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Review: 2014 Ford Focus 4-Door Titanium

Monday June 2nd, 2014 at 8:66 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2014 Ford Foucs 4-Door Titanium

By David Colman

Hypes: Great Directional Stability in Rain
Gripes: Tight Rear Seat

Ford has mastered the art of building a cheap car that doesn’t feel cheap. You won’t find any telltale signs of penny pinching when you drive a Focus. The charcoal leather trimmed front seats envelop you so hospitably that three hour sittings pass without complaint. Standard five stage seat heaters ease the journey at no extra expense. Ford has crammed the standard issue Focus with such thoughtful addenda as a tilt/telescope steering wheel, one touch drop of the driver’s window, remote fob lock and unlock, and push button start. Sony provides the excellent audio components, while Ford adds its own navigation unit for $795 extra. A rear view camera which displays its image on the large navigation screen is standard equipment. You’ll be pleased to discover that Ford provides easily modulated dual zone climate control at no extra charge, as well as power operated and heated exterior rear view mirrors complete with wide angle inserts and built-in puddle lamps.

2014 Ford Foucs 4-Door Titanium

Yet this extensive portfolio of goodies costs just $25,500, navigation upgrade included. The cabin of the Focus Titanium is so competently organized that you could easily drive this 2,995 lb. compact hatchback across the USA without hesitation or discomfort. Especially compelling are the 17 inch Cooper Zeon RS3-A mud and snow rated tires (215/50R17) which offer a premium combination of ride comfort and responsive handling. They especially earned their stripes during a scary torrential downpour on US 101 near Gilroy where they never lost their grip on the flooded pavement.

2014 Ford Foucs 4-Door Titanium

While the 160hp output of the Focus’ inline four cylinder motor may seem paltry on paper, in practice it’s more than adequate for zippy but economical forays. We were able to complete a week of Bay Area commutes plus a 120 mile jaunt from San Rafael to Monterey before refilling with a paltry 9 gallons of standard grade gas. Despite this remarkable fuel efficiency (overall EPA rating of 31 MPG), the Focus never felt underpowered. Ford has achieved a rewarding balance between economic operation and responsive engine performance.

If 160hp is not enough to light your wick, consider the Focus ST, which Ford turbocharges to produce 252hp – more than enough to spin the front tires off the rims. The ST Focus is available only with a 6-speed manual transmission. Our Titanium test car eased city driving with its 6-speed automatic gearbox which includes a “Sport” mode gate. When you slot the lever into “S,” you’re able to control up shifts and down shifts via a rocker switch inconveniently located on the shift knob. Although this method of gear override is fairly compliant with your wishes, it occasionally decides to up shift on its own with no provocation from you. This idiosyncrasy can prove inconvenient during passing maneuvers.

While Ford offers a 5-door hatchback Focus, we spent the week driving the conventional 4-door sedan version that combines a huge trunk with a 60/40 split-fold down rear seat that gives you almost as much storage space as the hatchback but with the added benefit of more privacy for your valuables. The amount of luggage the Focus trunk swallowed without protest was a real eye opener: 2 hard shell cabin trolleys, two large soft sided duffel bags, a hard shell large plastic storage bin, and numerous paper sacks stuffed here and there. No matter what we threw at the Focus, it obligingly accepted. All this despite the fact the Ford has positioned a large, space grabbing Sony sub-woofer along the right side flank of the trunk.

2014 Ford Foucs 4-Door Titanium

Although the rear seats are tight for adults, the Focus sedan would make an ideal companion for families with two sub teen children. For that quintessential foursome, the Focus offers just the right combination of interior space, ample hidden trunk storage, and economic propulsion to make it a prime candidate for the prime American garage.

2014 Ford Focus 4-Door Titanium

  • Engine: 2.0 Liter Inline 4 with Direct Injection
  • Horsepower: 160hp
  • Torque: 146 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 27 MPG City/37 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $25,500
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid

Wednesday May 28th, 2014 at 9:55 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid

By David Colman

Hypes: THE Japanese Army knife
Gripes: Needs more suds in the HP department

Attention Nike lovers. There’s now a car to take over when your athletic shoes just won’t do it. Subaru claims the Crosstrek is “equipped for play and built for doing.” There’s more truth to that evaluation than you’ve come to expect from automotive advertising. With a static ride height of 8.7 inches, all wheel drive, and nubby Yokohama Geolander tires (225/55R17), the Crosstrek is a legitimate off road tool, eminently well suited to outback forays, winter endeavors, and expeditions to the supermarket. Crosstrek certainly looks feral enough, with a hunched feline silhouette that’s about to pounce on the next strip of unexplored terrain. Inside, the Abercrombie & Fitch outfitting furthers the Indiana Jones illusion, with rough hewn cloth seats, ribbed rubber matting in the storage area, standard roof rail system, heated front seats, and rear hatch wiper/washer. If you select the Hybrid Crosstrek, which is a new offering from Subaru this year, you also get model-specific five spoke 17 inch diameter alloys that mimic the Fuchs wheels Porsche used as their trademark for over 30 years. Their simple design complements the heavily sculpted contours of the Crosstrek. To emphasize the green allure of the new Hybrid, our test Crosstrek sported an eye watering finish called Plasma Green Pearl that wore well as our week with the car wore on.

2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid

Operation of the Hybrid drive train is for the most part so seamless that you hardly know it’s present. Subaru has combined their FB20 4 cylinder engine with a 3 phase synchronous electric motor to provide 150hp and 165 lb.-ft. of torque. The opposed H- configuration gas engine features twin overhead cams, 10.8:1 compression ratio, and an under square bore/stroke ratio of 84mm x 90mm. The permanent magnet electric unit is good for 10kW output and 48 lb.-ft. of torque. Working together, the gas and electric powered Hybrid posts EPA numbers of 31 MPG overall. You can expect 39 MPG on the freeway, which will yield a tad over 500 miles on the Crosstrek’s 13.7 gallon fuel tank. In city usage (29 MPG), this Subaru automatically turns itself off when you’re stopped in traffic for more than 30 seconds, and usually re-fires without hesitation, though a jolt and shudder sometimes mars the procedure.

2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid

The internal layout of the Hybrid’s cabin is so functional that you wonder why so many manufacturers can’t emulate Subaru’s prowess in this regard. For example, take the rear seats here. Instead of making you search out hidden latches and mechanisms to fold them flat, the Crosstrek requires but one simple gesture to transform your interior from passenger to cargo trim. Pull up on the stem of an outboard mounted, visually obvious latch as you thrust the seatback forward, and presto, a flat floor cargo space manifests itself. No manual needs to be thumbed through, no obscure fold and tumble sequence needs to be followed. Removing the privacy screen which shields the rear space from prying eyes is equally simple when you’ve got big loads to carry. Just depress one end of the light weight stick, and the spring inside holding it in place instantly collapses, allowing you to store the part elsewhere. I recently struggled to collapse a similar unit in a Dodge Durango with such an overpowering spring that it refused to budge. The beauty of Subaru engineering is that it makes it simple tasks effortless.

With that ample ride height, you might think the Crosstrek would be somewhat tipsy in normal motoring tests, but you’d be wrong. This crossover handles the curves with aplomb, and you’re almost never aware of your exalted height. The Yokohama Geolanders are surprisingly complicit in upholding their end of the cornering bargain, and on the whole, the Crosstrek handles with the precision of a Nike Cross Trainer. The combined 150hp output of the drive train, however, leaves a bit more to be desired than the handling does. In passing or merging situations, you pretty much have to wring the Hybrid by the neck to extract enough surge to be comfortable. The CVT transmission, which Subaru pioneered a quarter century ago, is definitely your friend during such maneuvers, because paddles on the steering wheel allow you instant access to more rpm and more passing power. Still, this 3,165 pound Crosstrek’s gentle acceleration would benefit from a slightly larger displacement gas motor.

2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid

With a buy-in of just $26,820, it’s hard to beat the Hybrid Crosstrek for value, mileage, practicality and comfort. For “Just Do It” folks, the XV Crosstrek Hybrid is like finding a pair of Air Jordans at Ross Dress For Less.

2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid

  • Engine: 2.0 liter DOHC Opposed 4
  • Electric Motor: Permanent Magnet 3-Phase Synchronous
  • Horsepower: 150hp
  • Torque: 165 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 29 MPG City/39 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $26,820
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2014 Volkswagen Beetle R-Line

Tuesday May 27th, 2014 at 11:55 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2014 Volkswagen Beetle R-Line

By David Colman

Hypes: Stealth Bomber, Practical Yet Engaging
Gripes: Hood Stalk Can Cut You

Let’s say you love the endearing looks of the reincarnated Beetle, but you yearn for the performance of the Golf GTI. For 2014, VW has slipped the drive train and chassis of the outgoing GTI underneath the architecture of the Beetle, so you can look cute but go like a stink bug. The new code name for this potent combo is “R-Line,” a term formerly used to designate racing derived upgrades like flat bottom steering wheels and ribbed aluminum pedals. Now, VW has eliminated the “Turbo Beetle” name from its model range, in favor of the designation “Beetle R-Line.” When you lay down $32,030 for one of these, you get a 200hp GTI dressed in Bug clothing. The combination is a delight to drive.

VW stylists have revised the front and aft appearance of the Beetle R-Line by substituting stealthy looking new fascia and tail panels. The front splitter is now more angular, and the rear under tray features new diffusers. There’s also a massive back wing lurking just below the rear window, plus a bevy of R-Line identifiers on each side of the nose, at the base of the racy flat bottom steering wheel, and on both threshold kick plates. Visually engaging 10-spoke alloy rims hide cheeky red disc brake calipers. Gaping flared fender wells barely contain beefy 235/40R19 Continental ContiProContact tires at each corner. One look at the svelte Beetle R-Line is enough to remind you that VW runs a very competitive year long race series for these cars in Germany.

2014 Volkswagen Beetle R-Line

Yet once you’re seated inside the tidy cabin, it’s easy to slip into calm and casual motoring thanks to the DSG transmission’s fully automated assistance. Left to its own devices, the DSG 6-speed will seek out the highest possible gear and thus help you attain 24MPG in town driving and 26MPG overall fuel economy. Of course, you can always slot the DSG stick into its manual gate and make your own decisions about gear choice. Shifts in both directions are quick and crisp. VW provides a pair of tiny flippers behind the steering wheel to aid your gear changing, but I found it much more rewarding to knock the floor stick forward for down changes and back toward me for up shifts.

The turbo motor is so eager to spool up its 207 lb.-ft. of torque that it’s really easy to leave rubber when mashing the gas in the lower gears. When you do so, the front end of this Beetle lifts like a motor boat, steering response diminishes as the front tires lose adhesion, and the R-Line torque steers slightly as you struggle with the sudden surge of power. Although this VW may share looks with lesser Beetles, it’s really an adrenalin-inducing hot rod that’s an absolute blast to drive. The “Sport Suspension,” which is standard issue on R-Line Beetles, controls body lean in cornering, while still maintaining enough bump compliance to keep you comfortable. Such a compromise is a black art, and VW is well versed in the intricacies of the equation.

2014 Volkswagen Beetle R-Line

Given its low roofline and substantial tail spoiler, you might expect vision from the driver’s seat to be problematic. Such is not the case, since the wings lies flat enough to be invisible, and the view through the rear windows and excellent mirrors is good enough to allow freeway lane changes without hesitation. You could improve the direct rear sightline by removing the headrests from the rear seats, or folding them down until needed. While adequate for kids, the rear seats present painful entry, egress and seating prospects for adults. When you do fold the rear seats, the Beetle affords a surprising amount of storage space. In fact, a trip to Home Depot revealed that the interior dimension between the rear fender wells allows a 32 inch wide sheet of 48 inch long material to be comfortably accommodated. If not for the 3 inch intrusion of the Fender sub woofer in the trunk, you could slip a 3 foot wide sheet into the trunk flat.

2014 Volkswagen Beetle R-Line

The R-Line Beetle is very much the stealth bomber of VW’s flight group. It’s quietly handsome without being ostentatious. To looks at it, you’d never anticipate the level of performance it’s capable of doling out. Yet it’s one of the fastest cars on the open road, with enough performance reserve to make you smile broadly at the prospect of an early Sunday morning jaunt on an empty, twisty back road.

2014 Volkswagen Beetle R-Line

  • Engine: 2.0 liter turbocharged inline 4
  • Horsepower: 200hp
  • Torque: 207 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 24 MPG City/30 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $32,030
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2014 Ford Fiesta SE

Monday May 26th, 2014 at 8:55 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2014 Ford Fiesta SE

By David Colman

Hypes: Sporting Tendencies, Practical Interior, Gas Genie
Gripes: Lacks Rear Seat Legroom, Distracting Rear View “Spotter” Mirrors

The latest Fiesta is an undeniably handsome design, with its ground hugging snoot, upturned tail, and primly pursed Aston Martin copy grill imbuing it with unexpected flair. The only discordant note in the stylistic aria is struck by the 15 inch SE standard alloy wheels, which are visually swamped by spaciously flared wheel wells. It’s been a long time – 40 years to be exact – since a 185/60R15 tire was considered to be the hot setup in street rubber. It’s not that these Hankook Optimo H426 tires perform without merit, rather that they just don’t look the part on this otherwise up to date styling exercise. The only thing you’ll really appreciate about these tires is their cheap price when it comes time to replace them with new ones. But if this were my Fiesta, I’d upgrade it with Plus 1 (16″) or Plus 2 (17″) tire and wheel packages, either through Ford, which offers both, or via an aftermarket supplier. In either event, the new Fiesta will look more like something from the 21st century than an artifact from the groovy Sixties.

2014 Ford Fiesta SE

In addition to its cleanly sculpted body, the SE Fiesta offers the impecunious buyer a host of other, more practical advantages. Topping the list is its negligible purchase price of just $15,450. You can hardly buy a decent motorcycle these days for that amount. Our test SE’s electric “Blue Candy” tint added a negligible $395 to the bottom line. Its “Power Shift” 6 speed automatic transmission, a $1,095 extra, bumped the bottom line to $16,940, still a sensational deal in the automotive scheme of things today. I would forego the optional transmission in favor of the standard 5-speed manual, which is such a pleasure to operate that it makes the lightweight (2,665 lbs.) Fiesta feel even sportier than it really is. The manual gearbox facilitates ratio choice, a job which is rather a chore with the automatic, which lacks paddles, and requires use of a minute, stick-located toggle switch to swap ratios.

You won’t be overwhelmed by the passing power of the Fiesta’s 120hp, 1.6 liter four, which makes just 112 pounds of torque. On the other hand, you’ll love how long it takes to drain this Ford’s 12 gallon fuel tank. We zipped all over the Bay Area for a solid week before stopping to refuel, because the range on a single tank is nearly 400 miles at 32 MPG overall. On highway trips, you can run close to 470 miles before a recharge, since the Fiesta is good for 39 MPG on the freeway. Of course, your butt might give out before your fuel supply, because the cloth seats of the SE are pretty much entry level in terms of adjustability and comfort. Fore and aft travel is manual, as is seatback rake, which is inconveniently controlled by a lever shrouded by the shoulder harness. Steering wheel angle is also manually adjustable, but there is no provision for altering reach.

2014 Ford Fiesta SE

The rear seats are useless unless your Fiesta is full of occupants no taller than 5 feet. Even then, your rear passengers will have to duck their heads to climb aboard. Anyone 5’8″ tall will find a dearth of knee room back there, and just 1 inch to spare in headroom. On the other hand, the Fiesta is perfect for packing 2 adults up front and a pair of kids in back. Ford even provides seatbelts and headrest for a 3rd, center mounted victim in the rear seat. Even with a full load of 4 or 5, the sedan leaves you with a surprisingly spacious trunk of 12.8 cubic feet. If your cargo requirements call for more storage length, the rear seats flip down in a 60/40 split pattern, though you’ll need to remove the rear headrests prior to flattening the seats.

Because the Fiesta is so small and nimble, it’s unexpectedly fun to drive. Even in this mildest state of tune, the SE offers immediate throttle response when you’ve dialed up the proper gear ratio. The steering is refreshingly accurate, and you can really boogie on back roads in spite of the Hankook’s modest adhesion limits. If your interests tend more to sporty driving than basic transportation needs, Ford’s Fiesta product line includes the turbocharged ST with 17 inch rims and 197hp. But for most occasions, the base engine is more than adequate. It may be hard to believe, but for the price of an entry level Harley Davidson bike, you can buy a genuinely useful, economic and good looking little sedan that exudes value and versatility.

2014 Ford Fiesta SE

2014 Ford Fiesta SE

  • Engine: 1.6 liter DOHC Inline 4
  • Horsepower: 120hp
  • Torque: 112 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 29 MPG City/39 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $17,735
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2014 Dodge Durango Limited AWD

Friday May 23rd, 2014 at 7:55 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Spunky V6/8 Speed Transmission Combo, Easy Interior Reconfiguration
Gripes: Overdone Dashboard Chrome, No Power Lift Gate Closure

For 2014, Dodge has rejuvenated the appearance of the Durango with sprightly front and rear fascias that feature a floating crosshair grill insert upfront and sequential LED “racetrack” tail lights. Also new for this year is an 8-speed automatic gearbox controlled by a rotary shift selector located on the console between the front seats that takes some getting used to. We spent a week driving the Limited version, which is a new model for 2014. The Limited upgrades the base SXT level by including premium Capri leather interior, heated steering wheel, 8.4 inch dash stack touch screen, back-up camera with park assist, LED daytime running lights and 1 year of SiriusXM satellite radio. Base price for the rear wheel drive, V-6 powered Limited is $35,995. Add in the all wheel drive specification of our test vehicle and your starting price jumps to $38,395.

Additional option packages up the ante to $46,865. “Customer Preferred Package 23E” costs $2,395 for 20 inch polished aluminum wheels with 265/50R20 Goodyear Fortera tires, GPS navigation, HD Radio, and Power Lift Gate (which curiously does not provide automatic closure). A Rear DVD Entertainment Center adds $1,995. You’ll pop $995 for Trailer Tow Group IV which allows you to pull 6,200 pounds. The Safety, Security and Convenience Group costs $1,195 for Self Leveling Bi-Xenon Headlights, and a Power Tilt/Telescope Steering Wheel. Finally, $895 covers a comfy second row of Captain’s Chairs.

Even at this price, the Durango offers solid value for your money. Its gas efficient – 19 MPG overall – V-6 engine is a surprising screamer in the performance department, with that octet of gear ratios on hand to keep it operating at peak power (290hp, 260lb.-ft. of torque). There are, in fact so many gear sets on offer that the transmission sometimes stumbles during its self selection process. A couple of times it jerked inexplicably as it seemed to hunt for a lower gear at under 25 mph, and when cruise control is engaged, the 8 speed surprisingly downshifts all the way from 8th to 5th in order to retard speed on freeway hill descents. The rotary controller, however, which Jaguar has been using for years now, is a boon to interior ergonomics. It takes up almost no space on the center console, and flicks from detent to detent with ease. But since old habits die hard, you’ll find your right hand fluttering helplessly from time to time as you reach for the stick shift that isn’t there.

Dodge has taken great pains to refurbish the Durango’s interior with premium materials and plentiful benefits. The first thing you notice when climbing into the front row chairs is how comfortable they are. This comes as something of a pleasant surprise, since the American SUVs I’ve driven recently have fallen far short of this Durango’s comfort level. The rear seat area is particularly well equipped, with its pair of adjustable Captain’s chairs, wealth of leg space, overhead and floor vent outlets, and control panel for temperature, fan speed, and source of ventilation. The optional DVD center is particularly well integrated, with screens that fold unobtrusively into the backside of the front seat headrests, and A/V sockets built into those seats as well. Even the shallow floor console between the rear seats is thoughtfully constructed to allow drink holders without protruding high enough to interfere with goods storage when the seats are folded. Although this Durango will carry 6 adults in 3 rows, it can be quickly converted to truck duty by flipping the rear bench flat, then snapping the second row “Fold and Tumble” chairs shut. Even the front passenger seat back folds flat to accommodate extra long loads. These interior design permutations are ingenious, and easy to reconfigure.

Durango Limited offers a sweet ride quality by combining responsive handling with unexpectedly plush comfort. Steering response is outstanding. The Goodyear tires run quiet, the cabin is well insulated, and vision out of all quadrants is good enough to render the Limited’s standard back-up camera unnecessary. Only the chrome rings which surround all the front air vents prove distracting, especially when the driver’s side exterior mirror reflects the chrome ring instead of showing the traffic you need to see.

Dodge offers a sizeable number of Durango combinations, including a slightly more powerful V6 version called “Rallye” (295hp), and a substantially more lusty V8 Hemi model named “R/T” which quickens your pulse to the tune of 360hp and 390lb.-ft. of torque. But unless you’re planning to tow an 8,000 pound trailer, the R/T isn’t worth the fuel penalty you’ll pay of 14MPG in city driving versus 17 MPG for the Limited V6. In fact for everyday chores, the V6 Limited is as good an SUV as you’ll find for the money.

2014 Dodge Durango Limited AWD

  • Engine: 3.6 Liter Pentastar V6, 24 Valve with VVT
  • Horsepower: 290hp
  • Torque: 260 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 17 MPG City/24 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $46,865
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2014 Cadillac CTS 3.6L TT VSport Premium

Thursday May 22nd, 2014 at 9:55 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Vastly Improved Appearance, Superbly Comfortable
Gripes: Rear Wiper Needed

With the introduction of this second generation CTS, Cadillac has well and truly joined the ranks of the world’s elite producers of sports sedans. No more BMW M5 envy, no Audi S5 shortfall, no E Class Mercedes misgivings, the completely new CTS has hurdled the competition, and managed to do so for less money. V8 devotees can still buy the older style CTS-V this year, but if you’re after a “V” specification four door sedan, Cadillac offers only this twin turbocharged, 3.6 liter V6. Of course, compared to the 556hp supercharged V8 of the carryover CTS-V models, the 420hp V6 in the “CTS VSport” sedan may seem undernourished. On paper, that is. But out in the real world, the TT V6, coupled to a new 8 speed automatic transmission (unavailable in the CTS-V), is anything but feeble. First and best, when you flatten the accelerator, this sizeable luxury Pullman lunges forward, emitting an ethereal banshee wail from its spooled turbochargers. If you’ve selected manual shift mode by depressing the “M” button atop the stick shift lever, you can chose any appropriate gear ratio by clicking the large left steering wheel mounted magnesium paddle for down shifts or the matching right flipper for up shifts. The Cadillac transmission complies instantaneously, and does so while blipping the motor to match engine rpm to gear ratio choice on down shifts. The system is faultless save the need for a larger, centrally located gear indicator display in the driver information center.

Cadillac stylists have substantially improved the appearance of the new CTS compared to its predecessor. Gone are the original’s tired Origami folds, which looked revolutionary at introduction but shopworn today. The clean sheet design of the new sedan offers softer contours all around, with sweeping character lines defining the Cad’s newly elegant structure. Inside the spacious greenhouse, the look is all business, with black the predominant shade. Cadillac’s CUE (“Cadillac User Experience”) dash face is obsidian, slashes of carbon fiber grace the dash and door panels, and black vertically ribbed “performance” seats complete the Johnny Cash look. The medley works remarkably well at reducing unwanted reflections while providing all the right props for sporting driving. For example, your left foot will find itself firmly braced against an aluminum dead pedal that is rubber ribbed for traction. The center console contains a large, easily accessible “mode” button that allows you to select the appropriate combination of shock absorber resilience provided by GM’s superb magnetic ride control system As soon as you tap the mode button, a screen appears, asking you to select “Tour, Sport. Track, or Snow” setting. We chose “Tour” for most of our freeway jaunts, but elected “Track” when bashing back roads. And bash this brash Cad does well, with its ground hugging suspension eating bumps while its fat 275/35R18 Pirelli P Zero run flats never miss a chance to grab an apex. Cadillac is certainly not exaggerating the VSport’s capabilities by offering a “Track” setting for your ultimate driving enjoyment. Despite its sizeable girth and luxury fitments, the CTS VSport is perfectly suited to tackling Laguna Seca, or Sonoma Raceway. In fact, Cadillac officially acknowledges this benefit by outlining measures to improve the car’s track performance in the Owner’s Manual! For example, you are directed to improve brake cooling by removing the front brake splash shield and front tire deflector, and reminded that “removing the shield will require the suspension bushings visible to the brake disc be protected with insulated thermal wrapping.” Although GM recommends that you “See the Warranty Manual before using the vehicle for competitive driving,” I couldn’t find any warranty manual reference to such activity. Still, the very idea of Cadillac encouraging its owners to enjoy maximum performance potential of the VSport is revolutionary and very refreshing.

Even without the ultra powerful V8 that still motivates the ground shattering CTS-V, the VSport Cadillac is a superior vehicle in every way compared to its older sibling. The fact that you can now buy an American designed and constructed sports sedan that is actually superior to the stellar offerings from Germany is astounding. the fact that it also costs less than the Bavarian competition is even better yet.

2014 Cadillac CTS 3.6L TT VSport Premium

  • Engine: 3.6 Liter Twin Turbocharged V6
  • Horsepower: 420hp
  • Torque: 430 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 16 MPG City/24 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $70,990
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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


Review: 2014 Volkswagen Passat SEL Premium

Monday March 24th, 2014 at 10:33 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Flourish-Free Styling, Beckoning Interior, 15.9 Cubic Foot Trunk
Gripes: Slow To Defrost, No Rear Wiper

Psst. Hey, buddy, want buy a German sports sedan? How about a German sports sedan that’s built in Chattanooga, Tennessee? With a Mexican engine and a Japanese transmission, no less. Regardless of where the components are sourced or assembled, one drive in this latest iteration of VW’s spacious family hauler will send you a singular message: this is a German sports sedan of the first order. Its handling is superb, its fit and finish impeccable, and its breeding long and distinguished.

For 2014, the SEL model I tested is currently the only Passat equipped with the new 4 cylinder turbo. VW also offers a 3.6 liter, 280hp V6 as an option on the SEL. The turbo motor makes 170hp from 1.8 liters and replaces last year’s 170hp inline 5. The turbo laso makes 7 more lb.-ft. of torque than the I-5 (184 vs. 177), and returns better mileage (28 MPG) than the I-5 as well. Thanks to the extra torque, the latest Passat feels livelier than its forerunner when you jump on the accelerator. A 6-speed automatic gearbox takes good care of torque management, with a sport override feature available to allow specific gear choices as needed. Gear selection is then digitally displayed in the central information panel between the speedometer and tachometer.

The SEL treatment includes standard 18 inch alloy rims which mount 235/45R18 Continental Sport Contact rubber. This generous footprint produces neutral behavior no matter how hard you press this VW in corners. Despite the fact that this is a front-wheel-drive (FWD) sedan with 60 percent of its of 3,450 curb weight pounds allotted to the front wheels, the Passat never understeers. In fact, it’s hard to tell that the layout is FWD, which is a high compliment indeed to the refinement of the suspension. Standard SEL handling-related features include an electronic differential lock (EDL) which synchronizes wheel speed from side to side, Anti-slip Regulation (ASR), which limits wheel spin, and Electronic Stability Control (ESC) which corrects driver error in extremis. The cornering limits limits allowed by ESC are high enough to permit you to have some sporting fun with your Passat.

Done up in “Candy White” with a “Cornsilk Beige” interior, the starkly handsome sedan comes off looking a bit like Tom Wolfe in a white pinstriped suit: dandy but inarguably handsome. Its fit and finish exceed what you’ve come to expect in a $30,000 automobile. VW has effectively banished the word cheap as a descriptor of this product. Once you slide into those comfy biscuit colored seats, activate their three stage cushion heaters, and finger the Fender Premium Audio for your favorite SiriusXM band, you’re excused if you confuse the Passat with something substantially pricier, like say a BMW 3 or an Audi A4. Not until you check the bottom line of the window sticker do you realize that this VW’s price range stops well south of where the others start.

Clearly, in a world where parts for the same car are sourced from locations as disparate as Mexico, Japan and the USA, it’s the overall vision of design that counts. VW calls this supervisorial role the “Power of German Engineering.” From the moment you operate the chunky control stalks of the Passat, you know you’re driving a German car. The multi-function steering wheel is fat rimmed, leather swathed, and responsive to the most minute change of direction. VW has adapted electronically controlled power steering in lieu of hydraulics for 2014, and if anything, the feedback at the wheel is even more informative than before. Such subtle touches make the Passat SEL more satisfying to drive than anything else in its price range, and indeed many competitors well beyond that range.

2014 Volkswagen Passat SEL Premium

  • Engine: 1.8 Liter Inline 4, turbocharged
  • Horsepower: 170hp
  • Torque: 184 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 24 MPG City/34 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $31,715
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2014 Subaru Forester 2.5i Touring

Friday March 21st, 2014 at 1:33 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Great Sightlines in All Directions, EyeSight Is Useful Option
Gripes: Unreadable LCD Touch Screen

The all new 2014, 4th generation Forester looks enough like its immediate predecessor to confuse you into believing Subaru has simply revised the sheet metal a bit. But a quick look at the specification sheet reveals the new Forester, at 181 inches in length and 71 inches in height, stands 1.5 inches longer and 2.1 inches taller than the version it replaces. The additional height is most noticeable when you enter the airy new cabin without ducking your head. In fact, if you’re feeling all hat and no cattle, go ahead and wear that ten gallon Stetson. You still won’t graze the roof liner, even when your Forester comes equipped with the huge Panoramic Power Moonroof that is standard issue on the Touring model. The extra length translates into added rear seat legroom, enabling aft passengers to lounge without knocking knees. Even the cargo hold is more spacious than before, growing to 74.7 cubic feet from 68.3 cubic feet when the split back seats are folded flat.

Of course, the extra size comes at a slight penalty in added weight, as the new Forester, at 3,415 pounds, carries an extra 164 pounds when compared to the previous model. However, the performance disadvantage you might expect from the additional weight is offset by the new CVT transmission, which has finally made its way to the Forester model line. Having introduced the very first CVT transmission to the US market in its Justy model back in 1988, Subaru has more experience with continuously variable transmissions than any other manufacturer. The breeding shows in the Forester application, where the CVT operates seamlessly, always offering just the right rpm range for the 2.5 liter flat 4 to operate optimally. There’s invariably enough zip on tap to master any merge or pass you might undertake. If you really feel the need for more speed, you can upgrade your 170hp Forester to the optional 258hp 2 liter, turbocharged 4. Bear in mind that the turbo will use more gas than the base motor, which manages 27 MPG in overall driving. Regardless of engine choice, the Forester is tow rated at a commendable 2,400 pounds.

When equipped with the newly available “EyeSight” driver assistance package ($2,400), the Forester is one of the safest vehicles you can buy in terms of crash prevention. Subaru has perfected its lane keeping program by seamlessly integrating EyeSight’s information stream into your driving routine – without the annoying chirps and buzzers so many other manufacturers favor. If you start to wander from your intended direction of travel, EyeSight will simply flash an orange warning light on the info panel between the 8,000rpm tachometer and the 150mph speedometer. The package also provides pre- collision braking and throttle management. Keyless access is included as well as high intensity discharge (HID) headlights. If you are inclined to favor such driver aids as EyeSight, you’ll discover that Subaru’s system puts most others to shame. Just be forewarned that you cannot attach anything to your windshield without disrupting the view of the twin CCD (charge coupled device) cameras attached to either side of the rear view mirror. Also, scratched windshields must be replaced with genuine Subaru glass to maintain the integrity of the system.

The Touring Forester utilizes a grip enhancing rubber cargo mat in the trunk compartment that helps stabilize loose items. The rear hatch features automatic lift when you pull the up on the indented exterior handle, as well as automatic closure. The interior carpets are covered with loose weave sisal mats that were all the rage 40 years ago when they were known as cocoa mats. They still work well and look great, and I’m not sure why they ever disappeared. Subaru has seen fit to provide 3 nice chunky knobs for the heating and ventilation system. Would that they had done the same for the entertainment/navigation unit, which requires you to input commands to a 6.1 inch LCD touch screen that is virtually impossible to read in daylight. The good news, however, is that the navigation unit is standard equipment on the Touring model, and the Bluetooth enabled AM/FM/HD/SIRIUS radio thumps out a whopping base through its Harmon Kardon 440 Watt amp and speaker system.

You won’t win any road races with the Forester because its handling suffers from its high center of gravity, and the Yokohama G91 Geolander tires (225/60R17) confer modest grip. But no one buys this Subaru to win races. Its appeal lies in its consummate practicality, standard all wheel drive traction, spunky pancake 4 engine, new CVT drive train, and above all, its unsurpassed interior spaciousness. If all that isn’t worth a relatively modest investment of $33,220, good luck bettering this combo elsewhere.

2014 Subaru Forester 2.5i Touring

  • Engine: 2.5 Liter Opposed 4, Electronic Fuel Injection
  • Horsepower: 170hp
  • Torque: 177 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 24 MPG City/32 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $33,220
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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


Review: 2014 Ford Escape SE FWD

Thursday March 20th, 2014 at 2:33 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Spacious Cargo Hold, Remote Keyless Entry, Precise Handling
Gripes: Tiny Info Screen, Poor Seat Bolstering, Finger Twisting Rear Hatch Handhold

For such a small SUV (106 in. wheelbase, 178 in. length), the Escape scores reassuringly high on safety institute (IIHS) crash tests, with “Good” ratings in the all four categories (frontal offset, side and rear impact and roof strength). From the US government, the Escape rates 5 stars in front and rear seat side crashes, and four stars in all the rest (frontal crash- both sides, and rollover). These ratings are due in large measure to Ford’s inclusion of a driver’s knee airbag, front seat-side mounted airbags, and a “safety canopy” overhead bag. Adding to the security blanket for 2014 is a rear view camera, now standard on all models. This proves especially helpful when backing up the Escape, because visibility to the rear is not great. All these passive safety measures work in consort with such active safety strengths as responsive handling, respectable acceleration, and pinpoint steering control.

The Escape model line includes 3 engine choices this year: a 2.5 liter 4 (168hp), 1.6 liter turbo 4 (173hp) or 2.0 liter turbo 4 (231hp). Ford’s press pool vehicle paired the 1.6 liter turbo 4 with a 6-speed “Selectshift” automatic transmission. The Selectshift moniker is something of a misnomer, as the system depends on a shift lever mounted button to swap gears that is both hard to locate and inefficient in use. Better to supply paddles on the steering wheel, or a tip-stick method for gear choice. The 1.6 liter 4 returns admirable gas mileage figures (23 MPG City, 32 MPG Highway, 26 MPG overall), while still providing enough torque (184 lb.-ft.) to tow 3,500 pounds. In normal part throttle use, this drive train provides quiet, ample power. However, when prodded hard, the little turbo tends to shriek louder than tennis vampire Maria Sharapova.

The Escape handles better than its seats handle you. There’s no lack of cornering bite from the Continental Pro Contact tires, which are quite sizeable (235/55R17) for an SUV of such modest proportions (curb weight: 3,675 lbs.). In fact, the abundant cornering power generated by the Escape tends to chuck you off your cushions in the SE’s front seats because they have no side bolsters and they are upholstered in grip less charcoal black cloth. The optional leather seats available in the Titanium Escape, are better contoured to counteract this SUV’s ability to dislodge you. The interior of the Escape is impressively large. If you flop the split (60/40) rear bench seatbacks forward, you can even slip a full size bike through the rear hatch and lay it flat in the cargo hold. You can equip your Escape with an optional self-opening rear door for 2014 triggered automatically when you kick your foot under the back bumper. Our test SE, unfortunately, was not supplied with this latest automotive parlor trick.

The steering wheel of the Escape is festooned with so many knobs and buttons that it will make your head spin. Not a great idea when you’re tasked with concentration on driving. A couple of times, we inadvertently triggered a voice that impatiently awaited commands we were unprepared to issue. The over abundance of minute controls and menu-driven operations is emblematic of Ford’s continued reliance on its Microsoft-derived operating system called MyFordTouch. MFT is as baffling as Windows, and much more dangerous to operate in a driving environment than Windows is at your desk. By diverting your attention from driving, MFT’s opaque methodology tends to undercut the passive safety measures Ford has incorporated into the Escape’s basic architecture.

Notwithstanding ergonomic gripes, the front-wheel-drive Escape is a solid, practical mini-SUV offering handling, tow capacity and storage space that belie its humble size and mechanical specification. At a base price of just $25,550, the SE presents the potential buyer with enough virtue to make it a contender in the final round of consideration.

2014 Ford Escape SE FWD

  • Engine: 1.6 Liter Inline 4, Turbocharged (Ecoboost) with Direct Injection
  • Horsepower: 173hp
  • Torque: 184 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 23 MPG City/32 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $26,840
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2014 Volkswagen Jetta SEL

Wednesday March 19th, 2014 at 3:33 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Fuel Efficient New Turbo Motor, new IRS rear underpinnings
Gripes: Blind Spot Monitor Unavailable

Though the 2014 Jetta may look identical to last year’s model, significant improvements have occurred under the skin that make VW’s best selling sedan better than ever. The first upgrade lies under the hood, where a 1.8 liter turbocharged straight four replaces the previous 2.5 liter inline five. Although the new gas fueled engine makes the same 170hp as the straight five, it produces more torque (184 lb.-ft. vs. 177 lb.-ft.), and returns substantially better fuel consumption as well (29 MPG overall). The other major structural change to the Jetta is substitution of an independent rear suspension (IRS) for the torsion beam rear axle that VW has been using in one form or another since the Rabbit was introduced in 1975. By freeing each rear wheel to react to road conditions independently, the new link style suspension improves handling precision and traction. It also dampens oscillation over bumpy terrain resulting in greater creature comfort.

The well finished cabin of the SEL Jetta defies its modest $25,990 price point. Where most German manufacturers inflate the base price of their offerings with more options than you want or need, Volkswagen has taken just the opposite tack: with the exception of an $820 Destination Charge, not a single extra cost item blights this Jetta’s window sticker. In today’s market, this is indeed a rare turn of events. Surprising standard inclusions are a navigation system with a color touch screen, a Fender brand premium audio with SiriusXM subscription, Bluetooth phone connectivity, and media device interface (MDI) with iPod cable. Additionally, you need not pay extra for remote keyless entry, heated front seats, heated outside mirrors or heated wiper/washer nozzles. Not even the sporting 6-speed double clutch gearbox (with manual override for ratio selection), nor the power sunroof are optional.

The turbo 4 which VW and Audi use in so many cross-branded products, is a delightfully efficient source of power. In freeway driving, you can expect to pinch pennies to the tune of 36MPG. Despite that stellar economy, the turbo spools up maximum power instantaneously on demand. If 170hp is insufficient for your needs, VW also offers a GLI version of the Jetta which raises output of the diminutive four to 210hp and 207lb.-ft of torque. But for real world driving, you’ll find that the base 170hp engine is perfectly suited to the newly refined handling of this front wheel drive sedan. At just over 3,200 pounds, the well balanced Jetta makes good use of the sizeable contact patches afforded by standard 17inch alloy wheels shod with Continental ContiProContact 225/45R17 tires.

While I would not go so far as to call the SEL Jetta a sports sedan, it rather earns top plaudits as a sporting family sedan. Appending the word “family” to the formula indicates the Jetta is much more useful and spacious than a tightly configured sports sedan. The back seat is luxuriously spacious, with seat backs that conveniently fold flat in a 60/40 configuration to open a load platform good for 16 cubic feet of goods. The trunk is so vast that I was able to transport three large plastic storage tubs without problem, plus another pair inside the cabin, splayed across the wide back seat. You can even tow a petite trailer weighing up to 1,000 pounds behind your Jetta.

Volkswagen offers a wide array of power trains for Jetta. In addition to the 2 versions of the TSI turbo 4 already mentioned, you can also select a base model Jetta S with 115hp from its 2 liter four cylinder engine, or a 2.0 liter TDI turbo diesel good for 37MPG overall. Jetta cuts such a wind cheating aerodynamic profile that a team from Motor Trend magazine was able to hustle a TDI to a top speed of 185mph at Bonneville’s salt flats last year. Now if that isn’t a sporting family sedan, I don’t know what is.

2014 Volkswagen Jetta SEL

  • Engine: 1.8 liter inline 4, turbocharged
  • Horsepower: 170hp
  • Torque: 184 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 25MPG City/36MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $26,410
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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


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