2017 Chrysler Pacifica Touring L Plus Review

Wednesday April 12th, 2017 at 11:44 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Touring L Plus

By David Colman

Hypes: Ultra Convenient Features, Superb Comfort
Gripes: Needless Optional Nannies

Chrysler’s new All-American minivan is built in Canada and powered by a V6 engine constructed in Mexico. Okay, the stellar 9-speed automatic transmission is a product of the USA, as is the design thinking that went into this quintessentially American vehicle. Until now, the company used the Town & Country nameplate for its minivan, a designation first applied to Chrysler’s wood-sided luxury sedans of the 1940s. However, Chrysler decided to jettison the iconic brand moniker this year in favor of Pacifica, a nameplate previously used on an unsuccessful crossover. Thankfully, the new Pacifica is good enough to merit renaming the franchise. No Town & Country could match the performance of this newest minivan.

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Touring L Plus

Under the Pacifica’s abbreviated snout lies a very lively Pentastar V6 with variable valve timing for all 24 valves. This engine produces 287hp and 262lb.-ft. of torque which yields 8 second times for the 0-60mph run, and supports a tow rating of 3,600lbs. The 9-speed automatic is a faultless accomplice to the van’s mission, providing imperceptibly smooth upshifts and downshifts. A circular gear controller on the face of the dash to the right of the steering wheel is conveniently angled for use and works much better than the similar control Ford uses in its Fusion sedan. The Pacifica’s transmission lacks either paddle shifts or a method of controlling individual gear changes. EPA estimates for fuel consumption peg the V6 at 22MPG overall, which is remarkably good for an 8-person family hauler weighing 4,535lbs, If you decide to opt for the Hybrid Pacifica – segment first – overall engine output drops to 260hp and you lose the rear row of seating in favor of battery storage. But the Hybrid van will run 30 miles on an electric charge before the V6 needs to kick in.

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Touring L Plus

Chrysler has been perfecting van layout for so long that the Pacifica serves as a model of good design work. The rearmost Stow n’ Go seats flip and fold flat instantly, a transformation that opens an enormous storage cavity of 66 cubic feet. Likewise, the second row Stow n’ Go captain’s chairs easily flip and fold themselves out of the way, transforming the interior into a virtual pickup bed with carpet on the floor and a roof overhead. I inserted my mountain bike into the buttoned down interior and found so much room that I didn’t even need to stow the second row seats to accommodate the bike. Overnight camping in this van poses no space problems.

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Touring L Plus

The remote door opening procedure exemplifies just how well Chrysler is attuned to owner needs. Both sliding side doors are heavy and cumbersome if you operate them by hand. I recognized this difficulty before realizing that the keyfob remote can be used to automatically open or close either door with a double punch of the appropriate button. Similarly, the rear gate lifts and shuts by remote, or by a kick gesture under the back bumper. You can even stop and start the engine using the same keyfob remote control. Life with a Touring level Pacifica could not be easier – provided you select the “Hands Free Doors and Liftgate Package” for an extra $795. Chrysler also appended a pricey ($1,995) “Advanced SafetyTec Group” which brings a lot of unwonted noise and annoyance to the cockpit environment. I managed to mute most of the bells and whistles incurred by front and rear park assist, lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control, and parallel and perpendicular park assist, but I certainly wouldn’t opt for this expensive and unnecessary bevy of intrusive nannies on my own Pacifica.

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Touring L Plus

One worthwhile option box I would tick, however, is $895 for the optional “Tire and Wheel Group.” This selection bolts a handsome set of 7.5″x18″ satin silver painted alloys to all 4 corners instead of the standard 17″ wheels. These uprated rims carry Michelin Premier A/S tires measuring 235/60R18. With a van this heavy, and capable of carrying substantial loads of people or goods, you definitely want premium rubber at all four contact patches. These Michelins, in consort with a well tuned suspension system, get the job done with precision and dispatch. However, be forewarned that Pacifica comes with no spare wheel and tire. If you have a flat, the provided tire inflator kit will have to suffice in an emergency.

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Touring L Plus

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Touring L Plus

  • Engine: 3.6 liter Pentastar V6, 24 Valves with VVT
  • Horsepower: 287hp
  • Torque: 262lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 18MPG City/28MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $43,445
  • Star Rating: 9.5 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring Review

Tuesday April 11th, 2017 at 4:44 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring

By David Colman

Hypes: Frugal, Practical, Good Regenerative Brake Feel
Gripes: Bring Back the Radio Volume Knob Please

For 2017, Honda has reintroduced the Hybrid version of the Accord, a model last sold in 2015. Notable improvements over the previous version include doubling the number of electric motors. This pair now produces 181hp and 232lb.-ft. of torque. When coupled to the Hybrid’s 2.0 liter DOHC gas motor – itself good for 143hp and 129lb.-ft. of torque – the “Earth Dreams” drive system yields a combined rating of 212hp. This marks an increase of 16hp over the discontinued 2015 Hybrid Accord. More importantly, the Hybrid now returns 48MPG in the EPA test cycle for combined city/highway operation.

2017 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring

A CVT (continuously Variable Transmission) meters power to the front wheels only. Since it has no gears, the electronically controlled (hence, eCVT) shifter provides no method for transmission modulation of engine speed. There are no paddles available, so the closest you can come to operational choice here is to select the “Sport” mode which maximizes throttle sensitivity and thus provides quicker engine response. Honda also includes a “B” setting on the eCVT which favors brake regeneration on long downhills.

2017 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring

The new Hybrid package is gratifyingly quick in Sport mode, with immediate throttle response prompting a sudden surge of torque from the electric motors. Thanks to the simple minded behavior of its eCVT, however, Honda’s latest Hybrid Accord misses the sports sedan mark. This 3,552lb. mid-size sedan records a power-to-weight ratio of 16.75lb/hp. Adequate, but hardly scintillating. Further complicating the fun-to-drive factor are the Hybrid’s modestly sized, rock hard Michelin Energy radials (225/50R17) mounted on busy looking alloy rims (7.5″x17″). These all-season Michelins would not be your first choice for carving apexes on back roads, since their tread width (225mm) is skimpy and their compound hard (tread wear rating of480).

2017 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring

If you order the top line Touring Group version of the Accord, Honda equips your sedan with the following features not included on lesser models: heated rear seats, LED headlights with high beam assist, and navigation. You really aren’t left wonting for much with this maxed out Touring Accord. A complete suite of safety minders is standard. Called “Honda Sensing,” these provide collision braking, adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, forward collision warning, and lane departure/ road departure warning. Such are the building blocks of the fully autonomous vehicle which can prove useful in case of an emergency. The best feature is the Accord’s very smooth and easily controlled adaptive cruise control which works flawlessly, even in heavy traffic. It allows you to set your following distance, and obediently maintains that gap to traffic without the undue jerkiness characteristic of so many similar systems. Especially informative is a rear camera which projects adjacent right side traffic on a 7 inch display screen when you activate your right hand turn signal. By depressing a button on the signal control stalk, you can play this informative display for your entire drive.

2017 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring

The interior of the Accord is inviting despite its lack of luxury trim. The dash is finished with bands of simulated plastic driftwood that neither excites nor dismays you. The seats are reasonably comfortable, heated, and easy on your back thanks to standard lumbar electric adjustments. Their low side bolsters do little for cornering support, but facilitate ingress and egress. Construction quality is beyond reproach. Honda moved Hybrid build from Marysville, Ohio to Sayama, Japan this year, making this Accord a fully Japanese product.

2017 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring

The Hybrid’s 1.3kWh lithium-ion battery pack is substantially smaller than the one supplied to the previous model. Hence, it occupies less trunk space. This savings has increased the trunk to 13.5 cubic feet. However, you are still faced with a raised ridge covering the battery pack that necessitates a fixed partition behind the rear seats. The Hybrid loses 2.5 cubic feet of storage compared to the gas powered Accord. However, the Hybrid’s phenomenal 48 miles to the gallon compensates nicely for such minor storage space loss.

2017 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring

  • Engine: Twin Electric Motors plus 2.0 liter gasoline engine, 16 valves DOHC
  • Horsepower: 212hp
  • Torque: 232lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 49MPG City/47 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $36,790
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Mazda CX-3 GT FWD Review

Wednesday March 29th, 2017 at 11:33 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Mazda CX-3 GT FWD

By David Colman

Hypes: Miata-infused SUV
Gripes: ADD screen, Busy Center Console

There’s a lot of Miata in this CX-3. Anyone who’s spent quality time beyond the wheel of Mazda’s classic MX-5 (Miata) two seat sports car will immediately appreciate the detail spillover to the CX-3. Mazda products are really all about feedback. You give a command and the vehicle responds to that directive instantaneously. Like the Miata, the CX-3 – despite its SUV design and elevated ride height – reacts instantly when you turn the wheel, bang a downshift or hammer the throttle. The CX-3 consistently displays such lightning quick reflexes that its operation becomes instinctual rather than forced. Like the Miata, the MX-3 is so underpowered (just 146hp) that it depends on its ultra precise handling and suspension composure to compensate for its lack of brute strength under the hood. And like the Miata, the CX-3′s overall balance tips the fun-to-drive scale heavily in favor of this diminutive SUV.

2017 Mazda CX-3 GT FWD

If you’re looking for a utilitarian family hauler, look elsewhere. The CX-3′s 100 inch wheelbase is about 10 inches short of a full family six pack. And you most assuredly won’t be able to slide your bike into the rear hatch. However, you will be able to accommodate a four pack of adults inside the CX-3. There’s enough front and rear legroom to allow four six footers sprawl room. Those who have spent time in a Miata cockpit will feel right at home driving the CX-3. The manually adjustable steering wheel is perfectly situated for grip and precision control. Even the fingertip shift paddles fall exactly where you need them when you decide to assume gear control from the 6-speed “Sport Mode” automatic transmission.

2017 Mazda CX-3 GT FWD

And like the MX-5 sports car, the center tunnel houses the joystick for all Mazda Connect features such as sound settings, device settings, vehicle settings, system settings, active driving display settings and safety settings. Mazda terms this large rotary dial the “Commander Switch,” and due to its partially hidden location, it will take you some time to acclimatize yourself to its operation. Most commands can be issued verbally. We were disappointed to find no menu choice available for door lock protocol. Every time we walked away from the CX-3, the doors automatically locked. When we returned, however, they did not automatically unlock. This necessitated a jab on the appropriate keyfob button, a procedure that got old real fast.

2017 Mazda CX-3 GT FWD

What didn’t get tiresome was the CX-3′s desire to attack back roads with sports car aplomb. Mazda does not stint in equipping this mini-SUV with optimal wheels and tires. Our “Dynamic Blue Mica” tester sported handsome 18 inch alloy rims fitted with very sticky all season Yokohama Avid S34 radials (215/50R18). A couple of challenging backroad runs failed to dislodge the CX-3 from the line chosen by its operator. Despite its 61 inch height, this 2,945 pound mini truck carries out your placement orders with dispatch and precision. This behavior proved especially impressive during wet weather operation. Even during the worst storms, nary a skid was detected. Mazda touts their belief that “Driving Matters” and in the case of the CX-3, that claim is clearly accurate.

2017 Mazda CX-3 GT FWD

Which is not to say that some ergonomic details don’t intrude on the overall bliss. The hatchback release button, located under the edge of the rear lid, is too small and too difficult to locate. The trunk area at the rear needs a light for night loading. The Active Driving Display is a disconcerting addition to the dashboard. This ADD unit consists of a clear plastic screen which automatically pops up from the top of the instrument binnacle to provide speed, navigation and cruise control information. It’s a sort of poor man’s head up system, and I couldn’t find a way to shut it off or retract the screen. In fact, Mazda specifically warns, “Do not try to adjust the angle or open/close the display by hand.” The ADD unit is standard on CX-3s fitted with Grand Touring (GT) level trim.

2017 Mazda CX-3 GT FWD

Really, these are but minor quibbles that pale into insignificance when considering this Mazda’s overall worth. There are very few SUVs on the market that will match the CX-3 for joy of operation or for value pricing.

2017 Mazda CX-3 GT FWD

  • Engine: 2.0 liter “Skyactive” inline 4 cylinder
  • Horsepower: 146hp
  • Torque: 146lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 29 MPG City/34 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $27,260
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited Review

Tuesday March 28th, 2017 at 10:33 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited

By David Colman

Hypes: High on the Green Scale, Comfy
Gripes: Hybrid Takes Trunk Space, Modest Cornering Ability

When I recently rode in a first generation Toyota Avalon belonging to a friend, I was astounded by its small size and lack of amenities. That pioneer Avalon was really little more than a rebadged Camry with an elevated price tag prompted by pretensions of luxury. Today’s Avalon is a very different product from that modest initial offering. Although it has retained the same “big car” dimensions for the last decade (111 in. wheelbase, 72 in. width, 197 in. length), the packaging within has transformed the Avalon from a massaged Camry into a luxurious line-topping sedan with no need to apologize for anything.

2017 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited

In the case of our test vehicle, there’s no need to hedge about its green entitlement either, since this sizeable 3,590 lb. quintet mover registers a planet saving 40 MPG in overall driving thanks to inclusion of Toyota’s well integrated Hybrid Synergy Drive system. The Hybrid combines a permanent magnet synchronous electric motor good for 200lb.-ft. of torque with a sophisticated (DOHC/VVT-i/ 16 Valve) 4 cylinder 2.5 liter gas engine good for 200hp. This combined output reaches the rear wheels through a constant velocity transmission (CVT). According to the government, this drivetrain produces an average yearly fuel cost saving of $2,500 compared to the MPG rating of a comparable gas-only vehicle. The EPA also allows you to brag that your Hybrid Avalon posts a 9/10 on the “fuel economy and greenhouse gas rating scale,” and an 8/10 on the “smog rating” scale.

2017 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited

Of course, you will pay a premium for this car’s complicated Hybrid propulsion unit. The first up-charge comes at purchase time, because choosing a Synergy Drive Avalon propels the base price to $42,550. The gas powered Avalon range starts at just $34,000, so you’re definitely tipping the high end of this model’s pay scale. However, there is that $2,500 savings in fuel costs to consider, so you should come out better than even if you keep your Hybrid Avalon for at least 3 years while driving it roughly 12,000 miles per year. But what kind of a driving experience does the Hybrid provide, aside from its proclivity for efficiency? Simply put, this Avalon will not ignite the smoldering embers in an enthusiast’s breast. The problem derives from the Hybrid’s compromised power-to-weight (P/W) ratio. With just 200hp to propel 3,590 pounds of sedan, the Hybrid posts a P/W ratio of 17.95lbs./hp. Compare that to the gas powered, 268hp, V6 Avalon’s P/W ratio of just 13.39 and you’ll understand why the Hybrid takes its time reaching freeway speed from a stop.

2017 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited

The good news here is that this gives you even more time to enjoy the many amenities Toyota has baked into the latest Avalon interior. You will not be disappointed in the level of attention to detail here. Both front and rear seats are exceptionally comfortable. Since this sedan’s modestly proportioned tires (215/55R17 Michelin Primacy MXV4) and softly sprung suspension generate light side loads on curvy roads, the seats require no side bolster support. This allows very easy ingress/exit. The seat design emulates a Barca-Lounger style chair with relatively flat cushions that feel cushy and inviting. Both front seats are fitted with separate console mounted controls for heat and ventilation. For a dash design predicated on hard touch points rather than knobs or buttons, the Avalon’s layout is relatively successful. But hard touch adjustment surfaces have their drawbacks. For example, if you seek to adjust cabin temperature, you must first visually locate the HVAC slide scale for your side of the interior, then position your finger over the up (red) or down (blue) arrow, and then administer a jab. This push is acknowledged by a corresponding chirp. While this added design complexity might make cell phone addicts happy, it’s still not as rewarding to operate as a simple dial control.

2017 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited

The Avalon’s JBL Audio system deserves a special note of praise. The 7 inch touchscreen on the dash operates not only the 11 speaker JBL entertainment unit, but Toyota’s Entune App suite and standard Navigation System as well. The JBL’s bass output was truly remarkable, and once we dialed in our preferences to the SXM satellite radio (3 month free trial included), we enjoyed a solid week of our favorite tunes at a dauntingly booming volume level. But that kind of enjoyment is definitely the Hybrid Avalon’s strong suit. This is a large family car designed for covering long and boring stretches of interstate while keeping you entertained, comfortable, and virtually immune from the need to stop and refill the Avalon’s 17 gallon gas tank.

2017 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited

2017 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited

  • Engine: 2.5 liter inline 4, DOHC, VVT-i, 16 Valves + Electric Motor
  • Horsepower: 200hp
  • Torque: 199lb.-ft. electric motor
  • Fuel Consumption: 40MPG City/39 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $43,639
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

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


2017 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T SE Review

Wednesday March 15th, 2017 at 11:33 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T SE

By David Colman

Hypes: Interior Layout Simplicity, Handling Balance
Gripes: Launch Hesitation in First Gear, Sticky Brake Feel

For 2017, Passat continues to benefit from the major makeover it received in 2016. In addition to restyled front and rear fascias, the Passat’s 6.3 inch graphic user interface touchscreen now includes Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Also now standard are VW Car-Net upgrades, including App-Connect (Smart Phone integration and interface) and Security & Service (Emergency Assistance). This latter feature is operable at delivery time, but must be subscribed for continued service. Also standard on Passat is a suite of technology safety upgrades. A rearview camera helps you reverse safely. Front Assist helps bring your Passat to a halt when frontal blockage is detected. Blind Spot Monitor is now standard, and features Rear Traffic Alert. These safety improvements operate silently and seamlessly, without the noisy intrusiveness characteristic of many such systems.

2017 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T SE

If you select the SE level of Passat, VW literally upgrades your wheels from 16 to 17 inch silver alloys wearing Continental ProContact mud & snow rubber (215/55R17). Another advantage of opting for an SE level Passat is inclusion of KESSY, keyless access with push button start. After spending a week fumbling for the keys of a VW Alltrack to gain entry and start the engine, the proximity system and push button of the Passat saved a lot of key search time. The Passat’s huge 16 cubic foot trunk includes a spare tire buried in a mat covered well. This emergency unit is made by Firestone and measures a scant 135/90/16, but gets the temporary job done since it matches the rolling diameter of the Continental radials. A jack and lug wrench are included.

2017 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T SE

The Passat is not designed for extroverts. You appreciate its subdued nature the minute you scan the quiet color choices available: 3 shades of silver or gray, muted blue, very muted red, beige or black. You certainly won’t find VW’s outrageous Beetle shade of Fresh Fuchsia Metallic available to dress your Passat. Rather, our test sample was painted Platinum Gray Metallic, set against a Titan Black interior. This is not to say the combo was objectionable. In fact, it looked handsomely subdued, in the way a Brooks Brothers suit is fashionably reserved. Adding to the pleasing medley of interior tones and patterns is a wide strip of what appears to be varnished driftwood. This material, set off in turn by an inlay of finely corrugated matte aluminum, stretches across the dash, and continues through all four door panels.

2017 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T SE

What we continue to love about VW vehicles and the staff that designs them is their resistance to sublimating vehicle operation to touchscreen menus. Here is a short list of vintage features that make Passat so much easier to operate than the current competition: a fly-off handbrake that is conveniently located and easy to operate; three large knobs to control temperature and fan operation; seven prominently positioned buttons to operate seat heaters and air flow; one overhead swivel knob to control slide/tilt operation of the standard sunroof; conveniently located manual lift/slide/rake controls for both front seats. Car designers today have abandoned this mode of simplicity in favor of complex, unnecessary, menu-driven operations that invariably deflect your attention from the serious requirements of driving. Bravo to VW for refusing to turn their Passat into a motorized smart phone.

2017 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T SE

This largest of all VW sedans is meant to be a family hauler, a mission it accomplishes with customary German dexterity. The Passat is without question a spacious sedan, with its wheelbase of 110 inches insuring that both front and back seat occupants will never wont for legroom. Even though the weight distribution of the Passat’s 3,220 pounds is heavily biased toward the front (59%F/41%R), this mini limo still covers twisty back roads with surprising agility. The front end never plows through tight turns, and the lively 170hp TSI turbo 4 unleashes enough zip to make exiting corners exhilarating. While the Passat’s deadpan looks may not give a clue from the outside, its sporting nature is always ready to be unleashed. If 170hp is insufficient, VW offers an even quicker variant in the V6 Passat, which makes 280hp from 3.6 liters. Either way, the Passat earns its stripes as a premium German sedan, which flies fast under the radar, and does so without draining your wallet.

2017 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T SE

2017 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T SE

  • Engine: 1.8 liter DOHC turbo 4 cylinder with direct injection (TSI)
  • Horsepower: 170hp
  • Torque: 184lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 23 MPG City/34 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $26,315
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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


2017 Lincoln MKZ Reserve AWD Review

Tuesday March 14th, 2017 at 11:33 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Lincoln MKZ Reserve AWD

By David Colman

Hypes: Powerful but Economical Motor, Huge Panoramic Roof
Gripes: 240hp is nice but a new 400hp twin turbo V6 is nicer

The big news at Lincoln this year is the return of the Continental, a storied 77 year old nameplate now attached to an all new luxury sedan for 2017. A lot of the Continental’s $60,000 luxury has also surfaced in Lincoln’s completely revamped 2017 MKZ, a five person luxury sedan restyled both inside and out this year. The MKZ is based on the Ford Fusion platform. But its Continental styled grill, sumptuous interior, and lively drivetrain move the MKZ into a class well beyond Fusion level.

2017 Lincoln MKZ Reserve AWD

Lincoln finally abandoned their upswept butterfly trademark grill on the new MKZ for a revised prow that looks much sleeker. Not coincidentally, the perforated mesh screen establishes the MKZ’s close familial ties to the new Continental. Inside our handsome Midnight Blue Sapphire Metallic test car, the spread of Ebony leather looks understated and elegant. Both front “Multicontour” seats feature 10 way motor-driven adjustability, with heating and ventilation standard. Rear seats are heated as well. The interior is dominated by the most expansive retracting sunroof I can recall. This huge swath of gleaming black glass fully retracts in two stages: first the interior screen cover slides aft, followed by retraction of the entire glass roof. This “Panoramic” roof puts on quite a show while insuring that claustrophobia will never figure in your MKZ trip plans.

2017 Lincoln MKZ Reserve AWD

After having driven a Hybrid Fusion during the week preceding my stint in the MKZ, I found the Lincoln’s interior to be preferable on several counts. Foremost is the irrefutable logic of the controls in the new Lincoln. For 2017, the MKZ eliminates the capacitive touch-based system of the previous model, instead using more knobs and buttons than slide switches. This advance alone makes it ever so easy to adjust seat temperature, cabin climate and steering wheel heater with the simple push of a button. In the Fusion, steering wheel heat requires going through a menu and locating a virtual button on a complicated video screen. Likewise, the Lincoln’s 6-speed SelectShift automatic gearbox, which offers a manual mode with paddles, is controlled by a series of large PRNDL buttons stacked vertically adjacent to the steering wheel rim, a placement that is much easier to use than the Fusion’s new rotary gear selector wheel.

2017 Lincoln MKZ Reserve AWD

Our base model Lincoln utilized a 2.0 liter turbocharged inline 4 cylinder “GTDI” direct injection engine that provides really strong performance considering its diminutive displacement. Both torque (275lb.-ft.) and horsepower (245hp) have increased by 5lb.-ft. and 5hp over the 2016 model. With the aid of the paddles to select just the right gear ratio of the 6 offered, the new MKZ really flies. The all-wheel-drive system harnesses the engine’s strong output, judiciously channeling just the right amount of drive to each Michelin Primacy MXM4 tire (245/40R19). The alloy rims of our test MKZ, which Lincoln describes as “premium painted aluminum wheels with painted pockets and chrome inserts” looked particularly spiffy. They will, however, prove labor intensive to keep clean.

2017 Lincoln MKZ Reserve AWD

Last year, Lincoln introduced a comforting premium program for customers seeking concierge level design tweaks. For example, you can fit your MKZ with Vintner’s Wood inserts complemented by Merlot leather seating surfaces. This “curated” Black Label program also extends to special after-sales attention, offering complimentary car washes after service, and access to special food and entertainment events. Clearly, this is an effort by Lincoln to match the customer friendly trappings Lexus and Infiniti owners have come to expect. At a base price of just $35,170, the redone MKZ already has a big financial advantage over its more expensive Japanese competitors. The Black Label program is just more icing on an already rather delectable piece of cake.

2017 Lincoln MKZ Reserve AWD

  • Engine: 2.0 liter inline 4, GTDI, turbocharged
  • Horsepower: 240hp
  • Torque: 275lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 20 MPG City/28 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $36,507
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Volkswagen Golf TSI Alltrack 4Motion Review

Friday March 3rd, 2017 at 12:33 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Volkswagen Golf TSI Alltrack

By David Colman

Hypes: Strong Drivetrain, Useful Interior, Great Price
Gripes: Needs Headlight Flash When Locking/Unlocking

So far, the new Alltrack VW had checked all my boxes. Was it fast enough? Yes. Did it handle well enough? Absolutely. Did it look good inside and out? Check and check again. But as a sportive player, now it would have to pass the bike test. With rear seats folded flat, would the Alltrack have enough room to stow my mountain bike? Yes, with surprising room to spare – as long as the bike’s front wheel is folded back 180 degrees. Clearing that final impediment makes the Alltrack as close to perfect as you can get. With its Falken Sincera tires (205/55/R17) churning through slosh and mud, this newest addition to the company stable is good for virtually any foray, off or on road. It deals equally well with either eventuality. And it provides you with lots of driving fun to boot.

2017 Volkswagen Golf TSI Alltrack

This latest brainchild from Wolfsburg is a crossover of sorts. VW appropriated the basic architecture of the Front Wheel Drive Golf SportWagen, transforming it into an All Wheel Drive variant that excels in all terrain performance. VW calls it “All Whee Drive.” In addition to 4Motion (VW’s name for all-wheel-drive), engineers have raised the Golf’s suspension enough to clear off-road type obstacles. They have even provided an underbody guard to prevent damage in the outback. A “Driving Mode” selector on the center console allows you to chose ride height appropriate for Sport, Normal or Off Road driving adventures. Even though I never ventured far off pavement (VW calls such excursions the “road less graveled”), I did drive this VW for two hours through a pouring rainstorm, where I found its 4Motion traction capable of providing reassuring comfort in even the most adverse conditions.

2017 Volkswagen Golf TSI Alltrack

Similar Japanese products I have recently driven seem underpowered compared to the Alltrack, which depends on 1.8 liters of direct fuel injected, turbocharged, “TSI” 4 cylinder power to sprint away from stop lights like its sporty cousin, the Golf GTI. Helping allocate the power is a 6-speed automatic transmission equipped with a manual control gate and small paddles at the 9 and 12 o’clock positions behind the steering wheel. The Alltrack produces 170hp and makes 184lb.-ft. of torque while posting an overall EPA fuel consumption figure of 25 MPG. For the record, we never came close to exhausting this Golf’s 14.5 gallon supply, or invoking its 1.3 gallon reserve margin.

A week of nearly constant wet weather operation revealed a few niceties missing from the Alltrack equation. Rain sensing wipers would have been useful, as I spent an inordinate amount of time fiddling with the wiper stalk to keep pace with conditions. The power door locks, operated by the keyfob, lack a proximity sensor, so you need to push the appropriate button on the keyfob. This tends to complicate the boarding process in a downpour. And finally, when you unlock or lock the Alltrack, your action is confirmed by a blink of the turn indicators. But there is no accompanying timed illumination from the headlights. This makes for difficult approach or departure at night.

2017 Volkswagen Golf TSI Alltrack

Despite these minor oversights, the Alltrack is a startlingly well equipped vehicle, especially considering its bargain base price of $26,950. For example, both front seats are heated, with 3 stages of temperature offered. The wipers are also heated, along with the outside rear view mirrors. The Golf has been granted a substantial makeover for 2017, and one of the new features is a larger 6.5 inch touchscreen that displays a sublime level of clarity for operation of the 8 speaker AM/FM/SiriusXM radio unit. Thankfully, VW have avoided the temptation to incorporate all HVAC commands into this digital display.. Instead, the Alltrack provides welcome dial controls for temperature and fan settings, as well as separate buttons for A/C, defrost and rear window heat. It is also thrilling to discover that your seat settings (fore/aft, tilt, height) are all controlled by you, not a series of heavy, expensive and completely unnecessary electric motors. You also need to insert a key in the ignition which is something else of a delightful throwback these days when hard-to-find starter buttons have become the norm. In an era of increasingly overcomplicated auto design, VW takes a refreshing stand for simplicity of operation.

2017 Volkswagen Golf TSI Alltrack

The Alltrack is the perfect answer to a question asked by many families. What vehicle is sporty, all terrain capable, yet not configured like a tippy SUV on stilts? the answer to that quandary is this newest member of the VW clan, the quick, grippy and practical new Alltrack wagon.

2017 Volkswagen Golf TSI Alltrack 4Motion

  • Engine: 1.8 Liter TSI DOHC inline 4, turbocharged with direct injection
  • Horsepower: 170hp
  • Torque: 184lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 22 MPG City/30 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $27,770
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Ford Fusion Platinum Energi Review

Wednesday March 1st, 2017 at 4:33 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Ford Fusion Platinum Energi

By David Colman

Hypes: Luscious Interior, Reams of Unexpected Standard Features
Gripes: 188hp Insufficient

For 2017, Ford offers more flavors of Fusion than Ben and Jerry makes ice cream. At the top of the long list is the all new for 2017 Sport version, with a 325hp, 2.7 liter V6 powering all four wheels. Moving down the range, Ford also offers a turbocharged 2.0 liter inline 4 making 240hp. At the bottom of the horsepower rankings – but the top of the mileage offerings – is the 2.0 liter inline 4 of the Fusion Energi we tested. This one’s gas engine makes just 188hp in consort with its electrical motor, but yields 42 MPG in combined city/highway driving. In electric-only mode, the Fusion Energi will carry you just 21 miles. But those miles produce an EPA rating of 97 MPGe. In combined electric/gas operation, this greenest of all Fusions will take you a whopping 610 miles on one tank of gasoline.

2017 Ford Fusion Platinum Energi

With that kind of range, it would be nice if the Fusion Energi provided a first class interior for you to while away those extended driving hours. The Energi’s Platinum interior does just that. Taking a cue from hyper priced cars like Bentley and Maserati, Ford designers have spiced up the look of this Fusion with large swaths of diamond patterned upholstery inserts. The front and rear seat bolsters sport this material, as well as all four upper door panels. Our test example featured an inviting shade of cream leather called “Medium Soft Ceramic” that looked and felt inviting but showed a fair amount of grime after 7,000 miles of test driving. The quilted door and seat inserts are neatly set off by black piping which adds a note of elegance to the overall design. The seats themselves are supremely comfortable up front and passably accommodating in back.

2017 Ford Fusion Platinum Energi

The Fusion’s 112 inch wheelbase and 73 inch width make for a spacious and airy cabin, further augmented by a standard power moonroof. A foursome of six footers front and rear will never find themselves crowded into discomfort inside a Fusion.

2017 Ford Fusion Platinum Energi

The cockpit is replete with thoughtful attention to detail. For example, the vertical and horizontal adjustment for the multifunction steering wheel is electrically controlled, a nicety not often encountered on cars in the sub-$40,000 price range. Another welcome feature is a 2 slot memory system for selecting and retaining your favorite seat/mirror/steering wheel orientation. Again, most vehicles in this class do not offer this convenience. Clearly, a lot of thought has gone into making the Fusion cabin habitable for long distance cruising. The front seats are both heated and ventilated, with four settings available for temperature choice in either mode. Even the steering wheel rim is heated, though it took us awhile to find the on/off switch, which is buried in the climate control Synch3 menu, rather than operated by an actual button.

2017 Ford Fusion Platinum Energi

Thankfully, all major climate and ventilation settings are instantly accessible through a series of actual buttons and switches laid out across the base of the center console. Here you will find individual temperature controls for each side of the cabin, plus fan speed and defrost buttons. For other less critical functions, Ford’s Synch3 system allows you to tailor your navigation and entertainment needs through pictographs on the 8 inch touchscreen, which oversees everything from radio choice, to apps, to navigation, to general locking protocol and language display. The steering wheel spokes control a wealth of additional information which appears on the instrument panel, next to the 120mph speedometer. You can scroll through “MyView” acceleration/braking/cruising tabulations, fuel economy readouts, two resettable trip computers, EV feedback entitled “Engage” and “Empower,” and finally, tire pressure readout. Just the thing to keep you on your toes on Interstate 5.

2017 Ford Fusion Platinum Energi

If the Energi hybrid has a drawback, it’s lackadaisical performance. 188hp is simply not up to the task of hauling this sizeable 3,505 pound sedan up to passing speed with any margin of comfort. Even with gas and electrical power maxed out noisily at full throttle, the Energi is reluctant to satisfy your need for speed. The ECVT “Powersplit” automatic transmission features a new-for-2017 rotary control dial for gear selection. While this unit does save console space. its operation is difficult to master as it lacks the detents of a conventional shift mechanism.

2017 Ford Fusion Platinum Energi

The other drawback of selecting a hybrid is the imprecise, non-linear pedal feel of the regenerative brakes. They react with oversensitive zeal even to slight pedal pressure. The rock hard (treadwear rating: 480) Michelin Energy radials (225/50R17) complicate the brake feedback loop with their tendency to skid. Finally, you’ll pay another energy penalty when you examine the trunk of this otherwise full size sedan. While the interior may comfortably hold four passengers, the hybridized trunk will never transport all their belongings. Associated hybrid gear and lithium ion batteries occupy much of the allotted space.

2017 Ford Fusion Platinum Energi

  • Engine: 2.0 liter inline 4 + electric motor
  • Horsepower: 188hp
  • Torque: N/A
  • Fuel Consumption: 42 MPG Combined, 97 MPGe
  • Price as Tested: $39,995
  • Star Rating: 7.5 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Subaru Outback 2.5i Touring Review

Thursday February 23rd, 2017 at 11:22 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Subaru Outback 2.5i Touring

By David Colman

Hypes: Practical Packaging, Elegant Interior
Gripes: Could Use a Turbo

Subaru has developed a following of loyal enthusiasts eager to share their positive experiences with others. I had just finished photographing this Brilliant Brown Pearl Outback when I was accosted by a Subaru-owning neighbor dying to get a look at the new-for-2017 Touring version of the Outback. One glance at the diagonal stitching of the coffee colored door panels had him lusting after the new Touring model. He explained that he had gone through the mill with a bunch of expensive German products that “spent more time in the shop garage than mine” before he bought his first Subaru in 2011. That car put an end to all his service woes. In 2016 he bought a new Outback for himself, a car that has impressed him with its many virtues. After spending a stormy week with the new Touring, I would have to agree that this special edition Subaru Outback has a lot going for it.

2017 Subaru Outback 2.5i Touring

The refined quality of the interior belies the Touring’s $35,995 base price. That Brown Pearl paint becomes Brilliant in the sun, when its purple undertone makes the Outback look like a Cal Custom show car. The front seats are plush, heated and accommodating. The rear seats are comfortable enough for long trips, and also feature standard 3-stage heaters. Trim on the dash and doors is subdued and handsome, with matte finished wood surfaces complimenting brushed aluminum surrounds. The instrument binnacle consists of two heavily shielded dial faces, with an 8000rpm tachometer on the left and a 150mph speedometer on the right. Both dials are ringed with celestial blue illumination, making for a very pleasing visual presentation that is exceptionally easy to read. A large digital speed readout occupies the space between dials. The rest of the dash array is equally well thought out for easy usage while traveling at speed. The beauty of Subaru’s HVAC controls lies in the fact that you almost never need to take your eyes off the road to make climate control adjustments.

2017 Subaru Outback 2.5i Touring

In heavy rain, the Subaru proved a dependable and comforting companion. The standard rear window wiper cleared the aft view immediately, in consort with an effective backlight defroster and washer system. All these controls were intuitive, with never a need to consult the Owner’s Manual for operation. Such is the mark of a well-designed product. The Touring’s behavior in adverse weather also proved that this wagon is well suited to any climatic condition. The Mud & Snow rated Bridgestone Dueler H/P tires (225/60R18) never evinced any tendency to aquaplane, and with a wear rating of 500, should provide long tread life as well. These tires are mounted on machined-face 10 spoke alloys that are model specific to the Touring version. What really keeps the traction in check is Subaru’s highly reputed Symmetrical All Wheel Drive, a system that maintains traction at all four corners, regardless of weather. The Touring version features a fully independent suspension system front and rear that has been raised over the ground clearance of the base Outback. This higher ride height allows you to traverse snow and puddles with greater confidence at virtually no cost to handling in the dry.

2017 Subaru Outback 2.5i Touring

Although Subaru has chosen to go the CVT route in the gearbox department, the “Lineartronic” 6-speed unit chosen to back up the 2.5 liter flat 4-cylinder engine does a respectable job of mimicking a gear, rather than a belt driven transmission. Thankfully, Subaru has included a manual gate on the floor-mounted shift lever, as well as small paddles on the steering wheel itself. If you feel the need for more speed – a frequent occurrence with just 2.5 liters of engine – just tap the downshift paddle for a lower range of torque multiplication. The Outback doesn’t exactly leap ahead, but power flow is always adequate. The upshot of this thrifty engine is its payoff in fuel economy, with an overall rating of 28MPG.

2017 Subaru Outback 2.5i Touring

Subaru engineers have really though through the design of the wagon’s rear storage area. The standard lift gate opens with the push of a button on the key fob remote, and shuts with the push of a button on the top ledge of the tail panel. The system even offers a warning flash of the tail lights before swinging open, so no one will be caught off guard by the upward arc of the door. Inside the aft compartment, you will discover a very sturdy, water containing rubber mat that would be perfect for stowing wet ski gear. Under the mat lies a second level compartment housing all the tools you’d need to change a tire or have your outback towed. There’s a lug nut wrench, a compact jack, a screw-in tow hook, and even a combo screwdriver. Beneath this shelf lies a hefty temporary spare tire. Unlike most manufacturers who have gone to either run-flat tires or supply an air pump and a can of puncture goop, Subaru thinks you deserve a more complete solution to a roadside tire problem. In a way, this suspender-and-belt approach to motoring is exactly why Subaru called this vehicle the Outback in the first place. It’s designed to go anywhere, anytime, without undue worry or expense. It’s no wonder my enthusiastic neighbor thinks so highly of this brand.

2017 Subaru Outback 2.5i Touring

2017 Subaru Outback 2.5i Touring

  • Engine: 2.5 liter horizontally-opposed 4 cylinder
  • Horsepower: 175hp
  • Torque: 174lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 25MPG City/32MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $36,870
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Volkswagen Jetta 1.8T SEL Premium Review

Wednesday February 22nd, 2017 at 11:22 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Volkswagen Jetta 1.8T SEL Premium

By David Colman

Hypes: Loaded, No Options Needed
Gripes: Cheap Plastic Back Seat/Trunk Divider

It’s always reassuring to scrutinize a vehicle’s price invoice (called a Monroney Sticker) and discover that absolutely NO extras have been added to inflate the base figure. In this case, $26,995 is what you will pay for a very fully equipped Volkswagen four-door sedan. This tidy, tight little package is a lot of fun to drive. Best of all, it’s so fully equipped in SEL Premium form that you can enjoy this Jetta without so much as adding a single extra cost option. Try performing that parlor trick the next time you step into an Audi, BMW or Mercedes dealership.

In addition, VW has been taking such a beating over the last 18 months for its diesel malfeasance that dealers are hungry to move 2017 Jettas at attractive price points. Among the extras here that you won’t pay extra for are: a rearview camera, a dual zone HVAC system, a keyless push button starter, blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert, app-connect smart phone integration, navigation and Fender infotainment system, bi-Xenon headlights, rain-sensing wipers with heated nozzles, and a power sliding/tilting sunroof.

2017 Volkswagen Jetta 1.8T SEL Premium

Of course all those standard niceties wouldn’t mean so much if the basic architecture of the Jetta inhibited driving fun. Such is not the case, however, because like most V Dubs of yore, even this rather inconspicuous, decidedly family-oriented sedan has its driving chops down cold. Tucked sideways under the hood is the VW organization’s go-to powerplant, a 4 cylinder turbocharged 1.8 liter motor making 170hp and 184lb.-ft. of torque. Other versions of the Jetta can be had with a 1.4 liter turbo (150hp) or a GLI Jetta with a 210hp 2.0 liter turbo 4. Our test Jetta, finished in a spectacularly flaky metallic shade called Platinum Gray, bolted a 6-speed automatic gearbox complete with paddle shift controls, to the 1.8 liter Direct Fuel Injection engine. The engine of this “German” Jetta is built in Mexico while its transmission is imported from Japan. Performance with the mid-range Turbo and the automatic is always sprightly since the Jetta weighs just 3,040 lbs, giving it a sporting power-to-weight ratio of 17.8 lbs./hp.

2017 Volkswagen Jetta 1.8T SEL Premium

Standard fare also extends to the Jetta’s alloy 17 inch rims shod with premium 45 series Continental Pro Contact tires which put 225 mm of all-weather rubber at each contact patch. A standard tire pressure monitoring system keeps track of the air in your Continentals. Despite their short sidewalls, the Conti Sport Contacts afford more than a modicum of ride comfort to passengers. Along with a well modulated suspension system, these tires keep the interior of the Jetta quiet, comfortable and unperturbed even when traversing the nastiest bits of broken pavement.

2017 Volkswagen Jetta 1.8T SEL Premium

With its spacious back seat, slouchy-comfortable front seats, and airy cabin windows, the Jetta constitutes a pretty fair substitute for a living room on wheels. The 54.5 inches of front shoulder room and 53 inches of rear shoulder room make for a spacious conversation pit. The 16 cubic foot trunk keeps a foursome’s possessions neatly stowed out of sight. At one point during our week with the car, a trio of occupants found this VW so comfortable after a drive that we all sat together chatting for over an hour without ever feeling like we needed to climb out of the Jetta.

2017 Volkswagen Jetta 1.8T SEL Premium

Volkswagens have always had a way of ingratiating themselves into your life like that. Pretty soon, they become trusted members of your family. That kind of reasoning keeps loyal customers coming back to this marque for one generation of VW after another. There aren’t many automotive refuges where you can still find solid German engineering and driving pleasure at a price that makes you double-check the Monroney Sticker to make sure you read it right the first time. Other German manufacturers wonder how VW can turn the trick for the money they charge. If you can live without the needless burden of a chic nameplate, but still seek the best that German style motoring has to offer, take a close look at the loaded 2017 Jetta SEL Premium.

2017 Volkswagen Jetta 1.8T SEL Premium

  • Engine: 1.8 liter TFSI Direct Injection inline 4, Turbocharged
  • Horsepower: 170hp
  • Torque: 184lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 25 MPG City/35 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $27,815
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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