2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata Review

Monday January 11th, 2016 at 8:11 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

By David Colman

Hypes: Race Car for the Street
Gripes: Relocate Command Control

The all new 2016 Mazda Miata provided the highlight of my test driving year. In the Bay Area, one of the most challenging back roads traverses the foothills between Sunol and Fremont. This narrow, tortuous stretch of pavement includes hundreds of sharp turns, most of them blind on entrance or exit. I’ve done this road in a Porsche 911 Turbo, which proved way too much car for this poorly paved passage. You wouldn’t want a Corvette here or a BMW M3, let alone a fat tired Ferrari or Maserati. They’re all too heavy and reluctant to change direction. What you do want is Mazda’s new Miata MX-5, re-engineered from the ground up to be lighter and nimbler than ever before. On this stretch of pavement, the latest MX-5 proved absolutely magical. It changed direction faster than ‘Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride’ at Disneyland. The Miata enjoys perfect balance thanks to its 52/48% front/rear weight distribution. And speaking of weight, new aluminum hood and trunk lids help pare the Miata to just 2,313 lb., a number unheard of in today’s safety festooned behemoths.

2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

The Miata remains mercifully unfettered by all the expensive, optional lane change alert systems now plaguing the auto industry. If you need rear cross traffic alert while backing up the Miata, just drop the convertible top and turn your head around. Ever so much better than peering at a dimly lit screen on your dash. In so many ways, this car is a delightful throwback to the sports cars from Italy and Great Britain like Alfa Romeo’s Duetto and British Leyland’s Triumph TR 4. The Miata shares the enduring simplicity of these forerunners, with a 4 cylinder, non-turbo engine up front, sophisticated all- independent suspension, and excellent 4 wheel disc brakes. In the case of our test Miata, those brakes received a substantial upgrade over stock, with Brembo front brake calipers clamping 11 inch Brembo made discs. You must order the $3,400 “1BB” package which also provides German forged alloy BBS wheels finished in dark grey. As part of a no extra charge group, you’ll also want the “2AP” package, which transforms the appearance of the MX-5 from benevolent to snarky. The aero accoutrements of the 2AP group include piano black tail spoiler, flared side skirts, and front airdam.

2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

The 17 inch BBS wheels provide support for first class Bridgestone Potenza S001 radials which are modest in dimension (205/45R17) but tenacious in grip. On the foothill twister, the Potenzas never once lost their grip, tackled every turn without so much as a chirp of protest. Of course, the fact that Mazda includes a sport tuned suspension with Bilstein shock absorbers and a limited slip differential as standard fitment does wonders for the handling of the MX-5. On sharp turns, it responds like a go-kart thanks to its ultra-tight turning circle of 30. 8 feet, and its super quick steering wheel travel of just 2.7 turns, lock-to-lock. When you’re not tackling a snaky back road, the Miata is still a lot of fun to drive. It can zip into traffic holes or parking places that would make a cumbersome SUV envious of its agility. Since we had the top down for most of our test week, visibility was unimpeded in all directions. Even with the top up, Mazda has thoughtfully provided a heated glass rear window element to help clear the dew and the view. The top is manually actuated, with no weight-adding electric motors necessary. While still seated you can fold the top or raise it with just one hand. When down, it clicks into its own receptacle and forms its own tonneau-like cover. With the top dropped and the side windows raised, the cockpit is draft free.

2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

The latest Miata has also inherited a few of the less endearing traits of vintage British sports cars. For example, the layout of the passenger compartment resembles something an MG designer would have fudged together back in 1970. There’s no glove box in the dash, almost no storage in the doors, and the cup holders are so far behind you on the center tunnel as to be all but useless. The “Multi-Function Commander Control” is mounted on the transmission tunnel just aft of the 6-speed manual gearbox stick. This control enables you to trigger selection by depressing its center button. In actual practice every time you change gears and rest your forearm on the tunnel you inadvertently trigger a selection change on the commander control. I lost count of the number of times I unintentionally shifted channel choice from XM Satellite to FM radio thanks to this idiosyncrasy. But in the big picture it’s quite insignificant. Because this a sports car you buy because you love driving, not because you love listening to tunes.

2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

  • Engine: 2.0 liter inline 4 with DOHC
  • Horsepower: 155hp@6000rpm
  • Torque: 148lb.-ft.@4600rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 27MPG City/34MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $32,820
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Honda Odyssey SE Review

Friday January 8th, 2016 at 2:11 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Honda Odyssey SE

By David Colman

Hypes: Excellent Power and Handling
Gripes: Door Lock/Unlock Procedure Cumbersome

Looking at it, you’d never guess this big salami of a minivan will handle any road course in America with surprising competence. When Honda first introduced the Odyssey ten years ago, I had the opportunity to drive it on the very challenging road course at Barber Motorsports Park, near the Honda plant in Lincoln, Alabama where it is built. Although most journalists that day were intimidated by the sheer size and bulk of the Odyssey, it quickly became apparent to me that this minivan would be more than happy to cut a fast lap time without any drama at all. The fully independent suspension of the Odyssey is responsible for its precision behavior: MacPherson struts front and double wishbones rear. In the years since introduction, the Odyssey has retained its basic balance and controlled ride quality, If anything, its handling has improved with the addition of Michelin’s latest MXV4 Primacy tires (235/65/R17) which stick well when pressed, but also afford a plush ride thanks to their tall sidewalls.

2016 Honda Odyssey SE

Driving the Odyssey is more akin to piloting a yacht than driving a car. You sit tall on the bridge with a wide ranging view of surroundings. Honda has thoughtfully provided wind- wing style triangular windows behind the exterior rear view mirrors. These little panes of glass go a long way to improving peripheral vision from the driver’s seat. Also simplifying your evaluation of adjacent traffic is a marvelous standard feature called LaneWatch, which uses a camera embedded in the right side mirror to display side traffic when you signal a lane change or right turn. You can elect to display this view all the time by depressing a button on the tip of the turn signal stalk.

2016 Honda Odyssey SE

With 248hp, the Odyssey’s 3.5 liter V6 drives through a proper 6-speed automatic transmission (no CVT here). This efficient source of power is more than adequate to propel the 4,530lb. van when you need to match speed with faster traffic in freeway merges. The V6 is quite highly tuned, with double overhead cams, 24 valves, and variable cylinder management that reduces output by cancelling cylinders when cruising. As a result, the Odyssey manages 28 MPG on the freeway. It will also tow a 3,500lb. trailer. This economy is quite surprising in view of the its generous proportions: 202 inch overall length, 118 inch wheelbase. These dimensions are comparable to Chevy’s Suburban or GMC’s Yukon. And with its 61.5 cubic feet of cargo room, this Honda puts to shame those jumbo SUVs, with their 47.5 cubic feet of volume.

Our test Odyssey represents a substantial value at its base price of $34,425. The bottom line swells by an extra $1,050 to cover installation of a DVD rear entertainment system with a 9 inch display screen. This unit is normally a $2,000 value, but if you elect to buy the SE Odyssey, Honda will cut you a $950 price break. The interior of the van is lso teeming with yacht-like indulgences. The driver gets a 10-way power seat, the front passenger a 4-way power throne. Standard is 3 zone climate control, with a thermostat like device mounted on the B pillar that looks like the one you set in your house. To accommodate passengers in each of three rows, Odyssey gives you 41 inches of legroom up front, 32 inches in row two and 29 inches in row three. This is a true 7 passenger bus. Both rear sliding doors are handle actuated to open and shut automatically. These work great as long as you have first gone to the trouble of hitting the unlock button on either the keyfob or the front door armrests. Otherwise you can tug all you want and the doors won’t open, which proves rather annoying. Also missing from the specification sheet is automatic actuation for the rear cargo door, and heated front seats. The Odyssey is otherwise so fully equipped that both features are conspicuous by their absence. If Honda can include heated seats standard on their $21,000 Fit, they should certainly provide them on this $34,000 van.

2016 Honda Odyssey SE

If you need to transport a team, or seek a heavy cargo mover, you will be pleasantly surprised by the efficiency of this Honda. While Honda never uses the word “sport” in any description of the Odyssey, its fine handling nevertheless merits your attention. You don’t have to sacrifice precision steering, or tenacious cornering grip to achieve purposeful packaging of people, pets and parcels.

2016 Honda Odyssey SE

2016 Honda Odyssey SE

  • Engine: 3.5 Liter V6, DOHC, 24 Valves, i-VTEC, Variable Cylinder Management
  • Horsepower: 248hp
  • Torque: N/A
  • Fuel Consumption: 19 MPG City/28 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $34,255
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Honda Fit EX-L NAVI Review

Thursday January 7th, 2016 at 1:11 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Honda Fit EX-L NAVI

By David Colman

Hypes: Fuel Efficient but Fun
Gripes: Knob less Radio, Droning CVT

When Honda redrafted the Fit for 2015, they increased its dimensions and improved its appearance without losing its subcompact dexterity. The 2016 version continues the refinement with a new CVT transmission fitted with paddle shifters. The infinitely variable ratio transmission extracts maximum performance from the Fit’s 130hp, 1.5 liter inline 4 cylinder engine. While you won’t be confusing this Honda’s straight line acceleration with that of a sports sedan, neither will you be ashamed of the speed it generates when merging onto a freeway. In fact, the diminutive four under the hood, which Honda proudly displays without a hide-all modesty shield, is quite a strong performer in this lightweight (2,625 lb.) package. With double overhead camshafts controlling variable valve timing (i-VTEC), and with direct injection of fuel maximizing combustion economy, the “Earth Dreams Technology” motor makes 32 MPG in city driving, and 38 MPG on the highway for a combined EPA estimate of 35 MPG.

2016 Honda Fit EX-L NAVI

In fact, the Fit power plant is so efficient and powerful for its size that the Sports Car Club of America chose it as the specification engine for its Formula Fit series of open wheel race cars. This very competitive class had gone by the name Formula Ford for over 30 years until the affordable Fit hit the market. While the EX-L doesn’t quite handle like a Formula Fit, it’s still quick to change direction, and proves nimble on back roads. Credit 185/55R16 Firestone FR740 tires, and electrically power assisted rack and pinion steering for its well bred behavior.

One of the compelling beauties of this car is its utter lack of tack-on amenities. The base price lists at $21,065. Aside from a pre-delivery inspection from your dealer ($820), this Honda is Fit to go, without extras, for $21,885. By selecting the EX-L trim level, you eliminate the need for any pricey additions to the basic sticker price. You say you want navigation? The Fit EX-L comes standard with a 7 inch screen displaying Honda’s satellite-linked navigation program with voice recognition. The same screen does double duty as an audio touch pad for the included AM/FM/CD/MP3, 6 speaker infotainment center. However, Honda designers have succumbed to the fad for touch pad control in lieu of knob control. Touch pads work fine at your desk, but very poorly when multi-tasking while driving. The simple act of raising the volume on your Fit’s radio could easily distract you from driving. To circumvent the problem, Honda has fitted the steering wheel with an audio volume control, but your first inclination will always be to address the faceplate of the unit for manipulation.

2016 Honda Fit EX-L NAVI

For such a small vehicle, the Fit is remarkably efficient and adaptive. Four full size doors facilitate use of the back seat for both passengers and parcels. The fifth door, which pops up with just a slight assist from your hand, opens the rear cargo area for 17 cubic feet of carrying capacity. With the rear seats folded flat, this interior space jumps to double that number with the simple flick of a lever controlling seat back position. As an added benefit, the second row seats stow two ways: with backs flat or bottom cushions upraised. Another nicety is the fact that the rear seat backs can be adjusted for angle. Up front, both seats benefit from standard 3 position heating controls. These are invaluable on cold fall mornings. Also easing inclement weather driving is a standard rear window wiper which quickly clears the heated rear window pane. The Fit’s climate conditioning system is exemplary. Despite the fact that the windshield is huge and relatively flat, the demisting operation takes but seconds, even on the wettest of days.

2016 Honda Fit EX-L NAVI

Thanks to its low belt line and abundance of glass, vision from the driver’s seat is exceptional. Assisting in this regard is Honda’s innovative LaneWatch camera which is embedded in the passenger side mirror. This device activates each time you signal a right hand lane change, transmitting a real time image of following traffic on the passenger side of the Fit. Once you have completed your lane change, the picture disappears. However, you can activate the screen image full time by depressing a button on the end of the turn signal stalk. This allows you to watch the world go by in reverse and proves fascinating and helpful at analyzing traffic patterns. Plus it’s a lot of fun. The only item marring a perfect rear view record is the back seat’s center shoulder harness, which dangles like an unlaced shoe from the roof of the vehicle.

Honda has continuously upgraded the Fit since its introduction. The 2016 model has matured into one of the best and most useful subcompacts you can buy for bargain money.

2016 Honda Fit EX-L NAVI

2016 Honda Fit EX-L NAVI

  • Engine: 1.5 liter DOHC 16-Valve inline 4 with i-VTEC, and Direct Injection
  • Horsepower: 130hp
  • Torque: N/A
  • Fuel Consumption: 32 MPG City/38 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $21,885
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Scion tC Review

Tuesday January 5th, 2016 at 1:11 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Scion tC

By David Colman

Hypes: Serious Drivers Car
Gripes: Poor Rear Quarter Sightlines

When it comes to torque, Scion’s vaunted FR-S sports car, with 151lb.-ft., takes a distant back seat to its less celebrated, but punchier brother, the tC coupe, with 172lb.-ft. That’s because the FR-S makes do with Subaru’s anemic 2.0 liter flat four, while the tC offers a much healthier 2.5 liter in-line four mounted sideways in the engine bay.

Our test tC coupled that willing engine to a beautifully calibrated 6-speed manual transmission, with gearing splits designed to extract maximum performance without sacrificing gas mileage. This shift it yourself combination returns 31MPG in highway driving.

2016 Scion tC

In an era when most manufacturers have chosen to cover their engine bays with boring black plastic modesty shields, Scion gets high marks for letting it all hang out for you to see. Here, the basic components are on clear view, with the intoxicating sparkle of aluminum flashing everywhere. The dashboard layout is also clear, concise and handsome. A pair of oversize aluminum rings draw your attention to adjacent 8000rpm tachometer and 140mph speedometer nacelles. Matching aluminum door pulls are new for 2016. In the center of the dash sits a new, larger 7 inch touch screen with an updated Gracenote database. Unfortunately, the former CD receptacle has disappeared to make room for the upsized display panel. Scion has also seen fit to eliminate XM satellite radio from the option list, so you’ll have to make do with standard HD radio choices, or supply your own tunes from a remote device or available Aha.

The tC’s rear seats are a bear to access. The all enveloping front chairs must be slid and folded, which is no easy exercise. You must then wiggle your way arrears, where you will discover that comfort is good, though the same can’t be said for visibility. An open sunroof panel helps ward off claustrophobia. Another saving grace is the fact that the rear seat backs can be tilted for adjustment. The same lack of vision that affects back seat passengers also impinges on front seat occupants. The chunky C pillar occludes rear quarter vision, so safe reversing maneuvers are difficult.

2016 Scion tC

The tC is really fun to drive. Scion has equipped it with no nonsense, performance oriented suspension that does little to mask road irregularities but pays big dividends in precision handling and high level road holding. In that effort, the 225/45R18 Yokohama Avid S34 radials prove their merit every time you twist the tC into a turn. Completing the delightful driving picture is the fat rimmed, flat bottom steering wheel that assists guidance with excellent feedback. Clutch release is light and accurate, and the stubby knob atop the shift lever assists every up-change and downshift.

2016 Scion tC

Scion has done a bang-up job with the tC’s grey flannel suit interior. The charcoal bolstered seats feature grey and black pinstriped inserts that look so buttoned down they will appeal to senior buyers as well as tasteful millenials. Compounding the harmonious look for 2016 is a striking hammered aluminum dash panel which matches the seat design and feels cool to the touch. Engineering genius is also evident in the use of three gigantic knobs for climate control located beneath the display screen. With irrefutable logic, the left knob controls ventilation position, the center one fan speed, and the right hand temperature and A/C. The design is a thing of beauty in an age when so many manufacturers divert your attention from driving, forcing you to figure out cockeyed digital displays.

2016 Scion tC

At just $20,000, the latest iteration of the tC is a real keeper. Not only is it affordable in terms of purchase price and fuel economy, but it is exceptionally entertaining to drive. This is a rare combination in today’s marketplace, and one that highly recommends this Scion to your attention.

2016 Scion tC

  • Engine: 2.5 liter inline 4
  • Horsepower: 179hp
  • Torque: 172lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 23MPG City/31 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $20,000 (estimated)
  • Star Rating: 9.5 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2016 Kia Sorrento SXL AWD

Monday January 4th, 2016 at 11:11 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Kia Sorrento SXL AWD

By David Colman

Hypes: Spacious, Elegantly Trimmed Interior, New Turbo Motor a Keeper
Gripes: Too Softly Sprung

If you are looking for a large SUV with genuine off-road credentials, you will definitely want to consider the 2016 Sorento. Kia has introduced a significant new engine option for the 2016 model year. Instead of the still available 2.4 liter 4 and 3.3 liter V6, our test Sorento mounted the new 2.0 liter turbocharged inline 4, which makes impressive horsepower (240hp) and torque (260lb.-ft.) considering its diminutive displacement (just 2 liters, or 121 cubic inches). Best of all, it powers the Sorento to an overall fuel consumption average of 22MPG, which is quite a feat considering this vehicle’s hefty 4,235 pound curb weight.

In addition to the new engine, which is available only on SXL and Limited trim grades, Kia has substantially upgraded the Sorento’s interior for 2016, with added soft ouch surfaces, high quality leather seats, and an infotainment and navigation system that is easy to access and read, thanks to its high definition 8 inch screen. In fact, when you climb into the spacious cabin of the Sorento, you will marvel that Kia has packed so many up market features and furnishings into a vehicle with a base price of $41,700.

2016 Kia Sorrento SXL AWD

The SXL grade Sorento feels more expensive than it is because all of the following niceties are included in the base price: dual zone climate control, surround sound audio, navigation, 3 month free SIRIUS XM Satellite radio, console mounted AUX input jack and USB port, Nappa leather seats, dual memory settings for driver’s seat, push button start with smart key, heated and ventilated front seats, and heated, leather wrapped steering wheel with tilt/telescope function. If you were to buy a German sports utility, you would pay thousands extra for most of these convenience and comfort features. Kia, however, includes all of them and more in the base price of the SXL Sorento.

In fact, the only add-on to the base price is a $2,500 charge for the “SXL Technology Package,” which provides Xenon HID headlights, Lane Departure and Forward Collision Warning, and an electric parking brake. It also upgrades standard cruise control to a radar based smart cruise system that maintains pre-set distances to traffic ahead. The Technology Package brought the Sorento’s MSRP to $44,200. Personally, I would eliminate these extra price techno goodies, although the HID headlamps do light up the night like a bonfire.

2016 Kia Sorrento SXL AWD

Given the fact that the turbo system produces abundant torque low in the engine’s rpm range, the Sorento moves out very smartly from a standing start. This is especially true if you select the Sport mode on the center console before driving off. This reset optimizes throttle response, holds lower gears until high engine rpm is achieved, and focuses on dynamic driving by adjusting steering response, engine performance and transaxle behavior to suit aggressive driving. You must, however, reset the Sport choice every time you restart the Sorento.

Kia engineers have thoughtfully incorporated a lockable center differential into the Sorento’s transaxle, so you can depend on this useful tool to extract your all wheel drive Kia from snow, sand or mud entanglements that would stymie most SUVs lacking a lacking center differential. However, don’t think that the Sorento’s “Sport” mode confers sports car handling on this beefy all weather vehicle. Despite its sporting aspirations, the SLX is softly sprung and softly damped. This combination of factors produces a comfortable ride quality over even the most jarring road imperfections. What it does not do is compensate for pitch or roll when you attack curves with a modicum of brio. Under such duress, the suspension compresses and expands with such ease that the chassis flies off bumps like a pogo stick. Although standard 7.5″ x 19″ alloy wheels plant Michelin Premier LTX tires at each corner (235/55R19), even their premium contact patches can’t mask the Sorento’s squishy ride oscillations.

2016 Kia Sorrento SXL AWD

Of course, no one looking for an SUV touting sport over utility would select this Sorento as their first choice. If you need to haul a load and go fast, then opt for a BMW or Porsche SUV. But if moderate speed and handling define your game, then opt for this Kia. Its emphasis on utility allows it to pack 73.5 cubic feet of stuff into the interior if you collapse the new for 2016 40/20/40 folding rear bench seat. Even with 5 adults on board, you still have 38.8 cubic feet of space to fill. You can even order your Sorento with a third row good for 2 toddler seating. You won’t find a more luxurious or affordable SUV in the market with all those utility features on tap.

2016 Kia Sorrento SXL AWD

  • Engine: 2.0 liter turbo with direct injection
  • Horsepower: 240hp
  • Torque: 260lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 19MPG City/25MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $45,095
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2016 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring FWD

Wednesday December 16th, 2015 at 10:1212 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring FWD

By David Colman

Hypes: Fine Handling, Spunky Motor, Solid Build Quality
Gripes: No Proximity Sensor for Automatic Door Unlocking

Mazda has been touting their “Skyactive” technology for several years now in an advertising campaign that suggests the company has somehow reinvented the internal combustion engine. What they have in fact done is utilize extremely high compression ratios in both 4 cylinder engine variants that power the CX-5 sports utility. We spent a week driving the more powerful of the two, the Grand Touring front wheel drive (FWD) model, equipped with the 2.5 liter, 184hp in-line 4. Mazda also offers a smaller 2.0 liter in-line 4 good for 155hp. Both engines, the Skyactive G-2.0 and Skyactive G 2.5, compress the fuel air mixture to an astronomical ratio of 13:1, an application that would have been unthinkable for a mass production engine just a few years ago. Because Mazda manages to thus squeeze every last bit of energy out of every firing cycle, gas mileage benefits as well as horsepower. The 2.5 liter CX-5 posts an excellent overall EPA rating of 29MPG. When you consider that this 3,435 pound four door will comfortably seat 5 adults while providing cargo volume of 33 cubic feet, it’s evident Mazda has done their packaging homework here. The G-2.5 engine’s quick response proves that Skyactive Technology is more than just a catchy phrase.

2016 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring FWD

The CX-5 also confirms the theory that every Mazda’s DNA coding contains Zoom-Zoom genes. This is one of the best handling compact SUVs on the market, thanks to its stiff springing, anti-roll suspension design and sticky 225/55R19 Toyo A23 radials, mounted on 10 spoke, 19 inch alloy wheels (standard on the Grand Touring model). Base CX-5′s make do with 17 inch rims and 225/55R17 rubber. If the devil is in the details, Mazda has paid close attention to the hidden attributes that differentiate a great handling platform from a mediocre one. In this case, all the important elements are present: 4 wheel disc brakes, independent front and rear suspension, and front and rear anti roll bars. The upside of the athletic suspension calibration is a level ride platform, excellent steering response, and a complete lack of slop during cornering maneuvers. The downside is a stiff, sometimes jarring ride quality that will never remind you of sinking into your favorite armchair.

From a maneuverability standpoint, the CX-5 proves to be the ideal tool for scooting through traffic clogged freeways or attacking back roads with confidence. In the long run, a stiffly sprung ride is dynamically superior in performance, and the calibration of the CX-5 proves that point over and over. The fact that the healthy 2.5 liter engine administers satisfying spurts of acceleration when needed provides the cherry on top. Mazda refuses to succumb to the current craze for noisy and ineffectual CVT transmissions. This SUV offers you a proper 6-speed automatic gearbox. Although it lacks the finesse of paddle shifts, it does offer Active Adaptive Shift (AAS) which intelligently selects optimum gear ratios when the selector lever is placed in “Drive.” The transaxle also allows manual override of shift points if you slide the console mounted stick from the “D” to the “M” quadrant. In practice, the AAS program works so well at figuring out gear needs that you never need to select the manual option, unless you’re towing a trailer. The CX-5 is rated for a 2,000 pound tow load.

2016 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring FWD

Interior furnishings of the latest CX-5 are surprisingly refined, especially if you order the nifty looking two-tone Parchment interior. This choice brings you well sculpted seats front and rear, with bolsters done in black and seating surfaces in perforated off-white vinyl. The list of standard accoutrements is surprisingly long for a vehicle of this class. Making your life simpler will be rain sensing wipers, power automatic door locks, 8 way power driver’s seat with power lumbar adjustment, and heated front seats. None of these luxury touches are expected on an entry-level SUV carrying a base price of $28,220. For a surcharge of $1,505, your Mazda can be equipped with a grouping of improvements such as Lane Departure Warning, LED fog lights and tail lights, and an auto-dimming interior rear view mirror. A $200 retractable rubber cargo cover is a sensible investment if you plan to carry messy goods or pets in the cargo area. With virtually all available bells and whistles on board, our test CX-5 still totaled just $32,860.

2016 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring FWD

If you need an economical, reasonably sized sports utility that emphasizes sports as much as utility, then the 2.5 liter version of the CX-5 is well worth consideration. Consumer Reports thought so too, giving it their Recommended Check as a best buy product.

2016 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring FWD

  • Engine: Skyactive 2.5 liter inline 4
  • Horsepower: 184hp
  • Torque: 185 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 26MPG City/33MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $32,860
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2016 Scion iM

Thursday December 10th, 2015 at 11:1212 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Scion iM

By David Colman

Hypes: Manual Transmission Available, Bargain Price
Gripes: Poor Gear Ratio Choice, Needy High Beams

Scion’s introductory advertising campaign for the brand new iM model stresses the fact that it’s “Weird.” Really, the only thing weird about the iM we drove for a week is that its price ($19,594) is inexplicably low. This is really a very serviceable sedan with features you would expect to find in the next price class up the food chain. From a mechanical standpoint, the iM platform is first rate, with ABS disc brakes with brake force distribution at all 4 corners, standard alloy wheels ditto, and premium grade Toyo Proxes rubber (225/45R17) providing decent grip. Our test iM featured a 6 speed manual gearbox which imparts a sporting feel to operation. The gates of the linkage are well defined, and the synchronizers allow quick, sure transitions from gear to gear. If you opt for an automatic, you will find your choice limited to a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) borrowed from the Toyota Corolla ECO. Also taken from the ECO is the iM’s 137hp 4 cylinder engine which powers the front wheels.

2016 Scion iM

The iM has the makings of a promising little sports sedan. But in current form, those promises are partially unrealized. The manual gearbox is fun to shift and does get you involved in the art of driving. But mushy clutch engagement spoils the party. In particular, it’s difficult to judge just when the clutch bites to engage first gear. An even bigger problem is the choice of gear ratios for second and third. These two gears are so far apart that your engine speed drops nearly 2,000rpm when up-shifting from second to third. If the engine produced lots of torque this would not pose a problem. But because the iM’s 1,8 liter four makes only 126lb.-ft. of torque, you need to conserve every foot pound. The transmission’s “weird” gearing fails to meet this need.

2016 Scion iM

As with previous Scion progeny, customization of the car’s appearance and handling are left to dealer installed options. As it stands at delivery, the iM affords a comfortable, plush ride quality at the expense of handling precision. While the Toyo tires do their best to hang on through corners, the softly sprung platform hikes over under duress, negating the grip of the tires. But help is at hand. Your local Scion dealer will offer a full line of TRD performance parts such as stiffer anti-roll bars and tauter springs. The iM will respond well to such improvements because its basic platform features fully independent strut front suspension and independent double wishbone rear suspension. This is a sophisticated design primed for aftermarket fine tuning.

2016 Scion iM

Nothing in the iM’s cabin looks or feels cheap. The front seats are comfortably configured for excellent lower back support. The driver’s seat is manually adjustable for height. All seating surfaces feature a grippy cloth that looks good and promises long life. A curious white stripe demarcates the lower edge of the black dashboard, bringing to mind the tuxedo look touted by Scion in recent TV ads for the iM. Aside from this one jarring note, the interior scores high marks for its standard 7″ Touch-screen that is easy to read and control. Although you can easily hook up your music device through provided AUX or USB ports with iPod connectivity, Scion does not offer Satellite Radio on the iM, so you’ll have to make do with your own devices or the available HD radio instead. Almost all HD selections key to album covers shown on the sizeable Touch-screen display.

A night time run in the iM revealed soothing blue lights for the instrument pod, which boasts its own 4.2 inch color multi-information display. One item to note is the fuel range read-out. We watched it hold steady at 60 miles estimated range, but as soon as we hit a few curves, the fuel warning light started blinking, and the display shifted to “Range Low.” So be extra careful when you reach the quarter tank mark on the gas gauge, because the fuel range is likely to diminish from acceptable to concerning instantly. That night run through curves also revealed a sharp cut-off of the high beams, which left much territory unlit on the driver’s side.

2016 Scion iM

The new iM is a solid piece of design work. Its crisp good looks, serviceable interior, and fun gearbox make it an affordable choice for urban drivers or millennials who aren’t car-obsessed. And with just a little help from the TRD parts bin, the iM can develop a new performance personality. Either way, it’s definitely a lot of new Scion for the money.

2016 Scion iM

  • Engine: 1.8 liter inline 4, DOHC, 16 valve
  • Horsepower: 137hp
  • Torque: 121lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 27MPG City/36 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $19,594

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Review: 2015 Toyota Tundra CrewMax 4×4

Wednesday November 25th, 2015 at 9:1111 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Toyota Tundra CrewMax 4x4

By David Colman

Hypes: Well tailored oasis, impervious to traffic
Gripes: Hard to park, harsh ride

We spent a rewarding week touring Northern California in the $50,889 Toyota Tundra Platinum grade truck, the most expensive Tundra you can buy. Toyota offers no fewer than 41 different levels of Tundra, starting with the least expensive SR double cab ($28,410) and ending with the model we tested. Platinum grade brings you really attractive diagonally tufted leather trimmed upholstery on all seating surfaces, as well as tufted dashboard and door panels. These artfully stitched designs conferred a richness to the Tundra’s otherwise sober black interior. In addition to the needlework, this top level truck includes a Moonroof, integrated turn signal mirrors with power folding feature, power front seats with adjustable lumbar support, and memory positions for seat and mirror location. The CrewMax configuration, with its four full size doors, allows maximum use of the expansive cabin. Although we never had occasion to transport anything in this truck’s spacious 5.5 foot long bed (double walled with rail caps), We did manage to fill the huge rear seat with vacation gear for a 4 night adventure to Monterey and Laguna Seca Raceway.

2015 Toyota Tundra CrewMax 4x4

Parking at the track took place on rugged terrain, but the slippery hills never gave the 4×4 Tundra a moment’s pause. We positioned this truck effortlessly without even resorting to 4 wheel drive. Off-road traction is excellent thanks to Pirelli Scorpion tires (275/55R20) on Platinum grade alloy wheels that actually look undersized on this behemoth truck. Our test Toyota also carried $500 worth of “Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert.” While this option is hardly worth buying on smaller vehicles, it’s almost a necessity with the Tundra, which stands so tall that your immediate sightlines to adjacent traffic need all the help they can get from this option.

2015 Toyota Tundra CrewMax 4x4

Toyota eliminated the V6 from the Tundra lineup this year. While lesser versions of the truck still use a 4.6 liter V8 making 310hp, that output is hardly adequate for this 5,740 pound pickup. But the 5.7 liter V8 standard on the Platinum rig makes 381hp and 401lb.-ft. of torque, which is more than enough power and twist to propel it at a comfortable freeway pace. We averaged 17mpg on our extended journey. Given the Tundra’s 34 gallon tank, good for 578 miles, we only had to refill once during our week of travel. At first, the optional $1,100 TRD dual exhaust system seemed to issue more noise than acceptable, with a throbbing drone that constantly changed tenor. But we quickly got used to the tailpipe music, and soon forgot about it all together. When you need to move fast, a firm prod of the accelerator brings out a hearty roar from the handsome stainless steel system, fitted with special TRD chrome finishers. This Tundra makes no bones about being a hot rod truck.

Luckily, the hotel where we stayed provided valet parking only, and this proved rather fortuitous since the CrewMax Tundra is not a rig you want to park in tight spaces, or park at all for that matter. The upside of its size is to provide lots of real estate on the open road, which is great. But when you are looking to dock it in town, the opportunities for doing so are limited. You park this big rig where you can, so plan on doing a fair amount of walking to your final destination. A Smart Car it is not.

2015 Toyota Tundra CrewMax 4x4

What it is, however, will make you feel invincible. At a commanding height of 76 inches, it stands Texas tall, appropriate to a truck built in that state. And at 80 inches in width, and 229 inches in length, you’ll want to watch those mirrors for lane placement on the freeway, because this Toyota takes careful minding. But the literal upside is that it’s physically superior to almost all traffic. And for that peace of mind, $$50,889 seems a relatively small price to pay.

2015 Toyota Tundra CrewMax 4x4

The Platinum Tundra proved to be the perfect get-away vehicle for a long weekend. If you use it to tow a boat, trailer, or play car, its 4.3 :1 rear end ratio will sweep your load away effortlessly, with a tow limit of 10,400 pounds. Our test model included everything you need for such a drayage chore: Tow/Haul transmission mode, heavy duty engine and transmission cooler, 4 and 7 pin connectors.

2015 Toyota Tundra CrewMax 4×4

  • Engine: 5.7 liter DOHC V8 with Dual Independent VVT-i
  • Horsepower: 381hp
  • Torque: 401lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 13MPG City/17 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $50,889
  • Star Rating: 9.5 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Dodge Challenger Scat Pack

Tuesday November 24th, 2015 at 9:1111 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Dodge Challenger Scat Pack

By David Colman

Hypes: 12 second quarter mile runs
Gripes: Could use a rear wiper

Some test cars are easy to forget. But this Dodge is not one of them. The Scat Pack Challenger is the most incredible performance bargain on the market today. A genuine four seat muscle car capable of cranking out 12 second quarter miles, yet costing just $41,490. And to top it off, the exterior design is so alluring it could win a modern art competition. Even the basic 6 cylinder Challenger is a stunning automobile. But as you work your way up the food chain at Dodge, the embellishments to the mechanical and visual package make the Scat Pack version irresistible. Under the twin nostril hood you’ll find Chrysler’s king pin power plant, an SRT massaged 6.4 liter HEMI producing 485hp. A pair of vintage looking Super Bee emblems aft of the front fenders remind observers what you already know: this Dodge means business. In fact we were accosted at one of our frequent fill-ups of this 18MPG ride by an adjacent gas customer, who took one look at our Challenger and launched into a delightful story about his own first car, a 1969 Super Bee Dodge. That original model carried the same logo and bumblebee tail wrap as today’s Challenger. The entire project is a brilliant heritage marketing coup for the Dodge Division.

2015 Dodge Challenger Scat Pack

In order to cope with the ferocious torque output of the HEMI, our Challenger harnessed its output through an optional ($1,400) TorqueFlight 8-speed automatic gearbox with paddle shifters. The stubby floor shift mounted between the heavily bolstered front seats boasts two separate gates. This “AutoStick” transmission offers fully manual shifting in the left gate, and fully automatic gear changes in the right gate. However, you can always engage a specific gear at any time in either gate by popping the paddle shifters on the steering wheel. This set up is so foolproof that you’ll enjoy it as much if not more than the 6-speed manual gearbox which is available at no extra cost. The only other option on our test vehicle was the $1,100 “R/T Scat Pack 6.4L HEMI V8″ which includes an Appearance Group that adds super bee emblems to the seat headrests, a satin black fuel filler door, very foxy looking high energy discharge headlamps, the afore mentioned bumblebee tail stripe, thick logo floor mats, and a massive performance steering wheel with hefty pistol grips next to the paddle shifts.

2015 Dodge Challenger Scat Pack

Nor does Dodge ignore this hefty coupe’s suspension. Premium Bilstein shock absorbers monitor every corner, reacting with persuasive authority to road and wheel camber changes. Giant Brembo brakes stop the action like an arresting hook on an aircraft carrier. Massive 9 inch wide, 20 inch diameter alloys, with polished spokes and black pockets, mount Goodyear’s best rubber: 245/45R20 Eagle F1 tires. Although it’s been quite a while since Goodyear’s been involved in Formula 1, they once owned the World Championship, and these tires still reflect that hard earned pedigree. The Challenger corners hard and flat, with no understeer at all thanks to the mid-ship placement of the HEMI. Even the Sport Mode stability and traction control programs are tailored to let you hang the tail out under full acceleration before they intercede. This car offers the best compromise between traction control and enthusiast driving I have experienced. And to top it all off, the firm ride is infallibly comfortable. The Challenger simply never loses its composure, whether you’re blasting off for a quarter-mile run, or tackling some nasty turns.

2015 Dodge Challenger Scat Pack

You can have a lot of fun with the special performance evaluation programs Dodge builds into the instrumentation here. You can manipulate the Driver Information Display (DID) to exhibit the following performance aspects: 0-60mph, 0-100mph, 1/8 and 1/4 mile times, braking distance, current and peak G-Force, lap time and lap time history, and top speed. All information gleaned will be sent directly to your insurance carrier. Just kidding. For gear heads, this cornucopia of data is cat nip nirvana. Dodge has built an affordable, good looking, stinking fast hot rod that not only pays tribute to a storied past, but betters it with a massive infusion of technology that could only have been dreamt of back in 1969.

2015 Dodge Challenger Scat Pack

  • Engine: 6.4 liter SRT V8 MDS HEMI
  • Horsepower: 485hp
  • Torque: 475lb.-ft
  • Fuel Consumption: 15MPG City/25MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $41,490
  • Star Rating: 10+ out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Nissan Pathfinder SL 4×4

Saturday November 21st, 2015 at 8:1111 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Nissan Pathfinder SL 4x4

By David Colman

Hypes: Spacious, Airy Interior
Gripes: Doors self lock and don’t unlock, Valet settings for seat/mirror inoperative

When I first started reviewing new vehicles back in the late Eighties, the Nissan Pathfinder was one of my favorite primordial SUVs. It offered good looks, taut ride and instant throttle response. Over the intervening years, Nissan has taken the Pathfinder on a course that has strayed far from that original. Its corporate chromed appearance no longer distinguishes it from myriad other SUVs on the road. Its ride quality has shifted from precision to comfort. And the throttle response of its current 3.5 liter V6 is adequate rather than scintillating. But the biggest change of all has come in size and proportioning. Where the original Pathfinder was a squeeze for 5, the current iteration is a squeeze for 7. Our 2015 SL level test model weighed 4,505 pounds, with a length of 192 inches and a wheelbase of 112 inches. With the front seats pulled forward, you can tip the second row seats flat and slide them forward. This allows access to the very cramped third row which will accommodate a couple of pre-teens. To facilitate exit for third row occupants, you need to revisit steps 1 through 3 in reverse order. It’s not exactly handy, but if you must carry 7, the Pathfinder will get the job done.

2015 Nissan Pathfinder SL 4x4

Driving the Pathfinder will make you feel more like a bus driver than a sport utility commander. The enormous cabin offers good sight lines in all directions, but when you look in the rear view mirror you’ll see a sea of headrests that scream “minivan.” The pitchy handling of the Pathfinder bears out your initial impression. Soft springing allows it to tilt substantially when pressed even slightly on curving freeway exit ramps. On two lane twisting back roads, the mud and snow capable Continental Cross Contact LX Sport tires (235/65R18) offer little resistance to squealing at apex time. You can push the Pathfinder hard, and it will generate a fair amount of headway when doing so. But there’s little pleasure to be derived from that operation because the tires wash out early and the steering never imparts much information about grip or position.

2015 Nissan Pathfinder SL 4x4

The 3.5 liter V6 couples to a CVT transmission that has but two forward selections: Drive and Low. There’s no lateral gate separation for these positions, so it’s all too easy to start off in Low when you meant to slot the lever into Drive. Out on the road, your only bet for changing gears is to stomp the accelerator, a gesture which alters the belt equation of the CVT to provide you with a passing spurt. With 240lb.-ft. of torque on tap, the Pathfinder does move out smartly when prodded with full throttle. But you never lose sight of the fact that its power-to-weight ratio of 17.3 pounds per horsepower will not win you any stoplight drag races. Our test Nissan included a $2,030 “SL Tech Package” which added Navigation, Voice Recognition, Bluetooth Streaming Audio, and a nicely integrated Tow Hitch and Trailer Harness. The all-wheel-drive Pathfinder can be set to either 2 or 4 wheel drive with a rotating dial located on the console between the front seats. This dial also includes a button to operate hill descent control. The lower quadrant of the dash to the left of the steering wheel houses a “Tow Mode” button which, when activated, alters shift operation of the CVT to provide additional uphill power and better downhill engine braking. Tow load for the Pathfinder 4×4 is 5,000 pounds.

2015 Nissan Pathfinder SL 4x4

The interior of the Pathfinder is more welcoming than a New England hearth in autumn. The leather trimmed almond colored seats in our test sample were uniformly comfortable and handsome. At least the first 2 rows. That third row is best left for tykes to explore. Nissan has done a nice job of equipping the vaulted roof with an oatmeal headliner that makes the interior look even more spacious than it is. A panoramic moon roof is optionally available, but thanks to all the window light, you don’t really need it to counteract claustrophobia. Nissan has done a particularly good job of engineering the multiple seat controls to allow reconfiguration of the interior from people mover to parcel shelf. They call this system “EZ Flex” which uses “Latch and Glide” technology to facilitate the transformation. When you can accomplish such a chore without once consulting the owner’s manual, you know the system is intuitive rather than confusing.

2015 Nissan Pathfinder SL 4x4

Nissan has selected a very different route for its Pathfinder than the one it set out on many years ago. It has de-emphasized the Sport angle of SUV in favor of the Utility angle. For large families with space consuming needs, the new version of the Pathfinder is more useful than the original ever was.

2015 Nissan Pathfinder SL 4×4

  • Engine: 3.5 Liter V6
  • Horsepower: 260hp
  • Torque: 240lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 19 MPG City/26 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $40,875
  • Star Rating: 7.5 out of 10 Stars

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