2016 Audi S7 4.0T Review

Monday April 25th, 2016 at 10:44 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Audi S7 4.0T

By David Colman

Hypes: The Magic Carpet Ride
Gripes: Heated Steering Wheel and Rear Wiper Should Be Standard

Since its recent introduction, the Audi S7 has quickly matured into one of the most athletic and expensive hatchbacks you can buy today. Normally, hatchbacks fill utilitarian needs in the lower end of the market spectrum. VW started the craze back in the 1970s with the original Rabbit, which allowed you to load all manner of cargo through its huge lift-up rear door. VW also turned the cargo hatch into the hot hatch by introducing the GTI version of the Rabbit. The GTI started other manufacturers on a stampede to emulate its practicality and scintillating performance. In short order, everyone was offering a hot hatch to combat the GTI invasion. It should thus come as no surprise that Audi, a division of VW, has upped the ante in the hot hatch field from the original $10,000 GTI to the current $100,000 Audi S7. Well, okay, the $95,525 Audi S7.

2016 Audi S7 4.0T

You can chose from 3 different engines for the S7. The base model uses a 3.0 liter V6 making 333hp. Our test quattro-equipped S7, dubbed “4.0T” by Audi, carries a base price of $82,900, and utilizes a 4.0 liter, twin turbo V8 good for 450hp and 406lb.-ft. of torque. If that isn’t enough motive power, the $109,825 RS7 bumps engine output to 560hp and torque to 516lb.-ft. Several expensive option packages boosted the final tally of our test car. You’ll gladly pay $3,500 for the “S7 Sport Package” which consists of Audi Dynamic Steering, Quattro Sport Rear Differential, and Sport Exhaust With Black Tips. While you don’t absolutely need these three additions to enjoy life with this Audi, the adjustable steering calibration adds to your driving precision, the special differential aids all weather traction, and the sport exhaust really enhances the sound of the engine’s peak thrust.

2016 Audi S7 4.0T

Also elevating the price were a $2,700 optional set of 21 inch “5-Arm Rotor” alloy wheels with 275/30R21 tires that were supposed to be “summer performance” rubber, but were in fact Dunlop Winter Sports 4D snow tires. Since it rained for much of the week we spent with the S7, these massive Dunlops were perfect for exploring the handling limits of the hefty 4,235lb. Audi. Rest assured that those limits are so high in all circumstances that you will never find yourself exceeding them, even in the heaviest rain or snow. This Audi is prepared to transit anything short of the Rubicon Trail with grace, ease and consummate finesse.

2016 Audi S7 4.0T

The $2,500 optional “Audi Design Selection” interior upgrade moves the cabin of the S7 into the Rolls Royce/Bentley realm of opulence. Its “Arras Red Interior” converts all Valcona leather seating surfaces to box quilted brick red leather that feels scrumptious and looks palatial. It also includes “Carbon Twill Decorative Inlays” which are so attractive they make common carbon fiber look prosaic. Audi has managed to weave a reddish strand through the carbon nexus that invests the material with a depth and vitality that transforms the look of the entire cabin. In addition, medium gray ultra-suede covers the door panels and roof liner, with discrete matte aluminum tags reading “Design Selection” appended to each door card.

2016 Audi S7 4.0T

Finally, another $2,450 buys you the “Driver Assistance Package” which includes adaptive cruise control with stop and go, active lane assist, a corner view camera system, and a high beam assistant. We tested the stop and go feature and decided we’d rather trust our instincts than depend on the electronics to keeps us out of trouble. The lane keep flashes a bevy of orange lights under each exterior mirror when proximate traffic is detected. These flashing lights mimic those you might see on an adjacent police cruiser, and proved to be a constant source of irritation. Do yourself a favor and save $2,450 by not ordering this accessory group.

2016 Audi S7 4.0T

The S7 is a phenomenally fast, handsome and comfortable long distance cruiser. It will cover virtually any terrain in any kind of weather without giving you pause. The interior fitments are so beautifully and elegantly devised that passengers will think they’re riding in a car costing $200,000. It’s not often that a $100,000 Audi manages to look like a terrific bargain, but this one most certainly does. Hatchback have come a very long way since VW brought that first Disco-era Rabbit to market so many years ago.

2016 Audi S7 4.0T

  • Engine: 4.0 liter twin turbo V8, TFSI
  • Horsepower: 450hp
  • Torque: 406lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 17 MPG City/27 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $95,525
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Toyota Tacoma Limited 4×4 Double Cab Review

Wednesday March 30th, 2016 at 12:33 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Toyota Tacoma Limited 4x4 Double Cab

By David Colman

Hypes: Ferocious New Look, Beefy V6 Power
Gripes: Hood Prop Hard To Operate, Unsupportive Seats

The Tacoma’s legion of young followers will love the changes Toyota has wrought with the latest version of this sturdy off-road capable sport truck. The Tacoma has come a very long way from its introductory appearance and size. Toyota debuted the Tacoma in February, 1995 as a compact pickup intended for personal rather than business use. Two four cylinder engines (142hp and 150hp) were available at the time, as well as one V6 (190hp). Muted styling and rounded edges keynoted the truck’s initial appearance.

2016 Toyota Tacoma Limited 4x4 Double Cab

Now shift to 2016. The Tacoma has grown so much in size that when we passed an original version on the highway, I could hardly believe that it too was a Tacoma. The new version absolutely towers over the original in every way. Look at the new sheetmetal for 2016, and you’ll see trace design elements from the latest Ram truck, as well as Chevy’s Colorado, and GMC’s Canyon. The Tacoma’s blunt snout looks like it could survive a Monster Truck bash without damage. Beneath the grill lies an ABS skid plate. Driving lights are embedded in protective alcoves, and headlamp jewels stand tall in the blocky fenders.

Side profile reveals that the bodywork of the truck is substantially elevated to allow generous vertical suspension travel at all four corners. This 70.6 inch height, in turn, means climbing into the cab poses something of a chore. But it’s a chore eased by a well-placed grab handle on the passenger’s side of the cab. Running boards would be useful, though detrimental to off-road clearance.

2016 Toyota Tacoma Limited 4x4 Double Cab

And make no mistake, the prime mission in life of the new Tacoma 4×4 is to promote off-road fun. To start with, Toyota has provided a windshield mount for a Hero G-Pro camera. They’ve fitted the polished alloy rims with Michelin’s best outback rubber, 265/60R18 LTX MS tires. On pavement, these tires provide a springy ride thanks to their tall 60 series sidewalls. But when you tackle unpaved surfaces, they come into their own. In fact, the entire suspension system of this Tacoma is calibrated for unimproved driving conditions. Four wheel drive is available on demand, and offers two different speed ranges. An electrically controlled transfer case and automatic limited slip differential insure that even the most daunting off-road travails will be dealt with successfully. Toyota fitted our test Tacoma with its most powerful available engine, a 3.5 liter V6 which makes 278hp and 265 lb.-ft. of torque. If you don’t require this much motor, you can order a 159hp 2.7 liter inline 4. But really, for a Double Cab model weighing in at 4,525 pounds, the V6 is the only way to go. It even posts a respectable EPA fuel economy rating of 20 MPG in overall driving.

2016 Toyota Tacoma Limited 4x4 Double Cab

Although the Tacoma’s jacked up Hitachi shocks will never let you down, the interior of this truck is a bit disappointing. The front seats, although heated, are flat and hard, fitted with manual adjustment paddles for both fore-aft travel and backrest inclination. The steering wheel lacks telescopic adjustment, and we found the air vents blowing cool air even when the fan was shut off. Our test vehicle included an optional $650 hard plastic folding tonneau cover for the truck bed. Years ago, this was an item I made for myself out of plywood to protect goods stored in the bed of a pickup going cross country. Now all you have to do is pay $650 and Toyota takes care of the rest. The Double Cab’s rear seats can be folded up for interior storage, and Toyota provides a couple of side lockers inside the pickup bed. The tailgate of the Tacoma is hydraulically actuated so once you unlatch it, the gate glides open without the usual clatter. However, we found it odd that when you lock the truck with the keyfob remote, the tailgate remains unlocked until you physically turn the key in the lock. Some thefts might occur before owners discover this idiosyncrasy.

2016 Toyota Tacoma Limited 4x4 Double Cab

The new Tacoma has strong competition in the marketplace from Chevy’s Colorado and GMC’s Canyon. Toyota’s answer to them is this attractive redo of the Tacoma for 2016. This truck is fast enough to cut a 15.4 second quarter mile at 91mph when equipped with the V6 engine. If you pay an extra $650, Toyota will add a Class IV towing hitch, an engine oil cooler, a power steering cooler, a 130 amp alternator, and 5 and 7 pin connectors for trailer lights and brakes. Even if you don’t tow so much as a dinghy, this package is worth its weight in gold. If you do plan to tow a trailer, your weight limit is a whopping 11,330 pounds.

2016 Toyota Tacoma Limited 4×4 Double Cab

  • Engine: 3.5 liter V6 with Dual VVT-i
  • Horsepower: 278@6000rpm
  • Torque: 265lb.-ft.@4600rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 18 MPG City/23 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $40,020
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Lexus ES350 4-DR Sedan Review

Tuesday March 29th, 2016 at 12:33 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Lexus ES350 4-DR Sedan

By David Colman

Hypes: Matte Bamboo Interior Trim Lovely, Levinson Audio Outstanding
Gripes: Maddening Seat Slide Routine, Needs Rear Wiper

This sedan isn’t outstandingly fast in a straight line. Nor does it corner with sports sedan agility. But if there’s one thing the mildly refreshed 2016 Lexus ES350 does really well, it’s playback music. Lexus equipped our $38,000 test vehicle with the $2,650 optional Navigation System/Mark Levinson Premium Audio Package. This entertainment center positions 15 speakers inside the cabin and feeds them with an 835 watt premium surround sound system that made Subterranean Homesick Blues sound like Bob Dylan was sitting on the dash. It was the one unforgettable impression this Lexus made during its very wet week in our driveway .

2016 Lexus ES350 4-DR Sedan

Lexus stylists have updated the appearance of the ES to mirror the wide mouth bass look of the company’s other products. This year, the ES receives the full spindle grill treatment. Gone is the horizontal bar differentiating upper and lower front fascia sections. Both headlights and tail lights now feature subtle “L” motifs in their design. At the rear, an undercar diffuser incorporates new twin chrome plated exhaust finishers. With the exception of the gaping front grill, the evolved styling of the ES pleases the eye.

However, the biggest change takes place in the interior, where the formerly understated ES now takes on more of a lavish personality. This upgrade is especially apparent if you order the optional ($1,670) Luxury Package, which provides perforated leather seats with embossed stitching, a power tilt and telescoping steering wheel, and a mirror-seat memory system for the driver offering three setting choices.

2016 Lexus ES350 4-DR Sedan

The steering wheel in our ES was a real work of art. First, Lexus improved its appearance by making it sportier looking. Secondly, our rim was heated at the handgrip positions, and fitted with matte bamboo on the remainder. The bamboo sections were not heated however, which led to much gripping of the leather sections on cold mornings. Lexus has fitted the heater on the wheel with a timer that automatically turns the feature off with no warning. The 3 position seat heaters (and ventilators) stay on indefinitely, however, including after restarts.

Whenever you trigger the ignition stop button, the driver’s seat shoots rearward while the steering wheel lift itself up and away. This annoying valet routine seems immune from disablement by the owner, since no “car settings” menu mentioned it at all. After you light off the ES’ 268hp V6, the driver’s seat scurries back to its preordained position, and that expensively detailed steering wheel settles into your hands. Although the ES provides adequate grunt for most passing situations, you will never be overwhelmed by an abundance of power here because the ES weighs in at 3,575 pounds. The power-to-weight ratio stands at 13.3 pounds per horsepower.

2016 Lexus ES350 4-DR Sedan

In a sedan world where 225mm-275mm is the normal section width for tire size, the Lexus ES350 is decidedly under-tired. All four Bridgestone EL400 Turanza tires measure just 215/55R17. Their skinny footprint barely fills out the ES350′s fender wells. The message here is that the ES is designed more for straight line work than attacking backroad zig-zags. Lexus does give you the opportunity to dial up a “Sport” setting from the console-mounted “Drive Model Select” but any difference in feedback is so subtle as to be virtually imperceptible.

On the other hand, the feedback from the “Steering Assist” that is part of the $1,015 optional Lexus Safety System will drive you nuts in short order. This gratuitous mechanism shakes the wheel in your hand every time you change lanes without using your turn indicator. It also wobbles the wheel whenever you touch a center line or dive for an apex on a twisty road. Do yourself a big favor and eliminate this annoyance from your build selection sheet.

2016 Lexus ES350 4-DR Sedan

The ES350 has always Lexus’ entry level sedan, a warmed over version of Toyota’s best selling Camry. This year, the Lexus Division has moved its ES350 cover of the Camry to much higher ground, with a pleasing exterior refresh, and an interior redo that make it much harder to discern its humble Toyota origins.

2016 Lexus ES350 4-DR Sedan

  • Engine: 3.5 liter V6, 24 Valves, All Aluminum, Dual VVT-i
  • Horsepower: 268hp
  • Torque: 248lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 21MPG City/31MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $46,679
  • Star Rating: 7.5 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Toyota Land Cruiser Review

Monday March 28th, 2016 at 12:33 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Toyota Land Cruiser

By David Colman

Hypes: Goes Where Others Fear To Tread
Gripes: Ugly Fuel Numbers

Understated elegance is the byword to describe Toyota’s most expensive product, the $84,820 Land Cruiser. Although a mild 2016 restyle of the Cruiser’s front end and double bubbled hood imbue it with a newfound chrome snarl, you won’t be buying this legendary SUV for its ingratiating appearance. Compare the Land Cruiser to such like-priced competitors as Porsche’s Cayenne, BMW’s X5, GMC’s Denali and Cadillac’s Escalade, and the sedate looks of the Cruiser lose traction to these much more stylish vehicles. Where the Toyota gains traction over all of them, however, is when the going gets rough in real world driving. In off-road circumstances, there isn’t another SUV capable of outrunning this Toyota. The list of its attributes for such usage is seemingly endless.

2016 Toyota Land Cruiser

Unlike so many cross country pretenders, the Land Cruiser has a Torsen locking center differential, an increasing rarity in this market segment today. That differential feeds power as needed to all four wheels at all times, and can be locked for maximum traction in adverse conditions. Fat control knobs on the center console permit easy selection of power application for all varieties of terrain. A “Crawl” choice is available for traversing rugged outback trails, and “Hill-Start Assist” insures momentum resumption over mountainous terrain. Sizeable (285/60R18) Dunlop Grandtrek AT 23 tires cope well with both pavement and dirt. Toyota’s “Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System” keeps the passenger platform stable while allowing the big Dunlops to surmount any obstacles. There’s even a new “Turn-Assist” feature to ease acute off-road directional changes.

2016 Toyota Land Cruiser

But all this sophisticated technology remains hidden to the casual observer. Inside the Cruiser’s elevated flying bridge of a cabin, you are treated to every luxury amenity imaginable. This year, Toyota has swathed the interior seating surfaces in an ultra-soft material called “Terra Semi-Aniline Perforated Leather.” This exquisite tanning imparts a handsome matte look to the leather, and a glove softness that will take the sting out of the Cruiser’s astronomical purchase price. The interior is configured to seat 8 adults in remarkable comfort. The third row of seats fold sideways against the rear fender wells when not in use, leaving a huge 43 cubic foot expanse of storage space for cargo as bulky as two bicycles. The second row seats offer heating, and full AC/Heat controls located in the back of the front row center console. New for 2016 is a pair of standard 11 inch viewing screens located behind the front seat headrests. After some experimentation, these proved a mixed blessing. There is no DVD slot in the rear console, so you must insert viewing matter up front in the dash slot. The remote control stashed in the back seat arm rest worked sporadically, and the sound level for the rear seat cordless headphones proved too low for me to hear.

2016 Toyota Land Cruiser

Sort these minor issues out, however, and you have a theater on wheels for a family of 8. The interior of the Cruiser is spacious, airy and even equipped with a sizeable sunroof to shed outdoor light on those sumptuous seating surfaces. New for 2016 are a bevy of safety assistances that have been offered for years on other Toyotas, but not the Land Cruiser. Standard issue now are Pre-Collision Braking with Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure Alert, Automatic High Beam activation, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, and Dynamic Radar Cruise Control. Most of these systems work flawlessly to ease your job as driver of this large and rather unwieldy vehicle. Despite offering 381hp and 401lb.-ft. of torque, the Land Cruiser never lets you forget it weighs nearly three tons (curb weight: 5,800 pounds). But to its utility credit, it will tow a trailer weighing 8,500 pounds. A new 8 speed automatic transmission can be manually manipulated by slotting the console stick into the gate reserved for specific ratio selection. Unfortunately, Toyota does not provide shift paddles next to the steering wheel for this function.

2016 Toyota Land Cruiser

Only 2,700 of these luxurious and complex terrain dominators will make their way into new owners’ hands this year. So you won’t see many examples of this flagship of the Toyota fleet. Rest assured that the Land Cruiser offers enough technological wizardry, attention to luxury, and utter practicality to make it the SUV of choice for a very select few.

2016 Toyota Land Cruiser

2016 Toyota Land Cruiser

  • Engine: 5.7 liter V8, DOHC< 32 Valve, VVT-i
  • Horsepower: 381hp
  • Torque: 401lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 13 MPG City/18 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $84,820
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Volkswagen Jetta 1.4T SE Review

Friday March 18th, 2016 at 12:33 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Volkswagen Jetta 1.4T SE

By David Colman

Hypes: Fantastic Performance/Mileage Balance
Gripes: What’s Not To Like?

If there’s a better buy in the compact sedan marketplace than VW’s turbocharged Jetta, I have yet to find it. The new 1.4 liter four cylinder turbo becomes the base model engine for 2016, replacing the 2.0 liter straight four of previous years. The new engine produces 150 hp and 184 lb.-ft. of torque. These numbers compare very favorably with the discontinued base motor, which made just 115 hp. Although you can still option up your Jetta to GLI specification with a 2.0 liter turbo producing 210hp, the 1.4 turbo is such a gem of an engine that you have little incentive to do so. It produces all of its torque as soon as you level the throttle. There’s absolutely no turbo lag, and the standard 6 speed automatic hooks up power so quickly that there’s no need to shift gears yourself. However, VW does afford you the opportunity of prolonging up changes and performing earlier down changes by utilizing the “S” (for Sport Drive) quadrant of the gearbox. There’s even a full manual mode, should you so desire, which VW dubs “Tiptronic,” that allows full manual gear ratio selection with the console mounted stick. Paddles, however, are absent.

2016 Volkswagen Jetta 1.4T SE

The 1.4 liter turbo Jetta, which is built in VW’s Mexican factory, achieves a remarkable 39 MPG on the highway. In a full week of sustained driving around town, we barely dropped the fuel level gauge below the half tank mark. With a capacity of 14.5 gallons, including a reserve of 2 gallons, the range of the Jetta 1.4T on the open road stands at a stunning 565 miles.

2016 Volkswagen Jetta 1.4T SE

While the interior of the Jetta is not luxurious, neither is it plebeian. The seating surfaces are cloth, with bolsters done in a sturdy woven material, and inserts finished in high sheen, triangle patterned brocade. The front seats are heated, a bonus you don’t expect to find on a $20,000 car. Another nicety is the presence of a full size spare tire stored beneath the floor of the Jetta’s sizeable 16 cubic foot trunk. The roof of the trunk also provides pull releases to lower both folding back seats. There’s even a couple of tools included in the tire change kit. That’s more than BMW gives you in the $84,000 6 Series Gran Coupe.

2016 Volkswagen Jetta 1.4T SE

Inside the cabin, industrial grade, ribbed rubber floor mats are more practical than beautiful. Likewise, expanses of pebbled black vinyl that cover the dash, flat bottom steering wheel, and center console are serviceable rather than charming. But the Jetta offers undeniable practicality, from its exposed engine components under the hood to its easily accessible engine compartment battery location. Where other manufacturers strive to hide the location of the all important battery under the seat or in the trunk, VW is literally up front about the location of this important piece of equipment. Likewise, the interior designers are honest about the design and use of all HVAC (Heat/Ventilation/Air Conditioning) controls. On the center stack of the Jetta, you’ll find three large, simple dials. The left one controls temperature, the center operates fan speed, and the right one changes airflow position. This tried and tested system has evolved over years of automotive practice. It remains the best of all layouts, superior in every way to the current trend to bury HVAC options within layers of digital menus. You will never have an accident in this Jetta while searching hard-to-decipher menus, because VW refuses to succumb to the idiocy of such needless complication.

2016 Volkswagen Jetta 1.4T SE

Driving the least expensive Jetta turbo is a joy. Although its diminutive Bridgestone Ecopia tires may not look the part of performance rubber – with a width of just 205/45R16 – they definitely get the job done on twisty back roads. The Jetta SE strikes an intriguing balance between ride softness and buttoned down control. The key to the rarely achieved combo is perfectly calibrated shock absorber valving. When you accelerate this Jetta over pavement height changes, the snubbing of the shocks instantly compensates for pitch change. There’s absolutely no follow-on wallowing so typical of sedan’s with comfort biased suspensions. On snaky back roads, the Jetta SE is all business, but on pock-marked freeways, it’s all about comfort.

2016 Volkswagen Jetta 1.4T SE

The Jetta for 2016 constantly surprises you with amenities you would never expect to discover on a $20,000 car: electric window lifts with automatic up and down, heated front seats, push button start and stop, and standard 6 speed transmission containing real gears rather than funky CVT belts. If you’re searching the sports sedan market for an ultra high mile-per-gallon candidate that’s still fun to drive, the eminently affordable 1.4 liter Jetta SE turbo is your number one choice.

2016 Volkswagen Jetta 1.4T SE

  • Engine: 1.4 liter inline 4, DOHC, turbocharged, direct injection
  • Horsepower: 150hp
  • Torque: 184lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 28 MPG City/38 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $20,915
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Jeep Renegade Trailhawak 4 x 4 Review

Thursday March 17th, 2016 at 1:33 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Jeep Renegade Trailhawak 4 x 4

By David Colman

Hypes: Fetching Appearance, True Jeep Genes
Gripes: Rear Visibility Poor

The Jeep-Chrysler-Fiat merger has resulted in engineering collaboration responsible for this Italian Jeep. Based on the platform of the Fiat 500L, the Renegade is built in Melfi, Italy and presents Jeep customers with the company’s first ever compact crossover SUV. In the Trailhawk form we tested the Renegade, this Jeep provides true off road capability. First, it offers Jeep “Selec-Terrain,” which offers you the ability to select optimal performance in snow, sand, off-road and rock modes. Only the Trailhawk offers the rock mode category. Also, only the Trailhawk offers maximum ground clearance of 8.7 inches, 0.8 inches higher than the standard Renegade. The Trailhawk, with its generous angles of approach (30.5 degrees), and departure (34.3 degrees), is capable of fording water 19 inches deep. Finally, the perfectly geared Trailhawk also boasts a rear axle ratio of 4.33:1 for ultra low speed trail creeping. Other Renegades make do with a 3.73:1 final drive.

2016 Jeep Renegade Trailhawak 4 x 4

Under the taut little hood sits the model’s top optional engine, the 2.4 liter Fiat-based Multiaire (turbo) engine which produces 184hp and 177lb.-ft. of torque. This respectably powerful motor passes its energy to all four wheels through a nifty nine-speed 948TE automatic gearbox which offers good low speed dig and silent freeway cruising thanks to its wide variety of gear sets. The Trailhawk alone offers what Jeep calls “Active Drive Low” for crawling along rocky roads. The transmission also automatically disconnects rear-wheel-drive when unneeded to improve overall fuel economy. The Renegade 4 x4 manages 24 MPG in combined city/highway use and posts a moderate annual fuel cost of $2,200.

2016 Jeep Renegade Trailhawak 4 x 4

The styling of the Renegade is joyful Early Boom Box. The stunning shade of Omaha Orange which graced our Renegade does wonders for the slinky contours of this smallest Jeep. The $150 optional matte black Hood Decal added yet another intriguing complexity to the look of the Renegade. Jeep ingeniously carried the exterior orange into the interior trim, with bright colored rings surrounding the dash vents and shift console. These orange surrounds were designed to mimic latches, giving the interior an outdoorsy cachet that has long been the hallmark of Jeep. The twin removable “My Sky” sunroof panels (a $1,395 option), can be stored in their own tonneau cover ($75) in the trunk area. The panels detach via star bolts for which Jeep provides a special tool. This wrench, cast in aluminum alloy, replicates the classic 7 bar grill of the Jeep. This grill has been a trademark of the company since Willys built the first Jeep in 1941. In fact, the proud moniker “Since 1941″ appears above the TFT screen in the center of the dash.

2016 Jeep Renegade Trailhawak 4 x 4

The Renegade is surprisingly agile on paved roads, given its high center of gravity and off road capable Goodyear Wrangler SR-A tires (215/65R17). These raised white letter Goodyears perform well when pressed hard on twisty roads. The little Jeep takes a quick set as you maneuver it through tight turns. All in all, its performance in these circumstances exceeds what you might expect when you first note its tall center of gravity. But if you’ve driven a Fiat 500L, you know what to expect from the Renegade in terms of tidy driving feedback. Although vision is terrific from the Jeep’s front seat to the front and sides, the Renegade’s beefy rear quarter pillars and bevy of backseat headrests conspire to make backing up a real pain. To ease the problem, you can equip your Trailhawk with the $1,395 optional “Safety and Security Group I” which includes Blind Spot and Cross Path Detection. The “Parkview” rear back-up camera is thankfully standard issue, and projects its image on a 7 inch TFT color display screen.

2016 Jeep Renegade Trailhawak 4 x 4

As if to confirm the bonafides of the Renegade, Jeep has equipped it with substantial fixed tow hooks (two front, one rear) painted international orange to match the exterior of the vehicle. There’s no mistaking the implication of these hooks. The Trailhawk carries a “Trail Rated” badge, and is meant to be used and sometimes abused in the outback. It looks the part because it has earned the part. Despite its engaging good looks and playful design, this is a trail rated Jeep through and through, making no concessions to a lesser role in life.

2016 Jeep Renegade Trailhawak 4 x 4

  • Engine: 2.4 liter inline 4, SOHC, 16 valves, turbocharged
  • Horsepower: 184hp
  • Torque: 177lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 21 MPG City/29 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $31,690
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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


2016 Volvo S60 T5 Inscription FWD Review

Friday March 4th, 2016 at 11:33 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Volvo S60 T5 Inscription FWD

By David Colman

Hypes: Beautifully Crafted, Ultra Comfortable Interior
Gripes: Unwieldy Suspension, Poorly Indexed Owner’s Manual

When Geely, the Indian automaker, took Volvo off Ford’s hands several years ago, many fans of the Swedish marque wondered what the future might hold in store for this revered, safety conscious label. Well, the future is here now in the form of the Volvo Inscription S60, a special lengthened version of the S60 sedan. At 185.6 inches in length, it stands 3.5 inches longer than the base model S60 four door. The Inscription is the first Volvo built in Chengdu, China, of parts that are 60 percent Chinese and 10 percent Japanese. This luxurious and expensive ($45,925) sedan carries a turbocharged 2.0 liter engine also built in China. Its 8-speed automatic transmission comes from Japan. In view of this disparate sourcing of parts, just how much Volvo DNA remains? Thankfully, quite a bit.

2016 Volvo S60 T5 Inscription FWD

For starters, the Inscription has so many available safety features that its Swedish reputation for precaution remains strong. For example, “City Safety” – a low speed collision avoidance system – is standard issue on this car. Even the engine cover is made of dense, pliable foam. If you order the “Platinum” group of accessories ($3,000 extra), Volvo includes a “Technology Package” which provides collision warning with full auto brake, as well as pedestrian/cyclist detection with full auto brake. In a world replete with drivers more intent on reading their handheld devices than the road ahead, these safety features greatly improve your chances of accident avoidance.

Some of the other features of the Platinum group, however, are more annoying than useful. For example, the Lane Keeping Aid is helpful in the sense that warning lights on your exterior rearview mirrors illuminate when hidden traffic pulls alongside. But the same system goes overboard when you change lanes without using your blinker, something I prefer to do with no traffic nearby. Under these circumstances, the Volvo’s steering goes artificially light and the steering wheel itself wobbles gently in your palms. The feedback is similar to having your front tires aquaplane in heavy rain. It’s completely distracting and unnecessary, and thankfully Volvo provides a switch to delete this lane change punishment.

2016 Volvo S60 T5 Inscription FWD

Although Volvo offers a number of more powerful engines in the S60 range (250hp inline 5, 302hp turbo inline 4, 345hp turbo inline 6), our test Inscription made do with the adequate but unexciting 2.0 liter turbo inline 4, which returns the best fuel consumption of the bunch at 29 MPG overall. The 8 speed gearbox compensates nicely for the underwhelming output of the 240hp motor by allowing you to stage your passing needs by selecting an appropriate gear before stomping the accelerator. You’ll need to plan ahead with this package for your acceleration requirements, because the engine must spool to 5600rpm for maximum thrust. Luckily, the 3,610 lb. sedan makes peak torque of 258lb.-ft. at just 1500rpm, so launch from a dead stop is decent. Volvo has incorporated an automatic start/stop system, ostensibly to save fuel while idling at traffic lights. This device shakes the whole car every time it re-fires the ignition. Although you can delete it, you have to do so every time you re-start the Volvo. It’s a design that should never have made production.

2016 Volvo S60 T5 Inscription FWD

Inside the cabin, the Inscription will win over drivers accustomed to Audi/BMW levels of design simplicity and sophistication. The front seats are heated, but if you want heated rears plus a toasty steering wheel, you’ll need to pop $1,300 extra for the “Climate Package.” Lavish expanses of matte finished, open pore barn wood lend a country inn felicity to the Inscription’s interior environment. Glass area is immense, a bonus that leads to excellent vision in all directions. Such niceties as Park Assist and rain-sensing wipers come standard. The Platinum group includes a nifty grocery bag holder which flips up from the trunk floor to act as an anti-slide partition. I used it to keep a storage box from roaming the trunk on a twisty section of road.

2016 Volvo S60 T5 Inscription FWD

Speaking of the twisties, the S60 is not particularly well acclimated to such driving usage. Granted, it rolls on 18 inch alloy rims bearing 235/45R18 Pirelli Cinturato P7 tires that uphold their end of the contact patch bargain. But the S60′s suspension is calibrated for comfort over handling, so the Inscription tends to bottom its shocks over mild depressions. Push it hard enough and the suspension hikes itself into the air as you try to make quick transitions on a curvy road. This Volvo offers a great freeway ride, but you won’t be blowing off any BMWs or Audis on the back roads.

2016 Volvo S60 T5 Inscription FWD

  • Engine: 2.0 liter inline 4, turbocharged, direct injected
  • Horsepower: 240hp@5600rpm
  • Torque: 258lb.-ft.@1500-4500rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 25MPG City/37 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $45,925
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron 1.4T FWD S tronic Review

Thursday March 3rd, 2016 at 11:33 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron 1.4T FWD S tronic

By David Colman

Hypes: The Only Non-Clown Car Hybrid
Gripes: Electric Range Disappointing

Audi’s bread and butter car is the A3, which is available in a stupefying number of iterations. The newest and greenest of the bunch is the Hybrid “e-tron” version which debuted as a prototype almost 3 years ago at the Frankfurt Auto Show, reappeared at the Los Angeles Auto Show in 2013, and is now finally in production. The Hybrid offers two modes of propulsion. The first is a small displacement (1.4 liter) inline 4 making 148hp and 184lb.-ft. of torque. This advanced design engine features double overhead cams and 16 valves. The second motor is electric and produces 55hp and 243lb.-ft. of torque. These engines feed their combined output of 201hp and 258lb.-ft. of torque to a 6-speed twin clutch automatic gearbox. The e-tron model is offered as a five door hatchback, with comfortable seating for 4 adults plus a spacious storage area behind the rear seats. Fold those 60/40 split back seats down, and you’ve got enough storage for a mountain bike.

2016 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron 1.4T FWD S tronic

Inside the trunk you will discover a large zippered bag containing the recharge apparatus for the electric motor’s 661 pound battery pack. This kit consists of a heavy oblong charging unit which plugs into a receptacle hidden behind the Audi rings in the front grill. Included in the kit are alternate plugs for 120volt and 240volt applications. A guide light implanted in the grill throbs green as the unit recharges the battery, then turns solid green when the procedure is complete. At 120volts, a full charge on an empty battery takes about nine hours. At 240volts, the same process takes about three hours. We left the charge unit fastened overnight in order to insure a full charge at 120volts. We then headed over the hill from our home on the coast to a point just 10 miles away. At that point the battery charge indicator read empty. Audi estimates 33 miles per full charge, but does add a disclaimer that your charge mileage may vary.

2016 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron 1.4T FWD S tronic

Regardless of such limited battery utility, the A3 Sportback is a still delectable German hatchback that provides stunning good looks allied to excellent handling. Although Audi has staked its reputation on the virtue of Quattro all-wheel-drive, the power train layout of the e-tron does not allow room to install all-wheel-drive in the Sportback. Thus, you must make do with front-wheel-drive only. However, the traction offered by front wheel pulling power is excellent, so good in fact that you’ll be hard pressed to determine that the rear wheels are not also driven. Helping control the A3 through turns and switchbacks are a set of grippy 225/45R17 Pirelli Cinturato P7 tires mounted on special 15 spoke “Turbine Design” alloy rims. These tires and wheels are part of the optional $4,100 Premium Plus group which also provides heated front seats and full LED headlights.

2016 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron 1.4T FWD S tronic

The fit and finish of the A3 has been improved over the years to the point that it is now indistinguishable from Audi models costing twice as much as our $46,655 test car. For example, the sport model front seats are works of art in terms of design, appearance and comfort. The dashboard features “3-D Optic” inlays which give this normally boring expanse of vinyl an alluring depth. High gloss aluminum window trim frames the side glass with handsome slashes of brilliance, while adaptive lighting in the cockpit casts a touch of Hollywood glamour on the entry and exit procedure. The dash and window treatment, along with the stage lights are all part of the Premium Plus package.

2016 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron 1.4T FWD S tronic

If your obligation to save the planet requires ownership of a Hybrid, the Audi A3 e-tron is a worthy choice. Unlike so many awkward looking electric powered offerings (Toyota Prius, Mitsubishi i-MiEV and Nissan Leaf come to mind), Audi’s petite Hybrid makes no concessions to ugliness. While it is not 100 percent electric, it still qualifies you as a certified greenie – without having to look like a weenie. Indeed, the A3 enjoys all the attributes of its gas powered model line siblings: pleasing appearance, smart packaging, efficient use of energy sources, and unexpected comfort. Although the base price of the A3 e-tron looks steep at $37,900, this entry level foothold on Mount Audi is well worth your investment.

2016 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron 1.4T FWD S tronic

2016 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron 1.4T FWD S tronic

  • Engine: 1.4 liter inline 4, DOHC, 16 Valves plus Electric Motor
  • Horsepower: 148hp (gas) + 55hp (electric): 201hp (combined)
  • Torque: 184lb.-ft. (gas) + 243lb.-ft. (electric): 258lb.-ft. (combined)
  • Fuel Consumption: 83 MPGe (combined)/35 MPG(gas only)
  • Price as Tested: $46,655
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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2016 BMW 640i xDrive Gran Coupe Review

Wednesday March 2nd, 2016 at 11:33 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 BMW 6401 xDrive Gran Coupe

By David Colman

The 6 lost two front teeth this year. Not because it’s growing up, and certainly not because it fell on its face. Rather, Dingolfing dentists extracted one chrome incisor from each twin kidney grill in order to simplify the Gran Coupe’s gorgeous grin. Then, to complete the makeover, they embedded a six pack of eyeballs into a new front splitter. These fog lights, grouped three to a side, brighten the face of the 6 as well as the road ahead. In addition to cosmetic tweaks, the 6 Series has grown in iconic stature because BMW has chosen it to defend the company’s racing reputation in IMSA’s wickedly competitive GT Le Mans class. At this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, a spectacularly decorated M6 GTLM celebrated the company’s 100th year by placing 5th out of 11 class entries in its maiden outing.

Although the 640i Gran Coupe resides at the other end of the performance spectrum from the M6 GTLM, the DNA of both cars is virtually identical. As a result, even this least powerful 6 Series model is an outstanding high performance ambassador for BMW. At present, the 640i has yet to be fitted with the latest B58 turbo six found in the new 3 Series. The Gran Coupe still utilizes the outgoing N55 engine, since BMW has yet to complete the engine swap for all model ranges. Having recently driven the new 3 powered by the new 6, and the new 6 propelled by the old 6, I can say that the difference between the two engines is negligible from the driver’s seat. Output figures bear out this conclusion. In 640i tune, the N55 turbo 6 produces 315hp and 330 lb.-ft. of torque compared to the B58′s 320hp and 330 lb.-ft. of torque.

2016 BMW 6401 xDrive Gran Coupe

What has not changed about the 640i is its exquisite level of refinement. Think of this BMW in human terms. Its elegant but sinewy patina reminds you of Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth. Its elegant insouciance brings to mind Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond. Its effortless all court athleticism bears comparison to John McEnroe’s tennis game. But unlike McEnbrat, the 6 powered 6 never talks back. In a solid week of driving, there wasn’t a single command this beauty refused to comply with.

It rained heavily during most of that week, so xDrive proved the perfect adjunct to the Gran Coupe’s build sheet. At no time could I provoke it to lose its composure on rain slicked back roads. Even when I prodded the throttle hard in the middle of a tight, wet turn, the 640i ignored my indiscretion and just kept digging. Frankly, this resolute behavior surprised me because past experience with the Michelin Primacy HP tires BMW utilized for this Gran Coupe led me to expect middling performance.

2016 BMW 6401 xDrive Gran Coupe

Standard 19 inch double spoke alloys carry radials measuring 245/40R19 front and 275/35R19 rear. To give you an idea how far off the high performance mark these tires are, their tread wear (TW) rating is 240, with a traction rating of A. That compares to a TW rating of 80 and a traction rating of AA for Michelin’s own Pilot Sport Cup tires in a similar 19 inch diameter. Previous track experience with Primacy HP tires on Toyota’s FRS and Subaru’s BRZ convinced me these Michelins degraded the otherwise fine handling of both cars. But in this run-flat BMW application, the Primacy HP proved to be king of the road in both wet and dry conditions. Nary a slip, nor a squeak.

The straight six in the Gran Coupe constitutes the entry level model. In this strata of the market, you climb a steep stairway to reach even that plateau. Financially speaking, base price isn’t base at all, at $82,500. When you’re said and done with the package premiums ($5,300 for the M Sport Edition, and $450 for the Cold Weather Package), the test coupe carries a total suggested retail price of $89,445, not including tax and tip. However, this amount is all you really need to spend for an optimal Gran Coupe. Yes, if you’re a fuel swilling swell, you can bump yourself up to the completely unnecessary 445hp 4.4 liter V8 650i xDrive for an extra $9,000. Or how about choosing the even more unnecessary 600hp Alpina B6 AWD for an additional $35,000? But you don’t need to spend a penny more than our test car’s $89,445 to enjoy first class rapid transit of the highest order. And besides, tradition dictates that a proper 6 Series should be powered by a proper 6. After all, the first E24 6 Series CS depended on the perfectly adequate M30 six-cylinder engine it borrowed from the 5 Series back in 1976.

2016 BMW 6401 xDrive Gran Coupe

Of course, the prototype Gran Coupe, which debuted on the New York Auto Show in 2009 didn’t have a turbo six under the hood. Nor did it have a thumping V8, or xDrive for that matter. In fact, it didn’t have any engine under the hood at all. Rather, the first Gran Coupe – which met with rave reviews from the public – was a 100 percent electric powered dummy mock-up of the real thing. Substantial storage batteries provided just enough impetus to shift it from delivery truck to exhibit hall and back. A specially trained assistant would lift the roundel badge on the trunk, insert a massive electrical hook up cable, and walk behind the Gran Coupe, directing its movements via radio controlled servo motors. In other words, the first demo Gran Coupe was a full size R/C car.

Although the production version isn’t quite as green as that prototype, it is substantially quicker. In fact, with 8 well chosen gear sets to harness its power, the 640i sprints from 0 to 60mph in just 5.4 seconds and covers the quarter mile in 14.1 seconds at 96.5 mph (Motortrend.com). That kind of pop requires reasonably quick reactions from an attentive operator. No more umbilical cord now, no laggardly servo motors. If injudicious throttle application is your thing, the 6 cylinder Gran Coupe will get you in trouble with the law, if not the laws of physics, real fast. I lost count of the number of times I looked down at the speedo, stupefied by its unexpected reading of 80 mph. This body shell of the 6 is so streamlined that it eliminates wind noise as an index of speed.

2016 BMW 6401 xDrive Gran Coupe

The anechoic interior is largely responsible for this sense of ethereal levitation. Let’s start with deliciously rich looking Cinnamon Brown Dakota Leather seats. Toast them with the standard three stage front seat heaters and your cushy Cinnabon muffin platform will lull you into lethargy. The Cold Weather Package adds heaters for the rear seats, plus a warmer for the steering wheel rim. I loved the fact that the rim heater remains activated as long as you want, since it lacks an auto-off timer. It also heats the entire rim rather than selected segments of it, so feel free to change your grip and stay hot. The front seats offer so many different adjustments – from thigh support to shoulder blade grip – that if you can’t get comfortable here, you won’t be comfortable anywhere. By contrast, the rear seats, while pleasing, lack any adjustments. Once you clamber through the small rear door and back your butt into place, you’re locked into a Singapore Sling designed for short trip comfort rather than long distance travel. Granted, there’s ample legroom since the Gran Coupe’s wheelbase is 4.5 inches longer than that of the standard Coupe. But the Gran Coupe’s sweeping roofline, though it stands 0.9″ taller than the standard Coupe, still restricts rear seat headroom to passengers no taller than 5’8″. And the lack of headliner grab rails means you’ll be free to flounder when the driver gooses the throttle in a turn. All in all, this Coupe is a bit more Gran up front than out back.

However, a couple of mitigating factors do improve your state of mind when ensconced in the rear. One is the standard Moonroof. Although this dark tinted monolith does not actually slide open, it does provide a swath of comforting light when the interior shade is retracted. Secondly, the rear windows slide all the way into the doors for a welcome and unobstructed rush of outside air. Finally, all three backlights are fitted with electrically operated privacy screens, with individual controls for each mounted on both rear arm rests. The screens are inexplicably part of the M Sport Package. Perhaps famous M Style race drivers require anonymity for past sins. Additionally, a floor mounted ventilation unit provides twin A/C-Heat outlets for fine tuning climate control. But the bulky unit eats into back seat knee room.

2016 BMW 6401 xDrive Gran Coupe

The 640i is an incredibly complicated symphony to orchestrate. Yes, you can just climb in and drive it the way is, in default mode. But the fun of owning this BMW lies in learning about its idiosyncrasies, in deciphering the secret handshakes lurking within the complex matrix of iDrive. For example, the Driving Dynamics program offers such a full range of options (EcoPro/Comfort/Comfort+/Sport/Sport+) that you will be hard pressed to differentiate the subtle differences between gradations. My first inclination was to select Sport+, a choice generated by memory of too many race track days. But after a couple of outings spoiled by turgid steering and punishing ride, it finally dawned on me that maybe Comfort or even Comfort+ would get the job of real world driving done with less drama. Although the Comfort settings aren’t quite laid back into suicide knob slouching territory, they do present an attractive alternative to Sport+ for the daily grind. Even when the road unfurls into a ribbon of switchbacks, the Comfort settings work just fine.

Out on the freeway, I even ventured a stint in EcoPro to see what that might be all about. What it primarily does is supplant your useful tachometer with a fairly useless, even comical, circular gauge divided into blue and grey zones. Moderate throttle use plants you in the blue zone. When you need to tromp the throttle, the gauge swings into the grey zone and an icon of a shoe on a pedal flashes in the gauge face. There’s also a sacrosanct area marked “Charge” that would lead you to believe the 640i is somehow Hybrid. Rather, EcoPro will decouple the engine and allow you to freewheel in certain situations. This only happened once, very briefly, on a long downhill run with no throttle applied. Even driving normally, without benefit of EcoPro nagging, the Gran Coupe managed a respectable 23 MPG in overall use, and nearly 30 MPG on the freeway. The highway figure benefits from 8th gear’s ultra tall ratio and the fact that the 3.0 liter 6 is churning just 1750rpm at 65 mph and 2000rpm at 75 mph.

2016 BMW 6401 xDrive Gran Coupe

While BMW encourages you to play endlessly with the permutations of chassis and instrumentation set up, there are certain things they don’t want you to know about at all. Like the location of the battery. The manual demurs in this regard, suggesting you visit your local dealership for battery matters beyond jump starting (remote engine bay terminals are thoughtfully provided for that purpose). A little digging in the Gran Coupe’s vast 18 cubic foot trunk revealed a massive battery installation, complete with international orange wiring leads, beneath the trunk’s removable floor board. While you may be successful in locating this source of energy, good luck trying to remove it. The inside rear trunk panel, which overlaps the battery and partially obscures it from view, appears to require specialized knowledge for removal. Thus battery extrication and replacement is problematic. It’s not surprising that BMW only provides the Gran Coupe with the same two tools found in the half as expensive X1: a screwdriver and a tow hook. It must be said that the 640i’s tools at least come packaged in a snappy looking black fabric pouch with red trim. There are a number of unoccupied slots in this roll.

2016 BMW 6401 xDrive Gran Coupe

Converting a two door coupe to a four door Gran Coupe could have proved to be a mission fraught with pitfalls. Stretching the length of the existing 6 Series by 4.4 inches while raising its roof by nearly an inch promised to disrupt proportions disastrously. But BMW’s design team managed the task with aplomb, reinventing the 6 with a stiletto profile that looks even better proportioned than the Coupe. If you have any doubt about the success of the finished product, look no further than the sales figures racked up by the Gran Coupe in 2015. BMW sold a total of 8,150 6 Series variants all told last year. The Gran Coupe accounted for a whopping 5,400, or 66 percent of those transactions. The remainder fell to the convertible with 1,950 sales and the two door coupe with just 800 sales. In the brave new world of German four door coupes, neither Porsche’s big butted Panamera nor Audi’s pricey A7 offer substantive competition to BMW’s comparably affordable Gran Coupe. The fact that BMW is willing to test this car’s mettle on the race track against full blooded two seat sports cars like Ferrari’s 488 GTE, Corvette’s C7R and Porsche’s 911 RSR speaks volumes about their confidence in the consummate adaptability of the 6 Series platform.

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2016 Ford Escape Titanium 4WD Review

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

2016 Ford Escape Titanium 4WD

By David Colman

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

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

2016 Ford Escape Titanium 4WD

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

2016 Ford Escape Titanium 4WD

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

2016 Ford Escape Titanium 4WD

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

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

2016 Ford Escape Titanium 4WD

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

2016 Ford Escape Titanium 4WD

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

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