Review: 2015 Lexus RC350 2DR Coupe

Tuesday May 19th, 2015 at 11:55 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Lexus RC350 2DR Coupe

By David Colman

Hypes: Arresting Looks, Finely Tuned Chassis
Gripes: Hard Backseat Access, Obnoxious Grill

Short of a tech session at the dealership, there are few better ways to learn the secrets of your vehicle than to wash and dry it yourself. The all new Lexus RC350 provided just such an opportunity for driveway therapy, The complexity of this coupe’s shape defies easy description. Every facet of its voluptuous body is so thoroughly sculpted that there are no flat surfaces anywhere. Running your hands over its sinuous flanks helps you understand what a sleek facade Lexus stylists have devised to cheat the wind. In many ways, this coupe pays homage to the outrageously sleek $400,000 LF-A supercar Lexus produced in very limited numbers several years ago. If your RC350 happens to be painted Molten Pearl (metallic orange), like our test vehicle, you will have such a show stopper on your hands that slower cars will pull over to let you pass, after taking one amazed look in their rear view mirror. Although the RC’s double trapezoid “spindle” grill is overly fussy, the rest of the design brief is stunningly effective.

2015 Lexus RC350 2DR Coupe

The RC tested here is the V6 model, which retails for a base price of just $42,790, and an all inclusive price of $53,140. The extra ten thousand goes for such niceties as an “F Sport Package” ($3,985) a Navigation System ($1,530), a Moonroof ($1,100) and a very pricey Variable Gear Ratio Steering (VGRS, $1,900). You can probably live without VGRS, but the F Sport group is essential to defining the coupe’s character. From a performance standpoint, the F Sport’s most important inclusions are Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS), and fat wheels with sticky tires. Up front, you get 8 x 19 inch F Sport rims with 235/40R19 Dunlop SP Sport tires, while rear rims measure 9 x 19 inches and carry 265/35R19 Dunlops. Clearly, Lexus is going after potential BMW and Audi buyers with this F Sport Package, which transforms a good handling coupe into a premium back road weapon. The package also includes heavily side bolstered, extremely supportive front seats that are both heated and ventilated. A multi-function steering wheel, electrically adjustable for height and reach, completes the F group upgrade.

2015 Lexus RC350 2DR Coupe

If there’s a chink in this coupe’s armor, it lies under the hood, where a 3.5 liter V6 makes just 306hp and 277lb.-ft. of torque. Coupled to a sweet, paddle-shifted 8 speed automatic transmission, the V6 provides excellent throttle response in 1st, 2nd and 3rd gears, but once you shift into the taller ratios of 4th through 8th, the moderately powerful engine has a tough time matching the vivid acceleration on tap in the lower gears. If you’re after true supercar poke, opt for the 467hp V8 available in the RC F, a BMW M4 eater which retails for a cool 20 grand more than the base price of our RC350. As you would expect in a coupe with the refinement of the F Sport Package, handling is excellent. But in order to coax maximum proficiency out of the car, you must first learn the secret handshake to configure it to your needs. A large, knurled knob on the center console allows you to tailor the Adaptive Variable Suspension to your taste, by rotating the knob through 4 stages ranging from “Eco” to “Sport+” Even when you slot into “Sport+,” however, you will find that Lexus provides an overly assertive nanny that constantly corrects your enthusiasm by killing the engine at inappropriate junctures or applying the brakes when it judges you need them. To avoid these intrusions, you need to disengage “Traction Control” by depressing a button located just aft of the AVS knob. Although the Owner’s Manual states that a notation will appear on the TFT screen reading “Expert,” we never elicited this display. Regardless, once you’ve gone through all these pre-configuration measures, the RC350 is good to go, and go fast. With all systems maximized for instant gratification, this coupe becomes extremely responsive. The expensive VGRS steering option buttons down steering control, immediate throttle response kicks in, and the suspension vectors itself into closer proximity to the pavement. This Kabuki flyer will never be shamed by any German sedan on any back road. The downside is that you have to reconfigure the RC for maximum performance every time you re-start it. The upside is that this exotic looking BMW slayer puts you in the driver’s seat for thousands less than you’ll pay for a similar Bimmer.

2015 Lexus RC350 2DR Coupe

2015 Lexus RC350 2DR Coupe

  • Engine: 3.5 liter V6, 24 Valve DOHC, Direct and Port Injection, Variable Valve Timing
  • Horsepower: 306hp
  • Torque: 277lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 19 MPG City/28 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $53,140
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Nissan Rogue SL AWD

Tuesday May 5th, 2015 at 2:55 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Nissan Rogue SL AWD

By David Colman

Hypes: Furnishings Belie Price, Spacious Smart Interior
Gripes: Needs More Motor, Real Gearbox, Thinner & Less Obstructive A Pillar

Because Nissan redesigned the Rogue last year, the 2015 version remains unchanged, save for the enticing new shade of Arctic Blue Metallic paint that graced our test vehicle. Combined with a fetching almond leatherette interior highlighted by replica carbon fiber inserts on doors and dash, the Rogue looks substantially more expensive than its affordable base price of $29,630. After a week which saw us put this Versa-based crossover to repeated transit tasks, we developed a growing affection for its all purpose usefulness.

For example, seating for five adults is well looked after, both front and rear, with ample knee room in back, and plump stuffed front buckets with 3 stage heating elements an unusual standard feature. For $1,045 extra, you can order your Rogue with a third row pair of seats (called the “S Family Package”), converting the Nissan into a true 7 person transporter (but you lose your spare tire). Contributing significantly to the airy ambience of the cabin is a vast “Power Panoramic Moonroof” that opens up the interior like an Amtrak lounge car. This sliding and tilting unit is included in Nissan’s $1,990 SL Premium Package,” which brings such other refinements as auto-leveling LED headlights and a bevy of warning chimes to alert you to blind spot lurkers, lane deviation, impending front collision, and detection of moving objects. The chime note selected by Nissan is restrained enough to be informative rather than annoying.

2015 Nissan Rogue SL AWD

In addition to its people hauling proclivity, the Rogue is exceptionally adept at transporting large and bulky items. On one run, we slipped a pair of sizeable rugs from IKEA into the aft compartment, noting with pleasure the low loading deck height, as well as the presence of an automatic tail gate lift which can be remotely controlled from the key fob. Later in the week, we discovered how easily a bicycle could be stowed after dropping the 40/20/40 second row seats flat without needing to consult the owner’s manual for guidance. In many such ways, this Nissan is an intuitive and useful companion. At no extra cost, it’s loaded with a bevy of convenient features, from its keyless entry, and auto stop/start ignition switch to its dual zone automatic temperature control.

2015 Nissan Rogue SL AWD

Unfortunately, the Rogue is not loaded with horsepower nor torque, and since Nissan offers but one power train, you’re stuck with a 170hp engine making just 175lb.-ft. of torque. The standard continuously variable transmission (CVT) does nothing to alleviate the problem, since you can’t even slot it into a proper gear to maximize acceleration. Nissan offers what they term Sport and Eco modes for this “Xtronic” CVT, but the Sport button is little more than a placebo offering no noticeable extra performance. Likewise, if you position the CVT in the “M” setting, engine rpm and ambient noise both soar without any appreciable increase in thrust. Though the Rogue is based on the Sentra platform, with identical length and wheelbase numbers, the big difference is weight. The SUV weighs 3,590 lb. versus just 2,835 lb. for the Sentra. The Rogue’s burdensome power to weight ratio of 21 pounds per horsepower explains its lethargic straight line performance. The upside of the equation is this Nissan’s excellent fuel economy, with an EPA rating of 28 MPG overall.

2015 Nissan Rogue SL AWD

The Rogue is softly sprung and thus comfortable over speed bumps, potholes and other road surface irregularities. But the price you pay for ride comfort is somewhat sloppy handling. In NASCAR parlance, the Rogue exhibits a fair amount of “push” in corners, with the front end’s grip departing so early in the curve that you’ll want to lift your foot off the accelerator to re-establish equanimity. The Dunlop Grandtrek ST30 tires (225/60R18) are partially responsible for this behavior, providing limited grip, and making a lot of noise in the bargain. But really, if you’re looking for an SUV that puts the emphasis on “sport” rather than “utility” you won’t be shopping for a Rogue. Rather, this Nissan tips the equation heavily in favor of utility. Where else can you buy a compact SUV with so many practical virtues for a base price under $30,000? Will Rogue carry a bike in the back? Check. Will it carry 7 people? Check. Will it post a freeway mileage rating of 32 MPG? Check. If you want to save money when buying an all purpose hauler, and have no interest in zippy performance, the Rogue will punch your ticket.

2015 Nissan Rogue SL AWD

  • Engine: 2.5 liter DOHC inline 4
  • Horsepower: 170hp
  • Torque: 175lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 25 MPG City/32 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $32,480
  • Star Rating: 7 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Volvo XC60 T6 AWD

Friday April 3rd, 2015 at 1:44 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Volvo XC60 T6 AWD

By David Colman

Hypes: The safest SUV You Can Buy
Gripes: Useless Owner’s Manual, Sea of Dog Cage Bars

The XC60 is a mid-size sports utility crossover based on the S60 sedan. For 2015, it presents a cleaner face to the wind thanks to a more streamlined front fascia. In conjunction with this newly lowered snout, Volvo stylists have visually elevated the XC60′s tail. Decisive side creases underline the aggressive stance, making this Volvo look like it’s about to pounce on prey. The illusion is not unsupported, because a powerful and willing twin-scroll turbo straight 6 lies under the hood, ready to devour pavement with alacrity. The 3.0 liter engine produces 300hp and 325lb.-ft. of torque, with full torque infusion coming on line at just 2100rpm. Coupled to a 6-speed automatic with standard paddle shifts, the XC6 T6 jumps when prodded, despite its substantial 4,275lb. curb weight.

2015 Volvo XC60 T6 AWD

While Volvo’s all-wheel-drive system is not designed for serious off-road work (there’s no transfer case), it will insure splendid traction on all forms of pavement. Our test XC sported $1,000 optional 20 inch diameter “Titania” alloys which mounted premium Pirelli Scorpion Zero tires measuring 255/45R20 at each corner. Despite their enormous diameter, these rims, which replace standard 18 inch wheels, look surprisingly delicate thanks to their almost invisible rim bead connected to 10 wafer-thin double spokes. The overall visual effect is similar to that of a Mattel Hot Wheels dream toy.

The interior shares the exterior’s exciting visuals, with a two-tone seat leather treatment adding Swedish modern sophistication to the $900 optional Sport Seating surfaces. In fact, if you are a fan of Mid Century Modern design, you will love the simplistic integration of materials and surface treatments in the cabin. For example, the center stack, a design nightmare in so many other SUVs, is here cleanly arrayed, devoid of frills, and operationally sound, with all key HVAC and Entertainment system functions accessible through separate buttons rather than menu driven nonsense. Particularly nice is the standard issue “Laminated Power Roof with Power Sunshade. This oversize opening can be configured in any number of useful ways, ranging from tilting the front panel, to sliding the shade wide open over all interior seats.

2015 Volvo XC60 T6 AWD

Volvo equipped the cargo area of our sports utility with a dog kennel apparatus that made the interior seem more like a Swedish police cruiser than a family wagon. Vertical and horizontal metal bars (called a “Safety Grill”) not only segregated the rear compartment from the passenger area, but also created a structure (called a “Load Organizer and Dog Gate”) large enough to house a medium size pet. With its hydraulic lift door, the Load Organizer proved very handy for safe transport of fragile items. The downside to the array of black metal bars is poor rear vision, and a sepulchral feel to the interior.

2015 Volvo XC60 T6 AWD

The expensive “Platinum” option, which boosts sticker price by $4,400, brings several important safety measures into play. Perhaps the most significant is the Technology Package, which includes radar controlled cruise control, collision warning with full auto-brake, pedestrian/cyclist detection with full auto-brake, and Driver Alert Control, which prevents your Volvo from straying out of its lane. In addition, our XC60 also featured a $900 optional “Blind Spot Information System Package” (BLIS) which consisted of small warning lights on the A pillars next to the rear view mirrors that illuminated orange when traffic impinged in adjacent lanes. This proved useful without becoming intrusive. The BLIS package also includes front and rear park assist beepers.

Although the XC60 has plenty of straight line punch, its handling is a notch below comparable sports utilities like BMW’s X3 and new X4, or Porsche’s Macan. The Volvo’s main weakness is its lack of precise steering feedback. In fact, even the range of vertical adjustment for the wheel itself is too limited to allow a sporty driving position. The XC’s suspension is also complicit, with too much pitch on corners, combined with too harsh shock damping over potholes. This makes for a ride that is simultaneously pitchy yet jarring. A final irritation comes courtesy of the purported Owner’s Manual, which inexplicably contains no index references to such basics as instrument location and function, or even cruise control operation. Consequently, I could never figure out how to adjust my cruise control default speed without changing it in 5mph increments.

2015 Volvo XC60 T6 AWD

The incredible array of safety measure Volvo brings to bear on its XC60, however, more than compensate for these trivial glitches. In fact, I can’t think of a better vehicle in which to avoid or survive an accident than this Volvo, given its standard Auto-Stopping Technology and optional and reasonably priced BLIS Package.

2015 Volvo XC60 T6 AWD

  • Engine: 3.0 liter alloy, in-line 6 with CVVT and twin-scroll Turbo
  • Horsepower: 300hp @ 5600rpm
  • Torque: 325lb.-ft. @ 2100rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 17 MPG City/24 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $51,675
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Chevrolet Colorado 4WD Z71 Crew Long Box

Wednesday April 1st, 2015 at 2:44 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Chevrolet Colorado 4WD Z71 Crew Long Box

By David Colman

Hypes: Great Value as All-Rounder
Gripes: Needs Running Boards, Free Wi-Fi as Part of OnStar Subscription

Would you rather be a sea horse or a flounder? If you’re currently navigating traffic in a low profile sedan or sports car, your restricted vision makes you the bottom dweller of the highway system. On the other hand, if your daily mount is our test Chevy Colorado, you’re sitting tall in the saddle of the newest sea horse from General Motors. Just climbing into the Colorado’s cabin is a bit of leap because it lacks running boards. But once ensconced in the cushy driver’s seat, you’ve got a view of the highway that is unparalleled in any compact car. This 360 degree view gives you the opportunity to see and avoid traffic problems before they become your own. There’s also enough sheet metal surrounding you here to provide the ultimate in crash survival. Violent accidents that destroy compact vehicles will have a negligible effect on this massive truck. The Colorado’s full complement of front, rear and side curtain airbags stand ready to further cushion the blow. If you value your safety, this Chevy is a smart defensive choice.

2015 Chevrolet Colorado 4WD Z71 Crew Long Box

The Colorado’s dynamic features also promote accident avoidance through active safety. The hallmarks of this new mid-size product are good handling on Goodyear G4 Wranglers (255/65R17), excellent braking on 4 wheel Duralife ABS disc brakes, and anti-skid technology courtesy of Stabilitrak stability control. The 305hp 3.6 liter V6 eagerly awaits your call for more power. Floor the throttle and the Colorado leaps ahead decisively. Doling out ample thrust through a 6-speed automatic transmission, the V6 posts a commendable 24MPG on the highway. You can slot the floor mounted gear selector into the “M” manual gate and toggle up and downshifts with the button affixed to the side of the gearshift knob. While this system lacks the ease of use provided by steering wheel paddles, it still gets the job done with accuracy. With a bargain $250 Trailering Equipment Package, the Colorado is rated to tow 7,000 pounds.

2015 Chevrolet Colorado 4WD Z71 Crew Long Box

Append a full Crew Cab to a Long Box cargo area and you’ve got a lot of truck to maneuver and park in city driving. You’ll find yourself cruising the nether reaches of parking lots looking for just the right spot to nose in so you won’t have to reverse out when leaving. This technique is definitely an acquired art form, but the excellent view from the cab makes parking lot scoping more fun than you might expect. The standard rear view camera helps in all such maneuvers. Inside the fully appointed cabin, you’ll never think you’re in a work truck. Fore and aft seat adjustments are power coordinated for front occupants but back rake angle is manually controlled. Big dashboard knobs insure you will never grope for the kind of minute controls so prevalent in compact cars these days. Want to adjust the temperature? Just grasp the fat dial on the dash and crank it right or left. Same applies for fan control. The radio volume knob is also a whopper. This control panel has been designed for operation while wearing gloves. The multi-function steering wheel also provides controls for phone, entertainment and cruise control. A dash-mounted 8 inch color touch pad helps you fine tune the many parameters of the “My Link” audio system.

2015 Chevrolet Colorado 4WD Z71 Crew Long Box

Since connectivity has become supremely important these days, Chevy has heeded the call by offering to turn your Colorado into a Wi-Fi Hotspot capable of serving up to 7 tablets, laptops or other devices. The program operates through GM’s central safety net clearing house safety, OnStar. When you buy a Colorado, you automatically get 6 months of OnStar for free, plus 3GB of data through a free 3 Month Wi-Fi plan. Unfortunately, when we tried to access the Hotspot feature we were informed by an actual, live human being at OnStar that our 3GB had expired and we would need to purchase additional airtime. The rate structure went something like this: A further 3GB was available through AT&T for $30/month. $15 buys you 1GB/month, and $50 is good for 5GB/month. A daily fee of $5 is good for 250MB. You can roam up to 50 feet from your vehicle for reception, and the truck must either be running or in the Accessory key position.

2015 Chevrolet Colorado 4WD Z71 Crew Long Box

The Colorado is remarkably adept at fulfilling a wide range of needs. From the driver’s seat, it provides a comforting sense of invulnerability that is impossible to duplicate in smaller vehicles. But is also conveys you with the dispatch, comfort and grace of a well appointed luxury sedan, while allowing you to tote impossibly large loads in its ample bed. A bed, I might add, which is fitted with convenient steps at each corner to ease entry, and a tailgate that lets itself down with a whisper instead of a thud.

2015 Chevrolet Colorado 4WD Z71 Crew Long Box

  • Engine: 3.6 Liter DOHC V6 with VVT
  • Horsepower: 302hp
  • Torque: 270lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 17 MPG City/24 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $36,535
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Toyota Camry Hybrid SE Sedan

Tuesday March 31st, 2015 at 11:33 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Toyota Camry Hybrid SE Sedan

By David Colman

Hypes: Phenomenal range, Spiffy New Looks and Interior
Gripes: Unpredictable Brake Engagement Point

Toyota has reinvigorated its top selling product, the Camry, with new styling for the 2015 model year that verges on revolutionary for this once staid sedan. You will not confuse the bold look of the latest Camry with that of its timid predecessor. Every panel save the roof is changed for this mid-cycle makeover. Underneath the sleek new skin, however, mechanical components remain largely unchanged. At the front, a gaping black grill snorkels air into the engine room. The upper surface of the grill features a chrome strip that feeds into new projector beam headlamps with striking black sport trim bezels. On either side of the grill, indented crescent shaped amber running lights compliment the trapezoidal air opening. The Camry’s new face makes a far more successful impression than the overwrought frontal design big brother Lexus has adopted across its model line.

2015 Toyota Camry Hybrid SE Sedan

Inside, Toyota has really jazzed up the look of the cabin to match the athletic stance of the exterior. The dashboard and door panels are trimmed out with contrasting stitching that looks more expensive than the Camry’s modest $32,133 cost would seem to justify. Similarly breaking new ground is the choice of seat fabric, an unexpectedly flamboyant looking “Sport Fabric SofTex” which would look at home decorating a Zoot Suit. Imagine the interlocking, shimmering diamond pattern produced by a kaleidoscope and you have a clear picture of the material trimming the SE Camry’s seating surface. The seats offer good long distance comfort, and the driver’s position provides 8 way power adjustment.

2015 Toyota Camry Hybrid SE Sedan

Toyota has focused a great deal of corporate design energy on making the latest Camry gizmo friendly. For example, if you ante up $1,300 for the “EE” Navigation and App Suite Package,” the central dash stack includes a separate button labeled “APPS” for access to the extensive Entune App Suite while stationary. The navigation system plays through a 7 inch wide high resolution touch screen display that also doubles as a projector for the standard backup camera. You will never do without tunes in this EE Package Camry thanks to a 6 speaker AM/FM CD player capable of MP3/WMA playback. An auxiliary audio jack, and a USB 2.0 port with iPad connectivity augments your wide range of media selection. We settled on the included SiriusXM radio for entertainment, but found the tuning process rather convoluted.

Toyota expends a lot of energy on the Camry’s connectivity assets, but somewhat less time on the sedan’s mechanical underpinnings. The base motor for America’s best selling mid-size sedan remains the 2.5 liter inline four (173hp). A Hybrid Synergy Drive System propels the 200hp version we tested for this report. This model is remarkable for its tremendous range of over 500 miles per tank of fuel. A solid week of driving barely lowered the predicted range to 400 miles. The Hybrid makes good, useful power thanks to the added torque of its electric motor, but what you’ll love most about this combo is the EPA combined city/highway MPG rating of 40. One notch up from the Hybrid in cost and power output is the V6 Camry SE which makes a stout 268hp and 248lb.-ft. of torque. In addition to our week with the Hybrid, we had the opportunity to sample the V6 SE for an extended drive, and found it to be fast, secure and verging on sports sedan stardom. The Hybrid, on the other hand, is more softly sprung than the V6, and makes do with rather uninspiring, hard compound tires (215/55R17 Bridgestone Turanza EL400). But the biggest difference between the Hybrid and the V6 comes in the braking department. Good short stops are never a problem with the V6, but the Hybrid’s regenerative brakes, which feed heat energy back into the Hybrid system, are never predictable enough to inspire confidence. The engagement point on the pedal varies all over the map depending on speed, terrain and pressure applied.

2015 Toyota Camry Hybrid SE Sedan

After a couple of days with our handsome “Blue Crush Metallic” Toyota we had become rather accustomed to its revised new look. But a worker at the local Ace Hardware, who helped load some 8 foot neon tubes into the Camry’s trunk, was so taken with the interior and exterior improvements that it reopened our eyes to just how much better looking this car really is than its predecessor. Combine that upgrade with remarkable range and fuel economy, and the Hybrid SE stands taller than ever in the Mid-Size segment.

2015 Toyota Camry Hybrid SE Sedan

  • Engine: 2.5 liter inline 4 cylinder plus electric motor generator and self charging battery pack
  • Horsepower: 200hp
  • Fuel Consumption: 40MPG City/38 MPG HIGHWAY
  • Price as Tested: $32,133
  • Star Rating: 7.5 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Honda Fit EX-L

Friday March 27th, 2015 at 1:33 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Honda Fit EX-L

By David Colman

Hypes: Revamped Styling and Interior Packaging
Gripes: CVT

This Honda will fit into your plans if you need an affordable and dependable sedan with enough interior room to belie its modest exterior dimensions. Honda has repackaged the Fit for 2015, extending space inside while retaining sub-compact length (160″), height (60″) and width (67″). Because wheelbase (99″) has grown by an inch, there’s more legroom for rear seat passengers. The rear seats are also notable for the fact that their bases are open, allowing you to store parcels or shopping bags beneath them. The Fit’s aft cargo area benefits from hatchback access, and its flat floor extends into the passenger compartment when you drop the rear seats flat. Doing so maximizes use of the Fit’s generous 24 cubic feet of storage space.

2015 Honda Fit EX-L

Inside the cockpit, you’ll immediately notice that Honda has upped the Fit’s finish, with leather trimmed seats and a leather wrapped steering wheel. That steering wheel also offers easy to use cruise controls on the right spoke, and equally intuitive radio selection and volume buttons on the left spoke. In the case of volume control, the spoke-mounted unit is particularly welcome since the alternative is a display-screen mounted virtual slide adjuster that’s both hard to find and slow to react to your input.

2015 Honda Fit EX-L

The Fit has molted for 2015, losing its chubby face and cute baby curves in favor of a more mature and assertive bullet-nosed look. The difference is especially noticeable from the front, where a wraparound intake-cum-headlight fascia replaces the previous model’s doe-eyed innocence with a snarkier squint. Sharply chiseled beltline and rocker panel air channels now impart movement missing in the bland styling of its predecessor. The 2,450 pound Fit is so light it requires minimal foot ware: 185/55R16 Bridgestone Turanza EL470 tires mounted on standard 16 x 6 inch alloys do the job at each corner. But even the tiny Fit dwarfs this minimalist wheel/tire combination. Cornering hard will convince you that an upgrade in tire size or wheel width would improve adhesion under duress.

The 1.5 liter engine now produces 130hp, 13 more than the previous Fit. This engine benefits from all the latest technology tweaks such as direct very high pressure fuel injection, and i-VTEC variable valve timing actuation of its twin overhead camshafts to produce both acceptable horsepower and torque (114 lb.-ft.) along with outstanding gas economy (35 MPG overall).

2015 Honda Fit EX-L

Our test Fit was equipped with a no-extra-cost automatic transmission, a CVT unit with a Sport Mode and paddle shifters on the steering wheel. The CVT’s stick is mounted on the floor console, between the front seats. Next to it is a gear indicator panel that fails to illuminate when you have made a selection. For confirmation of that information, you need to refocus on the left quadrant of the instrument binnacle for a digital gear display. This poor correlation between stick and display is annoying.

Most of your driving time will pass without giving much thought to the CVT. Only when accelerating hard will you become aware of its tendency to spool the engine high into the rpm range for maximum thrust. This tendency results in lots of noise without much in the way of acceleration. Do yourself a big favor and order your Fit with Honda’s excellent 6-speed manual gearbox, which instantly converts this grocery getter into a sports sedan.
Then you will have a finely crafted, fun to drive, lightweight package that is economical to buy as well as to operate.

2015 Honda Fit EX-L

2015 Honda Fit EX-L

  • Engine: 1.5 liter inline 4, DOHC, i-VTECH, 16 valves, direct injection
  • Horsepower: 130hp
  • Torque: 117lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 32 MPG City/38 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $21,590
  • Star Rating: 7 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Subaru BRZ Series Blue

Thursday March 26th, 2015 at 3:33 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Subaru BRZ Series Blue

By David Colman

Hypes: Incredible Sporting Value, Killer Blue Edition
Gripes: Don’t Have My Own – Yet

Luck of the draw has seen me test this Subaru’s fraternal twin, the Toyota FRS on a number of different occasions since the duo was introduced 3 years ago. Over that same period, however, I never had the opportunity to strap into Subaru’s version – until now. In Series Blue trim, a new level of cosmetic refinement for 2015, the BRZ decidedly outshines its Toyota counterpart. The BRZ shares basic architecture with the FRS: rear wheel drive (first ever for Subaru), 2.0 liter flat four cylinder engine producing 200hp, independent suspension and disc brakes at all four corners, even a quartet of the same mediocre Michelin Primacy HP 215/45R17 tires mounted on alloy rims.

What distinguishes the BRZ is the excessive attention to detail Subaru has invested in the optional $2,545 Series Blue Edition. This racing oriented company turned to its competition based STI parts bin for exotic looking front, side, rear and underside spoilers which cumulatively distinguish this special model from any previous FRS or BRZ. The frontal aspect is particularly daunting, with its sculpted under tray and discreet STI logo. Full length side skirting finished in black looks especially good against the complex Crystal White Pearl exterior color of our sample. Again, you discover discreet STI badges just forward of the rear wheel well strakes. At the back, a large single element wing does a great job of providing down force to match the beefed up front spoiler while managing to stay out of your aft line of sight in the mirror. These aerodynamic tweaks not only increase the BRZ’s ability to stay glued to the road at high speed, but also enhance gas mileage to a figure of 25MPG overall.

2015 Subaru BRZ Series Blue

As you might expect, the interior decor of the Blue Edition harmonizes a purple shade of blue with black Alcantara to enhance the look and feel of the ultra supportive racing style seats. Carbon fiber patterned dash board facing sets affords nice detailing to an area that looks like bleak plastic in the base model car. The black pseudo-suede headliner looks and feels rich, and ribbed aluminum race style pedals grab the soles of your feet with authority. This businesslike cockpit reeks of racing functionality. In fact the BRZ has already proven itself to be one of the best and most affordable track day/autocross cars you can buy for just $30,000.

This Subaru is endearingly responsive to both throttle and steering input. It will change direction like a go-kart, and keep you happily absorbed in swapping its 6 gears for maximum thrust. At 200hp, and just 151lb.-ft. of torque, you’ll find yourself constantly recalibrating gear choice to keep this engine on full boil. The exercise provides intoxicating fun. But in reality, the BRZ could do with at least another half liter of motor and another 50lb.-ft. of torque.

2015 Subaru BRZ Series Blue

Do not dismiss this ride as impractical. The wide and deep trunk opening surprised me with its ability to digest two large, nested Christmas ornament lockers from Orchard Supply without drama. You’ve got a generous 7 cubic feet of storage to play with back there. There’s also a wealth of space aft of the front seats, but getting to use it can be problematic since the front seats must always be tilted forward to access this area.

Just because the BRZ is a cutting edge sports coupe does not mean you need to sacrifice comfort or luxury to use it daily. Subaru softened its harsh ride for 2015, so it no longer clangs off potholes or gets airborne over speed bumps. The list of interior refinements is long and comforting. Subaru’s standard list includes dual sided climate control that works exceptionally well, front fog lights, three stage heated seats, very effective rear window defrost, keyless access and start, and a tilt and telescoping leather wrapped steering wheel with fat grips.

2015 Subaru BRZ Series Blue

The Blue Edition features gloss black alloy rims which look particularly sharp set against red finished front and rear brake calipers. If you intend to turn your BRZ into a part time track day ride, however, you’ll want to remove the 17 inch rims and all-season Michelins in favor of a set of 18 inch wheels with Bridgestone RE 11 tires. This is the hot set up that Toyota utilizes on its fleet of FRS Celebrity Challenge cars at the Long Beach Grand Prix. But no matter what rubber your BRZ rolls on, you’ll have the blast of your life everyday you climb behind the wheel of this affordable gem.

2015 Subaru BRZ Series Blue

  • Engine: 2.0 liter Horizontally-Opposed 4 Cylinder, DOHC
  • Horsepower: 200hp
  • Torque: 151lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 22MPG City/30MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $30,285
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Dodge Challenger 6.4L Scat Pack

Wednesday March 25th, 2015 at 9:33 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Dodge Challenger 6.4L Scat Pack

By David Colman

Hypes: Massive HEMI Horsepower and Torque
Gripes: Doesn’t Come With Barry Newman to Drive

Your first clue that this is a very serious driver’s car appears on the window sticker under the heading “Tires.” Most manufacturers designate tire choice in a most casual manner, stating they’ve provided either “all season radials” or “performance radials.” Such non-specific categories afford car makers the latitude to equip your new car with anything available in the supply chain provided the tires meet OEM specs. For those of us who value the importance of precise tire specification, Dodge’s commitment to using only the Goodyear Eagle F1 on the Hemi Challenger is welcome and reassuring news.

The rest of this phenomenal piece of driving nirvana is equally well equipped. Under the twin scoops of the expansive hood lies that eternal gem of an engine, the HEMI, this time displacing 6.4 liters, and belting out 485hp at 6000rpm, and 475lb.-ft. of torque at 4200rpm. Nothing else provides the instant surge and gratification of this newly refined Hemi, which now benefits from a lightened valve train. Under those massive valve covers, you’ll find sodium filled exhaust valves, hollow intake valve stems, and 16 hydraulic lifters with roller tips.

2015 Dodge Challenger 6.4L Scat Pack

The Torque Flight transmission has been drag racing’s hot ticket for so many decades now that few remember its debut six decades ago. The latest variant of this elephantine gear box, designated 8HP70, is a $1,400 option which now contains 8 gears. The fat T-handle floor console stick will remind aging muscle car owners of their bucket seat mounts from years ago. But of course, in the 21st century, Dodge has not only slipped 4 extra gear sets into the transmission case, but provided manual override of up and down shifts with paddles on the steering wheel and a manual gate on the floor stick. All you really need to spur this Challenger is your right foot, however. All that torque means instant acceleration even when you just leave the Toque Flight in Drive and stomp the accelerator pedal. You can feel the race breeding of the transmission as it slams home each up shift with military authority. The benefit of the super overdrive 8th gear allows the Challenger to lope along the freeway at just 1500rpm while returning an admirable 25MPG. Of course, your mileage may vary, given the mellifluous orchestra of sounds emitted by the Hemi when you floor the aluminum ribbed gas pedal. Worst case scenario is about 15MPG. We managed 17MPG through one full tank test.

2015 Dodge Challenger 6.4L Scat Pack

Do not buy this car unless you enjoy being the center of attention. At virtually every rest stop, someone came up to ask a question, share a story, or just enthuse about the looks of the Challenger. Maybe it’s the car’s throwback snout, with four round, vintage style headlights, that makes observers think they’re looking at the Challenger that starred in the legendary movie Vanishing Point. More likely, however, it’s the magnetically attractive, outrageous shade of green this Dodge is painted. Called “Sublime,” it’s a carryover color from Dodge’s inventive and playful palette of the 60s. The Scat Pack Appearance Package ($1,995) provides body color tail spoiler, flat black front air dam, matching matte tail stripes, and “Hyper-Black” lightweight forged aluminum wheels measuring 20 x 9 inches. These rims carry only Goodyear’s best F1 tires (245/45R20).

Even during one of the rainiest weeks in years, the big bad Dodge acquitted itself with commendable finesse. As long as you mind the gas pedal judiciously, the Goodyears churned through standing water without so much as a side slip. When the terrain dried out, the Challenger’s independent front suspension with high mounted upper A-arms provided precise feedback. Variable rate power steering, augmented by dual ball-joint knuckles, provided a constant stream of precise information. At the rear, a fully independent five link suspension cradle, with coil springs and stabilizer bar kept the Challenger’s tail well planted. Massive, vented, four-piston Brembo disc brakes at each corner arrest the Scat Pack’s momentum with decisive finality. Although the ride of this Dodge is unapologetically harsh, you quickly learn to love its laser focus on high performance.

2015 Dodge Challenger 6.4L Scat Pack

Simply put, you cannot buy a nastier ride for anything close to this kind of money elsewhere. That mythic Challenger of Vanishing Point never really vanished at all.

2015 Dodge Challenger 6.4L Scat Pack

  • Engine: 6.4 Liter HEMI V-8 16 valves, 16 conventional hydraulic lifters, all with roller tips
  • Horsepower: 485hp@6000rpm
  • Torque: 475lb.-ft.@4200rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 15MPG City/25MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $47,860
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Range Rover Evoque 5 Door

Tuesday March 17th, 2015 at 5:33 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Range Rover Evoque 5 Door

By David Colman

Hypes: Sterling Motor, Show Car Looks, Plush Interior
Gripes: Odd Control Placement, Irritating Stop/Start

Evoque posses the kind of command presence other SUVs would kill to have. A purity of line instantly distinguishes this entry level Land Rover from all other luxury mini SUVs. Only Porsche’s new Macan comes close to captivating your attention with the kind of allure the Evoque generates. And even the Macan looks like something of a styling mash-up by comparison to the Evoque. The steeply sloping roofline meets the high beltline in a perfect example of diminishing single point perspective. Once you see your first Evoque you will never forget its charismatic design. With a base price of just $41,100, it’s hard to believe such visual excitement is so affordable.

Of course, our test Evoque upped the final ante to a still reasonable invoice price of $51,170, thanks to the usual bevy of ancillaries manufacturers include on press pool specimens. These included a $3,000 “Power Plus Package” that had nothing to do with upping the 245hp under the hood. Rather, it consists of powered leather seats with lumbar and memory, a fixed Panoramic roof with power blind, front fog lights and headlight washers, and 19 inch alloy wheels to replace the standard 18 inch rims. These optional wheels plant all season Continental Cross Conti 235/55R19 rubber at each corner. An extra $2,100 gets you the “Vision Assist Package” which upgrades headlamps from Halogen to adaptive Xenon, and provides blind spot monitoring with closing vehicle sensor. A surround camera system takes care of monitoring all quadrants. The navigation system adds $1,750 to the bottom line. Although the navigation responds to voice control, the pictures it generates on the 8 inch, high resolution color monitor look rudimentary and dated compared to the latest Google Earth derived images available elsewhere. Finally, a $1,300 “Climate Comfort Package” provides 3 stage seat heaters front and rear, plus a heated steering wheel and hot windshield washer jets. On recent cold East Bay mornings, the seat and wheel heaters were terrifically efficient and welcome.

2015 Range Rover Evoque 5 Door

An exceptionally lively turbocharged 4 cylinder aluminum alloy motor propels the Evoque with gratifying authority. This 240hp engine drives all four wheels through a 9-speed automatic gearbox that offers paddle shifts to control gear choice in manual shift mode. Programs for automatic operation in Normal or Sport mode remove shifting responsibility from your list of concerns. Although the direct injected turbo 4 is plenty responsive to throttle application, you can up the output this year by selecting a limited edition “Autobiography” edition, or “Autobiography Dynamic” version, which bumps punch to 285hp. The base engine also does a commendable job of fuel conservation, posting an overall figure of 24 MPG, quite respectable for a vehicle weighing nearly two tons and driving four fat footprint tires.

2015 Range Rover Evoque 5 Door

If there’s a downside to life with Evoque, it lies inside the cabin, where idiosyncratic design makes you wonder who was in control of switchgear placement. For starters – literally – the remote start button is inexplicably located high on the dash fascia, up by the tachometer face. A relocation to the center console would eliminate this perplexity. A second irritation in daily use is the fuel saving automatic engine shut-off, which kills the motor when you brake to a stop, then re-fires it when you remove your foot from the brake. The Evoque judders during each transition phase. Although you can delete the operation by depressing a small button on the center console, you must remember to do so each time you restart the Rover.

2015 Range Rover Evoque 5 Door

Despite its severely sloping roofline, the Evoque will just clear the head of a 5’8″ tall adult in the back seat. Even better, the back windows travel all the way down into the doors. The Evoque’s five door configuration facilitates use of the 25.5 cubic foot storage area. We made repeated pick up trips to Lowe’s and drop off trips to Goodwill during our week with the Rover, and found it to be adept at managing mundane transportation chores with more panache than you would expect from lesser SUVs. Now into its fourth year after introduction, the Evoque still makes a convincing argument for its purity of line, strength of engine, and distinctive rarity.

2015 Range Rover Evoque 5 Door

  • Engine: 2.0 liter inline 4, turbocharged, direct injection, with twin variable valve timing
  • Horsepower: 240hp
  • Torque: 250lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 21 MPG City/30 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $51,170
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Nissan 370Z Nismo Tech

Monday March 16th, 2015 at 4:33 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Nissan 370Z Nismo Tech

By David Colman

Hypes: Go-Kart Reflexes, Great Shifting Transmission, Exceptional Seats
Gripes: Busywork Hatchback, Poor Aft Vision

Every year your selection of classic sports cars diminishes. More and more manufacturers have opted to replace analog delight with digital complexity. One by one, top echelon road burners like Mercedes’ SLS AMG GT and Porsche’s 911 GT3 have augmented driver skill with so many computer based driving aids that you – the supposed operator – are virtually eliminated from the decision-making loop. In addition, manual gearboxes are quickly disappearing from top line sports cars in favor of semi-automatic gear changers that further sap satisfaction from the driving equation. But if you’re not ready for the dubious attributes of this brave new world, then join me in spending a week with one of the few classic sports car you can still buy at an affordable price, Nissan’s outstanding Nismo Tech version of the 370Z. It can be yours for just $46,425.

2015 Nissan 370Z Nismo Tech

The current base model 370Z is a stout performer in stock form. Under the hood lies a 332hp, 3.7 liter V-6 coupled to a 6 speed manual gearbox. The stiff, race bred chassis boasts independent suspension at all four corners, disc brakes for each wheel, and fat 9 and 10 inch wide alloys front and rear measuring 19 inches in diameter. These wheels carry high performance 245/40R19 radials at the front, and 275/35R19 rear tires. While this refined engine/chassis combo would be enough to sate most drivers, the ultimate enthusiast will always opt for the Nismo enhanced version of the Z. For starters, its V-6 bumps horsepower to 350, and torque to 276lb.-ft. That’s a useful increase of 18hp and 6lb.-ft. over stock Z specification. Another attractive improvement is the addition of half inch wider, lighter, forged Rays alloy rims in place of the stock Z’s cast wheels. 9.5 inch wide front wheels carry Bridgestone’s latest ultra high performance Potenza, the S001 (245/40R19), while rear 10.5 inch alloys mount 285/35R19 Potenzas. When you combine that heftier footprint with a Nismo-tuned suspension, special race bred Vibration Dampers (i.e., shocks), and add a 3-point front strut tower brace, you’ve got a refined platform that’s just itching to strut its stuff at autocrosses and track days.

2015 Nissan 370Z Nismo Tech

Nissan continues the laser focused improvement over stock Z components by installing first class Recaro racing seats that will hold you like Velcro while you fling this go-kart through turns. These beautifully crafted seats, finished in black leather with red Alcantara inserts, fit your torso like a suit of body armor. Their No. 1 job is to keep you pinned securely in place, and this they do with remarkable success. On a constant radius, sweeping 180 degree freeway off ramp, I was never able to generate enough speed to deter the Nismo from its leech like grip on the road, nor did I ever slide one inch across the surface of those captivating Recaros. The small diameter steering wheel matches the seating surface with its Alcantara grips, and even offers a red strip of leather at the 12 o’clock high position so you never lose your sense of dead ahead wheel position. The rest of the cockpit is similarly constituted like a fighter plane. A huge red lit tachometer reads to 9,000rpm, with a redline set at 7,500rpm. In case you miss the ultra quick needle sweep, there’s a red light on the instrument face that flashes each time you hit 7,500rpm. The manual 6-speed transmission is a blast to operate, with short, predictable throws that are confidence inspiring. In a week of driving the Nismo, I never got a gear I didn’t want.

2015 Nissan 370Z Nismo Tech

With a car this acutely tuned to high performance, a couple of drawbacks in daily driving are worth noting. The ride is harsh, the Recaro seats are thinly padded, and visibility to the rear is poor. If feasible, you’ll want to park the Nismo in such a way as to permit you to drive off forward, rather than backing up. Also, the heavy rear hatchback lid is tiresome in its operation. For starters, there’s no activation button for it on your key fob. Secondly, the cockpit release for it is oddly hidden on the windshield header, rather than on the lower dash where you would expect to find it. Finally, if you use the small exterior switch on the lid itself, you’ll find the first push fails to release the lock, thus requiring a second push of the button.

2015 Nissan 370Z Nismo Tech

But you quickly learn to slough off these minor quibbles in exchange for the consummate pleasure of playing racer with this great classic sports car. At the price, the Nismo is a phenomenal bargain, and if you love sports cars, you should buy one right now. Because soon, they’ll all be gone forever.

2015 Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring

  • Engine: 3.7 liter V-6, DOHC, 24 Valves, Variable Event and Lift (VVEL)
  • Horsepower: 350hp
  • Torque: 276lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 18MPG City/26MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $46,425
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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