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Review: 2014 Toyota Corolla LE Premium

Monday January 13th, 2014 at 11:11 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Refined Seating Area, Fresh Aero Face, Vast Rear Seat Legroom
Gripes: No Paddles on LE CVT

Corolla is Toyota’s Gold Glove Shortstop, in other words, their Franchise Player. With a completely redesigned entry for 2014, Toyota will almost certainly sell close to 300,000 Corollas in the coming year. Buyers will queue in droves for this most affordable and value rich Toyota of them all. Its base price, in mid-range LE form, is just $19,400.

Part of Corolla’s appeal lies in its seemingly endless choice of power train and trim combinations. There are 4 model lines (L,LE, LE Eco and S), subdivided into 11 drive and gearbox mutations. The LE range, subject of this test, is available in 3 flavors, CVT, CVT Plus and CVT Premium. The CVT designation refers to the transmission used across the LE range, a constantly variable transmission (hence “CVT”) coupled to a 1.8 liter inline 4 that is standard in all LE models. This double overhead cam engine, refined with variable valve timing, produces 132hp and 138lb.-ft. of torque. If you desire an up rated “Eco” motor, you can opt for the Eco or S model Corolla, and thereby gain 8 extra horses.

The 140hp S Plus is available with a 6 speed manual transmission, making it the only new Corolla with a gearbox containing real gears. If you enjoy the art of driving, the 6-speed S Plus will be your best option. The CVT in our test LE proved long on noise and short on performance. With only 3 range choices available (Drive, Sport and Braking), the base model CVT is constantly making decisions for you about engine speed that you would be better off making yourself. If you’re determined to go automatic, at least consider upgrading to the S model range, which includes paddle shifters and a “Sport” driving range to give you some manual control in optimizing engine performance.

Our LE Premium included the following improvements over the base model LE: 16 inch alloy wheels, integrated fog lights, SofTex trimmed, heated front seats, 8 way power adjustable driver’s seat, and 4 way adjustable front passenger’s seat with map pocket in the seat back. It’s curious that even in the Premium combo pack, Toyota didn’t see fit to include a map pocket in the driver’s seat back as well. The new for 2014, SofTex material, which Toyota touts as “elegant with the environment in mind,” is leather-like, but washable. It’s also very comfy. In fact, the redesigned interior is pleasingly benign and unobtrusive. A handsome beltline pinstripe of celestial blue garnishes the dash and door panels. Automatic Climate Control is standard on the LE Premium, operated with a simple, oversized single knob that’s a pleasure to use.

Parents buying children Corollas will love the fact that this entry level sedan contains 8 airbags to protect their progeny. On the other hand, the progeny will find that the strongest selling point of the new Corolla is Toyota’s suite of built-in Apps.

Of course, the connectivity costs extra, $1,510 for the “Driver Convenience Package” which brings you every conceivable manner of input: Entune Navigation and App Suite, AM/FM CD Player with MP3 and WMA Playback capability, USB 2.0 port with IPod connectivity, Hands Free Phone capability, Music Streaming via Bluetooth Wireless Technology, and 90 day free trial of XM Satellite Radio. This package includes so many distractive nuisances that it ought to be renamed the Driver Inconvenience Package. For staid old folks, the package also includes Smart Key Keyless Entry with push button remote for trunk unlatching.

Thus, the LE Premium, enhanced with the “Driver Convenience Package,” is going to be ground zero for buyers seeking an affordable living room on wheels. The fact that those 16 inch wheels are a little small for great handling, and shod with unimpressively diminutive all weather tires (Michelin Primacy MXV 205/55R16)) won’t matter a whit to symphonic sycophants more concerned with music playlists than apex angles.

2014 Toyota Corolla LE Premium

  • Engine: 1.8 liter DOHC inline 4 with VVT-i
  • Horsepower: 132hp
  • Torque: 128lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 29 MPG City/38 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $22,570
  • Star Rating: 7 out of 10 Stars

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


Review: 2014 Chevrolet Volt

Monday January 6th, 2014 at 2:11 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Bonanza for Cutting Edge Arrivistes
Gripes: Lose the CVT Tranny

Parking the Volt in the reserved spot of a recharging station at Sausalito’s Molly Stone grocery was a treat I had never before had the opportunity to enjoy. While food shopping for 35 minutes, the Volt supplied itself with 3.2kH of energy at no cost to me. This two slot charging station, which has been active for nearly a year, provides your first hour of charge free of cost, with subsequent time available at minimal expense. Going into overtime gives new meaning to the word “charge” card. It takes 4 hours at 240V to give this Chevy a full blast of electrical energy.

Free refills constitute the highpoint of Volt ownership. And there’s a lot to be said for letting someone else pick up your energy bill. In fact, those beneficent unseen others start picking up the slack for you the instant you buy a Volt because doing so qualifies you for a $7,500 federal tax credit. The dividends continue in the form of access to road surfaces others can’t use, like driving solo in HOV lanes at times of the day that would normally get you ticketed.

The downside of Volt ownership is the simple fact that this heavy, somewhat lethargic vehicle isn’t exactly a blast to drive when you’ve selected the “Normal” rather than the “Sport” setting on the Driving Mode selector switch. In Normal Mode, overall performance is adequate for most drivers. Acceleration is modest. The CVT transmission is the culprit in this equation. It gives you a choice of just two ranges: Drive and Low. Unless you are moving very slowly, Low is useless for increasing momentum, so you’re stuck with the Drive range only. But if you select Sport Mode, acceleration is notably spunkier, and the Volt becomes a pleasure to drive instead of a chore. Of course, you’ll pay the price in increased fuel usage, but the Volt is so much more fun in Sport that you’ll want to select this setting every time you climb behind the wheel.

The Volt’s Owner’s Manual is poorly segmented and indexed. It’s especially difficult to find any information about transmission usage, since there are no listings in the index for ‚ÄĚtransmission.” or “shifting.” The only reference appears in a chapter mysteriously headed “Electric Drive Unit.” Call outs for dashboard and instrument panel controls are inexplicably identified by number on one page, with functions keyed to those numbers on a following page. This causes you to flip back and forth constantly from page to page in order to decipher the diagrams.

Unlike the Owner’s Manual, Volt itself is a triumph of engineering. Unlike Nissan’s Leaf, which goes dead when its battery expires, the Volt will keep chugging long after the battery has died. The Xanax tablet for that range anxiety is the presence of Volt’s tiny displacement gasoline engine which Chevy calls a “Range Extender.” When the 1.4 liter gas engine propels the Volt without benefit of electrical power, you’re still good for 37 MPG, or just 2.7 gallons per 100 miles. In pure electric mode, the Volt posts a stunning figure of 98MPGe, or 35kH per 100 miles.

Thanks in part to its 5.5 foot long, 435 pound, lithium-ion battery pack, the Volt weighs 3,781 pounds. That near two ton curb burden becomes noticeable when you attack a series of corners on a back road. The low rolling resistance 16 inch tires don’t provide a lot of grip, so the front end tends to wash out early on corner entry. This behavior makes you lift throttle as the tires lose grip. In case you are slow to respond to the message from your contact patches, Chevy has th (oughtfully supplied the Volt with traction control and Stabilitrak stability management. Worst case scenario backs you up in the event of a collision with no fewer than 8 airbags and 3 years of free On Star auto crash response.

Inside the survival cell, the Volt is easy to love. It affords great sightlines in all direction. Even the somewhat veiled lower rear view benefits from a strategically placed glass panel. Our test Volt enjoyed augmented vision thanks to 2 optional Safety Packages. The first ($575) provided a useful beeper and camera to discern rear proximity issues, while the second ($595) included Front Park Assist and Camera, Lane Departure Warning, and Front Collision Alert. Chevy does a nice job of integrating these aids into your daily driving routine. Unlike so many similar offerings from other manufacturers, these Safety Packages never become intrusive.

The instrument binnacle of the Volt is intimidating. If you’re the kind of person who can read every piece of information on CNBC’s Squawk on the Street at the same time, you’ll love the Volt’s information center, because Chevy has crammed 35 separate pieces of news into your viewfinder. I learned to ignore 90 percent of them and was quite happy to do so.

The Volt is a marvel of technology. Its drive train is an engineering dream, a real home run. It’s still early enough in the model cycle to be the first on your block to claim admission to the 21st century. That you can do so for just $39,545, guarantees you a spot in the Acumen Hall of Fame.

2014 Chevrolet Volt

  • Engine: 1.4 liter inline 4 + Electric Motor
  • Horsepower: 149hp
  • Torque: 273 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 98MPGe/37 MPG Gasoline Only
  • Price as Tested: $39,545
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

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


Review: 2013 Ford Fusion Titanium AWD

Tuesday December 31st, 2013 at 11:1212 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Sweet Motor, Excellent Balance, Precise Handling
Gripes: Sharp Edges on Lower Steering Wheel Spoke

The Fusion ticks the “best ever” box in a number of departments for Ford. Its form fitting seats rate this accolade, for example, by providing such tightly molded support that you don’t want to leave them when you’ve reached your destination. The tailored looks of the Titanium Fusion are fetching enough to make you cast a parting glance at it every time you walk away. Interior furnishing are slick enough to convince you you’re driving a German built Audi, not a Ford made in Mexico. And the driving experience is precise enough to make you think you’re wheeling a BMW rather than a domestic product. So what’s the secret to all this success? Good design augmented by even better implementation.

The fun starts under the hood, where the 2.0 liter turbocharged “EcoBoost” engine makes a prodigious amount of horsepower (240hp) and torque (270lb.-ft.) given its modest displacement and excellent 25 MPG overall fuel consumption. In fact, it wasn’t long ago that any Grand Prix engine producing 120hp per liter would have landed in the winner’s circle at every Formula 1 race on the schedule. This direct injection gem of a Ford motor processes its fat torque curve through a creamy smooth 6 speed automatic gearbox featuring “SelectShift,” a proprietary Ford gear changing system that utilizes both a console lever and steering wheel paddles to manipulate gear choice. If you slot the console lever into the rearmost position designated by an “S” for Sport, the transmission automatically revises its program to favor use of lower gears, higher engine speeds, and faster shifts from gear to gear. In the Sport range, the diminutive paddles adjacent to your thumbs on the steering wheel become operational. In other words, the Fusion can be driven like a true sports sedan.

Fortunately, it also enjoys the kind of handling precision and all wheel drive traction that usually costs far more than the Fusion’s base price of $32,200 might suggest. The only optional item enhancing performance on this test car was a set of 19 inch alloy wheels for an extra $695. These “H-Spoke” dark stainless colored aluminum rims mounted beefy 235/40R19 Continental Conti Sport Contact tires that stuck to the pavement assiduously. Ford has snubbed the suspension movement of this Fusion effectively. It will cut apexes with the best sedans Europe has to offer. Those scooped bucket seats pin you in place while the taut springs and shocks do their job.

But we can keep the little secret about this car’s exceptional handling between us, because you can sell it to the family as a practical and safe means of transportation, and nothing more. After all, the 5-passenger Fusion scores high on the Institute For Highway Safety’s Rating System, with “Good” results on all 4 crash tests. Up front, standard dual stage airbags combine with knee bags to afford maximum driver/passenger protection. Side curtain airbags are also standard fitment. The rear seat is spacious and inviting, and the low beltline of the Fusion’s redesign for 2013 emphasizes outward visibility. Ford has also improved airflow over exterior surfaces by 10 percent, resulting in a corresponding increase in fuel economy at freeway speed.

The cockpit of the Fusion Titanium is a restful and well crafted space. I noted very close tolerances at the tricky joint where the dashboard meets the door panel. In fact the only interior demerit was a failed retraction spring on the passenger side grab handle which allowed the handle to dangle. Microsoft’s” MyFordTouch” computer system interface inhibits intuitive programming of the infotainemt system. But once you’ve mastered that hurdle, the system does work well. Below the removable coin holding tray in the compartment between the front seats. you’ll find a pair of memory stick receptacles which you can use to load all your musical choices into the Fusion’s memory. Ford uses Grace Note software for all disc and music file identification. Although our test Fusion boasted several expensive technological additions (including a $1,000 Driver Assist Package for lane keeping, a $995 radar Adaptive Cruise Control, and a $795 Parking Assist) you can easily do without any of them and still enjoy the many primary virtues of this sedan. However, a rear window wiper would be a useful option that Ford does not offer.

The Fusion Titanium AWD offers exceptional value, great comfort, and such sublimated driving pleasure that anyone canvassing the market for a sports sedan ignores this impressive Ford at their peril.

2013 Ford Fusion Titanium AWD

  • Engine: 2.0 liter inline 4, turbocharged, direct injection
  • Horsepower: 240hp
  • Torque: 270lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 22MPG City/31MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $37,670
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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


Review: 2014 Mazda3 5 Door GT

Wednesday December 11th, 2013 at 8:1212 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Responsive and Planted Handling, Loads of Standard Attributes
Gripes: Minuscule Tachometer Face

Those who lament the recent passing of Mazda’s sterling sports car, the RX8, will be thrilled to know that its sporting DNA lives on in the all new, third generation, 2014 Mazda3. No, this affordable sedan (Base price: $23,245) is not powered by the RX8′s iconic rotary engine. You’ll know that the second you check the fuel consumption figures for the Mazda3: 33 MPG overall — a figure the thirsty rotary could never dream of matching. Yet the “SKYACTIV-G” 2 liter engine in the sedan winds to its impressive redline of 6000 rpm with such alacrity that you’d swear a rotary power plant was lurking somewhere under the hood.

Likewise, this fully functional 5 passenger sedan manages to mimic the nimble handling of the departed RX8. In GT form, the 3′s attributes include such corner carving essentials as independent front and rear suspension, four wheel disc brakes, electric power assisted rack and pinion steering, and 16 inch alloy wheels shod with sticky Yokohama Avid 834 tires (205/60R16). Of course, the 3 is so innocuous looking that you’ll never have to share your Mazda’s secret sports car inclinations with anyone else. Except for the fully integrated and well disguised roof spoiler, you’ll find none of the clues typical of a high performance package: no low profile tires, no bulging fender wells, and most certainly, no stripes, or taping. Only dual chromed exhaust pipes make a slight concession to showiness. Otherwise, the long list of eliminations renders the new 3 perfect for fast motoring without drawing undue attention to itself. In view of the fact that Mazda bills itself as the Zoom-Zoom car company, the new 3 upholds the expectations of long time marque loyalists in every way.

The reason Mazda has sold more than 3.5 million versions of the 3 since it was introduced in 2004 is value. Even at this economic price point, our test car contained the following impressive list of standard features: keyless entry, moonroof, heated front seats, 7 inch color touchscreen display, navigation system, halogen headlights, and HD Radio as well as SIRIUSXM radio. The list of standard driving aids is equally lengthy, and includes dynamic stability control, traction control and hill launch assist. this last feature was particularly appreciated when starting our 6-speed manual transmission Mazda3 on inclines. Since the sleek profile of the 3 impedes rear 3/4 vision, the standard rear view camera and cross traffic alert serve as welcome safety inclusions. You don’t even have to check your tire pressures regularly because this Mazda does it for you every day thanks to its standard tire pressure monitoring system.

The 3′s level of fit and finish belies its low price. The leatherette trimmed front sports seats are supportive enough to cope with the considerable side loadings developed by the suspension. The driver’s seat is 6-way power adjustable, with manual lumbar control. The rear bench seat folds in a 60/40 pattern, and includes a drink-holder center armrest. The rear door design is so sleekly integrated into the car’s flowing lines that the 5-door 3 looks more like a coupe than a utilitarian hatchback. If you enjoy driving a responsive vehicle but need to keep your purchase practical, the new Mazda3 is an ideal choice.

2014 Mazda3 5 Door GT

  • Engine: 2.0 liter DOHC inline 4
  • Horsepower: 150hp @ 6000rpm
  • Torque: 150 lb.-ft. @ 4000rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 29 MPG City/40 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $24,335
  • Star Rating: 9.5 out of 10 Stars

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


Review: 2014 Jeep Patriot Limited 4X4

Tuesday December 10th, 2013 at 8:1212 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Huge Flat Cargo Floor, Great Tipstick Design
Gripes: Lethargic Handling, Underpowered

The Patriot is Jeep’s classical architecture version of its sibling, the more streamlined Compass. In lieu of gentrified Compass styling, the Patriot’s boxy lines and upright seven slot grill make you think Wrangler rather than Grand Cherokee. The Patriot line begins with the base model Sport FWD, with a starting price of $16,000. Work your way to 4WD and you add two grand to that base price. The Latitude model comes in at about twenty thousand for 2WD, three thousand more for 4WD. We spent a week with Jeep’s top line version, the Patriot Limited 4X4, which carries a base price of $25,895. By the time you’ve added the $995 Customer Preferred Package 2GF (theft alarm, cargo convenience group. roof rails with adjustable cross bars and Tipstick automatic gearbox), plus $745 for navigation with 40GB hard drive, the top of the line Patriot will set you back $28,630.

Even with the heated leather seats included in the Limited’s specification list, the interior of this Jeep doesn’t look luxurious. The first thing you notice inside the cabin is a gaping hole on the passenger’s side of the dash. While this lidless glove box provides a handy receptacle for random items, it looks sketchy. It also duplicates the ample enclosed glove box just below it. Another unnerving note is struck by the incessant chiming that begins if you insert the ignition key in its slot before you buckle up your seatbelt. There are better ways to save you from yourself than this persistent annoyance.

New for 2014 is the 6 speed gearbox, which replaces the previous model’s noisy constant velocity unit. The new “Tipstick” transmission is ingeniously designed to allow you to switch from full automatic to manual mode by simply swatting the Tipstick right for automatic or left for manual. There’s no need to search out separate gates for these two functions. Once in manual mode, you can up shift or down shift be slapping the Tipstick left or right. It’s one of the best solutions yet devised for this complicated bit of engineering.

If you select the Limited version of the Patriot, you receive the upgraded 2.4 liter, 172hp inline 4 instead of the baseline 2 liter, 158hp inline four that powers the 2WD Sport Patriot. Even with this optional motor, the Limited is hard pressed to launch with much thrust. You need to select the correct gear set with the Tipstick before initiating passing maneuvers. The engine sounds labored as it crescendos through the rpm range, and even at a freeway cruising speed of just 70mph the DOHC four is spinning at a rather noisy 2,500rpm. Tow capacity is limited to 2,000 lbs.

Where this Jeep excels is in the practicality department. Flipping forward the 60/40 split rear seats (which also happen to recline) is a simple maneuver that opens up a substantial flat load floor good for 54.2 cubic feet of space. Even with both rear seats erect, you’re good for 23 cubic feet of storage. The beauty of low rear liftover height and that flat floor configuration should not be underestimated. Slinging a bicycle through the tailgate and into the Patriot presented no hassle whatsoever.

The Patriot Limited’s 217/60R17 Firestone Affinity tires are quiet and comfortable over potholes, but ill suited to cornering duty. In fact, this Jeep is not your weapon of choice for back road bashing. It tends to slither through turns without generating much grip. Initial understeer predominates until Electronic Roll Mitigation conspires with Electronic Stability Control to slow progress to a crawl. Thus, it’s virtually impossible to get the Patriot crossed up or out of shape on a curvy road. Out on the freeway, this Jeep is better behaved. Its fat rimmed, leather-covered steering wheel offers you just the right opportunity to get a grip. Even though the Patriot’s high belt line dictates smallish side and rear windows, vision is commendably good in all directions. If you need the safety factor afforded by 4WD, and fancy practicality over speed, this entry level Jeep deserves a close look.

2014 Jeep Patriot Limited 4X4

  • Engine: 2.4 Liter, 16 Valve DOHC inline 4 with Dual VVT
  • Horsepower: 172hp
  • Torque: 165lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 21 MPG City/27 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $28,630
  • Star Rating: 7 out of 10 Stars

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


Review: 2014 Chevrolet Malibu 2LT

Monday December 9th, 2013 at 1:1212 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Stellar Rear Seat, Huge Trunk, Build Quality Abounds
Gripes: Driver’s Seatbelt Requires Gorilla Pull, Tapshift Button Too Petite

After introducing a completely new Malibu for 2013, Chevrolet has made understandably few changes for model year 2014. Visually, the most noticeable alteration eliminates the large upper grill opening in favor of a small slot across the nose of the hood. Thus, the already streamlined shape of the Malibu looks just a little cleaner than before. Rear seat legroom has been enhanced for 2014 thanks to indentations in the front seat backs to better accommodate gangly knees. In fact, the rear seat of this sedan is a particularly happy place to sit because there’s lots of side glass for spectating, a drop down armrest with indentations for two beverages as well as a shallow lidded compartment, and intelligent door pockets designed to store slightly inclined water bottles.

With indentations scooped for passengers’ backs and buns, the rear seats offer better side support than the fronts, which are too flat and hard to stabilize you during hard cornering. For an extra $1,000, Chevy will heat the front seats and finish them in leather, with seams stitched in contrasting thread color. The effect looks expensive. In fact the entire interior belies the bargain price of the Malibu (base: $25,215). The stalks sprouting from the steering column feel so solid you’d swear you were driving a Mercedes. Chevy uses a striated plastic insert on the center console and door panels that mimics the look of drift wood. Slightly off putting are the five ridge horizontal ridges that sweep across the entire dash face. These extrusions incorporate air vents, but present lots of surface area to accumulate dirt. Think of the ribs as brave new worlds to conquer when you prepare your 2LT for concourse events.

The Malibu is the only car in this price range that offers standard Auto Stop technology. When you’ve selected the “D” range on the 6-speed automatic gearbox, the car shuts itself off automatically when stopped for more than a few seconds, then re-fires as soon as you remove your foot from the brake. The transition from run to stop to run is seamless, and much more successfully handled than current BMW products. If you slot the gearbox into its “M” or manual mode, the Auto Stop feature is eliminated. In M mode, you can manually up shift and down shift through the entire gear range, but you must use a tiny button atop the shift knob to accomplish the task. Chevy calls this feature “Tapshift.” With the exception of one clunker of a down shift this arrangement worked well. But it’s hard to locate the button atop the knob, and even more difficult to figure out which half to depress when you need to snag the right gear. Paddles would be much appreciated next to the steering wheel spokes.

Chevy has selected a very tall differential ratio of 2.89:1 to enable the Malibu to record 29 MPG in overall driving. But this tall rear gear lets the 2.5 liter Ecotec engine fall flat on its face if you just trundle along in “D” range without manually selecting the appropriate gear for each situation. The Ecotec motor is plenty powerful, but it makes its horsepower so high in the rev range (196hp@6,300rpm) that you really need to supervise its behavior closely using the Tapshift routine. Once out on the open highway, the Malibu is a silent, comfortable runner, with excellent cruise control apparatus, clear speed readouts on the central information screen, and a plush ride quality that will keep your passengers enthralled. On twisty sections, the fat, top line Goodyear LS2 Eagles (235/50R18) show their mettle with excellent, squeal-free adhesion.

The optional 9 speaker Pioneer audio system costs an extra $1,175, and justifies its expense by providing 250 scintillating Watts of output. New for 2014 is an Advanced Safety Package ($795 extra) which includes Forward Collision Alert, Side Blind Zone Alert, and Rear Cross Traffic Alert. Unless you’re planning to text while driving (!), I wouldn’t recommend springing for this pricey and annoying option group.

All in all, the Malibu 2LT is a sweet, engaging design that caters more to comfort than performance. Its exceptional level of fit and finish proves conclusively that home-grown products like this Malibu (built in Kansas City, KS) are every bit the equal of cars coming from Japan, Korea and even Germany.

2014 Chevrolet Malibu 2LT

  • Engine: 2.5 liter DOHC Inline 4
  • Horsepower: 196hp@6300rpm
  • Torque: 186lb.-ft.@4400rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 25 MPG City/36 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $30,125
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

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


Review: 2014 Acura RDX AWD with Technology

Friday December 6th, 2013 at 3:1212 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: More Computing Power Than Apollo, Slick Quick Handler
Gripes: Manual Hood Prop on a Forty Grand SUV?

The latest 2014 RDX builds on the positive changes accomplished for 2013, when Acura redid the RDX by installing a 3.5 liter V-6 instead of the previous version’s 2.5 liter turbocharged inline 4. This engine compartment transplant makes a compelling case for giving the formerly underpowered RDX another look. Instead of the turbo motor’s peaky power band and inadequate torque, you’ll revel in the V6′ 273hp and 251 lb.-ft. of torque. There’s more than enough grunt to spin the wheels from a standing start, and you’ll never be disappointed in this engine’s passing lane performance. Connected to the transversely mounted V6 is a 6-speed automatic with well-staged gear sets designed to optimize performance of this 6,800rpm redline engine. You can select your own gear of choice by popping the floor stick into its manual gate, or accomplish the same task by blipping up shift and downshift pads adjacent to the steering wheel. The all-wheel-drive technology RDX, which carries a base price of $39,420, extracts a premium of $1,400 over a similarly equipped two wheel drive model. The upgrade is well worth the additional outlay for the extra grip and security afforded by driving all four wheels. We had a tough time finding the cornering limits of this SUV on dry pavement. Its Michelin Primacy MXM4 tires (235/60R18) hardly ever issued a squeal of discomfort, despite the fact that their tall 60 series sidewall height is far from optimal for sporting assignments.

Over the past several years, Acura has remade this premium Honda brand into a feast for technology lovers. The latest RDX is crammed with features that will delight demanding technocrats. For example, you never need to fumble your key into the ignition slot because a cinnamon red metallic “Stop/Start” button next to the steering wheel forever relieves you of insertion duties. When you engage reverse gear a real time view of the area behind your MDX illuminates the standard Navigation screen, complete with yellow parking guidelines to assist you in judging distance. By pressing “Enter” on the center console’s beefy control knob, you can even toggle the rear display to switch between wide angle, overhead or standard rear views. Moreover, should you wish to remove the yellow guidelines from the picture, simply press the “Cancel” button on the console and hold it down for 3 seconds. You can also program the outside rear view mirrors to tilt down when reverse gear is engaged to improve your view of the curb for parallel parking. This feature can also be engaged or disengaged at will. Talk about customization!

The interior design of the RDX cabin is soothing and spacious. Our “graphite luster metallic” example featured expensive looking mocha leather seats and door panels that contrasted subtly with the chocolate tinted dash and center console. A matte finished pewter molding separated the two interior tone zones. Each front seat features a “Driving Position Memory System” which allows you to retain two favorite seat and mirror positions. Both front seats include standard 2-stage heat settings.

Although the large central Navigation screen, which is shielded by a Visigoth-like hood, looks rather intimidating at first, the cavernous design serves its purpose well by screening out errant light during daytime driving. You can enter a destination into the system by using voice commands (say “Display Destination”) or instruct the data base to search for an ATM, gas station, restaurant or movie theater by saying “Find Nearest…” The Navigation unit also provides you with AcuraLink Real Time Traffic and Real Time Weather, to help you avoid unexpected jams or inclement weather. You can use verbal commands to instruct the system to “Avoid” specific routes, or say “Display Traffic List” to garner a report of nearby incidents to circumvent. Likewise, by saying “Weather Forecast” you can check on the 1-3 day picture, or say “Radar Map” to elicit the kind of color-coded forecast you see on your nightly newscast.

This all encompassing technology package requires you to exert judicious restraint while driving. It’s all too easy to issue verbal commands while ignoring the demands of traffic. If you can keep your mind on your driving while playing the system intelligently at stoplights, your RDX experience will be rich and rewarding, because this SUV is as much fun to drive as it is to command.

2014 Acura RDX AWD with Technology

  • Engine: 3.5 liter DOHC, 24 Valve V-6
  • Horsepower: 273 hp
  • Torque: 251 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 19 MPG City/27 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $40,315
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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


Review: 2013 Volkswagen Touareg Hybrid

Monday November 25th, 2013 at 11:1111 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Drag race Champ, Build Solidity, Creature Comforts
Gripes: Inconsistent Brake Response

Most of the vehicles available for review show so few miles on the odometer that it’s difficult to envision problems that might develop down the road. This Touareg, however, arrived so late in the 2013 model year that it was already showing more than 10,000 miles of accrued travel. The benefit of driving such a relatively high mileage test vehicle is that it allows you to judge how well it wears its mileage. In the case of this VW, you could never tell it had travelled more than ten thousand miles if you didn’t sneak a peek at the odometer. The ingot like chassis had not developed so much as a single squeak. The massive doors still shut with the authoritative click you expect from a Zippo lighter cap. Lovely 5-spoke alloy wheels showed nary a curb scar thanks to the protective shielding afforded by the bulging sidewalls of the Michelin GreenX radials (265/50R19).

Unlike so many car chassis based crossover SUVs, the Touareg feels more like a truck than a car. For starters, you step up into the spacious cabin, which, by virtue of its height, affords you a commanding view of the road and traffic patterns. This visual superiority trumps any information conveyed by the lane departure warning systems that are all the rage today. Our test Touareg was not equipped with any of these annoying contrivances, nor did it need them thanks to the excellent 360 degree vision available from the driver’s seat. Touareg’s truck-like attributes also manifest themselves in the 7,700 pound tow capacity of this chassis. Although you can’t quite fold the 40/20/40 split rear seats flat, you can still gain 64 cubic feet of storage by tilting them forward. With rear seats erect, the Touareg still provides 34 cubic feet of space in its sizeable aft compartment. The key fob allows you to open the aft hatch, and a button near the liftgate lets you automatically shuts the lid.

VW only offers the Hybrid power train in its top model Touareg. At a base price of $62,575, you’re not wanting for anything in the comfort or luxury department. Beautifully upholstered front leather seats feature 12 way adjustability and 3 stage heating. The steering wheel is heated, as are the outboard rear seats. Deep door pockets, a vast glove box, and sizeable center console and dash face compartments all help keep clutter under control. Each front seat commands no less than 3 memory positions for favored seat position. Standard fitment on the Hybrid is an RNS 850 touch screen navigation and radio control panel. This graphic interface also provides rear vision when reverse gear is engaged. An enormous power sunroof remains eerily quiet even when open at freeway speeds. Bi-Xenon headlights swivel to illuminate turns at night. Standard Climatronic heat and air conditioning reacts swiftly to input changes and effectively distributes air on demand to individual tastes on separate sides of the cabin.

If you get the idea that this Touareg is just about enjoying an elevated level of indolence, you’re missing the point. What this VW really has in spades is power, lots of power. For starters, this is the world’s first supercharged Hybrid. A 333hp supercharged V6 combines with the added 47hp kick of an electric motor to produce 380hp and a whopping 428 pound feet of torque. When you slam the right pedal home, the Hybrid hurls its 5,000 pound curb weight forward like a Tim Lincecum fastball. Aided by an 8-speed automatic transmission, the Hybrid Touareg is never lacking for grunt. The only fly in the ointment is getting the ferociously fast rig stopped. Unfortunately, the regenerative brakes on our test vehicle felt spooky and inconsistent. This seems to be the hallmark of hybrids which transfer brake heat into energy.

The Touareg Hybrid is a remarkably sporting proposition. Thanks to its Goliath twin engine power train, it will run circles around lightweight sports cars, while looking after your every need with palatial solicitude. It’s really quite a bizarre combination of attributes, well worth the lofty asking price.

2013 Volkswagen Touareg Hybrid

  • Engine: 3.0 Liter Supercharged V6 + electric motor
  • Horsepower: 333hp + 47hp = 380hp
  • Torque: 428 lbs.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 20 MPG City/24 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $63,450
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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


Review: 2014 Mitsubishi Lancer GT

Monday October 28th, 2013 at 1:1010 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Rally Heritage Shows in Handling, Shifting
Gripes: Would Rather Own an Evo

Although eight years have passed since Mitsubishi last contested the World Rally Championship with the Lancer, this compact sedan still retains its WRC pedigree. With 11 different Lancer combinations available, picking the right one for your needs can be problematic. The range begins with the $16,000, front-wheel-drive DE sedan and tops out with the $35,000 all-wheel-drive GSR Evolution. Our $21,445 front-wheel-drive GT, with its 2.4 liter 168hp engine, represents a good compromise between the entry level 2.0 liter, 148hp DE and the line topping, turbocharged, 291hp GSR. The GT has enough urge to accelerate you out of tight passing situations while posting excellent mileage numbers (26MPG combined). Although our sample GT was loaded with $5,150 worth of options, you can certainly get by without the pricey ($3,300) Touring Package or the $1,850 Navigation System.

Although I’ve never been a fan of CVT transmissions, the constant velocity unit in the GT is staged so precisely that you’d swear it contains gear sets rather than belts. In keeping with their WRC tradition, Mitsubishi supplies the GT with racing style, cast aluminum “Sportronic” paddle shifts which are attached to the steering column rather than the wheel. These silver elephant ears facilitate up and down changes which are easily accomplished even when the steering wheel is cranked over hard. The ride quality of the GT is stiff and well snubbed thanks to its sport tuned suspension and low profile, high performance tires and wheels (215/45R18 Dunlop SP Sport 5000). Although the GT jiggles over pavement imperfections it handles corners with great precision. The suspension architecture, which combines MacPherson strut front with multi-link rear, is independent at both ends, and uses front and rear sway bars for added stability.

Although our GT’s 3 month free subscription to SIRIUSXM radio had already expired, the Rockford Fosgate 9 speaker, 710 Watt premium stereo (included in the Touring Package) could still be used for CDs or MP3 hookups by cantilevering the head unit open. Doing so reveals a single CD slot, plus a pair of SD card slots. A 10 inch subwoofer located in the trunk keeps track of the baseline. Even when supplied with the leather seating surfaces of the Touring Package, the interior of the Lancer seems bland and somewhat dated. Neither the front nor the rear seats will elicit rave comfort reviews from occupants. Although the rear seats fold flat, the sizeable partition separating trunk from cabin interferes with storage capacity. On the positive side, the Lancer’s tall greenhouse permits excellent sight lines in all directions. Thanks to this vision enhancement and the spunky 167lb.-ft. of torque from its large displacement 4 cylinder engine, the GT is easy to maneuver in tight city spots.

The Mitsubishi Lancer remains an excellent platform for the driver concerned with car control. Its quick reflexes, exceptional shifting, and torquey motor convert this innocuous looking family sedan into a rapid transit module that shows Mitsubishi hasn’t yet forgotten the art of driving hard.

2014 Mitsubishi Lancer GT

  • Engine: DOHC 2.4 liter inline 4
  • Horsepower: 168hp
  • Torque: 167lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 23 MPG City/30 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $27,390
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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


Review: 2014 Mazda6 Grand Touring

Sunday October 27th, 2013 at 8:1010 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Wealth of Included Niceties
Gripes: Underwhelming Grunt Below 3,000 rpm

Styling concepts pioneered by Mazda’s Shinari and Takeri show cars have reached fruition in the all new Mazda6. After taking it for a spin over challenging back roads, I can attest to the fact that this voluptuous looking reincarnation of the formerly prosaic Mazda6 is more than just a pretty new face. The revamped Mazda6 proved its mettle with refined handling, precise balance and high grip levels. It should come as no surprise that Mazda has been fielding a team of Mazda6 sedans in the GTX category of the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) this year. What should come as a surprise, however, is that these race-prepped Mazda sedans are currently vying with a Porsche Cayman S for the series title with just a few races left to run. Although the ALMS Mazda6s are Diesel-powered, our test vehicle’s 2.5 liter 4 cylinder engine ran on gasoline — so efficiently that we couldn’t use even a half tank of it after a whole week of running. The EPA rates the gasoline version of the Mazda6 at 32 MPG overall, and the turbo Diesel version, coming later this fall, will even improve on that skinflint economy.

The Mazda6 is a lot of sedan for the money. Its base price of $29,695 includes 4 door seating for 5, leather trimmed, heated sports seats up front, and a 60/40 fold down arrangement for the rear seats. Given the reasonable price, it was a surprise to find Mazda has included in the base car’s specifications a Bose 11 speaker audio system, SIRIUSXM and HD radio, and a 5.8 inch color touch screen display for the navigation system. The 185hp motor feeds its power to the front wheels via a new 6-speed automatic gearbox featuring manual gear selection via small paddles on the steering wheel spokes, or tap shifting from the floor-mounted stick. The steering wheel face also provides audio and phone controls on the left hand spoke and cruise controls on the right hand spoke. The standard issue, adaptive Bi-Xenon headlights deserve special praise not only for their brilliant illumination but also their magical ability to turn in the direction the sedan turns.

Nor did the Zoom-Zoom company default on suspension equipment. Standard 19 inch alloy rims provide secure mounts for Dunlop SP Sport radials (225/45R19) at all 4 corners. These all-season tires provide reassuring grip when you’re tackling switchback turns, or building speed on long, arcing freeway on-ramps. Handling of the Mazda6 is predictable and precise, despite the fact that 59% of its 3,185 pound curb weight rests on the front axle. Torque-steer is absent because the engine produces just 185 lb.-ft. of torque, which is never enough to cause the front wheels to slip while turning. In fact, the downside to the Mazda6 lurks under the hood, where the 4 cylinder engine’s lack of horsepower and torque is especially evident at low rpm in second gear. Just when you most need passing punch, the “Skyactiv” motor is loathe to deliver the required zest. Once you spool the engine past 3,000 rpm, however, the sedan becomes a serviceable performer.

A $2,080 “GT Technology Package” brought our test Mazda’s final price to more than $32,000. The package adds radar cruise control, regenerative braking, forward obstruction warning (FOW) and lane departure warning (LDW). Although the radar cruise control makes long distance running effortless, the benefit conferred by the other inclusions are less helpful. In fact, the LDW light on the instrument cluster flashed errantly for most of the week we spent with the car.

In view of the 2.5 liter four’s proclivity for sloth, we’d be inclined to hold out until the turbo Diesel makes its debut in a few months. After all, the Mazda6 platform is otherwise so good that it would be a shame to handicap its handling potential with a sub-par power plant.

2014 Mazda6 Grand Touring

  • Engine: 2.5 liter DOHC Inline 4
  • Horsepower: 184hp
  • Torque: 185lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 28 MPG City/40 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $32,845
  • Star Rating: 7.5 out of 10 Stars

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


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