Review: 2014 BMW M235i

Thursday August 21st, 2014 at 4:88 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2014 BMW M235i

By David Colman

Hypes: Track Loving Leech, Stealth Appearance
Gripes: No Passenger Grab Handle

The heart of this hot rod BMW is its splendid inline 6 cylinder turbo motor. Tuned to produce 320hp and 330lb.-ft. of torque, this quintessential BMW straight six is a joy to trot, canter or gallop. Although the engine produces maximum torque as low as 1,300rpm, you will be reluctant to reign in the sweet six before the tachometer sweeps past 6,000rpm. It’s one of the freest revving engines I’ve ever driven, with an exceptional proclivity for high rpm operation.

As a daily driver, the M235i passes the test with flying colors. It’s never temperamental, it has a sizeable trunk, and it will comfortably carry four adults should the need arise. Just park the gearbox in Drive, dial up the “Comfort” setting on the Driving Dynamics Control, and potter around town as if you were driving any conventional grocery getter. The M235i will make no demands of you whatsoever, in spite of its track bred pedigree.

2014 BMW M235i

If a stretch of freeway cantering should arise, you might want to crank the mode dial into “Eco Pro” to maximize mileage (32 MPG Highway). Closet racers will select the track oriented “Sport+” specification when riding this bronco at full gallop. For most driving, the “Sport+” choice is ideal. It stiffens the suspension, quickens the variable sport steering, and enhances the exhaust note. “Sport+” also replaces the car’s default setting of Dynamic Traction Control with Dynamic Stability Control, a sportier alternative which, as BMW points out, “allows the driver to handle several of the stabilization tasks.” It’s in this latter state of tune that the M235i really comes into its own.

The gear ratio splits of the Sport Automatic transmission are optimally configured for maximum acceleration. With 8 gears on hand, each successive up shift keeps the 3.0 liter on full boil. Best of all, when you get to the heart of the batting order – second, third and fourth gears – you hardly lose 500rpm with each up change.

You can climb into this diminutive coupe and instantly go fast. You really don’t have to fiddle with any of the Driving Dynamics controls BMW provides for optimization. The laws of physics infrequently overcome the inherent stability of this coupe, thanks to the beefy contact patches of its Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires (225/40 R18 front/245/35R18 rear).

2014 BMW M235i

Stylistically, the M package is so discrete that uninformed onlookers will hardly note its existence. Wind management, for example, is so conservatively handled that the stubby tail spoiler looks like the Gurney flap for a wing that’s missing. Subtle flutes and creases channel air through the triple honeycombed front grill slots. Thanks to sharply angled, auto-leveling, Xenon adaptive headlights, surrounded by LED “Corona” rings, this BMW greets you with the inscrutable masked gaze of the Lone Ranger. Out back, the deftly sculpted under tray incorporates marker lights and blackened exhaust finishers so subdued you hardly notice the car has twin pipes. The only flamboyant visual flourish is the use of silver metallic paint on the exterior rear view mirrors.

The indoor furnishings are equally buttoned down. Black on black is the byword here, with Black Dakota Leather sports seats held together by black stitching. The dash and door surfaces offer varying patterns of pebble grained black vinyl. Floor mats and carpeting are plush black velour, and even the fine wood trim inlays on the dash and door panels are striated ebony. Only the oversize M Sport dead pedal and entry kick plates shine with aluminum luster.

2014 BMW M235i

The power activated front seats are fully supportive without being confining. Depending on how much cornering resistance you need, you can notch the degree of pinch around your lower back electrically. The fat rimmed M Sport multi-function steering wheel provides a pair of protrusions designed to retain your thumbs at the proper 9 and 3 o’clock positions. Elongated alloy shift paddles feature rubberized edging for better control.

BMW’s latest Bavarian hot rod is an autobahn assassin. It’s beauty lies in the fact that it has more faces than Mount Rushmore. It’s adept at trundling and bundling. For touring it’s alluring. And for shredding it’s abetting. Car as mood ring, sympathetic to every personality trait from melancholia to mania. This BMW has the full range covered. And at just $49,025, it’s way cheaper and more fun than a long term shrink.

2014 BMW M235i

2014 BMW M235i

  • Engine: 3.0 liter in line 6, turbocharged, double VANOS valve actuation
  • Horsepower: 320hp
  • Torque: 330lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 22 MPG City/32 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $49,275
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2014 Cadillac ELR

Friday August 8th, 2014 at 3:88 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2014 Cadillac ELR

By David Colman

Hypes: Brilliantly Engineered, Scintillating Appearance, Practical Electric Application
Gripes: Hard to Access Rear Seat, Vacillating Brake Pedal

The allure of the electric car has never shined brighter than it does in Cadillac’s ELR. If your daily drive runs twenty to forty miles, you will never need to visit a gas station, or refill your fuel tank. The electric only range of the ELR is rated at 37 miles. In actual practice we rarely exceeded that figure during a week of daily errand running. Driving for free certainly gives you a different perspective on the car game. Just plug in your ELR when you come home each day, and let it recharge over night. GM provides a handy 120V “Travel Charge Cord” which will plug into any wall socket and refurbish a completely discharged battery so you’re ready to roll the next morning. Recharging time takes between 12 and 18 hours on 120V current.

2014 Cadillac ELR

The beauty of the ELR – unlike the Tesla or Nissan Leaf – is that this Cadillac will never leave you stranded if you deplete the battery while on a trip. If the lithium ion battery pack runs out of charge, the ELR’s 86hp, 1.4 liter gasoline engine assumes the chore of returning you home. If you plan on traveling long distances, the gas only range of the ELR is a healthy 340 miles.

Before the ELR, you had to be willing to make certain compromises in practicality and comfort in order to diminish your carbon footprint. For example, the Chevy Volt, upon which the ELR is based, has offered many of the same virtues as the ELR for several years now. But by comparison to the ELR, the Volt’s many hard edges make it uncomfortable to live with on a daily basis. By refining the Volt platform, GM has made the ELR much more inviting and fun to drive than its Chevy predecessor.

2014 Cadillac ELR

For example, new HiPer front struts replace the Volt’s MacPherson struts, a Watts linkage absent in the Volt adds control to the Caddy’s rear suspension, ZF power steering is superior to the Volt’s unit, and the ELR’s variable rate shock absorbers greatly improve ride quality. The ELR sits 0.7 in. lower than the Volt, and plants a much more substantial tire footprint on the ground. Instead of the Volt’s skinny, rock hard hyper-miler tires, the ELR utilizes premium sports sedan rubber: Bridgestone Potenza RE97 245/40R20 at all four corners. The Volt drives and feels like a $40,000 car, while this $82,135 Caddy will quickly convince you it’s worth all the extra money.

Few sensations in life are as satisfying as whizzing through back road curves fast enough to hear your sticky Bridgestone tires singing their song of adhesion. The reason you can hear this aria is that there’s absolutely no engine noise to drown out the sound of the tires. On full electric propulsion for those initial 37 miles each day, the ELR is utterly silent. You can listen to the shocks damping the bumps, or hear that ZF steering rack hum as you dial it through 2.5 turns from lock to lock. This is pleasure driving at its best, free from noise, free from smog and free of charge. Only the regenerative brakes, with their inconsistent engagement point, spoil the fun.

2014 Cadillac ELR

Inside the ELR, Cadillac has amped up the level of opulence to top tier level. This electric powered coupe’s luxury fitment gives nothing away to BMW, Mercedes or Audi competitors. Especially lovely is the optional Kona Brown full leather seat package ($2,450) which smells inviting every time you climb aboard. The mocha colored leather is glove soft, and the seats are exceptionally comfortable and adjustable (10 way power). Once you accustom yourself to Cadillac’s CUE control system, you will enjoy its ease of operation. For example, if you want to raise or lower the volume on your favorite music, just slide your finger along the V-shaped chrome bar below the Bose premium audio unit. Most of the controls operate in this fashion, with many having duplicate overrides on the steering wheel. You can even control your regenerative braking by using the paddles connected to the steering wheel. This Cadillac also offers a full range of driving modes, activated by a slide button on the center console. “Tour” is most useful for conserving energy, while “Sport” is essential for vigorous driving where passing is anticipated.

2014 Cadillac ELR

Although charging the ELR at home worked wonders for our needs, we found that the 240V charging stations located around the North Bay are annoyingly inconsistent with electric vehicle needs. For example, none of the units would release their plug without use of a special RFID proximity sensing charge card. This despite the fact they all claim to offer your first 2 hours of recharging for “free.” Unfortunately, free is no good if you can’t even release the plug from its locked receptacle to recharge your car. And the stations we checked each required different cards, with different 800 numbers to call for application. This brilliant electric Cadillac deserves better treatment than offered by these bogus facilities.

2014 Cadillac ELR

2014 Cadillac ELR

  • Engine: 1.4 liter inline 4 with port injection; 2 electric motor generators
  • Horsepower: 217hp (combined)
  • Torque: 295 lb.-ft. (combined)
  • Fuel Consumption: 33 MPG (Gas Only)/ 82 MPGe (Electric)
  • Price as Tested: $82,135
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2014 BMW 435i xDRIVE Coupe

Monday August 4th, 2014 at 10:88 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2014 BMW 435i xDRIVE Coupe

By David Colman

Hypes: Hyper Flashy Interior. 166mph Top Speed
Gripes: For $63K, They Could Put A Screwdriver in the Toolkit

BMW has introduced two new 4 Series coupes for 2014. What differentiates them is choice of engine. The 428i uses a turbo four cylinder engine, while the 435i offers a turbo six cylinder motor. Both are available in either rear wheel drive form or all-wheel-drive trim (which BMW calls xDRIVE). The top version of the 4 Series coupe is the 435i with xDRIVE, and this is the model we spent the last week exercising. Get a tight hold on the reins because it’s a mighty quick stallion. The 435 would is definitely the hot ticket for speed lovers. Its 3.0 liter turbo makes 300hp and 300lb-ft of torque. The 3,621 pound 435i, with its superior power-to-weight ratio of 12.07lb/hp, covers the Standing Start quarter mile in 13.7 seconds at 105mph, while posting a 0-60 run of 5.2 seconds.

Though the 428i and the 435i look much the same and share virtually identical structures, they are vastly different vehicles in feel and performance. For comparison purposes, you would do well to think of these two coupes in human terms. They represent the same person at different stages of the life cycle. The 428 is the youthful rebel, rambunctious, ready to party, a real back road butt kicker. But once the 428 gains a few years and a few pounds, it matures into the 435, graying slightly at the temples, a little thicker in the waist and thinner in the reflexes. These BMW coupes reinterpret BMW’s “ultimate driving machine” adage from different perspectives. The 428i is ultimate if you’re seeking hot laps with your tail and your tongue hung out. The 435i offers ultimate satisfaction if you aim to cover vast distance at a canter rather than a gallop.

2014 BMW 435i xDRIVE Coupe

The Coral Red Dakota Leather interior of our 435ix looks positively opulent. Just the thing for the mature swinger who still boogies to the Latin beat of Xavier Cugat. While purists might dismiss this kind of visual flamboyance in such a serious sporting BMW, the red and black combo really knocks your socks off. The heavily pebble grained seat leather adds another dimension to the gripping support afforded by these special seats that are part of the coupe’s $3,100 optional M Package. The 435ix carries a reasonable base price of $48,000, but posts a whopping bottom line of $63,725 due to the following additions: the aforementioned M Sport ($3,100), Cold Weather Package ($700), Driver Assistance Package ($950), Dynamic Handling Package ($1,000), Lighting Package ($1,900), Premium Package ($2,200), Technology Package ($3,150), M Sport Brakes (650), Concierge Services ($250) and Destination Charges ($925). I don’t know about you, but if I’m paying an extra $250 for “Concierge Services,” I expect a warm croissant and a cafe au lait be delivered to my Coupe every morning.

2014 BMW 435i xDRIVE Coupe

But these many additions do bring multiple benefits, such as a heated steering wheel, heated front seats, retractable headlight washers (Cold Weather Package); adaptive full LED lights, automatic high beams (Lighting Package); comfort access keyless entry, lumbar support, satellite radio with 1 Yr. subscription (Premium Package); navigation system with touchpad, Head-up display, remote services, BMW apps, enhanced smart phone (Technology Package). The heated steering wheel is a particularly welcome addition on chilly mornings, a most worthy substitute for that missing concierge. The graphics of the navigation system maps are spectacular, showing 3D topographical details that will take your breath away. The Head-up display, on the other hand, is something of a mixed bag. It plays your speed on the windshield, right under your nose. So there’s no excuse for pretending you didn’t know how fast you were going when the officer arrives to hear your tall tale. It also keeps you apprised of your cruise control setting, and instantly notes any changes to your prescribed speed. Unfortunately, the mirror face of the Head-up unit reflects itself in the windshield during sunny conditions, so you get a helping of glare with your order of info.

2014 BMW 435i xDRIVE Coupe

Although the 435i is slightly heavier, taller and more front weighted than its cheaper sibling, our test coupe had one big ace in the hole that was missing from the 428′s arsenal: all-wheel-drive. California State Route 175 connects the rural outposts of Hopland and Lakeport with 18 miles of the best driving roads you’ve ever traversed. On a midweek day, there was virtually no traffic in either direction to distract me from pushing the big BMW as hard as I dared. While it never seemed as light or agile as the 428i, it felt more planted and predictable than the four cylinder model when pushed to the limit. With the 19 inch Bridgestone run flat S001 tires (225/45R19 front, 255/40R19 rear) generating significant side bite, the 435ix refused to lose its tenacious grip on the pavement, no matter how hard I tried to conjure drift angles. While it may be lacking in drift challenge showboat potential, the 435ix is the BMW 4 Series coupe I’d chose for a cross country trip with bad weather in the forecast.

2014 BMW 435i xDRIVE Coupe

  • Engine: 3.0 Liter inline 6, Turbocharged and Intercooled
  • Horsepower: 3000hp
  • Torque: 300lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 20MPG City/30MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $63,725
  • Star Rating: 9.5 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited 4×4 Diesel

Friday August 1st, 2014 at 2:88 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited 4x4 Diesel

By David Colman

Hypes: Intuitive UCONNECT Interface, Stellar Diesel Cruising Range
Gripes: Doors Need Slamming for Closure

Jeep’s latest iteration of the Grand Cherokee line offers remarkable flexibility of use. It’s a tough truck, a comfy limo, and an economy ride, all rolled into one very handsome product. The truck part of the equation will take you just about anywhere on or off road, especially if you order your Jeep with the optional, “Trail Rated” $2,495 “Off Road Adventure II” package. In well appointed Limited trim, this spacious Jeep behaves more like a plush and expensive foreign bred sedan than a domestic sports utility. All the seats are heated, with 8-way adjustability for the front pair. The cabin is plush and quiet, and the new 8.4 inch dash-mounted touch screen offers more climate control and entertainment options than Microsoft’s house of tomorrow. When you order your Jeep with the new-for-2014 V-6 turbocharged diesel ($4,500 extra), your Cherokee will effortlessly yank a 7,400 pound trailer while still managing 24 MPG in overall fuel consumption. Pulling that kind of load with ease is what 420 lb.-ft. of torque will do from a standing start. Jeep’s new 8-speed automatic gearbox is standard across the Cherokee line this year, and its paddle shifted multiplicity of gears immensely enhances the low-revving performance of the new diesel.

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited 4x4 Diesel

Of course, if you’re looking to Jeep for a faster Grand Cherokee, a couple of contenders will put you into the BMW M5 and Porsche Cayenne GTS class. Along those lines, you can up horsepower by selecting either the optional 5.7 liter V-8 (360 hp) or the dragon slayer SRT8 version which generates 470 hp from its 6.4 liter motor. The price for such extra grunt is substantial, with the 5.7 liter V8 barely capable of 20 MPG and the 6.4 liter SRT motor good for about 15 MPG. From a practical standpoint, then, you can’t beat this new diesel, which makes just 240 hp, but produces enough torque to rival the SRT Hemi for towing purposes.

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited 4x4 Diesel

Jeep performed a mild, yet highly successful restyling of the Grand Cherokee’s front fascia for 2014. The results look better than Botox. Below the carryover traditional seven slot grill, an aluminum framed lower intake scowls menacingly. Newly condensed Bi-Xenon headlamps impart a squint to the Jeep’s face that distinguishes it from any other SUV on the road today. If you opt for the sublimely luxurious, $3,000 optional “Luxury Group II,” those slit lamps are automatically adjusted for variable vehicle height, flick automatically from low to high beam as required by traffic, and impart a carnival glow in broad daylight thanks to LED daytime running lights. The seemingly pricey package provides much more than just better illumination. Among the inclusions: a huge Panorama sunroof that gives backseat captives the pleasurable illusion that they’re riding in a convertible. We took a foursome on a day long excursion along the twisting, sometimes nauseating Coast Route, and never heard a single complaint about backseat discomfort.

The 8.4 inch screen, which is also part of the Luxury II package, is a wonder of technology. Chrysler’s UConnect system is far superior to other, nominally similar domestic and foreign offerings such as Ford’s MyTouch, Cadillac’s CUE, and BMW’s iDrive. For ease of use, it’s hard to beat UConnect’s intuitive operation. This system, which encompasses everything from climate control to phone usage to infotainment sources, immediately summons whatever touch screen you might need, and presents the information in a visually clear and obvious way. As soon as I received this Jeep for my weekly drive, I spent about 10 minutes reconfiguring everything about its behavior to suit my personal preferences. For example, I eliminated the annoying valet seat slide and steering wheel tilt, then muted the remote fob door lock chirp. And I did so with absolutely no prompting from the owner’s manual. Good thing too, since the manual was absent from the glove box.

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited 4x4 Diesel

This latest Grand Cherokee with its hyper efficient diesel motivator represents a remarkable accomplishment for Jeep and parent company Chrysler. Its Quadra-Drive II 4WD system allows you to select any suspension height or traction setting from outback to sand to snow with the simple twist of a fat dial on the center console. In normal pavement mode, the admittedly heavy (4,900 lb.) Cherokee tends to lose front axle grip first in twisty turn work. Yet the Michelin Latitude mud and snow rated tires (265/60R18) manage to extricate you from even the most precarious incipient slide by clawing the pavement resolutely. Even when you’re pushing this behemoth to the limit, you’ll never irritate your riders, who remain blissfully unflustered thanks to this Jeep’s uncanny composure in duress. You could hardly ask for more than that from any SUV, and the fact that this one, fully loaded, slides in under $50,000 makes the ownership experience all the more remarkable.

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited 4x4 Diesel

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited 4×4 Diesel

  • Engine: 3.0 Liter V6 Turbocharged Diesel
  • Horsepower: 240hp
  • Torque: 420lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 21 MPG City/28 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $49,185
  • Star Rating: 9.5 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2014 Infiniti QX80 AWD

Thursday July 31st, 2014 at 4:77 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2014 Infiniti QX80 AWD

By David Colman

Hypes: Big As Texas, Rich Furnishings
Gripes: High Step-In, Pedestrian Looks

When a friend recently bought a Chevy Suburban, I asked him why he chose such a large SUV. With a slightly baffled look, he replied: “Because I want as much real estate as I can afford.” Even more than the Suburban, Infiniti’s newly renamed QX80 is the king of road real estate. It’s simply gargantuan – in size, weight, appearance, horsepower and cost. Let’s start with the last item first. Unless you’ve got an SUV slush fund with eighty grand in the kitty, you’ll have to content yourself with a little less acreage than the QX80′s ranchero. Base price here is $64,450. From that vaunted starting point, the option groups keep coming like tumbleweeds in a dust storm. The $4,650 Deluxe Touring Package consists of a 15 speaker Bose stereo system, climate controlled front seats, semi-aniline leather all around, and richly lustrous Mocha Burl trim. Of course you’ll want your QX to stand Texas tall, so you’ll opt for the outlandishly huge 22 inch, 9 spoke, forged alloy rims with 275/50/R22 Bridgestone Dueler H/T tires at each corner. That bit of bling will set you back $2,250. And if you have some pint sized back seat occupants, parental obligation requires you to order the $3,100 Theater Package to keep them entertained while you fiddle with your $3,250 Technology Package. Bottom line: $79, 096.

2014 Infiniti QX80 AWD

Is it worth that kind of money? If you can afford the buy-in and the gas bills (combined city/highway average of 16MPG), the answer is a resounding yes. The justification the QX80 offers in exchange for its hefty price is its do-it-all capability. Carry 7 adults? No problem. Its triple row seating looks like a small auditorium, with rich furnishings for all 7 occupants: 2 up front, 2 behind, a 3 in the tail. Tow 8,500 pounds of trailer? The QX’s monster 5.6 liter V8 will clean and jerk that much weight without working up a sweat. After all, you’re utilizing 400hp and 413lb.-ft. of torque. And best of all, you never need worry about road conditions, because the Q-ship provides full time all-wheel-drive, with such elaborate options available from the driveline and 7 speed automatic gearbox as High and Low AWD,Tow Mode, Snow Mode, and Hill Start Assist. With its elevated stance and plethora of tinted windows, the QX80 towers over traffic. No one has a better view of the road than you do.

2014 Infiniti QX80 AWD

Thanks to the Technology package, this SUV has more built in cameras than San Quentin. The little nubbins are up front and out back, in the windshield and under the rear view mirrors. You’ll never get away with an errant lane change without having the QX tattle on you with a little blink or chirp. In fact, there’s so much oversight available here that it won’t be long before you start disabling some of the systems to maintain equanimity. For example, you’ve got Blind Spot Warning and Intervention, Lane Change Warning and Intervention, Forward Collision Warning (with Brake Assist), Backup Collision Intervention, and Intelligent Cruise Control. When all these nannies are in full nag mode, you’ll find yourself dealing with an alarm from some source every couple of seconds. At least the system allows you to quell its Cassandra-like paranoia to suit your own level of apprehension. I used the 10 inch wide in-dash monitor to delete most of the technology overload. The best option of all is to delete the Technology group from your vehicle’s build sheet. You’ll not only save $3,250, but preserve you sanity as well.

2014 Infiniti QX80 AWD

Aside from those niggling considerations, the QX80 is a really terrific long haul companion. It maintains surprising composure on back roads despite its ungainly proportions, near 3 ton bulk (curb weight: 5,990lb.) and high center of gravity. And when the big Q sets sail on the freeway, the miles glide by so effortlessly you think you’re commanding a Greyhound Scenicruiser rather than an SUV.

Admittedly, the box on wheels shape of this Infiniti will not quicken your aesthetic pulse. But once you’ve tossed about a dozen steamer trunks in the back, you’ll learn to respect its insatiable 49.5 cubic foot cargo bay. You’ll quickly learn to love the easy QX80 conversion from seats up to seats down. That’s because all 4 rear seats can be dropped electrically with just the push of a button. Even the tailgate is electrically opened and shut. That kind of practical convenience will quickly make you overlook road king’s artistic shortcomings. If you’re looking for maximum road acreage, this Infiniti is just the ticket.

2014 Infiniti QX80 AWD

2014 Infiniti QX80 AWD

  • Engine: 5.6 Liter V-8 with VVEL and DIG
  • Horsepower: 400hp
  • Torque: 413lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 14 MPG City/20 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $79,095
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2014 BMW 328d xDrive Sports Wagon

Wednesday June 11th, 2014 at 8:66 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2014 BMW 328d xDrive Sports Wagon

By David Colman

Hypes: Impeccable Build Quality, Exceptional Utility
Gripes: Sluggish Throttle Response, Wide Spacing of Lower Gears

The 328d diesel powered wagon is something of a conundrum. It enjoys the trappings of a sport focused offering, yet doesn’t ultimately live up to the flamboyant promise of its appearance. With a base price of $42,950, it carries a reasonable premium of just $1,500 over that of the $41,450 petrol powered all-wheel-drive wagon. A quick gander at our diesel’s specification sheet would lead you to think that this wagon has everything it needs for quick travel, M Style. Start with the attention grabbing azure paint. Of the 13 wagon colors available this year, our test vehicle’s Estoril Blue Metallic finish ($550 extra) is the only one of the baker’s dozen limited solely to use on M Sport equipped wagons.

2014 BMW 328d xDrive Sports Wagon

A $3,580 M Sport group adds 18 inch model specific wheels, sport seats, aluminum hexagon interior trim, anthracite headliner, M steering wheel, aerodynamic exterior refinements and shadowline trim. The SensaTec seat material feels enough like leather to make you forego the $1,450 up-charge for Dakota Leather. Another $1,000 brings adaptive M suspension and variable sport steering. For a comparatively modest outlay of $49,275, this is the sportiest diesel wagon you can buy from BMW.

The wagon’s handling is faultless. The all-wheel-drive (xDrive) system allows the all weather Pirelli P7 tires (225/45R18) to secure such a tenacious pavement purchase that you hardly ever need resort to BMW’s standard Dynamic Stability Control or Dynamic Traction Control. The balance and poise of this 3 Series platform encourages you to explore its handling attributes by switching the M Sport’s Driving Dynamics Control into the “Sport+” setting. Sport+ eliminates Dynamic Stability Control from the handling equation, thus allowing you to experiment with adhesion limits. You never entirely forget that with its weight distribution split of 48.7% f/51.3% r, this all-wheel-drive wagon has slightly more tail to wag than any other 3 Series offering.

2014 BMW 328d xDrive Sports Wagon

But xDrive’s full time all-wheel-drive traction helps overcome that rear weight bias. This BMW accelerates through switchbacks effortlessly. Never so much as a chirp of protest is heard from the scrabbling Pirellis. Instead of losing speed through chicanes, the wagon maintains its footing and composure better than you do. With its comparatively low center of gravity, the 328d upholds the concept of sports driving better than any jacked up BMW Sports Activity Vehicle. And best of all, you pay only a 10 pound weight penalty for selecting xDrive over rear-drive (3,790 pounds vs. 3,780 pounds).

The performance conundrum’s negative facet reveals itself when you toe into the diesel, expecting acceleration to match the explicit handling. Most of the time, you don’t get it. One of the most disconcerting drawbacks of the diesel is its reluctance to respond to your toe the instant you floor the throttle from a standing start. Although BMW’s lists a 0-60mph time of 7.6 seconds for the 328d xDrive, you’d be well advised to avoid maneuvers that require instant engine response. On the other hand, one of the main attractions of diesel motivation is stellar fuel consumption. In this regard, the 328d posts gratifying EPA numbers: 31 MPG, city, 43 MPG versus highway. The combined city/highway figure is 35 MPG, and cruising range is 645 miles with a 15 gallon tank.

2014 BMW 328d xDrive Sports Wagon

Another enticement is the aft cargo area, which offers multiple storage options. This wagon will allow you to slip a fully assembled bicycle into the cargo hold. All you have to do is drop both rear seats flat, remove the net partition and cargo cover struts, and you have unimpeded access to 53 cubic feet of storage space. The standard power operated hatchback door eases loading chores, as does the tailgate’s separate flip open rear window.

Normally overlooked back seat passengers will rejoice in the comfort of conveyance here. The rear seats are well contoured for long journeys. A drop down central armrest serves as a double drink caddy, while both front seat backs contain storage pockets with netting. Floor mounted rear ventilation ducts allow for individual climate tailoring, separate reading lights illuminate each outboard position, center seat belt receptacles store out of the way when unneeded, and rear windows retract fully into the doors.

2014 BMW 328d xDrive Sports Wagon

The diesel sports wagon provides a fully inhabitable environment for four, with more than enough luggage storage (13 cubic feet with rear seats up) for a comfortable overnight trip. For families, this car is an ideal transit solution. For speed merchants, it has its own galaxy of challenges to offer and conquer. There’s very little you can throw at it – or in it – that the 2014 328d xDrive can’t handle. And done up in Estoril Blue, this slinky beauty is sublimely easy on the eyes.

2014 BMW 328d xDrive Sports Wagon

  • Engine: 2.0 Liter inline 4 Diesel, turbocharged
  • Horsepower: 180hp
  • Torque: 280lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 31 MPG City/43 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $49,275
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2014 Ford Fiesta ST

Tuesday June 10th, 2014 at 11:66 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2014 Ford Fiesta ST

By David Colman

Hypes: Porsche Performance at Motorbike Price
Gripes: Why Carp?

Drivers who still consider a car to be a precision tool rather than a blunt appliance will rejoice that Ford is into the second year of production for the sublimely satisfying Fiesta ST. With its affordable base price of just $21,400, this five door, five passenger hatchback is a slam dunk choice for any automotive enthusiast needing more than two seats. Few competitors in this price range come close to matching the sheer joy of driving the ST on a winding back road. VW’s soon to be introduced seventh generation GTI, the hot hatch that started the whole craze back in 1984, will carry a window sticker of $24,395. For that kind of money, you can afford to upgrade the Fiesta ST with the $1,995 optional Recaro seats and still beat the bottom line of VW’s standard bearer by a hundred bucks. The other main contender in this sporting market niche is Honda’s Civic Si, with a base price of $22,405 and a 201hp engine that overpowers the front wheel drive system.

Despite the fact that the Fiesta ST’s turbo motor makes 197hp, you rarely encounter torque steer. This is a beautifully balanced platform designed to handle the instant shove provided by the turbo four’s 202 pound-feet of torque. Although you have 6 gears to select in either manual or automatic gearbox form, the ST’s turbo spools up so fast that gear choice is almost irrelevant. Still, it is a pleasure to stir the cogs with a slick, short throw linkage that facilitates travel from gate to gate. The manual transmission is finely tailored to enhance the driving experience. Just as finely tailored are the optional and expensive Recaro front seats, which afford full upper torso support unmatched by any other economy sedan. Strap into these ribbed cloth beauties and you’ll feel like you’re about to take the starting flag at Le Mans.

2014 Ford Fiesta ST

While this hot hatch’s race breeding might leave you starry eyed, don’t overlook the fact that the ST is still a Fiesta, with all of that car’s innate useful virtues. For example, you’ve got 4 doors to ease entry to all 5 seating positions. You’ve got more green house glass than the Crystal Palace, so visibility in all directions is superb. Ford even throws in a rear window wiper at no extra cost and contributes heated front seats for the same price (free). Our test sample boasted a negligibly expensive ($795) navigation system with rather rudimentary graphics. But there’s nothing basic about the Sony premium audio system that’s standard ST fare, or the similarly standard automatic temperature control that lets you dial cabin comfort without taking your eyes off the road. Try pricing these niceties on some of the German competition, and you’ll quickly realize what a cozy financial package the ST represents.

2014 Ford Fiesta ST

Back in the 1960s, Chrysler Corporation was notorious for devising unforgettably named muscle car colors like Plum Crazy. Ford has happily extended that playful tradition with our Fiesta ST’s jarring shade of ($595 optional) Envy Green. Imagine a fresh lime dissolving in a sea of amber Corona beer and you get the idea of Green with Envy. Few cars in any price range own such visual bragging rights. And in the sub $30,000 category, blatant eye currency is virtually unattainable. But Envy Green just laughs at such preconceived expectations.

Better yet, this turbo terror’s performance exceeds even the vaunted promise of its flamboyant appearance. No bend is too tight to devour, no straight too short to gobble. Equipped with summer-use-only Bridgestone RE 050A Potenza rubber (205/40R17), the ST will slither through a slalom as fast as you can crank its fat rimmed steering wheel from lock to lock. And between those corner apexes, the turbo lights its afterburner so quick that you’ll find yourself dealing with the next apex Right Now. Although the ST masquerades well as a family conveyance, with all of those doors and seats, storage and conveniences, its true merit lies in its exceptional handling. If you’re looking for a practical hatchback but secretly hanker for something to autocross or time trial at track days, look no further than the Fiesta ST.

2014 Ford Fiesta ST

2014 Ford Fiesta ST

  • Engine: 1.6 liter GTDI inline 4, Turbocharged
  • Horsepower: 197hp
  • Torque: 202lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 26 MPG City/36 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $25,580
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2014 BMW 428i Coupe

Monday June 9th, 2014 at 1:66 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2014 BMW 428i Coupe

By David Colman

Hypes: Extra Sensory Handling, Primo Front Seats, To Die For Looks
Gripes: Needs Rear Wiper, Chintzy Manual Steering Wheel Adjuster

Q: When is a 3 a 4? A: When a 1 becomes a 2.

Inside BMW’s perplexing name lab, Bavarian linguists have labored mightily to concoct a brave new numbering system sure to confuse and baffle its customer base. This year, the former 1 Series morphs into the new 2 Series, while the coupe and convertible offerings of the former 3 Series have now become 4 Series products. All this from a company once forthright enough to label its 1600cc sedan as a “BMW 1600.”

Call the new 4 Series what you will, there’s no mistaking its sporting excellence. Not surprisingly, the new 4 covers the dimensions of the existing 3 like a blanket. Overall length remains at 183 inches, as does wheelbase at 111 inches. Thanks to the coupe’s svelte roofline, height drops from 56 to 54 inches, while flared fenders cause the width to increase from 71 to 72 inches. Weight drops by 15 pounds, from 3,485 pounds to 3,470 pounds.

2014 BMW 428i Coupe

Take advantage of the coupe’s wider stance by maximizing rim size. You can do so by opting for the $3,500 “M Sport” package, which confers, among other benefits, a set of double-five spoke, 18 inch diameter M Sport performance alloys that stretch rim width to 8 inches front and 9 inches rear. These rims amply support premium Bridgestone S001 RFT (Run Flat) rubber measuring 225/45R18 front and 255/40R18 rear. Another dividend of the M Sport group is Adaptive M Suspension, a center console controlled system that allows you to select the shock setup you desire by sliding the “Driving Experience Switch” through 4 detents (Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport and Sport+). These options cover the range from green peace to racetrack, and the differences are immediately obvious in terms of steering feedback and bump damping.

Visually, the M Package will also win you over with revamped body panels that channel wind over the coupe’s exterior surfaces most efficiently. To that end a revised front fascia eliminates the standard lower fog lamps in favor of increased radiator cooling grills. Normally convex rocker panels acquire intricate concave flutes that help shed boundary layer air currents. If these external clues are so subtle as to provide insufficient gratification, you can always derive satisfaction from plentiful M notations festooning your key fob, dead pedal, threshold plates, and lower steering wheel spoke.

2014 BMW 428i Coupe

The most beneficial contribution of the M Sport group is a pair of stellar front sport seats that will grab your torso faster than Velcro. These supremely enveloping twin buckets offer more lateral support than anything short of a full race DTM (Deutsche Tourenwagen Meisterschaft)throne. The most telling point of support is their vise grip on your mid-back area. The retention of this vice can be altered by easing off the “Backrest Width” control located alongside the outboard lower cushion. You’ll also discover controls for lumbar support, height, backrest tilt, seat tilt, plus a manual slide for thigh support. The front seats leave absolutely nothing on the table in terms of adjustability, conformity or comfort. We spent 9 hours in the cockpit of this coupe during a prolonged foray from the Bay Area to the Sierra foothills without registering a single complaint about cockpit fit.

2014 BMW 428i Coupe

On that same trip we also managed to record 33.5 MPG on a prolonged freeway stint while averaging 75mph. The EPA suggests that the 4 cylinder turbocharged 428i will return 35MPG on such highway drives, and this figure is undoubtedly attainable by reducing speed to 65mph. Overall gas consumption is EPA rated at 26MPG, with 22MPG on tap in city conditions. The intercooled 4 cylinder engine utilizes a pair of small diameter turbochargers to boost performance while maintaining parsimonious fuel burn. You will never find yourself at a loss for forward bite with this coupe. Flooring the throttle launches the 428i on an impressive trajectory that achieves 60mph from a standing start in 5.3 seconds, the quarter mile in 14.1 seconds at 99mph, and a top speed of 158mph. That top speed is attainable in M Sport equipped coupes where normal top speed limitations are eliminated.

In a world where the meanest, least expensive Korean import coddles you with standard niceties like heated seats and navigation, it comes as a bit of a rude shock not to find BMW follow suit. For example, the steering wheel, albeit M-grip thick, must be manually dropped, elevated and telescoped. If you desire heated seats, they can be yours, providing you ante up an extra $635 for the Cold Weather Package. Likewise, BMW will gladly provide a navigation system as long as you check off the $2,885 Technology Package on your order form. All these enhancements we’ve come to expect as standard items on much less expensive cars will cost you dearly at BMW. But no amount of free inclusions can ever compensate you for an inferior driving experience. If you’re after the consummate stint behind the wheel, there is nothing like this BMW.

2014 BMW 428i Coupe

2014 BMW 428i Coupe

  • Engine: 2.0 Liter inline DOHC 16 Valve 4, Turbocharged and Intercooled
  • Horsepower: 240hp @ 6000rpm
  • Torque: 255lb.-ft. @ 1250rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 22MPG City/35MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $48,075
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

Posted in BMW, Expert Reviews, Feature Articles |Tags:, , , || 2 Comments »


Review: 2014 Volkswagen Jetta TDI

Friday June 6th, 2014 at 1:66 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2014 Volkswagen Jetta TDI

By David Colman

Hypes: Torque Master, Low Price, Nice Finish Level
Gripes: Needs Plus 1 or 2 Tires and a Rear Wiper

If you’ve ever owned a Volkswagen product, you’ll instantly understand the nostalgic appeal of this latest diesel powered Jetta. From its taut seats to its logical control array, to its bank vault fit and finish, this product distills years of VW tradition into a seductive new package that’s not only affordable ($25,545) and economical (42MPG/ highway), but fun to drive as well.

Even the diesel engine rekindles VW nostalgia, since the very first Rabbit the company built and sold 35 years ago in the USA was available with diesel power. Having driven that Rabbit back in the late 1970s, I can testify that diesel technology has advanced from its Ice Age to its Golden Age. Although the Jetta’s current 2 liter, four cylinder diesel produces only 140hp, the real wallop comes in the torque department, where this TDI (“Turbocharged Diesel Injected”) power plant twists the front wheels to the tune of 236 lb.-ft. of thrust.

You can look high and low in VW’s cupboard for another 4 cylinder engine that matches this diesel for torque. Even the vaunted GLI 2.0 liter turbo gas motor makes just 207 lb.-ft. of torque. The rest of the Jetta engine offerings don’t even come close to matching the diesel. For example, the base 2.0 liter gas motor makes just 125 lb.-ft., and the soon to be phased out 2.5 liter inline 5 cylinder gas motor, which is available only in the Sport Wagon this year, makes 177lb.-ft. of torque.

2014 Volkswagen Jetta TDI

In effect, this abundance of torque makes your job as a driver less demanding and more fun. You really need not worry about which gear ratio the DSG automatic 6-speed has selected, because there’s always enough grunt from the diesel to pick up the slack. Of course, if you enjoy stirring the pot on your own, DSG encourages you to do so by offering a manual gate that accommodates sporting override by the driver. No paddles on the steering wheel, however, and you need to remember that the diesel runs through its power band rather quickly and never needs to be wound past 4,000rpm.

The long standing appeal of the Volkswagen family lies in the fact that no matter which model you choose, you can rest assured that the furniture in the living room will be arranged the same basic way. There’s a lot to be said for such predictability in layout, instrumentation and touch surfaces. Familiarity is a strong point that keeps long time VW owners coming back to update their Wolfsburg fix. For example, you can depend on the fact that VW will always offer easily grasped, knurled knobs to control such cockpit essentials as fan speed, temperature setting and vent positioning. You’ll never find this company resorting to the ineffectual slide type digitized controls that have proliferated in so many Japanese products today. VW has also been loath to jump on the bandwagon celebrating the advent of lane departure warnings and cross traffic alerts. Kudos to this company, which still feels that the driver should play the central role in the operation of the vehicle.

2014 Volkswagen Jetta TDI

Of course, there are a few shortcomings that the owner of a TDI will want to address. The first issue is this Jetta’s diminutive tire size. Though equipped with handsome 16 inch, 5-spoke alloy rims, the accompanying 205/50R16 Continental Sport Contact tires look grossly undersize on this vehicle. While these tires ride quietly and afford excellent comfort, their modest tread width limits the performance of the Jetta when tackling back roads aggressively. Remedy this problem by upgrading to wider tires mounted on 17 or 18 inch rims. In fact VW offers 17 inch factory “Goal” alloys with 225/45R17 all season tires for $1,125 extra. Or you can bump up to 18 inch VW “Motorsport Alloy” rims and tires for $1,400. One thing this Jetta needs that is unavailable from the factory, however, is a rear window wiper to clear that flat, expansive pane of back glass when it rains or mists. But all in all, the short list of needs here is far outweighed by the many virtues of this efficient, affordable and handsome family sedan.

2014 Volkswagen Jetta TDI

2014 Volkswagen Jetta TDI

  • Engine: 2.0 Liter inline 4 cylinder turbocharged diesel
  • Horsepower: 140hp
  • Torque: 240 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 30 MPG City/42 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $25,545
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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


Review: 2014 Ford Focus 4-Door Titanium

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

2014 Ford Foucs 4-Door Titanium

By David Colman

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

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

2014 Ford Foucs 4-Door Titanium

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

2014 Ford Foucs 4-Door Titanium

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

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

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

2014 Ford Foucs 4-Door Titanium

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

2014 Ford Focus 4-Door Titanium

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

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


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