2016 Acura RLX Hybrid Review

Friday December 9th, 2016 at 9:1212 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Acura RLX Hybrid

By David Colman

Hypes: Surprising Road Burner in Sport Mode
Gripes: Non-intuitive Transmission Controls

Ever since the Acura division of Honda moved away from using memorable names like Legend and Integra in favor of meaningless letter designations like RLX and TLX, the buying public has become confused about which letter designations stood for which products. Case in point: would you rather say you were driving a an Acura Legend or an RLX? I know that my father, who bought a first generation Legend coupe, would have had trouble coming to terms with the designation RLX. he had enough trouble with the name Acura, which he persisted in calling “Acoora.”

All that being said, I can make the case for RLX serving as an acronym for “Relax,” since this substantial 4-door sedan is quiet enough, comfortable enough, and fast enough to function as a relaxation center on wheels. By the way, those ally wheels measure 19″ x 8″ and come shod with Michelin Green X rubber (245/40R19). You can have your suspension two ways in this Acura. When you press the Start Button on the dash, the system automatically defers to a comfort setting that makes our pot-holed roads tolerable. But if you insist on dialing up improved road holding, there’s a “Sport” switch located on the center console that tightens steering response, increases muffler volume, and blips the throttle on downshifts. While all these sporting affectations may seem incongruous for a two-ton heavy cruiser, the RLX – when configured for Sport – acquits itself with honor on twisty back roads. While you won’t be confusing its performance with that of a 5 Series BMW, the RLX does provide an unexpected dimension of sporting performance.

2016 Acura RLX Hybrid

That the handling can be dialed into the performance realm is a solid positive, because the excellent Hybrid powertrain requires maximum adhesion from the all-season Michelin tires. Power and torque output are substantial: 377hp and 341lb.-ft. of torque, courtesy of one 3.5 liter SOHC V6, supplemented by no less than 3 electric motors. This compendium of motive power drives all 4 wheels, a dispersed allocation of power Acura dubs “Super Handling AWD.” Indeed, the vehicle’s traction is predictable and impressive. Also notable is the linear brake response. In so many Hybrids, regenerative braking diminishes brake feedback, resulting in a jerky, unpredictable pedal for deceleration. In the RLX, what Acura wordily terms “Agile Handling Assist Dynamic Brake System” gets the job done without the usual Hybrid drama.

2016 Acura RLX Hybrid

However, we did encounter a measure of drama when the big sedan refused to re-fire after a fill-up at the local Valero station. When the Start Button was depressed, a message appeared stating “Hold Keyfob Near Start Button.” We repeated this maneuver to no avail. The keyfob seemed dead, so I pressed the lock button which seemed to activate the door locks. But pressing the unlock button did not unlock the doors, so there we were, locked in our RLX which still refused to start. When I opened the locked door, the theft alarm started blaring, and the remote failed to deactivate it. The Valero attendant came over and gave us a look. Our four star clown show at the pump island continued until the Start Button- for no apparent reason – did what it was supposed to do. Finally, we were off and running, alarm bugle silenced at long last. This was not a confidence inspiring episode.

2016 Acura RLX Hybrid

Part of the problem might stem from the RLX’ overly complicated computer-dependent operation system. For example, even the simplest commands, such as fan speed, require you to press a small fan pictograph button on the display screen. This in turn brings up a fan speed screen, which then requires you to identify and press the appropriate up/down fan speed pictograph. The whole process is overly complicated and distracts you from the job of driving. Likewise, for the paddle-shift enabled 7-Speed dual clutch transmission, Acura has eliminated conventional gear shift controls in favor of a series of small buttons mounted on the console tunnel. These consist of a narrow push button for Park, a small, hidden backward slider for Reverse, and a circular Petri dish for Drive. After a solid week of driving the RLX, this system continued to defy intuition and foster annoyance.

2016 Acura RLX Hybrid

The RLX offers the best mileage for a large luxury sedan in this category. You will average a stupendous 30MPG regardless of city or freeway use. The RLX is quiet, spacious and well tailored. But unless you are a technology addict, the car/driver interface can present daunting problems that could be solved by a needed simplification of controls.

2016 Acura RLX Hybrid

  • Engine: 3.5 liter SOHC V^ VTEC plus 3 Electric Motors
  • Horsepower: 377hp
  • Torque: 341lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 28MPG City/32MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $66,870
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Volvo S90 T6 AWD Inscription Review

Thursday December 8th, 2016 at 11:1212 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Volvo S90 T6 AWD Inscription

By David Colman

Hypes: Palatial Interior, Great Back Seat
Gripes: Printed Owner’s Manual Not Provided; Perplexing Graphic User Interface

This all new Volvo sedan combines scintillating detail design with enough maddening driving nannies to staff a child care center. Let’s start with the S90′s positives first. Even the most cursory inspection of this Volvo leads to the inescapable conclusion that it is a work of art deserving of inclusion in a museum retrospective of Swedish design. From the outside, the S90′s clean lines and exceptional lighting treatments front and rear set it apart from anything else on the road. Volvo designers have endowed the grill with a ripe and luscious mouth, described as a “matte silver waterfall with a chrome frame.” If one car could define the word sleek, it would be this chic Volvo sedan.

2017 Volvo S90 T6 AWD Inscription

But stylish as the exterior may be, it plays second fiddle to the sumptuous interior. The cockpit of the new S90 Inscription looks more like the latest living room ensemble from IKEA than a car interior. The cream colored seats, with perforated Nappa soft leather surfaces, invite close examination. Note the breathable perforations, the neatly tailored piping, and the standard inclusion of heating and ventilation systems. The rear compartment is equally alluring, with enough legroom to assuage a basketball pro. Although the rear side windows are big enough to survey the countryside, they can be configured to hide your presence thanks to manually operated “sun curtains.”

The $3,300 “Inscription Features” include “Linear Walnut Wood Inlays” that are stunning in their matte simplicity. They cover the central console, the passenger quadrant of the dash, and all upper interior door surfaces. These unvarnished swatches of wood comprise but a small part of the Inscription bounty. You’ll also appreciate the self-cleaning LED headlights whose beams bend with the direction of travel. The upper sections of the dash and lower sections of the door panels are leather upholstered. The already plush front seats benefit from inscription grade tweaks like power side bolsters, power under-thigh extension bolsters, and the subtle inscription of the word “Inscription” on the headrests. If you can’t get comfortable in this Volvo, you can’t get comfortable, period. Finally, the list of Inscription Features concludes with 19 inch diamond cut alloy rims. On our test vehicle, Volvo upped the contact patch by equipping it with a $750 set of 20 inch model-specific alloys shod with premium Pirelli rubber (255/35R20 P Zero).

2017 Volvo S90 T6 AWD Inscription

A brand new 8 speed gearbox makes its Volvo sedan debut, providing smooth propulsion for the T6′s 2.0 liter engine. Thanks to turbo-charging and super-charging, the direct fuel injection engine, which is mounted sideways under the hood, produces 316hp and 295 lb.-ft. of torque. While the horsepower peak takes a bit of sprinting to achieve at 5600rpm, the torque flow maxes at just 2200rpm. Make no mistake, this Volvo is quick enough in a straight line to beat almost any of the German or British competition in the traffic light grand prix. The addition of all-wheel-drive makes the P Zero tires work even harder to gain traction at both ends of the car. Even when you push this admittedly heavy (4,220 pound) Volvo hard, it responds with predictable grip and commendable precision. The center console contains a rotating drive-mode selector, fetchingly done in knurled silver, that allows you to alter the car’s responses from lethargic (Eco) to alert (Normal) to spirited (Sport). But you must reassign your preference every time you restart the S90. With a ride this sportingly inclined, the absence of paddle shifts is a surprising omission.

2017 Volvo S90 T6 AWD Inscription

At the outset, we mentioned Volvo’s preoccupation with safety measures that detract from the pleasure of driving. Here’s a brief list of the nannies that will drive you nuts if you fail to stifle them: low speed collision avoidance system; pedestrian, cyclist and large animal detection system; run-off-road protection and run-off mitigation system; road sign information; lane departure warning and driver alert control. If you chose to drive with all these systems active, the S90 transforms itself from a pleasure module into a beeping, dash illuminating warning system that will reduce you to a bundle of over-wrought nerve endings inside ten miles. Turn most or all of these nannies off, and the S90 instantly reverts to being the slickest sedan Sweden has ever built.

2017 Volvo S90 T6 AWD Inscription

  • Engine: 2.0 liter inline 4, direct injection, turbocharged and supercharged
  • Horsepower: 316hp @ 5700rpm
  • Torque: 296lb.-ft.@2200rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 22 MPG City/31 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $66,105
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport 2.4ST 2WD Review

Wednesday November 9th, 2016 at 11:1111 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport 2.4ST 2WD

By David Colman

Hypes: Loaded with Standard Features
Gripes: Front Center Armrest Feels Cheap

Good genes and an even disposition mean just as much in the car world as they do in the human realm. In the genes department, Mitsubishi long ago mastered the art of building large displacement, vibration-free, 4 cylinder motors. Back in 1983, Mitsubishi marketed a 2.4 liter straight four that utilized a counter-rotating balance shaft to cancel vibration. So successful was the design that Porsche paid Mitsubishi royalties to borrow the layout for its 944 series engines. Today, Mitsubishi still depends on this basic architecture to offer a 2.4 liter in-line 4 making excellent power (168hp) and torque (167lb.-ft.) with no harshness at any rpm range.

2016 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport 2.4ST 2WD

In the happy disposition department, the Outlander Sport is a crossover utility vehicle (CUV) so eager to serve you that it even bids you farewell at drive’s end. When you turn it off, the LCD multi-information display flashes the chummy message “See Ya.” For $25,995 (base price), the Sport is surprisingly full of such unexpected bonuses. All models come standard with 18 inch, two-tone aluminum alloy wheels. Ours were shod with Nexen Npriz RH7 tires (225/55R18) that provided competent dry weather traction without imposing a harsh ride.

2016 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport 2.4ST 2WD

One of the first niceties you notice when climbing aboard are the ribbed aluminum pedals for brake and accelerator. These look sharp and respond well to even the slipperiest soles. Another standard convenience provided is a knockout Rockford-Fosgate sound system putting out 710 watts through 9 speakers. A subwoofer the size of a ten gallon Stetson mounts on the right wall of the hatchback, and commands a base note that will have your ears throbbing in very short order. Again, unexpected stuff from a vehicle in the price range. Perhaps the most engaging freebie on the standard inclusion list is the enormous panoramic glass roof which stretches all the way from the windshield header to the back edge of the roof. This nifty contraption which comes with mood lighting to boot, makes you feel like you’re driving a convertible, even though the top doesn’t actually lift off or open.

2016 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport 2.4ST 2WD

For 2016, Mitsubishi freshened the mini-CUV’s exterior surfaces with a frontal look they term the “Dynamic Shield.” A pair of stout looking frontal chrome rails define the edges of the grill and trail artfully into batwing light clusters. A redesigned suspension system for 2016 features new “dynamic” dampers front and rear plus new electronic power steering. These revisions endow the Sport with a raked stance which makes it look ready to spring on prey. There’s a freshness to the styling that is absent in many of the Outlander’s competitors. And it looks especially good in Octane Blue.

2016 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport 2.4ST 2WD

Mitsubishi has come to terms with the CVT drivetrain better than most other manufacturers. Part of the secret sauce here is provision of two enormous shift paddles located just behind the steering wheel. These easily accessed controls actually put you in charge of altering the engine’s rpm range. This latitude to chose power output almost makes the Outlander Sport feel like it has a real gearbox rather than a series of infinitely variable drive belts. Coupled to the big displacement 4′s solid power, the Sport motors through freeway merges with unexpected ease. However, the elevated suspension ride height contributes to a tipsy feeling when pushing this CUV hard through tight turns.

2016 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport 2.4ST 2WD

Thanks to 7 airbags, the Sport earns an overall 4 star Safety Rating from the government, with 5 stars for front and rear seat side crash protection. The model range starts out at $19,995 for the most basic ES trim level, then progresses through SE and SEL levels to the top GT version we drove. Given its many amenities, solid engineering and eager-to-please disposition, the Outlander Sport merits your close attention as an affordable do-it-all family mover.

2016 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport 2.4ST 2WD

  • Engine: 2.4 Liter MIVEC DOHC 16 Valve inline 4
  • Horsepower: 168hp
  • Torque: 167lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 23 MPG City/28 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $26,845
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited Review

Friday October 21st, 2016 at 12:1010 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited

By David Colman

Hypes: STakes Work to Drain the Tank
Gripes: Needs Pneumatic Hood Struts

Call this one the ‘Hybridlander.’ At $50,385, it’s right at the top of the model’s price range. Sure, you can buy a stripper ‘Lowlander’ with a 2.7 liter 4 cylinder 185hp engine for an entry level price of $29,665. But for sheer practicality, performance, comfort and travel range, you can’t beat the line-topping Hybrid. Almost unheard of in today’s option-sodden market, our test Toyota did not boast a single extra price package. Why? Because it comes delivered only one way: Fully Equipped.

2016 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited

The standard issue abundance starts under the hood, where you’ll discover Toyota’s time tested 3.5 liter V6, featuring double overhead cams and variable intake valve timing. This cornerstone gas engine is augmented by a pair of electric motors, one front, one rear, which supply instant torque when you stomp the accelerator. Combined, all this technology bumps total powertrain output to 280hp, 10 more hp than the V6 alone can generate. So good is the 248 lb.-ft. torque pull of this Hybrid that the CVT transmission never hunts aimlessly for optimal performance. The Hybrid Highlander is one of the few power trains that compliment the CVT’s seamless behavior rather than exposing its sometimes annoying inadequacies.

The only problem you’re likely to encounter in the engine department is gaining access to that department. Despite the fact that the hood is incredibly heavy and awkward to hoist, Toyota neglected to equip it with hydraulic lifts. You are thus forced to struggle with one hand to hold it high while you fiddle to insert the spindly prop rod in the correct receptacle. This charade is not at all befitting a vehicle in this price range.

2016 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited

It is, however, the only such oversight we noted in our week long test drive. The interior is fitted with seating for seven, with a third row bench seat fit for Munchkins, two captain’s chairs in the second row, and fairly palatial Lazy Boy buckets up front. All the seats look inviting thanks to the use of perforated leather. The third row bench folds flat in a 60/40 split, and the second row chairs do likewise. Although the Highlander back row seats lack the nifty electric flip feature available in comparable GM SUVs, there’s really little reason to carp here. Transformation from 7 passenger configuration to a flat floor 40.5 cubic foot cargo hold can be achieved in a matter of minutes, without the help of electric motors. The rear cargo hatch of the Highlander does enjoy such a powered lift, and you can set its altitude to any height you choose.

2016 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited

As you might expect, this pricey Toyota provides a raft of standard infotainment options, including just about any alphabet acronym you care to name. You’ll discover the following standard inclusions: AM/FM/CD/MP3/USB/AUX/HD and XMS. If all that doesn’t provide enough diversion for you and your family, may I suggest you suffer from entertainment impairment. And should you doubt the direction of your travel, standard navigation displays itself on a whopping 8 inch touchscreen. About the only complaint we could muster regarding the infotainment nexus is the small size and unsatisfying grip afforded by the radio tuning knobs. But at least Toyota has the foresight to continue supplying such archaic analog features, since most companies have discarded them in favor of digital slides that are impossible to control while driving.

2016 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited

Before you pop for a minivan, you’ll want to examine the benefits afforded by the crisply styled Highlander. It handles better than any minivan thanks to a firm suspension stance aided by Bridgestone Dueler H/L tires (245/55R19). It affords all the space you would normally covet in a van, yet does so without the visual stigma of a pack mule. True, you’ll wait in vain for Toyota to offer a built-in vacuum system in the Highlander, but really, wouldn’t a Dustbuster work just as well? And the deal sealer in this case should be the efficient Hybrid system which offers unexpected power, range and cost dividends thanks to an overall EPA rating of 28 MPG. Such parsimonious performance is most unexpected in an SUV weighing 4,490 pounds.

2016 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited

  • Engine: 3.5 liter DOHC V6 with VVT-i plus twin electric motors
  • Horsepower: 280hp
  • Torque: 248lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 27 MPG City/28 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $51,385
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Chevrolet Tahoe 2WD LT Review

Thursday October 20th, 2016 at 11:1010 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Chevrolet Tahoe 2WD LT

By David Colman

Hypes: Svelte New Sheetmetal, Commodious Interior, Standard Running Boards
Gripes: Occluded Rear Vision, Console Cupholders Need Covers

After a week-long test drive, some vehicles are harder to part with than others. Case in point, this Slate Grey Metallic Chevy Tahoe, which will definitely be missed. GM has comprehensively redesigned its Chevrolet SUV twins, the Tahoe and Suburban for 2016. The exterior styling redo is graceful and sleek rather than menacing and busy. Inside, you will find restful, handsome seating, intelligent dashboard controls, and complete instrumentation worthy of a light aircraft.

2016 Chevrolet Tahoe 2WD LT

On the merit of its Monroney sticker, our $58,460 Tahoe didn’t seem to promise all that much on paper. Augmenting its $52,030 base price was a $3,110 Luxury Package which provided a slew of unrelated embellishments: Heated Remote Keyless Entry, Power Folding Third Row bench seats, Folding Second Row Captain’s Chairs, Heated Steering Wheel with Power Tilt and Telescope, Park Assist Front and Rear, Cross Traffic Alert, Front Foglamps, Wireless Phone Charging, Handsfree Rear Liftgate, and 9 Months of XM Satellite Radio service.

2016 Chevrolet Tahoe 2WD LT

But here’s a list of what our LT did not have in terms of GM equipment offered on other model lines: no 6.2 liter V8, no 8-speed automatic transmission, no 4-wheel-drive, no 22 inch alloy wheels. All of these items are available only on GMC Denali and Cadillac Escalade class vehicles. However, my initial sense of deprivation with the Tahoe – due to the fact that I had tested a GMC Denali XL the week before – quickly evaporated. The Chevy’s 5.3 liter V8 proved more than adequate to propel this short (116 inch) wheelbase Tahoe. Not only that, but the 5.3 liter gets better overall fuel mileage than the 6.2 liter V8 (18 MPG in combined city/highway driving). With standard 26 gallon tank, the Tahoe’s extended range works out to a very satisfactory 484 miles of freeway driving. In fact, we were amazed to drive from the Bay Area to Rocklin (East of Sacramento) and back, and still find the tank needle showing just under half a tank of gas remaining. The standard rear end axle ratio of 3.08:1 is largely responsible for the Tahoe’s good mileage and quiet cabin at cruise speed.

2016 Chevrolet Tahoe 2WD LT

Lack of 4WD also lightens the Tahoe’s curb weight and makes it handle more responsively than the Denali. The Tahoe’s optional ($1,400) 20 inch polished alloy 5-spoke wheels, mounting 275/55R20 Continental Cross Contact tires, provide good steering feedback and dependable lateral grip. If, however, you actually plan to drive your Tahoe in Tahoe during winter months, you’ll want to opt for 4WD, which is available. No matter where you live, the ehated seats and steering wheel are nice comfort additions.

2016 Chevrolet Tahoe 2WD LT

The Tahoe’s redone interior maximizes both storage space and seating configuration. Our LT could transport 7 in the cabin when using all available seats, or offer 47.5 cubic feet of space with second and thirds row seats folded flat. Making the conversion from passenger bus to freight platform is amazingly easy, since GM provides ingenious shortcuts to ease the transition. For example, when I wanted to load my mountain bike into the Tahoe, I pressed the remote keyfob button twice to lift the tailgate, pressed a couple of buttons inside the back hatch to drop the 3rd row seats, then flattened the second row chairs by pulling levers on the outside edge of those seats to drop them. This same lever also flips the second row seats up and out of the way against the back of the front seats. Total elapsed preparation time from idea to reality: less than one minute, sweat-free.

2016 Chevrolet Tahoe 2WD LT

Chevy has done a masterful job of bringing the Tahoe squarely into the heart of the SUV market with brilliantly executed features at a price that is reasonable. Given the level of attributes baked into this tasty new American pie, you’ll definitely want to examine one before making a final decision about which full-size SUV to buy. The Tahoe LT offers more real estate for the road than most of the competition. Its chiseled new face will keep it fresh looking for years to come, and its many interior amenities will unburden the chores of your life in unexpectedly pleasant ways.

2016 Chevrolet Tahoe 2WD LT

  • Engine: 5.3 liter Ecotec V8
  • Horsepower: 355hp
  • Torque: 383 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 16 MPG City/23 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $58.460
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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


2017 Nissan Titan V8 SL 4WD Review

Wednesday October 19th, 2016 at 11:1010 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Nissan Titan V8 SL 4WD

By David Colman

Hypes: Luxo Cab, Killer Rockford Fosgate 12 Speaker Audio
Gripes: Annoying “Tow” Mirrors, No EZ Bed Access

Due to some scheduled maintenance of our own vehicles, this Titan pulled extra duty as a sag wagon, accompanying us to various dealerships. This afforded me the chance to inspect the all new Titan not only from the driver’s seat, but also from the front and rear as it transited the Interstate. Bottom Line: the Titan is imposing to drive, and looks even more imposing to adjacent motorists. In particular, the enormous chrome grill, flanked by Batman style light clusters and underlined by a sweeping chrome bumper, elevates the Titan to King Kong status when it looms in your rear view mirror. In the remote event that model ID becomes necessary, 4 inch tall “TITAN” lettering is incised across the top of the chrome grill. L-shaped LED running lights embedded into the front light housings instantly identify the smiley face of this monster Nissan. The rear view is somewhat more restrained, with a pair of bulbous vertical tail lights flanking a massive tailgate adorned with “SL 4WD” lettering.

2017 Nissan Titan V8 SL 4WD

Inside the Titan’s spacious cab, you’re sitting on top of the traffic whirl, with excellent sight lines in all directions thanks to extra tall side windows on all four doors. The gracefully contoured front doors droop at the forward beltline to permit welcome 3/4 front vision. The only hang-up in this carefully orchestrated penthouse platform is the design of the optional “Extendable Folding Tow Mirrors” which are part of a $360 Towing Convenience Package that also includes a trailer brake controller and a trailer light check system. The tow mirrors are so tall and narrow that they do not reveal the presence of immediately adjacent traffic. They are, however, fitted with parabolic lower quadrant mirrors that do reveal nearby vehicles. The problem with this double mirror setup is that it forces you to scan four separate panels simultaneously before reaching an informed conclusion about what’s next to you. In view of this shortcoming, the Titan’s standard blind spot warning system is a welcome addition.

2017 Nissan Titan V8 SL 4WD

Nissan doesn’t mess around with inadequately sized wheels or tires. The 4WD SL comes standard with 20 inch alloy rims shod with 275/60R20 Goodyear Wrangler SR-A tires that lift the cab structure far enough into the sky to require the optional fixed running boards fitted to our truck. Despite clambering repeatedly in and out of the elevated cab, we never once lacked for a stable foothold or handhold because Nissan provided 3 solid grabs on either side up front, plus 2 more in back. Once ensconced in the front seating positions, you will marvel at the luxury level furnishings. The dual Captain’s Chairs proved quite comfortable for short and long haul runs. Both are heated and upholstered in perforated vinyl set off by handsome contrasting stitching. The driver’s side features 8-way power adjustment and lumbar fine tuning, while the passenger makes do with 4 positioning alternatives. In back, the rear seats offer vast legroom and headroom, but their bolt upright position mitigates against long distance comfort. This rear bench folds flat against the rear wall of the cab, providing 15 cubic feet of lockable interior cargo space.

2017 Nissan Titan V8 SL 4WD

The bed of our test Titan was a real work of art with a bevy of LED lights installed just below the aluminum tie-down rail. These lights activate automatically when you drop the impact-cushioned tailgate or can be individually controlled via a push button on the lower dashboard. A particularly bright overhead light embedded in the cab roof contributes extra illumination to the bed, which features standard “Factory-Applied Spray-On Bedliner” as well as the “Utili-trak Channel System with 4 Adjustable Tie-Down Cleats.” About the only item missing here is a ladder or foot step to help you climb into the bed. Nissan could take a clue here from the fold-out step ladder Ford provides for its F Series pickups.

2017 Nissan Titan V8 SL 4WD

Although the Titan’s “Endurance” V8 supplied to our test truck matched the 5.6 liter displacement of last year’s engine, output is significantly improved for 2017: horsepower jumps from 317hp to 390hp and torque grows from 385lb.-ft. to 394lb.-ft. This V8 is now coupled to a smooth shifting 7-speed automatic transmission instead of the 5 speed that predated it. All in all, the power management team performs with dispatch and precision. The 4WD unit features a shift-on-the-fly apparatus that allows you to select not only 2 and 4 wheel drive, but also low and hi 4WD thanks to a 2-speed transfer case. At one point, we were spinning the rear wheels while attempting to make a hill start on grass clippings, A simple shift from 2WD to 4WD provided instant thrust through all 4 Goodyears. The Titan then rocketed away like a top fuel dragster.

2017 Nissan Titan V8 SL 4WD

2017 Nissan Titan V8 SL 4WD

  • Engine: 5.6-liter V8
  • Horsepower: 390hp
  • Torque: 394lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 15 MPG City/21 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $51,015
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

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


2016 Toyota Corolla Special Edition Review

Wednesday October 12th, 2016 at 1:1010 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Toyota Corolla Special Edition

By David Colman

Hypes: Best Looking Corolla Yet, Well Equipped Technologically
Gripes: Underpowered, Cranky CVT

The Corolla doesn’t get a lot of love from car enthusiasts. Just recently, Toyota introduced a “Special Edition” of the model to commemorate the fact that 2016 marks the 50th year of production. The resultant product features 4 wheel disc brakes, shiny ebony alloy wheels, color-keyed, heated rearview mirrors, and red and aluminum trimmed interior bits that complement the car’s “Absolutely Red” exterior color. Even the black and silver seats receive special red seam welts and double rows of red stitching. But Automobile magazine was not impressed, observing, “The Special Edition model is meant to look more aggressive, which means it should be mildly more intimidating than a three-legged toothless dachshund.” Now there’s a conclusion that would make even Rodney Dangerfield cringe with anxiety.

2016 Toyota Corolla Special Edition

Honestly, the Special Edition Corolla we drove for a week hardly merits that kind of demerit. With a base price of $22,320 and an out-the door ticket of $23,520, the SE Corolla represents affordable housing for the road. Since Toyota has vowed to build just 8,000 SE models for 2016, there’s even a faint whiff of collectability to the package. Name me another limited edition econobox – for under 25 grand – offering a chance to retain significant value in the (very) long term. On top of those four wheel disc brakes, you even get paddle shifts next to the steering wheel, plus a “Sport Drive Mode” setting for “powerful acceleration and driving in mountainous regions” as the Owner’s Manual points out.

However, the Corolla’s 1.8 liter engine, bereft of turbo or supercharging, doles out a measly 140hp and 126lb.-ft. of torque. So you can play those paddles for all your worth, but they won’t provoke the Corolla into anything approximating the “powerful acceleration” promised by Sport Drive Mode. In fact we couldn’t detect any difference in performance with Sport Drive Mode engaged or disengaged. The issue here is not so much the output of the 2ZR-FAE engine, but the handicap imposed on its performance by the Continuously Variable Transmission. In addition to its propensity to drone loudly when called upon for acceleration, the CVT drive mechanism provides absolutely glacial pick-up from a dead stop.

2016 Toyota Corolla Special Edition

If you’re not frothing at the bit for a sports sedan, the Corolla SE does a respectable job of providing reliable transportation without drama. The interior is well thought out, especially if you add the $1,200 optional “EE” package. Music lovers will welcome this addition which provides an AM/FM CD player, 6 speakers, and a USB 2.0 port with iPod connectivity. Your investment also supplies a navigation system and Entune app suite, all of which will help to take your mind off the fact that a 35 year old VW Beetle just smoked you off the line at the last stop light. In a bright daytime cockpit, the instrument panel cover reflects the interior, making it impossible to read the instrument faces. Conversely, at night, the blue backlighting of the instrument dials is not only soothing but graphically clear.

2016 Toyota Corolla Special Edition

Handling of the SE Corolla is effective. Tenacious Firestone F740 all-season tires measuring 215/45R17 provide more cornering grip than you’re likely to need in daily driving. As Consumer Reports puts it, “handling is lackluster but very secure.” Translated into vehicle dynamics, security means the Corolla is designed to understeer when pushed through a turn. This front wheel drive sub-compact follows your steering wheel commands obediently until the front Firestones begin to lose grip. The rear end never threatens to slew sideways. This is the kind of predictable handling behavior Toyota counts on to save you from losing control in the middle of a turn.

2016 Toyota Corolla Special Edition

In 2013, the Corolla became the best-selling car of all time, and 2016 will see more than 43 million sold since inception in 1966. There’s no arguing with that kind of success. If you want a Special Edition Corolla to commemorate the model’s popularity, then order your 2016 SE in Black Cherry, an exterior color available only on the 2016 Corolla SE.

2016 Toyota Corolla Special Edition

  • Engine: 6.2 Liter V8 ECOTEC3
  • Horsepower: 140hp
  • Torque: 126lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 29 MPG City/37 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $23,520
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

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2016 GMC Yukon XL Denali 4WD Review

Tuesday September 20th, 2016 at 1:99 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 GMC Yukon XL Denali 4WD

By David Colman

Hypes: Brutal but Elegant Highway King
Gripes: Challenging to Park

This thing is positively presidential. When it arrived in my driveway for its week-long stay, I checked right away to make sure the Secret Service hadn’t left President Obama in the back seat. In Onyx Black, this $80,000 SUV really fills the bill for POTUS transport. With a length of 224 inches, a height of 74 inches, a width of 81 inches, and a weight of three tons, this is the most imposing passenger vehicle you can buy from GMC. It will barely fit in your regulation 20 foot long garage. And be sure to keep your credit card handy. Even with its 31.5 gallon gas tank, this rig will exhaust fuel faster than you can track the rapid descent of the gas level needle. For the record, the 6.2 liter V8 records city mileage of 14 MPG, highway mileage of 20 MPG, and overall consumption of 16 MPG.

2016 GMC Yukon XL Denali 4WD

In trade, you get to ride herd on a thumping big V8 that puts out 420hp and 460 lb.-ft. of torque. That output makes towing an 8,000 lb. trailer easy. GMC even provides Trailer Sway Control (TSC) and Integrated Trailer Brake Control (ITBC) as standard features, so the Denali XL is perfectly configured to handle any hitch load you can throw at it. TSC limits the amount of trailer pitch, ITBC adjusts the power output, or gain, to the trailer brakes as needed, and a Tow/Haul Mode button on the shift lever prevents the transmission from hunting for gears on steep grades.

2016 GMC Yukon XL Denali 4WD

That gearbox is a smooth shifting 8-speed automatic that metes out power smoothly and judiciously. You control its selection of gears with a shift wand that is bigger than that of the Fairy Princess. The entire dashboard is festooned with so many controls and buttons that it will take you a week just to notice them all. For example, no fewer than 19 graphic symbols can appear on the Driver Information Center. To the left of the steering wheel, you will find the 4WD control knob next to the headlight light control knob and below the ITBC switch. Above the ITBC control is another nest of buttons overseeing Traction Control, StabiliTrak, front and rear Park Assist, Lane Keep Assist, Pedal Adjustment (they slide) and Power Assist Step Control for the optional ($1,745) power retractable running boards.

If all this isn’t enough to confuse you, the steering wheel itself is a nexus of functions, including Adaptive Cruise Control ($995 option), voice recognition control, and driver information center display control. Behind the steering wheel you will find additional switches on the left spoke for accessing entertainment system tuning (Next/Previous favorite stations) and the right spoke (volume). If all this is starting to look like you need a Boeing 747 manual for pre-flight familiarization, you haven’t seen anything yet. The GMC IntelliLink Infotainment System offers a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot on a limited free trial basis. It also provides hands-free calling with voice recognition, audio playback with voice recognition, and access to Apple Carplay (including hands-free text messaging and Siri) when you download the free “MyGMC Owner App.”

2016 GMC Yukon XL Denali 4WD

You could almost forget you’re commanding a 3 ton limousine. But GMC has you partially covered there too. The optional Adaptive Cruise Control automatically adjusts speed and will slow your vehicle to a stop, if necessary. Unless you first signal a lane change, Lane Keep Assist, which is a standard feature, will keep you from changing lanes by gently guiding the steering wheel straight while jiggling the seat bottom to inform you of your errant behavior. This could be a lifesaver if you fall asleep at the wheel, but it can also prove annoying, so GMC allows you to turn off LKA with yet another button on the dash. Park Assist also uses beeping and the seat jiggle to keep you from bumping into things you can’t see, and in this application, especially when backing up, the system is a golden safety parachute.

2016 GMC Yukon XL Denali 4WD

Our Denali featured optional ($2,495) alloy wheels, 22 inches in diameter and mounting Bridgestone Dueler H/L Alenza rubber (285/45R22). These expensive monster tires mandate use of optional retractable running boards, since they elevate cabin entry height into the stratosphere. However, once you’ve climbed aboard, the only vehicle taller than your Denali is an 18-wheeler. Without question, this dominant posture confers a sense of vision and security on you that is simply unmatched by anything else on the road.

2016 GMC Yukon XL Denali 4WD

2016 GMC Yukon XL Denali 4WD

  • Engine: 6.2 Liter V8 ECOTEC3
  • Horsepower: 420hp
  • Torque: 460lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 14 MPG City/20 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $80,650
  • Star Rating: 9.5 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Subaru Crosstrek 2.0i Limited Review

Monday September 19th, 2016 at 1:99 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Subaru Crosstrek 2.0i Limited

By David Colman

Hypes: EyeSight Safety, AWD
Gripes: Hard Seats, CVT transmission

Here’s another 2016 model you can probably wangle a good deal on at your Subaru dealer. The current Crosstrek, which is a customized derivative of the Imprezza line, is about to be supplanted with an all new model for 2017. That invariably means that dealers will be more than willing to negotiate on the $25,095 base price of the outgoing 2016 model. While the 2017 model, based on the new Subaru Global Platform, promises to be longer, wider and slightly more powerful (by just 4hp) than the Crosstrek we drove, there’s really little reason to justify spending more for it. That’s because the 2016 Crosstrek did pretty much everything we asked of it. Even with Option Package 23 ($2,895) – a catch-all grouping that includes a 7″ multimedia Navigation unit, Keyless Access and EyeSight Driver Assist – the bottom line totaled just $28,840. Even that’s a number you can probably beat in light of the new replacement Crosstrek that’s on the way.

2016 Subaru Crosstrek 2.0i Limited

The Crosstrek provides a grouping of features that distinguishes its performance and appearance from run-of-the-mill Imprezzas. Subaru raises the ride height of the Crosstrek, to provide added ground clearance for off-road jaunts, or driving in snow. Because the Crosstrek, like all Imprezzas, features fully independent front and rear suspension, the extra elevation has virtually no ill effect on the dry pavement handling of this mini-SUV. All-season Yokohama Geolander tires (225/55R17) are responsible for good adhesion at all four corners, and never issue a peep in protest when you lean on them hard. The telltale identifier for the Crosstrek range is its iconic 17 inch aluminum alloy wheel. Imagine a five point silver cookie cutter superimposed on a black circle and you get the visual. There’s no mistaking the solid stance of the Crosstrek.

2016 Subaru Crosstrek 2.0i Limited

Under the hood, you’ll find a horizontally opposed four cylinder engine displacing 2 liters. This rather unique configuration – soon to be shared by Porsche’s coming 718 – produces 148hp and 145lb.-ft. of torque in Subaru tune. That’s barely enough to instill confidence for passing maneuvers or freeway merges because the CVT transmission takes an extra second or so to spool the engine up to meet the demands of your right foot. It’s not a particularly rewarding drivetrain combo, but it eventually gets the job while achieving an overall fuel rating of 29 MPG. At least Subaru provides tiny shift paddles next to the steering wheel so you can provoke the engine to make more noise if not more speed.

2016 Subaru Crosstrek 2.0i Limited

Inside the cabin, Subaru provides some surprising amenities given the car’s bargain price range. For example, the front seats are heated, the steering wheel manually tilts and telescopes, Sirius XM radio (with 4 free months) is built into the base entertainment system, and the seats and steering wheel are leather trimmed. On the negative side, the front seats are unyielding and lack lumbar adjustment. Even at maximum vertical position, the steering wheel remains canted at a bus-like angle. Finally, the backrest adjuster for the driver’s seat is manually controlled and difficult to position accurately.

2016 Subaru Crosstrek 2.0i Limited

Subaru does, however, compensate for minor comfort deficiencies by providing a bevy of pluses you will be hard pressed to match in this price range. Topping the list is “Symmetrical” all-wheel-drive, which by itself makes this Imprezza worth its sticker price and then some. If you do any winter mountain driving, you’ll appreciate the traction afforded by the Crosstrek’s full time AWD. Another reward is EyeSight Driver Assist – included in Option Package 23. In addition to adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and pre-collision braking, EyeSight affords pre-collision throttle management to lessen or avoid crash damage. According to Motor Trend, the Eyesight systems enabled the Imprezza to “ace the IIHS (International Institute for Highway Safety) front crash prevention test and avoid a collision altogether in the low and high speed tests.” So it’s hard to find a safer ride cheaper than the EyeSight equipped Imprezza Crosstrek.

2016 Subaru Crosstrek 2.0i Limited

  • Engine: Horizontally Opposed 2.0 liter 4, DOHC
  • Horsepower: 148hp
  • Torque: 145lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 26 MPG City/34 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $28,840
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Volkswagen CC 2.0T R-Line Executive with Carbon Review

Friday August 26th, 2016 at 8:88 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Volkswagen CC 2.0T R-Line Executive with Carbon

By David Colman

Hypes: Bauhaus Stark and Efficient
Gripes: Dump the Turbo for a V6

This VW comes with a longer name than any vehicle in recent memory. Let’s try to break down the mystery of a title that requires 5 separate descriptors. The first and most important is “CC” which refers to a sedan that originally derived from the Passat line but now stands on its own as a spacious mid-size product that will seat 4 adults luxuriously, 5 in a pinch. The “R-Line” descriptor refers to a stealthy looking trim package that differentiates the CC in the following ways: special front bumper, model-specific exterior and interior trim, including chrome plated threshold strips emblazoned with discreet “R-Line” logos. The “Executive with Carbon” finery consists of extensive carbon fiber inserts on the dash face, and all four door panels. VW has integrated the subtle look of the carbon weave into the upholstery design as well. The bolsters of both front and rear seats are stamped with a matte black cross hatching (called “Carbon Seat Cover Inserts”) that replicates the look of carbon weave. All in all, this multi-titled, baronial German aristocrat looks much more expensive than its sticker price of $38,685. In the long history of VW, few products – with the possible exception of the short-lived Phaeton – have come close to matching the current CC for unadulterated beauty of line, or elegance of design.

2016 Volkswagen CC 2.0T R-Line Executive with Carbon

Unfortunately, the 2.0 inline turbo straight four which powers our test version of the CC fails to provide the kind of acceleration you would expect from such a sleek package. Even if you manually select first gear for a traffic light getaway, the CC is hesitant to cover the initial 30 yards of pavement with dispatch. While the DSG gearbox does better at managing acceleration as the rpm and boost level of the turbo increase, the CC is slow to gather speed. That’s because VW has tasked this 200hp motor with the job of moving 3,370 pounds. The resultant power-to-weight ratio stands at 16.85lb/hp. Better you should opt for the available 3.6 liter V6, which makes 280hp and gives you a power-to-weight ratio of 12.0lb/hp.

2016 Volkswagen CC 2.0T R-Line Executive with Carbon

Certainly, the chassis and suspension of the CC is up to the task of sports sedan performance. The Executive package includes a very handsome set of 5 made-in-Germany ATS alloy rims (including a full size spare) that mount 235/40R18 Continental (Conti Pro Contact) tires. The rims measure 8J x 18, so you know the footprint of this car is solid. Considering the minimal sidewall height of the 40 series Conti tires, the ride of the CC is surprisingly tame. VW has selected shock absorber settings that damp out unwonted road incursion while still maintaining good control when you’re zipping through the bends.

Although VW markets the CC as a sports sedan, it’s really more of a mini-limousine than a 3 Series BMW. Standard comfort niceties include a 3 position memory system for the driver’s seat, spacious map pockets behind each front seat, an ingenious rear armrest that contains two beverage holders, a hidden storage compartment, and a flush fold feature that permits carriage of long objects like skis or boards. The headrests on the front seats slide fore and aft for optimal positioning, and the interior features two separate key locks to secure the spacious 13.1 cubic foot trunk from interior access. One is located on the driver’s door, the other inside the rear armrest.

2016 Volkswagen CC 2.0T R-Line Executive with Carbon

New for 2016 is a 6.3-inch touchscreen for navigation which also doubles as a rearview camera monitor. The DSG twin clutch shift system utilizes small paddles located next to the steering wheel to accomplish up shifts and down shifts. The central info display on the instrument panel records the gear you have currently selected, but it’s virtually inconspicuous due to the small 15-point size of the number displayed. A handy trip computer is standard fitment and displays the following information – elapsed travel time, instant fuel consumption, average fuel economy, range, distance covered, average speed, current speed. You can access all these bits by wiggling your thumb on a steering wheel mounted recall button.

2016 Volkswagen CC 2.0T R-Line Executive with Carbon

Despite the fact that VW has been lambasted of late with endless bad press about the diesel fuel imbroglio, the company still manages to churn out lovable, handsome, efficient products like the long-lived CC, which gets better looking and more accommodating with every passing year.

2016 Volkswagen CC 2.0T R-Line Executive with Carbon

  • Engine: 2.0 Liter TSI DOHC Turbo 4-Cylinder with Direct Injection
  • Horsepower: 200hp
  • Torque: 207lb./ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 22 MPG City/31 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $38,685
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

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