2016 Fiat 500 Abarth Review

Friday February 10th, 2017 at 11:22 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Fiat 500 Abarth

By David Colman

Hypes: Street Legal Go-Kart
Gripes: Poor Rating in IIHS Small Overlap Crash Test

For the sheer joy of driving, Fiat’s 500 Abarth is unmatched. With a price under $30,000, it’s something of an economic miracle. Even though our bright “Celeste Blu” test car had its bottom line elevated by $5,375 worth of options, this storming gnat’s total price amounted to just $28,945. You would be hard pressed to have more automotive fun for that kind of money.

2016 Fiat 500 Abarth

The basic 500 model is a cute, diminutive reimagining of the post-war Fiat that dominated Italian highways 60 years ago. That little package provided affordable, unpretentious transportation for a war ravaged country. Today, the 500 is still affordable and unassuming. But in a world full of beastly looking, complicated cars, the 500′s major attraction remains its endearing small size and simplicity of design. In many ways, it has taken from VW the mantle of “people’s car” that the Beetle once owned. But the 500, in base form, is a lethargic performer, with just enough grunt (101hp) to manage freeway merges without embarrassment. Enter the Abarth option. Plumb a turbo onto the basic 1.4 liter engine, add a 16 valve “MultiAir” head, and you’ve got yourself an entirely different proposition than the base 500. The Abarth, named after famed Italian racer Carlo Abarth, ups output by 60 percent, to 160hp. That much extra thrust transforms the lethargic base 500 into a superlative little pocket rocket.

2016 Fiat 500 Abarth

Once ensconced in the very supportive racing striped sports seat, you’ll find the fat rimmed, leather-wrapped steering wheel and the leather covered, ball-topped shift knob right where you need them for precise control. Because the shift knob is so close to the rim of the wheel, there’s no need for paddles here. Just position the stick of the optional ($1,350) Aisin 6-speed heavy duty automatic in its manual control gate and bump the shifter forward for downshifts and backwards for upshifts. This system works flawlessly. Its ease of use far surpasses wheel mounted paddles you have to chase through 360 degrees while turning and shifting.

2016 Fiat 500 Abarth

The weight of the steering is halfway between power assist and no assist at all. In other words it’s as close to perfect as you can find in today’s over-boosted marketplace. Expensive sports offerings from BMW and Porsche offer multiple “sport” settings to alter steering feedback. I have yet to experience one of them that can match this Abarth for positive information. The Abarth offers no such array of steering options because it doesn’t need any. It’s perfect the way it comes from the factory where it’s built in Toluca, Mexico.

2016 Fiat 500 Abarth

Equally responsible for the precise road feel are the 6.5″ x 16″ alloy rims shod with top-of-the-line Pirelli P Zero Nero rubber (195/45R16). These super sticky tires hang on without so much as a squeal of protest even when the Abarth’s firm suspension is at maximum tilt. Driving this petite 2,415 pound warrior on twisty sections of road is a delightful throwback to a time when cars weighed nothing compared to today. If you are interested in experiencing go-kart handling the Abarth is the ride you’ll cherish.

2016 Fiat 500 Abarth

Back in the day, the first thing enthusiasts did to a new sports car was install an Abarth exhaust system. Although pricey, these beautifully finished black crackle pipes invariably made your new ride sound like a Formula 1 machine. I am happy to report that the mellifluous Abarth sound has not been lost in this latest incarnation from Fiat. The sound level here varies from a harmonious blat at cruising speed to a stridently purposeful shriek at full throttle. In the unlikely event that bystanders miss this patented Abarth mating call, they will be sure to take notice of this punk rocker’s unmistakable visual symphony. No fewer than a dozen Abarth scorpion emblems decorate the body and interior surfaces, and a pair of laser striped Abarth nameplates are emblazoned along the flanks. In a final touch of self celebration the “Abarth” name flashes digitally across the instrument pod every time you start or stop this beguiling little devil.

2016 Fiat 500 Abarth

  • Engine: 1.4 liter inline 4, 16 valve MultiAir Turbo
  • Horsepower: 160hp
  • Torque: 183lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 24MPG City/32 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $28,945
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Mazda CX-9 Signature All Wheel Drive Review

Tuesday January 24th, 2017 at 1:11 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Mazda CX-9 Signature All Wheel Drive

By David Colman

Hypes: Great Platform, Feature Laden Signature package
Gripes: Dump the Hood Prop-rod

Unlike so many of its competitors, Mazda never loses sight of the simple fact that the pleasure of driving matters. Whether they’re building an MX-5 sports car or a CX-9 family mover, Mazda aims to foster a positive driving experience. What’s uncanny is the way they’ve managed to transfer the sporting genes of the Miata into the genetic makeup of the CX-9 sports utility crossover. It’s a trick that much larger Japanese outfits like Toyota and Nissan have been unable to master. You won’t, for example, find much of the sporty Toyota FR 86 in anything else the company builds, nor will you detect much trace of the 370Z in Nissan sedans or sports utilities. But with a smaller outfit like Mazda, the Miata message comes through loud and clear in the CX-9.

2016 Mazda CX-9 Signature All Wheel Drive

Its electric power-assisted steering, for example, is uncannily precise. You can give partial credit for this breakthrough to the unusual choice of grippy Falcon Ziex tires (255/50R20) mounted on standard 20 inch alloy rims. But sticky rubber is only as good as the suspension that controls it, and here Mazda excels, with fully independent front and rear systems augmented by stout anti-roll bars fore and aft. Considering its ample heft, the CX-9 stays glued to twisty roads.

Mazda advertising seems reluctant to divulge the fact that a four cylinder engine powers the CX-9 Signature All-Wheel-Drive. Factory literature only describes the engine as a “Skyactive 2.5T Turbo Engine.” But make no mistake, this engine has nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to performance. It packs 310 lb.-ft. of torque at just 2000rpm, so acceleration is gratifyingly instantaneous. The Skyactive 227hp motor powers all four wheels through a 6-speed automatic transmission. Though it lacks paddle controls, it does offer Sport Mode which allows manual shifts. Just bump the console lever forward for downshifts or backwards for upshifts.

2016 Mazda CX-9 Signature All Wheel Drive

This sizeable sports utility offers seating for 7, with three rows arranged front to rear in a 2/3/2 pattern. The rearmost bench, which folds 50/50, accommodates only short legged occupants. Passengers in rows 1 and 2 (60/40 fold) are very well looked after. In fact, the main cabin of the CX-9 is an unexpectedly elegant proposition in Signature trim level, with swaths of real matte rosewood and real aluminum bisecting expanses of auburn tinted, glove soft Nappa Leather. Mazda stylists have really outdone themselves with the seat detailing: black piping and red stitching combine with inset bands of black leather to convey a sense of richness quite unexpected in this price range.

2016 Mazda CX-9 Signature All Wheel Drive

So the CX-9 will hustle down a crooked road with real aplomb, conveying its occupants with unruffled equanimity thanks to standard Roll Stability Control (RSC). The CX-9 is also tow rated for 3500lbs. worth of trailer, and the onboard electronics afford Trailer Stability Assist (TSA) to help manage the sway of your load. Visibility from the driver’s seat is excellent in all directions. The view through the large back window is especially welcome, since most SUVs in this mid-size range obscure direct rear vision with a sea of headrests obscuring an undersized rear pane. Mazda has also equipped the back glass with its own wiper and defroster. If those aids don’t clear the way for reversing, then utilize the rear back up sensor and image projected on the 8 inch color multi-function display screen atop the dash.

2016 Mazda CX-9 Signature All Wheel Drive

A vehicle in this price range should have a counterbalanced hood, but even the Signature CX-9 makes do with a manual prop rod. Also, the front console cup holders lack a sliding door cover, so they attract and retain every particle of errant dirt. The lower section of the chrome grill features an awkward surface joint that cheapens the look of nose, despite the fact that the Signature grill boats LED lighting accents. Finally, the extreme swept back roofline requires front seat passengers to duck their heads before climbing aboard, an unexpected annoyance in a vehicle that stands 68 inches tall. But these quibbles pale into insignificance given the overwhelming number of positives on offer here. If you want an affordable family hauler with the DNA of a lithesome sports car, the CX-9 should be your first choice.

2016 Mazda CX-9 Signature All Wheel Drive

  • Engine: 2.5 liter inline 4, turbocharged
  • Horsepower: 227@5000rpm
  • Torque: 310lb.-ft.@2000rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 21 MPG City/27 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $45,215
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Mitsubishi Outlander 3.0 GT S-AWC Review

Tuesday January 3rd, 2017 at 8:11 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Mitsubishi Outlander 3.0 GT S-AWC

By David Colman

Hypes: Great Interior Space, Strong Drivetrain
Gripes: More Tire Please

Normally, press review vehicles graduate from evaluation duties after accumulating 7,500 miles on their odometer. While such a short life span insures that these vehicles remain fresh and relatively new, we testers rarely get to experience more mature examples. This Mitsubishi proved an extreme exception to that rule when it arrived with a whopping 20,000 miles showing on its odometer. While you might expect that such intense usage would lead to an accumulation of shakes, rattles and clatter, this Outlander performed like it had just been driven off the showroom floor. Nothing squeaked, nothing failed to operate as intended. If it weren’t for a smattering of scratches and dings accumulated over the past year, this veteran Mitsubishi could pass for a brand new vehicle. Such long-term solidity bodes well for your ownership future with this brand.

2016 Mitsubishi Outlander 3.0 GT S-AWC

The loaded Outlander GT makes a good case for ownership. For starters, the price is right, at a base of just $30,995. Even fully loaded, with a $3,350 Navigation System that also includes Lane Departure Warning and Adaptive Cruise Control, the bottom line tally is a modest $35,195. In an SUV world of screaming 4 cylinder engines mated to shrieking CVT transmissions, the Outlander GT provides a welcome respite from such cheap engineering. This model houses a very healthy 3 liter V6 mounted sideways under its hood, and coupled to a real automatic transmission containing 6 actual gears instead of CVT rubber bands.

2016 Mitsubishi Outlander 3.0 GT S-AWC

While the powertrain combo here won’t help you set any quarter mile drag records, its 224hp and 215lb.-ft. of torque prove more than adequate for the daily drive. Mitsubishi equips GT models with enormous elephant ear shift paddles adjacent to the leather wrapped steering wheel. These enable you to tap your way right into the engine’s performance sweet spot. Just administer a thwack on the left paddle for downshifts or a swat on the right one for upshifts. This system is brilliantly designed and puts to shame similar, less effectual paddles offered on much more expensive German sporting products like Porsche and BMW. The paddle design should come as no surprise, however, since Mitsubishi has won countless world rally championships, where quick shifting is the name of the game.

2016 Mitsubishi Outlander 3.0 GT S-AWC

Equal ingenuity has gone into the Outlander’s interior configuration. While seating for 7 is virtually unheard of in this class of SUV, the Outlander GT manages to turn the trick with a 2/3/2 package that includes a pair of diminutive third row seats that will pack the whole hockey team on board. The 32.5 cubic feet of interior space can be quickly reconfigured to accommodate a bicycle. Just step up to the rear side doors, pull a strap on the lower seat cushions to fold them forward, then lift a latch on the back cushions to fold them into the newly created well. The entire process takes about 8 nanoseconds. The GT comes with an electrically activated tailgate which can be triggered by a button on the dash or by a pad on the keyfob remote. The remote trigger, however, worked only intermittently. Perhaps after 20,000 miles, its battery was feeling a bit under the weather.

2016 Mitsubishi Outlander 3.0 GT S-AWC

In North America, Mitsubishi products seem to fly under the radar. Whether this is due to a lack of advertising or a restricted number of dealerships is unclear. What is clear is that the brand has consistently turned out strong examples of compact SUVs for a long time now. We were recently impressed with the Outlander Sport, for example. Although the Outlander GT can’t match the crisp handling of the Sport, the deficit is due in part to the mediocre Toyo A24 (225/55R18) tires fitted to the GT. These Toyos offer marginal stick and since the GT is relatively softly sprung, the footprint combination produces pronounced understeer accompanied by tire squeal. Although the Outlander GT won’t get your juices flowing at the sight of a twisty road, its many other cumulative virtues make it a prime candidate for your consideration as a do-it-all 7-Up family hauler.

2016 Mitsubishi Outlander 3.0 GT S-AWC

2016 Mitsubishi Outlander 3.0 GT S-AWC

  • Engine: 3.0 liter V6, SOHC, 24 Valve
  • Horsepower: 224hp
  • Torque: 215lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 20 MPG City/27 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $35,195
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Kia Optima SX LTD Review

Thursday December 29th, 2016 at 11:1212 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Kia Optima SX LTD

By David Colman

Hypes: Strong Motor, Solid Handling, Unexpected Luxury Cabin
Gripes: Navigation System Anomalies

For a base price of $35,790, this Kia is a bargain.. When you climb into the spacious cabin, the first thing you notice is the diamond boxed seating surfaces, trimmed in soft mocha-hued Nappa Leather. You could be excused for thinking you had mistakenly opened the door to a Maserati or a Bentley rather than a Kia. But make no mistake, the top level Optima SX LTD, completely redone for 2016, is good enough to pass itself off as an expensive European luxury ride.

2016 Kia Optima SX LTD

The goodness extends beyond the obvious wow factor of the triangulated seat stitchery. If you opt for an SX LTD Optima, you’ll enjoy a very lively turbo inline 4, which utilizes direct fuel injection to slap out 245hp, and 260lb.-ft. of torque. Since this is a front wheel drive car, there’s enough power to provoke torque-steer, especially on wet pavement, All that zoom feeds through a sweet 6-speed automatic gearbox equipped with paddle shifts. The SX rides on standard 18 inch alloy rims shod with aggressively all season Michelin MXM4 rubber (235/45R18). Sport oriented suspension tuning helps provide taut responsiveness to steering input.

2016 Kia Optima SX LTD

Thanks to its willing yet efficient turbo engine (25MPG overall) this Optima is a lot of fun to drive. On the freeway, the SX is quiet and well snubbed, but still compliant enough to remain comfortable over distressed pavement. Both front seats are heated and offer full electric positioning control. The driver’s seat even includes a pair of memory buttons which retain pre-arranged mirror and seat positions. There are few interior clues to the bargain nature of the Optima. The only obvious one is the clumsy manual adjustment collar for steering wheel reach and tilt.

2016 Kia Optima SX LTD

The standard included Navigation System displays its maps on a sizeable 8 inch screen. But the mechanics of destination programming caused concern. When we attempted to enter the destination “Ferry Point” in Alameda, CA, the system repeatedly failed to recognize the address. It wasn’t until we abbreviated “Point” as “Pt.” that the Kia divulged the needed information. One wonders whether it would be able to understand the word “Street,” or require use of the abbreviation “St.” to find a street address.

2016 Kia Optima SX LTD

Programming glitches aside, the Optima offers an otherwise commendable slate of electronic entertainment and safety wonders. The audio system by Harman Kardon produces “QLS Premium Surround Sound” with enough vibrato to awake the dead. You even get to play with 200 plus channels of SIRIUSXM for your first 3 months of ownership for free. Also standard is the complete nanny package, which includes Front Collision Warning System, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Blind Spot Detection, and Lane Departure Warning System. With all of these obnoxious warning systems chiming in on a regular basis, you’ll be free to pay more attention to your text messaging and incoming phone calls. Just don’t make the mistake of believing that this car will take care of driving itself. An unpleasant bout with Advanced Smart Cruise Control (ASCC) convinced us that this particular system isn’t quite ready for prime time use. On a heavy traffic run up 101 from San Rafael to Petaluma, the Optima’s ASCC had us continuously slowing and thrusting with speed pre-set to 65mph. After 15 minutes of this behavior, we switched off ASCC, choosing instead to do things the old fashioned way – with foot and throttle pedal. In spite of its armament of nannies, the Optima SX remains a primo ride, since almost every nanny voice can be manually defeated before you start a trip. The only one that proved useful in all events was Rear Cross Traffic Alert, which also projects a rearward view on the 8 inch screen when Reverse gear is engaged.

2016 Kia Optima SX LTD

Despite front wheel drive, this turbo Optima is almost as much fun to drive as a small BMW. It’s got the grunt and the handling to satisfy your urge for sport without forcing you to pay the stiff entry price demanded by its German equivalent.

2016 Kia Optima SX LTD

  • Engine: 2.0 liter turbocharged inline 4 with direct injection
  • Horsepower: 245hp
  • Torque: 260lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 22MPG City/32 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $36,615
  • Star Rating: 9.5 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Hyundai Sonata Sport 2.0T Review

Wednesday December 21st, 2016 at 11:1212 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Hyundai Sonata Sport 2.0T

By David Colman

Hypes: Easy on the Eyes, Quick, Well Furnished
Gripes: Gnarly Brakes, Too Much Understeer

For the 2015 model year, Hyundai recast the mid-size Sonata, giving it better insulation, a roomier passenger compartment, and more up-to-date looks. For 2016, they added a hybrid version and a plug-in electric model good for 20 miles on a charge. For sportier types seeking higher performance, the Sport model we test here features a 2.0 liter turbo motor packing a 245hp wallop. This svelte looking front-wheel-drive sedan is beautifully sculpted, with graceful lines stretching from the front end’s signature 7 LED driving light cluster to the tail’s rear diffuser containing quad exhaust tips. The inline 4 really gets with the acceleration program. It’s coupled to a 6-speed automatic gearbox featuring paddle shifts plus a manual control gate on the console stick as well. Since the engine makes 260lb.-ft. of torque all the way from 1,350rpm to 4,000rpm, you almost never need to bother with the paddles or gear selection. Just floor the Sport’s model-specific ribbed aluminum accelerator pedal, and enjoy this sedan’s prodigious passing prowess. When bidden, it jumps.

2016 Hyundai Sonata Sport 2.0T

In addition to the exterior sporting clues, Hyundai has freshened the interior with such performance-oriented features as a D-shaped (flat bottom) steering wheel, and sport leather seating surfaces with standard front seat heating. These handsome pedestals are quite supportive during hard cornering maneuvers. Sports-tuned suspension and steering help raise the lateral limits of the Sonata Sport. If the basic ride quality and steering feedback is too soft for your liking, you can engage a Sport setting via a “Drive Mode Select” button on the center console that stiffens the steering feedback, and favors higher rpm engine operation. There’s also an Eco setting available which makes feedback sludgy and softens throttle response. Really, the Sport Sonata is well enough tuned that you could easily do without either of these Drive Mode Select options. In fact, I chose to spend most of my week in Normal mode, which offered good steering response without artificial heaviness, and lower-rpm shift points which eliminated noise and jerkiness. The standard 18 inch alloy rims bear mid-level Kumho Solus XT tires (235/45R18) that squeal when pushed to the limit. At that limit, this 3,315 pound sedan develops profound understeer, which is safe to control, but not very rewarding to manage.

2016 Hyundai Sonata Sport 2.0T

The list of standard attributes for the Sonata is long and surprisingly complete given its modest $28,925 base price. I really liked “Proximity Key Entry with Push Button Start,” since this allows you to approach the Sonata with hands full and slide right in without fumbling for keys. Likewise, once seated, just bump the large Start button on the dash while the key fob is still buried in your pocket or purse, and the Hyundai lights off without further ado. The remote fob also features a trunk release button that eases the toil you need to expend when loading groceries. These are niceties that many sedans costing twice as much fail to offer as standard equipment. Our rear seat test rider commended the spaciousness of the aft passenger compartment, which is fitted with twin floor mounted rear vents for A/C and heat. The cabin is quiet enough at 65mph to carry on a conversation with aft seat passengers, Despite the fact that our test Sonata lacked a sunroof, we hardly noticed its absence thanks to this sedan’s large and expansive side and rear windows.

2016 Hyundai Sonata Sport 2.0T

The Sonata is highly rated for crash safety by the US Government. It merits an overall score of 5 Stars, the highest evaluation available. It amasses this score by earning 5 stars for both front AND rear passenger, AND driver impact tests, plus 4 Stars for rollover rating. This highly rated protection accrues from front, side impact, side curtain and driver knee airbags. Additionally, the Sport offers standard blind-spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert. Although ABS brakes, with electronic brake force distribution and brake assist is a standard component of the Sport’s specification, the brakes on our high-mile (10,000 mile) test car were grabby and unpredictable. They failed to release when pressure on the pedal was removed.

2016 Hyundai Sonata Sport 2.0T

Aside from this foible, the Sonata Sport is well worth considering if you seek a family sedan with pretensions of performance at a modest price. This Hyundai checks a lot of boxes for the money.

2016 Hyundai Sonata Sport 2.0T

  • Engine: 2.0 liter 4-cylinder, turbocharged, gasoline direct injection
  • Horsepower: 245hp@6000rpm
  • Torque: 260lb.-ft.@1350rpm-4000rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 23MPG City/32MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $29,885
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Honda Civic 1.5T Touring Review

Monday December 19th, 2016 at 11:1212 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Honda Civic 1.5T Touring

By David Colman

Hypes: Voluptuous Architecture and Blatant Color
Gripes: CVT Buzzkill, Dash Complexity

Thirty years ago, when I bought my own Honda Civic Si, I did so because Honda had made it the poster child for the economy car as sports car. That first generation Si was light, quick on its rims, and a joy to drive. Visually, the latest 2016 Civic Touring looks even racier than the lively hatchback I owned back in 1987. Unfortunately, the racy looks of the latest two-door Civic are deceptive.

2016 Honda Civic 1.5T Touring

The 1.5 liter turbo coupe simply doesn’t cut it as a driver’s car. It’s not that the 174hp engine isn’t powerful enough to fulfill acceleration needs. Nor are the 215/50R17 Firestone FT140 tires, mounted on standard 17″ x 7″ alloy rims, incapable of generating decent cornering speed. Rather, the Civic Touring is victimized by its Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT), which detracts from the driving experience in multiple ways. First, it’s always noisy, emitting a constant drone that will wear out your eardrums. Secondly, its infinitely variable belt and pulley system causes the CVT to hunt constantly, as it seeks to provide you with the right ratio. It rarely succeeds in doing so. Finally, Honda does not provide paddle shifters. Nor is there a manual gate for your direct oversight of the CVT. The so-called “Sport” setting on the floor-mounted stick does little but amplify noise.

2016 Honda Civic 1.5T Touring

This is really a shame, because the Civic Touring is quite the handsome package. It’s especially good looking in Energy Green, an outrageous shade of metallic lime that will help every CHP cruiser identify you instantly when you exceed the speed limit. Despite its streamlined roof, this little coupe boasts an exceptionally spacious and comfortable rear seat area, complete with foot pedal operated front seat slide to allow easy disembarkation for aft passengers. And the Touring is full of such useful features. For example, if you want to keep track of adjacent traffic, push a button on the end of the turn signal stalk and you will be greeted with a video display showing your immediate road neighbors. A camera located in the right hand rear view mirror projects this real time traffic image on the 7 inch dashboard display screen. This display automatically pops up every time you signal a right hand turn. The innovation is a Honda exclusive, one that really helps keep you informed of traffic patterns.

2016 Honda Civic 1.5T Touring

I wish I could generate similar enthusiasm for the rest of the dash layout, but such is not the case. The control center of this Civic looks like it was designed by video gamers enamored of cell phone pull-down menus. For example, in order to accomplish the simplest objectives, such as increasing or decreasing fan speed, you need to press a dash button which then brings up a video screen showing a plus/minus axis. You are then required to scan this pictograph, locate your finger in the correct spot for actuation, and hope that the screen isn’t too dirty to decipher the command imparted by your trembling fingertip. On top of all that, you are required to accomplish this mission while travelling at 70mph. How is all this in any way different from texting while driving, which happens to be illegal in most states?

2016 Honda Civic 1.5T Touring

Luckily, Honda does quite a bit better with their suite of safety attributes called the “Honda Sensing Package.” This group, which is standard fare on the Touring model, includes Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) which uses radar and camera info to determine and modify your pre-set speed. The Sensing Package also provides sensors that will avoid accidental forward contact by bringing the car to a halt (Collision Mitigation Braking System). We chose not to test CMBS. However, we did experience Road Departure Mitigation (RDM), which exerts haptic feedback if you allow the Civic to drift away from its intended path of travel. The steering wheel gently tugs you back into what RDM has determined should be your true trajectory. The suite of aids also includes Lane Departure Warning (LDW) and Lane Keeping Assist System (LKAS). I chose to deactivate these crutches because most of the time, they proved more annoying than beneficial.

2016 Honda Civic 1.5T Touring

The Civic Touring is a curious brew of knockout looks and punchy motor tempered by the vagaries of a gearless transmission, and the unnecessary complications of an arcade game dashboard. But true believers in the Honda way will be happy to note that the old Civic Si’s irrepressible mojo will be returning to the model line with the addition of a Civic Type R hatchback arriving in 2017.

2016 Honda Civic 1.5T Touring

  • Engine: 1.5 liter inline 4, Direct Injection DOHC, 16 Valves, Turbocharged
  • Horsepower: 174hp
  • Torque: 162lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 31MPG City/41MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $26,960
  • Star Rating: 7 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata Review

Thursday December 15th, 2016 at 8:1212 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

By David Colman

Hypes: Consummate Affordable Sports Car
Gripes: Head Scratching Interior Shortcomings

In the current press-generated blather for self-driving cars, it would seem that Mazda’s rallying cry – “Driving Matters” – is singularly out of step with the times. But the fact of the matter is that driving does matter, and for the foreseeable future at least, you- the driver – will still be held responsible for the conduct of your vehicle. Given that unavoidable fact, wouldn’t you rather chose a sharp tool for the job than a blunt one? The MX-5 Miata is still without question the sharpest scalpel in any driver’s kit bag. Learn to drive a Miata well, and you will instantly become a better driver than you were before. Because this diminutive sports car requires concentration, coordination, and adept manipulation of all control interfaces. If you plan on texting or talking while driving, forget about the MX-5, because it demands a level of involvement that rules out such foolish behavior. In return, it will pay your finesse off in dividends of delight unmatched by anything else you can buy today, regardless of price. The fact that such rich reward is available for just $30,065 makes the MX-5 the best cheap date you can buy period.

2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

Everything about the Miata is straightforward. Its front engine/rear wheel drive layout was once considered the prime solution to the sports car equation. Famous marques like Triumph, MG, and Lotus all built vibrant sports cars to this formula. Although that classic era has long since passed, Mazda alone soldiers on with its affordable, reasonably powerful take on the legendary British design that worked so well back in the 50s and 60s. The MX-5 proves that it continues to excel today. You quickly discover that this Mazda is blissfully devoid of the over-complication plaguing so many vehicles today. There’s a 2 liter straight 4 up front making 155hp. Its twin cam motor boasts 16 valves and performs best in the lower rev ranges, where 148lb.-ft. of torque is instantly on call. The spry four-banger connects to a 6-speed manual gearbox offering micrometer precise shifts. You can buy an MX-5 with an optional automatic gearbox with 6 speeds, but why would you want to do that? An immense chunk of Miata joy is attributable to that stubby wand between the seats that distributes power to the rear wheels. Chose the automatic and you’re ceding half the fun to a unit that renders you partially useless. If driving matters, go for the stick.

2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

Because this two seater weighs only 2,335lbs. great handling does not require steam roller size wheels and tires. Mazda has supplied even the base model we drove with primo rubber: Bridgestone Potenza S001 tires measuring 205/45R17 mounted on smoked chrome alloys. The precise, fully independent suspension of the MX-5 allows the Bridgestones to develop sustained cornering grip that will have you squealing with glee every time you clip an apex on a back road. Have just one such experience and you will instantly understand why Miata is the most raced car on the planet. Every weekend, hundreds of contests take place with various classes of Miatas. These range from box-stock street cars to heavily modified track stars. No other single make series comes close to duplicating the racing world’s allegiance to the Miata.

2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

In the 2017, Mazda will be introducing a retractable fastback hardtop version of the MX-5 that promises to look sleeker than our test model soft top, but also weigh considerably more. When the hardtop is erect, that extra weight will be situated high up in the chassis, resulting in an elevated center of gravity compared to our ragtop. The lightweight fabric roof is so easy to drop and erect with one hand from the driver’s seat that there’s really no need for a complicated push-button electric powered hardtop. We spent 90% of our week driving the Soul Red ($300 optional color)) rocket with its top dropped.

2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

If there’s a bug on the windshield of the Miata, it’s the poor ergonomic design of the interior. For example, although Mazda has added a 7 inch color touch screen display to the dash top, such chores as selecting and installing XM radio favorites is unduly complicated and annoying. Likewise, the rotary selector knob for accessing the touchscreen is inexplicably located atop the transmission tunnel, so that every time your right elbow inadvertently touches the selector knob during a shift, the radio changes stations. Finally, there is virtually no cabin storage either in the dash or the doors, so you’re faced with an awkward reach to a small cubby located behind and between the two seats. Thus, Mazda seems to have resurrected the niggling quirkiness of the British sports cars in ways best left forgotten.

2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

  • Engine: 2.0 liter inline 4, DOHC
  • Horsepower: 155hp
  • Torque: 148lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 27MPG City/34 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $31,330
  • Star Rating: 9.5 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Acura RLX Hybrid Review

Friday December 9th, 2016 at 9:1212 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Acura RLX Hybrid

By David Colman

Hypes: Surprising Road Burner in Sport Mode
Gripes: Non-intuitive Transmission Controls

Ever since the Acura division of Honda moved away from using memorable names like Legend and Integra in favor of meaningless letter designations like RLX and TLX, the buying public has become confused about which letter designations stood for which products. Case in point: would you rather say you were driving a an Acura Legend or an RLX? I know that my father, who bought a first generation Legend coupe, would have had trouble coming to terms with the designation RLX. he had enough trouble with the name Acura, which he persisted in calling “Acoora.”

All that being said, I can make the case for RLX serving as an acronym for “Relax,” since this substantial 4-door sedan is quiet enough, comfortable enough, and fast enough to function as a relaxation center on wheels. By the way, those ally wheels measure 19″ x 8″ and come shod with Michelin Green X rubber (245/40R19). You can have your suspension two ways in this Acura. When you press the Start Button on the dash, the system automatically defers to a comfort setting that makes our pot-holed roads tolerable. But if you insist on dialing up improved road holding, there’s a “Sport” switch located on the center console that tightens steering response, increases muffler volume, and blips the throttle on downshifts. While all these sporting affectations may seem incongruous for a two-ton heavy cruiser, the RLX – when configured for Sport – acquits itself with honor on twisty back roads. While you won’t be confusing its performance with that of a 5 Series BMW, the RLX does provide an unexpected dimension of sporting performance.

2016 Acura RLX Hybrid

That the handling can be dialed into the performance realm is a solid positive, because the excellent Hybrid powertrain requires maximum adhesion from the all-season Michelin tires. Power and torque output are substantial: 377hp and 341lb.-ft. of torque, courtesy of one 3.5 liter SOHC V6, supplemented by no less than 3 electric motors. This compendium of motive power drives all 4 wheels, a dispersed allocation of power Acura dubs “Super Handling AWD.” Indeed, the vehicle’s traction is predictable and impressive. Also notable is the linear brake response. In so many Hybrids, regenerative braking diminishes brake feedback, resulting in a jerky, unpredictable pedal for deceleration. In the RLX, what Acura wordily terms “Agile Handling Assist Dynamic Brake System” gets the job done without the usual Hybrid drama.

2016 Acura RLX Hybrid

However, we did encounter a measure of drama when the big sedan refused to re-fire after a fill-up at the local Valero station. When the Start Button was depressed, a message appeared stating “Hold Keyfob Near Start Button.” We repeated this maneuver to no avail. The keyfob seemed dead, so I pressed the lock button which seemed to activate the door locks. But pressing the unlock button did not unlock the doors, so there we were, locked in our RLX which still refused to start. When I opened the locked door, the theft alarm started blaring, and the remote failed to deactivate it. The Valero attendant came over and gave us a look. Our four star clown show at the pump island continued until the Start Button- for no apparent reason – did what it was supposed to do. Finally, we were off and running, alarm bugle silenced at long last. This was not a confidence inspiring episode.

2016 Acura RLX Hybrid

Part of the problem might stem from the RLX’ overly complicated computer-dependent operation system. For example, even the simplest commands, such as fan speed, require you to press a small fan pictograph button on the display screen. This in turn brings up a fan speed screen, which then requires you to identify and press the appropriate up/down fan speed pictograph. The whole process is overly complicated and distracts you from the job of driving. Likewise, for the paddle-shift enabled 7-Speed dual clutch transmission, Acura has eliminated conventional gear shift controls in favor of a series of small buttons mounted on the console tunnel. These consist of a narrow push button for Park, a small, hidden backward slider for Reverse, and a circular Petri dish for Drive. After a solid week of driving the RLX, this system continued to defy intuition and foster annoyance.

2016 Acura RLX Hybrid

The RLX offers the best mileage for a large luxury sedan in this category. You will average a stupendous 30MPG regardless of city or freeway use. The RLX is quiet, spacious and well tailored. But unless you are a technology addict, the car/driver interface can present daunting problems that could be solved by a needed simplification of controls.

2016 Acura RLX Hybrid

  • Engine: 3.5 liter SOHC V^ VTEC plus 3 Electric Motors
  • Horsepower: 377hp
  • Torque: 341lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 28MPG City/32MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $66,870
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport 2.4ST 2WD Review

Wednesday November 9th, 2016 at 11:1111 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport 2.4ST 2WD

By David Colman

Hypes: Loaded with Standard Features
Gripes: Front Center Armrest Feels Cheap

Good genes and an even disposition mean just as much in the car world as they do in the human realm. In the genes department, Mitsubishi long ago mastered the art of building large displacement, vibration-free, 4 cylinder motors. Back in 1983, Mitsubishi marketed a 2.4 liter straight four that utilized a counter-rotating balance shaft to cancel vibration. So successful was the design that Porsche paid Mitsubishi royalties to borrow the layout for its 944 series engines. Today, Mitsubishi still depends on this basic architecture to offer a 2.4 liter in-line 4 making excellent power (168hp) and torque (167lb.-ft.) with no harshness at any rpm range.

2016 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport 2.4ST 2WD

In the happy disposition department, the Outlander Sport is a crossover utility vehicle (CUV) so eager to serve you that it even bids you farewell at drive’s end. When you turn it off, the LCD multi-information display flashes the chummy message “See Ya.” For $25,995 (base price), the Sport is surprisingly full of such unexpected bonuses. All models come standard with 18 inch, two-tone aluminum alloy wheels. Ours were shod with Nexen Npriz RH7 tires (225/55R18) that provided competent dry weather traction without imposing a harsh ride.

2016 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport 2.4ST 2WD

One of the first niceties you notice when climbing aboard are the ribbed aluminum pedals for brake and accelerator. These look sharp and respond well to even the slipperiest soles. Another standard convenience provided is a knockout Rockford-Fosgate sound system putting out 710 watts through 9 speakers. A subwoofer the size of a ten gallon Stetson mounts on the right wall of the hatchback, and commands a base note that will have your ears throbbing in very short order. Again, unexpected stuff from a vehicle in the price range. Perhaps the most engaging freebie on the standard inclusion list is the enormous panoramic glass roof which stretches all the way from the windshield header to the back edge of the roof. This nifty contraption which comes with mood lighting to boot, makes you feel like you’re driving a convertible, even though the top doesn’t actually lift off or open.

2016 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport 2.4ST 2WD

For 2016, Mitsubishi freshened the mini-CUV’s exterior surfaces with a frontal look they term the “Dynamic Shield.” A pair of stout looking frontal chrome rails define the edges of the grill and trail artfully into batwing light clusters. A redesigned suspension system for 2016 features new “dynamic” dampers front and rear plus new electronic power steering. These revisions endow the Sport with a raked stance which makes it look ready to spring on prey. There’s a freshness to the styling that is absent in many of the Outlander’s competitors. And it looks especially good in Octane Blue.

2016 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport 2.4ST 2WD

Mitsubishi has come to terms with the CVT drivetrain better than most other manufacturers. Part of the secret sauce here is provision of two enormous shift paddles located just behind the steering wheel. These easily accessed controls actually put you in charge of altering the engine’s rpm range. This latitude to chose power output almost makes the Outlander Sport feel like it has a real gearbox rather than a series of infinitely variable drive belts. Coupled to the big displacement 4′s solid power, the Sport motors through freeway merges with unexpected ease. However, the elevated suspension ride height contributes to a tipsy feeling when pushing this CUV hard through tight turns.

2016 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport 2.4ST 2WD

Thanks to 7 airbags, the Sport earns an overall 4 star Safety Rating from the government, with 5 stars for front and rear seat side crash protection. The model range starts out at $19,995 for the most basic ES trim level, then progresses through SE and SEL levels to the top GT version we drove. Given its many amenities, solid engineering and eager-to-please disposition, the Outlander Sport merits your close attention as an affordable do-it-all family mover.

2016 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport 2.4ST 2WD

  • Engine: 2.4 Liter MIVEC DOHC 16 Valve inline 4
  • Horsepower: 168hp
  • Torque: 167lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 23 MPG City/28 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $26,845
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited Review

Friday October 21st, 2016 at 12:1010 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited

By David Colman

Hypes: STakes Work to Drain the Tank
Gripes: Needs Pneumatic Hood Struts

Call this one the ‘Hybridlander.’ At $50,385, it’s right at the top of the model’s price range. Sure, you can buy a stripper ‘Lowlander’ with a 2.7 liter 4 cylinder 185hp engine for an entry level price of $29,665. But for sheer practicality, performance, comfort and travel range, you can’t beat the line-topping Hybrid. Almost unheard of in today’s option-sodden market, our test Toyota did not boast a single extra price package. Why? Because it comes delivered only one way: Fully Equipped.

2016 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited

The standard issue abundance starts under the hood, where you’ll discover Toyota’s time tested 3.5 liter V6, featuring double overhead cams and variable intake valve timing. This cornerstone gas engine is augmented by a pair of electric motors, one front, one rear, which supply instant torque when you stomp the accelerator. Combined, all this technology bumps total powertrain output to 280hp, 10 more hp than the V6 alone can generate. So good is the 248 lb.-ft. torque pull of this Hybrid that the CVT transmission never hunts aimlessly for optimal performance. The Hybrid Highlander is one of the few power trains that compliment the CVT’s seamless behavior rather than exposing its sometimes annoying inadequacies.

The only problem you’re likely to encounter in the engine department is gaining access to that department. Despite the fact that the hood is incredibly heavy and awkward to hoist, Toyota neglected to equip it with hydraulic lifts. You are thus forced to struggle with one hand to hold it high while you fiddle to insert the spindly prop rod in the correct receptacle. This charade is not at all befitting a vehicle in this price range.

2016 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited

It is, however, the only such oversight we noted in our week long test drive. The interior is fitted with seating for seven, with a third row bench seat fit for Munchkins, two captain’s chairs in the second row, and fairly palatial Lazy Boy buckets up front. All the seats look inviting thanks to the use of perforated leather. The third row bench folds flat in a 60/40 split, and the second row chairs do likewise. Although the Highlander back row seats lack the nifty electric flip feature available in comparable GM SUVs, there’s really little reason to carp here. Transformation from 7 passenger configuration to a flat floor 40.5 cubic foot cargo hold can be achieved in a matter of minutes, without the help of electric motors. The rear cargo hatch of the Highlander does enjoy such a powered lift, and you can set its altitude to any height you choose.

2016 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited

As you might expect, this pricey Toyota provides a raft of standard infotainment options, including just about any alphabet acronym you care to name. You’ll discover the following standard inclusions: AM/FM/CD/MP3/USB/AUX/HD and XMS. If all that doesn’t provide enough diversion for you and your family, may I suggest you suffer from entertainment impairment. And should you doubt the direction of your travel, standard navigation displays itself on a whopping 8 inch touchscreen. About the only complaint we could muster regarding the infotainment nexus is the small size and unsatisfying grip afforded by the radio tuning knobs. But at least Toyota has the foresight to continue supplying such archaic analog features, since most companies have discarded them in favor of digital slides that are impossible to control while driving.

2016 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited

Before you pop for a minivan, you’ll want to examine the benefits afforded by the crisply styled Highlander. It handles better than any minivan thanks to a firm suspension stance aided by Bridgestone Dueler H/L tires (245/55R19). It affords all the space you would normally covet in a van, yet does so without the visual stigma of a pack mule. True, you’ll wait in vain for Toyota to offer a built-in vacuum system in the Highlander, but really, wouldn’t a Dustbuster work just as well? And the deal sealer in this case should be the efficient Hybrid system which offers unexpected power, range and cost dividends thanks to an overall EPA rating of 28 MPG. Such parsimonious performance is most unexpected in an SUV weighing 4,490 pounds.

2016 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited

  • Engine: 3.5 liter DOHC V6 with VVT-i plus twin electric motors
  • Horsepower: 280hp
  • Torque: 248lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 27 MPG City/28 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $51,385
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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


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