2016 Acura MDX AWD Review

Wednesday February 3rd, 2016 at 12:22 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Acura MDX AWD

By David Colman

Hypes: Movie Theater Back Seat, Tows 3500 lbs.
Gripes: Lag on Downshifts, Poor LED Headlight Pattern

In 2014, Acura brought an all new MDX to the mid-size SUV market segment. Since then, this entry, which remains unchanged for 2016, has become the all time top selling SUV with three rows of seating. In practice, this stretched Acura looks and behaves more like a minivan than a sports utility vehicle. Acura does provide something of a placebo to the sports minded with its Integrated Dynamics System (IDS). For example, switching from ‘Normal” to “Sport” by adjusting the IDS’ transmission-tunnel mounted control allows you to tighten steering effort from your driver’s seat perch. But really, the MDX’ long suit isn’t its sports personality. Rather this SUV serves primarily as a mobile comfort lab that crams all the comforts of home into its elongated 194 inch rolling chassis. If you want a real sports SUV, check out the X3 or X5 from BMW and the Macan or Cayenne from Porsche.

2016 Acura MDX AWD

At $58,000, the MDX represents decent value for the dollar if you’re the techie type who values whiz-bang communication protocols over the driving experience. From the technology standpoint, the MDX has few peers in the marketplace today. For example, our Acura included both the “Tech Package” and the “Advance Package” in its all inclusive price. The “Tech Package” consists of such comprehensive enhancements as Navigation with voice command activation, real time traffic information, warning systems for lane deviation, forward collisions, and rear cross traffic, plus 3 zone interior climate control. What Acura terms the “Advance Package” promises to save you from going off the road or crashing into a frontal impediment. These so-called “mitigation” features include a slow speed cruise control for traffic jam stop and go.

To be sure, the cabin of the MDX is a comfy, well designed home site with but one annoying exception. That would be the standard issue “Push Button Shifter” which is mounted on the center console. After a week behind the wheel of the MDX, I still failed to come to terms with its obtuse location and unneeded complexity. The problem here lies in the fact that each gear selection requires a different skill set: engaging “reverse” demands a backward push on a sunken rectangular button, while “drive” requires a downward push on a flush mounted circular button. If you’re good at patting your head while rubbing your tummy, you’ll love this arrangement. But for me, it produced hesitation and uncertainty. The simple act of gear selection, which has long been unconscious and automatic, is more complicated than it needs to be in the MDX.

2016 Acura MDX AWD

Once you do select “drive,” you’ll discover this Acura runs through 9 gears. The upside here is that you’ve got a gear ratio for every occasion. The downside is that it takes the transmission nearly 2 seconds to select a ratio when you floor the throttle in “drive.” This lag time compromises the abundant horsepower (290hp) and torque (267lb.-ft.) of the 3.5 liter V6 engine. And that’s a shame because this sophisticated power plant, with direct injection of fuel, and variable valve timing to maximize combustion burn, allows the MDX to crank off 0-60mph runs in the 6.4 second range. Thanks to the fuel efficient addition of variable cylinder management (VCM), the V6 loafs along on fewer than 6 cylinders when under light cruising loads. This produces an overall EPA estimate of 22MPG, which is unexpectedly frugal for a vehicle weighing in at a chubby 4,290 lbs.

2016 Acura MDX AWD

The strong suit of the MDX is neither its performance, nor the handling of its 245/55R19 Michelin Latitude tires, but rather its sensational list of comfort attributes. For example, where else will you find a 16.2 inch rear screen DVD with HDMI and wireless headphones included in the base price? Where else will you find the complete gamut of active safety devices – from Collision Mitigation Braking System to Road Departure Mitigation – included in the base price? Next year the federal government will be adding just such active safety measures to their testing and rating standards. You can be sure that the MDX will be one of the first SUVs to gain 5 stars in that new category.

2016 Acura MDX AWD

2016 Acura MDX AWD

  • Engine: 3.5 liter V6, SOHC 24 valves, Direct Injection, VTEC
  • Horsepower: 290hp
  • Torque: 267lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 19 MPG City/26 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $58,000
  • Star Rating: 7.5 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Honda HR-V 5DR AWD EX-L Review

Tuesday January 12th, 2016 at 9:11 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Honda HR-V 5DR AWD EX-L

By David Colman

Hypes: Brilliant Interior Packaging
Gripes: Underpowered

Honda introduced the 2016 HR-V only 4 months into the 2015 model year. Thus, the earliest releases are nearing 8 months old before their proper 2016 model year clock even begins to count down. This is a great way to stave off the unavoidable depreciation that bedevils new cars the instant they drive off the dealer’s lot.

The HR-V is in many ways – especially size and price – what the CR-V once was before it got fat and expensive. HR-V is a crossover sports utility body appended to a stretched Honda Fit chassis. At 169 inches in length, it’s 9 inches longer than the sub-compact Fit. It’s also 4 inches longer in wheelbase, which allows three adults to fit into the back seat with more leg room than greets them in the Fit.

2016 Honda HR-V 5DR AWD EX-L

By comparison to the HR-V, the current CR-V seems huge, with its 10 extra inches of length and 500 extra pounds of curb weight. At 3,045 pounds, the HR-V itself is fully 400 pounds heavier than the Fit sedan upon which it is based. To compensate for that, Honda upgraded the HR-V’s inline 4 from the Fit’s 130hp and 1.5 liters to 141hp and 1.8 liters. It’s not enough of a boost, however, to prevent the HR-V from being one of the slowest accelerating new rigs on the road. The problem stems from the fact that its power-to-weight ratio stands at a lethargic 21.6 pounds for each horse to move. By contrast, the Fit figure is 20.1 lb/hp, and the 185hp CR-V tops them all at 19.0 lb/hp.

2016 Honda HR-V 5DR AWD EX-L

The fact that Honda equips the HR-V with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) exacerbates the problem. Unlike a gearbox with fixed ratios, the CVT takes longer to spool the engine up, with more noise accompanying each demand for more power. While this is not the vehicle of choice for freeway merges or two lane passes, it offers other attributes that almost make you forget about its power shortfall. Compared to the Fit, the HR-V carries almost twice the amount of cargo: 32 cubic feet vs. 17 for the Fit. Even better, Honda has configured the interior so the 60/40 split second row “Magic Seats” fold virtually flat, allowing maximum utilization of all that generous interior space.

The HR-V is a lot of fun to drive on a two-lane back road. In that sense, it emulates the Fit, with sensitive and accurate electric power assisted rack and pinion steering. The EX-L’s standard issue 7.5 inch x 17 inch five spoke alloy rims not only look rugged, but plant a solid footprint on the pavement, with all season Michelin rubber measuring 215/55R17 at each corner. The HR-V is stiffly sprung, so it’s quick to change direction at the flick of your wrist. It’s easy to set up a nice rhythm with this petite sports utility when you’re flinging it through a succession of curves. The drawback to this suspension calibration is a choppy ride over imperfect pavement. As a passenger trying to read a newspaper, I found it all but impossible to follow a line of print as my head constantly bobbed.

2016 Honda HR-V 5DR AWD EX-L

The HR-V is loaded with comfort and communication features not generally found in a vehicle with a base price of $25,840. For example, standard Smart Entry makes life much easier when your hands are full of grocery bags. The door locking/unlocking sequence is custom programmable. The communication system includes Bluetooth Audio, Hands Free operation, and Next Generation HondaLink with smart phone applications. XM Satellite and HD Radio are standard, with HD traffic reports available in select markets. The EX-L HR-V comes with standard navigation which plays through a 7 inch central display screen. This screen also carries a camera feed while backing up and a second feed from the Lane Watch camera mounted in the right side rear view mirror. Unfortunately, the display screen receives commands only through taps on its graphic user interface since Honda has seen fit to eliminate control knobs. Thus it takes way too much concentration to do something as simple as turn the radio volume up or down.

2016 Honda HR-V 5DR AWD EX-L

If you are in the market for an affordable, space efficient mini SUV, with exceptional gas economy and lots of built-in smart phone features, the newest member of the Honda family may offer just the right combination of sensible features at an irresistible price.

2016 Honda HR-V 5DR AWD EX-L

  • Engine: 1.8 liter inline 4, SOHC, 16 valve
  • Horsepower: 141hp
  • Torque: N/A
  • Fuel Consumption: 27 MPG City/32 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $26,720
  • Star Rating: 7 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2014 Toyota RAV4 Limited AWD

Tuesday November 18th, 2014 at 4:1111 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2014 Toyota RAV4 Limited AWD

By David Colman

Hypes: Spacious, Utilitarian, Affordable
Gripes: Down on Power, Cheap Interior Touches

This compact crossover has enough cargo capacity (37 cubic feet) to compete with mid-size crossovers. I was frankly surprised at the ease with which the RAV4 swallowed my mountain bike without requiring the usual twist and fold routine. In fact, the bike slid right into place without so much as a snag anywhere. The Limited version of this petite Toyota even includes electronic operation for the tailgate. Low loading height further insures easy stowage and retrieval. I have driven many compact and mid size SUVs that could not match the RAV4′s magnanimous cargo access.

The latest iteration of the RAV4 came to market in 2013 and remains largely unchanged this year. A large displacement (2.5 liter) in-line 4 cylinder engine makes 176hp and 172 lb.-ft. of torque. This fuel efficient motor posts a commendable EPA average of 25 MPG overall. But fuel savings come at the expense of straight line performance. Because this SUV weighs 3,535 pounds, each one of those 176 horses are tasked with moving 20 pounds. Consequently, the RAV4′s throttle pedal must be pushed hard to keep up with traffic flow. It takes nearly 17 seconds to run the quarter mile from a standing start. However, you can upgrade to a Tesla designed electric version of the RAV4. This EV’s rated at 154hp but delivers a whopping 273 lb.-ft. of torque. But hurry, because Toyota plans to phase out the RAV4 EV in the near future. If you like the compact dimensions of the RAV4, but seek more power, you may want to cross shop the 2015 Lexus NX, which shares its platform with the RAV4. The Lexus offers 235hp thanks to its turbocharged 2.0 liter four cylinder engine.

2014 Toyota RAV4 Limited AWD

Toyota includes a number of active safety measures in the DNA of the RAV4. This assortment of innovations, which Toyota calls its Star Safety System, contributes to your well being by providing stability control, traction control, anti-lock brakes, electronic brake force distribution, and brake assist. Although passive safety boasts 8 airbags, the RAV4 scores a “Poor” Rating on the Front Small Overlap test administered by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. This crash test, first administered in 2012, measures damage incurred when just 25 percent of a vehicle front hits a fixed object at 40mph. The RAV4′s poor result in this category has caused Consumer Reports to retract its “Recommended” endorsement.

The RAV4 is tow rated at 1,500 pounds. Although it will tow a modest trailer, the RAV4 itself is not meant to be towed behind a motor home, dinghy style. In its latest iteration, the RAV4 has matured into a utilitarian device that will fill the bill if you need a do-it-all urban companion. Responsive handling is augmented by 235/55R18 Bridgestone Dueler H/T tires at each corner. Ride quality is never harsh thanks to the Bridgestone’s tall sidewalls and the RAV4′s soft spring rates.

2014 Toyota RAV4 Limited AWD

From its introduction as a petite SUV offering limited space for passengers or storage, this compact cross over now provides seating for 5, easy access to the folding rear bench seat, lots of side window glass for great outward visibility, and enough orchestral choices to make even the shortest trip a music endowed vacation. The “EN” option package, which costs an extra $785, is well worth the cost if you value entertainment while driving. For this relatively modest outlay, Toyota will provide you with a laundry list of extras that start with a 6.1 inch touch screen on the dash. This interface controls a premium JBL AM/FM/CD player with 7 speakers and a subwoofer. You also gain access to HD radio, traffic reports and a suite of Toyota backed “Entune” applications to simplify your cruising life. The touch screen also provides navigational assistance and serves as a back-up camera projector when reverse gear is engaged. However, you would do well to avoid paying $725 extra for the “TP” Technology Package, which contributes lane departure warning advice, monitors blind spots, and regulates use of high beam headlights.

The Toyota RAV4 presents an inexpensive route to all-wheel-drive mini SUV ownership. While it may not be the fastest, or the best handling choice in the marketplace, it does administer a solid dose of Toyota virtue: RAV4 is inexpensive to own and operate, with good value retention over the life of the vehicle.

2014 Toyota RAV4 Limited AWD

2014 Toyota RAV4 Limited AWD

  • Engine: 2.5 liter DOHC, 16 Valve inline 4 with Dual VVT-i
  • Horsepower: 176 @ 6,000rpm
  • Torque: 172 lb.-ft. @ 4,100rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 22 MPG CITY/29 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $32,315
  • Star Rating: 7 out of 10 Stars

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2012 Chrysler 300S AWD Review

Wednesday August 22nd, 2012 at 2:88 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: AWD, “Doctor Dre” boombox, Silent 8-Speed Automatic
Gripes: Poor Detents on Stubby Console Shift Lever

A year ago, Chrysler announced a second quarter loss of 436 million dollars. This year’s second quarter figures show a profit of 370 million, on track for a projected earnings of 1.5 billion dollars for 2012. What could possibly account for a quarterly turnaround of $806,000,000? Sure, you can cite the fact that last year Chrysler refinanced government bailout loans, while this year they didn’t. But the real reason for the tectonic shift is product. Chrysler is building cars that consumers want to buy. And the 300S is a perfect example of that philosophy.

Start with the fact that no other domestic car builder currently offers a full-size 4-door sedan like the 300. Ford’s Taurus and Chevy’s Impala are mere shadows of this once abundant species. The 112 inch wheelbase of the Taurus and the 110 inch wheelbase of the Impala both fall nearly a foot short of the Chrysler’s 120 inch wheelbase. So if you’re looking for stretch-out space for the buck, there’s simply no comparison. The 300’s cabin is so large that it will easily accommodate five passengers and all their belongings. And if it’s appointed with Customer Preferred Package 27G ($2,420) and the Luxury Group ($3,250), then the Canadian-built 300S will rival the finest European sedans in fit, finish and level of comfort.


From the moment you slide into the amply padded driver’s seat and survey the reams of “Radar Red” leather padding the dash, transmission console and door panels, you’ll feel like you just checked into your suite at the Ritz. Chrysler has done a remarkably good job of counterfeiting posh European transports like the S Class Benz and 7 Series BMW for less than half the money. The base price of the 300S is a frugal $35,820, and even loaded with the afore mentioned packages and a stellar $1,495 Dual-Pane Panorama Roof, the bottom line on this bruiser came to just $44,705. For the record, the 27G option group brings you Adaptive Bi-Xenon headlights, memory settings for the driver’s seat, steering column, mirrors and radio (!), adaptive cruise control, and a bevy of cameras to monitor adjacent lane traffic, rear vision and blind spots. The Luxury Package ups the leather and contrasting stitched thread count, heats the steering wheel as well as the first and second row seats, and chills or warms the front seat cupholders. The pedal position is remotely adjustable and becomes part of your preferred memory setting. Chrysler hasn’t missed a trick in personalizing the 300S. It’s a level of driving comfort you won’t soon forget.

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2011 Lexus IS 350 AWD Review

Thursday January 6th, 2011 at 8:11 AM
Posted by: Derek

By Derek Mau


  • Sharp steering and disciplined handling
  • The most entertaining driver’s vehicle in the Lexus line-up
  • AWD system distributes power from the 306 hp V6 engine uniformly


  • Manual gearbox only offered with the lesser IS 250
  • Cramped back seat room
  • Onscreen interface and graphics are past due for an update

Ruling: A luxury car with some sport pretensions, the 2011 Lexus IS 350 is very satisfying to drive.
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Posted in Expert Reviews, Lexus |Tags:, , || 4 Comments »

2011 Infiniti M56X AWD First Impressions Review

Thursday December 30th, 2010 at 12:1212 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

By contributing editor David Colman


  • Leather seats tailored to fit better than a Huntsman tailored suit
  • Lots of high-tech gadgetry which can be deleted from the options list saving you thousands of dollars
  • Performance specs that will make you dizzy


  • Infiniti user’s manual harder to read than an Ikea instruction manual
  • Undersized Michelin all-season tires

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Posted in Expert Reviews, Infiniti |Tags:, , , || 2 Comments »

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