Home Consumer Product Reviews Forums Photos Videos Expert Reviews News Register Login Search

Review: 2014 Nissan 370Z Nismo

Tuesday March 18th, 2014 at 12:33 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Race Car For The Street
Gripes: Poor Outward Vision

You’ve got to love a car company that specifies — on the window sticker no less — what size and brand of tires you’re guaranteed to receive as standard equipment. In the case of Nissan’s speed equipment special, the Nismo 370Z, nothing but the best in ultra high performance rubber will do. You automatically get Bridgestone Potenza S001 tires measuring 245/40R19 front and 285/35R19 rear, affixed to Rays brand forged alloy rims. And yes, Nissan also specifies the brand name of the rims on the window sticker, and requires that they be forged rather than cast. Why all the fuss about this car’s footprint? The Nismo Z is all about handling prowess, and since wheels and tires make the most important contribution to ultimate grip, Nissan has selected the best tires and wheels for their hottest handling Z.

The rest of the specification list is just as clearly focused on high performance. The suspension system, for example, is tuned with model specific sway bars, struts and shocks that are much stiffer than those of the standard 370Z. A beautifully crafted 3-point front strut tower brace ties the front suspension’s top shock mounts to the firewall for added rigidity. These competition bred measures result in handling precision and levels of grip rarely experienced in anything with a license plate. The Nismo rides very hard because the suspension is so taut that it allows nearly zero compliance over bumps. Certain undulations even cause the Z to buck like a porpoise, but these comical moments are more than offset by the incredible adhesion this chassis affords on curving roads. If you’re in the market for the ultimate handling sports car, look no further.

Nissan also goes to extreme lengths to bring the engine and brakes up to the refinement level of the suspension. The engine’s crankshaft and camshafts receive a micro polishing treatment that helps reduce internal engine friction. The Nismo’s 3.7 liter V-6 makes 350hp and 276 lb.-ft. of torque compared to the regular issue 370Z’s 332hp and 270lb.-ft. The enormous front and rear disc brakes get the Nissan “Sport” treatment, with high rigidity braided stainless steel hoses feeding special R35 brake fluid to the six piston front, and four piston rear calipers. Thus, the brake pedal is always reassuringly hard and predictable.

Both the interior and exterior of the Nismo receive special attention to distinguish this model from lesser Zs. The 8-way adjustable driver’s seat and the 4 way adjustable passenger’s seat offer lateral support commensurate with the high side loadings this car generates. Both seats sport Nismo embroidered badges on their headrests. Not only are they supportive and comfortable over long hauls, but surprisingly easy to climb in and out of. The 3-spoke steering wheel too is a work of art, with a red band incised into the top dead center position, new suede grips at the 9 and 3 o’clock positions, and just enough controls to facilitate radio selection without overdoing the array. Outside, the Nismo, in white, looks as menacing as Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, with a great gaping maw of a grill just waiting to suck up slower cars ahead. And trust me, with this car, all the rest are slower. To match the dive planes of the front spoiler, there’s a fat chorded rear wing, plus kick out rails on the rocker panels that make this Z look even wider than it is. Red accent pinstripes across the snout and exterior mirrors distinguish the Nismo visually from any other 370Z. One gander at this exotic looking Z renders the need for the Nismo rear nameplate superfluous.

Besides its bone jarring ride, the ultra Z suffers from an affliction that also burdens every 370Z: poor side and rear vision. The problem starts right under your nose, where the wide A pillars of the windshield, together with fat exterior rear mirrors, conspire to block side vision for a foot on either side of the car. To the back, the wing’s placement further reduces vision through the Z’s mail slot of a rear window. To alleviate the problem, Nissan has added a very useful standard rear backup camera which projects its image in the left quadrant of the inside rear view mirror when reverse gear is engaged. This placement is far superior to those which use a dash mounted screen that diverts your eyes from the mirror you should be looking at. Still, backing the Nismo Z out of a parking spot into traffic is an unpleasant chore. You soon find yourself parking only in spots you can vacate by driving off straight ahead.

In sum, the Nismo Z offers the finest pure driving experience you can buy for under $50,000. Nothing comes close to its combination of leech like handling, impressive acceleration, and bad boy good looks.

2014 Nissan 370Z Nismo

  • Engine: 3.7 liter DOHC V6
  • Horsepower: 350hp
  • Torque: 276lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 18 MPG City/26 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $46,370
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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


Review: 2014 Toyota Tundra 4×2 LTD Crewmax 5.7 V8

Monday March 17th, 2014 at 4:33 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: More Spacious Than a Texas Prairie
Gripes: Slab Seats, Uninspired Interior Trim

Do you want the good news or the bad news? Okay, let’s start with the news for the glass half full brigade. 2014 marks the debut of the all-new third generation Tundra, with redesigned fenders, grill, bed and interior. Thanks to an acre of dazzling frontal chrome, the revamped Tundra looks just as imposingly monstrous as the competition from Ford, Chevy, GMC and Ram. Since size matters most in the truck market, Tundra has more space than ever to offer potential customers. More grill, more bed, more interior, and unfortunately, more weight. This latest iteration weighs nearly 3 tons. 5.7 liters of 381hp V8 is thus heavily taxed when asked to haul 5,899 pounds of truck. Consequently, the bad news is 13 MPG in city driving and 18 MPG on the highway, for an EPA overall rating of 15 MPG.

But the poor mileage penalty is offset by this rig’s imposing straight line performance. The 5.7 liter Tundra posts a 0-60 MPH time of just 6.7 seconds, and runs the standing start quarter mile in 15.2 seconds at 91 MPH. Those times are nothing short of stunning for such a behemoth, making it the decathlete of the sport truck world. Embellishing the Olympic swiftness is a sensationally inexpensive handling package guaranteed to plant this high rider firmly on the pavement. For just an extra $135, the TRD Off-Road Package replaces standard 20 inch alloy rims with black-spoke TRD 18 inch alloys shod with Michelin LTX AT2 tires. These Michelins have a higher sidewall profile (275/65R18) than the 20 inch tires (275/55R20) normally delivered with a Tundra. That 10mm of added sidewall height sucks up chuckholes off road, as well as potholes on road. The package also includes bright blue Bilstein shock absorbers, skid plates under the engine and gas tank, and front tow hooks. If you added these accessories individually, you’d spend well over a thousand dollars.

This Tundra is designed from the ground up to tow enormous payloads. Toyota provides as standard equipment a receiver hitch, 4 and 7 pin electrical connectors, 4.3:1 rear axle ratio, transmission oil cooler, and heavy duty battery and alternator. You also enjoy a “Tow/Haul Mode” setting for the 6-speed automatic gearbox. So you can believe those ads showing the new Tundra towing the space shuttle Endeavor to its final resting place in L.A. The towing capacity of our test Tundra is 10,000 pounds. If you opt for 4WD, maximum tow rating decreases to 9,500 pounds.

The 3rd generation Tundra has also added a new model to the lineup called “1794″ in honor of the JLC cattle ranch where the Tundra is built in Texas. The 1794 artfully emulates the look of a wild west saloon, hence matching decked out competitors like the High Country Silverado offered by Chevrolet. But the interior of our LTD lacked the finery of the 1794. In fact, its gray plastic came off as a bit cheerless and drab. The front seats, while heated and leather trimmed, are flat and unsupportive. But everything about the cab is huge, with massive dash vents, stick shift, steering wheel, mirrors and step-in, seemingly designed around six and a half foot tall occupants. There’s enough rear seat legroom for three adults to stretch their legs. Compared to the 145.6 inch wheelbase of the standard cab Tundra, the extended Crewmax’ WB measures 164.5 inches. The back seat bunch is well catered to, with air vents and 120V, 12 amp AUX socket in the floor console, plus flop down center arm rest. The rear seats also fold vertically, flat against the cab back wall to create a storage unit half again as big as the 5’5″ double walled bed of the pickup.

If you can live with the Tundra’s mileage shortfall, you’ll find this 3rd generation version Toyota greatly improved. Standard features include a rear backup camera and trailer sway control. The rear bed is surrounded by plastic-capped bedrails, and includes a deck rail system with 4 adjustable tie-down clamps. A $365 bed liner is a bargain option. Since the Tundra stands 75.7 inches tall, climbing aboard would present a problem without the $595 optional running boards. Even with such a full bevy of extras, however, the bottom line is just $41,280. For that kind of money, you’ll be hard pressed to match the performance, tow capacity and acceleration combo of the Tundra with anything from Ford, Chevy, GMC or Ram.

2014 Toyota Tundra 4×2 LTD Crewmax 5.7 V8

  • Engine: 5.7 liter DOHC , 32 Valve V8 with Dual Independent VVT-i
  • Horsepower: 381hp
  • Torque: 401 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 13 MPG City/18 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $41,280
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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


Review: 2013 Mini Cooper S Paceman All4

Friday March 14th, 2014 at 12:33 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Exceptional Handling for an SUV
Gripes: Seats Harder Than Week Old Bread

The bottom line on the Paceman is 600 pounds. That’s how much more weight this enlarged capsule carries compared to the base model Cooper S (3,110 lbs. vs. 2,535 lbs.). Think of it as a maxi MINI. Imagine stuffing your base Cooper S with three 200 pound passengers. That kind of load numbs the quick response MINI has claimed as its birthright since 2003. The Paceman isn’t a slug by any means, but thanks to the laws of physics, its performance can’t compare to the immediacy of the original Cooper S. Now you might assume that because the Paceman is substantially larger than the Cooper S, it gains in practicality what it loses in zip. And the 4 door Paceman does gain an edge in that regard, since it’s 16 inches longer, 5 inches lengthier in wheelbase, and doubles the cargo space of the base MINI from 6 to 12 cubic feet. But our test Paceman, in 2 door coupe configuration, fails to maximize these gains because the rear seat is virtually inaccessible. The best option for owners of the Paceman coupe is to fold both rear seats flat and use all 12 cubic feet of interior space as a pickup bed. For example, this configuration would be ideal for transporting multiple canines in comfort.

Paceman shares the same turbocharged, direct fuel injected engine as the Cooper S. This potent inline 4 makes 181hp and 192 lb.-ft. of torque. A John Cooper “Works” edition is optionally available, with 208hp and 207 pounds of torque. Our test Paceman, configured with the base motor, returned 26 MPG in combined city and freeway driving. That’s excellent, considering that this test car also included all-wheel-drive, a $1,700 option that tends to decrease mileage. MINI-speak deems AWD “All4,” and emblazons that information on both front quarter panels. In addition to driving all 4 wheels, our Paceman benefited from a quartet of expensive optional 19 inch alloys (“Y Spoke Silver”) that added premium Pirelli P Zero tires (225/40R19) to the handling mix. At the expense of some comfort, these Pirellis, coupled to the 2013 Paceman’s standard sports suspension, made for an endearingly precise but bumpy ride. Note that for 2014, MINI has softened the standard issue springing and shocks, and made sports suspension a no-cost option.

The front seats were less gripping than a Hitchcock mystery. They’re flat and hard with little lateral restraint on offer. They were, however, heated, as part of a $750 optional Cold Weather Package that also provides power folding heated mirrors, and heated washer jets for the wipers. The configuration of the Paceman’s interior has been a MINI staple since the model line was launched more than a decade ago, and it’s getting long in the tooth. In particular, the huge analog speedometer occupying the center of the dash looks a bit overdone these days, since the same information is concisely conferred digitally with a readout in the tachometer located right under your nose. The “Comfort Access keyless entry” ($500 extra) is nice because the doors unlock automatically as you approach the Paceman. But once inside, you need to insert the lozenge sized fob right side up into its dash shot (which is hidden from view) before you can press the Start Button adjacent to the fob. The whole operation is too demanding of time and attention and makes you yearn for an old fashioned twist key.

Although the Paceman All4 may feel lethargic and tubby compared to a base Cooper S, you need to think of this package in different terms. You need to compare it to the bevy of more conventional compact SUVs available across the mid-price range. These invariably stand taller than the Paceman, and are thus much less fun to drive (and own), since a higher center of gravity impedes handling. These competitors also lack the immediate punch of the MINI’s turbo 4, as well as the sizeable footprint of its Pirelli boots. When you look at this highly specialized model line variant from that perspective, you’ll realize Paceman leaves your elixir goblet half full rather than half empty.

2013 Mini Cooper S Paceman All4

  • Engine: 1.6 liter inline 4, DOHC 16 valve, turbocharged, direct injection, Valvetronic
  • Horsepower: 181hp
  • Torque: 192 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 23 MPG City/30 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $39,800
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

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


Review: 2014 Fiat 500L

Thursday March 13th, 2014 at 9:33 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Incredible Greenhouse, Two-Level Rear Trunk Platform
Gripes: Pulsation in Steering, Uncomfortable Rear Seats

The L version of the Fiat 500 is a completely new offering for 2014. Although it shares many styling cues with the 500, like a snub nose and bobbed tail, the 500 is substantially larger, hence more practical as a family transport. Parking the L next to a standard 500 drove home the size difference in a way no set of statistics could. With the tails of both Fiats aligned, the L’s nose projects half a parking slot past that of the 500. The extra length of the L gives you 21.3 cubic feet of storage with seating for 5. The 500 offers just 9.5 cubic feet when 4 are seated. Unfortunately, what’s been lost in the enlargement is cuteness. Where the diminutive 500 looks adorable from any angle, the L looks like a 500 that’s eaten too much pasta. In fact, the L is reminiscent of the Multipla, an inflated version of the original 500 Fiat built back in the 1960s.

When you buy an Abarth version of the 500, Fiat reminds you of that fact with close to 20 separate ID badges. When you buy the L, which is powered by the same 1.4 liter turbo that propels the Abarth, you won’t find a single indication of that historical lineage. Like the Abarth 500, the L produces a healthy 160hp and 184 lb.-ft. of torque. That’s more than enough to expedite freeway merges. Even back roads passes are possible, provided you’re in the right gear for maximum acceleration. Our test Fiat’s base price of $24,195 included a 6-speed “Euro Twin Clutch Transmission” which was both a blessing and a nuisance. In the blessing department, the automatic saved us from miles of clutch thrashing during a rush hour descent toward the Golden Gate Bridge when 5 lanes merged into 2 at rush hour. On the other hand, we would have preferred the available 6-speed manual gearbox for most of our week with the L because the automatic was frustratingly slow to respond to specific gear selection commands. Having driven an Abarth 500 with a manual stick shift, I know how much fun this engine package can be. In comparison, the L’s Euro Twin Clutch is rather a disappointment.

When seated in the cockpit of the L, you feel like you’re flying an airplane. The view from the front reminded me of a glider flight I piloted thanks to the greenhouse-like airiness of the Fiat’s window structure. In particular, a couple of enormous vent window panes promote vision to frontal quadrants usually obscured from view. A similar pair of panes wrap around the rear pillars of the roof, affording excellent sight lines to the rear. A $950 optional Power Sunroof completes the transparency formula. Out on the open road, the L buzzes along in the 60-70mph range with minimum wind and road noise. Thanks to its interior spaciousness and its all around vision, the L is much easier to drive on the freeway than the cramped 500. Lane changes in the L are especially easy. By contrast, the post behind the driver’s door in the base 500 makes every lane change a dicey proposition. Handling, however, is just adequate, even with extra cost ($500) 17 inch alloys wheels with 225/45R17 Goodyear Eagle LS2 tires. A curious pulsation in the power steering system on curvy roads eroded confidence in the L’s level of grip.

After 3 straight hours in the L on an extended drive from San Rafael to Carmel, the new Fiat proved its mettle by using just half a tank to reach destination. In fact, I made the return trip on the same tank as well, and averaged close to 33 MPG for the duration of my week with the car. However, extended time in the back seat is definitely not recommended. The seat cushions are rock hard, the back rest angle is barely adjustable and too upright, and there are no courtesy lights for reading. This hostel-like lack of amenities is a shame, because rear leg room is spacious. The front seat situation is considerably better, thanks to supportive lounge chairs with standard heating, one-touch electric power windows, and remote keyless entry, all included in the base price.

You do, however, need to insert the switchblade-like folding key into the ignition slot in order to get started. A minor ergonomic annoyance develops when you manually position the steering wheel in its lowest position. This setting, which is the least bus-like of those available, obscures the upper half of the dashboard from view. If it weren’t for the digital speed read out, which duplicates the hidden speedometer needle, you’d never know how fast you’re travelling.

Despite such minor ergonomic quibbles, the 500L is a practical, sizeable and affordable addition to the Italian brigade. While it may not be as cute as its little brother, the L will prove infinitely more practical to own in the long run.

2014 Fiat 500L

  • Engine: 1.4 liter Inline 4 MultiAir Turbo
  • Horsepower: 160hp
  • Torque: 184lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 24 MPG City/33 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $27,445
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

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


Review: 2014 Chevrolet Silverado High Country 4WD Crew

Wednesday March 12th, 2014 at 3:33 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Subtle Redo, Off the Chart Interior, Huge HP and Torque
Gripes: Needs Better Contoured Front Seats

Although it may not look all that different from its immediate predecessor, the 2014 Silverado shares virtually nothing with the 2013 Silverado. What it does have in common, however, are styling keynotes that distinguish Chevy pickups from any other brand: horizontally split grill, massive hood bubble, and stacked dual headlights. Design departure for ’14 is limited to boxy new fender flares front and rear, sculpted tailgate with handy bumper step indentations, and opening rear cab pass-through window. There’s bigger news under that power bulged hood, because Chevy has upgraded all available engines in the 1500 line, using direct fuel injection for added power, and cylinder deactivation for improved mileage ( “Active Fuel Management”). Our Deep Ruby Metallic High Country 4WD, stood a couple of hands higher than an Arabian Stallion. Thanks to its optional 6.2 liter V8 Ecotec ($1,995), this Silverado made as much power as 420 horses. Torque is rated at 460 lb.-ft., with 14 MPG on tap around town, and a laudable 20 MPG on the highway. The 6.2 drives through a 6-speed automatic transmission coupled to a 2 speed transfer case, an auto locking rear differential, and a 3.42:1 rear axle ratio. Standard equipment includes trailer sway control, and a handy shift lever mounted button for optimizing engine/gearbox performance while towing. All these features make the new Silverado an ideal candidate for towing heavy payloads. Chevy rates our test vehicle’s trailer capacity at 9,500 lbs. If you opt for the available 3.73:1 rear axle ratio, your tow rating increases to 11,800lbs. but your gas mileage will suffer.

If towing isn’t your game, there are still plenty of virtues to appreciate here. Topping the list is the spectacular new High Country Premium Package ($1,345) which finally moves the Silverado’s interior into deluxe fantasyland territory previously occupied by Ford (King Ranch), Ram (Laramie Longhorn), and now Toyota (1794). In fact, Chevy’s treatment of this wildly popular Western Frontier look is by far the most muted and palatable of those on offer today. Both front and rear seats are trimmed in a baseball glove amber leather with stunning oyster piping. The front seats look so deeply bucketed and inviting that sitting in them is something of a letdown. They would benefit from more side and thigh padding. Standard heating and ventilation partly compensates for lack of support. The High Country trimmings also include mountain logo threshold kick plates and nifty matching embroidery in the seat headrests.

Your $1,345 also buys you a heated steering wheel, and a welcome built-in trailer brake controller. High Country includes a bevy of safety nannies like front and rear park assist, forward collision alert and lane departure warning. With a truck this big and ungainly, it’s nice to know where your bow and stern lie since direct sightlines are impeded. If you get too close to an object, Chevy has invented a new method to warn you of impending collision. It’s called seat alert because your seat cushion automatically begins to vibrate in the event of proximate danger. This attention getter also warns of an impending forward collision, as well alerting you to traffic on either side. In an impending frontal crash, a series of red warning lights simultaneously flash across the base of the windshield.

Only the Silverado 1500 series receives the makeover for 2014. If you are planning to buy a 2500 or 3500 series Chevy truck, you’ll have to wait for 2015 when GM will complete their transition to the new pickup platform. In addition to the lusty 6.2 liter motor in our test vehicle, Chevy also offers a new 4.3 liter V6 (285hp) and a mid-size 5.3 liter V8 (355hp). Despite its somewhat limiting EPA rating of 17MPG overall, the 6.2 liter V8 will make a believer of you the instant you hit the gas pedal to pass slower traffic or tow a major load over the Sierras. This combo is good for 14.6 second quarter mile runs at 96MPH.

Chevy has improved the steering feedback and overall handling of the Silverado by equipping it with low profile Goodyear Eagle LS2 tires (265/55R20) mounted on somewhat garish 10 spoke, 20 inch chrome rims that match the chrome running boards (which are a $700 option). The High Country Silverado handles any assortment of twists and turns with studied aplomb. The only jarring note is the occasional speed bump or mismatched pavement seam that will suddenly rattle you to the core. This one chink in the armor is just about the only sign that you’re actually driving a heavy duty truck and not some benign and cultured luxury sedan. That Chevy trucks have come this far is a testament to good engineering and a conviction by GM that you can have your cake and eat it too.

2014 Chevrolet Silverado High Country 4WD Crew

  • Engine: 6.2 liter V8 with Active Fuel Management
  • Horsepower: 420hp
  • Torque: 460lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 14 MPG City/20 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $52,475
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

Posted in Chevrolet, Expert Reviews, Feature Articles |Tags:, , , || 1 Comment »


Review: 2014 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid SEL

Thursday January 16th, 2014 at 4:11 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Creamy Electric Supplemented Torque Band
Gripes: Could Use More Rubber on Wider Rims

Generally speaking, you can’t put much stock in automotive advertising. But VW is right on the money when they say, “Most people don’t associate hybrids with being fun to drive.” In looking back over the many hybrids I’ve driven, from the first clumsy attempts by Toyota (Camry) to the latest from Ford (C-Max), the defining characteristic of the breed has been energy saving at the expense of performance. Again, to quote VW, hybrids are “Fuel efficient maybe, but definitely not something you’d actually want to drive.” With that frank admission out of the way, the marketers at VW go on to claim that their new 2014 Jetta Hybrid puts an end to that problem for good: “Now, instead of having a hybrid just to get you from here to there, our hybrids may be the first you’ll want to take everywhere.”

After having spent a week with the new Jetta Hybrid, I can recommend it without hesitation as a driver’s car first, and an energy saver second. Clearly, VW has their priorities right. As soon as you toe into the gas pedal on this Jetta, you’ll get the “driver’s car” bit because this little sedan lunges ahead with great brio as its combined sources of energy production meld together for instant zip. This Jetta is the world’s first turbocharged hybrid in the economy car class. Thanks to the instant surge of torque provided by the electric motor, the Jetta’s 170hp is more than enough to slingshot you past slower cars on 2 lane roads, or merge with 65mph freeway traffic instantaneously. Yet the fact that you’re feeding just a 1.4 liter turbo gas motor means you’ll enjoy exceptional fuel saving dividends. The EPA rates this hybrid at 42MPG city and 48 MPG highway. That puts it squarely in the highest rank of “10/10″ in the EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Rating spectrum.

So you can rest assured that you’re doing your bit to combat global warming while still owning a sedan that’s so much fun to drive you’ll have a hard time believing the buy-in is just $29,845. VW has substantially upgraded the Jetta line for 2014 with electronic power steering, 4 wheel disc brakes, and multi-link independent rear suspension. For such a hot sports sedan, the Jetta is remarkably unprepossessing to behold. It makes do with just 16 inch diameter alloy rims, tall 60 series all weather tires from Michelin (205/60R16), and no obvious air expediters. In other words, no cop worth donuts will give this VW a second look. It’s the stealth express.

Yet fly it does, with that new rear suspension clinging like a leech to even the worst road surface. The sizeable sidewalls of those Michelins absorb bumps like an additional springing device, so the Jetta manages to glide over potholes without ever deviating course or jiggling the passengers. Inside, VW treats you to its eternal verities of sound design, with large knobs for manipulating heat, air conditioning, fan and radio. You never need resort to a touch screen to carry out commands because VW, in their infinite wisdom, depend on pleasingly plump knobs for basic operational needs. However, the SEL does include an RNS 315 Touch Screen Navigation System as part of its standard equipment. The cockpit is business like, handsomely done, and so finely crafted that its Mexican build easily rivals anything VW constructs in Germany.

This is truly a serviceable family sedan, with enough legroom in back to keep a brace of 6 foot adults happy over long runs. Once nice feature for rear seat occupants is the space VW leaves open under the front seats, which gives back benchers a place to park their toes. Rear windows that drop nearly flush into rear doors, center armrest with drink caddies and storage bin, and wide opening rear doors make Jetta the perfect bargain choice for the real estate sales brigade.

Because VW has managed to build a product worthy of their advertising hype, the Jetta Hybrid SEL is the first dual energy source vehicle worth serious consideration by the sporting driver. You can honk this sleeper around town like a GTI while kissing off every other trip the gas station. What more could you want for 30 grand?

2014 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid SEL

  • Engine: 1.4 liter Hybrid TSI and Electric Motor
  • Horsepower: 170hp
  • Torque: n/a
  • Fuel Consumption: n/a MPG City/48 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $30,980
  • Star Rating: 9.5 out of 10 Stars

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


Review: 2014 Toyota Corolla LE Premium

Monday January 13th, 2014 at 11:11 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Refined Seating Area, Fresh Aero Face, Vast Rear Seat Legroom
Gripes: No Paddles on LE CVT

Corolla is Toyota’s Gold Glove Shortstop, in other words, their Franchise Player. With a completely redesigned entry for 2014, Toyota will almost certainly sell close to 300,000 Corollas in the coming year. Buyers will queue in droves for this most affordable and value rich Toyota of them all. Its base price, in mid-range LE form, is just $19,400.

Part of Corolla’s appeal lies in its seemingly endless choice of power train and trim combinations. There are 4 model lines (L,LE, LE Eco and S), subdivided into 11 drive and gearbox mutations. The LE range, subject of this test, is available in 3 flavors, CVT, CVT Plus and CVT Premium. The CVT designation refers to the transmission used across the LE range, a constantly variable transmission (hence “CVT”) coupled to a 1.8 liter inline 4 that is standard in all LE models. This double overhead cam engine, refined with variable valve timing, produces 132hp and 138lb.-ft. of torque. If you desire an up rated “Eco” motor, you can opt for the Eco or S model Corolla, and thereby gain 8 extra horses.

The 140hp S Plus is available with a 6 speed manual transmission, making it the only new Corolla with a gearbox containing real gears. If you enjoy the art of driving, the 6-speed S Plus will be your best option. The CVT in our test LE proved long on noise and short on performance. With only 3 range choices available (Drive, Sport and Braking), the base model CVT is constantly making decisions for you about engine speed that you would be better off making yourself. If you’re determined to go automatic, at least consider upgrading to the S model range, which includes paddle shifters and a “Sport” driving range to give you some manual control in optimizing engine performance.

Our LE Premium included the following improvements over the base model LE: 16 inch alloy wheels, integrated fog lights, SofTex trimmed, heated front seats, 8 way power adjustable driver’s seat, and 4 way adjustable front passenger’s seat with map pocket in the seat back. It’s curious that even in the Premium combo pack, Toyota didn’t see fit to include a map pocket in the driver’s seat back as well. The new for 2014, SofTex material, which Toyota touts as “elegant with the environment in mind,” is leather-like, but washable. It’s also very comfy. In fact, the redesigned interior is pleasingly benign and unobtrusive. A handsome beltline pinstripe of celestial blue garnishes the dash and door panels. Automatic Climate Control is standard on the LE Premium, operated with a simple, oversized single knob that’s a pleasure to use.

Parents buying children Corollas will love the fact that this entry level sedan contains 8 airbags to protect their progeny. On the other hand, the progeny will find that the strongest selling point of the new Corolla is Toyota’s suite of built-in Apps.

Of course, the connectivity costs extra, $1,510 for the “Driver Convenience Package” which brings you every conceivable manner of input: Entune Navigation and App Suite, AM/FM CD Player with MP3 and WMA Playback capability, USB 2.0 port with IPod connectivity, Hands Free Phone capability, Music Streaming via Bluetooth Wireless Technology, and 90 day free trial of XM Satellite Radio. This package includes so many distractive nuisances that it ought to be renamed the Driver Inconvenience Package. For staid old folks, the package also includes Smart Key Keyless Entry with push button remote for trunk unlatching.

Thus, the LE Premium, enhanced with the “Driver Convenience Package,” is going to be ground zero for buyers seeking an affordable living room on wheels. The fact that those 16 inch wheels are a little small for great handling, and shod with unimpressively diminutive all weather tires (Michelin Primacy MXV 205/55R16)) won’t matter a whit to symphonic sycophants more concerned with music playlists than apex angles.

2014 Toyota Corolla LE Premium

  • Engine: 1.8 liter DOHC inline 4 with VVT-i
  • Horsepower: 132hp
  • Torque: 128lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 29 MPG City/38 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $22,570
  • Star Rating: 7 out of 10 Stars

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


Review: 2014 Chevrolet Volt

Monday January 6th, 2014 at 2:11 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Bonanza for Cutting Edge Arrivistes
Gripes: Lose the CVT Tranny

Parking the Volt in the reserved spot of a recharging station at Sausalito’s Molly Stone grocery was a treat I had never before had the opportunity to enjoy. While food shopping for 35 minutes, the Volt supplied itself with 3.2kH of energy at no cost to me. This two slot charging station, which has been active for nearly a year, provides your first hour of charge free of cost, with subsequent time available at minimal expense. Going into overtime gives new meaning to the word “charge” card. It takes 4 hours at 240V to give this Chevy a full blast of electrical energy.

Free refills constitute the highpoint of Volt ownership. And there’s a lot to be said for letting someone else pick up your energy bill. In fact, those beneficent unseen others start picking up the slack for you the instant you buy a Volt because doing so qualifies you for a $7,500 federal tax credit. The dividends continue in the form of access to road surfaces others can’t use, like driving solo in HOV lanes at times of the day that would normally get you ticketed.

The downside of Volt ownership is the simple fact that this heavy, somewhat lethargic vehicle isn’t exactly a blast to drive when you’ve selected the “Normal” rather than the “Sport” setting on the Driving Mode selector switch. In Normal Mode, overall performance is adequate for most drivers. Acceleration is modest. The CVT transmission is the culprit in this equation. It gives you a choice of just two ranges: Drive and Low. Unless you are moving very slowly, Low is useless for increasing momentum, so you’re stuck with the Drive range only. But if you select Sport Mode, acceleration is notably spunkier, and the Volt becomes a pleasure to drive instead of a chore. Of course, you’ll pay the price in increased fuel usage, but the Volt is so much more fun in Sport that you’ll want to select this setting every time you climb behind the wheel.

The Volt’s Owner’s Manual is poorly segmented and indexed. It’s especially difficult to find any information about transmission usage, since there are no listings in the index for ‚ÄĚtransmission.” or “shifting.” The only reference appears in a chapter mysteriously headed “Electric Drive Unit.” Call outs for dashboard and instrument panel controls are inexplicably identified by number on one page, with functions keyed to those numbers on a following page. This causes you to flip back and forth constantly from page to page in order to decipher the diagrams.

Unlike the Owner’s Manual, Volt itself is a triumph of engineering. Unlike Nissan’s Leaf, which goes dead when its battery expires, the Volt will keep chugging long after the battery has died. The Xanax tablet for that range anxiety is the presence of Volt’s tiny displacement gasoline engine which Chevy calls a “Range Extender.” When the 1.4 liter gas engine propels the Volt without benefit of electrical power, you’re still good for 37 MPG, or just 2.7 gallons per 100 miles. In pure electric mode, the Volt posts a stunning figure of 98MPGe, or 35kH per 100 miles.

Thanks in part to its 5.5 foot long, 435 pound, lithium-ion battery pack, the Volt weighs 3,781 pounds. That near two ton curb burden becomes noticeable when you attack a series of corners on a back road. The low rolling resistance 16 inch tires don’t provide a lot of grip, so the front end tends to wash out early on corner entry. This behavior makes you lift throttle as the tires lose grip. In case you are slow to respond to the message from your contact patches, Chevy has th (oughtfully supplied the Volt with traction control and Stabilitrak stability management. Worst case scenario backs you up in the event of a collision with no fewer than 8 airbags and 3 years of free On Star auto crash response.

Inside the survival cell, the Volt is easy to love. It affords great sightlines in all direction. Even the somewhat veiled lower rear view benefits from a strategically placed glass panel. Our test Volt enjoyed augmented vision thanks to 2 optional Safety Packages. The first ($575) provided a useful beeper and camera to discern rear proximity issues, while the second ($595) included Front Park Assist and Camera, Lane Departure Warning, and Front Collision Alert. Chevy does a nice job of integrating these aids into your daily driving routine. Unlike so many similar offerings from other manufacturers, these Safety Packages never become intrusive.

The instrument binnacle of the Volt is intimidating. If you’re the kind of person who can read every piece of information on CNBC’s Squawk on the Street at the same time, you’ll love the Volt’s information center, because Chevy has crammed 35 separate pieces of news into your viewfinder. I learned to ignore 90 percent of them and was quite happy to do so.

The Volt is a marvel of technology. Its drive train is an engineering dream, a real home run. It’s still early enough in the model cycle to be the first on your block to claim admission to the 21st century. That you can do so for just $39,545, guarantees you a spot in the Acumen Hall of Fame.

2014 Chevrolet Volt

  • Engine: 1.4 liter inline 4 + Electric Motor
  • Horsepower: 149hp
  • Torque: 273 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 98MPGe/37 MPG Gasoline Only
  • Price as Tested: $39,545
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

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


Review: 2013 Ford Fusion Titanium AWD

Tuesday December 31st, 2013 at 11:1212 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Sweet Motor, Excellent Balance, Precise Handling
Gripes: Sharp Edges on Lower Steering Wheel Spoke

The Fusion ticks the “best ever” box in a number of departments for Ford. Its form fitting seats rate this accolade, for example, by providing such tightly molded support that you don’t want to leave them when you’ve reached your destination. The tailored looks of the Titanium Fusion are fetching enough to make you cast a parting glance at it every time you walk away. Interior furnishing are slick enough to convince you you’re driving a German built Audi, not a Ford made in Mexico. And the driving experience is precise enough to make you think you’re wheeling a BMW rather than a domestic product. So what’s the secret to all this success? Good design augmented by even better implementation.

The fun starts under the hood, where the 2.0 liter turbocharged “EcoBoost” engine makes a prodigious amount of horsepower (240hp) and torque (270lb.-ft.) given its modest displacement and excellent 25 MPG overall fuel consumption. In fact, it wasn’t long ago that any Grand Prix engine producing 120hp per liter would have landed in the winner’s circle at every Formula 1 race on the schedule. This direct injection gem of a Ford motor processes its fat torque curve through a creamy smooth 6 speed automatic gearbox featuring “SelectShift,” a proprietary Ford gear changing system that utilizes both a console lever and steering wheel paddles to manipulate gear choice. If you slot the console lever into the rearmost position designated by an “S” for Sport, the transmission automatically revises its program to favor use of lower gears, higher engine speeds, and faster shifts from gear to gear. In the Sport range, the diminutive paddles adjacent to your thumbs on the steering wheel become operational. In other words, the Fusion can be driven like a true sports sedan.

Fortunately, it also enjoys the kind of handling precision and all wheel drive traction that usually costs far more than the Fusion’s base price of $32,200 might suggest. The only optional item enhancing performance on this test car was a set of 19 inch alloy wheels for an extra $695. These “H-Spoke” dark stainless colored aluminum rims mounted beefy 235/40R19 Continental Conti Sport Contact tires that stuck to the pavement assiduously. Ford has snubbed the suspension movement of this Fusion effectively. It will cut apexes with the best sedans Europe has to offer. Those scooped bucket seats pin you in place while the taut springs and shocks do their job.

But we can keep the little secret about this car’s exceptional handling between us, because you can sell it to the family as a practical and safe means of transportation, and nothing more. After all, the 5-passenger Fusion scores high on the Institute For Highway Safety’s Rating System, with “Good” results on all 4 crash tests. Up front, standard dual stage airbags combine with knee bags to afford maximum driver/passenger protection. Side curtain airbags are also standard fitment. The rear seat is spacious and inviting, and the low beltline of the Fusion’s redesign for 2013 emphasizes outward visibility. Ford has also improved airflow over exterior surfaces by 10 percent, resulting in a corresponding increase in fuel economy at freeway speed.

The cockpit of the Fusion Titanium is a restful and well crafted space. I noted very close tolerances at the tricky joint where the dashboard meets the door panel. In fact the only interior demerit was a failed retraction spring on the passenger side grab handle which allowed the handle to dangle. Microsoft’s” MyFordTouch” computer system interface inhibits intuitive programming of the infotainemt system. But once you’ve mastered that hurdle, the system does work well. Below the removable coin holding tray in the compartment between the front seats. you’ll find a pair of memory stick receptacles which you can use to load all your musical choices into the Fusion’s memory. Ford uses Grace Note software for all disc and music file identification. Although our test Fusion boasted several expensive technological additions (including a $1,000 Driver Assist Package for lane keeping, a $995 radar Adaptive Cruise Control, and a $795 Parking Assist) you can easily do without any of them and still enjoy the many primary virtues of this sedan. However, a rear window wiper would be a useful option that Ford does not offer.

The Fusion Titanium AWD offers exceptional value, great comfort, and such sublimated driving pleasure that anyone canvassing the market for a sports sedan ignores this impressive Ford at their peril.

2013 Ford Fusion Titanium AWD

  • Engine: 2.0 liter inline 4, turbocharged, direct injection
  • Horsepower: 240hp
  • Torque: 270lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 22MPG City/31MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $37,670
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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


Review: 2014 Mazda3 5 Door GT

Wednesday December 11th, 2013 at 8:1212 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Responsive and Planted Handling, Loads of Standard Attributes
Gripes: Minuscule Tachometer Face

Those who lament the recent passing of Mazda’s sterling sports car, the RX8, will be thrilled to know that its sporting DNA lives on in the all new, third generation, 2014 Mazda3. No, this affordable sedan (Base price: $23,245) is not powered by the RX8′s iconic rotary engine. You’ll know that the second you check the fuel consumption figures for the Mazda3: 33 MPG overall — a figure the thirsty rotary could never dream of matching. Yet the “SKYACTIV-G” 2 liter engine in the sedan winds to its impressive redline of 6000 rpm with such alacrity that you’d swear a rotary power plant was lurking somewhere under the hood.

Likewise, this fully functional 5 passenger sedan manages to mimic the nimble handling of the departed RX8. In GT form, the 3′s attributes include such corner carving essentials as independent front and rear suspension, four wheel disc brakes, electric power assisted rack and pinion steering, and 16 inch alloy wheels shod with sticky Yokohama Avid 834 tires (205/60R16). Of course, the 3 is so innocuous looking that you’ll never have to share your Mazda’s secret sports car inclinations with anyone else. Except for the fully integrated and well disguised roof spoiler, you’ll find none of the clues typical of a high performance package: no low profile tires, no bulging fender wells, and most certainly, no stripes, or taping. Only dual chromed exhaust pipes make a slight concession to showiness. Otherwise, the long list of eliminations renders the new 3 perfect for fast motoring without drawing undue attention to itself. In view of the fact that Mazda bills itself as the Zoom-Zoom car company, the new 3 upholds the expectations of long time marque loyalists in every way.

The reason Mazda has sold more than 3.5 million versions of the 3 since it was introduced in 2004 is value. Even at this economic price point, our test car contained the following impressive list of standard features: keyless entry, moonroof, heated front seats, 7 inch color touchscreen display, navigation system, halogen headlights, and HD Radio as well as SIRIUSXM radio. The list of standard driving aids is equally lengthy, and includes dynamic stability control, traction control and hill launch assist. this last feature was particularly appreciated when starting our 6-speed manual transmission Mazda3 on inclines. Since the sleek profile of the 3 impedes rear 3/4 vision, the standard rear view camera and cross traffic alert serve as welcome safety inclusions. You don’t even have to check your tire pressures regularly because this Mazda does it for you every day thanks to its standard tire pressure monitoring system.

The 3′s level of fit and finish belies its low price. The leatherette trimmed front sports seats are supportive enough to cope with the considerable side loadings developed by the suspension. The driver’s seat is 6-way power adjustable, with manual lumbar control. The rear bench seat folds in a 60/40 pattern, and includes a drink-holder center armrest. The rear door design is so sleekly integrated into the car’s flowing lines that the 5-door 3 looks more like a coupe than a utilitarian hatchback. If you enjoy driving a responsive vehicle but need to keep your purchase practical, the new Mazda3 is an ideal choice.

2014 Mazda3 5 Door GT

  • Engine: 2.0 liter DOHC inline 4
  • Horsepower: 150hp @ 6000rpm
  • Torque: 150 lb.-ft. @ 4000rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 29 MPG City/40 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $24,335
  • Star Rating: 9.5 out of 10 Stars

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


« Previous Entries Next Entries »



latest reviews sidebar promo
latest reviews


latest news sidebar promo
latest news

Select a Category