2017 Lexus ES350 4 Door Sedan Review

Thursday November 23rd, 2017 at 9:1111 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Lexus ES350 4 Door Sedan

Hypes: Plush and Tasteful Living Room
Gripes: No paddles, Oversensitive Console-Mounted GUI

What happens when you dress a Toyota Camry for the prom? You get a Lexus ES350.
Both sedans share the same basic architecture. Front engine, front wheel drive, V6 power, 72 inch width, 57 inch height and 111 inch wheelbase. In other words, a commodious transport cell for five adults for a reasonable outlay of cash.

2017 Lexus ES350 4 Door Sedan

Base price for the 2017 Toyota Camry runs from $24,000-$31,000, while the Lexus ES350 ranges from $39,000-$42,000. Our test Lexus started out costing $38,900. The full prom dress up kit, however, boosts the bottom line rather dramatically.

2017 Lexus ES350 4 Door Sedan

Lexus adds $500 for Blind Spot Monitor with Cross Traffic Alert, $880 for High Gloss Finish 18″ Wheels, $2,590 for Navigation System/Mark Levinson Premium Audio, $400 for a One-Touch Power Trunk, $500 for Intuitive Parking Assist, $450 for a Heated Wood and Leather Trimmed Steering Wheel, and $3,500 for the Ultra Luxury Package (Wood Trim Interior, Driver and Passenger Memory Seats, Power Rear and Manual Door Sunshades, Driver Seat Power Cushion Extender, Ambient Lighting, Power Tilt/Telescope Steering Wheel, Panorama Glass Power Moonroof).

The bad news is that all those additions bring your out-the-door tally to $49,210. The good news is that, yes, you do get to keep the tuxedo.

Notice that aside from the 18″ wheel upgrade, all of the aforementioned options are luxury rather than performance oriented. To be sure, the gilded ES350 will never be confused with a sports sedan. It’s simply too big and softly sprung for that kind of serious work. In fact, Lexus underscores the point by failing to offer an F Sport package for the ES model line. It’s the only Lexus sedan without F Sport availability. But unless you plan on hunting BMWs and Audis, that shouldn’t deter you from giving this Lexus a long hard look.

2017 Lexus ES350 4 Door Sedan

If Ward Cleaver, paterfamilias of the 50s TV show Leave It To Beaver, were to choose a family sedan today, he would unquestionably pick the Lexus ES350. It is handsome in a quiet, understated way. It performs every task with panache and good grace. It is expensive, but not overpriced. Indeed, it’s the All American family sedan.

2017 Lexus ES350 4 Door Sedan

The exterior design will win no awards from those seeking cutting edge styling. But for many, that lack of flare is the very source of its visual appeal. The ES350 is like a well tailored suit – inconspicuous because it fits so well. The interior of our test Lexus blends a handsome array of deeply grained real wood trim with carefully stitched dash detailing to make your cabin time restful and rewarding. This is a most welcoming interior, one you are loathe to leave upon arrival at your destination. Lexus has a way of imparting travel serenity with the ES350 that Toyota will never match in any Camry.

Despite the fact that no F Sport version is available, the ES350 offers perfectly acceptable performance. It’s all-aluminum 268hp V6 is highly sophisticated, with 24 intake and exhaust valves that benefit from variable phasing (Dual VVT-i). Indeed, when you lay hard into the throttle of this lightweight alloy motor, the ES350 jumps forward with satisfying thrust accompanied by an appropriately muted exhaust shriek. A proper 6-speed automatic gearbox features sport-shift setting on the floor mounted stick, but lacks paddles at the steering wheel. The 18″ wheel upgrade is well worth the $880 price because it replaces the standard 215/55R17 all-season tires with beefier, lower profile Michelin MXM4 Primacy rubber (225/45R18) – a noticeable performance upgrade.

2017 Lexus ES350 4 Door Sedan

For 2018, Toyota is introducing an all new Camry TNGA platform which will eventually underpin the Lexus ES350 as well. When that switch-over is imminent, you will be able to carve a great deal on the existing ES350, which continues into 2018 unchanged for the time being.

2017 Lexus ES350 4 Door Sedan

  • Engine: 3.5liter V6, 24 valves with Dual VVT-i
  • Horsepower: 268hp
  • Torque: 248lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 21MPG City/30 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $49,210
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Toyota Highlander SE V6 AWD Review

Wednesday November 22nd, 2017 at 9:1111 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Toyota Highlander SE V6 AWD

Hypes: A Great Pack Horse, Modestly Priced
Gripes: Cumbersome Handling

For 2017, Toyota undertook a major overhaul of the Highlander. The most visible change is to the front sheet metal. Toyota stylists replaced the previous version’s small one piece grill with a much larger triangular two-piece intake. The enlarged grill endows the Highlander with a more imposing face. Side slots housing fog lights are reoriented from horizontal to vertical, further emphasizing the height of the new grill. Behind the grill lies a newly revamped 3.5 liter V6 which boasts direct fuel injection rather than port injection. This engine produces 295hp and 263 lb.-ft. of torque. Also new for 2017 is an 8-speed automatic transmission (up from the previous model’s 6-speed). The two extra gear sets improve fuel economy by reducing engine rpm at highway cruising speed. Where the previous Highlander returned 18 MPG/24 MPG, the new V6/8-Speed combo yields 20 MPG in city driving, 26 MPG in highway mode and 22 MPG overall.

2017 Toyota Highlander SE V6 AWD

One reason for the Highlander’s continued popularity is its utilitarian configuration. This is a truly useful 3 row seating design. If you chose a second row bench, you can carry 7 people in the Highlander’s sizeable interior. Our test model , however, sported very comfortable second row Captain’s Chairs which reduced total seating to 6. These second row chairs slide fore and aft to permit easy access to the third row seats. Our test vehicle also included an $1,810 rear seat BlueRay DVD entertainment system. This unit provides headphones as well as a remote control box. Note that when the DVD player is swung down for use, its screen blocks rear view mirror vision for the driver.

2017 Toyota Highlander SE V6 AWD

If you flip and fold all seats down – a relatively painless procedure – you generate 40.5 cubic feet of interior storage space. In anticipation of a trip to Home Depot for some wood, I placed a tape measure inside the Highlander and discovered enough front-to-rear interior space to accommodate a 7′ long piece of timber. If you need to transport longer material, you can run with the tailgate down, or simply flip the rear tailgate window up while leaving the lower door upright. The Highlander is also tow rated at 5,000 pounds, so its utilitarian portfolio is quite complete.

2017 Toyota Highlander SE V6 AWD

About the only thing this Toyota fails to provide is fun behind the wheel. Although the Highlander’s window sticker claims that this crossover is fitted with a “Sport Tuned” suspension, the Highlander is just too heavy (4,570 lbs.) and too big (191 in. long) to generate anything resembling sporting performance. To its credit, Toyota provides rather hefty contact patches at the road, with 245/55R19 Bridgestone Dueler H/L tires at each corner. But the suspension is rather flaccid as it pitches from side to side through switchbacks. The 295hp engine, with its middling power to weight ratio of 15.5lb/hp, is hard pressed to provide significant acceleration, even when you hammer the throttle with that 8-speed transmission locked in second or third gear for maximum thrust.

2017 Toyota Highlander SE V6 AWD

Also new for 2017 is the inclusion of Toyota’s Safety Sense P suite of warning devices and collision avoidance mechanisms. Some of the highlights include pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert (LDA) with steering assist, dynamic cruise control and “automatic high beams.” I turned off the LDA, as I tend to pay close attention to adjacent traffic. The radar cruise control operated smoothly and unobtrusively, offering 3 different car length settings for following distance. Even the one-car-length setting, however, dropped the Highlander at least 3 car lengths behind the nearest car or truck, which provided other drivers the unwelcome opportunity to chop in front of the Highlander.

2017 Toyota Highlander SE V6 AWD

But the automatic high beams proved perplexing. On my first night drive in this Toyota, I found I could not activate the high beams when I needed them. I later discovered that a dash button had been depressed to activate the automatic high beam feature, which “uses a camera sensor behind the upper portion of the windshield to assess the brightness of the lights of vehicles ahead, streetlights, etc., and automatically turns the high beams on and off as necessary.” This so-called “Safety Sense” feature, which countermanded my own decision making process, should be permanently deleted. In the big picture of Highlander ownership, though, it’s a minor speed bump on a long fast stretch of highway.

2017 Toyota Highlander SE V6 AWD

  • Engine: 3.5 liter DOHC V6 D4S engine with Dual VVT-i
  • Horsepower: 290hp
  • Torque: 268lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 20 MPG City/26 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $43,900
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Kia Forte5 SX Review

Sunday October 22nd, 2017 at 2:1010 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Kia Forte5 SX

Hypes: The Korean Version of the VW GTI
Gripes: Suspension Could Stand Slight Stiffening

The Kia Forte we drove had 4 cylinders, 5 doors and 6 speeds. All those elements combined to make it number 1 – the best compact sport sedan we have driven so far in 2017. From the outside, the Forte5 is a stunning looker, thanks to the rake produced by a low nose and high tail. Finely chiseled upper and lower belt lines accentuate the illusion of forward motion. A bold red stripe across the face of the piano black grill confers a sportiness reinforced by red bolstered deep bucket seats. This Kia impresses you up front with its alluring design, and the promise of high performance. In practice, the Forte5 does not disappoint.

2017 Kia Forte5 SX

Under the hood lies a turbocharged , direct gas injection, 4 cylinder engine displacing just 1.6 liters. This sideways mounted motor returns exceptionally good mileage, with an overall EPA rating of 25MPG. More important for enthusiast drivers, the little stormer really puts out the power, with 201hp enough to chirp the driven front wheels all the way through first gear. The acceleration doesn’t let up as you snick the 6-speed manual through its precisely designated slots. Kia has wisely chosen closely spaced gear ratios, with rpm drops of 500 or less as you upshift through the range. As a result, the Forte5 competently completes any passing maneuver you care to attempt, and proves especially strong at merging with freeway traffic.

2017 Kia Forte5 SX

The Forte5 is a Korean designed car. However, it is built in Pesqueria, NL, Mexico. Of the major components used in its construction, only the gearbox actually comes from Korea. Build quality is excellent, with interior seams that match perfectly, doors that shut cleanly with a resounding thunk, and high class materials used throughout. In fact, it should come as no surprise that the Forte model line, along with other Kia vehicles, has won the J.D. Power award for “Best Initial Quality” 2 years in a row. In addition to such celebrated delivery chops, this Kia also carries a 5 year/60,000 mile Limited Basic Warranty, a similar Roadside Assistance package, and 10 Year/100,00 mile Limited Powertra1n Warranty.

2017 Kia Forte5 SX

In addition to this long term practicality, the Forte5 also offers plenty of useful travel configurations thanks to that fifth door tailgate/hatchback. You can drop the rear seats flat for 15 cubic feet of interior storage, or with the seats elevated, carry 4 adults with their belongings hidden inside the fully covered trunk space. The Forte5 is really a best- of-both-worlds design solution, with a tailgate which does not suffer from the fishbowl display shortcomings of a true hatchback.

2017 Kia Forte5 SX

This turbocharged, manual transmission Kia is an absolute blast to drive. Start at the contact patch, provided by 225/40R18 Nexen CP671 rubber mounted on cleanly styled 18 inch alloy rims. Kia has selected a “Sport-Tuned Suspension” for the Forte5 that maintains a careful balance between comfort and adhesion. The bias here is on the soft side, which results in some slight pitch and wallow over major bumps taken at speed. But overall, the net effect is positive, and you can be thankful that this Kia will not beat you up every day with an unduly harsh ride.

2017 Kia Forte5 SX

If you do select the manual transmission we enjoyed, you will also appreciate the fact that it offers hill-start control. This feature prevents the Forte from sliding backwards as you endeavor to find the clutch engagement point. Even though our test car had logged nearly 5,000 miles, clutch engagement was always crisp and predictable. The gear synchronizers likewise operated with seamless engagement, and it was never a challenge to find the right slot for the right gear. A lift-up ring below the shift knob needs to be raised to engage reverse gear, an easy operation that prevents mistaken selection of reverse.

2017 Kia Forte5 SX

Steering is pleasurable thanks to the deftly contoured, flat bottomed, racing type steering wheel. While its spokes are festooned with the usual array of Bluetooth/Audio/Cruise controls, the wheel itself feels just right when you are carving apexes with those sticky Nexen tires. Steering feedback is exceptional, and the Forte responds to every twitch with an equivalent change in direction. This is way more response than you would expect from a 5 door family sedan costing just $27,020 all in.

2018 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription

  • Engine: 1.6 liter inline 4 turbocharged with gas direct injection
  • Horsepower: 201hp
  • Torque: 195lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 23MPG City/29 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $27,020
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD PRO 4×4 DBL. Cab Review

Saturday October 21st, 2017 at 2:1010 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD PRO 4x4 DBL. Cab

Hypes: Rugged Old School Pickup
Gripes: Needs Hydraulic Hood Prop

Opt for the TRD PRO version of the Tacoma compact pickup and you’ve got a military spec off-roader that will out-butch everything but a monster truck. Toyota Racing Development (TRD) is hardly a newcomer to assaults on Baja, or the urban jungle for that matter. TRD trucks have been running and winning the Baja 1000 for decades, and the breeding that goes into making the Tacoma competitive there shows everywhere you look here. First, there’s the truck’s sky high ride height which necessitates a healthy jump step to insert yourself in the cab. Next, there’s the no-nonsense look of this “Cement” colored brute. With its monochromatic grey paint highlighted only by “TRD PRO” informational placards on the flanks, this Tacoma stands ready to battle the toughest terrain you can throw at it.

2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD PRO 4x4 DBL. Cab

To that end, Toyota equips it with black alloy rims highlighted by red TRD center caps. On each rim you will find a 265/70R 16 Goodyear Wrangler off-road tire with more writing on its sidewall than a Dead Sea Scroll. The most pertinent notice concerns the wear rating (WR) of these Kevlar-reinforced Goodyears. With a WR of 640, you can bet these tires will take a real pounding while enjoying a long tenure on your Tacoma. You can also expect them to afford less than sticky traction on hard shell pavement, since their compound lies at the rock end of the tire wear spectrum. I found this out first hand when I pitched the TRD PRO into a tight turn. The front tires lost traction, and the truck washed out in understeer. Caution is essential when driving this Tacoma on pavement. In the dirt, however, no impediment is too great for this race bred package.

2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD PRO 4x4 DBL. Cab

Up front you’ll find a bullet proof TRD branded skid plate, which is easily seen because the TRD sits so high off the ground. Also a pair of sly looking Rigid Industries LED fog lamps. Do a walk around and you can peer into all four wheel wells and admire the structural soundness of the frame rails, the immense solidity of the TRD racing shock absorbers wrapped in coil springs, and the massive size of the front anti-sway bar and its drop links. Of course all this super size componentry affords the stiffest ride you can imagine. The TRD hops and bounces like a thoroughbred stallion kicking the stall at post time. Once you get acclimated to the handling idiosyncrasies of this Tacoma, it’s really a blast to drive. Its handling is so direct and elemental that nothing cushions or decompresses the joy of driving it. What you see is very much what you get. There are few vehicles left for sale as honest and straightforward as the TRD PRO, so enjoy this breath of fresh air.

2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD PRO 4x4 DBL. Cab

Like the ride, the interior too is uncomplicated, and as useful as a work boot from Acme. The dash is delightfully straightforward in an old fashioned way. There are big fat knobs for every vital HVAC function, and a useful 7 inch touchscreen for audio and navigation override. The seats slide and tilt with manual controls, but they are thoughtfully equipped (up front) with 3-stage heaters. There’s an electrically operated center rear window at the back of the cab, should you need to carry items longer than the 6 foot bed will accommodate. The back seats also flip and fold against the front seats, so you can easily convert unused cab space into additional storage room.

2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD PRO 4x4 DBL. Cab

The 3.5 liter V6 engine, which produces 278hp, sounds off through a TRD exhaust system that issues a guttural blat when you nail the throttle. The engine has enough torque (265lb.-ft.) to tow a trailer weighing 6,400 pounds, and the TRD comes equipped with a proper receiver hitch plus all the ancillaries needed to cool the driveline when towing: Automatic Transmission Fluid cooler, Power Steering cooler, Engine Oil cooler, plus a 130 Ampere Hour alternator. 4 Wheel Drive is available either full time or part time, and Toyota supplies the TRD PRO with an electronically controlled transfer case and a limited slip differential. It’s hard to imagine an on- or off-road situation that would stymie this truck.

2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD PRO 4x4 DBL. Cab

The TRD PRO version of the Tacoma pickup looks like a Baja winner. About the only phony note to its cowboy get-up is the hood scoop which doesn’t actually vent cold air into the engine room. That’s a mighty small complaint list for a very fetching truck.

2018 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription

  • Engine: 3.5 liter V6 with Dual VVT-i and TRD Exhaust
  • Horsepower: 278hp
  • Torque: 268lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 18MPG City/23 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $45,042
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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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

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


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