Review: 2015 Volkswagen CC 2.0T R-Line

Saturday October 3rd, 2015 at 8:1010 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Volkswagen 2.0T R-Line

By David Colman

Hypes: Full Size Spare with Alloy Rim, Bewitching Looks, Manual Transmission
Gripes: GTI-spec Motor on Wish List

If you’re interested in buying an Audi but have VW money to spend, then take a close look at the VW CC in R-Line trim for 2015. At 56 inches in height, the CC matches Audi’s low slung A7 exactly. Both share the same sweeping corporate roofline, and streamlined good looks. As VW says of the CC, “In some cases, looks are everything.” But where the Audi’s price range starts at $68,300, the CC tested here costs just $35,100 out the door. Granted you’ll have to forego the Audi’s 333hp supercharged V6 and hatchback in favor of the CC’s 200hp turbo straight 4 nand enormous but conventional trunk, But the recent addition of an Audi-inspired R-Line package (revised front bumper, side skirts, threshold scuff plates and model specific wheels) brings the four-place VW coupe even closer in spirit to its much more expensive cousin from Ingolstadt.

Unlike so many other current VW offerings (Beetle, Golf, Passat), the CC is still built in Germany (Emden). In fact, 62 percent of its parts are built there, including the 6-speed manual transmission we had so much fun shifting all week. Its 200hp turbo motor originates in Hungary. The result is an immaculately finished product with typically clean Teutonic lines, high quality materials, and a quaint German resistance to modern driver aid trends. By that I refer to the 2015 CC’s lack of lane keeping assistance and adaptive cruise control. If you want those features, the 2016 CC will fill the bill. Another strange anomaly in the CC is the circuitry for the headlamps. There is no switch setting to activate just the driving lights, which are unique to the R-Line. Also, if you happen to leave the dash selector switch in the headlamp setting when you kill the ignition, the main lights will remain on until the battery dies. I made just that mistake on an early CC I drove several years back.

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Seating surfaces are supportive but hard edged. You won’t confuse the CC with your favorite arm chair. There’s a business-like tone to the interior that places function above form. You won’t find any fancy stitching on the dash, or R-Line embroidery in the headrests, though the scuff plates bear the R-Line logo. VW’s effort to differentiate this model from the basic CC rests in its new lower grill and front bumper. This assembly sports a more pronounced and angular splitter. Fluted rocker panels exaggerate the CC’s fluid lines to good effect, and help focus on its special Uniwheel 8×18 inch double five spoke alloys bearing Continental Pro Contact tires (235/40R18). Subtle R-Line badges on the front grill and rear deck lid complete the transformation.

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With virtually the same 2.0 liter turbo engine powering the 3,420 pound CC as that used in the 3,155 pound GTI, the CC comes off as somewhat less sporty than its cheaper and lighter brother. It would be nice to see VW install the GTI’s optional 220hp turbo 4 in the engine bay of the manual transmission 2.0T CC. Of course, if you crave more horsepower, you can always opt for the 280hp V6 4Motion version of the CC (base price: $43,140), but you’ll have to forego the joy of shifting a manual transmission since the V6 CC only links to a 6-speed automatic.

With its wide stance, excellent performing tires, and sports calibrated suspension, the R-Line CC whisks through twisty back roads with an élan that is scintillating. Granted, there’s a fair amount of body roll, but that same spring rate compliance that rocks the boat ever so slightly on challenging terrain also leavens unwonted feedback over speed bumps and broken pavement. In sum, the ride quality of the CC manifests a tolerable compromise between outright grip and all-around comfort.

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In many ways, the R-Line CC, with its swath of matte alloy interior trim, carefully organized exterior airflow, and driver-oriented manual gearbox, epitomizes the best of German engineering and German construction. That it’s available for such an affordable price is as surprising as it is inviting.

2015 Volkswagen CC 2.0T R-Line

  • Engine: 2.0 Liter Turbocharged DOHC 16 Valve 4 Cylinder with Direct Injection
  • Horsepower: 200hp
  • Torque: 207lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 21 MPG City/32 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $35,140
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Lexus IS350 4-DR Sedan

Friday October 2nd, 2015 at 11:1010 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Lexus IS350 4-DR Sedan

By David Colman

Hypes: Solis, Luxurious Interior
Gripes: Sticky Gearbox, Owner’s Manual Must Be Special Ordered

In its latest evaluation of the 2015 Lexus IS, Consumer Reports’ New Car Buying Guide proclaims that this model “falls short as a sports sedan.” because its “handling is…not engaging enough for a true sports sedan.” After spending a week behind the wheel of this model, I would submit that CR’s conclusion falls far short of a valid review. If you equip the $40,065 IS350 with the $3,740 “F SPORT Package,” you will own one of the finest handling four-doors in the realm. Case in point: a 300 degree, constant radius two-lane off-ramp located somewhere in Contra Costa County. On my tail is the legendary Honda S2000 two seat sports car, equipped with a rear wing tall enough to belong on a World of Outlaws sprint car. As I cranked the IS350 into the well banked turn, I adjusted the F Sport’s Performance Adjustable Variable Suspension (AVS) to “Sport+” and watched the bright yellow Honda get progressively smaller in the rear view mirror. Not only does this Lexus not “fall short” as a sports sedan, but given its comfort and attention to detail, the IS350 F Sport virtually obsoletes everything else you can buy for the same money.

2015 Lexus IS350 4-DR Sedan

In addition to AVS, whose selection feature thankfully operates while you are in motion, the F Sport group also includes some of the stickiest rubber you’re likely to find on a family production sedan: Bridgestone Turanza ER33 front tires (225/40R18) and rears (255/35R18) mounted on F Sport specific split 5-spoke alloy rims. Completing the performance package are aluminum faced pedals surfaced with rubber grip dots, 3 exterior emblems noting F Sport status, and a more aerodynamic front grill and spoiler with a spindle style grill insert. These subtle changes to the base vehicle confer a purposeful stance absent in non-F Sport 350s.

2015 Lexus IS350 4-DR Sedan

F Sport also buys you the best front seats in the business. Not only do these incredibly supportive chairs provide maximum retention on long sweeping off-ramps, they also come with heating coils and air conditioning. Lexus has thoughtfully supplied switches for both functions n the center console so you never have to resort to a menu driven screen to activate seat their climate control. On our “Ultra White” IS350, the blood red leather seats provided a welcome contrast to the simple exterior shade. Their seating surfaces breath so well through a network of tiny perforations that you hardly ever need to activate the ventilation system. Black door panels, steering wheel rim and shift boot feature red stitching to match the seat leather color. Patinated aluminum trim graces the upper glove box as well as the arm rests in the doors. the IS’ interior is a carefully orchestrated symphony of concordant notes designed to assuage apprehension and encourage relaxation. If you pop for the $2,995 Navigation System, you also receive a stellar Mark Levinson Premium Audio guaranteed to jar you out of any lethargy the interior might otherwise provide.

2015 Lexus IS350 4-DR Sedan

Under a handsome and elegant looking engine shroud lies a very effective 3.5 liter V6 tweaked by dual overhead cams, direct and port injection, and variable valve timing to provide 306hp and 277lb.-ft. of torque. Thanks to an 8-speed automatic transmission actuated by paddle shifters on the steering wheel, you will never wont for the proper gear ratio. On lazy days, you can slot the floor mounted stick into its fully automatic gate and let the transmission do the thinking for you about gear selection. Its logic circuitry is adept at interpreting your needs and commands. If you are in the mood to divest yourself of oversight, you may also want to leave the AVS control in the “Normal” position, a setting which affords a plush and pillow-like ride at the expense of the precise micromanagement that the “Sport” and “Sport+” settings provide.

Our test IS350 also included Variable Gear Ratio Steering” (VGRS) for a modest charge of $400. This option not only works to lighten or tighten steering feedback in consort with the AVS setting, it also provides an electric control for steering wheel height and reach. The only problems I experienced with the wheel/instrument layout were inability to see the turn signal blinkers because the wheel obscured them from view in the position I chose. Additionally, a recalcitrant wiper stalk never seemed to comply with my instructions in coping with a heavy mist.

2015 Lexus IS350 4-DR Sedan

Not only does the IS350 F Sport not fall short as a sports sedan, it constitutes your premier affordable choice in the entire category. Though some may quibble with its predatory looking snout, there is no denying its category killing performance.

2015 Lexus IS350 4-DR Sedan

  • Engine: 2.4 Liter I4 MultiAir
  • Horsepower: 184hp
  • Torque: 173lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 23MPG City/36MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $31,700
  • Star Rating: 7 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Chrysler 200C

Thursday October 1st, 2015 at 9:1010 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Chrysler 200C

By David Colman

Hypes: Solis, Luxurious Interior
Gripes: Sticky Gearbox, Owner’s Manual Must Be Special Ordered

Earlier, we reviewed the all new Chrysler 200C, and observed that the V6 version equipped with optional 19 inch wheels and 235/40R19 tires made for a delectable and affordable sports sedan. This time, we tested the same basic car, but in place of the 295hp 3.5 liter V6, a 184hp 2.4 liter inline 4 occupies the engine compartment. Like the V6, it too transmits power to the front wheels via Chrysler’s 9-speed automatic gearbox. Instead of the V6′ sticky Nexen 19 inch tires, the 4 cylinder 200C utilizes middling Goodyear Assurance radials (215/55R17) mounted on 17 inch alloy rims.

The net loss of 111hp between the two versions changes the power-to-weight ratio of the 200C from a respectable 12.3 pounds per hp to a lethargic 19.8 pounds per hp. The loss of 20mm of contact patch at each corner reduces cornering adhesion significantly. The switch from 40 Series radials on the V6 to 55 Series tires on the I-4 raises overall vehicle ride height. This higher center of gravity is a boon to ride comfort over rough road surfaces, but it erodes handling. Combined with the 4 cylinder’s soft springs and gentle shock absorber control, the four cylinder 200C porpoises in fast sweeping bends as the soft suspension bounces through its full range of travel.

2015 Chrysler 200C

Most drivers will never notice the difference in the behavior of the two models of 200C because they will never press the car hard enough to assess such behavior patterns. For them, either version is more than adequate to the task of transporting 4 adults in comfort and style. But for those seeking BMW levels of driving enjoyment only the V6 version of this sedan will suffice. For those less consumed with the fine points of handling, the I4 200C provides a ton of luxury and design finesse for a reasonable base price of $26,225. One look around the interior will have you thinking base price must be $40,000. Chrysler engineers and designers have outdone themselves by producing a Ritz class interior for a log cabin price. If you order the optional “Premium Group” for $995, the leather cushioned and trimmed front seats include ventilation as well as heating. The center console and door panels receive matte finished wood trim panels that resemble re-purposed barn siding. The effect is both handsome and practical since the surface is non-glare.

2015 Chrysler 200C

If you opt for the $1,395 “Navigation and Sound Group 1″ a huge 8.4 inch Touch Screen Display dominates the face of the dashboard, with clearly delineated prompts for access to all functions, including radio, apps, and climate control. Although you do need to bring up the climate program to activate the seat heaters and seat ventilation, you do not need to work through the Touch Screen for such basics as fan speed, or temperature settings. Chrysler has thoughtfully incorporated separate controls for these duties at the base of the center console. And they have also stolen a gambit from the Volvo playbook by providing pass through access and storage behind the base of that center console.

In defense of the I4 200C, it must be pointed out that fuel mileage is exceptional for such a fully optioned, comparatively heavy (3,650lb.) sedan. Compared to its V6 sibling, which posts 19MPG in city driving and 32MPG on highway trips, the four banger makes 23MPG around town and 36MPG on the freeway, for an overall rating of 28MPG. Although you do trade significant performance for lighter fuel consumption, bargain hunters will tout the 4 cylinder 200C’s projected $1,500 savings in fuel costs over 5 years compared to the average new vehicle.

2015 Chrysler 200C

Usually, vehicles we test have logged under 5,000 miles by the time they reach us. In the case of this Chrysler, however, the odometer turned 10,000 miles on our watch. In many ways, the accumulation of such comparatively high mileage leads to a more educated evaluation of a car’s strengths and weaknesses. In the case of this 200C, we noted that the 9 speed automatic transmission was rather jerky in its engagement on both upshifts and downshifts. But aside from that issue, the 200C was remarkably free of defects. In particular, the interior showed no visible signs of wear, while the exterior Red Pearl Coat paint looked as good as the day the car was delivered. The extended usage of this particular model bodes well for its long life prospects.

2015 Chrysler 200C

  • Engine: 2.4 Liter I4 MultiAir
  • Horsepower: 184hp
  • Torque: 173lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 23MPG City/36MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $31,700
  • Star Rating: 7 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2016 Scion FR-S

Wednesday September 30th, 2015 at 10:99 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Scion FR-S

By David Colman

Hypes: More Fun per Buck Than Anything Else
Gripes: Needs Rear Wiper, Extra 50HP

Every year since its introduction as a 2013 model, the tack sharp 2-seat FR-S has improved incrementally without significant price rise. For 2015, Scion stiffened the front suspension and retuned the rear shocks for less body roll and more communicative handling. For 2016, upgrades include a 7 inch touch screen on the dash face, voice command, and a standard rearview camera. Yet the initial 2013 base price of $24,200 has risen just $1,105 over the intervening three years to $25,305. Without question, the FR-S remains one of the best bargains in the sports coupe market. The FR-S shares all major components with Subaru’s BRZ. Both cars are virtual twins, produced by a collaboration between Toyota (Scion) and Subaru. The BRZ, however, is slightly more expensive than the FR-S, with a base price of $26,500 for 2016.

If you seek the response of a sports car, the FR-S will fulfill your quest admirably. This petite, 2,758lb. three-door stands just 50.1 inches high, and 166.7 inches long. When you park it at the mall, a wall of SUVs will instantly block it from view as you walk away. Several times during my week with the FR-S, I had trouble locating it because it was hidden from view. The FR-S is so small that it shares stature with cars from the 1960s rather than the 2016s. But if you salivate at the prospect of a twisty road, the FR-S’ small stature, rock hard springing, and pugnacious 2 liter Boxer motor represent the perfect equation for brisk motoring in vintage sports car style.

2016 Scion FR-S

The 4 cylinder, 200hp flat four, supplied by Subaru, provides adequate motivation. But the chassis is so stiff, the steering so precise, the springing so resilient that the FR-S platform could easily cope with an extra 50hp. As it stands now, the 16 valve engine, with both direct and port fuel injection, and variable valve timing, will easily spin past 7,000rpm when given its head. But the driver must be vigilant to select the correct gear ratio for each expedition to the redline. Scion supplies 6 gears, well-spaced for performance work, along with a very precise linkage that encourages you to swap cogs with brevity and diligence. In fact, the FR-S driving experience is so dependent on the joy of shifting manually that I would dissuade potential owners from selecting the automatic gearbox, an $1,100 option, because it’s such a buzz-kill.

The Scion FR-S handles with acuity because its engine is up front but its driven wheels are out back. This configuration, increasingly rare in a world of front wheel drive (FWD) machines, is the ticket to handling prowess that no FWD combo can ever match. To gild the lily, Scion has made sure to include a proper Torsen limited slip differential (LSD) as standard equipment. This is an expensive supplement to the drive train that insure both rear wheels carry their share of the traction load regardless of pavement irregularities. Mazda’s MX-5, the only comparable sports car in price and performance to the FR-S, charges $558 extra for an LSD plus up-rated shocks. The only drawback to the FR-S spec sheet is Scion’s continued inclusion of Michelin Primacy tires (215/45R17) as standard fare. These middling all- season rollers belong on a family sedan, not a potent sports coupe with g-Force aspirations.

2016 Scion FR-S

Inside the cockpit, a notable oversight is lack of a fold/slide lever on the upper surface of the front seats. This means that every time you try to toss something in the abbreviated back seat, you must lift the low mounted back angle latch first, then slide the seat forward if needed via a second control located under the seat. VW’s GTI offers a single lift control near the headrest that both tilts and slides the front seats of its Golf, so Scion could do better here. However, they would be hard pressed to improve on the front seats themselves. These race style, form-fitting, high backed buckets will keep you happy for hours on the open road but still administer enough lateral support to facilitate track days or autocrosses. They offer the perfect compromise between support and practicality. But because the FR-S is so low slung, you will find it best to follow this prescription for climbing in: grab the steering wheel’s fat leather wrapped rim, shift your inboard leg and butt into the high sided bucket seat, then yank the rest of you in with a tight grip on the wheel. Not pretty but effective.

2016 Scion FR-S

The fetching F-RS is both pretty and effective. If you can find a better sports car for the money, I’ll be more than happy to evaluate it. Odds are, however, that you won’t discover anything close to this ingeniously designed bargain Scion.

2016 Scion FR-S

  • Engine: 2.0 liter 4 cyl Boxer 16 valves, dual variable valve timing, direct and port inj.
  • Horsepower: 200hp
  • Torque: 151lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 22 MPG City/30 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $26,075
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI SE

Thursday August 13th, 2015 at 1:88 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI SE

By David Colman

Hypes: Luscious Power Curve, Impeccable Handling, Killer Seats
Gripes: None

Recently, MOTOR TREND conducted a comparison test of 2 seat sports cars, pitting the new Mazda Miata against Subaru’s BRZ. As an afterthought, they brought along VW’s GTI as a stalking horse to compare to the “real” sports cars. In the end, the GTI blew away both the Miata and the BRZ by posting the fastest acceleration times and lap times on the road course at Willow Springs Raceway. Of course, the experts at the magazine then had some explaining to do about how a modest $27,000 four seat sedan could possibly have beaten those certified sports cars in every verifiable test. Oh, they went on about how the GTI lacked the ride and steering perfection of the Mazda and the Subaru, but in the end, they couldn’t dispute the fact that VW’s long lived little hot rod, now in its 30th year, had managed to kick the stuffing out of the vaunted competition. In order to perpetrate the sports car superiority myth, MOTOR TREND should have left the GTI home.

2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI SE

Golf for 2015 is completely new, with new power sources, revamped styling, better safety features, and upgraded connectivity. The Golf range starts with the Launch Edition price leader at $17,995 and works through several gas (TSI) and diesel (TDI) powered variants. Most expensive Golf is the all-electric e-Golf at $35,445. The GTI we drove is the performance king in the model range, with a base price of just $27,395. Since there were no extras at all, our test car retailed for $28,215 after the addition of $820 for Destination Charge. In today’s market, an option free model like our test GTI is unheard of. Similarly unlikely is the fact that the base GTI wants for absolutely nothing because it is so well equipped in standard form. Start with the turbocharged, direct injected 4 cylinder 2.0 liter engine, the most powerful GTI motor in 30 years, at 210hp and 258lb.-ft. of torque. The surge this fuel miser is capable of generating will knock your lederhosen off. MOTOR TREND clocked it at 99.7mph @14.6 seconds in the quarter mile, with a 0-60mph time of 6.1 seconds. Yet despite the supercar punch, the GTI still returns 28MPG in overall driving.

2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI SE

Although you can option your GTI with a DSG semi-automatic gearbox, it will cost you $1,100 extra and you will be eliminating one of the best 6-speed manuals in the automotive world. I found the dimpled golf ball shift knob atop the GTI’s short stalk manual to be such a pleasure to shift that I made up excuses to run through the gears just for the pleasure of snicking that stick from gate to gate. The GTI’s electro-mechanical power steering is as precise as the weighted dial on a pricey FM tuner. The standard issue Bridgestone Potenza S001 tires (225/40R18) mounted on Cuisine Art bladed alloys, plant the GTI so firmly that side slip is never an issue, no matter how hard you press through turns. The stellar front seats, with copious side and lower back support, are miles ahead of the seats you’ll find in competitive vehicles like the Ford Fiesta ST. While the GTI’s seats may not look as racy as those in the ST, they are much more comfortable over the long haul. We spent five hours in them on a single day roundtrip from the Bay Area to the Sierra foothills without experiencing a moment of discomfort or tedium. Also, the standard Fender audio system proved easier than ever to use. Its new visual display shows pre-selected stations on the XMSirius radio in a bar format on the 5.8 inch touchscreen. This revised layout is easier to read than VW’s former telephone dial tuning system. Also easier to use is the simple overhead control for the standard tilt and slide panoramic sunroof. Instead of the twist dial VW used for so long, a slider button now gets the job done faster.

2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI SE

In the sub-$30,000 market, it doesn’t get any better that the GTI, the original German hot hatch. And if 210 hp are insufficient to your neck snapping needs, the GTI Performance Package is about to be released. This one, which will retail for $29,280 with manual gearbox, is rated at 220hp. There’s even an R Golf in the works with 290hp on tap and all-wheel-drive. But for those on a mission AND on a budget, the base model GTI just has to be the best Golf of them all for the money.

2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI SE

2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI SE

  • Engine: 2.0 liter in line 4, TSI, turbocharged with direct injection
  • Horsepower: 210hp
  • Torque: 258lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 25MPG City/34 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $28,215
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid SEL Premium

Tuesday August 11th, 2015 at 12:88 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid SEL Premium

By David Colman

Hypes: 500 miles to the 11.8 Gallon Tank!
Gripes: Spongy Brakes

May 2015 was a happy month at VW. U.S. sales soared by 8 percent to 34,758. Compare that to Fiat/Chrysler’s rise of 4 percent, GM’s 3 percent growth, flat sales for Nissan and Toyota, and Ford’s 1 percent loss, and there’s finally a reason for optimism at VW’s beleaguered North American outpost. If the 2015 Jetta Hybrid we recently tested is indicative of the company’s newfound attention to detail and quality, then VW has reason to be optimistic about May’s sales portending a sustained trend here. Unlike most hybrids, which require performance sacrifices to compensate for fuel savings, the Jetta Hybrid lets you have it all. Not only is it satisfyingly fast in acceleration, but it is also the exceptional at conserving fuel. This Jetta posts an astonishing 45 MPG overall rating, with 42 MPG available in city driving and 48 MPG on the highway. Given the Jetta’s fuel tank capacity of 11.8 gallons, your range between gas station pencils out at 531 miles. In view of the Hybrid’s moderate base price of $31,120, this VW offers affordability at purchase reinforced by economy throughout the ownership cycle. It’s no wonder that EPA/DOT’s “Fuel Economy & Greenhouse Gas Rating” confers a perfect score of 10 out of 10 on this Hybrid.

2015 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid SEL Premium

But unlike so many other Hybrids with their dodgy steering, tiny rock hard tires, and futuristic interiors, this Jetta is no Jetson. Rather, it behaves like any other VW product engineered in Wolfsburg, Germany. The seats, dashboard layout, instrumentation, and shift mechanism will all look familiar to longtime VW owners. The super supportive front seats are exceptionally comfortable and nicely finished. The back bench seat works well for medium sized adults, with a useful drop down armrest available between the two outboard positions. Those taller than 5’8″ might find foot room restricted when the front seats are positioned at their mid-track position. Although the Hybrid unit necessitates a rather large hump intruding into trunk storage, you can partially overcome the problem by folding both rear seats flat to gain more space. That armrest between the back seats contain a handy knockout panel which allows you to carry elongated cargo like skis while still leaving the seat backs in their upright position. All in all, a typically useful VW smorgasbord of carriage options.

2015 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid SEL Premium

Whereas most Hybrids inflict jerky power transitions in the switchover from electric to gas operation, this Jetta makes the switch quietly and unobtrusively. The only time you really notice the amalgamation of power sources is when you tromp the accelerator. That’s when the sudden infusion of turbo boost and electric motor thrust enables the Jetta to spring forward decisively. In fact, the seat of your pants will quickly inform you that this Jetta’s 177hp is more than enough to cope with any power need you may encounter. The first time I pulled out to pass a slower car on a 2 lane highway, I was gratified to complete the maneuver with a huge safety margin I frankly did not expect. You can drive this Jetta over challenging terrain, safe in the knowledge that it will handle crisply. The surfeit of adhesion is due in part to the Hybrid’s stable platform, precise electro-mechanical speed sensitive power steering, 17 inch standard alloy rims, and sportingly serviceable Continental Conti Pro Contact rubber (205/50R17).

2015 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid SEL Premium

From a performance standpoint, the one area where the Hybrid is deficient is braking feel. Like so many others of its ilk which depend on regenerative braking to recycle brake heat into energy, this one too suffers from a somewhat spongy and unpredictable pedal. When the same amount of braking force does not always produce the same stopping result, it leads to the inescapable conclusion that pedal feel is a crap shoot that varies from stop to stop. But in the big picture, it’s a relatively minor irritation that can be avoided by always braking earlier than you normally would.

2015 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid SEL Premium

Aside from that caveat, the 2015 Jetta is a thumbs-up proposition all around. VW has done a minor facelift of the grill, and added Bi-Xenon adaptive headlights to the SEL Premium package, along with a new dash center stack, and upgraded interior materials. All in all, the Hybrid Jetta garners best-n-class honors by offering scintillating performance combined with stupendous fuel economy.

2015 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid SEL Premium

  • Engine: 1.4 liter inline 4, turbocharged & Electric Motor with battery Pack
  • Horsepower: 177hp
  • Torque: N/A
  • Fuel Consumption: 42MPG City/48 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $32,490
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Ford F-150 4×4 Supercab

Thursday August 6th, 2015 at 11:88 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Ford F-150 4x4 Supercab

By David Colman

Hypes: Aluminum Saves 700 LBS, Sweet EcoBoost Motor
Gripes: No Tailgate Damper, Manual Seat Back Control

Although Ford’s latest F-150 may look familiar, its what you can’t see that distinguishes it from its predecessors. At just 5,000lb, it’s remarkably light for such a large truck. The substitution of aluminum for steel in the cab and body structure has pared curb weight by 700 pounds. As a result, you no longer need a gas swigging V8 under the hood to provide enough punch for acceptable performance. Our test F-150 utilized a V-6 engine displacing just 2.7 liters. Using such a small engine would have been unthinkable in previous three ton versions of the F-150, but thanks to the use of aluminum, the small displacement engine is perfectly adequate to all needs, including towing up to 11,000 pounds.

2015 Ford F-150 4x4 Supercab

The secret to the success of the 2.7 liter V6 is the fact that it’s equipped with twin turbochargers (“EcoBoost” in Ford parlance) which allow the diminutive mill to make 325hp and 375lb-ft. of torque. When you stomp the loud pedal in this rig, you’ll have no performance complaints about its V6 replacing a V8. The only irksome note is struck by Ford’s Auto-Start-Stop regimen, which automatically kills the engine at stoplights, then re-fires it when you touch the gas pedal. Although this protocol does save fuel, the F-150 shudders when shutting down, then shakes like an awakened Frankenstein when re-firing. You can, however, manually override Auto-Start-Stop with a button on the dash console. Trouble is, you have to reactivate your deletion choice each time you re-start the truck. In any event, at refueling time, you’ll be pleased to learn that the EcoBoost motor averages 20MPG in overall driving. The 5.0 liter V8, which is still available in the F-150, will return just 17MPG in overall driving, while making 360hp and 380lb.-ft. of torque.

2015 Ford F-150 4x4 Supercab

Since our test F-150 arrived during a week when we were building and furnishing a small utility shed, we put the behemoth Ford to good use all week long. After visiting a builder’s emporium in Petaluma, we loaded the Ford’s 6 foot long bed with multiple 4′x8′ sheets of Thermoply wallboard and Insulfoam rigid insulation. At first, the Ford’s 6′ short bed seemed problematic, but leaning the load against the closed tailgate forced the extra 2′ lengths to curl upwards while remaining inside the gate. Had we transported plywood, however, the 6′ bed would have prevented us from using this trick. The morale is that if you truly need a work truck, you may not want to opt for the Supercab configuration which limits bed size to 6′ in length.

2015 Ford F-150 4x4 Supercab

The bed of our test truck featured 8 different tie-down hooks, which we utilized to attach bungee cords to stabilize the load. Our test truck featured a couple of options that vastly improved its load carrying ability. The first was a $475 Spray-In Bed Liner, which provides you with a non-slip surface for your load. It also protects the bed from scratches, so we were able to transport a trio of 20″x20″ very heavy paving stones without leaving a mark on the bed floor. The other brilliant innovation is the $375 Tailgate Step, which proved invaluable when climbing into the bed to arrange loads. This device features a single step ladder which deploys from the dropped tailgate. It also features a handrail which extends to let you get a grip while climbing aboard.

2015 Ford F-150 4x4 Supercab

Since my wife and I drive close to 50 different new vehicles each year, it would be easy for us to become a bit blasé about their various virtues. But when my wife returned home after yet another transport mission, she exclaimed as she walked in the door, “I just love driving this truck!” Without question, there’s a certain exhilaration every time you climb onto the running board, hoist yourself into the luxurious cab, and survey the highway world from a perspective superior to that available in any car. The F-150 provides a sense of mastery before you ever flick the key to start. Its sheer size (232″ length, 77″ height) makes it tower over traffic, affording a stellar view of your surroundings. And its bulk is undeniably intimidating to other drivers, especially the boors normally predisposed to usurp your right of way. Given the go-anywhere capacity of the all-wheel-drive system, the epoxy-like traction generated by Goodyear’s best Wranglers (275/65R18), the decisive punch of the EcoBoost motor, and the commanding perspective from the glassy cab, the F-150 has all the bases covered when it comes to staking your claim in the traffic pattern. This is not a vehicle to be trifled with, and if you value the safety of you and your family, you might want to consider the F150 as your main means of transport – even if you never drop so much as a brick into that vast pickup bed.

2015 Ford F-150 4x4 Supercab

2015 Ford F-150 4×4 Supercab

  • Engine: 2.7 liter V-6 EcoBoost Turbo
  • Horsepower: 325hp
  • Torque: 375lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 18 MPG City/23 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $43,480
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2016 Kia Sorento SXL AWD 2.0 Turbo

Wednesday August 5th, 2015 at 9:88 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Kia Sorento SXL AWD 2.0 Turbo

By David Colman

Hypes: Love the Quadrant of K900 Style Driving Lights on Each Front Fender
Gripes: Light-Switch Power Curve, Innocuous Interior

Kia’s 2016 Sorento model range begins with the front-wheel-drive base model LX ($24,300), proceeds through intermediate versions called EX ($31,700) and SX ($36,700), and tops out with the SXL or Limited version we tested. Without first consulting the window sticker, I often try to guess the asking price of a test vehicle the first time I climb aboard. Generally, my ballpark estimates tend to be fairly accurate. The SXL Sorento, however, threw me a curve ball because it initially impressed me as a compact SUV priced in the high $20K to mid $30K price range. When I caught site of its $45,095 bottom line, and $41,700 base price, a shot of adrenalin was needed to counter sticker shock. Frankly, there isn’t much in terms of interior finery or mechanical sophistication to counter my initial notion that the Sorento SXL 2.0 is overpriced.

2016 Kia Sorento SXL AWD 2.0 Turbo

Though I have not had the opportunity to sample base levels of this model, the cabin of the SX, with its rubberized, industrial looking dash top and door panels, and bargain basement mesh storage pockets behind the front seat backs do not define plush. Both front and rear seats, however, are good looking and finely tailored, with deviated stitching on the bolsters, and diamond patterned grey inserts. They are also quite comfortable, offering the softness of Nappa leather on both the first and second rows. The front seats boast 3 stage heating and cooling, the driver’s seat is 14 way adjustable, and the steering wheel rim warms to a toasty grasp without delay. The ability to alter the seatback inclination of the rear seats is particularly welcome. In fact, rear seat passengers are well cared for in all respects with adjustable large ventilation ducts, 115v plug receptacle (150W maximum), and privacy screens for both rear side windows.

2016 Kia Sorento SXL AWD 2.0 Turbo

The all-wheel-drive SXL can be ordered with either the turbocharged 2.0 liter inline 4 of our test vehicle, or a 3.3 liter V6. The turbo 4 makes 240hp and 260lb.-ft. of torque compared to the V6, which produces 30 more hp (290hp) but 8 pound feet less torque (252lb.-ft.). The gain in fuel consumption for the inline 4 is negligible, with the V6 posting 18/26MPG and the I4 good for 19/25MPG. That being the case, I would definitely opt for the smoother V6 because the I4, while quite powerful, has a light-switch quality to its power curve. Even when you don’t require full power, a slight tip-in of the throttle results in an unwelcome shove in the back when you least expect it. The I4 needs attention to its power delivery curve, especially the jerky transition from part to full throttle. However, thanks to that raging turbo, you’ll never find yourself short of acceleration when merging onto freeways or passing slower cars on back roads.

2016 Kia Sorento SXL AWD 2.0 Turbo

The 6-speed Sportmatic transmission works through its well-spaced gears with a floor mounted lever allowing selection and retention of individual ratios as needed. 19 inch alloy rims are standard fitment on the SXL, fitted with solid performing Michelin Premier LTX tires (235/55R19). Suspension calibration is more oriented to comfort than handling. As a result, the Sorento heels over rather quickly on sharp turns, allowing the Michelin tires to shoulder most of the cornering load. This comfort calibration leads to pleasant freeway travel, with little disturbance over potholes, bumps, or truck lane troughs.

2016 Kia Sorento SXL AWD 2.0 Turbo

Our test Sorento boasted the addition of a $2,500 SXL Technology Package, which consists of Xenon HD headlamps, lane departure warning system (LDWS), forward collision warning system, electronic parking brake, surround view monitor, and smart cruise control. Save yourself the extra outlay for this grouping. Due to an all but invisible indicator light on the instrument cluster, I could never tell whether the e-brake was on or off, so I gave up using it, relying on the transmission’s Park setting instead. Since I find LDWS intrusive and annoying, I switched it off at start up on most outings. The radar cruise control is also rather demanding in tight traffic, so I substituted my own judgment instead. About the only thing I would miss without the Technology Package is the HID headlights, which add a good measure of night time safety.

But if there is one overwhelming reason to chose the Sorento over any other mid size SUV it is this: Sorento is one of only 9 vehicles to record zero deaths per million registered vehicles according to the Insurance Institute for Highway safety.

2016 Kia Sorento SXL AWD 2.0 Turbo

2016 Kia Sorento SXL AWD 2.0 Turbo

  • Engine: 2.0 liter Turbo with Direct gas Injection
  • Horsepower: 240hp@6,000rpm
  • Torque: 260lb.-ft.@1450rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 199MPG City/25MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $45,095
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Toyota Corolla S

Monday August 3rd, 2015 at 11:88 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Toyota Corolla S

By David Colman

Hypes: Gas Miser, Interior Belies Price
Gripes: Paltry Torque Rating

My local Toyota dealer is offering a 2015 Corolla S for just $158/month. That amounts to $5.26 per day. If you commute from Marin to San Francisco, the daily toll on the Golden Gate Bridge ($6) will cost more than your Corolla does. Of course, if you chose to pay cash rather than finance your purchase, the Corolla S retails for $22,905. Add $395 for paint protection film, $309 for illuminated door sill emblems, $225 for carpeted floor and trunk mats, and $825 for delivery, and the Toyota Corolla S can be yours for $24,659. Not only is this price affordable, but long range ownership promises to be impecunious as well. The EPA estimates annual fuel cost will be just $1,650, thanks to an overall fuel consumption figure of 32 MPG. On the “Fuel Economy and Greenhouse Gas Rating” scale, this model scores an 8 out of 10, and a 5 out of 10 on the “Smog Rating” scale. All in all, the Corolla is the very model of inconspicuous civility.

2015 Toyota Corolla S

But is it a blast to drive? Not exactly. Although the “S” designation makes a significant step up in performance from the base Corolla, you’ll never mistake it for a BMW, or a Mazda 3 for that matter. Two important items distinguish the S model from the base Corolla. The first is the substitution of rear disc brakes for the base model’s rear drum brakes. Disc brakes are superior in every way to drums, so your Corolla S will stop better in all weather conditions than the drum brake equipped base model. Secondly, the S features hugely improved front seats, with perfectly contoured lumbar support, plus retentive side bolstering. But these pluses can’t compensate for the Corolla’s lack of grunt. Its 1.8 liter engine makes just 140hp, and 126lb.-ft. of torque, no match for the car’s 2,900lb. curb weight. Do the math and you come up with a horsepower-to-weight ratio of 20.7lb./hp. That compares unfavorably to competitors like Honda’s Civic (19.7), Kia’s Forte (19.4), and Mazda’s 3 (18.5). It should come as no surprise, then, that the Toyota is the slowest of the bunch in quarter mile tests, with a time of 17.1 seconds at 82.7mph, and a 0-60mph time of 9.3 seconds.

2015 Toyota Corolla S

But the Corolla S handles well enough to redeem its horsepower shortfall. Toyota supplies the S with snazzy looking Op Art 17 inch alloy wheels that replace the base model’s 16 inch rims. Firestone FR 740 radials (215/45R17) get the job done at each contact patch, and the Corolla skittles through curves with precision and dispatch. The S’ lovely leather rimmed steering wheel aids in positioning the stable chassis with accuracy. The CVT transmission offers paddle shifting in the S, giving you another driving dynamic absent in the base Corolla. Inside the cabin, you would be hard pressed to conclude that this is an economy sedan. The furnishings merit high praise, from the fit and finish of the SofTex seats to the tailoring of the rugs and mats. Toyota has done a first class job of making the Corolla look more expensive than it is. Particularly impressive is the long list of standard features you’d normally expect to pay extra to acquire: automatic climate control, 8-way power adjustable driver’s seat, heated front seats, and a smart key system with push button start. That smart key is intelligent enough to unlock the car as you approach, eliminating the need to button hunt the key fob remote. Best feature of all for rear seat passengers is the abundance of leg room. The Corolla offers a class leading 41.4 inches of aft kick space. Along with its low beltline and tall side windows, the interior remains bathed in light. The standard power tilt/slide moon roof contributes yet another source of daytime interior illumination. The Corolla interior is remarkably habitable for 4 adults especially considering that this chassis makes do with just 106 inches of wheelbase. That’s 3 inches less than Toyota’s Camry offers.

2015 Toyota Corolla S

The Corolla S is unquestionably handsome this year, with a pugnacious front architecture that distinguishes it from lesser Corollas. Although its performance falls short of matching its impertinent look, the Corolla S’ many other virtues make up for that shortfall. This is a practical, safe and inexpensive way for a family to travel in style if not great swiftness.

2015 Toyota Corolla S

2015 Toyota Corolla S

  • Engine: 1.8 liter, 4 cylinder inline DOHC, 16 Valves with VVT-i
  • Horsepower: 140hp
  • Torque: 126lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 29MPG City/37MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $24,659
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Volkswagen Beetle 1.8T

Friday July 31st, 2015 at 12:77 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Volkswagen Beetle 1.8T

By David Colman

Hypes: Premium Build Quality, German Engineering
Gripes: Chintzy Door Pocket Straps

There’s only one VW model you can order in Yellow Rush for 2015. It’s also the only one you can order in Denim Blue. Let’s see, Rush Yellow and Denim Blue – colors that have kind of a Hippie ring to them, don’t you think? A nostalgic ring that’s not at all out of keeping for prospective buyers of the reinvented Beetle. After all, both owners and car came of age in the Age of Aquarius. For color loving Hippies and even their Hipster offspring, VW offers no fewer than 11 standard colors for the current Beetle. That’s nearly twice as many as you can select for the Golf (7) or the GTI (6).

2015 Volkswagen Beetle 1.8T

Color is just the beginning of the long, strange trip you’ll take when you saddle up a new Beetle. Our test model, finished in a fetching shade called Reflex Silver Metallic, featured the standard engine in the Beetle line, a 170hp. 1.8 liter turbocharged 4 driving through a 6 speed automatic transmission. This model, replete with a sunroof, Fender premium audio system and RNS 315 touch screen Navigation, retails for $26,985. This affordable package is but one of no less than 30 (!) different options VW offers for the Beetle model line. Breaking things down to the simplest split, you can order a 1.8 liter turbo stripper, with manual gearbox, for as little as $20,195. The 150hp Diesel-powered Beetle TDI, making 236lb.-ft. of torque, starts at $24,795 for a manual gearbox version.

The top line 2.0 liter “R-Line” turbo, making 210hp and coupled to a DSG gearbox with full manual override, lists for $30,525 with sunroof, sound system and navigation. If you upgrade to an R-Line convertible, you’re looking at a $35,095 Beetle. In fact, although the test car we drove for a week doesn’t even break into the top half of the Beetle expense spreadsheet, it still makes for a very enjoyable ride. Its turbo 4, which benefits from direct fuel injection streamed at high psi, offers more than enough performance to make even rabid lane changers happy. The transmission happily accepts commands to hold gear choices, though it lacks the steering wheel paddles supplied with the expensive DSG option.

2015 Volkswagen Beetle 1.8T .

Bearing in mind that the Beetle is really nothing but a re-clothed Golf, it should come as no surprise that its handling is nimble, accurate and pleasurable to control. The Servotronic speed-variable electro-mechanical steering achieves a happy combination of feedback, precision and intuition. The Beetle always obeys your positioning commands with grace and dispatch. Premium Continental Pro Contact tires (235/45R18) are well suited to the task of clipping apexes accurately. The 18 inch chromed hub alloy rims lend a retro note to the Beetle, looking a bit like the original model’s steel wheels and poverty chrome center caps. Especially appealing is the oversize VW logo featured on each wheel.

2015 Volkswagen Beetle 1.8T

There’s nothing poverty stricken about the Beetle’s interior. Its fit and finish are fastidiously delineated. The dash and doors feature a handsome sweep of Silver Reflex Metallic paint that matches the exterior color and lends an elegant complicity to the interior. The standard heated “comfort” front seats, new for 2015, look fetching even in the Titan Black leatherette application of our test VW. A diagonal pattern of stripes distinguishes the side bolsters from the seating surfaces in a look that mimics silk and satin. The glovebox features a delightful latch that owners of earlier Beetles will recall with fondness.

2015 Volkswagen Beetle 1.8T

But this interior is not showy at the expense of utilitarian virtue. After a shopping trip to Home Depot garnered a couple of 4′ light fixtures and a 10′ pole for cleaning windows, my wife and I debated whether some of the purchases would be poking through the sunroof on the trip home. I said no, she said yes, and when we got to the Beetle, we discovered that because both rear seats fold flat, everything would fit inside the car, including that 10′ long pole. Given its diminutive size, the Beetle offers an amazing compendium of space efficiency, fuel efficiency (28MPG overall) and driving joy for a very modest investment.

2015 Volkswagen Beetle 1.8T

  • Engine: 1.8 liter turbocharged inline 4, DOHC, 16 valves, direct injection
  • Horsepower: 170hp
  • Torque: 184lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 25 MPG City/33 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $27,805
  • Star Rating: 9.5 out of 10 Stars

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