2018 Hyundai Sonata 2.0T Limited Review

Friday January 12th, 2018 at 4:11 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2018 Hyundai Sonata 2.0T Limited

Hypes: Responsive Suspension, Gearbox, Motor
Gripes: Small Pass-Through Opening from Trunk to Interior

Hyundai is on a roll. Every year this South Korean company manages to improve their main line sedan, the Sonata, by refining its looks and performance. The revamped 2018 Sonata is fully competitive with the best from Japan for class honors in this lucrative market segment. It’s been a long and fraught haul for Hyundai, which had to overcome the poor reputation of its first entry in North America, the trouble plagued Excel. But because the company is dedicated to relentless refinement, the Sonata now rivals Toyota’s Camry and Honda’s Accord for dominance in the mid-size sedan market.

2018 Hyundai Sonata 2.0T Limited

Restyled front and rear fascias grace the Sonata for 2018. Hyundai offers three Sonata model lines. The gas engine SE range starts at $22,050 for a 185hp, 2.4 liter model. For $600 more, the Eco version offers better mileage (28/37MPG) than the SE but less horsepower (178hp). The top model is the SEL, with a starting price of $23,700 and the same 185hp output as the SE. Next comes the Hybrid line, with the SE starting at $26,000 and yielding 45MPG (highway). The Limited Hybrid costs $30,100 and yields 43MPG (highway).

But if you’re an enthusiast driver, the Sonata you’ll want to own is the model we drove: the 2.0T Limited. Under the hood lies a 245hp turbocharged 4 cylinder engine which propels this Sonata with BMW-like alacrity. The engine is coupled to a new for 2018 8-speed automatic transmission with aluminum paddle shifters large enough to find even when the steering wheel is cranked over for tight turns. The base price of the 2.0T is $27,600, with the more lavishly appointed Limited model we drove available for $32,450.

2018 Hyundai Sonata 2.0T Limited

The engine in this front wheel drive sports sedan achieves maximum horsepower instantly thanks to lag-free turbo boost. High revving performance is also aided by the 2.0T’s square bore and stroke dimensions of 3.39 inches. Gas Direct Injection (GDI) makes the most efficient use of fuel, with the 2.0T good for 23MPG City and 32MPG Highway. The 8-speed gearbox is flawless in operation, with those elephant ear “Shiftronic” paddles always available to help you snatch just the right ratio when needed. In fully automatic mode, the relaxed gearbox provides unobtrusive up-shifts, even under full throttle acceleration.

2018 Hyundai Sonata 2.0T Limited

The 2.0T’s restful interior is simultaneously utilitarian and artful. Hyundai designers used charcoal seat trim, blue piping and stitching, and embossed matte aluminum to achieve a gracefully functional driving environment. Instead of resorting to buried menu screens for operational oversight, the Sonata offers a handsome, symmetrical array of clearly labeled, blue backlit buttons for the following essential operations: fan speed, seat heat and ventilation, steering wheel heat, A/C, defrost front and rear. Also present are four sizeable knobs – a vanishing species these days. The lower pair control temperature range for driver and passenger, the upper pair adjust volume and station choice on the infotainment system. Support for Android Auto and Apple Carplay are standard on this Sonata, as are LED daytime running lights, and front seat heating and ventilation. To say the 2.0T is fully equipped would be an understatement, especially considering its modest price.

2018 Hyundai Sonata 2.0T Limited

The best part of driving the turbo comes when you are free to attack a few apexes on a twisty back road. This sedan will absolutely stick with the best you can buy from Germany when it comes to canyon bashing. For starters, Hyundai equips the 2.0T with uprated sports suspension which is stiffer than any other Sonata in the model line. Even so, ride comfort remains enticingly plush when cruising the interstate. But on back roads, those Sport enhancements really shine. Handsome smoke anodized 7.5″ x 18″alloy rims mount Michelin MXM4 Primacy rubber (235/45R18) that is hard enough (TW500) to issue a chirp when pushed to the limit, but just sticky enough (Traction A) to clip the apex you’re aiming for. All in all, the engine, drivetrain and suspension of this Hyundai work in close enough harmony to make you wonder why you’d consider spending two or three times as much to buy a BMW, Mercedes or Audi.

2018 Hyundai Sonata 2.0T Limited

  • Engine: 2.0 liter inline 4, direct gas injection, turbocharged
  • Horsepower: 245hp
  • Torque: 260lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 23MPG City/32MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $32,450
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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2018 Lexus LC500h Coupe Review

Wednesday January 10th, 2018 at 12:11 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2018 Lexus LC500h Coupe

Hypes: Buck Rogers Rocket Ship Shape and Sound
Gripes: Sun Visors Too Short, Vehicle Dynamic Integrated Management (VDIM) Too Invasive

Aside from the 500 car run of the $400,000, 2010 LFA, Lexus has never been known for cutting edge styling or technology. Until recently, this Japanese luxury car maker has been content to refine and perfect ultra-luxe versions of Toyota sedans and SUVs. But the recent introduction of the breakthrough LC500 coupe moves Lexus into a new league where players like Mercedes, BMW, Audi and Porsche have long been on the varsity. Does the LC500h deserve elevation to major league status? Or does it need a few more years of seasoning in the minors?

2018 Lexus LC500h Coupe

The genesis of the LC series came about when Toyota Motor Corporation CEO and Chairman Akio Toyoda visited the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in 2011 and rued the fact that his company was unrepresented on the 18th green, while products from every other luxury maker were in full view. Shortly thereafter, Toyoda decreed that Lexus would design and develop the kind of show car that the preeminent division would be proud to display at Pebble Beach. That car is the LC500, and it presents a startling new look for a company conditioned to building perfect but prosaic products.

2018 Lexus LC500h Coupe

This long-nosed short-tailed beauty evokes comparison to Jaguar’s sensational looking XK-E which debuted in 1961. Both cars share a fineness of line, a purity of design that sets them apart from anything else on the road. But unlike the 260hp XK-E, the LC500 comes with a choice of sensational engines: a 471hp, 5.0 Liter V8, or a 3.5 Liter V6, supplemented by a multi-stage Hybrid system. We spent a thrilling week driving the 3.5 Liter V6, which benefits from double overhead cams, and variable intake and exhaust valve timing to produce 354 total system horsepower in consort with the electric motor. While the LC500h is 117hp short of the V8’s output, you will never notice the difference because the Hybrid combo really screams. Take that evaluation literally. When you dial the LC500h into Sport+ mode via the knurled knob flanking the instrument pod and lay hard into the accelerator, the V6 emits an ethereal banshee shriek that is unlike anything you’ve ever heard in a car before.

2018 Lexus LC500h Coupe

And does this coupe ever scat! In Sport+, the fully electroluminescent rev counter lights up like Tokyo’s Ginza. As the revolutions soar to the red zone at 7000rpm, the CVT gearbox, which Lexus calls a “Multi-Stage Transmission” soars without cease as the next stage takes the redline back to 7000rpm. The best part of this orgiastic explosion of raw power is the bug that appears for a second or two on the rev counter as it reaches redline. The graphic displays in the LC500h are enchanting and unlike anything you’ve ever seen on a dashboard before. Although this coupe’s engine and gear train take precedence over other performance aspects, the rest of the package is equally intriguing and productive. The wheels, tires and brakes on this Lexus are enormous. Up front you’ll discover 10 spoke 8.5×20” forged alloy rims bearing Bridgestone’s finest high performance run flat tires measuring 245/40R20. These wheels are backed by 15.7-inch 6 piston brakes that stop the coupe like a safety net on an aircraft carrier. The rear carries even larger 9.5×20” rims with 275/40R20 Bridgestone tires backed by 14.1-inch discs with 4-piston calipers. The wheels are finished in a smoky chrome that complements the dagger lines of the car gracefully.

2018 Lexus LC500h Coupe

Inside the tightly wrapped cabin, you will appreciate the most supportive seats you’re likely to find in any sporting coupe. They are perfectly contoured to hold you in place under the high g-forces generated by the Bridgestone rubber. Yet they never interfere with your ability to slide in and out of the cockpit unimpaired. Our test LC500 was upgraded with a $1,790 Touring Package which made those seats plusher than ever thanks to semi-aniline leather trimming. The package also upgrades the headliner with Alcantara which feels like suede and looks like heaven. In addition, the audio system receives a Mark Levinson bump to an ear splitting 915 Watt “Reference Surround Sound” which plays through 13 speakers. Unfortunately, the good news inside stops there. Lexus has decreed that the its upmarket products will utilize a tiny, over-sensitive touchpad between the seats to control the center display screen on the dashboard. It took me 10 minutes of fiddling with this control to bring up the screen dedicated to seat heat and ventilation. And I was parked the whole time! There is no way you can manipulate this control interface while driving and retain your concentration on the road.

2018 Lexus LC500h Coupe

But you have to expect a few glitches in a product that is as revolutionary as the LC500h. All in all, this coupe marks a turn in the road for Lexus, from the one more traveled to the one unexplored. It’s a courageous move, and their first foray into the upper echelons of automotive greatness should be both congratulated and commended.

2018 Lexus LC500h Coupe

  • Engine: 3.5 Liter V6, 24 valves, DOHC, VVT-iW intake and VVTi Exhaust plus Lexus Multi-Stage Hybrid System
  • Horsepower: 354hp
  • Torque: N/A
  • Fuel Consumption: N/A
  • Price as Tested: $101,385
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Lexus GS200t 4-DR Review

Tuesday January 9th, 2018 at 10:11 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Lexus GS200t 4-DR

Hypes: Sleeper Performance Sedan
Gripes: Lose the Console Mouse

Before checking the specification sheet on this GS sedan, I drove it for several days without realizing its motor has 4 rather than 6 cylinders. Does the idea of a $50,000 luxury sedan without at least 6 cylinders seems unacceptable to you? My positive experience with the GS200t guarantees you too won’t notice the loss of 2 cylinders insofar as performance is concerned. Aside from a slight turbo-induced hesitation when you mat the throttle, the 200t accelerates with enough grunt to fulfill your every need. Without being showy about its performance, the 200t is a competent high performance car, with an unexpectedly strong turbo motor abetted by great all independent suspension tuning and exceptional tires. Please note that for 2018, Lexus is changing the designation of this sedan from GS200t to GS300 RWD.

2017 Lexus GS200t 4-DR

Where you might notice another advantage of owning a 4 cylinder Lexus is fuel mileage. Where V6 powered GS sedans return 21MPG overall, the 200t squeezes 26MPG overall out of every gallon. In part, that efficiency is due to use of an 8-speed automatic transmission which maximizes thrust and minimizes fuel flow by using more gear ratios than your old bicycle had. The operation of this transmission is flawless. It intuitively selects the optimum ratio for a given occasion without hesitation or jerkiness. Better yet, if you decide to do a little micro gear management yourself, you can use the 2 supplied steering wheel mounted paddles to accomplish shifts of your own choosing. If you leave the floor stick in Drive, you can still make up and down shifts with the paddles. After a short time, the transmission will return to its fully automatic function in Drive. If you desire complete gearbox control, simply slot the floor stick into its Manual Mode quadrant, and tap all your shifts through the paddles. The beauty of this 8-speed is that it will never void your commands by up shifting on its own when in Manual Mode.

2017 Lexus GS200t 4-DR

The final component that differentiates this unassuming looking sedan from more prosaic transportation is tire choice. The base model 200t comes with 17 inch alloys mounting 225/50R17 tires. But our test model 200t boasts super sticky Dunlop Sport Maxx 050 rubber measuring 235/45R18. mounted on gun metal gray, 5-spoke alloy rims. This tire/wheel combo will set you back an extra $905. If you’ve ever priced wheel or tire upgrades in the aftermarket, you will know that $905 is a sensational deal for what Lexus offers on the 200t. Note the sticker Lexus placed on the rear passenger window which reads in part, “this car is equipped with high performance tires that may experience less than 20,000 miles.” While that caveat may ring true, the enhanced driving quality of those miles will more than compensate for the Dunlops’ quicker tread wear.

2017 Lexus GS200t 4-DR

It may seem odd to spend so much time detailing the driving dynamics of this sleeper of a high performance sedan. After all, isn’t Lexus renowned for its top drawer luxury and build quality? Make no mistake, both of those attributes elevate this modestly priced (Base: $46,310) sedan into the top echelon of luxury cars. As soon as you climb into the 200t’s restful environ, you immediately notice that the steering wheel tilts obligingly up, that both perforated leather front seats feel like they were specifically molded to your personal contours, and that the layout of the dashboard is almost Zen-like in its simplicity. While you can’t always depend on a Japanese branded car being built in Japan, this Lexus was constructed at the Toyota factory in Aichi, Japan. The interior stitching and leather work here is impeccable, with perfect door closure feel, understated dash face trim in “Striated Black,” and enough luxury touches like heated and ventilated front seats to make you wonder how Lexus can afford to cram so much content into such an economic package.

2017 Lexus GS200t 4-DR

Well, surely there must be something to quibble about in the 200t? That would have to be the rather unnerving simulated computer mouse that occupies the console between the front seats. This is definitely a work in progress. When you’re driving, you need to steer clear of it because operation of the mouse requires you to divert too much attention from traffic to the 12.3 inch screen atop the dash. Even when using this mouse from the passenger position, the operator will be hard put to maneuver and click the mouse on the sought after setting. But this singular non-Zen experience is in complete contradiction to the GS200t’s otherwise ethereal beauty of operation. At a total price of $50,070 (with $1,380 of Mark Levinson stereo and $1,730 for Navigation), the GS 200t (soon to be GS300 RWD) has got to be the best buy of the entire Lexus model range.

2017 Lexus GS200t 4-DR

  • Engine: 2.0 Liter In-line with Twin Scroll Turbocharger, Direct and Port Injection
  • Horsepower: 241hp
  • Torque: 258lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 22MPG City/32MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $50,070
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Ford F-150 SuperCrew 4×4 Raptor Review

Monday January 8th, 2018 at 11:11 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Ford F-150 SuperCrew 4x4 Raptor

Hypes: Massive Suspension and Frame
Gripes: It Left After One Week

The first definition of raptor in Webster’s is not a bird of prey, but rather “a plunderer, a ravisher.” Now here’s a truck that will plunder the earth while you ravish its performance. Instead of claws, Ford’s Raptor uses monster truck treads to get the job done: 315/70/R17 BFGoodrich T/A KO2s at each corner mounted on behemoth optional ($1,185) forged alloy wheels equipped with bead locks. Aside from those modest charcoal and silver alloy rims, there is absolutely nothing else discreet about this ultimate F150. In both styling and decoration, the Raptor is in your face everywhere you look. Take that massive grill, for example, with hyper extended F-O-R-D letters that each measure 9 inches in width. The dark grey tailgate “Applique” ($495) features an even wider FORD typeface with each letter measuring 14 inches. In the unlikely event that the model name escapes you, Ford has wrapped the Raptor with giant decals above each rear fender (“Exterior Graphics Package” – $1,075) identifying this Ruby Red Metallic Tinted ($395) truck as a Raptor. You will find further reminders from the matte black “Hood Graphics Package” ($900), the name stitched to both front seat headrests, and the bas-relief notation inscribed in the black crackle finish running boards.

2017 Ford F-150 SuperCrew 4x4 Raptor

While the Raptor makes a very bold visual statement, its performance proclamation is even louder than its looks. Start with the strident tone issuing from outlandishly large flat black dump pipes exiting just below the tailgate. When you toe into the twin turbocharged all-aluminum V6, the twin exhausts issue a startling blat that will titillate your eardrums. That’s because this truck motor, which is closely related to the engine in Ford’s class-winning Le Mans GT, makes a prodigious 450hp @ 5000rpm and an even more plentiful 510 lb.-ft. of torque at just 3500rpm. In other words, the Raptor is without question the fastest pickup truck you can buy today, with 0-60mph capability of 5.2 seconds. If you floor the accelerator and run this Ford through the quarter mile, it will record a 13.9 second run @ 98mph. Bear in mind that this stellar straight-line performance comes from a truck weighing very close to 3 tons.

2017 Ford F-150 SuperCrew 4x4 Raptor

But Ford did not construct the Raptor to be drag raced. Rather, it has been designed to provide the ultimate ride off-road. In fact, among the multiple available settings for ride preference, Ford has included one called “Baja.” This choice automatically locks in high range 4-wheel drive, while simultaneously optimizing all steering, suspension and engine parameters for ultra-high-performance. We didn’t have a chance to get down to Baja during our week with the Raptor, so we’ll have to take Ford’s word for its off-road prowess. However, the following engineering clearances should give veteran Rubicon types a clear idea of the Raptor’s elite design brief. Minimum running clearance stands at 11.45 inches. Water fording depth is 32 inches. Approach angle is 30.2 degrees, departure angle 23.1 degrees. Breakover angle on the SuperCrew is 10.9 degrees, or 11.45 degrees for the smaller SuperCab model. These impressive figures will reveal to any serious off-roader that the Raptor really is designed to complete the romp from Ensenada to La Paz through Baja with flying colors.

2017 Ford F-150 SuperCrew 4x4 Raptor

Although we never found a suitable unpaved spot to exercise the Raptor, we can testify that this truck makes a delicious everyday companion. Its cabin is so comfortable you never want to climb down from your throne. The front seats are wide and spacious, although they lack sufficient side support. The instrumentation is beyond reproach, with the most important gauges always displayed for water and oil temp, fuel level, and miles to empty. A series of computer command buttons on the steering wheel allow you to supplement that base information with a dozen screens of additional material encompassing everything from off-road lean angle to engine oil condition and tire pressure. But the best part of the Raptor’s cab is the 360 degrees of vision it affords to keep you ahead of the traffic game. The fact that our test truck was also equipped with the optional ($1,295) Twin Panel Moonroof made our vast panorama enjoyment that much better.

2017 Ford F-150 SuperCrew 4x4 Raptor

2017 Ford F-150 SuperCrew 4×4 Raptor

  • Engine: 3.5 liter all aluminum V6 with DOHC, 24 vales and twin turbocharger
  • Horsepower: 450hp@5000rpm
  • Torque: 510lb.-ft.@3500rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 15MPG City/18MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $69,995
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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


2018 Toyota Camry Hybrid SE Review

Friday January 5th, 2018 at 11:11 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2018 Toyota Camry Hybrid SE

Hypes: Improve Looks, Packaging, Performance
Gripes: Poor Regenerative Brake Pedal Feel

Toyota’s official designation for the color of this week’s 2018 Camry is “Ruby Flare Pearl.” It costs $395 extra and is worth every penny. But since when is Ruby Flare Pearl a name you’d associate with a Camry? Since now. Toyota has finally begun to veer off the straight and narrow path that defined the plain vanilla Camry franchise for so long. Our candy apple red Camry Hybrid colors an all new design for 2018, the first to use the TNGA platform that lowers roofline and driving position by a full inch. This architectural revision signifies a willingness to rethink, redirect and reinvigorate the staid Camry model line.

2018 Toyota Camry Hybrid SE

Camry’s reduced height is hardly the only noticeable change for 2018. Both the nose and tail have been radically re-proportioned, with newly incised slits and gills up front, and nips and tucks to the rear to eliminate the outgoing model’s hefty butt. The all new Camry is so much better looking than the model it replaces that you wouldn’t know it was even a distant cousin to Toyota’s long line of frumpy looking sedans . Setting off the scintillating new fender flares are a set of sharp aluminum wheels, 18 inches in diameter, finished in black but set off by the high gloss silver of machined facings. Hankook Kinergy GT tires (235/45R18) supply the show quality rims with excellent all weather grip. They promise long life too, with a tread wear (TW) rating of 580.

2018 Toyota Camry Hybrid SE

Inside the cabin, the changeover is even more apparent. The interior of our up-market SE level four-door sported a sweeping, lavishly appointed dashboard, set off by discreet hammered aluminum trim. The plush seats, upholstered in cream colored SofTex fabric, looked dramatic, with bold horizontal ribs defining the actual seating surfaces. Belying this car’s base MSRP of $29,500, the driver’s seat features standard 8 way power adjustments plus power lumbar, and 6 way manual adjustment for the passenger. In the center of the dash sits a 4.2 inch multi-informational display. This screen is well integrated to the confines of the available space, and avoids the drive-in movie screen effect so common to dashboards today. It’s easy to read in all lighting, and a snap to operate when setting or selecting favorites on SiriusXM radio. To Toyota’s everlasting credit, all HVAC controls are operable independently of the screen, with separate heat, blower and A/C buttons that leave your eyes focused on the road, not the dash.

2018 Toyota Camry Hybrid SE

The big news for Hybrid fans in 2018 is the complete revision of this system’s battery and packaging. An all new, smaller Lithium-Ion battery pack now sits beneath the back seat, allowing the sizeable 15 cubic foot Hybrid trunk to offer a flat floor for the first time. That’s a net gain of 2.0 cubic feet in storage space this year. Even better, the Hybrid offers a 60/40 split rear bench seat for the first time ever. But the most important aspect of the latest Hybrid is not its appearance, its wheels, its tires or its interior. Rather, this is the first Camry Hybrid I have driven that is fast enough to justify calling it a legitimate sports sedan. This SE is genuinely quick in a straight line. It will rocket from 40mph to 80mph on the freeway so fast you will disbelieve your speedometer. This year, Toyota has coupled a very sophisticated 2.5 liter, 4 cylinder, 176hp gasoline engine to the revised 118hp electric motor. When prodded in unison, this duo provides 208 combined horsepower, and more importantly, 302lb.-ft. of torque. That’s enough output to rocket this Camry from the slow lane to the fast lane in an eye blink. It’s also the first sedan I have driven that is perfectly suited to the rheostat like power management of a CVT transmission. Although Toyota provides floor mounted manual shifting through faux “gears” as well as steering wheel adjacent paddles, neither is necessary to harness the turbine-like performance of the new “Dynamic Force” engine. On all counts, then the 2018 Camry marks a huge improvement over the Hybrid it replaces. At $33,695 including optional moonroof ($900), uprated audio package ($1,080) and Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert ($600), this drastically revised sedan makes a strong case for choosing it over any cumbersome SUV.

2018 Toyota Camry Hybrid SE

2018 Toyota Camry Hybrid SE

  • Engine: 2.5 liter inline 4, DOHC, 16 valve, dual injection and VVT-i; Electric Motor, permanent magnet, AC synchronous
  • Horsepower: Gas Engine – 176hp@5700rpm; Electric Motor – 118h
  • Torque: Gas Engine – 163lb.-ft.@5200rpm; Electric Motor – 149lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 1MPG City/53MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $33,695
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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


2017 Fiat 500C Abarth Cabrio Review

Thursday January 4th, 2018 at 10:11 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Fiat 500C Abarth Cabrio

Hypes: Only the Italians Could Attach a Spoiler to a Convertible Top
Gripes: Awkward Seating Position

You cannot buy any car for $24,000 that will provide more driving entertainment than the Abarth tweaked Fiat 500. We spent a thoroughly joyous week conducting the raucous Abarth symphony from the deeply bucketed Nero ( black) driver’s seat of a Rosso (Red) Abarth. This petite demon of a sports car had enough cloisonné Abarth medallions to open a jewelry store. Few automotive symbols are as significant or fetching as the Abarth scorpion, a creature you will find on the flanks, hood, trunk lid, steering wheel and wheel centers of this exceptionally attractive 500C. White laser stripes adorn both flanks as well, making the diminutive 2,450 package look more ferocious than cute. Based on its performance this scorpion has every right to look pugnacious.

2017 Fiat 500C Abarth Cabrio

In its most basic form, which Fiat terms “Pop,” the 500C is an economy sedan For as little as $16,000), you can buy a 500C Pop with 101hp and 97lb.-ft. of torque. This version defines the cute end of the 500C spectrum, with just enough power to make the grade on the freeway, but not quite enough pop to complete a safe pass on a two lane road. At the other end of the performance rainbow lies the Abarth we drove, powered by a very stout turbo boosted version of the 1.4 liter engine, producing 160hp and 170lb.-ft of torque (if you opt for the 6-speed manual transmission). If you chose a 6-speed automatic you lose 3hp (to 157) but pick up 13lb.-ft. of torque (to 183). In either guise, the Abarth nearly doubles the output of the base Pop motor, and definitely halves the acceleration time from 0-60mph.

2017 Fiat 500C Abarth Cabrio

But the lively engine is just one component of the 500C’s transformation from economy city car to back road burner. At each corner, you will immediately notice Pirelli P7 radials (195/45R16), mounted on Abarth-specific 6.5×16″ “Aluminum Hyper-Black Wheels.” This potent combo is ready to attack any race track and win the battle. Coupled with the Abarth’s “High Performance Suspension,” the 500C becomes an absolute corner bashing terror, leaping from apex to apex with the kind of immediacy you would expect from a formula race car, not a street legal sedan. On one of my favorite back road runs, conducted early enough to avoid traffic, the little Abarth conducted itself with such precision and aplomb that it merited “Bravo!” at the finish line. And that bravura performance occurred before I activated the little beast’s secret weapon – the SPORT button.

2017 Fiat 500C Abarth Cabrio

When you depress a shiny red button on the dash face reading “SPORT,” the graphics of the digital dash change from humdrum (info like MPG and Miles To Empty), to another dimension calibrated in cornering G-Force numbers and lap times. Fiat calls this realm the “Abarth Track Experience.” Unlike so many pretend vehicles these days that entice you with a placebo “Sport” button that accomplishes virtually nothing in terms of upgrading performance, the Abarth’s jump in response is very clear and real rather than imagined. As the tip sheet in the glovebox explains, “When the vehicle is in Sport mode, you will notice increased powertrain and steering responsiveness, as well as increased horsepower, torque and turbo boost pressure.” What more could you ask for?

2017 Fiat 500C Abarth Cabrio

Well, you could ask for an open air car on a nice day. And with the roll back roof of the Abarth Cabrio, you’ve got just that. If you depress the button located on the windshield header, the soft roof slides back into one of three positions. The first stop mimics an open sunroof, the second uncovers both front and rear seat areas, and the third slides the roof all the way back to the lid of the trunk. These are all great choices for low speed open air motoring. But you won’t opt for positions 2 or 3 at freeway speed, since wind noise quickly becomes irritating. With so much roof real estate devoted to canvas rather than steel, the Abarth’s structural rigidity might seem compromised. Such is not the case, because we never detected so much as a twist or squeak from this Cabrio over bumps or potholes.

2017 Fiat 500C Abarth Cabrio

The driving position here is unique. The high mounted, fat rimmed steering wheel sits beneath an even higher instrument binnacle lid that can interfere with forward vision. The large center dash pod locates the sweet shifting transmission lever elbow high. The extended sides of the console are wide enough to impede knee clearance. Under hard cornering, I was constantly bracing myself against that console with the boniest part of my right knee. But the joy of driving this precious Fiat was worth every ping of pain I felt.

2017 Fiat 500C Abarth Cabrio

2017 Fiat 500C Abarth Cabrio

  • Engine: 1.4 liter inline 4 cylinder, 16 valve MultiAir Turbo
  • Horsepower: 160hp
  • Torque: 170lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 28MPG City/33MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $24,270
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Ford Super Duty F250 4×4 Crew Cab Lariat Styleside 6.7L V8 Diesel Review

Monday December 18th, 2017 at 11:1212 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Ford Super Duty F250 4x4 Crew Cab Lariat Styleside 6.7L V8 Diesel

Hypes: Immense Torque, Huge Payload/Tow Load
Gripes: Not City Fit for Parking

Trying to pin down a Ford pickup requires more specificity than a NASA launch sequence. Just look at the above referenced dozen identifiers and you see how complicated the ordering process can be when you step into your local Ford shop. Let’s start with the concept of Super Duty. These promissory words appeared everywhere on our test F250: incised in the hood, tailgate, flanks, and dash. Super Duty is not available on Ford’s entry level pickup, the F150. Rather it’s a term reserved for the heavily reinforced construction available only on F250 and F350 series trucks. Take the frame, for example, which is now built from 95% high-strength steel. This infrastructure is the strongest Super Duty frame ever produced. Last year, the F150 saved weight with its aluminum pickup box. For 2017, Ford has re-engineered the aluminum box for use on Super Duty models by upgrading the panel thickness of the box to handle the increased loading requirements of the Super Duty line. This aluminum construction saves nearly 400 pounds over a comparable steel box while still managing to pass “Built Ford Tough” tests over 12 million miles of testing.

2017 Ford Super Duty F250 4x4 Crew Cab Lariat Styleside 6.7L V8 Diesel

From the moment you climb into the F250′s comfy cab, you realize that this truck has been designed from the ground up to manage extreme situations with insolent ease. The fun starts under that huge expanse of hood, where our test truck’s $8,595 optional 6.7 liter Power Stroke V8 Diesel hummed its way to 430hp. The big news, however, comes in the torque output: 925lb.-ft. of twist at just 1,800rpm. In other words, every time you flatten the accelerator in the F250, you are instantly generating twice as much thrust as Ford’s also available gas V8, which makes 385hp and “only” 430lb.-ft. of torque. So what will this Diesel torque master do for you? It will allow the F250 to tow 17,600 pounds of trailer. If you opt for the F350 with the 6.7 liter Diesel, tow rating soars to an amazing 31,300 pounds. Our test F250 was completely optimized for towing. For starters, it had 4 wheel drive, with low and high ranges of RWD and 4WD available by simply twisting a knob on the dash. Ford includes dual heavy duty alternators at no extra cost. An acceleration enhancing 3.55:1 electronic locking rear axle costs just $390 extra, A must have if you plan to tow is the $710 “Ultimate Trailer Tow Camera” which allows you to keep an eye on your load at all times.

2017 Ford Super Duty F250 4x4 Crew Cab Lariat Styleside 6.7L V8 Diesel

A couple of important suspension tweaks on our F250 made its handling surprisingly responsive. The $295 FX4 Off-Road Package stiffens spring rates and shock absorber response. It also provides skid plates for off-road forays, and maximizes gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) at 10,000 pounds. The uprated suspension produced ride quality on the stiff side of comfortable. But when the road became twisty, this 7,898 LB. Ford acquitted itself with remarkable agility. Excellent Michelin tires are in part responsible for the happy compromise. These LTX AT2 M&S rated rollers ride on chromed wheels that are forged for exceptional strength. These 20″ x 8″ beauties cost $1,240 extra, and look just right supporting those massive 275/65R20 Michelins. Because the F250 stands really tall on these tires, the climb into the 81″ high cab is challenging. But Ford has provided very substantial cleated aluminum running boards to ease entry, plus an A-pillar mounted grab bar to complete the hoisting procedure.

2017 Ford Super Duty F250 4x4 Crew Cab Lariat Styleside 6.7L V8 Diesel

Once ensconced in the commanding bridge, you immediately notice how good the rear view mirrors are. They are divided into upper and lower sections, with the upper pane affording a normal view, and the lower pane showing a wide angle view. If you can’t see anything in these mirrors, then you can rest assured that nothing is there. For even more piece of mind, the standard blind spot detection system can be upgraded to cover your trailer as well as your truck. And the monitor for truck tire pressures can be calibrated to monitor 6 trailer tires if needed. If you tow a fifth wheel trailer, you will appreciate the cab mounted tailgate release. You can monitor back-up maneuvers thanks to cameras mounted on the tailgate and rear roof. This allows you to back the F250 onto your trailer ball without help from anyone else.

2017 Ford Super Duty F250 4x4 Crew Cab Lariat Styleside 6.7L V8 Diesel

What I most appreciated about this exceptional truck was the information available to check while driving. For example, transmission and engine temps, oil pressure, turbo boost level, tire pressures, even remaining Diesel emission life — all parameters are available at the touch of a steering wheel mounted button. All in all, the F250 Super Duty Diesel is the perfect all purpose getaway vehicle.

2017 Ford Super Duty F250 4×4 Crew Cab Lariat Styleside 6.7L V8 Diesel

  • Engine: 6.7 Liter Power Stroke V8 Diesel
  • Horsepower: 440hp@2800rpm
  • Torque: 925lb.-ft.@1800rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 16.4MPG City/23.7MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $66,945
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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2018 Toyota C-HR XLE Review

Friday December 15th, 2017 at 1:1212 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2018 Toyota C-HR XLE

Hypes: Cool Looks Inside and Out
Gripes: Needs a Turbo

While the Ringling Brothers circus may be dead, there is, as yet, no shortage of clown cars available to purchase. Nissan started the big top proceedings with the polarizing Juke, a car guaranteed to put a smile on your face if not greasepaint on your lips. BMW followed with their all electric I3, which resembles something you might find in the discount bin at Toys R Us. Now, along comes Toyota with their new-for-2018 C-HR, an idiosyncratic car that looks like the love child of a Juke and an I3. This uniquely outrageous looking vehicle, originally intended to be part of Toyota’s now defunct Scion product line, is named C-HR because it’s a Coupe-High Rider. Thanks to our test model’s “Iceberg/Radiant Green” exterior paint, abetted by a $500 optional “R-Code Color Keyed Body with White Roof,” this test C-HR pushed the boundaries of good taste to the absolute limit of propriety. In a boring automotive world populated by black, silver and white vehicles, you will never lose sight of this radioactive green C-HR in any parking lot. It put a smile on the face of everyone who saw it, me included, because it provides just the touch of humor you would expect from the best dressed clown at the circus.

2018 Toyota C-HR XLE

Out on the broken pavement of West Marin County’s grievously untended Coast Route 1, the diminutive C-HR tames every bronco bounce and knee jerk recoil with marvelous dexterity. Tall ride height is the order of the day if a vehicle is to pass muster out here, and the C-HR does tall particularly well, with its height of 62 inches. That’s 5 full inches taller than Toyota’s own Corolla. The C-HR is also short enough, at 171 inches, to maneuver through mogul fields with an adroitness that eludes the much longer, 183 inch Corolla. Contributing an added dash of adhesion are the C-HR’s premium grade Dunlop SP Sport 2000 tires (225/50R18), which adhere with resolute grip thanks to their soft Tread Wear rating of 340. This Toyota’s advanced fully independent suspension system (MacPherson Strut up front, Double Wishbone in the rear) sucks up bumps and imperfections like an Olympic champion blistering KT-22 at Squaw Valley. The C-HR’s relatively light weight (3,290lbs.) also contributes to its handling agility.

2018 Toyota C-HR XLE

Unfortunately, Toyota has burdened this otherwise lively product with an underproductive motor and drive train. Prop the hood up and you’ll discover a sideways mounted 2.0 liter inline 4 with double overhead cams, 16 valves and electronic fuel injection. With no boost from turbocharging, however, this unit produces just 144hp which it sends through only the front wheels via a CVT transmission. From zero to 2,000rpm, this unit is dead on its feet. You will quickly reconcile yourself to following even the slowest road blocking traffic without attempting to make a pass. So if speed is on your short list of attributes, look elsewhere for your kicks. On the other hand, if you’re looking for decent mileage (29 MPG Overall), and storage room that belies tidy dimensions, you might be willing to forego thrust for practicality. As if to underline the point, out C-HR even sported $299 optional removable cross bars to turn the standard XLE trim level roof rails into a proper rooftop storage platform.

2018 Toyota C-HR XLE

The interior treatment of this Toyota is sportive, comfortable and easy to live with. The supportive seats are upholstered in a durable fabric. The dash utilizes a combination of finishes dominated by piano black trim around the 7 inch touchscreen display. Toyota has provides separate button controls for temperature and fan speed, so you never have to go fishing through menu screens to control the car’s basic respiration functions. Back seat legroom is tight, so if you’re planning on traveling as a foursome, front seat occupants will need to cooperate in the endeavor by sliding their seats forward.

2018 Toyota C-HR XLE

Toyota stylists have tilled some new design soil with their roofliner in this vehicle. Above each front seat passenger, a pyramided tent-like structure gives the headliner a fresh new look. Diamond pleated door panels echo the tidy roof design. Even the instrument pointers for the speedometer and tachometer look distinguished, with delicate cream colored, bifurcated needles pointing the way. The inside of the C-HR is in every way just as inventive and attention getting as the exterior. It’s the perfect starter vehicle for the family with a proclivity for extroversion.

2018 Toyota C-HR XLE

2018 Toyota C-HR XLE

  • Engine: 2.0 liter inline 4 cylinder, fuel injected, DOHC, 16 valves
  • Horsepower: 144hp
  • Torque: 139lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 27MPG City/31MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $24,969
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Ford Fusion Platinum Hybrid Review

Thursday December 14th, 2017 at 11:1212 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Ford Fusion Platinum Hybrid

Hypes: Good Looks, Fuel Efficient, Comfy Ride
Gripes: Down On Power, Gearless Transmission

The Fusion Hybrid will laugh its way past a lot of gas stations over the course of your ownership. According to the EPA, this 42 MPG gas miser will save you $2,500 in 5 years over the fuel cost of the average new car. That efficiency gives it a rating of 9 on the EPA’s scale of 10 for “Fuel Economy and Greenhouse Gas Rating.” The Hybrid also posts an 8 of 10 on Smog Rating, measured at the tailpipe. But how does the Fusion Hybrid rate in everyday driving? I’d give it about a 7. If you’re looking for stout performance from this electric/gas combo sedan, you’ll want to look elsewhere. 188hp working to propel a chassis weighing 3,505 lbs. works out to 18.64 lbs/hp. That’s not quite in the old nag category of giddy-up, but it’s close enough to glue factory speed to keep you from passing slower traffic on 2 lane roads with confidence. But fret not, because Ford offers such a wide variety of propulsion systems for the Fusion sedan line that you can buy a real scorcher with 325hp and AWD(Fusion Sport).

2017 Ford Fusion Platinum Hybrid

Although the Hybrid lacks the Sport’s explosive thrust, it does enjoy enough amenities to make you forget about its lack of sheer speed. The Fusion line, from the base model 181hp sedan, through the turbocharged EcoBoost 245hp version, to the Hybrid we tested, plug-in Energi Hybrid, and Sport, all share the same basic good looks, finely tuned handling characteristics, and refined cabin design. These attributes make Fusion a top choice in a 5 passenger American designed family sedan.

2017 Ford Fusion Platinum Hybrid

Our test Fusion was built by a Ford plant in Hermosillo, Mexico. The base price of our test car ($31,010) seems quite reasonable, considering that its “Platinum” level of trim is the highest of 5 levels Ford offers for this model. Our test car’s bottom line swelled to $34,770 thanks to the addition of 3 option groups you could easily do without: $995 for “Enhanced Park Assist,” $1,190 for “Adaptive Cruise with Stop & Go,” and $1,575 for a “Driver Assist Package” that includes Lane Keeping and Rear Cross Traffic Alert. In fact, I would definitely delete that last package, because the Lane Keeping feature constantly jiggles the steering wheel in your hand whenever you make a lane change without signaling first. This haptic feedback becomes annoying in very short order.

2017 Ford Fusion Platinum Hybrid

There’s substantial battery and electric motor technology lurking beneath the passenger compartment and under the raised trunk floor. If you opt for the Hybrid, you must be willing to sacrifice at least a third of the non-Hybrid’s 16 cubic feet of trunk space to accommodate the electrics beneath the trunk floor. For 2017, Ford improved the output and performance of the Hybrid’s electric motor. When you spool up the throttle, the electric motor issues an ethereal whine, not unlike your blender set to Liquefy. Appended to this propulsion unit is a “Powersplit” CVT transmission that is controlled by a circular dial mounted between the front seats. Because this CVT has no actual gears, Ford does not bother with the charade of defining artificial rpm splits that deceive you into thinking you’re shifting gears. Hence, there are no paddle on the steering wheel, nor any manual override setting on that rotary transmission dial. If you’re really slogging along at low speeds, however, you can dial up a “Low” range setting.

2017 Ford Fusion Platinum Hybrid

Ford has perfected the ride control of this Fusion. They equip its with no-extra-cost machined aluminum wheels with painted pockets. These handsome components are shod with Michelin Green X Energy radials (255/45R18) that run silent, provide good grip, and promise long tread life with a wear rating of TW 480. At the Titanium trim level, the Fusion is equipped with a slew of features that make daily use easy. We particularly appreciated the Intelligent Access keyfob, which never needed button prompting to open the doors automatically. Both front seats are heated and offer electronic 10-way positioning. All windows take just one push of the button to raise or lower. New LED headlights and a revamped mesh front grill for 2017 refine the frontal aspect of what was already a very clean looking design. Consumer Reports assessment of the 2014-2016 Fusion shows nothing but green arrows, so you can expect better than average reliability. In fact, CR endorses the latest Fusion with a Recommended check mark, and we would have to concur with their assessment.

2017 Ford Fusion Platinum Hybrid

2017 Ford Fusion Platinum Hybrid

  • Engine: 2.0 Liter inline 4 + Electric Motor
  • Horsepower: 188hp
  • Torque: N/A
  • Fuel Consumption: 43 MPG City/42 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $35,645
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

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2018 Volvo V90 T6 AWD Inscription Review

Wednesday December 13th, 2017 at 11:1212 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2018 Volvo V90 T6 AWD Inscription

Hypes: Sensuous Looks, Primo Finish, Good Performance
Gripes: Sensus Is Not Consensual

Your first and lasting impression of the V90 is one of surpassing beauty. Its restrained styling provides more wow factor than the overwrought exercises coming out of Cadillac, BMW or Mercedes Benz these days. If you are looking for a station wagon with all wheel drive, sculpted in consummate good taste, stop by your Volvo dealer for a close look at the 2018 V90. We spent a week cosseted inside the top line trim version of the V90 called the Inscription. In keeping with this wagon’s understated good looks, the “Inscription” nameplate appears in just two places on this vehicle: a pair of chrome identifiers located almost out of sight on the lower front rocker panels.

2018 Volvo V90 T6 AWD Inscription

Inside, the V90 is exquisitely tailored. This wagon’s show car interior belies its base price of $57,950. The first element that catches your eyes when stepping aboard is the illuminated threshold plate, done in matte aluminum with backlit “Volvo” lettering. Slide into the French vanilla leather front seats and enjoy 10 way power adjustability and 3 stage heating. Savor the medley of linear walnut wood inlays defining all dash and door panels. Slide open the enormous laminated panoramic moonroof to convert the interior to convertible airiness. The V90 interior is a destination second home you always leave with some regret.

2018 Volvo V90 T6 AWD Inscription

But this Volvo also scores points as a fun car to drive. Under the wind cheating snout of our Maple Brown Metallic tester was a highly tweaked 4 cylinder motor displacing just 2.0 liters. This relatively small engine leaves lots of room for people packaging in a car with an extravagant 111 inch wheelbase and a total length of 191 inches. Volvo turbocharges and supercharges this motor to produce 316hp and 295lb.-ft. of torque. Because the torque peak arrives at just 2200rpm, you’re almost always guaranteed immediate response from this B4204T27 engine, which averages 25MPG in all driving.

2018 Volvo V90 T6 AWD Inscription

Helping keep the economical four banger on full boil is an 8-speed automatic transmission with enough ratios to insure immediate response to any acceleration request. Volvo labels this sweet shifter “Geartronic” and equips it with am manual operation gate that allows you to select and hold your ratio of choice. Unfortunately, the Inscription model does not provide steering wheel mounted paddles to accomplish this task. However, if you seek such paddles, the otherwise less lavishly equipped V90 “R” offers them as standard fare.

2018 Volvo V90 T6 AWD Inscription

Volvo does not stint on the V90′s suspension of tire choice. Although this wagon weighs in at more than 2 tons (4,170 pounds), it never feels ponderous, even on back roads. That’s because you can dial in the steering feedback and suspension behavior you desire by choosing a “Drive Mode Setting” from the four menu choices available: Eco/Comfort/Dynamic/Individual. Before each drive, I generally opted for Dynamic. Eco or Comfort tighten up at freeway speed, but provide way too much power steering boost at lower speeds. In any case, the Pirelli P Zero radials (255/35R20), mounted on Inscription specific 8 spoke alloy rims, never lose grip or traction on dry pavement.

2018 Volvo V90 T6 AWD Inscription

If the V90 has a weak point, it lies in the design and logic of the “Sensus Connect” system which regulates virtually all functions of this car through a 9 inch touchscreen/navigation unit centrally located on the dash. Figuring out how to operate this video screen is like searching for something specific at Ikea – you have to wade through the whole store before finding what you need. And just like Ikea’s bewildering maze of pathways, Sensus acts like a funhouse mirror. You’re never sure where you are, where you’re going, or where you’ve been. Ironically, for a company long celebrated for promoting safety in driving, this confusion causes inattention while driving. We even visited our local Volvo dealer for some help with Sensus and were instructed to issue voice commands when needed. We tried this repeatedly, but every time we wanted to raise or lower the interior temperature, the voice genie responded with help for the radio.

2018 Volvo V90 T6 AWD Inscription

If Volvo ever decides to equip the V90 with good old fashioned buttons for control of the HVAC system, this wagon will merit unanimous praise. But until that time, the V90, lovely and comfortable as it is, merits a triple, not a home run.

2018 Volvo V90 T6 AWD Inscription

  • Engine: 2.0 liter inline 4, Direct Injection, Super & Turbo-Charged
  • Horsepower: 316hp@5700rpm
  • Torque: 295lb.-ft.@2200rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 22MPG City/31MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $69,340
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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