Review: 2015 Toyota Camry Hybrid SE Sedan

Tuesday March 31st, 2015 at 11:33 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Toyota Camry Hybrid SE Sedan

By David Colman

Hypes: Phenomenal range, Spiffy New Looks and Interior
Gripes: Unpredictable Brake Engagement Point

Toyota has reinvigorated its top selling product, the Camry, with new styling for the 2015 model year that verges on revolutionary for this once staid sedan. You will not confuse the bold look of the latest Camry with that of its timid predecessor. Every panel save the roof is changed for this mid-cycle makeover. Underneath the sleek new skin, however, mechanical components remain largely unchanged. At the front, a gaping black grill snorkels air into the engine room. The upper surface of the grill features a chrome strip that feeds into new projector beam headlamps with striking black sport trim bezels. On either side of the grill, indented crescent shaped amber running lights compliment the trapezoidal air opening. The Camry’s new face makes a far more successful impression than the overwrought frontal design big brother Lexus has adopted across its model line.

2015 Toyota Camry Hybrid SE Sedan

Inside, Toyota has really jazzed up the look of the cabin to match the athletic stance of the exterior. The dashboard and door panels are trimmed out with contrasting stitching that looks more expensive than the Camry’s modest $32,133 cost would seem to justify. Similarly breaking new ground is the choice of seat fabric, an unexpectedly flamboyant looking “Sport Fabric SofTex” which would look at home decorating a Zoot Suit. Imagine the interlocking, shimmering diamond pattern produced by a kaleidoscope and you have a clear picture of the material trimming the SE Camry’s seating surface. The seats offer good long distance comfort, and the driver’s position provides 8 way power adjustment.

2015 Toyota Camry Hybrid SE Sedan

Toyota has focused a great deal of corporate design energy on making the latest Camry gizmo friendly. For example, if you ante up $1,300 for the “EE” Navigation and App Suite Package,” the central dash stack includes a separate button labeled “APPS” for access to the extensive Entune App Suite while stationary. The navigation system plays through a 7 inch wide high resolution touch screen display that also doubles as a projector for the standard backup camera. You will never do without tunes in this EE Package Camry thanks to a 6 speaker AM/FM CD player capable of MP3/WMA playback. An auxiliary audio jack, and a USB 2.0 port with iPad connectivity augments your wide range of media selection. We settled on the included SiriusXM radio for entertainment, but found the tuning process rather convoluted.

Toyota expends a lot of energy on the Camry’s connectivity assets, but somewhat less time on the sedan’s mechanical underpinnings. The base motor for America’s best selling mid-size sedan remains the 2.5 liter inline four (173hp). A Hybrid Synergy Drive System propels the 200hp version we tested for this report. This model is remarkable for its tremendous range of over 500 miles per tank of fuel. A solid week of driving barely lowered the predicted range to 400 miles. The Hybrid makes good, useful power thanks to the added torque of its electric motor, but what you’ll love most about this combo is the EPA combined city/highway MPG rating of 40. One notch up from the Hybrid in cost and power output is the V6 Camry SE which makes a stout 268hp and 248lb.-ft. of torque. In addition to our week with the Hybrid, we had the opportunity to sample the V6 SE for an extended drive, and found it to be fast, secure and verging on sports sedan stardom. The Hybrid, on the other hand, is more softly sprung than the V6, and makes do with rather uninspiring, hard compound tires (215/55R17 Bridgestone Turanza EL400). But the biggest difference between the Hybrid and the V6 comes in the braking department. Good short stops are never a problem with the V6, but the Hybrid’s regenerative brakes, which feed heat energy back into the Hybrid system, are never predictable enough to inspire confidence. The engagement point on the pedal varies all over the map depending on speed, terrain and pressure applied.

2015 Toyota Camry Hybrid SE Sedan

After a couple of days with our handsome “Blue Crush Metallic” Toyota we had become rather accustomed to its revised new look. But a worker at the local Ace Hardware, who helped load some 8 foot neon tubes into the Camry’s trunk, was so taken with the interior and exterior improvements that it reopened our eyes to just how much better looking this car really is than its predecessor. Combine that upgrade with remarkable range and fuel economy, and the Hybrid SE stands taller than ever in the Mid-Size segment.

2015 Toyota Camry Hybrid SE Sedan

  • Engine: 2.5 liter inline 4 cylinder plus electric motor generator and self charging battery pack
  • Horsepower: 200hp
  • Fuel Consumption: 40MPG City/38 MPG HIGHWAY
  • Price as Tested: $32,133
  • Star Rating: 7.5 out of 10 Stars

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


Review: 2015 Honda Fit EX-L

Friday March 27th, 2015 at 1:33 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Honda Fit EX-L

By David Colman

Hypes: Revamped Styling and Interior Packaging
Gripes: CVT

This Honda will fit into your plans if you need an affordable and dependable sedan with enough interior room to belie its modest exterior dimensions. Honda has repackaged the Fit for 2015, extending space inside while retaining sub-compact length (160″), height (60″) and width (67″). Because wheelbase (99″) has grown by an inch, there’s more legroom for rear seat passengers. The rear seats are also notable for the fact that their bases are open, allowing you to store parcels or shopping bags beneath them. The Fit’s aft cargo area benefits from hatchback access, and its flat floor extends into the passenger compartment when you drop the rear seats flat. Doing so maximizes use of the Fit’s generous 24 cubic feet of storage space.

2015 Honda Fit EX-L

Inside the cockpit, you’ll immediately notice that Honda has upped the Fit’s finish, with leather trimmed seats and a leather wrapped steering wheel. That steering wheel also offers easy to use cruise controls on the right spoke, and equally intuitive radio selection and volume buttons on the left spoke. In the case of volume control, the spoke-mounted unit is particularly welcome since the alternative is a display-screen mounted virtual slide adjuster that’s both hard to find and slow to react to your input.

2015 Honda Fit EX-L

The Fit has molted for 2015, losing its chubby face and cute baby curves in favor of a more mature and assertive bullet-nosed look. The difference is especially noticeable from the front, where a wraparound intake-cum-headlight fascia replaces the previous model’s doe-eyed innocence with a snarkier squint. Sharply chiseled beltline and rocker panel air channels now impart movement missing in the bland styling of its predecessor. The 2,450 pound Fit is so light it requires minimal foot ware: 185/55R16 Bridgestone Turanza EL470 tires mounted on standard 16 x 6 inch alloys do the job at each corner. But even the tiny Fit dwarfs this minimalist wheel/tire combination. Cornering hard will convince you that an upgrade in tire size or wheel width would improve adhesion under duress.

The 1.5 liter engine now produces 130hp, 13 more than the previous Fit. This engine benefits from all the latest technology tweaks such as direct very high pressure fuel injection, and i-VTEC variable valve timing actuation of its twin overhead camshafts to produce both acceptable horsepower and torque (114 lb.-ft.) along with outstanding gas economy (35 MPG overall).

2015 Honda Fit EX-L

Our test Fit was equipped with a no-extra-cost automatic transmission, a CVT unit with a Sport Mode and paddle shifters on the steering wheel. The CVT’s stick is mounted on the floor console, between the front seats. Next to it is a gear indicator panel that fails to illuminate when you have made a selection. For confirmation of that information, you need to refocus on the left quadrant of the instrument binnacle for a digital gear display. This poor correlation between stick and display is annoying.

Most of your driving time will pass without giving much thought to the CVT. Only when accelerating hard will you become aware of its tendency to spool the engine high into the rpm range for maximum thrust. This tendency results in lots of noise without much in the way of acceleration. Do yourself a big favor and order your Fit with Honda’s excellent 6-speed manual gearbox, which instantly converts this grocery getter into a sports sedan.
Then you will have a finely crafted, fun to drive, lightweight package that is economical to buy as well as to operate.

2015 Honda Fit EX-L

2015 Honda Fit EX-L

  • Engine: 1.5 liter inline 4, DOHC, i-VTECH, 16 valves, direct injection
  • Horsepower: 130hp
  • Torque: 117lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 32 MPG City/38 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $21,590
  • Star Rating: 7 out of 10 Stars

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


Review: 2015 Subaru BRZ Series Blue

Thursday March 26th, 2015 at 3:33 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Subaru BRZ Series Blue

By David Colman

Hypes: Incredible Sporting Value, Killer Blue Edition
Gripes: Don’t Have My Own – Yet

Luck of the draw has seen me test this Subaru’s fraternal twin, the Toyota FRS on a number of different occasions since the duo was introduced 3 years ago. Over that same period, however, I never had the opportunity to strap into Subaru’s version – until now. In Series Blue trim, a new level of cosmetic refinement for 2015, the BRZ decidedly outshines its Toyota counterpart. The BRZ shares basic architecture with the FRS: rear wheel drive (first ever for Subaru), 2.0 liter flat four cylinder engine producing 200hp, independent suspension and disc brakes at all four corners, even a quartet of the same mediocre Michelin Primacy HP 215/45R17 tires mounted on alloy rims.

What distinguishes the BRZ is the excessive attention to detail Subaru has invested in the optional $2,545 Series Blue Edition. This racing oriented company turned to its competition based STI parts bin for exotic looking front, side, rear and underside spoilers which cumulatively distinguish this special model from any previous FRS or BRZ. The frontal aspect is particularly daunting, with its sculpted under tray and discreet STI logo. Full length side skirting finished in black looks especially good against the complex Crystal White Pearl exterior color of our sample. Again, you discover discreet STI badges just forward of the rear wheel well strakes. At the back, a large single element wing does a great job of providing down force to match the beefed up front spoiler while managing to stay out of your aft line of sight in the mirror. These aerodynamic tweaks not only increase the BRZ’s ability to stay glued to the road at high speed, but also enhance gas mileage to a figure of 25MPG overall.

2015 Subaru BRZ Series Blue

As you might expect, the interior decor of the Blue Edition harmonizes a purple shade of blue with black Alcantara to enhance the look and feel of the ultra supportive racing style seats. Carbon fiber patterned dash board facing sets affords nice detailing to an area that looks like bleak plastic in the base model car. The black pseudo-suede headliner looks and feels rich, and ribbed aluminum race style pedals grab the soles of your feet with authority. This businesslike cockpit reeks of racing functionality. In fact the BRZ has already proven itself to be one of the best and most affordable track day/autocross cars you can buy for just $30,000.

This Subaru is endearingly responsive to both throttle and steering input. It will change direction like a go-kart, and keep you happily absorbed in swapping its 6 gears for maximum thrust. At 200hp, and just 151lb.-ft. of torque, you’ll find yourself constantly recalibrating gear choice to keep this engine on full boil. The exercise provides intoxicating fun. But in reality, the BRZ could do with at least another half liter of motor and another 50lb.-ft. of torque.

2015 Subaru BRZ Series Blue

Do not dismiss this ride as impractical. The wide and deep trunk opening surprised me with its ability to digest two large, nested Christmas ornament lockers from Orchard Supply without drama. You’ve got a generous 7 cubic feet of storage to play with back there. There’s also a wealth of space aft of the front seats, but getting to use it can be problematic since the front seats must always be tilted forward to access this area.

Just because the BRZ is a cutting edge sports coupe does not mean you need to sacrifice comfort or luxury to use it daily. Subaru softened its harsh ride for 2015, so it no longer clangs off potholes or gets airborne over speed bumps. The list of interior refinements is long and comforting. Subaru’s standard list includes dual sided climate control that works exceptionally well, front fog lights, three stage heated seats, very effective rear window defrost, keyless access and start, and a tilt and telescoping leather wrapped steering wheel with fat grips.

2015 Subaru BRZ Series Blue

The Blue Edition features gloss black alloy rims which look particularly sharp set against red finished front and rear brake calipers. If you intend to turn your BRZ into a part time track day ride, however, you’ll want to remove the 17 inch rims and all-season Michelins in favor of a set of 18 inch wheels with Bridgestone RE 11 tires. This is the hot set up that Toyota utilizes on its fleet of FRS Celebrity Challenge cars at the Long Beach Grand Prix. But no matter what rubber your BRZ rolls on, you’ll have the blast of your life everyday you climb behind the wheel of this affordable gem.

2015 Subaru BRZ Series Blue

  • Engine: 2.0 liter Horizontally-Opposed 4 Cylinder, DOHC
  • Horsepower: 200hp
  • Torque: 151lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 22MPG City/30MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $30,285
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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


Review: 2015 Dodge Challenger 6.4L Scat Pack

Wednesday March 25th, 2015 at 9:33 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Dodge Challenger 6.4L Scat Pack

By David Colman

Hypes: Massive HEMI Horsepower and Torque
Gripes: Doesn’t Come With Barry Newman to Drive

Your first clue that this is a very serious driver’s car appears on the window sticker under the heading “Tires.” Most manufacturers designate tire choice in a most casual manner, stating they’ve provided either “all season radials” or “performance radials.” Such non-specific categories afford car makers the latitude to equip your new car with anything available in the supply chain provided the tires meet OEM specs. For those of us who value the importance of precise tire specification, Dodge’s commitment to using only the Goodyear Eagle F1 on the Hemi Challenger is welcome and reassuring news.

The rest of this phenomenal piece of driving nirvana is equally well equipped. Under the twin scoops of the expansive hood lies that eternal gem of an engine, the HEMI, this time displacing 6.4 liters, and belting out 485hp at 6000rpm, and 475lb.-ft. of torque at 4200rpm. Nothing else provides the instant surge and gratification of this newly refined Hemi, which now benefits from a lightened valve train. Under those massive valve covers, you’ll find sodium filled exhaust valves, hollow intake valve stems, and 16 hydraulic lifters with roller tips.

2015 Dodge Challenger 6.4L Scat Pack

The Torque Flight transmission has been drag racing’s hot ticket for so many decades now that few remember its debut six decades ago. The latest variant of this elephantine gear box, designated 8HP70, is a $1,400 option which now contains 8 gears. The fat T-handle floor console stick will remind aging muscle car owners of their bucket seat mounts from years ago. But of course, in the 21st century, Dodge has not only slipped 4 extra gear sets into the transmission case, but provided manual override of up and down shifts with paddles on the steering wheel and a manual gate on the floor stick. All you really need to spur this Challenger is your right foot, however. All that torque means instant acceleration even when you just leave the Toque Flight in Drive and stomp the accelerator pedal. You can feel the race breeding of the transmission as it slams home each up shift with military authority. The benefit of the super overdrive 8th gear allows the Challenger to lope along the freeway at just 1500rpm while returning an admirable 25MPG. Of course, your mileage may vary, given the mellifluous orchestra of sounds emitted by the Hemi when you floor the aluminum ribbed gas pedal. Worst case scenario is about 15MPG. We managed 17MPG through one full tank test.

2015 Dodge Challenger 6.4L Scat Pack

Do not buy this car unless you enjoy being the center of attention. At virtually every rest stop, someone came up to ask a question, share a story, or just enthuse about the looks of the Challenger. Maybe it’s the car’s throwback snout, with four round, vintage style headlights, that makes observers think they’re looking at the Challenger that starred in the legendary movie Vanishing Point. More likely, however, it’s the magnetically attractive, outrageous shade of green this Dodge is painted. Called “Sublime,” it’s a carryover color from Dodge’s inventive and playful palette of the 60s. The Scat Pack Appearance Package ($1,995) provides body color tail spoiler, flat black front air dam, matching matte tail stripes, and “Hyper-Black” lightweight forged aluminum wheels measuring 20 x 9 inches. These rims carry only Goodyear’s best F1 tires (245/45R20).

Even during one of the rainiest weeks in years, the big bad Dodge acquitted itself with commendable finesse. As long as you mind the gas pedal judiciously, the Goodyears churned through standing water without so much as a side slip. When the terrain dried out, the Challenger’s independent front suspension with high mounted upper A-arms provided precise feedback. Variable rate power steering, augmented by dual ball-joint knuckles, provided a constant stream of precise information. At the rear, a fully independent five link suspension cradle, with coil springs and stabilizer bar kept the Challenger’s tail well planted. Massive, vented, four-piston Brembo disc brakes at each corner arrest the Scat Pack’s momentum with decisive finality. Although the ride of this Dodge is unapologetically harsh, you quickly learn to love its laser focus on high performance.

2015 Dodge Challenger 6.4L Scat Pack

Simply put, you cannot buy a nastier ride for anything close to this kind of money elsewhere. That mythic Challenger of Vanishing Point never really vanished at all.

2015 Dodge Challenger 6.4L Scat Pack

  • Engine: 6.4 Liter HEMI V-8 16 valves, 16 conventional hydraulic lifters, all with roller tips
  • Horsepower: 485hp@6000rpm
  • Torque: 475lb.-ft.@4200rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 15MPG City/25MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $47,860
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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


Review: 2015 Range Rover Evoque 5 Door

Tuesday March 17th, 2015 at 5:33 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Range Rover Evoque 5 Door

By David Colman

Hypes: Sterling Motor, Show Car Looks, Plush Interior
Gripes: Odd Control Placement, Irritating Stop/Start

Evoque posses the kind of command presence other SUVs would kill to have. A purity of line instantly distinguishes this entry level Land Rover from all other luxury mini SUVs. Only Porsche’s new Macan comes close to captivating your attention with the kind of allure the Evoque generates. And even the Macan looks like something of a styling mash-up by comparison to the Evoque. The steeply sloping roofline meets the high beltline in a perfect example of diminishing single point perspective. Once you see your first Evoque you will never forget its charismatic design. With a base price of just $41,100, it’s hard to believe such visual excitement is so affordable.

Of course, our test Evoque upped the final ante to a still reasonable invoice price of $51,170, thanks to the usual bevy of ancillaries manufacturers include on press pool specimens. These included a $3,000 “Power Plus Package” that had nothing to do with upping the 245hp under the hood. Rather, it consists of powered leather seats with lumbar and memory, a fixed Panoramic roof with power blind, front fog lights and headlight washers, and 19 inch alloy wheels to replace the standard 18 inch rims. These optional wheels plant all season Continental Cross Conti 235/55R19 rubber at each corner. An extra $2,100 gets you the “Vision Assist Package” which upgrades headlamps from Halogen to adaptive Xenon, and provides blind spot monitoring with closing vehicle sensor. A surround camera system takes care of monitoring all quadrants. The navigation system adds $1,750 to the bottom line. Although the navigation responds to voice control, the pictures it generates on the 8 inch, high resolution color monitor look rudimentary and dated compared to the latest Google Earth derived images available elsewhere. Finally, a $1,300 “Climate Comfort Package” provides 3 stage seat heaters front and rear, plus a heated steering wheel and hot windshield washer jets. On recent cold East Bay mornings, the seat and wheel heaters were terrifically efficient and welcome.

2015 Range Rover Evoque 5 Door

An exceptionally lively turbocharged 4 cylinder aluminum alloy motor propels the Evoque with gratifying authority. This 240hp engine drives all four wheels through a 9-speed automatic gearbox that offers paddle shifts to control gear choice in manual shift mode. Programs for automatic operation in Normal or Sport mode remove shifting responsibility from your list of concerns. Although the direct injected turbo 4 is plenty responsive to throttle application, you can up the output this year by selecting a limited edition “Autobiography” edition, or “Autobiography Dynamic” version, which bumps punch to 285hp. The base engine also does a commendable job of fuel conservation, posting an overall figure of 24 MPG, quite respectable for a vehicle weighing nearly two tons and driving four fat footprint tires.

2015 Range Rover Evoque 5 Door

If there’s a downside to life with Evoque, it lies inside the cabin, where idiosyncratic design makes you wonder who was in control of switchgear placement. For starters – literally – the remote start button is inexplicably located high on the dash fascia, up by the tachometer face. A relocation to the center console would eliminate this perplexity. A second irritation in daily use is the fuel saving automatic engine shut-off, which kills the motor when you brake to a stop, then re-fires it when you remove your foot from the brake. The Evoque judders during each transition phase. Although you can delete the operation by depressing a small button on the center console, you must remember to do so each time you restart the Rover.

2015 Range Rover Evoque 5 Door

Despite its severely sloping roofline, the Evoque will just clear the head of a 5’8″ tall adult in the back seat. Even better, the back windows travel all the way down into the doors. The Evoque’s five door configuration facilitates use of the 25.5 cubic foot storage area. We made repeated pick up trips to Lowe’s and drop off trips to Goodwill during our week with the Rover, and found it to be adept at managing mundane transportation chores with more panache than you would expect from lesser SUVs. Now into its fourth year after introduction, the Evoque still makes a convincing argument for its purity of line, strength of engine, and distinctive rarity.

2015 Range Rover Evoque 5 Door

  • Engine: 2.0 liter inline 4, turbocharged, direct injection, with twin variable valve timing
  • Horsepower: 240hp
  • Torque: 250lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 21 MPG City/30 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $51,170
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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


Review: 2015 Nissan 370Z Nismo Tech

Monday March 16th, 2015 at 4:33 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Nissan 370Z Nismo Tech

By David Colman

Hypes: Go-Kart Reflexes, Great Shifting Transmission, Exceptional Seats
Gripes: Busywork Hatchback, Poor Aft Vision

Every year your selection of classic sports cars diminishes. More and more manufacturers have opted to replace analog delight with digital complexity. One by one, top echelon road burners like Mercedes’ SLS AMG GT and Porsche’s 911 GT3 have augmented driver skill with so many computer based driving aids that you – the supposed operator – are virtually eliminated from the decision-making loop. In addition, manual gearboxes are quickly disappearing from top line sports cars in favor of semi-automatic gear changers that further sap satisfaction from the driving equation. But if you’re not ready for the dubious attributes of this brave new world, then join me in spending a week with one of the few classic sports car you can still buy at an affordable price, Nissan’s outstanding Nismo Tech version of the 370Z. It can be yours for just $46,425.

2015 Nissan 370Z Nismo Tech

The current base model 370Z is a stout performer in stock form. Under the hood lies a 332hp, 3.7 liter V-6 coupled to a 6 speed manual gearbox. The stiff, race bred chassis boasts independent suspension at all four corners, disc brakes for each wheel, and fat 9 and 10 inch wide alloys front and rear measuring 19 inches in diameter. These wheels carry high performance 245/40R19 radials at the front, and 275/35R19 rear tires. While this refined engine/chassis combo would be enough to sate most drivers, the ultimate enthusiast will always opt for the Nismo enhanced version of the Z. For starters, its V-6 bumps horsepower to 350, and torque to 276lb.-ft. That’s a useful increase of 18hp and 6lb.-ft. over stock Z specification. Another attractive improvement is the addition of half inch wider, lighter, forged Rays alloy rims in place of the stock Z’s cast wheels. 9.5 inch wide front wheels carry Bridgestone’s latest ultra high performance Potenza, the S001 (245/40R19), while rear 10.5 inch alloys mount 285/35R19 Potenzas. When you combine that heftier footprint with a Nismo-tuned suspension, special race bred Vibration Dampers (i.e., shocks), and add a 3-point front strut tower brace, you’ve got a refined platform that’s just itching to strut its stuff at autocrosses and track days.

2015 Nissan 370Z Nismo Tech

Nissan continues the laser focused improvement over stock Z components by installing first class Recaro racing seats that will hold you like Velcro while you fling this go-kart through turns. These beautifully crafted seats, finished in black leather with red Alcantara inserts, fit your torso like a suit of body armor. Their No. 1 job is to keep you pinned securely in place, and this they do with remarkable success. On a constant radius, sweeping 180 degree freeway off ramp, I was never able to generate enough speed to deter the Nismo from its leech like grip on the road, nor did I ever slide one inch across the surface of those captivating Recaros. The small diameter steering wheel matches the seating surface with its Alcantara grips, and even offers a red strip of leather at the 12 o’clock high position so you never lose your sense of dead ahead wheel position. The rest of the cockpit is similarly constituted like a fighter plane. A huge red lit tachometer reads to 9,000rpm, with a redline set at 7,500rpm. In case you miss the ultra quick needle sweep, there’s a red light on the instrument face that flashes each time you hit 7,500rpm. The manual 6-speed transmission is a blast to operate, with short, predictable throws that are confidence inspiring. In a week of driving the Nismo, I never got a gear I didn’t want.

2015 Nissan 370Z Nismo Tech

With a car this acutely tuned to high performance, a couple of drawbacks in daily driving are worth noting. The ride is harsh, the Recaro seats are thinly padded, and visibility to the rear is poor. If feasible, you’ll want to park the Nismo in such a way as to permit you to drive off forward, rather than backing up. Also, the heavy rear hatchback lid is tiresome in its operation. For starters, there’s no activation button for it on your key fob. Secondly, the cockpit release for it is oddly hidden on the windshield header, rather than on the lower dash where you would expect to find it. Finally, if you use the small exterior switch on the lid itself, you’ll find the first push fails to release the lock, thus requiring a second push of the button.

2015 Nissan 370Z Nismo Tech

But you quickly learn to slough off these minor quibbles in exchange for the consummate pleasure of playing racer with this great classic sports car. At the price, the Nismo is a phenomenal bargain, and if you love sports cars, you should buy one right now. Because soon, they’ll all be gone forever.

2015 Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring

  • Engine: 3.7 liter V-6, DOHC, 24 Valves, Variable Event and Lift (VVEL)
  • Horsepower: 350hp
  • Torque: 276lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 18MPG City/26MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $46,425
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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


Review: 2015 Kia K900 Luxury V8

Friday March 13th, 2015 at 5:33 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Kia K900 Luxury V8

By David Colman

Hypes: Live Like the 1% at a 99% Price
Gripes: Needs Swiveling Headlights

From a company historically known for producing small front wheel drive economy cars, Kia’s all new, rear wheel drive, V8 powered 2015 K900 is a complete aberration. And a very pleasant one at that. The K900, the first rear wheel drive product from Kia, represents a remarkable achievement, propelling a previously pigeonholed economy brand into the stratosphere of consummate luxury travel. In terms of accoutrements, technological razzle-dazzle, and build quality, the K900 is on an even footing with such eternal luxury stalwarts as BMW, Mercedes, Audi and Cadillac. From a price perspective, Kia beats them all soundly by bringing the K900 to market for just $59,500.

2015 Kia K900 Luxury V8

If you want the full bells and whistles gift wrap, order this Kia with the VIP Package. Though it boosts entry price by an extra $6,000, you will enjoy every embellishment imaginable: Advanced Cruise Control, Advanced Vehicle Safety Management, Power Door Latches, 12.3″ Full Color LCD TFT Instrument Cluster, Head-Up Display, Front Seat Cushion Extensions, Power Front Seat Headrests, Power Reclining Rear Seats, Ventilated Rear Outboard Seats, Lateral Adjusting Rear Headrests, and Rear Seat Lumbar Support. Even with the addition of all that refinement, the transaction fee still amounts to just $66,400.

We spent the coldest week in recent memory with the K900, and I can’t think of a car better suited to defeating the chill than this Kia. With the temperature hovering just above freezing, the K900 produced warm air within two blocks of drive-off. Better yet, the steering wheel is heated at the 9 and 12 o’clock positions, making the use of gloves unnecessary. Both front seats feature three position seat heaters, and the warmth provided also takes effect immediately. Strong, well designed front and rear defrosters clear the vision corridors with dispatch. I have never driven a car better suited to low temperature operation.

2015 Kia K900 Luxury V8

The VIP extending lower seat cushions afford both front seat passengers yet another way to configure their palatial surroundings. Mimetically representative seat controls, a la Mercedes, are intelligently placed just below eye level on the inner front door panels, along with triple memory setting buttons. If you can’t get comfortable in this Kia, you can’t get comfortable period. Control knobs, seating surfaces, and restrained wood trim all share a similar high quality pedigree. If you don’t look at the name plate or the window sticker, you would be justified in thinking you were driving a luxury sedan costing twice as much as you actually paid.

2015 Kia K900 Luxury V8

You certainly won’t be longing for more power. With its muscular 5 liter V8 good for 420hp and 376lb.-ft. of torque, the K900 just loafs silently along in top gear at 75mph on the freeway at 1,500rpm. Yet should the need arise to slice into a gap in traffic, this Kia explodes with satisfying thrust. Despite the K900′s corpulent curb weight of 4,555 pounds, you will never find yourself needing more power than the V8 can provide. A compliant and cooperative 8 speed automatic transmission makes the most of the V8′s ample juice, and its ultra tall top gear insures 23MPG at freeway cruising speed. You will, however, notice the K900′s girth in its reluctance to change direction on a twisty road, or tight freeway access ramp. Clearly, Kia engineers have opted for comfort over handling in the suspension department, so this bruiser of a limousine suffers from pronounced bump steer and platform deflection while cornering. The 19 inch chrome alloy wheels, shod with somewhat undersized Hankook Optimo R246radials (245/45R19), never feel particularly planted during transient maneuvers. A sports sedan, this is not.

2015 Kia K900 Luxury V8

What it is, however, is the most sensational and affordable new luxury car yet to arrive from Korea. Really, there’s not much reason to ask the K900 to double as a sports sedan, when its real mission in life is to provide rapid, luxurious long distance transport for up to 5 adults for a price that has the competition wondering how Kia manages to do it.

2015 Kia K900 Luxury V8

  • Engine: 5.0 Liter Direct Injection V8
  • Horsepower: 420hp
  • Torque: 376lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 15MPG City/23 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $66,400
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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


Review: 2015 Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring

Thursday March 12th, 2015 at 3:33 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring

By David Colman

Hypes: Handles Like an Open Wheel Race Car
Gripes: Slippery Steering Wheel

25 Years ago, Mazda introduced their Miata sports car, a concept so radically right that it has hardly changed over the intervening two and a half decades. Miata means “little pearl” in Japanese, and the oyster that nurtured this gem of a car could not have been more perfect. In an automotive world increasingly concerned with devising mnemonics to help you avoid accidents, the Miata takes care of safety business the old fashioned way: through agility. In this diminutive two seat dervish, you won’t need buzzers to alert you to side or cross traffic because you can simply see everything you need from the driver’s seat. Lots of cars used to offer such impeccable, decision-making vision in all directions, but lithe road toys like the MG and Triumph are long gone from our marketplace. However, they’ve bequeathed the mantle of true sports car to the sole survivor of the breed, today’s Mazda’s Miata.

I just completed a joyous 50 minute drive from Petaluma to Stinson Beach along Coast Route 1 in the latest Miata. Thanks to the storm induced closure of Route 1 south of Stinson, there was almost no traffic on the Coast Route. With a clear road empty of cars, the trip unfolded like a television commercial’s dream car sequence. Mazda has the foresight to equip the Miata with the best high performance street tires available today – Bridgestone Potenza RE 050A radials (205/45R17). These premium grabbers adhere to post storm wet pavement with leech like security. Of course, the Miata’s inherent balance is responsible for its accurate handling. This car’s configuration is based on the front engine/rear drive platform of the classic British sports car. Our test MX-5 gained further improvement from its $850 optional 1SP Suspension Package” which includes sport tuned suspension, Bilstein shock absorbers, and a limited slip differential (LSD). Stiffer springs and more resistant dampers flatten ride through corners, while the LSD improves propulsion on corner exit. A Miata with the 1SP refinement is your ticket to slot car handling.

2015 Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring

The Miata is still a tiny package. At a curb weight of just 2,610 lb., the MX-5 is one of the lightest cars on the market, a bonus that helps account for its nimble maneuverability. But the downside of downsize is a cramped interior. Inside the cockpit, there’s absolutely no room behind the seats to store any gear. A small cubby between the seats, a double beverage holder between the seats, and a couple of bottle holders in the doors constitute the limit of storage Mazda gives you. Anything else either fits in the 5 cubic foot trunk or else stays home. Although the Miata is available with a manually operated cloth roof, our test sample was equipped with a power-retractable hard top (PRHT) that behaves like a fixed roof when up. A simple latching procedure on the windshield header is required for operation. If safety, security and cockpit quiet are important, than opt for this PRHT.

2015 Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring

Powering the Miata is a 2 liter engine good for 167hp and 140lb.-ft. of torque. This double overhead camshaft, 16 valve engine features variable valve timing (VVT) and drives through an excellent 6-speed manual gearbox. The transmission ratios are so closely spaced that the engine hardly ever loses momentum on up shifts. The stick’s throws are close and tight, and the sheer pleasure of shifting becomes a major attraction of driving a Miata. During passing maneuvers, however, you become aware that the 167hp motor quickly runs out of zip. An extra 20 hp would be a welcome addition to the Miata equation.

2015 Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring

Early in 2015, Mazda will introduce the successor to the current model. While it will undoubtedly be bigger and faster than today’s MX-5, it will just as surely lose some of the charm and finesse of the original package. Since its introduction in 1990, this petit sports car has become the perpetual performance yardstick for the sports car fraternity. Currently, more Miatas race each other in club racing than any other single make of car. When the last of the current crop is sold in 2015, the first Zoom-Zoom era of unforgettable motoring will draw to a close.

2015 Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring

  • Engine: 2.0 liter DOHC, 16 valve inline 4 with VVT
  • Horsepower: 167hp
  • Torque: 140lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 21 MPG City/28 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $32,935
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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


Review: 2015 Audi A3 Sedan TDI FWD S tronic

Wednesday March 11th, 2015 at 4:33 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Audi A3 Sedan TDI FWD S tronic

By David Colman

Hypes: Vault-Like Construction, Stellar Navigation
Gripes: Where Are My Paddle Shifts?

In terms of rave recognition, navigation screens usually rate pretty far down my list of significant features. But after spending some time decoding Audi’s Google Earth-based “MMI Navigation plus package” (a $2,600 option), I was astounded by this system’s stellar leap beyond anything else on the road today. Would you believe a pop-up 8.1 inch full color HD screen that transmits breathtakingly accurate overhead views of the countryside as you travel through it? How about a mind-boggling distance range from 30 yards to 1,500 miles above earth? Would you like to know what to expect at the destination of your trip? Just program an address into the system, and it will present you with a full Google “Street View” image which you can manipulate via the Audi controller to show a full 360 degrees of rotation. You can even adjust the magnification of the image to such a level of close up that it’s possible to read license plate numbers of parked cars! To operate the system, simply dial in your preferred destination, or better yet, scribble it across the face of the controller, and MMI will decipher your handwriting. Never was Audi’s adage about the strength of its technology more appropriate than in regards to this navigation package.

2015 Audi A3 Sedan TDI FWD S tronic

The system also happens to be connected to a particularly fine automobile. The Diesel version of the A3 is the least powerful variant you can buy. It makes just 150hp. Compare that to the 3 gasoline engines available in the 3 model range: the base 1.8 liter 4 makes 170hp, the optional 2.0 liter rates 220hp, and the top line S3′s 2.0 liter makes 292hp. So why opt for the puniest motor in the family garage? Torque, mileage and driving range. The Diesel produces a respectable 236lb.-ft. of torque – that’s 36lb.-ft. more than the base gas motor – and it does so from 1700rpm all the way to 3000rpm. The Diesel A3 rates an 8 on the EPA’s scale of 10 for “Fuel Economy and Greenhouse Gas Rating” because it manages 31 MPG around town, 43 MPG on the open road, and 36 MPG in overall driving. You can multiply that figure of 36 MPG by the 13.2 gallons it takes to fill this Front Wheel Drive Audi, to determine an overall cruising range of 400-500 miles per tank. Try as we might to empty the tank of our test A3, we still returned it half full of Diesel after running it continuously for a week. Annual fuel cost is rated at a very modest $1,550 by the EPA.

2015 Audi A3 Sedan TDI FWD S tronic

Thanks to Ready Tellers, it’s probably been awhile since you’ve been inside the vault of your local bank branch. But if you miss that consummate feeling of security, just climb into an A3 for a dose of instant vault gratification. Notice how the doors open and shut with military precision. The knurled aluminum grip rings surrounding the ventilation ducts mete air flow with the kind of precision you’d expect to find in a hospital operating room. Even such a minor control as the joystick for adjusting the exterior rear view mirrors responds precisely and accurately to your slightest touch. Audi achieves engineering excellence by mastering a vast accumulation of such seemingly trivial details. Take the cruise control, for example. Many manufacturers these days have managed to over complicate this feature. But Audi, relying on the proven technology of the universal VW stalk system, gives you just four choices: push the button at the end of the stalk in to activate cruise control, push the stalk down to set a speed, push the stalk up to increase speed, and push the stalk towards the front of the car to deactivate cruise. It’s an achingly simple system that many others would do well to emulate.

2015 Audi A3 Sedan TDI FWD S tronic

You will discover some strange inconsistencies in the overall layout of the A3 TDI. For example, the suspension system here is definitely calibrated to sport operation. Spring rates are just short of harsh over broken road surfaces, but remarkably well calibrated to keep the chassis level during spirited cornering. The sport-oriented ten-spoke, 18″ alloys, shod with Continental Sport Contact radials (225/50R18) are included in the “A3 Premium Plus model” option group for $2,550. This package also provides heated front seats with 4-way lumbar support, keyless entry and button activated stop/start. So the A3, thusly optioned, rides and handles firmly, like a true German sport sedan. Yet its S tronic 6-speed gearbox, which can be manually controlled, inexplicably lacks steering wheel paddles for full sports driving enjoyment. We also discovered that when you “lock” the gearbox manually into second gear, it will automatically up shift to third at just 3,500rpm. However, when you lock the transmission into third, it will stay put even when you rev the engine to 4,000rpm. Now granted, gear changes don’t play an important role in overall performance thanks to the Diesel’s abundant torque. But still, in a sedan so sportingly configured, the lack of paddle shifts is hard to justify.

The A3 with Diesel power is perfectly suited to long distance touring. Its cockpit is roomy enough for four full size adults and the 13 cubic foot trunk is spacious enough for all their luggage. The spectacular Navigation system will not only insure your arrival at any chosen destination, but even take a picture of each location you visit and save it to memory! The A3 represents the cutting edge of technology. The future arrived yesterday.

2015 Audi A3 Sedan TDI FWD S tronic

2015 Audi A3 Sedan TDI FWD S tronic

  • Engine: 2.0 Liter inline 4 cylinder Clean Diesel
  • Horsepower: 150hp @ 3500-4000rpm
  • Torque: 237lb.-ft. @ 1700-3000rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 31MPG City/43MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $38,645
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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


Review: 2015 Acura TLX

Tuesday March 3rd, 2015 at 3:33 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Acura TLX

By David Colman

Hypes: Svelte Shape, Comfy Front and Rear Seats
Gripes: Odd Gear Change, No Owner’s Manual

This new model represents an amalgamation of two previous Acura models, the TL and the TSX. The TL was Acura’s affordable techno deluxe sedan, while the TSX represented entry level Acura ownership in a sporty package. The new TLX does a good job of combining all those virtues in one unit. You can select the base model with a 2.4 liter inline 4 cylinder engine of 206hp, and a starting price of $32,000. This engine produces just 182lb.-ft. of torque, but maximizes thrust through an 8 speed twin clutch semi-automatic gearbox. Unfortunately, the manual transmission formerly offered on the TSX is no longer available. At the other end of the price spectrum is the TLX we spent a week testing. This one stickers for $45,000. The extra investment buys you all-wheel-drive, and a 3.6 liter V6, mounted sideways in the front engine compartment. This 290hp engine produces 267lb.-ft. of torque and drives through a 9-speed automatic that rivals most bicycles for gear selection range.

2015 Acura TLX

Acura’s tight packaging of the TLX invests it with very short overhangs front and rear. Although the grill retains Acura’s trademark chrome V-Blade, an array of 10 LED headlights distinguishes the front end from any previous Acura. The tightly wrapped sheet metal skin makes the TLX look tauter than a Cross Fit champ. Our top model bumps alloy wheel size up from 17 to 18 inches. These handsome pewter finished rims carry Goodyear Eagle LS2 tires measuring 225/50R18 at each corner. The all-wheel-drive (AWD) model we tested features super handling (SH) tweaks, so you’ll find an “SH-AWD” emblem on the trunk. Turn-in is crisp and predictable, steering feedback reassuringly accurate, and handling quite well contained. The all-season Goodyears are the weak link in the adhesion chain, combining early breakaway with significant tire squeal.

Climbing into the TLX cabin, the first think you notice are the ribbed floor mats which give a dimension to black rugs rarely seen. Between the front seats, you’ll find a curious “Electronic Gear Selector” that is a challenge to master. There’s a large round button marked “D” which engages “Drive” when pushed, as long as your foot’s on the brake and the TLX is at a complete stop. A few inches forward is a small square button marked “P” for Park, and between P and D you’ll find a mark for “R” but no button. Rather, to engage R you’ll need to slide a ribbed switch rearwards. This whole gear engagement system is counter intuitive and perplexing. Every time you seek to change direction, you need to study the puzzling layout on the console yet again. For those of you with sporty inclinations, Acura does include small paddles on the steering wheel for manual up and down changes.

2015 Acura TLX

In keeping with the technological prowess of the discontinued TL model, the TLX offers a bevy of safety nannies like lane keeping assist, lane departure warning, front collision warning, blind spot monitoring, and radar assisted cruise control. You can tailor all these functions to your specific profile by using a large central joystick knob that covers everything from seat heaters to lane departure beeps. The one annoyance I could not manage to eliminate was the automatic sliding driver’s seat entry “feature”, which went unmentioned on any menu I could find.

Believe it or not, you don’t get a proper Owner’s Manual with your new $45,000 Acura when you buy this car. Instead, you receive an abbreviated, 143 page “Owner’s Guide” whose introduction states “This guide is not intended to be a substitute for the Owner’s Manual.” Should you seek that elusive document, you discover Acura provides it only in CD form, which they point out “can be printed for your reference” by you. Best of all, the “Owner’s CD” is prominently labeled “Not for in-vehicle use.” We inserted it into the CD slot in the dash, and sure enough, the car spit it back out at us. Oh, they do offer to provide you with “a complimentary printed copy of the Owner’s Manual, Navigation Manual, Vehicle Warranty and Consumer Information Book, but only “if you are the first registered owner of your vehicle.”

2015 Acura TLX

Acura is making a major effort to race the TLX in SCCA’s Pirelli World Challenge Series. After a rather unsuccessful debut in 2014, they will field a 2 car team in the top category of the series in 2015. This entry features a twin turbo version of the V6 used in the production car. If Acura decides to offer a production version of this turbo engine TLX, BMW and Audi owners will be looking in their mirrors for a chrome bladed V.

2015 Acura TLX

  • Engine: 3.5 liter V6, SOHC, 24 valve, VTEC and Variable Cylinder Management
  • Horsepower: 290hp
  • Torque: 267lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 21 MPG City/31 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $45,595
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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


« Previous Entries Next Entries »



Latest Reviews



Select a Category