Review: 2014 Jeep Patriot Limited 4X4

Tuesday December 10th, 2013 at 8:1212 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Huge Flat Cargo Floor, Great Tipstick Design
Gripes: Lethargic Handling, Underpowered

The Patriot is Jeep’s classical architecture version of its sibling, the more streamlined Compass. In lieu of gentrified Compass styling, the Patriot’s boxy lines and upright seven slot grill make you think Wrangler rather than Grand Cherokee. The Patriot line begins with the base model Sport FWD, with a starting price of $16,000. Work your way to 4WD and you add two grand to that base price. The Latitude model comes in at about twenty thousand for 2WD, three thousand more for 4WD. We spent a week with Jeep’s top line version, the Patriot Limited 4X4, which carries a base price of $25,895. By the time you’ve added the $995 Customer Preferred Package 2GF (theft alarm, cargo convenience group. roof rails with adjustable cross bars and Tipstick automatic gearbox), plus $745 for navigation with 40GB hard drive, the top of the line Patriot will set you back $28,630.

Even with the heated leather seats included in the Limited’s specification list, the interior of this Jeep doesn’t look luxurious. The first thing you notice inside the cabin is a gaping hole on the passenger’s side of the dash. While this lidless glove box provides a handy receptacle for random items, it looks sketchy. It also duplicates the ample enclosed glove box just below it. Another unnerving note is struck by the incessant chiming that begins if you insert the ignition key in its slot before you buckle up your seatbelt. There are better ways to save you from yourself than this persistent annoyance.

New for 2014 is the 6 speed gearbox, which replaces the previous model’s noisy constant velocity unit. The new “Tipstick” transmission is ingeniously designed to allow you to switch from full automatic to manual mode by simply swatting the Tipstick right for automatic or left for manual. There’s no need to search out separate gates for these two functions. Once in manual mode, you can up shift or down shift be slapping the Tipstick left or right. It’s one of the best solutions yet devised for this complicated bit of engineering.

If you select the Limited version of the Patriot, you receive the upgraded 2.4 liter, 172hp inline 4 instead of the baseline 2 liter, 158hp inline four that powers the 2WD Sport Patriot. Even with this optional motor, the Limited is hard pressed to launch with much thrust. You need to select the correct gear set with the Tipstick before initiating passing maneuvers. The engine sounds labored as it crescendos through the rpm range, and even at a freeway cruising speed of just 70mph the DOHC four is spinning at a rather noisy 2,500rpm. Tow capacity is limited to 2,000 lbs.

Where this Jeep excels is in the practicality department. Flipping forward the 60/40 split rear seats (which also happen to recline) is a simple maneuver that opens up a substantial flat load floor good for 54.2 cubic feet of space. Even with both rear seats erect, you’re good for 23 cubic feet of storage. The beauty of low rear liftover height and that flat floor configuration should not be underestimated. Slinging a bicycle through the tailgate and into the Patriot presented no hassle whatsoever.

The Patriot Limited’s 217/60R17 Firestone Affinity tires are quiet and comfortable over potholes, but ill suited to cornering duty. In fact, this Jeep is not your weapon of choice for back road bashing. It tends to slither through turns without generating much grip. Initial understeer predominates until Electronic Roll Mitigation conspires with Electronic Stability Control to slow progress to a crawl. Thus, it’s virtually impossible to get the Patriot crossed up or out of shape on a curvy road. Out on the freeway, this Jeep is better behaved. Its fat rimmed, leather-covered steering wheel offers you just the right opportunity to get a grip. Even though the Patriot’s high belt line dictates smallish side and rear windows, vision is commendably good in all directions. If you need the safety factor afforded by 4WD, and fancy practicality over speed, this entry level Jeep deserves a close look.

2014 Jeep Patriot Limited 4X4

  • Engine: 2.4 Liter, 16 Valve DOHC inline 4 with Dual VVT
  • Horsepower: 172hp
  • Torque: 165lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 21 MPG City/27 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $28,630
  • Star Rating: 7 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2014 Chevrolet Malibu 2LT

Monday December 9th, 2013 at 1:1212 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Stellar Rear Seat, Huge Trunk, Build Quality Abounds
Gripes: Driver’s Seatbelt Requires Gorilla Pull, Tapshift Button Too Petite

After introducing a completely new Malibu for 2013, Chevrolet has made understandably few changes for model year 2014. Visually, the most noticeable alteration eliminates the large upper grill opening in favor of a small slot across the nose of the hood. Thus, the already streamlined shape of the Malibu looks just a little cleaner than before. Rear seat legroom has been enhanced for 2014 thanks to indentations in the front seat backs to better accommodate gangly knees. In fact, the rear seat of this sedan is a particularly happy place to sit because there’s lots of side glass for spectating, a drop down armrest with indentations for two beverages as well as a shallow lidded compartment, and intelligent door pockets designed to store slightly inclined water bottles.

With indentations scooped for passengers’ backs and buns, the rear seats offer better side support than the fronts, which are too flat and hard to stabilize you during hard cornering. For an extra $1,000, Chevy will heat the front seats and finish them in leather, with seams stitched in contrasting thread color. The effect looks expensive. In fact the entire interior belies the bargain price of the Malibu (base: $25,215). The stalks sprouting from the steering column feel so solid you’d swear you were driving a Mercedes. Chevy uses a striated plastic insert on the center console and door panels that mimics the look of drift wood. Slightly off putting are the five ridge horizontal ridges that sweep across the entire dash face. These extrusions incorporate air vents, but present lots of surface area to accumulate dirt. Think of the ribs as brave new worlds to conquer when you prepare your 2LT for concourse events.

The Malibu is the only car in this price range that offers standard Auto Stop technology. When you’ve selected the “D” range on the 6-speed automatic gearbox, the car shuts itself off automatically when stopped for more than a few seconds, then re-fires as soon as you remove your foot from the brake. The transition from run to stop to run is seamless, and much more successfully handled than current BMW products. If you slot the gearbox into its “M” or manual mode, the Auto Stop feature is eliminated. In M mode, you can manually up shift and down shift through the entire gear range, but you must use a tiny button atop the shift knob to accomplish the task. Chevy calls this feature “Tapshift.” With the exception of one clunker of a down shift this arrangement worked well. But it’s hard to locate the button atop the knob, and even more difficult to figure out which half to depress when you need to snag the right gear. Paddles would be much appreciated next to the steering wheel spokes.

Chevy has selected a very tall differential ratio of 2.89:1 to enable the Malibu to record 29 MPG in overall driving. But this tall rear gear lets the 2.5 liter Ecotec engine fall flat on its face if you just trundle along in “D” range without manually selecting the appropriate gear for each situation. The Ecotec motor is plenty powerful, but it makes its horsepower so high in the rev range (196hp@6,300rpm) that you really need to supervise its behavior closely using the Tapshift routine. Once out on the open highway, the Malibu is a silent, comfortable runner, with excellent cruise control apparatus, clear speed readouts on the central information screen, and a plush ride quality that will keep your passengers enthralled. On twisty sections, the fat, top line Goodyear LS2 Eagles (235/50R18) show their mettle with excellent, squeal-free adhesion.

The optional 9 speaker Pioneer audio system costs an extra $1,175, and justifies its expense by providing 250 scintillating Watts of output. New for 2014 is an Advanced Safety Package ($795 extra) which includes Forward Collision Alert, Side Blind Zone Alert, and Rear Cross Traffic Alert. Unless you’re planning to text while driving (!), I wouldn’t recommend springing for this pricey and annoying option group.

All in all, the Malibu 2LT is a sweet, engaging design that caters more to comfort than performance. Its exceptional level of fit and finish proves conclusively that home-grown products like this Malibu (built in Kansas City, KS) are every bit the equal of cars coming from Japan, Korea and even Germany.

2014 Chevrolet Malibu 2LT

  • Engine: 2.5 liter DOHC Inline 4
  • Horsepower: 196hp@6300rpm
  • Torque: 186lb.-ft.@4400rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 25 MPG City/36 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $30,125
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2014 Acura RDX AWD with Technology

Friday December 6th, 2013 at 3:1212 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: More Computing Power Than Apollo, Slick Quick Handler
Gripes: Manual Hood Prop on a Forty Grand SUV?

The latest 2014 RDX builds on the positive changes accomplished for 2013, when Acura redid the RDX by installing a 3.5 liter V-6 instead of the previous version’s 2.5 liter turbocharged inline 4. This engine compartment transplant makes a compelling case for giving the formerly underpowered RDX another look. Instead of the turbo motor’s peaky power band and inadequate torque, you’ll revel in the V6′ 273hp and 251 lb.-ft. of torque. There’s more than enough grunt to spin the wheels from a standing start, and you’ll never be disappointed in this engine’s passing lane performance. Connected to the transversely mounted V6 is a 6-speed automatic with well-staged gear sets designed to optimize performance of this 6,800rpm redline engine. You can select your own gear of choice by popping the floor stick into its manual gate, or accomplish the same task by blipping up shift and downshift pads adjacent to the steering wheel. The all-wheel-drive technology RDX, which carries a base price of $39,420, extracts a premium of $1,400 over a similarly equipped two wheel drive model. The upgrade is well worth the additional outlay for the extra grip and security afforded by driving all four wheels. We had a tough time finding the cornering limits of this SUV on dry pavement. Its Michelin Primacy MXM4 tires (235/60R18) hardly ever issued a squeal of discomfort, despite the fact that their tall 60 series sidewall height is far from optimal for sporting assignments.

Over the past several years, Acura has remade this premium Honda brand into a feast for technology lovers. The latest RDX is crammed with features that will delight demanding technocrats. For example, you never need to fumble your key into the ignition slot because a cinnamon red metallic “Stop/Start” button next to the steering wheel forever relieves you of insertion duties. When you engage reverse gear a real time view of the area behind your MDX illuminates the standard Navigation screen, complete with yellow parking guidelines to assist you in judging distance. By pressing “Enter” on the center console’s beefy control knob, you can even toggle the rear display to switch between wide angle, overhead or standard rear views. Moreover, should you wish to remove the yellow guidelines from the picture, simply press the “Cancel” button on the console and hold it down for 3 seconds. You can also program the outside rear view mirrors to tilt down when reverse gear is engaged to improve your view of the curb for parallel parking. This feature can also be engaged or disengaged at will. Talk about customization!

The interior design of the RDX cabin is soothing and spacious. Our “graphite luster metallic” example featured expensive looking mocha leather seats and door panels that contrasted subtly with the chocolate tinted dash and center console. A matte finished pewter molding separated the two interior tone zones. Each front seat features a “Driving Position Memory System” which allows you to retain two favorite seat and mirror positions. Both front seats include standard 2-stage heat settings.

Although the large central Navigation screen, which is shielded by a Visigoth-like hood, looks rather intimidating at first, the cavernous design serves its purpose well by screening out errant light during daytime driving. You can enter a destination into the system by using voice commands (say “Display Destination”) or instruct the data base to search for an ATM, gas station, restaurant or movie theater by saying “Find Nearest…” The Navigation unit also provides you with AcuraLink Real Time Traffic and Real Time Weather, to help you avoid unexpected jams or inclement weather. You can use verbal commands to instruct the system to “Avoid” specific routes, or say “Display Traffic List” to garner a report of nearby incidents to circumvent. Likewise, by saying “Weather Forecast” you can check on the 1-3 day picture, or say “Radar Map” to elicit the kind of color-coded forecast you see on your nightly newscast.

This all encompassing technology package requires you to exert judicious restraint while driving. It’s all too easy to issue verbal commands while ignoring the demands of traffic. If you can keep your mind on your driving while playing the system intelligently at stoplights, your RDX experience will be rich and rewarding, because this SUV is as much fun to drive as it is to command.

2014 Acura RDX AWD with Technology

  • Engine: 3.5 liter DOHC, 24 Valve V-6
  • Horsepower: 273 hp
  • Torque: 251 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 19 MPG City/27 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $40,315
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2013 Volkswagen Touareg Hybrid

Monday November 25th, 2013 at 11:1111 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Drag race Champ, Build Solidity, Creature Comforts
Gripes: Inconsistent Brake Response

Most of the vehicles available for review show so few miles on the odometer that it’s difficult to envision problems that might develop down the road. This Touareg, however, arrived so late in the 2013 model year that it was already showing more than 10,000 miles of accrued travel. The benefit of driving such a relatively high mileage test vehicle is that it allows you to judge how well it wears its mileage. In the case of this VW, you could never tell it had travelled more than ten thousand miles if you didn’t sneak a peek at the odometer. The ingot like chassis had not developed so much as a single squeak. The massive doors still shut with the authoritative click you expect from a Zippo lighter cap. Lovely 5-spoke alloy wheels showed nary a curb scar thanks to the protective shielding afforded by the bulging sidewalls of the Michelin GreenX radials (265/50R19).

Unlike so many car chassis based crossover SUVs, the Touareg feels more like a truck than a car. For starters, you step up into the spacious cabin, which, by virtue of its height, affords you a commanding view of the road and traffic patterns. This visual superiority trumps any information conveyed by the lane departure warning systems that are all the rage today. Our test Touareg was not equipped with any of these annoying contrivances, nor did it need them thanks to the excellent 360 degree vision available from the driver’s seat. Touareg’s truck-like attributes also manifest themselves in the 7,700 pound tow capacity of this chassis. Although you can’t quite fold the 40/20/40 split rear seats flat, you can still gain 64 cubic feet of storage by tilting them forward. With rear seats erect, the Touareg still provides 34 cubic feet of space in its sizeable aft compartment. The key fob allows you to open the aft hatch, and a button near the liftgate lets you automatically shuts the lid.

VW only offers the Hybrid power train in its top model Touareg. At a base price of $62,575, you’re not wanting for anything in the comfort or luxury department. Beautifully upholstered front leather seats feature 12 way adjustability and 3 stage heating. The steering wheel is heated, as are the outboard rear seats. Deep door pockets, a vast glove box, and sizeable center console and dash face compartments all help keep clutter under control. Each front seat commands no less than 3 memory positions for favored seat position. Standard fitment on the Hybrid is an RNS 850 touch screen navigation and radio control panel. This graphic interface also provides rear vision when reverse gear is engaged. An enormous power sunroof remains eerily quiet even when open at freeway speeds. Bi-Xenon headlights swivel to illuminate turns at night. Standard Climatronic heat and air conditioning reacts swiftly to input changes and effectively distributes air on demand to individual tastes on separate sides of the cabin.

If you get the idea that this Touareg is just about enjoying an elevated level of indolence, you’re missing the point. What this VW really has in spades is power, lots of power. For starters, this is the world’s first supercharged Hybrid. A 333hp supercharged V6 combines with the added 47hp kick of an electric motor to produce 380hp and a whopping 428 pound feet of torque. When you slam the right pedal home, the Hybrid hurls its 5,000 pound curb weight forward like a Tim Lincecum fastball. Aided by an 8-speed automatic transmission, the Hybrid Touareg is never lacking for grunt. The only fly in the ointment is getting the ferociously fast rig stopped. Unfortunately, the regenerative brakes on our test vehicle felt spooky and inconsistent. This seems to be the hallmark of hybrids which transfer brake heat into energy.

The Touareg Hybrid is a remarkably sporting proposition. Thanks to its Goliath twin engine power train, it will run circles around lightweight sports cars, while looking after your every need with palatial solicitude. It’s really quite a bizarre combination of attributes, well worth the lofty asking price.

2013 Volkswagen Touareg Hybrid

  • Engine: 3.0 Liter Supercharged V6 + electric motor
  • Horsepower: 333hp + 47hp = 380hp
  • Torque: 428 lbs.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 20 MPG City/24 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $63,450
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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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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