Review: 2015 Volkswagen Touareg Executive

Monday July 20th, 2015 at 2:77 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Volkswagen Touareg Executive

By David Colman

Hypes: Super Clean Fit, Finish and Appearance
Gripes: Sloppy Throttle, V6 Needs More HP and Torque

Volkswagen has refreshed the appearance of the Touareg SUV for 2015. Most noticeable is the revamped prow, with seven horizontal strakes emphasizing the platform’s 76 inch width. New 20 inch alloy rims complement the new grill’s linearity with their triple ribbed five spoke design. All in all, VW has successfully infused the aging Touareg platform with a new visual vocabulary. Yet all the previous virtues of this luxury SUV remain: all-wheel-drive (4Motion), sumptuous accommodations for 4, excellent all-around visibility, and rock solid handling. The 4 Motion system benefits from a self-locking center differential that will extricate you from virtually any traction robbing situation. The grabby Goodyear LS2 Eagles (275/45R20) contribute high levels of wet and dry traction. And if you do get yourself well and truly stuck, VW provides 3 years and 36,000 miles of 24 Hour Roadside Assistance including towing, jump starts, tire changes, plus remedies for out-of-fuel and lock-out problems.

2015 Volkswagen Touareg Executive

The upgraded interior of the Executive model rivals the best offerings from Range Rover or BMW for understated good taste. Our “Black Oak Brown Metallic” test model featured a “Cornsilk Beige” interior as easy on the eyes as it was on the torso. The enormous power lifting and sliding panoramic sunroof (standard issue) brightens both rows of the interior, even when shut. Both front and rear seats are trimmed with exceptionally pliant leather, carefully tailored into bolstered sections that look like recliners you might find at Scandinavian Designs. In fact, that same clean European design idiom permeates the interior, from the precision feel of the center console lid to the ancillary controls on the steering wheel and dashboard. VW charges $2,500 for the Executive Driver Assistance package, which adds Adaptive Cruise Control and Lane Assist, a lane departure warning system. Both offerings add to the Touareg’s ease of operation and your own peace of mind. VW’s Lane Assist is one of the best on the market, with a mutable chime and a useful blinker under each exterior rear view mirror to remind you of adjacent traffic.

Also new is an 8-speed automatic transmission which VW imports from Japan. This unit insures decent highway fuel mileage of 23MPG, as well as manual gear override via a stubby floor mounted selector lever. Unfortunately, steering wheel mounted paddles are not offered as part of the gear changing system. Still, it’s easy to lock the transmission in a gear ratio of your choice. Doing so insures that the gearbox will not up-shift on its own accord, especially handy when you are pulling a trailer. Touareg is well equipped for such towing duty, with its standard receiver jack, and standard “Area View” camera system to help position hitch on ball. Trailer rating is a generous 7,700 lbs.

2015 Volkswagen Touareg Executive

If you do plan on towing a substantial load, opt for the diesel engine or the Hybrid Touareg, because the base model V6 we tested is short on pulling power. Bear in mind that this VW weighs in at 5,060 pounds. If you select the TDI turbo diesel option (base price $62,200), you get just 240hp, which gives you a power-to-weight ratio of 21lb./hp. But the diesel’s exceptional torque output of 406 lb./ft. more than covers the horsepower shortfall. If you opt for the top model 380hp V6 Hybrid ($66,995), your power-to-weight ratio drops to a very lively 13.3 lb./hp. Our gas powered V6 Touareg Executive ($58,700 base price) makes just 280hp and 266lb.-ft. of torque. That’s a burdensome power-to-weight ratio of 18.07lb./hp. Further complicating the gas V6′s lack of thrust is a throttle pedal that is not linear in its application. When you mash the throttle, you encounter considerable pedal free play before the engine responds to your input.

2015 Volkswagen Touareg Executive

The Executive version of the Touareg is loaded with comfort and luxury features you will pay dearly to match should you chose a similar product from Porsche (Cayenne) or BMW (X4 or X5). For example, standard inclusions from VW are adaptive Bi-Xenon headlights, park distance control, 10 speaker Dynaudio sound system, Climatronic dual zone automatic climate control, keyless access with push button start, remote power lift gate with easy opening feature, rain sensing wipers, and a dozen more useful additions. Life with this Volkswagen is pleasurable, and its promise of future benefit recently reached maturity with a full blessing from Consumer Reports. CR just conferred “Recommended” status on the Touareg, since reliability has finally improved to “average” after many years in the sub-par category.

2015 Volkswagen Touareg Executive

  • Engine: 3.6 liter VR6, 24 valve narrow angle V6 with FSI direct fuel injection
  • Horsepower: 280hp
  • Torque: 266lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 19 MPG City/23 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $62,110
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Subaru Legacy 2.5i Premium

Tuesday June 16th, 2015 at 1:66 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Subaru Legacy 2.5i Premium

By David Colman

Hypes: Lovely Revamped Looks, Upgraded Interior Touch Zones
Gripes: No Exterior Trunk Release, Erector Set Nuts and Bolts Exposed

Subaru has always been known for its idiosyncratic vehicles, from the humorous Brat mini pickup with seating for 2 in the bed, to the other-worldly SVX coupe with fixed side windows and doors extending well into the roof. As always, Subaru designers put more of a premium on functionality than beauty. This guiding principle left the potent but ugly WRX with more bumps and welts than a rhino’s hide. But a new day has dawned at Fuji Heavy Industries, parent of Subaru. The all-new Legacy comes as a stunning and pleasant surprise, the product of what the company calls its “new design language.” Since the Legacy currently accounts for just 1 percent of all sales in its market segment, Subaru has been compelled by practicality to rethink the dated architecture of its mid-size sedan. The objective was to incorporate a “coupe-like profile and up-market interior with extensive soft-touch materials used throughout.”

The latest, 6th generation Legacy is undeniably handsome, especially in the muted Lapis Blue Metallic shade that graced our $27,480 test model. Although it occupies no more real estate than its predecessor, the new Legacy boats best-in-segment interior volume of 104.6 cubic feet, backed up by a newly enlarged 15 cubic foot trunk. You can easily transport 4 adults plus all their belongings on long trips. Legacy excels at freeway travel, thanks to a revamped platform and suspension aimed at ride comfort. The Goodyear Assurance radials (225/55R17), mounted on 7.5 x 17 inch alloys, contribute their share of supple comfort at the expense of cutting edge handling. All Legacy models utilize Subaru’s exceptional all-wheel-drive system, which provides Active Torque Vectoring as a standard feature for the first time.

2015 Subaru Legacy 2.5i Premium

Our test Legacy couples Subaru’s CVT transmission to the base model 175hp flat four motor for acceptable performance. Subaru, which pioneered CVT propulsion back in the late 80s with its Justy model, has been improving this mode of transmission for longer than any other manufacturer. The refinement shows in this Legacy application, with a 6-speed system so responsive in manual mode to paddle input that you will be hard pressed to tell the Lineartronic CVT transmission uses variable bands rather than toothed gear sets.

But even the crisp transmission cannot cover the Boxer engine’s limited power output in situations that require immediate acceleration. I recommend opting for the available 3.6 liter flat 6, which raises Legacy base price from $23,495 to $29,995. Such a move insures your peace of mind for any passing maneuver on any piece of road.

2015 Subaru Legacy 2.5i Premium

The Legacy’s interior is appreciably better than anything previously offered by Subaru in this model. The first thing you notice after climbing in is the compliance of the material covering the shut panel on the door. Instead of hard plastic, this surface is now resilient foam covered with matte vinyl. The cloth seating surfaces feature an interlaced vinyl overlay that looks good and deters wear. The Premium model includes a new 7 inch color touch screen that reads swipe and scrolling commands. This works well when the Legacy is parked, but underway, it’s difficult to coordinate your gestures without inadvertently bumping the screen and losing your intended command. Steering wheel mounted controls for audio cover some of the problems by offering volume and station manipulation via secure thumb switches.

2015 Subaru Legacy 2.5i Premium

Subaru fitted our Legacy with Option package 14, which costs $1,195 and provides Pre-Collision Braking, Adaptive Cruise Control, Blind Spot Detection, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, and Lane Change Assist. Although the Adaptive Cruise Control takes the hassle out of interval maintenance at freeway speed, the Lane Change Assist became annoying rather quickly as it beeps every time you switch lanes without first using your turn signal. This beeper can be deactivated via a panel of switches inconveniently located out of sight near your left knee.

2015 Subaru Legacy 2.5i Premium

The new Legacy’s most prominent claim to fame is not its new found good looks or upgraded interior. What distinguishes this practical family sedan from anything else in its class is its distinguished safety record. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recently determined that only 9 models of car have unblemished safety records, with no deaths recorded over an entire year (2011) of operation. the Subaru Legacy was one of those 9.

2015 Subaru Legacy 2.5i Premium

  • Engine: 2.5 liter DOHC Boxer 4
  • Horsepower: 175hp
  • Torque: 174lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 26 MPG City/36 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $27,480
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Lexus LS460

Friday June 12th, 2015 at 5:66 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Lexus LS460

By David Colman

Hypes: Sleeper Sports Sedan, Ultra Luxury Accommodations
Gripes: Ugly Trapezoid Grill

The LS460 is the decathlete of luxury sedans. Feel free to enter it in any competition you choose, from freeway jaunts to back road bashes, and it will come out on top. From the standpoint of sheer luxury, it’s hard to beat the 460′s comprehensive portfolio of burnished features.

Navigation is standard, as is the huge 12.2 inch screen to decipher the map and directions. The LS offers you a gentle welcome ritual. When you lock your Lexus, it folds its exterior mirrors like a sleeping puppy. When you approach the locked Lexus, you needn’t bother to activate the key fob button because the car’s proximity sensor (called Smart Access) already senses your presence and has unfolded the mirrors and unlocked the doors for you. In the course of a busy day of errand running, this kind of time saving luxury feature is worth more than you could ever pay for it.

2015 Lexus LS460

But it’s just one component of a suite of thoughtfulness that includes doors that shut themselves automatically when they sense that is your intent. When you pop the trunk button on your key fob remote, the lid lifts without intercession on your part. When loading is done, just touch the button on the lid’s underside and it closes itself. For this parlor trick you will need to order the $1,650 extra F Sport Comfort Package. In addition to the trick trunk, the package also provides climate controlled front seats, and a power rear sunshade.

2015 Lexus LS460

But luxury is more than the inclusion of useful gimmicks. In the case of the 460, the fit and finish of the interior is so stout that you will never find an errant seam or loose thread. JD Power Initial Quality Surveys repeatedly place Lexus in the very top echelon of automotive makers, and one look at the interior of the 460 confirms why: the seat leather is softer than any gloves you’ve ever owned, the wood that graces the dash and doors is luminously real, the headliner is butter soft to the touch, and the tactile surfaces on the door armrests are loose and impressionable rather than taut and hard. This is the kind of detail attention that distinguishes the flagship 460 not only from lesser Lexus products, but also sets it apart from top drawer competition from Audi, Mercedes and BMW.

2015 Lexus LS460

In the not too distant past, you would never consider a 460 to be a competitor to the German troika as a sports sedan. Although always wonderfully appointed, the LS placed a premium on luxury over performance. But all that has changed with the advent of the F Sport Package for the LS460. This admittedly expensive ($8,350) grouping of assets transforms the previously stodgy Lexus into a genuine fast lane screamer. Start with the tire/wheel combo which increases from 18 to 19 inch diameter in F Sport trim. Gone are the standard, undersized 235/50R18 tires in favor of ultra high performance Bridgestone Turanzas ER33s measuring 245/45R19, mounted on understated 19 x 9 inch alloy rims finished in gun metal pewter. The F Sport gambit also installs Variable Gear-Ratio Steering which works in conjunction with Adaptive Variable Suspension to offer you a wide range of behavior from Comfort to Sport to Sport+. Dial your level of choice into the system via a large knob mounted on the center console. In the Comfort setting, the 460 tends to float over bumps and potholes, and the steering is so light that you find yourself constantly feeding in minor corrections to maintain proper freeway lane position. But if you run the big knob all the way to the Sport+ position, the LS hunkers down like a big cat hunting a gazelle. The steering ratio tightens up instantly, eliminating lane wander. Ride stiffens noticeably, and back road fun beckons. Only the overly aggressive traction control prevents you from exercising the LS with true abandon. If the protection system feels you are about to exceed its authorized limits, it will shut down gas supply and provide braking whether you or not you feel the intercession is necessary. One nice feature added for 2015 is a reduction in turning circle geometry that allows you to complete a U-Turn with ease in a very small area. This unexpected nimbleness comes as a pleasant surprise from this 4,515 lb. sedan.

2015 Lexus LS460

Topping off all the other virtues is a stellar V8 that produces 386hp in F Sport tune. You can harness the 32 valve, 4 cam engine’s 367 lb.-ft. of torque by playing mellifluous exhaust tunes with the help of an 8-speed, paddle-shifted gearbox. Feeling lazy? Just drop the rig into Drive, and the LS will baby you with easy shifts and quiet running. Feeling the need for speed? Slot the gearbox into manual mode, pick a gear and fire away. This sport sedan will explode with a velocity that will knock your knees. Best of all, Lexus has equipped it with suspension, steering and contact patch upgrades that make the most of that screaming engine’s full potential.

2015 Lexus LS460

2015 Lexus LS460

  • Engine: 4.6 liter V8, 4 Cams, 32 Valves, Electrically Controlled Intake Valve Timing
  • Horsepower: 386hp
  • Torque: 367lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 16 MPG City/24 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $85,525
  • Star Rating: 9.5 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 BMW X4 xDrive28i

Thursday June 11th, 2015 at 8:66 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 BMW X4 xDrive28i

By David Colman

Hypes: Sportiest All Activity Vehicle Ever From BMW
Gripes: Poor Rear Visibility

On a winding back road, the $54,550 28i version of the X4 will match a twin turbo Porsche Macan, move for move, while costing you $33,000 less. What’s the secret recipe here that BMW used to transform the practical but ponderous X3 platform into an Olympic grade decathlete? It’s the X4′s brilliant front mid-engine configuration. One look under the counter balanced hood reveals a vast empty crush space stretching from the radiator to the front face of the compact twin turbo four. Less weight over the front axle eliminates understeer. The central concentration of mass results in low polar moment of inertia, the key ingredient in the handling equation. The little 240hp 2.0 liter is tucked so far back against the firewall that it sits over and behind the front axle.

2015 BMW X4 xDrive28i

BMW capitalizes on this nearly ideal 49.3% front/ 50.7% rear weight distribution by pinning the X4 to the road with massaged suspension components. Buried at the rear of the engine bay is a tubular strut tower brace tying the cast alloy upper shock absorber mounts to the firewall. The optional $2,300 M Package further stiffens the underpinnings with “sport suspension” upgrades, making for a tolerably firm ride. Handling gains precision through M Package 19 inch light alloy rims which replace available 17 and 18 inch stock variants. These double-spoke pewter alloys, shod with 245/45R19 Goodyear Eagle LS2 tires, drop aspect ratio from 55 or 50 to 45 series sidewalls that are much more responsive to steering input. The blocky all weather Eagles proved surprisingly agile, carving apexes without any loss of adhesion or audible protest. The X4′s tight 39 foot turning circle further enhances maneuverability.

2015 BMW X4 xDrive28i

Variable power distribution to each wheel afforded by xDrive’s all-wheel-drive system ensures relentless adhesion. You can even tailor the grip to your personal preference by selecting – via a slide switch on the center console – one of four available “Performance Control” dynamic driving programs. Most insidious to performance is “Eco Pro” which minimizes fuel consumption (20 MPG City/28 MPG Highway/23 MPG Combined) by imposing glacial acceleration strictures on throttle response. More acceptable to the enthusiast is the “Comfort” setting which achieves what BMW calls “a balanced tuning” of all parameters. Added performance leeway is available in “Sport” mode which provides, according to the owner’s manual, “consistently sporty tuning of the suspension and engine controls.” In practice, “Sport” allows you to boogie within the limits dictated by Dynamic Stability Control (DSC). My favorite choice invariably became “Sport+” because it reconstitutes the entire feel of the X4 in a way that emphasizes sports over utility. “Sport+” switches on Dynamic Traction Control (DTC), a higher performance version of Dynamic Stability Control favoring forward momentum over driving stability. In other words, you’re still allotted some CYA insurance coverage, but not the platinum policy offered under DSC. “Sport+” also tightens steering response. Feedback at the wheel becomes more precise and rewarding. Ride firms measurably as the shocks assert more jounce and rebound control. The throttle responds with dispatch to the most minute pedal application. The X4 is now prepped to rumble in full beast mode.

2015 BMW X4 xDrive28i

The gearing for the 8-speed Sport Automatic transmission is delightfully short and peaky, perfect in fact for autocrossing, with a top sped of just 50mph in second gear. Third and fourth are equally short and closely spaced. For maximum enjoyment you will want to slip the console lever into the manual slot and control all shifts with the oversize aluminum paddles appended to the steering wheel. The gear chosen indicator window located in the base of the tachometer is 12 point typeface, when it really needs to be 24 point for instant reference. It’s hard enough to see in the daylight, and really gets lost in a sea of orange illumination at night.

2015 BMW X4 xDrive28i

The interior feels much more sports car like than any comparable SUV because BMW lowered the seats, front and rear, 1 inch to compensate for the reduced height of the fastback (or “Sport Activity Coupe”) roofline. This shuffle plants your butt crucially closer to the ground than the X3, or the Macan, for that matter. Instead of enduring the usual sports futility sensation of swaggering through turns on a barstool, the X4 feels reassuringly squat and glued. The fastidious level of interior refinement is soothing in the way you’ve come to expect from BMW. Concierge lit exterior door handles guide your way at night. Though BMW’s brave new confection may look like a Bavarian Cream Puff, it’s got a molten lava core ready to bubble over with a little help from your right foot.

2015 BMW X4 xDrive28i

2015 BMW X4 xDrive28i

  • Engine: 2.0 liter 16 valve inline 4 with twin power turbo, direct injection and double VANOS variable valve control
  • Horsepower: 240hp
  • Torque: 258lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 20 MPG City/28 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $54,550
  • Star Rating: 9.5 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Ram Promaster City Tradesman Cargo Van

Thursday June 11th, 2015 at 6:66 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Ram Promaster City Tradesman Cargo Van

By David Colman

Hypes: Knock-out Styling, More Space Then a 747
Gripes: Cheap Fittings, Rudimentary Traction Control

When this Ram van appeared in my driveway I thought UPS was making a delivery to my house. Though the Ram Promaster reeks of industrial chic, it proved to be an able and willing companion for a week of test driving. This windowless van, introduced last year, has a rather circuitous background. After Fiat took over Chrysler, they separated Ram trucks from the Dodge Division by eliminating the Dodge name from the Ram brand. To complicate matters further, Fiat began selling its own Italian brand of truck last year in America. The Ram Promaster is actually an Americanized version of Fiat’s Ducato, an Italian commercial van. To put a cap on the van’s confusing national identity, it’s built for Fiat/Chrysler/Ram in Bursa, Turkey!

When you see this Ram you immediately know its derivation is European. Americans are conditioned to expect delivery and tradesman trucks like this to look utilitarian and humble. The Promaster looks nothing of the sort. For what is essentially a moving brick, it eschews banality in favor of Italian flare. Just look at the graceful swept arc that connects the grill to the roofline. The heavily slanted windshield fits right into this continuous line, making the van look aeronautic rather than pedestrian. Upturned side windows and headlight nacelles confer an elegance rarely seen in American truck design. Considering the Promaster’s resoundingly low base price of $24,130, you’re getting a design brief worthy of the museum of modern art for the price of a T-shirt print. This Ram does for tradesfolks what the Olivetti typewriter did for secretaries six decades ago: provide affordable, utilitarian modern art.

2015 Ram Promaster City Tradesman Cargo Van

The irony of driving this Ram on a daily basis, however, is that although you’ve got enormous space inside the windowless cargo area, there’s absolutely no way to prevent your cargo from flying about like gravity free astronauts. Our sample van was “unequipped” at the factory level by deletion of the following items: rear seating, second row side curtain airbags, sliding door glass windows on both sides, and rear door glass. As a result, from the floor-to-ceiling partition that separates the driver’s compartment back to the double rear doors, this van is completely unfinished inside. The floor, walls and roof are painted gloss white, with a couple of hefty tie downs sunk into the floor. That’s it: no windows, no racks or bins of any sort, no hooks or pegs. This blank canvas awaits conversion to specific use by the tradesperson who buys it. As an incentive to purchasing this stripper, Ram deletes $1,000 from the base price for “Tradesman Cargo Van package 24C.”

2015 Ram Promaster City Tradesman Cargo Van

Driving the Ram comes as a pleasant surprise, since its hefty 2.4 liter Multiair inline 4 cylinder engine makes more than enough horsepower (174hp) to move this rig with alacrity. Helping extract maximum performance is a sweet 9 speed 948TE automatic transmission that allows you to select any of its multiple ratios manually. The front-wheel-drive Ram will tow up to 5,100 lbs. and carry 5,274 lbs. of cargo. Its tall roofline makes it possible to stand nearly erect in the cargo area, and I could easily envision turning this space into a rather nifty camper unit offering maximum security thanks to the lack of windows. Even with its substantial frontal area, the Ram still manages 29 MPG on the freeway. Although the 16 x 6.5 inch silver steel wheels look rather undersized on such a large vehicle, the 215/55R16 Continental tires manage to deal with even the sharpest curves without protest.

2015 Ram Promaster City Tradesman Cargo Van

The cabin proved comfortable and useful. Door pockets include receptacles for water bottles, a netted overhead bin runs the full width over the windshield, and the seats offer excellent lower back support. While rear vision is nil due to the cargo embargo, a backup camera ($495 extra) serves as an admirable guide on the 5 inch touch screen display ($465 extra). Surprisingly, the two elephantine outside rear view mirrors are manually controlled rather than power assisted. The joystick on the right hand mirror failed to operate properly, and the receptacle for the prop supporting the hood was already broken due to poor fit. So don’t expect Ferrari quality from this Fiat masquerading as a Ram.

2015 Ram Promaster City Tradesman Cargo Van

2015 Ram Promaster City Tradesman Cargo Van

  • Engine: 2.4 Liter Multiair inline 4
  • Horsepower: 178hp
  • Torque: 174lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 21 MPG City/29 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $26,245
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Lexus RX450h

Tuesday June 9th, 2015 at 1:66 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Lexus RX450h

By David Colman

Hypes: Most Solid Build Quality in the Industry, Great Hybrid Grunt
Gripes: Dash Controls Starting to Look Dated

Why is the Lexus RX the best selling luxury SUV in the US? According to the Institute for Highway Safety, only nine vehicles sold here had zero deaths per million registered vehicles. The RX350 was one of those nine. It also sells itself because it does everything you’d expect from such a premium vehicle, and does it all well. This universal approbation applies even more emphatically to the hybrid version we drove. This RX450h is both faster and more economical than the standard RX350, albeit at higher initial cost. The front wheel drive (FWD) RX350 depends on a 270hp V6 for motivation, and retails for a base price close to $41,000. Its fuel economy hovers around 21 MPG in all types of driving. the FWD RX450h of our test produces 295hp thanks to the boost of twin electric motors added to the standard V6. This combo yield an impressive 29 MPG in overall driving, and carries a base price of $48,845.

What’s most impressive about the hybrid drive train is its instant supply of torque. When you lean hard on the accelerator, this beefy, 4,870 lb. hauler jumps forward with cat like agility. You can abet the thrust by judicious use of the continuously variable transmission, which yields simulated gear ranges that boost acceleration dramatically, especially when you select 2nd or 3rd gear simulacrums from the CVT’s floor mounted bump stick. Paddles are not offered for shifts from the steering wheel

2015 Lexus RX450h

Like all Lexus products, the RX is handsomely crafted and pleasurable to operate. In particular, the $3,060 Premium Package which graced our test vehicle included bamboo interior trim and steering wheel. This matte finished wood not only brightens otherwise dark interior surfaces, but also provides the perfect gripping surface for the steering wheel’s upper and lower quadrants. It’s so delightful it’s almost worth the Premium Package price all by itself, but the package also includes leather interior trim, blind spot monitoring, one-touch open/close moon roof, auto folding, heated and self dimming exterior mirrors, 3 memory settings for both driver and front passenger seats, and finally a pair of anodized aluminum roof rails. Any way you cut it, the Premium Package makes financial sense, and adds immeasurably to your comfort and the RX’ ease of operation. In particular, the blind spot monitors are effective tools, with their subliminal suggestive orange lights that blink in the outside rear view mirrors when side traffic impinges.

2015 Lexus RX450h

Due to its weight and tall stance, handling is not the forte of the hybrid RX. Although our sample was fitted with new for 2015 triple-split, five spoke alloy wheels finished in light gray, the all season tires these wheels support (Michelin X 235/55R19) are configured more for comfort than adhesion. Notably, the front end of the RX washes out early in turns due to lots of under steer built into the design of the suspension and chassis platform. While losing traction in the front wheels is always preferable and more controllable than losing grip in the rear wheels, the FWD RX’ tendency to continue on a straight course even after you have cranked the steering wheel for the next turn feels a bit disconcerting.

The RX, with its strong sales lead in the luxury SUV segment, remains mostly unchanged for 2015, In addition to the new 19 inch rims, other minor improvements this year include standard auto-display backup camera, new LED fog lamps, new three flash turn signals, new Lexus Enform Apps, and finally, a revised and improved control knob on the center console for manipulation of the infotainment system. After having spent the previous week aboard the all new Lexus RC350 coupe, the control apparatus in the RX seemed somewhat dated and inferior by comparison. For example, the mouse on the RX’ central tunnel is not nearly as slick as the iPad-like finger slide interface on the RC coupe. Also the RX’ screen seems too small when compared to the Vista Vision unit of the new coupe. You can look for improvements in these areas when Lexus introduces a revamped version of the RX expected to debut in the 2016 model year.

2015 Lexus RX450h

2015 Lexus RX450h

  • Engine: 3.5 liter V6 with VVT plus twin front electric drive motors
  • Horsepower: 295hp
  • Torque: N/A
  • Fuel Consumption: 30 MPG City/28 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $58,315
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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


Review: 2015 Lexus RC350 2DR Coupe

Tuesday May 19th, 2015 at 11:55 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Lexus RC350 2DR Coupe

By David Colman

Hypes: Arresting Looks, Finely Tuned Chassis
Gripes: Hard Backseat Access, Obnoxious Grill

Short of a tech session at the dealership, there are few better ways to learn the secrets of your vehicle than to wash and dry it yourself. The all new Lexus RC350 provided just such an opportunity for driveway therapy, The complexity of this coupe’s shape defies easy description. Every facet of its voluptuous body is so thoroughly sculpted that there are no flat surfaces anywhere. Running your hands over its sinuous flanks helps you understand what a sleek facade Lexus stylists have devised to cheat the wind. In many ways, this coupe pays homage to the outrageously sleek $400,000 LF-A supercar Lexus produced in very limited numbers several years ago. If your RC350 happens to be painted Molten Pearl (metallic orange), like our test vehicle, you will have such a show stopper on your hands that slower cars will pull over to let you pass, after taking one amazed look in their rear view mirror. Although the RC’s double trapezoid “spindle” grill is overly fussy, the rest of the design brief is stunningly effective.

2015 Lexus RC350 2DR Coupe

The RC tested here is the V6 model, which retails for a base price of just $42,790, and an all inclusive price of $53,140. The extra ten thousand goes for such niceties as an “F Sport Package” ($3,985) a Navigation System ($1,530), a Moonroof ($1,100) and a very pricey Variable Gear Ratio Steering (VGRS, $1,900). You can probably live without VGRS, but the F Sport group is essential to defining the coupe’s character. From a performance standpoint, the F Sport’s most important inclusions are Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS), and fat wheels with sticky tires. Up front, you get 8 x 19 inch F Sport rims with 235/40R19 Dunlop SP Sport tires, while rear rims measure 9 x 19 inches and carry 265/35R19 Dunlops. Clearly, Lexus is going after potential BMW and Audi buyers with this F Sport Package, which transforms a good handling coupe into a premium back road weapon. The package also includes heavily side bolstered, extremely supportive front seats that are both heated and ventilated. A multi-function steering wheel, electrically adjustable for height and reach, completes the F group upgrade.

2015 Lexus RC350 2DR Coupe

If there’s a chink in this coupe’s armor, it lies under the hood, where a 3.5 liter V6 makes just 306hp and 277lb.-ft. of torque. Coupled to a sweet, paddle-shifted 8 speed automatic transmission, the V6 provides excellent throttle response in 1st, 2nd and 3rd gears, but once you shift into the taller ratios of 4th through 8th, the moderately powerful engine has a tough time matching the vivid acceleration on tap in the lower gears. If you’re after true supercar poke, opt for the 467hp V8 available in the RC F, a BMW M4 eater which retails for a cool 20 grand more than the base price of our RC350. As you would expect in a coupe with the refinement of the F Sport Package, handling is excellent. But in order to coax maximum proficiency out of the car, you must first learn the secret handshake to configure it to your needs. A large, knurled knob on the center console allows you to tailor the Adaptive Variable Suspension to your taste, by rotating the knob through 4 stages ranging from “Eco” to “Sport+” Even when you slot into “Sport+,” however, you will find that Lexus provides an overly assertive nanny that constantly corrects your enthusiasm by killing the engine at inappropriate junctures or applying the brakes when it judges you need them. To avoid these intrusions, you need to disengage “Traction Control” by depressing a button located just aft of the AVS knob. Although the Owner’s Manual states that a notation will appear on the TFT screen reading “Expert,” we never elicited this display. Regardless, once you’ve gone through all these pre-configuration measures, the RC350 is good to go, and go fast. With all systems maximized for instant gratification, this coupe becomes extremely responsive. The expensive VGRS steering option buttons down steering control, immediate throttle response kicks in, and the suspension vectors itself into closer proximity to the pavement. This Kabuki flyer will never be shamed by any German sedan on any back road. The downside is that you have to reconfigure the RC for maximum performance every time you re-start it. The upside is that this exotic looking BMW slayer puts you in the driver’s seat for thousands less than you’ll pay for a similar Bimmer.

2015 Lexus RC350 2DR Coupe

2015 Lexus RC350 2DR Coupe

  • Engine: 3.5 liter V6, 24 Valve DOHC, Direct and Port Injection, Variable Valve Timing
  • Horsepower: 306hp
  • Torque: 277lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 19 MPG City/28 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $53,140
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Nissan Rogue SL AWD

Tuesday May 5th, 2015 at 2:55 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Nissan Rogue SL AWD

By David Colman

Hypes: Furnishings Belie Price, Spacious Smart Interior
Gripes: Needs More Motor, Real Gearbox, Thinner & Less Obstructive A Pillar

Because Nissan redesigned the Rogue last year, the 2015 version remains unchanged, save for the enticing new shade of Arctic Blue Metallic paint that graced our test vehicle. Combined with a fetching almond leatherette interior highlighted by replica carbon fiber inserts on doors and dash, the Rogue looks substantially more expensive than its affordable base price of $29,630. After a week which saw us put this Versa-based crossover to repeated transit tasks, we developed a growing affection for its all purpose usefulness.

For example, seating for five adults is well looked after, both front and rear, with ample knee room in back, and plump stuffed front buckets with 3 stage heating elements an unusual standard feature. For $1,045 extra, you can order your Rogue with a third row pair of seats (called the “S Family Package”), converting the Nissan into a true 7 person transporter (but you lose your spare tire). Contributing significantly to the airy ambience of the cabin is a vast “Power Panoramic Moonroof” that opens up the interior like an Amtrak lounge car. This sliding and tilting unit is included in Nissan’s $1,990 SL Premium Package,” which brings such other refinements as auto-leveling LED headlights and a bevy of warning chimes to alert you to blind spot lurkers, lane deviation, impending front collision, and detection of moving objects. The chime note selected by Nissan is restrained enough to be informative rather than annoying.

2015 Nissan Rogue SL AWD

In addition to its people hauling proclivity, the Rogue is exceptionally adept at transporting large and bulky items. On one run, we slipped a pair of sizeable rugs from IKEA into the aft compartment, noting with pleasure the low loading deck height, as well as the presence of an automatic tail gate lift which can be remotely controlled from the key fob. Later in the week, we discovered how easily a bicycle could be stowed after dropping the 40/20/40 second row seats flat without needing to consult the owner’s manual for guidance. In many such ways, this Nissan is an intuitive and useful companion. At no extra cost, it’s loaded with a bevy of convenient features, from its keyless entry, and auto stop/start ignition switch to its dual zone automatic temperature control.

2015 Nissan Rogue SL AWD

Unfortunately, the Rogue is not loaded with horsepower nor torque, and since Nissan offers but one power train, you’re stuck with a 170hp engine making just 175lb.-ft. of torque. The standard continuously variable transmission (CVT) does nothing to alleviate the problem, since you can’t even slot it into a proper gear to maximize acceleration. Nissan offers what they term Sport and Eco modes for this “Xtronic” CVT, but the Sport button is little more than a placebo offering no noticeable extra performance. Likewise, if you position the CVT in the “M” setting, engine rpm and ambient noise both soar without any appreciable increase in thrust. Though the Rogue is based on the Sentra platform, with identical length and wheelbase numbers, the big difference is weight. The SUV weighs 3,590 lb. versus just 2,835 lb. for the Sentra. The Rogue’s burdensome power to weight ratio of 21 pounds per horsepower explains its lethargic straight line performance. The upside of the equation is this Nissan’s excellent fuel economy, with an EPA rating of 28 MPG overall.

2015 Nissan Rogue SL AWD

The Rogue is softly sprung and thus comfortable over speed bumps, potholes and other road surface irregularities. But the price you pay for ride comfort is somewhat sloppy handling. In NASCAR parlance, the Rogue exhibits a fair amount of “push” in corners, with the front end’s grip departing so early in the curve that you’ll want to lift your foot off the accelerator to re-establish equanimity. The Dunlop Grandtrek ST30 tires (225/60R18) are partially responsible for this behavior, providing limited grip, and making a lot of noise in the bargain. But really, if you’re looking for an SUV that puts the emphasis on “sport” rather than “utility” you won’t be shopping for a Rogue. Rather, this Nissan tips the equation heavily in favor of utility. Where else can you buy a compact SUV with so many practical virtues for a base price under $30,000? Will Rogue carry a bike in the back? Check. Will it carry 7 people? Check. Will it post a freeway mileage rating of 32 MPG? Check. If you want to save money when buying an all purpose hauler, and have no interest in zippy performance, the Rogue will punch your ticket.

2015 Nissan Rogue SL AWD

  • Engine: 2.5 liter DOHC inline 4
  • Horsepower: 170hp
  • Torque: 175lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 25 MPG City/32 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $32,480
  • Star Rating: 7 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Volvo XC60 T6 AWD

Friday April 3rd, 2015 at 1:44 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Volvo XC60 T6 AWD

By David Colman

Hypes: The safest SUV You Can Buy
Gripes: Useless Owner’s Manual, Sea of Dog Cage Bars

The XC60 is a mid-size sports utility crossover based on the S60 sedan. For 2015, it presents a cleaner face to the wind thanks to a more streamlined front fascia. In conjunction with this newly lowered snout, Volvo stylists have visually elevated the XC60′s tail. Decisive side creases underline the aggressive stance, making this Volvo look like it’s about to pounce on prey. The illusion is not unsupported, because a powerful and willing twin-scroll turbo straight 6 lies under the hood, ready to devour pavement with alacrity. The 3.0 liter engine produces 300hp and 325lb.-ft. of torque, with full torque infusion coming on line at just 2100rpm. Coupled to a 6-speed automatic with standard paddle shifts, the XC6 T6 jumps when prodded, despite its substantial 4,275lb. curb weight.

2015 Volvo XC60 T6 AWD

While Volvo’s all-wheel-drive system is not designed for serious off-road work (there’s no transfer case), it will insure splendid traction on all forms of pavement. Our test XC sported $1,000 optional 20 inch diameter “Titania” alloys which mounted premium Pirelli Scorpion Zero tires measuring 255/45R20 at each corner. Despite their enormous diameter, these rims, which replace standard 18 inch wheels, look surprisingly delicate thanks to their almost invisible rim bead connected to 10 wafer-thin double spokes. The overall visual effect is similar to that of a Mattel Hot Wheels dream toy.

The interior shares the exterior’s exciting visuals, with a two-tone seat leather treatment adding Swedish modern sophistication to the $900 optional Sport Seating surfaces. In fact, if you are a fan of Mid Century Modern design, you will love the simplistic integration of materials and surface treatments in the cabin. For example, the center stack, a design nightmare in so many other SUVs, is here cleanly arrayed, devoid of frills, and operationally sound, with all key HVAC and Entertainment system functions accessible through separate buttons rather than menu driven nonsense. Particularly nice is the standard issue “Laminated Power Roof with Power Sunshade. This oversize opening can be configured in any number of useful ways, ranging from tilting the front panel, to sliding the shade wide open over all interior seats.

2015 Volvo XC60 T6 AWD

Volvo equipped the cargo area of our sports utility with a dog kennel apparatus that made the interior seem more like a Swedish police cruiser than a family wagon. Vertical and horizontal metal bars (called a “Safety Grill”) not only segregated the rear compartment from the passenger area, but also created a structure (called a “Load Organizer and Dog Gate”) large enough to house a medium size pet. With its hydraulic lift door, the Load Organizer proved very handy for safe transport of fragile items. The downside to the array of black metal bars is poor rear vision, and a sepulchral feel to the interior.

2015 Volvo XC60 T6 AWD

The expensive “Platinum” option, which boosts sticker price by $4,400, brings several important safety measures into play. Perhaps the most significant is the Technology Package, which includes radar controlled cruise control, collision warning with full auto-brake, pedestrian/cyclist detection with full auto-brake, and Driver Alert Control, which prevents your Volvo from straying out of its lane. In addition, our XC60 also featured a $900 optional “Blind Spot Information System Package” (BLIS) which consisted of small warning lights on the A pillars next to the rear view mirrors that illuminated orange when traffic impinged in adjacent lanes. This proved useful without becoming intrusive. The BLIS package also includes front and rear park assist beepers.

Although the XC60 has plenty of straight line punch, its handling is a notch below comparable sports utilities like BMW’s X3 and new X4, or Porsche’s Macan. The Volvo’s main weakness is its lack of precise steering feedback. In fact, even the range of vertical adjustment for the wheel itself is too limited to allow a sporty driving position. The XC’s suspension is also complicit, with too much pitch on corners, combined with too harsh shock damping over potholes. This makes for a ride that is simultaneously pitchy yet jarring. A final irritation comes courtesy of the purported Owner’s Manual, which inexplicably contains no index references to such basics as instrument location and function, or even cruise control operation. Consequently, I could never figure out how to adjust my cruise control default speed without changing it in 5mph increments.

2015 Volvo XC60 T6 AWD

The incredible array of safety measure Volvo brings to bear on its XC60, however, more than compensate for these trivial glitches. In fact, I can’t think of a better vehicle in which to avoid or survive an accident than this Volvo, given its standard Auto-Stopping Technology and optional and reasonably priced BLIS Package.

2015 Volvo XC60 T6 AWD

  • Engine: 3.0 liter alloy, in-line 6 with CVVT and twin-scroll Turbo
  • Horsepower: 300hp @ 5600rpm
  • Torque: 325lb.-ft. @ 2100rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 17 MPG City/24 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $51,675
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Chevrolet Colorado 4WD Z71 Crew Long Box

Wednesday April 1st, 2015 at 2:44 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Chevrolet Colorado 4WD Z71 Crew Long Box

By David Colman

Hypes: Great Value as All-Rounder
Gripes: Needs Running Boards, Free Wi-Fi as Part of OnStar Subscription

Would you rather be a sea horse or a flounder? If you’re currently navigating traffic in a low profile sedan or sports car, your restricted vision makes you the bottom dweller of the highway system. On the other hand, if your daily mount is our test Chevy Colorado, you’re sitting tall in the saddle of the newest sea horse from General Motors. Just climbing into the Colorado’s cabin is a bit of leap because it lacks running boards. But once ensconced in the cushy driver’s seat, you’ve got a view of the highway that is unparalleled in any compact car. This 360 degree view gives you the opportunity to see and avoid traffic problems before they become your own. There’s also enough sheet metal surrounding you here to provide the ultimate in crash survival. Violent accidents that destroy compact vehicles will have a negligible effect on this massive truck. The Colorado’s full complement of front, rear and side curtain airbags stand ready to further cushion the blow. If you value your safety, this Chevy is a smart defensive choice.

2015 Chevrolet Colorado 4WD Z71 Crew Long Box

The Colorado’s dynamic features also promote accident avoidance through active safety. The hallmarks of this new mid-size product are good handling on Goodyear G4 Wranglers (255/65R17), excellent braking on 4 wheel Duralife ABS disc brakes, and anti-skid technology courtesy of Stabilitrak stability control. The 305hp 3.6 liter V6 eagerly awaits your call for more power. Floor the throttle and the Colorado leaps ahead decisively. Doling out ample thrust through a 6-speed automatic transmission, the V6 posts a commendable 24MPG on the highway. You can slot the floor mounted gear selector into the “M” manual gate and toggle up and downshifts with the button affixed to the side of the gearshift knob. While this system lacks the ease of use provided by steering wheel paddles, it still gets the job done with accuracy. With a bargain $250 Trailering Equipment Package, the Colorado is rated to tow 7,000 pounds.

2015 Chevrolet Colorado 4WD Z71 Crew Long Box

Append a full Crew Cab to a Long Box cargo area and you’ve got a lot of truck to maneuver and park in city driving. You’ll find yourself cruising the nether reaches of parking lots looking for just the right spot to nose in so you won’t have to reverse out when leaving. This technique is definitely an acquired art form, but the excellent view from the cab makes parking lot scoping more fun than you might expect. The standard rear view camera helps in all such maneuvers. Inside the fully appointed cabin, you’ll never think you’re in a work truck. Fore and aft seat adjustments are power coordinated for front occupants but back rake angle is manually controlled. Big dashboard knobs insure you will never grope for the kind of minute controls so prevalent in compact cars these days. Want to adjust the temperature? Just grasp the fat dial on the dash and crank it right or left. Same applies for fan control. The radio volume knob is also a whopper. This control panel has been designed for operation while wearing gloves. The multi-function steering wheel also provides controls for phone, entertainment and cruise control. A dash-mounted 8 inch color touch pad helps you fine tune the many parameters of the “My Link” audio system.

2015 Chevrolet Colorado 4WD Z71 Crew Long Box

Since connectivity has become supremely important these days, Chevy has heeded the call by offering to turn your Colorado into a Wi-Fi Hotspot capable of serving up to 7 tablets, laptops or other devices. The program operates through GM’s central safety net clearing house safety, OnStar. When you buy a Colorado, you automatically get 6 months of OnStar for free, plus 3GB of data through a free 3 Month Wi-Fi plan. Unfortunately, when we tried to access the Hotspot feature we were informed by an actual, live human being at OnStar that our 3GB had expired and we would need to purchase additional airtime. The rate structure went something like this: A further 3GB was available through AT&T for $30/month. $15 buys you 1GB/month, and $50 is good for 5GB/month. A daily fee of $5 is good for 250MB. You can roam up to 50 feet from your vehicle for reception, and the truck must either be running or in the Accessory key position.

2015 Chevrolet Colorado 4WD Z71 Crew Long Box

The Colorado is remarkably adept at fulfilling a wide range of needs. From the driver’s seat, it provides a comforting sense of invulnerability that is impossible to duplicate in smaller vehicles. But is also conveys you with the dispatch, comfort and grace of a well appointed luxury sedan, while allowing you to tote impossibly large loads in its ample bed. A bed, I might add, which is fitted with convenient steps at each corner to ease entry, and a tailgate that lets itself down with a whisper instead of a thud.

2015 Chevrolet Colorado 4WD Z71 Crew Long Box

  • Engine: 3.6 Liter DOHC V6 with VVT
  • Horsepower: 302hp
  • Torque: 270lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 17 MPG City/24 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $36,535
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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