2016 Buick Cascada Premium Review

Monday July 25th, 2016 at 8:77 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Buick Cascada Premium

By David Colman

Hypes: Stunning Good Looks, Fun in the Sun
Gripes: Dated Dash, Underpowered

My neighbor down the street, who has never had a thing to say about any of the 50 or so vehicles that rotate through my driveway each year, made it a point to stop and discuss the styling of the new Buick Cascada. “That’s one of the best looking cars I’ve ever seen!” he exclaimed from the driver’s seat of his Nissan Leaf. I hesitated to mention the fact that pretty much anything would look good when you’re driving a Leaf. But I have to agree, the Cascada is without question a stunning looker of a car – not only when the top is stowed, but also when it’s erect. This Buick is a beauty from any angle. The curvaceous side sculpting enhances the predatory pounce of the body, which looks set to gobble up pavement in very short order.

2016 Buick Cascada Premium

Unfortunately, the Cascada’s looks over-promise from a performance standpoint. Because its curb weight is close to two tons, the small displacement (1.6 liter) inline 4, despite being turbocharged, is hard pressed to generate enough horsepower (200hp) to move the Cascada with the alacrity you’d expect from its scintillating looks. In fact, you need to be ever vigilant in using the 6-speed automatic transmission’s manual gate so as to spin the motor hard enough to generate acceptable acceleration. Even on its best day, the turbo 4 barely cracks 9 seconds in the run to 60mph from a standing start, and tops out at just 82mph in 16.7 seconds in the quarter mile run. In other words, this Buick is no Roadmaster in the speed department.

2016 Buick Cascada Premium

But if you can set aside that deficiency the Cascada has a lot to offer in a slimly populated market segment (sub $40K family convertibles) recently vacated by VW’s discontinued Eon and Chrysler’s 200 drop top. Really, at a base price of $36,065, the Cascada looks like rather a bargain. We particularly liked the up-market appearance of the interior seating, which sported a diamond perforation pattern on the 8-way power adjustable front sport bucket seats. These handsome perches also come with standard 3-stage heating and cooling controls. The heat source warms not only the cushion section but also the lower backrest area. A standard steering wheel rim heater completes the toasty luxury effect when the top is down and the weather is chilled. The top is a beautifully contrived unit which can be activated up to 31mph. Although the small back window features a defroster, rear vision is never very good with the top erect. However, a standard rear vision camera displays what you can’t see from the driver’s seat, and front and rear parking assists also help you steer clear of obstructions.

2016 Buick Cascada Premium

The Cascada is based on an Opel platform which is built in Poland. This unit started life more than 7 years ago as an Opel Astra J, and continues in production today as the Opel and Buick Cascada. Because of its longevity, the controls are showing their age. You’ll still need to insert a key in a slot to start this Buick, and the Cascada also lacks the handy proximity locking and unlocking common to newer designs. The center stack of the dashboard is rather complicated, with dozens of tiny buttons. It took me way too long to figure out how to program the HD Radio for favorite presets because the system is simply not intuitive. At one point I inadvertently managed to select Station 53 (“Chill”) on XM Radio on all 6 presets! On the plus side, however, this Buick features 4G LTE Wi-Fi, so you’re a virtual mobile hot spot, with a free limited data trial to enjoy before pay renewal with OnStar is required. While Buick touts the Cascade as a “Premium” effort, certain cheap touches dilute that impression. For example, the cruise control thumb wheel affixed to the left steering wheel spoke feels imprecise and flimsy.

2016 Buick Cascada Premium

Buick has fitted a surprisingly stout suspension system to this convertible. With standard 20 inch alloys carrying Bridgestone Potenza RE76 tires (245/45R20) at each corner, the Cascada has all the moves you’d expect of a sporting ride. The car corners flat and true, with the front suspension’s “HiPer Strut” carefully tuned to eliminate torque steer under heavy load. The downside of the 20 inch wheel application is the very wide turning circle you must deal with on every U-Turn. But when the top is stowed, the sun is out and the wind is playing with your senses, the Cascada has few peers as an enjoyable and affordable bargain convertible.

2016 Buick Cascada Premium

  • Engine: 1.6 liter inline 4, turbocharged with SIDI, DOHC and VVT
  • Horsepower: 200hp
  • Torque: 206lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 20 MPG City/27 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $37,385
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Volkswagen Beetle Dune Review

Friday July 22nd, 2016 at 8:77 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Volkswagen Beetle Dune

By David Colman

Hypes: $100,000 Custom Look at 75% Off
Gripes: Small Trunk

You’ve got to hand it to Volkswagen. Here’s a company that does a better job of mining its own history than any other car maker. The latest nugget they’ve resurrected from their past is pure 24K gold, both in color and in spirit. Harkening back to The Sixties, when sand racers in California jacked VW Beetles up on Jeep wheels to attack the sand dunes of Baja, comes the appropriately named Beetle Dune. This package successfully resuscitates the myth – if not the off road performance – of those primordial Baja Bugs. VW accomplishes the transformation of the New Beetle into the Baja Beetle of yore through sleight of eye. Thanks to new front and rear fascias, black wheel arch extensions, and skid plate underpinnings front and rear, the 2016 Dune looks ready to tackle a run from Ensenada to Cabo San Lucas.

2016 Volkswagen Beetle Dune

But the Dune’s diversionary looks can be deceiving. Even though ride height is half an inch taller than that of a stock Beetle, the Dune still clears the ground by just 5.9 inches. And VW’s use of 8 inch wide “Canyon” alloy rims with 235/45R18 Continental ProContact tires affords very little sidewall buffer for safe travel over unimproved roads. That restricted ground clearance means you’ll want to stick to paved roads or well groomed dirt trails because this Beetle, despite its promising looks and name, is no off-roader. Rather, it’s just dressed up to look like one.

2016 Volkswagen Beetle Dune

Dressed to the nines in fact, with a flashy exterior and a jaw dropping flash-point interior, both of which look best in all revealing Convertible form. Although both closed and open versions of Dune are available in three shades (Sandstorm Yellow, Pure White and Deep Black), the only color that does justice to the visual symphony is Sandstorm Yellow. Call this one Dune Messiah. Only the Sandstorm Yellow Dune includes upper door trim panels and dash pads finished in exterior color. The White and Black versions both make do with boring black door and dash trim. The net effect of the dazzling metallic gold exterior paint finding its way into the interior is eye popping. VW then takes the audacious custom look to the next level by fitting the Dune’s interior with gray cloth and black leather sport seats double seam stitched in Sandstorm Yellow thread.

2016 Volkswagen Beetle Dune

We enjoyed several pleasurable long drives in the Dune’s cockpit with the top stowed, the four side windows up, and the huge rear seat wind blocker erect. These measures cancelled virtually all air swirl inside the Dune, allowing open air motoring without the constant draft hassle. Of course, you are free to drop the windows and wind block for a more motorcycle like experience. The convertible top is beautifully constructed, with enough padding and insulation to make the Dune a true all weather proposition. VW provides a tonneau cover for a finished look when the top is down. A single button on the windshield frame operates the top’s mechanism, and operation is automatic from start to finish. There is no need to latch/unlatch the roof from the windshield manually, and Dune even drops or raises all four windows as needed during each cycle.

2016 Volkswagen Beetle Dune

Although Dune is designed to look like the original rear-engined Beetle, the engine is now located up front rather than out back. In fact, this Beetle is built on the same platform as the current Golf, so you can expect performance to mirror that of the Golf range in terms of acceleration, handling and fuel consumption. Which is to say the Dune performs well on all counts. It’s powered by a 170hp version of the Golf’s 1.8 liter turbocharged inline 4, which produces 184lb.-ft. of torque. Our test Dune fed its horsepower to the front wheels through a 6-speed automatic gearbox which could be shifted manually via the floor mounted stick when in Sport mode. No paddles are provided, however.

2016 Volkswagen Beetle Dune

The Dune Beetle is the ultimate illusory car. It looks like an original rear engine, rear drive Beetle, but in reality features a front engine and front wheel drive. It mimics the looks of a Baja Bug thanks to its medley of evocative styling clues, yet it will be driven off road rarely due to limited ground clearance. In view of all these tricks, you might call Dune the ultimate poseur’s car. But oh, what a lovely and unforgettable pose it has struck.

2016 Volkswagen Beetle Dune

  • Engine: 1.8 liter inline 4 cylinder,16 valve, turbocharged and intercooled
  • Horsepower: 170hp
  • Torque: 184lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 25MPG City/34 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $26,815
  • Star Rating: 9.5 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Toyota Tundra 4X4 Platinum Crewmax Review

Thursday July 21st, 2016 at 8:77 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Toyota Tundra 4X4 Platinum Crewmax

By David Colman

Hypes: Ferocious Demeanor Belies Grocery Getter Usefulness
Gripes: The 38 gallon tank will cost at least $150 to fill

As luck would have it, a sizeable parking slot at Orchard Supply Hardware opened up right next to a new Toyota Tacoma Crew Cab. As I parked my Tundra, I was careful to line up its front bumper with that of the Tacoma. This is a more difficult task than you might suspect since frontal vision from the Tundra’s lofty cab makes it virtually impossible to see anything directly in front of you. Nonetheless, when I finished jockeying the big Toyota pickup into position next to its smaller brother, I hopped out to assess relative size of these Toyotas. The Tundra stretched nearly a full bed length beyond the comparatively diminutive Tacoma. For the record, the Tacoma measures 208 inches from stem to stern versus 229 inches for the Tundra. The Tundra also stands 6 inches higher and 5 inches wider. In the case of our test Tundra, its 76 inch height is further extended by installation of 20 inch alloy rims with monster truck sized 275/55R20 Bridgestone Dueler Alenza tires.

2016 Toyota Tundra 4X4 Platinum Crewmax

So grab yourself a handful of steering wheel and climb aboard this $50,275 big rig. On the passenger side, Toyota has provided a strategically placed grab handle for hoisting yourself aboard. Ensconced in the nicely furnished cab, your eyes immediately focus on the artful stitching of the diamond patterned dash and door inserts. This nifty needlework, part of the Platinum Package, looks like something you might find in a Bentley or Maserati rather than a Toyota work truck. The interior spread contains lots of such nifty touches. The driver’s seat is covered with perforated leather, and offers 12 way power adjustment. The front passenger seat offers 5 way adjustability, and both seats provide heating and cooling of cushions. A vast intra-seat storage bin allows you to bury just about any valuable object for safe travel.

2016 Toyota Tundra 4X4 Platinum Crewmax

The floor-mounted stalk controlling the 6-speed automatic transmission places a massive shift knob in your right palm. There’s never a doubt about which gear you’ve chosen with this mechanism. It’s one of the easiest vehicles to shift thanks to flawless operation of the gear selectors. Actuating the lever is a delightful operation, especially since it also allows you to perform sequential up and down shifts.

2016 Toyota Tundra 4X4 Platinum Crewmax

The hefty transmission comprises but one element in a very sophisticated driveline. 4 wheel drive is available either full or part time via a selector located on the dashboard. The Tundra boasts an electronically controlled transfer case and an automatic limited slip unit fitted with a 4.30:1 final drive ratio. That ultra-low ratio insures maximum traction for towing, a task this truck is ideally suited to perform. Toyota installs both an engine and a transmission oil cooler on the Platinum version, plus a factory receiver style tow hitch. You can engage either Tow or Haul mode from a switch on the dash. Electrics are looked after by a heavy duty battery and alternator, and Toyota pre wires trailer hookup with both 7 and 3 pin receptacles mounted on the rear valance above the bumper. But the heart of the whole trailer operation centers on the massively torquey 5.7 liter “I-FORCE” V8, which produces 381hp, and more importantly, 401lb.-ft. of torque, a rating which gives this rig a towing capacity of 9,700 pounds.

2016 Toyota Tundra 4X4 Platinum Crewmax

So, yes you can haul an Airstream, a ski boat or a race car with relative ease thanks to all the planning Toyota has done to optimize the Tundra for such a task. But during our week with this truck, we never towed a single thing. In fact, we never even loaded the 5’5″ double-walled bed (with rail caps) with so much as a bicycle. Yet the Tundra was still a delight to operate as a regular daily grocery getter. The spacious Crewmax cab makes you feel like a passenger in an airport limousine. Sightlines in traffic are commanding, and the lofty perch gives you a better sense of road position than any artificial feedback from the Blind Spot Monitors with which this Tundra is equipped. Tundra also offers Rear Cross Traffic Alert as a standard feature, and this information is essential since you can’t see what’s going on back there from your seat in the cab. The standard rear backup camera will prove very helpful in aligning a trailer hitch. Standard front and rear sonar parking sensors let you put this big bad boy to rest in any parking lot without nudging your neighbor.

2016 Toyota Tundra 4X4 Platinum Crewmax

2016 Toyota Tundra 4X4 Platinum Crewmax

  • Engine: 5.7 liter V8, DOHC 32 valve, with Dual Independent VVT-i
  • Horsepower: 381hp
  • Torque: 401lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 13 MPG City/17 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $50,275
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE Sedan Review

Wednesday July 20th, 2016 at 11:77 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE Sedan

By David Colman

Hypes: The Gas Gauge Never Moves Off Full
Gripes: Limp Tire Choice, Unpredictable Regenerative Brakes

As the first half of 2016 fast approaches, Toyota’s Camry remains the sales leader in the USA in the crowded mid-size sedan marketplace. What does it take for this unassuming four-door to beat such heavy hitters as Honda’s Accord, Nissan’s Altima, Hyundai’s Sonata, Ford’s Fusion and VW’s Passat? If our week in the Hybrid version of the Camry is any indication, it takes excellent fuel mileage combined with reputable dependability to persuade Americans to buy more Camrys than any other mid-size product.

2016 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE Sedan

Of all the models in the Camry line, from the 173hp entry-level 2.5 liter LE to the 268hp 3.5 liter XLE, only one garners top honors in the fuel efficiency sweepstakes. That would be the Hybrid XLE we drove. In a solid week of testing, including numerous short hops and long distance cruises, the fuel level never once dipped below the 3/4 full mark because the Hybrid scores 38 MPG on the highway and an even better 40 MPG around town. This is truly amazing for a fully appointed four door that weighs more than a ton and a half. This Hybrid rates 9 out of 10 on the EPA’s “Fuel Economy and Greenhouse Gas Rating” and it does so without the inconvenience of a plug-in receptacle. You can hold your green head high with this vehicle and never once suffer the range inhibition so common to owners of fully electric vehicles.

The acceleration of the Hybrid is surprisingly strong with good torque immediately on tap as the CVT transmission shuffles belts to maximize output from a standstill. The Hybrid uses a 2.5 liter inline four cylinder petrol engine good for 178hp. This unit combines with an electric motor to boost total output to 200hp. The additive value of the electric motor thus adds 22hp to the 2.5 liter gas-only Camry. In practice, that 22 extra hp transforms the sedan’s performance from boring to rewarding. There was never an occasion when the Hybrid was wonting for pop.

2016 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE Sedan

This year Toyota offers a sports handling package for the Camry called “XSE.” From all reports, it doesn’t do much for your driving enjoyment but actively diminishes ride comfort. Our Hybrid was equipped instead with the XLE trim level, which adds the following niceties: Entune infotainment with 7 inch touchscreen, navigation, auto on/off LED headlights, moonroof, dual-zone climate control, Qi wireless phone charging, heated front seats and leather upholstery. In addition, Toyota fitted our test sedan with a Homelink transceiver ($345), and a premium JBL audio system ($1,330). Also upping the price by $750 was an “Advanced Technology Package” which adds Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Lane Departure Alert, and a Pre-Collision System that tightens the seat belts in advance of contact.

2016 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE Sedan

The Camry will never qualify as a sports sedan, no matter how much Toyota stiffens the suspension with the XSE option. But you could definitely improve its handling by replacing its mediocre Bridgestone Turanza EL400 tires (215/55R17) with the 18 inch rims and higher performance rubber which Toyota makes available on the XSE model. Also available at your dealer are the splendid looking 10 spoke, 18 inch rims which Toyota bolted to the limited production (only 12,000 examples) 2016 Camry Special Edition (SE). In any event, the Camry is a workhorse, not a racehorse. But its styling update, administered in 2015, still looks fresh enough to entice more buyers into Toyota showrooms than any other manufacturer. One of the explanations for this continuing phenomenon is reliability. Consumer Reports slaps a “Recommended” check mark on the Camry model range in large measure because this sedan scores a “Much better than average” rating in the all important “New Car Prediction” category.

2016 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE Sedan

If you’re on blood thinning medication, you’ll be relieved to know that the Camry Hybrid will never threaten to raise your blood pressure. While it won’t unduly excite you, it will also never unexpectedly disappoint you. The odds of getting stuck due to a mechanical malfunction are so remote that you can let your AAA membership lapse without so much as a pang of anxiety.

2016 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE Sedan

  • Engine: 2.5 liter inline 4, DOHC, 16 Valves with VVT-i plus Electric Motor
  • Horsepower: 200hp
  • Torque: N/A
  • Fuel Consumption: 40 MPG City/38 MPG HIGHWAY
  • Price as Tested: $35,800
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

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


2016 Ford Mustang GT Convertible Review

Wednesday June 22nd, 2016 at 10:66 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Ford Mustang GT Convertible

By David Colman

Hypes: 5.0 V8 is wicked quick, with sound to match
Gripes: Does a Steering Wheel really need 18 buttons?

The latest offering in Ford’s rag top pony car line is a very endearing product. Hot Rodders will love it for its 435hp and bellowing exhaust note. Sun worshippers will give it high grades for its expansive tanning bed. Back road carvers will grant it high marks for its handling dexterity. About the only souls predisposed to condemnation are mileage nerds who will look askance at the GT’s combined EPA rating of 19 MPG. Believe me, that’s a small price to pay for the repetitive fun dividend this Ford provides every day.

2016 Ford Mustang GT Convertible

As has been the case since this model’s inception in 1964, there are pretend Mustangs and there are real Mustangs. The pretend stallions are gelded at birth with just 6 cylinders under the hood. The real Mustangs come off the Flat Rock assembly line with a proper V8 in the engine bay. In the case of our Competition Orange test GT, proper refers to a 5.0 liter V8 massaged to produce 435hp and 400lb.-ft. of torque. The best of all drivertrains to harness this output is the 6-speed manual transmission, coupled to a 3.31:1 rear axle ratio, both of which are available at no extra cost. The manual shift is a work of art, from the incised pattern on its chromed knob to the lockout lift ring for reverse gear. The levers throws are ultra short and satisfying. The clutch pedal’s precise engagement makes slamming home shifts at redline a true driver’s delight. Enthusiasts will never run short of enthusiasm for driving this manual gearbox Mustang GT.

2016 Ford Mustang GT Convertible

Unlike so many front-engine muscle cars, the GT does not disappoint when the occasion arises to tackle some curves. In that regard, Ford has done everything to make the Mustang a stellar handling pony car. Confidence in curves starts with the right underpinnings. Here, Mustang was an early adopter of fully independent rear suspension to go along with independent front suspension. This pairing results in a balanced, controllable platform which is fine tuned by a stout front strut tower brace and a standard limited slip rear axle that prevents wheelspin. All GTs offer standard electronic line-lock for optimizing drag race starts, plus a bevy of “Mustang Tack Apps” that allow you to monitor g-forces, braking times, acceleration times in the quarter mile, as well as 0-60mph times.

2016 Ford Mustang GT Convertible

The convertible version of the GT is remarkably stiff. You will never sense the chassis flexing, even when traversing railroad tracks with the top down. And speaking of that top, it will fold itself into a neat covered receptacle in less than 10 seconds. All you have to do is manually release a hefty T-shaped lock handle to disconnect the roof header from the windshield surround. Dropping the roof automatically lowers all four side windows. However, raising the roof requires you to elevate on your own those same side windows. Ford has provided a sizeable glass rear window and equipped it with heating coils to keep it clear. Even with the top raised, visibility to the rear and sides is surprisingly good considering the GT’s sleek proportions.

2016 Ford Mustang GT Convertible

You will definitely want to order your convertible with the slick and relatively inexpensive “California Special Package” ($1,995) which pays tribute to a rare GT/CS Mustang Ford built in the late 1960s for California only. In today’s version of that Golden State look back, Ford supplies exceptionally handsome 19 inch painted and machined ebony alloy wheels which carry hefty Pirelli P Zero Nero rubber measuring 255/40R19 at each corner. These wheels and tires alone would cost you twice the California Special Package surcharge were you to order the combo from your local tire store. In addition to the sticky footprint, the package also includes a piano black tail spoiler, plus very handsome ebony accents on the hood and rockers that utilize decreasing size Ben Day dots to accentuate the Mustang’s swooping lines. The almost equally expensive “Shaker Pro Audio System” ($1,795) is an item I could live without. Since we spent most of our week with the top dropped, the Shaker’s 12 speaker system and huge trunk-mounted sub woofer was hard pressed to compete with the sound of rushing air.

2016 Ford Mustang GT Convertible

The GT Convertible includes very nice 3-stage heated front seats. The interior is well laid out in terms of door design, low instrument panel height, and reach to the shift console. There’s a tad too much chrome on the auxiliary switch control panel located at the foot of the center stack. The HVAC blower switch is too small and difficult to activate. But all in all, the Mustang GT offers drivers the best interior design of any muscle car on the market today. Be thankful you can still buy this much high performance for this little outlay today.

Ford Mustang GT Convertible

  • Engine: 5.0 Liter TI-VCT V8
  • Horsepower: 435hp
  • Torque: 400lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 15 MPG City/25 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $47,380
  • Star Rating: 10+ out of 10 Stars

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


2016 Ford Edge Sport AWD Review

Tuesday June 21st, 2016 at 10:66 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Ford Edge Sport AWD

By David Colman

Hypes: Marvelous Color, Marvelous Motor
Gripes: Cargo Screen Look and Feel Cheap

Every model year sees one manufacturer innovate a new color so scintillating you wonder why no one thought of it before. This year, the tribute goes to Ford for their splendid shade of eye candy called Electric Spice Metallic. This incredible hue which bridges the gap between copper and gold, causes the very smart looking Edge to levitate visually on its equally handsome 21 inch graphite painted alloys. Now Electric Spice Metallic is a color some noted German and British SUV makers would be happy to charge you at least $1,000 extra to mix and apply. But Ford remarkably offers it as one of their standard Edge tints. You will, however, be asked to ante up for those impressively monumental alloys. The “21 inch Premium Painted Alloy Wheels” go for $995, or 4 for about the price you’d pay for 2 in the aftermarket. You’ll also be required to front another $995 for 265/40R21 Pirelli Scorpion Verde tires, also available below aftermarket book value.

2016 Ford Edge Sport AWD

The wheel/tire combo does much more than simply liven the looks of this Edge. Pirelli Scorpion tires are premium grade equipment. Though they will function admirably in wet weather, they are primarily “summer rated” and most at home on dry paved roads. Their fat tread pattern definitely gives a decisive handling edge to the Edge Sport. With 9 out of 10 SUVs, the “sport” aspect of the vehicle plays a distant second fiddle to the utility aspect. This is not at all the case with the Pirelli-shod Edge, which really lives up to its “Sport” designation. In fact, this Ford, with its “sport-tuned suspension,” is capable of carving corners with such panache that it will surprise more than a few pricey foreign sports sedans on a backroad.

2016 Ford Edge Sport AWD

For scintillating motivation, our test Edge depended on a 325hp turbo V6 that produces 375lb.-ft. of torque. Judiciously dispersed through the 6 ratios of a proper gearbox (no CVT here, thank you), the V6 Edge is a lithe scythe through traffic, with enough muscle to meet every passing need you will encounter. The turbo returns 20 MPG in overall usage and offers the most powerful drive unit in the Edge arsenal. A 240hp inline 4 turbo, and a non-turbo V6 rated at 283hp are also offered, but the 2.7 liter EcoBoost turbo V6 is definitely the way to go in this application.

2016 Ford Edge Sport AWD

A gander at the interior fitment will have you wondering whether you somehow paid for an Edge but brought home a Range Rover. Yes, the trim, comfort and aesthetic level is so good that the interior looks twice as expensive as it actually is. The ebony leather seats, beyond their supportive comfort, feature perforated suede surfaces interspersed with tanned black leather inserts. Subdued gray leather stitching knits the unit together and imparts a fine English riding saddle look to the cabin. Careful application of matte aluminum trim rings on the HVAC outlets, shift console and door panels integrate nicely with the patterned carbon look insert above the glovebox. A splendidly huge Panoramic Vista Roof ($1,595) slides so far rearwards that the entire front seat row is exposed to open air, while the rear passengers enjoy unprecedented overhead vision through the fixed rear panel that stretches nearly to the tailgate. And that tailgate is actually a “Hands Free Liftgate,” a standard feature that opens via keyfob input. A button on the tailgate door initiates automatic closure.

2016 Ford Edge Sport AWD

For those who need the storage attributes of a sports utility, but are unwilling to accept slow go, and cumbersome handling, the Edge Sport presents the perfect compromise. It will load 39 cubic feet of cargo if you fold the 60/40 rear seats flat, it will transport 5 passengers without breaking a sweat, it will tow 3,500 pounds, and best of all it will provide real feedback and driving pleasure on twisty roads where most SUVs quickly lose their grip on reality.

2016 Ford Edge Sport AWD

  • Engine: 2.7 liter EcoBoost V6 turbo
  • Horsepower: 325hp
  • Torque: 375lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 17 MPG City/24 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $49,990
  • Star Rating: 10+ out of 10 Stars

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


2016 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack Review

Friday June 10th, 2016 at 11:66 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack

By David Colman

Hypes: Torque Factory, Useful Overall Design
Gripes: At 4,015, Could Use Jenny Craig

If Dodge had fielded this Challenger in the Trans-Am Series back in 1970, neither the Bud Moore Mustang nor the Roger Penske Camaro would have won a single race, let alone the series title. Today’s street legal, emissions-legal Dodge will out-accelerate and out-handle any Trans-Am car from the golden years of that historic race series. The beauty of the Challenger R/T is that you can still buy the ultimate factory hot rod down at your local Dodge dealer for the bargain base price of $37,995.

2016 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack

That opening gambit will get you all the basic building blocks: the ultra powerful SRT version of the 6.4 liter HEMI engine good for 485hp and 475lb.-ft. of torque coupled to a 6-speed manual transmission. This drive train insures you will post 0-60mph runs of 4.2 seconds. Challenger is such a solid design that even Consumer Reports has awarded it one of their hard-won “Recommended” Check Marks. It’s comparatively easy to use on a daily basis because entry and exit are unimpeded, the rear seat will genuinely transport 2 adults, and the trunk itself is huge at 16.0 cubic feet. The visibility for such a sleek design is actually quite good. However, the flying buttresses that fair the roof into the trunk do impede three-quarter rear vision. But compared to the fox-hole like cockpit of the new Chevy Camaro, the Challenger is a sightseeing delight.

2016 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack

While it’s nice to know that the Challenger is useful from a practical standpoint, utilitarian virtue is not the reason to select it as your daily drive. Rather, incredible acceleration is the bottom line selling point here. Our test Dodge sported a few improvements over stock, which made driving it even more enjoyable. Start with the bargain-priced ($1,195) Scat Pack Appearance Group. This option replaces standard front seats with “Premium Cloth High Performance Seats” that grab you and retain you when you’re driving hard, yet still permit easy curbside access when climbing in or out. They’re even festooned with the Scat Pack’s angry HEMI bee logo on the headrests.

2016 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack

The bee motif carries over to a couple of flat black tail stinger stripes which the owner’s manual cautions you to polish only with specific cleaning products. Other Scat Pack niceties include HID headlights, a gloss black grill insert and a flat black external fuel access door. The overall appearance of our test Challenger, finished in “Bright White Clearcoat” was muted and handsome, with enough visual prompts to identify its exceptional DNA to the wary, but not so many as to alert every cop on the block to its presence.

2016 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack

That stealth aspect of the white Challenger is a very good thing, because this is such an exceptionally fast Dodge that racer boy graphics are the last thing you need to attract attention. You may recall that when Barry Newman evaded the law from coast to coast in the epic film Vanishing Point (1971) the car he chose for the job was a white first generation Challenger. This latest tribute to that original car betters it in every way.

2016 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack

The R/T version we drove also employed Dodge’s terrific 8-speed TorqueFlite automatic transmission ($1,400 option) to spread the HEMI’s wealth through the rear wheels. This gearbox is without question the sturdiest, most precise shifting automatic on the market today, with a pair of aluminum paddles affixed to the steering wheel and a specific manual gate built into the floor-mounted palm-shaped shifter. Because of the 8-speed array, you will find that 2nd gear runs out at about 45mph, but a shift to 3rd is easily accomplished with the right hand upshift paddle. You will never lack for torque or the proper gear to apply that torque. Although I’m a firm believer is manual transmissions, I would order my Challenger with the TorqueFlite automatic.

2016 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack

I would also definitely bump the bottom line by another $1,095 by opting for the handsome and understated 20×9 inch “Hyper Black II Forged Aluminum Wheels” which carry Goodyear RS-A Eagle tires (245/45R20). The Goodyears provide a high tread wear rating of 440. Consequently, they don’t provide enough traction to manage the HEMI’s torque. It’s almost impossible to launch this beast without leaving rubber in first gear. To improve the situation, either replace the Goodyears with something stickier, or opt for the SRT 392 version of the Challenger (base price: $50,195) which comes equipped with 275 section width Pirelli P Zero tires. But rest assured that no matter which Challenger you chose, you will be driving the best muscle car available today.

2016 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack

  • Engine: 6.4 liter V8 SRT HEMII
  • Horsepower: 485hp
  • Torque: 475lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 15 MPG City/25 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $43,375
  • Star Rating: 10+ out of 10 Stars

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2016 Audi A6 3.0T quattro Tiptronic Review

Thursday June 9th, 2016 at 11:66 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Audi A6 3.0T quattro Tiptronic

By David Colman

Hypes: The Decathlete of German Sedans
Gripes: Move the Start/Stop Button Closer To The Driver

“I could live with this car.” It was my wife Judy making that comment after spending a fairly intensive week driving and riding in the Audi A6, a supercharged super sedan that elicited an observation I had never heard my wife express before. And bear in mind that we test drive close to 50 cars every year, year after year. Her positive assessment was one I also shared. This Audi was proving itself- rather unexpectedly – to be a real keeper. The A6 is not, after all, the fastest sedan Audi makes, nor is it the best looking, the most powerful, or even the least expensive. To check any or all those boxes, you’ll have to look elsewhere in the company’s model lineup. Surprisingly, what the A6 has to offer is more than the sum of its parts. It provides a very satisfying ownership experience, with just enough power, handling, comfort and looks to tick all the tabs for the perfect ride.

2016 Audi A6 3.0T quattro Tiptronic

Let’s start with the 3.0 liter V6 in the engine bay. Underneath Audi’s plastic modesty shield lies a ribbed aluminum supercharger that provides just enough horsepower (333hp) to make the A6 a true sports sedan. Whenever you lean on the throttle, the efficient V6 snaps smartly into action. Direct high pressure fuel injection insures complete combustion, and that supercharger instantly starts to whine as it makes boost. The 8 speed Tiptronic transmission harnesses every burst because it allows you to retain gear choices manually via paddle shifts. If you simply leave the Tiptronic to its own devices, it will provide a steady stream of passing power by downshifting on its own when you tromp the throttle. The V6 offers a solid compromise between horsepower and economy, with a 24 MPG overall fuel consumption rating.

2016 Audi A6 3.0T quattro Tiptronic

Our week with the A6 included more than 300 freeway miles, so we got very familiar with its handling characteristics on a round trip to Monterey from the Bay Area. The outbound drive took place in a driving rainstorm which proved the exceptional adhesion quattro (all-wheel-drive) provides in inclement weather. The 255/30R20 Pirelli P Zero tires, part of a $1,500 “Black Optic Package” that also includes striking “5-Arm Rotor Design Wheels with Titanium Finish,” proved perfectly suited to standing water. There was no tendency to hydroplane despite the Pirellis’ wide tread and ultra-low profile sidewalls. The return trip in dry sunny weather also showed the Audi suspension to good advantage, with lots of high g-force cornering stick on the snaky sections of coast Route 1.

One of the reasons for the trip to Monterey was to conduct an interview with a well known race driver at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. The best place to conduct said interview proved to be the inside of the A6, which provided peace, quiet and comfort. All three are hard commodities to come by at Laguna Seca on a race weekend. The cabin of the A6 provides a wonderfully accommodating environment. The front and rear seats are all heated thanks to a $500 Cold Weather Package that also warms the rim of the steering wheel. The dashboard and door panels look and feel opulent because they are inlayed with matte finish, open grain chocolate wood veneer which Audi calls “Fine Grain Ash Natural Wood.” Conducting business in this environment felt completely natural since the A6 cabin, with its oodles of available seating adjustments, resembles a slick office more than a mere car interior.

2016 Audi A6 3.0T quattro Tiptronic

Although the base price of the A6 is a relatively modest $57,400, you’ll probably want to upgrade your Audi with the $4,200 “A6 Prestige Model” package which includes a Bose sound system, LED interior lighting, LED headlights, and a very handy electric trunk opener and closer. This last feature proved its worth innumerable times on our road trip. The final item on the Prestige list is a head-up display which projects your current road speed on the lower inside face of the windshield. Long freeway stretches make this easily accessed information particularly valuable.

2016 Audi A6 3.0T quattro Tiptronic

The Audi A6 is the definitive German sports sedan. Its subdued appearance belies its lion-hearted performance. You can spend lots more on a BMW or Mercedes, but you won’t get a better, more practical, more luscious sedan than this mid-priced Audi.

2016 Audi A6 3.0T quattro Tiptronic

  • Engine: 3.0 liter TFSI V6
  • Horsepower: 333hp
  • Torque: 325lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 20 MPG City/30 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $66,875
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Lexus GX460 Luxury Review

Wednesday June 8th, 2016 at 12:66 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Lexus GX460 Luxury

By David Colman

Hypes: Go Anywhere Brute
Gripes: Touchscreen Complexity

The base price of the GX460 is $61,515. The optioned price of our test GX totaled $67,825, an increase of 10 percent over base list. If you are considering purchase of this fine Lexus work horse, do yourself a financial favor and opt for the basic package. That way you’ll save $1,970 for an unnecessary dual screen rear seat entertainment system. Instead, give the kids a book or a magazine and tell them to turn on the reading lights (provided free by Lexus). Or better yet, open the free, included “Power tilt/slide moonroof” for more reading light.

Secondly, save yourself $4,340 for the “Driver Support Package” which burdens the GX460 with a raft of unneeded “safety” features that seem to have become required today by our nanny state. The first is “Pre-Collision System with Driver Attention Monitor.” If you are so inattentive to road conditions that you need a “Driver Attention Monitor” to keep you focused on the task of driving, maybe you should let someone else handle the wheel, or else stay home. Likewise, this package provides “Lane Departure Alert,” a feat of oversight that once required a glance in the mirror or a turn of the head, but now apparently demands an annoying sequence of flashing lights and buzzers to keep you from bumping into your neighbor in the adjacent lane.

2016 Lexus GX460 Luxury

Finally, the package installs “Dynamic Radar Cruise Control” which demands more of your attention to override its proclivity to think for itself than you would have to expend if you modulated speed the old fashioned way via the accelerator pedal. About the only worthwhile contribution of the “Driver Support Package” is the inclusion of a Mark Levinson Audio System” and you can definitely do without its extra amperage to save yourself five grand.

It’s mystifying why new vehicles need to be festooned with such technological overkill. The GX460 can certainly stand on its own four contact patches without resorting to safety gimmicks. It’s a solid product that performs its multiple tasks – long distance driving, stout material haulage, 7 person transport, outback bashing – just fine without resorting to any “Driver Support” upgrades. This mid-range Lexus, based on Toyota’s corporate 4Runner platform, is a beefy bruiser of a cruiser, and a genuine candidate for off-road exploration. It’s full time 4 wheel drive is much more sophisticated than the kind of system you might find in a crossover SUV. This one’s got a Torsen Limited Slip center differential featuring electronic lockup. Anyone who’s challenged rough terrain knows that a locking center differential is essential to maintaining traction in adverse conditions. Lexus makes sure to equip the GX with Mud and Snow rated tires (265/60R18 Michelin Latitude Tour) so you can depend on them for adhesion in inclement weather or off-road dirt.

2016 Lexus GX460 Luxury

Along those same lines, the standard GX460 includes automatic self-leveling rear air suspension, so feel free to pack the hold with up to 7 passengers. The two aft most travelers make do with pop-up occasional seats that fold flush into the floor of the storage area when not in use. The cabin here is well designed, airy and elegant, with nice luxury touches you would expect from Lexus like a Mahogany steering wheel rim and shift knob. A particularly unexpected treat is the full tool kit neatly stored inside the cargo rear door.

2016 Lexus GX460 Luxury

A centrally dash-mounted 8 inch touchscreen is easy to read, but sometimes annoying to use. For example, in order to regulate fan speed, you need to press the “Climate” button on the dash, then avert your eyes to the touchscreen where you will find a bar graph for fan speed. You then need to regulate the speed of the fan by manipulating the bar graph up or down. This whole sequence is so ridiculously complicated that it perhaps explains why you might need the “Driver Attention Monitor” to keep you from crashing while you fiddle with the touchscreen. I can remember when adjusting fan speed was simply a matter of twirling a dial.

2016 Lexus GX460 Luxury

A hefty 4.6 liter V8 powers the GX460 through a fine and precise 6-speed automatic transmission. Even though the GX weighs in at 5,170 pounds, its performance is sprightly enough to meet all fast lane needs while still scoring 17 MPG in combined city and highway driving. While 301hp won’t provide sprinter acceleration, 329lb.-ft. of torque will grant you sufficient grunt to tow a 6,500 pound trailer.

2016 Lexus GX460 Luxury

2016 Lexus GX460 Luxury

  • Engine: 4.6 liter V8, 32 valves, DOHC, VVT-i
  • Horsepower: 301hp
  • Torque: 329lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 15 MPG City/20 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $68,765
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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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

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


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