Review: 2015 Nissan Pathfinder SL 4×4

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

2015 Nissan Pathfinder SL 4x4

By David Colman

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

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

2015 Nissan Pathfinder SL 4x4

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

2015 Nissan Pathfinder SL 4x4

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

2015 Nissan Pathfinder SL 4x4

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

2015 Nissan Pathfinder SL 4x4

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

2015 Nissan Pathfinder SL 4×4

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

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Review: 2015 Lincoln Navigator 4×4

Friday November 20th, 2015 at 12:1111 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Lincoln Navigator 4x4

By David Colman

Hypes: Cargo Hungry Behemoth, Prime Airstream Tote
Gripes: No Memory Settings, Flimsy Mirror Stalk

The Navigator is Lincoln’s effort to turn the Ford Expedition into a true luxury SUV. Since both vehicles weigh 6,200 pounds, share similar Eco Boost turbocharged 3.5 liter V6 engines, and 6 speed automatic gearboxes, what makes the $66,066 Navigator worth $20,000 more than the $46,315 Expedition? Call it panache, or the refinement of breeding, but the Lincoln name plate, which has long stood for excellence, does not disappoint in this instance. Our first drive in it took us home at night, When we flipped the key fob remote to unlock the burly SUV, the first thing we noticed were power deployed running boards tipping into place to facilitate cabin entry. The Navigator, after all, stands 78 inches tall, so step-in is no easy chore without running board assistance. The second thing we took note of was the large display of an illuminated Lincoln logo on the dark pavement on either side of the vehicle. This ingenious entry light system won our hearts over immediately. It really is a brilliant touch, unlike anything we’ve seen before.

2015 Lincoln Navigator 4x4

The good vibes continue once ensconced in the vast cockpit. We should point out that our test vehicle did not make do with base level equipment. Rather, it included pricey Equipment Group 101A ($6,850) which the window sticker would lead you to believe just adds 22 inch polished aluminum 20 spoke wheels and 285/45R22 Pirelli Scorpion Verde tires. Further research, however, indicates you receive much more than wheels and tires for your extra six thousand dollars. Specifically, the 101A Group also adds those useful running boards, upgraded premium leather low backed bucket seats, upgraded leather instrument panel, door panels and console, unique color headliner, upgraded Ziricote wood appliqué, and 2-tone exterior tuxedo black lower body-side moldings. All these niceties add up to a rather stellar looking package. The deviated light tan stitching across the sweeping chocolate dashboard looks fetchingly European. The seats are sumptuous front and rear, with myriad fine tuning available for back rest angle, lumbar support, heating and ventilation. About the only thing missing from the luxury index is a provision for memory retention of driver settings for seat, mirror and steering wheel position.

2015 Lincoln Navigator 4x4

This rig drives big, like a semi. You need to be real careful about where you position it in your lane, because its width of 80 inches does not allow much room for error. While the steering feedback is surprisingly accurate and informative, the sheer size of the Navigator demands your full attention. The Pirelli Scorpions are enormously effective at gobbling up the miles without jiggering the ride quality. Their vast 285mm tread snags a lot of pavement when you’re tackling winding secondary roads. While you’ll never forget the 3 ton bulk you’re commanding here, the Navigator never embarrasses itself in the handling department. And in the power department, Lincoln has found the magic key to make a fuel efficientV6 rival the large displacement V8 it replaces in the Navigator line for 2015. This turbo marvel, which you can barely see when you peer into the vast engine bay, produces 380hp and 460lb.-ft. of torque, more than enough grunt to tow 9,000 pounds of trailer with ease. By comparison, the sibling Ford Expedition makes 365hp and 420lb.-ft. of torque, so in the power department you get what you pay for with the Lincoln. The Navigator’s exterior rear view mirrors are particularly generous in size, which makes them perfect for towing chores. Their lower edge incorporates directional signals, and you will find side traffic alert lights located on the outer edge of the mirrors. Trailer sway control is a welcome standard feature.

2015 Lincoln Navigator 4x4

The interior of this unit is so vast that most of the time you’ll wonder what to do with its 61.5 cubic feet of cargo space. New for 2015 are electrically folding second and third row seats, so transforming the interior of the Navigator from people mover to cargo truck is less of a chore than it once was. The console receptacle between the front seats is deep enough to accept a couple of six packs, so even small object storage is never a problem inside the Navigator. Compared to some newer luxury SUVs, the Lincoln’s music/operations interface (called My Lincoln Touch) seems exasperatingly involved and demanding, which should come as no surprise since Microsoft provides the dynamics. The only other niggle is the inside rear view mirror, which is so insubstantially mounted to the windshield that it vibrated like a tuning fork. Aside from those minor issues, the Navigator is without question the Cunard QE2 of the highway, regal looking in its optional Ruby Red Tinted Metallic Clearcoat ($495), magisterially towering above the flotsam and jetsam like a true luxury liner.

2015 Lincoln Navigator 4x4

2015 Lincoln Navigator 4×4

  • Engine: 3.5 liter v6 Eco Boost turbo
  • Horsepower: 380hp
  • Torque: 460lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 15MPG City/20MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $73,395
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Ford Mustang Eco Boost 4

Tuesday October 13th, 2015 at 3:1010 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Ford Mustang Eco Boost 4

By David Colman

Hypes: Eco Boost Motor is a Keeper, Stellar Exterior Redo
Gripes: Needs Rear Wiper, Closer 2nd-3rd Gear Ratios

Back in the first 1960s heyday of the Mustang, if you saw a button on the dash marked “Shaker” you knew that the ram intake on your hood would open when you pressed that magic button. More cold air meant more horsepower. Because the induction scoop was mounted on the engine and was not part of the hood, it would vibrate in synch with the engine, earning it the name Shaker. The 2015 Mustang has a “Shaker” button on the dash, but this one has nothing at all to do with increasing air intake. Rather, it refers to an optional $1,795 “Shaker Pro Audio System” which includes 12 speakers. The button simply enhances the rush of hot air through those dozen speakers, not the rush of cold air into your motor.

2015 Ford Mustang Eco Boost 4

Once I got over the initial disappointment of that generational descriptive shift, I discovered that the latest Mustang has lost nothing of its rambunctious nature, active hood scoop or not. Our Ingot Silver Metallic test bullet fully lives up to the brand’s storied reputation. Without question, this is the best Mustang Ford has ever built. Three engine options are available this year, with the V6 model being the most affordable at a base price of $23,600. The subject of this test is the EcoBoost Premium Fastback, with a turbocharged 2.4 liter inline 4, and a Base Price of $29,300. The least expensive V8 Mustang is the GT Fastback, which carries a Base Price of $32,100. It’s been quite awhile since Ford sold a 4 cylinder Mustang, so we were curious to see whether such a fuel efficient power source (25 MPG Combined City/Highway) could cut it in the performance department. With its output of 310hp @ 5500rpm and 320lb.-ft. of torque @ 3000rpm, the answer is an unqualified yes. Even when coupled to the 6-speed “Select Shift” automatic transmission ($1,195), the turbo Mustang was always up to the task of rapid mobilization.

2015 Ford Mustang Eco Boost 4

The Select Shift gearbox can be slotted into a Sport setting marked “S” on the floor console. Once you’ve selected that quadrant, the small paddle shifts behind the steering wheel can be used for all up and down gear changes. The only drawback to the automatic gearbox is its big gap between 2nd and 3rd gears. Most of the time, you will lose 1500rpm when shifting up, which puts the small displacement four banger at an acceleration disadvantage. I would much prefer to see these two most frequently used gear ratios closer together for back road work.

2015 Ford Mustang Eco Boost 4

Other than that shortcoming, the turbo 4 Mustang runs back roads like a scalded snake. The optional “Eco Boost Performance Package” ($1,995) is a must if your drives have more curves than straights. Ford engineering’s absolute stroke of genius is to equip the Performance Package enhanced Mustang with whopping fat Pirelli P Zero tires (255/40ZR19) at each corner, mounted on tastefully understated Ebony Black Painted aluminum wheels. The final flourish to this bargain priced package is inclusion of a 3.55:1 Limited Slip rear axle that insures your Mustang instant forward bite when you tromp the throttle.

Almost every time I started the Mustang, I made sure to engage my “Drive Mode” of choice. This is accomplished by flipping a chrome plated switch on the lower face of the central console to the setting marked with a helmet for “Track.” This configures the suspension for sport driving and reallocates the shift points to maximize thrust. Next to that switch is an identical toggle for steering feedback, which I always set to “Sport.” With these preparations made, the Mustang hunkered down over its Pirellis and absolutely refused to slide or deviate in any way from my selected line through switchback turns.

2015 Ford Mustang Eco Boost 4

On the window sticker, Ford identifies the Mustang as a “”4-Passenger Sports Car.” After spending a week behind the wheel, I would never quibble with that description, though I must admit to a preference for the front seat rather than the limited vision back seat. If you do carry passengers in back, you’ll want to provide them with air sickness bags because the latest Mustang is a true g-Force generator second to none.

2015 Ford Mustang Eco Boost 4

  • Engine: 2.3 Liter inline 4, DOHC, Direct Injection, Turbocharged
  • Horsepower: 310hp @ 5500rpm
  • Torque: 320lb.-ft.@3000rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 21MPG City/32MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $37,790
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Toyota Highlander Limited FWD

Sunday October 4th, 2015 at 11:1010 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Toyota Highlander Limited FWD

By David Colman

Hypes: Exceptional Utility, Effortless Long Distance Cruiser
Gripes: Dynamic Radar Cruise Control Sometimes Misreads Traffic

Nobody’s going to give any styling awards to Toyota for the Highlander. Its bullish snout and hyper thyroidal tail lights won’t win many automotive beauty pageants. What you will celebrate about this SUV is its luxurious functionality. This is without question one of the most useful driving tools you could own. We spent a busy week inside the spacious cabin of the 2 wheel drive V6 Limited version, logging round trips from the Bay Area to Monterey, as well as repeated outing to Sonoma Raceway for the IndyCar finale. In all that time behind the wheel, the Highlander repeatedly proved itself to be an ultra competent companion. Its 68 inch height allows you to survey traffic from a dominating vantage point. Optional $599 Running Boards help ease entry and egress, and look good to boot with rubber skid plates embedded in matte aluminum planks. Side windows are tall enough to admit dazzling amounts of light. Part of the Limited’s standard equipment “Platinum Package” includes a two pane Panoramic Moonroof which doubles the already generous amount of light and outward vision when slid open. Think Gray Line sightseer coach when you think of the Highlander Limited and you’ll have a good idea of just how expansive the view is from inside this Toyota.

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An important factor in its utility is the ease with which it can be converted from a 7 passenger bus with 3 rows of seats to private transport for 4 (all in plush Platinum Package standard captain’s chairs), or seating for 2, with van size flat storage space behind. In that latter configuration, I was able to carry a Mountain Bike with plenty of room to spare fore and aft. Thank the Highlander’s 191 inch length for accommodating bulky loads. All these shifts in function can be accomplished in seconds, without needing to refer to the Owner’s Manual for instructions. All seats are clearly marked with numbered notations accompanying pictographs designed to assist you in converting the Highlander from bus to van and back. The Highlander Limited features automatic tail gate actuation, accessed via a key fob remote sender, or a button on the dashboard. While this proved handy in the long run, we ran afoul of a problem not mentioned in the 15 (!) pages of the Owner’s Manual devoted to operation of what Toyota calls the “Back Door.” If you somehow manage to inadvertently open the window of the back door by pushing the external button on the tailgate, the automatic function of the door becomes disabled even though the glass window still looks to be closed. If you have to open or close the lift gate when the power function is thusly disabled, you’ll want to do a hundred bench presses before tackling the weighty and uncooperative unpowered gate.

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EPA mileage figures for the Highlander V6 indicate this 4,490 pound SUV is good for 25MPG on the highway, and we were able to duplicate that number on our freeway run to Monterey and back. Even around town driving saw 20MPG, slightly better than the EPA’s estimate of 19MPG. Though the V6 Highlander turns in respectable economy numbers given its substantial curb weight, this Toyota is anything but sluggish when prodded with the accelerator. In fact, the first time I floored the throttle, I was amazed at just how much weight transfer from front to rear occurred as the Highlander’s nose shot up and the rear suspension compressed. Its 3.5 liter V6 benefits immensely from variable valve timing to provide instant power when you snap open the throttle. Consequently, the Limited is rated at 5000 pounds for tow duty, and our test example was fitted with an optional Receiver Hitch and Wiring Harness for $599. The Limited also comes with 19 inch Chromtec alloy wheels fitted with beefy Bridgestone Dueler H/L tires (245/55R19). These off-road capable mud and snow tires proved their worth when we ran into some heavy mud while parking the Highlander in the Media Lot at Sonoma Raceway after a heavy morning rain.

Toyota should really call this Highlander the Unlimited because it offers such an extensive inventory of opportunities to recreate, transport and effortlessly gobble miles, all the while doing so at a remarkably fuel efficient pace.

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2015 Toyota Highlander Limited FWD

  • Engine: 3.5 Liter V6 DOHC with VVT-i
  • Horsepower: 270hp
  • Torque: 248lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 19MPG City/25 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $45,716
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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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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