2016 Ford Escape Titanium 4WD Review

Tuesday March 1st, 2016 at 10:33 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Ford Escape Titanium 4WD

By David Colman

Hypes: Lovely engine/gearbox combo, All windows one touch up/down
Gripes: Heated steering wheel would be nice

Ford’s Escape moves into 2016 largely unchanged. If you are savvy, you will order your Escape with the most powerful engine available in the model range, the 2.0 liter EcoBoost motor, which makes 240hp and a whopping 270lb.-ft. of torque thanks to direct fuel injection and a turbocharger. This optional engine will set you back an extra $1,115, and it’s worth that much and more. Coupled to a 6 speed automatic transmission, with real gears instead of the CVT belts so often found in entry level SUVs these days, the diminutive Escape proves a very lively performer. In a solid week of driving, the EcoBoost motor always responded instantly to power demands with a satisfying thrust that belies its excellent fuel economy of 22 MPG City and 28 MPG Highway.

2016 Ford Escape Titanium 4WD

If you also check the order form for the Titanium 4WD model, you will find yourself paying a premium of $4,085 over the less expensive SE 4WD model. But the extra four thousand dollars buys you a raft of worthy improvements including exterior rear view mirrors with built-in turn signals, remote trunk release and power lift back, premium sound system, HD radio, 10-way power leather front seats, mirror and seat memory, keyless start, leather steering wheel, multi-zone climate control and A/C, heated front seats with lumbar adjustment, and rear parking alert with cross-traffic warning. All of these features integrate seamlessly into the make-up of the Titanium Escape, upping your enjoyment of the vehicle without breaking the bank.

2016 Ford Escape Titanium 4WD

In addition, Ford supplied our test Escape with a couple of pricey extras you could probably eliminate without discomfort. The $1,514 “Equipment Group 301A” improves headlight efficiency with HID units (versus standard Halogens), and also adds blind spot detection sensors to warn you of invisible obstacles. It also upgrades parking beepers to “Parking Assist” status front and rear. A navigation system boosts the bottom line a reasonable $694, and is unusual in that Ford makes it available as a stand-alone option. Finally, you’ll definitely want to invest in very handsome and useful 19 inch alloy “Luster Nickel Wheels” which are also bargain priced at just $607. If you opted for aftermarket 19 inch alloys, you would pay double this amount and they would never look this good. The intricately cast wheels are wrapped in Continental ContiProContact rubber (235/45R19) which proved tenacious in wet weather grip. Escape’s 4WD traction keeps these Continentals pointed in the right direction at all times.

2016 Ford Escape Titanium 4WD

The Escape has come a long way since its introduction. Originally, this model looked prosaic, lacked flair and performed without distinction. But Ford has reworked the Escape to the point that it has become a legitimate contender in a tough SUV class containing such standouts as VW’s Tiguan, BMW’s new X1, and Subaru’s Forester. In this elevated company, the Escape now stands its ground, but only if equipped with the Titanium niceties, 19 inch wheels, and EcoBoost motor of our test model. In that guise, if you compare it to any other small SUV, you’ll discover Escape matches up so well you can save thousands of dollars buying the Ford.

We especially loved it for its 5 stage heated front seats, which permits more comfortable temperature adjustment than almost any similar product on the market today. The elevated seating position in the front row promotes excellent sight lines in all directions. Even though our test vehicle lacked the optional ($1,305) Panorama Roof, we never missed it because the interior is always bathed in light thanks to tall side windows, and a fishbowl of a windshield.

2016 Ford Escape Titanium 4WD

Also, the optional blind spot warning devices provided by package 301A are much less obtrusive than those of most competitors. Instead of needing to shut them off at the start of each trip, we let them tweet their occasional alarm without ever feeling harassed. This minor feat of engineering accomplishment is characteristic of the Escape Titanium as a whole. Ford has achieved a commendable balance here between price, performance and livability. You would be hard pressed to improve on the Escape by looking elsewhere.

2016 Ford Escape Titanium 4WD

  • Engine: 2.0 liter inline 4, direct injection turbocharged
  • Horsepower: 240hp
  • Torque: 270lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 22 MPG City/28 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $36,655
  • Star Rating: 9.5 out of 10 Stars

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


2016 BMW X1 xDrive 28i Review

Monday February 29th, 2016 at 11:22 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 BMW X1 xDrive 28i

By David Colman

Hypes: Spacious and Airy Cabin, M Class Handling
Gripes: Chintzy Toolkit, Slow launch in “Drive”

In the new BMW X1, you sit much closer to the nose because the engine is now mounted sideways in the front compartment rather than lengthwise as in the previous X1. This reallocation of space has decided benefits for the driver, who now looks over a 9 inch shorter hood. Such a cab forward driving position promotes excellent frontal sightlines. The sidewinder X1 is also more responsive to changes in direction than the model it replaces, quicker to transition laterally, and altogether more rewarding for you to drive aggressively.

2016 BMW X1 xDrive 28i

Once underway, the X1 surprises you with its dramatic rush of power. It instantly snaps and snarls its way from peak torque to peak horsepower. To extract maximum performance, however, the X1 driver must maintain close oversight of the Steptronic 8-speed automatic transmission. For such a small displacement, peaky power plant, appropriate gear selection is essential. What I most missed during my week with the X1 were paddle shifts, which are unfortunately not part of the standard equipment package. I repeatedly found myself tapping the back of the steering wheel, searching for non-existent paddles.

2016 BMW X1 xDrive 28i

Even in this comparatively small 175 inch long SUV, back seat passengers fare very well. Their rear windows slot all the way into the rear doors, un unexpected pleasure for any claustrophobic rear seat occupant. The optional “Panoramic moonroof,” included in the $3,250 Premium Package, adds further airiness to the soaring greenhouse. And the X1 encourages you to maximize use of all that space by providing a pair of tail-mounted buttons to drop both rear seats flat. This gives you a loading platform good for 59 cubic feet of stuff. If you leave the rear seats upright, baby Bimmer still offers 27 cubic feet of cargo space.

2016 BMW X1 xDrive 28i

Should such practicality leave you unimpressed, there’s always the promise of cracking performance to keep you enticed. This time around, the X1 offers just one power train for North America, the 2.0 liter TwinPower Turbo, which makes 228hp and 258 lb.-ft. of torque. Tech addicts will enjoy monitoring engine output through virtual gauges called “Sport Displays.” Use the iDrive controller between the front seats to select Main Menu, then ping Sport Displays. Brightly illuminated gauges showing Power and Torque then appear on the 6.5 inch central dash screen. These provide real time value readings, with bugs set to record high values. You’ll be surprised at how frequently you reach peak torque (at just 1250 rpm), and how infrequently you max out horsepower (at 6500 rpm).

2016 BMW X1 xDrive 28i

When a possible passing situation presented itself, I slotted the console mounted lever into the Manual gate, and bumped the shift stick forward as many times as it took to select 2nd gear from the 8 available ratios. Then the X1 was ready to do some serious traffic shredding. Especially athletic on rain slicked pavement, this petite sports utility leads the mini-SUV pack in all-weather traction. Mid-turn, lean on the power as hard as you can, and you’ll find it impossible to break either end of the X1 loose.

BMW has redesigned its xDrive system with new hardware that occupies less chassis real estate while providing improved fore/aft torque distribution. To be sure, the tall and boxy platform will pitch a bit when goosed in a turn. Though this characteristic requires minor horsing from the wheel, forward bite never disappears. Thanks to standard M-Sport suspension, intelligent all-wheel-drive, and standard issue 18 inch Y-Spoke light alloy wheels, the X1 is able to maximize grip from Pirelli’s run flat version of the legendary P7 Cinturato (225/50R18).

2016 BMW X1 xDrive 28i

With a few notable exceptions, the cabin configuration of the new X1 is first class BMW. Bear in mind that our sample vehicle benefitted from the following 10 Premium Package upgrades: power folding mirrors, garage door opener, keyless entry, panoramic moonroof, auto dimming mirrors, lumbar support, ambient lighting, LED cornering headlights, and one year satellite radio service. The LED headlights hone in on back road apexes like a laser. Just the Panoramic moonroof and LED lights justify the $3,250 extra expense of the Premium Package.

2016 BMW X1 xDrive 28i

  • Engine: 2.0 liter inline 4 cylinder turbo
  • Horsepower: 228hp
  • Torque: 258lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 22MPG City/32 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $45,220
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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


2016 Subaru Forester 2.5i Limited Review

Friday February 26th, 2016 at 11:22 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Subaru Forester 2.5i Limited

By David Colman

Hypes: Airy Cabin, Practical Load Capacity
Gripes: EyeSight Annoyance, Noisy Powertrain

Subaru pioneered the crossover SUV with the original Forrester. The 2016 model marks the fourth revision of that first model. This 3,370 pound mini SUV retails for $28,795 in Limited trim. With a wheelbase of 105 inches, it will comfortably accommodate five adults with room to spare under the hatchback for all their belongings. If you drop the rear seats flat, 68 cubic feet of cargo will slip through that back door unhindered. With its spacious and standard panoramic moonroof, the interior of the Forester is airy and habitable for long trips. Although it looks decidedly homey from outside, from within it feels just like home.

2016 Subaru Forester 2.5i Limited

The practicality motif extends to the engine compartment where a modest displacement four cylinder engine of 2.5 liters churns out 170hp and 174lb.-ft. of torque. This rather noisy power source feeds drive to all four wheels through a CVT transmission that offers only L (Low) and D (Drive) ranges. At full cry, the gearbox and the engine conspire to produce such a clatter that you will hesitate to use full throttle due to noise overload. The upside here is that during an extensive week of driving, the Forester’s fuel gauge never dropped below a quarter of a tank. The EPA rates this SUV at a respectable 27 MPG in overall city and highway usage.

2016 Subaru Forester 2.5i Limited

The cabin of the Forester is tall enough to permit excellent visibility in all directions for front and rear seat passengers. Subaru has invested substantial effort in making the interior livable. Welcome heated front seats are perfect for cold morning drive-offs. The contoured door pockets hold a variety of oddments with ease, including drink bottles. The sun visors are thoughtfully elongated to compensate for the unusual height of the windshield. The tailgate door can be commanded to open with a nudge of the key fob remote control. A push button on the bottom edge of the rear door shuts it automatically. All these features make the Forester exceptionally handy and comfortable.

Handling of this Subaru is acceptable, but you won’t buy this SUV because it’s a road burner. The Limited model includes 17 inch alloy wheels shod with Yokohama Geolander S91 tires measuring 225/60R17 at each corner. These tires afford better inclement weather adhesion than dry weather performance. Consequently, the Forester adheres well on rain soaked pavement, but tends to understeer when pushed hard on dry road surfaces. Also, due to its high center of gravity, the Forester feels somewhat top heavy when directional changes are made. Ride quality is choppy over rough pavement.

2016 Subaru Forester 2.5i Limited

Our test Forester’s all up price of $31,790 included $2,145 for a package providing navigation, harman/kardon audio, and EyeSight. The latter inclusion, EyeSight, brings together a number of autonomous features which Subaru hopes will increase your driving safety. I found most of EyeSight’s benefits to be of negligible use and would definitely not order the package for my Forester. The Lane Keep Assist is a nuisance which I turned off at every opportunity, the radar cruise control can be better accomplished by exercising your throttle foot, and the system’s collision avoidance warnings proved obtrusive and unwarranted. Subaru claims that EyeSight will go so far as to cut throttle or apply brakes when it senses an imminent collision. I would prefer to remain in charge of both those departments until further notice.

Of course, you can save yourself the extra $2,175, but you’ll have to do without the useful navigation part of the package, as well as the upgraded sound system. When it comes to dashboard layout, Subaru’s Forester could stand some revisions. For example, if you want to perform a task as simple as changing the direction of air flow from footwell to face, you need to access the “Mode” dial on the right side of the center dash panel, then search for a tiny pictograph located a foot away from the rotary Mode dial. The whole sequence is unacceptable and ripe for rethinking.

2016 Subaru Forester 2.5i Limited

In sum, the Forester, despite its handling and ergonomic deficiencies, presents a good case for purchase if you’re looking for inexpensive city transport with a flair for all terrain travel. This SUV offers special X-Mode management of reduced speed off-road duty. Active torque split all wheel drive management is designed for trail running under 12mph. At 25mph, X-Mode’s electronically managed, continuously variable transfer clutch realigns itself automatically to normal all wheel drive settings. That’s a lot of technology for less than thirty grand.

2016 Subaru Forester 2.5i Limited

  • Engine: opposed 4 with fuel injection
  • Horsepower: 170hp @ 5800rpm
  • Torque: 174lb.-ft. @ 4100rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 24MPG City/32MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $31,790
  • Star Rating: 7.5 out of 10 Stars

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


2016 Audi TT Coupe Review

Tuesday February 16th, 2016 at 1:22 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Audi TT Coupe

By David Colman

Hypes: Better and Lighter New Platform
Gripes: S tronic Up shifts Unbidden, Rear Wiper Needed

Welcome to your third helping of Audi’s bantam weight sports car, the TT, named after the Tourist Trophy race in England that Audi dominated back in the 1930s. The first TT made its debut in 1998, with spectacular looking inverted bathtub style coachwork. Ten years later, the second generation TT received a mild makeover that forsook some of the original design’s stubbiness in favor of a more streamlined silhouette. This third makeover for 2016 retains the current corporate trademark of a massive front grill, but leavens the heaviness of that big black snout with some very nice side panel detailing. In particular, the tooling around the pronounced fender arches is enticing. The redesign looks distinguished, if not as forceful or startling as the original.

2016 Audi TT Coupe

The largest deviation from tradition is the complete reorganization of the dashboard and instrument binnacle into a new life form Audi terms “Audi virtual cockpit.” Instead of physical dial faces for the tachometer and speedometer, Audi has introduced digital simulacrums for both gauges which can be resized from large to small at the touch of a button marked “View” on the flat bottom steering wheel. At full size, these virtual gauges occupy as much shelf space as those in the original TT, but when you hit “View,” they reduce to disarmingly small iWatch size displays. Audi has eliminated the central dash mounted display screen of previous TTs and relocated it to the space between the virtual speedo and tach. When you call up Google Earth from the Navigation system (part of a $3,250 “Technology package”), you can display the mapping on the panel directly in front of you. When you minimize the instrument faces with the “View” button, the entire instrument binnacle fills with the map display instead. This is both good and bad. The good is that the map gives you immediate information about your location, including which way the road turns next. The bad is that this information, which is constantly changing in front of your nose, is extremely distracting if you pay attention to it. Audi has managed to provide you with all the trappings of a self driving car here. The only problem is you still have to drive it.

2016 Audi TT Coupe

Now driving the TT is no chore, mind you, because it’s still a rather delectable sports car. The latest version, at just a tad over 3,100 pounds, weighs nearly 100 pounds less than its predecessor. In the scheme of present day sports machinery, the TT is a relative flyweight, especially when you consider its excellent power output of 220hp, and its 258lb.-ft. of torque. The turbocharged 4 cylinder engine will propel you to 60mph from a standstill in 5.4 seconds, with a speed of 98mph @ 13.8 seconds in the quarter mile. Those numbers indicate the TT to be usefully quick in back road passing situations, though I found that the 6-speed “S tronic” twin clutch automatic tended to up shift prematurely, at about 5500rpm, from 2nd to 3rd gear – even though the gearbox was slotted in the Manual mode designed to prevent early up shifts. As a result, 2nd gear expired just when you most needed its punch. A possible answer to this quandary is to opt for the TTS version of this car, equipped with a 292hp turbo 4 making 280lb.-ft. of torque.

2016 Audi TT Coupe

The TT boasts full time “quattro” all-wheel drive. When you combine the grip of AWD with very sticky 245/40R19 Bridgestone S001 radial rubber, mounted on optional ($1,000) “5-arm star design” alloys, you’ve hit on a combo bred to attack back roads. Audi offers four “Drive Select” chassis settings which can be dialed up instantaneously from a paddle switch on the dash. Chose “Comfort” and the TT glides over bumps and leans a bit in turns, while its exhaust note remains unheard. Dial up “Dynamic,” however, and all the suspension settings stiffen to plywood resilience, the exhaust note becomes throatily audible, and the steering response tightens to micrometer precision. Even during heavy rain outings, it was almost impossible to dislodge the quattro T from its trajectory in tight turns. The grip of this newly improved and lighter chassis is simply unimpeachable.

2016 Audi TT Coupe

Yet you can turn the TT back into a boulevard cruiser in an instant by resetting the drive choice system to “Comfort.” In that mode, and with the S tronic gearbox slotted into Drive, the TT assumes a much calmer personality. In fact, it reminds me very much of our family’s Mercedes Benz 250SL, a rather stately and attractive boulevard cruiser entirely lacking sports car handling. The beauty of the newest TT is that you can have it both ways, at just the flip of a switch.

2016 Audi TT Coupe

  • Engine: 2.0 liter inline 4, turbocharged, direct injection
  • Horsepower: 220hp
  • Torque: 258lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 23 MPG City/30 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $50,600
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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


2016 Buick Regal AWD GS Review

Monday February 15th, 2016 at 1:22 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Buick Regal AWD GS

By David Colman

Hypes: Stealth Stalker of German Iron
Gripes: Ditch the Chrome Grill and Ventiports

What’s this? A Buick with 255/35R20 Pirelli P Zero tires? A Buick with Brembo brakes? You’re kidding me, right? Welcome to Buick’s second hundred years in the ever-changing car biz. This dynamite compact sedan will gleefully match any four door from Germany on a twisty road, despite costing half as much as the Audi A4, or BMW 3. How can it manage this feat with a base price of just $36,490? The secret sauce is that the Regal GS is a German design from the get-go, an Opel Insignia slightly re-tailored for American usage. In the past, that “American usage” provision involved softening ride, lessening steering feedback, and avoiding use of small displacement, high-revving engines in favor of big V6 and V8 motors. But General Motors recently chucked that path for Buick, because it invariably appealed to a customer base aging into insignificance. Hoping to trend younger, GM resurrected Opel’s Insignia as a Buick Regal, and moved production from Russelsheim Germany to Oshawa, Ontario. So they build this “American” sedan in Canada, comprised of 65% US/Canadian parts, and 20% Mexican pieces. However, the 2.0 liter, turbocharged four cylinder engine and 6-speed automatic gearbox are both constructed in the USA.

2016 Buick Regal AWD GS

Through a lengthy, ongoing advertising campaign, Buick has made a concerted effort to focus on the surprise onlookers experience when they discover their neighbors have bought – of all things – a new Buick. The company needs to lose this self-demeaning bit of image erosion as soon as possible because it doesn’t do justice to great cars like the Regal GS. I can remember when my parents brought home a new 1950s Buick Roadmaster. Back then, none of our neighbors were surprised or appalled by our choice of make. Rather, they gathered in our driveway to investigate and praise this latest wonder from Detroit. Given the excellence of the Regal Buick now sells, the neighbors in those ads should come to praise Buick, not bury it.

2016 Buick Regal AWD GS

Let’s start with the Regal’s bullet of a power plant, the gas miser turbo 4, which makes 259hp, a stomping 295 lb.-ft. of torque, and still manages to return 22MPG in overall driving tests. This direct injection motor loafs along contemptuously in 5th or 6th gear, saving on fuel until you poke it into action by downshifting the transmission manually into 2nd or 3rd gear. With the rpm count thusly elevated, the petite four explodes into action, allowing you to accomplish any passing maneuver with an extra margin of safety. Likewise, the beautifully calibrated suspension settings afford a plush boulevard ride regardless of pavement inequity. But when you choose to put those fat Pirellis and stout Brembos to the test, the all wheel drive chassis of the Regal hunkers down like a cat ready to pounce. The variable assist power steering helps position the Regal with utter certainty, the short sidewall Pirellis never emit so much as a squeal of protest, and the Brembo brakes bring the works to a halt instantly. Though its outer appearance looks staid and conservative, this is really a driver’s car masquerading as a family sedan.

2016 Buick Regal AWD GS

In its role as people mover, the Regal succeeds admirably as well. The 8 way adjustable front seats, heated to match the heated steering wheel, offer more side support than any Buick in memory. They’re also exceptionally comfortable under your thighs and beneath your lower back. Buick updated its IntelliLink infotainment system for 2016, and we found it to be logical and easy to manipulate. Nor is the dash bereft of all important knobs for critical functions like radio volume and station tuning. Most of these functions are duplicated on the spokes of the leather covered steering wheel.

2016 Buick Regal AWD GS

The AWD Regal, with the optional turbo motor, is a stunning surprise of a sports sedan. Buick doesn’t need to resort to all the racer tricks festooning most contenders in the category. You won’t find embroidered headrests here, or aluminum pedal faces, or imitation carbon fiber trim strips on the dash. This one gets the job done with the goods you can’t see from the outside, like perfectly calibrated springs and shocks, a super productive motor, and well-spaced gearbox ratios. If you don’t want your family to know you just bought a sports sedan, you’re home free, because there’s no appearance group to hide. While this one may not look the part, it definitely is the part.

2016 Buick Regal AWD GS

2016 Buick Regal AWD GS

  • Engine: 2.0 liter inline turbo 4 with direct injection
  • Horsepower: 259hp
  • Torque: 295 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 19 MPG City/27 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $38,610
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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


2016 Subaru BRZ Review

Friday February 5th, 2016 at 2:22 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Subaru BRZ

By David Colman

Hypes: Terrific Color/Interior Combo
Gripes: More Cockpit Storage Please

Although Subaru (BRZ) and Toyota (Scion FRS) have collaborated from the outset to produce slightly different versions of the same 2+2 sports coupe, there are some notable differences that differentiate the pair. For 2016, Subaru has taken pains to upgrade the look of their BRZ. Ours special edition test car was finished in a new shade called “Series.HyperBlue.” This vibrant derivative of French Racing Blue not only does wonders for the external appearance, but also brings with it a specially tailored interior to match. The extremely deep bucket seats are covered with grabby black Alcantara suede, with all seams double stitched in blue thread to match the exterior hue. Fat blue “BRZ” monograms also decorate the headrests, and the rest of the interior comprises a medley of black shades: carbon fiber patterning on the dash face, pebbled black leather and vinyl on the door panels and transmission tunnel. A few splashes of matte aluminum highlight the shift console, threshold plates and pedal surfaces. The overall effect of the Series.HyperBlue interior is stunning, quite unlike anything Scion has marketed on the FRS.

2016 Subaru BRZ

The latest BRZ is unquestionably one of the top affordable sports cars on the market today. It enjoys perfect front-to-rear weight balance, light curb weight (2,770 lbs.), and a very spunky two liter engine of Subaru design that will keep you entertained with its power and sound track. The flat four cylinder makes 200hp and 151lb.-ft. of torque, so you need to select gear ratios carefully to maximize acceleration. Subaru gives you 6 well spaced gears, and a marvelous short stick to stir them up. The art of driving gets no better than a Subaru BRZ. This coupe is agile, quick and lots of fun to control. But it’s never in danger of getting you into trouble, because the power supply is never enough to overwhelm the chassis. It’s a perfectly balanced sports car that will never scare you silly when you tromp the gas pedal.

2016 Subaru BRZ

Most of the fun comes from cornering the BRZ at rates of speed that would be unthinkable in other machines. The suspension is specifically sports-tuned for maximum adhesion during transient maneuvers. Subaru makes sure you plant all 200hp on the ground while cornering by providing a standard Torsen limited slip differential. This expensive unit, often optionally available on other sports cars, insures traction when exiting corners. You can feel the Torsen kick into action when you accelerate past your apex. The tail of the BRZ hunkers down, the limited slip emits a slight ratcheting noise, and the Subaru simply squats and flings itself forward without losing an ounce of grip. The black finished 17 aluminum alloy rims carry Michelin Primacy HB tires (215/45R17) which help get the job done with a minimum of side slip. Future plans call for Subaru to introduce a race division bred model of the BRZ called the STi, but you really don’t need to meddle with the suspension of the current version. It’s already as close to perfect for real world driving as you can get.

2016 Subaru BRZ

What isn’t so perfect about the BRZ is its lack of usable storage space in the cabin. One day we stopped to fetch the usual haul of Christmas mail and found no place to tuck it away anywhere. The small glovebox is filled with the owner’s manual, the door pockets are good for a water bottle each, and the console between the seats offers 2 cup holders and no storage bin. So you’re faced with the arduous task of sliding the front seats forward to access the +2 rear seats in order to store anything at all. Because the of tall backrests on the front seats, there’s not even room to toss anything in back without first sliding the seats out of the way. Or you can climb out altogether and place your mail in the trunk, where it will fly around like space trash since there are no segregated compartments back there either. By the way, those +2 back seats are good for little kids, not adults. I made the mistake of climbing into one to see for myself and could barely hoist my 5’8″ frame back out.

2016 Subaru BRZ

Of course, you are not going to buy a BRZ because it’s the most practical mode of transportation available. It isn’t. What it is, however, is just about the most fun you can have in a car for a price of $28,485 out the door.

2016 Subaru BRZ

  • Engine: 2.0 liter opposed 4, DOHC
  • Horsepower: 200hp
  • Torque: 151lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 22 MPG City/30 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $28,485
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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


2016 BMW 340i Sedan Review

Thursday February 4th, 2016 at 2:22 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 BMW 340i Sedan

By David Colman

Hypes: Stealth Looks, Killer New Driveline
Gripes: Skip the $575 Rear Manual Side Window Shades

“I really like the red leather seats!” It was my cousin Steve, admiring the interior of the test 340i BMW had loaned me for the week of Thanksgiving. Steve and his wife Karen are both lawyers, recently retired from the fast lane of the DC Beltway. Neither of these plug-in Prius owners had ridden in a BMW before. And no, they didn’t practice poverty law. When I mentioned that the pebbled red leather interior would set them back an extra $1,450, Karen instantly piped up, “Oh we’d never spend for that.” Steve didn’t seem so sure. But I know one thing for certain. I would definitely pop for the “Coral Red Dakota Leather.” Why? Because it looks fabulous and feels better. In fact the almost all new 3 Series BMW is such an exceptional bargain at a base price of $45,800, that the test car’s $12,025 worth of “Options and Additional Charges” seem like the resort fees they tack onto your hotel bill at the Ritz.

2016 BMW 340i Sedan

Compared to that wild interior, the 340i’s Mineral Grey Metallic exterior ($550), demurely highlighted by Matte Chrome Exterior Trim (included), looks more conservative than a grey flannel suit from Brooks Brothers. Thus, potential miscreants can rest assured that – from the outside, at least – this $58,820 German smart bomb will not attract undue attention. But from the inside, its creamy, all new B58 engine will be stoking your lust like no 3 Series sedan in history. This 320hp engine lights off so quick that maximum torque of 330lb.-ft. is achieved at just 1,380rpm. In other words, maximum acceleration is available just off idle. And that’s only the beginning of the fun house trajectory. As the pie sized tachometer’s needle sweeps to the horsepower peak of 5,500rpm, the twin tailpipes emit a banshee shriek delightfully out of keeping with this sedan’s buttoned down exterior appearance.

2016 BMW 340i Sedan

The sedan’s four doors, and limousine-like rear seat don’t exactly whet your appetite for brisk motoring. The complete absence of any “M” accoutrements deepens suspicion that this 340i is perhaps too housebroken for its own good. All doubts evaporated the instant I laid into the throttle and experienced the unadulterated adrenaline rush of a car capable of turning 0-60mph in 4.6 seconds. Wow! BMW claims that “The new BMW 3 Series Sedan has been redesigned to serve your individual sport driving style, with many elements of the previous Sport package now standard.” Indeed, the basic 340i is now so fully developed you don’t need to embellish it with the “M” package.

2016 BMW 340i Sedan

On several stretches of heaving, twisty levee road bordering the Sacramento River, I enjoyed a traffic free opportunity to sample the exceptional stick of the 2016 340i. Although it would be difficult to attribute the 3′s new-found stability and adhesion to any one particular improvement, the net result of optimized front suspension towers, upgraded rear damper technology, and additional suspension anchor points all play a role in making this latest 3 the best compact sports sedan BMW has built to date. The unyielding stick of its Bridgestone Potenza S001 contact patches (225/40R19 front, 255/30R19 rear) was a high point of my week in this car. This premium tire, which Mazda has notably selected as delivery rubber for its new MX-5 Miata, is a rare OEM find. In this application, it comes mounted on optional ($900) Sport Performance alloy rims which do a stellar job of showing off the BMW emblazoned brake calipers of the lightweight, four wheel ventilated disc brakes.

2016 BMW 340i Sedan

The strengthened chassis mounting points for the new 340i pay off in less body roll, flatter cornering posture, and a very high level of stick no matter which setting you’ve chosen on Driving Dynamics Control. You can chose the following DDC settings: EcoPro, Comfort, Sport and Sport+. Due to subsidence, levee roads are notoriously lumpy, with high crowns and treacherous shoulder fall-off. Yet even with the suspension calibrated to SPORT+, the revamped dynamic chassis never once bottomed out or flew into the air, no matter how injudiciously I punched the throttle or sawed at the wheel. This sort of benign composure in the face of daunting terrain marks the 340i as a consummate achievement in the fine art of suspension tuning. When BMW claims that “40 years later” the 3 Series is “still the benchmark of the segment it invented,” take it to heart not hype.

2016 BMW 340i Sedan

  • Engine: 3.0 liter inline 6, twin scroll turbo, 24 vales, Valvetronic, Double Vanos
  • Horsepower: 320hp
  • Torque: 330lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 22MPG City/33 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $58,820
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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


2016 Acura MDX AWD Review

Wednesday February 3rd, 2016 at 12:22 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Acura MDX AWD

By David Colman

Hypes: Movie Theater Back Seat, Tows 3500 lbs.
Gripes: Lag on Downshifts, Poor LED Headlight Pattern

In 2014, Acura brought an all new MDX to the mid-size SUV market segment. Since then, this entry, which remains unchanged for 2016, has become the all time top selling SUV with three rows of seating. In practice, this stretched Acura looks and behaves more like a minivan than a sports utility vehicle. Acura does provide something of a placebo to the sports minded with its Integrated Dynamics System (IDS). For example, switching from ‘Normal” to “Sport” by adjusting the IDS’ transmission-tunnel mounted control allows you to tighten steering effort from your driver’s seat perch. But really, the MDX’ long suit isn’t its sports personality. Rather this SUV serves primarily as a mobile comfort lab that crams all the comforts of home into its elongated 194 inch rolling chassis. If you want a real sports SUV, check out the X3 or X5 from BMW and the Macan or Cayenne from Porsche.

2016 Acura MDX AWD

At $58,000, the MDX represents decent value for the dollar if you’re the techie type who values whiz-bang communication protocols over the driving experience. From the technology standpoint, the MDX has few peers in the marketplace today. For example, our Acura included both the “Tech Package” and the “Advance Package” in its all inclusive price. The “Tech Package” consists of such comprehensive enhancements as Navigation with voice command activation, real time traffic information, warning systems for lane deviation, forward collisions, and rear cross traffic, plus 3 zone interior climate control. What Acura terms the “Advance Package” promises to save you from going off the road or crashing into a frontal impediment. These so-called “mitigation” features include a slow speed cruise control for traffic jam stop and go.

To be sure, the cabin of the MDX is a comfy, well designed home site with but one annoying exception. That would be the standard issue “Push Button Shifter” which is mounted on the center console. After a week behind the wheel of the MDX, I still failed to come to terms with its obtuse location and unneeded complexity. The problem here lies in the fact that each gear selection requires a different skill set: engaging “reverse” demands a backward push on a sunken rectangular button, while “drive” requires a downward push on a flush mounted circular button. If you’re good at patting your head while rubbing your tummy, you’ll love this arrangement. But for me, it produced hesitation and uncertainty. The simple act of gear selection, which has long been unconscious and automatic, is more complicated than it needs to be in the MDX.

2016 Acura MDX AWD

Once you do select “drive,” you’ll discover this Acura runs through 9 gears. The upside here is that you’ve got a gear ratio for every occasion. The downside is that it takes the transmission nearly 2 seconds to select a ratio when you floor the throttle in “drive.” This lag time compromises the abundant horsepower (290hp) and torque (267lb.-ft.) of the 3.5 liter V6 engine. And that’s a shame because this sophisticated power plant, with direct injection of fuel, and variable valve timing to maximize combustion burn, allows the MDX to crank off 0-60mph runs in the 6.4 second range. Thanks to the fuel efficient addition of variable cylinder management (VCM), the V6 loafs along on fewer than 6 cylinders when under light cruising loads. This produces an overall EPA estimate of 22MPG, which is unexpectedly frugal for a vehicle weighing in at a chubby 4,290 lbs.

2016 Acura MDX AWD

The strong suit of the MDX is neither its performance, nor the handling of its 245/55R19 Michelin Latitude tires, but rather its sensational list of comfort attributes. For example, where else will you find a 16.2 inch rear screen DVD with HDMI and wireless headphones included in the base price? Where else will you find the complete gamut of active safety devices – from Collision Mitigation Braking System to Road Departure Mitigation – included in the base price? Next year the federal government will be adding just such active safety measures to their testing and rating standards. You can be sure that the MDX will be one of the first SUVs to gain 5 stars in that new category.

2016 Acura MDX AWD

2016 Acura MDX AWD

  • Engine: 3.5 liter V6, SOHC 24 valves, Direct Injection, VTEC
  • Horsepower: 290hp
  • Torque: 267lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 19 MPG City/26 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $58,000
  • Star Rating: 7.5 out of 10 Stars

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


2015 Ford F-350 Super Duty SRW Crew Cab King Ranch Review

Monday January 25th, 2016 at 11:11 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Ford F-350 Super Duty SRW Crew Cab King Ranch

By David Colman

Hypes: Massive Power Band, Hauling Capacity
Gripes: Still a Few Sharp Edges

This is not your daily driver. Let’s start with its length of 247 inches, which you would be hard pressed to park in a diagonal slot let alone parallel park. Then there’s the curb weight of 7,745 pounds, close to four tons. How about its cab height of 80 inches? Even with illuminated running boards and grab handles, it’s still a chore to climb aboard. And its width of 80 inches matches its height, so you won’t have an easy time trying to locate the distance of your wheels to the curb when parking this behemoth rig.

2015 Ford F-350 Super Duty SRW Crew Cab King Ranch

Of course, once ensconced in the elevated driver’s throne, the view of the surrounding roadside is unparalleled. You’re pretty much on eyeball height with 18 wheel operators. And with the King Ranch model (a $6,970 premium over Lariat grade), the interior is done up Wild West style with fancy tooled leather everywhere you look. All the floor mats bear the King Ranch’s distinctive “w” brand, even the chrome hubs of the 20 inch “premium cast aluminum wheels” ($1,172) carry the logo. Wrapped around those splendid rims are Michelin LTX A/T tires measuring 275/65R20, carrying white side letters which add to the visual medley.

2015 Ford F-350 Super Duty SRW Crew Cab King Ranch

The large center console between the front seats displays a recessed cordovan leather “w” which contrasts with the handsome adobe interior. The Gay 90s feel of the cab makes you feel like a ranch hand on a cattle drive. But there are a few flies on the cows. For example, the first time I went to release the emergency brake, my fingers discovered a knife edge sharp protrusion under the dash, located right next to the brake release pull. It’s a design flaw that should never have passed muster. Also, a section of lower dash fascia had separated itself from the upper dash panel. In its defense, this truck had accumulated a lot of hard miles (23,000) by the time it reached me.

This “one ton” Ford is designed for two primary chores in life. The first is toting heavy loads in its gaping cargo bed, which is rated to carry 2,080 pounds (hence the one ton tag). The second is towing a trailer. For 2015, Ford upped the F350′s trailer rating from a mere 23,200 pounds to 26,500 pounds. The Super Duty model we drove is good for the full rating because it’s equipped with the optional ($7,229) 6.7 liter “Power Stroke Diesel” B20 engine, turbocharged to make 440hp. Despite the Ford’s 4 ton weight, this torque monster of an engine, driving its 3.55:1 electronic locking rear axle through a 6 speed automatic transmission, will make short work of any acceleration need, no matter what you’re towing. When you floor the diesel’s throttle, the instant infusion of torque transfers 800 lb.-ft. of honking grunt to all 4 Michelin contact patches simultaneously. The F350 launches forward with such a wallop that you’d think it was a half ton pickup with a muscle car motor.

2015 Ford F-350 Super Duty SRW Crew Cab King Ranch

Ford takes good care of you with a bevy of informative gages spread out across the instrument panel to monitor every facet of the diesel’s behavior. In a world more where old fashioned instrumentation has been relegated to the scrap heap of history, Ford persists in keeping you apprised of this truck’s operational life signs: turbo boost, oil temp, water temp and fuel level are always on view, with no need to resort to any menu-driven nonsense. If you’re serious about pulling a trailer, this rig affords standard trailer brake controller and sway controller, plus a reverse camera to help you position your hitch. It’s also equipped with a “fifth wheel prep package” so if your Airstream is destined for the F350′s bed mount, you’ll find all the fixings already present.

2015 Ford F-350 Super Duty SRW Crew Cab King Ranch

Of course, in order to accommodate 26,500 pounds of baggage, Ford suspended this Sumo F with the stiffest springs in the parts bin. Unloaded, the truck tends to pitch over road imperfections like the mechanical bull at Gilley’s roadhouse. The ride here is anything but compliant, though the plush seating surfaces do make amends of their own. But Ford designed this package with a laser focus. Thus, it equipped the dash panel with no less than 4 auxiliary switches for possible items you may install, like a winch, overhead light bar, or big rig running lights. Whatever you choose, the pre-wiring and switchgear has already been thoughtfully installed. The possibilities are endless. If you can put up with the Kink Kong climb in and the harsh ride, this Ford will take you and your portable house anywhere you care to go. A buy-in price of sixty-seven grand seems like pocket change for the infinite travel possibilities this brute promises.

2015 Ford F-350 Super Duty SRW Crew Cab King Ranch

  • Engine: 6.7 liter Power Stroke V8 Diesel Turbocharged
  • Horsepower: 440hp
  • Torque: 800lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 16 MPG City/23 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $67,868
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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


2016 Honda HR-V 5DR AWD EX-L Review

Tuesday January 12th, 2016 at 9:11 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Honda HR-V 5DR AWD EX-L

By David Colman

Hypes: Brilliant Interior Packaging
Gripes: Underpowered

Honda introduced the 2016 HR-V only 4 months into the 2015 model year. Thus, the earliest releases are nearing 8 months old before their proper 2016 model year clock even begins to count down. This is a great way to stave off the unavoidable depreciation that bedevils new cars the instant they drive off the dealer’s lot.

The HR-V is in many ways – especially size and price – what the CR-V once was before it got fat and expensive. HR-V is a crossover sports utility body appended to a stretched Honda Fit chassis. At 169 inches in length, it’s 9 inches longer than the sub-compact Fit. It’s also 4 inches longer in wheelbase, which allows three adults to fit into the back seat with more leg room than greets them in the Fit.

2016 Honda HR-V 5DR AWD EX-L

By comparison to the HR-V, the current CR-V seems huge, with its 10 extra inches of length and 500 extra pounds of curb weight. At 3,045 pounds, the HR-V itself is fully 400 pounds heavier than the Fit sedan upon which it is based. To compensate for that, Honda upgraded the HR-V’s inline 4 from the Fit’s 130hp and 1.5 liters to 141hp and 1.8 liters. It’s not enough of a boost, however, to prevent the HR-V from being one of the slowest accelerating new rigs on the road. The problem stems from the fact that its power-to-weight ratio stands at a lethargic 21.6 pounds for each horse to move. By contrast, the Fit figure is 20.1 lb/hp, and the 185hp CR-V tops them all at 19.0 lb/hp.

2016 Honda HR-V 5DR AWD EX-L

The fact that Honda equips the HR-V with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) exacerbates the problem. Unlike a gearbox with fixed ratios, the CVT takes longer to spool the engine up, with more noise accompanying each demand for more power. While this is not the vehicle of choice for freeway merges or two lane passes, it offers other attributes that almost make you forget about its power shortfall. Compared to the Fit, the HR-V carries almost twice the amount of cargo: 32 cubic feet vs. 17 for the Fit. Even better, Honda has configured the interior so the 60/40 split second row “Magic Seats” fold virtually flat, allowing maximum utilization of all that generous interior space.

The HR-V is a lot of fun to drive on a two-lane back road. In that sense, it emulates the Fit, with sensitive and accurate electric power assisted rack and pinion steering. The EX-L’s standard issue 7.5 inch x 17 inch five spoke alloy rims not only look rugged, but plant a solid footprint on the pavement, with all season Michelin rubber measuring 215/55R17 at each corner. The HR-V is stiffly sprung, so it’s quick to change direction at the flick of your wrist. It’s easy to set up a nice rhythm with this petite sports utility when you’re flinging it through a succession of curves. The drawback to this suspension calibration is a choppy ride over imperfect pavement. As a passenger trying to read a newspaper, I found it all but impossible to follow a line of print as my head constantly bobbed.

2016 Honda HR-V 5DR AWD EX-L

The HR-V is loaded with comfort and communication features not generally found in a vehicle with a base price of $25,840. For example, standard Smart Entry makes life much easier when your hands are full of grocery bags. The door locking/unlocking sequence is custom programmable. The communication system includes Bluetooth Audio, Hands Free operation, and Next Generation HondaLink with smart phone applications. XM Satellite and HD Radio are standard, with HD traffic reports available in select markets. The EX-L HR-V comes with standard navigation which plays through a 7 inch central display screen. This screen also carries a camera feed while backing up and a second feed from the Lane Watch camera mounted in the right side rear view mirror. Unfortunately, the display screen receives commands only through taps on its graphic user interface since Honda has seen fit to eliminate control knobs. Thus it takes way too much concentration to do something as simple as turn the radio volume up or down.

2016 Honda HR-V 5DR AWD EX-L

If you are in the market for an affordable, space efficient mini SUV, with exceptional gas economy and lots of built-in smart phone features, the newest member of the Honda family may offer just the right combination of sensible features at an irresistible price.

2016 Honda HR-V 5DR AWD EX-L

  • Engine: 1.8 liter inline 4, SOHC, 16 valve
  • Horsepower: 141hp
  • Torque: N/A
  • Fuel Consumption: 27 MPG City/32 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $26,720
  • Star Rating: 7 out of 10 Stars

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


« Previous Entries Next Entries »



Latest Reviews



Select a Category