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Review: 2013 Volkswagen Beetle TDI

Saturday July 20th, 2013 at 8:77 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Cruise Range Exceptional, Kal Kustom Look
Gripes: Needs Rear Window Wiper and Stiffer Shocks

To give you an idea of just how efficient the new Diesel Beetle is, we round-tripped from Stinson Beach to Soquel (over 200 miles) in a single day, and when we returned home the trip computer indicated that 250 miles of range still remained. Now that’s a prodigious achievement for a small (2,939 lb.) coupe with a modest-sized fuel tank of just 14.5 gallons. Lately, Diesel fuel has dropped in price locally to a point where it’s less expensive than even the cheapest grade of regular gas, so there’s a double incentive to give this new addition to the Beetle line a good hard look. The other reason is that it’s even more fun to drive than the 200hp turbo version of the same car.

The reason is torque. VW offers 3 engines in the Beetle range. The base motor is a decent 5 cylinder unit displacing 2.5 liters and making 170hp. The 2.0 liter, 4 cylinder, 200hp turbo is a somewhat peaky, finicky engine which requires deft shifting to keep in its powerband. But the key to driving enjoyment is torque rather than horsepower, and here, the new 140hp Diesel outdoes its brethren thanks to the wallop of instant scoot it provides the moment you toe the throttle. Compared to the 170 lb.-ft. of the base 5, and the 207 lb.-ft. of the turbo 4, the Diesel makes 236 lb.-ft. of torque. Couple that to the sweetest shifting 6-speed manual you’ve ever operated and you’ve got a combination sure to please. If you’re not into shifting your own gears, the TDI can be ordered with a dual clutch automatic for an additional $1,100.

Aside from this Beetle’s spunky drivetrain, what else recommends the car to you? Thoughtful design and low price. For example, nice touches abound inside the cabin, even in the trunk. In a nifty replication of ‘50s Beetle design, VW cues painted sections of the dashboard, door panels and steering wheel to the car’s exterior color. In the case of our test car, the overflow of the striking Yellow Rush exterior color to interior surfaces turned the TDI into a genuine Kal Kustom show car. On the floor of the spacious trunk, you’ll find an extremely useful series of space dividers called CarGo Blocks. These modular plastic extrusions adhere to a special Heavy Duty Trunk Liner via Velcro connections. When arranged in the shape of a square, these 6 inch high dividers allow you to stabilize cargo in the trunk. It’s such a brilliant idea that it makes you wonder why no one has offered this before. The CarGo Blocks are part of an optional $235 set of 4 “Monster Mats” that also protect the interior floors.

The Beetle is no sports car. It’s so softly sprung that it heels over rather noticeably in corners. But you could easily rectify this problem by swapping out the standard mushy shock absorbers for aftermarket Bilstein or Koni units. Likewise, the adhesion of the standard Hankook Optimo tires (215/55R17) could stand the improvement that a set of stickier Michelins or Pirellis would provide. But even as it sits, straight from the VW factory in Puebla, Mexico, the TDI Beetle is plenty of fun to drive. The steering is amazingly responsive and accurate, and in our two runs over twisty Highway 17 from San Jose to Santa Cruz, the Beetle never drifted wide of an apex or ran out of grunt before cresting the summit. The manually adjustable front seats lent themselves perfectly to day-long stints in the saddle. Visibility is so good in all quarters that freeway lane changes are never problematic. The Beetle has no need of lane change warning devices.

The Beetle TDI is the perfect conveyance for the long haul. You will arrive refreshed and enthusiastic at your destination, and you won’t need to search for a gas station because this Beetle is good for an overall rating of 32 MPG. At a base price of just $23,295, the TDI Beetle is a top entrant in the new crop of elite and affordable rides for 2013.

2013 Volkswagen Beetle TDI

  • Engine: 2.0 liter, inline 4 Diesel
  • Horsepower: 140hp
  • Torque: 236 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 28 MPG City/41 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $24,360
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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


Review: 2013 Infiniti QX56 4WD

Friday July 19th, 2013 at 2:77 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Great Visibility, Spacious Living Area, V8 Oomph
Gripes: Space Grabbing 2nd Row Console, Jerky Radar Cruise Control

Painted “Black Obsidian” the QX56 looks as menacing as a nuclear submarine. This is no pretty plaything. Bereft of deft sculptural touches, the chunky QX56 depends on brutality for its brand of beauty. Up front, the immense chromed grill, guarded by slit headlights, makes the hulk look like a Brahma bull. Optional ($2,450) 22” wheels and ultra-wide 275/50HR22 Bridgestone Dueler tires stand so tall they force you to do the Texas two-step when climbing up into the cabin. Standard running boards are essential for short folks. Once ensconced in this plush expanse of Wheat Semi-Aniline Leather and Tuscan Burl Trim, you’ll enjoy a commanding view of the road in all directions. Unlike so many taper-tailed SUVs that trade vision for styling, the boxy QX56 offers excellent sight lines. Even though you’re far removed from pavement height, you can still park this mammoth craft with surprising accuracy thanks to unimpeded vision. Additionally, a standard “AroundView” monitor offers sonar detection of moving objects both front and rear.

Although Infiniti offers a 2WD version of the Q ship for a base price of $60,650, the $3,100 extra you spend on the 4WD version (base price: $63,750) is money well spent if it rains or snows where you live. Moreover, the earth mover size Bridgestone tires, being mud and snow rated, are just itching to strut their stuff in the sloppy outback. Infiniti provides a comforting control knob on the center console with settings for Snow, Tow or Go. The trailer setting allows you to haul a whopping 8,500 pounds behind the Q. The computer-controlled transfer case offers low and high ranges of 4WD. During our dry and sunny week with the Q, we left the controller in 4WD High range and found the big beast to be marvelously effective at conquering any paved terrain we chose to tackle. On twisty backroads, the Q defies its size and near 6 ton weight by blasting through turns with aplomb. Out on the Interstate, it mimics a palatial living room on wheels, especially when equipped with the optional ($4,650) Deluxe Touring Package, which exchanges the standard 13 speaker Bose Premium Sound System for a 15 speaker installation with Surround Sound and digital 5.1 decoding. This unit is really adept at thumping out tunes sourced from XM Satellite radio, MP3 playback, USB Ipod interface, or streaming Bluetooth – all of which are included in the entertainment package.

Precise control of front, side and rear micro-climates keeps all passengers happily pampered in their own comfort zones. In view of the fact that this mother ship can safely carry as many as 8 adults, specific zones for air conditioning and heat are important to group satisfaction. If you choose to fold one or both of the rearmost bench seats, you can easily do so via (slow) electric controls for each side. The second row seats also collapse and fold forward against the backs of the front seats. But if you plan on carrying bulk loads inside your QX56, you’ll want to order your Infiniti with a second row bench seat rather than the pair of captain’s chairs of our test vehicle. A second row bench folds flat whereas the console dividing the captain’s chairs remains a standing impediment even when the chairs are flipped forward.

The QX56 relies on a thirsty but powerful 5.6 liter V-8 which produces a startling wallop when the throttle is floored. The 7-speed automatic transmission features downshift rev blipping and manual gear selection in addition to very savvy Adaptive Shift Control automation. With 400hp and 413 lb.-ft. of torque on hand, you’ll never encounter a situation that taxes the power limit of this SUV. But you will pay for the privilege because the QX manages just 16 MPG in overall driving. But if you can afford the gas, as well as the pricey buy-in, the QX56 is the stoutest, sturdiest piece of equipment a large family could ever need.

2013 Infiniti QX56 4WD

  • Engine: 5.6 liter V-8
  • Horsepower: 400hp
  • Torque: 413 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 14 MPG City/20 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $78,140
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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


Review: 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8

Wednesday June 26th, 2013 at 3:66 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Palatial Interior, Terrific Motor, Supreme Handling
Gripes: Impeded Rear Vision

The SRT8 version bats cleanup in Chrysler’s varied 300 model line. Pikers can select a Rear-Wheel-Drive, V-6 powered 300 making 292hp, while flusher types can opt for the frisky 363hp 5.7 liter V-8 of the 300C. Even All-Wheel-Drive versions of the 300 are available, with a new Glacier Package that allows you to disconnect drive to the front axle thanks to an “active” transfer case. But the SRT8’s 6.4 liter HEMI V-8 is without question the most powerful and fastest large sedan the company makes. It’s also the most expensive, with a base price of $47,820 compared to the RWD V-6’ base price of just $29,995. If you’re looking for a sleeper of a sedan that blasts home runs like Pablo Sandoval, then go for the SRT8. Like the ‘Panda,’ the SRT8 may be a little pudgy, but its monster HEMI packs such a wallop that you’ll overlook the extra weight when you flatten the throttle, because this one knocks it out of the park every time.

Chrysler has recently spent a lot of advertising money to make the point that their cars are “Imported From Detroit.” Actually, the 300 is imported from Canada – Brampton, Ontario to be exact – and the Canadian craftsmen do a stellar job of screwing together a quality piece. The interior is notably beautiful in SRT8 trim, with supple glove leather seating surfaces that look great and feel better. Chrysler calls this hide “Poltrona Frau Leather” and lavishes it on the center console as well as the door panels and dashboard. Surfaces not covered in tanned leather make do with tactile “Preferred Suede.” Carbon fiber style extrusions lend a techy look to the mix, and the best piece of the bunch is the Herculean steering wheel. This lovely helm looks like it belongs on a Chris-Craft, with its massive hide stitched rim, spoke-mounted cruise control and info buttons galore, and flat aluminum lower grip with “SRT8” incised into the alloy like an embossed business card.

What’s remarkable about this 300 is how Chrysler has managed to append this ultra-comfy, deluxe interior to a drivetrain and chassis that is world class in terms of performance. They’ve taken the very best from plush 50’s American automotive interiors and transplanted those ingratiating features into a world beating chassis powered by a superb engine. The result is an amalgam that is surprising in its ability to be all things to all people. On the one hand, the 300 SRT8 functions as the perfect family sedan, with thoughtful touches everywhere, huge trunk space, plenty of interior room, and 4 real door for 4 full size passengers. Yet lurking just beneath this utilitarian façade is a monster-motored ground pounder that will amaze you with its athleticism. Anchored to the ground by 4 enormous Goodyear Eagle F1 tires (245/45VR20), this 300 will run a back road like the moonshine express. Those run-flat Goodyears squat on menacing black chrome aluminum SRT-specific 9” x 20” alloys that give this moon buggy an ethereal look. The suspension of the SRT8 is taut enough to tame lean, squat and dive without jarring the comfort of the occupants.

A good driver can make thie SRT8 sing an aria few other cars in the world can match. And it does so in a straight forward way that eschews technological overkill in favor of simplicity of design. In a world full of boring hybrids and nasty plug-in cars, the SRT8 seems very old school. It isn’t so much imported from Detroit, or Canada as it is imported from the 50s. More power to Chrysler for making such a wonderful tool available today.

2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8

  • Engine: 6.4 liter OHV V-8 HEMI with Fuel Saver Technology
  • Horsepower: 470hp
  • Torque: 470lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 14 MPG City/23 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $59,245
  • Star Rating: 9.5 out of 10 Stars

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


Review: 2013 Infiniti FX37

Tuesday May 14th, 2013 at 4:55 PM
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 Ford Mustang GT California Special

Wednesday May 1st, 2013 at 12:55 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Stellar Cosmetics, GT Grunt
Gripes: Clunky Door Slam, Distracting Wide View Ext. Mirrors

Mustang enthusiasts have had more special editions to choose from than Baskin Robbins has flavors. Every year Ford or Shelby float new and tasty variations of this quintessential ponycar. One of the best packages in the car’s 49 year history is the California Special version of the Mustang GT. This package, which carries a surcharge of $1,995, substantially changes the look of the GT by adding faux side scoops behind the doors, a pair of working black air vents atop the hood, a pedestal rear spoiler, and ever-so-subtly faded hood stripes which match equally unobtrusive “GT/CS” side stripes. This economic package also includes unique black billet upper and lower grill bars highlighted by a tri-star pony badge, special front splitter with fog lights, and unique rear diffuser and badging.

Ford continues the custom motif inside, with model specific lettered floor mats, special front seats with Miko suede inserts and logo-embossed head rests, and a distinctive silver “GT/CS” inscription on the faux carbon fiber dash board. In the Sterling Gray Metallic shade of our test vehicle, these filigrees looked distinctive without being garish. A final pedigree is provided by black enameled, silver machined “GT” inscribed alloy rims (19” x 8.5”) bearing beefy Pirelli P Zero Nero competition tires measuring 245/45ZR19. The rims and rubber did wonders for both the looks and the handling.

This test GT/CS harnessed the 5.0 liter V-8’s 412hp to a 6-speed automatic ($1,195 extra) which includes, for the first time, a SelectShift Manual Mode. To engage this feature, you must first move the floor-mounted stick fully rearward into the Manual gate, then make your up and downshifts using a rocker switch appended to the left side of the shift knob. Due to the small size and remote placement of this switch, manual selections are difficult to make. This super sporty Mustang deserves paddles on the steering column, or at the very least, a bump stick for manual shifts. Given that the standard 6-speed manual is such a pleasure to operate, you’d be well advised to save the grand plus you’ll spend for the SelectShift automatic.

Because Ford equipped this particular GT with a 3.15:1 rear axle ratio, it returned 20 MPG in mixed driving. This is excellent mileage for such a powerful V-8, but I would have gladly forsaken a couple of MPG for better low end performance, by equipping the GT with a 3.37, 3.55 or 3.73 limited slip rear end ratio. All of these are available at no extra cost, and with any of them, the improvement in acceleration is remarkable.

Even with its gearbox and rear end limitations, the GT/CS Mustang is still a total blast to drive. You can hang the rear end out like a NASCAR star, because the sticky Pirellis always save the day. The fat rimmed steering wheel’s electric power assist provides accurate information about tire placement and adhesion. Although you can deselect traction control at will, the system is so well engineered that you never need to override this safety net to enjoy maximum performance. Above all else, the Mustang GT is a driver’s car. With GT/CS enhancements, it looks enough like a Kal Kustom to make you George Barris. In reality, though, this GT costs just $40,230.

43 years ago, Ford produced a limited run of 1968 California Special Mustangs (complete with faux side scoops) that have become cult cars in the collector market. There’s absolutely every reason to believe the exact same fate awaits this excellent reincarnation.

2013 Ford Mustang GT California Special

  • Engine: 5.0 liter DOHC 32 Valve V-8
  • Horsepower: 412hp
  • Torque: 390 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 18 MPG City/25 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $40.230
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2013 Ford Mustang Boss 302

Wednesday May 1st, 2013 at 12:55 AM
Posted by: Francois

Hype: Stellar Cosmetics, GT Grunt
Gripes: Clunky Door Slam, Distracting Wide View Ext. Mirrors

Front to back, here are the significant features of the “base” Boss 302:

  • New aero package to reduce lift
  • A completely revised 444-horsepower engine with unique head castings, different exhaust valves and exhaust-side cams, upgraded internal materials in the valvetrain and pistons, and a long-tube custom runner intake drawing on Ford’s Daytona Prototype experience
  • The “Brembo package” found as an option on the 5.0 and supplied standard on the GT500 is here as well, upgraded with specific brake pads by Performance Friction and special brake lines for improved pedal feel
  • Stiffer springs surrounding five-position adjustable shock absorbers, and a bigger rear swaybar
  • Three-way adjustable electric power steering
  • A second set of exhaust pipes exiting to the sides to reduce backpressure and terrify anybody who happens to be in the same tunnel as a Boss 302
  • Nineteen-inch wheels with Pirelli P-Zero tires

That’s a long list of revisions, and they’re all important to the Boss mission of “balanced performance.” But as we climb the sixteen-percent grade of a Monterey canyon road, it’s the monstrous engine that makes its presence most immediately known. This car is too fast for all but the most gnarled back roads, reaching effortlessly into the triple digits between corners and pulling relentlessly from three grand all the way to the 7,500 rpm soft rev limiter. No factory ponycar has ever offered this kind of pace in these conditions — only Ford’s own 2011 aluminum-block GT500 can even mount a challenge.

After just a few miles of observing this car’s ability to warp time and space, we back off the throttle and relax. As good as the brakes are, they really aren’t up to the challenge of endless ABS-cycling high-speed entries down long, steep hills. It would take Corvette-ZR1-sized platters to dissipate that kind of heat, but this is a car that costs less than a base ‘Vette. Time to back off — and we’ve made the right choice, as the local police have woken up to the fact that there are a dozen Mustangs with side-facing exhausts racing around the area. We’d better find a place where this kind of power can be safely uncorked.

Compared to the Sibling: The Ford Mustang GT
Mustang enthusiasts have had more special editions to choose from than Baskin Robbins has flavors. Every year Ford or Shelby float new and tasty variations of this quintessential ponycar. One of the best packages in the car’s 49 year history is the California Special version of the Mustang GT. This package, which carries a surcharge of $1,995, substantially changes the look of the GT by adding faux side scoops behind the doors, a pair of working black air vents atop the hood, a pedestal rear spoiler, and ever-so-subtly faded hood stripes which match equally unobtrusive “GT/CS” side stripes. This economic package also includes unique black billet upper and lower grill bars highlighted by a tri-star pony badge, special front splitter with fog lights, and unique rear diffuser and badging.

Ford continues the custom motif inside, with model specific lettered floor mats, special front seats with Miko suede inserts and logo-embossed head rests, and a distinctive silver “GT/CS” inscription on the faux carbon fiber dash board. In the Sterling Gray Metallic shade of our test vehicle, these filigrees looked distinctive without being garish. A final pedigree is provided by black enameled, silver machined “GT” inscribed alloy rims (19” x 8.5”) bearing beefy Pirelli P Zero Nero competition tires measuring 245/45ZR19. The rims and rubber did wonders for both the looks and the handling.

This test GT/CS harnessed the 5.0 liter V-8’s 412hp to a 6-speed automatic ($1,195 extra) which includes, for the first time, a SelectShift Manual Mode. To engage this feature, you must first move the floor-mounted stick fully rearward into the Manual gate, then make your up and downshifts using a rocker switch appended to the left side of the shift knob. Due to the small size and remote placement of this switch, manual selections are difficult to make. This super sporty Mustang deserves paddles on the steering column, or at the very least, a bump stick for manual shifts. Given that the standard 6-speed manual is such a pleasure to operate, you’d be well advised to save the grand plus you’ll spend for the SelectShift automatic.

Because Ford equipped this particular GT with a 3.15:1 rear axle ratio, it returned 20 MPG in mixed driving. This is excellent mileage for such a powerful V-8, but I would have gladly forsaken a couple of MPG for better low end performance, by equipping the GT with a 3.37, 3.55 or 3.73 limited slip rear end ratio. All of these are available at no extra cost, and with any of them, the improvement in acceleration is remarkable.

Even with its gearbox and rear end limitations, the GT/CS Mustang is still a total blast to drive. You can hang the rear end out like a NASCAR star, because the sticky Pirellis always save the day. The fat rimmed steering wheel’s electric power assist provides accurate information about tire placement and adhesion. Although you can deselect traction control at will, the system is so well engineered that you never need to override this safety net to enjoy maximum performance. Above all else, the Mustang GT is a driver’s car. With GT/CS enhancements, it looks enough like a Kal Kustom to make you George Barris. In reality, though, this GT costs just $40,230.

43 years ago, Ford produced a limited run of 1968 California Special Mustangs (complete with faux side scoops) that have become cult cars in the collector market. There’s absolutely every reason to believe the exact same fate awaits this excellent reincarnation.

2013 Ford Mustang Boss 302

  • Standard Engine 5.0L V8
  • Standard Transmission 6 Speed Manual
  • Cylinders 8
  • Horsepower @RPM 444@7400
  • Fuel Economy Cty/Hwy 15/26
  • Combined Fuel Economy 19
  • Engine and Transmission: 5.0 V-8/6M
  • skidpad 0.89 g.
  • 1/4 mile 12.92 sec.
  • 0-60 4.7 sec.
  • 1/4 mile 112.47 mph.
  • Star Rating: 9 Stars out of 10

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


Review: 2013 Volvo S60 T6 AWD R

Tuesday April 30th, 2013 at 11:44 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Sleeper Backroad Burner, Quality Fit and Finish
Gripes: No Paddles, Tight Back Seat

Ever since Ford sold Volvo off to the Chinese several years ago, the Swedish automaker has been having a tough go in the marketplace.  Thankfully, not as bad as Swedish compatriot Saab, which recently declared bankruptcy and closed its doors, but still concerning enough to make marque loyalists fret.  But if the latest S60 R is indicative of Volvo’s future, the company outlook is very bright indeed.  In fact, just as bright as the piercing shade of Rebel Blue that graced our scintillating test car.  If you’re in the market for a 4 place sports sedan, you’ll definitely want to consider the S60 R as a top contender, because it beats the competition from Audi and BMW in almost every department while costing considerably less.

For example, the base price of this twin turbocharged road burner is just $43,900.  Even with the addition of a $2,300 Platinum Package (Navigation, Back-Up Camera) and $700 Cold Weather Package (Heated Front Seats and Washer Nozzles), this Volvo’s out-the door price totaled $48,195.  A comparable BMW 3 Series sedan starts about the same price as the Volvo ($43,150) but by the time you’re finished toting up the laundry list of extras, the BMW costs almost ten grand more than the S60 R.  And in a straight shoot out based on performance, I’d take the Volvo every time.  The “R” branding starts under the hood, where the 3.0 liter six is mounted sideways rather than lengthwise to minimize front overhang.  This long stroke (93.2mm) small bore (82mm) motor is designed to make most of its torque low in the rpm range.  Between 2,100rpm and 4,200rpm, the big six produces 354 lb.-ft. of torque.  This wide rpm spread allows you to access instant power, no matter which gear the Geartronic 6-speed has selected.  Volvo has also upped horsepower output this year from 300 to 325hp at 5,600rpm.

Although the Geartronic system lacks paddle shifts, the console-mounted shift lever features a unique illuminated knob which highlights the range you’ve chosen.  Sport-Mode, activated by moving the lever backwards and left, allows you to select your preferred gear manually.  In practice, however, this manipulation is hardly ever necessary, due to the abundant torque of the R-specification motor.  The S60 is fitted with a unibody steel passenger safety cage, dual stage front seat airbags with anti-whiplash headrests, and side impact head protection for all 4 seats.  All that safety gear is as reassuring as the S60’s exceptional handling.  Volvo has not stinted in supplying the “R” with premium “Sleipner” alloy wheels that look like Cuisineart blades.  Continental provides top notch ContiSportContact 235/40R18) rubber at each corner, and Volvo stiffens the suspension of the “R” to take maximum advantage of the Conti’s mountain goat traction.  This sedan will corner with the best contenders from Germany without giving them an inch advantage.

Saving the best for last, the cockpit of the S60 R is a splendid exercise in Swedish modern design.  Unlike most dashboards, which look like they were cobbled together by 20 different parents, the S60 R control layout looks like one mastermind did the trick.  The fact that almost every surface is matte black makes the Op Art aluminum center stack throb with visual excitement.  It contains just 4 large, simplified knobs which control radio volume, radio tune, and thermostats for driver and passenger.  Like the silver center stack, the boldly delineated “Blue Watch Dial Instrument Cluster” is also startlingly impressive.  Bold, concentric rings of silver and ice blue convert the 8,000rpm tachometer and 160mph speedometer into Swatch-like chronometer faces that are as easy to read as they are refreshing to see.  Volvo designers also supply just enough “R” model designations (front grill, headrests, steering wheel spoke) to this sedan, without resorting to undue braggadocio.  The all-wheel-drive S60 R is an affordable sports sedan for the owner whose ego needs no reinforcement from badging.

2013 Volvo S60 T6 AWD R

  • Engine: 3.0 liter inline 6, DOHC, Continuous Variable Valve Timing, Twin-Scroll Turbo
  • Horsepower: 325hp @ 5,600rpm
  • Torque: 354 lb.-ft. @ 2,100rpm-4,200rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 18 MPG City/25 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $48,195
  • Star Rating: 9.5 out of 10 Stars

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


Review: 2013 Hyundai Veloster Turbo

Saturday April 27th, 2013 at 11:44 AM
Posted by: Francois

SPECIFICATIONS
2013 Hyundai Veloster Turbo

Base Price $ 21,950
Price As Tested $ 25,320
Engine Type turbocharged and intercooled DOHC
16-valve inline 4-cylinder, aluminum
alloy block and head, direct fuel
injection, and continuously-variable
cam phasing
Engine Size 1.6 liters / 98 cu. in.
Horsepower 201 @ 6000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 195 @ 1750 rpm
Transmission 6-speed manual
Wheelbase / Length 104.3 in. / 167.3 in.
Curb Weight est 2900 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower 14.4
Fuel Capacity 13.2 gal.
Fuel Requirement 87 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires 215/40R18 85V Kumho Solus KH25 m+s
Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc,
ABS, EBD, ESC, VSM, TCS standard
Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut /
torsion beam axle
Drivetrain transverse front engine,
front wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy – miles per gallon
city / highway 24 / 35
0 to 60 mph 6.6 sec

For: Third door, Brilliant seating front and rear, Neat looks, Modern electronics and ergonomics
Against: Handling is not as refined as European counterparts

PERFORMANCE: Add 63 horsepower and 72 lb-ft of torque with the turbo and consider the regular Veloster completes the vision of this creative design. Here, a twin-scroll turbo gives most of the advantages of twin turbos on a four-cylinder engine with less weight and complexity. An intercooler keeps the intake charge denser, improving efficiency and power. A motor-driven electric waste gate allows precise boost control. Direct fuel injection allows a higher compression ratio than otherwise without ill effects — and this high specific output (125.6 bhp/liter) turbo engine makes its power on unleaded regular, not premium, gasoline. Maximum horsepower is 201, at 6000 rpm. That takes care of the top end. At the bottom, maximum torque is 195 lb-ft, at a low 1750 rpm. For best performance, though, keep revs above 3000. No lag at all then. There’s no real need to go above 6000, as there is plenty of urge in that wide sweet spot. Good shift linkage and well-chosen gear ratios add to the pleasure factor.

RIDE AND HANDLING: Perhaps surprisingly, the Turbo’s suspension is identical to that of the regular Veloster. With independent MacPherson struts in front and a torsion beam axle in the rear, it’s tuned moderately firmly, for a good real-world balance of comfort and cornering power. Response is improved by a quicker steering ratio. The ride can be a bit choppy on poor surfaces. So when pushed to the limit on twisty mountain roads, this is not quite as refined or as pleasurable as the new Mini Cooper Turbo or the Volvo C30. Turn-in is not great either as the car tends to oversteer. But it does remain flat through the corners and it can get uphill quite fast.. And when it comes time to squeeze into a tight parking space or garage, the Veloster will fit with ease.

Other than that shortfall, the Veloster is an ingenious package, with a third door on the passenger side that allows 2 adults to clamber into the surprisingly roomy rear seat. Mazda developed their RX-8 along similar lines, but unlike the RX-8’s tomb-like and airless back seat, the Veloster is designed to accommodate real people. If you intend to carry passengers in the back seat, be sure to order your Veloster with the $2,000 optional “Style Package,” which includes a “Panoramic Sunroof” that extends from the windshield header all the way back to the rear seats. This giant greenhouse really opens up what would otherwise be a claustrophobic interior. In addition, back seaters get to enjoy lounge slouch seating, and an extended upper rear window that sheds even more light on their seating position.

In addition to the extended sunroof, the Style Package also includes 18 alloy wheels shod with surprisingly sticky Kumho Solus KH25 mud and snow rated tires measuring 215/40R18 front and rear. These Kumhos enhance the agile Veloster’s nimble handling. If you want to dress up the exterior appearance of the alloy wheels, you can spend another $2,000 to purchase the “Tech Package” upgrade, which adds startling body color inserts to the 5 spokes of each alloy wheel. The Tech package also includes backup warning sensors, a 7 inch Navigation screen complete with rearview camera, and keyless entry and starting. Even with all the bells and whistles the Veloster, base priced at $17,300, carried a bottom line of just $21,300.

Up front, the sports seats are superb. They fit your body’s contours so closely that you’d swear they were molded individually to your form. The door panels feature oversize grab handles that make closure a pleasure rather than a chore. The entire dash is laid out with the same kind of felicitous practicality, from the thickened grab surfaces at 10 and 2 o’clock on the steering wheel, to the large central HVAC knob that takes care of everything you need for climate control.

The Veloster represents a delightful departure from the norm in terms of appearance, design and usefulness. From the outside, its stunningly different architecture makes heads swivel, especially if you fit those alloys with body color spokes. From the inside, the sensible approach to passenger and space packaging makes you wonder why no one’s done this third door trick as successfully as Hyundai has here. If the lethargic performance of the present drivetrain is a stumbling block to purchase, be advised that a turbo motor is on the way, but still a year off. But if looking fast is more important to you than actually going fast, beat it down to your Hyundai dealer right now, because there’s already a lot to like here.

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Review: 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid

Tuesday April 16th, 2013 at 8:44 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Mileage Champ, Pugnaciously Cute
Gripes: Goofy Dash, Rock Hard Tires, Whiny CVT

If Ford’s C-Max Hybrid represents the future of cars, I’ll start reviewing toasters. This expensive derivative of the $16,995 Focus costs $31,085, weighs a whopping 3,639 pounds, but makes just 141hp in petrol mode or 188hp in combined petrol/electric mode. Saddled with a noisy CVT (Constant Velocity) transmission, the C-Max whines its way laboriously to thrust. The faster you accelerate, the more noise you generate from the drivetrain. It makes you want to plop the C-Max into the slow lane on the freeway and stay there. Although it posts a combined city/highway fuel economy rating of 47 MPG, it will take you a couple of decades before you recoup the $14,000 price difference to a petrol powered baseline Focus.

Ford has reinvented the concept of the dashboard in this car. Instead of providing such essential information as water and oil temperatures, greenie marketing types have installed a plethora of video games designed to challenge your environmental commitment. There’s a “Tutorial” slate from which you can chose such hot topics as “Braking Coach,” which assesses your proficiency at maximizing energy reclaimed through regenerative braking. If you tire of that game, which appears in the left quadrant of the instrument binnacle, you can always scan the video depiction of a tree that occupies the right quadrant. The number of “Efficiency Leaves” dropped by this shrub indicate your level of energy conservation. The fewer leaves and vines you drop, the more efficient your driving. Drop enough leaves and you’ll need to revisit the Braking Coach for a repeat seminar in pedal application. To win all these video games, just park the C-Max and drive something else. Is there anything greener than an undriven car?

 

With all those video distractions available, driving C-Max is the mobile equivalent of texting on your iPhone while trying to avoid bumping into people on the street. Sure, if you focus clearly enough, you can pay attention to your driving, but it’s too easy to get caught up in the conservation strategies. Ford conscientiously renders most of the Apps inoperable while driving, but there are still enough dash delights to keep your mind occupied by everything but the road ahead.

Block off the video console, and the C-Max provides a satisfying driving experience. The electronically assisted power steering, for example, is precise enough to enable you to clip apexes with impunity. The leather wrapped steering wheel affords a solid grip thanks to two flared paddles at the 10 and 2 positions that give you better leverage when the road throws curve balls at you. The Michelin Energy Saver A/S tires (225/50R17) are surprisingly clingy given their rock-hard 480 treadwear rating. The downside of this rubber choice is the Michelins need to be inflated to 38 PSI. At that pressure, the C-Max bounces its passengers around like toys in a Piñata.

With both rear seats erect, the C-Max provides 25 cubic feet of storage space, Dropping the rear seats increases that number to 45 cubic feet. The $2,215 Equipment Group 302A transforms the interior of the C-Max into a hospitable, luxurious environment by adding a Power Liftgate, Rear View Camera, Premium Audio and Navigation. The diminutive sedan accepts 4 adults graciously, 5 in a pinch, with large enough doors to ease loading and disembarkation.

The C-Max Hybrid looks positively practical when compared to its Plug-In brother, the “C-Max Energi” model, which costs an extra $7,750 and travels just 20 miles before its EV supply dies and its petrol engine kicks in. If you are a confirmed greenie, the C-Max Hybrid makes much more sense the Energi. But if you just like to drive, this pricey Hybrid doesn’t make much sense at all.

2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid

  • Engine: 2.0 liter inline 4, 141hp + 118hp AC Motor
  • Horsepower: 188hp (Combined)
  • Torque: 129 lb.-ft. + 117 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 47 MPG City + Highway
  • Price as Tested: $31,085
  • Star Rating: 6 out of 10 Stars

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2013 Honda Accord Coupe

Monday April 15th, 2013 at 12:44 PM
Posted by: Francois

Hypes: Dynamic driving experience, Honda Goes Green with “ Earth Dreams Technology”
Gripes: Sheeps clothing will disuade the ideal driver for this car

This car is fast. One could call it a BMW or INfiniti and the person behind the wheel will not be disappointed. It is just an exhilirating drivng experience in an unexpected package. The power and flexibility of this engine is impressive and the chassis can handle it. So color us impressed.

I spent most of my week in the new Accord driving around like a demented octogenarian with my right turn signal perpetually blinking to indicate a turn I never took. What, you may ask, prompted this bit of imbecility? Honda’s new feature called LaneWatch. If you flick your right turn signal on, an incredibly clear, continuous picture of the road adjacent and behind your Accord displays itself in full color on an 8 inch i-MID (Intelligent Multi Information Display) screen on the dash. The LaneWatch camera, mounted beneath the passenger side exterior rear view mirror, affords a mesmerizing view of the world gone by. It’s like watching a newsreel of your travel unfold at the instant it’s happening. Of course, Honda provides it, not as entertainment, but rather as a useful safety device to keep you informed of traffic patterns and help you avoid collisions when changing lanes.

What I didn’t realize until after my week in the Accord was nearly up: you can simply depress a button on the end of the turn signal stalk to activate LaneWatch without signaling for a right turn. I’m not sure why there was no provision for a left side LaneWatch, but as it stands the right side only monitor is one of the most udeful safety advances devised in the last decade. But it’s just one hors d’oervre in the tasty feast that Honda has whipped up for the 2013 Accord banquet. For a base price of $25,405, the EX offers a lot of family sedan for the money.

Starting under the hood, you’ll find a willing performer in the gas miser 2.4 liter inline four. Direct Injection is new for 2013, an improvement that ups horsepower to 185hp (from last year’s 178), and torque to 181 lb.-ft. (from 161). Even when saddled with the vagaries of the belted CVT automatic gearbox, the Accord jumps smartly to attention when prodded with the accelerator. If you select Sport Mode from the floor mounted CVT lever, the Accord picks up an instant 1000rpm which eases passing anxiety considerably. This velocity increase is unfortunately accompanied by a hellish racket from the intake and exhaust systems that underlines just how hard the four banger is straining to get the job done. You will be thrilled at the mileage, however, which pays off with an overall combined rating of 30MPG.

For a family sedan with four full-size doors, and a spacious and comfortable back seat, backroad handling is beyond respectable. Throw the EX into a series of bends, and you’ll be amazed at just how well balanced and competent the twin anti-roll bar equipped suspension system is. The new Accord corners flat. Information passed through the steering wheel is accurate and encyclopedic. To look at the wheel and tire fitment – which consists of 7.5” x 17” alloys rims mounting all-season Michelin MXMV4 215/55R17 tires – you wouldn’t give the EX much of a chance of success on a twisty road. The truth, however, is just the opposite. On a light traffic, mid-week run from Mill Valley to Point Reyes Station, this Honda proved itself to be agile, quick and confidence-inspiring. The steering wheel could do with a thicker rim, and the front seats are deficient in side bolstering. But the chassis dynamics are spot-on.

This is the 9th version of the Accord that Honda has offered in the 30 years they’ve been building this model in the USA. While it may look little different from version 8, it is deceptively improved. Lighter and dimensionally smaller on the outside, the new EX is inexplicably more spacious in terms of headroom and shoulder room on the inside. If you’re looking for a sedan in the mid-$20K range, you need to consider this latest Honda before making any final decision.

Specifications
VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, front-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 2-door coupe
PRICE AS TESTED: $33,140 (base price: $31,140)
ENGINE TYPE: SOHC 24-valve V-6, aluminum block and heads, port fuel injection
Displacement: 212 cu in, 3471 cc
Power: 278 hp @ 6200 rpm
Torque: 252 lb-ft @ 4900 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed manual
DIMENSIONS:
Wheelbase: 107.3 in
Length: 189.2 in
Width: 72.8 in Height: 56.5 in
Curb weight: 3399 lb
C/D TEST RESULTS:
Zero to 60 mph: 5.6 sec

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