition. Although you can delete it, you have to do so every time you re-start the Volvo. It’s a design that should never have made production.

2016 Volvo S60 T5 Inscription FWD

Inside the cabin, the Inscription will win over drivers accustomed to Audi/BMW levels of design simplicity and sophistication. The front seats are heated, but if you want heated rears plus a toasty steering wheel, you’ll need to pop $1,300 extra for the “Climate Package.” Lavish expanses of matte finished, open pore barn wood lend a country inn felicity to the Inscription’s interior environment. Glass area is immense, a bonus that leads to excellent vision in all directions. Such niceties as Park Assist and rain-sensing wipers come standard. The Platinum group includes a nifty grocery bag holder which flips up from the trunk floor to act as an anti-slide partition. I used it to keep a storage box from roaming the trunk on a twisty section of road.

2016 Volvo S60 T5 Inscription FWD

Speaking of the twisties, the S60 is not particularly well acclimated to such driving usage. Granted, it rolls on 18 inch alloy rims bearing 235/45R18 Pirelli Cinturato P7 tires that uphold their end of the contact patch bargain. But the S60′s suspension is calibrated for comfort over handling, so the Inscription tends to bottom its shocks over mild depressions. Push it hard enough and the suspension hikes itself into the air as you try to make quick transitions on a curvy road. This Volvo offers a great freeway ride, but you won’t be blowing off any BMWs or Audis on the back roads.

2016 Volvo S60 T5 Inscription FWD

  • Engine: 2.0 liter inline 4, turbocharged, direct injected
  • Horsepower: 240hp@5600rpm
  • Torque: 258lb.-ft.@1500-4500rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 25MPG City/37 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $45,925
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

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