2017 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T SE Review

Wednesday March 15th, 2017 at 11:33 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T SE

By David Colman

Hypes: Interior Layout Simplicity, Handling Balance
Gripes: Launch Hesitation in First Gear, Sticky Brake Feel

For 2017, Passat continues to benefit from the major makeover it received in 2016. In addition to restyled front and rear fascias, the Passat’s 6.3 inch graphic user interface touchscreen now includes Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Also now standard are VW Car-Net upgrades, including App-Connect (Smart Phone integration and interface) and Security & Service (Emergency Assistance). This latter feature is operable at delivery time, but must be subscribed for continued service. Also standard on Passat is a suite of technology safety upgrades. A rearview camera helps you reverse safely. Front Assist helps bring your Passat to a halt when frontal blockage is detected. Blind Spot Monitor is now standard, and features Rear Traffic Alert. These safety improvements operate silently and seamlessly, without the noisy intrusiveness characteristic of many such systems.

2017 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T SE

If you select the SE level of Passat, VW literally upgrades your wheels from 16 to 17 inch silver alloys wearing Continental ProContact mud & snow rubber (215/55R17). Another advantage of opting for an SE level Passat is inclusion of KESSY, keyless access with push button start. After spending a week fumbling for the keys of a VW Alltrack to gain entry and start the engine, the proximity system and push button of the Passat saved a lot of key search time. The Passat’s huge 16 cubic foot trunk includes a spare tire buried in a mat covered well. This emergency unit is made by Firestone and measures a scant 135/90/16, but gets the temporary job done since it matches the rolling diameter of the Continental radials. A jack and lug wrench are included.

2017 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T SE

The Passat is not designed for extroverts. You appreciate its subdued nature the minute you scan the quiet color choices available: 3 shades of silver or gray, muted blue, very muted red, beige or black. You certainly won’t find VW’s outrageous Beetle shade of Fresh Fuchsia Metallic available to dress your Passat. Rather, our test sample was painted Platinum Gray Metallic, set against a Titan Black interior. This is not to say the combo was objectionable. In fact, it looked handsomely subdued, in the way a Brooks Brothers suit is fashionably reserved. Adding to the pleasing medley of interior tones and patterns is a wide strip of what appears to be varnished driftwood. This material, set off in turn by an inlay of finely corrugated matte aluminum, stretches across the dash, and continues through all four door panels.

2017 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T SE

What we continue to love about VW vehicles and the staff that designs them is their resistance to sublimating vehicle operation to touchscreen menus. Here is a short list of vintage features that make Passat so much easier to operate than the current competition: a fly-off handbrake that is conveniently located and easy to operate; three large knobs to control temperature and fan operation; seven prominently positioned buttons to operate seat heaters and air flow; one overhead swivel knob to control slide/tilt operation of the standard sunroof; conveniently located manual lift/slide/rake controls for both front seats. Car designers today have abandoned this mode of simplicity in favor of complex, unnecessary, menu-driven operations that invariably deflect your attention from the serious requirements of driving. Bravo to VW for refusing to turn their Passat into a motorized smart phone.

2017 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T SE

This largest of all VW sedans is meant to be a family hauler, a mission it accomplishes with customary German dexterity. The Passat is without question a spacious sedan, with its wheelbase of 110 inches insuring that both front and back seat occupants will never wont for legroom. Even though the weight distribution of the Passat’s 3,220 pounds is heavily biased toward the front (59%F/41%R), this mini limo still covers twisty back roads with surprising agility. The front end never plows through tight turns, and the lively 170hp TSI turbo 4 unleashes enough zip to make exiting corners exhilarating. While the Passat’s deadpan looks may not give a clue from the outside, its sporting nature is always ready to be unleashed. If 170hp is insufficient, VW offers an even quicker variant in the V6 Passat, which makes 280hp from 3.6 liters. Either way, the Passat earns its stripes as a premium German sedan, which flies fast under the radar, and does so without draining your wallet.

2017 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T SE

2017 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T SE

  • Engine: 1.8 liter DOHC turbo 4 cylinder with direct injection (TSI)
  • Horsepower: 170hp
  • Torque: 184lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 23 MPG City/34 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $26,315
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Lincoln MKZ Reserve AWD Review

Tuesday March 14th, 2017 at 11:33 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Lincoln MKZ Reserve AWD

By David Colman

Hypes: Powerful but Economical Motor, Huge Panoramic Roof
Gripes: 240hp is nice but a new 400hp twin turbo V6 is nicer

The big news at Lincoln this year is the return of the Continental, a storied 77 year old nameplate now attached to an all new luxury sedan for 2017. A lot of the Continental’s $60,000 luxury has also surfaced in Lincoln’s completely revamped 2017 MKZ, a five person luxury sedan restyled both inside and out this year. The MKZ is based on the Ford Fusion platform. But its Continental styled grill, sumptuous interior, and lively drivetrain move the MKZ into a class well beyond Fusion level.

2017 Lincoln MKZ Reserve AWD

Lincoln finally abandoned their upswept butterfly trademark grill on the new MKZ for a revised prow that looks much sleeker. Not coincidentally, the perforated mesh screen establishes the MKZ’s close familial ties to the new Continental. Inside our handsome Midnight Blue Sapphire Metallic test car, the spread of Ebony leather looks understated and elegant. Both front “Multicontour” seats feature 10 way motor-driven adjustability, with heating and ventilation standard. Rear seats are heated as well. The interior is dominated by the most expansive retracting sunroof I can recall. This huge swath of gleaming black glass fully retracts in two stages: first the interior screen cover slides aft, followed by retraction of the entire glass roof. This “Panoramic” roof puts on quite a show while insuring that claustrophobia will never figure in your MKZ trip plans.

2017 Lincoln MKZ Reserve AWD

After having driven a Hybrid Fusion during the week preceding my stint in the MKZ, I found the Lincoln’s interior to be preferable on several counts. Foremost is the irrefutable logic of the controls in the new Lincoln. For 2017, the MKZ eliminates the capacitive touch-based system of the previous model, instead using more knobs and buttons than slide switches. This advance alone makes it ever so easy to adjust seat temperature, cabin climate and steering wheel heater with the simple push of a button. In the Fusion, steering wheel heat requires going through a menu and locating a virtual button on a complicated video screen. Likewise, the Lincoln’s 6-speed SelectShift automatic gearbox, which offers a manual mode with paddles, is controlled by a series of large PRNDL buttons stacked vertically adjacent to the steering wheel rim, a placement that is much easier to use than the Fusion’s new rotary gear selector wheel.

2017 Lincoln MKZ Reserve AWD

Our base model Lincoln utilized a 2.0 liter turbocharged inline 4 cylinder “GTDI” direct injection engine that provides really strong performance considering its diminutive displacement. Both torque (275lb.-ft.) and horsepower (245hp) have increased by 5lb.-ft. and 5hp over the 2016 model. With the aid of the paddles to select just the right gear ratio of the 6 offered, the new MKZ really flies. The all-wheel-drive system harnesses the engine’s strong output, judiciously channeling just the right amount of drive to each Michelin Primacy MXM4 tire (245/40R19). The alloy rims of our test MKZ, which Lincoln describes as “premium painted aluminum wheels with painted pockets and chrome inserts” looked particularly spiffy. They will, however, prove labor intensive to keep clean.

2017 Lincoln MKZ Reserve AWD

Last year, Lincoln introduced a comforting premium program for customers seeking concierge level design tweaks. For example, you can fit your MKZ with Vintner’s Wood inserts complemented by Merlot leather seating surfaces. This “curated” Black Label program also extends to special after-sales attention, offering complimentary car washes after service, and access to special food and entertainment events. Clearly, this is an effort by Lincoln to match the customer friendly trappings Lexus and Infiniti owners have come to expect. At a base price of just $35,170, the redone MKZ already has a big financial advantage over its more expensive Japanese competitors. The Black Label program is just more icing on an already rather delectable piece of cake.

2017 Lincoln MKZ Reserve AWD

  • Engine: 2.0 liter inline 4, GTDI, turbocharged
  • Horsepower: 240hp
  • Torque: 275lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 20 MPG City/28 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $36,507
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Volkswagen Golf TSI Alltrack 4Motion Review

Friday March 3rd, 2017 at 12:33 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Volkswagen Golf TSI Alltrack

By David Colman

Hypes: Strong Drivetrain, Useful Interior, Great Price
Gripes: Needs Headlight Flash When Locking/Unlocking

So far, the new Alltrack VW had checked all my boxes. Was it fast enough? Yes. Did it handle well enough? Absolutely. Did it look good inside and out? Check and check again. But as a sportive player, now it would have to pass the bike test. With rear seats folded flat, would the Alltrack have enough room to stow my mountain bike? Yes, with surprising room to spare – as long as the bike’s front wheel is folded back 180 degrees. Clearing that final impediment makes the Alltrack as close to perfect as you can get. With its Falken Sincera tires (205/55/R17) churning through slosh and mud, this newest addition to the company stable is good for virtually any foray, off or on road. It deals equally well with either eventuality. And it provides you with lots of driving fun to boot.

2017 Volkswagen Golf TSI Alltrack

This latest brainchild from Wolfsburg is a crossover of sorts. VW appropriated the basic architecture of the Front Wheel Drive Golf SportWagen, transforming it into an All Wheel Drive variant that excels in all terrain performance. VW calls it “All Whee Drive.” In addition to 4Motion (VW’s name for all-wheel-drive), engineers have raised the Golf’s suspension enough to clear off-road type obstacles. They have even provided an underbody guard to prevent damage in the outback. A “Driving Mode” selector on the center console allows you to chose ride height appropriate for Sport, Normal or Off Road driving adventures. Even though I never ventured far off pavement (VW calls such excursions the “road less graveled”), I did drive this VW for two hours through a pouring rainstorm, where I found its 4Motion traction capable of providing reassuring comfort in even the most adverse conditions.

2017 Volkswagen Golf TSI Alltrack

Similar Japanese products I have recently driven seem underpowered compared to the Alltrack, which depends on 1.8 liters of direct fuel injected, turbocharged, “TSI” 4 cylinder power to sprint away from stop lights like its sporty cousin, the Golf GTI. Helping allocate the power is a 6-speed automatic transmission equipped with a manual control gate and small paddles at the 9 and 12 o’clock positions behind the steering wheel. The Alltrack produces 170hp and makes 184lb.-ft. of torque while posting an overall EPA fuel consumption figure of 25 MPG. For the record, we never came close to exhausting this Golf’s 14.5 gallon supply, or invoking its 1.3 gallon reserve margin.

A week of nearly constant wet weather operation revealed a few niceties missing from the Alltrack equation. Rain sensing wipers would have been useful, as I spent an inordinate amount of time fiddling with the wiper stalk to keep pace with conditions. The power door locks, operated by the keyfob, lack a proximity sensor, so you need to push the appropriate button on the keyfob. This tends to complicate the boarding process in a downpour. And finally, when you unlock or lock the Alltrack, your action is confirmed by a blink of the turn indicators. But there is no accompanying timed illumination from the headlights. This makes for difficult approach or departure at night.

2017 Volkswagen Golf TSI Alltrack

Despite these minor oversights, the Alltrack is a startlingly well equipped vehicle, especially considering its bargain base price of $26,950. For example, both front seats are heated, with 3 stages of temperature offered. The wipers are also heated, along with the outside rear view mirrors. The Golf has been granted a substantial makeover for 2017, and one of the new features is a larger 6.5 inch touchscreen that displays a sublime level of clarity for operation of the 8 speaker AM/FM/SiriusXM radio unit. Thankfully, VW have avoided the temptation to incorporate all HVAC commands into this digital display.. Instead, the Alltrack provides welcome dial controls for temperature and fan settings, as well as separate buttons for A/C, defrost and rear window heat. It is also thrilling to discover that your seat settings (fore/aft, tilt, height) are all controlled by you, not a series of heavy, expensive and completely unnecessary electric motors. You also need to insert a key in the ignition which is something else of a delightful throwback these days when hard-to-find starter buttons have become the norm. In an era of increasingly overcomplicated auto design, VW takes a refreshing stand for simplicity of operation.

2017 Volkswagen Golf TSI Alltrack

The Alltrack is the perfect answer to a question asked by many families. What vehicle is sporty, all terrain capable, yet not configured like a tippy SUV on stilts? the answer to that quandary is this newest member of the VW clan, the quick, grippy and practical new Alltrack wagon.

2017 Volkswagen Golf TSI Alltrack 4Motion

  • Engine: 1.8 Liter TSI DOHC inline 4, turbocharged with direct injection
  • Horsepower: 170hp
  • Torque: 184lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 22 MPG City/30 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $27,770
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Ford Fusion Platinum Energi Review

Wednesday March 1st, 2017 at 4:33 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Ford Fusion Platinum Energi

By David Colman

Hypes: Luscious Interior, Reams of Unexpected Standard Features
Gripes: 188hp Insufficient

For 2017, Ford offers more flavors of Fusion than Ben and Jerry makes ice cream. At the top of the long list is the all new for 2017 Sport version, with a 325hp, 2.7 liter V6 powering all four wheels. Moving down the range, Ford also offers a turbocharged 2.0 liter inline 4 making 240hp. At the bottom of the horsepower rankings – but the top of the mileage offerings – is the 2.0 liter inline 4 of the Fusion Energi we tested. This one’s gas engine makes just 188hp in consort with its electrical motor, but yields 42 MPG in combined city/highway driving. In electric-only mode, the Fusion Energi will carry you just 21 miles. But those miles produce an EPA rating of 97 MPGe. In combined electric/gas operation, this greenest of all Fusions will take you a whopping 610 miles on one tank of gasoline.

2017 Ford Fusion Platinum Energi

With that kind of range, it would be nice if the Fusion Energi provided a first class interior for you to while away those extended driving hours. The Energi’s Platinum interior does just that. Taking a cue from hyper priced cars like Bentley and Maserati, Ford designers have spiced up the look of this Fusion with large swaths of diamond patterned upholstery inserts. The front and rear seat bolsters sport this material, as well as all four upper door panels. Our test example featured an inviting shade of cream leather called “Medium Soft Ceramic” that looked and felt inviting but showed a fair amount of grime after 7,000 miles of test driving. The quilted door and seat inserts are neatly set off by black piping which adds a note of elegance to the overall design. The seats themselves are supremely comfortable up front and passably accommodating in back.

2017 Ford Fusion Platinum Energi

The Fusion’s 112 inch wheelbase and 73 inch width make for a spacious and airy cabin, further augmented by a standard power moonroof. A foursome of six footers front and rear will never find themselves crowded into discomfort inside a Fusion.

2017 Ford Fusion Platinum Energi

The cockpit is replete with thoughtful attention to detail. For example, the vertical and horizontal adjustment for the multifunction steering wheel is electrically controlled, a nicety not often encountered on cars in the sub-$40,000 price range. Another welcome feature is a 2 slot memory system for selecting and retaining your favorite seat/mirror/steering wheel orientation. Again, most vehicles in this class do not offer this convenience. Clearly, a lot of thought has gone into making the Fusion cabin habitable for long distance cruising. The front seats are both heated and ventilated, with four settings available for temperature choice in either mode. Even the steering wheel rim is heated, though it took us awhile to find the on/off switch, which is buried in the climate control Synch3 menu, rather than operated by an actual button.

2017 Ford Fusion Platinum Energi

Thankfully, all major climate and ventilation settings are instantly accessible through a series of actual buttons and switches laid out across the base of the center console. Here you will find individual temperature controls for each side of the cabin, plus fan speed and defrost buttons. For other less critical functions, Ford’s Synch3 system allows you to tailor your navigation and entertainment needs through pictographs on the 8 inch touchscreen, which oversees everything from radio choice, to apps, to navigation, to general locking protocol and language display. The steering wheel spokes control a wealth of additional information which appears on the instrument panel, next to the 120mph speedometer. You can scroll through “MyView” acceleration/braking/cruising tabulations, fuel economy readouts, two resettable trip computers, EV feedback entitled “Engage” and “Empower,” and finally, tire pressure readout. Just the thing to keep you on your toes on Interstate 5.

2017 Ford Fusion Platinum Energi

If the Energi hybrid has a drawback, it’s lackadaisical performance. 188hp is simply not up to the task of hauling this sizeable 3,505 pound sedan up to passing speed with any margin of comfort. Even with gas and electrical power maxed out noisily at full throttle, the Energi is reluctant to satisfy your need for speed. The ECVT “Powersplit” automatic transmission features a new-for-2017 rotary control dial for gear selection. While this unit does save console space. its operation is difficult to master as it lacks the detents of a conventional shift mechanism.

2017 Ford Fusion Platinum Energi

The other drawback of selecting a hybrid is the imprecise, non-linear pedal feel of the regenerative brakes. They react with oversensitive zeal even to slight pedal pressure. The rock hard (treadwear rating: 480) Michelin Energy radials (225/50R17) complicate the brake feedback loop with their tendency to skid. Finally, you’ll pay another energy penalty when you examine the trunk of this otherwise full size sedan. While the interior may comfortably hold four passengers, the hybridized trunk will never transport all their belongings. Associated hybrid gear and lithium ion batteries occupy much of the allotted space.

2017 Ford Fusion Platinum Energi

  • Engine: 2.0 liter inline 4 + electric motor
  • Horsepower: 188hp
  • Torque: N/A
  • Fuel Consumption: 42 MPG Combined, 97 MPGe
  • Price as Tested: $39,995
  • Star Rating: 7.5 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Subaru Outback 2.5i Touring Review

Thursday February 23rd, 2017 at 11:22 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Subaru Outback 2.5i Touring

By David Colman

Hypes: Practical Packaging, Elegant Interior
Gripes: Could Use a Turbo

Subaru has developed a following of loyal enthusiasts eager to share their positive experiences with others. I had just finished photographing this Brilliant Brown Pearl Outback when I was accosted by a Subaru-owning neighbor dying to get a look at the new-for-2017 Touring version of the Outback. One glance at the diagonal stitching of the coffee colored door panels had him lusting after the new Touring model. He explained that he had gone through the mill with a bunch of expensive German products that “spent more time in the shop garage than mine” before he bought his first Subaru in 2011. That car put an end to all his service woes. In 2016 he bought a new Outback for himself, a car that has impressed him with its many virtues. After spending a stormy week with the new Touring, I would have to agree that this special edition Subaru Outback has a lot going for it.

2017 Subaru Outback 2.5i Touring

The refined quality of the interior belies the Touring’s $35,995 base price. That Brown Pearl paint becomes Brilliant in the sun, when its purple undertone makes the Outback look like a Cal Custom show car. The front seats are plush, heated and accommodating. The rear seats are comfortable enough for long trips, and also feature standard 3-stage heaters. Trim on the dash and doors is subdued and handsome, with matte finished wood surfaces complimenting brushed aluminum surrounds. The instrument binnacle consists of two heavily shielded dial faces, with an 8000rpm tachometer on the left and a 150mph speedometer on the right. Both dials are ringed with celestial blue illumination, making for a very pleasing visual presentation that is exceptionally easy to read. A large digital speed readout occupies the space between dials. The rest of the dash array is equally well thought out for easy usage while traveling at speed. The beauty of Subaru’s HVAC controls lies in the fact that you almost never need to take your eyes off the road to make climate control adjustments.

2017 Subaru Outback 2.5i Touring

In heavy rain, the Subaru proved a dependable and comforting companion. The standard rear window wiper cleared the aft view immediately, in consort with an effective backlight defroster and washer system. All these controls were intuitive, with never a need to consult the Owner’s Manual for operation. Such is the mark of a well-designed product. The Touring’s behavior in adverse weather also proved that this wagon is well suited to any climatic condition. The Mud & Snow rated Bridgestone Dueler H/P tires (225/60R18) never evinced any tendency to aquaplane, and with a wear rating of 500, should provide long tread life as well. These tires are mounted on machined-face 10 spoke alloys that are model specific to the Touring version. What really keeps the traction in check is Subaru’s highly reputed Symmetrical All Wheel Drive, a system that maintains traction at all four corners, regardless of weather. The Touring version features a fully independent suspension system front and rear that has been raised over the ground clearance of the base Outback. This higher ride height allows you to traverse snow and puddles with greater confidence at virtually no cost to handling in the dry.

2017 Subaru Outback 2.5i Touring

Although Subaru has chosen to go the CVT route in the gearbox department, the “Lineartronic” 6-speed unit chosen to back up the 2.5 liter flat 4-cylinder engine does a respectable job of mimicking a gear, rather than a belt driven transmission. Thankfully, Subaru has included a manual gate on the floor-mounted shift lever, as well as small paddles on the steering wheel itself. If you feel the need for more speed – a frequent occurrence with just 2.5 liters of engine – just tap the downshift paddle for a lower range of torque multiplication. The Outback doesn’t exactly leap ahead, but power flow is always adequate. The upshot of this thrifty engine is its payoff in fuel economy, with an overall rating of 28MPG.

2017 Subaru Outback 2.5i Touring

Subaru engineers have really though through the design of the wagon’s rear storage area. The standard lift gate opens with the push of a button on the key fob remote, and shuts with the push of a button on the top ledge of the tail panel. The system even offers a warning flash of the tail lights before swinging open, so no one will be caught off guard by the upward arc of the door. Inside the aft compartment, you will discover a very sturdy, water containing rubber mat that would be perfect for stowing wet ski gear. Under the mat lies a second level compartment housing all the tools you’d need to change a tire or have your outback towed. There’s a lug nut wrench, a compact jack, a screw-in tow hook, and even a combo screwdriver. Beneath this shelf lies a hefty temporary spare tire. Unlike most manufacturers who have gone to either run-flat tires or supply an air pump and a can of puncture goop, Subaru thinks you deserve a more complete solution to a roadside tire problem. In a way, this suspender-and-belt approach to motoring is exactly why Subaru called this vehicle the Outback in the first place. It’s designed to go anywhere, anytime, without undue worry or expense. It’s no wonder my enthusiastic neighbor thinks so highly of this brand.

2017 Subaru Outback 2.5i Touring

2017 Subaru Outback 2.5i Touring

  • Engine: 2.5 liter horizontally-opposed 4 cylinder
  • Horsepower: 175hp
  • Torque: 174lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 25MPG City/32MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $36,870
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Volkswagen Jetta 1.8T SEL Premium Review

Wednesday February 22nd, 2017 at 11:22 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Volkswagen Jetta 1.8T SEL Premium

By David Colman

Hypes: Loaded, No Options Needed
Gripes: Cheap Plastic Back Seat/Trunk Divider

It’s always reassuring to scrutinize a vehicle’s price invoice (called a Monroney Sticker) and discover that absolutely NO extras have been added to inflate the base figure. In this case, $26,995 is what you will pay for a very fully equipped Volkswagen four-door sedan. This tidy, tight little package is a lot of fun to drive. Best of all, it’s so fully equipped in SEL Premium form that you can enjoy this Jetta without so much as adding a single extra cost option. Try performing that parlor trick the next time you step into an Audi, BMW or Mercedes dealership.

In addition, VW has been taking such a beating over the last 18 months for its diesel malfeasance that dealers are hungry to move 2017 Jettas at attractive price points. Among the extras here that you won’t pay extra for are: a rearview camera, a dual zone HVAC system, a keyless push button starter, blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert, app-connect smart phone integration, navigation and Fender infotainment system, bi-Xenon headlights, rain-sensing wipers with heated nozzles, and a power sliding/tilting sunroof.

2017 Volkswagen Jetta 1.8T SEL Premium

Of course all those standard niceties wouldn’t mean so much if the basic architecture of the Jetta inhibited driving fun. Such is not the case, however, because like most V Dubs of yore, even this rather inconspicuous, decidedly family-oriented sedan has its driving chops down cold. Tucked sideways under the hood is the VW organization’s go-to powerplant, a 4 cylinder turbocharged 1.8 liter motor making 170hp and 184lb.-ft. of torque. Other versions of the Jetta can be had with a 1.4 liter turbo (150hp) or a GLI Jetta with a 210hp 2.0 liter turbo 4. Our test Jetta, finished in a spectacularly flaky metallic shade called Platinum Gray, bolted a 6-speed automatic gearbox complete with paddle shift controls, to the 1.8 liter Direct Fuel Injection engine. The engine of this “German” Jetta is built in Mexico while its transmission is imported from Japan. Performance with the mid-range Turbo and the automatic is always sprightly since the Jetta weighs just 3,040 lbs, giving it a sporting power-to-weight ratio of 17.8 lbs./hp.

2017 Volkswagen Jetta 1.8T SEL Premium

Standard fare also extends to the Jetta’s alloy 17 inch rims shod with premium 45 series Continental Pro Contact tires which put 225 mm of all-weather rubber at each contact patch. A standard tire pressure monitoring system keeps track of the air in your Continentals. Despite their short sidewalls, the Conti Sport Contacts afford more than a modicum of ride comfort to passengers. Along with a well modulated suspension system, these tires keep the interior of the Jetta quiet, comfortable and unperturbed even when traversing the nastiest bits of broken pavement.

2017 Volkswagen Jetta 1.8T SEL Premium

With its spacious back seat, slouchy-comfortable front seats, and airy cabin windows, the Jetta constitutes a pretty fair substitute for a living room on wheels. The 54.5 inches of front shoulder room and 53 inches of rear shoulder room make for a spacious conversation pit. The 16 cubic foot trunk keeps a foursome’s possessions neatly stowed out of sight. At one point during our week with the car, a trio of occupants found this VW so comfortable after a drive that we all sat together chatting for over an hour without ever feeling like we needed to climb out of the Jetta.

2017 Volkswagen Jetta 1.8T SEL Premium

Volkswagens have always had a way of ingratiating themselves into your life like that. Pretty soon, they become trusted members of your family. That kind of reasoning keeps loyal customers coming back to this marque for one generation of VW after another. There aren’t many automotive refuges where you can still find solid German engineering and driving pleasure at a price that makes you double-check the Monroney Sticker to make sure you read it right the first time. Other German manufacturers wonder how VW can turn the trick for the money they charge. If you can live without the needless burden of a chic nameplate, but still seek the best that German style motoring has to offer, take a close look at the loaded 2017 Jetta SEL Premium.

2017 Volkswagen Jetta 1.8T SEL Premium

  • Engine: 1.8 liter TFSI Direct Injection inline 4, Turbocharged
  • Horsepower: 170hp
  • Torque: 184lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 25 MPG City/35 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $27,815
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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


2017 Audi A4 2.0T Quattro S tronic Review

Monday February 13th, 2017 at 10:22 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Audi A4 2.0T Quattro S tronic

By David Colman

Hypes: Crisp, Responsive Handling, Bullet Motor
Gripes: MMI Unintuitive, DAP Unloved

Let’s say you placed your coffee cup on your coffee table just so. You’d expect it to be where you left it the next time you reached for it, right? Of course you would. Such, however, is not the case with Audi’s redesigned A4 when it’s equipped with the $1,800 optional DAP, or “Driver Assistance package.” When you place your A4 just so on the road, the “Steering Correction” component of the DAP takes control of the steering wheel as it redirects your Audi to its preferred position, not yours. Only brute force on your part will override this pre-programmed behavior.

2017 Audi A4 2.0T Quattro S tronic

While such intervention would never be tolerated from children grabbing the steering wheel, the DAP-equipped A4 has been specifically designed to countermand your own driving inputs. While other manufacturers offering such haptic feedback allow you to delete the intrusion with a convenient touch of a knob, Audi makes no such provision in the A4. There is no simple delete knob for DAP. Rather, you need to search through endless menus and clicks of the overcomplicated MMI (Multi Media Interface) before you finally deduce that “Steering Correction” cannot be eliminated completely . The best you can do is chose “Early” or “Late” correction.

2017 Audi A4 2.0T Quattro S tronic

Of course, your best choice here is not to try and delete “Steering Correction” since you can’t, but to delete the DAP package altogether. Then you’d have a really terrific, newly revised, built-in Germany, sports sedan at a very reasonable $52,475 price. Although this latest 2017 A4 may deceive you into thinking it’s just a mild makeover of last year’s model, the subtle redesign boasts a more powerful, 252hp 4 cylinder turbo engine, a lighter and stronger chassis, a more fashionable interior, and better overall fuel economy (27MPG). Setting safety nannies aside, Audi still knows how to construct a four door sedan that will have you thinking you’re driving a two door, lightweight, high performance sports car like the company’s TT. Recent magazine tests have pegged the A4 quattro’s 0-60mph run at a scintillating 5.4 seconds, My own experience with this package proves beyond a doubt that you will never need more punch than this base model turbo 4 delivers – even though an optional 354hp twin turbo V6 is available. The reason the base motor is so successful is its lighter weight compared to the V6.

2017 Audi A4 2.0T Quattro S tronic

The nimbleness of this 4 cylinder quattro becomes apparent every time you enter a series of backroad curves. After you dial the appropriate gear choice into the 7-speed S tronic transmission, the sizeable Hankook Ventus S1 evo tires (245/40R18) take an immediate set as the A4 slithers through one directional change after another without lean, without squeal, without protest. Unlike its self-corrective behavior on the freeway, the A4 puts you and you alone in the driver’s seat when challenging twisty roads. Our test sedan included an expensive but desirable $8,600 “Prestige package” which among many virtues upgrades wheels and tires from standard issue 17 inch alloys to special “18 inch 5-spoke Dynamic design wheels with contrasting gray.” When shod with the Ventus tires, these striking alloy wheels transform both the looks and handling of the A4 into the upper reaches of sports sedan performance. The reason the Prestige package is so pricey is that it includes a bevy of other niceties: 3D Bang and Olufsen surround sound system, S line exterior trim, Head-up full color display, Audi MMI Navigation, and the all-new “Virtual Cockpit” which allows you to configure your instrument cluster to your liking.

2017 Audi A4 2.0T Quattro S tronic

Disconcertingly, our sample A4 did not include a printed Owner’s Manual. This proved to be a stumbling block despite the fact that Audi offers an abbreviated “Onboard Owner’s Manual” which is hard to locate on the MMI system, of limited usefulness, and unavailable when the car is in motion. With a machine this complicated, a printed guide book is essential to full enjoyment. But to Audi’s credit, once you do make your driving choices through MMI, your electives remain in force each time you restart the A4. For example, sporting owners like me will elect to operate the A4 in the “Dynamic” driving mode, rather than the available “Comfort, Automatic or Individual” settings. Thankfully, Dynamic mode remains in force every time you restart the A4. It may take you awhile to get there, but once you customize the A4 to your particular specification, you’ll be very satisfied with the way the end product drives.

2017 Audi A4 2.0T Quattro S tronic

  • Engine: 2.0 liter TFSI inline 4, turbocharged
  • Horsepower: 252hp
  • Torque: 273lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 24MPG City/31 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $54,275
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Toyota Prius Prime Advanced Review

Thursday February 9th, 2017 at 4:22 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Toyota Prius Price Advanced

By David Colman

Hypes: Spacey Design, Comfortable Cabin
Gripes: Poor Brake Feel

Toyota has been busy supplementing the Prius line with new versions dedicated to extra space (Prius V), affordability (Prius c), and now, a plug-in version first distributed in fall of 2016 as a 2017 model. This latest entry in the hybrid class, named Prius Prime, looks like a space ship compared to previous Prius designs. Climb into this capsule and you feel like you should be wearing a zero gravity outfit. The conventional dashboard in front of the driver is entirely absent. Instead, you stare at an upholstered ledge behind the steering wheel where the instruments normally reside. The monitor function has been moved to a horizontal panel located just beneath the center of the windshield. Here you will find a huge type-face digital speedometer readout, accompanied by a variety of mode operation displays which you can toggle through via a steering wheel mounted control.

2017 Toyota Prius Price Advanced

Below this information panel in the Advanced version of the Prius Prime lies a tall, centrally located vertical screen. This aluminum trimmed unit contains a very easy to read 11.6 inch HD Multimedia display panel that is particularly effective in Navigation mode. This screen also provides oversight of most HVAC settings, which are splayed across the lower segment of the panel. Climate control information can be difficult to locate while driving, because the panel contains so much other media and mapping information that the display looks like a TV tuned to CNN.

2017 Toyota Prius Price Advanced

We spent a mostly storm-fraught winter week driving the Prime in very adverse conditions. Since it was really too wet to utilize the plug-in feature safely, we expended the car’s 25 mile electric range in short order, then continued to drive it on gas power alone for the remainder of the week. Despite many trips around the Bay Area, we never managed to dislodge the fuel level needle below the 3/4 mark because even in “gasoline only” mode, the Prime racks up an incredible 54MPG. If you utilize the electric recharge feature and drive mostly in electric mode, the Prime will reward you with an astounding 133MPGe in combined electric/gas operation. Toyota estimates that a full recharge of the Prime’s battery at 240 volts will take just 2 hours of plug-in time, which makes it perfect for a fuel-free commute to work provided you can access a 240 volt plug at each end of the trip.

2017 Toyota Prius Price Advanced

While the overall interior design of the Prime will excite cell phone admirers everywhere, the same can’t be said for the driving experience of this newest Prius. That’s because the car’s handling is hobbled by the MPG-generated need to use ultra low rolling resistance tires. In this case, the Toyo Nano Energy rubber is hard to a fault. Their small size and tall sidewalls (195/65R15) exacerbate the problem. Size-wise, the Toyo fitment is more suited to a vehicle from 1970 than 2017. Our test Prius was fitted with extra cost ($899) alloy wheels which looked intriguing, with 20 spokes shining at each corner. But these optional wheels still measured a paltry 15 inches in diameter. The diminutive rollers also subvert braking performance. We experienced premature lock-up even when full pedal pressure was not applied. Since the Prime enjoys independent front suspension and sophisticated double wishbone rear suspension, all the basic ingredients are present for a fine handling package – if you decide to upgrade the wheel/tire package with aftermarket equipment.

2017 Toyota Prius Price Advanced

Toyota has lavished this top Prius with a bevy of special features that make it well worth its $33,100 base price. Standard heated seats and steering wheel do a lot to increase inclement weather comfort level. Rain-sensing wipers are a boon. Push-button start and remote entry ease your burden. Quad LED headlights and crescent shaped accent lights not only endow the nose with an unforgettable smile, but really blaze away the dark. The fluted “dual-wave” rear window, mounted in a lightweight, carbon reinforced polymer hatch, distinguishes the tail from anything else on the road. However, in heavy rain we discovered that the valley between the dual flutes accumulates water, and due to this design, a rear wiper is unavailable.

2017 Toyota Prius Price Advanced

Clearly, the Prius Prime prioritizes efficiency of operation over any other ownership consideration. It provides a comfortable, safe, extravagantly presented tableau for environmentalists who prize, above all else, this vehicle’s EPA rating of 10 on a 1-10 scale for “Fuel Economy and Greenhouse Gas Rating.”

2017 Toyota Prius Prime Advanced

  • Engine: 1.8 liter inline 4 cylinder + electric motor
  • Horsepower: 121hp
  • Torque: N/A
  • Fuel Consumption: 54MPG gasoline/133MPGe gasoline+ electric
  • Price as Tested: $36,305
  • Star Rating: 7.5 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Toyota Corolla 50th Anniversary Special Edition Review

Monday January 23rd, 2017 at 1:11 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Toyota Corolla 50th Anniversary Special Edition

By David Colman

Hypes: Tasty 50th Trim Level
Gripes: Desperately Needs Another 20hp

Lyndon Johnson was our President. Vietnam ground forever on. Bob Dylan had yet to revisit Highway 61. It was 50 years ago that Toyota imported the first Corolla sedan to the USA. From the beginning, this light weight sub compact four door was cheap to run, cheap to buy and fun to drive. It is still all of that and much more. In honor of five decades of continuous improvement of that winning original recipe, Toyota celebrates the Corolla’s unprecedented longevity with a tastefully appointed 50th Anniversary Special Edition. This package includes the following amenities: 17 inch machined alloy wheels with dark grey inserts, fitted with 215/45R17 Firestone FR740 radial tires; SofTex trimmed sports seats with black cherry premium fabric inserts and stitching; Leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio and hands-free controls and black cherry stitching; Black cherry stitching on dash and door accents; 50th Anniversary trunk badge and Special Edition floor mats.

2017 Toyota Corolla 50th Anniversary Special Edition

So the 50th anniversary Corolla is really quite the bowl of dark cherries. In fact, the red-accented interior treatment is exceptionally tasteful. The stitching, the fabric seat inserts, even the embroidered mats are so carefully coordinated that this special Corolla makes an unforgettably positive impression. Best of all are the front seats, which are perfectly contoured to retain you in place with surpassing comfort and support. The richness of the interior belies the special Corolla’s modest base price of $21,900. Our test vehicle enjoyed a smattering of extras (power tilt/slide moonroof $850; illuminated door sills $309;paint protection film $395) that brought the delivered price to $24,497. This much car for this little investment perpetuates the Corolla legend of bullet-proof affordability and value.

2017 Toyota Corolla 50th Anniversary Special Edition

Another hallmark of the brand is its fuel frugality. Rated at 31MPG in overall driving, the Corolla is good for 35MPG on the highway. That puts it in the 70th percentile of all vehicles tested by the EPA. The Corolla’s average fuel cost of $1,200 is $1,000 less than the average sedan tested. There is, however, a price to pay in performance for this exceptional economy. With an output of just 132hp and a curb weight of 2,900 pounds, the Corolla posts a power-to-weight ratio of 22 pounds for each horsepower. This ratio dictates that the Corolla will be one of the slowest new cars on the road, with a 0-60mph time of about 10 seconds. You can improve the overall response of this engine by coupling it to an available 6 speed manual gearbox. Our test sample utilized a droning CVT unit which is equipped with steering wheel paddles to help modulate engine rpm range. While the paddles do a fair imitation of mimicking a gear-based transmission, nothing beats the flexibility afforded by six real gears in a manual gearbox.

2017 Toyota Corolla 50th Anniversary Special Edition

Handling of the Corolla is crisp and pleasurable. The Firestones track well, the car exhibits little body roll, and the diminutive size of this package makes for responsive and satisfying canyon bashing. The 50th Anniversary model is equipped with disc brakes at all four corners, unlike the base Corolla which uses rear drum brakes. For 2017, Toyota has upgraded the Corolla’s specification sheet to include as standard the full suite of Toyota Safety Sense precautions: Pre-collision system with pedestrian recognition, dynamic radar cruise control, lane departure alert with steering assist, plus the usual traction and braking overrides. In other words, the Corolla is a vehicle you could bequeath to a teen or an elder with full confidence. Because of its underpowered dynamic, the Corolla is slow to get into trouble, and full of systems designed to give you fair warning once you do reach the danger zone.

2017 Toyota Corolla 50th Anniversary Special Edition

If you stop and think about all the Corolla’s competitors that have come and gone in the last 50 years, you’ll begin to understand this model’s amazing longevity. The 50th Anniversary edition is the best looking, most comfortable, most fully appointed Corolla to date. It’s good enough to redefine the concept of basic transportation.

Toyota Corolla 50th Anniversary Special Edition

  • Engine: 1.8 liter inline 4, DOHC, 16 Valves, Dual VVT-i
  • Horsepower: 132hp@6000rpm
  • Torque: 128lb.-ft.@2800rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 28MPG City/35 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $24,497
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Acura MDX AWD Advance Review

Friday January 6th, 2017 at 11:11 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Acura MDX AWD Advance

By David Colman

Hypes: Fast, Solid Handling, Spacious
Gripes: Needs More Buttons, Fewer Menus

In the course of a test year, I drive almost all the mid-price SUVs. For the most part, they make little long lasting impression. Acura’s MDX, however, breaks the mold of boring conformity. This is without doubt the company’s best model, which also explains why it’s their best selling SUV. For 2017, Acura rightly calls the MDX “The SUV Redefined.”

2017 Acura MDX AWD Advance

From a safety standpoint, it scores extremely well in the government’s 5-star safety evaluation, posting a top-ranked 5-star “Overall Vehicle Score.” It also merits a “Recommended” check mark from Consumer Reports, an outfit that is notoriously picky about issuing endorsements. For 2017, Acura has standardized inclusion of all “Acurawatch Features” which had previously been available as extra cost options. These include adaptive cruise control, collision mitigation braking, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist and road departure mitigation. As the industry moves ever closer to the self-driving vehicle, these safety enhancements become more and more common. Still, to find them offered as standard on a mid-price SUV comes as a pleasant surprise, especially since their operation proved helpful rather than burdensome during our week long test of the MDX.

2017 Acura MDX AWD Advance

For 2017, Acura has also improved the vehicle’s appearance with a new front fascia derived from their Acura Precision concept car. Gone is the previous model’s broad swath of matte aluminum affixed to the upper grill. Below the beltline, an upturned body color blade functions as a front spoiler while also channeling air into the lower grill. The new look is clean and more practical than the ugly beak it replaces. Inside the MDX, you will now find 4 2.5 amp charging ports strategically located through the cabin which allow for quicker refreshment of your mobile devices.

2017 Acura MDX AWD Advance

The front Sport Seats in the MDX feature handsome perforated premium leather trim. They are well proportioned and padded for long distance comfort and offer ventilation and heating. However, due to Acura’s annoying insistence on using a menu-controlled graphic interface, seat temp actuation requires double menu selection, This is a time-consuming and unnecessary procedure that distracts your driving attention span. Back seat riders are well looked after, with commodious seats and a mini-dashboard for ventilation and seat heater controls. Ironically, those back seater occupants – not tasked with driving – are given simple buttons to control their seat heaters and HVAC.

2017 Acura MDX AWD Advance

All the good looks and vaunted safety ratings wouldn’t mean much if the revamped MDX proved unrewarding to drive. Fortunately, such is not the case. Let’s start under the hood, where a 3.5 liter V6, fitted with all the latest technical tweaks (direct injection, VTEC valve actuation) churns out 290hp which is fed to all 4 wheels via a 9-speed automatic transmission. I can recall a time when most bicycles didn’t boast 9 gears, let alone SUVs. The upshot of the drivetrain pairing is excellent performance across the board. The engine is explosive enough to drop 0-60mph acceleration times into the high 7 second range, compelling performance indeed for a vehicle weighing 4,200 pounds. The MDX AWD is also rated for 5,000 pound tow duty, and comes equipped with a factory installed receiver jack. The MDX stands 68 inches tall on its 8×20″ alloys. Although Acura does offer optional ($700) running boards they are hardly needed and also ruin the clean appearance of the streamlined body shell.

2017 Acura MDX AWD Advance

The tires chosen for MDX use are Continental Cross Contact mud and snow rated radials measuring 245/50R20. These provided excellent dry and wet weather adhesion, and are responsible for the MDX’s quick cornering reflexes. Equally important is the console-controlled “Sport” driving mode setting (part of a 3-choice Integrated Dynamics System). “Sport” optimizes response of Acura’s Super-Handling AWD system. Manual override of the automatic gearbox via paddles adds to your sense of control here, and any chosen gear can be locked in by double tapping the “D” button on the selector console. Although this quirky shift module, situated between the front seats, does simplify console space, the device never falls readily to finger.

2017 Acura MDX AWD Advance

Gear selection and menu GUI quibbles aside, the MDX is a top notch candidate for
your SUV consideration. It is fast, well built (in Lincoln, Alabama), comfortable and useful. You really can’t ask for more than that for your $57,340.

2017 Acura MDX AWD Advance

  • Engine: 3.5 liter V6, Direct Injection, VTEC, Variable Cylinder Management (VCM)
  • Horsepower: 290hp
  • Torque: 267lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 19MPG City/26 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $57,340
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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


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