Review: 2014 Mitsubishi Lancer GT

Monday October 28th, 2013 at 1:1010 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Rally Heritage Shows in Handling, Shifting
Gripes: Would Rather Own an Evo

Although eight years have passed since Mitsubishi last contested the World Rally Championship with the Lancer, this compact sedan still retains its WRC pedigree. With 11 different Lancer combinations available, picking the right one for your needs can be problematic. The range begins with the $16,000, front-wheel-drive DE sedan and tops out with the $35,000 all-wheel-drive GSR Evolution. Our $21,445 front-wheel-drive GT, with its 2.4 liter 168hp engine, represents a good compromise between the entry level 2.0 liter, 148hp DE and the line topping, turbocharged, 291hp GSR. The GT has enough urge to accelerate you out of tight passing situations while posting excellent mileage numbers (26MPG combined). Although our sample GT was loaded with $5,150 worth of options, you can certainly get by without the pricey ($3,300) Touring Package or the $1,850 Navigation System.

Although I’ve never been a fan of CVT transmissions, the constant velocity unit in the GT is staged so precisely that you’d swear it contains gear sets rather than belts. In keeping with their WRC tradition, Mitsubishi supplies the GT with racing style, cast aluminum “Sportronic” paddle shifts which are attached to the steering column rather than the wheel. These silver elephant ears facilitate up and down changes which are easily accomplished even when the steering wheel is cranked over hard. The ride quality of the GT is stiff and well snubbed thanks to its sport tuned suspension and low profile, high performance tires and wheels (215/45R18 Dunlop SP Sport 5000). Although the GT jiggles over pavement imperfections it handles corners with great precision. The suspension architecture, which combines MacPherson strut front with multi-link rear, is independent at both ends, and uses front and rear sway bars for added stability.

Although our GT’s 3 month free subscription to SIRIUSXM radio had already expired, the Rockford Fosgate 9 speaker, 710 Watt premium stereo (included in the Touring Package) could still be used for CDs or MP3 hookups by cantilevering the head unit open. Doing so reveals a single CD slot, plus a pair of SD card slots. A 10 inch subwoofer located in the trunk keeps track of the baseline. Even when supplied with the leather seating surfaces of the Touring Package, the interior of the Lancer seems bland and somewhat dated. Neither the front nor the rear seats will elicit rave comfort reviews from occupants. Although the rear seats fold flat, the sizeable partition separating trunk from cabin interferes with storage capacity. On the positive side, the Lancer’s tall greenhouse permits excellent sight lines in all directions. Thanks to this vision enhancement and the spunky 167lb.-ft. of torque from its large displacement 4 cylinder engine, the GT is easy to maneuver in tight city spots.

The Mitsubishi Lancer remains an excellent platform for the driver concerned with car control. Its quick reflexes, exceptional shifting, and torquey motor convert this innocuous looking family sedan into a rapid transit module that shows Mitsubishi hasn’t yet forgotten the art of driving hard.

2014 Mitsubishi Lancer GT

  • Engine: DOHC 2.4 liter inline 4
  • Horsepower: 168hp
  • Torque: 167lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 23 MPG City/30 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $27,390
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2014 Mazda6 Grand Touring

Sunday October 27th, 2013 at 8:1010 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Wealth of Included Niceties
Gripes: Underwhelming Grunt Below 3,000 rpm

Styling concepts pioneered by Mazda’s Shinari and Takeri show cars have reached fruition in the all new Mazda6. After taking it for a spin over challenging back roads, I can attest to the fact that this voluptuous looking reincarnation of the formerly prosaic Mazda6 is more than just a pretty new face. The revamped Mazda6 proved its mettle with refined handling, precise balance and high grip levels. It should come as no surprise that Mazda has been fielding a team of Mazda6 sedans in the GTX category of the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) this year. What should come as a surprise, however, is that these race-prepped Mazda sedans are currently vying with a Porsche Cayman S for the series title with just a few races left to run. Although the ALMS Mazda6s are Diesel-powered, our test vehicle’s 2.5 liter 4 cylinder engine ran on gasoline — so efficiently that we couldn’t use even a half tank of it after a whole week of running. The EPA rates the gasoline version of the Mazda6 at 32 MPG overall, and the turbo Diesel version, coming later this fall, will even improve on that skinflint economy.

The Mazda6 is a lot of sedan for the money. Its base price of $29,695 includes 4 door seating for 5, leather trimmed, heated sports seats up front, and a 60/40 fold down arrangement for the rear seats. Given the reasonable price, it was a surprise to find Mazda has included in the base car’s specifications a Bose 11 speaker audio system, SIRIUSXM and HD radio, and a 5.8 inch color touch screen display for the navigation system. The 185hp motor feeds its power to the front wheels via a new 6-speed automatic gearbox featuring manual gear selection via small paddles on the steering wheel spokes, or tap shifting from the floor-mounted stick. The steering wheel face also provides audio and phone controls on the left hand spoke and cruise controls on the right hand spoke. The standard issue, adaptive Bi-Xenon headlights deserve special praise not only for their brilliant illumination but also their magical ability to turn in the direction the sedan turns.

Nor did the Zoom-Zoom company default on suspension equipment. Standard 19 inch alloy rims provide secure mounts for Dunlop SP Sport radials (225/45R19) at all 4 corners. These all-season tires provide reassuring grip when you’re tackling switchback turns, or building speed on long, arcing freeway on-ramps. Handling of the Mazda6 is predictable and precise, despite the fact that 59% of its 3,185 pound curb weight rests on the front axle. Torque-steer is absent because the engine produces just 185 lb.-ft. of torque, which is never enough to cause the front wheels to slip while turning. In fact, the downside to the Mazda6 lurks under the hood, where the 4 cylinder engine’s lack of horsepower and torque is especially evident at low rpm in second gear. Just when you most need passing punch, the “Skyactiv” motor is loathe to deliver the required zest. Once you spool the engine past 3,000 rpm, however, the sedan becomes a serviceable performer.

A $2,080 “GT Technology Package” brought our test Mazda’s final price to more than $32,000. The package adds radar cruise control, regenerative braking, forward obstruction warning (FOW) and lane departure warning (LDW). Although the radar cruise control makes long distance running effortless, the benefit conferred by the other inclusions are less helpful. In fact, the LDW light on the instrument cluster flashed errantly for most of the week we spent with the car.

In view of the 2.5 liter four’s proclivity for sloth, we’d be inclined to hold out until the turbo Diesel makes its debut in a few months. After all, the Mazda6 platform is otherwise so good that it would be a shame to handicap its handling potential with a sub-par power plant.

2014 Mazda6 Grand Touring

  • Engine: 2.5 liter DOHC Inline 4
  • Horsepower: 184hp
  • Torque: 185lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 28 MPG City/40 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $32,845
  • Star Rating: 7.5 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2013 Kia Sorento EX AWD

Saturday October 26th, 2013 at 8:1010 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Counterbalanced Hood, Well Designed Interior Accoutrements
Gripes: Dark Red Instrument Needle Pointers Virtually Invisible

Last year, Kia transformed its Sorento from a truck framed SUV to a crossover style unibody. That big switch relegated the 2013 version to such minor revisions as new badge work and optional 3rd row mini-seats. The model range covers the gamut from entry level front-wheel-drive, 4 cylinder offerings like the $23,950 LX, to the penultimate offering we spent a week in, the $31,700 EX. Top of the model line is the SX, which stickers for $33,400. The all-wheel-drive EX model features a 3.3 liter V-6 using variable valve timing and direct fuel injection to produce 290hp and enough torque to tow 3,500 pounds. You’ll be operating a 6-speed automatic transmission without the assist of steering wheel paddles. The V-6 in this 4,235 pound vehicle, records just 18 MPG in city operation and 24 MPG on the highway. A round trip from Mill Valley to Santa Rosa surprised us by taking the fuel needle from full to half full in just 120 miles.

The Sorento EX is so softly sprung that the buckled pavement typical of California back roads causes it to pitch to and fro like a carnival ride. Comfort improves considerably on freeway jaunts where the independent front and rear suspension systems cope better with smooth pavement. Steering is fingertip light, with little information about front wheel position filtering back through the smooth leather wrapped rim. Although Kia provides the EX with standard 18 inch alloy rims wrapped in premium Kumho Venture rubber (235/60R18), you’ll rarely put these beefy contact patches to the test because the jiggling EX will dissuade you from cornering too vigorously.

At the moderate pace thus dictated by this SUV, you will, however, enjoy luxury and comfort beyond expectation in this price range. Of course, part of the bounteous swaddling stems from the fact that KIA fitted our EX with a “Touring” package that added a whopping $4,000 to the base price of the Sorento. Included in this compendium were such niceties as a Navigation System with a prominent 8 inch display panel. Unfortunately, unless you tap the “I Agree” button on the screen’s legal release document every time you start the Sorento, you’re forced to view this ridiculous warning in perpetuity.

Also provided by the Touring Package are an Infinity Surround Sound System, Ventilated and Power Adjustable Front Seats, Blind Spot Detection, and the Biggest Sunroof You’ve Ever Seen. When you factor in good visibility from the driver’s seat, oversize rear view mirrors, and very refined cruise control, the Sorento EX becomes a willing long distance cruise partner. Standard inclusions at the EX level include keyless push button start, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, tire pressure monitoring system, BLUETOOTH wireless technology, USB input jacks, 3 months of free SIRIUSXM service, and a rear camera display through the navigation screen.

If you opt for the $715 third row seat, you’ll be able to carry 5 adults and 2 children in the Sorento at the same time. This makes the EX an attractive proposition for large families more concerned with practicality than performance. While the latest Sorento will never confuse you with BMW-like handling, it accomplishes more mundane driving chores with a panache and refinement that exceed the modest expectations suggested by its cost.

2013 Kia Sorento EX AWD

  • Engine: 3.3 liter DOHC V-6 with direct injection and variable valve timing
  • Horsepower: 290hp
  • Torque: 248 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 18 MPG City/24 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $36,550
  • Star Rating: 7.5 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT

Friday October 25th, 2013 at 8:1010 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Loaded With Freebies, Clean Lines, Sport Sedan Handling
Gripes: Unpredictable Clutch Engagement, Lethargic Motor

The 5-door GT replaces the departed Touring version of the compact Elantra for 2013. The hatchback was originally intended to sell in Europe, where 5-doors remain popular. But Hyundai decided to import it to North America, where its utility will also be welcome. This Hyundai plays in a tough league dominated by the Honda Civic and newly revamped Toyota Corolla. To be successful against these all stars, the Elantra needs to look good, perform well and save you money on purchase price and fuel expenditure. In terms of appearance and economy, the new GT succeeds. In the performance department, however, this Hyundai needs horsepower help.

For a car with a base price of just $18,395, the GT looks much more expensive than it is. Hyundai stylists have chiseled a shape that looks good from any angle. Even at standstill, the GT’s aerodynamic fluting looks fast. The exterior’s performance orientation carries into the cockpit, which is neatly tailored, businesslike, and efficiently laid out. The 160mph speedometer contains a separate 240kph gauge in its center. Hyundai provides a standard trip computer with notations visible in a boxed screen located between the 6,700rpm redline tachometer and the speedometer. The base model GT also includes such niceties as heated seats, 16 inch diameter alloy wheels, front fog lights, steering wheel mounted cruise control, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, and Bluetooth hands-free phone system. In other words, this diminutive sedan is fully equipped without forcing you to upgrade it with expensive option packages.

Which is not to say, however, that Hyundai refrained from doing just that on our $24,360 test car. The sports-tuned suspension and 17 inch alloy wheel upgrade that made our GT such a fine handling sedan are both included in the $2,750 “Style Package.” These beguiling double 5-spoke chrome and matte wheels mount Hankook Optimo 215/45R17 tires that grip the road tenaciously. You also enjoy perforated leather seating surfaces, nifty aluminum ribbed pedals (including dead pedal), and a generously dimensioned “Panorama” opening roof. Adding another $2,350 to the bottom line is the “Tech Package” which positions a strikingly bright 8 inch Navigation screen on the face of the dashboard. The Tech Package also gives you keyless entry, start and stop functions via a dash-mounted button, and separate temperature controls for left and right side occupants. With all these ancillary upgrades, the GT’s plush cocoon covers any comfort or travel need you might ever need.

The GT’s great suspension, precise steering and flat cornering stance deserve a more powerful engine, however. The 148hp inline four makes just 131lb.-ft. of torque. Although the GT is very quick if you wring its noisy motor by the neck and keep revving it over 5,000rpm, you’ll have to work the 6-speed manual gearbox hard to muster such speed. And working that gearbox can be a chore because the clutch engagement is dodgy, sometimes catching near the floor, other times catching at the top of the pedal stroke. But if you are persistent enough about keeping the engine in its limited sweet spot, the GT is a blast to drive. Just don’t forget that under 4,000rpm, the little four banger is in permanent Sleep Mode.

This is a lot of car for the money, even with $5,000 worth of extras appended to the bottom line. The list of standard features is stunning, a real embarrassment to companies like Audi, BMW and Porsche who charge extra for every single nicety. When you factor in the GT’s exceptional 30 MPG overall fuel economy, Roadside Assistance coverage for 5 years (unlimited miles), plus a 5 year/60,000 mile New Vehicle Warranty, it’s hard not to give this stylish travel module a real close look.

2013 Hyundai Elantra GT

  • Engine: 1.8 liter DOHC Inline 4
  • Horsepower: 148hp
  • Torque: 131lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 26 MPG City/37 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $24,365
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2013 Honda Civic Si

Thursday October 24th, 2013 at 12:1010 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Scalpel Sharp Sports Sedan
Gripes: Confusing Bi-Level Dash

The Si is a remarkably adept sports sedan beset by a few niggling ergonomic problems. Its good points, however, far outweigh its shortcomings. The Si, first introduced to the Civic model lineup in 1987, has long been Honda’s street fighter, relying on peaky horsepower and splendid handling to embarrass cars costing more than twice the Si’s $28,000 sticker price. Under that abbreviated hood, you’ll find a ferociously competent 2.4 liter inline 4, with variable valve timing (i-VTEC) contributing exceptional top end power. At a screaming 7,500rpm, the Si makes 201hp and 170lb.-ft. of torque. When you zing the engine to redline, a warning light indicates i-VTEC actuation, followed by a quartet of yellow and red bulbs which illuminate sequentially as redline is reached. This is the kind of light display NHRA Pro Stock drivers use to win quarter mile drag races. The effect is mesmerizing, informative, and emblematic of the Si’s serious driving orientation.

There are 6 well-spaced cogs in the manual transmission to keep this mini dynamo on full boil. If you enjoy shifting manually, you’ll have a blast operating the Si’s crackerjack unit. Adding to the joy is the diminutive alloy golf ball that tops the stubby stick. It makes you feel like a surgeon in an operating room. Throws from gate to gate are so precise, and clutch actuation so linear and predictable, that the Si will instantly make a better driver out of you.

Chucking it around turns is another delicious pleasure. Fist, you benefit from the well padded high backed sports seats that keep your butt fastened to the chassis. Next, you’ll appreciate Honda’s taken the trouble to supply the Si’s 6.5″ x 17″ alloy rims with the latest high performance rubber from Michelin: 215/45R18 Pilot Sport 3 tires at each corner. The suspension system of the Si is decidedly stiff, with chunky swaybars and taut springs affording track ready ride firmness and mid corner stability. Few cars at any price provide the instant feedback and unalloyed joy of pushing the Si to the limit.

With such a great package on offer, it’s disappointing to encounter a handful of faults Honda should have corrected long ago. For example, access to the rear seats on this 2 door is decidedly poor. That problem would be tolerable if you could easily slide the front seatbacks forward, then restore them to their prior backrest rake setting. But no, every time you flip the seatback forward to toss something in the back, you must readjust your backrest manually to your preferred setting. This procedure was irritating 26 years ago, when I bought my first Civic Si, and Honda hasn’t done a thing to ameliorate the problem in a quarter century. Also on the quibble list is the absence of an exterior trunk release, which inconveniently forces you to use either the key fob remote button or the under dash release switch to gain access. The final problem concerns the in-dash navigation/entertainment screen which is virtually illegible in daylight because it inexplicably superimposes red letters on a gray background. The navigation’s bit-mapped video display looks more like Pac Man than HDTV.

But are these minor snafus serious enough to deter you from buying this Honda? Not in the least. With the possible exception of the Mazda MX5, there is nothing remotely comparable in sports motoring to the Civic Si for this kind of money. And the Mazda will barely carry two and their toothbrushes, while the Civic is a spacious, practical, everyday conveyance. If you cherish the art of driving, you owe it to yourself to take this Honda for a ripping test drive.

2013 Honda Civic Si

  • Engine: 2.4 liter inline 4, DOHC and VTEC
  • Horsepower: 201hp
  • Torque: 170lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 22 MPG City/31 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $27,805
  • Star Rating: 9.5 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2013 Infiniti FX37

Thursday October 17th, 2013 at 8:1010 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Runs and Handles like a 370Z
Gripes: Sharp-Edged Steering Wheel Pad, Poor Rear Vision

You can call the Infiniti G37 the Special Effects model, because of its special engine, gearbox and suspension. Although the FX37 may look like just another SUV, it’s really a Nissan 370Z twice removed. Why twice? Because Infiniti’s G37 sedan is directly descended from the 370Z, while the FX37 is the SUV version of the G37. The fact that Infiniti has applied the numerical designation “37” to rename what was formerly called the FX35 stresses its 370Z/G37-derived engine displacement of 3.7 liters. Virtually the same V-6 powers all 3 vehicles. In FX37 trim, the engine produces 325hp and 267lb.-ft. of torque driving the rear wheels only through a 7-speed automatic gearbox. This sweet gearbox features automatic engine blipping on downshifts to synch rpm with road speed. Although our test FX37 was not equipped with magnesium paddles for steering wheel shifting, they are included in the $2,866 optional “Sport Package” which also provides adjustable shock damping and sport-styled seats.

Even without the fingertip convenience of alloy paddles, the FX37 is still a pleasure to operate in sporting style. The engine is extremely responsive. The gearbox ratios are perfectly calibrated to keep the V-6 in its ample powerband. The suspension and steering remain taut and informative. Helping perfect the responsiveness are a set of 20 inch alloys mounting 265/50VR20 Bridgestone Dueler radials calibrated to maximize traction on pavement. This alloy wheel upgrade is part of a $3,300 optional “Touring Package” that also includes nifty looking quilted leather front and rear seats that are heated and ventilated, plus maple interior trim and aluminum pedals.

One addition you can do without is the $2,950 “Technology Package” which burdens the FX with an annoying set of nanny alerts like “Lane Departure Warning and Prevention” and “Forward Collision Warning” that chirp a concerto of beeps that will drive you to distraction. The problem with the FX37 is that rear vision is abysmally poor thanks to its sloping roof, minuscule rear window, and huge rear C-pillars, and no amount of technology will ever overcome that genetic malady. So do yourself a favor, pass on the Technology package, and vow to turn your head and check your mirrors every time you make a lane change. Luckily, a “Rear View Monitor” is standard fitment, so you can always check the dash displayed image when reversing the FX.

The lines of the FX37 aren’t so much handsome as bulbous. If SUVs could bench press barbells, the FX would be good for 300 pounds easy. Its mega-chrome grill confronts slower traffic like a schoolyard bully. Every stylistic sweep is calculated to emphasize aggression and road dominance. I was amazed at the number of people who meekly surrendered lane position when they saw the FX looming in their mirror. While this Infiniti isn’t quite as intimidating as a police cruiser, its stance renders other motorists submissive.

Once you’re ensconced in its finely detailed cabin, however, you’re hardly aware of that bully pulpit profile. Rather, your every travel need is catered to by this well mannered concierge of the highway. Those box-quilted front seats fit like a throne, while the button festooned dashboard offers so many comfort and entertainment preferences that you’ll spend hours poring over the owner’s manual to learn them all. Of course, the addition of the $4,300 optional “Premium Package” to our test FX’s window sticker added a lot of extra content to an already well-equipped vehicle. This grouping includes an upsized 8 inch VGA color screen on the dash, Hard-Drive Navigation, Voice Recognition, Streaming Audio via Bluetooth, in-dash single CD/DVD player, and slick looking aluminum roof rails. About the only thing not included in the Premium Package is a graduate level seminar in how to make all this technology work for you.

2013 Infiniti FX37

  • Engine: 3.7 liter DOHC, 24 Valve V-6
  • Horsepower: 325hp
  • Torque: 267lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 17 MPG City/24 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $55,800
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid

Wednesday October 16th, 2013 at 8:1010 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Best Hybrid For Enthusiasts
Gripes: Poor Brake Feel

“There are Hybrids and there are Turbo Hybrids” intones the commercial for VW’s latest offering in the Hybrid field, concluding that this Jetta is “The first Hybrid that you’ll actually want to drive.” For once, the advertising is right. Given this Jetta’s proclivity for balanced handling, gratifying surge, and seamless transitions between gas and electric modes, the Jetta Hybrid is way more fun to drive than a Prius or a Volt. This Jetta’s turbocharged, 140hp, 1.4 liter, inline 4 will stuff you smartly into your sport seat when the auxiliary electric motor kicks in to generate a combined output of 170hp and 184 lb.-ft. of torque.

Despite the fact that VW has slapped a set of ultra hard (Treadwear rating: 500) ContiSportContact 205/50R17 tires on distinctive looking sluice-gate alloys, the Jetta Hybrid grips the pavement surprisingly well. Just one quick blast through a set of S-curves will convince you that the Jetta is geared more to driving fun than any other Hybrid currently available. Adding to the enjoyment is a real, 7-speed DSG transmission, with manual override available at the flip of the stick. With most other Hybrids, you must contend with the disconcerting whine and bumpy shifts of a continuously variable transmission. On the minus side, the Jetta’s regenerative brakes feel grabby and imprecise, a first-generation Hybrid trait that other brands have long since eliminated.

Thankfully, VW has spared you the self-congratulatory encomiums so prevalent in other Hybrid instrumentation. You’ll see no falling leaves to document wastefulness here, no confusing charts requiring you to take your eyes off the road. If you need to regale yourself with such corroboration, look elsewhere because this VW barely bothers with such self-aggrandizement. Instead of shrines to virtue, you’ll find a simple 10,000 rpm tachometer, which also doubles as an engine status indicator with colored zones for “charge” (green), “eco” (blue) and “boost” (white). Indeed, the cockpit of the Jetta is pretty much what you’ve come to expect from this company: top quality materials, expertly assembled into an environment that stresses keeping your eyes on the road rather than on the dash.

To be sure, there’s a standard touchscreen navigation system, but because that screen does not subsume all other control functions, you needn’t bother with it when you just want to adjust temperature or fan speed. For those needs, VW provides good, old fashioned ribbed knobs that look great, and work better than any touchscreen embedded pictograph. In keeping with the businesslike demeanor of the driving environment, the steering wheel is fat rimmed, with recesses cut at 9 and 3 o’clock for thumb grips. Understated matte aluminum appliqués to the door panels and dash look just right in this Bauhaus minimalist cabin.

Of course the bottom line to the Jetta Hybrid equation is neither Euro centric design, nor turbo zing, nor gearbox splendor, but its EPA/DOT Fuel Economy rating of 42 MPG City and 48 MPG Highway. The Combined figure of 45MPG is so good that the government estimates your annual fuel expense at just $1,250. Compared to the average new vehicle, the Feds claim you’ll save $5,350 in fuel costs over 5 years. Our bit to run the Jetta Hybrid dry ran out of time because we simply couldn’t drive enough miles in 1 week to do a real mileage check. Suffice it to say that after driving it almost daily, we still had half a tank left with an estimated mileage range of 250 miles still showing.

The Jetta Hybrid is a remarkably stout product. Braking issues aside, it generates the same kind of driving enthusiasm you’ve come to expect from other VW products. There’s a basic honest and consistency at work here that will not disappoint longtime enthusiasts of this brand.

2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid

  • Engine: 1.4 liter in-line 4, turbocharged + electric motor
  • Horsepower: 170hp
  • Torque: 184 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 42 MPG City/ 48 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $32,010
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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


Review: 2013 Nissan 370Z Touring

Tuesday October 15th, 2013 at 8:1010 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Arrive and Drive Racer
Gripes: Stick Shaker, Poor Rear Vision

The 370Z is a no-compromise sports car. If you aim to own one, be forewarned that it’s you that will be making the compromises, not the Z. For example, the simple act of climbing aboard the coupe version will present a physical challenge you may not enjoy. The roof line is so low that you will have to duck your head while you fold your torso in order to slide bottom end first into the seat. After repeated pretzel twist entries, I learned to grab the steering wheel while performing a butt thrust that made me look like flopping Dick Forsbury, the first high jumper to clear 7 feet backwards.

Of course, once you’re ensconced in the Z’s tight cabin, memories of your inglorious entry fade as you lavish your eyes on the magnificent instrument panel, which provides more information than you could ever use. A trio of angled gauges atop the dash crown, mimicking those of the first 240Z, inform you of water temp, battery charge and time of day. A 9,000 rpm tachometer zips to redline in front of your nose, while the adjacent speedometer reads to 180mph. The fat, perforated leather steering wheel responds with vernier precision to the most minute adjustments. It is also fitted with handy tabs for scanning your SiriusXM presets without having to reach for the radio faceplate.

The Z’s love-it-or-leave-it personality persists once you prepare to drive off. Should you need to back out of a parking slot, you will be stymied by your inability to see anything lurking behind or beside you. Tank commanders have a better rear view than do Z drivers. You’d be well advised to back into parking places first, in order to spare yourself the agony of reversing blind later. Almost all is forgiven, however, when you fire up the 332hp V-6, snick the rifle-bolt-precise 6-speed manual into first, and feed in just enough gas to launch the Z from a standing start. Unlike so many finicky manual clutch packages, the Z’s take-up is perfectly linear and free of drama. Even though the Z lacks a hill holder function, you can perform a hill start anywhere in San Francisco with no drama thanks to an immediate supply of 270 lb.-ft. of torque. A persistent drawback to the manual transmission is its proclivity to shake the stick when in neutral. This has been a problem since Nissan reintroduced the Z back in 2003, and their engineers haven’t figured out how to quell the annoyance in 10 years. Of course, you can eliminate the problem by opting for the paddle-shifted automatic gearbox which contains 7 speeds instead of 6. But you’ll pay an additional $1,300 for the convenience.

Given the long, proud racing heritage of the Z, this latest Nissan two seater handles with the precision and aplomb you’d expect of such a pure bred sports car. Helping in that regard are several improvements for 2013. If you order the Sports Package ($3,030), the RAYS forged wheels differ in appearance from earlier versions, with thinner spokes revealing newly painted red brake calipers. These ultra light 19 inch diameter RAYS replace the standard issue cast 18 inch alloys. The gunmetal finished RAYS measure 9.5 inches wide in front and 10.5 inches wide in back (versus 8 and 9 inch width for the 18 inch wheels). Our Sports Package equipped 370Z mounted Bridgestone’s best all-around performance tire, the RE050A, with front rubber measuring 245/40/R19 and rears 275/35/R19. Nissan has also modified the valving of its Sports Package shocks for a “Euro-tuned” firmer, more controlled ride that can feel downright harsh at times. The package also includes a Viscous Limited Slip Differential, so this as-delivered Z is ideally configured for fast street driving, or track day competition.

A prime factor in the Z equation has always been its big 6 cylinder motor. Today’s hot rodded 3.7 liter V-6 benefits from micro-polishing of the crankshaft and camshafts. With variable valve timing and lift, the motor makes 332hp and 270lb.-ft. of torque. Just be prepared to endure a lot of not particularly pleasant noise when you stretch the motor past 4,000rpm. Even so, with a base price of just $37,820, the 2013 Z is without question a best buy sports car. Even when equipped with the Sports Package and Navigation System ($2,150), the 370Z still posts an affordable bottom line of $43,905. If you’re a nascent racer willing to put up with the minor foibles of this hard-edged rocket, you can’t do better than the latest 370Z.

2013 Nissan 370Z Touring

  • Engine: 3.7 liter DOHC V-6 with VVEL
  • Horsepower: 332 hp
  • Torque: 270 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 18 MPG City/26 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $43,905
  • Star Rating: 9.5 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2013 Toyota Venza LTD AWD

Monday October 14th, 2013 at 11:1010 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: More Useful Than a Swiss Army Knife
Gripes: Would-be Wood, Infuriating Customization Menu

Contrary to popular belief, “Veni, Vidi, Venza” does not mean “I came, I saw, I conquered” but “you asked for it, you got it, Toyota.” The Venza is Toyota’s gift to the family, a composite sedan, station wagon, and minivan offering seating for 5, or up to 70 cubic feet of storage with the back seats folded flat. In top line LTD trim, it lavishes enough nice touches to be confused with a Lexus. But it does so at the un-Lexus like base price of $38,870. Although our test Venza’s bottom line was burdened by an unnecessary $1,819 “Rear Seat Entertainment” system, its all-in total of $42,288 still constitutes a bargain for such wraparound family utility.

Though you could bargain hunt an all-wheel-drive, 181hp, 4 cylinder Venza for just $29,150, the 268hp AWD V-6 is the only one you’ll want to drive. The 3.5 liter engine strikes a good compromise between power and efficiency, returning 25 MPG on highway jaunts, and 21 MPG overall. Option your Venza with the bargain priced $220 Tow Prep Package (available only on the V-6), and you’ll add an engine oil cooler, oversized radiator fan, and heavy duty alternator which yield a tow rating of 3,500 pounds. Because the 6-speed automatic transmission is electronically controlled, you can select a gear range and hold the engine in its powerband without upshifting. If you’ve ever towed a loaded trailer over the Sierras, you’ll know how nice that feature can be.

The 60/40 folding rear seats retract with just the pull of a chairside lever. Doing so opens up a wealth of interior storage room that makes toting unwieldy objects a snap. For example, the rear threshold’s low height facilitates loading and unloading take-alongs like a mountain bike. No need to remove a wheel from the bike, nor hoist and bind it to a cumbersome roof rack. Just compress the springs of the removable privacy screen, stow the tubular screen behind the front seats, and you’ve got unlimited access to the Venza’s copious interior storage locker. Dark tinted privacy glass keeps prying eyes off your cargo.

The LTD’s standard 20 inch alloy rims, fitted with 245/50R20 Michelin Latitude tires, endow this crossover with a decidedly truck-like stance and appearance. The upside of the generous rubber allotment is impressive handling stability generated by unusually large contact patches at all 4 corners. The downside of the Venza’s stance is that it’s almost impossible to see anything to the front, sides or rear when you’re parking. The standard Backup Camera, which displays its video on a 6.1 inch dash screen, helps locate potential casualties to the rear. But the side view mirrors convey so little information about obstacles next to, or in front of the Venza, that you’ll find yourself bouncing off curbs you never saw.

The Venza’s interior could stand some refinement. The multiple bins dotting the console between the front seats are duplicative and cheap looking. Despite investing 30 minutes into reading the owner’s manual, I could never figure out how to stop the driver’s seat from sliding backwards every time I turned the Venza off. There are 2 different sources of menu customization available through dash buttons, with no apparent logic determining which button controls which series of features. Despite all the possibilities I never found the key to deselecting the annoying seat slide. On any Lexus, this is a 5 second deselection process.

In sum, the Venza offers such an array of travel possibilities that it will ping your sweet spot over and over. It’s easy to live with this mega- hauler because it looks like a beefy sedan but behaves like a brutish truck. Charming but butch, the Venza makes a lot of sense.

Toyota Venza LTD AWD

  • Engine: 3.5 liter V-6, DOHC with DUAL VVT-I
  • Horsepower: 268 hp
  • Torque: 246 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 18 MPG City/25 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $42,288
  • Star Rating: 7.5 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible Turbo

Saturday October 12th, 2013 at 8:1010 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Kal Kustom Leather, Turbo Scoot
Gripes: Annoying Trunk Release, Poor Top-Up Vision

The latest Beetle may look like the familiar face you’ve known forever, but don’t be fooled by appearances. First of all, this Beetle is built in Puebla, Mexico rather than Wolfsburg, Germany. Although clothed in sheet metal designed to deceive you into thinking this is a rear-engine, rear–wheel-drive derivative of Dr. Porsche’s original 1930s design, the second generation New Beetle (Newer Beetle?) is in actuality a front-engine, front-wheel-drive Golf GTI successfully masquerading as a very Old Beetle. Thus, you can validate your nostalgia quotient for traditional VW values without sacrificing comfort or performance to outdated (rear-engine, air-colled) engineering principles.

Under the front hood of this diminutive convertible lies the same turbocharged 4 cylinder engine you find in so many VW and Audi family products today. When VW stopped producing their jewel-like V-6 motor several years back, the 2 liter turbo became the default GTI engine. Now, with direct injection, it’s found its way into the turbo Convertible, where it produces 210hp, 207 lb.-ft. of torque, and returns overall fuel consumption of 24 MPG. Coupled to a delightfully responsive set of 6 closely spaced ratios in the manual transmission, the Beetle Convertible will scald back road apexes with nearly the same aplomb as a GTI. Although the Convertible gives up some structural rigidity to the hardtop GTI, the loss is hardly discernible when you’re close to the limit of adhesion. The fat contact patches of standard 235/45R18 Hankook Optimo H426 tires help this drop-top stay planted through the twisties.

VW has done a commendable job of fettling the convertible with appropriate go-fast hardware. Five spoke alloy rims, which look like updated versions of the classic Porsche Fuchs wheel, decorously display the low profile Hankook tires. Inside the cabin, the aluminum brake, clutch and throttle pedals provide rubber strips for better adhesion. The matte aluminum of the pedal faces match the same trim used on the instrument cluster face, the door grab handles and latches, and the trim ring surrounding the shift mechanism. A carbon fiber emulation faces the dash front, while matte pebbled vinyl surfaces the dash top and door panels. Piano black plastic door panel tops add some 40s era pizzazz to the interior, but the real star is the stunning, bi-color seating. The front buckets feature wide whale ribbed red leather seating surfaces set off by black leather bolsters on all sides. As a finishing touch, VW trims the black bolsters with double stitched red thread. The rear buckets match the fronts. The net effect is jaw dropping, especially considering that all this custom tailoring is part of the base package.

You can tuck a couple of adults into those rear buckets, and they won’t mind the crowded leg room so much if the top is down. But the rear seats produce claustrophobia when the heavily padded top is up. The small back side windows and rear glass panel also inhibit vision and make parking a chore with top up. Those of you who recall the days when English roadsters like the MG and Triumph came fitted with tonneau covers will get a kick out of discovering the same archaic piece in the Convertible’s trunk. It’s designed to hide the roof apparatus when the top is down. It takes a good 5 minutes to install, and will bring back fond memories of an earlier era of motoring.

At $32,665 delivered, the Beetle Convertible represents solid value, GTI-level driving fun. It also admits you to an enthusiastic ownership group that sets VW apart from any other car company. This Beetle is guaranteed to put a smile on your face. How many cars can do that?

2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible Turbo

  • Engine: 2.0 liter inline 4, Direct Injection, Turbocharged
  • Horsepower: 210hp
  • Torque: 207 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 21 MPG City/30 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $32,665
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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