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

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


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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2016 Scion tC Review

Tuesday January 5th, 2016 at 1:11 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Scion tC

By David Colman

Hypes: Serious Drivers Car
Gripes: Poor Rear Quarter Sightlines

When it comes to torque, Scion’s vaunted FR-S sports car, with 151lb.-ft., takes a distant back seat to its less celebrated, but punchier brother, the tC coupe, with 172lb.-ft. That’s because the FR-S makes do with Subaru’s anemic 2.0 liter flat four, while the tC offers a much healthier 2.5 liter in-line four mounted sideways in the engine bay.

Our test tC coupled that willing engine to a beautifully calibrated 6-speed manual transmission, with gearing splits designed to extract maximum performance without sacrificing gas mileage. This shift it yourself combination returns 31MPG in highway driving.

2016 Scion tC

In an era when most manufacturers have chosen to cover their engine bays with boring black plastic modesty shields, Scion gets high marks for letting it all hang out for you to see. Here, the basic components are on clear view, with the intoxicating sparkle of aluminum flashing everywhere. The dashboard layout is also clear, concise and handsome. A pair of oversize aluminum rings draw your attention to adjacent 8000rpm tachometer and 140mph speedometer nacelles. Matching aluminum door pulls are new for 2016. In the center of the dash sits a new, larger 7 inch touch screen with an updated Gracenote database. Unfortunately, the former CD receptacle has disappeared to make room for the upsized display panel. Scion has also seen fit to eliminate XM satellite radio from the option list, so you’ll have to make do with standard HD radio choices, or supply your own tunes from a remote device or available Aha.

The tC’s rear seats are a bear to access. The all enveloping front chairs must be slid and folded, which is no easy exercise. You must then wiggle your way arrears, where you will discover that comfort is good, though the same can’t be said for visibility. An open sunroof panel helps ward off claustrophobia. Another saving grace is the fact that the rear seat backs can be tilted for adjustment. The same lack of vision that affects back seat passengers also impinges on front seat occupants. The chunky C pillar occludes rear quarter vision, so safe reversing maneuvers are difficult.

2016 Scion tC

The tC is really fun to drive. Scion has equipped it with no nonsense, performance oriented suspension that does little to mask road irregularities but pays big dividends in precision handling and high level road holding. In that effort, the 225/45R18 Yokohama Avid S34 radials prove their merit every time you twist the tC into a turn. Completing the delightful driving picture is the fat rimmed, flat bottom steering wheel that assists guidance with excellent feedback. Clutch release is light and accurate, and the stubby knob atop the shift lever assists every up-change and downshift.

2016 Scion tC

Scion has done a bang-up job with the tC’s grey flannel suit interior. The charcoal bolstered seats feature grey and black pinstriped inserts that look so buttoned down they will appeal to senior buyers as well as tasteful millenials. Compounding the harmonious look for 2016 is a striking hammered aluminum dash panel which matches the seat design and feels cool to the touch. Engineering genius is also evident in the use of three gigantic knobs for climate control located beneath the display screen. With irrefutable logic, the left knob controls ventilation position, the center one fan speed, and the right hand temperature and A/C. The design is a thing of beauty in an age when so many manufacturers divert your attention from driving, forcing you to figure out cockeyed digital displays.

2016 Scion tC

At just $20,000, the latest iteration of the tC is a real keeper. Not only is it affordable in terms of purchase price and fuel economy, but it is exceptionally entertaining to drive. This is a rare combination in today’s marketplace, and one that highly recommends this Scion to your attention.

2016 Scion tC

  • Engine: 2.5 liter inline 4
  • Horsepower: 179hp
  • Torque: 172lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 23MPG City/31 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $20,000 (estimated)
  • Star Rating: 9.5 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2016 Kia Sorrento SXL AWD

Monday January 4th, 2016 at 11:11 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Kia Sorrento SXL AWD

By David Colman

Hypes: Spacious, Elegantly Trimmed Interior, New Turbo Motor a Keeper
Gripes: Too Softly Sprung

If you are looking for a large SUV with genuine off-road credentials, you will definitely want to consider the 2016 Sorento. Kia has introduced a significant new engine option for the 2016 model year. Instead of the still available 2.4 liter 4 and 3.3 liter V6, our test Sorento mounted the new 2.0 liter turbocharged inline 4, which makes impressive horsepower (240hp) and torque (260lb.-ft.) considering its diminutive displacement (just 2 liters, or 121 cubic inches). Best of all, it powers the Sorento to an overall fuel consumption average of 22MPG, which is quite a feat considering this vehicle’s hefty 4,235 pound curb weight.

In addition to the new engine, which is available only on SXL and Limited trim grades, Kia has substantially upgraded the Sorento’s interior for 2016, with added soft ouch surfaces, high quality leather seats, and an infotainment and navigation system that is easy to access and read, thanks to its high definition 8 inch screen. In fact, when you climb into the spacious cabin of the Sorento, you will marvel that Kia has packed so many up market features and furnishings into a vehicle with a base price of $41,700.

2016 Kia Sorrento SXL AWD

The SXL grade Sorento feels more expensive than it is because all of the following niceties are included in the base price: dual zone climate control, surround sound audio, navigation, 3 month free SIRIUS XM Satellite radio, console mounted AUX input jack and USB port, Nappa leather seats, dual memory settings for driver’s seat, push button start with smart key, heated and ventilated front seats, and heated, leather wrapped steering wheel with tilt/telescope function. If you were to buy a German sports utility, you would pay thousands extra for most of these convenience and comfort features. Kia, however, includes all of them and more in the base price of the SXL Sorento.

In fact, the only add-on to the base price is a $2,500 charge for the “SXL Technology Package,” which provides Xenon HID headlights, Lane Departure and Forward Collision Warning, and an electric parking brake. It also upgrades standard cruise control to a radar based smart cruise system that maintains pre-set distances to traffic ahead. The Technology Package brought the Sorento’s MSRP to $44,200. Personally, I would eliminate these extra price techno goodies, although the HID headlamps do light up the night like a bonfire.

2016 Kia Sorrento SXL AWD

Given the fact that the turbo system produces abundant torque low in the engine’s rpm range, the Sorento moves out very smartly from a standing start. This is especially true if you select the Sport mode on the center console before driving off. This reset optimizes throttle response, holds lower gears until high engine rpm is achieved, and focuses on dynamic driving by adjusting steering response, engine performance and transaxle behavior to suit aggressive driving. You must, however, reset the Sport choice every time you restart the Sorento.

Kia engineers have thoughtfully incorporated a lockable center differential into the Sorento’s transaxle, so you can depend on this useful tool to extract your all wheel drive Kia from snow, sand or mud entanglements that would stymie most SUVs lacking a lacking center differential. However, don’t think that the Sorento’s “Sport” mode confers sports car handling on this beefy all weather vehicle. Despite its sporting aspirations, the SLX is softly sprung and softly damped. This combination of factors produces a comfortable ride quality over even the most jarring road imperfections. What it does not do is compensate for pitch or roll when you attack curves with a modicum of brio. Under such duress, the suspension compresses and expands with such ease that the chassis flies off bumps like a pogo stick. Although standard 7.5″ x 19″ alloy wheels plant Michelin Premier LTX tires at each corner (235/55R19), even their premium contact patches can’t mask the Sorento’s squishy ride oscillations.

2016 Kia Sorrento SXL AWD

Of course, no one looking for an SUV touting sport over utility would select this Sorento as their first choice. If you need to haul a load and go fast, then opt for a BMW or Porsche SUV. But if moderate speed and handling define your game, then opt for this Kia. Its emphasis on utility allows it to pack 73.5 cubic feet of stuff into the interior if you collapse the new for 2016 40/20/40 folding rear bench seat. Even with 5 adults on board, you still have 38.8 cubic feet of space to fill. You can even order your Sorento with a third row good for 2 toddler seating. You won’t find a more luxurious or affordable SUV in the market with all those utility features on tap.

2016 Kia Sorrento SXL AWD

  • Engine: 2.0 liter turbo with direct injection
  • Horsepower: 240hp
  • Torque: 260lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 19MPG City/25MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $45,095
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2016 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring FWD

Wednesday December 16th, 2015 at 10:1212 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring FWD

By David Colman

Hypes: Fine Handling, Spunky Motor, Solid Build Quality
Gripes: No Proximity Sensor for Automatic Door Unlocking

Mazda has been touting their “Skyactive” technology for several years now in an advertising campaign that suggests the company has somehow reinvented the internal combustion engine. What they have in fact done is utilize extremely high compression ratios in both 4 cylinder engine variants that power the CX-5 sports utility. We spent a week driving the more powerful of the two, the Grand Touring front wheel drive (FWD) model, equipped with the 2.5 liter, 184hp in-line 4. Mazda also offers a smaller 2.0 liter in-line 4 good for 155hp. Both engines, the Skyactive G-2.0 and Skyactive G 2.5, compress the fuel air mixture to an astronomical ratio of 13:1, an application that would have been unthinkable for a mass production engine just a few years ago. Because Mazda manages to thus squeeze every last bit of energy out of every firing cycle, gas mileage benefits as well as horsepower. The 2.5 liter CX-5 posts an excellent overall EPA rating of 29MPG. When you consider that this 3,435 pound four door will comfortably seat 5 adults while providing cargo volume of 33 cubic feet, it’s evident Mazda has done their packaging homework here. The G-2.5 engine’s quick response proves that Skyactive Technology is more than just a catchy phrase.

2016 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring FWD

The CX-5 also confirms the theory that every Mazda’s DNA coding contains Zoom-Zoom genes. This is one of the best handling compact SUVs on the market, thanks to its stiff springing, anti-roll suspension design and sticky 225/55R19 Toyo A23 radials, mounted on 10 spoke, 19 inch alloy wheels (standard on the Grand Touring model). Base CX-5′s make do with 17 inch rims and 225/55R17 rubber. If the devil is in the details, Mazda has paid close attention to the hidden attributes that differentiate a great handling platform from a mediocre one. In this case, all the important elements are present: 4 wheel disc brakes, independent front and rear suspension, and front and rear anti roll bars. The upside of the athletic suspension calibration is a level ride platform, excellent steering response, and a complete lack of slop during cornering maneuvers. The downside is a stiff, sometimes jarring ride quality that will never remind you of sinking into your favorite armchair.

From a maneuverability standpoint, the CX-5 proves to be the ideal tool for scooting through traffic clogged freeways or attacking back roads with confidence. In the long run, a stiffly sprung ride is dynamically superior in performance, and the calibration of the CX-5 proves that point over and over. The fact that the healthy 2.5 liter engine administers satisfying spurts of acceleration when needed provides the cherry on top. Mazda refuses to succumb to the current craze for noisy and ineffectual CVT transmissions. This SUV offers you a proper 6-speed automatic gearbox. Although it lacks the finesse of paddle shifts, it does offer Active Adaptive Shift (AAS) which intelligently selects optimum gear ratios when the selector lever is placed in “Drive.” The transaxle also allows manual override of shift points if you slide the console mounted stick from the “D” to the “M” quadrant. In practice, the AAS program works so well at figuring out gear needs that you never need to select the manual option, unless you’re towing a trailer. The CX-5 is rated for a 2,000 pound tow load.

2016 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring FWD

Interior furnishings of the latest CX-5 are surprisingly refined, especially if you order the nifty looking two-tone Parchment interior. This choice brings you well sculpted seats front and rear, with bolsters done in black and seating surfaces in perforated off-white vinyl. The list of standard accoutrements is surprisingly long for a vehicle of this class. Making your life simpler will be rain sensing wipers, power automatic door locks, 8 way power driver’s seat with power lumbar adjustment, and heated front seats. None of these luxury touches are expected on an entry-level SUV carrying a base price of $28,220. For a surcharge of $1,505, your Mazda can be equipped with a grouping of improvements such as Lane Departure Warning, LED fog lights and tail lights, and an auto-dimming interior rear view mirror. A $200 retractable rubber cargo cover is a sensible investment if you plan to carry messy goods or pets in the cargo area. With virtually all available bells and whistles on board, our test CX-5 still totaled just $32,860.

2016 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring FWD

If you need an economical, reasonably sized sports utility that emphasizes sports as much as utility, then the 2.5 liter version of the CX-5 is well worth consideration. Consumer Reports thought so too, giving it their Recommended Check as a best buy product.

2016 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring FWD

  • Engine: Skyactive 2.5 liter inline 4
  • Horsepower: 184hp
  • Torque: 185 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 26MPG City/33MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $32,860
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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