2017 Kia Cadenza Limited Review

Friday May 19th, 2017 at 3:55 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Kia Cadenza Limited

By David Colman

Hypes: Elegant Interior, Strong Motor, Satiny Gearbox
Gripes: Name Sounds Like Piece of Furniture

In the early Nineties, a trip to Las Vegas prompted me to rent a car for the scenic drive out to Hoover dam. The sub compact 2-door to which I was given the keys was a Kia, an unfamiliar brand new to me at the time. I was so impressed with that petite and sporty Kia that returning it to Hertz was painful. Later, I learned that Kia had abandoned the American market altogether, a move that seemed inexplicable based on my acquaintance with the make in Nevada. Well, guess what? Long-term, that Las Vegas preview proved correct. Today, Kia is back in North America, firmly established with a full model line that runs the gamut from the microcar Rio to the ultra-luxe K900 limousine, with a complete line of SUVs to boot. And right in the middle of the sedan range stands the all new Cadenza, a surprisingly luxurious four-door with legitimate sporting pretensions.

2017 Kia Cadenza Limited

Our sample Cadenza Limited, at $44,390, tops the model line which starts at $33,000. All 3,365lb. Cadenzas utilize a 3.3 liter 290hp V6, normally aspirated with direct injection. Kia couples this responsive engine to an 8-speed automatic transmission with manual gate and paddle shifters. A standard set of dark satin 19-inch alloys plant 245/40R19 Michelin Green X, all-season tires close enough to the pavement to produce a sporting but stiff ride. A standard tire pressure monitoring system keeps you appraised of air pressure in each tire.

2017 Kia Cadenza Limited

The new Cadenza sits low and looks sleek. It stands just 58 inches tall, with a stealth silhouette that belies its spacious interior. Contributing to the stealth look is a black glass roof panel that extends the length of the cabin. This panel contains an enormous sliding sunroof which bathes the front and rear seats in light when you slide the suede cover panel back. The front half of this skylight can be fully retracted as well. You can easily accommodate 5 passengers inside, with 16 cubic feet of trunk space for their belongings. The back seat of the Cadenza is especially strong on leg room, with enough slouch space to make long journeys tolerable for all occupants. The outboard back seats, like the fronts, include multi-stage heaters. The rear windows retract completely into the door frames for unimpeded fresh air intake. Privacy screens are fitted to all rear windows.

2017 Kia Cadenza Limited

Kia does an exceptional job on interior design. Our Limited featured white Nappa leather seat trim which contributed an unexpected note of elegance and comfort to all seating positions. This material is exceptionally soft, and looks quite elegant with its diamond-pleated side bolsters. The instrument panel features real double stitched detailing. Piano black trim harmonizes well with muted driftwood inserts to make the Cadenza interior an exceptionally restful environment. The fat and resilient steering wheel rim is cut with thumb grip recesses. Kia’s cruise control array, fitted to the right spoke, is intuitively designed and easily operated. The cruise system never surges or hesitates after you set your speed. It will brake you if necessary, and you can set your following distance with confidence, even if you select the shortest setting of 1.5 car lengths. New for 2017 are the Cadenza’s suite of safety programs, including Forward Collision Warning System, Smart Blind Spot Detection, and Rear Cross Traffic Alert. I have to admit that the Blind Spot Detection provided me with useful information which my rear-view mirror failed to reveal.

2017 Kia Cadenza Limited

The latest Cadenza is emblematic of the kind of value you can expect to derive from a Kia purchase. In addition to the solid virtues of intelligent packaging, responsive performance and handling, the icing on the cake comes from the generous 5 year/60,000-mile warranty backed up by a similar term for roadside assistance. If $44,290 looks like a lot for a mid-size Kia sedan, just compare it to the competition and you will recognize a bargain here rather than an extravagance.

2017 Kia Cadenza Limited

  • Engine: 3.3 liter V6 Direct Injection
  • Horsepower: 290hp
  • Torque: N/A
  • Fuel Consumption: 20 MPG City/ 28 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $45,290
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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


2017 Hyundai Elantra Eco Review

Wednesday May 17th, 2017 at 4:55 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Hyundai Elantra Eco

By David Colman

Hypes: Boxes Above Its Weight Class
Gripes: Navigation Would Be Nice

Are you six times better than you were in 1990? The Hyundai Elantra is. Over the intervening 27 years, Hyundai has introduced six new generations of this model, with the most recent coming just last year. The original Elantra of 1990 was somewhat crude, and rather underpowered, but irresistibly cheap. The mid line Eco version of the 2017 Elantra is still a bit underpowered at 128hp, but far from crude. In fact it is one of the most sophisticated and fully equipped compact sedans on the market today. And like its distant forebear, the latest Elantra still makes a significant value-per-dollar statement with a base price of $20,650.

2017 Hyundai Elantra Eco

Hyundai offers three different versions of the Elantra, with the entry level SE being the least expensive at $17,150, and the Limited being the most expensive at $22,350. But just about the only amenity missing from the mid-level Eco we tested was an on board navigation system which is not optionally available. Everything else you could want or need is standard, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. With those two systems already in place, there’s no reason why you couldn’t use your smartphone for navigation duty. And really, when you buy a new car are you buying a new trip computer? Or are you buying a mobility machine where over-the-road performance comes first? If the latter is true, you will be highly impressed by the capabilities of this diminutive, 2,865lb. four-door, four person compact.

2017 Hyundai Elantra Eco

Whereas other variants of the Elantra utilize a 2.0 liter in-line 4 making 147hp – or 200hp in the new 2018 Elantra Sport – the Eco, true to its name, makes do with less displacement reduced output and stellar mileage. Although its 1.4 liter turbo produces just 128hp, the Eco motor does make 156lb.-ft. of torque. That easily perceptible torque rush is harnessed by an unexpected ally in this low cost family mover – a new 7 speed dual-clutch gearbox Hyundai builds, along with the engine, in Korea. Final assembly of the Eco is done at Hyundai’s Montgomery, Alabama facility. The sporting dual-clutch transmission maximizes the thrust of the Eco’s turbo. If you simply leave the floor-mounted stick shift in Drive range, the transmission reacts quickly to your power demands by dropping down a gear ratio or two when you floor the throttle. Both downshifts and upshifts take place with satisfying immediacy. You can exercise even more specific control by slotting the Shiftronic transmission into its separate manual gate.

2017 Hyundai Elantra Eco

Hyundai has upgraded the interior of the Eco with soft touch surfaces at virtually all human interaction points. The standard heated front seats proved particularly welcome on blustery spring days when we especially appreciated the fact that both the horizontal and vertical cushions of the seat were wired for heat. Unlike some European sedan makers, who charge extra for proximity key operation and push button start, Hyundai includes these unexpected niceties for free on the Eco. You’ll also enjoy the visual clarity of the Eco’s standard 7 inch touchscreen, which offers logical and easy programming for the comprehensive infotainment system. Supplementing the theatrics of the main screen is a smaller 3.5 inch TFT display panel, located between the tachometer and speedometer, which can be configured by steering wheel control to show a variety of travel-pertinent information.

2017 Hyundai Elantra Eco

At first, i was somewhat dismayed to see that the Eco rides on rather narrow and tall 195/65R15 Nexen Priz AH8 tires, mounted on retro-looking five spoke grey ribbed alloy rims. It’s been a long time since any test car has arrived with 15 inch rims, but after spending a week herding the Eco through a wide variety of curves and freeway ramps, these Nexen tires always managed to get the job done without audible protest or loss of grip. The best benefit of 65 Series sidewalls like these is extra cushioning over potholes. With California roads in total disarray this spring, the taller your sidewall, the better your ride. We spent a full day toting four adults up to wine country in the Elantra. We didn’t hear a peep of protest from the back seat, and you already know that the front seat occupants were well looked after.

2017 Hyundai Elantra Eco

For comparatively minimal outlay, the Eco Elantra makes sound sense if you’re looking for a new set of wheels that will keep you humming to the tune of 35MPG in overall use. The Elantra has indeed come a very long way from that tractor-like sub compact Hyundai first shipped to our shores nearly three decades ago.

2017 Hyundai Elantra Eco

  • Engine: 1.4 liter DOHC inline 4, turbocharged, direct injection (GDI)
  • Horsepower: 128hp
  • Torque: 156lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 32MPG City/40 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $21,610
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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


2017 Genesis G80 RWD 5.0 Ultimate Review

Wednesday May 17th, 2017 at 2:55 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Genesis G80 RWD 5.0 Ultimate

By David Colman

Hypes: Faultless Construction, Lap ‘o Luxury
Gripes: Lots of Dash Reflection in Windshield

Genesis. A name of Biblical derivation, generally used to denote birth. In this case, a new model line of cars has been born. Hyundai has appropriated the name Genesis – previously used on a single model of Hyundai – to designate their new line of premium passenger cars. They also appropriated a winged trademark insignia for the brand that is highly reminiscent of Aston Martin’s logo. Currently, two Genesis models are available – the large and plush limousine-size G90 and the slightly smaller G80. Although no limo, the G80 is plenty spacious, with a stretched wheelbase of 119 inches, a length of 197 inches, and a width of 74 inches. Those numbers translate into a passenger compartment capable of escorting 5 adults to any destination in spacious luxury.

2017 Genesis G80 RWD 5.0 Ultimate

The keynote here is fit and finish. The moment you climb into the G80, you feel better than you did. Thanks to buttery leather seating surfaces, subdued swaths of matte finished real wood, and lustrous true aluminum, you feel like you’ve stepped into an exclusive first class travel experience. While you might expect such cosseting in the front row, Genesis has gone to exceptional lengths to make the back seat comfortable. The key here is the sling-like posture of the outboard back seats that encourages you to slide your torso forward and down until maximum comfort is achieved. The key to making this hammock work is the abundant legroom afforded by that 119 inch wheelbase.

2017 Genesis G80 RWD 5.0 Ultimate

While the G80 never lets you forget that it’s big and heavy (4,530lbs.), Hyundai has endowed it with an all-aluminum 5.0 liter V8 with direct injection and variable valve timing, potent enough (420hp) to give the big sedan some real sporting punch. That’s because the power-to-weight ratio of 10.7lb/hp is good for 13 second quarter mile runs and 0-60mph sprints in the 5 second range. You can also order the G80 with a twin turbocharged V6 producing 311hp, but if you opt for this combo, the power-to-weight factor jumps the wrong way almost 50 percent – to 14.5lb/hp. Since the V8 returns a surprising 23MPG on the highway, there’s really little economic incentive to replace it with the turbo V6.

2017 Genesis G80 RWD 5.0 Ultimate

Part of the reason that this powerful and torquey (383lb.-ft.) V8 can record such acceptable fuel mileage is the Hyundai designed and built 8-speed automatic transmission with manual override (Shiftronic) and nifty aluminum paddle shifters. The transmission works so smoothly through the gears that the G80 produces a seamless stream of jet thrust. If you do decide to harness the output specifically in a particular rpm range, the Shiftronic allows you to hold any gear in force without fear of an unwonted upshift to a higher cog. To complement this do-it-yourself shifting you can toggle the G80′s “Intelligent Drive Mode” (IDM) from “Normal” to “Sport” configuration with a simple switch flip that stiffens the steering and heightens suspension response. “Eco” and “Snow modes are also on offer from IDM. This kind of manual oversight is both surprising and welcome from a car that looks more like a limo than a sports sedan.

2017 Genesis G80 RWD 5.0 Ultimate

Equally ingratiating is the finely tuned array of suspension components, wheel size, and tire contact patch. In “Sport” mode, the big sedan corners flat and hard, with lots of grip generated by its sizeable Continental Pro Contact radials (245/40R19 front/265/35R19 rear) mounted on 8.5 x 19 inch alloy rims, These gun metal rims not only complement the Patagonia Blue Metallic paint of our test G80, but spread a wide and dependable footprint through each and every bend. While I wouldn’t say the G80 merits full sports sedan accolades, it will nonetheless surprise you with it athleticism.

If i were commissioned to redo the G80, the first thing on my list would be to eliminate the split-lid storage box between the front seats and equip it with a one-piece top. Next, I would provide privacy screens for the rear seat windows as well as the back light. I would convert the rear seat’s large central arm rest into a storage bin, since it’s size is wasted on just 2 cup holders. Finally, flip down tray tables for the back seat would increase the limo utility of this plush area.

2017 Genesis G80 RWD 5.0 Ultimate

The transition from Hyundai to Genesis recalls the leap Lexus made from Toyota back in 1990. The G80 is a fully realized luxury sedan with welcome sporting aspirations. At its current list price of $54,550, it is worthy of any prospective BMW or Audi buyer’s immediate attention.

2017 Genesis G80 RWD 5.0 Ultimate

  • Engine: All Aluminum 5.0 Liter V8, DOHC, GDI Dual CVVT
  • Horsepower: 420hp
  • Torque: 383lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 15MPG City/23 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $55,660
  • Star Rating: 9.5 out of 10 Stars

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


2017 Mazda CX-9 GT FWD Review

Tuesday May 16th, 2017 at 2:55 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Mazda CX-9 GT FWD

By David Colman

Hypes: Japanese Balance of Utility and Beauty
Gripes: Redo the HVAC Controls

Introduced in 2016 as a completely new model, Mazda’s CX-9 moves into its second year of production in Hiroshima, Japan virtually unchanged. In the multinational automotive world, it has become increasingly difficult to detect where your vehicle is produced. But those who value traditional Japanese craftsmanship can rest assured that the body, engine and transmission of the CX-9 are all constructed in Japan. This heritage shows in the vehicle’s neat overall design, attention to interior surface detail, and lively turbocharged engine. Although the CX-9 weighs in at more than two tons (4,280lbs.), Mazda’s first ever use of a turbo on their Skyactive engine line boosts output of the 2.5 liter straight four to a gratifying new level: 250hp and 310lb.-ft. of torque. Couple this punch to a 6-speed automatic capable of manual gear selection and you’ve got yourself a potent straight-line performance package.

2017 Mazda CX-9 GT FWD

Nor does Mazda drop the ball when it comes to suspension layout. Fully independent design front and rear endows the CX-9 with the ability to soak up bumps and road imperfections with aplomb. Ride comfort is uniformly excellent. Standard front and rear sway bars inhibit lean in corners. Generous 20 inch alloy rims plant grippy Falken Ziex C750 radials (225/50R20) at each corner. The Tread Wear 300 rating of these tires prioritizes handling, so it’s fair to say that Mazda infuses even this 7 passenger bus of an SUV with the sports car responsiveness of the company’s milestone MX-5 Miata.

The CX-9 includes three rows of seating for 7 passengers. Front row occupants enjoy exceptionally comfortable and well tailored lounge chairs complete with 3-stage heaters. Mazda has fitted the driver’s seat with a 2 position memory setting. The second row consists of a 40/60 split bench good for 2 or 3 passengers, while the knee-room restricted tail bench is best suited to small fry. Both back rows can be instantly converted to semi flat floor configuration good for 34 cubic feet of storage.

2017 Mazda CX-9 GT FWD

I found that dropping the third row bench flat, along with just one of the second row chairs, created enough room to stow an adult bike inside the CX-9. However, the upper cab taper of this SUV makes the handlebars a tight fit through the electrically activated tailgate. While rearranging the interior seats, I discovered a large flat storage bin thoughtfully hidden behind the third row seats. Under that bin lies a deep well housing a temporary spare tire (bonus points to Mazda) and the tools to deal with it. However, the spare wheel houses a huge Bose subwoofer which is bolted in place. You might want to rehearse the drill of removing the subwoofer before you need to do so on some dark and stormy night.

2017 Mazda CX-9 GT FWD

If the CX-9 has a shortcoming, it lies in the layout of the controls for the HVAC system, and to a lesser extent, the infotainment logic of the “Mazda Connect” interface. The HVAC controls (Mazda calls them “Automatic Climate Controls”) are inconveniently situated on a small panel located out of your line of sight, just above the center console. Commands for fan speed and air flow position are scattered along the bottom of this panel, with pictographs so minute that their operation diverts your attention from driving. Likewise, the system used to install “favorite” channels from SiriusXM is unnecessarily complicated. Each time you are prepared to install a favorite channel, the system presents you with a dialogue box inquiring whether you want to relocate the existing channel to another position. We finally gave up on this nonsense after about 10 minutes and stuck with just one channel (’50s on 5′) for our whole week with the CX-9.

2017 Mazda CX-9 GT FWD

This Mazda is well suited to towing moderate (3,500lbs.) trailer loads. Most importantly, it has the engine strength to get the job done, even over the Sierras. Mazda has provided standard trailer stability assist, plus an 8 inch full color dash top display for the view out the back. This will ease your anxiety when backing the CX-9′s optional hitch onto a tiny trailer ball. In fact, this spacious and comfortable Mazda is just about perfect for towing your ski boat, sail boat, formula race car or tiny camper. It provides all the comfort and convenience features you could possibly desire, and does so with an efficiency rating of 24MPG (overall) that rivals much smaller but less useful sedans.

2017 Mazda CX-9 GT FWD

  • Engine: 2.5 liter inline 4, turbocharged
  • Horsepower: 250hp
  • Torque: 310lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 22MPG City/28 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $41,810
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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


2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited Ultimate AWD Review

Saturday April 22nd, 2017 at 9:44 AM
Posted by: Judy Colman

2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited Ultimate AWD

By Judy Colman

Hypes: Numerous standard features for the price, sophisticated interior design
Gripes: Small cargo area if you need all available seats

Jeff Foxworthy once noted “You might be a redneck if directions to your house include ‘turn off the paved road’”. That’s exactly what I was dealing with on my recent trip to visit family in Wyoming. Actually, the pavement ends a few miles before the driveway. I tested the 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe, my ride for the week, in Wyoming’s winter snow, mud, cold, and wind.

2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited Ultimate AWD

Driving in eastern Wyoming is like dying and going to No-Traffic Heaven. Yes, I had the adaptive cruise control on, but there was virtually no traffic to test it adequately. Likewise with the blind spot warning system with rear traffic alert. However, I expected the lane departure warning to go off often when I saw the signs for ‘Tip Over risk. Expect wind gusts of 50-60 mph”. It didn’t happen. The wind howled but the Santa Fe stuck like glue in my chosen lane. Fortunately, I had no opportunity to test the emergency braking provided by the forward collision mitigation system.

Shod with Kumho P235/55 R19 tires, the Santa Fe handled admirably in the ice, snow and the slush that covered the town streets had to offer when I first arrived. When the snow melted and gave way to mud, the all wheel drive felt equally confident and secure.

2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited Ultimate AWD

The 3.3 liter, direct injection V6 engine, paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission, performed better than expected. Due to the altitude in Colorado and Wyoming, I anticipated a little hesitation or sluggishness from the six cylinders but found none. Every one of the 290 horses (at 6400 rpm) and 252 lb-ft of torque (at 5200 pm) was ready and available. Fuel mileage has increased slightly over the prior model to 19 mpg combined city/highway. All Santa Fe models can be ordered with either front-wheel or all-wheel drive. All wheel drive adds $1,750 to the price tag.

2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited Ultimate AWD

The six- or seven-passenger Santa Fe offers many creature comforts in its three row configuration. Leather seating, heated and cooled front seats, heated steering wheel, and a multitude of seat adjustability options combine to make road trips more enjoyable. Even the second row passengers benefit from heated seats. In the San Francisco Bay Area a heated steering wheel is a nice feature. When you look at the exterior thermometer in Wyoming and see 18 degrees, heated everything is good. The panoramic sunroof allows enough light in to keep the third row dwellers from feeling claustrophobic.

With the second and third row seats folded, the cargo space measures about 80 cubic feet. That gives you plenty of room for the trip to the home improvement or feed store. Available space shrinks to 41 cubic feet with only the third row seats down. 13.5 cubic feet is all that is left with all three rows of seating up. And it’s best to relegate the kids or very small adults to the third row seats as room for people in that area is quite limited. You can send the kids back there with their devices and they’ll be happy campers as the third row seats come with a handy USB port.

2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited Ultimate AWD

Finding climate and audio controls on the dash as well as on the 8-inch touch screen
makes perfect sense. Trying to turn the fan speed up or the temperature down using only a touch screen is akin to distracted driving in my estimation. The gauges and controls are laid out in a straightforward manner and are easy to read and engage. Bluetooth connectivity, AM/FM/HD radio with SiriusXM radio, QuantumLogic surround sound, and Android Auto smart phone integration keep the tunes coming and the techies engaged.

Base price for this model is $41,150. The only optional package available is the Ultimate Tech package ($2,100) which adds Smart Cruise Control, Automatic Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Detection, High Intensity Discharge headlights, Electronic Parking Brake with Auto Hold, and Dynamic Bending Light to the standard options.

Hyundai might not be your first thought for a six- or seven-passenger crossover vehicle, but you would do yourself a favor to consider the 2017 Santa Fe. With numerous options in this market segment, the Hyundai offers a competitive product packed full of standard features.

2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited Ultimate AWD

  • Engine: 3.3 liter Gasoline Direct Injection (GDI) V6
  • Horsepower: 290 hp
  • Torque: 252 lb-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 17 city, 22 highway, 19 combined
  • Price as Tested: $44,295
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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


2017 Kia Niro FE Review

Wednesday April 19th, 2017 at 10:44 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Kia Niro FE

By David Colman

Hypes: Wins Stylistic Hybrid Trophy
Gripes: FE Feels Cheap to Touch

With introduction of the new for 2017 Niro Hybrid, Kia is targeting an underserved market segment. Until now, if you wanted a sub compact Hybrid capable of delivering 50MPG, you were limited to choosing some form of sedan – like a Toyota Prius or Chevy Volt. Although the Prius model line has been expanding exponentially of late, there’s still no crossover/station wagon/SUV variant available. Yes – you can make a hatchback Prius Prime do the crossover job, but are you willing to live with its tin toy/outer space styling?

No such worries with the new Niro. Kia stylists, who have proven extremely competent in their upper market range endeavors (like the K900), bring that same panache to the layout and design of the Niro. This is a good looking crossover, with enough SUV touches to please the nascent off-roader, enough practicality to humor the station wagon crowd, and enough efficiency (50MPG overall!) to convince the potential Prius/Volt customer that there is now an attractive crossover choice.

2017 Kia Niro FE

The Niro’s green cachet has already been celebrated by a hilarious spot (starring Melissa McCarthy) which was shown during the last Super Bowl. You’re probably going, “Oh, so that’s what that ad was about.” Right. Kia is investing major effort in this car’s launch. And after a week behind the wheel, I would have to concur that the money has been well spent. Even though the output of the Niro’s combined electric/gas propulsion system is only 139hp, this Kia is light enough to bump past slower traffic with a little advance planning on the driver’s part. That’s because the Hybrid produces an unexpected wallop of torque (195lb.-ft.) that harmonizes perfectly with the 6-speed dual clutch transmission. Even in the base model FE we tested, Kia refused to cut corners by selecting a groaning CVT.

2017 Kia Niro FE

The 1.56 kWh lithium ion polymer battery pack stores under the rear seat, low in the chassis. This location lowers the Niro’s center of gravity, which in turn promotes better handling. It also allows the rear seats to be folded flat, though they do stand a bit tall due to the battery storage location. Nonetheless, i was able to slide my mountain bike into the available 26 cubic foot cargo hold by simply flipping the front wheel around to decrease bike length. And speaking of length, the Niro’s generous 106 inch wheelbase offers plenty of rear passenger legroom. This crossover is bigger inside than it looks outside.

2017 Kia Niro FE

It also comports itself with surprising agility on twisting two lane back roads. While you won’t be chasing down any BMW sedans, you won’t need to make excuses about the Niro’s canyon performance either. The FE, as the base model in the Niro line, comes with rather puny 16 inch alloy rims which are inexplicably shod with wheel covers. These rims mount Michelin Energy radials measuring just 205 in section width (205/60R16). Despite the choice of such MPG-oriented tires, the Niro FE hangs on with surprising grip when you press it hard through tight turns. Responsible for this neutral behavior is a refined chassis featuring fully independent design front and rear. This layout produces such minimal understeer that you’d be hard pressed to know that the Niro is a front-wheel-drive design.

2017 Kia Niro FE

Although our FE version stands as Kia’s price leader at just $22,890, you must be willing to overlook its bargain basement ambiance. The interior looks like it was molded from the same shiny black plastic used to make Glad Bags. The steering wheel, with its pebbled surface for extra grip, will never be confused with anything crafted in Germany. Likewise, the levers and paddles that control seat position and rake feel chintzy and insubstantial. On the other hand, the instrument pod contains a very nifty gauge pack consisting of an eco monitor on the left and a 140mph (in your dreams) speedometer on the right. This duo is bridged by a center information panel that is driver-configurable. While you won’t find heated seats or steering wheel in the FE, Kia surprises base model buyers with a number of unexpected amenities: dual zone automatic climate control, AM/FM/MP3 with 7 inch touchscreen, Android Auto and Apple Car Play Smartphone integration, and Remote Keyless Entry.

2017 Kia Niro FE

This little Kia has a lot going for it. It looks way better than a Prius or Volt, matches them both for energy husbandry, and allows you to carry four adults or lots of cargo in surprisingly spacious comfort. If I were shopping for a new Niro, i would opt for the Touring version. Although it costs about $4,000 more, its fit and finish convert the interior from tolerable to luxurious – plus you get real 18 inch ally rims and tires for even better handling.

2017 Kia Niro FE

2017 Kia Niro FE

  • Engine: 1.6 liter 1.6 liter GDI 4 cylinder plus electric motor
  • Horsepower: 139hp (Combined)
  • Torque: 195lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 52MPG City/49 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $23,785
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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


2017 Chrysler Pacifica Touring L Plus Review

Wednesday April 12th, 2017 at 11:44 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Touring L Plus

By David Colman

Hypes: Ultra Convenient Features, Superb Comfort
Gripes: Needless Optional Nannies

Chrysler’s new All-American minivan is built in Canada and powered by a V6 engine constructed in Mexico. Okay, the stellar 9-speed automatic transmission is a product of the USA, as is the design thinking that went into this quintessentially American vehicle. Until now, the company used the Town & Country nameplate for its minivan, a designation first applied to Chrysler’s wood-sided luxury sedans of the 1940s. However, Chrysler decided to jettison the iconic brand moniker this year in favor of Pacifica, a nameplate previously used on an unsuccessful crossover. Thankfully, the new Pacifica is good enough to merit renaming the franchise. No Town & Country could match the performance of this newest minivan.

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Touring L Plus

Under the Pacifica’s abbreviated snout lies a very lively Pentastar V6 with variable valve timing for all 24 valves. This engine produces 287hp and 262lb.-ft. of torque which yields 8 second times for the 0-60mph run, and supports a tow rating of 3,600lbs. The 9-speed automatic is a faultless accomplice to the van’s mission, providing imperceptibly smooth upshifts and downshifts. A circular gear controller on the face of the dash to the right of the steering wheel is conveniently angled for use and works much better than the similar control Ford uses in its Fusion sedan. The Pacifica’s transmission lacks either paddle shifts or a method of controlling individual gear changes. EPA estimates for fuel consumption peg the V6 at 22MPG overall, which is remarkably good for an 8-person family hauler weighing 4,535lbs, If you decide to opt for the Hybrid Pacifica – segment first – overall engine output drops to 260hp and you lose the rear row of seating in favor of battery storage. But the Hybrid van will run 30 miles on an electric charge before the V6 needs to kick in.

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Touring L Plus

Chrysler has been perfecting van layout for so long that the Pacifica serves as a model of good design work. The rearmost Stow n’ Go seats flip and fold flat instantly, a transformation that opens an enormous storage cavity of 66 cubic feet. Likewise, the second row Stow n’ Go captain’s chairs easily flip and fold themselves out of the way, transforming the interior into a virtual pickup bed with carpet on the floor and a roof overhead. I inserted my mountain bike into the buttoned down interior and found so much room that I didn’t even need to stow the second row seats to accommodate the bike. Overnight camping in this van poses no space problems.

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Touring L Plus

The remote door opening procedure exemplifies just how well Chrysler is attuned to owner needs. Both sliding side doors are heavy and cumbersome if you operate them by hand. I recognized this difficulty before realizing that the keyfob remote can be used to automatically open or close either door with a double punch of the appropriate button. Similarly, the rear gate lifts and shuts by remote, or by a kick gesture under the back bumper. You can even stop and start the engine using the same keyfob remote control. Life with a Touring level Pacifica could not be easier – provided you select the “Hands Free Doors and Liftgate Package” for an extra $795. Chrysler also appended a pricey ($1,995) “Advanced SafetyTec Group” which brings a lot of unwonted noise and annoyance to the cockpit environment. I managed to mute most of the bells and whistles incurred by front and rear park assist, lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control, and parallel and perpendicular park assist, but I certainly wouldn’t opt for this expensive and unnecessary bevy of intrusive nannies on my own Pacifica.

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Touring L Plus

One worthwhile option box I would tick, however, is $895 for the optional “Tire and Wheel Group.” This selection bolts a handsome set of 7.5″x18″ satin silver painted alloys to all 4 corners instead of the standard 17″ wheels. These uprated rims carry Michelin Premier A/S tires measuring 235/60R18. With a van this heavy, and capable of carrying substantial loads of people or goods, you definitely want premium rubber at all four contact patches. These Michelins, in consort with a well tuned suspension system, get the job done with precision and dispatch. However, be forewarned that Pacifica comes with no spare wheel and tire. If you have a flat, the provided tire inflator kit will have to suffice in an emergency.

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Touring L Plus

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Touring L Plus

  • Engine: 3.6 liter Pentastar V6, 24 Valves with VVT
  • Horsepower: 287hp
  • Torque: 262lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 18MPG City/28MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $43,445
  • Star Rating: 9.5 out of 10 Stars

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


2017 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring Review

Tuesday April 11th, 2017 at 4:44 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring

By David Colman

Hypes: Frugal, Practical, Good Regenerative Brake Feel
Gripes: Bring Back the Radio Volume Knob Please

For 2017, Honda has reintroduced the Hybrid version of the Accord, a model last sold in 2015. Notable improvements over the previous version include doubling the number of electric motors. This pair now produces 181hp and 232lb.-ft. of torque. When coupled to the Hybrid’s 2.0 liter DOHC gas motor – itself good for 143hp and 129lb.-ft. of torque – the “Earth Dreams” drive system yields a combined rating of 212hp. This marks an increase of 16hp over the discontinued 2015 Hybrid Accord. More importantly, the Hybrid now returns 48MPG in the EPA test cycle for combined city/highway operation.

2017 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring

A CVT (continuously Variable Transmission) meters power to the front wheels only. Since it has no gears, the electronically controlled (hence, eCVT) shifter provides no method for transmission modulation of engine speed. There are no paddles available, so the closest you can come to operational choice here is to select the “Sport” mode which maximizes throttle sensitivity and thus provides quicker engine response. Honda also includes a “B” setting on the eCVT which favors brake regeneration on long downhills.

2017 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring

The new Hybrid package is gratifyingly quick in Sport mode, with immediate throttle response prompting a sudden surge of torque from the electric motors. Thanks to the simple minded behavior of its eCVT, however, Honda’s latest Hybrid Accord misses the sports sedan mark. This 3,552lb. mid-size sedan records a power-to-weight ratio of 16.75lb/hp. Adequate, but hardly scintillating. Further complicating the fun-to-drive factor are the Hybrid’s modestly sized, rock hard Michelin Energy radials (225/50R17) mounted on busy looking alloy rims (7.5″x17″). These all-season Michelins would not be your first choice for carving apexes on back roads, since their tread width (225mm) is skimpy and their compound hard (tread wear rating of480).

2017 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring

If you order the top line Touring Group version of the Accord, Honda equips your sedan with the following features not included on lesser models: heated rear seats, LED headlights with high beam assist, and navigation. You really aren’t left wonting for much with this maxed out Touring Accord. A complete suite of safety minders is standard. Called “Honda Sensing,” these provide collision braking, adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, forward collision warning, and lane departure/ road departure warning. Such are the building blocks of the fully autonomous vehicle which can prove useful in case of an emergency. The best feature is the Accord’s very smooth and easily controlled adaptive cruise control which works flawlessly, even in heavy traffic. It allows you to set your following distance, and obediently maintains that gap to traffic without the undue jerkiness characteristic of so many similar systems. Especially informative is a rear camera which projects adjacent right side traffic on a 7 inch display screen when you activate your right hand turn signal. By depressing a button on the signal control stalk, you can play this informative display for your entire drive.

2017 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring

The interior of the Accord is inviting despite its lack of luxury trim. The dash is finished with bands of simulated plastic driftwood that neither excites nor dismays you. The seats are reasonably comfortable, heated, and easy on your back thanks to standard lumbar electric adjustments. Their low side bolsters do little for cornering support, but facilitate ingress and egress. Construction quality is beyond reproach. Honda moved Hybrid build from Marysville, Ohio to Sayama, Japan this year, making this Accord a fully Japanese product.

2017 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring

The Hybrid’s 1.3kWh lithium-ion battery pack is substantially smaller than the one supplied to the previous model. Hence, it occupies less trunk space. This savings has increased the trunk to 13.5 cubic feet. However, you are still faced with a raised ridge covering the battery pack that necessitates a fixed partition behind the rear seats. The Hybrid loses 2.5 cubic feet of storage compared to the gas powered Accord. However, the Hybrid’s phenomenal 48 miles to the gallon compensates nicely for such minor storage space loss.

2017 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring

  • Engine: Twin Electric Motors plus 2.0 liter gasoline engine, 16 valves DOHC
  • Horsepower: 212hp
  • Torque: 232lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 49MPG City/47 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $36,790
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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


2017 Mazda CX-3 GT FWD Review

Wednesday March 29th, 2017 at 11:33 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Mazda CX-3 GT FWD

By David Colman

Hypes: Miata-infused SUV
Gripes: ADD screen, Busy Center Console

There’s a lot of Miata in this CX-3. Anyone who’s spent quality time beyond the wheel of Mazda’s classic MX-5 (Miata) two seat sports car will immediately appreciate the detail spillover to the CX-3. Mazda products are really all about feedback. You give a command and the vehicle responds to that directive instantaneously. Like the Miata, the CX-3 – despite its SUV design and elevated ride height – reacts instantly when you turn the wheel, bang a downshift or hammer the throttle. The CX-3 consistently displays such lightning quick reflexes that its operation becomes instinctual rather than forced. Like the Miata, the MX-3 is so underpowered (just 146hp) that it depends on its ultra precise handling and suspension composure to compensate for its lack of brute strength under the hood. And like the Miata, the CX-3′s overall balance tips the fun-to-drive scale heavily in favor of this diminutive SUV.

2017 Mazda CX-3 GT FWD

If you’re looking for a utilitarian family hauler, look elsewhere. The CX-3′s 100 inch wheelbase is about 10 inches short of a full family six pack. And you most assuredly won’t be able to slide your bike into the rear hatch. However, you will be able to accommodate a four pack of adults inside the CX-3. There’s enough front and rear legroom to allow four six footers sprawl room. Those who have spent time in a Miata cockpit will feel right at home driving the CX-3. The manually adjustable steering wheel is perfectly situated for grip and precision control. Even the fingertip shift paddles fall exactly where you need them when you decide to assume gear control from the 6-speed “Sport Mode” automatic transmission.

2017 Mazda CX-3 GT FWD

And like the MX-5 sports car, the center tunnel houses the joystick for all Mazda Connect features such as sound settings, device settings, vehicle settings, system settings, active driving display settings and safety settings. Mazda terms this large rotary dial the “Commander Switch,” and due to its partially hidden location, it will take you some time to acclimatize yourself to its operation. Most commands can be issued verbally. We were disappointed to find no menu choice available for door lock protocol. Every time we walked away from the CX-3, the doors automatically locked. When we returned, however, they did not automatically unlock. This necessitated a jab on the appropriate keyfob button, a procedure that got old real fast.

2017 Mazda CX-3 GT FWD

What didn’t get tiresome was the CX-3′s desire to attack back roads with sports car aplomb. Mazda does not stint in equipping this mini-SUV with optimal wheels and tires. Our “Dynamic Blue Mica” tester sported handsome 18 inch alloy rims fitted with very sticky all season Yokohama Avid S34 radials (215/50R18). A couple of challenging backroad runs failed to dislodge the CX-3 from the line chosen by its operator. Despite its 61 inch height, this 2,945 pound mini truck carries out your placement orders with dispatch and precision. This behavior proved especially impressive during wet weather operation. Even during the worst storms, nary a skid was detected. Mazda touts their belief that “Driving Matters” and in the case of the CX-3, that claim is clearly accurate.

2017 Mazda CX-3 GT FWD

Which is not to say that some ergonomic details don’t intrude on the overall bliss. The hatchback release button, located under the edge of the rear lid, is too small and too difficult to locate. The trunk area at the rear needs a light for night loading. The Active Driving Display is a disconcerting addition to the dashboard. This ADD unit consists of a clear plastic screen which automatically pops up from the top of the instrument binnacle to provide speed, navigation and cruise control information. It’s a sort of poor man’s head up system, and I couldn’t find a way to shut it off or retract the screen. In fact, Mazda specifically warns, “Do not try to adjust the angle or open/close the display by hand.” The ADD unit is standard on CX-3s fitted with Grand Touring (GT) level trim.

2017 Mazda CX-3 GT FWD

Really, these are but minor quibbles that pale into insignificance when considering this Mazda’s overall worth. There are very few SUVs on the market that will match the CX-3 for joy of operation or for value pricing.

2017 Mazda CX-3 GT FWD

  • Engine: 2.0 liter “Skyactive” inline 4 cylinder
  • Horsepower: 146hp
  • Torque: 146lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 29 MPG City/34 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $27,260
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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


2017 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited Review

Tuesday March 28th, 2017 at 10:33 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited

By David Colman

Hypes: High on the Green Scale, Comfy
Gripes: Hybrid Takes Trunk Space, Modest Cornering Ability

When I recently rode in a first generation Toyota Avalon belonging to a friend, I was astounded by its small size and lack of amenities. That pioneer Avalon was really little more than a rebadged Camry with an elevated price tag prompted by pretensions of luxury. Today’s Avalon is a very different product from that modest initial offering. Although it has retained the same “big car” dimensions for the last decade (111 in. wheelbase, 72 in. width, 197 in. length), the packaging within has transformed the Avalon from a massaged Camry into a luxurious line-topping sedan with no need to apologize for anything.

2017 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited

In the case of our test vehicle, there’s no need to hedge about its green entitlement either, since this sizeable 3,590 lb. quintet mover registers a planet saving 40 MPG in overall driving thanks to inclusion of Toyota’s well integrated Hybrid Synergy Drive system. The Hybrid combines a permanent magnet synchronous electric motor good for 200lb.-ft. of torque with a sophisticated (DOHC/VVT-i/ 16 Valve) 4 cylinder 2.5 liter gas engine good for 200hp. This combined output reaches the rear wheels through a constant velocity transmission (CVT). According to the government, this drivetrain produces an average yearly fuel cost saving of $2,500 compared to the MPG rating of a comparable gas-only vehicle. The EPA also allows you to brag that your Hybrid Avalon posts a 9/10 on the “fuel economy and greenhouse gas rating scale,” and an 8/10 on the “smog rating” scale.

2017 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited

Of course, you will pay a premium for this car’s complicated Hybrid propulsion unit. The first up-charge comes at purchase time, because choosing a Synergy Drive Avalon propels the base price to $42,550. The gas powered Avalon range starts at just $34,000, so you’re definitely tipping the high end of this model’s pay scale. However, there is that $2,500 savings in fuel costs to consider, so you should come out better than even if you keep your Hybrid Avalon for at least 3 years while driving it roughly 12,000 miles per year. But what kind of a driving experience does the Hybrid provide, aside from its proclivity for efficiency? Simply put, this Avalon will not ignite the smoldering embers in an enthusiast’s breast. The problem derives from the Hybrid’s compromised power-to-weight (P/W) ratio. With just 200hp to propel 3,590 pounds of sedan, the Hybrid posts a P/W ratio of 17.95lbs./hp. Compare that to the gas powered, 268hp, V6 Avalon’s P/W ratio of just 13.39 and you’ll understand why the Hybrid takes its time reaching freeway speed from a stop.

2017 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited

The good news here is that this gives you even more time to enjoy the many amenities Toyota has baked into the latest Avalon interior. You will not be disappointed in the level of attention to detail here. Both front and rear seats are exceptionally comfortable. Since this sedan’s modestly proportioned tires (215/55R17 Michelin Primacy MXV4) and softly sprung suspension generate light side loads on curvy roads, the seats require no side bolster support. This allows very easy ingress/exit. The seat design emulates a Barca-Lounger style chair with relatively flat cushions that feel cushy and inviting. Both front seats are fitted with separate console mounted controls for heat and ventilation. For a dash design predicated on hard touch points rather than knobs or buttons, the Avalon’s layout is relatively successful. But hard touch adjustment surfaces have their drawbacks. For example, if you seek to adjust cabin temperature, you must first visually locate the HVAC slide scale for your side of the interior, then position your finger over the up (red) or down (blue) arrow, and then administer a jab. This push is acknowledged by a corresponding chirp. While this added design complexity might make cell phone addicts happy, it’s still not as rewarding to operate as a simple dial control.

2017 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited

The Avalon’s JBL Audio system deserves a special note of praise. The 7 inch touchscreen on the dash operates not only the 11 speaker JBL entertainment unit, but Toyota’s Entune App suite and standard Navigation System as well. The JBL’s bass output was truly remarkable, and once we dialed in our preferences to the SXM satellite radio (3 month free trial included), we enjoyed a solid week of our favorite tunes at a dauntingly booming volume level. But that kind of enjoyment is definitely the Hybrid Avalon’s strong suit. This is a large family car designed for covering long and boring stretches of interstate while keeping you entertained, comfortable, and virtually immune from the need to stop and refill the Avalon’s 17 gallon gas tank.

2017 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited

2017 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited

  • Engine: 2.5 liter inline 4, DOHC, VVT-i, 16 Valves + Electric Motor
  • Horsepower: 200hp
  • Torque: 199lb.-ft. electric motor
  • Fuel Consumption: 40MPG City/39 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $43,639
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

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


« Previous Entries Next Entries »



Latest Reviews



Select a Category