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Review: 2013 Mini Cooper Hardtop

Wednesday October 9th, 2013 at 8:1010 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: 420 Miles on a Tank, Motorcycle Base Price
Gripes: Hard To Reach Seatbelts, Pinchy Door Handles

Manufacturers usually load press fleet vehicles with every expensive option available, so it was quite unusual to spend a week with a Mini Cooper virtually bereft of extras. With a base price of just $19,700, the Cooper hardtop is good value for the money. Its fun-to-drive quotient places it in the top echelon of sub $20,000 sedans. What extras it did have were well chosen. Instead of the standard 175/65 R15 tires and wheels, ours was equipped with the very reasonably priced ($1,250) Sport Package which upped wheels to 16 inch, 6 star-spoked alloys shod with 195/55R16 Bridgestone Turanza ER300II run-flat rubber. The Sport Package, which brings the as-delivered price to $21,650, also includes traction control, sport seats, and rear spoiler. For the driving enthusiast on a budget, this Mini represents a stellar bargain.

The sports seats are more supportive and better looking than those of any car in this price range. Finished in ballistic nylon weave, they afford more latitudinal support than the tires can generate. Their center sections contain black-on-gray Op Art swirls reminiscent of checker flags. The seats are emblematic of the whimsical character of the interior, which looks like it was designed by Disney Imagineers in Toontown. Circles and ovals cover every square inch of the dash. The circular air vents echo the shape of the free standing 8,000rpm tachometer. The door handles, speaker grills, even the keyfob are perfect circles. Oval shapes dominate the pedals, mirrors, dash face and overhead console. Square edges hardly exist. Mini eschews cheap materials in favor of quality finishes. The pebble grained dash top and door panels are finished with a matte sheen that eliminates window reflections. The aluminum trim across the face of the dash matches the subdued finish of the dash. The Mini looks and feels like a BMW inside because BMW own Mini.

The Mini is rewarding to drive because its steering is so precise. It reacts to directional change like a go-kart. Although ride quality is choppy over pavement imperfections, the stiff springing pays dividends on twisty roads. When you feed lock into the fat rimmed steering wheel, the Mini instantly acknowledges your input. This 2,712 lb. hardtop is one of the lightest cars on the market, and its telepathic dexterity is a product of that minimal curb weight. The engine in the base model Mini is adequate, but not impressive. With just 121hp available, you’ll find yourself using the 6-speed manual gearbox like a jockey resorting to the whip. The anemic torque output of 114 lb.-ft. occurs at 4,250rpm, so you’ll work hard for your quotient of zip in the base Mini. A better option might be the 181hp, turbocharged Mini Cooper S, which turns this racing striped little box into a raging pit bull. Of course, you’ll pay substantially more for the privilege (Cooper S base price: $24,750), and you’ll forego the base Cooper’s excellent fuel economy of 32 MPG overall, for 27 MPG with the S model.

The Cooper has been a sales sensation for more than 10 years now. Customization is a large part of its attraction. You can order your Mini 10 million different ways. No other car comes close to matching this virtually unlimited differentiation. The Mini is very much the Swatch Watch of the car world. It’s high quality appearance belies its cheap price. Just when you think you’ve seen every Mini available, along comes a new combo that makes you marvel at this company’s endless design savvy. But the best part of the Mini experience comes from the maxi enjoyment you get out of driving one. Mini represents a throwback to an age of car design that depended on resourcefulness and imagination rather than tunnel vision. In that way, Mini puts the fun back in motoring.

2013 Mini Cooper Hardtop

  • Engine: 1.6 liter DOHC, 16 Valve inline 4 Cylinder
  • Horsepower: 121 @ 6,000 rpm
  • Torque: 114 lb.-ft. @ 4,250 rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 29 MPG City/37 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $21,650
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2013 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT 4×4

Tuesday October 8th, 2013 at 8:1010 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Beautifully Constructed Street Fighter
Gripes: Poor Detents on Center Console Gear Change Stick

Forget everything you thought you knew about Jeep quality. Long gone are the days when the interior of a Grand Cherokee resembled the lobby of a Motel 6. When you gain admittance to the cockpit of the new Grand Cherokee SRT, you’re more likely to think Ritz than 6. Chrysler has managed to elevate the SRT experience to a level of gratification previously reserved for Porsche Cayenne, BMW X5 and Audi Q7 owners. Swing open the door and you’ll observe a distinctly European mode of finish, trim and appointment that will stagger your sensibility. For example, almost every seam from the top of the dash to the bolsters of the seats is double stitched with white thread for a custom tailored look. Instead of phony wood dash inserts, Chrysler provides carbon fiber slashes to the door panels and dash face that look just right with the purposeful, supportive SRT-embroidered front seats. Best of all the competition inspired touches is the Launch Control panel on the center console which allows you to program the SRT for instant departure when the light turns green. Backing up the track-ready promise of this Jeep, Chrysler has provided a series of performance measurements available via steering-wheel toggled menu: 0-60mph; 1/8 and 1/4 mile acceleration times; peak lateral and longitudinal G-Forces; instant peak G-Forces; Braking Distance from 60mph to zero.

In case you’re wondering why a mass production 4×4 requires such meticulous performance documentation, think of the SRT version of the Cherokee as a race truck first and a passenger Jeep second. Just look at the specification sheet and you’ll get the idea. Instead of the base Cherokee ‘s 290hp V-6, or optional 360hp V-8, the SRT harnesses Chrysler’s top HEMI V-8, the 6.2 liter monster that produces 470hp and 465 lb.-ft. of torque. Couple that prodigious output to a paddle-shifted, 8HP70, 8-speed automatic gearbox that will hold any gear as long as you like when manual mode is selected. The gearbox also tunes itself to your preferred style of driving within the first 300 miles of operation. Adding to the joy of such extensive gear selection are the extra-large alloy paddles affixed to the superbly designed sports steering wheel. This SRT wheel features a tactile lower quadrant formed from buffed aluminum feeding into side grips of perforated leather with deep thumb indentations.

Jeep did not stint on premium suspension apparatus to cope with the engine’s humbling horsepower. The front geometry features independent short/long arm design modulated by adaptive Bilstein gas dampers, while rear architecture consists of multiple links, adaptive Bilsteins, and adjustable toe links. Front and rear sway bars maintain equilibrium, and Jeep’s patented Selec-Trac works with the Bilstein dampers to provide 5 ride settings: Tow/Snow/Normal/Sport/Track. These refined suspension bits feed thrust through new 5-spoke SRT-specific “Goliath” 20 inch diameter polished alloy rims supporting huge Pirelli P Zero run flat tires (295/45 ZR20 all around). Equally impressive Brembo disc brakes – 15 inch, 6 piston front, 13.78 inch, 4 piston rear – haul this monster truck down from its top speed of 160mph.

From the outside, the SRT is all nostrils and gill slits, meaner than a catfish, more purposeful than an MP. Yet the whole design blends together so successfully that unless you’re super-attuned to Cherokee variants, this super Jeep could easily pass muster as a common grocery getter. After all, it still has all the attributes to fulfill that prosaic occupation. The rear tailgate is power assisted to lift or shut at the press of your key fob remote. The rear seat will hold 3 in a pinch, 2 comfortably, and provide them with A/C outlets, heated seats, and reclining backrests to boot. The Panorama sunroof enlightens front and back seat occupants with its generous sweep, and visibility to the rear and sides is unusually informative for an SUV of this type.

The Grand Cherokee in SRT trim is expensive, at $69.470, but worth every dollar when you compare it to its competition. For an equivalent performer from Porsche, BMW or Audi, you’ll easily spend twice as much as the outlay for this Jeep. And to my eyes, none of these German canons look as good as the finely fluted, flying new Cherokee.

2013 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT 4×4

  • Engine: 6.2 liter HEMI V-8 with Fuel-Saver Technology
  • Horsepower: 470hp @ 6,000rpm
  • Torque: 465 lb.-ft. @4,300rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 13 MPG City/19 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $69,470
  • Star Rating: 9.5 out of 10 Stars

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


Review: 2013 Cadillac ATS 2.0T Premium Collection

Monday October 7th, 2013 at 8:1010 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Nuburgring Handling Prowess, Nicely Tailored
Gripes: Olympic Seat Belt Pull Effort, No Rear Wiper, Battery Buried in Trunk

It isn’t everyday you drive a car with a title longer than a British Count. But Cadillac has managed to append no less than 4 qualifiers to its newest offspring, the diminutive ATS 4-door sedan. “2.0T” refers to the fact that this is the first Caddy since the unlamented Cimarron to rely on just 4 cylinders for motivation, Granted, this is an impertinently perky foursome, depending on direct injection and a turbo to churn out 272hp. Those horses are wisely allocated by an ultra-responsive 6-speed automatic transmission featuring “Performance Algorithm Tapshifts” to control gear choice and rpm range. The “Premium Collection” descriptor stems from the handcrafted, cut and sewn interior leather seating surfaces, and the delicate contrasting stitching highlighting most dash and door panel seams. Everywhere you look, the ATS posits this question: why buy a BMW 3 or Audi A4 when you can select this premium small Cadillac instead?

This is a very tough market niche to crack, one which the German makes have owned for years now. Although Cadillac’s ATS isn’t quite on par with the leaders, it’s close enough to merit a look. It’s 8 inches longer than BMW’s 3, 5 inches longer than Audi’s A4. Like the BMW, the weight distribution of the ATS is perfectly split between front and rear axles at 50/50. And like the Audi A4, the ATS is available with all-wheel-drive. In fact, Cadillac offers a seemingly inexhaustible variety of ATS configurations. The base model with rear-wheel-drive, normally aspirated, 2.5 liter four carries an MSRP of $33,095. In AWD form, base cost jumps to $36,900. The rear-wheel-drive turbo ATS “Premium” I drove carries an MSRP of $44,895. The priciest version is the 3.6 liter, V-6 AWD Premium model which starts at $47,795. Cadillac offers an amazing 13 variants of the ATS, with plenty of options for each. Our test car priced out at a whopping $50,955, once these additions were added: the “Driver Assist Package” ($3,220) which you can definitely live without, “Crystal Red Tintcoat” ($995), “Polished Aluminum 18 Inch Wheels” ($850) and “Cold Weather Package” ($600).

Because Cadillac realizes that sports sedan customers hold handling and agility sacrosanct, they have tailored ATS suspension accordingly. There’s absolutely no mush in this lithe and athletic sedan, which in Premium Collection trim, boasts GM’s prized FE3 Suspension Package. From the contact patches of the sizeable (225/40R18 front and 255/35R18 rear) Bridgestone RE050A tires, through the Corvette-derived MR (magneto-rheological) shocks, the ATS generates enormous grip in corners. The finely calibrated ZF “Premium Electric Variable Steering” contributes to unalloyed confidence in handling precision. The automatic gearbox is perfectly configured for manual control, with elephant ear magnesium paddles set tight to the steering wheel for micro management when the floor console stick is positioned in manual mode. The turbo boost of the 2 liter engine, redlined at 6,400rpm, is always adequate to acceleration needs, especially when you pre-select the appropriate gear set. Unlike the latest 3 from BMW, there’s no annoying automatic start/stop device to annoy you at traffic lights. And the Caddy still manages to post a respectable 24MPG in combined city/highway driving.

The downfall of the ATS is its distressing Cadillac User Entertainment (CUE) system, which defies logic and refuses to cooperate with your commands. Apparently, someone in charge of GM dashboard design has decreed that knobs are passé. In their stead, a series of ill-defined digital control bars are arrayed to oversee cabin climate, fan operation and radio volume. These bars are supposed to offer haptic feedback when operated, but the feedback is more hapless than haptic. It takes forever to bridge the digital gulf from mute to loud or low to high fan, and all that while you’re taking your eyes off the road to accomplish what would be instant with a knob. CUE’s faceplate looks just like your cell phone’s. Only you won’t be bumping into other people when you use it, you’ll be bumping into other cars.

Other than that singular drawback, the ATS is a viable effort from Cadillac to penetrate the small sports sedan category. With the deletion of CUE and the addition of a few good knobs, this Cadillac could easily manage to breech the existing German hegemony.

2013 Cadillac ATS 2.0T Premium Collection

  • Engine: 2.0 liter inline 4, Direct Injection, Turbocharged
  • Horsepower: 272hp
  • Torque: N/A
  • Fuel Consumption: 21 MPG City/31 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $51,850
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2013 BMW Z4 sDrive35is

Sunday October 6th, 2013 at 8:1010 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: “is” is German For Mega-Mover, Trick Folding Hardtop
Gripes: Tiny Rear Windows Don’t Auto-Erect When Top Is Raised

Bob Lutz, the storied car executive who helped remake Chrysler and GM, originally worked at BMW. Back in 1970, BMW wanted to change the way they named vehicles. Instead of the incredibly complicated system proposed by his boss, Lutz and his staff came up with the simplified “3 Series/5 Series/7 Series” nomenclature that survives to this day. Unfortunately, that clarity seems to have deserted BMW in the case of this fine sports roadster.

What we have here is the 4th iteration of BMW’s 2 seat sports car, hence Z4. So far, so good, but the appended “sDrive35is” muddies that clarity. Rear-wheel-drive BMW’s fitted with sporting accoutrements like special seats and aerokit styling qualify for “sDrive” status. Although you might assume that the “35is” designation describes a 3.5 liter motor, what you in fact get here is a 3.0 liter inline 6, with sport calibrated fuel injection (hence,“is” for injected sport). But the “is” tag doesn’t tell you that this Bimmer is also twin turbocharged. Time to bring back Bob Lutz.

Nameplate mysteries aside, this is one great sports car, built in Regensburg, Germany with traditional Bavarian craftsmanship. The cockpit is tight but accommodating. Flip-out door pockets and a narrow fenced shelf behind the seats ease oddment storage. In order to retain drink bottles between the seats, you need to flip up the lid of the shallow central storage bin, which is a bit inconvenient. The power sports seats, upholstered in glove soft, fancifully named “Canberra Beige Kansas Leather,” will treat you with the adulation you expect from your Barcalounger. Although the chunky “M” emblazoned steering wheel is equipped with sizeable paddle shifts, it lacks the nice perforated leather hand grips that distinguish “M” wheels in the X1 and X3. Still, there’s no mistaking the stripped purposefulness of this Z4’s décor. Simulated silver carbon surfaces on the dash face and door panels relieve the tedium of the matte black plastic dash top.

The interior’s sporting promise is signed, sealed and delivered by the Z4’s exceptional performance envelope. The keystone element is the seamless torque curve of the twin turbo 6, which maximizes intelligent intake and exhaust valve behavior through steplessly variable timing called “Double-VANOS.” Remember that “is” designator? In “is” trim, output of BMW’s 3.0 liter turbo 6 jumps from 300hp to 335hp, while torque peaks at 332 lb.-ft. (versus 300 lb.-ft. for the base 6). Coupled to a standard 7-speed double-clutch transmission, the traditional BMW straight 6 is never lacking for an appropriate gear ratio. You can leave the transmission in “D” range and forget about swapping cogs while the gearbox does all your work for you. On a 40 mile jaunt from Mill Valley to Point Reyes Station, I did just that, and found tackling the challenging road to be much more relaxing than if I had manually selected gears for each curve. Premium grade Bridgestone RE 050A tires (225/35R19 front, 255/30R19 rear) mounted on optional twin spoke alloys (a bargain at $1,200) made negotiating the twisties even more pleasurable. Of course, if you do choose to play racer, then the paddle shifters will make your trip even more swift and precise.

You can drop or erect the folding hardtop roof of the Z4 at speeds up to 35mph. This bit of latitude makes feasible open air motoring at the drop of a hat. And wind protection inside the seat-heated cabin is so good you won’t even need that hat. For complete mummification, BMW even provides a trunk-stored windblocker to snap into place behind your head. The trunk itself is reasonably large when the hardtop is up, but shrinks to a tiny slot-accessed bin when you drop the roof. If you pack according to the constraints of this tiny bin, you’ll never be caught out by storage woes on an overnight trip.

The Z4 iDrive35is is an attractive package. Visually, it’s flame-surfaced looks are appealingly different from anything else on the road. Its engine, gearbox, and suspension uphold the premise of those good looks. If you can stay away from the extensive, expensive option list, the Z4’s base price of $64,200 is more than reasonable for such a Bavarian built bomber.

2013 BMW Z4 sDrive35is

  • Engine: 3.0 Liter Inline 6, twin turbocharged Double-VANOShp
  • Horsepower: 335 hp
  • Torque: 332 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 17 MPG City/24 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $69,745
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2013 Infiniti JX35 AWD

Saturday October 5th, 2013 at 8:1010 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Up-market Interior, Command Seating Position, Go Anywhere Traction
Gripes: Lumbering Demeanor

Infiniti’s JX35 AWD is the kind of travel partner that grows on you. It isn’t particularly fast or surpassingly handsome. It doesn’t boast sports SUV handling agility. But just let it start raining hard, and you’ll quickly make best friends with this exceptionally competent people mover. When the weather turned vile due to a spate of late winter storms, the JX35 AWD proved to be the hot ticket for slaloming around fallen branches, zipping through ankle deep puddles, and enabling me to reach distant destinations without fuss or anxiety.

The JX35 comes by its all weather prowess honestly, since it’s based on Nissan’s new Pathfinder unibody chassis and transverse mounted 3.5 liter V-6. Infiniti tuning bumps the engine output from the Pathfinder’s 260hp to 265hp. In both applications, the V-6 powers a CVT transmission. Although I’ve never been a fan of continuously variable gearboxes, the JX35 installation works really well. The engine’s ample torque output of 248lb.-ft. eliminates gear hunting. This in turn reduces gear whine, which is a primary CVT annoyance. In addition, Infiniti has perfected a manual shift mode that allows you to mimic the stepped ratios of a normal automatic. Steering wheel proximate paddles, however, are missing, so you’ll need to bump the floor stick for shifts.

Another reason the JX proves to be a tidy package in a storm is its marvelous “Intelligent” all wheel drive system, which allows you to select exactly what manner of traction you need (Standard, Sport, Snow, Eco). The “Standard” default setting worked exceptionally well in even monsoon conditions, and when the skies cleared we flipped the selector to “Sport” for stiffer shock damping and more resistance to pitch. Infiniti fits the base level JX35 with 18 inch, 5-spoke alloy wheels shod with 235/65R18 rubber. But thanks to a $2,550 “Deluxe Touring Package,” our test JX stood tall on honkin’ Bridgestone Dueler 235/55R20 Mud & Snow rubber gracing pewter 10-spoke alloys. Although you’d pay close to $2,550 just for those wheels and tires at your local shop, Infiniti also throws in a few other deluxe package goodies: upgraded Bose “Cabin Surround” sound, Advanced Climate Control, Climate-controlled front seats, Heated second row seats, 2nd and 3rd row power moonroof, Rain-sensing wipers, and Maple interior accents. The rain-sensing wipers were perfectly suited to the intermittent nature of our recent storms and removed one more annoyance from the chore of wet weather driving. The standard rear wiper kept aft vision reassuringly clear.

At first, you will be hesitant about backing this lengthy (196.4 inch) bus out of parking spaces. But a Rear View Monitor is standard equipment on the JX, and the image it displays on the 7 inch color dash screen provides more than adequate rear vision aid. If you feel less than secure about the positioning of your Infiniti, you can always opt for the $3,100 “Technology Package” which offers Back-Up Collision Intervention (BCI). This device will brake your JX to a stop if it detects an obstacle in your path while reversing. The package also includes brake assist with forward collision warning, lane departure warning and prevention, intelligent cruise control with distance assist, and a heated steering wheel. The beauty of this package is that you can manually decommission any or all of these assistants, and once you’ve deselected them, they stay deselected the next time you start your JX. So if you want to retain Back-Up Collision Intervention while deleting Lane Departure Prevention, you can do so on a permanent basis.

The JX35 AWD carries a base MSRP of $41,550, compared to the front-wheel-drive version’s base price of $40,650. The extra $900 you spend for AWD will reward you many times over on the next rainy day.

2013 Infiniti JX35 AWD

  • Engine: 3.5 liter DOHC, 24 Valve V-6
  • Horsepower: 265hp
  • Torque: 248 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 18 City MPG/23 Highway MPG
  • Price as Tested: $55,170
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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


Review: 2013 Porsche Carrera 911S

Friday October 4th, 2013 at 8:1010 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Superb Dynamic Chassis, PDLS Headlights, Mega Pirellis
Gripes: Don’t Have One in My Garage Yet

Back in the sexist 1930s, Packard used the adage “Ask The Man Who Owns One” to seal the deal on the superiority of its brand. Since I currently own three Porsches 911s, you might want to ask me that same question about the company’s latest offspring, the 2013 911 Carrera S. In a nutshell, this newest addition to the model line is better in every way than any previous 911 Porsche has built. When I first learned about the specifications for this new model, internally designated “991,” my reaction to it was tepid. Logic seemed to dictate that the 991’s 4 inch longer wheelbase would make it more comfortable to ride in, but slower to react to steering input and directional change. And to a tutored eye accustomed to the svelte and chiseled 911 profile, the 991 looked bulbous and overweight. I couldn’t have been more wrong on all counts.

The extended wheelbase does indeed help eliminate the harsh ride quality of its immediate predecessor, the 997 version of the 911 that Porsche produced from 2005 to 2011. Although the ride quality of the 2013 Carrera S is more relaxed and luxuriant than that of the 997, it is even better snubbed and more informative than its choppy predecessor. And when it comes to ultimate handling, the 991’s wider front and rear track elevates this new model to a new echelon of stability never before achieved by any previous 911. Helping in this regard are several features exclusive to the “S” model Carrera, such as 20 inch diameter alloy wheels measuring 8.5 inches wide up front and 11 inches wide in the rear. Porsche has generously shod these standard S rims with Pirelli’s best rubber, P Zero Nero tires measuring 245/35R20 front and 295/30R20 rear. In addition, the S enjoys standard “torque vectoring” technology which subtly brakes the inside rear wheel on a turn to promote better traction for the outside rear wheel

The cumulative effect of these measures yields a 911 so confident in handling, so adept at directional change, that you could enter this stock coupe, as delivered, in any 24 Hour race and expect to finish well up in the overall standings. That’s because the new Carrera S has been sired by a long line of stellar race cars including the infamous 935, and more recently, the GT3 RSR version of the 997, which is still winning at the international level. The breeding line shows in every facet of the 991. Its informative 5 gauge cluster looks avionics correct when ordered in optional (no extra charge) “dials in black.” Its phenomenally effective Porsche Dynamic Light System (PDLS) headlights not only blaze the night, but swivel to illuminate corners as you turn into them.

And speaking of corners, there must have been at least a thousand of them on the 43.2 mile drive through wine country I enjoyed, along with 23 other Porsches from the Porsche Club of America. With a starting point in Sonoma’s picturesque town square, this backroad adventure proved the mettle of this latest generation 911, not only to me, but to everyone else in the Porsche Club who witnessed its incredible agility. The 991, in S trim, guarantees you will rule the road.

To enjoy the new 911 Carrera S, you don’t need to extend its engine beyond 5,000 rpm. Because my test car had only 551 miles on the odometer when delivered to me (and appropriately, 991, when my week ended), I decided to do the right thing and break in the motor properly by observing a 5,000 rpm redline and not using full throttle. Amazingly, these self-imposed restrictions never materially impinged on the 911’s performance, because the new S engine has so much torque available so low in the rpm range that you never really need to boot it to redline to maximize forward progress. Even though this engine, when broken in, will comfortably scream to its 400 hp redline of 7, 400 rpm, it makes peak torque of 325 lb.-ft. at just 5,600 rpm. Keeping the revs down also helps achieve reasonable fuel consumption of 22 MPG overall.

If there’s a better sports car available than the new 911 Carrera S, than I’ve yet to drive it.

2013 Porsche Carrera 911S

  • Engine: 3.8 liter opposed 6, Direct Fuel Injection, Variocam
  • Horsepower: 400hp @ 7,400rpm
  • Torque: 325 lb.-ft. @ 5,600rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 19 MPG City/ 27 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $107,830
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2014 Acura RLX

Thursday October 3rd, 2013 at 8:1010 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Every Save-You-From-Yourself Option Imaginable
Gripes: Pillow-Soft Ride, Acronym Insanity, Confusing Rear View Mirror

Welcome to the brave new world of Acura acronyms. Although Acura has yet to introduce a George Orwell signature version of the RLX, one should be in the offing to celebrate the 30 year anniversary of 1984. When you push the red metallic start button on the dash of the plush new RLX luxury sedan, you’ll be confronted with such a bewildering array of acronyms illuminating the instrument binnacle that you’ll need Acura’s 52 page “Advanced Technology Guide” before venturing forth. This well illustrated booklet will explain the mysteries of RLX life to the uninitiated. What, you might legitimately ask, does “CMBS” mean? The Collision Mitigation Braking System alerts you to an impending frontal crash and operates 4 stages of audible warning/brake application to lessen impact. You can even chose from 4 distances to initiate the progression. Like CMBS, FCW, or Forward Collision Warning uses a camera mounted between the windshield and the rear view mirror to warn you of impending frontal crashes. Unlike CMBS, FCW does not actually apply your brakes.

ACC references Adaptive Cruise Control, which uses the same technology as FCW to maintain space behind the vehicle in front of you when you’ve engaged cruise control. In theory, ACC sounds good, but in practice it leads to a lot more braking and accelerating than you would manage with your own foot on the throttle. LDW and LKAS complete the befuddling compliment of acronym assists. Lane Departure Warning (LDW) sounds a beep if you stray from your lane without first using your turn signal. The Lane Keeping Assist System (LKAS) uses that same overhead camera to warn you of errant lane changes, while going one step further by intervening physically. LKAS actually applies correctional torque to the steering mechanism. While LKAS works to keep you in your lane, the confusing dual-image rear view mirror confuses you enough to cause lane wander.
Aside from all the whiz-bang gadgetry, how does the redesigned RLX function as a driver? Pretty well, actually, especially after you first take time to turn off all the nanny nagging beeps and buzzers. The interior is sumptuous and elegant in the manner pioneered long ago by Acura’s first offering in the luxury field, the Legend, a breakthrough sedan which pre-dated Infiniti’s Q45 and Lexus’ LS 400. The RLX is exceptionally spacious, with its wheelbase of 112 inches offering massive legroom for both front and rear seat occupants. At 75 inches, it’s also an inch wider than a Lexus LS 400, so there’s plenty of sprawl room for everyone on long trips. Because the cavernous trunk swallows 15 cubic feet of luggage, a family of 4 can comfortably vacation with all their belongings under cover.

The downside of the space equation is weight, and the RLX has plenty of that at 3,970 pounds. Even though its stout 3.5 liter V-6 makes a respectable 310hp, the car’s power-to-weight ratio of 12.8 pounds per horsepower will not incite sporty driving. The RLX is so softly sprung that it will pitch you off your seat when the suspension rebounds over mild pavement dips and rises. Through sweeping turns, the RLX tracks nicely on its low profile, all-season Michelin Primacy MXM4 tires (245/40R19). On tighter turns, the front-wheel-drive RLX develops pronounced understeer due to its 61/39 front end weight bias. Fortunately, you can dial up a better snubbed ride and quicker throttle response by engaging Sport mode. Unfortunately. the RLX inexplicably defaults to its soft ride setting whenever the engine is switched off.

If you’re looking for a sporty upgrade for your RLX, Acura offers a 370hp V-6 Hybrid combo that should wake up the sleeping giant while returning 30 MPG. The base model V-6 of our test car is good for 20 MPG around town, and 31 MPG on the freeway. One of the most rewarding aspects of Acura ownership is Acura Total Luxury Care (ATLC), which provides you and your RLX with a personalized home page that covers accessories, model specifications, current Acura Financial Services billing, and email reminder notices for service. ATLC also offers 24-hour roadside assistance, and trip planning services that include computerized routing and map information, message relay and airline ticketing. These all inclusive freebies are just part of the housewarming party you’ll get every time you climb into the well tailored cabin of your RLX. If future speak is your native language, RLX is your car.

2014 Acura RLX

  • Engine: 3.5 liter V-6
  • Horsepower: 310 hp
  • Torque: 271 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 20 MPG City/31 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $48,450
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport AWD 2.0T

Wednesday October 2nd, 2013 at 8:1010 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Spacious Cabin, Great Motor, Real Geared Transmission
Gripes: No Roof Rack With Panorama Sunroof

2013 marks the birth of the third generation Santa Fe. Hyundai has divided the model line into 2 versions, Santa Fe Sport and Santa Fe. The Sport seats 5, while the larger Santa Fe seats 7. Although the Sport may be smaller, it manages to cram a stunning assortment of delicious ingredients into its 106 inch wheelbase while keeping costs affordable. The base model all-wheel-drive (AWD) Sport retails for just $26,200 but still provides 190hp. from a 2.4 liter inline four borrowed from the Hyundai Sonata. Our test Sport, however, improves performance dramatically thanks to its turbocharged 2.0 liter inline four, which makes 264hp and 269 lb.-ft. of torque. This combo sells for a reasonable $29,450, and even returns 21 MPG overall. When you add ancillary packages like the Leather and Premium Equipment Package ($2,450) and the Technology Package ($2,900), as delivered price rises to $35,925. This still represents a stunning value for an SUV that competes on even terms with a BMW X3 which costs close to $50,000 when optioned like the AWD Santa Fe 2.0T.

In keeping with the patina of its namesake New Mexico town, our test Santa Fe Sport was resplendently painted “Canyon Copper,” a brilliant shade you’re not likely to forget. Stomp the accelerator, and the Sport leaps forward with a vengeance you won’t soon forget either. The turbo motor drives a 6-speed automatic gearbox with SHIFTRONIC manual override control. All-wheel-drive chimes in when needed, but can also be manually selected through a default lock. Because peak torque is available at just 1,750rpm, the Sport lunges ahead from a standstill with such vigor you hardly ever need to resort to manual shift control for thrust enhancement.

The AWD Sport tackles twisting roads with the kind of aplomb reserved for low flying sports cars. Helping in this regard are “Hyper Silver Alloy” 19 inch wheels supporting beefy 235/55R19 Continental CrossContact tires that provide excellent cornering bite. We ran this Hyundai over 38 miles of twisty California Route 128 from St Helena to Winters and were pleasantly surprised by its comfortable ride, poised handling, and passing power. An especially nice feature is “Driver Selectable Steering Modes” which allows you to choose from 3 settings via a spoke mounted button: Normal, Comfort and Sport. On Rte. 128, we settled on the Sport choice, and found just enough resistance to enhance accurate positioning of the Santa Fe. A less slippery leather grip on the steering wheel would be a welcome change, however.

The cabin of the Sport is so spacious and airy that long trips are enjoyable rather than tiring. The “Panoramic Sunroof” which is part of the Technology Package opens up the interior like the twist lid on a sardine can. Even back seat passengers get a dose of fresh air and natural light because this vast roof both slides and tilts. The back seats accommodates 3, and the outside 2 positions get heated seats, which are part of the Premium Package. The spaciousness of the Santa Fe cabin becomes abundantly clear when you drop the rear seats flat to create a vast storage area that will easily accept a mountain bike.

The only shortcoming inside the cabin is Hyundai’s use of multiple vinyl facings for dash, door and console surfaces. The various pebble grains don’t quite match, and the matte black console looks cheap. But mismatched plastic is the only clue that you’re not driving something far more expensive here. From a cost efficiency standpoint, the Santa Fe Sport is one of the best buys in the SUV market today. For $35,000, you simply cannot do better.

2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport AWD 2.0T

  • Engine: 2.0 liter DOHC inline 4, turbocharged
  • Horsepower: 264hp @ 6,000rpm
  • Torque: 269 lb.-ft. @ 1,750-3,000rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 19 MPG City/24 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $35,925
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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


Review: 2013 Honda Crosstour EX FWD

Tuesday October 1st, 2013 at 1:1010 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Stands Out In A Crowd, Utilitarian
Gripes: Inelegant Back Road Handling

Honda revamped its Crosstour for 2013 by supplying it with mock skid plates front and rear. These fluted aluminum shelves convert this crossover’s appearance from benign to purposeful. Suddenly, the Accord-based product looks more like an SUV than a station wagon on stilts. The new fascias hide the fact that the Crosstour is based on the previous generation Accord chassis, so if you seek the latest underpinnings, you’ll have to opt for the 2013 Accord sedan. But bear in mind that the sedan stores 16 cubic feet of baggage compared to the Crosstour’s 22 cubic foot capacity.

New for 2013 is an uprated 3.5 liter V-6 engine producing 278hp and 254 lb.-ft. of torque. Though the FWD chassis will only tow 1,500 lbs., it’s got more than enough grunt to run like the wind on the freeway. Despite its substantial 4,030 lb. weight., the quiet and efficient Crosstour requires careful minding because it always wants to run at 80MPH. The interior is eerily silent at freeway speed, and because Honda has equipped its new 6-speed automatic gearbox with paddle shifts, you can easily kick down a gear or two for lane change spurts. Rear vision is surprisingly good given the bifurcated rear window, and long slabs of heavily tinted side glass. Helping in this regard are 3 perfectly placed and sized rear view mirrors, and the ingenious rear view camera which displays continuous images on the dashboard screen. You can activate this camera by depressing the end of the light control stalk, or turning on your right turn blinker.

The flowing roof lines of the Crosstour diminish rear seat headroom, and inhibit carriage of tall cargo. But the trim lines distinguish this Honda from any other shape on the road. Think of it as a bargain priced Audi A7. If interstate cruising is high on your requirement list, the V-6 Crosstour is a perfect match. But if you spend significant drive time on twisty back roads, this tall, softly sprung Accord adaptation will force you to take turns at a glacial pace. The new-for-2013 18 inch alloys look aggressive, with five split and machined spokes, but the tires Honda has chosen – Michelin 225/60R18 Latitudes – break traction early and squeal disconcertingly. The Crosstour’s traction control complex also kicks in at disarmingly low speeds to usher you cautiously through turns. If you live in the snow belt, you can order your Crosstour with all-wheel-drive, but you’ll pay $1,450 for the upgrade.

The interior of this Honda features the company’s typical multi-level, horizontal dashboard arrangement which requires you to scan various strata of gauges and displays to find the information you seek. On occasion, this effort requires averting your eyes too long from the road. The individual climate settings, for example, occupy a niche of their own separate from any other read-out on the panel. However, the large central display screen, which is new this year, does a terrific job of keeping track of music supplied via SIRIUS XM or MP3 sources. The screen alternately serves as a navigational map when needed. The front seats are reasonably comfortable, but the backrest angle adjustment is via a crude manual ratchet lever. What you will appreciate most of all about the Crosstour’s accommodations is the width and spaciousness of the cabin. The 75 inch wide Crosstour enjoys a 2 inch advantage over the 73 inch wide Accord. and a 6 inch advantage in length. This extended stance, coupled to the elevated ride height produced by the 60 series tires, imbues the Crosstour with an airy, commanding driving position that makes it perfect for long interstate commutes.

2013 Honda Crosstour EX FWD

  • Engine: 3.5 liter SOHC, 24 Valve V-6
  • Horsepower: 278hp
  • Torque: 254 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 22 MPG City/33 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $36,470
  • Star Rating: 7.5 out of 10 Stars

Posted in Expert Reviews, Feature Articles, Honda |Tags:, || 1 Comment »


Review: 2014 Mazda 6

Monday September 30th, 2013 at 9:99 PM
Posted by: Francois

Introduction

Carreview received the Mazda 6 test car with little fanfare and anticipation.  We just didn’t know what to expect and the outgoing Mazda 6 model was a fairly uneventful passenger sedan. When the Mazda 6 replaced the 626 in 2003, it drew praise for its smooth styling and sporty handling. Shoppers looking for an exciting take on the dull midsize sedans of that era turned to the Mazda 6 for 4-door practicality and Miata-inspired steering. It was a winning formula and sales were strong — especially as a newcomer up against established rivals like the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry.

But when it came time to redesign the Mazda 6 for 2009, Mazda changed things up. While trying to keep the sporty feel of the first model, the brand also aimed for the mainstream. The result was a larger car with less steering feedback. Buyers looking for performance were no longer impressed. And it didn’t help that the second-generation Mazda 6 came in the fall of 2008 — at the height of the Great Recession.

For 2014, the Mazda 6 returns to its roots. The new Mazda 6 is shorter in length than the outgoing model. It’s also lighter, weighing in between 220 and 375 pounds less than the 2013 model. Most importantly, it’s more exciting. While some may lament the lack of a V6, the latest Mazda 6 will move those who enjoy driving the way the original model once did.

But while the new Mazda 6 brings back its old drivability, it moves forward in several key areas. One is technology: The latest Mazda 6 offers many high-tech safety and convenience items. Another is styling, as the 2014 Mazda 6 uses bold, aggressive lines to convey its return to performance. With the right mix of old and new, the Mazda 6 is a strong entry in the competitive world of the midsize sedan.

Pros:

  • Excellent handling prowess
  • Impressive  fuel economy for a car this size
  • Long list of integrated technology features
  • Excellent  rear seat room

Cons:

  • Choppy ride quality in bad pavement
  • Difficult to learn navigation system
  • Trunk in the small end for this size car

Comfort & Utility

The Mazda 6 is offered in three trim levels: Sport, Touring and Grand Touring. All are front-wheel-drive 4-door sedans.

The Mazda 6 Sport starts at $20,880 before shipping. That figure buys a 6-speed manual; drivers who want an automatic pay an extra $1,615. Like last year, air-conditioning, cruise control and remote keyless entry are standard. New features include push-button start, USB audio input and — on automatic models — a rearview camera. And 17-inch alloys replace last year’s 16-in wheels with hubcaps.

More features can be found in the Mazda 6 Touring. Starting at $23,445, the Touring also includes a standard 6-speed stick — though upgrading to an automatic is only $1,050. Standard equipment includes dual-zone air-conditioning, a blind spot monitor and a power driver’s seat. The Mazda 6 Touring also boasts leather seats, handsome 19-in alloys and Mazda’s Rear Cross Traffic Alert safety tech.

Topping the Mazda 6 range is the Grand Touring, which starts at $29,495. Only offered with an automatic, the Grand Touring is the lineup’s luxury trim. Standard features include a power sunroof, paddle shifters, Bi-Xenon headlights and heated front seats. Styling upgrades include painted 19-in alloys, fog lights and a rear trunk spoiler.

Inside, the Mazda 6 offers a totally revamped cabin. Like the exterior, the interior boasts more style than before. Flowing lines connect the door panels to the dashboard and the wide center stack. Even the base-level Sport uses upscale materials and a thick steering wheel puts drivers in control.

Functionally, the interior also works well. Steering wheels are chock full of switches and knobs — 17 total in our test car, not including the paddles — but once drivers memorize them, they’re very convenient. Climate controls are easy to use, though their display screen — which also houses the clock — washes out on sunny days. And while the touchscreen navigation system is located above the air vents and far from the driver’s hand, a center-mounted control is well-placed and easy to use.

For drivers interested in comfort, the front seats are the place to be. They’re well-bolstered and cushy, making easy work of long drives. That’s especially true of the leather in Touring and Grand Touring models, though we found the Sport’s cloth upholstery to be similarly supportive and comfortable. Compared to class leaders, the Mazda 6 is certainly on par.

The backseats are also a strong point. Despite its low-slung, coupe-like styling, the Mazda 6 somehow incorporates enough headroom for tall passengers to ride comfortably. It’s a lesson that could be learned by some other brands with similar styling and a cramped rear seat. Compared to rivals, legroom is merely average. A tall driver with a tall passenger in back may be cramped, for example — just like in most midsize sedans.

Behind the passengers, trunk space is merely adequate. At 14.8 cu ft, the Mazda 6 brings up the rear among midsize sedans, as it offers less cargo room than the Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata and Toyota Camry.

Technology

For a car that’s so focused on driving pleasure, technology is a strong point. The most important advancements relate to safety, as the new Mazda 6 debuts six new high-tech safety features. Such items include radar cruise control, a blind spot monitor, a lane departure warning system and rear cross traffic alert to help drivers leaving parking spots. There’s also a high beam control feature that dims the brights when they detect an approaching vehicle. And Mazda’s Smart City Brake Support can stop the car if it detects an impending crash.

Of course, nearly all of this technology is optional. High beam control, for instance, can only be ordered as part of the Advanced Package — a $2,080 option that’s only offered on the high-level Grand Touring trim. And while Touring models offer Smart City Brake Support and a navigation system in the $2,000 Touring Technology package, you have to step up to the Grand Touring trim for radar cruise control.

But the technology will impress those who opt for it. One reason is because it’s so easy to use. The radar cruise control, for instance, works with a simple steering wheel stalk. In our tests, it was always easy to program and kept a predictable following distance. The same is true for Mazda’s blind spot monitor, which warns drivers if a vehicle is in a blind spot. A chime sounds if drivers try to signal towards that vehicle.

An exception to the impressive tech is the TomTom-based navigation system, which we found clunky and difficult to use. In addition to several counterintuitive menus, its biggest flaw was a lag between touch and feedback.

Performance & Fuel Economy

The redesigned Mazda 6 offers only one powertrain: a 184-horsepower 2.5-liter 4-cylinder. To keep up with hybrid rivals and the Volkswagen Passat TDI, a diesel is due out later in the year. But unlike those rivals, the Mazda 6 won’t have a more powerful engine for speed junkies.

To us, that’s not a problem. The 2.5-liter four is powerful enough for nearly all typical situations. That’s especially true with the brand’s SkyActiv-Drive automatic, which boasts crisp shifts that Mazda says are quicker than dual-clutch transmissions in competitors. Of course, in true Mazda fashion, the 6-speed stick is also a joy thanks to short throws and a predictable clutch. But don’t get your hopes up, 3-pedal purists: The stick shift is only available on Sport and Touring models and Mazda says it will only find its way into 10 percent of all production.

Efficiency-minded shoppers also won’t be clamoring for a V6. That’s because the 4-cylinder returns impressive fuel economy thanks to SkyActiv technology, which saves weight and boosts efficiency. Once again, the automatic is the best bet, returning 26 miles per gallon city and 38 mpg highway for a combined 30 mpg. That just edges out the manual’s 25 mpg city/37 mpg hwy and 29 mpg combined.

Safety

The new Mazda 6 comes standard with stability control, traction control and eight airbags. All models except the manual-equipped Sport include a rearview camera and Bluetooth. The Mazda 6′s Bluetooth technology displays text messages on the sedan’s center screen and even reads them aloud so drivers won’t be distracted by their cell phones.

Neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has put the new Mazda 6 through crash tests. Last year’s model received an overall 4-star NHTSA rating that included a perfect five stars in the rollover test, four in the side crash test and three in a frontal impact. But with the new design, those ratings are likely to change.

Driving Impressions

This is where Mazda usually trumps the competition and Mazda has brought the Mazda 6 in line with the brand’s core values.  It is fun to drive as it feels agile and light. There’s no doubt that the Mazda 6 is aimed at shoppers eager to occasionally test their car’s limits on a curvy road. That’s not to say that traditional midsize sedan buyers won’t like the Mazda 6. But they may find its exterior and interior a little daring and the ride a little harsh. Those who enjoy the driving experience won’t mind sacrificing ride quality — but for the comfort-minded, there’s no shame in choosing a more pliant rival.

2014 Mazda 6 Grand Touring

BASE PRICE: $20,990 for Sport with manual transmission; $22,695 for Sport with automatic; $23,645 for Touring with manual; $24,695 for Touring with automatic; $29,695 for Grand Touring.

PRICE AS TESTED: $31,690.

  • Transmission: Automatic
  • Drivetrain: Front Wheel Drive
  • MPG: 26 City / 38 Hwy
  • Engine: Regular Unleaded I-4 2.5 L/152
  • Horsepower: 184 @ 5700
  • Torque: 185 @ 3250 2.5 L/152

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


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