2016 Toyota Tundra 4X4 Platinum Crewmax Review

Thursday July 21st, 2016 at 8:77 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Toyota Tundra 4X4 Platinum Crewmax

By David Colman

Hypes: Ferocious Demeanor Belies Grocery Getter Usefulness
Gripes: The 38 gallon tank will cost at least $150 to fill

As luck would have it, a sizeable parking slot at Orchard Supply Hardware opened up right next to a new Toyota Tacoma Crew Cab. As I parked my Tundra, I was careful to line up its front bumper with that of the Tacoma. This is a more difficult task than you might suspect since frontal vision from the Tundra’s lofty cab makes it virtually impossible to see anything directly in front of you. Nonetheless, when I finished jockeying the big Toyota pickup into position next to its smaller brother, I hopped out to assess relative size of these Toyotas. The Tundra stretched nearly a full bed length beyond the comparatively diminutive Tacoma. For the record, the Tacoma measures 208 inches from stem to stern versus 229 inches for the Tundra. The Tundra also stands 6 inches higher and 5 inches wider. In the case of our test Tundra, its 76 inch height is further extended by installation of 20 inch alloy rims with monster truck sized 275/55R20 Bridgestone Dueler Alenza tires.

2016 Toyota Tundra 4X4 Platinum Crewmax

So grab yourself a handful of steering wheel and climb aboard this $50,275 big rig. On the passenger side, Toyota has provided a strategically placed grab handle for hoisting yourself aboard. Ensconced in the nicely furnished cab, your eyes immediately focus on the artful stitching of the diamond patterned dash and door inserts. This nifty needlework, part of the Platinum Package, looks like something you might find in a Bentley or Maserati rather than a Toyota work truck. The interior spread contains lots of such nifty touches. The driver’s seat is covered with perforated leather, and offers 12 way power adjustment. The front passenger seat offers 5 way adjustability, and both seats provide heating and cooling of cushions. A vast intra-seat storage bin allows you to bury just about any valuable object for safe travel.

2016 Toyota Tundra 4X4 Platinum Crewmax

The floor-mounted stalk controlling the 6-speed automatic transmission places a massive shift knob in your right palm. There’s never a doubt about which gear you’ve chosen with this mechanism. It’s one of the easiest vehicles to shift thanks to flawless operation of the gear selectors. Actuating the lever is a delightful operation, especially since it also allows you to perform sequential up and down shifts.

2016 Toyota Tundra 4X4 Platinum Crewmax

The hefty transmission comprises but one element in a very sophisticated driveline. 4 wheel drive is available either full or part time via a selector located on the dashboard. The Tundra boasts an electronically controlled transfer case and an automatic limited slip unit fitted with a 4.30:1 final drive ratio. That ultra-low ratio insures maximum traction for towing, a task this truck is ideally suited to perform. Toyota installs both an engine and a transmission oil cooler on the Platinum version, plus a factory receiver style tow hitch. You can engage either Tow or Haul mode from a switch on the dash. Electrics are looked after by a heavy duty battery and alternator, and Toyota pre wires trailer hookup with both 7 and 3 pin receptacles mounted on the rear valance above the bumper. But the heart of the whole trailer operation centers on the massively torquey 5.7 liter “I-FORCE” V8, which produces 381hp, and more importantly, 401lb.-ft. of torque, a rating which gives this rig a towing capacity of 9,700 pounds.

2016 Toyota Tundra 4X4 Platinum Crewmax

So, yes you can haul an Airstream, a ski boat or a race car with relative ease thanks to all the planning Toyota has done to optimize the Tundra for such a task. But during our week with this truck, we never towed a single thing. In fact, we never even loaded the 5’5″ double-walled bed (with rail caps) with so much as a bicycle. Yet the Tundra was still a delight to operate as a regular daily grocery getter. The spacious Crewmax cab makes you feel like a passenger in an airport limousine. Sightlines in traffic are commanding, and the lofty perch gives you a better sense of road position than any artificial feedback from the Blind Spot Monitors with which this Tundra is equipped. Tundra also offers Rear Cross Traffic Alert as a standard feature, and this information is essential since you can’t see what’s going on back there from your seat in the cab. The standard rear backup camera will prove very helpful in aligning a trailer hitch. Standard front and rear sonar parking sensors let you put this big bad boy to rest in any parking lot without nudging your neighbor.

2016 Toyota Tundra 4X4 Platinum Crewmax

2016 Toyota Tundra 4X4 Platinum Crewmax

  • Engine: 5.7 liter V8, DOHC 32 valve, with Dual Independent VVT-i
  • Horsepower: 381hp
  • Torque: 401lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 13 MPG City/17 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $50,275
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE Sedan Review

Wednesday July 20th, 2016 at 11:77 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE Sedan

By David Colman

Hypes: The Gas Gauge Never Moves Off Full
Gripes: Limp Tire Choice, Unpredictable Regenerative Brakes

As the first half of 2016 fast approaches, Toyota’s Camry remains the sales leader in the USA in the crowded mid-size sedan marketplace. What does it take for this unassuming four-door to beat such heavy hitters as Honda’s Accord, Nissan’s Altima, Hyundai’s Sonata, Ford’s Fusion and VW’s Passat? If our week in the Hybrid version of the Camry is any indication, it takes excellent fuel mileage combined with reputable dependability to persuade Americans to buy more Camrys than any other mid-size product.

2016 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE Sedan

Of all the models in the Camry line, from the 173hp entry-level 2.5 liter LE to the 268hp 3.5 liter XLE, only one garners top honors in the fuel efficiency sweepstakes. That would be the Hybrid XLE we drove. In a solid week of testing, including numerous short hops and long distance cruises, the fuel level never once dipped below the 3/4 full mark because the Hybrid scores 38 MPG on the highway and an even better 40 MPG around town. This is truly amazing for a fully appointed four door that weighs more than a ton and a half. This Hybrid rates 9 out of 10 on the EPA’s “Fuel Economy and Greenhouse Gas Rating” and it does so without the inconvenience of a plug-in receptacle. You can hold your green head high with this vehicle and never once suffer the range inhibition so common to owners of fully electric vehicles.

The acceleration of the Hybrid is surprisingly strong with good torque immediately on tap as the CVT transmission shuffles belts to maximize output from a standstill. The Hybrid uses a 2.5 liter inline four cylinder petrol engine good for 178hp. This unit combines with an electric motor to boost total output to 200hp. The additive value of the electric motor thus adds 22hp to the 2.5 liter gas-only Camry. In practice, that 22 extra hp transforms the sedan’s performance from boring to rewarding. There was never an occasion when the Hybrid was wonting for pop.

2016 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE Sedan

This year Toyota offers a sports handling package for the Camry called “XSE.” From all reports, it doesn’t do much for your driving enjoyment but actively diminishes ride comfort. Our Hybrid was equipped instead with the XLE trim level, which adds the following niceties: Entune infotainment with 7 inch touchscreen, navigation, auto on/off LED headlights, moonroof, dual-zone climate control, Qi wireless phone charging, heated front seats and leather upholstery. In addition, Toyota fitted our test sedan with a Homelink transceiver ($345), and a premium JBL audio system ($1,330). Also upping the price by $750 was an “Advanced Technology Package” which adds Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Lane Departure Alert, and a Pre-Collision System that tightens the seat belts in advance of contact.

2016 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE Sedan

The Camry will never qualify as a sports sedan, no matter how much Toyota stiffens the suspension with the XSE option. But you could definitely improve its handling by replacing its mediocre Bridgestone Turanza EL400 tires (215/55R17) with the 18 inch rims and higher performance rubber which Toyota makes available on the XSE model. Also available at your dealer are the splendid looking 10 spoke, 18 inch rims which Toyota bolted to the limited production (only 12,000 examples) 2016 Camry Special Edition (SE). In any event, the Camry is a workhorse, not a racehorse. But its styling update, administered in 2015, still looks fresh enough to entice more buyers into Toyota showrooms than any other manufacturer. One of the explanations for this continuing phenomenon is reliability. Consumer Reports slaps a “Recommended” check mark on the Camry model range in large measure because this sedan scores a “Much better than average” rating in the all important “New Car Prediction” category.

2016 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE Sedan

If you’re on blood thinning medication, you’ll be relieved to know that the Camry Hybrid will never threaten to raise your blood pressure. While it won’t unduly excite you, it will also never unexpectedly disappoint you. The odds of getting stuck due to a mechanical malfunction are so remote that you can let your AAA membership lapse without so much as a pang of anxiety.

2016 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE Sedan

  • Engine: 2.5 liter inline 4, DOHC, 16 Valves with VVT-i plus Electric Motor
  • Horsepower: 200hp
  • Torque: N/A
  • Fuel Consumption: 40 MPG City/38 MPG HIGHWAY
  • Price as Tested: $35,800
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Ford Mustang GT Convertible Review

Wednesday June 22nd, 2016 at 10:66 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Ford Mustang GT Convertible

By David Colman

Hypes: 5.0 V8 is wicked quick, with sound to match
Gripes: Does a Steering Wheel really need 18 buttons?

The latest offering in Ford’s rag top pony car line is a very endearing product. Hot Rodders will love it for its 435hp and bellowing exhaust note. Sun worshippers will give it high grades for its expansive tanning bed. Back road carvers will grant it high marks for its handling dexterity. About the only souls predisposed to condemnation are mileage nerds who will look askance at the GT’s combined EPA rating of 19 MPG. Believe me, that’s a small price to pay for the repetitive fun dividend this Ford provides every day.

2016 Ford Mustang GT Convertible

As has been the case since this model’s inception in 1964, there are pretend Mustangs and there are real Mustangs. The pretend stallions are gelded at birth with just 6 cylinders under the hood. The real Mustangs come off the Flat Rock assembly line with a proper V8 in the engine bay. In the case of our Competition Orange test GT, proper refers to a 5.0 liter V8 massaged to produce 435hp and 400lb.-ft. of torque. The best of all drivertrains to harness this output is the 6-speed manual transmission, coupled to a 3.31:1 rear axle ratio, both of which are available at no extra cost. The manual shift is a work of art, from the incised pattern on its chromed knob to the lockout lift ring for reverse gear. The levers throws are ultra short and satisfying. The clutch pedal’s precise engagement makes slamming home shifts at redline a true driver’s delight. Enthusiasts will never run short of enthusiasm for driving this manual gearbox Mustang GT.

2016 Ford Mustang GT Convertible

Unlike so many front-engine muscle cars, the GT does not disappoint when the occasion arises to tackle some curves. In that regard, Ford has done everything to make the Mustang a stellar handling pony car. Confidence in curves starts with the right underpinnings. Here, Mustang was an early adopter of fully independent rear suspension to go along with independent front suspension. This pairing results in a balanced, controllable platform which is fine tuned by a stout front strut tower brace and a standard limited slip rear axle that prevents wheelspin. All GTs offer standard electronic line-lock for optimizing drag race starts, plus a bevy of “Mustang Tack Apps” that allow you to monitor g-forces, braking times, acceleration times in the quarter mile, as well as 0-60mph times.

2016 Ford Mustang GT Convertible

The convertible version of the GT is remarkably stiff. You will never sense the chassis flexing, even when traversing railroad tracks with the top down. And speaking of that top, it will fold itself into a neat covered receptacle in less than 10 seconds. All you have to do is manually release a hefty T-shaped lock handle to disconnect the roof header from the windshield surround. Dropping the roof automatically lowers all four side windows. However, raising the roof requires you to elevate on your own those same side windows. Ford has provided a sizeable glass rear window and equipped it with heating coils to keep it clear. Even with the top raised, visibility to the rear and sides is surprisingly good considering the GT’s sleek proportions.

2016 Ford Mustang GT Convertible

You will definitely want to order your convertible with the slick and relatively inexpensive “California Special Package” ($1,995) which pays tribute to a rare GT/CS Mustang Ford built in the late 1960s for California only. In today’s version of that Golden State look back, Ford supplies exceptionally handsome 19 inch painted and machined ebony alloy wheels which carry hefty Pirelli P Zero Nero rubber measuring 255/40R19 at each corner. These wheels and tires alone would cost you twice the California Special Package surcharge were you to order the combo from your local tire store. In addition to the sticky footprint, the package also includes a piano black tail spoiler, plus very handsome ebony accents on the hood and rockers that utilize decreasing size Ben Day dots to accentuate the Mustang’s swooping lines. The almost equally expensive “Shaker Pro Audio System” ($1,795) is an item I could live without. Since we spent most of our week with the top dropped, the Shaker’s 12 speaker system and huge trunk-mounted sub woofer was hard pressed to compete with the sound of rushing air.

2016 Ford Mustang GT Convertible

The GT Convertible includes very nice 3-stage heated front seats. The interior is well laid out in terms of door design, low instrument panel height, and reach to the shift console. There’s a tad too much chrome on the auxiliary switch control panel located at the foot of the center stack. The HVAC blower switch is too small and difficult to activate. But all in all, the Mustang GT offers drivers the best interior design of any muscle car on the market today. Be thankful you can still buy this much high performance for this little outlay today.

Ford Mustang GT Convertible

  • Engine: 5.0 Liter TI-VCT V8
  • Horsepower: 435hp
  • Torque: 400lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 15 MPG City/25 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $47,380
  • Star Rating: 10+ out of 10 Stars

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2016 Ford Edge Sport AWD Review

Tuesday June 21st, 2016 at 10:66 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Ford Edge Sport AWD

By David Colman

Hypes: Marvelous Color, Marvelous Motor
Gripes: Cargo Screen Look and Feel Cheap

Every model year sees one manufacturer innovate a new color so scintillating you wonder why no one thought of it before. This year, the tribute goes to Ford for their splendid shade of eye candy called Electric Spice Metallic. This incredible hue which bridges the gap between copper and gold, causes the very smart looking Edge to levitate visually on its equally handsome 21 inch graphite painted alloys. Now Electric Spice Metallic is a color some noted German and British SUV makers would be happy to charge you at least $1,000 extra to mix and apply. But Ford remarkably offers it as one of their standard Edge tints. You will, however, be asked to ante up for those impressively monumental alloys. The “21 inch Premium Painted Alloy Wheels” go for $995, or 4 for about the price you’d pay for 2 in the aftermarket. You’ll also be required to front another $995 for 265/40R21 Pirelli Scorpion Verde tires, also available below aftermarket book value.

2016 Ford Edge Sport AWD

The wheel/tire combo does much more than simply liven the looks of this Edge. Pirelli Scorpion tires are premium grade equipment. Though they will function admirably in wet weather, they are primarily “summer rated” and most at home on dry paved roads. Their fat tread pattern definitely gives a decisive handling edge to the Edge Sport. With 9 out of 10 SUVs, the “sport” aspect of the vehicle plays a distant second fiddle to the utility aspect. This is not at all the case with the Pirelli-shod Edge, which really lives up to its “Sport” designation. In fact, this Ford, with its “sport-tuned suspension,” is capable of carving corners with such panache that it will surprise more than a few pricey foreign sports sedans on a backroad.

2016 Ford Edge Sport AWD

For scintillating motivation, our test Edge depended on a 325hp turbo V6 that produces 375lb.-ft. of torque. Judiciously dispersed through the 6 ratios of a proper gearbox (no CVT here, thank you), the V6 Edge is a lithe scythe through traffic, with enough muscle to meet every passing need you will encounter. The turbo returns 20 MPG in overall usage and offers the most powerful drive unit in the Edge arsenal. A 240hp inline 4 turbo, and a non-turbo V6 rated at 283hp are also offered, but the 2.7 liter EcoBoost turbo V6 is definitely the way to go in this application.

2016 Ford Edge Sport AWD

A gander at the interior fitment will have you wondering whether you somehow paid for an Edge but brought home a Range Rover. Yes, the trim, comfort and aesthetic level is so good that the interior looks twice as expensive as it actually is. The ebony leather seats, beyond their supportive comfort, feature perforated suede surfaces interspersed with tanned black leather inserts. Subdued gray leather stitching knits the unit together and imparts a fine English riding saddle look to the cabin. Careful application of matte aluminum trim rings on the HVAC outlets, shift console and door panels integrate nicely with the patterned carbon look insert above the glovebox. A splendidly huge Panoramic Vista Roof ($1,595) slides so far rearwards that the entire front seat row is exposed to open air, while the rear passengers enjoy unprecedented overhead vision through the fixed rear panel that stretches nearly to the tailgate. And that tailgate is actually a “Hands Free Liftgate,” a standard feature that opens via keyfob input. A button on the tailgate door initiates automatic closure.

2016 Ford Edge Sport AWD

For those who need the storage attributes of a sports utility, but are unwilling to accept slow go, and cumbersome handling, the Edge Sport presents the perfect compromise. It will load 39 cubic feet of cargo if you fold the 60/40 rear seats flat, it will transport 5 passengers without breaking a sweat, it will tow 3,500 pounds, and best of all it will provide real feedback and driving pleasure on twisty roads where most SUVs quickly lose their grip on reality.

2016 Ford Edge Sport AWD

  • Engine: 2.7 liter EcoBoost V6 turbo
  • Horsepower: 325hp
  • Torque: 375lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 17 MPG City/24 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $49,990
  • Star Rating: 10+ out of 10 Stars

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2016 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack Review

Friday June 10th, 2016 at 11:66 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack

By David Colman

Hypes: Torque Factory, Useful Overall Design
Gripes: At 4,015, Could Use Jenny Craig

If Dodge had fielded this Challenger in the Trans-Am Series back in 1970, neither the Bud Moore Mustang nor the Roger Penske Camaro would have won a single race, let alone the series title. Today’s street legal, emissions-legal Dodge will out-accelerate and out-handle any Trans-Am car from the golden years of that historic race series. The beauty of the Challenger R/T is that you can still buy the ultimate factory hot rod down at your local Dodge dealer for the bargain base price of $37,995.

2016 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack

That opening gambit will get you all the basic building blocks: the ultra powerful SRT version of the 6.4 liter HEMI engine good for 485hp and 475lb.-ft. of torque coupled to a 6-speed manual transmission. This drive train insures you will post 0-60mph runs of 4.2 seconds. Challenger is such a solid design that even Consumer Reports has awarded it one of their hard-won “Recommended” Check Marks. It’s comparatively easy to use on a daily basis because entry and exit are unimpeded, the rear seat will genuinely transport 2 adults, and the trunk itself is huge at 16.0 cubic feet. The visibility for such a sleek design is actually quite good. However, the flying buttresses that fair the roof into the trunk do impede three-quarter rear vision. But compared to the fox-hole like cockpit of the new Chevy Camaro, the Challenger is a sightseeing delight.

2016 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack

While it’s nice to know that the Challenger is useful from a practical standpoint, utilitarian virtue is not the reason to select it as your daily drive. Rather, incredible acceleration is the bottom line selling point here. Our test Dodge sported a few improvements over stock, which made driving it even more enjoyable. Start with the bargain-priced ($1,195) Scat Pack Appearance Group. This option replaces standard front seats with “Premium Cloth High Performance Seats” that grab you and retain you when you’re driving hard, yet still permit easy curbside access when climbing in or out. They’re even festooned with the Scat Pack’s angry HEMI bee logo on the headrests.

2016 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack

The bee motif carries over to a couple of flat black tail stinger stripes which the owner’s manual cautions you to polish only with specific cleaning products. Other Scat Pack niceties include HID headlights, a gloss black grill insert and a flat black external fuel access door. The overall appearance of our test Challenger, finished in “Bright White Clearcoat” was muted and handsome, with enough visual prompts to identify its exceptional DNA to the wary, but not so many as to alert every cop on the block to its presence.

2016 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack

That stealth aspect of the white Challenger is a very good thing, because this is such an exceptionally fast Dodge that racer boy graphics are the last thing you need to attract attention. You may recall that when Barry Newman evaded the law from coast to coast in the epic film Vanishing Point (1971) the car he chose for the job was a white first generation Challenger. This latest tribute to that original car betters it in every way.

2016 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack

The R/T version we drove also employed Dodge’s terrific 8-speed TorqueFlite automatic transmission ($1,400 option) to spread the HEMI’s wealth through the rear wheels. This gearbox is without question the sturdiest, most precise shifting automatic on the market today, with a pair of aluminum paddles affixed to the steering wheel and a specific manual gate built into the floor-mounted palm-shaped shifter. Because of the 8-speed array, you will find that 2nd gear runs out at about 45mph, but a shift to 3rd is easily accomplished with the right hand upshift paddle. You will never lack for torque or the proper gear to apply that torque. Although I’m a firm believer is manual transmissions, I would order my Challenger with the TorqueFlite automatic.

2016 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack

I would also definitely bump the bottom line by another $1,095 by opting for the handsome and understated 20×9 inch “Hyper Black II Forged Aluminum Wheels” which carry Goodyear RS-A Eagle tires (245/45R20). The Goodyears provide a high tread wear rating of 440. Consequently, they don’t provide enough traction to manage the HEMI’s torque. It’s almost impossible to launch this beast without leaving rubber in first gear. To improve the situation, either replace the Goodyears with something stickier, or opt for the SRT 392 version of the Challenger (base price: $50,195) which comes equipped with 275 section width Pirelli P Zero tires. But rest assured that no matter which Challenger you chose, you will be driving the best muscle car available today.

2016 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack

  • Engine: 6.4 liter V8 SRT HEMII
  • Horsepower: 485hp
  • Torque: 475lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 15 MPG City/25 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $43,375
  • Star Rating: 10+ out of 10 Stars

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2016 Audi A6 3.0T quattro Tiptronic Review

Thursday June 9th, 2016 at 11:66 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Audi A6 3.0T quattro Tiptronic

By David Colman

Hypes: The Decathlete of German Sedans
Gripes: Move the Start/Stop Button Closer To The Driver

“I could live with this car.” It was my wife Judy making that comment after spending a fairly intensive week driving and riding in the Audi A6, a supercharged super sedan that elicited an observation I had never heard my wife express before. And bear in mind that we test drive close to 50 cars every year, year after year. Her positive assessment was one I also shared. This Audi was proving itself- rather unexpectedly – to be a real keeper. The A6 is not, after all, the fastest sedan Audi makes, nor is it the best looking, the most powerful, or even the least expensive. To check any or all those boxes, you’ll have to look elsewhere in the company’s model lineup. Surprisingly, what the A6 has to offer is more than the sum of its parts. It provides a very satisfying ownership experience, with just enough power, handling, comfort and looks to tick all the tabs for the perfect ride.

2016 Audi A6 3.0T quattro Tiptronic

Let’s start with the 3.0 liter V6 in the engine bay. Underneath Audi’s plastic modesty shield lies a ribbed aluminum supercharger that provides just enough horsepower (333hp) to make the A6 a true sports sedan. Whenever you lean on the throttle, the efficient V6 snaps smartly into action. Direct high pressure fuel injection insures complete combustion, and that supercharger instantly starts to whine as it makes boost. The 8 speed Tiptronic transmission harnesses every burst because it allows you to retain gear choices manually via paddle shifts. If you simply leave the Tiptronic to its own devices, it will provide a steady stream of passing power by downshifting on its own when you tromp the throttle. The V6 offers a solid compromise between horsepower and economy, with a 24 MPG overall fuel consumption rating.

2016 Audi A6 3.0T quattro Tiptronic

Our week with the A6 included more than 300 freeway miles, so we got very familiar with its handling characteristics on a round trip to Monterey from the Bay Area. The outbound drive took place in a driving rainstorm which proved the exceptional adhesion quattro (all-wheel-drive) provides in inclement weather. The 255/30R20 Pirelli P Zero tires, part of a $1,500 “Black Optic Package” that also includes striking “5-Arm Rotor Design Wheels with Titanium Finish,” proved perfectly suited to standing water. There was no tendency to hydroplane despite the Pirellis’ wide tread and ultra-low profile sidewalls. The return trip in dry sunny weather also showed the Audi suspension to good advantage, with lots of high g-force cornering stick on the snaky sections of coast Route 1.

One of the reasons for the trip to Monterey was to conduct an interview with a well known race driver at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. The best place to conduct said interview proved to be the inside of the A6, which provided peace, quiet and comfort. All three are hard commodities to come by at Laguna Seca on a race weekend. The cabin of the A6 provides a wonderfully accommodating environment. The front and rear seats are all heated thanks to a $500 Cold Weather Package that also warms the rim of the steering wheel. The dashboard and door panels look and feel opulent because they are inlayed with matte finish, open grain chocolate wood veneer which Audi calls “Fine Grain Ash Natural Wood.” Conducting business in this environment felt completely natural since the A6 cabin, with its oodles of available seating adjustments, resembles a slick office more than a mere car interior.

2016 Audi A6 3.0T quattro Tiptronic

Although the base price of the A6 is a relatively modest $57,400, you’ll probably want to upgrade your Audi with the $4,200 “A6 Prestige Model” package which includes a Bose sound system, LED interior lighting, LED headlights, and a very handy electric trunk opener and closer. This last feature proved its worth innumerable times on our road trip. The final item on the Prestige list is a head-up display which projects your current road speed on the lower inside face of the windshield. Long freeway stretches make this easily accessed information particularly valuable.

2016 Audi A6 3.0T quattro Tiptronic

The Audi A6 is the definitive German sports sedan. Its subdued appearance belies its lion-hearted performance. You can spend lots more on a BMW or Mercedes, but you won’t get a better, more practical, more luscious sedan than this mid-priced Audi.

2016 Audi A6 3.0T quattro Tiptronic

  • Engine: 3.0 liter TFSI V6
  • Horsepower: 333hp
  • Torque: 325lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 20 MPG City/30 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $66,875
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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


2016 Lexus GX460 Luxury Review

Wednesday June 8th, 2016 at 12:66 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Lexus GX460 Luxury

By David Colman

Hypes: Go Anywhere Brute
Gripes: Touchscreen Complexity

The base price of the GX460 is $61,515. The optioned price of our test GX totaled $67,825, an increase of 10 percent over base list. If you are considering purchase of this fine Lexus work horse, do yourself a financial favor and opt for the basic package. That way you’ll save $1,970 for an unnecessary dual screen rear seat entertainment system. Instead, give the kids a book or a magazine and tell them to turn on the reading lights (provided free by Lexus). Or better yet, open the free, included “Power tilt/slide moonroof” for more reading light.

Secondly, save yourself $4,340 for the “Driver Support Package” which burdens the GX460 with a raft of unneeded “safety” features that seem to have become required today by our nanny state. The first is “Pre-Collision System with Driver Attention Monitor.” If you are so inattentive to road conditions that you need a “Driver Attention Monitor” to keep you focused on the task of driving, maybe you should let someone else handle the wheel, or else stay home. Likewise, this package provides “Lane Departure Alert,” a feat of oversight that once required a glance in the mirror or a turn of the head, but now apparently demands an annoying sequence of flashing lights and buzzers to keep you from bumping into your neighbor in the adjacent lane.

2016 Lexus GX460 Luxury

Finally, the package installs “Dynamic Radar Cruise Control” which demands more of your attention to override its proclivity to think for itself than you would have to expend if you modulated speed the old fashioned way via the accelerator pedal. About the only worthwhile contribution of the “Driver Support Package” is the inclusion of a Mark Levinson Audio System” and you can definitely do without its extra amperage to save yourself five grand.

It’s mystifying why new vehicles need to be festooned with such technological overkill. The GX460 can certainly stand on its own four contact patches without resorting to safety gimmicks. It’s a solid product that performs its multiple tasks – long distance driving, stout material haulage, 7 person transport, outback bashing – just fine without resorting to any “Driver Support” upgrades. This mid-range Lexus, based on Toyota’s corporate 4Runner platform, is a beefy bruiser of a cruiser, and a genuine candidate for off-road exploration. It’s full time 4 wheel drive is much more sophisticated than the kind of system you might find in a crossover SUV. This one’s got a Torsen Limited Slip center differential featuring electronic lockup. Anyone who’s challenged rough terrain knows that a locking center differential is essential to maintaining traction in adverse conditions. Lexus makes sure to equip the GX with Mud and Snow rated tires (265/60R18 Michelin Latitude Tour) so you can depend on them for adhesion in inclement weather or off-road dirt.

2016 Lexus GX460 Luxury

Along those same lines, the standard GX460 includes automatic self-leveling rear air suspension, so feel free to pack the hold with up to 7 passengers. The two aft most travelers make do with pop-up occasional seats that fold flush into the floor of the storage area when not in use. The cabin here is well designed, airy and elegant, with nice luxury touches you would expect from Lexus like a Mahogany steering wheel rim and shift knob. A particularly unexpected treat is the full tool kit neatly stored inside the cargo rear door.

2016 Lexus GX460 Luxury

A centrally dash-mounted 8 inch touchscreen is easy to read, but sometimes annoying to use. For example, in order to regulate fan speed, you need to press the “Climate” button on the dash, then avert your eyes to the touchscreen where you will find a bar graph for fan speed. You then need to regulate the speed of the fan by manipulating the bar graph up or down. This whole sequence is so ridiculously complicated that it perhaps explains why you might need the “Driver Attention Monitor” to keep you from crashing while you fiddle with the touchscreen. I can remember when adjusting fan speed was simply a matter of twirling a dial.

2016 Lexus GX460 Luxury

A hefty 4.6 liter V8 powers the GX460 through a fine and precise 6-speed automatic transmission. Even though the GX weighs in at 5,170 pounds, its performance is sprightly enough to meet all fast lane needs while still scoring 17 MPG in combined city and highway driving. While 301hp won’t provide sprinter acceleration, 329lb.-ft. of torque will grant you sufficient grunt to tow a 6,500 pound trailer.

2016 Lexus GX460 Luxury

2016 Lexus GX460 Luxury

  • Engine: 4.6 liter V8, 32 valves, DOHC, VVT-i
  • Horsepower: 301hp
  • Torque: 329lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 15 MPG City/20 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $68,765
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Nissan Maxima Platinum Review

Friday May 27th, 2016 at 12:55 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Nissan Maxima Platinum

By David Colman

Hypes: Very Healthy V6, 4DSC Handling
Gripes: Pastiche Styling

As long ago as 1992, Nissan positioned the Maxima sedan as their “four door sports car.” They even went so far as to attach discreet notations reading “4DSC” to the rear windows of this ostensible family hauler. Back then the Maxima had a lot in common with the company’s 300ZX sports car, in that both vehicles were nimble. fast and affordable. While today’s Maxima looks nothing like the current 370Z, compelling similarities between the sedan and the sports car still justify Nissan’s inclusion of the “4DSC” notation. Today, it’s now located inside the tail light lenses.

2016 Nissan Maxima Platinum

Although Nissan has introduced a hard sprung “SR” version of the Maxima this year for sports attuned drivers, the Platinum version we drove will certainly get the back road job done without the harsh ride discomfort of the SR model. The Maxima has grown substantially over the years, to the point that it now bridges the gap between midsize and large. One look at it will have you wondering how they could possibly append the “4DSC” label to such a behemoth with a straight face. After all, the Maxima now weighs 3,618lbs, with an unfavorable front/rear weight distribution ratio of 61% front/39% rear. On top of that, the Maxima measures 192 inches in length, with a wheelbase of 109 inches. In other words, this is a big, spacious sedan with lots of swoopy styling curves and fillips aimed at making it look smaller. What it is not, however, is small.

2016 Nissan Maxima Platinum

It takes a lot of motor to make this ponderous rig feel lively, but Nissan has managed the trick by supplying the engine bay with a lovely 370Z-based V6 making 300hp and 261lb.-ft. of torque. In proving ground tests, this 24 valve DOHC engine propelled the Maxima through the quarter mile in 14.2 seconds at 100mph, and cranked off 0-60mph runs of 5.7 seconds. In other words, the Maxima, despite its ungainly size, fires off the starting line faster than many “real” 2 seat sports cars. 4DSC indeed. It also emits a very satisfying howl at full throttle which actually sounds better than the current 370Z. The Xtronic gearbox in the Maxima is the very first continuously variable transmission (CVT) that I could live with. In fact it’s so good at what it does that it took me three days before I realized that the Maxima’s transmission did its job without conventional gears. Xtronic operates seamlessly, with none of the usual droning or range hunting characteristic of CVTs. It responds instantly to the bump stick shift lever on the center console, and about the only thing missing here is the surprising lack of paddle shifts for manual operation.

2016 Nissan Maxima Platinum

Even with comparatively soft spring rates, and middling all season tires (Continental Conti ProContact 245/45R18), the Maxima holds its own admirably on twisting back roads. A Drive Mode Selector puts at your disposal a couple of switches labeled “Normal” and “Sport” on the center console. These allow you to tailor the Maxima’s handling to specific need. On back roads, “Sport” seems to calibrate the shock valving for hard driving. Unfortunately, it does little for the steering feedback, which remains over-assisted in both Normal and Sport modes. Nonetheless, the Maxima can be hustled through sections of curvy back roads with rewarding precision. If you want even more feedback, opt for the SR Maxima.

2016 Nissan Maxima Platinum

The interior treatment of the Maxima is both appealing and ergonomically sound. Especially comfortable and supportive are the Nissan’s “Zero Gravity” seats which are upholstered in a diamond pattern usually reserved for much more expensive cars like Bentley and Audi. The dash layout of the Maxima is well thought out, with its array of proper tachometer, speedometer and temperature and fuel level monitors spread out under your nose. These analog gauges are separated by an easy to read 7 inch “Advanced Drive Assist Display” that posits – in your immediate sightline – every additional piece of information you could possibly need. With equl facility it displays tire pressures, distance to empty, or the name of the SiriusXM artist currently playing on the 11 speaker Bose sound system.

2016 Nissan Maxima Platinum

The flat bottom, heated steering wheel is an innovation for Nissan, one which lends the cockpit a distinctive sporting flavor. The “Mahogany Wood-Tone Faceted Finishers” on the dash and door panels carry a diamond pattern that complements the diagonally boxed seats. These finishers also look good enough to make you think they’re made from wood, not plastic. In sum, the luxuriously fitted interior looks more expensive than you would expect from a sports sedan costing just $40,905.

2016 Nissan Maxima Platinum

  • Engine: 3.5 Liter DOHC, 24 Valve V6
  • Horsepower: 300hp
  • Torque: 261lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 22MPG City/30MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $40,905
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Lexus IS350 4-DR Sedan Review

Thursday May 26th, 2016 at 12:55 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Lexus IS350 4-DR Sedan

By David Colman

Hypes: Precise Apex Cutter, Ultra Luxe Interior Fittings
Gripes: Some Anomalies in Custom Programming

The descriptor that comes to mind regarding the IS350 is silk. The car, especially when finished in Ultra White, looks like a bolt of that foxy material. In operation, its 8 speed transmission and 3.5 liter V6 interact seamlessly. Inside, the cabin furnishings are unobtrusively situated for flawless operation. Comfort on demand is never more than a minor adjustment away. This plush, fast and comparatively affordable sports sedan defines the very essence of silken smoothness.

2016 Lexus IS350 4-DR Sedan

You will never experience the following failings in an IS350: harsh ride, jerky shifts, engine imbalance, passenger discomfort, handling deficiency, lack of power. One look at the IS350 equipped with the F Sport Package ($3,155) might lead you to assume that its ultra low profile Dunlop Sport Max tires (225/45R18 front, 255/35R18 rear) would degrade ride comfort excessively. You would be mistaken in that assumption, because this Lexus negotiates the worst pavement irregularities without disrupting life inside the plush cabin. Yet when it’s time to hit the after burners for a quick trip up a back road, those gunmetal gray, split 5-spoke alloys and Dunlop Summer Tires stand up to the job.

2016 Lexus IS350 4-DR Sedan

The F Sport Package includes more than just wheels and tires. You also receive ultra supportive F Sport front seats which will lock you into position for high lateral g-Force loads. Heating and Ventilation are standard inclusions on the front sport seats. Lexus also provides a perforated leather shift knob to match the open pore grips on the leather steering wheel. Aluminum pedals add a dash of racing insouciance to the mix, and a TFT instrument display brilliantly illuminates rpm and gear number information.

Best of all, the F Sport Package also allows you to tailor the behavior of this sedan to your need of the moment. If you’re just plunking around downtown the “Comfort” setting on the center console knob will do. But if you plan to put those sticky Dunlops to the test, you’ll want to turn the knob far right to recalibrate suspension and steering for sporting work. In the “Sport” mode the steering response stiffens perceptibly, while the Adaptive Variable Suspension tightens shock valving to eliminate slack.

With 306hp on tap, and 8 speeds to harness that power, the IS350 is a fleet sports sedan that is fun to drive near its limit. The torque output of 277lb.-ft. is sufficient to produce 0-60mph times of 4.5 seconds. This performance puts the IS in some very fast company indeed, like BMW’s newest 340i. The beauty of this IS350 is that the suspension and tires are more than worthy of the drive train’s strong output. The IS350′s various parts are well integrated into a harmonic whole.

2016 Lexus IS350 4-DR Sedan

If you opt for the $2,645 Navigation System, you will also receive a one year free subscription to the newest version of the Lexus Enform Destinations service. A complimentary “App” suite is included as well, with recently upgraded selections. Also adding to the Navigation Package fun is a knockout Mark Levinson Audio System with 17 speakers, 5.1 Surround Sound, and 835 watts of output. The only demerit is that we could never figure out how to retain the “Radio” information on the dashboard’s multi-information display screen. This unit always reverted to showing the Navigation Map after the 10 second “radio” display expired. Another annoying trait is the valet system’s insistence on folding the steering wheel up and away every time you shut the IS350′s ignition down. No amount of exploring menu options for alternate settings redressed this behavior.

2016 Lexus IS350 4-DR Sedan

For $75,000 you would be hard pressed to locate and purchase a better long distance cruiser than this IS350. For just $49,205 as fully equipped, this Lexus stands out as one of the brightest stars in the sports sedan firmament. If you’re in the market for a BMW, you owe it to yourself to explore this alluringly silky option from Japan.

2016 Lexus IS350 4-DR Sedan

  • Engine: 3.5 liter V6, 24 Valves, DOHC, Direct & Port Injection, Variable Valve Timing
  • Horsepower: 306hp
  • Torque: 277lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 28 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $49,205
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Chevrolet Volt Premier Hatchback Review

Wednesday May 25th, 2016 at 11:55 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Chevrolet Volt Premier Hatchback

By David Colman

Hypes: The Electric Car Finally Reaches Maturity
Gripes: Rear View Mirrors A Tad Small

The completely revised 2016 Volt is a triumph of engineering for the Chevrolet Division of GM. In every way, Volt 2.0 is better than the original. This improvement is all the more impressive since Volt 1.0 was a very fine tool indeed. What’s most attractive about the 2016 Volt is its complete assimilation into the driving mainstream. Unlike the first iteration, the 2016 version has lost the need to proclaim how different and revolutionary it is. Gone is the annoying Chiclet-style dashboard surface of Volt 1.0. Gone too are the first offering’s corny Jetson styling touches. And best of all, the 38 mile electric travel range of Volt 1.0 has been superceded by a genuine, dependable 53 mile range which we proved in repeated usage.

2016 Chevrolet Volt Premier Hatchback

At first glance, the interior of the new Volt looks rather subdued, especially for such a ground breaking piece of equipment. The semi-gloss “Jet Black” cloth upholstery looks almost funereal, save for some counterpoint blue stitching around the edges. The exterior of the compact sedan hardly screams “I Sing The Car Electric.” With the exception of some matte aluminum tin foil burnishing the front grill bars, this new Volt could easily be mistaken for a two-year old Toyota Corolla. Maybe it was the muted tonality of its “Heather Gray Metallic” exterior shade, but our Volt tended to get lost in a sea of small sedans wherever we parked it.

That anonymity happens to be just what I liked about Volt 2.0. Since inception, revolutionary electric cars like the Volt, and especially the Prius, have found it necessary to scream about their world saving power source at top stylistic decibel. The Prius has always been most annoying in this respect, with its silly vent windows, goofy instrument graphics, and kindergarten control stalks. The first Volt was also complicit in this regard, with faux alligator upholstery and over-the-top styling aimed at declaring its revolutionary altruism. Chevy has really detuned all that bombastic noise, and the new Volt is ready to stand on its own as an engineering masterpiece rather than a styling exercise.

2016 Chevrolet Volt Premier Hatchback

In our week with Volt, we used exactly 1 gallon of gas! Only once did our normal daily commute involve a trip longer than 53 miles. At that point, the Volt cut seamlessly over to its 1.5 liter gasoline fueled engine for the 53 mile return voyage. By EPA estimates, the Volt’s “Range Extender” gas motor gets 42 MPG in combined city/highway driving, using 2.4 gallons for 100 miles of travel. In pure electric form, it returns 106 MPGe. Now we religiously recharged the Volt overnight every day. This is especially easy to accomplish since Chevy provides a recharge unit which stores neatly out of the way in a side compartment of the trunk. This recharger weighs about half what the same unit did in an Audi A3 e-tron we recently tested. It plugs into 120V household current and will recharge the Volt fully in about 14 hours, i.e. overnight. If you opt for the 240V recharge system, a full charge on a depleted battery takes just 4.5 hours. In other words, living with Volt on a gasoline free basis is very much a reality if your daily drive is under 53 miles.

2016 Chevrolet Volt Premier Hatchback

By every other metric of performance, the new Volt exceeds expectations. First and foremost, it handles really well since Chevy reduced its battery weight and curb weight. The Volt has lost 200 pounds, and now weighs just 3,543 pounds. Since Chevy added a new two-motor drive unit that is 12 % more efficient than before, the 0-30 mph acceleration is much quicker and overall performance verges on scintillating. Look to the torque figure of 294 lb.-ft. and you will see a thrust output unequalled by small sedans in this price range. Although the Volt utilizes relatively hard, small footprint tires in order to improve mileage figures, the car is so well-balanced that it will scoot through turns quicker than its Michelin Energy saver tires (215/50R17) would have you think possible. The only downside is they do tend to squeal when pushed hard. Chevy has done wonders with a suspension that uses a rear torsion beam axle and is not fully independent. The Volt hardly ever leans excessively in tight turns, and the overall ride quality provided by the torsion beam’s hydraulic bushings is excellent.

2016 Chevrolet Volt Premier Hatchback

Volt 2.0 is a winner in every regard. The hatchback configuration meant we could easily slide a couple of 4 foot long boxes containing metal shelves through the trunk and into the passenger compartment, after dropping just the 40% side of the 60/40 folding rear seat. While rear seating is tight, the Volt suffices as a usable 4 seater for adults, and the trunk area is plenty large without resorting to folded rear seats. If the parameters of the Volt’s range meet your needs you can forget about regular trips to the gas station from now on.

2016 Chevrolet Volt Premier Hatchback

2016 Chevrolet Volt Premier Hatchback

  • Engine: Voltec electric drive system With 18.4 kWh lithium-ion battery and Ecotec 1.5L gas-powered engine
  • Torque: 294 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 104 MPGe/42 MPG (Gas) Combined City/Highway
  • Price as Tested: $39,850
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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


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