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

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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

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2017 Honda Ridgeline AWD Black Edition Review

Friday December 30th, 2016 at 11:1212 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Honda Ridgeline AWD Black Edition

By David Colman

Hypes: Precision Handling, Lively Drivetrain, Innovative Storage
Gripes: Tailgate, Hood Prop, Glovebox Need Refinement

After a two year absence, the Ridgeline returns to the marketplace minus its most identifiable feature. The flying buttress that long defined this Honda is gone. Not many owners will rue its absence. Although the Ridgeline’s iconic profile distinguished it from all other compact pickups, the cab side buttress interfered with rear vision as well as bed access. When you’re dealing with a bed as short as this one (5’3″), impaired access is inadvisable. But the redesigned structure makes side access easy. To understand just how short this pickup’s box is, place an adult size mountain bike in the bed. While the bike fits nicely, it takes up the entire floor.

2017 Honda Ridgeline AWD Black Edition

This Honda’s very versatile design is based on the company’s Pilot SUV, which was redesigned for 2016. Like the Pilot, the Ridgeline packs a sophisticated 3.5 liter V6, good for 280hp and 262lb.-ft. of torque. Those numbers will allow you to tow a 5,000lb. trailer – provided you keep the passenger and cargo load light in the truck. The owner’s manual gives you a specific breakdown as to how much the trailer load decreases when the passenger and cargo load increase. An integrated Class II trailer hitch and electrical receptacle are standard issue.

2017 Honda Ridgeline AWD Black Edition

The Ridgeline we tested, which Honda calls their Black Edition, is the most fully optioned and most expensive model in the line-up. Although you can opt for a crew cab 4×2 for a base price of just $29,475, the Black Edition 4×4 will run you $44,770 including $900 for delivery. That’s an expensive proposition, because some aspects of the Black Edition Ridgeline look more like a $30,000 product than a $45,000 one. For example, when you pop the hood to service the sideways mounted V6, you are forced to dismount a spindly support rod, then insert it into a specific hole, all while juggling the hood with your free hand. The sound deadening mat under the hood looks cheap. At the back end, the heavy tailgate thuds from upright to open with a disconcerting free fall crash. Its weight makes raising it manually quite difficult. Even the glovebox door mimics the tailgate, as it flops noisily open. Other domestic pickups have long since remedied such issues.

2017 Honda Ridgeline AWD Black Edition

In spite of these annoyances, there’s really a lot to love about the ingenious design of this crossover truck. Start with the basic design of the platform. Rather than the conventional body-on-frame design so common to compact pickups, Honda has chosen an alternate route they call “Integrated Closed-Box Frame with Unibody Construction.” In common English that translates into a one-piece body structure that provides a quieter ride, with better isolation from road imperfections. The Back Edition rides on model specific black alloy rims (8″x18″) with tall sidewall Firestone Destination all-season tires (245/60R18). The fully independent suspension of the Ridgeline works in consort with the tall Firestones to isolate you from road imperfections. Inside the cabin, outside noise is imperceptible, and even the nastiest potholes are neutered by the cushy Firestones. Yet this truck also corners with exceptional prowess. Its all-wheel-drive system metes power to all four corners with such precision that the suspension never loses traction. Substantial front and rear stabilizer bars help keep you on an even keel. Electronic, power- assisted rack and pinion steering is accurate enough to govern precise placement of this 4, 430 lb. vehicle. To Honda’s engineering credit, it drives smaller than it is.

2017 Honda Ridgeline AWD Black Edition

The V6 engine contributes greatly to the Ridgeline’s vibrant performance. When you toe into the throttle, power flow is gratifyingly immediate. 0-60mph test runs clock the Ridgeline at under 7 seconds, which is very quick for such an AWD truck. The 6-speed automatic transmission contributes smooth, immediate shifts, though it lacks manual paddle activated override. The V6 boasts cylinder deactivation technology, which allow this package to post an overall MPG rating of 21. When you combine this sweet drivetrain with all of the Ridgeline’s other features (hidden 7.3 cubic foot trunk in the floor of the pickup bed, folding, stowable rear seats, fully bevy of standard safety alerts), the Black Edition Ridgeline starts looking like something of a bargain surprise, even at $45,000.

2017 Honda Ridgeline AWD Black Edition

2017 Honda Ridgeline AWD Black Edition

  • Engine: 3.5 liter V6, 24 valve i-VTEC, Direct Injection, Variable Cylinder Management
  • Horsepower: 280hp
  • Torque: 262lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 18MPG City/25MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $44,770
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Kia Sportage SX AWD Review

Tuesday December 20th, 2016 at 8:1212 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Kia Sportage SX AWD

By David Colman

Hypes: Handsome Redesign, Packed with Standard Features
Gripes: Comes on Boost With a Bang

Kia has dramatically facelifted the Sportage for 2017. This pugnacious makeover is most apparent up front. A battery of quadruple fog lights flank a new grill that resembles pursed lips. High above the beltline, headlight clusters sweep backwards like a pair of raised eyebrows. Flared fender lips and deft side sculpting complete the new look.

2017 Kia Sportage SX AWD

Standard 19 inch alloy rims, bearing 245/45R19 Hankook Kinergy GT rubber, replicate the natural beauty of a starfish. The Kinergy tires are well suited to the stable suspension tuning of the Sportage, offering a comfortable ride along with predictable twisty road handling. The Sportage’s newfound visual arrogance is appropriate given its turbocharged 2.0 liter, direct injection, 4 cylinder engine. This powerful mill makes 240hp and 260lb.-ft. of torque, so the Sportage can easily tow a trailer weighing up to 2,000 pounds.

2017 Kia Sportage SX AWD

Kia provides you with a very positive shifting 6 speed automatic gearbox, fitted with small paddles at the steering wheel, as well as a gate for manual shifting via the lever mounted between the seats. The only drawback to the turbo motor is its explosive transition to full boost status. This jerky off/on behavior causes the Sportage to jump into action with such a sudden jolt that the rush of acceleration can be hard to control. Better modulation of turbo boost would alleviate the problem.

2017 Kia Sportage SX AWD

It’s otherwise hard to fault this newly revised Kia product. Since all-wheel-drive is standard on this model, you are assured that traction loss in inclement weather will never delay your journey. The inclusion of a locking center differential contributes even more predictability and control to off-road travel. Also helping in this regard are the Hankook tires, which are Mud and Snow rated.

2017 Kia Sportage SX AWD

The interior accoutrements are more than you would expect from a sports utility vehicle carrying a base price under $35,000. While not luxurious, the fittings in the cabin bespeak quality rather than cheapness. The steering wheel, with its nifty flat bottom, is an especially well tailored piece of equipment. The leather rim is fat and grip-able, the stitching is nicely done, and the bevy of cruise and entertainment controls on the left and right spokes are logically arrayed and useful. Nicely upholstered, leather trimmed front seats are a bit too hard and flat in the lower back area, but do provide lumbar adjustment. Unexpectedly, both fronts are heated and cooled.

Vision to the sides and rear is so good that you rarely have to resort to the backup camera image projected on the 8 inch navigation screen when reversing out of a parking place. However, that newly upturned snout makes direct frontal vision difficult. The extra ride height of this SUV’s suspension benefits parking maneuvers by allowing you to glide over curb bumpers you can’t see. A standard front/rear parking assist system also helps keep your Sportage ding-free.

2017 Kia Sportage SX AWD

Kia’s revamped Sportage comes loaded with the full array of GPS-based information sources forgetful drivers require to keep them pointed in the right direction. You don’t have to pay a dime extra for Blind Spot Detection, Lane Change Assist, Lane Departure Warning System, or Rear Cross Traffic Alert. The beauty of these reminders is that they can be used when required or switched off at will. A final incentive to purchase this Kia comes from the company’s unusually long 5 year/ 60,000 mile Limited Basic Warranty, which thoughtfully includes Free Roadside Assistance for that same period of time.

2017 Kia Sportage SX AWD

  • Engine: 2.0 liter direct injection, turbocharged inline 4
  • Horsepower: 240hp
  • Torque: 260lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 20 MPG City/23 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $34,895
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Volvo S90 T6 AWD Inscription Review

Thursday December 8th, 2016 at 11:1212 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Volvo S90 T6 AWD Inscription

By David Colman

Hypes: Palatial Interior, Great Back Seat
Gripes: Printed Owner’s Manual Not Provided; Perplexing Graphic User Interface

This all new Volvo sedan combines scintillating detail design with enough maddening driving nannies to staff a child care center. Let’s start with the S90′s positives first. Even the most cursory inspection of this Volvo leads to the inescapable conclusion that it is a work of art deserving of inclusion in a museum retrospective of Swedish design. From the outside, the S90′s clean lines and exceptional lighting treatments front and rear set it apart from anything else on the road. Volvo designers have endowed the grill with a ripe and luscious mouth, described as a “matte silver waterfall with a chrome frame.” If one car could define the word sleek, it would be this chic Volvo sedan.

2017 Volvo S90 T6 AWD Inscription

But stylish as the exterior may be, it plays second fiddle to the sumptuous interior. The cockpit of the new S90 Inscription looks more like the latest living room ensemble from IKEA than a car interior. The cream colored seats, with perforated Nappa soft leather surfaces, invite close examination. Note the breathable perforations, the neatly tailored piping, and the standard inclusion of heating and ventilation systems. The rear compartment is equally alluring, with enough legroom to assuage a basketball pro. Although the rear side windows are big enough to survey the countryside, they can be configured to hide your presence thanks to manually operated “sun curtains.”

The $3,300 “Inscription Features” include “Linear Walnut Wood Inlays” that are stunning in their matte simplicity. They cover the central console, the passenger quadrant of the dash, and all upper interior door surfaces. These unvarnished swatches of wood comprise but a small part of the Inscription bounty. You’ll also appreciate the self-cleaning LED headlights whose beams bend with the direction of travel. The upper sections of the dash and lower sections of the door panels are leather upholstered. The already plush front seats benefit from inscription grade tweaks like power side bolsters, power under-thigh extension bolsters, and the subtle inscription of the word “Inscription” on the headrests. If you can’t get comfortable in this Volvo, you can’t get comfortable, period. Finally, the list of Inscription Features concludes with 19 inch diamond cut alloy rims. On our test vehicle, Volvo upped the contact patch by equipping it with a $750 set of 20 inch model-specific alloys shod with premium Pirelli rubber (255/35R20 P Zero).

2017 Volvo S90 T6 AWD Inscription

A brand new 8 speed gearbox makes its Volvo sedan debut, providing smooth propulsion for the T6′s 2.0 liter engine. Thanks to turbo-charging and super-charging, the direct fuel injection engine, which is mounted sideways under the hood, produces 316hp and 295 lb.-ft. of torque. While the horsepower peak takes a bit of sprinting to achieve at 5600rpm, the torque flow maxes at just 2200rpm. Make no mistake, this Volvo is quick enough in a straight line to beat almost any of the German or British competition in the traffic light grand prix. The addition of all-wheel-drive makes the P Zero tires work even harder to gain traction at both ends of the car. Even when you push this admittedly heavy (4,220 pound) Volvo hard, it responds with predictable grip and commendable precision. The center console contains a rotating drive-mode selector, fetchingly done in knurled silver, that allows you to alter the car’s responses from lethargic (Eco) to alert (Normal) to spirited (Sport). But you must reassign your preference every time you restart the S90. With a ride this sportingly inclined, the absence of paddle shifts is a surprising omission.

2017 Volvo S90 T6 AWD Inscription

At the outset, we mentioned Volvo’s preoccupation with safety measures that detract from the pleasure of driving. Here’s a brief list of the nannies that will drive you nuts if you fail to stifle them: low speed collision avoidance system; pedestrian, cyclist and large animal detection system; run-off-road protection and run-off mitigation system; road sign information; lane departure warning and driver alert control. If you chose to drive with all these systems active, the S90 transforms itself from a pleasure module into a beeping, dash illuminating warning system that will reduce you to a bundle of over-wrought nerve endings inside ten miles. Turn most or all of these nannies off, and the S90 instantly reverts to being the slickest sedan Sweden has ever built.

2017 Volvo S90 T6 AWD Inscription

  • Engine: 2.0 liter inline 4, direct injection, turbocharged and supercharged
  • Horsepower: 316hp @ 5700rpm
  • Torque: 296lb.-ft.@2200rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 22 MPG City/31 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $66,105
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Nissan Titan V8 SL 4WD Review

Wednesday October 19th, 2016 at 11:1010 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Nissan Titan V8 SL 4WD

By David Colman

Hypes: Luxo Cab, Killer Rockford Fosgate 12 Speaker Audio
Gripes: Annoying “Tow” Mirrors, No EZ Bed Access

Due to some scheduled maintenance of our own vehicles, this Titan pulled extra duty as a sag wagon, accompanying us to various dealerships. This afforded me the chance to inspect the all new Titan not only from the driver’s seat, but also from the front and rear as it transited the Interstate. Bottom Line: the Titan is imposing to drive, and looks even more imposing to adjacent motorists. In particular, the enormous chrome grill, flanked by Batman style light clusters and underlined by a sweeping chrome bumper, elevates the Titan to King Kong status when it looms in your rear view mirror. In the remote event that model ID becomes necessary, 4 inch tall “TITAN” lettering is incised across the top of the chrome grill. L-shaped LED running lights embedded into the front light housings instantly identify the smiley face of this monster Nissan. The rear view is somewhat more restrained, with a pair of bulbous vertical tail lights flanking a massive tailgate adorned with “SL 4WD” lettering.

2017 Nissan Titan V8 SL 4WD

Inside the Titan’s spacious cab, you’re sitting on top of the traffic whirl, with excellent sight lines in all directions thanks to extra tall side windows on all four doors. The gracefully contoured front doors droop at the forward beltline to permit welcome 3/4 front vision. The only hang-up in this carefully orchestrated penthouse platform is the design of the optional “Extendable Folding Tow Mirrors” which are part of a $360 Towing Convenience Package that also includes a trailer brake controller and a trailer light check system. The tow mirrors are so tall and narrow that they do not reveal the presence of immediately adjacent traffic. They are, however, fitted with parabolic lower quadrant mirrors that do reveal nearby vehicles. The problem with this double mirror setup is that it forces you to scan four separate panels simultaneously before reaching an informed conclusion about what’s next to you. In view of this shortcoming, the Titan’s standard blind spot warning system is a welcome addition.

2017 Nissan Titan V8 SL 4WD

Nissan doesn’t mess around with inadequately sized wheels or tires. The 4WD SL comes standard with 20 inch alloy rims shod with 275/60R20 Goodyear Wrangler SR-A tires that lift the cab structure far enough into the sky to require the optional fixed running boards fitted to our truck. Despite clambering repeatedly in and out of the elevated cab, we never once lacked for a stable foothold or handhold because Nissan provided 3 solid grabs on either side up front, plus 2 more in back. Once ensconced in the front seating positions, you will marvel at the luxury level furnishings. The dual Captain’s Chairs proved quite comfortable for short and long haul runs. Both are heated and upholstered in perforated vinyl set off by handsome contrasting stitching. The driver’s side features 8-way power adjustment and lumbar fine tuning, while the passenger makes do with 4 positioning alternatives. In back, the rear seats offer vast legroom and headroom, but their bolt upright position mitigates against long distance comfort. This rear bench folds flat against the rear wall of the cab, providing 15 cubic feet of lockable interior cargo space.

2017 Nissan Titan V8 SL 4WD

The bed of our test Titan was a real work of art with a bevy of LED lights installed just below the aluminum tie-down rail. These lights activate automatically when you drop the impact-cushioned tailgate or can be individually controlled via a push button on the lower dashboard. A particularly bright overhead light embedded in the cab roof contributes extra illumination to the bed, which features standard “Factory-Applied Spray-On Bedliner” as well as the “Utili-trak Channel System with 4 Adjustable Tie-Down Cleats.” About the only item missing here is a ladder or foot step to help you climb into the bed. Nissan could take a clue here from the fold-out step ladder Ford provides for its F Series pickups.

2017 Nissan Titan V8 SL 4WD

Although the Titan’s “Endurance” V8 supplied to our test truck matched the 5.6 liter displacement of last year’s engine, output is significantly improved for 2017: horsepower jumps from 317hp to 390hp and torque grows from 385lb.-ft. to 394lb.-ft. This V8 is now coupled to a smooth shifting 7-speed automatic transmission instead of the 5 speed that predated it. All in all, the power management team performs with dispatch and precision. The 4WD unit features a shift-on-the-fly apparatus that allows you to select not only 2 and 4 wheel drive, but also low and hi 4WD thanks to a 2-speed transfer case. At one point, we were spinning the rear wheels while attempting to make a hill start on grass clippings, A simple shift from 2WD to 4WD provided instant thrust through all 4 Goodyears. The Titan then rocketed away like a top fuel dragster.

2017 Nissan Titan V8 SL 4WD

2017 Nissan Titan V8 SL 4WD

  • Engine: 5.6-liter V8
  • Horsepower: 390hp
  • Torque: 394lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 15 MPG City/21 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $51,015
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

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


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