2017 Mazda CX-9 GT FWD Review

Tuesday May 16th, 2017 at 2:55 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Mazda CX-9 GT FWD

By David Colman

Hypes: Japanese Balance of Utility and Beauty
Gripes: Redo the HVAC Controls

Introduced in 2016 as a completely new model, Mazda’s CX-9 moves into its second year of production in Hiroshima, Japan virtually unchanged. In the multinational automotive world, it has become increasingly difficult to detect where your vehicle is produced. But those who value traditional Japanese craftsmanship can rest assured that the body, engine and transmission of the CX-9 are all constructed in Japan. This heritage shows in the vehicle’s neat overall design, attention to interior surface detail, and lively turbocharged engine. Although the CX-9 weighs in at more than two tons (4,280lbs.), Mazda’s first ever use of a turbo on their Skyactive engine line boosts output of the 2.5 liter straight four to a gratifying new level: 250hp and 310lb.-ft. of torque. Couple this punch to a 6-speed automatic capable of manual gear selection and you’ve got yourself a potent straight-line performance package.

2017 Mazda CX-9 GT FWD

Nor does Mazda drop the ball when it comes to suspension layout. Fully independent design front and rear endows the CX-9 with the ability to soak up bumps and road imperfections with aplomb. Ride comfort is uniformly excellent. Standard front and rear sway bars inhibit lean in corners. Generous 20 inch alloy rims plant grippy Falken Ziex C750 radials (225/50R20) at each corner. The Tread Wear 300 rating of these tires prioritizes handling, so it’s fair to say that Mazda infuses even this 7 passenger bus of an SUV with the sports car responsiveness of the company’s milestone MX-5 Miata.

The CX-9 includes three rows of seating for 7 passengers. Front row occupants enjoy exceptionally comfortable and well tailored lounge chairs complete with 3-stage heaters. Mazda has fitted the driver’s seat with a 2 position memory setting. The second row consists of a 40/60 split bench good for 2 or 3 passengers, while the knee-room restricted tail bench is best suited to small fry. Both back rows can be instantly converted to semi flat floor configuration good for 34 cubic feet of storage.

2017 Mazda CX-9 GT FWD

I found that dropping the third row bench flat, along with just one of the second row chairs, created enough room to stow an adult bike inside the CX-9. However, the upper cab taper of this SUV makes the handlebars a tight fit through the electrically activated tailgate. While rearranging the interior seats, I discovered a large flat storage bin thoughtfully hidden behind the third row seats. Under that bin lies a deep well housing a temporary spare tire (bonus points to Mazda) and the tools to deal with it. However, the spare wheel houses a huge Bose subwoofer which is bolted in place. You might want to rehearse the drill of removing the subwoofer before you need to do so on some dark and stormy night.

2017 Mazda CX-9 GT FWD

If the CX-9 has a shortcoming, it lies in the layout of the controls for the HVAC system, and to a lesser extent, the infotainment logic of the “Mazda Connect” interface. The HVAC controls (Mazda calls them “Automatic Climate Controls”) are inconveniently situated on a small panel located out of your line of sight, just above the center console. Commands for fan speed and air flow position are scattered along the bottom of this panel, with pictographs so minute that their operation diverts your attention from driving. Likewise, the system used to install “favorite” channels from SiriusXM is unnecessarily complicated. Each time you are prepared to install a favorite channel, the system presents you with a dialogue box inquiring whether you want to relocate the existing channel to another position. We finally gave up on this nonsense after about 10 minutes and stuck with just one channel (’50s on 5′) for our whole week with the CX-9.

2017 Mazda CX-9 GT FWD

This Mazda is well suited to towing moderate (3,500lbs.) trailer loads. Most importantly, it has the engine strength to get the job done, even over the Sierras. Mazda has provided standard trailer stability assist, plus an 8 inch full color dash top display for the view out the back. This will ease your anxiety when backing the CX-9′s optional hitch onto a tiny trailer ball. In fact, this spacious and comfortable Mazda is just about perfect for towing your ski boat, sail boat, formula race car or tiny camper. It provides all the comfort and convenience features you could possibly desire, and does so with an efficiency rating of 24MPG (overall) that rivals much smaller but less useful sedans.

2017 Mazda CX-9 GT FWD

  • Engine: 2.5 liter inline 4, turbocharged
  • Horsepower: 250hp
  • Torque: 310lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 22MPG City/28 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $41,810
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited Ultimate AWD Review

Saturday April 22nd, 2017 at 9:44 AM
Posted by: Judy Colman

2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited Ultimate AWD

By Judy Colman

Hypes: Numerous standard features for the price, sophisticated interior design
Gripes: Small cargo area if you need all available seats

Jeff Foxworthy once noted “You might be a redneck if directions to your house include ‘turn off the paved road’”. That’s exactly what I was dealing with on my recent trip to visit family in Wyoming. Actually, the pavement ends a few miles before the driveway. I tested the 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe, my ride for the week, in Wyoming’s winter snow, mud, cold, and wind.

2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited Ultimate AWD

Driving in eastern Wyoming is like dying and going to No-Traffic Heaven. Yes, I had the adaptive cruise control on, but there was virtually no traffic to test it adequately. Likewise with the blind spot warning system with rear traffic alert. However, I expected the lane departure warning to go off often when I saw the signs for ‘Tip Over risk. Expect wind gusts of 50-60 mph”. It didn’t happen. The wind howled but the Santa Fe stuck like glue in my chosen lane. Fortunately, I had no opportunity to test the emergency braking provided by the forward collision mitigation system.

Shod with Kumho P235/55 R19 tires, the Santa Fe handled admirably in the ice, snow and the slush that covered the town streets had to offer when I first arrived. When the snow melted and gave way to mud, the all wheel drive felt equally confident and secure.

2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited Ultimate AWD

The 3.3 liter, direct injection V6 engine, paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission, performed better than expected. Due to the altitude in Colorado and Wyoming, I anticipated a little hesitation or sluggishness from the six cylinders but found none. Every one of the 290 horses (at 6400 rpm) and 252 lb-ft of torque (at 5200 pm) was ready and available. Fuel mileage has increased slightly over the prior model to 19 mpg combined city/highway. All Santa Fe models can be ordered with either front-wheel or all-wheel drive. All wheel drive adds $1,750 to the price tag.

2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited Ultimate AWD

The six- or seven-passenger Santa Fe offers many creature comforts in its three row configuration. Leather seating, heated and cooled front seats, heated steering wheel, and a multitude of seat adjustability options combine to make road trips more enjoyable. Even the second row passengers benefit from heated seats. In the San Francisco Bay Area a heated steering wheel is a nice feature. When you look at the exterior thermometer in Wyoming and see 18 degrees, heated everything is good. The panoramic sunroof allows enough light in to keep the third row dwellers from feeling claustrophobic.

With the second and third row seats folded, the cargo space measures about 80 cubic feet. That gives you plenty of room for the trip to the home improvement or feed store. Available space shrinks to 41 cubic feet with only the third row seats down. 13.5 cubic feet is all that is left with all three rows of seating up. And it’s best to relegate the kids or very small adults to the third row seats as room for people in that area is quite limited. You can send the kids back there with their devices and they’ll be happy campers as the third row seats come with a handy USB port.

2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited Ultimate AWD

Finding climate and audio controls on the dash as well as on the 8-inch touch screen
makes perfect sense. Trying to turn the fan speed up or the temperature down using only a touch screen is akin to distracted driving in my estimation. The gauges and controls are laid out in a straightforward manner and are easy to read and engage. Bluetooth connectivity, AM/FM/HD radio with SiriusXM radio, QuantumLogic surround sound, and Android Auto smart phone integration keep the tunes coming and the techies engaged.

Base price for this model is $41,150. The only optional package available is the Ultimate Tech package ($2,100) which adds Smart Cruise Control, Automatic Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Detection, High Intensity Discharge headlights, Electronic Parking Brake with Auto Hold, and Dynamic Bending Light to the standard options.

Hyundai might not be your first thought for a six- or seven-passenger crossover vehicle, but you would do yourself a favor to consider the 2017 Santa Fe. With numerous options in this market segment, the Hyundai offers a competitive product packed full of standard features.

2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited Ultimate AWD

  • Engine: 3.3 liter Gasoline Direct Injection (GDI) V6
  • Horsepower: 290 hp
  • Torque: 252 lb-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 17 city, 22 highway, 19 combined
  • Price as Tested: $44,295
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Kia Niro FE Review

Wednesday April 19th, 2017 at 10:44 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Kia Niro FE

By David Colman

Hypes: Wins Stylistic Hybrid Trophy
Gripes: FE Feels Cheap to Touch

With introduction of the new for 2017 Niro Hybrid, Kia is targeting an underserved market segment. Until now, if you wanted a sub compact Hybrid capable of delivering 50MPG, you were limited to choosing some form of sedan – like a Toyota Prius or Chevy Volt. Although the Prius model line has been expanding exponentially of late, there’s still no crossover/station wagon/SUV variant available. Yes – you can make a hatchback Prius Prime do the crossover job, but are you willing to live with its tin toy/outer space styling?

No such worries with the new Niro. Kia stylists, who have proven extremely competent in their upper market range endeavors (like the K900), bring that same panache to the layout and design of the Niro. This is a good looking crossover, with enough SUV touches to please the nascent off-roader, enough practicality to humor the station wagon crowd, and enough efficiency (50MPG overall!) to convince the potential Prius/Volt customer that there is now an attractive crossover choice.

2017 Kia Niro FE

The Niro’s green cachet has already been celebrated by a hilarious spot (starring Melissa McCarthy) which was shown during the last Super Bowl. You’re probably going, “Oh, so that’s what that ad was about.” Right. Kia is investing major effort in this car’s launch. And after a week behind the wheel, I would have to concur that the money has been well spent. Even though the output of the Niro’s combined electric/gas propulsion system is only 139hp, this Kia is light enough to bump past slower traffic with a little advance planning on the driver’s part. That’s because the Hybrid produces an unexpected wallop of torque (195lb.-ft.) that harmonizes perfectly with the 6-speed dual clutch transmission. Even in the base model FE we tested, Kia refused to cut corners by selecting a groaning CVT.

2017 Kia Niro FE

The 1.56 kWh lithium ion polymer battery pack stores under the rear seat, low in the chassis. This location lowers the Niro’s center of gravity, which in turn promotes better handling. It also allows the rear seats to be folded flat, though they do stand a bit tall due to the battery storage location. Nonetheless, i was able to slide my mountain bike into the available 26 cubic foot cargo hold by simply flipping the front wheel around to decrease bike length. And speaking of length, the Niro’s generous 106 inch wheelbase offers plenty of rear passenger legroom. This crossover is bigger inside than it looks outside.

2017 Kia Niro FE

It also comports itself with surprising agility on twisting two lane back roads. While you won’t be chasing down any BMW sedans, you won’t need to make excuses about the Niro’s canyon performance either. The FE, as the base model in the Niro line, comes with rather puny 16 inch alloy rims which are inexplicably shod with wheel covers. These rims mount Michelin Energy radials measuring just 205 in section width (205/60R16). Despite the choice of such MPG-oriented tires, the Niro FE hangs on with surprising grip when you press it hard through tight turns. Responsible for this neutral behavior is a refined chassis featuring fully independent design front and rear. This layout produces such minimal understeer that you’d be hard pressed to know that the Niro is a front-wheel-drive design.

2017 Kia Niro FE

Although our FE version stands as Kia’s price leader at just $22,890, you must be willing to overlook its bargain basement ambiance. The interior looks like it was molded from the same shiny black plastic used to make Glad Bags. The steering wheel, with its pebbled surface for extra grip, will never be confused with anything crafted in Germany. Likewise, the levers and paddles that control seat position and rake feel chintzy and insubstantial. On the other hand, the instrument pod contains a very nifty gauge pack consisting of an eco monitor on the left and a 140mph (in your dreams) speedometer on the right. This duo is bridged by a center information panel that is driver-configurable. While you won’t find heated seats or steering wheel in the FE, Kia surprises base model buyers with a number of unexpected amenities: dual zone automatic climate control, AM/FM/MP3 with 7 inch touchscreen, Android Auto and Apple Car Play Smartphone integration, and Remote Keyless Entry.

2017 Kia Niro FE

This little Kia has a lot going for it. It looks way better than a Prius or Volt, matches them both for energy husbandry, and allows you to carry four adults or lots of cargo in surprisingly spacious comfort. If I were shopping for a new Niro, i would opt for the Touring version. Although it costs about $4,000 more, its fit and finish convert the interior from tolerable to luxurious – plus you get real 18 inch ally rims and tires for even better handling.

2017 Kia Niro FE

2017 Kia Niro FE

  • Engine: 1.6 liter 1.6 liter GDI 4 cylinder plus electric motor
  • Horsepower: 139hp (Combined)
  • Torque: 195lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 52MPG City/49 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $23,785
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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


2017 Chrysler Pacifica Touring L Plus Review

Wednesday April 12th, 2017 at 11:44 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Touring L Plus

By David Colman

Hypes: Ultra Convenient Features, Superb Comfort
Gripes: Needless Optional Nannies

Chrysler’s new All-American minivan is built in Canada and powered by a V6 engine constructed in Mexico. Okay, the stellar 9-speed automatic transmission is a product of the USA, as is the design thinking that went into this quintessentially American vehicle. Until now, the company used the Town & Country nameplate for its minivan, a designation first applied to Chrysler’s wood-sided luxury sedans of the 1940s. However, Chrysler decided to jettison the iconic brand moniker this year in favor of Pacifica, a nameplate previously used on an unsuccessful crossover. Thankfully, the new Pacifica is good enough to merit renaming the franchise. No Town & Country could match the performance of this newest minivan.

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Touring L Plus

Under the Pacifica’s abbreviated snout lies a very lively Pentastar V6 with variable valve timing for all 24 valves. This engine produces 287hp and 262lb.-ft. of torque which yields 8 second times for the 0-60mph run, and supports a tow rating of 3,600lbs. The 9-speed automatic is a faultless accomplice to the van’s mission, providing imperceptibly smooth upshifts and downshifts. A circular gear controller on the face of the dash to the right of the steering wheel is conveniently angled for use and works much better than the similar control Ford uses in its Fusion sedan. The Pacifica’s transmission lacks either paddle shifts or a method of controlling individual gear changes. EPA estimates for fuel consumption peg the V6 at 22MPG overall, which is remarkably good for an 8-person family hauler weighing 4,535lbs, If you decide to opt for the Hybrid Pacifica – segment first – overall engine output drops to 260hp and you lose the rear row of seating in favor of battery storage. But the Hybrid van will run 30 miles on an electric charge before the V6 needs to kick in.

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Touring L Plus

Chrysler has been perfecting van layout for so long that the Pacifica serves as a model of good design work. The rearmost Stow n’ Go seats flip and fold flat instantly, a transformation that opens an enormous storage cavity of 66 cubic feet. Likewise, the second row Stow n’ Go captain’s chairs easily flip and fold themselves out of the way, transforming the interior into a virtual pickup bed with carpet on the floor and a roof overhead. I inserted my mountain bike into the buttoned down interior and found so much room that I didn’t even need to stow the second row seats to accommodate the bike. Overnight camping in this van poses no space problems.

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Touring L Plus

The remote door opening procedure exemplifies just how well Chrysler is attuned to owner needs. Both sliding side doors are heavy and cumbersome if you operate them by hand. I recognized this difficulty before realizing that the keyfob remote can be used to automatically open or close either door with a double punch of the appropriate button. Similarly, the rear gate lifts and shuts by remote, or by a kick gesture under the back bumper. You can even stop and start the engine using the same keyfob remote control. Life with a Touring level Pacifica could not be easier – provided you select the “Hands Free Doors and Liftgate Package” for an extra $795. Chrysler also appended a pricey ($1,995) “Advanced SafetyTec Group” which brings a lot of unwonted noise and annoyance to the cockpit environment. I managed to mute most of the bells and whistles incurred by front and rear park assist, lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control, and parallel and perpendicular park assist, but I certainly wouldn’t opt for this expensive and unnecessary bevy of intrusive nannies on my own Pacifica.

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Touring L Plus

One worthwhile option box I would tick, however, is $895 for the optional “Tire and Wheel Group.” This selection bolts a handsome set of 7.5″x18″ satin silver painted alloys to all 4 corners instead of the standard 17″ wheels. These uprated rims carry Michelin Premier A/S tires measuring 235/60R18. With a van this heavy, and capable of carrying substantial loads of people or goods, you definitely want premium rubber at all four contact patches. These Michelins, in consort with a well tuned suspension system, get the job done with precision and dispatch. However, be forewarned that Pacifica comes with no spare wheel and tire. If you have a flat, the provided tire inflator kit will have to suffice in an emergency.

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Touring L Plus

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Touring L Plus

  • Engine: 3.6 liter Pentastar V6, 24 Valves with VVT
  • Horsepower: 287hp
  • Torque: 262lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 18MPG City/28MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $43,445
  • Star Rating: 9.5 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring Review

Tuesday April 11th, 2017 at 4:44 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring

By David Colman

Hypes: Frugal, Practical, Good Regenerative Brake Feel
Gripes: Bring Back the Radio Volume Knob Please

For 2017, Honda has reintroduced the Hybrid version of the Accord, a model last sold in 2015. Notable improvements over the previous version include doubling the number of electric motors. This pair now produces 181hp and 232lb.-ft. of torque. When coupled to the Hybrid’s 2.0 liter DOHC gas motor – itself good for 143hp and 129lb.-ft. of torque – the “Earth Dreams” drive system yields a combined rating of 212hp. This marks an increase of 16hp over the discontinued 2015 Hybrid Accord. More importantly, the Hybrid now returns 48MPG in the EPA test cycle for combined city/highway operation.

2017 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring

A CVT (continuously Variable Transmission) meters power to the front wheels only. Since it has no gears, the electronically controlled (hence, eCVT) shifter provides no method for transmission modulation of engine speed. There are no paddles available, so the closest you can come to operational choice here is to select the “Sport” mode which maximizes throttle sensitivity and thus provides quicker engine response. Honda also includes a “B” setting on the eCVT which favors brake regeneration on long downhills.

2017 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring

The new Hybrid package is gratifyingly quick in Sport mode, with immediate throttle response prompting a sudden surge of torque from the electric motors. Thanks to the simple minded behavior of its eCVT, however, Honda’s latest Hybrid Accord misses the sports sedan mark. This 3,552lb. mid-size sedan records a power-to-weight ratio of 16.75lb/hp. Adequate, but hardly scintillating. Further complicating the fun-to-drive factor are the Hybrid’s modestly sized, rock hard Michelin Energy radials (225/50R17) mounted on busy looking alloy rims (7.5″x17″). These all-season Michelins would not be your first choice for carving apexes on back roads, since their tread width (225mm) is skimpy and their compound hard (tread wear rating of480).

2017 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring

If you order the top line Touring Group version of the Accord, Honda equips your sedan with the following features not included on lesser models: heated rear seats, LED headlights with high beam assist, and navigation. You really aren’t left wonting for much with this maxed out Touring Accord. A complete suite of safety minders is standard. Called “Honda Sensing,” these provide collision braking, adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, forward collision warning, and lane departure/ road departure warning. Such are the building blocks of the fully autonomous vehicle which can prove useful in case of an emergency. The best feature is the Accord’s very smooth and easily controlled adaptive cruise control which works flawlessly, even in heavy traffic. It allows you to set your following distance, and obediently maintains that gap to traffic without the undue jerkiness characteristic of so many similar systems. Especially informative is a rear camera which projects adjacent right side traffic on a 7 inch display screen when you activate your right hand turn signal. By depressing a button on the signal control stalk, you can play this informative display for your entire drive.

2017 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring

The interior of the Accord is inviting despite its lack of luxury trim. The dash is finished with bands of simulated plastic driftwood that neither excites nor dismays you. The seats are reasonably comfortable, heated, and easy on your back thanks to standard lumbar electric adjustments. Their low side bolsters do little for cornering support, but facilitate ingress and egress. Construction quality is beyond reproach. Honda moved Hybrid build from Marysville, Ohio to Sayama, Japan this year, making this Accord a fully Japanese product.

2017 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring

The Hybrid’s 1.3kWh lithium-ion battery pack is substantially smaller than the one supplied to the previous model. Hence, it occupies less trunk space. This savings has increased the trunk to 13.5 cubic feet. However, you are still faced with a raised ridge covering the battery pack that necessitates a fixed partition behind the rear seats. The Hybrid loses 2.5 cubic feet of storage compared to the gas powered Accord. However, the Hybrid’s phenomenal 48 miles to the gallon compensates nicely for such minor storage space loss.

2017 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring

  • Engine: Twin Electric Motors plus 2.0 liter gasoline engine, 16 valves DOHC
  • Horsepower: 212hp
  • Torque: 232lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 49MPG City/47 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $36,790
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Mazda CX-3 GT FWD Review

Wednesday March 29th, 2017 at 11:33 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Mazda CX-3 GT FWD

By David Colman

Hypes: Miata-infused SUV
Gripes: ADD screen, Busy Center Console

There’s a lot of Miata in this CX-3. Anyone who’s spent quality time beyond the wheel of Mazda’s classic MX-5 (Miata) two seat sports car will immediately appreciate the detail spillover to the CX-3. Mazda products are really all about feedback. You give a command and the vehicle responds to that directive instantaneously. Like the Miata, the CX-3 – despite its SUV design and elevated ride height – reacts instantly when you turn the wheel, bang a downshift or hammer the throttle. The CX-3 consistently displays such lightning quick reflexes that its operation becomes instinctual rather than forced. Like the Miata, the MX-3 is so underpowered (just 146hp) that it depends on its ultra precise handling and suspension composure to compensate for its lack of brute strength under the hood. And like the Miata, the CX-3′s overall balance tips the fun-to-drive scale heavily in favor of this diminutive SUV.

2017 Mazda CX-3 GT FWD

If you’re looking for a utilitarian family hauler, look elsewhere. The CX-3′s 100 inch wheelbase is about 10 inches short of a full family six pack. And you most assuredly won’t be able to slide your bike into the rear hatch. However, you will be able to accommodate a four pack of adults inside the CX-3. There’s enough front and rear legroom to allow four six footers sprawl room. Those who have spent time in a Miata cockpit will feel right at home driving the CX-3. The manually adjustable steering wheel is perfectly situated for grip and precision control. Even the fingertip shift paddles fall exactly where you need them when you decide to assume gear control from the 6-speed “Sport Mode” automatic transmission.

2017 Mazda CX-3 GT FWD

And like the MX-5 sports car, the center tunnel houses the joystick for all Mazda Connect features such as sound settings, device settings, vehicle settings, system settings, active driving display settings and safety settings. Mazda terms this large rotary dial the “Commander Switch,” and due to its partially hidden location, it will take you some time to acclimatize yourself to its operation. Most commands can be issued verbally. We were disappointed to find no menu choice available for door lock protocol. Every time we walked away from the CX-3, the doors automatically locked. When we returned, however, they did not automatically unlock. This necessitated a jab on the appropriate keyfob button, a procedure that got old real fast.

2017 Mazda CX-3 GT FWD

What didn’t get tiresome was the CX-3′s desire to attack back roads with sports car aplomb. Mazda does not stint in equipping this mini-SUV with optimal wheels and tires. Our “Dynamic Blue Mica” tester sported handsome 18 inch alloy rims fitted with very sticky all season Yokohama Avid S34 radials (215/50R18). A couple of challenging backroad runs failed to dislodge the CX-3 from the line chosen by its operator. Despite its 61 inch height, this 2,945 pound mini truck carries out your placement orders with dispatch and precision. This behavior proved especially impressive during wet weather operation. Even during the worst storms, nary a skid was detected. Mazda touts their belief that “Driving Matters” and in the case of the CX-3, that claim is clearly accurate.

2017 Mazda CX-3 GT FWD

Which is not to say that some ergonomic details don’t intrude on the overall bliss. The hatchback release button, located under the edge of the rear lid, is too small and too difficult to locate. The trunk area at the rear needs a light for night loading. The Active Driving Display is a disconcerting addition to the dashboard. This ADD unit consists of a clear plastic screen which automatically pops up from the top of the instrument binnacle to provide speed, navigation and cruise control information. It’s a sort of poor man’s head up system, and I couldn’t find a way to shut it off or retract the screen. In fact, Mazda specifically warns, “Do not try to adjust the angle or open/close the display by hand.” The ADD unit is standard on CX-3s fitted with Grand Touring (GT) level trim.

2017 Mazda CX-3 GT FWD

Really, these are but minor quibbles that pale into insignificance when considering this Mazda’s overall worth. There are very few SUVs on the market that will match the CX-3 for joy of operation or for value pricing.

2017 Mazda CX-3 GT FWD

  • Engine: 2.0 liter “Skyactive” inline 4 cylinder
  • Horsepower: 146hp
  • Torque: 146lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 29 MPG City/34 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $27,260
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited Review

Tuesday March 28th, 2017 at 10:33 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited

By David Colman

Hypes: High on the Green Scale, Comfy
Gripes: Hybrid Takes Trunk Space, Modest Cornering Ability

When I recently rode in a first generation Toyota Avalon belonging to a friend, I was astounded by its small size and lack of amenities. That pioneer Avalon was really little more than a rebadged Camry with an elevated price tag prompted by pretensions of luxury. Today’s Avalon is a very different product from that modest initial offering. Although it has retained the same “big car” dimensions for the last decade (111 in. wheelbase, 72 in. width, 197 in. length), the packaging within has transformed the Avalon from a massaged Camry into a luxurious line-topping sedan with no need to apologize for anything.

2017 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited

In the case of our test vehicle, there’s no need to hedge about its green entitlement either, since this sizeable 3,590 lb. quintet mover registers a planet saving 40 MPG in overall driving thanks to inclusion of Toyota’s well integrated Hybrid Synergy Drive system. The Hybrid combines a permanent magnet synchronous electric motor good for 200lb.-ft. of torque with a sophisticated (DOHC/VVT-i/ 16 Valve) 4 cylinder 2.5 liter gas engine good for 200hp. This combined output reaches the rear wheels through a constant velocity transmission (CVT). According to the government, this drivetrain produces an average yearly fuel cost saving of $2,500 compared to the MPG rating of a comparable gas-only vehicle. The EPA also allows you to brag that your Hybrid Avalon posts a 9/10 on the “fuel economy and greenhouse gas rating scale,” and an 8/10 on the “smog rating” scale.

2017 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited

Of course, you will pay a premium for this car’s complicated Hybrid propulsion unit. The first up-charge comes at purchase time, because choosing a Synergy Drive Avalon propels the base price to $42,550. The gas powered Avalon range starts at just $34,000, so you’re definitely tipping the high end of this model’s pay scale. However, there is that $2,500 savings in fuel costs to consider, so you should come out better than even if you keep your Hybrid Avalon for at least 3 years while driving it roughly 12,000 miles per year. But what kind of a driving experience does the Hybrid provide, aside from its proclivity for efficiency? Simply put, this Avalon will not ignite the smoldering embers in an enthusiast’s breast. The problem derives from the Hybrid’s compromised power-to-weight (P/W) ratio. With just 200hp to propel 3,590 pounds of sedan, the Hybrid posts a P/W ratio of 17.95lbs./hp. Compare that to the gas powered, 268hp, V6 Avalon’s P/W ratio of just 13.39 and you’ll understand why the Hybrid takes its time reaching freeway speed from a stop.

2017 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited

The good news here is that this gives you even more time to enjoy the many amenities Toyota has baked into the latest Avalon interior. You will not be disappointed in the level of attention to detail here. Both front and rear seats are exceptionally comfortable. Since this sedan’s modestly proportioned tires (215/55R17 Michelin Primacy MXV4) and softly sprung suspension generate light side loads on curvy roads, the seats require no side bolster support. This allows very easy ingress/exit. The seat design emulates a Barca-Lounger style chair with relatively flat cushions that feel cushy and inviting. Both front seats are fitted with separate console mounted controls for heat and ventilation. For a dash design predicated on hard touch points rather than knobs or buttons, the Avalon’s layout is relatively successful. But hard touch adjustment surfaces have their drawbacks. For example, if you seek to adjust cabin temperature, you must first visually locate the HVAC slide scale for your side of the interior, then position your finger over the up (red) or down (blue) arrow, and then administer a jab. This push is acknowledged by a corresponding chirp. While this added design complexity might make cell phone addicts happy, it’s still not as rewarding to operate as a simple dial control.

2017 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited

The Avalon’s JBL Audio system deserves a special note of praise. The 7 inch touchscreen on the dash operates not only the 11 speaker JBL entertainment unit, but Toyota’s Entune App suite and standard Navigation System as well. The JBL’s bass output was truly remarkable, and once we dialed in our preferences to the SXM satellite radio (3 month free trial included), we enjoyed a solid week of our favorite tunes at a dauntingly booming volume level. But that kind of enjoyment is definitely the Hybrid Avalon’s strong suit. This is a large family car designed for covering long and boring stretches of interstate while keeping you entertained, comfortable, and virtually immune from the need to stop and refill the Avalon’s 17 gallon gas tank.

2017 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited

2017 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited

  • Engine: 2.5 liter inline 4, DOHC, VVT-i, 16 Valves + Electric Motor
  • Horsepower: 200hp
  • Torque: 199lb.-ft. electric motor
  • Fuel Consumption: 40MPG City/39 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $43,639
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T SE Review

Wednesday March 15th, 2017 at 11:33 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T SE

By David Colman

Hypes: Interior Layout Simplicity, Handling Balance
Gripes: Launch Hesitation in First Gear, Sticky Brake Feel

For 2017, Passat continues to benefit from the major makeover it received in 2016. In addition to restyled front and rear fascias, the Passat’s 6.3 inch graphic user interface touchscreen now includes Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Also now standard are VW Car-Net upgrades, including App-Connect (Smart Phone integration and interface) and Security & Service (Emergency Assistance). This latter feature is operable at delivery time, but must be subscribed for continued service. Also standard on Passat is a suite of technology safety upgrades. A rearview camera helps you reverse safely. Front Assist helps bring your Passat to a halt when frontal blockage is detected. Blind Spot Monitor is now standard, and features Rear Traffic Alert. These safety improvements operate silently and seamlessly, without the noisy intrusiveness characteristic of many such systems.

2017 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T SE

If you select the SE level of Passat, VW literally upgrades your wheels from 16 to 17 inch silver alloys wearing Continental ProContact mud & snow rubber (215/55R17). Another advantage of opting for an SE level Passat is inclusion of KESSY, keyless access with push button start. After spending a week fumbling for the keys of a VW Alltrack to gain entry and start the engine, the proximity system and push button of the Passat saved a lot of key search time. The Passat’s huge 16 cubic foot trunk includes a spare tire buried in a mat covered well. This emergency unit is made by Firestone and measures a scant 135/90/16, but gets the temporary job done since it matches the rolling diameter of the Continental radials. A jack and lug wrench are included.

2017 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T SE

The Passat is not designed for extroverts. You appreciate its subdued nature the minute you scan the quiet color choices available: 3 shades of silver or gray, muted blue, very muted red, beige or black. You certainly won’t find VW’s outrageous Beetle shade of Fresh Fuchsia Metallic available to dress your Passat. Rather, our test sample was painted Platinum Gray Metallic, set against a Titan Black interior. This is not to say the combo was objectionable. In fact, it looked handsomely subdued, in the way a Brooks Brothers suit is fashionably reserved. Adding to the pleasing medley of interior tones and patterns is a wide strip of what appears to be varnished driftwood. This material, set off in turn by an inlay of finely corrugated matte aluminum, stretches across the dash, and continues through all four door panels.

2017 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T SE

What we continue to love about VW vehicles and the staff that designs them is their resistance to sublimating vehicle operation to touchscreen menus. Here is a short list of vintage features that make Passat so much easier to operate than the current competition: a fly-off handbrake that is conveniently located and easy to operate; three large knobs to control temperature and fan operation; seven prominently positioned buttons to operate seat heaters and air flow; one overhead swivel knob to control slide/tilt operation of the standard sunroof; conveniently located manual lift/slide/rake controls for both front seats. Car designers today have abandoned this mode of simplicity in favor of complex, unnecessary, menu-driven operations that invariably deflect your attention from the serious requirements of driving. Bravo to VW for refusing to turn their Passat into a motorized smart phone.

2017 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T SE

This largest of all VW sedans is meant to be a family hauler, a mission it accomplishes with customary German dexterity. The Passat is without question a spacious sedan, with its wheelbase of 110 inches insuring that both front and back seat occupants will never wont for legroom. Even though the weight distribution of the Passat’s 3,220 pounds is heavily biased toward the front (59%F/41%R), this mini limo still covers twisty back roads with surprising agility. The front end never plows through tight turns, and the lively 170hp TSI turbo 4 unleashes enough zip to make exiting corners exhilarating. While the Passat’s deadpan looks may not give a clue from the outside, its sporting nature is always ready to be unleashed. If 170hp is insufficient, VW offers an even quicker variant in the V6 Passat, which makes 280hp from 3.6 liters. Either way, the Passat earns its stripes as a premium German sedan, which flies fast under the radar, and does so without draining your wallet.

2017 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T SE

2017 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T SE

  • Engine: 1.8 liter DOHC turbo 4 cylinder with direct injection (TSI)
  • Horsepower: 170hp
  • Torque: 184lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 23 MPG City/34 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $26,315
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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


2017 Lincoln MKZ Reserve AWD Review

Tuesday March 14th, 2017 at 11:33 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Lincoln MKZ Reserve AWD

By David Colman

Hypes: Powerful but Economical Motor, Huge Panoramic Roof
Gripes: 240hp is nice but a new 400hp twin turbo V6 is nicer

The big news at Lincoln this year is the return of the Continental, a storied 77 year old nameplate now attached to an all new luxury sedan for 2017. A lot of the Continental’s $60,000 luxury has also surfaced in Lincoln’s completely revamped 2017 MKZ, a five person luxury sedan restyled both inside and out this year. The MKZ is based on the Ford Fusion platform. But its Continental styled grill, sumptuous interior, and lively drivetrain move the MKZ into a class well beyond Fusion level.

2017 Lincoln MKZ Reserve AWD

Lincoln finally abandoned their upswept butterfly trademark grill on the new MKZ for a revised prow that looks much sleeker. Not coincidentally, the perforated mesh screen establishes the MKZ’s close familial ties to the new Continental. Inside our handsome Midnight Blue Sapphire Metallic test car, the spread of Ebony leather looks understated and elegant. Both front “Multicontour” seats feature 10 way motor-driven adjustability, with heating and ventilation standard. Rear seats are heated as well. The interior is dominated by the most expansive retracting sunroof I can recall. This huge swath of gleaming black glass fully retracts in two stages: first the interior screen cover slides aft, followed by retraction of the entire glass roof. This “Panoramic” roof puts on quite a show while insuring that claustrophobia will never figure in your MKZ trip plans.

2017 Lincoln MKZ Reserve AWD

After having driven a Hybrid Fusion during the week preceding my stint in the MKZ, I found the Lincoln’s interior to be preferable on several counts. Foremost is the irrefutable logic of the controls in the new Lincoln. For 2017, the MKZ eliminates the capacitive touch-based system of the previous model, instead using more knobs and buttons than slide switches. This advance alone makes it ever so easy to adjust seat temperature, cabin climate and steering wheel heater with the simple push of a button. In the Fusion, steering wheel heat requires going through a menu and locating a virtual button on a complicated video screen. Likewise, the Lincoln’s 6-speed SelectShift automatic gearbox, which offers a manual mode with paddles, is controlled by a series of large PRNDL buttons stacked vertically adjacent to the steering wheel rim, a placement that is much easier to use than the Fusion’s new rotary gear selector wheel.

2017 Lincoln MKZ Reserve AWD

Our base model Lincoln utilized a 2.0 liter turbocharged inline 4 cylinder “GTDI” direct injection engine that provides really strong performance considering its diminutive displacement. Both torque (275lb.-ft.) and horsepower (245hp) have increased by 5lb.-ft. and 5hp over the 2016 model. With the aid of the paddles to select just the right gear ratio of the 6 offered, the new MKZ really flies. The all-wheel-drive system harnesses the engine’s strong output, judiciously channeling just the right amount of drive to each Michelin Primacy MXM4 tire (245/40R19). The alloy rims of our test MKZ, which Lincoln describes as “premium painted aluminum wheels with painted pockets and chrome inserts” looked particularly spiffy. They will, however, prove labor intensive to keep clean.

2017 Lincoln MKZ Reserve AWD

Last year, Lincoln introduced a comforting premium program for customers seeking concierge level design tweaks. For example, you can fit your MKZ with Vintner’s Wood inserts complemented by Merlot leather seating surfaces. This “curated” Black Label program also extends to special after-sales attention, offering complimentary car washes after service, and access to special food and entertainment events. Clearly, this is an effort by Lincoln to match the customer friendly trappings Lexus and Infiniti owners have come to expect. At a base price of just $35,170, the redone MKZ already has a big financial advantage over its more expensive Japanese competitors. The Black Label program is just more icing on an already rather delectable piece of cake.

2017 Lincoln MKZ Reserve AWD

  • Engine: 2.0 liter inline 4, GTDI, turbocharged
  • Horsepower: 240hp
  • Torque: 275lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 20 MPG City/28 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $36,507
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Volkswagen Golf TSI Alltrack 4Motion Review

Friday March 3rd, 2017 at 12:33 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Volkswagen Golf TSI Alltrack

By David Colman

Hypes: Strong Drivetrain, Useful Interior, Great Price
Gripes: Needs Headlight Flash When Locking/Unlocking

So far, the new Alltrack VW had checked all my boxes. Was it fast enough? Yes. Did it handle well enough? Absolutely. Did it look good inside and out? Check and check again. But as a sportive player, now it would have to pass the bike test. With rear seats folded flat, would the Alltrack have enough room to stow my mountain bike? Yes, with surprising room to spare – as long as the bike’s front wheel is folded back 180 degrees. Clearing that final impediment makes the Alltrack as close to perfect as you can get. With its Falken Sincera tires (205/55/R17) churning through slosh and mud, this newest addition to the company stable is good for virtually any foray, off or on road. It deals equally well with either eventuality. And it provides you with lots of driving fun to boot.

2017 Volkswagen Golf TSI Alltrack

This latest brainchild from Wolfsburg is a crossover of sorts. VW appropriated the basic architecture of the Front Wheel Drive Golf SportWagen, transforming it into an All Wheel Drive variant that excels in all terrain performance. VW calls it “All Whee Drive.” In addition to 4Motion (VW’s name for all-wheel-drive), engineers have raised the Golf’s suspension enough to clear off-road type obstacles. They have even provided an underbody guard to prevent damage in the outback. A “Driving Mode” selector on the center console allows you to chose ride height appropriate for Sport, Normal or Off Road driving adventures. Even though I never ventured far off pavement (VW calls such excursions the “road less graveled”), I did drive this VW for two hours through a pouring rainstorm, where I found its 4Motion traction capable of providing reassuring comfort in even the most adverse conditions.

2017 Volkswagen Golf TSI Alltrack

Similar Japanese products I have recently driven seem underpowered compared to the Alltrack, which depends on 1.8 liters of direct fuel injected, turbocharged, “TSI” 4 cylinder power to sprint away from stop lights like its sporty cousin, the Golf GTI. Helping allocate the power is a 6-speed automatic transmission equipped with a manual control gate and small paddles at the 9 and 12 o’clock positions behind the steering wheel. The Alltrack produces 170hp and makes 184lb.-ft. of torque while posting an overall EPA fuel consumption figure of 25 MPG. For the record, we never came close to exhausting this Golf’s 14.5 gallon supply, or invoking its 1.3 gallon reserve margin.

A week of nearly constant wet weather operation revealed a few niceties missing from the Alltrack equation. Rain sensing wipers would have been useful, as I spent an inordinate amount of time fiddling with the wiper stalk to keep pace with conditions. The power door locks, operated by the keyfob, lack a proximity sensor, so you need to push the appropriate button on the keyfob. This tends to complicate the boarding process in a downpour. And finally, when you unlock or lock the Alltrack, your action is confirmed by a blink of the turn indicators. But there is no accompanying timed illumination from the headlights. This makes for difficult approach or departure at night.

2017 Volkswagen Golf TSI Alltrack

Despite these minor oversights, the Alltrack is a startlingly well equipped vehicle, especially considering its bargain base price of $26,950. For example, both front seats are heated, with 3 stages of temperature offered. The wipers are also heated, along with the outside rear view mirrors. The Golf has been granted a substantial makeover for 2017, and one of the new features is a larger 6.5 inch touchscreen that displays a sublime level of clarity for operation of the 8 speaker AM/FM/SiriusXM radio unit. Thankfully, VW have avoided the temptation to incorporate all HVAC commands into this digital display.. Instead, the Alltrack provides welcome dial controls for temperature and fan settings, as well as separate buttons for A/C, defrost and rear window heat. It is also thrilling to discover that your seat settings (fore/aft, tilt, height) are all controlled by you, not a series of heavy, expensive and completely unnecessary electric motors. You also need to insert a key in the ignition which is something else of a delightful throwback these days when hard-to-find starter buttons have become the norm. In an era of increasingly overcomplicated auto design, VW takes a refreshing stand for simplicity of operation.

2017 Volkswagen Golf TSI Alltrack

The Alltrack is the perfect answer to a question asked by many families. What vehicle is sporty, all terrain capable, yet not configured like a tippy SUV on stilts? the answer to that quandary is this newest member of the VW clan, the quick, grippy and practical new Alltrack wagon.

2017 Volkswagen Golf TSI Alltrack 4Motion

  • Engine: 1.8 Liter TSI DOHC inline 4, turbocharged with direct injection
  • Horsepower: 170hp
  • Torque: 184lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 22 MPG City/30 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $27,770
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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


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