Review: 2016 Kia Sorrento SXL AWD

Monday January 4th, 2016 at 11:11 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Kia Sorrento SXL AWD

By David Colman

Hypes: Spacious, Elegantly Trimmed Interior, New Turbo Motor a Keeper
Gripes: Too Softly Sprung

If you are looking for a large SUV with genuine off-road credentials, you will definitely want to consider the 2016 Sorento. Kia has introduced a significant new engine option for the 2016 model year. Instead of the still available 2.4 liter 4 and 3.3 liter V6, our test Sorento mounted the new 2.0 liter turbocharged inline 4, which makes impressive horsepower (240hp) and torque (260lb.-ft.) considering its diminutive displacement (just 2 liters, or 121 cubic inches). Best of all, it powers the Sorento to an overall fuel consumption average of 22MPG, which is quite a feat considering this vehicle’s hefty 4,235 pound curb weight.

In addition to the new engine, which is available only on SXL and Limited trim grades, Kia has substantially upgraded the Sorento’s interior for 2016, with added soft ouch surfaces, high quality leather seats, and an infotainment and navigation system that is easy to access and read, thanks to its high definition 8 inch screen. In fact, when you climb into the spacious cabin of the Sorento, you will marvel that Kia has packed so many up market features and furnishings into a vehicle with a base price of $41,700.

2016 Kia Sorrento SXL AWD

The SXL grade Sorento feels more expensive than it is because all of the following niceties are included in the base price: dual zone climate control, surround sound audio, navigation, 3 month free SIRIUS XM Satellite radio, console mounted AUX input jack and USB port, Nappa leather seats, dual memory settings for driver’s seat, push button start with smart key, heated and ventilated front seats, and heated, leather wrapped steering wheel with tilt/telescope function. If you were to buy a German sports utility, you would pay thousands extra for most of these convenience and comfort features. Kia, however, includes all of them and more in the base price of the SXL Sorento.

In fact, the only add-on to the base price is a $2,500 charge for the “SXL Technology Package,” which provides Xenon HID headlights, Lane Departure and Forward Collision Warning, and an electric parking brake. It also upgrades standard cruise control to a radar based smart cruise system that maintains pre-set distances to traffic ahead. The Technology Package brought the Sorento’s MSRP to $44,200. Personally, I would eliminate these extra price techno goodies, although the HID headlamps do light up the night like a bonfire.

2016 Kia Sorrento SXL AWD

Given the fact that the turbo system produces abundant torque low in the engine’s rpm range, the Sorento moves out very smartly from a standing start. This is especially true if you select the Sport mode on the center console before driving off. This reset optimizes throttle response, holds lower gears until high engine rpm is achieved, and focuses on dynamic driving by adjusting steering response, engine performance and transaxle behavior to suit aggressive driving. You must, however, reset the Sport choice every time you restart the Sorento.

Kia engineers have thoughtfully incorporated a lockable center differential into the Sorento’s transaxle, so you can depend on this useful tool to extract your all wheel drive Kia from snow, sand or mud entanglements that would stymie most SUVs lacking a lacking center differential. However, don’t think that the Sorento’s “Sport” mode confers sports car handling on this beefy all weather vehicle. Despite its sporting aspirations, the SLX is softly sprung and softly damped. This combination of factors produces a comfortable ride quality over even the most jarring road imperfections. What it does not do is compensate for pitch or roll when you attack curves with a modicum of brio. Under such duress, the suspension compresses and expands with such ease that the chassis flies off bumps like a pogo stick. Although standard 7.5″ x 19″ alloy wheels plant Michelin Premier LTX tires at each corner (235/55R19), even their premium contact patches can’t mask the Sorento’s squishy ride oscillations.

2016 Kia Sorrento SXL AWD

Of course, no one looking for an SUV touting sport over utility would select this Sorento as their first choice. If you need to haul a load and go fast, then opt for a BMW or Porsche SUV. But if moderate speed and handling define your game, then opt for this Kia. Its emphasis on utility allows it to pack 73.5 cubic feet of stuff into the interior if you collapse the new for 2016 40/20/40 folding rear bench seat. Even with 5 adults on board, you still have 38.8 cubic feet of space to fill. You can even order your Sorento with a third row good for 2 toddler seating. You won’t find a more luxurious or affordable SUV in the market with all those utility features on tap.

2016 Kia Sorrento SXL AWD

  • Engine: 2.0 liter turbo with direct injection
  • Horsepower: 240hp
  • Torque: 260lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 19MPG City/25MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $45,095
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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


Review: 2016 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring FWD

Wednesday December 16th, 2015 at 10:1212 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring FWD

By David Colman

Hypes: Fine Handling, Spunky Motor, Solid Build Quality
Gripes: No Proximity Sensor for Automatic Door Unlocking

Mazda has been touting their “Skyactive” technology for several years now in an advertising campaign that suggests the company has somehow reinvented the internal combustion engine. What they have in fact done is utilize extremely high compression ratios in both 4 cylinder engine variants that power the CX-5 sports utility. We spent a week driving the more powerful of the two, the Grand Touring front wheel drive (FWD) model, equipped with the 2.5 liter, 184hp in-line 4. Mazda also offers a smaller 2.0 liter in-line 4 good for 155hp. Both engines, the Skyactive G-2.0 and Skyactive G 2.5, compress the fuel air mixture to an astronomical ratio of 13:1, an application that would have been unthinkable for a mass production engine just a few years ago. Because Mazda manages to thus squeeze every last bit of energy out of every firing cycle, gas mileage benefits as well as horsepower. The 2.5 liter CX-5 posts an excellent overall EPA rating of 29MPG. When you consider that this 3,435 pound four door will comfortably seat 5 adults while providing cargo volume of 33 cubic feet, it’s evident Mazda has done their packaging homework here. The G-2.5 engine’s quick response proves that Skyactive Technology is more than just a catchy phrase.

2016 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring FWD

The CX-5 also confirms the theory that every Mazda’s DNA coding contains Zoom-Zoom genes. This is one of the best handling compact SUVs on the market, thanks to its stiff springing, anti-roll suspension design and sticky 225/55R19 Toyo A23 radials, mounted on 10 spoke, 19 inch alloy wheels (standard on the Grand Touring model). Base CX-5′s make do with 17 inch rims and 225/55R17 rubber. If the devil is in the details, Mazda has paid close attention to the hidden attributes that differentiate a great handling platform from a mediocre one. In this case, all the important elements are present: 4 wheel disc brakes, independent front and rear suspension, and front and rear anti roll bars. The upside of the athletic suspension calibration is a level ride platform, excellent steering response, and a complete lack of slop during cornering maneuvers. The downside is a stiff, sometimes jarring ride quality that will never remind you of sinking into your favorite armchair.

From a maneuverability standpoint, the CX-5 proves to be the ideal tool for scooting through traffic clogged freeways or attacking back roads with confidence. In the long run, a stiffly sprung ride is dynamically superior in performance, and the calibration of the CX-5 proves that point over and over. The fact that the healthy 2.5 liter engine administers satisfying spurts of acceleration when needed provides the cherry on top. Mazda refuses to succumb to the current craze for noisy and ineffectual CVT transmissions. This SUV offers you a proper 6-speed automatic gearbox. Although it lacks the finesse of paddle shifts, it does offer Active Adaptive Shift (AAS) which intelligently selects optimum gear ratios when the selector lever is placed in “Drive.” The transaxle also allows manual override of shift points if you slide the console mounted stick from the “D” to the “M” quadrant. In practice, the AAS program works so well at figuring out gear needs that you never need to select the manual option, unless you’re towing a trailer. The CX-5 is rated for a 2,000 pound tow load.

2016 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring FWD

Interior furnishings of the latest CX-5 are surprisingly refined, especially if you order the nifty looking two-tone Parchment interior. This choice brings you well sculpted seats front and rear, with bolsters done in black and seating surfaces in perforated off-white vinyl. The list of standard accoutrements is surprisingly long for a vehicle of this class. Making your life simpler will be rain sensing wipers, power automatic door locks, 8 way power driver’s seat with power lumbar adjustment, and heated front seats. None of these luxury touches are expected on an entry-level SUV carrying a base price of $28,220. For a surcharge of $1,505, your Mazda can be equipped with a grouping of improvements such as Lane Departure Warning, LED fog lights and tail lights, and an auto-dimming interior rear view mirror. A $200 retractable rubber cargo cover is a sensible investment if you plan to carry messy goods or pets in the cargo area. With virtually all available bells and whistles on board, our test CX-5 still totaled just $32,860.

2016 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring FWD

If you need an economical, reasonably sized sports utility that emphasizes sports as much as utility, then the 2.5 liter version of the CX-5 is well worth consideration. Consumer Reports thought so too, giving it their Recommended Check as a best buy product.

2016 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring FWD

  • Engine: Skyactive 2.5 liter inline 4
  • Horsepower: 184hp
  • Torque: 185 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 26MPG City/33MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $32,860
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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


Review: 2016 Scion iM

Thursday December 10th, 2015 at 11:1212 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Scion iM

By David Colman

Hypes: Manual Transmission Available, Bargain Price
Gripes: Poor Gear Ratio Choice, Needy High Beams

Scion’s introductory advertising campaign for the brand new iM model stresses the fact that it’s “Weird.” Really, the only thing weird about the iM we drove for a week is that its price ($19,594) is inexplicably low. This is really a very serviceable sedan with features you would expect to find in the next price class up the food chain. From a mechanical standpoint, the iM platform is first rate, with ABS disc brakes with brake force distribution at all 4 corners, standard alloy wheels ditto, and premium grade Toyo Proxes rubber (225/45R17) providing decent grip. Our test iM featured a 6 speed manual gearbox which imparts a sporting feel to operation. The gates of the linkage are well defined, and the synchronizers allow quick, sure transitions from gear to gear. If you opt for an automatic, you will find your choice limited to a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) borrowed from the Toyota Corolla ECO. Also taken from the ECO is the iM’s 137hp 4 cylinder engine which powers the front wheels.

2016 Scion iM

The iM has the makings of a promising little sports sedan. But in current form, those promises are partially unrealized. The manual gearbox is fun to shift and does get you involved in the art of driving. But mushy clutch engagement spoils the party. In particular, it’s difficult to judge just when the clutch bites to engage first gear. An even bigger problem is the choice of gear ratios for second and third. These two gears are so far apart that your engine speed drops nearly 2,000rpm when up-shifting from second to third. If the engine produced lots of torque this would not pose a problem. But because the iM’s 1,8 liter four makes only 126lb.-ft. of torque, you need to conserve every foot pound. The transmission’s “weird” gearing fails to meet this need.

2016 Scion iM

As with previous Scion progeny, customization of the car’s appearance and handling are left to dealer installed options. As it stands at delivery, the iM affords a comfortable, plush ride quality at the expense of handling precision. While the Toyo tires do their best to hang on through corners, the softly sprung platform hikes over under duress, negating the grip of the tires. But help is at hand. Your local Scion dealer will offer a full line of TRD performance parts such as stiffer anti-roll bars and tauter springs. The iM will respond well to such improvements because its basic platform features fully independent strut front suspension and independent double wishbone rear suspension. This is a sophisticated design primed for aftermarket fine tuning.

2016 Scion iM

Nothing in the iM’s cabin looks or feels cheap. The front seats are comfortably configured for excellent lower back support. The driver’s seat is manually adjustable for height. All seating surfaces feature a grippy cloth that looks good and promises long life. A curious white stripe demarcates the lower edge of the black dashboard, bringing to mind the tuxedo look touted by Scion in recent TV ads for the iM. Aside from this one jarring note, the interior scores high marks for its standard 7″ Touch-screen that is easy to read and control. Although you can easily hook up your music device through provided AUX or USB ports with iPod connectivity, Scion does not offer Satellite Radio on the iM, so you’ll have to make do with your own devices or the available HD radio instead. Almost all HD selections key to album covers shown on the sizeable Touch-screen display.

A night time run in the iM revealed soothing blue lights for the instrument pod, which boasts its own 4.2 inch color multi-information display. One item to note is the fuel range read-out. We watched it hold steady at 60 miles estimated range, but as soon as we hit a few curves, the fuel warning light started blinking, and the display shifted to “Range Low.” So be extra careful when you reach the quarter tank mark on the gas gauge, because the fuel range is likely to diminish from acceptable to concerning instantly. That night run through curves also revealed a sharp cut-off of the high beams, which left much territory unlit on the driver’s side.

2016 Scion iM

The new iM is a solid piece of design work. Its crisp good looks, serviceable interior, and fun gearbox make it an affordable choice for urban drivers or millennials who aren’t car-obsessed. And with just a little help from the TRD parts bin, the iM can develop a new performance personality. Either way, it’s definitely a lot of new Scion for the money.

2016 Scion iM

  • Engine: 1.8 liter inline 4, DOHC, 16 valve
  • Horsepower: 137hp
  • Torque: 121lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 27MPG City/36 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $19,594

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


Review: 2015 Toyota Tundra CrewMax 4×4

Wednesday November 25th, 2015 at 9:1111 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Toyota Tundra CrewMax 4x4

By David Colman

Hypes: Well tailored oasis, impervious to traffic
Gripes: Hard to park, harsh ride

We spent a rewarding week touring Northern California in the $50,889 Toyota Tundra Platinum grade truck, the most expensive Tundra you can buy. Toyota offers no fewer than 41 different levels of Tundra, starting with the least expensive SR double cab ($28,410) and ending with the model we tested. Platinum grade brings you really attractive diagonally tufted leather trimmed upholstery on all seating surfaces, as well as tufted dashboard and door panels. These artfully stitched designs conferred a richness to the Tundra’s otherwise sober black interior. In addition to the needlework, this top level truck includes a Moonroof, integrated turn signal mirrors with power folding feature, power front seats with adjustable lumbar support, and memory positions for seat and mirror location. The CrewMax configuration, with its four full size doors, allows maximum use of the expansive cabin. Although we never had occasion to transport anything in this truck’s spacious 5.5 foot long bed (double walled with rail caps), We did manage to fill the huge rear seat with vacation gear for a 4 night adventure to Monterey and Laguna Seca Raceway.

2015 Toyota Tundra CrewMax 4x4

Parking at the track took place on rugged terrain, but the slippery hills never gave the 4×4 Tundra a moment’s pause. We positioned this truck effortlessly without even resorting to 4 wheel drive. Off-road traction is excellent thanks to Pirelli Scorpion tires (275/55R20) on Platinum grade alloy wheels that actually look undersized on this behemoth truck. Our test Toyota also carried $500 worth of “Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert.” While this option is hardly worth buying on smaller vehicles, it’s almost a necessity with the Tundra, which stands so tall that your immediate sightlines to adjacent traffic need all the help they can get from this option.

2015 Toyota Tundra CrewMax 4x4

Toyota eliminated the V6 from the Tundra lineup this year. While lesser versions of the truck still use a 4.6 liter V8 making 310hp, that output is hardly adequate for this 5,740 pound pickup. But the 5.7 liter V8 standard on the Platinum rig makes 381hp and 401lb.-ft. of torque, which is more than enough power and twist to propel it at a comfortable freeway pace. We averaged 17mpg on our extended journey. Given the Tundra’s 34 gallon tank, good for 578 miles, we only had to refill once during our week of travel. At first, the optional $1,100 TRD dual exhaust system seemed to issue more noise than acceptable, with a throbbing drone that constantly changed tenor. But we quickly got used to the tailpipe music, and soon forgot about it all together. When you need to move fast, a firm prod of the accelerator brings out a hearty roar from the handsome stainless steel system, fitted with special TRD chrome finishers. This Tundra makes no bones about being a hot rod truck.

Luckily, the hotel where we stayed provided valet parking only, and this proved rather fortuitous since the CrewMax Tundra is not a rig you want to park in tight spaces, or park at all for that matter. The upside of its size is to provide lots of real estate on the open road, which is great. But when you are looking to dock it in town, the opportunities for doing so are limited. You park this big rig where you can, so plan on doing a fair amount of walking to your final destination. A Smart Car it is not.

2015 Toyota Tundra CrewMax 4x4

What it is, however, will make you feel invincible. At a commanding height of 76 inches, it stands Texas tall, appropriate to a truck built in that state. And at 80 inches in width, and 229 inches in length, you’ll want to watch those mirrors for lane placement on the freeway, because this Toyota takes careful minding. But the literal upside is that it’s physically superior to almost all traffic. And for that peace of mind, $$50,889 seems a relatively small price to pay.

2015 Toyota Tundra CrewMax 4x4

The Platinum Tundra proved to be the perfect get-away vehicle for a long weekend. If you use it to tow a boat, trailer, or play car, its 4.3 :1 rear end ratio will sweep your load away effortlessly, with a tow limit of 10,400 pounds. Our test model included everything you need for such a drayage chore: Tow/Haul transmission mode, heavy duty engine and transmission cooler, 4 and 7 pin connectors.

2015 Toyota Tundra CrewMax 4×4

  • Engine: 5.7 liter DOHC V8 with Dual Independent VVT-i
  • Horsepower: 381hp
  • Torque: 401lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 13MPG City/17 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $50,889
  • Star Rating: 9.5 out of 10 Stars

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


Review: 2015 Dodge Challenger Scat Pack

Tuesday November 24th, 2015 at 9:1111 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Dodge Challenger Scat Pack

By David Colman

Hypes: 12 second quarter mile runs
Gripes: Could use a rear wiper

Some test cars are easy to forget. But this Dodge is not one of them. The Scat Pack Challenger is the most incredible performance bargain on the market today. A genuine four seat muscle car capable of cranking out 12 second quarter miles, yet costing just $41,490. And to top it off, the exterior design is so alluring it could win a modern art competition. Even the basic 6 cylinder Challenger is a stunning automobile. But as you work your way up the food chain at Dodge, the embellishments to the mechanical and visual package make the Scat Pack version irresistible. Under the twin nostril hood you’ll find Chrysler’s king pin power plant, an SRT massaged 6.4 liter HEMI producing 485hp. A pair of vintage looking Super Bee emblems aft of the front fenders remind observers what you already know: this Dodge means business. In fact we were accosted at one of our frequent fill-ups of this 18MPG ride by an adjacent gas customer, who took one look at our Challenger and launched into a delightful story about his own first car, a 1969 Super Bee Dodge. That original model carried the same logo and bumblebee tail wrap as today’s Challenger. The entire project is a brilliant heritage marketing coup for the Dodge Division.

2015 Dodge Challenger Scat Pack

In order to cope with the ferocious torque output of the HEMI, our Challenger harnessed its output through an optional ($1,400) TorqueFlight 8-speed automatic gearbox with paddle shifters. The stubby floor shift mounted between the heavily bolstered front seats boasts two separate gates. This “AutoStick” transmission offers fully manual shifting in the left gate, and fully automatic gear changes in the right gate. However, you can always engage a specific gear at any time in either gate by popping the paddle shifters on the steering wheel. This set up is so foolproof that you’ll enjoy it as much if not more than the 6-speed manual gearbox which is available at no extra cost. The only other option on our test vehicle was the $1,100 “R/T Scat Pack 6.4L HEMI V8″ which includes an Appearance Group that adds super bee emblems to the seat headrests, a satin black fuel filler door, very foxy looking high energy discharge headlamps, the afore mentioned bumblebee tail stripe, thick logo floor mats, and a massive performance steering wheel with hefty pistol grips next to the paddle shifts.

2015 Dodge Challenger Scat Pack

Nor does Dodge ignore this hefty coupe’s suspension. Premium Bilstein shock absorbers monitor every corner, reacting with persuasive authority to road and wheel camber changes. Giant Brembo brakes stop the action like an arresting hook on an aircraft carrier. Massive 9 inch wide, 20 inch diameter alloys, with polished spokes and black pockets, mount Goodyear’s best rubber: 245/45R20 Eagle F1 tires. Although it’s been quite a while since Goodyear’s been involved in Formula 1, they once owned the World Championship, and these tires still reflect that hard earned pedigree. The Challenger corners hard and flat, with no understeer at all thanks to the mid-ship placement of the HEMI. Even the Sport Mode stability and traction control programs are tailored to let you hang the tail out under full acceleration before they intercede. This car offers the best compromise between traction control and enthusiast driving I have experienced. And to top it all off, the firm ride is infallibly comfortable. The Challenger simply never loses its composure, whether you’re blasting off for a quarter-mile run, or tackling some nasty turns.

2015 Dodge Challenger Scat Pack

You can have a lot of fun with the special performance evaluation programs Dodge builds into the instrumentation here. You can manipulate the Driver Information Display (DID) to exhibit the following performance aspects: 0-60mph, 0-100mph, 1/8 and 1/4 mile times, braking distance, current and peak G-Force, lap time and lap time history, and top speed. All information gleaned will be sent directly to your insurance carrier. Just kidding. For gear heads, this cornucopia of data is cat nip nirvana. Dodge has built an affordable, good looking, stinking fast hot rod that not only pays tribute to a storied past, but betters it with a massive infusion of technology that could only have been dreamt of back in 1969.

2015 Dodge Challenger Scat Pack

  • Engine: 6.4 liter SRT V8 MDS HEMI
  • Horsepower: 485hp
  • Torque: 475lb.-ft
  • Fuel Consumption: 15MPG City/25MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $41,490
  • Star Rating: 10+ out of 10 Stars

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


Review: 2015 Nissan Pathfinder SL 4×4

Saturday November 21st, 2015 at 8:1111 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Nissan Pathfinder SL 4x4

By David Colman

Hypes: Spacious, Airy Interior
Gripes: Doors self lock and don’t unlock, Valet settings for seat/mirror inoperative

When I first started reviewing new vehicles back in the late Eighties, the Nissan Pathfinder was one of my favorite primordial SUVs. It offered good looks, taut ride and instant throttle response. Over the intervening years, Nissan has taken the Pathfinder on a course that has strayed far from that original. Its corporate chromed appearance no longer distinguishes it from myriad other SUVs on the road. Its ride quality has shifted from precision to comfort. And the throttle response of its current 3.5 liter V6 is adequate rather than scintillating. But the biggest change of all has come in size and proportioning. Where the original Pathfinder was a squeeze for 5, the current iteration is a squeeze for 7. Our 2015 SL level test model weighed 4,505 pounds, with a length of 192 inches and a wheelbase of 112 inches. With the front seats pulled forward, you can tip the second row seats flat and slide them forward. This allows access to the very cramped third row which will accommodate a couple of pre-teens. To facilitate exit for third row occupants, you need to revisit steps 1 through 3 in reverse order. It’s not exactly handy, but if you must carry 7, the Pathfinder will get the job done.

2015 Nissan Pathfinder SL 4x4

Driving the Pathfinder will make you feel more like a bus driver than a sport utility commander. The enormous cabin offers good sight lines in all directions, but when you look in the rear view mirror you’ll see a sea of headrests that scream “minivan.” The pitchy handling of the Pathfinder bears out your initial impression. Soft springing allows it to tilt substantially when pressed even slightly on curving freeway exit ramps. On two lane twisting back roads, the mud and snow capable Continental Cross Contact LX Sport tires (235/65R18) offer little resistance to squealing at apex time. You can push the Pathfinder hard, and it will generate a fair amount of headway when doing so. But there’s little pleasure to be derived from that operation because the tires wash out early and the steering never imparts much information about grip or position.

2015 Nissan Pathfinder SL 4x4

The 3.5 liter V6 couples to a CVT transmission that has but two forward selections: Drive and Low. There’s no lateral gate separation for these positions, so it’s all too easy to start off in Low when you meant to slot the lever into Drive. Out on the road, your only bet for changing gears is to stomp the accelerator, a gesture which alters the belt equation of the CVT to provide you with a passing spurt. With 240lb.-ft. of torque on tap, the Pathfinder does move out smartly when prodded with full throttle. But you never lose sight of the fact that its power-to-weight ratio of 17.3 pounds per horsepower will not win you any stoplight drag races. Our test Nissan included a $2,030 “SL Tech Package” which added Navigation, Voice Recognition, Bluetooth Streaming Audio, and a nicely integrated Tow Hitch and Trailer Harness. The all-wheel-drive Pathfinder can be set to either 2 or 4 wheel drive with a rotating dial located on the console between the front seats. This dial also includes a button to operate hill descent control. The lower quadrant of the dash to the left of the steering wheel houses a “Tow Mode” button which, when activated, alters shift operation of the CVT to provide additional uphill power and better downhill engine braking. Tow load for the Pathfinder 4×4 is 5,000 pounds.

2015 Nissan Pathfinder SL 4x4

The interior of the Pathfinder is more welcoming than a New England hearth in autumn. The leather trimmed almond colored seats in our test sample were uniformly comfortable and handsome. At least the first 2 rows. That third row is best left for tykes to explore. Nissan has done a nice job of equipping the vaulted roof with an oatmeal headliner that makes the interior look even more spacious than it is. A panoramic moon roof is optionally available, but thanks to all the window light, you don’t really need it to counteract claustrophobia. Nissan has done a particularly good job of engineering the multiple seat controls to allow reconfiguration of the interior from people mover to parcel shelf. They call this system “EZ Flex” which uses “Latch and Glide” technology to facilitate the transformation. When you can accomplish such a chore without once consulting the owner’s manual, you know the system is intuitive rather than confusing.

2015 Nissan Pathfinder SL 4x4

Nissan has selected a very different route for its Pathfinder than the one it set out on many years ago. It has de-emphasized the Sport angle of SUV in favor of the Utility angle. For large families with space consuming needs, the new version of the Pathfinder is more useful than the original ever was.

2015 Nissan Pathfinder SL 4×4

  • Engine: 3.5 Liter V6
  • Horsepower: 260hp
  • Torque: 240lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 19 MPG City/26 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $40,875
  • Star Rating: 7.5 out of 10 Stars

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


Review: 2015 Lincoln Navigator 4×4

Friday November 20th, 2015 at 12:1111 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Lincoln Navigator 4x4

By David Colman

Hypes: Cargo Hungry Behemoth, Prime Airstream Tote
Gripes: No Memory Settings, Flimsy Mirror Stalk

The Navigator is Lincoln’s effort to turn the Ford Expedition into a true luxury SUV. Since both vehicles weigh 6,200 pounds, share similar Eco Boost turbocharged 3.5 liter V6 engines, and 6 speed automatic gearboxes, what makes the $66,066 Navigator worth $20,000 more than the $46,315 Expedition? Call it panache, or the refinement of breeding, but the Lincoln name plate, which has long stood for excellence, does not disappoint in this instance. Our first drive in it took us home at night, When we flipped the key fob remote to unlock the burly SUV, the first thing we noticed were power deployed running boards tipping into place to facilitate cabin entry. The Navigator, after all, stands 78 inches tall, so step-in is no easy chore without running board assistance. The second thing we took note of was the large display of an illuminated Lincoln logo on the dark pavement on either side of the vehicle. This ingenious entry light system won our hearts over immediately. It really is a brilliant touch, unlike anything we’ve seen before.

2015 Lincoln Navigator 4x4

The good vibes continue once ensconced in the vast cockpit. We should point out that our test vehicle did not make do with base level equipment. Rather, it included pricey Equipment Group 101A ($6,850) which the window sticker would lead you to believe just adds 22 inch polished aluminum 20 spoke wheels and 285/45R22 Pirelli Scorpion Verde tires. Further research, however, indicates you receive much more than wheels and tires for your extra six thousand dollars. Specifically, the 101A Group also adds those useful running boards, upgraded premium leather low backed bucket seats, upgraded leather instrument panel, door panels and console, unique color headliner, upgraded Ziricote wood appliqué, and 2-tone exterior tuxedo black lower body-side moldings. All these niceties add up to a rather stellar looking package. The deviated light tan stitching across the sweeping chocolate dashboard looks fetchingly European. The seats are sumptuous front and rear, with myriad fine tuning available for back rest angle, lumbar support, heating and ventilation. About the only thing missing from the luxury index is a provision for memory retention of driver settings for seat, mirror and steering wheel position.

2015 Lincoln Navigator 4x4

This rig drives big, like a semi. You need to be real careful about where you position it in your lane, because its width of 80 inches does not allow much room for error. While the steering feedback is surprisingly accurate and informative, the sheer size of the Navigator demands your full attention. The Pirelli Scorpions are enormously effective at gobbling up the miles without jiggering the ride quality. Their vast 285mm tread snags a lot of pavement when you’re tackling winding secondary roads. While you’ll never forget the 3 ton bulk you’re commanding here, the Navigator never embarrasses itself in the handling department. And in the power department, Lincoln has found the magic key to make a fuel efficientV6 rival the large displacement V8 it replaces in the Navigator line for 2015. This turbo marvel, which you can barely see when you peer into the vast engine bay, produces 380hp and 460lb.-ft. of torque, more than enough grunt to tow 9,000 pounds of trailer with ease. By comparison, the sibling Ford Expedition makes 365hp and 420lb.-ft. of torque, so in the power department you get what you pay for with the Lincoln. The Navigator’s exterior rear view mirrors are particularly generous in size, which makes them perfect for towing chores. Their lower edge incorporates directional signals, and you will find side traffic alert lights located on the outer edge of the mirrors. Trailer sway control is a welcome standard feature.

2015 Lincoln Navigator 4x4

The interior of this unit is so vast that most of the time you’ll wonder what to do with its 61.5 cubic feet of cargo space. New for 2015 are electrically folding second and third row seats, so transforming the interior of the Navigator from people mover to cargo truck is less of a chore than it once was. The console receptacle between the front seats is deep enough to accept a couple of six packs, so even small object storage is never a problem inside the Navigator. Compared to some newer luxury SUVs, the Lincoln’s music/operations interface (called My Lincoln Touch) seems exasperatingly involved and demanding, which should come as no surprise since Microsoft provides the dynamics. The only other niggle is the inside rear view mirror, which is so insubstantially mounted to the windshield that it vibrated like a tuning fork. Aside from those minor issues, the Navigator is without question the Cunard QE2 of the highway, regal looking in its optional Ruby Red Tinted Metallic Clearcoat ($495), magisterially towering above the flotsam and jetsam like a true luxury liner.

2015 Lincoln Navigator 4x4

2015 Lincoln Navigator 4×4

  • Engine: 3.5 liter v6 Eco Boost turbo
  • Horsepower: 380hp
  • Torque: 460lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 15MPG City/20MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $73,395
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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


Review: 2015 Ford Mustang Eco Boost 4

Tuesday October 13th, 2015 at 3:1010 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Ford Mustang Eco Boost 4

By David Colman

Hypes: Eco Boost Motor is a Keeper, Stellar Exterior Redo
Gripes: Needs Rear Wiper, Closer 2nd-3rd Gear Ratios

Back in the first 1960s heyday of the Mustang, if you saw a button on the dash marked “Shaker” you knew that the ram intake on your hood would open when you pressed that magic button. More cold air meant more horsepower. Because the induction scoop was mounted on the engine and was not part of the hood, it would vibrate in synch with the engine, earning it the name Shaker. The 2015 Mustang has a “Shaker” button on the dash, but this one has nothing at all to do with increasing air intake. Rather, it refers to an optional $1,795 “Shaker Pro Audio System” which includes 12 speakers. The button simply enhances the rush of hot air through those dozen speakers, not the rush of cold air into your motor.

2015 Ford Mustang Eco Boost 4

Once I got over the initial disappointment of that generational descriptive shift, I discovered that the latest Mustang has lost nothing of its rambunctious nature, active hood scoop or not. Our Ingot Silver Metallic test bullet fully lives up to the brand’s storied reputation. Without question, this is the best Mustang Ford has ever built. Three engine options are available this year, with the V6 model being the most affordable at a base price of $23,600. The subject of this test is the EcoBoost Premium Fastback, with a turbocharged 2.4 liter inline 4, and a Base Price of $29,300. The least expensive V8 Mustang is the GT Fastback, which carries a Base Price of $32,100. It’s been quite awhile since Ford sold a 4 cylinder Mustang, so we were curious to see whether such a fuel efficient power source (25 MPG Combined City/Highway) could cut it in the performance department. With its output of 310hp @ 5500rpm and 320lb.-ft. of torque @ 3000rpm, the answer is an unqualified yes. Even when coupled to the 6-speed “Select Shift” automatic transmission ($1,195), the turbo Mustang was always up to the task of rapid mobilization.

2015 Ford Mustang Eco Boost 4

The Select Shift gearbox can be slotted into a Sport setting marked “S” on the floor console. Once you’ve selected that quadrant, the small paddle shifts behind the steering wheel can be used for all up and down gear changes. The only drawback to the automatic gearbox is its big gap between 2nd and 3rd gears. Most of the time, you will lose 1500rpm when shifting up, which puts the small displacement four banger at an acceleration disadvantage. I would much prefer to see these two most frequently used gear ratios closer together for back road work.

2015 Ford Mustang Eco Boost 4

Other than that shortcoming, the turbo 4 Mustang runs back roads like a scalded snake. The optional “Eco Boost Performance Package” ($1,995) is a must if your drives have more curves than straights. Ford engineering’s absolute stroke of genius is to equip the Performance Package enhanced Mustang with whopping fat Pirelli P Zero tires (255/40ZR19) at each corner, mounted on tastefully understated Ebony Black Painted aluminum wheels. The final flourish to this bargain priced package is inclusion of a 3.55:1 Limited Slip rear axle that insures your Mustang instant forward bite when you tromp the throttle.

Almost every time I started the Mustang, I made sure to engage my “Drive Mode” of choice. This is accomplished by flipping a chrome plated switch on the lower face of the central console to the setting marked with a helmet for “Track.” This configures the suspension for sport driving and reallocates the shift points to maximize thrust. Next to that switch is an identical toggle for steering feedback, which I always set to “Sport.” With these preparations made, the Mustang hunkered down over its Pirellis and absolutely refused to slide or deviate in any way from my selected line through switchback turns.

2015 Ford Mustang Eco Boost 4

On the window sticker, Ford identifies the Mustang as a “”4-Passenger Sports Car.” After spending a week behind the wheel, I would never quibble with that description, though I must admit to a preference for the front seat rather than the limited vision back seat. If you do carry passengers in back, you’ll want to provide them with air sickness bags because the latest Mustang is a true g-Force generator second to none.

2015 Ford Mustang Eco Boost 4

  • Engine: 2.3 Liter inline 4, DOHC, Direct Injection, Turbocharged
  • Horsepower: 310hp @ 5500rpm
  • Torque: 320lb.-ft.@3000rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 21MPG City/32MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $37,790
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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


Review: 2015 Toyota Highlander Limited FWD

Sunday October 4th, 2015 at 11:1010 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Toyota Highlander Limited FWD

By David Colman

Hypes: Exceptional Utility, Effortless Long Distance Cruiser
Gripes: Dynamic Radar Cruise Control Sometimes Misreads Traffic

Nobody’s going to give any styling awards to Toyota for the Highlander. Its bullish snout and hyper thyroidal tail lights won’t win many automotive beauty pageants. What you will celebrate about this SUV is its luxurious functionality. This is without question one of the most useful driving tools you could own. We spent a busy week inside the spacious cabin of the 2 wheel drive V6 Limited version, logging round trips from the Bay Area to Monterey, as well as repeated outing to Sonoma Raceway for the IndyCar finale. In all that time behind the wheel, the Highlander repeatedly proved itself to be an ultra competent companion. Its 68 inch height allows you to survey traffic from a dominating vantage point. Optional $599 Running Boards help ease entry and egress, and look good to boot with rubber skid plates embedded in matte aluminum planks. Side windows are tall enough to admit dazzling amounts of light. Part of the Limited’s standard equipment “Platinum Package” includes a two pane Panoramic Moonroof which doubles the already generous amount of light and outward vision when slid open. Think Gray Line sightseer coach when you think of the Highlander Limited and you’ll have a good idea of just how expansive the view is from inside this Toyota.

117

An important factor in its utility is the ease with which it can be converted from a 7 passenger bus with 3 rows of seats to private transport for 4 (all in plush Platinum Package standard captain’s chairs), or seating for 2, with van size flat storage space behind. In that latter configuration, I was able to carry a Mountain Bike with plenty of room to spare fore and aft. Thank the Highlander’s 191 inch length for accommodating bulky loads. All these shifts in function can be accomplished in seconds, without needing to refer to the Owner’s Manual for instructions. All seats are clearly marked with numbered notations accompanying pictographs designed to assist you in converting the Highlander from bus to van and back. The Highlander Limited features automatic tail gate actuation, accessed via a key fob remote sender, or a button on the dashboard. While this proved handy in the long run, we ran afoul of a problem not mentioned in the 15 (!) pages of the Owner’s Manual devoted to operation of what Toyota calls the “Back Door.” If you somehow manage to inadvertently open the window of the back door by pushing the external button on the tailgate, the automatic function of the door becomes disabled even though the glass window still looks to be closed. If you have to open or close the lift gate when the power function is thusly disabled, you’ll want to do a hundred bench presses before tackling the weighty and uncooperative unpowered gate.

124

EPA mileage figures for the Highlander V6 indicate this 4,490 pound SUV is good for 25MPG on the highway, and we were able to duplicate that number on our freeway run to Monterey and back. Even around town driving saw 20MPG, slightly better than the EPA’s estimate of 19MPG. Though the V6 Highlander turns in respectable economy numbers given its substantial curb weight, this Toyota is anything but sluggish when prodded with the accelerator. In fact, the first time I floored the throttle, I was amazed at just how much weight transfer from front to rear occurred as the Highlander’s nose shot up and the rear suspension compressed. Its 3.5 liter V6 benefits immensely from variable valve timing to provide instant power when you snap open the throttle. Consequently, the Limited is rated at 5000 pounds for tow duty, and our test example was fitted with an optional Receiver Hitch and Wiring Harness for $599. The Limited also comes with 19 inch Chromtec alloy wheels fitted with beefy Bridgestone Dueler H/L tires (245/55R19). These off-road capable mud and snow tires proved their worth when we ran into some heavy mud while parking the Highlander in the Media Lot at Sonoma Raceway after a heavy morning rain.

Toyota should really call this Highlander the Unlimited because it offers such an extensive inventory of opportunities to recreate, transport and effortlessly gobble miles, all the while doing so at a remarkably fuel efficient pace.

114

2015 Toyota Highlander Limited FWD

  • Engine: 3.5 Liter V6 DOHC with VVT-i
  • Horsepower: 270hp
  • Torque: 248lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 19MPG City/25 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $45,716
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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


Review: 2015 Volkswagen CC 2.0T R-Line

Saturday October 3rd, 2015 at 8:1010 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Volkswagen 2.0T R-Line

By David Colman

Hypes: Full Size Spare with Alloy Rim, Bewitching Looks, Manual Transmission
Gripes: GTI-spec Motor on Wish List

If you’re interested in buying an Audi but have VW money to spend, then take a close look at the VW CC in R-Line trim for 2015. At 56 inches in height, the CC matches Audi’s low slung A7 exactly. Both share the same sweeping corporate roofline, and streamlined good looks. As VW says of the CC, “In some cases, looks are everything.” But where the Audi’s price range starts at $68,300, the CC tested here costs just $35,100 out the door. Granted you’ll have to forego the Audi’s 333hp supercharged V6 and hatchback in favor of the CC’s 200hp turbo straight 4 nand enormous but conventional trunk, But the recent addition of an Audi-inspired R-Line package (revised front bumper, side skirts, threshold scuff plates and model specific wheels) brings the four-place VW coupe even closer in spirit to its much more expensive cousin from Ingolstadt.

Unlike so many other current VW offerings (Beetle, Golf, Passat), the CC is still built in Germany (Emden). In fact, 62 percent of its parts are built there, including the 6-speed manual transmission we had so much fun shifting all week. Its 200hp turbo motor originates in Hungary. The result is an immaculately finished product with typically clean Teutonic lines, high quality materials, and a quaint German resistance to modern driver aid trends. By that I refer to the 2015 CC’s lack of lane keeping assistance and adaptive cruise control. If you want those features, the 2016 CC will fill the bill. Another strange anomaly in the CC is the circuitry for the headlamps. There is no switch setting to activate just the driving lights, which are unique to the R-Line. Also, if you happen to leave the dash selector switch in the headlamp setting when you kill the ignition, the main lights will remain on until the battery dies. I made just that mistake on an early CC I drove several years back.

097

Seating surfaces are supportive but hard edged. You won’t confuse the CC with your favorite arm chair. There’s a business-like tone to the interior that places function above form. You won’t find any fancy stitching on the dash, or R-Line embroidery in the headrests, though the scuff plates bear the R-Line logo. VW’s effort to differentiate this model from the basic CC rests in its new lower grill and front bumper. This assembly sports a more pronounced and angular splitter. Fluted rocker panels exaggerate the CC’s fluid lines to good effect, and help focus on its special Uniwheel 8×18 inch double five spoke alloys bearing Continental Pro Contact tires (235/40R18). Subtle R-Line badges on the front grill and rear deck lid complete the transformation.

094

With virtually the same 2.0 liter turbo engine powering the 3,420 pound CC as that used in the 3,155 pound GTI, the CC comes off as somewhat less sporty than its cheaper and lighter brother. It would be nice to see VW install the GTI’s optional 220hp turbo 4 in the engine bay of the manual transmission 2.0T CC. Of course, if you crave more horsepower, you can always opt for the 280hp V6 4Motion version of the CC (base price: $43,140), but you’ll have to forego the joy of shifting a manual transmission since the V6 CC only links to a 6-speed automatic.

With its wide stance, excellent performing tires, and sports calibrated suspension, the R-Line CC whisks through twisty back roads with an élan that is scintillating. Granted, there’s a fair amount of body roll, but that same spring rate compliance that rocks the boat ever so slightly on challenging terrain also leavens unwonted feedback over speed bumps and broken pavement. In sum, the ride quality of the CC manifests a tolerable compromise between outright grip and all-around comfort.

096

In many ways, the R-Line CC, with its swath of matte alloy interior trim, carefully organized exterior airflow, and driver-oriented manual gearbox, epitomizes the best of German engineering and German construction. That it’s available for such an affordable price is as surprising as it is inviting.

2015 Volkswagen CC 2.0T R-Line

  • Engine: 2.0 Liter Turbocharged DOHC 16 Valve 4 Cylinder with Direct Injection
  • Horsepower: 200hp
  • Torque: 207lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 21 MPG City/32 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $35,140
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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


« Previous Entries Next Entries »



Latest Reviews



Select a Category