2017 Honda Civic Si 2DR Review

Thursday October 19th, 2017 at 1:1010 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Honda Civic Si 2DR

Hypes: Ultimate Street Fighter Born Again
Gripes: Lack of Rear Wiper, Menu Driven HVAC

Honda scores a perfect 10 out of 10 on this latest iteration of the evergreen Civic Si. I speak from long term ownership experience here because I bought the very first generation Civic Si when Honda introduced it as a 2 door hatchback in 1987. It was an outstanding performance car 30 years ago and a much better one today. If you like to wear your heart on your sleeve, order one in Energy Green and no one will ever lose track of you, since this shade of chartreuse is brighter than a Cal Trans worker’s vest. The downside of Energy Green is that no police officer will miss you either.

2017 Honda Civic Si 2DR

The beauty of the Civic Si package is apparent from the moment you grab the wheel and sense the precision feedback available from the minimally boosted electronic power steering. Honda has achieved a level of refinement here by which all other cars should be measured. Turn the wheel an inch and the car moves exactly one inch. With this fine tuned registration, you can place the Si with unerring accuracy. You have no excuse for missing an apex when driving hard. The rest of the suspension system is equally well calibrated to get the job done. Front MacPherson strut architecture combines well with multi-link independent rear design to provide a supple yet precise ride. Honda does not stint in supplying just the right tires for ultimate cornering grip, with Goodyear Eagle F1 rubber (235/40R18) refusing to lose contact with the pavement thanks to a super soft treadwear rating of TW 240 and an extra sticky traction rating of AA.

2017 Honda Civic Si 2DR

All the grip in the world wouldn’t matter much if the Si didn’t have the drivetrain to make
the grip work for a living. In the Si’s case, the tiny 1.5 liter inline 4 receives a healthy
dose of turbo boost every time you light the accelerator. This 205hp motor passes its
power through a limited slip differential which parcels out power to just the front wheels.
As an added incentive, you get to choose exactly which of the 6 speeds in the
transmission is optimal for a given situation because the Si is equipped with a manual
transmission only. If you don’t enjoy shifting and clutching, then find yourself a
different Honda. If, on the other hand, you love to shift, the Si will be your best friend
for life. Clutch action is light and precise. shift throws short and buttery. The Si really
scoots when you’ve got everything hooked up: right gear, on the boost, sticky tires. Few
cars will beat it on a curvy road, and none in its price range.

2017 Honda Civic Si 2DR

Inside, cabin design celebrates Honda’s endless years of perfecting track worthy cars. The Si-embroidered cloth seats are a masterpiece of comfort and support: not so high-sided as to make entry and egress problematic, but sufficiently bolstered to keep you planted when those Goodyears do their thing. The instrument module is dominated, in true racer fashion, not by a speedometer, but by a huge backlit tachometer face reading to 8000rpm. Of course, you’ll never get near that number, as the little Honda mill is redlined at 7000rpm, a number which comes up so quick that you have to be on your toes for each upshift. In other words, the Si is a fun challenge to drive well, the kind of delightful game partner sporting drivers find ever less frequently these days.

2017 Honda Civic Si 2DR

The best part of the Si deal is its exceptionally reasonable price tag, with a list of just $24,100, and an out-the-door figure of $24,975. About the only thing you might need that’s missing here is a Navigation System. In the would-be-nice department, the flat rear window really cries out for a standard wiper, and the digital display for climate control is menu-driven and distracting. Another annoying habit that has made it through 3 decades of Civic Si build-out: when you flip the front seat backs forward to throw something into the back seat area, the front seats always returns to their full upright position rather than the setting previously selected.

2017 Honda Civic Si 2DR

But what a short gripe list this Honda carries. It is without question the premier affordable/ practical sports car today, a pocket rocket that actually does double duty as a useful everyday hatchback. You really can’t ask for more, and we’re thrilled that Honda has decided to reinvent this scintillating icon.

2017 Honda Civic Si 2DR

  • Engine: 1.5 liter Direct Injection, Turbocharged Inline 4
  • Horsepower: 205hp
  • Torque: 192lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 28MPG City/38MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $24,975
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD Review

Wednesday October 18th, 2017 at 1:1010 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD

Hypes: Exquisite Interior Detailing, Responsive Handling
Gripes: Obtuse Infotainment GUI, Manual Hood Lift

During the recent unprecedented heat wave in Northern California I took refuge from our non air conditioned house inside Mazda’s plushest SUV, the Signature edition CX-9. With the air conditioning cranked down to 60 degrees, I spent enough time in this 3 row, 7 passenger SUV to appreciate fully the comfort and beauty of its cabin design. The Signature edition is Mazda’s top offering in the CX-9 model line, with real aluminum embellishing real rosewood everywhere you look. The Signature’s luxurious matte finished wood comes from Fujigen, the Japanese guitar maker. This interior quality substantiates Mazda’s television commercials showing artisans finessing steering wheel leather and fashioning rosewood accent panels. Everything about the CX-9 Signature reeks quality and care of construction.

2017 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD

My stint in the cool cabin also gave me the unaccustomed opportunity to become well acquainted with the CX-9′s arcane dial-controlled infotainment system. After a half hour of self-motivated study, I reluctantly concluded that this dial and screen pony show is way too difficult to learn, let alone master. Even the simplest entertainment requests require much dial twisting and bumping to accomplish. The standard navigation system is somewhat easier to operate, and rather more logical in its demands. Since all this proved confusing and obtuse from the passenger’s seat of a stationary CX-9, I can only imagine how much concentration it would demand while actually driving.

2017 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD

Fortunately, the act of driving the CX-9 is ever so much more pleasurable than trying to retune its infotainment complex. Under that long snout of a hood (heavy and unequipped with hydraulic struts) lies a very impressive engine. Of modest size (inline 4) and displacement (2.5 liters), this turbocharged torque maker produces a surprising 310lb.-ft. of motivation, good for a two rating of 3,500 pounds. But its horsepower rating of 227hp remains rather modest for a 4,585lb. vehicle. You can up horsepower output to 250hp by spending extra for hi-octane fuel. There’s really no need to do so, however, as the CX-9, at 227hp, moved out smartly thanks to its compliant and smooth shifting 6-speed gearbox. Though you can do the manual gear dance with the shift lever on the console, paddles at the wheel would have been nicer. However, you can control the gearbox shift points by selecting “Sport” on the console mounted mode switch.

2017 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD

As you might expect from the company that still builds the world’s number one affordable sports car/race car (The MX-5 Miata), the CX-9 stints on absolutely nothing when it comes to suspension, brakes, wheels or contact patch. Take suspension, for example, which is fully independent front and rear for a leech-like grip on the road and a plush ride in the cabin. The electronic power assisted steering provides solid road surface feedback, and the Signature’s standard 20 inch alloy rims second the motion through the substantial footprints of the Falken Ziex CT50 AS tires, which measure 255/50R20 at each corner. Standard anti-sway bars front and rear are another Mazda hallmark that insure flat cornering in tight turns. While I wouldn’t put the CX-9 in the Miata class for sheer driving fun, compared to most elephantine SUVs in this 3-row class, it’s a joy to drive.

2017 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD

In addition to its athletic prowess as a sporty driver, the CX-9 does duty as a pack horse with room to spare. For example, if you drop the pair of rear seats, plus the 60/40 second row, you open up 34 cubic feet of interior storage. If you need more than that, you should be looking at Chevy Suburbans or Silverado pickup trucks. Now that it’s getting oppressively hot inside my house again, it’s time to seek refuge once again inside the welcoming, ritzy, comfy cabin of that Machine Gray ($300 option) over Auburn leather (standard) Mazda lurking in my driveway this week.

2017 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD

2017 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD

  • Engine: 2.5 liter inline 4 Skyactive turbo
  • Horsepower: 227-250hp
  • Torque: 310lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 20 MPG City/26 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $45,655
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD Review

Thursday October 5th, 2017 at 12:1010 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD

Hypes: Plush and Luscious Interior
Gripes: Needs Paddle Shifts, Jerky Gearbox Shifts

Volvo’s nomenclature can seem mysterious to the uninitiated. Our rather deliciously appointed test car this week is the wagon (“V”) version of the all-new “90″ series model line. This 90 model line replaces the aging 70 and 80 series cars from Volvo. Volvo also offers its 90 as an “S” (sedan) version and as an “XC” (SUV) type. “Cross Country” describes our test wagon’s level of trim, while “AWD” refers to our test car’s all-wheel-drive system. The V90 is also available in rear wheel drive trim. Volvo began importing the S90 last year, and the V90 completes the company’s move to the new model range.

2017 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD

As a top drawer offering, the V90 Cross Country AWD carries a base price of $55,300. Our test sample upped the ante with a Convenience Package which added $1,950 to the bottom line for “Heated Washer Nozzles, Park Assist Pilot, and 360 Degree Surround View Camera.” A Bowers and Wilkins Premium Sound System boosted the price by a whopping $3,200. Graphical Head Up Display added another $900, Osmium Gray Metallic Paint contributed $595 to the final tally, and another $1,200 went for “Premium Air Suspension in rear.” Final out-the-door cost for this metallic grey Volvo totaled a tidy $64,640.

Is it worth that much money? As a driving experience, probably not. As a living room environment, definitely yes. Volvo recently announced that in the near future, all their new products would either be electric or hybrid powered. The latest V90 we drove, however, is neither. Rather it utilizes a very small displacement (2.0 liter) four cylinder engine which has been tweaked with both turbocharging and supercharging to produce 316hp and 295lb.-ft. of torque. The fuel efficiency of this motor is remarkable, with an overall EPA MPG figure of 25.

Although the engine produces peak torque at just 2200rpm, you really have to twist it to gain maximum horsepower at 5700rpm. In everyday terms, the 2.0 direct injected motor launches with a boot, then hesitates to follow through until the revs rise above 5000rpm. Even though it’s coupled to an 8-speed automatic, the Geartronic transmission stumbles while selecting the appropriate ratio for maximum acceleration. A lack of paddle shifts exacerbates the problem.

2017 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD

The net effect is that this combination makes passing with authority on two lane roads something of a crapshoot. You have to time your move with precision. On the other hand, the upside of this sophisticated engine is its ethereal soundtrack. The turbo kicks in with a base note while the supercharger contributes its soprano whine. For the record, the V90 is also available with a hybrid drive unit that will undoubtedly overcome the hesitancy of the gas-only engine we tested. The optional hybrid is good for 400hp. In the handling department, this beefy, 4,220 pound Volvo offers moderate understeer coupled with decent traction from its Pirelli Scorpion Verde tires (235/50R19) mounted on standard 19 inch alloy rims. For better cornering performance, you can select the “Dynamic” handling option from the 4-item menu of adjustable “Drive-mode” settings.

2017 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD

Drivers not centrally focused on ultimate performance, however, will not be phased in the least by the big Volvo’s slight acceleration or handling shortcomings. That’s because the V90 Cross Country is so regally appointed and handsomely finished. The interior is really a Swedish work of art. The seating surfaces are not only exceptionally comfortable, but exquisitely tailored in Cross Country specific crackle grained mocha hides. The central dash pillar contains a 9″ “Sensus” touchscreen which controls virtually all infotainment and HVAC controls. This screen illuminates with startling clarity, but can be difficult to manipulate when fingerprints build up on its surface. Virtual instruments fill the dash behind the steering wheel, and, as with the latest Audis, a Google Earth type map spans the distance between the tachometer and the speedometer.

2017 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD

The most incredible aspect of the V90′s interior is neither its 10-way adjustable seats, nor its Sensus interface, nor its cabin length smoked glass moonroof. Rather, its signature item is that expensive, but worth-every-penny, Bowers and Wilkins Premium Sound system. When you chose “Concert Hall” mode from among its three settings, prepare yourself for the listening adventure of a lifetime. In conjunction with the virtually unlimited musical offerings from Sirius radio, this mega system will have your tympanic membranes flapping with such vehemence that you’ll want to take up permanent residence in your V90 Volvo.

2017 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD

2017 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD

  • Engine: 2.0 liter inline 4, direct injection, supercharged and turbocharged
  • Horsepower: 316 @ 5700rpm
  • Torque: 295lb.-ft. @ 2200rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 22MPG City/30 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $64,640
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Lexus RC F 2-DR Coupe Review

Tuesday October 3rd, 2017 at 11:1010 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Lexus RC F 2-DR Coupe

Hypes: IMSA Race Car for the Street
Gripes: Needs a Nose Job

Lexus has been nibbling around the edges of the ultra high performance market for more than a decade without much to show for it in terms of sales or showroom rub-off. Their first efforts in this field were timid indeed, with Lexus “F-Sport” options that were more cosmetic than operational. Several years ago, they sold a few hundred of their remarkable LF A two seat rocket ships for about $350,000 each. But in order to buy one, you not only had to have the necessary cash, but also submit to a vetting process stricter than a TSA strip search.

2017 Lexus RC F 2-DR Coupe

But Lexus has finally seen the light this year with the introduction of the RC F, an eminently affordable supercar that requires no background check or half million dollar investment for purchase. Just regular car money will do. $64,165 buys you the base car. If you want to duplicate the one we drove, however, you will end up paying $80,314 because our test car was equipped with the following improvements: Premium Triple Beam LED Headlights ($1,160), Leather Trimmed Seats ($800), Navigation System with Mark Levinson Audio ($2,550), Performance Package with carbon fiber roof, rear wing and torque-vectoring differential ($5,500), and Premium Package with heated/ventilated front seats, carbon fiber interior trim, and a suite of safety information devices ($3,240). If you think the bottom line here is expensive, you have not priced comparable products from BMW, Mercedes Benz or Audi. In fact, the fully loaded RC F we drove comes off looking like a real bargain compared to the pricier competition from Germany.

2017 Lexus RC F 2-DR Coupe

This year, for the first time since Lexus dabbled in sedan racing more than a decade ago with their IS 250, the company has launched a full race campaign in IMSA’s incredibly competitive GT Daytona race series with a two-car team of RC Fs. These Lexus coupes, race prepared by Paul Gentilozzi’ Rocket Sports Racing, are battling on even terms with 911 Porsches, NSX Acuras, and M635 BMWs. Though they have yet to score their first win, the Lexus coupes are getting closer to the top rung with each passing event. The reason for their imminent success lies in the beautiful bones of the RC F we drove for a week. In terms of high performance acceleration and handling this car wants for absolutely nothing.

2017 Lexus RC F 2-DR Coupe

Under the long and chiseled hood lies a monster V8 displacing 5 liters and producing 467hp and 389 lb.-ft. of torque. It’s coupled to an 8-speed automatic gearbox with big aluminum “F Spec” paddle shifts for quick manual ratio changes. A Torsen (torque sensing) differential is further refined by the addition of torque vectoring thanks to that Performance Package. In best race car practice, the suspension of the RC F is fully independent with double wishbones up front and multiple links in back. The prodigious power of the V8 is regulated by a supremely competent braking system. Brembo-sourced, ventilated front rotors measure 14.9 inches in diameter, with slots for water dispersion, and 6 piston calipers for immediate deceleration. Rear Brembo brakes measure 13.5 inches, with slotting and 4 piston calipers. Capping off the techno extravaganza are forged 19 inch alloy rims (9″ wide front, 10″ wide rear) planting 255/35R19 front and 275/35R19 rear Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires. Despite the prodigious output of the V8, it’s almost impossible to get the RC F to break traction with these large sticky Michelins hanging on well past all logic. The RC F is one of the quickest, best handling cars from any manufacturer that I have ever had the pleasure of driving hard.

2017 Lexus RC F 2-DR Coupe

Yet despite all its techno refinement and race breeding, the RC F is a marvelously comfortable street car. We ran it down to Car Week in Monterey from the Bay Area, and found it to be comfortable, and quiet, with good visibility in all directions, and informative, clear instrumentation. The only problem you will encounter with the RC F on long trips is its tendency to sneak over 80mph when it feels like you’re travelling 60mph. To drive this car on the freeway without hazarding a speeding ticket, you need to recalibrate your seat of the pants speed meter.

2017 Lexus RC F 2-DR Coupe

Granted, the frontal appearance of the RC F can be off-putting. I would not place it among my own top ten in terms of appearance. But when you set the RC F next to its progenitor, the LF A, you realize just how many advance design features both cars share, from their slotted intakes to their bulging tail light clusters. It’s amazing that Lexus has been able to tame the RF A into such a fully domesticated but still vicious street car as the RC F.

2017 Lexus RC F 2-DR Coupe

  • Engine: 5.0 liter DOHC 32 Valve V8 Direct and Port Injection, VVT Intake and Exhaust
  • Horsepower: 467hp
  • Torque: 389lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 16MPG City/25 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $80,314
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Kia Sorento SXL AWD Review

Wednesday September 20th, 2017 at 8:99 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Kia Sorento SXL AWD

Hypes: Best Dash Layout and Controls of Any SUV
Gripes: Tiny Third Row Seats

Kia has been on a winning streak for so many years now that it’s hard to remember the automotive landscape in the USA before this Korean powerhouse arrived. But I clearly recall the advent of Kia here, back in 1994, when I rented a subcompact in Las Vegas. Hertz turned me loose in a boxy little Kia Pride badged as a Ford Festiva. The car was so remarkably lively and inspiring to drive that I thought Kia would soon make a major impact on the North American auto landscape. But the company declared bankruptcy in 1997, and its resurgence in the USA did not regain a foothold until recently. Now Kia, which is partially owned by Hyundai, offers a full model range of sedans, crossovers and SUVs. One of their best models is the Sorento, a midsized SUV with a wide choice of power trains and luxury accoutrements. We spent a productive and comfortable week test driving the top model in the Sorento range, the all-wheel-drive SX Limited (SXL) powered by an exceptionally responsive 3.3 liter, 290hp V6. This Titanium Metallic over White Leather beauty priced out at $46,595

2017 Kia Sorento SXL AWD

The appeal of the Sorento model line lies in the many echelons of equipment on offer, starting with the SX base model (2.4 liter 185hp Inline 4 at $26,295), escalating to the intermediate EX grade (2.0 liter turbocharged 240hp Inline 4), and topping out with our SXL, which gets 19 MPG overall and can tow 5000 pounds of trailer. 52% of Sorento buyers opt for the SX, 13.5% choose the LX, and 35.5% pick the AWD SXL. New for 2017 is a very effective Autonomous Emergency Braking System (AEB), which is standard on the EXL and optionally available on other models. Kia has also made Android Auto and Apple Car Play standard on EX and SX levels of the Sorento.

2017 Kia Sorento SXL AWD

Although you could conceivably carry a couple of tykes in this SUV’s third row seat, don’t plan on doing it regularly since ingress and egress is very tight. As a 4 or 5 seater, however, this Kia accommodates a full passenger load with grace and comfort. The Nappa leather seats are well contoured for long distance cruising comfort and stylish looking, with perforated inserts that contain both heating and cooling elements for the front row. Even the grab areas of the steering wheel are heated and come to full temperature gratifyingly quickly on cold mornings.

2017 Kia Sorento SXL AWD

The beauty of the Sorento is that Kia engineers have achieved a perfect combination of fixed dashboard buttons for full operation of all critical systems (heat, ventilation, lights). Unlike so many manufacturers, who insist on embedding these command controls inside layer upon layer of screen menus, Kia takes a distinctly opposite tack in making the basics clearly and instantly available to the driver. This is a huge benefit in terms of peace of mind and safety in operation. It’s just one of the many factors responsible for Kia winning the JD Powers Initial Quality Survey for the last two years running.

2017 Kia Sorento SXL AWD

But the Sorento is more than just a well tailored living room. This is one of the most responsive and quick SUVs we’ve driven in a long time. By coincidence, we parked the SXL next to a slightly earlier version of the same vehicle. Kia has really improved the Sorento’s appearance at the front with ice cube tray LED light clusters, and at the back, with new LED tail lights and a stainless ribbed diffuser spanning the distance between the twin exhaust outlets. But the single most noticeable difference between the older Sorento and our SXL was the stance of the vehicle produced by tire and wheel differences. The earlier version rode on nondescript 17″ rims with tall sidewall 65 series radial tires (235/65R17). The SXL’s highly polished 19″ alloys are fitted with excellent Michelin all season rubber (235/55R19 Premier LTX) that provide good cornering grip, immediate response to steering input, and AWD-augmented wet weather adhesion.

2017 Kia Sorento SXL AWD

Recently I drove an Acura MDX on the same 120 mile roundtrip through the North Bay that I completed with the Sorento. In both cases, I set the radar cruise control to a speed of 65mph and let the system do its thing. As traffic ebbed and flowed, he MDX constantly accelerated and slowed to the point that I deactivated the cruise control and used my throttle foot instead. The Sorento, on the other hand, maintained a serene pace under all circumstances, without surges or brake slams. This operation of the Kia cruise control is emblematic of the Sorento’s unobtrusively well honed behavior. If you’re looking for a top line family mover with lots of guts under the hood and an equal measure of refinement and thoughtful operational design in the cabin, then the SX Limited Sorento is an optimal choice.

2017 Kia Sorento SXL AWD

  • Engine: 3.3 liter Gas Direct Injection (GDi) V6
  • Horsepower: 290hp
  • Torque: 252lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 17 MPG City/23 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $46,595
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid AWD Review

Thursday September 7th, 2017 at 9:99 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid AWD

Hypes: Strong Acceleration, Excellent Fit and Finish
Gripes: Hard-to-Read Lower GUI Screen

New for 2017 is the Hybrid version of Acura’s popular MDX. This addition to the model line boasts four engines – 1 gas powered, and 3 electric. The gas powered V6 displaces 3.0 liters, and features 24 valves managed by Honda’s patented VTEC camshaft technology. In consort with the triple electric motors, the MDX V6 produces 321hp and is capable of towing a 5,000 lb. trailer. If you forego the Hybrid’s electric motor complexity and opt for a straight gas-powered MDX, Acura will sell you a 3.5 liter V6 good for 290hp. Despite the fact that the Hybrid weighs more than 4,200 pounds, it still produces laudable economy figures of 26MPG in town and 27 MPG on the highway, with an overall rating of 27 MPG. The 3.5 liter V6 manages only 21 MPG overall. Regardless of engine choice, all MDX variants transfer power through a 7 speed dual clutch gearbox. Our top line Hybrid also included all-wheel-drive which continuously fed torque through all four Continental Cross Contact tires (245/50R20).

2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid AWD

All MDX models this year, regardless of engine choice, are fitted with the AcuraWatch suite of safety measures, including Adaptive Cruise control, Collision Mitigation Braking, Road Departure Mitigation, Forward Collision Warning, Lane Departure Warning, and Lane Keeping Assist. During my week with the MDX, I experienced one false positive with the Forward Collision Warning which blinked brightly to warn of an impending crash despite the fact that there was nothing in view to trigger the alert. I also found that it was easier to control the throttle on long freeway drives with my own right foot than it was to depend on the Adaptive Cruise Control which over managed acceleration and deceleration.

2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid AWD

The interior of this loaded MDX lives up to expectation in a vehicle priced at $58,975. Four lavishly padded captain’s chairs occupy the front two-thirds of the cabin, with a useful but restricted third row bench completing the 6 slot interior layout. The rear most bench easily folds flat to increase storage room. The rear captain’s chairs also fold flat with the pull of a lever, opening up the MDX interior to 34 cubic feet of storage space. A low rear lift-over threshold eases insertion and removal of bulky bike-size items like a bike. The keyfob activated tailgate assures ease of cargo insertion. A fixed button on the tailgate does the same for electric closure.

2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid AWD

This SUV is perfectly configured to provide a high level of comfort and roominess for a quartet of family members on holiday. The “Sport” seats are handsomely done, with contrasting stitching and perforated premium leather trim. Nor does Acura skimp on the back seats, which are every bit as comfortable and inviting as the pair up front. Matching center consoles front and rear offer a huge amount of deep storage.; Our test sample’s interior, finished in a delicious shade called “Espresso” also featured insert panels of real wood cleverly patinated to resemble reclaimed barn wood.

2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid AWD

The dashboard’s central column displays two separate screens. The lower screen is dedicated to HVAC settings, fan control and SiriusXM pre-sets. The upper screen carries some of the same infotainment information, plus maps for the Acura Navigation System and real time traffic reports from the AcuraLink communication system. Because the upper screen is shielded by an effective visor, it remains easy to read in broad daylight. The unshielded lower screen, however, is impossible to decipher when sun shines directly on its surface. At that point you only see dust and fingerprints.

2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid AWD

The MDX in Hybrid form is an exceptionally useful transportation module. It serves the needs of large families with the peace of mind that only Acura (Honda) products bring to the table. Since the MDX model line starts at about $45,000, the $58,000 base price of the Hybrid is significantly more expensive than an entry level MDX. But in the long run, this Hybrid’s excellent fuel economy and luxury appointments will pay for themselves over time. And you simply can’t get the kind of acceleration boost out of the gas-only V6 that the Hybrid provides. All in all, the Hybrid is the best version of the MDX you can buy. This MD is just what the doctor ordered.

2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid AWD

  • Engine: 3.0 liter V6, SOHC, 24-Valve, Variable Cylinder Management
  • Horsepower: 321hp
  • Torque: N/A
  • Fuel Consumption: 26 MPG City/27 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $58,975
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport M/T Review

Wednesday September 6th, 2017 at 9:99 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport M/T

Hypes: Phenomenal Cornering Grip, Zinger Motor, Slick Manual Gearbox
Gripes: Flat Bottom Steering Wheel Mounted Too High

Hyundai has comprehensively redesigned the Elantra sedan for 2017. In particular, the Sport model we drove features a package of visual enhancements that distinguish it from all lesser models. Hyundai stylists have cleaned up the front end by better integrating new HID headlights into streamlined fender caps. They’ve also added a model specific Sport grill featuring a large one piece hexagonal opening. New LED driving lights meld into slits flanking the central radiator intake. The sedan’s side profile gains sleekness from a higher, more prominent character line that stretches from front to rear wheel wells. At the tail end, a lower valance diffuser enhances both the appearance and aerodynamics of the Sport model. The valence incorporates a pair of chrome tipped exhausts on the passenger side of the panel. New LED tail and stop lights complete the rear redo.

2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport M/T

But the Sport’s attributes are much more than skin deep. Stunning 20 spoke 18 inch diameter alloy wheels mount Hankook Ventus S1 Noble2 tires measuring 225/40R18.

Under the hood of the Sport lies the most important component of the entire exercise: a 1.6 liter turbocharged in-line 4 mounted sideways, with double overhead cams and direct injection. This highly sophisticated engine produces 201hp and 195lb.-ft. of torque. That’s by far the most power available in the Elantra line, which consists of three other lesser engines (128hp, 147hp and 173hp). Our test Sport fed its abundant thrust through a 6 speed manual transmission that proved delightful to operate.

2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport M/T

The Sport is exceptionally quick in a straight line, with sub-7 second runs to 60mph from a standing start easy to achieve. The engine comes alive over 3000rpm, and can be safely twisted to redline at 6800rpm. 6th gear is well chosen for freeway romps, pulling just 2500 quiet rpm at 70mph. But the strong point of this Hyundai is not its ability as a drag racer, rather its utter composure as a twisty road master. The suspension is independent front and rear, with a sophisticated multi-link design in back that keeps the Hankook tires planted all the time. There’s a slight trace of torque steer from the front wheels when you pin the throttle wide open exiting a bend. But other than that predictable feedback, the Sport remains precise and predictable no matter how hard you thrash it through bends. The Ventus S1 tires are exceptionally sticky, belying their mid-range tread wear rating of 500. Overall, this car’s performance behavior is outstanding, with the added benefit of upsized disc brake rotors to help it stop extra short.

2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport M/T

You can comfortably order a base model Sport for just $21,550. As is the custom with press evaluation vehicles, however, our test Sport included a $2,400 optional Premium Package which added an 8 inch Navigation screen and system to the base car’s standard 7 inch screen without Navigation. This option group also adds a power sunroof, blind spot detection with rear cross traffic alert, dual automatic temperature controls, and a boosted stereo system with 8 speakers and a center channel subwoofer. That’s 2 more speakers than the standard issue audio system, plus that thumping base to keep your ears vibrating.

2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport M/T

This is one sport sedan that lives up to its billing. Take the seats and steering wheel, for example. The wheel is a work of art, with its flat bottom, indented pistol grips, and red stitching. The front seats offer tremendous lateral support, and sport double red stitched bolster seams. Lately I have been driving a plethora of so-called “sport” sedans from various manufacturers that are sporty only in looks, not performance. Hyundai has taken the challenge of building a real sport sedan quite seriously here. This Elantra will run the socks off a wide variety of much more expensive Asian and European “sports” sedans.

2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport M/T

The Elantra Sport is without question the best of this pretender filled bunch when it comes to go and handling. In fact, the only real challenger for this car is the VW GTI, which is substantially more expensive and less reliable. Consumer Reports blesses the new Elantra with a “Recommended” check mark and predicts that its reliability will be “Better than Average.” So if you want to have your go-fast cake and eat it too, give this super bargain sleeper one hard long look.

2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport M/T

  • Engine: Inline DOHC 4-cylinder, turbocharged with GDI
  • Horsepower: 201hp
  • Torque: 195lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 22 MPG City/30 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $25,010
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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


2017 Mazda MX-5 RF Review

Tuesday August 15th, 2017 at 2:88 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Mazda MX-5 RF

Hypes: Best Manual Stick Shift on the Market
Gripes: Impeded Sightlines

The new Mazda RF’s folding hardtop does Zero-to-Closed in just 13 seconds. The MX-5 itself takes somewhat less time than that to complete the Zero-to-60 MPH run in just 7 seconds. No matter what performance parameter you examine with this Mazda, the operative word is quick. It transitions through corners with a quickness that would make any Porsche envious. And it does so at a stellar bargain base price of $32,620. That’s less than the options alone cost on many new Porsches.

2017 Mazda MX-5 RF

The RF designation refers to the fact that this new model offers more than just a disappearing hardtop. RF stands for “Retractable Fastback” and the look of the car with the top up will leave no doubt about the “Fastback” part of the name. From the side windows forward, the RF looks virtually identical to the standard convertible version of the MX-5. However, on the RF, Mazda designers have appended a pair of flying buttresses to the sides of the cockpit which fare gracefully into the tops of the rear fenders.

This substantial modification lends an unexpectedly exciting visual twist to the Miata’s well known profile. In RF form, designers have exchanged cuteness for sleekness. From both side profile and rear view the RF looks substantially better than any previous Miata. In fact, first time viewers often fail to realize they are even looking at a revision of the world’s most popular roadster. I know that was my reaction when I saw an RF for the first time. To me, it recalls the caliber of design you once saw from Italian masters like Pininfarina, Bertone and Zagato. This Mazda looks so good it will transport you back to the classical Italian design period of the 1960s.

2017 Mazda MX-5 RF

The folding top not only improves the looks of the MX-5, it also adds a note of improved civility to your time in this car’s confined cockpit. With the top erect, the level of noise inside the cabin is less than you would experience in a top-up roadster. The RF allows you to enjoy all of the MX-5′s precision reflexes, pin point handling, and driving joy while affording you better protection from the elements. Even with the top down, those fastback wings and rear window remain in place, affording you an extra measure of wind-free quiet.

2017 Mazda MX-5 RF

But there is a one substantial price to pay for those protective buttresses. They inhibit side and rear sight lines. No longer do you enjoy the unmitigated 360 degree field of vision provided by the top-down MX-5 convertible. In fact, that immoveable structure next to your head prevents you from seeing what’s right next to you when you want to make a simple lane change.

2017 Mazda MX-5 RF

In terms of added security, the erect hardtop is infinitely preferable to the protection of a cloth roof. No one is going to break into the RF without a power tool. In terms of handling dynamics, the added weight of the roof and its motor raising apparatus have had no appreciable effect. RF exhibits exactly the same breed of lightning reflexes that have long made the convertible Miata the benchmark sports car for handling. Our test RF’s 17 inch smoked pewter alloys came with top drawer Bridgestone S001 radials (205/45R17) that never so much as chirped during hard cornering. This Mazda is without question one of the best handling cars available from any manufacturer today. Mazda like to use a Japanese phrase in reference to the MX-5 that translates into English as “The rider and the horse are one.” The fact that our test sample was finished in Soul Red Metallic paint added to this mystique, since Mazda has chosen that same shade for its #55 IMSA Prototype racer which recently scored a podium finish at the 6 Hours of Watkins Glen.

2017 Mazda MX-5 RF

For those of you who have grown tired of the Miata’s long standing proportions and appearance, the RF offers a fresh take on this sports car icon. I acquainted myself with the exceptional subtleties of the new design by slowly washing my test MX-5. It provided a great opportunity to appreciate the subtle beauty of the car’s carefully integrated design. Mazda calls this design dynamic “Kodo” or the “Soul of Motion.” That explains why you will never see an unnecessary scoop, louver or crease appended to any Mazda. Consequently, the appearance of their vehicles always matches the purity of their design creed.

2017 Mazda MX-5 RF

  • Engine: Skyactive 2.0 liter inline 4, DOHC
  • Horsepower: 155hp
  • Torque: 148lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 26MPG City/33 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $33,885
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Honda Civic Hatch Sport Review

Wednesday August 2nd, 2017 at 11:88 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Honda Civic Hatch Sport

Hypes: Gives Real Meaning to “Sport”
Gripes: Puny Horn, No Dead Pedal, Poor Rear 3/4 Vision

Sport has to be the most misused term in the automotive realm. Manufacturers of the most prosaic products have managed to append the descriptor “Sport” to vehicles eminently unworthy of the appellation. On top of that, almost every two ton SUV these days comes with a magic button on the dash labeled “Sport” to convince you that a push of said button will somehow transform an elephant into a gazelle. Just like there’s no free lunch, there’s no free “Sport.” If you want to label your product “Sport” you better be prepared to back up that claim with some hard design and engineering work.

2017 Honda Civic Hatch Sport

Honda’s newest Civic, is the product of just such hard work. It truly deserves the name Sport – a legitimate title earned through suspension excellence, engine performance, shifting precision, and overall driving feel. This is a front-wheel-drive, five door, family transport hatchback with the following features that define the concept “Sport” – 180hp engine, 6-speed manual transmission, multi-link independent rear suspension, 18″x8″ alloy rims with 235/40R18 Continental ContiProContact rubber, electric power assisted rack and pinion steering.

Honda has assembled these essential sporting ingredients into a rather spacey looking package that harks back to the company’s best Civics from the mid 1980s – the CRX and the Civic Si. Although updated in every way – especially from the safety standpoint -the 2017 Civic Sport responds to the driver with the same alacrity those early Civics did. I should know because I once owned a 1988 Civic Si.

2017 Honda Civic Hatch Sport

Recently, Honda has been unable to reproduce the lightness and responsiveness of those early Civics. This time, though, they have turned the trick in spades, and done so for a very modest buy-in price of $21,300. Unlike decidedly tinny Civics from decades back, the latest compact Honda scores an impressive 5 star rating in all 5 aspects of the Government Safety Rating analysis. Honda’s “ACE body structure” and the inclusion of dual stage front airbags, side airbags, and side curtain airbags with rollover sensor all contribute to the 5 Star rating.

But the Civic Sport scores heavily as well in accident avoidance thanks to excellent acceleration, superb braking, and responsive handling. That 1.5 liter gem of an engine lying under the “Earth Dreams” valve cover shroud makes 180hp and 177lb.-ft. of torque fed through a 6-speed manual gearbox. This manually operated shift mechanism is increasingly rare in today’s automotive spectrum. The light touch required to move from gate to gate is a joy to experience. Clutch pedal take-up, however, occurs rather high in the pedal’s arc of operation, so coordinating your shifts can sometimes be a challenge.

2017 Honda Civic Hatch Sport

The engine itself is gratifyingly responsive, providing you with a VTEC-like boost when the turbo motor climbs on the boost at 6000rpm and snaps straight to 6500rpm. Car & Driver (April, 21017)tested the Civic Sport and recorded a sterling 0-60mph run of 7.0 seconds, and a quarter mile time of 15.2 seconds @ 94mph. Incidentally, the Civic Sport won C&D’s comparison test handily versus the Mazda 3, VW Golf and Chevy Cruze.

2017 Honda Civic Hatch Sport

At one stoplight, we were accosted by a curious woman driving a Lincoln Navigator who inquired what kind of car we were driving. Seems she just loved its looks. The latest styling effort from Honda is rather polarizing. Either you love it like that lady in the Navigator, or you shake your head in dismay. But either way, once you hunkered down in the Sport’s deeply contoured buckets, grabbing its fat rimmed leather wheel, and snapping real upshifts and downshifts with one of the last available stick shifts, it doesn’t much matter what the new Civic looks like to others. Because inside that cabin, the Hatch Sport provides driving nirvana anyway you look at it.

2017 Honda Civic Hatch Sport

2017 Honda Civic Hatch Sport

  • Engine: 1.5 liter DOHC 16 Valve, Direct Injection, Turbocharged
  • Horsepower: 180hp
  • Torque: 177lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 30 MPG City/39 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $22,135
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Mazda CX-5 GT FWD Review

Tuesday August 1st, 2017 at 8:88 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Mazda CX-5 GT FWD

Hypes: Deftly Sculpted Shape, Refined Interior, Superb Handling
Gripes: Turbo Motor Would Be Nice

Unlike its flamboyant Japanese counterparts, Toyota and Honda, Mazda refrains from boisterous design in crafting their vehicles. They call their subdued style language “Kodo” which translates into “Soul of Motion.” Without getting too Zen about the concept, suffice it to say that Kodo style understatement infuses every aspect of the CX-5, from its sweeping and fluid side profile to its clean-lined dash and stark instrument binnacle. This integrity of design permeates the CX-5 crossover utility vehicle (CUV). The array of pleasing curves, lustrous finish and sublime comfort all go to define Kodo as the art of Speed Design.

2017 Mazda CX-5 GT FWD

Mazda has repeatedly shown the ability to build high quality, fun-to-drive vehicles at price points that defy logic. The CX-5 GT is no exception to that welcome tradition. With a base price of $29,395 and a delivered price of $32,785, the CX-5 provides substantial bang for the buck. Our test sample, finished in handsome, $300 optional Machine Gray Metallic – Mazda’s version of the Car in the Gray Flannel Suit – benefitted from a “1GT” Premium Package that added $1,830 to the base price. Included in this 1GT grouping are 2 position memory settings for the driver’s seat, 6-way adjustable front passenger seat, heated rear seats and steering wheel, active driving display, and wiper de-icer.

The Parchment leather trimmed interior seating surfaces, perforated to breathe, convey a richness beyond expectation in this price range. In fact, your initial positive assessment of quality never dissipates. The closer you look at the MX-5, the better constructed it appears to be. Consumer Reports (CR) corroborates this impression of sturdiness by conferring their coveted “Recommended” check mark on the CX-5. CR predicts this Mazda’s reliability will fare “Better Than Average.”

2017 Mazda CX-5 GT FWD

Since its founding as a cork maker in 1920, Mazda has always striven to ascend the next rung of the success ladder. Corks led to machine tool production, and finally to the design and fabrication of the company’s first motorized vehicle, the 3-wheel Mazda-Go in 1931. Since its inception, Mazda has been determined to make less do more than any other automotive concern. For example, they currently field a team of exceptionally fast prototype racers in the IMSA road racing championship that rely on small 4 cylinder power while the competition invariably resorts to large displacement V8 engines. At last year’s IMSA race – at Mazda Laguna Seca Raceway no less – the company’s less is more prototype took pole position. That kind of put-up-or-shut-up performance inspires confidence in Mazda’s mantra that “Every Detail Matters. Because Driving Matters.”

2017 Mazda CX-5 GT FWD

While the CX-5 will never be an MX-5 Miata, there are enough uncanny similarities between the crossover and the company’s hallmark sports car to make you wonder just how they managed to infuse so much racy feel in a five-door, 3,435 pound station wagon on stilts. Start with steering feel. Most crossover manufacturers favor the kind of nebulous feedback that would have felt about right in a Buick Roadmaster from 1956. Mazda takes a different approach. The front wheels respond to the most incremental commands you issue through the electric power assisted steering. This precision control system defines your most basic interface with the CX-5.

2017 Mazda CX-5 GT FWD

The reason steering response is so positive reaches far beyond the unit’s ratio or the number of turns from lock-to-lock. Rather, precision steering control depends on the fully integrated, top shelf components with which Mazda chooses to equip the CX-5: independent front and rear suspension, front and rear stabilizer bars, 19 inch alloy rims with 225/35R19 Toyo A36 mud & snow radials. These are not inexpensive components. A lot of manufacturers feel that a crossover utility doesn’t need an independent rear suspension system or a front and rear stabilizer bar because of the extra cost. Mazda refuses to stint on such components because they know that only such an ensemble of the right stuff will satisfy customers who believe that driving does, indeed, matter.

2017 Mazda CX-5 GT FWD

2017 Mazda CX-5 GT FWD

  • Engine: Skyactive 2.5 liter inline 4
  • Horsepower: 187hp
  • Torque: 185lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 24 MPG City/31 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $32,785
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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


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