Review: 2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI SE

Thursday August 13th, 2015 at 1:88 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI SE

By David Colman

Hypes: Luscious Power Curve, Impeccable Handling, Killer Seats
Gripes: None

Recently, MOTOR TREND conducted a comparison test of 2 seat sports cars, pitting the new Mazda Miata against Subaru’s BRZ. As an afterthought, they brought along VW’s GTI as a stalking horse to compare to the “real” sports cars. In the end, the GTI blew away both the Miata and the BRZ by posting the fastest acceleration times and lap times on the road course at Willow Springs Raceway. Of course, the experts at the magazine then had some explaining to do about how a modest $27,000 four seat sedan could possibly have beaten those certified sports cars in every verifiable test. Oh, they went on about how the GTI lacked the ride and steering perfection of the Mazda and the Subaru, but in the end, they couldn’t dispute the fact that VW’s long lived little hot rod, now in its 30th year, had managed to kick the stuffing out of the vaunted competition. In order to perpetrate the sports car superiority myth, MOTOR TREND should have left the GTI home.

2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI SE

Golf for 2015 is completely new, with new power sources, revamped styling, better safety features, and upgraded connectivity. The Golf range starts with the Launch Edition price leader at $17,995 and works through several gas (TSI) and diesel (TDI) powered variants. Most expensive Golf is the all-electric e-Golf at $35,445. The GTI we drove is the performance king in the model range, with a base price of just $27,395. Since there were no extras at all, our test car retailed for $28,215 after the addition of $820 for Destination Charge. In today’s market, an option free model like our test GTI is unheard of. Similarly unlikely is the fact that the base GTI wants for absolutely nothing because it is so well equipped in standard form. Start with the turbocharged, direct injected 4 cylinder 2.0 liter engine, the most powerful GTI motor in 30 years, at 210hp and 258lb.-ft. of torque. The surge this fuel miser is capable of generating will knock your lederhosen off. MOTOR TREND clocked it at 99.7mph @14.6 seconds in the quarter mile, with a 0-60mph time of 6.1 seconds. Yet despite the supercar punch, the GTI still returns 28MPG in overall driving.

2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI SE

Although you can option your GTI with a DSG semi-automatic gearbox, it will cost you $1,100 extra and you will be eliminating one of the best 6-speed manuals in the automotive world. I found the dimpled golf ball shift knob atop the GTI’s short stalk manual to be such a pleasure to shift that I made up excuses to run through the gears just for the pleasure of snicking that stick from gate to gate. The GTI’s electro-mechanical power steering is as precise as the weighted dial on a pricey FM tuner. The standard issue Bridgestone Potenza S001 tires (225/40R18) mounted on Cuisine Art bladed alloys, plant the GTI so firmly that side slip is never an issue, no matter how hard you press through turns. The stellar front seats, with copious side and lower back support, are miles ahead of the seats you’ll find in competitive vehicles like the Ford Fiesta ST. While the GTI’s seats may not look as racy as those in the ST, they are much more comfortable over the long haul. We spent five hours in them on a single day roundtrip from the Bay Area to the Sierra foothills without experiencing a moment of discomfort or tedium. Also, the standard Fender audio system proved easier than ever to use. Its new visual display shows pre-selected stations on the XMSirius radio in a bar format on the 5.8 inch touchscreen. This revised layout is easier to read than VW’s former telephone dial tuning system. Also easier to use is the simple overhead control for the standard tilt and slide panoramic sunroof. Instead of the twist dial VW used for so long, a slider button now gets the job done faster.

2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI SE

In the sub-$30,000 market, it doesn’t get any better that the GTI, the original German hot hatch. And if 210 hp are insufficient to your neck snapping needs, the GTI Performance Package is about to be released. This one, which will retail for $29,280 with manual gearbox, is rated at 220hp. There’s even an R Golf in the works with 290hp on tap and all-wheel-drive. But for those on a mission AND on a budget, the base model GTI just has to be the best Golf of them all for the money.

2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI SE

2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI SE

  • Engine: 2.0 liter in line 4, TSI, turbocharged with direct injection
  • Horsepower: 210hp
  • Torque: 258lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 25MPG City/34 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $28,215
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid SEL Premium

Tuesday August 11th, 2015 at 12:88 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid SEL Premium

By David Colman

Hypes: 500 miles to the 11.8 Gallon Tank!
Gripes: Spongy Brakes

May 2015 was a happy month at VW. U.S. sales soared by 8 percent to 34,758. Compare that to Fiat/Chrysler’s rise of 4 percent, GM’s 3 percent growth, flat sales for Nissan and Toyota, and Ford’s 1 percent loss, and there’s finally a reason for optimism at VW’s beleaguered North American outpost. If the 2015 Jetta Hybrid we recently tested is indicative of the company’s newfound attention to detail and quality, then VW has reason to be optimistic about May’s sales portending a sustained trend here. Unlike most hybrids, which require performance sacrifices to compensate for fuel savings, the Jetta Hybrid lets you have it all. Not only is it satisfyingly fast in acceleration, but it is also the exceptional at conserving fuel. This Jetta posts an astonishing 45 MPG overall rating, with 42 MPG available in city driving and 48 MPG on the highway. Given the Jetta’s fuel tank capacity of 11.8 gallons, your range between gas station pencils out at 531 miles. In view of the Hybrid’s moderate base price of $31,120, this VW offers affordability at purchase reinforced by economy throughout the ownership cycle. It’s no wonder that EPA/DOT’s “Fuel Economy & Greenhouse Gas Rating” confers a perfect score of 10 out of 10 on this Hybrid.

2015 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid SEL Premium

But unlike so many other Hybrids with their dodgy steering, tiny rock hard tires, and futuristic interiors, this Jetta is no Jetson. Rather, it behaves like any other VW product engineered in Wolfsburg, Germany. The seats, dashboard layout, instrumentation, and shift mechanism will all look familiar to longtime VW owners. The super supportive front seats are exceptionally comfortable and nicely finished. The back bench seat works well for medium sized adults, with a useful drop down armrest available between the two outboard positions. Those taller than 5’8″ might find foot room restricted when the front seats are positioned at their mid-track position. Although the Hybrid unit necessitates a rather large hump intruding into trunk storage, you can partially overcome the problem by folding both rear seats flat to gain more space. That armrest between the back seats contain a handy knockout panel which allows you to carry elongated cargo like skis while still leaving the seat backs in their upright position. All in all, a typically useful VW smorgasbord of carriage options.

2015 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid SEL Premium

Whereas most Hybrids inflict jerky power transitions in the switchover from electric to gas operation, this Jetta makes the switch quietly and unobtrusively. The only time you really notice the amalgamation of power sources is when you tromp the accelerator. That’s when the sudden infusion of turbo boost and electric motor thrust enables the Jetta to spring forward decisively. In fact, the seat of your pants will quickly inform you that this Jetta’s 177hp is more than enough to cope with any power need you may encounter. The first time I pulled out to pass a slower car on a 2 lane highway, I was gratified to complete the maneuver with a huge safety margin I frankly did not expect. You can drive this Jetta over challenging terrain, safe in the knowledge that it will handle crisply. The surfeit of adhesion is due in part to the Hybrid’s stable platform, precise electro-mechanical speed sensitive power steering, 17 inch standard alloy rims, and sportingly serviceable Continental Conti Pro Contact rubber (205/50R17).

2015 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid SEL Premium

From a performance standpoint, the one area where the Hybrid is deficient is braking feel. Like so many others of its ilk which depend on regenerative braking to recycle brake heat into energy, this one too suffers from a somewhat spongy and unpredictable pedal. When the same amount of braking force does not always produce the same stopping result, it leads to the inescapable conclusion that pedal feel is a crap shoot that varies from stop to stop. But in the big picture, it’s a relatively minor irritation that can be avoided by always braking earlier than you normally would.

2015 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid SEL Premium

Aside from that caveat, the 2015 Jetta is a thumbs-up proposition all around. VW has done a minor facelift of the grill, and added Bi-Xenon adaptive headlights to the SEL Premium package, along with a new dash center stack, and upgraded interior materials. All in all, the Hybrid Jetta garners best-n-class honors by offering scintillating performance combined with stupendous fuel economy.

2015 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid SEL Premium

  • Engine: 1.4 liter inline 4, turbocharged & Electric Motor with battery Pack
  • Horsepower: 177hp
  • Torque: N/A
  • Fuel Consumption: 42MPG City/48 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $32,490
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Ford F-150 4×4 Supercab

Thursday August 6th, 2015 at 11:88 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Ford F-150 4x4 Supercab

By David Colman

Hypes: Aluminum Saves 700 LBS, Sweet EcoBoost Motor
Gripes: No Tailgate Damper, Manual Seat Back Control

Although Ford’s latest F-150 may look familiar, its what you can’t see that distinguishes it from its predecessors. At just 5,000lb, it’s remarkably light for such a large truck. The substitution of aluminum for steel in the cab and body structure has pared curb weight by 700 pounds. As a result, you no longer need a gas swigging V8 under the hood to provide enough punch for acceptable performance. Our test F-150 utilized a V-6 engine displacing just 2.7 liters. Using such a small engine would have been unthinkable in previous three ton versions of the F-150, but thanks to the use of aluminum, the small displacement engine is perfectly adequate to all needs, including towing up to 11,000 pounds.

2015 Ford F-150 4x4 Supercab

The secret to the success of the 2.7 liter V6 is the fact that it’s equipped with twin turbochargers (“EcoBoost” in Ford parlance) which allow the diminutive mill to make 325hp and 375lb-ft. of torque. When you stomp the loud pedal in this rig, you’ll have no performance complaints about its V6 replacing a V8. The only irksome note is struck by Ford’s Auto-Start-Stop regimen, which automatically kills the engine at stoplights, then re-fires it when you touch the gas pedal. Although this protocol does save fuel, the F-150 shudders when shutting down, then shakes like an awakened Frankenstein when re-firing. You can, however, manually override Auto-Start-Stop with a button on the dash console. Trouble is, you have to reactivate your deletion choice each time you re-start the truck. In any event, at refueling time, you’ll be pleased to learn that the EcoBoost motor averages 20MPG in overall driving. The 5.0 liter V8, which is still available in the F-150, will return just 17MPG in overall driving, while making 360hp and 380lb.-ft. of torque.

2015 Ford F-150 4x4 Supercab

Since our test F-150 arrived during a week when we were building and furnishing a small utility shed, we put the behemoth Ford to good use all week long. After visiting a builder’s emporium in Petaluma, we loaded the Ford’s 6 foot long bed with multiple 4′x8′ sheets of Thermoply wallboard and Insulfoam rigid insulation. At first, the Ford’s 6′ short bed seemed problematic, but leaning the load against the closed tailgate forced the extra 2′ lengths to curl upwards while remaining inside the gate. Had we transported plywood, however, the 6′ bed would have prevented us from using this trick. The morale is that if you truly need a work truck, you may not want to opt for the Supercab configuration which limits bed size to 6′ in length.

2015 Ford F-150 4x4 Supercab

The bed of our test truck featured 8 different tie-down hooks, which we utilized to attach bungee cords to stabilize the load. Our test truck featured a couple of options that vastly improved its load carrying ability. The first was a $475 Spray-In Bed Liner, which provides you with a non-slip surface for your load. It also protects the bed from scratches, so we were able to transport a trio of 20″x20″ very heavy paving stones without leaving a mark on the bed floor. The other brilliant innovation is the $375 Tailgate Step, which proved invaluable when climbing into the bed to arrange loads. This device features a single step ladder which deploys from the dropped tailgate. It also features a handrail which extends to let you get a grip while climbing aboard.

2015 Ford F-150 4x4 Supercab

Since my wife and I drive close to 50 different new vehicles each year, it would be easy for us to become a bit blasé about their various virtues. But when my wife returned home after yet another transport mission, she exclaimed as she walked in the door, “I just love driving this truck!” Without question, there’s a certain exhilaration every time you climb onto the running board, hoist yourself into the luxurious cab, and survey the highway world from a perspective superior to that available in any car. The F-150 provides a sense of mastery before you ever flick the key to start. Its sheer size (232″ length, 77″ height) makes it tower over traffic, affording a stellar view of your surroundings. And its bulk is undeniably intimidating to other drivers, especially the boors normally predisposed to usurp your right of way. Given the go-anywhere capacity of the all-wheel-drive system, the epoxy-like traction generated by Goodyear’s best Wranglers (275/65R18), the decisive punch of the EcoBoost motor, and the commanding perspective from the glassy cab, the F-150 has all the bases covered when it comes to staking your claim in the traffic pattern. This is not a vehicle to be trifled with, and if you value the safety of you and your family, you might want to consider the F150 as your main means of transport – even if you never drop so much as a brick into that vast pickup bed.

2015 Ford F-150 4x4 Supercab

2015 Ford F-150 4×4 Supercab

  • Engine: 2.7 liter V-6 EcoBoost Turbo
  • Horsepower: 325hp
  • Torque: 375lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 18 MPG City/23 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $43,480
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2016 Kia Sorento SXL AWD 2.0 Turbo

Wednesday August 5th, 2015 at 9:88 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Kia Sorento SXL AWD 2.0 Turbo

By David Colman

Hypes: Love the Quadrant of K900 Style Driving Lights on Each Front Fender
Gripes: Light-Switch Power Curve, Innocuous Interior

Kia’s 2016 Sorento model range begins with the front-wheel-drive base model LX ($24,300), proceeds through intermediate versions called EX ($31,700) and SX ($36,700), and tops out with the SXL or Limited version we tested. Without first consulting the window sticker, I often try to guess the asking price of a test vehicle the first time I climb aboard. Generally, my ballpark estimates tend to be fairly accurate. The SXL Sorento, however, threw me a curve ball because it initially impressed me as a compact SUV priced in the high $20K to mid $30K price range. When I caught site of its $45,095 bottom line, and $41,700 base price, a shot of adrenalin was needed to counter sticker shock. Frankly, there isn’t much in terms of interior finery or mechanical sophistication to counter my initial notion that the Sorento SXL 2.0 is overpriced.

2016 Kia Sorento SXL AWD 2.0 Turbo

Though I have not had the opportunity to sample base levels of this model, the cabin of the SX, with its rubberized, industrial looking dash top and door panels, and bargain basement mesh storage pockets behind the front seat backs do not define plush. Both front and rear seats, however, are good looking and finely tailored, with deviated stitching on the bolsters, and diamond patterned grey inserts. They are also quite comfortable, offering the softness of Nappa leather on both the first and second rows. The front seats boast 3 stage heating and cooling, the driver’s seat is 14 way adjustable, and the steering wheel rim warms to a toasty grasp without delay. The ability to alter the seatback inclination of the rear seats is particularly welcome. In fact, rear seat passengers are well cared for in all respects with adjustable large ventilation ducts, 115v plug receptacle (150W maximum), and privacy screens for both rear side windows.

2016 Kia Sorento SXL AWD 2.0 Turbo

The all-wheel-drive SXL can be ordered with either the turbocharged 2.0 liter inline 4 of our test vehicle, or a 3.3 liter V6. The turbo 4 makes 240hp and 260lb.-ft. of torque compared to the V6, which produces 30 more hp (290hp) but 8 pound feet less torque (252lb.-ft.). The gain in fuel consumption for the inline 4 is negligible, with the V6 posting 18/26MPG and the I4 good for 19/25MPG. That being the case, I would definitely opt for the smoother V6 because the I4, while quite powerful, has a light-switch quality to its power curve. Even when you don’t require full power, a slight tip-in of the throttle results in an unwelcome shove in the back when you least expect it. The I4 needs attention to its power delivery curve, especially the jerky transition from part to full throttle. However, thanks to that raging turbo, you’ll never find yourself short of acceleration when merging onto freeways or passing slower cars on back roads.

2016 Kia Sorento SXL AWD 2.0 Turbo

The 6-speed Sportmatic transmission works through its well-spaced gears with a floor mounted lever allowing selection and retention of individual ratios as needed. 19 inch alloy rims are standard fitment on the SXL, fitted with solid performing Michelin Premier LTX tires (235/55R19). Suspension calibration is more oriented to comfort than handling. As a result, the Sorento heels over rather quickly on sharp turns, allowing the Michelin tires to shoulder most of the cornering load. This comfort calibration leads to pleasant freeway travel, with little disturbance over potholes, bumps, or truck lane troughs.

2016 Kia Sorento SXL AWD 2.0 Turbo

Our test Sorento boasted the addition of a $2,500 SXL Technology Package, which consists of Xenon HD headlamps, lane departure warning system (LDWS), forward collision warning system, electronic parking brake, surround view monitor, and smart cruise control. Save yourself the extra outlay for this grouping. Due to an all but invisible indicator light on the instrument cluster, I could never tell whether the e-brake was on or off, so I gave up using it, relying on the transmission’s Park setting instead. Since I find LDWS intrusive and annoying, I switched it off at start up on most outings. The radar cruise control is also rather demanding in tight traffic, so I substituted my own judgment instead. About the only thing I would miss without the Technology Package is the HID headlights, which add a good measure of night time safety.

But if there is one overwhelming reason to chose the Sorento over any other mid size SUV it is this: Sorento is one of only 9 vehicles to record zero deaths per million registered vehicles according to the Insurance Institute for Highway safety.

2016 Kia Sorento SXL AWD 2.0 Turbo

2016 Kia Sorento SXL AWD 2.0 Turbo

  • Engine: 2.0 liter Turbo with Direct gas Injection
  • Horsepower: 240hp@6,000rpm
  • Torque: 260lb.-ft.@1450rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 199MPG City/25MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $45,095
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Toyota Corolla S

Monday August 3rd, 2015 at 11:88 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Toyota Corolla S

By David Colman

Hypes: Gas Miser, Interior Belies Price
Gripes: Paltry Torque Rating

My local Toyota dealer is offering a 2015 Corolla S for just $158/month. That amounts to $5.26 per day. If you commute from Marin to San Francisco, the daily toll on the Golden Gate Bridge ($6) will cost more than your Corolla does. Of course, if you chose to pay cash rather than finance your purchase, the Corolla S retails for $22,905. Add $395 for paint protection film, $309 for illuminated door sill emblems, $225 for carpeted floor and trunk mats, and $825 for delivery, and the Toyota Corolla S can be yours for $24,659. Not only is this price affordable, but long range ownership promises to be impecunious as well. The EPA estimates annual fuel cost will be just $1,650, thanks to an overall fuel consumption figure of 32 MPG. On the “Fuel Economy and Greenhouse Gas Rating” scale, this model scores an 8 out of 10, and a 5 out of 10 on the “Smog Rating” scale. All in all, the Corolla is the very model of inconspicuous civility.

2015 Toyota Corolla S

But is it a blast to drive? Not exactly. Although the “S” designation makes a significant step up in performance from the base Corolla, you’ll never mistake it for a BMW, or a Mazda 3 for that matter. Two important items distinguish the S model from the base Corolla. The first is the substitution of rear disc brakes for the base model’s rear drum brakes. Disc brakes are superior in every way to drums, so your Corolla S will stop better in all weather conditions than the drum brake equipped base model. Secondly, the S features hugely improved front seats, with perfectly contoured lumbar support, plus retentive side bolstering. But these pluses can’t compensate for the Corolla’s lack of grunt. Its 1.8 liter engine makes just 140hp, and 126lb.-ft. of torque, no match for the car’s 2,900lb. curb weight. Do the math and you come up with a horsepower-to-weight ratio of 20.7lb./hp. That compares unfavorably to competitors like Honda’s Civic (19.7), Kia’s Forte (19.4), and Mazda’s 3 (18.5). It should come as no surprise, then, that the Toyota is the slowest of the bunch in quarter mile tests, with a time of 17.1 seconds at 82.7mph, and a 0-60mph time of 9.3 seconds.

2015 Toyota Corolla S

But the Corolla S handles well enough to redeem its horsepower shortfall. Toyota supplies the S with snazzy looking Op Art 17 inch alloy wheels that replace the base model’s 16 inch rims. Firestone FR 740 radials (215/45R17) get the job done at each contact patch, and the Corolla skittles through curves with precision and dispatch. The S’ lovely leather rimmed steering wheel aids in positioning the stable chassis with accuracy. The CVT transmission offers paddle shifting in the S, giving you another driving dynamic absent in the base Corolla. Inside the cabin, you would be hard pressed to conclude that this is an economy sedan. The furnishings merit high praise, from the fit and finish of the SofTex seats to the tailoring of the rugs and mats. Toyota has done a first class job of making the Corolla look more expensive than it is. Particularly impressive is the long list of standard features you’d normally expect to pay extra to acquire: automatic climate control, 8-way power adjustable driver’s seat, heated front seats, and a smart key system with push button start. That smart key is intelligent enough to unlock the car as you approach, eliminating the need to button hunt the key fob remote. Best feature of all for rear seat passengers is the abundance of leg room. The Corolla offers a class leading 41.4 inches of aft kick space. Along with its low beltline and tall side windows, the interior remains bathed in light. The standard power tilt/slide moon roof contributes yet another source of daytime interior illumination. The Corolla interior is remarkably habitable for 4 adults especially considering that this chassis makes do with just 106 inches of wheelbase. That’s 3 inches less than Toyota’s Camry offers.

2015 Toyota Corolla S

The Corolla S is unquestionably handsome this year, with a pugnacious front architecture that distinguishes it from lesser Corollas. Although its performance falls short of matching its impertinent look, the Corolla S’ many other virtues make up for that shortfall. This is a practical, safe and inexpensive way for a family to travel in style if not great swiftness.

2015 Toyota Corolla S

2015 Toyota Corolla S

  • Engine: 1.8 liter, 4 cylinder inline DOHC, 16 Valves with VVT-i
  • Horsepower: 140hp
  • Torque: 126lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 29MPG City/37MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $24,659
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Volkswagen Beetle 1.8T

Friday July 31st, 2015 at 12:77 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Volkswagen Beetle 1.8T

By David Colman

Hypes: Premium Build Quality, German Engineering
Gripes: Chintzy Door Pocket Straps

There’s only one VW model you can order in Yellow Rush for 2015. It’s also the only one you can order in Denim Blue. Let’s see, Rush Yellow and Denim Blue – colors that have kind of a Hippie ring to them, don’t you think? A nostalgic ring that’s not at all out of keeping for prospective buyers of the reinvented Beetle. After all, both owners and car came of age in the Age of Aquarius. For color loving Hippies and even their Hipster offspring, VW offers no fewer than 11 standard colors for the current Beetle. That’s nearly twice as many as you can select for the Golf (7) or the GTI (6).

2015 Volkswagen Beetle 1.8T

Color is just the beginning of the long, strange trip you’ll take when you saddle up a new Beetle. Our test model, finished in a fetching shade called Reflex Silver Metallic, featured the standard engine in the Beetle line, a 170hp. 1.8 liter turbocharged 4 driving through a 6 speed automatic transmission. This model, replete with a sunroof, Fender premium audio system and RNS 315 touch screen Navigation, retails for $26,985. This affordable package is but one of no less than 30 (!) different options VW offers for the Beetle model line. Breaking things down to the simplest split, you can order a 1.8 liter turbo stripper, with manual gearbox, for as little as $20,195. The 150hp Diesel-powered Beetle TDI, making 236lb.-ft. of torque, starts at $24,795 for a manual gearbox version.

The top line 2.0 liter “R-Line” turbo, making 210hp and coupled to a DSG gearbox with full manual override, lists for $30,525 with sunroof, sound system and navigation. If you upgrade to an R-Line convertible, you’re looking at a $35,095 Beetle. In fact, although the test car we drove for a week doesn’t even break into the top half of the Beetle expense spreadsheet, it still makes for a very enjoyable ride. Its turbo 4, which benefits from direct fuel injection streamed at high psi, offers more than enough performance to make even rabid lane changers happy. The transmission happily accepts commands to hold gear choices, though it lacks the steering wheel paddles supplied with the expensive DSG option.

2015 Volkswagen Beetle 1.8T .

Bearing in mind that the Beetle is really nothing but a re-clothed Golf, it should come as no surprise that its handling is nimble, accurate and pleasurable to control. The Servotronic speed-variable electro-mechanical steering achieves a happy combination of feedback, precision and intuition. The Beetle always obeys your positioning commands with grace and dispatch. Premium Continental Pro Contact tires (235/45R18) are well suited to the task of clipping apexes accurately. The 18 inch chromed hub alloy rims lend a retro note to the Beetle, looking a bit like the original model’s steel wheels and poverty chrome center caps. Especially appealing is the oversize VW logo featured on each wheel.

2015 Volkswagen Beetle 1.8T

There’s nothing poverty stricken about the Beetle’s interior. Its fit and finish are fastidiously delineated. The dash and doors feature a handsome sweep of Silver Reflex Metallic paint that matches the exterior color and lends an elegant complicity to the interior. The standard heated “comfort” front seats, new for 2015, look fetching even in the Titan Black leatherette application of our test VW. A diagonal pattern of stripes distinguishes the side bolsters from the seating surfaces in a look that mimics silk and satin. The glovebox features a delightful latch that owners of earlier Beetles will recall with fondness.

2015 Volkswagen Beetle 1.8T

But this interior is not showy at the expense of utilitarian virtue. After a shopping trip to Home Depot garnered a couple of 4′ light fixtures and a 10′ pole for cleaning windows, my wife and I debated whether some of the purchases would be poking through the sunroof on the trip home. I said no, she said yes, and when we got to the Beetle, we discovered that because both rear seats fold flat, everything would fit inside the car, including that 10′ long pole. Given its diminutive size, the Beetle offers an amazing compendium of space efficiency, fuel efficiency (28MPG overall) and driving joy for a very modest investment.

2015 Volkswagen Beetle 1.8T

  • Engine: 1.8 liter turbocharged inline 4, DOHC, 16 valves, direct injection
  • Horsepower: 170hp
  • Torque: 184lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 25 MPG City/33 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $27,805
  • Star Rating: 9.5 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Lincoln MKC AWD

Thursday July 30th, 2015 at 2:77 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Lincoln MKC AWD

By David Colman

Hypes: Handsome, Useful and Fun to Drive
Gripes: Tight Rear Seat

After Ford jettisoned its Mercury brand, they also allowed their Lincoln franchise to drift aimlessly for several years. The nameplate that once symbolized speed with its Zephyr in the 1930s and personal luxury with its Continental in the 1940s and 1950s, completely lost focus in recent times. But Ford has resolved to end the slide by refreshing Lincoln’s product line. Their latest effort is the MKS, a new offering for 2015 that brings Lincoln into the mid-price crossover SUV market with an upgraded and restyled version of the Ford Escape.

The best thing about the MKS is its explosively powerful turbocharged 2.3 liter EcoBoost inline 4. This engine package, which is not available on the Ford Escape, is worth every penny of the extra $1,140 you will pay. It absolutely rockets the MKS to the forefront of performance for this class of SUV. While it’s no gas miser at 21 MPG overall consumption, the extra fuel you ignite with the EcoBoost power plant yields 285hp and a whopping 305lb.-ft. of torque. With that kind of output running through a paddle-shifted 6-speed Select Shift automatic gearbox, the MKS becomes one of the liveliest mid size SUVs you can buy for under $50,000.

2015 Lincoln MKC AWD

Given that kind of performance advantage under the hood, it is surprising that Lincoln engineers dropped the ball on other aspects of performance that should make such a vehicle fun to drive. Two areas of concern become obvious before you’ve driven the MKS a couple of miles. Steering effort is much too light to provide any sense of road awareness. The feather touch steering effort encourages imprecision through over control. Brake pedal response is so touchy that you’ll inadvertently perform a panic stop before you get the hang of where the threshold point is located. After a couple of drives in the MKS, you will learn to compensate for these idiosyncrasies, and driving it does then become rewarding. The optional 19 inch diameter, 5-spoke alloy wheels (a bargain at $395), mount 245/45R19 Michelin Latitude tires which contribute significantly to stability on twisting back roads. While you never entirely lose the bobblehead ride motion created by the elevated stance of the MKS, the compromise between ride comfort and sharp handling is well modulated in this Lincoln.

038

The central pillar of the dashboard contains the “My Lincoln Touch” screen which oversees most functions of the infotainment system, navigation needs, and ventilation controls. Unlike its Ford counterparts, the MKC dash also includes redundant buttons for air conditioning, fan and heat. This duplication makes it much easier for you to attend to the basics of climate control without the need to fiddle with a bouncing touch screen. The MKS’s center stack also presents a novel interface for gear selection. Along the left edge of the binnacle, you will find a series of oversized buttons that look like they belong on a ’59 Edsel, or on one of those phones designed for seniors with bad eyesight. The top button starts and stops the engine, while the rest control operation of the gearbox. These are arrayed in vertical sequence beneath the ignition button, with an “S” labeled pad at the very bottom which sets the transmission into sport mode for manual override driving. Even at the end of my week in the MKS, I found this start/transmission array difficult to operate because it never falls readily to hand or mind. I also accidentally caused the gearbox to slip into Neutral while fiddling with the adjacent radio selection screen. That made me wonder what would happen if the R button for Reverse was depressed mistakenly. One nice feature of this setup is its ability to automatically shift from Drive to Park when you simply turn the engine off. Another benefit of the button stack is that it opens up the entire floor console between the front seats to cup and oddment storage.

2015 Lincoln MKC AWD

Lincoln outfitted our test MKS ($6,935)with Equipment Group 102A, which brightens the interior with an enormous panoramic, double pane sliding roof. It also adds folding exterior mirrors, navigation with voice recognition, heated and cooled front seats, rear cross traffic alert, and a nifty hands free rear lift gate. While you will benefit from these niceties, the Technology Package ($2,235) is kind of a mixed bag. Adaptive Cruise Control is handy for stress-free speed maintenance at 65mph, but the included “Forward Sensing System” which illuminates a bank of flashing red lights right under your nose, is a complete waste of time. It illuminated repeatedly when the system detected something as inert as a guardrail lining the outside of a sharp turn. Save your money on this option group.

2015 Lincoln MKC AWD

2015 Lincoln MKC AWD

  • Engine: 3.0 liter alloy V-6 with twin scroll turbo, CVVT and DOHC
  • Horsepower: 325hp @5400rpm
  • Torque: 354lb.-ft.@3000rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 19 MPG City/28 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $48,225
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Volvo V60 T6 R-Design

Tuesday July 28th, 2015 at 1:77 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

Title: 2015 Volvo V60 T6 R-Design

By David Colman

Hypes: Handsome, Useful and Fun to Drive
Gripes: Tight Rear Seat

Volvo’s Polestar Program is such a well kept secret that the company provides each new purchaser with a presentation kit explaining the virtues of this hottest Volvo you can buy. Polestar is Volvo’s racing arm, an outfit that has won the Swedish Touring Car Championship for many years running. Here’s a brief list of the V60’s many special attributes. Under the hood lies a tweaked 3.0 liter V6 that produces 325hp, 25hp more than the standard V6. This motor also makes 354lb.-ft. of torque, 29 pounds more than the standard B6304T4 engine. To handle the extra power, the V60 station wagon version of the S60 sedan drives through all four wheels with a highly evolved system using torque vectoring to disseminate power where needed. Although Volvo has introduced a new 8 speed automatic gearbox for 2015, it is available only with 4 cylinder versions of this wagon. Thanks to the ample torque of the turbocharged 6, the Polestar doesn’t need the extra gears provided by the 8-speed. Rather, it connects through a 6 speed Geartronic automatic that provides manual shifting with aluminum paddles mounted on the steering wheel. The combination of the quick boost provided by the twin scroll turbo, and the instant gear selection afforded by the paddle shift automatic make this V60 the fastest accelerating Volvo I have ever driven.

Title: 2015 Volvo V60 T6 R-Design

The beauty of the Polestar package lies in the fact that the suspension is perfectly calibrated to enhance the performance of the drive train. Volvo’s sport chassis provides an authoritative sense of control. The ride is firm but never punishing. Especially welcome are the top notch set of Bridgestone Potenza S001 tires (235/40R19) mounted on matte black “IXION” rims ($750 extra) that look like Cuisineart blades. Exterior flourishes are handsomely integrated into the sleek lines of this model. At the back, you’ll find a small Polestar identifier attached to the R-Design rear diffuser with polished tail pipes. The front fascia sports a more aggressive splitter and a discreet R-Design offset badge. Climb into the spacious cabin, and sink into special R-Design, race inspired front seats that offer accentuated thigh and lower back support. These carefully tailored buckets feature grey leather with contrasting white stitching. Matching R-Design shift knob and fat-rimmed steering wheel complete the high performance touches.

Title: 2015 Volvo V60 T6 R-Design

Although the Volvo’s interior cabin measures just 69 inches from the front seat backs to the tailgate, I was able to slip a mountain bike into this cavity without removing a wheel. Granted, it was a tight fit, but it does reveal just how much storage space is available in a car with a wheelbase of just 109 inches. Note, however, that seating for two on the rear bench is tight, especially if tall occupants have positioned the front seats far aft. When lifted, the rear storage area floor board reveals a large number of hidden compartments that would be perfect for secreting valuables. Underneath that sub floor you discover that the V60 has no spare tire, but does provide a sealant can and a tire inflator.

Title: 2015 Volvo V60 T6 R-Design

According to Motor Trend Magazine, Volvo is only bringing over 120 Polestar S60s and V60s for the rest of this model year. This adds a rarity quotient to an already highly desirable package. For the money, you can’t find a better sports wagon than the Polestar equipped V60. A Polestar information kit provided by Volvo suggests that you register your VIN number with the company as soon as you buy it. They will then provide a certificate indicating your wagon is equipped with “Polestar Power Optimisation,” a document that is “especially important when it’s time to sell your car, since a Polestar optimization is likely to increase the resale value.”

2015 Volvo V60 T6 R-Design

  • Engine: 3.0 liter alloy V-6 with twin scroll turbo, CVVT and DOHC
  • Horsepower: 325hp @5400rpm
  • Torque: 354lb.-ft.@3000rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 19 MPG City/28 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $48,225
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Dodge Challenger SXT Plus

Monday July 27th, 2015 at 1:77 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Dodge Challenger SXT Plus

By David Colman

Hypes: Show car Looks, Ease of Operation
Gripes: Slow KIckdown Gear, Limited Rear Vision

In the prime of the muscle car era, back in 1970, Chrysler fielded an SCCA Trans Am racing team of Dodge Challengers and Plymouth Barracudas. These were basically the same car, with only stylistic differences between them. Although Chrysler never won the Trans Am series title with either model, the cars were successful brand ambassadors, especially the Barracudas entered by Dan Gurney’s All American Racers. Gurney’s AAR ‘Cuda, as it was known by its laser stripes then, lives on today as the Dodge Challenger SXT Plus. Optimal Challengers are available either with a 375hp, 5.7 liter HEMI V8, or a 470hp, 6.4 liter HEMI. The model we tested, however, was powered by a fuel conserving 3.6 liter V6 good for 23 MPG in overall driving, and 30 MPG on the highway. The V6 Challenger SXT Plus is plenty quick as long as you’ve selected the right gear in the 8-speed Torqueflite transmission. Otherwise, acceleration is rather leisurely, as it takes the drive train a full second to get with the program when you floor the throttle with Torqueflite in Drive. Overall performance is more AARP ‘Coulda than AAR ‘Cuda.

2015 Dodge Challenger SXT Plus

Despite this occasional power outage, the Challenger is still rewarding to hustle through curves. You can thank the big footprint of the standard Firestone Firehawk GT tires (245/45R20) for the extra stability. These beefy rollers are enhanced by optional polished alloy 20 inch wheels ($795) with “Graphite Pockets.” Their hexagonal spoke pattern and dazzling finish look especially good when bolted to a Challenger finished in “Phantom Black Metallic Tri-Coat Pearl” exterior paint. Though you might expect to pay extra for this show car finish, it’s available as a standard shade. Complementing the sparkly black is an eye-popping Ruby Red interior. The SXT is definitely a looker, with sleek body contours and twin faux hood scoops imparting that just-raced look so much a part of muscle car credibility.

2015 Dodge Challenger SXT Plus

Weight saving has never been a muscle car strong suit, and the Challenger, at 4,195 pounds, continues that dubious tradition. You sense the SXT’s mass every time you flick the steering wheel from lock to lock through a series of switchback curves. While the Challenger obediently follows your lead, it takes a couple of milliseconds before the chassis settles down. In fact, the SXT version seems rather softly sprung, a trait which imparts a cushy ride at the expense of fully snubbed handling. It’s actually a worthy trade-off for real world driving, a compromise that pays off in comfort every time you’re confronted with an array of speed bumps.

2015 Dodge Challenger SXT Plus

With a length of 16.5 feet, and a wheelbase of 116 inches, the cabin of the Challenger is a spacious enclosure. Although access to the back seat is somewhat impeded by the aft positioning of the front seats, once passengers are ensconced in the rear they will enjoy a moderately pleasurable ride. The Challenger’s sheer size also endows it with a flat floored, 16 cubic foot trunk. Rear seat backs can be dropped to access interior space for lengthy items. The heavily sloped rear roof and small backlight limit rear visibility, so the standard Park Sense rear park assist system and standard Park View rear back-up camera are essential safety components for maneuvering the Challenger in tight quarters. Our test example also featured an optional, $1,195 Power Sunroof which helped to shed light on the many black door and dash panels that engulf the Ruby Red seats. For $795, you may also want to upgrade to the Driver Convenience Group, which endows the Challenger with a slick Remote Start System, as well as Blind Spot and Rear Cross Path Detection, plus HID headlamps. The Blind Spot monitors illuminate handily under the rear view mirror stalks, and the Cross Path alert sounds when you are backing out of a parking space into circulating traffic. Both aids are worth having in view of the Dodge’s limited rear vision.

2015 Dodge Challenger SXT Plus

The basic Challenger SXT Plus provides a number of luxurious and surprising standard fitments in a vehicle with a base price of just $29,995. Chief among them are Keyless Enter ‘n Go, a terrific system which allows you to forget about fiddling with your key forever more. Just slip the fob into your pocket, and every time you approach your locked Challenger, it opens magically when you touch the door release. A voice activated Uconnect Access system affords voice texting of 140 character messages, plus a mobile Access App (free for the first 6 months) that provides restaurant, hotel, entertainment, gas, bank and parking information. A 7 inch reconfigurable display on the instrument panel makes Uconnect surfing easy.

With its comfy and inviting interior, stealthy exterior, and long list of standard features, the affordable V6 version of the Challenger is the Big Easy of today’s muscle cars.

2015 Dodge Challenger SXT Plus

  • Engine: 3.6 liter V6 with 24 valves and VVT
  • Horsepower: 305hp
  • Torque: N/A
  • Fuel Consumption: 23 MPG City/30 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $34,175
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Nissan Altima 2.5 SV

Thursday July 23rd, 2015 at 12:77 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Nissan Altima 2.5 SV

By David Colman

Hypes: Zero Gravity Seats, Excellent Mileage
Gripes: Imprecise Steering, Pitchy Ride

Let’s say you prefer mild cuisine, vanilla ice cream and colorless clothing. Has Nissan ever got the perfect set of wheels for you. It’s called the Altima, it costs just $28,180, and it will serve your family with faithful, if innocuous obedience. With its spacious 109 inch wheelbase, and 15 cubic foot trunk, the Altima is perfectly suited to whisking 4 adults and 4 suitcases away for extended drives. This car shows its virtue on the freeway, where its CVT transmission slots soundlessly into its highest cruising range and the 2.5 liter inline 4 loafs along at 70mph without making a peep. When you arrive at your destination, you will give the gas gauge a second look, because the needle never appears to move from full to empty. In fact, this is not optical illusion. The 182hp motor sips fuel like a teetotaler sips wine: judiciously. On the freeway, this fully equipped, 3,130lb. four-door sedan returns a startling 38MPG. A series of lengthy trips around the Bay Area failed to dislodge the gauge needle from its seemingly permanent position at half full. You won’t do much complaining about the Altima’s overall rating of 31MPG.

2015 Nissan Altima 2.5 SV

What you may complain about is this model’s inaccurate steering, excessive body roll in turns, and floundering response to acceleration requests. Let’s start with the feedback at the steering wheel. On a jaunt up Highway 101 with few curves I found myself constantly administering small course corrections to stay in my lane. Now mind you, this test sedan was equipped with a $1,090 Technology Package which provided, among other features, Lane Departure Warning. Every few seconds the LDW buzzer would activate as the Altima migrated hither and yon like a yacht tacking upwind. The solution to the problem is forgo the Technology Package, and pay real close attention to lane position, even when you’re driving this Nissan in a straight line. When the road gets curvy, the ultra soft suspension heels over onto its bump stops, the shocks cease to absorb bumps, and the middle-of-the-road Michelin Energy tires hang onto your prescribed arc with increasing difficulty. Nissan makes no pretense that the Altima 2.5 SV is a sports sedan.

2015 Nissan Altima 2.5 SV

On the other hand, the soft suspension and pillow-like steering provide a cloud-calm ride that will eat up freeway miles faster than a bullet train. If you do a lot of I-5 cruising, the Altima is perfectly suited to your needs. The interior features what Nissan calls “Zero Gravity” seats. These offer a suspension system perfected in conjunction with NASA that makes you feel like you’re suspended over an air cushion rather than strapped into an unyielding bolster. The effect of this technology advance is much appreciated by your derriere. The interior fixtures of our test SV benefited from a $1,350 Convenience Package upgrade that added a power sliding Moonroof and a “Mood Lamp” in the roof console that will save you trips to the Disco joint or Studio 54. In fact, the interior of the Altima is a most hospitable space, with extra A/C vents added for rear seat passengers as part of the Convenience Package.

2015 Nissan Altima 2.5 SV

The SV version of the Altima includes a Nissan Intelligent Key with a remote engine start feature. This means you can start the engine even when you are not seated in the driver’s seat, a nice bonus if you live in, or visit cold climes where pre-heating your car is a way of life.

However, we ran into one transient problem with the Intelligent Key when we returned to the locked Altima, used the key fob to unlock the doors, then pressed the engine start button on the dash. But the instrument panel informed us that it sensed an “incorrect” key and refused to start the car. So we climbed out of the Nissan, relocked the doors, then unlocked them, climbed back in and again pressed the start button. Once again we got the “incorrect” key read-out. So we scoured the owner’s manual for advice. The best it could offer was “See your Nissan Dealer.” After a few more minutes of “now what are we supposed to do?” the Altima finally decided it was OK to start. The problem never occurred again. But this episode certainly left us wondering about the dependability of such now common remote start systems. At the very least you should always carry a spare battery for your key fob transmitter.

2015 Nissan Altima 2.5 SV

2015 Nissan Altima 2.5 SV

  • Engine: 2.5 liter DOHC, 16 valve inline 4 cylinder
  • Horsepower: 182hp
  • Torque: 180lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 27 MPG City/38 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $28,180
  • Star Rating: 7 out of 10 Stars

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