2017 Honda Ridgeline AWD Black Edition Review

Friday December 30th, 2016 at 11:1212 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Honda Ridgeline AWD Black Edition

By David Colman

Hypes: Precision Handling, Lively Drivetrain, Innovative Storage
Gripes: Tailgate, Hood Prop, Glovebox Need Refinement

After a two year absence, the Ridgeline returns to the marketplace minus its most identifiable feature. The flying buttress that long defined this Honda is gone. Not many owners will rue its absence. Although the Ridgeline’s iconic profile distinguished it from all other compact pickups, the cab side buttress interfered with rear vision as well as bed access. When you’re dealing with a bed as short as this one (5’3″), impaired access is inadvisable. But the redesigned structure makes side access easy. To understand just how short this pickup’s box is, place an adult size mountain bike in the bed. While the bike fits nicely, it takes up the entire floor.

2017 Honda Ridgeline AWD Black Edition

This Honda’s very versatile design is based on the company’s Pilot SUV, which was redesigned for 2016. Like the Pilot, the Ridgeline packs a sophisticated 3.5 liter V6, good for 280hp and 262lb.-ft. of torque. Those numbers will allow you to tow a 5,000lb. trailer – provided you keep the passenger and cargo load light in the truck. The owner’s manual gives you a specific breakdown as to how much the trailer load decreases when the passenger and cargo load increase. An integrated Class II trailer hitch and electrical receptacle are standard issue.

2017 Honda Ridgeline AWD Black Edition

The Ridgeline we tested, which Honda calls their Black Edition, is the most fully optioned and most expensive model in the line-up. Although you can opt for a crew cab 4×2 for a base price of just $29,475, the Black Edition 4×4 will run you $44,770 including $900 for delivery. That’s an expensive proposition, because some aspects of the Black Edition Ridgeline look more like a $30,000 product than a $45,000 one. For example, when you pop the hood to service the sideways mounted V6, you are forced to dismount a spindly support rod, then insert it into a specific hole, all while juggling the hood with your free hand. The sound deadening mat under the hood looks cheap. At the back end, the heavy tailgate thuds from upright to open with a disconcerting free fall crash. Its weight makes raising it manually quite difficult. Even the glovebox door mimics the tailgate, as it flops noisily open. Other domestic pickups have long since remedied such issues.

2017 Honda Ridgeline AWD Black Edition

In spite of these annoyances, there’s really a lot to love about the ingenious design of this crossover truck. Start with the basic design of the platform. Rather than the conventional body-on-frame design so common to compact pickups, Honda has chosen an alternate route they call “Integrated Closed-Box Frame with Unibody Construction.” In common English that translates into a one-piece body structure that provides a quieter ride, with better isolation from road imperfections. The Back Edition rides on model specific black alloy rims (8″x18″) with tall sidewall Firestone Destination all-season tires (245/60R18). The fully independent suspension of the Ridgeline works in consort with the tall Firestones to isolate you from road imperfections. Inside the cabin, outside noise is imperceptible, and even the nastiest potholes are neutered by the cushy Firestones. Yet this truck also corners with exceptional prowess. Its all-wheel-drive system metes power to all four corners with such precision that the suspension never loses traction. Substantial front and rear stabilizer bars help keep you on an even keel. Electronic, power- assisted rack and pinion steering is accurate enough to govern precise placement of this 4, 430 lb. vehicle. To Honda’s engineering credit, it drives smaller than it is.

2017 Honda Ridgeline AWD Black Edition

The V6 engine contributes greatly to the Ridgeline’s vibrant performance. When you toe into the throttle, power flow is gratifyingly immediate. 0-60mph test runs clock the Ridgeline at under 7 seconds, which is very quick for such an AWD truck. The 6-speed automatic transmission contributes smooth, immediate shifts, though it lacks manual paddle activated override. The V6 boasts cylinder deactivation technology, which allow this package to post an overall MPG rating of 21. When you combine this sweet drivetrain with all of the Ridgeline’s other features (hidden 7.3 cubic foot trunk in the floor of the pickup bed, folding, stowable rear seats, fully bevy of standard safety alerts), the Black Edition Ridgeline starts looking like something of a bargain surprise, even at $45,000.

2017 Honda Ridgeline AWD Black Edition

2017 Honda Ridgeline AWD Black Edition

  • Engine: 3.5 liter V6, 24 valve i-VTEC, Direct Injection, Variable Cylinder Management
  • Horsepower: 280hp
  • Torque: 262lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 18MPG City/25MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $44,770
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Kia Optima SX LTD Review

Thursday December 29th, 2016 at 11:1212 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Kia Optima SX LTD

By David Colman

Hypes: Strong Motor, Solid Handling, Unexpected Luxury Cabin
Gripes: Navigation System Anomalies

For a base price of $35,790, this Kia is a bargain.. When you climb into the spacious cabin, the first thing you notice is the diamond boxed seating surfaces, trimmed in soft mocha-hued Nappa Leather. You could be excused for thinking you had mistakenly opened the door to a Maserati or a Bentley rather than a Kia. But make no mistake, the top level Optima SX LTD, completely redone for 2016, is good enough to pass itself off as an expensive European luxury ride.

2016 Kia Optima SX LTD

The goodness extends beyond the obvious wow factor of the triangulated seat stitchery. If you opt for an SX LTD Optima, you’ll enjoy a very lively turbo inline 4, which utilizes direct fuel injection to slap out 245hp, and 260lb.-ft. of torque. Since this is a front wheel drive car, there’s enough power to provoke torque-steer, especially on wet pavement, All that zoom feeds through a sweet 6-speed automatic gearbox equipped with paddle shifts. The SX rides on standard 18 inch alloy rims shod with aggressively all season Michelin MXM4 rubber (235/45R18). Sport oriented suspension tuning helps provide taut responsiveness to steering input.

2016 Kia Optima SX LTD

Thanks to its willing yet efficient turbo engine (25MPG overall) this Optima is a lot of fun to drive. On the freeway, the SX is quiet and well snubbed, but still compliant enough to remain comfortable over distressed pavement. Both front seats are heated and offer full electric positioning control. The driver’s seat even includes a pair of memory buttons which retain pre-arranged mirror and seat positions. There are few interior clues to the bargain nature of the Optima. The only obvious one is the clumsy manual adjustment collar for steering wheel reach and tilt.

2016 Kia Optima SX LTD

The standard included Navigation System displays its maps on a sizeable 8 inch screen. But the mechanics of destination programming caused concern. When we attempted to enter the destination “Ferry Point” in Alameda, CA, the system repeatedly failed to recognize the address. It wasn’t until we abbreviated “Point” as “Pt.” that the Kia divulged the needed information. One wonders whether it would be able to understand the word “Street,” or require use of the abbreviation “St.” to find a street address.

2016 Kia Optima SX LTD

Programming glitches aside, the Optima offers an otherwise commendable slate of electronic entertainment and safety wonders. The audio system by Harman Kardon produces “QLS Premium Surround Sound” with enough vibrato to awake the dead. You even get to play with 200 plus channels of SIRIUSXM for your first 3 months of ownership for free. Also standard is the complete nanny package, which includes Front Collision Warning System, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Blind Spot Detection, and Lane Departure Warning System. With all of these obnoxious warning systems chiming in on a regular basis, you’ll be free to pay more attention to your text messaging and incoming phone calls. Just don’t make the mistake of believing that this car will take care of driving itself. An unpleasant bout with Advanced Smart Cruise Control (ASCC) convinced us that this particular system isn’t quite ready for prime time use. On a heavy traffic run up 101 from San Rafael to Petaluma, the Optima’s ASCC had us continuously slowing and thrusting with speed pre-set to 65mph. After 15 minutes of this behavior, we switched off ASCC, choosing instead to do things the old fashioned way – with foot and throttle pedal. In spite of its armament of nannies, the Optima SX remains a primo ride, since almost every nanny voice can be manually defeated before you start a trip. The only one that proved useful in all events was Rear Cross Traffic Alert, which also projects a rearward view on the 8 inch screen when Reverse gear is engaged.

2016 Kia Optima SX LTD

Despite front wheel drive, this turbo Optima is almost as much fun to drive as a small BMW. It’s got the grunt and the handling to satisfy your urge for sport without forcing you to pay the stiff entry price demanded by its German equivalent.

2016 Kia Optima SX LTD

  • Engine: 2.0 liter turbocharged inline 4 with direct injection
  • Horsepower: 245hp
  • Torque: 260lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 22MPG City/32 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $36,615
  • Star Rating: 9.5 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Hyundai Sonata Sport 2.0T Review

Wednesday December 21st, 2016 at 11:1212 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Hyundai Sonata Sport 2.0T

By David Colman

Hypes: Easy on the Eyes, Quick, Well Furnished
Gripes: Gnarly Brakes, Too Much Understeer

For the 2015 model year, Hyundai recast the mid-size Sonata, giving it better insulation, a roomier passenger compartment, and more up-to-date looks. For 2016, they added a hybrid version and a plug-in electric model good for 20 miles on a charge. For sportier types seeking higher performance, the Sport model we test here features a 2.0 liter turbo motor packing a 245hp wallop. This svelte looking front-wheel-drive sedan is beautifully sculpted, with graceful lines stretching from the front end’s signature 7 LED driving light cluster to the tail’s rear diffuser containing quad exhaust tips. The inline 4 really gets with the acceleration program. It’s coupled to a 6-speed automatic gearbox featuring paddle shifts plus a manual control gate on the console stick as well. Since the engine makes 260lb.-ft. of torque all the way from 1,350rpm to 4,000rpm, you almost never need to bother with the paddles or gear selection. Just floor the Sport’s model-specific ribbed aluminum accelerator pedal, and enjoy this sedan’s prodigious passing prowess. When bidden, it jumps.

2016 Hyundai Sonata Sport 2.0T

In addition to the exterior sporting clues, Hyundai has freshened the interior with such performance-oriented features as a D-shaped (flat bottom) steering wheel, and sport leather seating surfaces with standard front seat heating. These handsome pedestals are quite supportive during hard cornering maneuvers. Sports-tuned suspension and steering help raise the lateral limits of the Sonata Sport. If the basic ride quality and steering feedback is too soft for your liking, you can engage a Sport setting via a “Drive Mode Select” button on the center console that stiffens the steering feedback, and favors higher rpm engine operation. There’s also an Eco setting available which makes feedback sludgy and softens throttle response. Really, the Sport Sonata is well enough tuned that you could easily do without either of these Drive Mode Select options. In fact, I chose to spend most of my week in Normal mode, which offered good steering response without artificial heaviness, and lower-rpm shift points which eliminated noise and jerkiness. The standard 18 inch alloy rims bear mid-level Kumho Solus XT tires (235/45R18) that squeal when pushed to the limit. At that limit, this 3,315 pound sedan develops profound understeer, which is safe to control, but not very rewarding to manage.

2016 Hyundai Sonata Sport 2.0T

The list of standard attributes for the Sonata is long and surprisingly complete given its modest $28,925 base price. I really liked “Proximity Key Entry with Push Button Start,” since this allows you to approach the Sonata with hands full and slide right in without fumbling for keys. Likewise, once seated, just bump the large Start button on the dash while the key fob is still buried in your pocket or purse, and the Hyundai lights off without further ado. The remote fob also features a trunk release button that eases the toil you need to expend when loading groceries. These are niceties that many sedans costing twice as much fail to offer as standard equipment. Our rear seat test rider commended the spaciousness of the aft passenger compartment, which is fitted with twin floor mounted rear vents for A/C and heat. The cabin is quiet enough at 65mph to carry on a conversation with aft seat passengers, Despite the fact that our test Sonata lacked a sunroof, we hardly noticed its absence thanks to this sedan’s large and expansive side and rear windows.

2016 Hyundai Sonata Sport 2.0T

The Sonata is highly rated for crash safety by the US Government. It merits an overall score of 5 Stars, the highest evaluation available. It amasses this score by earning 5 stars for both front AND rear passenger, AND driver impact tests, plus 4 Stars for rollover rating. This highly rated protection accrues from front, side impact, side curtain and driver knee airbags. Additionally, the Sport offers standard blind-spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert. Although ABS brakes, with electronic brake force distribution and brake assist is a standard component of the Sport’s specification, the brakes on our high-mile (10,000 mile) test car were grabby and unpredictable. They failed to release when pressure on the pedal was removed.

2016 Hyundai Sonata Sport 2.0T

Aside from this foible, the Sonata Sport is well worth considering if you seek a family sedan with pretensions of performance at a modest price. This Hyundai checks a lot of boxes for the money.

2016 Hyundai Sonata Sport 2.0T

  • Engine: 2.0 liter 4-cylinder, turbocharged, gasoline direct injection
  • Horsepower: 245hp@6000rpm
  • Torque: 260lb.-ft.@1350rpm-4000rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 23MPG City/32MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $29,885
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Kia Sportage SX AWD Review

Tuesday December 20th, 2016 at 8:1212 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Kia Sportage SX AWD

By David Colman

Hypes: Handsome Redesign, Packed with Standard Features
Gripes: Comes on Boost With a Bang

Kia has dramatically facelifted the Sportage for 2017. This pugnacious makeover is most apparent up front. A battery of quadruple fog lights flank a new grill that resembles pursed lips. High above the beltline, headlight clusters sweep backwards like a pair of raised eyebrows. Flared fender lips and deft side sculpting complete the new look.

2017 Kia Sportage SX AWD

Standard 19 inch alloy rims, bearing 245/45R19 Hankook Kinergy GT rubber, replicate the natural beauty of a starfish. The Kinergy tires are well suited to the stable suspension tuning of the Sportage, offering a comfortable ride along with predictable twisty road handling. The Sportage’s newfound visual arrogance is appropriate given its turbocharged 2.0 liter, direct injection, 4 cylinder engine. This powerful mill makes 240hp and 260lb.-ft. of torque, so the Sportage can easily tow a trailer weighing up to 2,000 pounds.

2017 Kia Sportage SX AWD

Kia provides you with a very positive shifting 6 speed automatic gearbox, fitted with small paddles at the steering wheel, as well as a gate for manual shifting via the lever mounted between the seats. The only drawback to the turbo motor is its explosive transition to full boost status. This jerky off/on behavior causes the Sportage to jump into action with such a sudden jolt that the rush of acceleration can be hard to control. Better modulation of turbo boost would alleviate the problem.

2017 Kia Sportage SX AWD

It’s otherwise hard to fault this newly revised Kia product. Since all-wheel-drive is standard on this model, you are assured that traction loss in inclement weather will never delay your journey. The inclusion of a locking center differential contributes even more predictability and control to off-road travel. Also helping in this regard are the Hankook tires, which are Mud and Snow rated.

2017 Kia Sportage SX AWD

The interior accoutrements are more than you would expect from a sports utility vehicle carrying a base price under $35,000. While not luxurious, the fittings in the cabin bespeak quality rather than cheapness. The steering wheel, with its nifty flat bottom, is an especially well tailored piece of equipment. The leather rim is fat and grip-able, the stitching is nicely done, and the bevy of cruise and entertainment controls on the left and right spokes are logically arrayed and useful. Nicely upholstered, leather trimmed front seats are a bit too hard and flat in the lower back area, but do provide lumbar adjustment. Unexpectedly, both fronts are heated and cooled.

Vision to the sides and rear is so good that you rarely have to resort to the backup camera image projected on the 8 inch navigation screen when reversing out of a parking place. However, that newly upturned snout makes direct frontal vision difficult. The extra ride height of this SUV’s suspension benefits parking maneuvers by allowing you to glide over curb bumpers you can’t see. A standard front/rear parking assist system also helps keep your Sportage ding-free.

2017 Kia Sportage SX AWD

Kia’s revamped Sportage comes loaded with the full array of GPS-based information sources forgetful drivers require to keep them pointed in the right direction. You don’t have to pay a dime extra for Blind Spot Detection, Lane Change Assist, Lane Departure Warning System, or Rear Cross Traffic Alert. The beauty of these reminders is that they can be used when required or switched off at will. A final incentive to purchase this Kia comes from the company’s unusually long 5 year/ 60,000 mile Limited Basic Warranty, which thoughtfully includes Free Roadside Assistance for that same period of time.

2017 Kia Sportage SX AWD

  • Engine: 2.0 liter direct injection, turbocharged inline 4
  • Horsepower: 240hp
  • Torque: 260lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 20 MPG City/23 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $34,895
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Honda Civic 1.5T Touring Review

Monday December 19th, 2016 at 11:1212 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Honda Civic 1.5T Touring

By David Colman

Hypes: Voluptuous Architecture and Blatant Color
Gripes: CVT Buzzkill, Dash Complexity

Thirty years ago, when I bought my own Honda Civic Si, I did so because Honda had made it the poster child for the economy car as sports car. That first generation Si was light, quick on its rims, and a joy to drive. Visually, the latest 2016 Civic Touring looks even racier than the lively hatchback I owned back in 1987. Unfortunately, the racy looks of the latest two-door Civic are deceptive.

2016 Honda Civic 1.5T Touring

The 1.5 liter turbo coupe simply doesn’t cut it as a driver’s car. It’s not that the 174hp engine isn’t powerful enough to fulfill acceleration needs. Nor are the 215/50R17 Firestone FT140 tires, mounted on standard 17″ x 7″ alloy rims, incapable of generating decent cornering speed. Rather, the Civic Touring is victimized by its Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT), which detracts from the driving experience in multiple ways. First, it’s always noisy, emitting a constant drone that will wear out your eardrums. Secondly, its infinitely variable belt and pulley system causes the CVT to hunt constantly, as it seeks to provide you with the right ratio. It rarely succeeds in doing so. Finally, Honda does not provide paddle shifters. Nor is there a manual gate for your direct oversight of the CVT. The so-called “Sport” setting on the floor-mounted stick does little but amplify noise.

2016 Honda Civic 1.5T Touring

This is really a shame, because the Civic Touring is quite the handsome package. It’s especially good looking in Energy Green, an outrageous shade of metallic lime that will help every CHP cruiser identify you instantly when you exceed the speed limit. Despite its streamlined roof, this little coupe boasts an exceptionally spacious and comfortable rear seat area, complete with foot pedal operated front seat slide to allow easy disembarkation for aft passengers. And the Touring is full of such useful features. For example, if you want to keep track of adjacent traffic, push a button on the end of the turn signal stalk and you will be greeted with a video display showing your immediate road neighbors. A camera located in the right hand rear view mirror projects this real time traffic image on the 7 inch dashboard display screen. This display automatically pops up every time you signal a right hand turn. The innovation is a Honda exclusive, one that really helps keep you informed of traffic patterns.

2016 Honda Civic 1.5T Touring

I wish I could generate similar enthusiasm for the rest of the dash layout, but such is not the case. The control center of this Civic looks like it was designed by video gamers enamored of cell phone pull-down menus. For example, in order to accomplish the simplest objectives, such as increasing or decreasing fan speed, you need to press a dash button which then brings up a video screen showing a plus/minus axis. You are then required to scan this pictograph, locate your finger in the correct spot for actuation, and hope that the screen isn’t too dirty to decipher the command imparted by your trembling fingertip. On top of all that, you are required to accomplish this mission while travelling at 70mph. How is all this in any way different from texting while driving, which happens to be illegal in most states?

2016 Honda Civic 1.5T Touring

Luckily, Honda does quite a bit better with their suite of safety attributes called the “Honda Sensing Package.” This group, which is standard fare on the Touring model, includes Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) which uses radar and camera info to determine and modify your pre-set speed. The Sensing Package also provides sensors that will avoid accidental forward contact by bringing the car to a halt (Collision Mitigation Braking System). We chose not to test CMBS. However, we did experience Road Departure Mitigation (RDM), which exerts haptic feedback if you allow the Civic to drift away from its intended path of travel. The steering wheel gently tugs you back into what RDM has determined should be your true trajectory. The suite of aids also includes Lane Departure Warning (LDW) and Lane Keeping Assist System (LKAS). I chose to deactivate these crutches because most of the time, they proved more annoying than beneficial.

2016 Honda Civic 1.5T Touring

The Civic Touring is a curious brew of knockout looks and punchy motor tempered by the vagaries of a gearless transmission, and the unnecessary complications of an arcade game dashboard. But true believers in the Honda way will be happy to note that the old Civic Si’s irrepressible mojo will be returning to the model line with the addition of a Civic Type R hatchback arriving in 2017.

2016 Honda Civic 1.5T Touring

  • Engine: 1.5 liter inline 4, Direct Injection DOHC, 16 Valves, Turbocharged
  • Horsepower: 174hp
  • Torque: 162lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 31MPG City/41MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $26,960
  • Star Rating: 7 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata Review

Thursday December 15th, 2016 at 8:1212 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

By David Colman

Hypes: Consummate Affordable Sports Car
Gripes: Head Scratching Interior Shortcomings

In the current press-generated blather for self-driving cars, it would seem that Mazda’s rallying cry – “Driving Matters” – is singularly out of step with the times. But the fact of the matter is that driving does matter, and for the foreseeable future at least, you- the driver – will still be held responsible for the conduct of your vehicle. Given that unavoidable fact, wouldn’t you rather chose a sharp tool for the job than a blunt one? The MX-5 Miata is still without question the sharpest scalpel in any driver’s kit bag. Learn to drive a Miata well, and you will instantly become a better driver than you were before. Because this diminutive sports car requires concentration, coordination, and adept manipulation of all control interfaces. If you plan on texting or talking while driving, forget about the MX-5, because it demands a level of involvement that rules out such foolish behavior. In return, it will pay your finesse off in dividends of delight unmatched by anything else you can buy today, regardless of price. The fact that such rich reward is available for just $30,065 makes the MX-5 the best cheap date you can buy period.

2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

Everything about the Miata is straightforward. Its front engine/rear wheel drive layout was once considered the prime solution to the sports car equation. Famous marques like Triumph, MG, and Lotus all built vibrant sports cars to this formula. Although that classic era has long since passed, Mazda alone soldiers on with its affordable, reasonably powerful take on the legendary British design that worked so well back in the 50s and 60s. The MX-5 proves that it continues to excel today. You quickly discover that this Mazda is blissfully devoid of the over-complication plaguing so many vehicles today. There’s a 2 liter straight 4 up front making 155hp. Its twin cam motor boasts 16 valves and performs best in the lower rev ranges, where 148lb.-ft. of torque is instantly on call. The spry four-banger connects to a 6-speed manual gearbox offering micrometer precise shifts. You can buy an MX-5 with an optional automatic gearbox with 6 speeds, but why would you want to do that? An immense chunk of Miata joy is attributable to that stubby wand between the seats that distributes power to the rear wheels. Chose the automatic and you’re ceding half the fun to a unit that renders you partially useless. If driving matters, go for the stick.

2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

Because this two seater weighs only 2,335lbs. great handling does not require steam roller size wheels and tires. Mazda has supplied even the base model we drove with primo rubber: Bridgestone Potenza S001 tires measuring 205/45R17 mounted on smoked chrome alloys. The precise, fully independent suspension of the MX-5 allows the Bridgestones to develop sustained cornering grip that will have you squealing with glee every time you clip an apex on a back road. Have just one such experience and you will instantly understand why Miata is the most raced car on the planet. Every weekend, hundreds of contests take place with various classes of Miatas. These range from box-stock street cars to heavily modified track stars. No other single make series comes close to duplicating the racing world’s allegiance to the Miata.

2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

In the 2017, Mazda will be introducing a retractable fastback hardtop version of the MX-5 that promises to look sleeker than our test model soft top, but also weigh considerably more. When the hardtop is erect, that extra weight will be situated high up in the chassis, resulting in an elevated center of gravity compared to our ragtop. The lightweight fabric roof is so easy to drop and erect with one hand from the driver’s seat that there’s really no need for a complicated push-button electric powered hardtop. We spent 90% of our week driving the Soul Red ($300 optional color)) rocket with its top dropped.

2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

If there’s a bug on the windshield of the Miata, it’s the poor ergonomic design of the interior. For example, although Mazda has added a 7 inch color touch screen display to the dash top, such chores as selecting and installing XM radio favorites is unduly complicated and annoying. Likewise, the rotary selector knob for accessing the touchscreen is inexplicably located atop the transmission tunnel, so that every time your right elbow inadvertently touches the selector knob during a shift, the radio changes stations. Finally, there is virtually no cabin storage either in the dash or the doors, so you’re faced with an awkward reach to a small cubby located behind and between the two seats. Thus, Mazda seems to have resurrected the niggling quirkiness of the British sports cars in ways best left forgotten.

2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

  • Engine: 2.0 liter inline 4, DOHC
  • Horsepower: 155hp
  • Torque: 148lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 27MPG City/34 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $31,330
  • Star Rating: 9.5 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Acura RLX Hybrid Review

Friday December 9th, 2016 at 9:1212 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Acura RLX Hybrid

By David Colman

Hypes: Surprising Road Burner in Sport Mode
Gripes: Non-intuitive Transmission Controls

Ever since the Acura division of Honda moved away from using memorable names like Legend and Integra in favor of meaningless letter designations like RLX and TLX, the buying public has become confused about which letter designations stood for which products. Case in point: would you rather say you were driving a an Acura Legend or an RLX? I know that my father, who bought a first generation Legend coupe, would have had trouble coming to terms with the designation RLX. he had enough trouble with the name Acura, which he persisted in calling “Acoora.”

All that being said, I can make the case for RLX serving as an acronym for “Relax,” since this substantial 4-door sedan is quiet enough, comfortable enough, and fast enough to function as a relaxation center on wheels. By the way, those ally wheels measure 19″ x 8″ and come shod with Michelin Green X rubber (245/40R19). You can have your suspension two ways in this Acura. When you press the Start Button on the dash, the system automatically defers to a comfort setting that makes our pot-holed roads tolerable. But if you insist on dialing up improved road holding, there’s a “Sport” switch located on the center console that tightens steering response, increases muffler volume, and blips the throttle on downshifts. While all these sporting affectations may seem incongruous for a two-ton heavy cruiser, the RLX – when configured for Sport – acquits itself with honor on twisty back roads. While you won’t be confusing its performance with that of a 5 Series BMW, the RLX does provide an unexpected dimension of sporting performance.

2016 Acura RLX Hybrid

That the handling can be dialed into the performance realm is a solid positive, because the excellent Hybrid powertrain requires maximum adhesion from the all-season Michelin tires. Power and torque output are substantial: 377hp and 341lb.-ft. of torque, courtesy of one 3.5 liter SOHC V6, supplemented by no less than 3 electric motors. This compendium of motive power drives all 4 wheels, a dispersed allocation of power Acura dubs “Super Handling AWD.” Indeed, the vehicle’s traction is predictable and impressive. Also notable is the linear brake response. In so many Hybrids, regenerative braking diminishes brake feedback, resulting in a jerky, unpredictable pedal for deceleration. In the RLX, what Acura wordily terms “Agile Handling Assist Dynamic Brake System” gets the job done without the usual Hybrid drama.

2016 Acura RLX Hybrid

However, we did encounter a measure of drama when the big sedan refused to re-fire after a fill-up at the local Valero station. When the Start Button was depressed, a message appeared stating “Hold Keyfob Near Start Button.” We repeated this maneuver to no avail. The keyfob seemed dead, so I pressed the lock button which seemed to activate the door locks. But pressing the unlock button did not unlock the doors, so there we were, locked in our RLX which still refused to start. When I opened the locked door, the theft alarm started blaring, and the remote failed to deactivate it. The Valero attendant came over and gave us a look. Our four star clown show at the pump island continued until the Start Button- for no apparent reason – did what it was supposed to do. Finally, we were off and running, alarm bugle silenced at long last. This was not a confidence inspiring episode.

2016 Acura RLX Hybrid

Part of the problem might stem from the RLX’ overly complicated computer-dependent operation system. For example, even the simplest commands, such as fan speed, require you to press a small fan pictograph button on the display screen. This in turn brings up a fan speed screen, which then requires you to identify and press the appropriate up/down fan speed pictograph. The whole process is overly complicated and distracts you from the job of driving. Likewise, for the paddle-shift enabled 7-Speed dual clutch transmission, Acura has eliminated conventional gear shift controls in favor of a series of small buttons mounted on the console tunnel. These consist of a narrow push button for Park, a small, hidden backward slider for Reverse, and a circular Petri dish for Drive. After a solid week of driving the RLX, this system continued to defy intuition and foster annoyance.

2016 Acura RLX Hybrid

The RLX offers the best mileage for a large luxury sedan in this category. You will average a stupendous 30MPG regardless of city or freeway use. The RLX is quiet, spacious and well tailored. But unless you are a technology addict, the car/driver interface can present daunting problems that could be solved by a needed simplification of controls.

2016 Acura RLX Hybrid

  • Engine: 3.5 liter SOHC V^ VTEC plus 3 Electric Motors
  • Horsepower: 377hp
  • Torque: 341lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 28MPG City/32MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $66,870
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Volvo S90 T6 AWD Inscription Review

Thursday December 8th, 2016 at 11:1212 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Volvo S90 T6 AWD Inscription

By David Colman

Hypes: Palatial Interior, Great Back Seat
Gripes: Printed Owner’s Manual Not Provided; Perplexing Graphic User Interface

This all new Volvo sedan combines scintillating detail design with enough maddening driving nannies to staff a child care center. Let’s start with the S90′s positives first. Even the most cursory inspection of this Volvo leads to the inescapable conclusion that it is a work of art deserving of inclusion in a museum retrospective of Swedish design. From the outside, the S90′s clean lines and exceptional lighting treatments front and rear set it apart from anything else on the road. Volvo designers have endowed the grill with a ripe and luscious mouth, described as a “matte silver waterfall with a chrome frame.” If one car could define the word sleek, it would be this chic Volvo sedan.

2017 Volvo S90 T6 AWD Inscription

But stylish as the exterior may be, it plays second fiddle to the sumptuous interior. The cockpit of the new S90 Inscription looks more like the latest living room ensemble from IKEA than a car interior. The cream colored seats, with perforated Nappa soft leather surfaces, invite close examination. Note the breathable perforations, the neatly tailored piping, and the standard inclusion of heating and ventilation systems. The rear compartment is equally alluring, with enough legroom to assuage a basketball pro. Although the rear side windows are big enough to survey the countryside, they can be configured to hide your presence thanks to manually operated “sun curtains.”

The $3,300 “Inscription Features” include “Linear Walnut Wood Inlays” that are stunning in their matte simplicity. They cover the central console, the passenger quadrant of the dash, and all upper interior door surfaces. These unvarnished swatches of wood comprise but a small part of the Inscription bounty. You’ll also appreciate the self-cleaning LED headlights whose beams bend with the direction of travel. The upper sections of the dash and lower sections of the door panels are leather upholstered. The already plush front seats benefit from inscription grade tweaks like power side bolsters, power under-thigh extension bolsters, and the subtle inscription of the word “Inscription” on the headrests. If you can’t get comfortable in this Volvo, you can’t get comfortable, period. Finally, the list of Inscription Features concludes with 19 inch diamond cut alloy rims. On our test vehicle, Volvo upped the contact patch by equipping it with a $750 set of 20 inch model-specific alloys shod with premium Pirelli rubber (255/35R20 P Zero).

2017 Volvo S90 T6 AWD Inscription

A brand new 8 speed gearbox makes its Volvo sedan debut, providing smooth propulsion for the T6′s 2.0 liter engine. Thanks to turbo-charging and super-charging, the direct fuel injection engine, which is mounted sideways under the hood, produces 316hp and 295 lb.-ft. of torque. While the horsepower peak takes a bit of sprinting to achieve at 5600rpm, the torque flow maxes at just 2200rpm. Make no mistake, this Volvo is quick enough in a straight line to beat almost any of the German or British competition in the traffic light grand prix. The addition of all-wheel-drive makes the P Zero tires work even harder to gain traction at both ends of the car. Even when you push this admittedly heavy (4,220 pound) Volvo hard, it responds with predictable grip and commendable precision. The center console contains a rotating drive-mode selector, fetchingly done in knurled silver, that allows you to alter the car’s responses from lethargic (Eco) to alert (Normal) to spirited (Sport). But you must reassign your preference every time you restart the S90. With a ride this sportingly inclined, the absence of paddle shifts is a surprising omission.

2017 Volvo S90 T6 AWD Inscription

At the outset, we mentioned Volvo’s preoccupation with safety measures that detract from the pleasure of driving. Here’s a brief list of the nannies that will drive you nuts if you fail to stifle them: low speed collision avoidance system; pedestrian, cyclist and large animal detection system; run-off-road protection and run-off mitigation system; road sign information; lane departure warning and driver alert control. If you chose to drive with all these systems active, the S90 transforms itself from a pleasure module into a beeping, dash illuminating warning system that will reduce you to a bundle of over-wrought nerve endings inside ten miles. Turn most or all of these nannies off, and the S90 instantly reverts to being the slickest sedan Sweden has ever built.

2017 Volvo S90 T6 AWD Inscription

  • Engine: 2.0 liter inline 4, direct injection, turbocharged and supercharged
  • Horsepower: 316hp @ 5700rpm
  • Torque: 296lb.-ft.@2200rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 22 MPG City/31 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $66,105
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport 2.4ST 2WD Review

Wednesday November 9th, 2016 at 11:1111 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport 2.4ST 2WD

By David Colman

Hypes: Loaded with Standard Features
Gripes: Front Center Armrest Feels Cheap

Good genes and an even disposition mean just as much in the car world as they do in the human realm. In the genes department, Mitsubishi long ago mastered the art of building large displacement, vibration-free, 4 cylinder motors. Back in 1983, Mitsubishi marketed a 2.4 liter straight four that utilized a counter-rotating balance shaft to cancel vibration. So successful was the design that Porsche paid Mitsubishi royalties to borrow the layout for its 944 series engines. Today, Mitsubishi still depends on this basic architecture to offer a 2.4 liter in-line 4 making excellent power (168hp) and torque (167lb.-ft.) with no harshness at any rpm range.

2016 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport 2.4ST 2WD

In the happy disposition department, the Outlander Sport is a crossover utility vehicle (CUV) so eager to serve you that it even bids you farewell at drive’s end. When you turn it off, the LCD multi-information display flashes the chummy message “See Ya.” For $25,995 (base price), the Sport is surprisingly full of such unexpected bonuses. All models come standard with 18 inch, two-tone aluminum alloy wheels. Ours were shod with Nexen Npriz RH7 tires (225/55R18) that provided competent dry weather traction without imposing a harsh ride.

2016 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport 2.4ST 2WD

One of the first niceties you notice when climbing aboard are the ribbed aluminum pedals for brake and accelerator. These look sharp and respond well to even the slipperiest soles. Another standard convenience provided is a knockout Rockford-Fosgate sound system putting out 710 watts through 9 speakers. A subwoofer the size of a ten gallon Stetson mounts on the right wall of the hatchback, and commands a base note that will have your ears throbbing in very short order. Again, unexpected stuff from a vehicle in the price range. Perhaps the most engaging freebie on the standard inclusion list is the enormous panoramic glass roof which stretches all the way from the windshield header to the back edge of the roof. This nifty contraption which comes with mood lighting to boot, makes you feel like you’re driving a convertible, even though the top doesn’t actually lift off or open.

2016 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport 2.4ST 2WD

For 2016, Mitsubishi freshened the mini-CUV’s exterior surfaces with a frontal look they term the “Dynamic Shield.” A pair of stout looking frontal chrome rails define the edges of the grill and trail artfully into batwing light clusters. A redesigned suspension system for 2016 features new “dynamic” dampers front and rear plus new electronic power steering. These revisions endow the Sport with a raked stance which makes it look ready to spring on prey. There’s a freshness to the styling that is absent in many of the Outlander’s competitors. And it looks especially good in Octane Blue.

2016 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport 2.4ST 2WD

Mitsubishi has come to terms with the CVT drivetrain better than most other manufacturers. Part of the secret sauce here is provision of two enormous shift paddles located just behind the steering wheel. These easily accessed controls actually put you in charge of altering the engine’s rpm range. This latitude to chose power output almost makes the Outlander Sport feel like it has a real gearbox rather than a series of infinitely variable drive belts. Coupled to the big displacement 4′s solid power, the Sport motors through freeway merges with unexpected ease. However, the elevated suspension ride height contributes to a tipsy feeling when pushing this CUV hard through tight turns.

2016 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport 2.4ST 2WD

Thanks to 7 airbags, the Sport earns an overall 4 star Safety Rating from the government, with 5 stars for front and rear seat side crash protection. The model range starts out at $19,995 for the most basic ES trim level, then progresses through SE and SEL levels to the top GT version we drove. Given its many amenities, solid engineering and eager-to-please disposition, the Outlander Sport merits your close attention as an affordable do-it-all family mover.

2016 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport 2.4ST 2WD

  • Engine: 2.4 Liter MIVEC DOHC 16 Valve inline 4
  • Horsepower: 168hp
  • Torque: 167lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 23 MPG City/28 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $26,845
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited Review

Friday October 21st, 2016 at 12:1010 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited

By David Colman

Hypes: STakes Work to Drain the Tank
Gripes: Needs Pneumatic Hood Struts

Call this one the ‘Hybridlander.’ At $50,385, it’s right at the top of the model’s price range. Sure, you can buy a stripper ‘Lowlander’ with a 2.7 liter 4 cylinder 185hp engine for an entry level price of $29,665. But for sheer practicality, performance, comfort and travel range, you can’t beat the line-topping Hybrid. Almost unheard of in today’s option-sodden market, our test Toyota did not boast a single extra price package. Why? Because it comes delivered only one way: Fully Equipped.

2016 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited

The standard issue abundance starts under the hood, where you’ll discover Toyota’s time tested 3.5 liter V6, featuring double overhead cams and variable intake valve timing. This cornerstone gas engine is augmented by a pair of electric motors, one front, one rear, which supply instant torque when you stomp the accelerator. Combined, all this technology bumps total powertrain output to 280hp, 10 more hp than the V6 alone can generate. So good is the 248 lb.-ft. torque pull of this Hybrid that the CVT transmission never hunts aimlessly for optimal performance. The Hybrid Highlander is one of the few power trains that compliment the CVT’s seamless behavior rather than exposing its sometimes annoying inadequacies.

The only problem you’re likely to encounter in the engine department is gaining access to that department. Despite the fact that the hood is incredibly heavy and awkward to hoist, Toyota neglected to equip it with hydraulic lifts. You are thus forced to struggle with one hand to hold it high while you fiddle to insert the spindly prop rod in the correct receptacle. This charade is not at all befitting a vehicle in this price range.

2016 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited

It is, however, the only such oversight we noted in our week long test drive. The interior is fitted with seating for seven, with a third row bench seat fit for Munchkins, two captain’s chairs in the second row, and fairly palatial Lazy Boy buckets up front. All the seats look inviting thanks to the use of perforated leather. The third row bench folds flat in a 60/40 split, and the second row chairs do likewise. Although the Highlander back row seats lack the nifty electric flip feature available in comparable GM SUVs, there’s really little reason to carp here. Transformation from 7 passenger configuration to a flat floor 40.5 cubic foot cargo hold can be achieved in a matter of minutes, without the help of electric motors. The rear cargo hatch of the Highlander does enjoy such a powered lift, and you can set its altitude to any height you choose.

2016 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited

As you might expect, this pricey Toyota provides a raft of standard infotainment options, including just about any alphabet acronym you care to name. You’ll discover the following standard inclusions: AM/FM/CD/MP3/USB/AUX/HD and XMS. If all that doesn’t provide enough diversion for you and your family, may I suggest you suffer from entertainment impairment. And should you doubt the direction of your travel, standard navigation displays itself on a whopping 8 inch touchscreen. About the only complaint we could muster regarding the infotainment nexus is the small size and unsatisfying grip afforded by the radio tuning knobs. But at least Toyota has the foresight to continue supplying such archaic analog features, since most companies have discarded them in favor of digital slides that are impossible to control while driving.

2016 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited

Before you pop for a minivan, you’ll want to examine the benefits afforded by the crisply styled Highlander. It handles better than any minivan thanks to a firm suspension stance aided by Bridgestone Dueler H/L tires (245/55R19). It affords all the space you would normally covet in a van, yet does so without the visual stigma of a pack mule. True, you’ll wait in vain for Toyota to offer a built-in vacuum system in the Highlander, but really, wouldn’t a Dustbuster work just as well? And the deal sealer in this case should be the efficient Hybrid system which offers unexpected power, range and cost dividends thanks to an overall EPA rating of 28 MPG. Such parsimonious performance is most unexpected in an SUV weighing 4,490 pounds.

2016 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited

  • Engine: 3.5 liter DOHC V6 with VVT-i plus twin electric motors
  • Horsepower: 280hp
  • Torque: 248lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 27 MPG City/28 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $51,385
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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


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