Review: 2015 Audi A3 Sedan TDI FWD S tronic

Wednesday March 11th, 2015 at 4:33 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Audi A3 Sedan TDI FWD S tronic

By David Colman

Hypes: Vault-Like Construction, Stellar Navigation
Gripes: Where Are My Paddle Shifts?

In terms of rave recognition, navigation screens usually rate pretty far down my list of significant features. But after spending some time decoding Audi’s Google Earth-based “MMI Navigation plus package” (a $2,600 option), I was astounded by this system’s stellar leap beyond anything else on the road today. Would you believe a pop-up 8.1 inch full color HD screen that transmits breathtakingly accurate overhead views of the countryside as you travel through it? How about a mind-boggling distance range from 30 yards to 1,500 miles above earth? Would you like to know what to expect at the destination of your trip? Just program an address into the system, and it will present you with a full Google “Street View” image which you can manipulate via the Audi controller to show a full 360 degrees of rotation. You can even adjust the magnification of the image to such a level of close up that it’s possible to read license plate numbers of parked cars! To operate the system, simply dial in your preferred destination, or better yet, scribble it across the face of the controller, and MMI will decipher your handwriting. Never was Audi’s adage about the strength of its technology more appropriate than in regards to this navigation package.

2015 Audi A3 Sedan TDI FWD S tronic

The system also happens to be connected to a particularly fine automobile. The Diesel version of the A3 is the least powerful variant you can buy. It makes just 150hp. Compare that to the 3 gasoline engines available in the 3 model range: the base 1.8 liter 4 makes 170hp, the optional 2.0 liter rates 220hp, and the top line S3′s 2.0 liter makes 292hp. So why opt for the puniest motor in the family garage? Torque, mileage and driving range. The Diesel produces a respectable 236lb.-ft. of torque – that’s 36lb.-ft. more than the base gas motor – and it does so from 1700rpm all the way to 3000rpm. The Diesel A3 rates an 8 on the EPA’s scale of 10 for “Fuel Economy and Greenhouse Gas Rating” because it manages 31 MPG around town, 43 MPG on the open road, and 36 MPG in overall driving. You can multiply that figure of 36 MPG by the 13.2 gallons it takes to fill this Front Wheel Drive Audi, to determine an overall cruising range of 400-500 miles per tank. Try as we might to empty the tank of our test A3, we still returned it half full of Diesel after running it continuously for a week. Annual fuel cost is rated at a very modest $1,550 by the EPA.

2015 Audi A3 Sedan TDI FWD S tronic

Thanks to Ready Tellers, it’s probably been awhile since you’ve been inside the vault of your local bank branch. But if you miss that consummate feeling of security, just climb into an A3 for a dose of instant vault gratification. Notice how the doors open and shut with military precision. The knurled aluminum grip rings surrounding the ventilation ducts mete air flow with the kind of precision you’d expect to find in a hospital operating room. Even such a minor control as the joystick for adjusting the exterior rear view mirrors responds precisely and accurately to your slightest touch. Audi achieves engineering excellence by mastering a vast accumulation of such seemingly trivial details. Take the cruise control, for example. Many manufacturers these days have managed to over complicate this feature. But Audi, relying on the proven technology of the universal VW stalk system, gives you just four choices: push the button at the end of the stalk in to activate cruise control, push the stalk down to set a speed, push the stalk up to increase speed, and push the stalk towards the front of the car to deactivate cruise. It’s an achingly simple system that many others would do well to emulate.

2015 Audi A3 Sedan TDI FWD S tronic

You will discover some strange inconsistencies in the overall layout of the A3 TDI. For example, the suspension system here is definitely calibrated to sport operation. Spring rates are just short of harsh over broken road surfaces, but remarkably well calibrated to keep the chassis level during spirited cornering. The sport-oriented ten-spoke, 18″ alloys, shod with Continental Sport Contact radials (225/50R18) are included in the “A3 Premium Plus model” option group for $2,550. This package also provides heated front seats with 4-way lumbar support, keyless entry and button activated stop/start. So the A3, thusly optioned, rides and handles firmly, like a true German sport sedan. Yet its S tronic 6-speed gearbox, which can be manually controlled, inexplicably lacks steering wheel paddles for full sports driving enjoyment. We also discovered that when you “lock” the gearbox manually into second gear, it will automatically up shift to third at just 3,500rpm. However, when you lock the transmission into third, it will stay put even when you rev the engine to 4,000rpm. Now granted, gear changes don’t play an important role in overall performance thanks to the Diesel’s abundant torque. But still, in a sedan so sportingly configured, the lack of paddle shifts is hard to justify.

The A3 with Diesel power is perfectly suited to long distance touring. Its cockpit is roomy enough for four full size adults and the 13 cubic foot trunk is spacious enough for all their luggage. The spectacular Navigation system will not only insure your arrival at any chosen destination, but even take a picture of each location you visit and save it to memory! The A3 represents the cutting edge of technology. The future arrived yesterday.

2015 Audi A3 Sedan TDI FWD S tronic

2015 Audi A3 Sedan TDI FWD S tronic

  • Engine: 2.0 Liter inline 4 cylinder Clean Diesel
  • Horsepower: 150hp @ 3500-4000rpm
  • Torque: 237lb.-ft. @ 1700-3000rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 31MPG City/43MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $38,645
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Acura TLX

Tuesday March 3rd, 2015 at 3:33 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Acura TLX

By David Colman

Hypes: Svelte Shape, Comfy Front and Rear Seats
Gripes: Odd Gear Change, No Owner’s Manual

This new model represents an amalgamation of two previous Acura models, the TL and the TSX. The TL was Acura’s affordable techno deluxe sedan, while the TSX represented entry level Acura ownership in a sporty package. The new TLX does a good job of combining all those virtues in one unit. You can select the base model with a 2.4 liter inline 4 cylinder engine of 206hp, and a starting price of $32,000. This engine produces just 182lb.-ft. of torque, but maximizes thrust through an 8 speed twin clutch semi-automatic gearbox. Unfortunately, the manual transmission formerly offered on the TSX is no longer available. At the other end of the price spectrum is the TLX we spent a week testing. This one stickers for $45,000. The extra investment buys you all-wheel-drive, and a 3.6 liter V6, mounted sideways in the front engine compartment. This 290hp engine produces 267lb.-ft. of torque and drives through a 9-speed automatic that rivals most bicycles for gear selection range.

2015 Acura TLX

Acura’s tight packaging of the TLX invests it with very short overhangs front and rear. Although the grill retains Acura’s trademark chrome V-Blade, an array of 10 LED headlights distinguishes the front end from any previous Acura. The tightly wrapped sheet metal skin makes the TLX look tauter than a Cross Fit champ. Our top model bumps alloy wheel size up from 17 to 18 inches. These handsome pewter finished rims carry Goodyear Eagle LS2 tires measuring 225/50R18 at each corner. The all-wheel-drive (AWD) model we tested features super handling (SH) tweaks, so you’ll find an “SH-AWD” emblem on the trunk. Turn-in is crisp and predictable, steering feedback reassuringly accurate, and handling quite well contained. The all-season Goodyears are the weak link in the adhesion chain, combining early breakaway with significant tire squeal.

Climbing into the TLX cabin, the first think you notice are the ribbed floor mats which give a dimension to black rugs rarely seen. Between the front seats, you’ll find a curious “Electronic Gear Selector” that is a challenge to master. There’s a large round button marked “D” which engages “Drive” when pushed, as long as your foot’s on the brake and the TLX is at a complete stop. A few inches forward is a small square button marked “P” for Park, and between P and D you’ll find a mark for “R” but no button. Rather, to engage R you’ll need to slide a ribbed switch rearwards. This whole gear engagement system is counter intuitive and perplexing. Every time you seek to change direction, you need to study the puzzling layout on the console yet again. For those of you with sporty inclinations, Acura does include small paddles on the steering wheel for manual up and down changes.

2015 Acura TLX

In keeping with the technological prowess of the discontinued TL model, the TLX offers a bevy of safety nannies like lane keeping assist, lane departure warning, front collision warning, blind spot monitoring, and radar assisted cruise control. You can tailor all these functions to your specific profile by using a large central joystick knob that covers everything from seat heaters to lane departure beeps. The one annoyance I could not manage to eliminate was the automatic sliding driver’s seat entry “feature”, which went unmentioned on any menu I could find.

Believe it or not, you don’t get a proper Owner’s Manual with your new $45,000 Acura when you buy this car. Instead, you receive an abbreviated, 143 page “Owner’s Guide” whose introduction states “This guide is not intended to be a substitute for the Owner’s Manual.” Should you seek that elusive document, you discover Acura provides it only in CD form, which they point out “can be printed for your reference” by you. Best of all, the “Owner’s CD” is prominently labeled “Not for in-vehicle use.” We inserted it into the CD slot in the dash, and sure enough, the car spit it back out at us. Oh, they do offer to provide you with “a complimentary printed copy of the Owner’s Manual, Navigation Manual, Vehicle Warranty and Consumer Information Book, but only “if you are the first registered owner of your vehicle.”

2015 Acura TLX

Acura is making a major effort to race the TLX in SCCA’s Pirelli World Challenge Series. After a rather unsuccessful debut in 2014, they will field a 2 car team in the top category of the series in 2015. This entry features a twin turbo version of the V6 used in the production car. If Acura decides to offer a production version of this turbo engine TLX, BMW and Audi owners will be looking in their mirrors for a chrome bladed V.

2015 Acura TLX

  • Engine: 3.5 liter V6, SOHC, 24 valve, VTEC and Variable Cylinder Management
  • Horsepower: 290hp
  • Torque: 267lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 21 MPG City/31 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $45,595
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited

Monday December 29th, 2014 at 12:1212 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited

By David Colman

Hypes: Penurious Porsche
Gripes: Tiny, Slippery Radio Buttons

Only 2 automotive manufacturers build opposed 6 cylinder engines today. Subaru and Porsche. Because this unique design is by definition flat rather than vertical, it allows lower placement in the vehicle, which in turn assures a lower center of gravity. A lower CG in turn improves handling and balance. The entry price for any Porsche with opposed 6 power starts at more than $60,000 for the entry level Boxster, and soars to over $200,000 for a 911 turbo. But if you want similar engineering for much less money, opt for the 3.6R version of the Subaru Outback, which features a 3.6 liter “BOXER” 6 cylinder engine producing healthy doses of both horsepower (256hp) and torque (247 lb.-ft.). Think of the 3.6R Outback Limited, with its base price of $32,995, as the pauper’s Porsche.

2015 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited

Although you can order an Outback with the base 4 cylinder, 173hp engine for as little as $23,495, the 3.6R is definitely the way to go. By choosing the flat 6, you assure yourself of enough scoot to maximize passing opportunities beyond the capacity of the 4 cylinder motor. The flat 6 is coupled to one of the happiest Continuously Variable Transmissions (CVT) available today. Subaru’s “Lineartronic” CVT offers a spread of 6 pseudo gear sets that allow you to manipulate the power and torque output of the 3.6R engine to maximum effect. The drive train in this Outback affords gratifyingly instantaneous thrust when you select the appropriate simulated gear ratio from the 6 steps available. Newly developed active torque vectoring keeps each wheel churning at maximum effective speed.

However, such straight line zip would be worthless without corner taming suspension refinement. But Subaru has that eventuality covered as well thanks to an all new platform for the Outback for 2015 featuring standard symmetrical all-wheel-drive. Subaru products have long been the favorite choice of motorists living in inclement weather regions because of their AWD prowess. This Outback has absolutely no trouble pinning its power to the ground no matter how hard you crack the throttle of its rambunctious flat 6. A MacPherson strut front suspension works in consort with a double wishbone independent rear layout to provide reasonably crisp handling while maintaining enough road clearance (8.7 inches) to let you tackle outback roads in your Outback. Helping in this regard are a stout set of mud and snow rated Bridgestone Dueler H/T tires (225/60R18) mounted on special Limited edition 18 inch alloy rims.

2015 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited

The 2015 Outback Limited is without question the most luxurious Subaru built to date. The first thing you notice inside the cabin is an abundance of soft touch surfaces wherever your hands come to rest. The perforated leather seats are a pleasure to fondle, but could do with more upper torso support. Particularly attractive is the genuine open pore woodwork that adorns the dash face and door panels. Unlike Subaru clatter boxes of yore, this Limited is regally silent and well insulated. An acoustically damped windshield along with new liquid engine mounts account for these welcome sounds of silence.

The new platform design, though only marginally larger than the one it replaces, yields dramatic gains in interior room, which increases to 108 cubic feet, of which 73 cubic feet can be dedicated to cargo. Slipping a full size bicycle through the hatchback of this Subaru is really a simple operation. First, you remove the tubular privacy screen from its location behind the rear seat by compressing a spring fitting. Flip the 60/40 split rear seats forward using a single latch outboard of each seat. Use your key fob remote to activate the automatic lift gate, then slip your bike into the vast rear cargo area which is neatly protected by a vast rubberized mat. Pushing a handy button located on the tailgate door shuts the lift gate automatically.

2015 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited

Life is thus easy with Outback. It’s faster than you think, more nimble than it looks, yet still every bit as practical and affordable as you’ve come to expect from Subaru. For 2015, this dependable companion has gotten better without getting bigger, and faster without getting thirstier. The virtues of Subaru’s clever wagon/SUV have long been a well kept secret among all wheel drive enthusiasts. Try the 3.6R Limited and you’ll find out why it’s so highly acclaimed by its loyal fan base.

2015 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited

  • Engine: 3.6 Liter Boxer 6
  • Horsepower: 256hp at 6,000rpm
  • Torque: 247 lb.-ft. at 4,400rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 20 MPG City/27MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $36,040
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 GMC Canyon 4WD SLE Crew Cab Short Box

Wednesday December 17th, 2014 at 8:1212 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 GMC Canyon 4WD SLE Crew Cab Short Box

By David Colman

Hypes: Looker with a Cooker of a V6
Gripes: Automatic Rain Sensitive Wipers Needed

Is there a better way to prove a new truck’s mettle than to drive it through a raging storm, not once, but twice? That’s just how we experienced GMC’s completely new Canyon pick up. Our round trip called for a run from Marin County down to Monterey on the very day the biggest rain storm in two years rolled into Northern California. Our return trip back to Marin coincided with the arrival of the second big front three days later. The Canyon passed all tests – from traction to comfort to outward vision – with dismissive ease. If you ‘re looking for a staunch companion in bad weather, the GMC Canyon is as good as it gets.

2015 GMC Canyon 4WD SLE Crew Cab Short Box

GM’s Brazilian design staff had a hand in crafting this stunning hauler’s bold but businesslike appearance. Our 4×4 model, fitted with an $1,190 All Terrain Package, stood Texas tall on its off-road capable Z71 suspension, and 17 x 8 inch “Dark Argent Metallic” alloy rims with Kevlar-reinforced 255/65R17 Goodyear Wrangler rubber. The wide channeled tread of the Wranglers did the trick in repulsing rivers of rain water. At a steady 65mph on Interstate 101, the Canyon swept through the puddles without ever losing its footing. It did so, moreover, in 2WD, because traction with just the rear wheels driving was so good that 4WD was never needed. For the record, the AutoTrac 4WD offers 4 different settings for conditions ranging from sport driving to snow bashing. If off-roading appeals, you will appreciate the fact that the Z71 package offers hill-descent control. However, the mild price you pay for all that under body clearance is a high cab step-in. To seat yourself with relative ease, you’ll need the optional ($745), tubular off-road assist steps which are unobtrusively finished in matte black.

GMC has done a swell job with this pick up’s exterior finish. The massive chrome grill looms over lesser traffic like the prow of a cruise ship. A pair of ‘All Terrain’ ID plates grace the front quarter panels and match similar tributes branded into headrests of all four seats. The 5’2″ short bed (a 6’2″ long bed is available) sports a $475 liner appliqué that matches the matte black of the assist steps. Although you can opt for an extended cab, the crew cab is the way to go if you plan on carrying passengers. During our stay in Monterey, we chauffeured four occupants for two days running and never once heard a complaint from the back seat. Vision outside is excellent from inside, even in back. The panoramic rear window of the cab contributes to the stunning greenhouse effect.

2015 GMC Canyon 4WD SLE Crew Cab Short Box

Our Canyon enjoyed 18MPG for the long round trip, The EPA rates overall mileage at 20MPG for the 3.6 liter version we tested. Although a base model 2.5 liter inline 4 is available, it produces only 190hp and 183 lb.-ft. of torque, hardly adequate for such a beefy vehicle. The V6, on the other hand, makes 303hp and 270lb.-ft. of torque and reports smartly to your right foot whenever you need a boost to merge or change lanes. Assisting in this regard is an exceptionally smooth shifting 6-speed automatic that can be locked into Manual Mode (“M”). When you select M, a cumbersome set of factors restrict transmission selection to limited gears, depending on your speed. However, these limitations can prove helpful when traversing slippery roads at low speeds. When configured like our test GMC, with a $250 optional “Trailering Equipment Package,” and the digger 3.43:1 rear axle ratio (no extra charge), the V6 Canyon will pull a 6,700 pound trailer.

2015 GMC Canyon 4WD SLE Crew Cab Short Box

The Canyon cabin is a place of many virtues. The dashboard snaps into action when you insert the ignition key by scrolling spectacular GMC graphics across the huge 8″ color touch screen. The screen displays your free 3 month trial XM Satellite radio reception, as well as your 6-month free introductory On Star hook up, which includes directional commands. There’s also an Intellilink connection, so you are never short of information sources inside this command center. The red stitched jet black seats feature separate heat sources for squab and backrest. We were entirely complaint free after many long hours in the saddle.

This is a fairly big rig, so your only operational complaint is going to stem from parking it. It does require more ‘terrain’ than you may be used to locating. Aside from that obvious caveat, this new, stunning GMC is a real grand Canyon.

2015 GMC Canyon 4WD SLE Crew Cab Short Box

2015 GMC Canyon 4WD SLE Crew Cab Short Box

  • Engine: 3.6 Liter Direct Injection DOHC V6 with VVT
  • Horsepower: 302hp
  • Torque: 270lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 17 MPG City/24 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $39,090
  • Star Rating: 9.5 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Infiniti QX70

Tuesday December 16th, 2014 at 3:1212 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Infiniti QX70

By David Colman

Hypes: Black Never Looked Better
Gripes: Sloping Roof Cuts Into Storage

You could have had a V-8. Last year, that is. But for 2015, Infiniti has eliminated the 390hp, 5 liter V8 from the QX70 model range in favor of a 3.7 liter V6 good for 325hp. The now standard V6 is just adequate to the task of propelling the 4,225 pound QX. Although rated to tow a trailer load of 3,500 pounds, you might find tough sledding over the Sierra with such a combo. The 7-speed automatic gearbox is well suited to extract maximum performance from the V6, with rev-matching available on downshifts in manual mode.

The $3,550 Sport Package adds, among many niceties, solid magnesium paddle shifters to facilitate manual transmission operation. These oblong extrusions are partially covered with a rubberized surface that insures contact regardless of where the steering wheel is positioned. The Sport Package really improves the overall appearance of the QX by replacing stock 8×18 inch rims with gigantic 9.5×21 inch black wheels carrying 265/45R21 Bridgestone Dueler H/L 400 tires at each corner. These 45 Series tires improve handling precision at the expense of ride discomfort over potholes and parking lot risers. The small trade-off, however, is well worth it because the QX is so responsive and planted when you tackle curving back roads.

2015 Infiniti QX70

Opting for the Sport Package also reduces glare to a minimum since almost all surfaces normally chromed or bright receive the black-out treatment here. The front grill, fog light surrounds, roof rails, exterior mirror housings, side air vents, lower side moldings and rear finishers are all done in black. Even the headliner in the cabin is black. This is not to say that the Sport QX is entirely free of color, however. Wild and attractive purple stitching adorns the leather covering the seat bolsters, door panels and steering wheel. Matching purple rings outline the tachometer face (redline 7,500rpm) and the speedometer which optimistically reads to 180 mph. In all, Infiniti has done a handsome job of packaging the QX in a menacing outfit that enhances the vehicles good bone structure.

On the other hand, the $2,950 Technology Package is something you’ll want to eliminate from your build sheet. Nanny assistance devices are all the rage these days, and Infiniti offers an alphabet full of them guaranteed to assure your perpetual annoyance. Most drivers won’t have a clue about the meaning of the acronym dubbed controls splayed randomly across the dashboard reading “IBA,” “FCW,” and “DCA.” These are all part of a sustained campaign to eliminate your brain from the driving equation. If you have the time to spend reading your newspaper printed owner’s manual, you will determine, after much effort, that IBA means Intelligent Brake Assist, FCW is Forward Control Warning, and DCA is Distance Control Assist. Further perusal of said owner’s manual reveals that no fewer than 16 exceptions can potentially disable operation of IBA, while 12 possibilities exist to render FCW inoperative. Mercifully, the QX70′s central command control allows you to disengage most of these assistance devices so your journey is not continually interrupted by incessant warning chimes.

2015 Infiniti QX70

The sports seats offered as part of the Sport Package are particularly fetching. The perforated leather seating surfaces are sewn in a handsome quilted pattern that looks expensive and inviting. The analog clock, elegantly set into a prominent position in the center of the dashboard, is a welcome throwback to the first Infiniti Q45, a nice example of traditional marque carryover. The circular computer control mouse conveniently located above the clock, is easy to operate while at a standstill. The dial includes four directional command buttons, with a center button for selection purposes, and a separate button labeled “back.” This system controls the QX’ hard drive navigation system, offered for $4,300 as part of the Premium Package. This compendium also upgrades the base 7 inch screen to an 8 inch color touch display monitor, and provides an “around-view” look at all sides of your SUV, with moving object detection. This feature is particularly useful since low aspect vision is not a strong point from the high mounted driver’s seat of the QX70.The expensive package also provides, Voice Recognition, plus “Nav Traffic” and “Nav Weather” reports.

2015 Infiniti QX70

This rear-wheel-drive QX70, done up in Sport Package black, is an undeniably handsome addition to the Infiniti SUV model range. Its calming and comfortable interior will lull you into virtual somnolence once you’ve learned to disable the intrusive Technology Package.

2015 GMC Canyon 4WD SLE Crew Cab Short Box

  • Engine: 3.7 liter V6
  • Horsepower: 325hp
  • Torque: 267lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 17 MPG City/24 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $58,085
  • Star Rating: 7.5 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Audi A3 Cabriolet 1.8T FWD S tronic

Tuesday December 9th, 2014 at 8:1212 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Audi A3 Cabriolet 1.8T FWD S tronic

By David Colman

Hypes: Immaculate Construction
Gripes: If You’re an Enthusiast, Opt for the 220hp AWD Version

Is there a car with a longer formal title than this Audi? Let’s translate its multiple messages. For 2015, Audi has mounted an assault on the entry level luxury market with its new-to-North America A3 line. These trim and diminutive offerings weigh just over 3,100 pounds, measure 175 inches in length, but stretch wheelbase to 104 inches. Available in either sedan, convertible or coming hatchback body style, the A3 promises to be the volume leader in the company’s model line. The Cabriolet we tested means convertible in Audi dialect. Its engine is the near universal VW base power plant, a 1.8 liter inline four fitted with a turbocharger to produce 170hp and 200lb.-ft. of torque. This engine powers the front-wheel-drive (FWD) version of the A3 that holds down the lower rung of the price ladder, with a base cost of $35,600. The driveline includes Audi’s automatic gearbox, a 6 speed unit without paddle shifts that Audi designates “S tronic.” If you elect to move your purchase upscale, the Cabriolet can be equipped with all-wheel-drive, which also includes a significant engine upgrade to a 2.0 liter turbo four good for 220hp and 258lb.-ft. of torque. Only the smaller base motor, however, returns stellar fuel economy: 35 MPG on the highway, 24 MPG around town, and an overall rating of 28MPG.

2015 Audi A3 Cabriolet 1.8T FWD S tronic

At first blush, it would appear that this A3 Cabrio’s base price is stunningly cheap for such an exotic import from Germany. But once you lavish the base package with what Audi calls its “A3 Prestige model” you’ve bumped that affordable entry level price by a whopping $8,450. If you elect to forego Prestige for pauperism, you will have to do without the following niceties: 18 inch, 10 spoke alloy wheels, heated front seats, power folding and heated rear view mirrors, Audi advanced key, auto-dimming driver side rear view mirror, aluminum interior package, S line exterior trim, LED interior lighting package, auto-dimming interior mirror with compass, Navigation system, Parking system with rear view camera, Bang & Olufsen Sound System and LED headlights with LED daylight running lights. Particularly engaging are the aluminum bits that comprise the interior trim. Horizontally striated strips of silver look terrific decorating the dash and door panels. The S line threshold entry plates add elegance to the interior. And the LED cabin lighting thoughtfully illuminates the speaker enclosures on the door kick panels, and casts just enough illumination into the footwalls to convey a sense of well being. Audi mounts modestly sized (225/40R18) Continental Pro Contact tires on the handsome alloy wheels. All in all, this Prestige upgrade is well worth the stiff tariff.

2015 Audi A3 Cabriolet 1.8T FWD S tronic

Another upgrade you’d want to consider is the all-wheel-drive configuration powered by the 220hp 2.0 liter motor, because the base 1.8T engine of our test car is just barely adequate to the car’s acceleration needs. Without steering wheel mounted shift paddles, it’s rather difficult to manipulate the S tronic gearbox in manual override mode. Most of the time, you’ll defer to the Drive position and let the 6-speed choose its own up and downshifts. This it does in a habitually lazy manner that is serene but slow. If your driving style tends to be more, rather than less aggressive, opt for the AWD 2 liter turbo A3.

2015 Audi A3 Cabriolet 1.8T FWD S tronic

This Audi, built in Hungary, with a German gearbox, is beautifully constructed. Its handsome and aerodynamic cloth top drops or rises in just a matter of seconds. With the top raised, this A3 is as quiet as a sedan. When you drop the roof and hold the controller down until the operation is complete, all four windows automatically elevate. Oddly enough, however, when you erect the top, none of the windows shut at the end of the cycle. The interior of this Audi is far more luxurious and finished looking than similar entry level offerings from Mercedes or Lexus. In particular, the detailing is exquisite around the knurled and gimbaled air vents as well as on the Multi Media Interface (MMI) control knob on the central console. There’s a richness to the color and feel of the Chestnut Brown leather interior that belies the A3′s bargain price. Audi proves the point that you do not have to spend more than 50 thousand dollars to enjoy the full benefit of the company’s legendary vault like quality.

2015 Audi A3 Cabriolet 1.8T FWD S tronic

2015 Audi A3 Cabriolet 1.8T FWD S tronic

  • Engine: 1.8 liter inline 4 turbocharged
  • Horsepower: 170hp @ 4500-6200rpm
  • Torque: 200lb.-ft.@1600-4400rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 24MPG City/35 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $45,525
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2014 Jeep Cherokee Latitude 4×4

Monday December 8th, 2014 at 1:1212 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2014 Jeep Cherokee Latitude 4x4

By David Colman

Hypes: Spacious, Off-Road Ready
Gripes: Could Use a (Grand Cherokee)V8 and Brighter Headlights

Jeep has an engaging way of reminding you of the company’s storied past. For example, the lower spoke of the Latitude’s fat rimmed steering wheel is inscribed with the notation “Since 1941.” The granite colored fabric covering the seats looks more serviceable than luxurious. The khaki pouch containing the owner’s manual might have once served as a bag for your canteen. The heritage on display is so convincing you almost expect to find a jerry can buried in the recesses of the trunk.

But this Jeep earns its stripes with more than just idle allusions. This is a real, heavy duty, off-road capable 4×4, as distinguished from those light duty all-wheel-drive interlopers so many manufacturers try to pawn off these days as trailblazers. Your first clue that you could tackle the Rubicon trail with the Latitude is the fat knob on the center console reading “4WD LOW” which allows you to creep over otherwise impassable terrain. Yes, this bargain priced $31,020 Cherokee not only offers 4WD Low for tricky travel under 25mph, but also a mechanical locking rear differential (which Jeep calls “E-Locker”) to navigate especially treacherous passages slower than 15mph. This golden promise of traction comes to you for just $995, if you order Customer Preferred Package 27J. Included in the benefits are a 9-speed automatic gearbox with Jeep Active Drive II, Hill Descent Control, and Off-Road Suspension.

2014 Jeep Cherokee Latitude 4x4

Power for our test Cherokee came from a 3.2 liter V6 more notable for its highway gas economy (26 MPG) than its sheer horsepower (271hp). The 9 speed transmission does an admirable job of maximizing power produced by the 24 valve engine. The 3.25:1 rear axle ratio strikes a decent compromise between acceleration potential and acceptable cruising mileage. The floor-mounted shift allows you to override gear selection at any time, and quite frankly, there are times when the V6 needs a little extra prodding from a lower gear to complete passing maneuvers. Otherwise, you will discover that if you just leave this gearbox in “Drive,” a considerable lag occurs between the time you floor the accelerator and when the engine actually responds.

The Latitude is perfectly configured for long distance freeway jaunts. There is absolutely no wind noise or road intrusion inside the cockpit at speeds over 70mph. This quietude is surprising in view of the Jeep’s off-road suspension underpinnings, so you can probably thank the Firestone Destination tires (225/65R17)for contributing to the silence. If you order the optional Trailer Tow Package, this Jeep will pull 4,500 pounds; or 2,000 pounds without the special fittings. Trailer Sway Damping is a standard Cherokee feature.

On twisting back roads, Latitude is not quite so happy as it is on the freeway. Here, its frontal weight bias causes it to plow into turns, requiring you to crank an extra 20 degrees of lock into the steering wheel, just I thought I was done with the exercise. This tendency became especially demanding in heavy rain, which caused the front Firestones to drift even further from my anticipated trajectory. The “Bi-Function Halogen Projector Headlamps” sound more proficient than they are. Actual night time performance was marginal.

2014 Jeep Cherokee Latitude 4x4

Although the interior of the Latitude is mostly monochromatic, it’s done with an understated panache that makes you appreciate Jeep’s good taste. The seats, though manually controlled, are quite supportive and handsomely done, with white stitched black side bolsters, and grey cloth inserts that defy sliding. The oatmeal headliner brightens the expansive interior substantially, and brushed aluminum graces the door pulls. Matte titanium colored bezels outline the instrument binnacle, centrally mounted 5 inch touch screen, and air vents. The compartment between the front seats is commodious; you can optionally equip its upper level with a wireless phone charging pad, but be sure not to lay your key fob on it. The floor in the trunk area is hinged at the rear. Lift it, and you find a large hidden set of four shallow storage bins. Remove the bin partition for access to the space saver spare and jack.

Jeep offers a lot of vehicle for the money here. If you are serious about off-roading, or just enjoy the rugged grace this company has been refining since 1941, you need to check out the latest Cherokee Latitude.

2014 Jeep Cherokee Latitude 4x4

2014 Jeep Cherokee Latitude 4×4

  • Engine: 3.2 Liter V6 24 Valve with VVT
  • Horsepower: 271hp
  • Torque: 239 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 19 MPG City/26 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $31,020
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2014 Scion FR-S

Tuesday November 25th, 2014 at 1:1111 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2014 Scion FR-S

By David Colman

Hypes: Handles Better Than a Bug Eye Sprite
Gripes: Some Interior Ergonomic Improvements Needed

Over the course of a car model year, I typically test 50 new vehicles. Of those, fewer than 10 make the cut as cars I would buy and own. The Scion FR-S is one of those 10 for 2014. The FR-S’ fun-to-price ratio pegs it as a best buy in the sports coupe category. If you’re an enthusiast driver looking for slot car handling in a practical, economical package, this Scion fits the bill. Every time you slip behind its perforated black leather steering wheel, you know you’re in for a spell of undiluted driving entertainment. Only a car as nimble and light (2,758 lb.) as the FR-S can provide the immediate feedback that is this Scion’s defining trait. The interface between driver and machine is so polished and rewarding that you will never look at recreational driving the same way again. That you can experience automotive nirvana for a base price of just $24,700 defies logic.

2014 Scion FR-S

It certainly isn’t the FR-S’ Subaru power plant that evokes such jubilation. The 2.0 liter opposed 4 cylinder engine is hard pressed to make 200hp and just 151lb.-ft. of torque without also producing substantial noise and vibration. The silver faced tachometer, which features a programmable rev indicator, reads to 9,000rpm. Although the Boxer motor reaches redline at 7,600rpm, you’ll want to up shift sooner than that to avoid the racket at redline. Although the FR-S is not blindingly quick in a straight line, it’s so well balanced that you hardly notice the power shortfall. The superb steering feel, ultra precise shift linkage, and highly retentive sport seats foster the illusion that you’re driving a race car. Only the similarly priced Mazda MX-5 comes close to emulating the responsiveness of the FR-S. And the petit Mazda roadster offers none of the FR-S’ practicality: roomy interior, hatchback storage access, abbreviated rear seat, and permanently enclosed construction. You get the same kind of performance as the MX-5 without making the kind of concessions that render the Mazda comparatively impractical for daily use. This Scion can be your daily driver all week long, then play racer for you on the weekends.

2014 Scion FR-S

Of course, you will notice a few price point-bred drawbacks to FR-S ownership. When you open the cabin door, you will be hard pressed to stuff your bag or purse into the rear seat area without first tilting the front seatbacks forward. When you flop them backwards in order to climb in, the back rest returns, not to your pre-selected angle, but rather to the full upright position. After you’ve dealt with this 2 or 3 times in the course of a day’s errands, you’ll wonder why Scion didn’t endow these otherwise excellent seats with backrest position memory. The rather elemental beverage holder between the front seats also garners a cost cutting demerit. It contains 2 identically sized receptacles, neither of which feature prongs to adapt to smaller diameter cups. As a result, my co-pilot was forced to stabilize a Starbucks “tall” size cup by hand, rather than rely on the sloppy fit of the holder. These shortcomings are a surprise in a cabin that is otherwise thoughtfully designed, with unexpectedly lavish attention to detail.

For example, the clutch, brake and accelerator “sport” pedals are furnished with slip free surfaces fashioned from rubber and aluminum that match the threshold scuff plates. This intricate bright work looks like it belongs on a Ferrari, not a bargain Scion. Likewise, the dash face looks suitably business like and racy thanks to a faux carbon fiber strip that garnishes the understated interior with just the right touch of glamour. Red contrasting stitching on the steering wheel, seat bolsters and door kick plates are the only traces of flamboyance in the tightly focused driving environment Scion has perfected here.

2014 Scion FR-S

The 215/45R17 Bridgestone Turanza R400 tires provide a slight handling improvement over the Michelin all-season radials fitted to previous FR-Ss throughout the first year of production. But given this coupe’s inherent balance and grip, it cries out for the stickiest aftermarket tires you can afford. If this FR-S landed in my garage on a permanent basis, it would be wearing a set of BFG, or Hoosier soft compound autocross rubber that would transform it into the go-kart Scion meant to be at birth.

2014 Scion FR-S

  • Engine: 2.0 liter opposed 4 cylinder DOHC, 16 Valve
  • Horsepower: 200hp
  • Torque: 151lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 22 MPG City/30 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $25,455
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2014 Chrysler 300S

Thursday November 20th, 2014 at 8:1111 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2014 Chrysler 300S

By David Colman

Hypes: Perfect Ride/Handling Compromise, Value Pricing
Gripes: Overstuffed Front Chairs

Chrysler offers more varieties of its 300 sedan than Baskin Robbins sells flavors of ice cream. Our test car this week, the 300S, stands tall as a best buy in the 300 model range. It offers excellent performance and handling with enough luxury amenities to make you wonder how Chrysler can build it for a base price of just $34,395. Of course, this wouldn’t be a press test car without a substantial list of options, so add $1,995 for Customer Preferred Package 22G (Blind Spot Detection, Park Sense, Adaptive Speed Control, Forward Collision Warning). Tack on another $895 for Bi-Xenon HID Headlamps, $1,595 for the Dual Pane Panoramic Sunroof, and $995 for an infotainment system that features Garmin Navigation. So you’re out the door price swiftly rises to $40,870. Is the 300S still a best buy at that elevated figure? You bet it is.

Among the varietals of 300, the 300S offers the best compromise between economy and performance. It utilizes the fuel efficient 3.6 liter V6 to achieve a reputable 31MPG on the highway. Yet this engine, in its elevated “S” stage of tune, is sophisticated enough to produce 300hp and 264 lb.-ft. of torque. That’s 8hp and 4 lb.-ft. more than the base 300′s V6. Chrysler couples this S engine to its new 8-speed automatic gearbox, so you have a huge range of gear ratios to select for every application. Need more than 300hp? If so, opt for either the 5.7 liter HEMI (363hp) or the monster 6.4 liter HEMI (470hp). Either of those optional V-8s are available in the 300S, but neither of them use the slick new 8-speed “Autostick” transmission. Rather, both make do with a 5-speed automatic, and both will barely break 20MPG in highway cruising.

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Besides the up-rated motor, the following improvements set the S apart from other 300 models: performance tires, sport mode, fog lamps, premium sound system, power seats, passenger lumbar adjustment, keyless start, universal garage door opener, remote engine start, security system and back-up camera. You will also discover discrete “300S” identifiers on the trunk lid and the front seat headrests. The most obvious clue to S identity resides in the wheel wells, where handsome, rugged looking 8×20 inch “Black Aluminum” wheels support beefy Firestone Firehawk GT radials measuring 245/45R20 at all corners. These alloys are actually finished in a dark vapor chrome that demands use of mild soap and water and soft cloth ONLY for cleaning. In concert with the S’s “4- wheel independent touring suspension,” this big Chrysler combines adept handling with a relaxed ride that comes close to achieving the ideal compromise between two disparate goals. The Firehawk tires, an unusual choice for an OEM application, play a significant role in adding traction while calming the ride. The other factor playing into the performance equation is the “Sport Mode” feature of the S model, which firms up the damping of the electronically adjustable shock absorbers while also resetting shift points for maximum acceleration. To select Sport Mode, simply pull the floor-mounted Autostick lever back into its rear most “S” slot. The gearbox will then remain locked in whatever gear you select.

2014 Chrysler 300S

The luxuriant cabin of the 300S is enhanced by the panoramic sunroof. Because the beltline of the 300 is relatively high, the side windows are necessarily short. This might lead to a touch of claustrophobia were it not for the huge overhead light source provided by the double pane roof. The elegantly understated detailing of the 300′s interior will exceed your expectations for a car in this price range. Chrysler’s selection of seat material, headliner fabric, and dashboard covering all blend harmoniously to form a comfort zone that you will always look forward to enjoying. Although I found the front seats to be a bit overstuffed, the driving controls are so well placed in relation to the leather rimmed steering wheel that everything falls readily to hand. Particularly appreciated are the stubby flaps just behind the wheel rim that allow you to control transmission gear choice manually. With 8 nicely spaced ratios from which to choose, you will never be at a loss for the proper gear.

2014 Chrysler 300S

The 300S is the perfect sedan choice for someone who relishes fast but efficient transportation for 4 adults. While the S’s V6 will never match the torque nor head snapping performance of the optional HEMI V8s, you won’t find yourself making fuel stops nearly as often either. Chrysler advertising touts the 300 as being “Imported – from Detroit.” In fact, it would be more accurate to say that the 300S is “Imported from Canada,” where it is assembled (Brampton, Ontario) from an engine made in the USA and a transmission constructed in Mexico. Despite that, the 300S is as American as you can get. Brawny motor, luxo-cabin trappings, startling styling, and domestic pricing. This one is an all around winner.

2014 Chrysler 300S

  • Engine: 3.6 liter V6, 24 Valves with VVT
  • Horsepower: 300hp
  • Torque: 264 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 19 MPG City/31 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $40,870
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Audi A3 1.8T FWD

Wednesday November 19th, 2014 at 12:1111 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Audi A3 1.8T FWD

By David Colman

Hypes: Best Value Audi of All
Gripes: MMI computer interface system needs work

Shopping for an Audi is like shopping for a suit at Brooks Brothers. Audi’s top line models such as the A8 are equivalent to custom tailored Brooks Brothers dress ware in terms of price and quality. At the other end of the spectrum is their mass produced sedan, our A3 test car. Yes, it too carries the Audi name, but like a Brook Brothers “346″ Outlet Store suit, it offers less costly admittance to the store through the side door. Our A3 is really Audi’s loss leader, with its base price of just $29,900. Even decked out with a smattering of extras (Glacier White Metallic paint for $550, Navigation Plus for $1,900, Cold Weather Package for $500, Aluminum Style Package for $450), this Audi slides out the dealer’s front door for just $34,195. Welcome to your back row balcony seat in the Audi/torium.

2015 Audi A3 1.8T FWD

Conspicuously absent from this A3′s standard fitment is Quattro, Audi’s all-wheel-drive system. The entry level model is a front-wheel-drive sedan, powered by Volkswagen’s turbocharged 1.8 liter inline 4, making 170hp and 200 lb.-ft. of torque. The engine drives the front wheels through an “S Tronic” 6-speed automatic gearbox. If you want Quattro you’ll need to pay $3,000 to upgrade to the 2.0 liter engine and all-wheel-drive version of the A3. If you are familiar with current VW products like the Golf, Jetta and Passat, the A3 will feel very familiar. The 1.8 liter turbo takes some judicious management via the shift lever to deliver maximum thrust. Unfortunately, you can only swap gears manually with the floor stick itself, as the steering wheel lacks paddles for shift changes.

Since the A3′s suspension geometry derives largely from that of the VW Golf, handling is dependably sure footed. Even when the first rains of winter slickened the oily pavement, the A3 stuck to its line through a succession of testy curves. The Audi’s simplified 5-spoke “star design” alloy wheels mount Continental Sport Contact tires (225/45R17) at each corner. Speed sensitive electronic power steering transfers information from the front contact patches of the Continental tires to your hands with informative alacrity.

2015 Audi A3 1.8T FWD

You can perform some neat parlor magic tricks by inserting the ignition key into the slot of the driver’s door and holding it to the right. This will close all open windows and sunroof as well as locking the car. Turn and hold it the other way and you’ll open and unlock all windows and sunroof. The Panorama sunroof is notable for its extravagant size and nicely finished sliding interior shade panel. The front seats are definitely a grade above VW issue. Finished with leather surface, the driver’s seat offers 12 way adjustment, though fore and aft travel is curiously manual. The passenger’s seat makes do with manual adjustment for rake and slide, and both seats could do with more lateral bolster support. The rear seats fold flat in a 60/40 split. The A3 also enjoys a cavernous trunk with a sub-floor compartment for space saver spare, jack and small tool roll. The MMI navigation color display ingeniously pops out of the dash when you start the A3, and becomes the focal point for all your climate, navigation and entertainment needs. In an effort to keep the dash face free of incidental controls, Audi moved nearly all switches to the center tunnel surface between the seats. You will struggle to figure out exactly what the big knob controls without taking your eyes off the road. The system verges on dysfunctional. Relocation of the radio volume knob to the center console is particularly annoying. On the other hand, Audi has produced the very best vent controls in the car business. Each of the 4 gaping supply orifices on the dash face are encircled by knurled aluminum rings that can be twisted to admit more or less air. Absolutely brilliant engineering.

2015 Audi A3 1.8T FWD

The A3, which is built by Audi in Hungary, presents an affordable route to Audi ownership for the new car buyer. For this kind of money, you won’t get Audi’s trademarked Quattro system, but you will enjoy a level of build quality, sleek German Bauhaus design, and responsive performance that is hard to match for the price.

2015 Audi A3 1.8T FWD

  • Engine: 1.8 liter inline DOHC 16-valve 4, turbocharged and intercooled, direct injection
  • Horsepower: 170 @ 6,200rpm
  • Torque: 200lb.-ft. @ 1,600rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 23 MPG City/33 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $34,195
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

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