2016 Fiat 500 Abarth Review

Friday February 10th, 2017 at 11:22 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Fiat 500 Abarth

By David Colman

Hypes: Street Legal Go-Kart
Gripes: Poor Rating in IIHS Small Overlap Crash Test

For the sheer joy of driving, Fiat’s 500 Abarth is unmatched. With a price under $30,000, it’s something of an economic miracle. Even though our bright “Celeste Blu” test car had its bottom line elevated by $5,375 worth of options, this storming gnat’s total price amounted to just $28,945. You would be hard pressed to have more automotive fun for that kind of money.

2016 Fiat 500 Abarth

The basic 500 model is a cute, diminutive reimagining of the post-war Fiat that dominated Italian highways 60 years ago. That little package provided affordable, unpretentious transportation for a war ravaged country. Today, the 500 is still affordable and unassuming. But in a world full of beastly looking, complicated cars, the 500′s major attraction remains its endearing small size and simplicity of design. In many ways, it has taken from VW the mantle of “people’s car” that the Beetle once owned. But the 500, in base form, is a lethargic performer, with just enough grunt (101hp) to manage freeway merges without embarrassment. Enter the Abarth option. Plumb a turbo onto the basic 1.4 liter engine, add a 16 valve “MultiAir” head, and you’ve got yourself an entirely different proposition than the base 500. The Abarth, named after famed Italian racer Carlo Abarth, ups output by 60 percent, to 160hp. That much extra thrust transforms the lethargic base 500 into a superlative little pocket rocket.

2016 Fiat 500 Abarth

Once ensconced in the very supportive racing striped sports seat, you’ll find the fat rimmed, leather-wrapped steering wheel and the leather covered, ball-topped shift knob right where you need them for precise control. Because the shift knob is so close to the rim of the wheel, there’s no need for paddles here. Just position the stick of the optional ($1,350) Aisin 6-speed heavy duty automatic in its manual control gate and bump the shifter forward for downshifts and backwards for upshifts. This system works flawlessly. Its ease of use far surpasses wheel mounted paddles you have to chase through 360 degrees while turning and shifting.

2016 Fiat 500 Abarth

The weight of the steering is halfway between power assist and no assist at all. In other words it’s as close to perfect as you can find in today’s over-boosted marketplace. Expensive sports offerings from BMW and Porsche offer multiple “sport” settings to alter steering feedback. I have yet to experience one of them that can match this Abarth for positive information. The Abarth offers no such array of steering options because it doesn’t need any. It’s perfect the way it comes from the factory where it’s built in Toluca, Mexico.

2016 Fiat 500 Abarth

Equally responsible for the precise road feel are the 6.5″ x 16″ alloy rims shod with top-of-the-line Pirelli P Zero Nero rubber (195/45R16). These super sticky tires hang on without so much as a squeal of protest even when the Abarth’s firm suspension is at maximum tilt. Driving this petite 2,415 pound warrior on twisty sections of road is a delightful throwback to a time when cars weighed nothing compared to today. If you are interested in experiencing go-kart handling the Abarth is the ride you’ll cherish.

2016 Fiat 500 Abarth

Back in the day, the first thing enthusiasts did to a new sports car was install an Abarth exhaust system. Although pricey, these beautifully finished black crackle pipes invariably made your new ride sound like a Formula 1 machine. I am happy to report that the mellifluous Abarth sound has not been lost in this latest incarnation from Fiat. The sound level here varies from a harmonious blat at cruising speed to a stridently purposeful shriek at full throttle. In the unlikely event that bystanders miss this patented Abarth mating call, they will be sure to take notice of this punk rocker’s unmistakable visual symphony. No fewer than a dozen Abarth scorpion emblems decorate the body and interior surfaces, and a pair of laser striped Abarth nameplates are emblazoned along the flanks. In a final touch of self celebration the “Abarth” name flashes digitally across the instrument pod every time you start or stop this beguiling little devil.

2016 Fiat 500 Abarth

  • Engine: 1.4 liter inline 4, 16 valve MultiAir Turbo
  • Horsepower: 160hp
  • Torque: 183lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 24MPG City/32 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $28,945
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Toyota Prius Prime Advanced Review

Thursday February 9th, 2017 at 4:22 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Toyota Prius Price Advanced

By David Colman

Hypes: Spacey Design, Comfortable Cabin
Gripes: Poor Brake Feel

Toyota has been busy supplementing the Prius line with new versions dedicated to extra space (Prius V), affordability (Prius c), and now, a plug-in version first distributed in fall of 2016 as a 2017 model. This latest entry in the hybrid class, named Prius Prime, looks like a space ship compared to previous Prius designs. Climb into this capsule and you feel like you should be wearing a zero gravity outfit. The conventional dashboard in front of the driver is entirely absent. Instead, you stare at an upholstered ledge behind the steering wheel where the instruments normally reside. The monitor function has been moved to a horizontal panel located just beneath the center of the windshield. Here you will find a huge type-face digital speedometer readout, accompanied by a variety of mode operation displays which you can toggle through via a steering wheel mounted control.

2017 Toyota Prius Price Advanced

Below this information panel in the Advanced version of the Prius Prime lies a tall, centrally located vertical screen. This aluminum trimmed unit contains a very easy to read 11.6 inch HD Multimedia display panel that is particularly effective in Navigation mode. This screen also provides oversight of most HVAC settings, which are splayed across the lower segment of the panel. Climate control information can be difficult to locate while driving, because the panel contains so much other media and mapping information that the display looks like a TV tuned to CNN.

2017 Toyota Prius Price Advanced

We spent a mostly storm-fraught winter week driving the Prime in very adverse conditions. Since it was really too wet to utilize the plug-in feature safely, we expended the car’s 25 mile electric range in short order, then continued to drive it on gas power alone for the remainder of the week. Despite many trips around the Bay Area, we never managed to dislodge the fuel level needle below the 3/4 mark because even in “gasoline only” mode, the Prime racks up an incredible 54MPG. If you utilize the electric recharge feature and drive mostly in electric mode, the Prime will reward you with an astounding 133MPGe in combined electric/gas operation. Toyota estimates that a full recharge of the Prime’s battery at 240 volts will take just 2 hours of plug-in time, which makes it perfect for a fuel-free commute to work provided you can access a 240 volt plug at each end of the trip.

2017 Toyota Prius Price Advanced

While the overall interior design of the Prime will excite cell phone admirers everywhere, the same can’t be said for the driving experience of this newest Prius. That’s because the car’s handling is hobbled by the MPG-generated need to use ultra low rolling resistance tires. In this case, the Toyo Nano Energy rubber is hard to a fault. Their small size and tall sidewalls (195/65R15) exacerbate the problem. Size-wise, the Toyo fitment is more suited to a vehicle from 1970 than 2017. Our test Prius was fitted with extra cost ($899) alloy wheels which looked intriguing, with 20 spokes shining at each corner. But these optional wheels still measured a paltry 15 inches in diameter. The diminutive rollers also subvert braking performance. We experienced premature lock-up even when full pedal pressure was not applied. Since the Prime enjoys independent front suspension and sophisticated double wishbone rear suspension, all the basic ingredients are present for a fine handling package – if you decide to upgrade the wheel/tire package with aftermarket equipment.

2017 Toyota Prius Price Advanced

Toyota has lavished this top Prius with a bevy of special features that make it well worth its $33,100 base price. Standard heated seats and steering wheel do a lot to increase inclement weather comfort level. Rain-sensing wipers are a boon. Push-button start and remote entry ease your burden. Quad LED headlights and crescent shaped accent lights not only endow the nose with an unforgettable smile, but really blaze away the dark. The fluted “dual-wave” rear window, mounted in a lightweight, carbon reinforced polymer hatch, distinguishes the tail from anything else on the road. However, in heavy rain we discovered that the valley between the dual flutes accumulates water, and due to this design, a rear wiper is unavailable.

2017 Toyota Prius Price Advanced

Clearly, the Prius Prime prioritizes efficiency of operation over any other ownership consideration. It provides a comfortable, safe, extravagantly presented tableau for environmentalists who prize, above all else, this vehicle’s EPA rating of 10 on a 1-10 scale for “Fuel Economy and Greenhouse Gas Rating.”

2017 Toyota Prius Prime Advanced

  • Engine: 1.8 liter inline 4 cylinder + electric motor
  • Horsepower: 121hp
  • Torque: N/A
  • Fuel Consumption: 54MPG gasoline/133MPGe gasoline+ electric
  • Price as Tested: $36,305
  • Star Rating: 7.5 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Mazda CX-9 Signature All Wheel Drive Review

Tuesday January 24th, 2017 at 1:11 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Mazda CX-9 Signature All Wheel Drive

By David Colman

Hypes: Great Platform, Feature Laden Signature package
Gripes: Dump the Hood Prop-rod

Unlike so many of its competitors, Mazda never loses sight of the simple fact that the pleasure of driving matters. Whether they’re building an MX-5 sports car or a CX-9 family mover, Mazda aims to foster a positive driving experience. What’s uncanny is the way they’ve managed to transfer the sporting genes of the Miata into the genetic makeup of the CX-9 sports utility crossover. It’s a trick that much larger Japanese outfits like Toyota and Nissan have been unable to master. You won’t, for example, find much of the sporty Toyota FR 86 in anything else the company builds, nor will you detect much trace of the 370Z in Nissan sedans or sports utilities. But with a smaller outfit like Mazda, the Miata message comes through loud and clear in the CX-9.

2016 Mazda CX-9 Signature All Wheel Drive

Its electric power-assisted steering, for example, is uncannily precise. You can give partial credit for this breakthrough to the unusual choice of grippy Falcon Ziex tires (255/50R20) mounted on standard 20 inch alloy rims. But sticky rubber is only as good as the suspension that controls it, and here Mazda excels, with fully independent front and rear systems augmented by stout anti-roll bars fore and aft. Considering its ample heft, the CX-9 stays glued to twisty roads.

Mazda advertising seems reluctant to divulge the fact that a four cylinder engine powers the CX-9 Signature All-Wheel-Drive. Factory literature only describes the engine as a “Skyactive 2.5T Turbo Engine.” But make no mistake, this engine has nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to performance. It packs 310 lb.-ft. of torque at just 2000rpm, so acceleration is gratifyingly instantaneous. The Skyactive 227hp motor powers all four wheels through a 6-speed automatic transmission. Though it lacks paddle controls, it does offer Sport Mode which allows manual shifts. Just bump the console lever forward for downshifts or backwards for upshifts.

2016 Mazda CX-9 Signature All Wheel Drive

This sizeable sports utility offers seating for 7, with three rows arranged front to rear in a 2/3/2 pattern. The rearmost bench, which folds 50/50, accommodates only short legged occupants. Passengers in rows 1 and 2 (60/40 fold) are very well looked after. In fact, the main cabin of the CX-9 is an unexpectedly elegant proposition in Signature trim level, with swaths of real matte rosewood and real aluminum bisecting expanses of auburn tinted, glove soft Nappa Leather. Mazda stylists have really outdone themselves with the seat detailing: black piping and red stitching combine with inset bands of black leather to convey a sense of richness quite unexpected in this price range.

2016 Mazda CX-9 Signature All Wheel Drive

So the CX-9 will hustle down a crooked road with real aplomb, conveying its occupants with unruffled equanimity thanks to standard Roll Stability Control (RSC). The CX-9 is also tow rated for 3500lbs. worth of trailer, and the onboard electronics afford Trailer Stability Assist (TSA) to help manage the sway of your load. Visibility from the driver’s seat is excellent in all directions. The view through the large back window is especially welcome, since most SUVs in this mid-size range obscure direct rear vision with a sea of headrests obscuring an undersized rear pane. Mazda has also equipped the back glass with its own wiper and defroster. If those aids don’t clear the way for reversing, then utilize the rear back up sensor and image projected on the 8 inch color multi-function display screen atop the dash.

2016 Mazda CX-9 Signature All Wheel Drive

A vehicle in this price range should have a counterbalanced hood, but even the Signature CX-9 makes do with a manual prop rod. Also, the front console cup holders lack a sliding door cover, so they attract and retain every particle of errant dirt. The lower section of the chrome grill features an awkward surface joint that cheapens the look of nose, despite the fact that the Signature grill boats LED lighting accents. Finally, the extreme swept back roofline requires front seat passengers to duck their heads before climbing aboard, an unexpected annoyance in a vehicle that stands 68 inches tall. But these quibbles pale into insignificance given the overwhelming number of positives on offer here. If you want an affordable family hauler with the DNA of a lithesome sports car, the CX-9 should be your first choice.

2016 Mazda CX-9 Signature All Wheel Drive

  • Engine: 2.5 liter inline 4, turbocharged
  • Horsepower: 227@5000rpm
  • Torque: 310lb.-ft.@2000rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 21 MPG City/27 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $45,215
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Toyota Corolla 50th Anniversary Special Edition Review

Monday January 23rd, 2017 at 1:11 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Toyota Corolla 50th Anniversary Special Edition

By David Colman

Hypes: Tasty 50th Trim Level
Gripes: Desperately Needs Another 20hp

Lyndon Johnson was our President. Vietnam ground forever on. Bob Dylan had yet to revisit Highway 61. It was 50 years ago that Toyota imported the first Corolla sedan to the USA. From the beginning, this light weight sub compact four door was cheap to run, cheap to buy and fun to drive. It is still all of that and much more. In honor of five decades of continuous improvement of that winning original recipe, Toyota celebrates the Corolla’s unprecedented longevity with a tastefully appointed 50th Anniversary Special Edition. This package includes the following amenities: 17 inch machined alloy wheels with dark grey inserts, fitted with 215/45R17 Firestone FR740 radial tires; SofTex trimmed sports seats with black cherry premium fabric inserts and stitching; Leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio and hands-free controls and black cherry stitching; Black cherry stitching on dash and door accents; 50th Anniversary trunk badge and Special Edition floor mats.

2017 Toyota Corolla 50th Anniversary Special Edition

So the 50th anniversary Corolla is really quite the bowl of dark cherries. In fact, the red-accented interior treatment is exceptionally tasteful. The stitching, the fabric seat inserts, even the embroidered mats are so carefully coordinated that this special Corolla makes an unforgettably positive impression. Best of all are the front seats, which are perfectly contoured to retain you in place with surpassing comfort and support. The richness of the interior belies the special Corolla’s modest base price of $21,900. Our test vehicle enjoyed a smattering of extras (power tilt/slide moonroof $850; illuminated door sills $309;paint protection film $395) that brought the delivered price to $24,497. This much car for this little investment perpetuates the Corolla legend of bullet-proof affordability and value.

2017 Toyota Corolla 50th Anniversary Special Edition

Another hallmark of the brand is its fuel frugality. Rated at 31MPG in overall driving, the Corolla is good for 35MPG on the highway. That puts it in the 70th percentile of all vehicles tested by the EPA. The Corolla’s average fuel cost of $1,200 is $1,000 less than the average sedan tested. There is, however, a price to pay in performance for this exceptional economy. With an output of just 132hp and a curb weight of 2,900 pounds, the Corolla posts a power-to-weight ratio of 22 pounds for each horsepower. This ratio dictates that the Corolla will be one of the slowest new cars on the road, with a 0-60mph time of about 10 seconds. You can improve the overall response of this engine by coupling it to an available 6 speed manual gearbox. Our test sample utilized a droning CVT unit which is equipped with steering wheel paddles to help modulate engine rpm range. While the paddles do a fair imitation of mimicking a gear-based transmission, nothing beats the flexibility afforded by six real gears in a manual gearbox.

2017 Toyota Corolla 50th Anniversary Special Edition

Handling of the Corolla is crisp and pleasurable. The Firestones track well, the car exhibits little body roll, and the diminutive size of this package makes for responsive and satisfying canyon bashing. The 50th Anniversary model is equipped with disc brakes at all four corners, unlike the base Corolla which uses rear drum brakes. For 2017, Toyota has upgraded the Corolla’s specification sheet to include as standard the full suite of Toyota Safety Sense precautions: Pre-collision system with pedestrian recognition, dynamic radar cruise control, lane departure alert with steering assist, plus the usual traction and braking overrides. In other words, the Corolla is a vehicle you could bequeath to a teen or an elder with full confidence. Because of its underpowered dynamic, the Corolla is slow to get into trouble, and full of systems designed to give you fair warning once you do reach the danger zone.

2017 Toyota Corolla 50th Anniversary Special Edition

If you stop and think about all the Corolla’s competitors that have come and gone in the last 50 years, you’ll begin to understand this model’s amazing longevity. The 50th Anniversary edition is the best looking, most comfortable, most fully appointed Corolla to date. It’s good enough to redefine the concept of basic transportation.

Toyota Corolla 50th Anniversary Special Edition

  • Engine: 1.8 liter inline 4, DOHC, 16 Valves, Dual VVT-i
  • Horsepower: 132hp@6000rpm
  • Torque: 128lb.-ft.@2800rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 28MPG City/35 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $24,497
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Acura MDX AWD Advance Review

Friday January 6th, 2017 at 11:11 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Acura MDX AWD Advance

By David Colman

Hypes: Fast, Solid Handling, Spacious
Gripes: Needs More Buttons, Fewer Menus

In the course of a test year, I drive almost all the mid-price SUVs. For the most part, they make little long lasting impression. Acura’s MDX, however, breaks the mold of boring conformity. This is without doubt the company’s best model, which also explains why it’s their best selling SUV. For 2017, Acura rightly calls the MDX “The SUV Redefined.”

2017 Acura MDX AWD Advance

From a safety standpoint, it scores extremely well in the government’s 5-star safety evaluation, posting a top-ranked 5-star “Overall Vehicle Score.” It also merits a “Recommended” check mark from Consumer Reports, an outfit that is notoriously picky about issuing endorsements. For 2017, Acura has standardized inclusion of all “Acurawatch Features” which had previously been available as extra cost options. These include adaptive cruise control, collision mitigation braking, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist and road departure mitigation. As the industry moves ever closer to the self-driving vehicle, these safety enhancements become more and more common. Still, to find them offered as standard on a mid-price SUV comes as a pleasant surprise, especially since their operation proved helpful rather than burdensome during our week long test of the MDX.

2017 Acura MDX AWD Advance

For 2017, Acura has also improved the vehicle’s appearance with a new front fascia derived from their Acura Precision concept car. Gone is the previous model’s broad swath of matte aluminum affixed to the upper grill. Below the beltline, an upturned body color blade functions as a front spoiler while also channeling air into the lower grill. The new look is clean and more practical than the ugly beak it replaces. Inside the MDX, you will now find 4 2.5 amp charging ports strategically located through the cabin which allow for quicker refreshment of your mobile devices.

2017 Acura MDX AWD Advance

The front Sport Seats in the MDX feature handsome perforated premium leather trim. They are well proportioned and padded for long distance comfort and offer ventilation and heating. However, due to Acura’s annoying insistence on using a menu-controlled graphic interface, seat temp actuation requires double menu selection, This is a time-consuming and unnecessary procedure that distracts your driving attention span. Back seat riders are well looked after, with commodious seats and a mini-dashboard for ventilation and seat heater controls. Ironically, those back seater occupants – not tasked with driving – are given simple buttons to control their seat heaters and HVAC.

2017 Acura MDX AWD Advance

All the good looks and vaunted safety ratings wouldn’t mean much if the revamped MDX proved unrewarding to drive. Fortunately, such is not the case. Let’s start under the hood, where a 3.5 liter V6, fitted with all the latest technical tweaks (direct injection, VTEC valve actuation) churns out 290hp which is fed to all 4 wheels via a 9-speed automatic transmission. I can recall a time when most bicycles didn’t boast 9 gears, let alone SUVs. The upshot of the drivetrain pairing is excellent performance across the board. The engine is explosive enough to drop 0-60mph acceleration times into the high 7 second range, compelling performance indeed for a vehicle weighing 4,200 pounds. The MDX AWD is also rated for 5,000 pound tow duty, and comes equipped with a factory installed receiver jack. The MDX stands 68 inches tall on its 8×20″ alloys. Although Acura does offer optional ($700) running boards they are hardly needed and also ruin the clean appearance of the streamlined body shell.

2017 Acura MDX AWD Advance

The tires chosen for MDX use are Continental Cross Contact mud and snow rated radials measuring 245/50R20. These provided excellent dry and wet weather adhesion, and are responsible for the MDX’s quick cornering reflexes. Equally important is the console-controlled “Sport” driving mode setting (part of a 3-choice Integrated Dynamics System). “Sport” optimizes response of Acura’s Super-Handling AWD system. Manual override of the automatic gearbox via paddles adds to your sense of control here, and any chosen gear can be locked in by double tapping the “D” button on the selector console. Although this quirky shift module, situated between the front seats, does simplify console space, the device never falls readily to finger.

2017 Acura MDX AWD Advance

Gear selection and menu GUI quibbles aside, the MDX is a top notch candidate for
your SUV consideration. It is fast, well built (in Lincoln, Alabama), comfortable and useful. You really can’t ask for more than that for your $57,340.

2017 Acura MDX AWD Advance

  • Engine: 3.5 liter V6, Direct Injection, VTEC, Variable Cylinder Management (VCM)
  • Horsepower: 290hp
  • Torque: 267lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 19MPG City/26 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $57,340
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Mitsubishi Outlander 3.0 GT S-AWC Review

Tuesday January 3rd, 2017 at 8:11 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Mitsubishi Outlander 3.0 GT S-AWC

By David Colman

Hypes: Great Interior Space, Strong Drivetrain
Gripes: More Tire Please

Normally, press review vehicles graduate from evaluation duties after accumulating 7,500 miles on their odometer. While such a short life span insures that these vehicles remain fresh and relatively new, we testers rarely get to experience more mature examples. This Mitsubishi proved an extreme exception to that rule when it arrived with a whopping 20,000 miles showing on its odometer. While you might expect that such intense usage would lead to an accumulation of shakes, rattles and clatter, this Outlander performed like it had just been driven off the showroom floor. Nothing squeaked, nothing failed to operate as intended. If it weren’t for a smattering of scratches and dings accumulated over the past year, this veteran Mitsubishi could pass for a brand new vehicle. Such long-term solidity bodes well for your ownership future with this brand.

2016 Mitsubishi Outlander 3.0 GT S-AWC

The loaded Outlander GT makes a good case for ownership. For starters, the price is right, at a base of just $30,995. Even fully loaded, with a $3,350 Navigation System that also includes Lane Departure Warning and Adaptive Cruise Control, the bottom line tally is a modest $35,195. In an SUV world of screaming 4 cylinder engines mated to shrieking CVT transmissions, the Outlander GT provides a welcome respite from such cheap engineering. This model houses a very healthy 3 liter V6 mounted sideways under its hood, and coupled to a real automatic transmission containing 6 actual gears instead of CVT rubber bands.

2016 Mitsubishi Outlander 3.0 GT S-AWC

While the powertrain combo here won’t help you set any quarter mile drag records, its 224hp and 215lb.-ft. of torque prove more than adequate for the daily drive. Mitsubishi equips GT models with enormous elephant ear shift paddles adjacent to the leather wrapped steering wheel. These enable you to tap your way right into the engine’s performance sweet spot. Just administer a thwack on the left paddle for downshifts or a swat on the right one for upshifts. This system is brilliantly designed and puts to shame similar, less effectual paddles offered on much more expensive German sporting products like Porsche and BMW. The paddle design should come as no surprise, however, since Mitsubishi has won countless world rally championships, where quick shifting is the name of the game.

2016 Mitsubishi Outlander 3.0 GT S-AWC

Equal ingenuity has gone into the Outlander’s interior configuration. While seating for 7 is virtually unheard of in this class of SUV, the Outlander GT manages to turn the trick with a 2/3/2 package that includes a pair of diminutive third row seats that will pack the whole hockey team on board. The 32.5 cubic feet of interior space can be quickly reconfigured to accommodate a bicycle. Just step up to the rear side doors, pull a strap on the lower seat cushions to fold them forward, then lift a latch on the back cushions to fold them into the newly created well. The entire process takes about 8 nanoseconds. The GT comes with an electrically activated tailgate which can be triggered by a button on the dash or by a pad on the keyfob remote. The remote trigger, however, worked only intermittently. Perhaps after 20,000 miles, its battery was feeling a bit under the weather.

2016 Mitsubishi Outlander 3.0 GT S-AWC

In North America, Mitsubishi products seem to fly under the radar. Whether this is due to a lack of advertising or a restricted number of dealerships is unclear. What is clear is that the brand has consistently turned out strong examples of compact SUVs for a long time now. We were recently impressed with the Outlander Sport, for example. Although the Outlander GT can’t match the crisp handling of the Sport, the deficit is due in part to the mediocre Toyo A24 (225/55R18) tires fitted to the GT. These Toyos offer marginal stick and since the GT is relatively softly sprung, the footprint combination produces pronounced understeer accompanied by tire squeal. Although the Outlander GT won’t get your juices flowing at the sight of a twisty road, its many other cumulative virtues make it a prime candidate for your consideration as a do-it-all 7-Up family hauler.

2016 Mitsubishi Outlander 3.0 GT S-AWC

2016 Mitsubishi Outlander 3.0 GT S-AWC

  • Engine: 3.0 liter V6, SOHC, 24 Valve
  • Horsepower: 224hp
  • Torque: 215lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 20 MPG City/27 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $35,195
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Honda Ridgeline AWD Black Edition Review

Friday December 30th, 2016 at 11:1212 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Honda Ridgeline AWD Black Edition

By David Colman

Hypes: Precision Handling, Lively Drivetrain, Innovative Storage
Gripes: Tailgate, Hood Prop, Glovebox Need Refinement

After a two year absence, the Ridgeline returns to the marketplace minus its most identifiable feature. The flying buttress that long defined this Honda is gone. Not many owners will rue its absence. Although the Ridgeline’s iconic profile distinguished it from all other compact pickups, the cab side buttress interfered with rear vision as well as bed access. When you’re dealing with a bed as short as this one (5’3″), impaired access is inadvisable. But the redesigned structure makes side access easy. To understand just how short this pickup’s box is, place an adult size mountain bike in the bed. While the bike fits nicely, it takes up the entire floor.

2017 Honda Ridgeline AWD Black Edition

This Honda’s very versatile design is based on the company’s Pilot SUV, which was redesigned for 2016. Like the Pilot, the Ridgeline packs a sophisticated 3.5 liter V6, good for 280hp and 262lb.-ft. of torque. Those numbers will allow you to tow a 5,000lb. trailer – provided you keep the passenger and cargo load light in the truck. The owner’s manual gives you a specific breakdown as to how much the trailer load decreases when the passenger and cargo load increase. An integrated Class II trailer hitch and electrical receptacle are standard issue.

2017 Honda Ridgeline AWD Black Edition

The Ridgeline we tested, which Honda calls their Black Edition, is the most fully optioned and most expensive model in the line-up. Although you can opt for a crew cab 4×2 for a base price of just $29,475, the Black Edition 4×4 will run you $44,770 including $900 for delivery. That’s an expensive proposition, because some aspects of the Black Edition Ridgeline look more like a $30,000 product than a $45,000 one. For example, when you pop the hood to service the sideways mounted V6, you are forced to dismount a spindly support rod, then insert it into a specific hole, all while juggling the hood with your free hand. The sound deadening mat under the hood looks cheap. At the back end, the heavy tailgate thuds from upright to open with a disconcerting free fall crash. Its weight makes raising it manually quite difficult. Even the glovebox door mimics the tailgate, as it flops noisily open. Other domestic pickups have long since remedied such issues.

2017 Honda Ridgeline AWD Black Edition

In spite of these annoyances, there’s really a lot to love about the ingenious design of this crossover truck. Start with the basic design of the platform. Rather than the conventional body-on-frame design so common to compact pickups, Honda has chosen an alternate route they call “Integrated Closed-Box Frame with Unibody Construction.” In common English that translates into a one-piece body structure that provides a quieter ride, with better isolation from road imperfections. The Back Edition rides on model specific black alloy rims (8″x18″) with tall sidewall Firestone Destination all-season tires (245/60R18). The fully independent suspension of the Ridgeline works in consort with the tall Firestones to isolate you from road imperfections. Inside the cabin, outside noise is imperceptible, and even the nastiest potholes are neutered by the cushy Firestones. Yet this truck also corners with exceptional prowess. Its all-wheel-drive system metes power to all four corners with such precision that the suspension never loses traction. Substantial front and rear stabilizer bars help keep you on an even keel. Electronic, power- assisted rack and pinion steering is accurate enough to govern precise placement of this 4, 430 lb. vehicle. To Honda’s engineering credit, it drives smaller than it is.

2017 Honda Ridgeline AWD Black Edition

The V6 engine contributes greatly to the Ridgeline’s vibrant performance. When you toe into the throttle, power flow is gratifyingly immediate. 0-60mph test runs clock the Ridgeline at under 7 seconds, which is very quick for such an AWD truck. The 6-speed automatic transmission contributes smooth, immediate shifts, though it lacks manual paddle activated override. The V6 boasts cylinder deactivation technology, which allow this package to post an overall MPG rating of 21. When you combine this sweet drivetrain with all of the Ridgeline’s other features (hidden 7.3 cubic foot trunk in the floor of the pickup bed, folding, stowable rear seats, fully bevy of standard safety alerts), the Black Edition Ridgeline starts looking like something of a bargain surprise, even at $45,000.

2017 Honda Ridgeline AWD Black Edition

2017 Honda Ridgeline AWD Black Edition

  • Engine: 3.5 liter V6, 24 valve i-VTEC, Direct Injection, Variable Cylinder Management
  • Horsepower: 280hp
  • Torque: 262lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 18MPG City/25MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $44,770
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Kia Optima SX LTD Review

Thursday December 29th, 2016 at 11:1212 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Kia Optima SX LTD

By David Colman

Hypes: Strong Motor, Solid Handling, Unexpected Luxury Cabin
Gripes: Navigation System Anomalies

For a base price of $35,790, this Kia is a bargain.. When you climb into the spacious cabin, the first thing you notice is the diamond boxed seating surfaces, trimmed in soft mocha-hued Nappa Leather. You could be excused for thinking you had mistakenly opened the door to a Maserati or a Bentley rather than a Kia. But make no mistake, the top level Optima SX LTD, completely redone for 2016, is good enough to pass itself off as an expensive European luxury ride.

2016 Kia Optima SX LTD

The goodness extends beyond the obvious wow factor of the triangulated seat stitchery. If you opt for an SX LTD Optima, you’ll enjoy a very lively turbo inline 4, which utilizes direct fuel injection to slap out 245hp, and 260lb.-ft. of torque. Since this is a front wheel drive car, there’s enough power to provoke torque-steer, especially on wet pavement, All that zoom feeds through a sweet 6-speed automatic gearbox equipped with paddle shifts. The SX rides on standard 18 inch alloy rims shod with aggressively all season Michelin MXM4 rubber (235/45R18). Sport oriented suspension tuning helps provide taut responsiveness to steering input.

2016 Kia Optima SX LTD

Thanks to its willing yet efficient turbo engine (25MPG overall) this Optima is a lot of fun to drive. On the freeway, the SX is quiet and well snubbed, but still compliant enough to remain comfortable over distressed pavement. Both front seats are heated and offer full electric positioning control. The driver’s seat even includes a pair of memory buttons which retain pre-arranged mirror and seat positions. There are few interior clues to the bargain nature of the Optima. The only obvious one is the clumsy manual adjustment collar for steering wheel reach and tilt.

2016 Kia Optima SX LTD

The standard included Navigation System displays its maps on a sizeable 8 inch screen. But the mechanics of destination programming caused concern. When we attempted to enter the destination “Ferry Point” in Alameda, CA, the system repeatedly failed to recognize the address. It wasn’t until we abbreviated “Point” as “Pt.” that the Kia divulged the needed information. One wonders whether it would be able to understand the word “Street,” or require use of the abbreviation “St.” to find a street address.

2016 Kia Optima SX LTD

Programming glitches aside, the Optima offers an otherwise commendable slate of electronic entertainment and safety wonders. The audio system by Harman Kardon produces “QLS Premium Surround Sound” with enough vibrato to awake the dead. You even get to play with 200 plus channels of SIRIUSXM for your first 3 months of ownership for free. Also standard is the complete nanny package, which includes Front Collision Warning System, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Blind Spot Detection, and Lane Departure Warning System. With all of these obnoxious warning systems chiming in on a regular basis, you’ll be free to pay more attention to your text messaging and incoming phone calls. Just don’t make the mistake of believing that this car will take care of driving itself. An unpleasant bout with Advanced Smart Cruise Control (ASCC) convinced us that this particular system isn’t quite ready for prime time use. On a heavy traffic run up 101 from San Rafael to Petaluma, the Optima’s ASCC had us continuously slowing and thrusting with speed pre-set to 65mph. After 15 minutes of this behavior, we switched off ASCC, choosing instead to do things the old fashioned way – with foot and throttle pedal. In spite of its armament of nannies, the Optima SX remains a primo ride, since almost every nanny voice can be manually defeated before you start a trip. The only one that proved useful in all events was Rear Cross Traffic Alert, which also projects a rearward view on the 8 inch screen when Reverse gear is engaged.

2016 Kia Optima SX LTD

Despite front wheel drive, this turbo Optima is almost as much fun to drive as a small BMW. It’s got the grunt and the handling to satisfy your urge for sport without forcing you to pay the stiff entry price demanded by its German equivalent.

2016 Kia Optima SX LTD

  • Engine: 2.0 liter turbocharged inline 4 with direct injection
  • Horsepower: 245hp
  • Torque: 260lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 22MPG City/32 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $36,615
  • Star Rating: 9.5 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Hyundai Sonata Sport 2.0T Review

Wednesday December 21st, 2016 at 11:1212 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Hyundai Sonata Sport 2.0T

By David Colman

Hypes: Easy on the Eyes, Quick, Well Furnished
Gripes: Gnarly Brakes, Too Much Understeer

For the 2015 model year, Hyundai recast the mid-size Sonata, giving it better insulation, a roomier passenger compartment, and more up-to-date looks. For 2016, they added a hybrid version and a plug-in electric model good for 20 miles on a charge. For sportier types seeking higher performance, the Sport model we test here features a 2.0 liter turbo motor packing a 245hp wallop. This svelte looking front-wheel-drive sedan is beautifully sculpted, with graceful lines stretching from the front end’s signature 7 LED driving light cluster to the tail’s rear diffuser containing quad exhaust tips. The inline 4 really gets with the acceleration program. It’s coupled to a 6-speed automatic gearbox featuring paddle shifts plus a manual control gate on the console stick as well. Since the engine makes 260lb.-ft. of torque all the way from 1,350rpm to 4,000rpm, you almost never need to bother with the paddles or gear selection. Just floor the Sport’s model-specific ribbed aluminum accelerator pedal, and enjoy this sedan’s prodigious passing prowess. When bidden, it jumps.

2016 Hyundai Sonata Sport 2.0T

In addition to the exterior sporting clues, Hyundai has freshened the interior with such performance-oriented features as a D-shaped (flat bottom) steering wheel, and sport leather seating surfaces with standard front seat heating. These handsome pedestals are quite supportive during hard cornering maneuvers. Sports-tuned suspension and steering help raise the lateral limits of the Sonata Sport. If the basic ride quality and steering feedback is too soft for your liking, you can engage a Sport setting via a “Drive Mode Select” button on the center console that stiffens the steering feedback, and favors higher rpm engine operation. There’s also an Eco setting available which makes feedback sludgy and softens throttle response. Really, the Sport Sonata is well enough tuned that you could easily do without either of these Drive Mode Select options. In fact, I chose to spend most of my week in Normal mode, which offered good steering response without artificial heaviness, and lower-rpm shift points which eliminated noise and jerkiness. The standard 18 inch alloy rims bear mid-level Kumho Solus XT tires (235/45R18) that squeal when pushed to the limit. At that limit, this 3,315 pound sedan develops profound understeer, which is safe to control, but not very rewarding to manage.

2016 Hyundai Sonata Sport 2.0T

The list of standard attributes for the Sonata is long and surprisingly complete given its modest $28,925 base price. I really liked “Proximity Key Entry with Push Button Start,” since this allows you to approach the Sonata with hands full and slide right in without fumbling for keys. Likewise, once seated, just bump the large Start button on the dash while the key fob is still buried in your pocket or purse, and the Hyundai lights off without further ado. The remote fob also features a trunk release button that eases the toil you need to expend when loading groceries. These are niceties that many sedans costing twice as much fail to offer as standard equipment. Our rear seat test rider commended the spaciousness of the aft passenger compartment, which is fitted with twin floor mounted rear vents for A/C and heat. The cabin is quiet enough at 65mph to carry on a conversation with aft seat passengers, Despite the fact that our test Sonata lacked a sunroof, we hardly noticed its absence thanks to this sedan’s large and expansive side and rear windows.

2016 Hyundai Sonata Sport 2.0T

The Sonata is highly rated for crash safety by the US Government. It merits an overall score of 5 Stars, the highest evaluation available. It amasses this score by earning 5 stars for both front AND rear passenger, AND driver impact tests, plus 4 Stars for rollover rating. This highly rated protection accrues from front, side impact, side curtain and driver knee airbags. Additionally, the Sport offers standard blind-spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert. Although ABS brakes, with electronic brake force distribution and brake assist is a standard component of the Sport’s specification, the brakes on our high-mile (10,000 mile) test car were grabby and unpredictable. They failed to release when pressure on the pedal was removed.

2016 Hyundai Sonata Sport 2.0T

Aside from this foible, the Sonata Sport is well worth considering if you seek a family sedan with pretensions of performance at a modest price. This Hyundai checks a lot of boxes for the money.

2016 Hyundai Sonata Sport 2.0T

  • Engine: 2.0 liter 4-cylinder, turbocharged, gasoline direct injection
  • Horsepower: 245hp@6000rpm
  • Torque: 260lb.-ft.@1350rpm-4000rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 23MPG City/32MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $29,885
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Kia Sportage SX AWD Review

Tuesday December 20th, 2016 at 8:1212 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Kia Sportage SX AWD

By David Colman

Hypes: Handsome Redesign, Packed with Standard Features
Gripes: Comes on Boost With a Bang

Kia has dramatically facelifted the Sportage for 2017. This pugnacious makeover is most apparent up front. A battery of quadruple fog lights flank a new grill that resembles pursed lips. High above the beltline, headlight clusters sweep backwards like a pair of raised eyebrows. Flared fender lips and deft side sculpting complete the new look.

2017 Kia Sportage SX AWD

Standard 19 inch alloy rims, bearing 245/45R19 Hankook Kinergy GT rubber, replicate the natural beauty of a starfish. The Kinergy tires are well suited to the stable suspension tuning of the Sportage, offering a comfortable ride along with predictable twisty road handling. The Sportage’s newfound visual arrogance is appropriate given its turbocharged 2.0 liter, direct injection, 4 cylinder engine. This powerful mill makes 240hp and 260lb.-ft. of torque, so the Sportage can easily tow a trailer weighing up to 2,000 pounds.

2017 Kia Sportage SX AWD

Kia provides you with a very positive shifting 6 speed automatic gearbox, fitted with small paddles at the steering wheel, as well as a gate for manual shifting via the lever mounted between the seats. The only drawback to the turbo motor is its explosive transition to full boost status. This jerky off/on behavior causes the Sportage to jump into action with such a sudden jolt that the rush of acceleration can be hard to control. Better modulation of turbo boost would alleviate the problem.

2017 Kia Sportage SX AWD

It’s otherwise hard to fault this newly revised Kia product. Since all-wheel-drive is standard on this model, you are assured that traction loss in inclement weather will never delay your journey. The inclusion of a locking center differential contributes even more predictability and control to off-road travel. Also helping in this regard are the Hankook tires, which are Mud and Snow rated.

2017 Kia Sportage SX AWD

The interior accoutrements are more than you would expect from a sports utility vehicle carrying a base price under $35,000. While not luxurious, the fittings in the cabin bespeak quality rather than cheapness. The steering wheel, with its nifty flat bottom, is an especially well tailored piece of equipment. The leather rim is fat and grip-able, the stitching is nicely done, and the bevy of cruise and entertainment controls on the left and right spokes are logically arrayed and useful. Nicely upholstered, leather trimmed front seats are a bit too hard and flat in the lower back area, but do provide lumbar adjustment. Unexpectedly, both fronts are heated and cooled.

Vision to the sides and rear is so good that you rarely have to resort to the backup camera image projected on the 8 inch navigation screen when reversing out of a parking place. However, that newly upturned snout makes direct frontal vision difficult. The extra ride height of this SUV’s suspension benefits parking maneuvers by allowing you to glide over curb bumpers you can’t see. A standard front/rear parking assist system also helps keep your Sportage ding-free.

2017 Kia Sportage SX AWD

Kia’s revamped Sportage comes loaded with the full array of GPS-based information sources forgetful drivers require to keep them pointed in the right direction. You don’t have to pay a dime extra for Blind Spot Detection, Lane Change Assist, Lane Departure Warning System, or Rear Cross Traffic Alert. The beauty of these reminders is that they can be used when required or switched off at will. A final incentive to purchase this Kia comes from the company’s unusually long 5 year/ 60,000 mile Limited Basic Warranty, which thoughtfully includes Free Roadside Assistance for that same period of time.

2017 Kia Sportage SX AWD

  • Engine: 2.0 liter direct injection, turbocharged inline 4
  • Horsepower: 240hp
  • Torque: 260lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 20 MPG City/23 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $34,895
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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