2016 Audi TT Coupe Review

Tuesday February 16th, 2016 at 1:22 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Audi TT Coupe

By David Colman

Hypes: Better and Lighter New Platform
Gripes: S tronic Up shifts Unbidden, Rear Wiper Needed

Welcome to your third helping of Audi’s bantam weight sports car, the TT, named after the Tourist Trophy race in England that Audi dominated back in the 1930s. The first TT made its debut in 1998, with spectacular looking inverted bathtub style coachwork. Ten years later, the second generation TT received a mild makeover that forsook some of the original design’s stubbiness in favor of a more streamlined silhouette. This third makeover for 2016 retains the current corporate trademark of a massive front grill, but leavens the heaviness of that big black snout with some very nice side panel detailing. In particular, the tooling around the pronounced fender arches is enticing. The redesign looks distinguished, if not as forceful or startling as the original.

2016 Audi TT Coupe

The largest deviation from tradition is the complete reorganization of the dashboard and instrument binnacle into a new life form Audi terms “Audi virtual cockpit.” Instead of physical dial faces for the tachometer and speedometer, Audi has introduced digital simulacrums for both gauges which can be resized from large to small at the touch of a button marked “View” on the flat bottom steering wheel. At full size, these virtual gauges occupy as much shelf space as those in the original TT, but when you hit “View,” they reduce to disarmingly small iWatch size displays. Audi has eliminated the central dash mounted display screen of previous TTs and relocated it to the space between the virtual speedo and tach. When you call up Google Earth from the Navigation system (part of a $3,250 “Technology package”), you can display the mapping on the panel directly in front of you. When you minimize the instrument faces with the “View” button, the entire instrument binnacle fills with the map display instead. This is both good and bad. The good is that the map gives you immediate information about your location, including which way the road turns next. The bad is that this information, which is constantly changing in front of your nose, is extremely distracting if you pay attention to it. Audi has managed to provide you with all the trappings of a self driving car here. The only problem is you still have to drive it.

2016 Audi TT Coupe

Now driving the TT is no chore, mind you, because it’s still a rather delectable sports car. The latest version, at just a tad over 3,100 pounds, weighs nearly 100 pounds less than its predecessor. In the scheme of present day sports machinery, the TT is a relative flyweight, especially when you consider its excellent power output of 220hp, and its 258lb.-ft. of torque. The turbocharged 4 cylinder engine will propel you to 60mph from a standstill in 5.4 seconds, with a speed of 98mph @ 13.8 seconds in the quarter mile. Those numbers indicate the TT to be usefully quick in back road passing situations, though I found that the 6-speed “S tronic” twin clutch automatic tended to up shift prematurely, at about 5500rpm, from 2nd to 3rd gear – even though the gearbox was slotted in the Manual mode designed to prevent early up shifts. As a result, 2nd gear expired just when you most needed its punch. A possible answer to this quandary is to opt for the TTS version of this car, equipped with a 292hp turbo 4 making 280lb.-ft. of torque.

2016 Audi TT Coupe

The TT boasts full time “quattro” all-wheel drive. When you combine the grip of AWD with very sticky 245/40R19 Bridgestone S001 radial rubber, mounted on optional ($1,000) “5-arm star design” alloys, you’ve hit on a combo bred to attack back roads. Audi offers four “Drive Select” chassis settings which can be dialed up instantaneously from a paddle switch on the dash. Chose “Comfort” and the TT glides over bumps and leans a bit in turns, while its exhaust note remains unheard. Dial up “Dynamic,” however, and all the suspension settings stiffen to plywood resilience, the exhaust note becomes throatily audible, and the steering response tightens to micrometer precision. Even during heavy rain outings, it was almost impossible to dislodge the quattro T from its trajectory in tight turns. The grip of this newly improved and lighter chassis is simply unimpeachable.

2016 Audi TT Coupe

Yet you can turn the TT back into a boulevard cruiser in an instant by resetting the drive choice system to “Comfort.” In that mode, and with the S tronic gearbox slotted into Drive, the TT assumes a much calmer personality. In fact, it reminds me very much of our family’s Mercedes Benz 250SL, a rather stately and attractive boulevard cruiser entirely lacking sports car handling. The beauty of the newest TT is that you can have it both ways, at just the flip of a switch.

2016 Audi TT Coupe

  • Engine: 2.0 liter inline 4, turbocharged, direct injection
  • Horsepower: 220hp
  • Torque: 258lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 23 MPG City/30 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $50,600
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Buick Regal AWD GS Review

Monday February 15th, 2016 at 1:22 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Buick Regal AWD GS

By David Colman

Hypes: Stealth Stalker of German Iron
Gripes: Ditch the Chrome Grill and Ventiports

What’s this? A Buick with 255/35R20 Pirelli P Zero tires? A Buick with Brembo brakes? You’re kidding me, right? Welcome to Buick’s second hundred years in the ever-changing car biz. This dynamite compact sedan will gleefully match any four door from Germany on a twisty road, despite costing half as much as the Audi A4, or BMW 3. How can it manage this feat with a base price of just $36,490? The secret sauce is that the Regal GS is a German design from the get-go, an Opel Insignia slightly re-tailored for American usage. In the past, that “American usage” provision involved softening ride, lessening steering feedback, and avoiding use of small displacement, high-revving engines in favor of big V6 and V8 motors. But General Motors recently chucked that path for Buick, because it invariably appealed to a customer base aging into insignificance. Hoping to trend younger, GM resurrected Opel’s Insignia as a Buick Regal, and moved production from Russelsheim Germany to Oshawa, Ontario. So they build this “American” sedan in Canada, comprised of 65% US/Canadian parts, and 20% Mexican pieces. However, the 2.0 liter, turbocharged four cylinder engine and 6-speed automatic gearbox are both constructed in the USA.

2016 Buick Regal AWD GS

Through a lengthy, ongoing advertising campaign, Buick has made a concerted effort to focus on the surprise onlookers experience when they discover their neighbors have bought – of all things – a new Buick. The company needs to lose this self-demeaning bit of image erosion as soon as possible because it doesn’t do justice to great cars like the Regal GS. I can remember when my parents brought home a new 1950s Buick Roadmaster. Back then, none of our neighbors were surprised or appalled by our choice of make. Rather, they gathered in our driveway to investigate and praise this latest wonder from Detroit. Given the excellence of the Regal Buick now sells, the neighbors in those ads should come to praise Buick, not bury it.

2016 Buick Regal AWD GS

Let’s start with the Regal’s bullet of a power plant, the gas miser turbo 4, which makes 259hp, a stomping 295 lb.-ft. of torque, and still manages to return 22MPG in overall driving tests. This direct injection motor loafs along contemptuously in 5th or 6th gear, saving on fuel until you poke it into action by downshifting the transmission manually into 2nd or 3rd gear. With the rpm count thusly elevated, the petite four explodes into action, allowing you to accomplish any passing maneuver with an extra margin of safety. Likewise, the beautifully calibrated suspension settings afford a plush boulevard ride regardless of pavement inequity. But when you choose to put those fat Pirellis and stout Brembos to the test, the all wheel drive chassis of the Regal hunkers down like a cat ready to pounce. The variable assist power steering helps position the Regal with utter certainty, the short sidewall Pirellis never emit so much as a squeal of protest, and the Brembo brakes bring the works to a halt instantly. Though its outer appearance looks staid and conservative, this is really a driver’s car masquerading as a family sedan.

2016 Buick Regal AWD GS

In its role as people mover, the Regal succeeds admirably as well. The 8 way adjustable front seats, heated to match the heated steering wheel, offer more side support than any Buick in memory. They’re also exceptionally comfortable under your thighs and beneath your lower back. Buick updated its IntelliLink infotainment system for 2016, and we found it to be logical and easy to manipulate. Nor is the dash bereft of all important knobs for critical functions like radio volume and station tuning. Most of these functions are duplicated on the spokes of the leather covered steering wheel.

2016 Buick Regal AWD GS

The AWD Regal, with the optional turbo motor, is a stunning surprise of a sports sedan. Buick doesn’t need to resort to all the racer tricks festooning most contenders in the category. You won’t find embroidered headrests here, or aluminum pedal faces, or imitation carbon fiber trim strips on the dash. This one gets the job done with the goods you can’t see from the outside, like perfectly calibrated springs and shocks, a super productive motor, and well-spaced gearbox ratios. If you don’t want your family to know you just bought a sports sedan, you’re home free, because there’s no appearance group to hide. While this one may not look the part, it definitely is the part.

2016 Buick Regal AWD GS

2016 Buick Regal AWD GS

  • Engine: 2.0 liter inline turbo 4 with direct injection
  • Horsepower: 259hp
  • Torque: 295 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 19 MPG City/27 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $38,610
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Subaru BRZ Review

Friday February 5th, 2016 at 2:22 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Subaru BRZ

By David Colman

Hypes: Terrific Color/Interior Combo
Gripes: More Cockpit Storage Please

Although Subaru (BRZ) and Toyota (Scion FRS) have collaborated from the outset to produce slightly different versions of the same 2+2 sports coupe, there are some notable differences that differentiate the pair. For 2016, Subaru has taken pains to upgrade the look of their BRZ. Ours special edition test car was finished in a new shade called “Series.HyperBlue.” This vibrant derivative of French Racing Blue not only does wonders for the external appearance, but also brings with it a specially tailored interior to match. The extremely deep bucket seats are covered with grabby black Alcantara suede, with all seams double stitched in blue thread to match the exterior hue. Fat blue “BRZ” monograms also decorate the headrests, and the rest of the interior comprises a medley of black shades: carbon fiber patterning on the dash face, pebbled black leather and vinyl on the door panels and transmission tunnel. A few splashes of matte aluminum highlight the shift console, threshold plates and pedal surfaces. The overall effect of the Series.HyperBlue interior is stunning, quite unlike anything Scion has marketed on the FRS.

2016 Subaru BRZ

The latest BRZ is unquestionably one of the top affordable sports cars on the market today. It enjoys perfect front-to-rear weight balance, light curb weight (2,770 lbs.), and a very spunky two liter engine of Subaru design that will keep you entertained with its power and sound track. The flat four cylinder makes 200hp and 151lb.-ft. of torque, so you need to select gear ratios carefully to maximize acceleration. Subaru gives you 6 well spaced gears, and a marvelous short stick to stir them up. The art of driving gets no better than a Subaru BRZ. This coupe is agile, quick and lots of fun to control. But it’s never in danger of getting you into trouble, because the power supply is never enough to overwhelm the chassis. It’s a perfectly balanced sports car that will never scare you silly when you tromp the gas pedal.

2016 Subaru BRZ

Most of the fun comes from cornering the BRZ at rates of speed that would be unthinkable in other machines. The suspension is specifically sports-tuned for maximum adhesion during transient maneuvers. Subaru makes sure you plant all 200hp on the ground while cornering by providing a standard Torsen limited slip differential. This expensive unit, often optionally available on other sports cars, insures traction when exiting corners. You can feel the Torsen kick into action when you accelerate past your apex. The tail of the BRZ hunkers down, the limited slip emits a slight ratcheting noise, and the Subaru simply squats and flings itself forward without losing an ounce of grip. The black finished 17 aluminum alloy rims carry Michelin Primacy HB tires (215/45R17) which help get the job done with a minimum of side slip. Future plans call for Subaru to introduce a race division bred model of the BRZ called the STi, but you really don’t need to meddle with the suspension of the current version. It’s already as close to perfect for real world driving as you can get.

2016 Subaru BRZ

What isn’t so perfect about the BRZ is its lack of usable storage space in the cabin. One day we stopped to fetch the usual haul of Christmas mail and found no place to tuck it away anywhere. The small glovebox is filled with the owner’s manual, the door pockets are good for a water bottle each, and the console between the seats offers 2 cup holders and no storage bin. So you’re faced with the arduous task of sliding the front seats forward to access the +2 rear seats in order to store anything at all. Because the of tall backrests on the front seats, there’s not even room to toss anything in back without first sliding the seats out of the way. Or you can climb out altogether and place your mail in the trunk, where it will fly around like space trash since there are no segregated compartments back there either. By the way, those +2 back seats are good for little kids, not adults. I made the mistake of climbing into one to see for myself and could barely hoist my 5’8″ frame back out.

2016 Subaru BRZ

Of course, you are not going to buy a BRZ because it’s the most practical mode of transportation available. It isn’t. What it is, however, is just about the most fun you can have in a car for a price of $28,485 out the door.

2016 Subaru BRZ

  • Engine: 2.0 liter opposed 4, DOHC
  • Horsepower: 200hp
  • Torque: 151lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 22 MPG City/30 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $28,485
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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2016 BMW 340i Sedan Review

Thursday February 4th, 2016 at 2:22 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 BMW 340i Sedan

By David Colman

Hypes: Stealth Looks, Killer New Driveline
Gripes: Skip the $575 Rear Manual Side Window Shades

“I really like the red leather seats!” It was my cousin Steve, admiring the interior of the test 340i BMW had loaned me for the week of Thanksgiving. Steve and his wife Karen are both lawyers, recently retired from the fast lane of the DC Beltway. Neither of these plug-in Prius owners had ridden in a BMW before. And no, they didn’t practice poverty law. When I mentioned that the pebbled red leather interior would set them back an extra $1,450, Karen instantly piped up, “Oh we’d never spend for that.” Steve didn’t seem so sure. But I know one thing for certain. I would definitely pop for the “Coral Red Dakota Leather.” Why? Because it looks fabulous and feels better. In fact the almost all new 3 Series BMW is such an exceptional bargain at a base price of $45,800, that the test car’s $12,025 worth of “Options and Additional Charges” seem like the resort fees they tack onto your hotel bill at the Ritz.

2016 BMW 340i Sedan

Compared to that wild interior, the 340i’s Mineral Grey Metallic exterior ($550), demurely highlighted by Matte Chrome Exterior Trim (included), looks more conservative than a grey flannel suit from Brooks Brothers. Thus, potential miscreants can rest assured that – from the outside, at least – this $58,820 German smart bomb will not attract undue attention. But from the inside, its creamy, all new B58 engine will be stoking your lust like no 3 Series sedan in history. This 320hp engine lights off so quick that maximum torque of 330lb.-ft. is achieved at just 1,380rpm. In other words, maximum acceleration is available just off idle. And that’s only the beginning of the fun house trajectory. As the pie sized tachometer’s needle sweeps to the horsepower peak of 5,500rpm, the twin tailpipes emit a banshee shriek delightfully out of keeping with this sedan’s buttoned down exterior appearance.

2016 BMW 340i Sedan

The sedan’s four doors, and limousine-like rear seat don’t exactly whet your appetite for brisk motoring. The complete absence of any “M” accoutrements deepens suspicion that this 340i is perhaps too housebroken for its own good. All doubts evaporated the instant I laid into the throttle and experienced the unadulterated adrenaline rush of a car capable of turning 0-60mph in 4.6 seconds. Wow! BMW claims that “The new BMW 3 Series Sedan has been redesigned to serve your individual sport driving style, with many elements of the previous Sport package now standard.” Indeed, the basic 340i is now so fully developed you don’t need to embellish it with the “M” package.

2016 BMW 340i Sedan

On several stretches of heaving, twisty levee road bordering the Sacramento River, I enjoyed a traffic free opportunity to sample the exceptional stick of the 2016 340i. Although it would be difficult to attribute the 3′s new-found stability and adhesion to any one particular improvement, the net result of optimized front suspension towers, upgraded rear damper technology, and additional suspension anchor points all play a role in making this latest 3 the best compact sports sedan BMW has built to date. The unyielding stick of its Bridgestone Potenza S001 contact patches (225/40R19 front, 255/30R19 rear) was a high point of my week in this car. This premium tire, which Mazda has notably selected as delivery rubber for its new MX-5 Miata, is a rare OEM find. In this application, it comes mounted on optional ($900) Sport Performance alloy rims which do a stellar job of showing off the BMW emblazoned brake calipers of the lightweight, four wheel ventilated disc brakes.

2016 BMW 340i Sedan

The strengthened chassis mounting points for the new 340i pay off in less body roll, flatter cornering posture, and a very high level of stick no matter which setting you’ve chosen on Driving Dynamics Control. You can chose the following DDC settings: EcoPro, Comfort, Sport and Sport+. Due to subsidence, levee roads are notoriously lumpy, with high crowns and treacherous shoulder fall-off. Yet even with the suspension calibrated to SPORT+, the revamped dynamic chassis never once bottomed out or flew into the air, no matter how injudiciously I punched the throttle or sawed at the wheel. This sort of benign composure in the face of daunting terrain marks the 340i as a consummate achievement in the fine art of suspension tuning. When BMW claims that “40 years later” the 3 Series is “still the benchmark of the segment it invented,” take it to heart not hype.

2016 BMW 340i Sedan

  • Engine: 3.0 liter inline 6, twin scroll turbo, 24 vales, Valvetronic, Double Vanos
  • Horsepower: 320hp
  • Torque: 330lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 22MPG City/33 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $58,820
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Acura MDX AWD Review

Wednesday February 3rd, 2016 at 12:22 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Acura MDX AWD

By David Colman

Hypes: Movie Theater Back Seat, Tows 3500 lbs.
Gripes: Lag on Downshifts, Poor LED Headlight Pattern

In 2014, Acura brought an all new MDX to the mid-size SUV market segment. Since then, this entry, which remains unchanged for 2016, has become the all time top selling SUV with three rows of seating. In practice, this stretched Acura looks and behaves more like a minivan than a sports utility vehicle. Acura does provide something of a placebo to the sports minded with its Integrated Dynamics System (IDS). For example, switching from ‘Normal” to “Sport” by adjusting the IDS’ transmission-tunnel mounted control allows you to tighten steering effort from your driver’s seat perch. But really, the MDX’ long suit isn’t its sports personality. Rather this SUV serves primarily as a mobile comfort lab that crams all the comforts of home into its elongated 194 inch rolling chassis. If you want a real sports SUV, check out the X3 or X5 from BMW and the Macan or Cayenne from Porsche.

2016 Acura MDX AWD

At $58,000, the MDX represents decent value for the dollar if you’re the techie type who values whiz-bang communication protocols over the driving experience. From the technology standpoint, the MDX has few peers in the marketplace today. For example, our Acura included both the “Tech Package” and the “Advance Package” in its all inclusive price. The “Tech Package” consists of such comprehensive enhancements as Navigation with voice command activation, real time traffic information, warning systems for lane deviation, forward collisions, and rear cross traffic, plus 3 zone interior climate control. What Acura terms the “Advance Package” promises to save you from going off the road or crashing into a frontal impediment. These so-called “mitigation” features include a slow speed cruise control for traffic jam stop and go.

To be sure, the cabin of the MDX is a comfy, well designed home site with but one annoying exception. That would be the standard issue “Push Button Shifter” which is mounted on the center console. After a week behind the wheel of the MDX, I still failed to come to terms with its obtuse location and unneeded complexity. The problem here lies in the fact that each gear selection requires a different skill set: engaging “reverse” demands a backward push on a sunken rectangular button, while “drive” requires a downward push on a flush mounted circular button. If you’re good at patting your head while rubbing your tummy, you’ll love this arrangement. But for me, it produced hesitation and uncertainty. The simple act of gear selection, which has long been unconscious and automatic, is more complicated than it needs to be in the MDX.

2016 Acura MDX AWD

Once you do select “drive,” you’ll discover this Acura runs through 9 gears. The upside here is that you’ve got a gear ratio for every occasion. The downside is that it takes the transmission nearly 2 seconds to select a ratio when you floor the throttle in “drive.” This lag time compromises the abundant horsepower (290hp) and torque (267lb.-ft.) of the 3.5 liter V6 engine. And that’s a shame because this sophisticated power plant, with direct injection of fuel, and variable valve timing to maximize combustion burn, allows the MDX to crank off 0-60mph runs in the 6.4 second range. Thanks to the fuel efficient addition of variable cylinder management (VCM), the V6 loafs along on fewer than 6 cylinders when under light cruising loads. This produces an overall EPA estimate of 22MPG, which is unexpectedly frugal for a vehicle weighing in at a chubby 4,290 lbs.

2016 Acura MDX AWD

The strong suit of the MDX is neither its performance, nor the handling of its 245/55R19 Michelin Latitude tires, but rather its sensational list of comfort attributes. For example, where else will you find a 16.2 inch rear screen DVD with HDMI and wireless headphones included in the base price? Where else will you find the complete gamut of active safety devices – from Collision Mitigation Braking System to Road Departure Mitigation – included in the base price? Next year the federal government will be adding just such active safety measures to their testing and rating standards. You can be sure that the MDX will be one of the first SUVs to gain 5 stars in that new category.

2016 Acura MDX AWD

2016 Acura MDX AWD

  • Engine: 3.5 liter V6, SOHC 24 valves, Direct Injection, VTEC
  • Horsepower: 290hp
  • Torque: 267lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 19 MPG City/26 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $58,000
  • Star Rating: 7.5 out of 10 Stars

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2015 Ford F-350 Super Duty SRW Crew Cab King Ranch Review

Monday January 25th, 2016 at 11:11 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Ford F-350 Super Duty SRW Crew Cab King Ranch

By David Colman

Hypes: Massive Power Band, Hauling Capacity
Gripes: Still a Few Sharp Edges

This is not your daily driver. Let’s start with its length of 247 inches, which you would be hard pressed to park in a diagonal slot let alone parallel park. Then there’s the curb weight of 7,745 pounds, close to four tons. How about its cab height of 80 inches? Even with illuminated running boards and grab handles, it’s still a chore to climb aboard. And its width of 80 inches matches its height, so you won’t have an easy time trying to locate the distance of your wheels to the curb when parking this behemoth rig.

2015 Ford F-350 Super Duty SRW Crew Cab King Ranch

Of course, once ensconced in the elevated driver’s throne, the view of the surrounding roadside is unparalleled. You’re pretty much on eyeball height with 18 wheel operators. And with the King Ranch model (a $6,970 premium over Lariat grade), the interior is done up Wild West style with fancy tooled leather everywhere you look. All the floor mats bear the King Ranch’s distinctive “w” brand, even the chrome hubs of the 20 inch “premium cast aluminum wheels” ($1,172) carry the logo. Wrapped around those splendid rims are Michelin LTX A/T tires measuring 275/65R20, carrying white side letters which add to the visual medley.

2015 Ford F-350 Super Duty SRW Crew Cab King Ranch

The large center console between the front seats displays a recessed cordovan leather “w” which contrasts with the handsome adobe interior. The Gay 90s feel of the cab makes you feel like a ranch hand on a cattle drive. But there are a few flies on the cows. For example, the first time I went to release the emergency brake, my fingers discovered a knife edge sharp protrusion under the dash, located right next to the brake release pull. It’s a design flaw that should never have passed muster. Also, a section of lower dash fascia had separated itself from the upper dash panel. In its defense, this truck had accumulated a lot of hard miles (23,000) by the time it reached me.

This “one ton” Ford is designed for two primary chores in life. The first is toting heavy loads in its gaping cargo bed, which is rated to carry 2,080 pounds (hence the one ton tag). The second is towing a trailer. For 2015, Ford upped the F350′s trailer rating from a mere 23,200 pounds to 26,500 pounds. The Super Duty model we drove is good for the full rating because it’s equipped with the optional ($7,229) 6.7 liter “Power Stroke Diesel” B20 engine, turbocharged to make 440hp. Despite the Ford’s 4 ton weight, this torque monster of an engine, driving its 3.55:1 electronic locking rear axle through a 6 speed automatic transmission, will make short work of any acceleration need, no matter what you’re towing. When you floor the diesel’s throttle, the instant infusion of torque transfers 800 lb.-ft. of honking grunt to all 4 Michelin contact patches simultaneously. The F350 launches forward with such a wallop that you’d think it was a half ton pickup with a muscle car motor.

2015 Ford F-350 Super Duty SRW Crew Cab King Ranch

Ford takes good care of you with a bevy of informative gages spread out across the instrument panel to monitor every facet of the diesel’s behavior. In a world more where old fashioned instrumentation has been relegated to the scrap heap of history, Ford persists in keeping you apprised of this truck’s operational life signs: turbo boost, oil temp, water temp and fuel level are always on view, with no need to resort to any menu-driven nonsense. If you’re serious about pulling a trailer, this rig affords standard trailer brake controller and sway controller, plus a reverse camera to help you position your hitch. It’s also equipped with a “fifth wheel prep package” so if your Airstream is destined for the F350′s bed mount, you’ll find all the fixings already present.

2015 Ford F-350 Super Duty SRW Crew Cab King Ranch

Of course, in order to accommodate 26,500 pounds of baggage, Ford suspended this Sumo F with the stiffest springs in the parts bin. Unloaded, the truck tends to pitch over road imperfections like the mechanical bull at Gilley’s roadhouse. The ride here is anything but compliant, though the plush seating surfaces do make amends of their own. But Ford designed this package with a laser focus. Thus, it equipped the dash panel with no less than 4 auxiliary switches for possible items you may install, like a winch, overhead light bar, or big rig running lights. Whatever you choose, the pre-wiring and switchgear has already been thoughtfully installed. The possibilities are endless. If you can put up with the Kink Kong climb in and the harsh ride, this Ford will take you and your portable house anywhere you care to go. A buy-in price of sixty-seven grand seems like pocket change for the infinite travel possibilities this brute promises.

2015 Ford F-350 Super Duty SRW Crew Cab King Ranch

  • Engine: 6.7 liter Power Stroke V8 Diesel Turbocharged
  • Horsepower: 440hp
  • Torque: 800lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 16 MPG City/23 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $67,868
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Honda HR-V 5DR AWD EX-L Review

Tuesday January 12th, 2016 at 9:11 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Honda HR-V 5DR AWD EX-L

By David Colman

Hypes: Brilliant Interior Packaging
Gripes: Underpowered

Honda introduced the 2016 HR-V only 4 months into the 2015 model year. Thus, the earliest releases are nearing 8 months old before their proper 2016 model year clock even begins to count down. This is a great way to stave off the unavoidable depreciation that bedevils new cars the instant they drive off the dealer’s lot.

The HR-V is in many ways – especially size and price – what the CR-V once was before it got fat and expensive. HR-V is a crossover sports utility body appended to a stretched Honda Fit chassis. At 169 inches in length, it’s 9 inches longer than the sub-compact Fit. It’s also 4 inches longer in wheelbase, which allows three adults to fit into the back seat with more leg room than greets them in the Fit.

2016 Honda HR-V 5DR AWD EX-L

By comparison to the HR-V, the current CR-V seems huge, with its 10 extra inches of length and 500 extra pounds of curb weight. At 3,045 pounds, the HR-V itself is fully 400 pounds heavier than the Fit sedan upon which it is based. To compensate for that, Honda upgraded the HR-V’s inline 4 from the Fit’s 130hp and 1.5 liters to 141hp and 1.8 liters. It’s not enough of a boost, however, to prevent the HR-V from being one of the slowest accelerating new rigs on the road. The problem stems from the fact that its power-to-weight ratio stands at a lethargic 21.6 pounds for each horse to move. By contrast, the Fit figure is 20.1 lb/hp, and the 185hp CR-V tops them all at 19.0 lb/hp.

2016 Honda HR-V 5DR AWD EX-L

The fact that Honda equips the HR-V with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) exacerbates the problem. Unlike a gearbox with fixed ratios, the CVT takes longer to spool the engine up, with more noise accompanying each demand for more power. While this is not the vehicle of choice for freeway merges or two lane passes, it offers other attributes that almost make you forget about its power shortfall. Compared to the Fit, the HR-V carries almost twice the amount of cargo: 32 cubic feet vs. 17 for the Fit. Even better, Honda has configured the interior so the 60/40 split second row “Magic Seats” fold virtually flat, allowing maximum utilization of all that generous interior space.

The HR-V is a lot of fun to drive on a two-lane back road. In that sense, it emulates the Fit, with sensitive and accurate electric power assisted rack and pinion steering. The EX-L’s standard issue 7.5 inch x 17 inch five spoke alloy rims not only look rugged, but plant a solid footprint on the pavement, with all season Michelin rubber measuring 215/55R17 at each corner. The HR-V is stiffly sprung, so it’s quick to change direction at the flick of your wrist. It’s easy to set up a nice rhythm with this petite sports utility when you’re flinging it through a succession of curves. The drawback to this suspension calibration is a choppy ride over imperfect pavement. As a passenger trying to read a newspaper, I found it all but impossible to follow a line of print as my head constantly bobbed.

2016 Honda HR-V 5DR AWD EX-L

The HR-V is loaded with comfort and communication features not generally found in a vehicle with a base price of $25,840. For example, standard Smart Entry makes life much easier when your hands are full of grocery bags. The door locking/unlocking sequence is custom programmable. The communication system includes Bluetooth Audio, Hands Free operation, and Next Generation HondaLink with smart phone applications. XM Satellite and HD Radio are standard, with HD traffic reports available in select markets. The EX-L HR-V comes with standard navigation which plays through a 7 inch central display screen. This screen also carries a camera feed while backing up and a second feed from the Lane Watch camera mounted in the right side rear view mirror. Unfortunately, the display screen receives commands only through taps on its graphic user interface since Honda has seen fit to eliminate control knobs. Thus it takes way too much concentration to do something as simple as turn the radio volume up or down.

2016 Honda HR-V 5DR AWD EX-L

If you are in the market for an affordable, space efficient mini SUV, with exceptional gas economy and lots of built-in smart phone features, the newest member of the Honda family may offer just the right combination of sensible features at an irresistible price.

2016 Honda HR-V 5DR AWD EX-L

  • Engine: 1.8 liter inline 4, SOHC, 16 valve
  • Horsepower: 141hp
  • Torque: N/A
  • Fuel Consumption: 27 MPG City/32 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $26,720
  • Star Rating: 7 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata Review

Monday January 11th, 2016 at 8:11 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

By David Colman

Hypes: Race Car for the Street
Gripes: Relocate Command Control

The all new 2016 Mazda Miata provided the highlight of my test driving year. In the Bay Area, one of the most challenging back roads traverses the foothills between Sunol and Fremont. This narrow, tortuous stretch of pavement includes hundreds of sharp turns, most of them blind on entrance or exit. I’ve done this road in a Porsche 911 Turbo, which proved way too much car for this poorly paved passage. You wouldn’t want a Corvette here or a BMW M3, let alone a fat tired Ferrari or Maserati. They’re all too heavy and reluctant to change direction. What you do want is Mazda’s new Miata MX-5, re-engineered from the ground up to be lighter and nimbler than ever before. On this stretch of pavement, the latest MX-5 proved absolutely magical. It changed direction faster than ‘Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride’ at Disneyland. The Miata enjoys perfect balance thanks to its 52/48% front/rear weight distribution. And speaking of weight, new aluminum hood and trunk lids help pare the Miata to just 2,313 lb., a number unheard of in today’s safety festooned behemoths.

2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

The Miata remains mercifully unfettered by all the expensive, optional lane change alert systems now plaguing the auto industry. If you need rear cross traffic alert while backing up the Miata, just drop the convertible top and turn your head around. Ever so much better than peering at a dimly lit screen on your dash. In so many ways, this car is a delightful throwback to the sports cars from Italy and Great Britain like Alfa Romeo’s Duetto and British Leyland’s Triumph TR 4. The Miata shares the enduring simplicity of these forerunners, with a 4 cylinder, non-turbo engine up front, sophisticated all- independent suspension, and excellent 4 wheel disc brakes. In the case of our test Miata, those brakes received a substantial upgrade over stock, with Brembo front brake calipers clamping 11 inch Brembo made discs. You must order the $3,400 “1BB” package which also provides German forged alloy BBS wheels finished in dark grey. As part of a no extra charge group, you’ll also want the “2AP” package, which transforms the appearance of the MX-5 from benevolent to snarky. The aero accoutrements of the 2AP group include piano black tail spoiler, flared side skirts, and front airdam.

2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

The 17 inch BBS wheels provide support for first class Bridgestone Potenza S001 radials which are modest in dimension (205/45R17) but tenacious in grip. On the foothill twister, the Potenzas never once lost their grip, tackled every turn without so much as a chirp of protest. Of course, the fact that Mazda includes a sport tuned suspension with Bilstein shock absorbers and a limited slip differential as standard fitment does wonders for the handling of the MX-5. On sharp turns, it responds like a go-kart thanks to its ultra-tight turning circle of 30. 8 feet, and its super quick steering wheel travel of just 2.7 turns, lock-to-lock. When you’re not tackling a snaky back road, the Miata is still a lot of fun to drive. It can zip into traffic holes or parking places that would make a cumbersome SUV envious of its agility. Since we had the top down for most of our test week, visibility was unimpeded in all directions. Even with the top up, Mazda has thoughtfully provided a heated glass rear window element to help clear the dew and the view. The top is manually actuated, with no weight-adding electric motors necessary. While still seated you can fold the top or raise it with just one hand. When down, it clicks into its own receptacle and forms its own tonneau-like cover. With the top dropped and the side windows raised, the cockpit is draft free.

2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

The latest Miata has also inherited a few of the less endearing traits of vintage British sports cars. For example, the layout of the passenger compartment resembles something an MG designer would have fudged together back in 1970. There’s no glove box in the dash, almost no storage in the doors, and the cup holders are so far behind you on the center tunnel as to be all but useless. The “Multi-Function Commander Control” is mounted on the transmission tunnel just aft of the 6-speed manual gearbox stick. This control enables you to trigger selection by depressing its center button. In actual practice every time you change gears and rest your forearm on the tunnel you inadvertently trigger a selection change on the commander control. I lost count of the number of times I unintentionally shifted channel choice from XM Satellite to FM radio thanks to this idiosyncrasy. But in the big picture it’s quite insignificant. Because this a sports car you buy because you love driving, not because you love listening to tunes.

2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

  • Engine: 2.0 liter inline 4 with DOHC
  • Horsepower: 155hp@6000rpm
  • Torque: 148lb.-ft.@4600rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 27MPG City/34MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $32,820
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Honda Odyssey SE Review

Friday January 8th, 2016 at 2:11 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Honda Odyssey SE

By David Colman

Hypes: Excellent Power and Handling
Gripes: Door Lock/Unlock Procedure Cumbersome

Looking at it, you’d never guess this big salami of a minivan will handle any road course in America with surprising competence. When Honda first introduced the Odyssey ten years ago, I had the opportunity to drive it on the very challenging road course at Barber Motorsports Park, near the Honda plant in Lincoln, Alabama where it is built. Although most journalists that day were intimidated by the sheer size and bulk of the Odyssey, it quickly became apparent to me that this minivan would be more than happy to cut a fast lap time without any drama at all. The fully independent suspension of the Odyssey is responsible for its precision behavior: MacPherson struts front and double wishbones rear. In the years since introduction, the Odyssey has retained its basic balance and controlled ride quality, If anything, its handling has improved with the addition of Michelin’s latest MXV4 Primacy tires (235/65/R17) which stick well when pressed, but also afford a plush ride thanks to their tall sidewalls.

2016 Honda Odyssey SE

Driving the Odyssey is more akin to piloting a yacht than driving a car. You sit tall on the bridge with a wide ranging view of surroundings. Honda has thoughtfully provided wind- wing style triangular windows behind the exterior rear view mirrors. These little panes of glass go a long way to improving peripheral vision from the driver’s seat. Also simplifying your evaluation of adjacent traffic is a marvelous standard feature called LaneWatch, which uses a camera embedded in the right side mirror to display side traffic when you signal a lane change or right turn. You can elect to display this view all the time by depressing a button on the tip of the turn signal stalk.

2016 Honda Odyssey SE

With 248hp, the Odyssey’s 3.5 liter V6 drives through a proper 6-speed automatic transmission (no CVT here). This efficient source of power is more than adequate to propel the 4,530lb. van when you need to match speed with faster traffic in freeway merges. The V6 is quite highly tuned, with double overhead cams, 24 valves, and variable cylinder management that reduces output by cancelling cylinders when cruising. As a result, the Odyssey manages 28 MPG on the freeway. It will also tow a 3,500lb. trailer. This economy is quite surprising in view of the its generous proportions: 202 inch overall length, 118 inch wheelbase. These dimensions are comparable to Chevy’s Suburban or GMC’s Yukon. And with its 61.5 cubic feet of cargo room, this Honda puts to shame those jumbo SUVs, with their 47.5 cubic feet of volume.

Our test Odyssey represents a substantial value at its base price of $34,425. The bottom line swells by an extra $1,050 to cover installation of a DVD rear entertainment system with a 9 inch display screen. This unit is normally a $2,000 value, but if you elect to buy the SE Odyssey, Honda will cut you a $950 price break. The interior of the van is lso teeming with yacht-like indulgences. The driver gets a 10-way power seat, the front passenger a 4-way power throne. Standard is 3 zone climate control, with a thermostat like device mounted on the B pillar that looks like the one you set in your house. To accommodate passengers in each of three rows, Odyssey gives you 41 inches of legroom up front, 32 inches in row two and 29 inches in row three. This is a true 7 passenger bus. Both rear sliding doors are handle actuated to open and shut automatically. These work great as long as you have first gone to the trouble of hitting the unlock button on either the keyfob or the front door armrests. Otherwise you can tug all you want and the doors won’t open, which proves rather annoying. Also missing from the specification sheet is automatic actuation for the rear cargo door, and heated front seats. The Odyssey is otherwise so fully equipped that both features are conspicuous by their absence. If Honda can include heated seats standard on their $21,000 Fit, they should certainly provide them on this $34,000 van.

2016 Honda Odyssey SE

If you need to transport a team, or seek a heavy cargo mover, you will be pleasantly surprised by the efficiency of this Honda. While Honda never uses the word “sport” in any description of the Odyssey, its fine handling nevertheless merits your attention. You don’t have to sacrifice precision steering, or tenacious cornering grip to achieve purposeful packaging of people, pets and parcels.

2016 Honda Odyssey SE

2016 Honda Odyssey SE

  • Engine: 3.5 Liter V6, DOHC, 24 Valves, i-VTEC, Variable Cylinder Management
  • Horsepower: 248hp
  • Torque: N/A
  • Fuel Consumption: 19 MPG City/28 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $34,255
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Honda Fit EX-L NAVI Review

Thursday January 7th, 2016 at 1:11 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Honda Fit EX-L NAVI

By David Colman

Hypes: Fuel Efficient but Fun
Gripes: Knob less Radio, Droning CVT

When Honda redrafted the Fit for 2015, they increased its dimensions and improved its appearance without losing its subcompact dexterity. The 2016 version continues the refinement with a new CVT transmission fitted with paddle shifters. The infinitely variable ratio transmission extracts maximum performance from the Fit’s 130hp, 1.5 liter inline 4 cylinder engine. While you won’t be confusing this Honda’s straight line acceleration with that of a sports sedan, neither will you be ashamed of the speed it generates when merging onto a freeway. In fact, the diminutive four under the hood, which Honda proudly displays without a hide-all modesty shield, is quite a strong performer in this lightweight (2,625 lb.) package. With double overhead camshafts controlling variable valve timing (i-VTEC), and with direct injection of fuel maximizing combustion economy, the “Earth Dreams Technology” motor makes 32 MPG in city driving, and 38 MPG on the highway for a combined EPA estimate of 35 MPG.

2016 Honda Fit EX-L NAVI

In fact, the Fit power plant is so efficient and powerful for its size that the Sports Car Club of America chose it as the specification engine for its Formula Fit series of open wheel race cars. This very competitive class had gone by the name Formula Ford for over 30 years until the affordable Fit hit the market. While the EX-L doesn’t quite handle like a Formula Fit, it’s still quick to change direction, and proves nimble on back roads. Credit 185/55R16 Firestone FR740 tires, and electrically power assisted rack and pinion steering for its well bred behavior.

One of the compelling beauties of this car is its utter lack of tack-on amenities. The base price lists at $21,065. Aside from a pre-delivery inspection from your dealer ($820), this Honda is Fit to go, without extras, for $21,885. By selecting the EX-L trim level, you eliminate the need for any pricey additions to the basic sticker price. You say you want navigation? The Fit EX-L comes standard with a 7 inch screen displaying Honda’s satellite-linked navigation program with voice recognition. The same screen does double duty as an audio touch pad for the included AM/FM/CD/MP3, 6 speaker infotainment center. However, Honda designers have succumbed to the fad for touch pad control in lieu of knob control. Touch pads work fine at your desk, but very poorly when multi-tasking while driving. The simple act of raising the volume on your Fit’s radio could easily distract you from driving. To circumvent the problem, Honda has fitted the steering wheel with an audio volume control, but your first inclination will always be to address the faceplate of the unit for manipulation.

2016 Honda Fit EX-L NAVI

For such a small vehicle, the Fit is remarkably efficient and adaptive. Four full size doors facilitate use of the back seat for both passengers and parcels. The fifth door, which pops up with just a slight assist from your hand, opens the rear cargo area for 17 cubic feet of carrying capacity. With the rear seats folded flat, this interior space jumps to double that number with the simple flick of a lever controlling seat back position. As an added benefit, the second row seats stow two ways: with backs flat or bottom cushions upraised. Another nicety is the fact that the rear seat backs can be adjusted for angle. Up front, both seats benefit from standard 3 position heating controls. These are invaluable on cold fall mornings. Also easing inclement weather driving is a standard rear window wiper which quickly clears the heated rear window pane. The Fit’s climate conditioning system is exemplary. Despite the fact that the windshield is huge and relatively flat, the demisting operation takes but seconds, even on the wettest of days.

2016 Honda Fit EX-L NAVI

Thanks to its low belt line and abundance of glass, vision from the driver’s seat is exceptional. Assisting in this regard is Honda’s innovative LaneWatch camera which is embedded in the passenger side mirror. This device activates each time you signal a right hand lane change, transmitting a real time image of following traffic on the passenger side of the Fit. Once you have completed your lane change, the picture disappears. However, you can activate the screen image full time by depressing a button on the end of the turn signal stalk. This allows you to watch the world go by in reverse and proves fascinating and helpful at analyzing traffic patterns. Plus it’s a lot of fun. The only item marring a perfect rear view record is the back seat’s center shoulder harness, which dangles like an unlaced shoe from the roof of the vehicle.

Honda has continuously upgraded the Fit since its introduction. The 2016 model has matured into one of the best and most useful subcompacts you can buy for bargain money.

2016 Honda Fit EX-L NAVI

2016 Honda Fit EX-L NAVI

  • Engine: 1.5 liter DOHC 16-Valve inline 4 with i-VTEC, and Direct Injection
  • Horsepower: 130hp
  • Torque: N/A
  • Fuel Consumption: 32 MPG City/38 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $21,885
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

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