Review: 2014 Jeep Cherokee Latitude 4×4

Monday December 8th, 2014 at 1:1212 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2014 Jeep Cherokee Latitude 4x4

By David Colman

Hypes: Spacious, Off-Road Ready
Gripes: Could Use a (Grand Cherokee)V8 and Brighter Headlights

Jeep has an engaging way of reminding you of the company’s storied past. For example, the lower spoke of the Latitude’s fat rimmed steering wheel is inscribed with the notation “Since 1941.” The granite colored fabric covering the seats looks more serviceable than luxurious. The khaki pouch containing the owner’s manual might have once served as a bag for your canteen. The heritage on display is so convincing you almost expect to find a jerry can buried in the recesses of the trunk.

But this Jeep earns its stripes with more than just idle allusions. This is a real, heavy duty, off-road capable 4×4, as distinguished from those light duty all-wheel-drive interlopers so many manufacturers try to pawn off these days as trailblazers. Your first clue that you could tackle the Rubicon trail with the Latitude is the fat knob on the center console reading “4WD LOW” which allows you to creep over otherwise impassable terrain. Yes, this bargain priced $31,020 Cherokee not only offers 4WD Low for tricky travel under 25mph, but also a mechanical locking rear differential (which Jeep calls “E-Locker”) to navigate especially treacherous passages slower than 15mph. This golden promise of traction comes to you for just $995, if you order Customer Preferred Package 27J. Included in the benefits are a 9-speed automatic gearbox with Jeep Active Drive II, Hill Descent Control, and Off-Road Suspension.

2014 Jeep Cherokee Latitude 4x4

Power for our test Cherokee came from a 3.2 liter V6 more notable for its highway gas economy (26 MPG) than its sheer horsepower (271hp). The 9 speed transmission does an admirable job of maximizing power produced by the 24 valve engine. The 3.25:1 rear axle ratio strikes a decent compromise between acceleration potential and acceptable cruising mileage. The floor-mounted shift allows you to override gear selection at any time, and quite frankly, there are times when the V6 needs a little extra prodding from a lower gear to complete passing maneuvers. Otherwise, you will discover that if you just leave this gearbox in “Drive,” a considerable lag occurs between the time you floor the accelerator and when the engine actually responds.

The Latitude is perfectly configured for long distance freeway jaunts. There is absolutely no wind noise or road intrusion inside the cockpit at speeds over 70mph. This quietude is surprising in view of the Jeep’s off-road suspension underpinnings, so you can probably thank the Firestone Destination tires (225/65R17)for contributing to the silence. If you order the optional Trailer Tow Package, this Jeep will pull 4,500 pounds; or 2,000 pounds without the special fittings. Trailer Sway Damping is a standard Cherokee feature.

On twisting back roads, Latitude is not quite so happy as it is on the freeway. Here, its frontal weight bias causes it to plow into turns, requiring you to crank an extra 20 degrees of lock into the steering wheel, just I thought I was done with the exercise. This tendency became especially demanding in heavy rain, which caused the front Firestones to drift even further from my anticipated trajectory. The “Bi-Function Halogen Projector Headlamps” sound more proficient than they are. Actual night time performance was marginal.

2014 Jeep Cherokee Latitude 4x4

Although the interior of the Latitude is mostly monochromatic, it’s done with an understated panache that makes you appreciate Jeep’s good taste. The seats, though manually controlled, are quite supportive and handsomely done, with white stitched black side bolsters, and grey cloth inserts that defy sliding. The oatmeal headliner brightens the expansive interior substantially, and brushed aluminum graces the door pulls. Matte titanium colored bezels outline the instrument binnacle, centrally mounted 5 inch touch screen, and air vents. The compartment between the front seats is commodious; you can optionally equip its upper level with a wireless phone charging pad, but be sure not to lay your key fob on it. The floor in the trunk area is hinged at the rear. Lift it, and you find a large hidden set of four shallow storage bins. Remove the bin partition for access to the space saver spare and jack.

Jeep offers a lot of vehicle for the money here. If you are serious about off-roading, or just enjoy the rugged grace this company has been refining since 1941, you need to check out the latest Cherokee Latitude.

2014 Jeep Cherokee Latitude 4x4

2014 Jeep Cherokee Latitude 4×4

  • Engine: 3.2 Liter V6 24 Valve with VVT
  • Horsepower: 271hp
  • Torque: 239 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 19 MPG City/26 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $31,020
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2014 Scion FR-S

Tuesday November 25th, 2014 at 1:1111 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2014 Scion FR-S

By David Colman

Hypes: Handles Better Than a Bug Eye Sprite
Gripes: Some Interior Ergonomic Improvements Needed

Over the course of a car model year, I typically test 50 new vehicles. Of those, fewer than 10 make the cut as cars I would buy and own. The Scion FR-S is one of those 10 for 2014. The FR-S’ fun-to-price ratio pegs it as a best buy in the sports coupe category. If you’re an enthusiast driver looking for slot car handling in a practical, economical package, this Scion fits the bill. Every time you slip behind its perforated black leather steering wheel, you know you’re in for a spell of undiluted driving entertainment. Only a car as nimble and light (2,758 lb.) as the FR-S can provide the immediate feedback that is this Scion’s defining trait. The interface between driver and machine is so polished and rewarding that you will never look at recreational driving the same way again. That you can experience automotive nirvana for a base price of just $24,700 defies logic.

2014 Scion FR-S

It certainly isn’t the FR-S’ Subaru power plant that evokes such jubilation. The 2.0 liter opposed 4 cylinder engine is hard pressed to make 200hp and just 151lb.-ft. of torque without also producing substantial noise and vibration. The silver faced tachometer, which features a programmable rev indicator, reads to 9,000rpm. Although the Boxer motor reaches redline at 7,600rpm, you’ll want to up shift sooner than that to avoid the racket at redline. Although the FR-S is not blindingly quick in a straight line, it’s so well balanced that you hardly notice the power shortfall. The superb steering feel, ultra precise shift linkage, and highly retentive sport seats foster the illusion that you’re driving a race car. Only the similarly priced Mazda MX-5 comes close to emulating the responsiveness of the FR-S. And the petit Mazda roadster offers none of the FR-S’ practicality: roomy interior, hatchback storage access, abbreviated rear seat, and permanently enclosed construction. You get the same kind of performance as the MX-5 without making the kind of concessions that render the Mazda comparatively impractical for daily use. This Scion can be your daily driver all week long, then play racer for you on the weekends.

2014 Scion FR-S

Of course, you will notice a few price point-bred drawbacks to FR-S ownership. When you open the cabin door, you will be hard pressed to stuff your bag or purse into the rear seat area without first tilting the front seatbacks forward. When you flop them backwards in order to climb in, the back rest returns, not to your pre-selected angle, but rather to the full upright position. After you’ve dealt with this 2 or 3 times in the course of a day’s errands, you’ll wonder why Scion didn’t endow these otherwise excellent seats with backrest position memory. The rather elemental beverage holder between the front seats also garners a cost cutting demerit. It contains 2 identically sized receptacles, neither of which feature prongs to adapt to smaller diameter cups. As a result, my co-pilot was forced to stabilize a Starbucks “tall” size cup by hand, rather than rely on the sloppy fit of the holder. These shortcomings are a surprise in a cabin that is otherwise thoughtfully designed, with unexpectedly lavish attention to detail.

For example, the clutch, brake and accelerator “sport” pedals are furnished with slip free surfaces fashioned from rubber and aluminum that match the threshold scuff plates. This intricate bright work looks like it belongs on a Ferrari, not a bargain Scion. Likewise, the dash face looks suitably business like and racy thanks to a faux carbon fiber strip that garnishes the understated interior with just the right touch of glamour. Red contrasting stitching on the steering wheel, seat bolsters and door kick plates are the only traces of flamboyance in the tightly focused driving environment Scion has perfected here.

2014 Scion FR-S

The 215/45R17 Bridgestone Turanza R400 tires provide a slight handling improvement over the Michelin all-season radials fitted to previous FR-Ss throughout the first year of production. But given this coupe’s inherent balance and grip, it cries out for the stickiest aftermarket tires you can afford. If this FR-S landed in my garage on a permanent basis, it would be wearing a set of BFG, or Hoosier soft compound autocross rubber that would transform it into the go-kart Scion meant to be at birth.

2014 Scion FR-S

  • Engine: 2.0 liter opposed 4 cylinder DOHC, 16 Valve
  • Horsepower: 200hp
  • Torque: 151lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 22 MPG City/30 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $25,455
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2014 Chrysler 300S

Thursday November 20th, 2014 at 8:1111 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2014 Chrysler 300S

By David Colman

Hypes: Perfect Ride/Handling Compromise, Value Pricing
Gripes: Overstuffed Front Chairs

Chrysler offers more varieties of its 300 sedan than Baskin Robbins sells flavors of ice cream. Our test car this week, the 300S, stands tall as a best buy in the 300 model range. It offers excellent performance and handling with enough luxury amenities to make you wonder how Chrysler can build it for a base price of just $34,395. Of course, this wouldn’t be a press test car without a substantial list of options, so add $1,995 for Customer Preferred Package 22G (Blind Spot Detection, Park Sense, Adaptive Speed Control, Forward Collision Warning). Tack on another $895 for Bi-Xenon HID Headlamps, $1,595 for the Dual Pane Panoramic Sunroof, and $995 for an infotainment system that features Garmin Navigation. So you’re out the door price swiftly rises to $40,870. Is the 300S still a best buy at that elevated figure? You bet it is.

Among the varietals of 300, the 300S offers the best compromise between economy and performance. It utilizes the fuel efficient 3.6 liter V6 to achieve a reputable 31MPG on the highway. Yet this engine, in its elevated “S” stage of tune, is sophisticated enough to produce 300hp and 264 lb.-ft. of torque. That’s 8hp and 4 lb.-ft. more than the base 300′s V6. Chrysler couples this S engine to its new 8-speed automatic gearbox, so you have a huge range of gear ratios to select for every application. Need more than 300hp? If so, opt for either the 5.7 liter HEMI (363hp) or the monster 6.4 liter HEMI (470hp). Either of those optional V-8s are available in the 300S, but neither of them use the slick new 8-speed “Autostick” transmission. Rather, both make do with a 5-speed automatic, and both will barely break 20MPG in highway cruising.

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Besides the up-rated motor, the following improvements set the S apart from other 300 models: performance tires, sport mode, fog lamps, premium sound system, power seats, passenger lumbar adjustment, keyless start, universal garage door opener, remote engine start, security system and back-up camera. You will also discover discrete “300S” identifiers on the trunk lid and the front seat headrests. The most obvious clue to S identity resides in the wheel wells, where handsome, rugged looking 8×20 inch “Black Aluminum” wheels support beefy Firestone Firehawk GT radials measuring 245/45R20 at all corners. These alloys are actually finished in a dark vapor chrome that demands use of mild soap and water and soft cloth ONLY for cleaning. In concert with the S’s “4- wheel independent touring suspension,” this big Chrysler combines adept handling with a relaxed ride that comes close to achieving the ideal compromise between two disparate goals. The Firehawk tires, an unusual choice for an OEM application, play a significant role in adding traction while calming the ride. The other factor playing into the performance equation is the “Sport Mode” feature of the S model, which firms up the damping of the electronically adjustable shock absorbers while also resetting shift points for maximum acceleration. To select Sport Mode, simply pull the floor-mounted Autostick lever back into its rear most “S” slot. The gearbox will then remain locked in whatever gear you select.

2014 Chrysler 300S

The luxuriant cabin of the 300S is enhanced by the panoramic sunroof. Because the beltline of the 300 is relatively high, the side windows are necessarily short. This might lead to a touch of claustrophobia were it not for the huge overhead light source provided by the double pane roof. The elegantly understated detailing of the 300′s interior will exceed your expectations for a car in this price range. Chrysler’s selection of seat material, headliner fabric, and dashboard covering all blend harmoniously to form a comfort zone that you will always look forward to enjoying. Although I found the front seats to be a bit overstuffed, the driving controls are so well placed in relation to the leather rimmed steering wheel that everything falls readily to hand. Particularly appreciated are the stubby flaps just behind the wheel rim that allow you to control transmission gear choice manually. With 8 nicely spaced ratios from which to choose, you will never be at a loss for the proper gear.

2014 Chrysler 300S

The 300S is the perfect sedan choice for someone who relishes fast but efficient transportation for 4 adults. While the S’s V6 will never match the torque nor head snapping performance of the optional HEMI V8s, you won’t find yourself making fuel stops nearly as often either. Chrysler advertising touts the 300 as being “Imported – from Detroit.” In fact, it would be more accurate to say that the 300S is “Imported from Canada,” where it is assembled (Brampton, Ontario) from an engine made in the USA and a transmission constructed in Mexico. Despite that, the 300S is as American as you can get. Brawny motor, luxo-cabin trappings, startling styling, and domestic pricing. This one is an all around winner.

2014 Chrysler 300S

  • Engine: 3.6 liter V6, 24 Valves with VVT
  • Horsepower: 300hp
  • Torque: 264 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 19 MPG City/31 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $40,870
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2014 Toyota RAV4 Limited AWD

Tuesday November 18th, 2014 at 4:1111 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2014 Toyota RAV4 Limited AWD

By David Colman

Hypes: Spacious, Utilitarian, Affordable
Gripes: Down on Power, Cheap Interior Touches

This compact crossover has enough cargo capacity (37 cubic feet) to compete with mid-size crossovers. I was frankly surprised at the ease with which the RAV4 swallowed my mountain bike without requiring the usual twist and fold routine. In fact, the bike slid right into place without so much as a snag anywhere. The Limited version of this petite Toyota even includes electronic operation for the tailgate. Low loading height further insures easy stowage and retrieval. I have driven many compact and mid size SUVs that could not match the RAV4′s magnanimous cargo access.

The latest iteration of the RAV4 came to market in 2013 and remains largely unchanged this year. A large displacement (2.5 liter) in-line 4 cylinder engine makes 176hp and 172 lb.-ft. of torque. This fuel efficient motor posts a commendable EPA average of 25 MPG overall. But fuel savings come at the expense of straight line performance. Because this SUV weighs 3,535 pounds, each one of those 176 horses are tasked with moving 20 pounds. Consequently, the RAV4′s throttle pedal must be pushed hard to keep up with traffic flow. It takes nearly 17 seconds to run the quarter mile from a standing start. However, you can upgrade to a Tesla designed electric version of the RAV4. This EV’s rated at 154hp but delivers a whopping 273 lb.-ft. of torque. But hurry, because Toyota plans to phase out the RAV4 EV in the near future. If you like the compact dimensions of the RAV4, but seek more power, you may want to cross shop the 2015 Lexus NX, which shares its platform with the RAV4. The Lexus offers 235hp thanks to its turbocharged 2.0 liter four cylinder engine.

2014 Toyota RAV4 Limited AWD

Toyota includes a number of active safety measures in the DNA of the RAV4. This assortment of innovations, which Toyota calls its Star Safety System, contributes to your well being by providing stability control, traction control, anti-lock brakes, electronic brake force distribution, and brake assist. Although passive safety boasts 8 airbags, the RAV4 scores a “Poor” Rating on the Front Small Overlap test administered by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. This crash test, first administered in 2012, measures damage incurred when just 25 percent of a vehicle front hits a fixed object at 40mph. The RAV4′s poor result in this category has caused Consumer Reports to retract its “Recommended” endorsement.

The RAV4 is tow rated at 1,500 pounds. Although it will tow a modest trailer, the RAV4 itself is not meant to be towed behind a motor home, dinghy style. In its latest iteration, the RAV4 has matured into a utilitarian device that will fill the bill if you need a do-it-all urban companion. Responsive handling is augmented by 235/55R18 Bridgestone Dueler H/T tires at each corner. Ride quality is never harsh thanks to the Bridgestone’s tall sidewalls and the RAV4′s soft spring rates.

2014 Toyota RAV4 Limited AWD

From its introduction as a petite SUV offering limited space for passengers or storage, this compact cross over now provides seating for 5, easy access to the folding rear bench seat, lots of side window glass for great outward visibility, and enough orchestral choices to make even the shortest trip a music endowed vacation. The “EN” option package, which costs an extra $785, is well worth the cost if you value entertainment while driving. For this relatively modest outlay, Toyota will provide you with a laundry list of extras that start with a 6.1 inch touch screen on the dash. This interface controls a premium JBL AM/FM/CD player with 7 speakers and a subwoofer. You also gain access to HD radio, traffic reports and a suite of Toyota backed “Entune” applications to simplify your cruising life. The touch screen also provides navigational assistance and serves as a back-up camera projector when reverse gear is engaged. However, you would do well to avoid paying $725 extra for the “TP” Technology Package, which contributes lane departure warning advice, monitors blind spots, and regulates use of high beam headlights.

The Toyota RAV4 presents an inexpensive route to all-wheel-drive mini SUV ownership. While it may not be the fastest, or the best handling choice in the marketplace, it does administer a solid dose of Toyota virtue: RAV4 is inexpensive to own and operate, with good value retention over the life of the vehicle.

2014 Toyota RAV4 Limited AWD

2014 Toyota RAV4 Limited AWD

  • Engine: 2.5 liter DOHC, 16 Valve inline 4 with Dual VVT-i
  • Horsepower: 176 @ 6,000rpm
  • Torque: 172 lb.-ft. @ 4,100rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 22 MPG CITY/29 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $32,315
  • Star Rating: 7 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2014 Nissan Juke Nismo RS

Saturday October 18th, 2014 at 8:1010 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2014 Nissan Juke Nismo RS

By David Colman

Hypes: Go-Kart handling, Best Seats in the Biz
Gripes: Still Looks Homely

Nismo is the competition arm of the Nissan empire. Any vehicle bearing the Nismo badge is sure to appeal to the driving enthusiast. Currently, Nismo’s best effort is also their most affordable one, the $26,120 Juke Nismo RS. Now, the Juke is never going to win anyone’s beauty prize, thanks to its bulbous headlights, angular planes, and ungainly tall stance. But to Nismo’s credit, the stylists and engineers in the competition department have orchestrated a makeover that turns the homely Juke into a fearsome canyon carver with looks to match.

2014 Nissan Juke Nismo RS

Let’s start with the carefully contrived cosmetic surgery. Because the letter “O” in NISMO is red – like the Japanese setting sun – everything else on the Juke RS derives from that chroma key. A neat red pinstripe decorates the RS-specific front and rear fascias as well as the rocker panels of the Sapphire Black body. Red rear view mirrors complete the two tone appearance of the exterior. Inside, the color symphony continues with racing Recaro front buckets with black suede seating surfaces, red side bolsters and red “Nismo RS” embroidered headrests. Black front and rear seats display contrasting red stitching, and even the 8,000rpm tachometer face (redline 6,500) is anodized red to match the rest of the bi-color decor.

Simulated carbon fiber surrounds the 5.8 inch color touchscreen in the center of the dash face. This navigation device, which also offers various Nissan Connect applications, is part of the $1,200 optional Navigation Package that includes Voice Recognition for Audio and Navigation, Sirius XM Traffic and Travel Link, and Streaming Audio via Bluetooth. A Rockford Fosgate “ecoPUNCH” audio system with subwoofer, and USB Connection Port for iPod-like devices completes the benefits package.

2014 Nissan Juke Nismo RS

But the hospitality of the interior furnishings are secondary components of the Juke’s DNA. This is primarily a tightly focused driver’s car, with an unforgiving ride quality, and a peaky but powerful engine. Likewise, the Recaro seats offer heavenly support when you’re strapped in, but are maddeningly difficult to enter or exit. If you’ve got racer genes, the performance of the Juke Nismo RS will be more than worth the tradeoff in comfort and ease of operation. The uprated 197hp “DIG Turbo” direct injection motor is 10hp stronger than that of the base Juke. It also produces 184 lb.-ft. of torque, 7 pounds more than the standard Juke. The suspension is considerably stiffer than the stock Juke, so you will feel more road imperfections but enjoy greater control when the road turns twisty. The premium performance biased Continental tires (225/45R18 ContiSportContacts) ride on Nismo specific 7 x 18 inch alloys with enough tiny spokes to keep you busy for hours at car wash time.

Rear seat passengers in this Juke will long for their trip to conclude. The exceptionally tall Recaro front seat backs impede frontal vision for rear seat riders, as well as knee room. Although the Juke offers a fifth door hatchback, cargo space is so limited that you’ll want to fold flat the 60/40 split rear seats to make room for anything bulky. A nice feature is the under-floor rear cargo bin, ideal for hiding valuables from sight.

2014 Nissan Juke Nismo RS

The Juke Nismo RS is a hard core enthusiast sedan which makes few concessions to comfort or ease of drivability in its quest to provide maximum thrust on twisty roads. If you enjoy road racing, you will love this little rocket. Kudos to Nissan for having the resolve to offer such a tightly focused sports package at such an affordable price. The Recaro seats alone are worth the paltry price of admission.

2014 Nissan Juke Nismo RS

  • Engine: 1.6 liter inline 4, turbocharged with direct injection
  • Horsepower: 197hp.
  • Torque: 184 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 25 MPG City/31 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $28,345
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2014 Lexus IS-F 4-DR Sedan

Friday October 17th, 2014 at 8:1010 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2014 Lexus IS-F 4-DR Sedan

By David Colman

Hypes: Thumper Motor, Superb Fit and Finish
Gripes: Bi-Xenon Headlights Need to Swivel

Attention BMW M Customers: Be sure to check out this Lexus before you buy Bavarian. The newest version of the Lexus IS-F is without question the most hard edged performance car the company has built since the $400,000 LFA ceased production three years ago. Now that BMW has forsaken V-8 power for the M4 in favor of a turbocharged 6, Lexus maintains a performance advantage over the German benchmark by offering the IS-F with a throbbing 416hp 5 liter V-8 that pulverizes pavement with 371 pound feet of torque.

This is a true muscle car motor, worthy of any drag strip you care to attack. But Lexus conceived of the F as a complete package, with the kind of suspension refinement period muscle cars never came close to achieving. You will appreciate the IS-F’s finely tuned, race bred double wishbone front suspension, which reads pavement changes like a savant. With the added benefit of sophisticated multi-link rear geometry, the IS-F steers and adheres better than any product Lexus or parent company Toyota currently offer.

2014 Lexus IS-F 4-DR Sedan

If you have any doubt about the F’s handling supremacy, just look at those 19 inch forged BBS alloy wheels and super sticky tires Michelin Pilot Sport tires. The 14 spoke wheels, finished in fetching liquid graphite, measure 19 x 8 inches front and 19 x 8.5 inches rear. They are shod with rubber measuring 225/40R19 front and 245/35R19 rear. Recessed behind the alloys are massive 14.2 inch Brembo style 6 piston front disc brakes backed up by 13.6 inch double piston rear discs. With high friction pads, these stoppers will let you spend a day at the track without losing your brakes.

2014 Lexus IS-F 4-DR Sedan

The idea of taking the IS-F to the track is not at all farfetched. With its standard TORSEN limited slip differential, you are assured of intelligent torque distribution through the F’s rear wheel drive. You’ll also never be at a loss for the correct gear ratio since the IS-F’s Sport Direct Shift automatic offers 8 gears controlled by either the stick between the front seats or the oversize paddles attached to the steering wheel. The steering wheel itself is eminently grip worthy thanks to a fat rim covered in perforated leather. The front seats can be configured to encapsulate you like racing buckets, or relaxed to emulate the comfort of your favorite lounge chair. Both seats are heated, and covered entirely in red and black leather, with 10 modes of power adjustment available plus memory settings for both sides. Front seats feature the letter “F” embroidered on the side bolsters and headrests.

2014 Lexus IS-F 4-DR Sedan

Especially effective are the Optitron electroluminescent gauges, which come alive during night driving with a brilliance that will shock you. Right under your nose is a pie plate sized tachometer that reads all the way to 9,000 rpm. Redline is 6,800rpm. Flanking it on the right is a much smaller 210 (!) mph analog speedometer, augmented by a digital speed readout window. The important gear selection indicator could stand to be larger and more prominently displayed, since its current location in the upper right quadrant of the display panel plays hide and seek with the steering wheel. All trim surfaces on the dash and door panels are done in a silver carbon fiber like material that reinforces the F’s image as a race track bred machine. The cockpit is seamlessly constructed, with the kind of panel fit you’ve come to expect from Lexus. Most cars with track aspiration tend to look like boy racers designed them. The IS-F, on the other hand, with its merciful lack of flamboyant flourish, was expressly designed to appeal to the mature adult.

2014 Lexus IS-F 4-DR Sedan

This Lexus shows just how many cannons Lexus has stored in its go-fast arsenal. It’s not often that parent corporation Toyota displays this much technology. But every few years, the world’s leading auto manufacturer takes the wraps off something special. Last time it was the LFA, this time the IS-F. You might think it looks like just another gap-mouthed Lexus family sedan until you notice the bevy of subtle F monikers on its flanks, or the sizeable carbon fiber tail spoiler anchoring its trunk lip. At that point you realize this Lexus is in many ways directly related to the splendid prototype sports cars Toyota fielded at Le Mans in this year’s 24 hour race. No clearer example than the IS-F can be found to prove once again the adage that racing improves the breed.

2014 Lexus IS-F 4-DR Sedan

  • Engine: 5.0 liter V-8, DOHC, 32 Valves, Direct and Port Injection, VVT intake and exhaust
  • Horsepower: 416hp
  • Torque: 371 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 16 MPG City/23 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $67,419
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit 4×4 Diesel

Thursday October 16th, 2014 at 8:1010 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit 4x4 Diesel

By David Colman

Hypes: Solid Power Team, Efficient Use of Space
Gripes: Vague Steering Feel, Ergonomic Cabin Issues

The big news at Jeep this year is availability of a diesel engine for the Grand Cherokee model. Although this Eco Diesel option is not inexpensive, at $5,000, it will pay back dividends in mileage and cruising range unavailable with either of Grand Cherokee’s other gas engine offerings (3.6 liter V6 and 5.7 liter V8). If you opt for the diesel, your 24.6 gallon fuel tank will take you more than 700 miles between visits to the pump island. In addition, you will be able to tow a 7400 pound trailer thanks to the diesel’s 420 pound feet of torque. That prodigious torque output makes the Grand Cherokee diesel your best bet for towing duties. By comparison, the 5.7 liter V8 makes 390 pound feet of torque.

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit 4x4 Diesel

Also new for 2014 is the appropriately named Summit model, a range topper which outranks the Overland as the most luxurious Grand Cherokee of all. If you haven’t examined a Jeep interior in a while, you will be smitten with the attention to detail inside this cabin. Our test Jeep, done up in Jeep Brown, is meant to emulate the colors of the Grand Canyon. To me it looked more like an advertisement for See’s Chocolates. Vast swatches of glove soft “Natura-Plus” mocha leather cover the seating surfaces and complement the matching open pore wood of the dash and center console. Even the steering wheel rim features real wood top and bottom segments. The suede-like headliner and A-pillars beg you to touch them. The instrument panel can be configured with a variety of displays thanks to thin film transistor (TFT) technology. The huge double paned panoramic sunroof blasts the interior with enough daylight and fresh air to dispel any trace of back seat claustrophobia. Though it’s hard to find demerits inside the Summit Jeep, flat, hard front seats cry for softer cushions and additional side support.

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit 4x4 Diesel

Also new for 2014 is an 8 speed automatic transmission which offers torque multiplication in gears 1 through 5, direct drive (1:1) in gear 6, and overdrive ratios in speeds 7 and 8. The transmission up shifts and downshifts seamlessly. For 2014, all Grand Cherokees include paddle shifts for gear changes. The gear selection controller sits atop the center console, activated by a stubby T-handle lever with detents set so close together that it’s easy to get Neutral or Park when seeking Reverse.

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit 4x4 Diesel

Although you might mistake this Jeep’s many luxury indulgences for a soft underbelly, that is hardly the case. In fact, the Summit is well equipped to conquer any unpaved road you care to tackle. This Jeep is Trail Rated, an honor bestowed only on vehicles which meet strict guidelines for ground clearance, maneuverability, traction, articulation and water fording. In the case of the Grand Cherokee, you can count on its sophisticated full time 4 Wheel Drive Quadra Trac II system to guarantee traction and maneuverability in the outback. As far as ride height is concerned, the Summit provides a Quadra Lift air suspension system that affords 8.7 inches of ground clearance in normal daily driving. You can elevate it 1.3 inches by selecting the Off Road 1 setting, or 2.6 inches for Off Road 2. With 11.3 inches of ground clearance in this rock avoidance mode, you can clear most any obstacle, or dare to ford stream beds. If you choose Aero Mode, or Sport setting, the Jeep drops 0.6 inch to a ride height of 8.1 inches for less wind resistance and better fuel economy.

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit 4x4 Diesel

The Summit edition of the Grand Cherokee is a styling exercise that ticks all the right boxes for clean design. First you’ll notice new LED head and tail lights, and new charcoal rocker panels which match dark gray lower valences front and rear. The rear under tray houses exhaust tips, the front sports newly integrated fog lights. Bi-Xenon headlights swivel from side to side for improved back road illumination as you turn the steering wheel. Model specific polished aluminum alloy rims measure 8 x 20 inches and plant hefty contact patches on the road thanks to Goodyear Fortera HL tires measuring 265/50R20.

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit 4x4 Diesel

The Summit diesel weighs 5,149 pounds, so you won’t be whipping it through S curves like a sport SUV. You’ll also become quickly cognizant of its heft when you make your first U-turn, an undertaking that uses up 37 feet of road and forces you to swing the steering wheel through 3.7 turns from lock to lock. But once you’ve seated four or five adults inside this luxurious cabin, and headed off road to do some serious trail blazing, you’ll marvel at just how much power, range and competence $59,000 will buy when you select this Detroit-built bargain of a Jeep.

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit 4×4 Diesel

  • Engine: 3.0 liter V-6 Diesel, turbocharged, common rail direct injection
  • Horsepower: 240hp
  • Torque: 420lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 27 MPG City/ 28 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $50,875
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2014 Ford Fusion Energi SE

Wednesday October 15th, 2014 at 8:1010 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2014 Ford Fusion Energi SE

By David Colman

Hypes: Solid Power Team, Efficient Use of Space
Gripes: Vague Steering Feel, Ergonomic Cabin Issues

Through the first third of 2014, Ford has sold 72,746 Fusions. That accomplishment places the Fusion fourth in the mid size market segment, behind Nissan’s third place Altima, Toyota’s second place Camry and sales leader Honda’s 112,100 Accord sales. The Fusion may lag the imports, but it is a rousing success compared to other domestic brands like Chevrolet’s Malibu (43,101 sales), Dodge’s Avenger (25,068) and Chrysler’s aging 200 (21,648). The reason for Fusion’s strong showing lies in its appearance, value, and diversity of models. Let’s start with looks, because that’s the first sales hook you’ll encounter. Ford blatantly emulated the grill silhouette of Aston Martin’s $300,000 DB-9 to distinguish the Fusion from anything else in the mid size segment. The Ford’s high belt line also mimics the Aston’s tall side/squat greenhouse proportions. The result is a very handsome product from Ford that rings the styling bell with cues borrowed from Aston’s James Bond closet.

The value facet of Fusion ownership manifests itself in the wide variety of affordable combinations Ford offers. No fewer than 9 different models are available for 2014, ranging in price from the FWD S at $21,900 to the Titanium Energi at $40,500. You choose from 4 different engine options, FWD or AWD, plus 2 plug-in hybrids designated SE and Titanium. The Energi (Hybrid) SE that is the subject of this review carries a base price of $36,700. With the addition of a $295 Reverse Sensing System and a $795 Navigation System, this Fusion SE’s delivered price is $40,585.

2014 Ford Fusion Energi SE

If you choose a Hybrid Fusion, you will lose considerable trunk space compared to a gas powered model. The high energy battery pack occupies a substantial section of the trunk floor, leaving you just a little flat storage area before the floor steps up sharply to house the battery and electric motor components. Note that although your warranty will cover all Energi system bits for 15 years or 150,000 miles, the high energy battery warranty is limited to 10 years or 150,000 miles. Since this Hybrid is only capable of covering 21 miles before its battery charge expires, the trunk space trade-off would seem to pose a considerable deterrent to selecting a Hybrid Fusion. An SE with gas motor only retails for just $23,855, and comes with an unobstructed and spacious trunk.

2014 Ford Fusion Energi SE

But the beauty of this Hybrid lies in its virtually undetectable transfer from electric to gasoline mode when underway. Whereas most such combo cars let you know quite clearly and noisily when switching from electric to gas power, the Fusion transfers energy source quietly and seamlessly. Under full electric power, it proved so quiet that we were able to sneak up on a bobcat hunting in the wild without alarming the cat. An idling gas engine would have instantly driven this cat into the bushes. So there are unanticipated blessings when running silently on electricity. Another Hybrid virtue is the shot of thrust the electric motor provides when you flatten the throttle. The 2.0 liter gas engine which normally provides 141hp and 129 pound-feet of torque, links up with the electric power source which adds 118hp and 117 pounds of its own torque. That’s more than enough surge to spring past slower traffic on two lane roads, or slot into a 70mph freeway pattern without worry. Best of all, you’ll do so while averaging 43 MPG in overall driving. If you restrict your Fusion outings to electric power only, you’ll register 100MPGe. As far as the Energi’s Greenhouse Gas Rating, it scores a perfect 10 out of 10 on the EPA/DOT barometer, and a 7 out of 10 on the Smog Rating scale.

2014 Ford Fusion Energi SE

Unfortunately, Ford equips the Energi SE with rock hard (Treadwear Rating: 430) Michelin Energy tires (225/50R17), that lose grip at the least provocation on twisty back roads. Because this sedan is otherwise so well balanced and sensitive to steering input, the Michelins detract from an otherwise pleasant handling package. If you replace them with something stickier, you might sacrifice a few MPG in favor of improved adhesion. It’s a move well worth making.

Learning to love the Fusion is easy because the interior is so well designed. In SE trim, the driver’s seat is heated and offers 10 power adjustments as well as 3 memory positions. The other front seat is also heated, with 4 power position controls. The rear seat is surprisingly comfortable for long trips. I spent several hours in back, comforted by a large center armrest containing 2 drink holders, and a pair of small, floor-mounted AC vents with adjustable nozzles. the only rear seat demerit stems from the Fusion’s high beltline and small windows, which tend to induce claustrophobia and motion sickness if you enjoy reading while riding.

Ford’s Fusion is leading domestic mid size sales because it looks good, rides well and offers a wide variety of combinations and price points. The Energi SE is one of a handful of Hybrids that’s not only economical to run, but also fun to drive.

2014 Ford Fusion Energi SE

2014 Ford Fusion Energi SE

  • Engine: 3.5 liter DOHC V6 with VVT-I, plus Electric Motor
  • Horsepower: 270hp
  • Torque: 280lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 27 MPG City/ 28 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $50,875
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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


Review: 2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited AWD

Tuesday October 14th, 2014 at 8:1010 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited AWD

By David Colman

Hypes: Solid Power Team, Efficient Use of Space
Gripes: Vague Steering Feel, Ergonomic Cabin Issues

Get more, pay more. Toyota has dimensionally revised the 2014 version of its Highlander, widening it 4.5 inches, and adding 3 inches to its length. Although wheelbase remains as before, at 110 inches, interior space increases to the point that the third row bench seat will now accommodate three people rather than two. The foursome that occupy the first two rows of Captain’s Chairs enjoy indulgent splendor. Front row perforated leather seats are heated and ventilated, with the driver’s chair offering 8 way power adjustment, and the shotgun seat good for 4.

Both second and third row seats recline and fold for cargo use. Though the threesome hitching a ride in the back of this 4,852 pound bus will find their surroundings somewhat less palatial, the wide aisle between the second row Captain’s Chairs offers exceptionally easy access to those third row seats. If you choose the most expensive version of the Highlander – the all -wheel-drive Hybrid Limited that we tested – you will discover that its base price, like its size, has also swelled, from $46,370 in 2013 to $49,790 for the 2014 version.

2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited AWD

Of course, cherry picking the top model also yields dividends not found on lesser Highlanders. For example, Limited status provides a Platinum Package of goodies at no extra charge. This bevy of niceties adds heated, perforated leather second row Captain’s Chairs, plus technology upgrades like dynamic radar cruise control, automatic high beam headlights, and lane departure alert. But the most worthy addition of all is the cabin capping Panoramic Moon roof, with its power tilt and slide front section and fixed rear panel. This feature reinforces your sense of spatial freedom. All seating positions benefit from its extra light and expanded view.

2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited AWD

The Hybrid power train works in consort with a Constantly Variable Transmission to provide terrific thrust whenever you need it. The electric motor will power you through slow city driving, with the 3.5 liter V6 gas engine kicking in as needed. When you pin the accelerator to the floor, the two modes of propulsion combine for seamless acceleration. With 270hp and 280 lb.-ft. of torque, the Hybrid Highlander will crack the 7 second barrier in the 0-60mph run, and pull a trailer weighing 3,500 pounds. The cherry on top is the exceptional mileage this package records. By posting an overall consumption of 28 MPG, this Hybrid owns Consumer Report’s top SUV mileage figure.

2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited AWD

New for 2014 is a trapezoidal grill, re-contoured headlights, plus redesigned front and rear fascias. However, only Highlander devotees will recognize these mild alterations because this Toyota’s appearance is so understated and mainstream. If you seek a stylistic attention getter, than you’re looking at the wrong vehicle. Which is not to say that the Highlander is lacking in either grace or proportions. Its architecture is, in fact, classic Toyota: utilitarian, aerodynamically clean, and handsomely uncluttered. The Highlander’s elevated hind quarters impart a dynamic forward thrust to the overall rake of its dipping beltline. Massive five spoke “Chrometec” alloy wheels, shod with 245/55R19 Bridgestone Dueler HL tires, reinforce the Hybrid’s imperious Clydesdale stance.

Inside, you enjoy all the benefits of increased space. The wide dashboard contains an innovative parcel shelf that sensibly stores all those loose odds and ends that normally float around the cockpit. The door panel armrests utilize memory foam which is pleasingly compliant to the touch. A centrally located 8 inch color touch screen controls tuning functions for the standard JBL entertainment system. The screen, which also covers interior climate control duties, can be difficult to read in daylight driving. Although the center console features a handy roll top cover, its storage well is so deep that a built in source of illumination inside would be helpful. Also, the dual center mounted cup holders seem to be configured for Big Gulp containers at the expense of smaller cups which are free to slosh about disconcertingly. These minor transgressions are all the more surprising in view of the brilliant design of that center oddments shelf.

2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited AWD

If you are in the $50,000 SUV market, the newly upsized Hybrid Highlander should be on yours required reading list. It makes up for its lack of flash with a list of virtues long enough to outbid such competitors as the Honda Pilot, Hyundai Santa Fe and Nissan Pathfinder.

2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited AWD

  • Engine: 3.5 liter DOHC V6 with VVT-I, plus Electric Motor
  • Horsepower: 270hp
  • Torque: 280lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 27 MPG City/ 28 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $50,875
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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


Review: 2014 Nissan Altima 2.5SL

Saturday October 11th, 2014 at 8:1010 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2014 Nissan Altima 2.5SL

By David Colman

Hypes: Spacious Back Seat, Inviting Interior
Gripes: Needs To Lose CVT Transmission

The Altima is Nissan’s scrappy contender in the turbulent family sedan marketplace. When you’re battling mainstream heavyweights like Toyota’s Camry and Honda’s Accord, you need something special to attract buyers to your product. Although the Altima 2.5 SL is nothing special to look at or drive, it still merits consideration due to its affordable base price of $27,775. Seven different tiers of Altima are available (2.5, 2.5 S, 2.5 SV, 2.5 SL, 3.5S, 3.5 SV and 3.5 SL). Base prices range from $22,010 to $30,660. Models designated 2.5 utilize a four cylinder engine rated at 182hp. 3.5 models upgrade performance with a 3.5 liter V6 good for 270hp. Our test Altima fell squarely in the middle of the price range, with its 2.5 liter four mated to a CVT transmission. This combination yields 31MPG in overall driving.

2014 Nissan Altima 2.5SL

The SL designation adds the following improvements to the base 2.5 Altima: integrated turn signal rear view mirrors, fog lamps, premium Bose sound system, heated leather front seats, driver adjustable lumbar support, and auto dimming rearview mirror.
In addition, our test SL added an $800 moon roof, $210 in floor and trunk mats, and $1,090 for a Technology Package that increased color display screen size from 5 to 7 inches, and added navigation, blind spot and lane departure warnings, plus moving object detection. The $30,830 price brings you a fully equipped long distance cruiser with few flaws. In a world full of attention getting designs, the Altima SL is sedate and inoffensive, rather than brash and boastful.

Comfort ranks high on the list of attributes here. Ride is plush, with good damping of road imperfections. Nissan’s tire selection contributes to the plush ride. The 215/55R17 Continental Pro Contact tires help absorb bumps, though at the expense of precise steering feedback. Although handling is hardly cutting edge, the Altima will tackle any back road without embarrassing itself. To prove the point, Nissan is running a pair of Altima coupes in SCCA’s hotly contested Pirelli Touring Car Series, where they are consistent podium finishers.

2014 Nissan Altima 2.5SL

The interior of the SL looks expensive. The seats in particular, offer outstanding support and comfort. Nissan calls them “zero-g” because they are so light to the touch that you feel like you’re floating on air. With the exception of the driver’s seat, each seating position has been thoughtfully supplied with overhead grab handles to ease entry and exit. The commodious rear seat offers so much legroom you could almost sneak a pair of floor mounted jump seats into the mix. The rear seats also fold down in a 40/60 split, opening a vast storage space to the 15 cubic foot trunk. A pair of buttons on the rear window sill control the seatback flop. In another thoughtful touch, these buttons contain key locks, thus restricting trunk access to intentioned adults rather than playful children.

No matter which Altima you select, you have no choice but to accept the CVT transmission. Anyone who enjoys driving soon learns to loathe this invention. While CVT insures excellent fuel consumption figures, it drains the joy out of operating the 2.5 SL. With just 2 selections available for forward motion (“D” and “Ds”). you have very little control over your Altima’s rate of acceleration. Of course, this will only matter to you if back road driving comprises part of your daily itinerary. In those circumstances, your inability to resort to higher engine speed via lower gearing virtually mandates you will never pull out to pass slower traffic. The CVT thus insures tediously strict conga line behavior on twisty roads.

2014 Nissan Altima 2.5SL

But aside from the pair of drivers who contest the Pirelli series, no one would think to buy this Altima for its performance potential. Rather, the 2.5 SL is a sedan that makes sense to the accountant in us all. Its parsimonious behavior starts at the dealership where you can buy it for just a tick over thirty grand. It continues through the life of the sedan, where the EPA estimates annual fuel cost to be just $1,700. That’s about the same as you’d pay for a new Mini Cooper ($1,650). And if you have a family of four to transport, there’s no question which car makes more financial sense.

2014 Nissan Altima 2.5SL

  • Engine: 2.5 liter inline 4, Double Overhead Cams, 16 Valves
  • Horsepower: 182hp
  • Torque: 180 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 27 MPG City/38 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $30,830
  • Star Rating: 7 out of 10 Stars

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


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