The Truth About Cars » Car Reviews http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Mon, 27 Apr 2015 21:34:02 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0.1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Car Reviews http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/category/reviews/ 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4×4 Review (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/2015-nissan-pathfinder-4x4-review-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/2015-nissan-pathfinder-4x4-review-video/#comments Mon, 27 Apr 2015 12:00:33 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1049737 Nissan’s path to the modern Pathfinder has been long and wandering. In 1985 the 2-door truck based Pathfinder was the answer to Chevy’s Blazer and Ford’s Bronco. In 1995 Nissan changed absolutely everything and made the Pathfinder a 5-door unibody SUV to compete head-on with Jeep’s successful Grand Cherokee. Nine years later, Nissan started over, […]

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2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Exterior

Nissan’s path to the modern Pathfinder has been long and wandering. In 1985 the 2-door truck based Pathfinder was the answer to Chevy’s Blazer and Ford’s Bronco. In 1995 Nissan changed absolutely everything and made the Pathfinder a 5-door unibody SUV to compete head-on with Jeep’s successful Grand Cherokee. Nine years later, Nissan started over, yet again, with a body-on-frame design to do battle with the myriad of General Motors midsize SUVs choking up suburban expressways. Then, in 2013, Nissan went back to the drawing board for a fourth time with a new mission: build a spacious and well-priced soft-roader to battle the new Explorer and the GM Lambda platform triplets (Acadia, Traverse, Enclave).

Exterior

Before we dive deep into the Pathfinder, we have to identify this breed’s natural habitat, and that means forgetting every Pathfinder that came before. While you’ll still find WD21 Pathfinders climbing rocks, this Pathfinder is more at home on the school run. I mentioned GM’s Lambda CUVs earlier because this Pathfinder is big. Really big. That means the Pathfinder isn’t the most direct competitor to entries like the Kia Sorento that’s more than a foot smaller or even the Toyota Highlander that is 6 inches shorter. The mission of the Sorento and Highlander is to carry 4-5 adults in comfort while providing a third row for children, mothers-in-law or emergencies. The Pathfinder however was intended to carry 7 adults in relative comfort.

Because the new Pathfinder’s mission is people hauling, not rock climbing, you won’t find aggressive approach and departure angles on the nose and rump. Instead, we get slab sides, a variant of Nissan’s truck grille up front and a rather vertical hatch in the back. The overall look is simple and clean but lacks the excitement (yes, I used that word in a CUV review) you’d find in entries like the new Sorento.

2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Third Row Seat-001

Interior

The Pathfinder sports the most combined legroom in this segment (1st row + 2nd row + 3rd row) and combined legroom is important. Other entries claim to have more third row legroom (like the Traverse), but if the other two rows are cramped, you end up sliding those seats back cutting down on the room left in the mother-in-law-row. Looking deeper, the Traverse claims 3.4 inches more 3rd row room but you’ll find that the Chevy’s 1st row is 1 inch smaller and the middle row is 5 inches smaller. This means with the driver’s seat adjusted ideally for me at 6-feet tall (not giving a toss about the folks in the back) I can adjust the second row seat to have 2-3 inches of leg room and have a similar 2-3 inches of legroom in the third row of the Pathfinder as well. I’m a little surprised Nissan chose not to make an 8-passenger version of the Pathfinder because the 3rd row is as accommodating as the Highlander’s 3-seat rear bench. Speaking of the Highlander, you’ll notice upper trims come only with captains chairs in the middle row, meaning passenger number five has to sit in the cramped third row.

The second reason to buy a Pathfinder is for the trick second row seat. If you’re a parent with two or three child seats in the middle row, you’ll appreciate that Nissan designed the 40% section of the bench to contort in a way that allows adults to get in to the third row. While it is possible to get into the back in other 3-row vehicles with a child seat in the middle, it isn’t easy.

2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Second Row Folding Child Seat

Legroom isn’t everything, of course, so Nissan kept the roofline high at the rear of the Pathfinder giving a generous 37.8 inches of 3rd row headroom. If you want this kind of room without a Nissan logo on the hood, you’ll be looking at full-size SUVs. I am talking Suburban-sized since the Tahoe actually offers 6 inches less total legroom than the Pathfinder. If you need something bigger than that, you’re in Blue Bird bus territory.

The Pathfinder’s generous legroom comes at a price: the small cargo area. Admittedly, the 16 cubic feet of space behind the last row is 1 more than you get in the Tahoe, but it’s 8 less than the Traverse and 23 less than the Suburban. So, while the Pathfinder is as accommodating as a Suburban for 7 adults, you can’t fit 7 suitcases in the back.

Also on the down side is a cabin that’s starting to show its age. The seats are class leading in terms of comfort, but the cabin is full of hard plastics. I’m not one to bash hard plastics off-hand, but casting the primary dashboard touch points out of hard plastic is unusual in this segment and it makes entries like the Durango, Sorento and Enclave look and feel more premium.

2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Interior Infotainment.CR2

Infotainment

Although the Pathfinder isn’t that old, the base “S” trim gets you a 6-speaker audio system and in-dash 6-CD changer … and that’s it. No Bluetooth, no AUX input and no USB/iPod interface. If you want those, you have to step up to the $32,990 SV trim which includes a 7-inch infotainment LCD. Although I dislike the stripper trim concept, you should know the SV is still about $2,000 less than a comparable Highlander. (Keep in mind Toyota’s base model lacks a V6.) SL Tech trims get an 8-inch infotainment display and the same 13-speaker Bose sound system as the Infiniti QX60. At $38,090, it’s also the cheapest way to get navigation. Any way you slice it, however, Nissan’s infotainment options are a step behind the new entries like the Sorento, Highlander, Durango and 2016 Pilot.

On the up-side, Nissan’s touchscreen infotainment system was one of my favorites last decade, so in terms of functionality it fares quite well. GM’s Lambda SUVs all get small infotainment screens set low in the dashboard due to the age of the platforms and, interestingly, a Traverse with navigation is just $250 less. On the down-side, the Pathfinder is at least five years behind the rest, especially compared to Toyota and Chrysler’s latest systems. GM’s refreshed infotainment options in the Lambda CUVs operate on a smaller 6.5-inch screen but look more modern.

2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 AWD control

Drivetrain

Under the hood lies Nissan’s ubiquitous 3.5-liter V6 tuned to 260 horsepower and 240 lb-ft of torque, 5 hp and 8 lb-ft less than the same engine in the QX60. In addition to being down a few ponies compared to its luxury cousin, it’s also the least powerful in its class. As you would expect from Nissan, power is sent to the front wheels via a CVT, but this one has been revised to handle a 5,000 lb tow rating. The new transmission uses a steel chain instead of a steel belt for durability, but importantly the ratios stay more-or-less unchanged. Nissan’s reps confirmed the transmission is the primary reason for the QX60 and Pathfinder’s different tow ratings.

If towing with a FWD crossover doesn’t sound like fun, $1,690 buys you AWD. The system normally defaults to FWD mode for improved fuel economy but as a (small) nod to the Pathfinder’s history, the system has a lock mode mechanically connecting the front and rear differentials so power flows 50:50 (front:rear). Unlike more traditional transfer case setups, the clutch-pack allows a small amount of slip so the system can be used on dry pavement without binding. Leaving the AWD system in “Auto” keeps power to the front unless fairly significant slippage occurs (in order to improve fuel economy).

2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Gauges

Drive

The Pathfinder is loosely based on Nissan’s D-Platform which underpins the Altima, Murano and the last generation Maxima. One thing all those vehicles have in common is being light for their category and that’s true of the Pathfinder as well. At 4,317 lbs in FWD trim and topping out at 4,506 in AWD trim, that’s about the same weight as Toyota’s Highlander V6 and 300-500 lbs lighter than a comparable GM crossover. The weight reduction and other efficiency differences pay dividends with real world fuel economy in the AWD model coming in around 21.5 MPG in mixed driving. That’s around 11 percent better than the Traverse, 15 percent better than the Enclave and 18 percent better than the Tahoe on my same fuel economy route. While a few MPG doesn’t sound like much, at this end of the scale it equates to $450 lower annual fuel bills vs the Buick.

The comparatively light curb weight and CVT compensate for the lower torque numbers and allowed our tester to scoot to 60 in 7.1 seconds. While not the fastest in the pack, this is better than the majority of three row crossovers on the market. This is despite the CVT’s final drive ratio being tuned toward fuel economy. The CVT’s main benefit is it allows the engine to hang out at the peak of its power band for maximum acceleration. For 2015, Nissan programmed the CVT to imitate a traditional stepped automatic when in “D.” Not surprisingly this results in lower performance because it negates the major benefit of a CVT in the first place and actually causes a 2/10th longer run to 60 (7.3 seconds) than when the transmission is in “L” and ditches the imitation shifts.

2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Exterior Hitch Receiver

Everything has a trade off and so it is with the Pathfinder. The CVT’s low ratio isn’t terribly low at 13.5:1 (low gear and final drive), this doesn’t compare all that well with the lower 15.2:1 that you find in the Ford Explorer and higher overall than basically all the competition. This tall starting ratio conspires with the soft springs and compliant sway bars to make the Pathfinder feel about 1,000 lbs heavier on the road. In the stop-light races, most of the competition will beat the Pathfinder to 30 mph because of that ratio choice. Past 30, the Pathfinder picks up steam and may win the race overall, but in the real world that 0-30 time is more important.

More than most new cars, we have to separate lateral grip from handling “feel” when discussing this Nissan. Why? Because the Pathfinder actually road-holds as well as a Mazda CX-9 according to most publications (TTAC doesn’t have access to a skidpad) but the feeling is night and day different. Steering turn-in is lazy. Soft springs that give one of the best rides in the segment make body roll excessive. There’s plenty of pitch and dive when accelerating and braking. This is the prefect example of numbers not giving you the complete picture. The Pathfinder is faster than almost all of the competition, it stops from 60 mph in a short 125 feet and pulls lateral Gs like a Mazda crossover. Get behind the wheel however and the Pathfinder feels enormous.

2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Exterior-007

Towing with a CVT is an unusual experience to say the least. I attached a 5,000 trailer and gave it a whirl. As expected, the tall starting ratio in the transmission makes for sluggish starts, but when I started climbing hills things went just fine. Like Chrysler’s 8-speed automatic, the ability to find an “ideal” ratio for the moment is what saves the Pathfinder here. Sure, you hear plenty of the 3.5-liter V6 in the cabin when the engine is revving its nuts off, but it feels peppier on a 15 percent grade than a GMC Acadia with the same trailer.

With the Pathfinder, Nissan has created one of the best crossovers on paper. It has legroom to spare, the highest fuel economy among its direct competition, and delivers great acceleration, braking and handling numbers, but it looses something by the time you add it all up and drive one yourself. Perhaps the toll to be paid for checking every box the crossover shopper wants is engagement. The Pathfinder is a crossover I have recommended and will continue to recommend if you want an honest to goodness usable third row and great fuel economy. It also remains one of the better buys in this segment thanks to its low starting price and aggressive equipment bundles. Unfortunately, if driving pleasure, interior refinement, or modern infotainment are higher on your shopping list, there are better options.

Nissan provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review

Specifications as testesd

0-30: 2.7 Seconds

0-60: 7.1 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 15.24 Seconds @ 93 MPH

2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 AWD control 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Cargo Area 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Cargo Area-001 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Cargo Area1 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Cargo Area-002 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Cargo Area-003 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Center Console 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Engine 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Engine-001 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Exterior Hitch Receiver 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Exterior 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Exterior-001 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Exterior-002 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Exterior-003 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Exterior-004 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Exterior-005 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Exterior-006 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Exterior-007 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Gauges 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Instrument Cluster 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Interior Dashboard 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Interior Dashboard-001 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Interior Dashboard-002 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Interior Infotainment.CR2 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Interior Infotainment 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Interior 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Power Seat Controls 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Rear Air Vent 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Rear Air Vent1 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Seats 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Second Row Child Seat 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Second Row Folding Child Seat 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Second Row Seat 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Second Row 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Second Row-001 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Second Row-002 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Start Stop Button 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Third Row Seat 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Third Row Seat-001

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Canada Loans €400M to Volkswagen for Chance at Supplier Table http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/canada-loans-e400m-volkswagen-chance-supplier-table/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/canada-loans-e400m-volkswagen-chance-supplier-table/#comments Mon, 27 Apr 2015 11:35:06 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1055073 As Volkswagen plans to expand in Chattanooga and Puebla, the Canadian government is loaning €400 million ($433.8 million USD) to the German automaker in exchange for possible future supplier business. Export Development Canada, a Crown corporation (an entity owned entirely by the Government of Canada), announced the “financing is designed to create opportunities for qualified small and medium-sized […]

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Volkswagen Chattanooga Tower

As Volkswagen plans to expand in Chattanooga and Puebla, the Canadian government is loaning €400 million ($433.8 million USD) to the German automaker in exchange for possible future supplier business.

Export Development Canada, a Crown corporation (an entity owned entirely by the Government of Canada), announced the “financing is designed to create opportunities for qualified small and medium-sized Canadian companies to win new business with the global automotive giant as they grow their operations in North America.” The loan is being extended to Volkswagen with “market-rate interest and administrative fees.”

“There’s no doubt Canada needs Volkswagen more than Volkswagen needs Canada,” said Phil Taylor, spokesperson for EDC, to the Windsor Star.

The financial agreement gives smaller Canadian companies exposure to Volkswagen as they tool up their North American operations for future product. Suppliers can register their products or services on a website run by EDC.

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BREAKING: Piëch Resigns Chairmanship, Winterkorn Continues as CEO at VW http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/breaking-piech-resigns-chairmanship-winterkorn-continues-ceo-vw/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/breaking-piech-resigns-chairmanship-winterkorn-continues-ceo-vw/#comments Sat, 25 Apr 2015 17:26:08 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1054273 While Chief Executive Martin Winterkorn wears bruises from the conflict, Ferdinand Piëch has paid the ultimate of price and resigned his chairmanship with immediate effect. According to Reuters, the ongoing row between CEO and Chairman at Volkswagen eased this past week, but when the group’s supervisory board put their support behind Winterkorn, the 78-year-old grandson of Ferry Porsche was […]

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"It wasn't Domino's. Someone delivered Wiedekings head." Piech and Winterkorn.  Picture courtesy handelsblatt.de

While Chief Executive Martin Winterkorn wears bruises from the conflict, Ferdinand Piëch has paid the ultimate of price and resigned his chairmanship with immediate effect.

According to Reuters, the ongoing row between CEO and Chairman at Volkswagen eased this past week, but when the group’s supervisory board put their support behind Winterkorn, the 78-year-old grandson of Ferry Porsche was left “isolated” in a five-to-one vote. Sources told the newswire service Piëch’s decision to not support Winterkorn put his own position in jeopardy. Piëch’s wife, Ursula, also resigned her positions within the company.

Piëch will be replaced by Deputy Chairman Berthold Huber in the interim. A vote on when a new Chairman will be chosen has not been announced.

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Dispatches do Brasil: Renault Re-Invents Itself in Latin America http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/dispatches-brasil-renault-re-invents-latin-america/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/dispatches-brasil-renault-re-invents-latin-america/#comments Fri, 24 Apr 2015 16:00:02 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1053257 Among the first to come to Brazil when the market was opened up again in the 1990s – after a hiatus of almost 50 years when this country closed itself off to the world – Renault has seemingly reached a limit in Brazil. Its market participation has hovered around 6 percent for years. Now, hungry for […]

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Renault Logan

Renault Logan

Among the first to come to Brazil when the market was opened up again in the 1990s – after a hiatus of almost 50 years when this country closed itself off to the world – Renault has seemingly reached a limit in Brazil. Its market participation has hovered around 6 percent for years. Now, hungry for more, the French company is showing its new plans that will deeply affect their operations in Latin America at large and shake up their manufacturing base in South America, most especially Mercosur (namely Brazil and Argentina).

When their Ayrton Senna factory was opened in São José dos Pinhais in Paraná state, their line was in tune to what they produced in Europe. They offered the Clio, Kangoo, Mégane and Scénic. With an emphasis on safety, even the lowly Clio offered dual frontal airbags. At that time, the relative parity between the Brazilian real and American dollar allowed them to import systems such as the aforementioned airbags on the cheap. The minivan Scénic offered space for five, a large trunk, modular seating and became a favorite for families. The Mégane and Kangoo meanwhile suffered at the hands of more established competition and never made a dent in Volkswagen Golf, Fiat Stilo or Ford Focus sales. The Fiat Doblò passenger and commercial versions plus the Uno-based Fiat Fiorino conspired to keep the Kangoo down.

In the Brazilian market, reception was mixed. At the entry level, the Clio had lukewarm success. The majority of compact level car buyers are not exactly flush with money, so buying a new entry into that market was seen as a risky proposition. The Scénic and other minivans slowly, but surely, decimated the station wagons then available on the market. Together with Citroën minivans, Renault owned that market. As it became a favorite, the prices of this type of car rose above the rest of the competition and became expensive to buy.

Undeniably, Renault and other French makes suffered a perception problem. While most think their engines are robust and can take the pressure, suspension systems were and remain under suspicion in the eyes of Brazilian consumers. So, despite placing rather high in consumer satisfaction surveys, Renaults take a hit at re-sale time.

Brazilian Clio

Brazilian Clio

Over the years the American dollar and euro appreciated against the Brazilian real and growing sales plateaued. Renault’s reaction was to cheapen their offerings. Soon, the Clio lost its airbags, losing its appeal to the better off buyers that seemed to favor it over the VW Gol or Fiat Uno. When it was re-designed, it kept the previous car’s internal design. A new Scénic was launched in Europe, but citing cost complications, Renault chose to keep building the old one. Renault also tried to gain market penetration by locally building and selling a Mégane sedan and station wagon. Inevitably, Renault’s line became outmoded and nothing on offer in Europe was sold here.

Of course, errors in reading the market collaborated to their downfall. In the early 2000s, Renault was challenging Ford for fourth place in the Brazilian market. Ford reacted by launching the EcoSport and new Fiesta, new engines, and soon saw the distance between it and Renault grow. Besides the cheapening and non-updating of the line, beginner errors abounded. In Brazil, the Scénic was a solid middle class car, even higher middle class, and not the cheap and cheerful family transportation pod it was in Europe. As such, Brazilian dealers clamored for black and silver Scénics while the French continued offering it in purple, red and other colors the middle class rejected. The Clio, besides keeping the same interiors forever, never changed wheel cover designs or had new versions launched (tricks in which the traditional Brazilian Big Four – Fiat, GM, Volkswagen and Ford – are experts).

In the late 2000s, Renault re-made itself in Brazil. The Scénic was gone. The Kangoo was now only a commercial vehicle. The Clio soldiered on unmolested and seemingly only existed so Renault could keep a foot in the entry-level market. A solution was found though and it was the result of the deepening of the synergies and integration within the scope of the global Renault-Nissan Alliance.

Renault underwent the so-called “Dacia-lization” (Dacia being a Romanian company that Renault uses as its low-cost brand in Europe). The Logan, Sandero and eventually the Duster were launched. In spite of the insipid design, the cars used a Renault-Dacia version of a modern Nissan platform. The Logan family’s claim to fame and a space in the market was that it offered a lot of space for modest prices. Size-wise similar to Focus and Toyota Corolla type cars (sometimes even bigger, trunks tended to be larger), but priced similarly to smaller cars like Gol or Fiat Siena, they appealed to a more rational buyer. After a few years, with the launch of the Duster CUV, Renault was again encroaching on Ford and distancing itself from the Asian brands that were finally “acclimatizing” (by offering compact cars similar to market favorites) to Brazil and had been threatening Renault’s (by then traditional) fifth place in Brazilian sales rankings.

Nov-Ford-Ka-SEL-2015 (3)

As the 2000s became the 2010s, Renault was again under assault. Competition grew. Everybody copied their idea of a larger cars for more modest prices. Fiat launched a bigger Palio and a Grand Siena. Volkswagen do Brasil got into the compact sedan market again with its Voyage. Ford brought the new Fiesta and conjured up the highly competitive new Ka. GM came strong based off of its GM Korea know-how and re-invented themselves in Brazil, becoming the leader of in-car mobile electronics. Toyota got serious in Brazil and the Etios family has been gaining ground, horrible design notwithstanding, based on modern mechanics and a good ride. Hyundai’s HB20 has done the opposite: it has conquered image conscious consumers due to the success of it fluidic design language, in spite of the bad ride. All these companies and cars offered up new technologies and engines, bringing more fuel economy to buyers, extra gadgets and crept up on the Logan family’s cost benefit advantage.

Reacting, Renault has launched a re-designed Logan and Sandero. Though the new designs have been well-accepted and increased sales, this growth has been deemed insufficient. Both Hyundai and Toyota routinely sell more than Renault on a monthly basis and could soon take fifth place in overall sales. As such, Renault studied its South American operations and has cooked up a plan.

Renault Oroch Concept

Renault Oroch Concept

An “un-Dacia-lization” of sorts seems to be in place. Logan and Sandero production is being moved to Argentina. The company is investing heavily in their ancient Santa Isabela factory in that country. Duster production will be kept in Brazil and soon the Oroch pickup (based on the Duster and rumored to be a 1 ton pickup) will be launched. From what the press has been able to piece together, both Duster and Moroch will be produced off of the current platform and updates will be infrequent, following the age-old strategy of competing on price and, also, space. The Duster is larger than EcoSport and the recently launched Jeep Renegade, Honda HR-V and Peugeot 2008. The Moroch will dwarf the current Fiat Strada (new, larger version of which has been seen tooling around the factory), VW Saveiro and the old-as-the-hills, barely competitive Chevrolet Montana.

The Moroch however is an indication of the deepening of the CUV event horizon presciently seen by our recently departed Derek Kreindler. Renault is going all-CUV-in. The Renault Captur, a current Clio-based mini CUV is a foregone conclusion. Renault is not even hiding it anymore and it has been seen around the factory in Paraná and on highway tests. This lends credence to the thesis Renault is re-inventing itself. The new Brazilian Clio, the same again as the Euro Clio, should also appear soon, albeit placed in a category above the current Brazilian Clio’s status. Suppliers also say Renault is quoting prices for a sedan version of the Clio (non-existent in Europe) and indicative of the soon to come demise of its midsize sedan offering, the Fluence. Informed journalists in Brazil have stated that the Espace, Renault’s large (and former) minivan, which has turned into a sort of a CUV, is slated to be introduced in Brazil in 2016 as a locally-produced offering.

The current Brazilian Clio is also on its last days. Though reports are conflicting, either a version of Nissan’s own low-cost brand Datsun Go will be built here in Brazil, or a version of the concept recently shown in world Auto Shows by Nissan called the Sway (supposedly an early version of a substitute for the March/Micra line), could gain a Renault badge and come strong in the lower echelons of the Brazilian market.

Meanwhile, in Argentina, besides the heavy modernizing investments at the local plant and the responsibility of building the Logan family, current cars will remain in production. And very interestingly, the new Frontier/Navara pickup that will used by Mercedes Benz to offer its own global midsize pickup (compact PU for Americans) will also gain a Renault badge for sale, initially, all over Latin America. Internally called the Raptur, this will be Renault’s first incursion into the traditional midsize pickup market. It is an important step and will allow Renault to compete in an important market spanning the entirety of Latin America. Coming soon (reports say early 2016) you could soon take your pick and buy your midsize pickup in your preferred flavor – Nissan, Mercedes or Renault – as they will all be built side-by-side at the Argentinian factory.

The next few years will be very important for Renault in Latin America. It will keep and modernize entry-level cars. It will continue offering competitively priced compact cars that offer a bit more and are the bulk of the Brazilian market. It will make new tries, with new product, to gain a presence in upper middle-class garages by “Euro-pizing” its Brazilian production. It will sell CUVs for all pockets. Pickups, small and large will further broaden Renault’s Latin American presence.

If this will be enough to keep Toyota and Hyundai at bay remains to be seen. However, it seems if they will be offering cars, CUVs and trucks, the market wants. Sounds like a plan.

Brazilian Clio Ayrton Senna Factory Hyundai HB20 Nissan Frontier Renault Oroch Concept Santa Isabela Factory Renault Logan Renault Captur European Clio Renault Fluence Renault Kangoo Express Toyota Etios

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Mercedes Slapped With $56M Fine in China for “Price Fixing” http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/mercedes-slapped-56m-fine-china-price-fixing/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/mercedes-slapped-56m-fine-china-price-fixing/#comments Thu, 23 Apr 2015 13:00:38 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1052089 The Chinese province of Jiangsu has levied a 350 million yuan ($56 million USD) fine against Mercedes-Benz in continued efforts to break perceived monopolies in car and part sales. It’s the largest fine given to an automaker to date. The latest fine aimed at a foreign automaker comes after similar actions against a “Chinese venture of […]

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Mercedes-Maybach-S600-Pullman

The Chinese province of Jiangsu has levied a 350 million yuan ($56 million USD) fine against Mercedes-Benz in continued efforts to break perceived monopolies in car and part sales. It’s the largest fine given to an automaker to date.

The latest fine aimed at a foreign automaker comes after similar actions against a “Chinese venture of Volkswagen and a sales unit of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ Chrysler division” amounted to a combined $46 million, says the report from Automotive News. The specifics of the Mercedes fine point at the automaker forcing dealers to set minimum prices for cars and spare parts. The pricing regulator in Jiangsu province also fined Mercedes dealers to the tune of 7.7 million yuan ($1.25 million USD).

Mercedes-Benz China said they accept the decision taken by the provincial pricing regulator and has “taken all appropriate steps” to comply with the law in the future.

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QOTD: How Would You Rename All The Lincolns? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/qotd-rename-lincolns/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/qotd-rename-lincolns/#comments Thu, 23 Apr 2015 10:31:36 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1051921 Continental. Zepher. Coronation. Lincoln has some great names in its history – much better than the MK-add-a-letter-here nomenclature of today. Actually, if your model naming scheme is best described as nomenclature, you’re probably doing it wrong. I won’t bore you with the Lincoln history you already know. Wikipedia can do that for me. I just want to talk […]

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Continental. Zepher. Coronation. Lincoln has some great names in its history – much better than the MK-add-a-letter-here nomenclature of today. Actually, if your model naming scheme is best described as nomenclature, you’re probably doing it wrong.

I won’t bore you with the Lincoln history you already know. Wikipedia can do that for me. I just want to talk about names, anyway.

Yesterday, the news Lincoln may use proper model names was met with great joy amongst the Best & Brightest. And for good reason. The Continental has always been gorgeous in the most American way possible. It’s a massive barge of freedom; as much as 2.85 Imperial tons of freedom in the ’60s. That’s a lot of freedom.

But, what about every other model in the current Lincoln lineup? What other names from Lincoln’s past (or future…*dun dun dun*) could be used to rename its current set of cars and SUVs?

Also, don’t bother renaming the MKT. We’ll just assume it’s dead so this process is easier on all of us.

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2015 Infiniti QX70S RWD Review http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/review-2015-infiniti-qx70s-rwd/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/review-2015-infiniti-qx70s-rwd/#comments Wed, 22 Apr 2015 16:00:33 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1050265 Fifteen years ago, buying a practical luxury car to replace a Honda Accord meant going down to your BMW, Mercedes, Lexus, or occasionally, Audi showroom and coming back with a 5-Series, E-Class, GS, or if you were particularly brave, an A6. All these brands except Audi had SUVs at the time though, but they were hardly replacements […]

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2015 Infiniti QX70

Fifteen years ago, buying a practical luxury car to replace a Honda Accord meant going down to your BMW, Mercedes, Lexus, or occasionally, Audi showroom and coming back with a 5-Series, E-Class, GS, or if you were particularly brave, an A6. All these brands except Audi had SUVs at the time though, but they were hardly replacements for a midsize luxury sport sedan. The Mercedes ML handled like a truck while the RX300 wasn’t exactly intended for the sport sedan driver, something emphasized by the number of moms and AARP members who bought them at the time. Meanwhile, my dad test drove an X5 and 5-Series back to back and promptly bought a 530i.

But no one fifteen years ago would have considered Infiniti, whose only rear-drive sedan was the full-size Q45, which no one bought. A few years later, Infiniti went through a product renaissance, bringing out the Infiniti G35 (which many people bought), the M (the one based on the JDM Nissan Gloria few people bought), and an updated Q45 (which even fewer people bought). In 2003, they also brought out a sporty crossover – the FX. It was meant to compete with the X5, Porsche Cayenne, and XC90, but the FX was dramatically better on-road than off-road compared to most of its competitors. The FX, despite being smaller and not capable of tackling off-road trails, became a sales success for Infiniti.

And that success influenced its competition. The Cayenne became less off-road oriented, losing its dedicated two-range transfer case and getting much more rounded styling. BMW ended up creating the X6 from the X5. Acura joined the fray with the ZDX. Mercedes is finally entering the “crossover-coupe” market with the GLE Coupe.

Meanwhile, Infiniti now calls the FX the QX70 as part of Infiniti’s new naming system. It was last redesigned in 2008, around the time the X6 was released. The V8 is no longer available. Instead of the rounded trapezoid grille, the grille is now shaped like a wide rounded hourglass with a massive Infiniti emblem in the center.

First off, I cannot complain about the QX70’s performance, especially with the $3,550 Sport Package. Though the active rear steering and continuous damping control features that used to be part of the sport package are gone for 2015, the QX70 handled like any other sport package-equipped midsize luxury sedan. Driving it on the country roads around my house, the QX70 stuck to the road in corners at speeds where most SUVs would begin squealing their tires largely thanks to its black-colored 21-inch Enkei wheels. The 3.7-liter V6 had plenty of power handy while the seven-speed transmission was always selecting the right gear during my period of spirited driving.

The sport package also added to the visual effects of the QX70 with the aforementioned Enkei wheels, a black painted front grille, roof rails, and miscellaneous exterior and interior trim bits. It further included heated and cooled seats with power-adjustable bolsters. However, as good as the Sport Package was on a smooth and winding roads, I didn’t like it on the highway; the ride was compromised by the potholes and uneven pavement surfaces of Northern California’s roads. If you care more for the ride, but want upgraded interior trim and the heated/cooled seats, select the $3,300 Deluxe Touring Package which comes with 20-inch wheels too.

As for the interior, the front seats were very comfortable. I drove the QX70S to Napa from San Jose and back in one day (probably four to five hours of driving total) and I or my passenger didn’t feel stiff at all. An aspect of the seat some potential buyers might dislike is that the lumbar support is only adjustable two ways (forwards and backwards). Hopefully, future QX70 models can correct that. Additionally, thanks to the high seating position, I had a much better view of the road unlike most sedans. However, while the front seats are satisfying, there isn’t enough legroom for rear seat passengers. While the back seats are fine for children, most adults can tolerate sitting in the back of the QX70 for two hours at the most, though adults who are well over six feet won’t like sitting in the back at all. As a result, if you regularly travel with many passengers, getting a larger crossover or a midsize luxury sedan may be a better call.

Another aspect of the interior I noticed was that the trunk doesn’t have much more room than a large sedan thanks to the rakish styling. It would be difficult to fit a normal bicycle inside the interior even with all the rear seats folded down. Despite the lack of cargo space, Infiniti does include a temporary spare tire under the trunk placed around the Bose subwoofer. Additionally, I didn’t like the oval-shaped analog clock in the dashboard, which I thought detracted from the sporty interior theme of the QX70. I’m hoping an updated version of the QX70 will have a much-better designed clock.

When it comes to the onboard toys, which is where most Infinitis shine, the QX70 oddly lacks a few key features like the availability of a blind spot monitoring or warning system. However, my test car had the Lane Departure Warning system, part of the $2.950 Technology Package, which does sound if the wheels go onto the shoulder. When I was driving the QX70 on the highway, I ended up turning off the Lane Departure Warning since whenever I swerved to avoid potholes or uneven pavement surfaces (which happens with regularity on California highways), the alarm would sound. The car was also equipped with Forward Collision Warning, warning me if the car in front suddenly slowed down; and Distance Control Assist, which assessed the gap between me and the car in front. Both features were quite useful.

On the subject of fuel economy, the QX70S didn’t deliver as good numbers as I’d hoped. The EPA figures are 17 mpg city and 24 mpg highway with 19 mpg combined for the rear-drive model. All-wheel-drive models are rated at 16 mpg city and 22 mpg highway with 18 mpg combined. For a modern crossover with a V6, the QX70 should deliver better numbers, preferably well over 20 mpg combined. Though I managed around 22.5 miles per gallon, indicated by the display in the gauge cluster, that figure was achieved with plenty of highway driving. Once you hit stop-and-go traffic, fuel economy immediately begins to suffer thanks to the amount of fuel needed to sustain all 3.7 liters of that V6.

The price of my rear-drive QX70 test car came to $58,085 with a $995 destination charge, which is in line with most midsize luxury sport sedans that have similar levels of equipment. Considering a six-cylinder BMW X6, Porsche Cayenne, and the upcoming Mercedes GLE Coupe have prices well above $60,000 with a similar level of equipment (though they all have all-wheel-drive standard), the Infiniti is priced very well. Even at its base price of $46,845 including destination, there’s a plenty of standard equipment such as the Bose sound system, the Infiniti Intelligent key, the 10-way power seats, power-folding mirrors, and power liftgate.

In conclusion, if you want something different from the usual Lexus GS or BMW 5-Series, appreciate a high riding height, don’t want to pay the insane prices for a Porsche Cayenne or BMW X6, and don’t need a large three-row luxury SUV like an Acura MDX or Audi Q7, the Infiniti QX70 might fill that gap. It handles very, very well while maintaining a degree of comfort for the driver and lacks the extra weight and complexity of its competitors. In this day and age, it’s now possible to consider a crossover rather than a sport sedan, and the QX70 is a solid choice if you want a tall, well-handling touring vehicle all to yourself.

Infiniti provided the vehicle, insurance, and one tank of gas for the review. 

Satish Kondapavulur is a writer for Clunkerture, where about a fifth of the articles are about old cars and where his one-time LeMons racing dreams came to an end once he realized it was impossible to run a Ferrari Mondial. His current car is an E39 BMW 530i with an automatic transmission, no sports package, and a newly fixed cooling system.

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Attack Of The Orphaned Acuras http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/attack-orphaned-acuras/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/attack-orphaned-acuras/#comments Wed, 22 Apr 2015 15:00:35 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1042906 My friend and fellow auto journo Tyson Hugie is the ultimate Acura fanboy. He owns a 2013 Acura ILX 6-speed with the personalized plate ILX, a 1994 Legend GS Sedan 6-speed and a 1992 NSX 5-speed which just hit 100,000 miles. He was honored by American Honda for passing 500,000 miles on his 1994 Legend […]

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My friend and fellow auto journo Tyson Hugie is the ultimate Acura fanboy. He owns a 2013 Acura ILX 6-speed with the personalized plate ILX, a 1994 Legend GS Sedan 6-speed and a 1992 NSX 5-speed which just hit 100,000 miles. He was honored by American Honda for passing 500,000 miles on his 1994 Legend LS Coupe 6-speed. And he is currently searching for a Vigor 5-speed in Arcadia Green.

Hugie clearly has a case of ADHD – Acura Definite Hyperactivity Disorder.

So naturally we had to take his orphaned Acuras along with the greatest discontinued Honda ever – a S2000 roadster, my 2008 with 32,000 miles – for a run up Tucson’s twisty Catalina Highway to Mount Lemmon and bemoan the demise of these late, great Honda cars. All in the name of automotive research, of course.

We were joined by the owner of a 144,000-mile 1993 NSX 5-speed and a group of Southwest auto writers credited at the bottom of this post. We tried in vain to find an example of the other great discontinued Acura, an Integra R or GSR. We recently wrote about this 1997 R in Phoenix, but it was in the process of being sold for $43,000, and every other one we spotted on Craigslist had aftermarket rear wings too tall for the low hanging trees on our drive. Apparently original 1990s Integras are as rare as original 1990s Legends.

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Kulikowski joked about us doing a running Le Mans start to see who could grab an NSX for first leg. I hopped in Hugie’s 1992 and was first struck by how low the car sits; I was actually looking up at the S2000. The mid-engine NSX is simply sensational to drive, with 270 horses over your shoulder, the precise Honda stick shift and near-neutral cornering. Said Jason, “The NSX was intimidating to me at first but in typical Honda tradition, the car instantly felt familiar and easy to drive. Everything feels raw and mechanical. This is a sensation you just can’t find anymore.”

Both NSXs had over 100,000 miles on their clocks but you could barely tell, a testament to Honda durability. They were rock solid with not a squeak or rattle to be heard. I doubt there are many 100K Ferraris to be found in such condition. Whether you fall into the “it can’t be an exotic because it is a Honda” camp or the “it is built by Honda so it is an exotic that will not break” group, most will agree that the NSX is one of the greatest sports car ever sold in America.

Acura Fanatic: Tyson Hugie's 4 Acuras have a combined 901,224 miles

Tyson’s Corner: Acura fanatic Hugie’s 4 Acuras have a combined 901,224 miles

I had one of the first Gen 2 Legend Coupes as a “demo” back in 1991 and I still remember what a sensation it was at the time. I doubt I will ever drive a 500,000+ mile car as strong as Hugie’s coupe. We only drove the car briefly due to a dying clutch. The suspension was also a little iffy but the silky 6-cylinder motor pulled as willingly as the sedan’s. Amazingly, this Legend has only been towed once – when its original fuel pump let go at 399,750 miles. The car has been through seven timing belts and Hugie’s goal is seven more.

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It is no surprise that everyone loved the S2000. I told the gang that below 6,000 RPM, the Honda is the World’s Crappiest Miata: rough-riding, loud and not much torque. At that point the VTEC kicks in (yo!) and the motor screams towards its 8,200 rpm redline. This may be Honda’s greatest engine ever: 2.0-liter 4-cylinder with 240 horsepower in the original AP1 version, 237 horsepower from 2.2 liters in this second-generation AP2, or 7 more than in the Legends’ engines.  All agreed the convertible was the best car for the serpentine and smooth Catalina Highway and the sunny 70 degree weather we enjoyed.

As for that lack of low-end umph: I did have a ride in high school that had less torque. I don’t remember the model but I remember it was made by Schwinn.

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We all agreed on the car that surprised us the most: the 147,000-mile Legend Sedan. The last flagship Acura sedan available with a manual transmission, it was quiet, quick and comfortable. Said Pawela, “The big glass greenhouse and low dash made for an excellent view out. When it came time to toss this big boy around some corners, I was amazed how composed and level the body remained.” Thanks to Acura’s designers and its stealthy Desert Mist Metallic paint, the sedan was also voted the car “Most Likely to be Ignored by the Highway Patrol.”

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Both Legends came standard with a cool now-discontinued feature: AN ACTUAL NAME rather than being an “Acura RTIGLX.” Stop me if you have heard this one before: if Acura had kept the name “Legend” and stuffed a V8 under its hood, the luxury car landscape would be vastly different today.

Our chase car was a new Lexus RC350 (which we all loved for its great seats alone), allowing us to put the cars in perspective. Said Lee, “Having the Lexus kind of gave a unique experience – here, you have all these cars designed to be “driving” cars; there was a certain connection between the driver and the car. As the driver you felt a sense of control; in fractions of a second you have to decide if you need more or less steer, adjust your throttle or your braking. Going between the NSX, S2000, and the Legend 4-Door and then back into the Lexus you can see a massive difference in how and what a car is suppose to do.”

NSX in Mirror

Honda and Acura still sell mainstream cars with a sporty twist, but none like these. There is a revived S2000 and NSX on the horizon but they will feature turbos and hybrids, be bluetoothed and 27 air-bagged, and probably even have power steering which two of our testers lacked. In other words: the days of basic (read manual transmission and normally aspirated) unique, fun luxury and sports cars are dwindling due to the realities of today’s auto business. Build a screaming 4-cylinder convertible that only gets 18 mpg in town today? No way due to CAFE regulations. Put a stick shift in a luxury coupe? Who would buy it? Build an exotic mid-engine sports car? Sure, that will be $150,000 please – or more like $250,000 after Acura dealers are done ADMing the new NSX.

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The greatest compliment we can pay these classic vehicles is this: go check out the soaring prices being asked for clean, unmodified examples.

We plan to do Part Two this fall and it may take that long to find decent copies of an Integra GSR, CRX Si, CRX HF, and 4th generation Prelude. Or if Honda drops the CR-Z as they did recently with the Crosstour and Hugie finds his Vigor, we will find a Honda del Sol and take all four cars on another run – the Crappy Orphaned Hondas Tour…

Thanks to Tyson Hugie, James Lee, Jason Pawela, Peter Kulikowski, Kelvin Chang and photographer Beau MacDonnell for making this event happen!

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Lincoln Is Already Coming Back http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/lincoln-already-coming-back/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/lincoln-already-coming-back/#comments Tue, 21 Apr 2015 13:00:44 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1049449 I remember back when I first wrote on The Truth About Cars that Lincoln, noted creator of cars for airport limo drivers, would make a comeback. The comments broke down like this: a few of you agreed with me. The rest of you accused me of being either a paid shill for Lincoln or an […]

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MKCExterior3_rdax_646x396

I remember back when I first wrote on The Truth About Cars that Lincoln, noted creator of cars for airport limo drivers, would make a comeback. The comments broke down like this: a few of you agreed with me. The rest of you accused me of being either a paid shill for Lincoln or an idiot, which, in your minds, appeared to be approximately the same thing.

Well, here we are two years later, and Lincoln is already clawing its way back.

I say this because I recently spent time in the MKC, which is a small luxury crossover designed to rival everyone else’s small luxury crossover: the Mercedes GLK, the Lexus NX, the Acura RDX, the Infiniti QX50, and a wide range of other models with indecipherable acronym names that make heavy use of the letter “X.”

And you know what? The Lincoln MKC is pretty damn good.

Let’s go over the details. It’s starts at $34,000, which makes it cheaper than virtually all its rivals. It gets better mileage than most of them, too. Options include rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, an automated parallel parking system, and one of the best infotainment systems in the entire industry. Yes, I know MyFord Touch sucked when it came out, but that was five years ago – and if you haven’t driven a car equipped with it since then, you’re missing out.

You can choose between two engines: a 240-horsepower turbocharged 4-cylinder and a 285-hp turbocharged 4-cylinder that offers more power than most rival V6s. There’s a standard backup camera. Standard voice control. Standard dual-zone automatic climate control. Standard keyless access with push-button start. Standard power front seats, which is something that Audi has been trying to figure out for the last two decades. In other words: on paper, this car is a worthy adversary for every single modern compact luxury crossover. It’s not some flag-waving also-ran.

And in practice?

In practice, it’s just as damn good. A few car journalists have knocked Lincoln interiors for offering a little too much cheap plastic, but I think these people need to spend time in other luxury SUVs. The Mercedes GLK interior looks like a factory for plastic. The RDX interior makes it seem like Acura is the largest consumer of plastic buttons outside the Target women’s department. Any objective person would say the MKC fits right in with these rivals.

And then there’s the driving experience. It’s quick. It’s comfortable. It’s plush. No, it’s no sports car, but let’s be honest: the MKC was never going to take down the BMW X3. Lincoln is going after the enormous “I want a luxurious luxury car” segment currently being abandoned by “Let’s Make It Look Crazy” Lexus, and they’re doing a damn good job.

All-New 2013 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid

So then we move to Lincoln’s “other” new product: the MKZ. I’ve driven the MKZ. I like the MKZ. I find the MKZ to be one of the most attractive new cars on sale, giant taillight and all. If I were interested in a smooth, comfortable luxury car, I’d find my way over to the Lincoln dealer long before I ever set foot in Lexus of My Hometown. Largely because the Lexus dealer scares me, since it looks like all the SUVs are going to eat my extremities.

Now, I know I’m in the minority when it comes to the MKZ, primarily due to its polarizing exterior styling. But you have to agree that this car, too, looks pretty damn good on paper. Turbo 4-cylinder. Optional V6. Available hybrid model that costs nothing extra and does 40 mpg in combined driving. Cheaper than Lexus, and more equipment. For those of us who don’t think it looks like a beached whale, this is a pretty damn good car.

And I suspect Lincoln will continue coming out with these damn good cars over the next few years. This is, after all, the same company that brought Ford from a football-shaped Taurus with a pushrod engine to a handsome, desirable Fusion in just a decade. They can do it with Lincoln, too.

Now, I’m the first to admit that Lincoln’s turnaround will be a long and bumpy one – especially if they believe their flagship vehicle, the Navigator, can continue in its current form as a warmed-over Expedition with a ten-year-old chassis and a fraction of the features its rivals have.

And then there’s the brand’s name. Cadillac has been turning around for a decade now, and you’d still get a nasty look from any non-car enthusiast if you told them you were buying a Cadillac. “A Cadillac?” they would say. “For you? Or your grandfather?” And then they would laugh and laugh, as they walk out to their cool new BMW or Audi, which aren’t associated with old people, but rather sorority girls from the North Shore of Long Island.

So it’s a long road ahead, but I think Lincoln is going about it the right way: by delivering high-quality products packed with features, loaded with equipment, and equipped with some of the best engines on the market. This process won’t be done in two years, or even five years, but it’s headed in the right direction. Just like I said.

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2016 Acura ILX Review: Big Changes Make The ILX Competitive, Not A Segment Leader http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/review-2016-acura-ilx-big-changes-make-ilx-competitive-not-segment-leader/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/review-2016-acura-ilx-big-changes-make-ilx-competitive-not-segment-leader/#comments Mon, 20 Apr 2015 16:00:06 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1048305 For the entry-level Acura’s fourth model year, the ILX is undergoing a complete powertrain transformation. LED headlights and trim-line changes further differentiate the refreshed 2016 ILX, but the less visible changes are the real difference makers. • U.S. Market Price As Tested: $35,810 • Horsepower: 201 @ 6800 rpm • Torque: 180 lb-ft @ 3600 […]

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2016 ACURA ILX A-Spec

For the entry-level Acura’s fourth model year, the ILX is undergoing a complete powertrain transformation. LED headlights and trim-line changes further differentiate the refreshed 2016 ILX, but the less visible changes are the real difference makers.


• U.S. Market Price As Tested: $35,810

• Horsepower: 201 @ 6800 rpm

• Torque: 180 lb-ft @ 3600 rpm

• Observed Fuel Economy: 29 mpg


Gone is the ILX Hybrid, the base ILX’s 2.0L four-cylinder, and Acura’s last remaining manual transmission. The sole powerplant is now a 201-horsepower 2.4L from base versions of the TLX.

The Honda Civic-based ILX therefore isn’t using the exact same engine as the range-topping Civic Si, and it’s certainly not using any of the Civic’s transmissions. Instead, the 2016 ILX is equipped with an 8-speed dual-clutch unit.

Honda figured out a way to make the DCT operate with a torque converter, and as a result, it’s a more refined dual-clutch transmission (especially at lower around-town speed) than you’ll encounter elsewhere in the dual-clutch universe, though without some of the hard-hitting edge of some competitors. There’s also an aggressive Sport mode for twisty roads and people who drive around downtown on Saturday nights, windows down, one gear too low, with revs wailing. To impress the ladies, maybe.

2016 Acura ILX A-Spec rearConsequently, compared with both the former base and up-level engines, the 2016 ILX is a significantly quicker car; the extra ponies enhancing the performance compared with the old 2.0L and the 8-speed transmission producing faster shifts compared with the outgoing 2.4L/manual combo. As you’d expect from Honda, the 2.4L revs sweetly and makes a pleasant noise.

At the very least, the ILX is now sufficiently powerful, but that’s only one element in terms of what could make an appealing entry-level luxury sports sedan. Don’t be fooled by the A-Spec package – aside from 18-inch wheels, it’s cosmetic.

2016 Acura ILX interiorThe ILX doesn’t turn-in with sports car gusto and the steering is generally lacking in feel. There’s noticeable body roll, but it’s not excessive in the real world. The car rides stiffly, especially out back, but not too stiffly. Grip and feel was likely limited during the car’s visit by the Bridgestone Blizzak winter tires on this Honda Canada-supplied press car, but those tires didn’t camouflage the fact that the ILX treads middle ground between performance sedans and conventional, mainstream small sedans.

The ILX also resides in a neutral territory inside, where the interior is a mix of upmarket Acura design and lower-tier Honda materials. The plastic surround on the centre tunnel, for example, is rock hard. The climate control unit would be suitable in a Fit. But the (unintuitive) dual screens, buttons for autonomous Lane Keeping Assist and adaptive cruise control, an effective Cross Traffic monitoring system, and “lux-suede inserts” on the seats would be suitable in an MDX.

2016 Acura ILX Perhaps of greater importance is the spacious back seat and flat rear floor, which aren’t at all the norm in this category. Parents who periodically move child seats between cars won’t be happy with the location of the LATCH anchors, but the overall sensation inside is of sufficient space, not claustrophobia.

In isolation, the ILX is not a disappointing car, particularly when luxed-up and body-kitted like this loaded A-Spec car. But the overly stiff rear suspension and the way the ILX crashes over harsh pavement imperfections reminds me of just how serenely the Buick Verano Turbo makes its way down the road. The ILX’s steering is too numb and its lack of outright athleticism too apparent not to bring to mind the Audi A3’s GTI-like ride and handling balance. And while the additional standard horsepower of the 2016 model finally makes the ILX a competitive car, the 2.4L is surely no torque-monster. These aren’t the VTEC high-revvers of yesteryear – the ILX feels decently quick before it’s revving past 6000 rpm – but with only 180 lb-ft of torque, it’s down by 78 lb-ft compared with Mercedes-Benz’s CLA250, a car which never wants for instant shove. There are ways in which the ILX is better than all these cars, but the Acura’s comparative deficiencies are more obvious than its advantages.

Acura ILX collageWe’ve yet to see the impact of the refreshed ILX’s launch, as this is a 2016 model year vehicle released early in 2015. It’s undoubtedly an improved car, but will near-luxury buyers even know that it’s an updated car? The ILX first arrived three years ago and this refreshed car isn’t obviously new.

U.S. sales peaked at 20,430 units in its first full year, 2013, but the ILX fell 13% in 2014 and first-quarter volume in 2015 is off last year’s pace by 15%. Year-to-date, the ILX sells less than half as often as the Buick Verano, Mercedes-Benz CLA, and Audi A3. This least costly Acura accounts for 25% of the brand’s car volume; 14% of total Acura sales.

2016 Acura ILX interior collageIn order for Honda to move the ILX up the leaderboard and make it a more meaningful product in Acura showrooms, it would need to feel a lot more special than this. “Not special” is a vague verdict, but it can be summed up this way: our test car was a (USD) $35,810 version of a car that starts at $28,820, and it’s abundantly clear that the foundation of that car is a sedan that starts below $20K.

Humble origins aren’t a problem. The failure to adequately mask those origins, however, in a $35K+ car, in an arena controlled by Germans which are afforded special status on the basis of their badges alone, is in fact a problem.

Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures.

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2015 BMW X4 xDrive28i Review (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/review-2015-bmw-x4-xdrive28i-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/review-2015-bmw-x4-xdrive28i-video/#comments Mon, 20 Apr 2015 12:00:49 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1044242 Lately, BMW has been accused of answering questions nobody was asking. Looking at things a different way, however, BMW has taken personalization of your daily driver to a level we haven’t seen before by making an incredible number of variations based on the same basic vehicle. Once upon a time, BMW made one roadster and […]

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Lately, BMW has been accused of answering questions nobody was asking. Looking at things a different way, however, BMW has taken personalization of your daily driver to a level we haven’t seen before by making an incredible number of variations based on the same basic vehicle. Once upon a time, BMW made one roadster and three sedans. If you asked nicely, they would cut the top off the 3-Series, add a hatchback, or stretch it into a wagon. If you look at the family tree today you’d see that the 2-series coupé and convertible, X1, X3, X4, 3-Series sedan, long wheelbase sedan, and wagon, 3-Series GT and 4-Series coupé, convertible and gran coupé are all cousins. (Note: I didn’t say sisters, but they are all ultimately related.) That’s a product explosion of 400 percent since 1993 and we’re talking solely about the compact end of their lineup. You could look at this two ways. This is insanity, or this is some diabolical plan. Since sales have increased more than 300% since 1993, I’m going with diabolical plan.

Exterior

The “same sausage in multiple lengths” concept has been a staple design philosophy of the luxury industry for decades, but BMW’s “something for everyone” mantra takes that to the next level. You see, the X4 and the 3-Series Gran Tourismo are two entirely different sausages that (although related) manage to look the same yet share very little. Stranger still, the same shape elicits two different responses from people. Some see the GT and think “that liftback looks practical and roomier than a trunk” and then they look at the X4 and say “that’s less practical than an X3, why would I want it?”

To create the X4, the X3’s rear was raked and the bumpers were tweaked but it still retains the same hood, headlamps and ride height. You’d think that would make it a crossover, but BMW prefers “Sports Activity Coupe.” Whatever. The GT is a 3-Series that has been stretched and a liftback grafted on. The GT is lower to the ground and actually longer than the X4, but the differences don’t stop there. The GT is built in Germany, the X4 is made in South Carolina. Like many Americans, the X4 is 2-inches wider, has a more aggressive look up front and weighs 200 lbs more. (Before you ask, I was born in Ohio and that describes me as well.)

The trouble with making so many models is that it makes comparisons difficult. (Or is that part of BMW’s diabolical plan?) Aside from the GT, the X4 lacks any natural competition, especially in our xDrive28i trim. The V60 Cross Country, Macan, allroad and Evoque all come to mind, but only the Macan uses a similar silhouette. The Volvo and Audi are lifted station wagons, the Evoque is much smaller and front wheel drive.

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Interior

The X4 shares the majority of its interior with the X3. Likely because the X3 and X4 are a little more recent than the current 3-Series, I found the interior to be more harmonious in terms of plastics quality. Instead of the iDrive screen perched atop the dash like in the 3-Series, it’s nestled into it. Perhaps because the X4 is made in America, the cup holders are larger, more functional and lack the funky lid 3-Series owners always lose track of.

Because the X3’s roofline was drastically altered to create the X4, BMW opted to drop the seat bottoms in order to preserve headroom. The difference isn’t too noticeable up front, but in the rear the X4’s seat bottom cushions ride much closer to the floor than in any of the competition. Despite lowering the seating height, headroom is still very limited in the back and best reserved for kids or shorter adults. This is a stark contrast to the 3-GT which has an inch more headroom in the rear, seat cushions that are higher off the floor, seat backs that recline and a whopping 7 inches more combined legroom.

At 17.7 cubic feet, the X4’s cargo area is about 33% smaller than the X3 [The Porsche Macan loses almost 40 percent of its cargo volume in comparison to its platform mate, the Audi Q5. -Ed.]. On the flip side, this is a hair larger than a 328i sedan and the cargo hatch is a more convenient shape. Once again, however, the 3-GT comes out more practical with a larger cargo hold and the same practical liftback for accessing it. Interestingly enough, the V60 CC and the Porsche Macan have cargo areas nearly identical in size.

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Infotainment

iDrive has long been one of my favorite infotainment systems and that continues with the latest version. Our tester included the full bevy of infotainment options including smartphone app integration ($500), navigation ($2,150) and the iPhone snap-in adapter ($250). If that sounds expensive, you’re right. However, it is less expensive than the options list on the Macan. Like Audi and Mercedes, BMW has inserted a cell modem into top end iDrive systems allowing online service access.

iDrive’s interface has received continual tweaks over the years to improve usability and I find the interface easy to navigate and intuitive. A little less intuitive is the finger-writing input method which allows you to “write” on the top of the controller knob to enter addresses. While that sounds like a good idea, I discovered it took 25% longer to enter a destination vs rotating the dial. All the latest in connected infotainment can be had in the X4 (for a price) including integrated Pandora, Stitcher, Audible, pass-thru voice commands for iOS and Android, and Wikipedia integration which will read Wiki articles to you via a built-in text-to-speech engine.

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Drivetrain

X4 xDrive28i models get a 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder (N20) good for 240 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque at just 1,450 RPM while xDrive35i models get the 300 horsepower, 300 lb-ft 3.0L turbo (N55). Both engines are mated to an 8-speed ZF automatic and standard AWD. Sound familiar? That’s the same lineup in the 3-GT. Oddly enough you can get the X3 in RWD, but the X4 with its (in theory) sportier image is AWD only.

If you’re shopping for the X4 outside of the USA, you get more choice with an available 181 horse 2.0L gasoline turbo, a selection of diesel engines ranging from 187-309 ponies and a manual transmission on some engines.

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Drive

I’m no track junkie like Jack Baruth, but I do appreciate a well-balanced vehicle. That said, I am frequently distracted by straight line performance and “moar powah.” X4 shoppers will need to choose between these two. The 2.0L may be down on power vs the 3.0L , but it is also 33% shorter and 165 lbs lighter. In addition, the 2.0L sits behind the front axle instead of above it. The effect of the weight reduction and nose-lightening is obvious when you start pushing the X4 on your favorite mountain road. The lighter 2.0L model doesn’t feel as eager, but it does feel more composed and more willing to change direction. The 3.0L has more low-end grunt and a more refined sound, but because of the added weight, AWD and chassis tuning, it tends toward understeer more readily.

The key to understanding the X4 on the road is simple: it weighs only 20 lbs less than the X3 and despite the sheetmetal changes, the center of gravity isn’t all that much lower. As a result it drives almost exactly like an X3. Since the X3 is one of the most dynamic options in its class, that’s no dig. 0-60 happened in a quick 6.14 seconds in our tester(the 3.0L is a full second faster) and the lateral grip is impressive for a crossover. On the downside, the 3-Series sedan and GT will do everything a hair faster with better grip and better feel. BMW will swap out the 245 width tires our tester had for a staggered 245 / 275 tire package. I suspect that may give the X4 more of a performance edge on the less sporting trims of X3 or 3-GT, but fuel economy and your pocketbook will suffer. Thanks to the wide tires, the X4 took just 119 feet to stop from 60 MPH.

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The standard AWD system dulls what little feel you might otherwise get from the electric power steering system, but in return it allows drama-free launches on most road surfaces and plenty of fun on soft roads. Speaking of soft roads, the X4 reminded me a great deal of Volvo’s V60 Cross Country: both vehicles prioritize style over practicality and both are soft-road vehicles designed for folks that live down a short gravel road and commute on winding mountain highways. The suspension in all forms of the X4 is stiffer than I expected and the M-Sport is stiffer than I could live with long-term on the crappy roads in Northern California. If you’re contemplating the M-Sport, be sure to option up the adaptive suspension system. The $1,000 option doesn’t dull the X4’s responses, but when in the softer modes it may just save your kidneys.

Competition for the X4 is hard to define as I have said. On the surface of things, the styling premium over the X3 will set you back $6,200, but the X4 has around $4,200 more in standard equipment, like AWD and HID lamps, which drops the real difference to about $2,000. That may not sound like too much of a premium for the added style you get in the X4, but the 328i Gran Turismo, despite standard AWD and the panoramic sunroof, is about $2,500 less than the X4.

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Now we must cover the Porsche Macan. In the same way that the X4 is a less practical X3, the Macan is a less practical Audi Q5. If you look at the Macan closely, you’ll see almost the same profile as the X4. Dimensionally they are quite similar inside and out. However, the Macan’s conversion from the plebeian Q5 was much more involved. Porsche also starts their lineup with a 340 horsepower twin-turbo V6, 7-speed DCT, and made major changes to the structure of the Q5 platform. On top of that, they fit wider tires all around. Obviously our 2.0L X4 doesn’t compete with the Porsche, but the X4 with the turbo six is an interesting alternative. The X4 xDrive35i manages to be a hair faster to 60 in my limited tests (1/10th) thanks likely to the ZF 8-speed automatic. The BMW’s transmission is smoother, I think the exterior is more elegant and depending on how you configure your Porsche, the cost difference can exceed $10,000 in the X4’s favor. The Macan handles better and had a nicer and more customizable interior, but the options are so expensive that it’s easy to get a Macan S over $75,000 without really trying.

Although I like the X4’s interior more than the 3-GT, the  GT makes more sense to me. You get more room inside, it’s more nimble out on the road and the fuel economy in the real world is a hair better. The X3 is more practical and gives up little when it comes to performance and handling and the 3-Series sport wagon is probably the best blend of cargo practicality and performance handling. This brings me back to BMW’s diabolical plan: comparisons. No matter how I tried to define or categorize the X4, the competitive set was littered with BMWs. Aside from the xDrive35i being the value alternative to the Macan S, all that can be said of the X4 in the end is that it is a less practical X3 and a taller GT with a nicer dash.

Sound off in the comment section below: what would you cross shop with the X4?

 

BMW provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.4 Seconds

0-60: 6.14 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 14.83 Seconds @ 92.8 MPG

Average Economy: 23.8 MPG

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Review: 2013 BMW 335i M-Sport Steptronic http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/review-2013-bmw-335i-m-sport-steptronic/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/review-2013-bmw-335i-m-sport-steptronic/#comments Mon, 20 Apr 2015 11:00:16 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1047985 I don’t think that my review of the M235xi rustled too many jimmies among the B&B — but it did cause one of our readers to sit up straight in his chair and say, “Hey, I want this idiot to drive my car, just to uphold the honor of the mighty Roundel.” Or something like […]

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I don’t think that my review of the M235xi rustled too many jimmies among the B&B — but it did cause one of our readers to sit up straight in his chair and say, “Hey, I want this idiot to drive my car, just to uphold the honor of the mighty Roundel.” Or something like that. So what we have here is a fully loaded, fifty-seven-thousand-dollar Bimmer 3er, ready to rip around my modest suburb and show off a few party tricks.

Let’s get started.

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Looks proper, doesn’t it? The visual… stubbiness that afflicts the 2-Series is absent here, mostly because this is a very large car by BMW standards prior to the turn of the century. Some of the details are really nice — look at the three-dimensionality of the chrome grille and the overt sporting nature of the bodykit. The front end is clearly drawn to comply with European pedestrian regulations, but you’d never mistake it for anything but a Pontiac Grand Am BMW and more importantly, neither will your neighbors.

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I’d praised the interior of the M235xi, but not all of you agreed that it looked like a fifty-grand car. Well, this one is better, and there’s a distinct improvement in the materials quality across the board compared to the Two. The lower-spec 335i that I drove for R&T’s Sweet Science test had a two-tone interior that did not stand up to direct comparison with the opulent confines of the Q50 or the Eighties-Nippon-chic of the Lexus IS350. In the funeral full black of this example, with just the metallic blue trim stripe to distract from what would otherwise be a completely monochromatic cockpit, things are somewhat improved.

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We start the test drive with me occupying the passenger seat so the owner — let’s call him Chip, because that’s a great name for a 3-Series owner — tells me about his career and his relationship with the BMW marque. He’s younger than I am and this is far from his first BMW. It also wasn’t his first choice; he picked it because four-door M3s weren’t thick on the showroom floors when he was shopping. His next car will be the twin-turbo M3 DCT that has managed to capture my respect, but not my affection. Chip shows off the various features of the car, including a frankly fascinating display mode that shows you what cameras mounted on both sides of the nose can see. This is beyond brilliant for urban environments where you often have to poke your car’s front end out past a bunch of double-parked Range Rovers and whatnot. Every Viper and Corvette should come with these cameras.

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When it’s my time to drive, Chip puts the car into Maximum Sport mode, or some approximation of it. Launched from a stop, this Three feels a little more spry than the Two. I’d guess that the broken-in motor makes enough power to account for the frankly minor weight difference between an RWD Three and an AWD Two. The same comments — rapid but not DCT-accurate shifting, a willingness to sit at redline in manual mode, relatively close ratios — that applied to this transmission in the smaller car apply here. It’s so lovely, however, to not have that moronic front axle interfering. I could come to like this car for the way it torques its way out of roundabouts and the near-seamless shift from second to third when you’re trying to hustle on back roads.

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If only I could love the way this big Bimmer corners — but I cannot. It’s balanced and predictable, about as close to neutral as you can have in a modern street car, but again you’re steering by eye and ear, not by feel. I’m willing to put up with this shit in a C5 Corvette, because in a C5 Corvette you can lay waste to a wide variety of drooling mooks at pretty much any open trackday, but in a car that (cue the furious comments) is barely any faster than my Accord, I’m not as forgiving. What I will say is this. Given the usual caveats, such as “you can’t really learn much about a car’s handling on the street”, I think this car out-handles the M235xi. I was able to get a few miles per hour more exit speed on a few different corners and the drama quotient was very low. You can get all four tires squealing in a long turn and the 335i is very well-behaved while you’re doing it.

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I know what you’re thinking. RWD car out-handles AWD car. Film at eleven, right? But it’s more than that. It’s the way the steering ratio works with the longer wheelbase, it’s the better driving position, it’s the way you can adjust the car a bit without worrying about when the front axle will take an interest in your shenanigans and what it will do when that interest appears. You don’t need to go to a racetrack to feel the difference. If you think you need the “X” version of a BMW, you should drive both and decide whether you can live with what the tacked-on FWD does to the car’s dynamic qualities.

Now let us turn our hymnals to page 2002, like the man said, and take a look at the $14,000 worth of options:

sticker

The base car is $43,150. That’s a bit of a deal, actually; I paid that much for a 330i M-Sport back in 2001 and it was a hundred horsepower south of this car. Not, mind you, that I wouldn’t rather have that 330i and a solid punch to the throat over the modern F-whatever Bimmers. The M-Sport package is $3,200. Yeah, you want that. If you stopped right there, you’d have a hell of a car. Cold Weather Package is $950, and it’s hard to do without it here in Ohio. And it has heated rear seats too, just like a Hyundai Elantra! The Driver Assistance Package is $1,900 and I’m not sure it’s worth the money, even if it has BMW NoseView(tm). The Premium Package is $2,200. BMW has some nerve to charge that kind of money for stuff my Accord V6 has standard. The Technology Package is an eye-watering 3,100 for a nav system and Bluetooth audio. Come on, man!

The automatic transmission is $500.00. Chip got it so his wife could drive the car. The last few women I’ve dated have been motorcycle owners or stick-shift Jeep Wrangler drivers so I wouldn’t have to make that choice, thankfully. The side window shades, which are very nice for children, are $575.00.

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The M3’s base sticker is $62,925 or thereabouts, but remember that you don’t get all this stuff with a base M3. What Chip’s constructed here is a very rapid, very comfortable, very well-equipped luxury sedan. It’s basically an old 535i with a 335i badge, minus the Bangle-era flame surfacing and the brilliant steering. Costs like one, too. The current Five feels like a Seven, and the current Seven feels like a Wal-Mart version of the Rolls-Royce Ghost with which it shares mechanicals, so this is all just fine. You can think of it as the opposite of the downsizing the domestic manufacturers did thirty years ago. Remember how the LeBaron became the New Yorker, and the Le Mans became the Bonneville Model G? This is the same thing, in reverse.

Just as the hasty downsizing left big Parisienne-sized holes at the top of automaker lineups, BMW’s commitment to fatkini-friendly proportions has left a very conspicuous empty space in their showrooms. Something the size and weight of the E36, maybe. The M235xi ain’t it. The upcoming smaller BMWs will be FWD. It’s amazing, really; BMW doesn’t make a proper 3-Series any more. Yet their sales continue to grow. It would be like if Jeep just canned the Wrangler, or if Ford stopped making the F-150.

Driving Chip’s 335i, I kept thinking of my old 330i M-Sport. The moment I saw it in the dealership lot, I knew I’d pay whatever it took to put it in my driveway. I had raw desire for it, the kind of thing that shakes you by the scruff of your neck, the way you feel when a woman in the fast-food line ahead of you turns to give you her profile and it’s simply perfect and in that moment you fall for her, the needle and the damage done. I liked this Estoril Blue sedan but I didn’t have any desire for it. Just as soon have an A4, or a Cheap-class, or my Accord. Just don’t care. Fifty-seven grand is a lot of money to not really care — but if something about this car does call to you, I beg you, leave that front differential at the Dingolfing plant, okay?

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Capsule Review: 2003 Chevrolet Zafira CD 2.0 8v http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/capsule-review-2003-chevrolet-zafira-cd-2-0-8v/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/capsule-review-2003-chevrolet-zafira-cd-2-0-8v/#comments Sun, 19 Apr 2015 13:00:56 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1046586 The last time I saw this car it lay bare and gutted in front of me. The seats had been pulled out, the dash taken apart and wires dangling. The carpets were in the process of being removed. All of this in an effort to find the source of an infestation that had plagued it. It was […]

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The last time I saw this car it lay bare and gutted in front of me. The seats had been pulled out, the dash taken apart and wires dangling. The carpets were in the process of being removed. All of this in an effort to find the source of an infestation that had plagued it.

It was a fun ride taking the car to the mechanic. Having been smoked with toxic gas in an effort to get rid of the pests, the smell (and undoubtedly some of the chemicals) still hung in the air. What’s more, the extermination effort had agitated the pesky insects. As I drove, I could see them coming out of the vents and felt them crawling over my feet.

The car had been taken by cockroaches. Big, brown, ugly, dirty, urban roaches. More worrisome was not only were big ones seen, little ones also abounded. The exterminator’s chemical attack had been insufficient. The next step would be to strip the car and physically remove the root of the infestation: the beasts’ nest.

That had been over four years ago and now the car was back in town. Taking a break from work in São Paulo, the family hit the road in their 2003 Chevrolet Zafira CD, on their way to our hometown to visit family and friends. As the women settled down to talk and the children made friends again and started playing, I made my escape. I asked them what was needed and offered to go to the supermarket. They made their list and I asked for the keys to the Zafira, joking about that ride of those many years ago. I warned them it would be a long, long supermarket raid. And just like that, I spent the day with the Zafira and reacquainted myself with it.

The Zafira is a minivan based on the same platform of the Astra (Golf and Focus sized competitor). Developed by GM Germany, also known as Opel, it seats seven. That made it a favorite of families anywhere the car was offered. It’s a longish car at 4.3 m (169.3 in), wide (1.75 m, 68.9 in) and tall (1.69 m, 66.5 in). The long 2.7 m (106 in) wheelbase means it offers lots of legroom for first and second row passengers and, due to its boxy minivan shape, head and shoulder room is excellent. With 7 seats up it can still hold 150 L of luggage (competitive with a modern Fiat 500 for one), increasing to 600 L of trunk swallowing space for family accoutrements with the third row tucked. Folding the second row, the Zafira becomes a veritable moving van.

That sort of space is the reason this particular family bought the Chevy Zafira. With three little girls ranging in age from 3 to 9, the car suits their parents’ needs fine. On the highway it’s a cruiser that can take them all in comfort, while in the city it is large by Brazilian standards, but still not quite as bulky as some modern CUVs. Windows are large and the Zafira’s shape makes it quite easy to drive, even in crowded city environs as visibility is excellent.

Under the hood is part of the reason why some of the daddies don’t mind the car either. This version was the CD, meaning it has a 2.0L 8v engine that puts out 116 hp (other versions came with either a 2.0L 16v or a 1.8L) and, in traditional GM fashion, it has lots of low down torque. Those horses are more than enough to move the car with aplomb as it reaches its top speed of close to 180 km/h. The dash to 100 km/h was made in the mid 12s – so its a fast van. As it weighs a little over 1,400 kg (3,086 lbs), the engine is enough. Being that it’s an old engine, fuel economy is not stellar. In fact, it can be quite abysmal in the city, in stop and go traffic, loaded, AC on full blast, especially as this one is equipped with a 4-speed automatic with some tricks up its sleeve – like the ability to “learn” a driver’s style. Also, as these days it makes financial sense to fuel up with ethanol, the fact this car only takes Brazilian gasoline (E27) is another sore point for the family.

So what the car takes with one hand (bad fuel economy) it gives with the other as it offers a soothing drive for this family, most especially taking into account they live in perpetually gridlocked São Paulo. This engine’s tendency to develop bad seals and leak oil is well-known as it has been around for ages. In this way, preventive maintenance is easy to do as mechanics know what to look for.

On my drive I noticed the gearbox was working well. It held gears as needed and downshifted fast when solicited. I didn’t notice any undue thumping in the transmission, which means it’s probably healthy. In a country like Brazil, an automatic rebuild is a non-trivial cost and fear of that still keeps many away from such systems. In this 12-year-old car, so far so good. In fact, the main driver of this car, the lady of the house, has been won over and will seek another auto when the time comes for a replacement.

This Brazilian Zafira rides on 15 inch wheels fitted with 195 mm wide tires that still have some side wall (65 mm) for city comfort. Everything that was not broken was working well without undue hesitations. All controls have a nice, tactile, damped feel. Though the interior design is very conservative, everything is logically laid out and the instrument cluster is complete. The seats are large and offer excellent support. The fabric, though stained in some areas, still feels supple. Lumbar support is available and the telescoping wheel, as well as the very adjustable driver’s seat, aids in finding a nice driving position.

The suspension still feels good after all these years. Equipped with a sub-chassis and a stabilizing bar upfront, it makes short work of the bad pavement prevalent in Brazil. Body roll is controlled and the Zafira doesn’t feel like it is going to roll over navigating most curves. Of course, it’s a tall, wide, long car, so care must be taken in more acute corners. It is not an Astra to be sure, but it’s also not a car that will scare a responsible driver – though it can be driven with more gusto than, say, an SUV.

The go pedal offers excellent modulation after all these years, and the brakes (equipped with ABS and EBD) felt fine and progressive. The gear lever falls naturally to hand. The electro-hydraulic steering was also fine as turning the wheel was met with very light resistance, but it still retains some communication between it and the driver. Though the steering wheel itself is near the end of its life, working it was a pleasure.

Yep, this Zafira is a far cry from the norm of Brazilian cars, mostly of the compact and subcompact variety. And it should be. It cost a pretty penny when new, and its modern substitute – the GM Korea-developed Spin – costs from around R$50,000 (~$16,500 USD) all the way to more than R$70,000 (~$23,000 USD). The Zafira cost even more than that in its time as General Motors do Brasil also offered the smaller Meriva with seating for five. It’s one of the reasons there are so many Opel widows in Brazil. They refuse to acknowledge the Spin as a real Chevrolet and say GM Brazil has back stabbed consumers. I think the Spin is a credible substitute as it does just fine, uses the same engines, a more modern 6-speed auto and the interior is simpler, but still above average. On the used car market, according to Fipe (a sort-of Brazilian Blue Book), this 2003 Chevy still fetches about R$22,500 (~$7,400 USD). Being that a simple 1.0L compact hatch with the bare necessities of life hovers around R$30,000 (~$9,900 USD) nowadays, the Zafira still offers a lot of value.

As I drove the car I reflected on its life. Mechanically sound, it has suffered in the hands of two families. According to the current owners, they bought the car from another 3-kid family, already showcasing some stains and wear. Scuff marks, dings and scratches are all over the exterior. However, this Zafira is like a lady who has led a full life. The “damage” to it is akin to what’s usually seen on a woman who has chosen to have children and lead her life to its greatest extension. Stretchmarks usually found on such a woman should be worn with pride, just as the marks on this minivan shows it, too, has led life to the fullest, dutifully serving families and bearing the marks of little ones with pride.

In that light, a few tens of thousands of cockroaches and some toxic gas is nothing. Just par for the course.

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Long-term Tester Update: Fiesta ST on the Free-Love Freeway http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/long-term-tester-update-fiesta-st-free-love-freeway/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/long-term-tester-update-fiesta-st-free-love-freeway/#comments Fri, 17 Apr 2015 16:18:09 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1046394 “Whoa, hold on. A car hauler is actively trying to run me off the road.” Yesterday, I was talking to my older brother via Bluetooth while driving home from Louisville when, for the third time in approximately ninety miles of highway driving, a trucker was moving over on me in a way that clearly indicated […]

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“Whoa, hold on. A car hauler is actively trying to run me off the road.”

Yesterday, I was talking to my older brother via Bluetooth while driving home from Louisville when, for the third time in approximately ninety miles of highway driving, a trucker was moving over on me in a way that clearly indicated that he hadn’t seen me. Not in the passive aggressive way that truckers normally do, when they put on a blinker and start moving slowly in expectation that you’ll just get out of their way—no, this was a straight-up swing out into what he perceived to be an empty lane. I quickly checked my mirrors and accelerated into the adjacent lane.

“You in the FiST?” my brother asked.

“But of course!” I replied.

Such is the danger of driving a B segment car on the highways of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

In the weeks since I last updated you on my leasership of my 2015 Fiesta ST, I’ve had the opportunity to put some serious highway miles on it. After its first month of living with me, when I racked up a whopping 500 miles or so as the snow and ice pummeled the Midwest, I’ve since put an additional 1800 miles on the clock for a total of 2300. For those of you keeping track at home, that’s 2300 miles that didn’t go on my Boss 302 (come on, equity building!), but equally important is that I did 2300 miles at a combined 30 MPG as opposed to a combined 18 MPG.

Although the Fiesta ST doesn’t necessarily require premium fuel, it’s much happier drinking 93 octane than 87—I’ve noticed about 33 MPG highway on 87 versus 35 MPG on 93. There is also a noticeable torque difference. In theory, the ECU can tell the difference when you use regular versus premium and adjusts the ignition timing accordingly. In practice, the car feels better on 93. For highway cruising, though, it doesn’t matter much.

As good as the Fiesta is on back roads, for long stretches of highway miles, it can leave a little to be desired. The stiffly sprung suspension does not care for potholes at all, and the long, cold winter of Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana seems to have created more than I can remember in years past. There’s no such thing as mindless driving behind the wheel of the ST—one divot in the middle of a lane can ruin your day, or in my case, your alignment. A particularly nasty bump on I-64 in Kentucky seems to have knocked my alignment off ever so slightly, to the point where the steering wheel is listing a bit to the right. I’ll have to get that looked at this week.

As I mentioned at the beginning, the Fiesta ST is invisible to truckers. Not only that, it also appears to be invisible to Tahoes and F-250s. I am typically forced into evasive action about once a day if there’s even a bit of traffic around me.

Visibility out of the rear windshield is a bit limited (especially with track decals), and the truck-style side mirrors take a bit of getting used to.

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There are pluses, however. It’s surprisingly quiet on the freeway. Tire and wind noise are minimal, even at speeds approaching triple digits. The Bluetooth works flawlessly, and it’s even suitable for taking a conference call—nobody will know that you’re in the car. I don’t have the Recaro seat option in my car, and I’m actually pretty glad about that when it comes to highway driving. Although I fit in them just fine, one doesn’t always want to be gripped like a glove when driving 250 miles at a time. The standard seats have lumbar support, but I like it best without it.

I’ve had exactly zero issues with MyFordTouch so far. The navigation system is excellent for daily usage—easily the best I’ve used in a car. Mrs. Bark used it to navigate her way out of a closed highway situation last weekend, saving her over an hour. While I have no plans to extend my Sirius trial, I have to admit that it’s useful for traveling longer distances, or for driving through areas where my phone can’t easily stream Spotify.

Okay, so this bit doesn’t have anything to do with freeway driving, but I wanted to include it anyway. There’s this little button on the center console. I pressed it a few times during the day, but nothing seemed to happen.

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But at night, it’s a different story. Observe:

Click here to view the embedded video.

I know, it’s a little dorky, but I dig it.

In the next month, I’ll be taking the ST to its first autocross (where I expect to be stoned by angry jorts-wearers) as well as its first track day. I look forward to sharing those experiences with you, as well.

Questions? Comments? Concerns? Rude Remarks? GO!

 

 

 

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Volkswagen Jetta GLI: Reviewed! http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/volkswagen-jetta-gli-reviewed/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/volkswagen-jetta-gli-reviewed/#comments Fri, 17 Apr 2015 14:30:37 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1045378 This is not a GTI. This is not a GTI. This is not a GTI. Cross your tees and line your elles, this is not that darling of the #millennial boot-scoot generation: the My First Big Boy Car Volkswagen GTI. It’s not a GTI with a trunk, either, despite everything you might think. The GLI certainly […]

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VW Jetta GLI front

This is not a GTI. This is not a GTI. This is not a GTI. Cross your tees and line your elles, this is not that darling of the #millennial boot-scoot generation: the My First Big Boy Car Volkswagen GTI.

It’s not a GTI with a trunk, either, despite everything you might think.

Nice Touch Alert: the red line framing the grille extends into the headlights. Clever!

Nice Touch Alert: the red line framing the grille extends into the headlights. Clever!

The GLI certainly makes a good first impression. Split-spoke wheels with just the right-sized tires, too much sidewall, a hint of red from the front grille—there’s a nice touch, Volkswagen, how the red line continues into the headlight housings. Subtle, sophisticated: a very Grown Up Car. Junior pulls into the office park on his first day of his post-college job and he knows his bosses, safely ensconced in their corner offices, are watching. Just to see what kind of young upstart they hired. Let’s get lunch—PF Chang’s? Great. We can take my car!

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Nice wheels. Nice new grille. Open the door and imagine four plaid seats, just like the GTI—how cool would that look? Instead, the GLI only receives V-Tex Leatherette, patterned in carbon-look and framed in red piping, for a look resembling Darth Vader’s softball uniform. I appreciate the honesty inherent in a cloth interior, but we have believed for decades that even faux leather looks expensive. Even when this doesn’t.

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Darth Vader’s softball team would be called “The Empire Strikes Out.”

And yet, the illusion is over by that first turn out of the parking lot. Because that exhaust note is the GLI’s most characterful asset, carrying an unmistakable presence: it growls and rips and sounds edgy, exuberant. Coupled with the turbo pssht! when shifting through the DSG transmission, and it’s the GLI again with the first impressions, especially the impression that there’s a serious performance car lurking underneath all that sophistication.

Even when there isn’t.

VW Jetta GLI rear

Angeles Crest Highway looks pretty good in the mornings.

The GLI shares its 2.0-liter TSI turbocharged engine with its hatchbacked brother, producing 210 horsepower, with the full brunt of its 207 lb-ft of torque ready to go at a mere 1,700 RPM. Below that, it positively bogs when coming off a stop. Then it’s wait, wait, wait, hold on, whoosh!

It sounds best in second gear. Of course, Angeles Crest Highway, where these photos were taken, is a third gear kind of road…and once you lift off the throttle, anywhere below 4,000 RPM, the GLI is as quiet as ever. The dual-clutch DSG snaps off shifts with near-imperceptible quickness, fast as ever. Volkswagen claims “upgraded brakes” on the GLI, but at least the calipers are painted red. They work powerfully.

VW Jetta GLI wheels

Red calipers add BRAKE horsepower. Get it?

And here’s the shocker of the century: the whole chassis tends toward understeer. The XDS Cross Differential is an electronic system, available across the Golf lineup, and applies the brakes to inside wheels—VW-speak for torque vectoring, and without it the GLI might feel even sloppier. But as it stands now, it lacks precision. The ride is relatively well composed, with little body roll, but there’s a lot of road noise. The steering is weighty, not as sharp, not particularly involving— not much to feel, no resistance to bear, heavy as hell at a crawl, but numb and inconsistent when on the move. Compare this to the GTI, whose steering is consistent at any speed—probably why it feels so gratifying as a result.

At least you can get it with a manual. The esteemed Mr. Kreindler and I both recommended that you do.

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Our Jetta GLI SEL rang in a hair over $30,000, reigning at the top of the Jetta food chain. And yet, it still comes with the built-to-cost sensibility the motoring world griped when it came out: harsh door panels, hard-knock plastics, a bouncy trunklid, a tiny screen the size of a pack of Orbit.

But for the same price, there’s a four-door GTI. And that’s the full package: the MQB platform is new, the interior is new, the touchscreen is new, the suspension is newer, certainly. I think this is what sums it up about the GLI: go to Volkswagen’s website and look at their models. Go past the lease deals on a stripper Jetta or Passat (with manuals!). Look past the Beetle, the Eos (they still make those?), the Golf. Take a look: the GTI is its own standalone model, now, proof of serious intent from Volkswagen. On some college campuses, the GTI is so popular that your average incoming freshman can walk from one side of campus to another, entirely on the roofs of GTIs, without ever touching ground.

If you’re a sporting gentleman, get that. If you’re practical, get that. If you “drive tastefully,” get that with the plaid seats. Because America’s cheapest sports sedan—the GLI SE starts at $26,920 with a manual—is more cheap than sport.

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Review: 2015 Kia Soul EV (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/review-2015-kia-soul-ev-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/review-2015-kia-soul-ev-video/#comments Thu, 16 Apr 2015 13:00:49 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1042177   EV “conversions” make for strange bedfellows when it comes to competition. There is no gasoline Kia Soul that competed even slightly with Mercedes or BMW. Oddly enough however, when you electrify one of the least expensive cars in America, you end up with with a Kia on the same cross-shop list as the i3 […]

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EV “conversions” make for strange bedfellows when it comes to competition. There is no gasoline Kia Soul that competed even slightly with Mercedes or BMW. Oddly enough however, when you electrify one of the least expensive cars in America, you end up with with a Kia on the same cross-shop list as the i3 and B-Class Electric. Obviously a Kia Soul EV vs i3 vs B-Class comparison table is at the extreme end, but I am surprised how many folks wanted to hear that comparison. It isn’t just the luxury-cross shops that become possible however, comparisons normally considered to be “one-tier up” and “one-tier down” become more reasonable as well. For instance, the gasoline Soul isn’t a direct competitor to the Fiat 500 or the Ford Focus, but in EV form they are head to head.

Exterior

The Soul’s boxy profile causes shoppers to frequently overestimate its size. At 163 inches long, the Soul is 16-inches shorter than a Honda Civic and just three inches longer than a Honda Fit. The relative size and the low $15,190 starting price (in gasoline form) are the key to understanding the Soul in general terms. You must also keep that low starting price in mind when thinking of the Soul EV.

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Although the boxy Kia isn’t very long, it is fairly wide. At 70.9 inches wide, the Soul is three critical inches broader than a Honda Fit. This extra width helps keep the Soul from looking too upright (like the Honda Fit) and, from a practical standpoint, it gives rear passengers a wider bench seat than many compact vehicles on the market.

To set the EV apart, Kia crafted unique paint options which include the two-tone blue/white model we tested. Aside from the desire to differentiate the product, the white roof actually reduces heat loads in hotter climates. Kia is a brand known for cutting corners. Last century Kia famously cut all the wrong corners, but lately they started cutting all the right ones. In order to keep the EV’s price, low Kia skipped fancy LED or HID headlamps and used that cash to give upper level trims front and rear parking sensors and power folding mirrors. That’s a worthy trade in my book since many EVs end up being city commuter cars where parallel parking is a way of life.

I have to admit I find the Soul’s boxy form attractive. Maybe it’s my love of station wagons, but the practical profile made me smile. The tweaked front end which ditches a true grille due to reduced cooling requirements makes the Soul look more elegant than in base form as well. While I wouldn’t call it a luxury look, the Soul EV is certainly better looking than the Spark EV or LEAF and it’s a more traditional alternative to the BMW i3.

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Interior

I found the Soul’s interior to be more polarizing than the exterior, but style and not quality is where people were mixed in opinion. With the latest redesign, all Soul models get a soft-touch injection molded dashboard but the feel of the cabin does change from the base gasoline model to the top end trims. The difference seems to be that rather than swapping nicer bits into the higher end cabins, Kia designed a $25,000 cabin and then subtracted to create the base models. Things like the fabric headliner, stitched instrument cluster cover, sort touch door panels and leather wrapped wheel get swapped for lower rent parts in that base $15,190 model. The result is a high-end Soul interior that looks cohesive and a low end Soul interior where interior parts look out of place. Surprised? Then you haven’t driven mid-range or upper trim levels of the latest generation Soul. Kia brought the cheeky box notably up-market in this generation and all EV models use the nicer interior parts.

For EV duty the Soul is available in two trims with essentially no options to choose. The “Base” model is $33,700 (before tax incentives) and the “+” is $35,700. You should know that both trims actually fit into the Soul’s hierarchy between the gasoline + and ! models in terms of features. The $2,000 bump buys you leather seats that are heated/ventilated up front and heated in the rear, heated steering wheel, front and rear parking sensors, fog lamps, power folding mirrors, auto-dimming rear view mirror and leatherette inserts in the doors. The ventilated seats are unique in the EV segment and they are more practical than you might think. We have all heard that it consumes less power to heat the seats and steering wheel than heat the air, but the same goes in hot weather: ventilating the seat consumes less energy than cooling the cabin to a lower temperature. Having the Soul EV back to back with the VW e-Golf made this more obvious than I had expected. Although the Soul EV isn’t as aerodynamic as the e-Golf I was able to get similar highway economy figures by using the ventilated seats instead of the A/C.

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Speaking of air conditioning, Kia decided to use a more expensive heat pump in the Soul EV instead of a standard air conditioning and resistive heater setup that you find in most EVs. Heat pumps are becoming more and more common because they drastically reduce the energy consumed in heating the cabin. If you live in a colder climate, the reduction in energy consumption can potentially mean 5-10 miles more EV range.

The Soul’s front seats are upright and comfortable, but not as adjustable as the gasoline Soul ! which has a 10-way power seat and adjustable lumbar support. This is a shame because it would have made the Soul’s cabin more welcoming than any of the other EVs on the market save Tesla’s new seat design. Headroom and legroom are surprisingly generous thanks to the upright seats and tall roofline. With the front seats adjusted for a 6-foot 5-inch friend, I had no troubles sitting in the back seat. Because the Soul is wider than your average subcompact it has three snug seats in the rear, one more than you’ll find in the 500e, Spark EV or i3. Because most EVs are weight conscious (read: full of hard plastics), only the Mercedes and Tesla offer interiors that feel overtly higher rent. The i3’s interior is difficult to compare as parts are high quality, but the kneaf/plastic blended door and dash panels don’t feel particularly expensive

Infotainment

Perhaps the most attractive feature in the Soul, aside from the ventilated seats, is the 8-inch UVO infotainment and navigation system that is standard on both trims. Kia builds on their easy-to-use software with perhaps the most EV specific information available in a car this side of a Model S. In addition to the standard fare of range and nearby charging stations, the UVO software will let you see where your power is going, score your driving, tell you how much farther you could go if you turned off the AC, and give you charging time estimates. None of these features are unique to the Soul, but not every EV out there gives you ALL of this information in one unit. In addition Kia has a smartphone connected app that will do much of this from afar.

On the downside, UVO still lacks voice command of your media library like you’ll find in most of the mass-market competition from Chrysler, GM, Toyota, Ford and to some extent Honda, but the is the only serious omission in this software. Again however the EV comparisons make even this contrast difficult since the EV’s from those companies don’t include this feature either. The UVO interface is snappy, supports scrolling/drag motions with your fingers, includes a built in cell modem for connectivity features and the voice recognition software is intuitive. The display is large and easy to read in strong daylight and the user interface is sleek and modern. BMW’s iDrive is still the most elegant entry, but only in top end trims as the base i3 gets a less elegant iDrive implementation. Mercedes COMAND is pretty, but lacks UVO’s feature set. Sadly EV owners cannot get Kia’s up-level Infiniti sound system with a center channel speaker, subwoofer and color-changing speaker grills that beat in time with the music. Rocking hamsters need not apply.

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Drivetrain

Powering the electrified Soul is a 109 horsepower AC electric motor capable of 210 lb-ft of torque.  The motor sends power to the front wheels via a single-speed automatic transaxle. (Many of you asked why we call it a “transmission” when it is little more than a reduction gear set with a differential. I don’t have a good answer for you, I call it a transmission because the company that made it calls it a transmission.) Although the curb weight of the Soul EV is a hair lower than the e-Golf (3,286 vs 3,391) and the motor isn’t really much more powerful, 0-60 performance was inexplicably better at 8.5 seconds vs 10.03 seconds. Perplexed by the fast sprint to highway speed? So was I. Many publications have simply quoted Kia’s vague 10-11 second range for the acceleration run, but we tested it several times with the same 20Hz GPS based accelerometer and got the same numbers. The difference is likely due to the gearing and hopefully we’ll be able to get some 0-60 comparisons on other models soon to confirm this, or not.

BMW’s i3 is one of the lightest EVs, tipping the scales 751lbs lighter than the Soul. However, not all the weight difference is explained in the ultra-modern carbon fiber and aluminum BMW construction, the Soul EV carries a battery that is a whopping 44% larger in usable capacity. At 27kWh the Soul’s battery is (at the moment) only outclassed by the B-Class and Model S. Sadly, the laws of physics don’t allow the Kia to have 44% more range than the i3 thanks to considerably wider tires, the heftier curb weight and less aerodynamic profile. For 2015 the EPA says the Soul will cover 93 miles depending on your driving style, about 12 more than the i3. BMW’s numbers were about right, getting around 83 milesin my tests but the Soul EV is rated conservatively (likely due to the brick-like aerodynamics) but I averaged 4.2 miles per kWh which translates to a 113 mile range on my daily commute. Not willing to push things, I did manage a 90 mile trip with about 16% of the battery left.

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Kia’s balancing act between features and keeping costs in check can be seen in the drivetrain as well. The trade-off for the hefty battery capacity is a standard 6.6kW charger which is not slow, but it is slower than the 7.2kW in the e-Golf, 7.4kW in the i3 and 10kW in the Mercedes. Thankfully all Soul models come standard with the CHAdeMO DC fast charge connector up front (the large connector on the right in the picture above). The new SAE (aka CCS) connector may be slimmer and newer, but CHAdeMO outnumbers the newer stations by more than 4:1 in the SF Bay Area and the charging rate is essentially the same. Charging at 120V will take you over 24 hours, at 6.6kW 240V that drops to 4 hours and the little blue box will race from 5% to 80% in under 30 minutes at a coffee shop with a CHAdeMO station.

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Drive

The Soul has never been a driver’s car. The prime reason is Kia’s decision to use a semi-independent suspension in the rear to improve cargo room and load capacity. This means the rear of the gasoline Soul gets upset over heavily broken pavement when driving in a straight line, and in corners rough pavement leaves it unsettled. By adding 500lbs to the vehicle and shifting the weight balance nearer to 50/50 to the rear, the Soul EV delivers improved feel without any major mechanical changes. Because the Soul’s wheelbase is still fairly short the ride can feel slightly choppy on freeway expansion joints, but the added weight brings added polish with it and actually helps settle the rear in corners.

There isn’t an EV out there that excels at handling (even Model S tests on the skidpad yields lower numbers than the gasoline competition) and the Soul is no different. The EV Soul has unquestionably better balance than the gasoline model, and that is obvious on winding roads, but the 205-width low rolling resistance tires and extra weight mean that handling comes in just above the base Soul model (which wears even skinnier tires.) I found the Kia more engaging than the Nissan Leaf, but less engaging than the Focus Electric and e-Golf. In sheer road holding numbersm the Soul and i3 are quite close according to independent metrics, but the the i3’s RWD layout makes it more fun. The Soul’s steering wheel gives precious little feedback but the effort level is adjustable in three levels and no EV’s steering is a “team player” anyway.

Driving dynamics aren’t the Soul’s Forte (see what I did there?) but then again, no EV on the market today does terribly well in this area either. Instead, the Soul EV checks all the practicality and usability boxes from a large and practical cargo area to energy saving features like the standard heat pump and available ventilated leather seats which you don’t find on even the i3 or B-Class. Making the Soul EV perhaps more compelling is Kia’s long standard warranty and the bottom line. If you qualify for the maximum in incentives, the Soul EV ends up being only $1,000 more than a comparable gasoline Soul while costing $800 less to operate on a yearly basis. It may be a low bar, but the Soul EV is easily the best all-around EV on the market today. The more surprising takeaway however is how well the Soul actually stacks up against the high-end competition despite being based on a $15,190 econo-box.

Kia provide the vehicle, insurance and one battery charge for this review. Nissan provided a free charge via one of the Nissan CHAdeMO charging stations in Redwood City.

Specifications as tested:

0-30: 3.3 Seconds

0-60: 8.5 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 16.8 Seconds @ 82 MPH

 

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European Long-Term Review: Chrysler LHS http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/european-long-term-review-chrysler-lhs/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/european-long-term-review-chrysler-lhs/#comments Wed, 15 Apr 2015 13:00:40 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1041313 Replacing a Lincoln Town Car with Chrysler LHS may be a strange decision, and it’s definitely an interesting experience. But it’s also very educating one, for the differences between the two tell surprisingly much about the way people think about cars, the way people buy cars and the way cars are designed. I’ve always loved […]

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Replacing a Lincoln Town Car with Chrysler LHS may be a strange decision, and it’s definitely an interesting experience. But it’s also very educating one, for the differences between the two tell surprisingly much about the way people think about cars, the way people buy cars and the way cars are designed.

I’ve always loved a true American fullsize sedan – a body-on-frame, RWD behemoth with a large V8 in front, bench seat in the middle and a trunk large enough for several bodies in the back. And the ’98 Lincoln Town Car I have driven daily for more than a year fits that bill perfectly. But it was borrowed and to buy it (and fix remaining issues) was not really within my financial means. So it had to go, and I had to find a replacement. And I found a car that’s like Town Car’s lost sibling in many ways, and its polar opposite in many others. The 1994 Chrysler LHS.

The 1990s Chryslers do not get much love among American car enthusiasts in Czech Republic. Not only they lack a pair of cylinders and they are driven by the wrong wheels, but, what’s probably the worst, they are quite common. They may not admit it, but for most US car owners in Europe, the rarity is large part of the magic. And because Chryslers were officialy imported in 1990s and 00s, they’re usually not held to such esteem as the “true American” cars – e.g. those that had to be brough here by “gray importers”.

But if you want a cheap luxobarge, this makes big Chryslers pretty interesting. Not being as cool as other American cars means they’re cheap. While a ’98 Town Car would cost around $5k here, which is significantly more than a 7-Series (E38) BMW or first generation Audi A8, the LHS can be had for under $2,000. In my case, with broken timing gear but otherwise fine, it cost 11,000 CZK. That’s $433 at today’s exchange rate. That’s Škoda Felicia money. And a Felicia isn’t much better than Yugo. Included in the price was a parts car with working a drivetrain. So, after another few hundered bucks for timing gear repair (about $150 for parts + shipping, roughly twice that for work, as the tensioner was broken out from the block), I have a nice and fully driveable fullsize sedan.

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It still has a few flaws – mostly the front suspension needs attention – but it’s got a pretty decent interior, the Infinity sound system works just fine, the body and paint is not perfect, but nice enough, the transmission shifts, the engine purrs, the power stuff works. A nice start to finding out what’s the story with those big Chryslers. I’ve always avoided them for reasons mentioned above, but that was a few years ago, when they did cost money. So, how does one compare to a Town Car? And will it keep up, or it will it commit a mechanical suicide?

When it was launched, the LH platform was the Chrysler’s return to the world of true fullsize cars and presented a thoroughly modern approach to the same brief that gave birth to B-bodies and Panthers a long time ago. And, viewed by cold, rational eyes, it was far superior to both. The reasons why Panther outlived the LH by many years, and why LH was replaced by much more Panther-like LX are are a fascinating look into the automotive market.

If you compare a ’98 Town Car with a ’94 LHS, the first thing you’ll notice is how similar the two cars are. I would even venture to say that the Town Car’s design was largely inspired by the older LHS – especially the rear part. And even the size, interior space and driving characteristics are quite similar, though nowhere near identical. Which leads us to the second thing you’ll notice.

That the LHS feels much more modern. Yes, you read that right. I switched from a ’98 car (which was the first year of the new model) to a ’94 car (which was also the first year), and it felt like I went half a decade newer. In some ways, it’s no surprise – after all, the Panther platform was introduced in late 70s, while the LH made its debut in 1993. But that explains the fundamental differences in packaging and handling, not things like interior fit, finish and technologies. The LHS feels almost European, in a good way. Truth to be said, I don’t feel much difference when I transfer from the Chrysler to a friend’s ’04 Mercedes CLK 270 CDI, which I’m testing this week.

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While the Town Car must have looked and felt like a cost-cutted re-hash of an old platform (which it actually was), the LHS must have felt like a spaceship when it appeared in dealer lots in late 1993. The instrument cluster wasn’t as cutting-edge as in Lexus LS400 a few years earlier, but it was still wonderfully illuminated and supremely legible. The excellent Infinity stereo had in-dash CD player. There was a nifty “message center” in the centre of the dashboard – a pitch black panel in the middle of the dash where the idiot lights show up.

The main difference, though, is the space. When designing the new LH platform, Chrysler engineers took a rational approach and decided that there’s no need to make room for a V8 when a V6 can power the car quick enough (the LHS with its 3.5 V6 feels a bit quicker than Lincoln with 4.6 V8), and that there’s no point in making it RWD. Rear wheel drive costs money, it costs space and it adds weight. It improves balance and driving feel, but people who buy large American sedans mostly couldn’t care less about such things.

As a result of this cold, rational thinking, they did the most modern and most practical one could think of at the time. They moved the longitudinally mounted V6 far to the front – it is in front of the front axle – and used the resulting space to make most of the wheelbase. It paid off. Even though it almost a foot shorter, the LHS provides more interior space than the Town Car, as well as larger (or at least more usefully shaped) trunk.

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The costs? First, the looks. Although LHS must have looked striking when it was launched, and it still feels much more modern than your typical 20 year old car, it lacked the imposing presence of Panthers and B-bodies. Its short, low-slung hood makes it look a bit tail heavy, and a bit like a car from the not-so-welcome future, where cars are on their way to become transportation pods.

Then, the driving. On paper, it’s a perfectly fine automobile. It’s reasonably quick in a straight line and it can at least keep up with its fullsize RWD brethren in corners as well. So far so good. But the engine hanging over the front axle has immense effect on how the car feels. With most cars, the understeer/oversteer is something you read about in reviews, but most drivers never really understand what that means. In LHS? Oh yeah, the car can teach understeer on university! You don’t need to be driving quick at all to feel that the thing Just. Doesn’t. Want. To. Turn.

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Probably the worst, though, is the way the car behaves when you accelerate hard from a standstill while cornering. While a rear drive sedan just slightly squats and moves forward stately, unless you’re acting as a lead-footed maniac, the front drive car starts scraping for traction and screeching its tires. And even if traction control sets in, there’s still no grace in that.

If people bought cars purely by logic and not based on feel and characeter, the LH-platform could be deemed superior to its Mercedes-derived successor, the LX. But LX, with its elegant proportions and rear wheel drive, much better fits the buyer’s idea of how a luxury sedan should look and feel. People are not rational – and their car buying habits aren’t rational, either.

@VojtaDobes is motoring journalist from Czech Republic, who previously worked for local editions of Autocar and TopGear magazines. Today, he runs his own website, www.Autickar.cz and serves as editor-in-chief at www.USmotors.cz. After a failed adventure with importing classic American cars to Europe, he is utterly broke, so he drives a ratty Chrysler LHS. His previous cars included a 1988 Caprice in NYC Taxi livery, a hot-rodded Opel Diplomat, two Dodge Coronets, a Simca, a Fiat 600 and Austin Maestro. He has never owned a diesel, manual wagon.

Photo: David Marek

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Review: 2015 Kia Sedona – With Two Strikes, Kia Steps Into The Minivan Batter’s Box Again http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/review-2015-kia-sedona-two-strikes-kia-steps-minivan-batters-box/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/review-2015-kia-sedona-two-strikes-kia-steps-minivan-batters-box/#comments Tue, 14 Apr 2015 14:15:53 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1043274 Unlike the Honda Odyssey, the all-new, 2015, third-generation Kia Sedona is not the most efficient and athletic minivan on sale today. Unlike the Dodge Grand Caravan, the new Sedona is not the most affordable and flexible. Unlike the Toyota Sienna, the Sedona doesn’t offer unique features like all-wheel-drive or Driver Easy Speak.  • U.S. Market […]

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2015 Kia Sedona SXL+Unlike the Honda Odyssey, the all-new, 2015, third-generation Kia Sedona is not the most efficient and athletic minivan on sale today. Unlike the Dodge Grand Caravan, the new Sedona is not the most affordable and flexible. Unlike the Toyota Sienna, the Sedona doesn’t offer unique features like all-wheel-drive or Driver Easy Speak.


 • U.S. Market Price As Tested: $42,295

• Horsepower: 276 @ 6000 rpm

• Torque: 248 lb-ft @ 5200 rpm

• Observed Fuel Economy: 19.1 mpg


The Sedona is, however, a relatively successful foray into the North American MPV sector. It’s strengthened by decent on-road behaviour, a high-quality interior, a superb powertrain, and styling that made the neighbourhood teenagers say, “That’s actually really nice.”

So what’s up with that “relatively” qualifier? Regardless of how well executed the third Sedona is, we won’t be able to liken this van’s marketplace success to that of the Sienna, Odyssey, or Grand Caravan.

2015 Kia Sedona SXL+ frontIn the latest Sedona’s best sales month so far, March 2015, sales of America’s top-selling minivan, the Sienna, were 253% stronger. Yeah, it’s actually really nice, but demand won’t be high, and with that fact in mind, Kia won’t ladle out excessive inventory to dealers.

Even accepting the verdict of the local street hockey snipers, you’re right to believe that Kia didn’t build the perfect family minivan. But this is a whole lot of vehicle to cover, so we’re breaking this review into five sections, working from back to front so more bases can be covered systematically. It’s a utilitarian review of a utilitarian product, albeit a surprisingly style-conscious one.

2015 Kia Sedona SXL interiorCARGO
As has long been par for the course in the minivan arena, the Sedona’s third row of seating folds into the floor, though not with perfectly smooth operation and not completely flush with the floor. With the third row up, the Sedona’s cargo area is 13% smaller than the Sienna’s, 12% smaller than the Odyssey’s, and a scant 0.9-cubic-feet larger than the Grand Caravan’s.

The difference in cargo volume isn’t really noticeable until the third row is folded, at which point the other vans offer between 6% and 19% more capacity for newly purchased kitchen appliances. Such comparisons don’t do the Sedona any favours, but they do something of a disservice, as well, masking the sheer livingroom-like space of the cargo area in any modern minivan, Sedona included.

2015 Kia Sedona second row seatROW THREE
Do you want to sit back here? Of course not, but you’ll prefer it to the third row in three-row crossovers.

It’s certainly not as spacious or comfortable as the Odyssey’s rear cabin, but it’s nice to have options for access. Because the Sedona’s second row captain’s chairs pivot side to side, a passenger banished to the third row can choose to move on back either through the gap between the second-row seats (this fully loaded Limited model isn’t available with eight seats like some Sedonas) or, with the second-row seats moved inward, along the side of the van instead. That’s a useful tool, because the gap through the middle isn’t sufficiently broad even when manually widened.

2015 Kia Sedona cargo camera collageROW TWO
If your concern with the Sedona’s second row was its lack of Stow’N’Go capability or its non-removable status – most Sedonas can stand their seats upright – then the top-trim model will disappoint from a flexibility standpoint. This Limited Sedona’s two middle chairs can’t be folded, removed, or stacked upright. (WATCH: The Sedona’s lounge seat in action.)

They can, however, be pushed way back into a third-row-knee-crunching position, steeply reclined, and then maxed out with an extendable footrest. The lankier among us won’t be able to fully realize the comfort of this legs-extended setup, but it rivals or surpasses the Sienna for second-row supremacy.

As a family van, this arrangement is unseemly. There’s also no factory DVD, the seats move around like super glue was recently poured in the tracks, and the central pass-through between the front seats is stuffed full by a tall console like you’d see in any SUV.

2015 Kia Sedona interior collage 1So of course the Sedona can’t challenge the Grand Caravan as a pickup truck alternative. But as a continental tourer for older citizens who need to ferry grandchildren around with some frequency, the Sedona impresses. Taking a few snowbirds to Florida for the winter? In that case, a collapsed third row and a Rolls-Royce-aping second row is a lot more enjoyable than a van that does double duty as a truck at Home Depot on the weekends.

UP FRONT
The 2015 Kia Sedona’s high points are mostly evident where the adults reside. From Kia’s straightforward UVO interface to the pleasing materials, a throttle pedal that provides access to a responsive 3.3L V6, a spacious passenger footwell, and quiet A-pillars, this is the area of the Sedona that makes other minivans look like second-class citizens that were developed in a prior decade.

Yes, the engine and 6-speed automatic are nicely matched, but while smooth and powerful, the Sedona Limited produces discouraging fuel efficiency figures: 17 mpg city; 22 highway. We saw 19.1 mpg in mostly city driving.

2015 Kia Sedona SXL interior collage 2Away from straight lines, however, the Sedona’s comfort-first philosophy causes the van to wallow about in ways that would nauseate an Odyssey owner and disappoint a Sienna driver.

Ride quality is always impressive, but with lifeless and slow steering and more than 4700 pounds to cart around, this won’t be the MPV that makes you say, “car-like.”

LIMITED
This is not your aunt’s Mercury Villager. In the U.S., 2015 Sedonas start at $26,995, but that L trim doesn’t have a backup camera or power doors. The $29,195 Sedona LX adds the backup camera, among other things, but not the power doors, for which you’ll need to step up to the $33,195 middle-rung EX, with its leather seating and an available $1750 premium plus package (heated seats, blind spot warning, rear cross traffic alert, etc.).

The $37,195 SX is a luxurious van but doesn’t have the second-row lounge seating, heated steering wheel, Nappa leather, and the amazing dual sunroofs of the $40,595 Limited, which can be topped up with a $2700 tech package (adaptive cruise, surround view monitor, etc.).

2015 Kia Sedona SXL+ bridgeAlthough this 2015 Sedona represented a clean-sheet design, Kia didn’t prioritize cargo capacity, cargo flexibility, or third row space. And by placing the emphasis on front occupants and exterior styling, Kia won’t easily win over conventional minivan buyers and their growing families.

But on the outskirts of the minivan market there have always been buyers who didn’t prioritize the manifestation of fertility. As luxurious long-haul transportation in lieu of a full-size sedan, the 2015 Sedona Limited is, well, actually really nice. Unfortunately for Kia, I’m one of the guys with a growing family, and though the Sedona is a pleasant place in which to spend time, it simply doesn’t nail an acceptable number of key minivan ingredients.

Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures.

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Review: 2015 BMW M235xi http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/review-2015-bmw-m235xi/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/review-2015-bmw-m235xi/#comments Mon, 13 Apr 2015 12:00:41 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1042962 Let the record show that ten years ago, BMW and I were definitely “in a relationship”, as Facebook would say. I was throwing a significant chunk of change every month at a 330i Sport sedan in Steel Grey with a five-speed manual. It was just the latest stage of a love story that began before […]

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Let the record show that ten years ago, BMW and I were definitely “in a relationship”, as Facebook would say. I was throwing a significant chunk of change every month at a 330i Sport sedan in Steel Grey with a five-speed manual. It was just the latest stage of a love story that began before I was old enough to drive but definitely picked up steam when I learned to drive in a manual transmission 733i.

Today? Well, the best that BMW and I can manage is probably an “It’s Complicated”, and if you want to know why, the car before you is a good example of nearly all the reasons.

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With leather upholstery, a navigation system, and keyless entry, this is a $50,200 automobile. It came to me courtesy of one of our partners in the April Fool’s Cannonball prank, Greg Ledet, who is a BMW aficionado and the owner of an automatic-transmission 335xi. You can read his opinion on the car at the end of this piece, and I think it’s worth reading because Greg is very much the buyer BMW is chasing now — a successful tech worker who charts his own course in life and considers automotive enthusiasm to be one of his primary defining personal characteristics. If Greg likes the car, then it will do well.

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I, on the other hand… well, I’d already driven a stick-shift M235i during PCOTY and my verdict was that “I get the distinct feeling that there’s a bit too much dignity, too much ball-bearing smoothness, to make this a true successor to the raucous 135i.” Adding all-wheel-drive and a torque converter to the M235i package does nothing to change my mind; rather, it dials the standard model’s boulevardier inclinations up to eleven.

On paper and on the road, this is a fast car, thanks to a 320-horsepower second-generation variant of the BMW three-liter turbo straight six and a curb weight in the 3500-pound range. There’s a “Launch Mode” that Greg demonstrates, a particular combination of the endless menu-based performance permutations found in the iDrive controls, and it’s capable of getting to sixty miles per hour in under five seconds. When I take the wheel, I notice with satisfaction that the Steptronic transmission can be placed into a very decent manual-shift mode. It won’t automatically upshift — I ran against the rev limiter for five long seconds to prove that to myself — and it shifts almost exactly when you request it. It’s probably the equal of the very responsive automatic in the Lexus IS350 F-Sport, and that’s saying something.

If only the engine had some character to go with its twist. After ten minutes behind the wheel of the M235xi, I was longing for my proletarian Accord V6 and its minivan motor, which delivers nearly the same power with a VTEC Earthy-Dreamy rush to the redline and a crisp manual shift at the “7” mark. The M235xi is fast but never exciting, even with the fake engine noises that mysteriously appear behind you when you’re pressing on.

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Of course, no Honda on the market, even the ones that say “Acura” on them, can deliver the legitimate this-is-something-special feeling you get when taking a seat behind the Bimmer’s chunky wheel. You could quibble with a few of the plastics but really, the one time you don’t doubt the value proposition of a fifty-grand miniature BMW coupe is when you’re just sitting in the thing. Even I, as the most brand-cynical human being in North America, can’t help feeling kind of cool in the M235xi. I love the fact that it’s easily recognizable as a BMW from the moment you open the door.

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On the move, that BMW DNA is less apparent. The controls are “dipped in treacle”, as the English autojournos say, responding with a heft and indifference that is more Lexus-like than an actual Lexus, the steering completely and utterly dead-feeling thanks to the powered front axle and the electro-magic assist, the brakes okay enough but nothing special despite the fixed-caliper street cred. There are no fewer than three “sport modes” in the iDrive but none of them feel sporting in anything but the most tacked-on fashion.

Approaching a few fast road corners in a row, the M235i gives little sense of its ultimate cornering potential. I hear rather than feel the front end lose grip, the same way you would in a C5 Corvette, only worse. Then the lights start blinking, even though they’re supposed to be off. When Greg tries a low-speed come-and-show-me power-oversteer maneuver, his command of the iDrive technicalities mean that none of the nannies show up for work — but that doesn’t stop the front axle from clutching-out and pulling the car sullenly straight. You could have a lot more fun in a raggedy old 325e. My 330i Sport was ninety horsepower down on this thing but I know which one I’d rather drive.

I want to love this BMW, but I cannot. On a daily basis, I’d rather operate my Accord, which returns nearly half again the 21.6mpg that Greg’s car shows in daily service, has better visibility, weighs three hundred pounds less, and drives like it weighs six hundred pounds less. Not to mention the twenty-grand price advantage. My old Audi S5 felt more alive to operate despite the V-8 hanging out over the front wheels and I suspect the current V-6 car is even better in that regard.

The very existence of this car is troubling, honestly. Does there need to be an automatic-transmission AWD variant of every single model in BMW’s lineup? Since when did BMW become Audi or even Mercedes-Benz? Trust me, the standard M235i stick-shift isn’t exactly a Lotus Seven in terms of the required hardcore driver commitment. We need a calmed-down version of that car like we needed Peter Cetera to go back and record all his late-era Chicago hits with more Muzak in them. (Which he did, by the way.)

The funny thing is that BMW can see the plain evidence of what customers want in used-market prices, and they can see the bulletproof residuals of the 1M and 135i Sport the same way Porsche can see 1998 Carreras selling for more at auctions than 2013 Carreras, and they’re absolutely uninterested in serving that market on a consistent basis. Sure, the M2 will eventually get here, but note that BMW put the effort into getting AWD and automatic transmissions into the Two wayyyy before they even dropped public hints about the M2.

Fifty thousand dollars is a lot of money, even in the post-QE world. If you have that much to burn or borrow, do yourself a favor and get the car that delivers M3-level power and 135i-level driver involvement. It’s called the Ford Mustang GT and you can use the ten grand you’ll have left over to get a nice winter beater. No, the Ford is not the Ultimate Driving Machine — but neither is this.

And now for Greg’s comments:

“’ve had the car for nearly a week now and I’ve put about 250 miles on it. Compared to my 2010 335xi, the 2015 M235xi is noticeably smaller and feels much better through the corners. With 320 horsepower compared to the 335’s 300, I was expecting the smaller car to be much quicker, but I was surprised to learn that the M235xi actually weighs about 300 lbs more than my 335xi (3695 lbs vs 3362 lbs). The car feels lighter and more balanced through the turns and it seems to push less than the 335, but that can probably be chalked up to the fact that my 335xi doesn’t have the M Sport Package or the adjustable suspension.

Would I buy the M235xi? Probably. I’ve actually speced one out and sent to my BMW salesman to see if there could be a deal made should we realize that the 335xi is finally done for. It is definitely on my list of cars that I want, but with a $50,000 sticker price and BMW’s notorious depreciation rate, I’ll probably wait and pick up a CPO vehicle in a couple years. Not only that, the “real” M2 is just around the corner. BMW has said that the drivetrain from the current M3/M4 will fit into the 2-Series without making any changes, so expect the M2 to be putting out around 400 horsepower while trimming 300 pound or so from the weight. If the M2 holds its value as well as the 1-Series M Coupe, I’d almost be silly to not pick one up.”

Well, there you have it! — jb

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Review: 2015 Volkswagen e-Golf (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/review-2015-volkswagen-e-golf-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/review-2015-volkswagen-e-golf-video/#comments Sat, 11 Apr 2015 19:24:27 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1037841 Because I live in California, it seemed only fitting that my first taste of the new Golf arrived in electric form: the 2015 VW e-Golf. (Why e-Golf? Because “Golfe” just sounded silly.) The Golf isn’t just the first Volkswagen EV in the US, it’s also the first VW built on the new MQB platform which […]

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2015 Volkswagen eGolf Exterior-001

Because I live in California, it seemed only fitting that my first taste of the new Golf arrived in electric form: the 2015 VW e-Golf. (Why e-Golf? Because “Golfe” just sounded silly.) The Golf isn’t just the first Volkswagen EV in the US, it’s also the first VW built on the new MQB platform which promises reduced weight and lower development costs. While MQB isn’t a dedicated EV platform like Nissan’s LEAF, it was designed to support electrification from the start rather than being converted like the Fiat 500e. While that may sound like a quibble, the difference is noticeable as the e-Golf feels like a regular VW that happens to be electric. The e-Golf also demonstrates just how rapidly EVs have evolved since the LEAF launched in 2010.

Exterior

Volkswagen has always been a company that prefers restrained elegance when it comes to design and the new Golf is no different. While some described the look as boring, I generally appreciate design evolution more than design revolution because the latter leads to products like the Aztek. The downside to VW’s design evolution is that the Golf doesn’t look all that different from the last Golf, but VW owners tell me that’s how they like it. Park it next to the last VW hatch and you will notice a difference. The 2015 model is longer, wider and lower than its predecessor with a longer hood and a shorter front overhang. The result is a more grown-up hatch than ever before that also schleps more stuff than ever before.

For EV duty, VW swaps in their first US-bound LED headlamps, and (according to a product announcement released when we had the e-Golf) will swap them back out if you opt for the new starting trim of the e-Golf which is coming soon. We also get a revised DRL strip of LEDs curving around the front bumper that gives the electric version a distinctive look in your rear-view mirror. Finishing off the transformation are blue accents here and there, EV specific wheels and unique badging. From a functional standpoint, the electrically heated windshield (ala Volvo and Land Rover) helps reduce energy consumption by heating the glass directly instead of heating the air and blowing it on the glass.

2015 Volkswagen eGolf Interior.CR2

Interior

Changes to the new interior are as subtle as the exterior. It was only after sitting in a 2012 Golf that I realized that parts sharing appears to be somewhere near zero. Although the shapes are similar, everything has been tweaked to look more cohesive and more up-scale. The console flows better from the climate controls, infotainment screen and knick-knack storage all the way to the armrest. The dashboard design is smoother and more Audiesque and the door panels have improved fit and finish with slightly nicer plastics. Keeping in mind that the Golf competes with the Hyundai Elantra GT, Ford Focus, Mazda3, Chevy Sonic, and Fiat 500L, this is easily the best interior in this class.

When it comes to the e-Golf things get murky. Since most auto companies have just one EV model, the electric Golf competes with a more varied competitive set spanning from the Spark EV and 500e to the BMW i3 and Mercedes B-Class Electric. In this competitive set, the VW still shines with an interior that isn’t that far off the B-Class or the i3 in real terms. The only oddity here is that the e-Golf does not offer leather in any configuration. The new base model gets cloth seats which are comfortable and attractive but the top end trim we tested uses leatherette which is attractive but doesn’t breathe as well as leather or cloth. Breathability is a problem the Spark’s leatherette seats also suffer from and is especially important in an EV where you frequently limit AC usage to improve range. Kia’s Soul EV is a stand-out in this area by offering real leather and ventilated seats which consume less power than running the AC.

2015 Volkswagen eGolf Interior-0031

Infotainment

The redesign of the Golf includes a refresh of VW’s infotainment lineup. Sadly however, this is the one area where revolution would have been preferable to evolution. The VW infotainment software, even in our up-level unit with nav, still lags behind the competition. The unit features expanded voice commands, finger gestures (like scrolling), snappier navigation software and a proximity sensor to clean up the interface when your digits aren’t near the screen. Most of the system’s graphics have been improved and the media interface is more attractive than before. Sadly however the system still lacks the ability to voice command your media library and the screen is notably smaller than the huge 8-inch screen in the Kia Soul.

2015 Volkswagen eGolf Interior Gauges

Instead of giving EV models a funky disco-dash like most EVs, VW keeps the four-dial analog cluster  and monochromatic multi-information display with a few changes. Instead of a tachometer we get a sensible power meter showing how much oomph you are commanding. Instead of an engine temperature gauge VW drops in an “available power” gauge that tells you how much power you can draw from the battery pack. In cold weather, or when the battery is too hot or too cold the discharge rate will slow.

I appreciate the simplistic gauge cluster, it’s classier than disco-dash in the LEAF while displaying essentially the same information. On the downside, the rest of the e-Golf’s systems lack the EV-specific features we have come to expect in EVs and hybrids. The extent of the EV information in the infotainment system is a single screen that shows your range. Most of the competition provides insight into how much energy your vehicle’s systems are consuming, how much additional range you’d get by turning your AC off or how long your battery would take to charge on various power sources. In fact the only way you’d know how long the e-Golf would take to charge is by plugging it in and reading the display that flashes the time to charge briefly. For more information VW directs you to their smartphone app, but those looking for a more integrated solution should look elsewhere.

2015 Volkswagen eGolf Motor-001

Drivetrain

Powering the e-Golf is a 115 HP synchronous AC motor capable of delivering 199 lb-ft of torque at low RPMs. That’s 55 fewer ponies, but the same amount of torque as the regular Golf’s 1.8L turbo engine. Logically the performance is lazy when compared to the turbo Golf thanks as much to the single-speed transmission as to the added weight of the e-Golf’s battery pack. 60MPH happens in a Prius-like 10.03 seconds, about 2-seconds slower than the TSI. Because the MQB platform was designed with EVs and hybrids in mind, the large 24.2 kWh (estimated 21.1 kWh usable) battery fits entirely under the vehicle with no intrusion in the passenger compartment and little overall compromise in terms of cargo capacity.

Early reports indicated that VW was going to liquid cool the battery pack like GM does in their EVs but the production e-Golf uses a passive battery cooling system instead. VW engineers tell us that the lithium nickel manganese cobalt oxide (NMC) cells from Panasonic lend themselves well to packs of this nature and it ultimately helps them reduce weight and complexity. Like most manufacturers VW will warrant the pack for 8 years and 100,000 miles against capacity drop larger than 30%. This means that your EPA range starts at 83 miles and would have to drop to around 53 miles in that window to get it repaired or replaced.

Charging is always a concern with EV shoppers so VW dropped in one of the faster chargers available (7.2kW) which can charge the battery in three hours if you have an appropriate 240V EVSE. Should you have access to one of the new SAE DC Fast Charge stations (also known as CCS), you can zip from 0-80% in under 30 minutes. On the downside, finding a CCS station proved a little tricky in the SF Bay Area where the older competing CHAdeMO standard is more common by at least 5:1. On the up-side if you can find a station it’s unlikely to be occupied since there are few vehicles on the road that support the new connector.

2015 Volkswagen eGolf Interior Gauges-001Drive

According to VW, our e-Golf tips the scales at a svelte 3,391 lbs with 701 of that coming from the battery pack. For those that are counting, that’s only 300lbs heavier than the carbon fiber and aluminum BMW i3 REx which is significantly more expensive and actually has a smaller battery and 359lbs heavier than the Golf TSI. I should also mention that the Golf also scores better in crash tests than BMW’s light weight EV. In addition to being light for an EV, the weight is more evenly distributed than in the gasoline Golf. VW has not released exact details, but the pre-production Golf EV had a perfect 50:50 weight balance and that’s likely true for the 2015 e-Golf as well.

Although VW puts 205-width low rolling resistance tires on the e-Golf, it actually handles better than the base Golf TSI. Some of that is because the TSI gets 195s in base form, but the lower center of gravity and the improved weight balance play a large role as well. This means that unlike other EV conversions, the electric Golf isn’t the least fun trim, it actually ends up middle of the pack between the base Golf and top end TSI and TDI trims. The improved balance is obvious in neutral handling where the EV plows less than the base Golf. The added weight has a positive impact on the ride which seemed a hair more refined than the TSI a dealer lent for comparison. Steering is typical modern VW: moderately firm and accurate but lacking any real feedback.

2015 Volkswagen eGolf Charging Connector

Pricing on the e-Golf initially started and ended at $35,445 due to VW’s one-trim strategy. If you qualify for the highest tax incentives available (state and local) the price drops to an effective $25,445. That’s only a hair more than a comparable gasoline model (the e-Golf SEL Premium’s feature set slots between the TSI S and TSI SE model) but higher than many of the recent mass market EVs. To solve this VW announced the arrival of the “Limited Edition” which cuts $1,995 from the price tag by de-contenting. Cloth seats replace the leatherette (I actually think that’s an upgrade), the LED headlamps are dropped and steel wheels replace the 16-inch alloys. None of those changes are a deal-breaker for me, unfortunately however the last thing on the chopping block is the heat pump. Heat pumps are much more efficient than resistive heating elements so this will mean reduced range in colder climates.

The e-Golf is less of a compromise than the 4-seat Spark and a better deal than the 4-seat i3. Nissan’s LEAF provides a little more passenger and cargo room for less, but the trade-offs include lackluster handling, fewer features and a much slower charger. When cross-shopping Fiat’s 500e you realize just how large the Golf has grown over the years. As you’d expect in a segment that is evolving this rapidly, the toughest competition is found in the other new model: the 2015 Kia Soul EV. Priced from $33,700-35,700 (before incentives) the Soul is slightly more expensive than the VW but you get considerably more for your money. The delta is most pronounced in the Soul EV + which gets real leather, cooled seats, a heated steering wheel, power folding mirrors, an 8-inch touchscreen, and about 20% more battery capacity for $225. Highlighting Kia’s deft hand at cutting the right corners, you will notice that the Soul forgoes LED headlamps, the heated windscreen and has a slightly slower charger. As impressive as the e-Golf’s curb weight is, the Soul EV manages to be a hair lighter at 3,289lbs despite the bigger battery, this weight reduction and deeper gearing allow the Soul EV to scoot to 60 one second faster. This leaves me with a split decision, the e-Golf is the better car but the Soul is the better EV with a longer range, EV focused infotainment software and niceties like the cooled seats and heated steering wheel that extend range by reducing your HVAC consumption. If VW adds a third model sporting cooled seats, real leather and drops back in the gas-Golf’s power seats, they’d have a solid alternative to the Soul EV and even the Mercedes B-Class. Just be sure to check with your tax professional before depending on those EV credits and rebates.

Volkswagen provided the vehicle, insurance and a charged battery for this review.

Specifications as tested:

0-30: 3.44 Seconds

0-60: 10.03 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 17.2 Seconds @ 82 MPH

Average Economy: 4.3 Mi/kWh

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Capsule Review: 2015 Volkswagen Jetta 2.0 “Quebec Special” http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/capsule-review-2015-volkswagen-jetta-2-0-quebec-special/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/capsule-review-2015-volkswagen-jetta-2-0-quebec-special/#comments Thu, 09 Apr 2015 13:00:19 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1041193 Reader iMatt shares his experiences with the Volkswagen Jetta 2.0 “Quebec Special” Is the old 2.0L engine really as bad as the internet believes? I knew it was only a matter of time before I’d need to buy a second vehicle to compliment the Honda Fit shared by my girlfriend and I. That time finally […]

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Reader iMatt shares his experiences with the Volkswagen Jetta 2.0 “Quebec Special”

Is the old 2.0L engine really as bad as the internet believes?

I knew it was only a matter of time before I’d need to buy a second vehicle to compliment the Honda Fit shared by my girlfriend and I. That time finally came with a forced relocation at work and after taking many months to decide what I wanted in my next vehicle, I decided my top two priorities were value and comfort, neither of which being the focal points of the Fit.

I opted for a base model 2015 Jetta with the 2.0 L engine and 5 speed manual transmission with nary an option, not even A/C (ironically). Price after fees and taxes came to just over $17 000 CAD. Standard equipment did include amenities that were once optional such as cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity, a trip computer, a back-up camera and a touch-screen head unit.

The plain exterior is a familiar sight nowadays, even with some minor tweaks for 2015. I appreciate the understated styling compared to the more stylized competitors such as the Mazda 3 or the Corolla. The Jetta just seems to have a more mature and refined air to it. My biggest complaint is that the base steel wheels look cheap and a tad undersized, luckily that’s easily remedied should I choose to do so.

The interior design reflects that of the exterior. I have to say though, I was surprised at how nice it feels. Hard plastics abound (don’t care) but materials are nice where they count. The instrument cluster and center stack are a joy to use on a daily basis, although I do lament the lack of an engine coolant temperature gauge. The gear shifter and steering wheel have nice shapes and so-so plastics but don’t offend. The 6-way adjustable driver’s seat is comfortable for my smallish frame but provides less thigh support than I would like. On the other hand, there is a fair bit of side bolstering. Larger people may find the narrow seats uncomfortable. The trunk is large as is the backseat.

My favourite attribute to the interior is the driving position combined with the low cowl. It reminds me a little of older Honda Accords providing excellent forward visibility with easy access to controls.

When I was researching this car, I could hardly find any actual reviews of the entry level engine. Even still, in most summaries, auto writers have no issue labeling it as an outdated boat anchor and as the engine to avoid at all costs. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on one to try it out.

Starting with the facts: Displacement is a tad less than 2000 CCs. Output is rated at 115 HP @ 5000 RPM and 125 lb-ft @ 4000 RPM.

Initial impressions on the test drive were that the old engine is entirely adequate for normal use in town – I would even dare to say more than adequate. There’s enough torque to keep you ahead of traffic from stoplight to stoplight if that’s your thing. I found you still have to be mindful of being in the optimal gear. This engine won’t pull you out of wrong gear situations like other more powerful cars will.

The bulk of the 3000 kms I’ve put on the car thus far have come from mountainous highway driving on single lane roads. The grades are steep, corners sharp and in this region of Alberta, the pavement beat to a pulp from the plentiful heavy industrial traffic.

On rare stretches of straight and level road, the Jetta has no issues maintaining speeds of 80 – 90 MPH in 5th gear running around 3000 RPM – something that I was entirely not expecting. Passing on two lane highways is also drama free and can easily be done in 4th gear. Obviously you won’t get the effortless blast of acceleration afforded by more powerful cars, but it’s not the real world slug “enthusiasts” would lead you to believe it is.

Climbing steep grades of 7% or more will require a downshift to 4th gear, if not 3rd in some cases. Under no circumstances was I unable to maintain the posted speed limits.

Under all driving conditions, the engine has proven to be quiet and relaxed, able to do it’s job at relatively low RPMs; quite the opposite from the rev happy and noisy 1.5 L in the Fit. It even has a pleasant and unique sounding growl to it that I don’t normally associate with a 4 cylinder engine. At idle and at low engine loads, you can feel slight vibrations coming through the steering wheel. Personally, I like to be reminded I’m piloting a machine with moving parts compared say to any modern V6 sedan with an engine so isolated, you can’t even tll if it’s running. The mechanical feel is part of the driving experience, perhaps explaining why I’ve been partial to older Hondas for so long. I honestly and surprisingly have not been disappointed by this “boat anchor” of an engine.

The gear shifter is easy to use with somewhat notchy shifts at times but is still substantial feeling unlike a Honda Civic’s for example. I was a little let own and liken the feel to that of an old and tired Mazda 626 I used to own (note: 5000 km later, it seems to have loosened up a bit with a smoother action). Clutch take-up is lighter than what I was expecting but still heavier than the aforementioned Civic’s. It is easy to use and provides for no surprises.

Back on the winding roads, the ride and handling of the Jetta don’t egg you on in a playful way the Fit or a Mazda 3 do. It turns out the Jetta drives a lot like it’s styling suggests it would. The ride is on the stiff side of smooth and composed. Only twice on a 200 km stretch of bruised and battered highway did I bottom out the suspension travelling at higher rates of speed. The car feels very stable in most conditions. The same trip in the Fit was always a white knuckled affair – in a more fun but sore back kind of way. To get the same thrills in the Jetta, you’d have to travel at a pace that could land you in a lot of trouble.

Approaching the Jetta’s handling limits is smooth and predictable. Body roll, while present, is minimal and mid corner frost heaves don’t upset the balance of the car. Steering inputs are met with crisp responses but like I said earlier, the car just doesn’t change direction as eagerly as some other sporty feeling cars. Pushing the relatively high cornering limits, you can feel the moment the front tire begins to rollover onto its sidewall, not exactly fun but there it is. The steering has a lighter feel than I was expecting as well, lighter than what I would like.

The upside to the more sedate handling is a very competent highway ride. On one occasion, on these same torn up and bumpy roads, I asked my partner how fast she thought we were going without looking at the speedo, she knew why I was asking ;). Her guess was a good 30 MPH less than what our actual speed was. Somehwat faint praise, but it gives you an idea this car doesn’t feel like a cheap econobox out on the highway. Adding to the experience is a low wind and road noise level.

The brakes work. I can tell you that moderate braking from highway speeds or down steep grades is smooth and drama free. I haven’t attempted any emergency stops in reverse yet so I can’t comment on whether the rear disc brakes feel like a noticeable improvement over the old drums.

Fuel economy has been reported by the trip computer at around 8.0 L/100 KMS (29.4 MPG). This was in a driving style as explained above at temperatures ranging from -10 C to -25 C (14 F to -13 F). In my opinion, that is fantastic.

As I wrap up this review, I’ve noticed a few patterns emerge from my thoughts and reflections. The words drama free and comfortable continue to pop up throughout. I would like to reiterate that although this car and powertrain are fairly comfortable, especially for the price, it may not be ideal for lazy drivers or people who simply don’t like to drive. The powertrain does require attention to ensure you’re always making the best of the limited power available. For example, if you don’t like to plan your passing maneuvers, have trouble maintaining a constant speed even on small grades or just all around don’t pay attention to your driving, I would suggest you step up to a more powerful car.

If you’re like me however and take pleasure in anticipating the road or traffic ahead, enjoy interacting with your vehicle (and no, I don’t mean having it read your emails to you) and will sometimes go for a drive just for the sake of driving, then this car can provide a great driver’s oriented compromise.

In this neck of the woods, people (men) are quick to tell me all the time I NEED a pickup truck out here – that I’m crazy to travel on any highway in a 2wd drive vehicle. Some go as far as to say that cars shouldn’t even be allowed on the highway. I gladly point out my girlfriend got by just fine this past winter commuting within the city limits in our winter tire equipped Fit without so much as ever getting stuck.

Point being that cars are far more useful and capable than people give them credit for. The Jetta’s measly 115 HP isn’t so measly on it’s own merits and suits my needs just fine. Could I have afforded the payments on a more powerful version or even a shiny new pickup truck? -Certainly, but aside from bragging rights and rollercoaster acceleration, I’ve got other priorities at this point in my life. (Spoken like a true Canadian -DK)

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Capsule Review: 2015 Ford Fusion Titanium AWD http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/capsule-review-2015-ford-fusion-titanium-awd/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/capsule-review-2015-ford-fusion-titanium-awd/#comments Mon, 06 Apr 2015 13:43:30 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1038889 It’s a Detroit midsize sedan that I drove just for the sake of driving. That’s a verdict in and of itself. This heavily optioned 2015 Ford Fusion, a Titanium EcoBoost AWD model loaned to us by Ford Canada for the final week of March, isn’t perfect. • U.S. Market Price As Tested: $38,440 • Horsepower: […]

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2015 ford fusion titaniumIt’s a Detroit midsize sedan that I drove just for the sake of driving. That’s a verdict in and of itself.

This heavily optioned 2015 Ford Fusion, a Titanium EcoBoost AWD model loaned to us by Ford Canada for the final week of March, isn’t perfect.


• U.S. Market Price As Tested: $38,440

• Horsepower: 240 @ 5500 rpm

• Torque: 270 lb-ft @3000 rpm

• Observed Fuel Economy: 19.3 mpg


But from the standpoint of on-road dynamics, the Fusion does what only a couple other intermediate sedans currently on the market can do: encourage their owner to take the long way home.

The Fusion’s imperfections are notable, however, perhaps to a greater degree because the midsize Ford excels at the act of bringing its pilot joy. According to my Grand Caravan-driving brother, also a father of four, the Fusion’s rear seat, “isn’t bad,” but it lacks the expansiveness of the top-selling midsize car, Toyota’s Camry. Although I’ve spent enough time now with MyFordTouch to find it sufficiently sensible, the system continues to be just plain slow. Why am I waiting and waiting and waiting for climate control options to appear after I start the car? Interior material quality is a mix of pleasant (steering wheel and armrests, for example), adequate (dash top and door surfaces) and disappointing (matte black button surround on the centre stack.) On the subject of performance, this top-flight 2.0L turbo is merely decent. In a world in which the three best-selling midsize nameplates continue to buck the no-V6 trend of their slower-selling rivals, this four-cylinder comes up 37 ponies short (on regular fuel) of the Toyota Camry’s 3.5L V6. Moreover, our particular all-wheel-drive Fusion tips the scales with an extra 201 pounds. (Titanium front-wheel-drive Fusions are 155 pounds lighter than our car.)

2015 Ford Fusion AWD rearIn other words, there’s enough boost, but the Fusion never left me with the I-can’t-believe-it’s-this-fast feeling engendered by V6-engined versions of the Camry, Honda Accord, and Nissan Altima. In this age, that’s what the most powerful powerplant in a multi-engine lineup should do. 0-60 mph in 7.3 seconds, seriously? At least the Fusion’s all-wheel-drive system allows power to be applied to pavement in a hurry, with none of the excessive wheelspin of nearly all its rivals.

So if the Fusion is sufficiently but not substantially boosted, where does it rate on the eco front? Our tester was a drinker, averaging 19.3 mpg in a mix of city and highway driving over the course of a week. It’s rated by the EPA at 22 in the city; 31 on the highway. In our hands, the poor mileage wasn’t an anomaly. The last time we tested a Fusion with the same powertrain, in the spring of 2013, it averaged 18.4 mpg.

2015 Ford Fusion brick red interiorThe interior’s not perfect, the car isn’t that quick, and it consumes more fuel than the Camry V6 we just drove in the dead of winter, yet here I am saying this is the one I’d choose to drive.

True, a Mazda 6 is the more agile car, but it’s missing 30% of the Fusion’s torque. And while the Mazda handles at an expert level when pushed really hard, it’s not nearly as serene as the Fusion, which rides firmly but never allows the outsold world’s rough pavement to be publicized inside the cabin.

2015 Ford Fusion brick red interiorThis Fusion, wearing Goodyear Eagle LS2s (235/45R18s) doesn’t ride as firmly as the most aggressive Accords, either, and I prefer the way its direct steering projects signs of life; the way it progressively builds up its weight. Ford didn’t build an outright sports sedan here – there’s plenty of room for this chassis to morph into an ST and a need for the automatic transmission to gain enthusiasm – but it’s enjoyable to drive in all circumstances, regardless of speed.

That’s a noble achievement in an age of sterilized transportation, an age in which the endless pursuit of refinement shuts out most manifestations of interactivity.

As for the Fusion Titanium’s optional extras, because they did nothing to alter the on-road behaviour, they had little impact on the way I viewed the car’s positive aspects.

2015 Ford Fusion interior detailsIn Ford’s U.S. pricing scheme, the $33,115 Magnetic Metallic Titanium 2.0L EcoBoost AWD was topped off with a $1200 driver assistance package (which includes blind spot assist, lane departure warning, lane keep assist and more), the $895 active park assist (always a wonder), $995 adaptive cruise, $995 sunroof, a $795 red leather appearance package which included cool-in-the-early-’00s 18-inch wheels, a $150 heated steering wheel, $395 for heated and cooled front seats, $190 inflatable rear seat belts, and a $795 navigation system for a $38,440 total.

Don’t judge the Fusion based on such an over-equipped sticker. As of this writing, only 5% of the 2015 Fusions in stock at U.S. dealers are fitted with all-wheel-drive, according to Cars.com. Less than one-quarter of those cars are priced above $35,000. This car, therefore, is not a typical Fusion, but at its core it always displays the best and worst of the Fusion lineup: good looks, a stiff structure, a big trunk, an EcoBoost engine which lacks eco, somewhat poor packaging, and, most importantly, a European appetite for back road frolicking.

Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures.

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Capsule Review: 2015 Nissan Pathfinder http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/capsule-review-2015-nissan-pathfinder/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/capsule-review-2015-nissan-pathfinder/#comments Sat, 04 Apr 2015 13:00:02 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1037369 Before you read this road test of the 2015 Nissan Pathfinder, I must write that it isn’t as comprehensive as I want it to be, even though I put well over 1,000 miles on it. There was supposed to be a road trip from San Jose to Lake Arrowhead with at least three other people […]

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Before you read this road test of the 2015 Nissan Pathfinder, I must write that it isn’t as comprehensive as I want it to be, even though I put well over 1,000 miles on it. There was supposed to be a road trip from San Jose to Lake Arrowhead with at least three other people on board. They were supposed to critique the car’s features, evaluate the interior comfort during the trip, and simulate the amount of stress that most families would put on a seven-passenger crossover. It wasn’t meant to be, though, with all three bailing out with various reasons, from studying to the CPA exam (a very valid excuse) to needing to visit family (again, a valid excuse) to saying they would come if the destination was changed to Santa Barbara (not a valid excuse and grounds for a passive-aggressive e-mail).

Such an experience was supposed to make up for the fact that actual, live families would potentially read this review of the Pathfinder and seriously regard what I, a childless, flip-flops-wearing, Gran Turismo-playing millennial, wrote about their possible next family car. “Oh, he actually carted around 4 full-size adults for over 1,000 miles rather than using it alone on his daily commute,” they would think, “This test really simulated family use. He probably even yelled at the back seat passengers to turn their music down.” Unfortunately, I never got my chance. Instead, the long trip consisted of tuning into Christian rock stations throughout the Central Valley while trying to find an alternative rock station, until I got to Pasadena, where I began loudly complaining to myself about traffic in Southern California.

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But enough about Southern California traffic (and I could really go on), I must discuss the history Pathfinder nameplate. In 1985, Nissan debuted the Pathfinder, which was intended to compete with the Jeep Cherokee and Toyota 4Runner, though it was only available with two doors at launch. It was a very capable vehicle off-road and was built on a truck platform. It eventually gained two extra doors as well as a third seat in later generations while retaining the off-road capability of the original. The last-generation Pathfinder was even available with a V-8. But it became difficult to market as a family vehicle due to its body-on-frame construction, which didn’t help its fuel economy and limited interior space.

Other car platform-based seven-passenger family crossovers like the Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, Hyundai Santa Fe, and Mazda CX-9 were taking away sales from truck-based SUVs like the Pathfinder. The Pathfinder needed to be significantly updated for better fuel economy and better internal packaging for the needs of most families, many of whom didn’t need the extensive off-road and towing capabilities of the old Pathfinder.

As a result, my 2015 Pathfinder 4×4 test car is completely different from the old Pathfinder. It’s based on the same platform as the Murano and Altima. It handles better than the old truck-based Pathfinder and gets significantly better fuel economy largely due to its much lower weight. Its door handles aren’t on the C-pillar. The exterior design is a lot cleaner and a lot more rounded. The interior is a much nicer place to be and has more space to move around in. The transmission is continuously variable rather than having actual gears. The competition is now vehicles like the Pilot and Highlander rather than the 4Runner and Jeep Grand Cherokee.

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Since I spent well over 1,000 miles in the driver’s seat, I’m going to first focus on comfort. As potential Pathfinder buyers will be spending a good deal of time behind the wheel, driving the kids to numerous activities like fencing and jai alai (kids really need to stand out for those college apps) and taking long road trips (jai alai tournaments are perhaps very few and far between), I can definitively write that the front driver’s seat of the Pathfinder is a satisfying place. There’s no other way I could have lasted six hours straight driving back from San Bernardino to San Jose without a long pause. Some sections of highways I drove on were very bumpy, yet the Pathfinder’s ride soaked up the bumps and didn’t provide a jarring experience. During the trip, I didn’t find out myself shifting around in the seat after 300 miles like I would in other cars. When I arrived home, I didn’t feel stiff and felt I had the energy to do things.

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The back seat isn’t such a bad place either. There’s an easily accessible 120V power outlet for plugging in a laptop or other equipment and the second row can also control its temperature. It’s possible to recline the seats and relax. I wouldn’t recommend the second row for people well above six feet since there wouldn’t be enough legroom for them. Meanwhile, the third seat is strictly for two people who haven’t hit their growth spurt. Anyone above 5 feet and 5 inches would have a rough time sitting in the third seat after 90 minutes. Extra legroom can be derived by moving up the middle row, but then adults in the middle row would lose plenty of legroom and become uncomfortable too. All passengers in the back have their own air vents, so there’ll little question of keeping cool during the summer.

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When it comes to cargo capacity, with the third row up, there’s enough room for two large suitcases and one airplane carry-on bag. There is some extra space for miscellaneous objects below the trunk which can accommodate two small backpacks. With the third row folded down, the cargo capacity substantially increases, making the Pathfinder a good match for four to five person road trips. The middle row folds down too, so the car can fit long surfboards and bikes inside rather than affixing them to the roof or an attachment to the tow hitch. Furthermore, the spare tire is mounted underneath the car behind the tow hitch, not impeding the interior cargo space.

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To move all 4,500 pounds of the car, Nissan equipped the Pathfinder with the 3.5-liter V-6 which makes 260 horsepower and 240 lb-ft of torque, which is right in line with the V-6 options of the Pilot, Highlander, Kia Sorento, and Santa Fe. Unlike the competition, the Pathfinder’s V-6 is pared to a CVT, which helps considerably with the fuel economy numbers. The powertrain had no problem keeping up the very fast traffic on Interstate 5, with the car traveling between 75 and 80 miles an hour for two hours straight. Even from a stoplight, fully loaded the car doesn’t have trouble getting places.

A common complaint about the Pathfinder is its continuously variable transmission. For 2015, the CVT in the Pathfinder received “D-Step Shift Logic” which makes the CVT feel like a traditional transmission. During my time, I had no problems with it. The only thing I noticed involving the CVT occurred when driving on a particularly hilly section of highway (the Grapevine section of Interstate 5). The CVT was constantly trying to find the right planetary gear to climb up the hill, acting like a seven or eight-speed automatic transmission. Despite that, the transmission was still maintaining a constant speed of 65 mph, and didn’t have a problem with how much throttle I gave the car. However, the CVT didn’t have that issue when driving up the mountains to go to Lake Arrowhead, perhaps because of the lower speeds with the winding roads.

However, the fuel economy of the Pathfinder was exceptional, considering mine had four-wheel-drive and can seat seven people. Granted, the Pathfinder carried two people at most, and a majority of the miles I drove were on the highway in two-wheel-drive mode, with air conditioning off some of the time, but the Pathfinder managed a little bit over 25 miles per gallon, which is on the upper end of the EPA estimate of 19 city and 26 highway. The CVT definitely helped in achieving than figure.

As for utilizing the four-wheel-drive system on the car, I didn’t have a chance to do so. Unfortunately, no snow fell around Lake Arrowhead, and though taking the Pathfinder to my local off-road vehicle park was thought about, I didn’t think Nissan intended the current Pathfinder to face obstacle that even some current Jeeps have some difficulty completing. Nonetheless, Nissan’s intuitive 4WD system has 2WD, automatic, and 4WD lock modes as well as hill start assist and hill descent control. All of those features may come in handy when driving in snow or climbing and descending steep dirt or gravel roads.

My test car was the SL 4×4 model which had leather seats, a power passenger seat, power lumbar support, power liftgate, rear SONAR, a blind sport warning system, and a remote engine start system, useful for warming up the car in cold weather. Mine also had the SL Tech Package, which included navigation, a Bose sound system, the Around View monitor, and a tow hitch receiver with the trailer harness. With the $860 destination charge, the MSRP came to $40,850. Considering the amount of equipment on the Pathfinder, I think it’s very well-priced and the MSRP is very similar to other seven-passenger crossovers with a similar level of equipment as my Pathfinder test vehicle such as the Pilot Touring trim and the Highlander Limited model.

In the end, the Pathfinder should be on most families’ shopping lists. Those families who don’t want a minivan and are only willing to consider either a Honda Pilot or Toyota Highlander are missing out on a very nice interior, much cleaner and classier outside styling, and many, many features for the price. After over 1,200 miles with it, I can write the Pathfinder is an excellent vehicle for driving long distances. What I can’t write is whether four millennials can tough out 1,200 miles as passengers in a Pathfinder, which in hindsight, is for the best. Otherwise I’d be writing this review with a hoarse voice.

Satish Kondapavulur is a writer for Clunkerture, where about a fifth of the articles are about old cars and where his one-time LeMons racing dreams came to an end once he realized it was impossible to run a Ferrari Mondial. He’s still proud and amazed of the fuel economy numbers he achieved with the Pathfinder.

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Review: 2015.5 Volvo V60 Cross Country (with video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/review-2015-5-volvo-v60-cross-country-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/review-2015-5-volvo-v60-cross-country-video/#comments Fri, 03 Apr 2015 13:00:14 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1030617 Volvo may not have invented the wagon but no company has as much dedication to the practical cargo hauler as the Swedish brand. With the new V60 Cross Country they have expanded to six wagons world-wide (V40, V40 Cross Country, V60, V60 Cross Country, V70 and XC70). Wagon fans sad that Volvo isn’t bringing their […]

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2015.5 Volvo V60 Cross Country Exterior Side-004

Volvo may not have invented the wagon but no company has as much dedication to the practical cargo hauler as the Swedish brand. With the new V60 Cross Country they have expanded to six wagons world-wide (V40, V40 Cross Country, V60, V60 Cross Country, V70 and XC70). Wagon fans sad that Volvo isn’t bringing their smaller boxes to the USA may be relieved to know the V60 Cross Country is not replacing the V60. This means that for the first time in a long time, we have access to three Swedish wagons on our shores.

Exterior

Volvo is a company normally associated with safety and practicality. They are the comfy penny loafer of the luxury segment if you will. This Volvo is different. Rather than the boxy form-follows-function style we’re used to from Sweden, the V60 is more about style than practicality. The change is most noticeable in the rear where we get a hatch that is raked forward and a greenhouse that plunges and pinches toward the back. e still have a subtle hint of the Volvo “hips”, but the design has been smoothed and simplified since the 1999 S80 that started Volvo’s modern style.

For off-paved-road duty, Volvo jacked up V60’s ride height by 2.6 inches, added some silver trim here and there, swapped out the grille for a honeycomb-themed version and added some black wheel arches. Thus the oddly named V60 Cross Country was born. For reasons I don’t quite understand, the CC gets larger wheels (18-inch) narrower 50-series rubber. This should be your first hint that the CC is more soft-road than off-road focused. As you might expect from a car maker located in the north, the CC can be had with an electric heated windscreen ala Range Rover that speeds ice removal when the snowpocalypse returns. Perhaps it’s my preference towards wagons in general, but I think the the tweaks work on the CC, it retains the crisp style I appreciate on the V60 but adds just enough “rugged” style to differentiate it on the road.

2015.5 Volvo V60 Cross Country Interior.CR2

Interior

For those that haven’t shopped for a Volvo wagon in a while, the Swedes continue to shuffle model numbers around. Once upon a time the wagon variant of the S60 was the V70 and the off-road version was the XC70. Today however the V70 and XC70 are based on the S80 wagon. The V50 was once the wagon version of the smaller S40 leaving just V60 available. Sounds logical, right? So an off-road modified V60 would be a XC60. Oops, that already exists. So Volvo dusted off their older “Cross Country” nomenclature, the same trim that ostensibly got shortened to “XC” a while back. Confused yet?

The V60’s is on the small side for this segment and that’s most noticeable in the rear where we have less legroom than you’ll find in the A4 and BMW 3-Series wagons. This is the key reason that Volvo will be bringing their stretched S60 sedan to America next year, sadly there is no word of a matching V60L.  Front seat accommodations are spacious, but still offer a less room than the Germans. One thing Volvo has consistently excelled at however is seat comfort. Front and rear seats are well padded and extremely comfortable. All 2015.5 Volvo models finally ditch the lumbar support knob for a 2-way power variety which is welcome, but not as adjustable as the 4-way competition. In an interesting twist, all CC models get a variant of the S60 and V60’s sport seats which offer exaggerated bolstering on the back and bottom cushions. I like the feel, but if you’re a larger person you may find them a little narrow.

The cargo area is where we see the consequence of Volvo’s sexy side profile. Behind the curvaceous hatch sits half the cargo capacity of an XC60 at just 15.2 cubic feet. With the rear seats folded it expands to 43.5, about half of what you find in the XC70. The cargo space is small enough that even the questionably practical BMW X4 has a little more room in the back. Audi’s allroad slots between the XC70 and V60 Cross Country in overall dimensions and cargo capacity.

2015.5 Volvo Sensus Connect Infotainment Navigation-004

Infotainment

2015.5 doesn’t bring a larger screen or major UI changes to Volvo’s Sensus Connect but it does add a cell modem. The new “Connected” Sensus gives the driver access to online business searches, streaming media without a smartphone, OnStar-like telematics services (Volvo On Call) and access to Wikipedia. The service requires a data subscription to use the full range of services, but wisely Volvo decided to toss in a WiFi chipset so you can share your cell plan with passengers or use a paired smartphone for Sensus’ data connection if you’d rather not have another cell phone bill. Also along for the ride is a smartphone app to let you see if you locked your car, remote start the engine, or honk the horn and flash the lights if you’ve lost your car in the IKEA parking lot.

Volvo’s Sensus system continues to keep up with most of the entries in this segment by adding features to their snappy interface. The system is well laid out, intuitive, and oddly Volvo allows access to essentially everything while the vehicle is in motion. This allows passengers to enter information using the on-dash control-wheel without stopping the car. The driver can use the same knob, or a control wheel on the steering wheel to control system functions. The graphics, maps and voice commands aren’t quite as well done as iDrive and you can’t voice command your media library as you can in an Acura or Lincoln, but it is competitive with A3’s and allroad’s MMI and COMAND in the CLA and GLA.

2015.5 Volvo V60 Cross Country Engine 2.5L 5-Cylinder-002

Drivetrain

Volvo’s slick 300HP turbocharged/supercharged engine is sadly incompatible with the V60’s AWD system. (The output to the rear axle is located in a different spot and would require modifications to the chassis.)  As a result, all 2015.5 Volvos with AWD use the company’s trued and true 5 and 6-cylinder engines and older 6-speed automatic. For CC duty, Volvo limits your engine choice to just the 250 HP 2.5L 5-cylinder engine which can crank out up to 295 lb-ft in overboost for a limited time. If you’d like Volvo’s smooth inline-6 turbo, you’ll have to step over to the regular V60 or the XC70. Thankfully Volvo chose to leave the anaemic 3.2L engine out of the V60’s engine compartment.

2015.5 beings new shift logic to the transaxle that significantly reduces shift time (and sacrifices some shift quality) when in “sport” mode. Despite receiving some efficiency tweaks a few years ago, the 2.5L’s fuel economy still lags behind the 3-Series wagon at 23 MPG combined. Sending power to the rear is the latest Haldex AWD system which can send up to 50% of the power to the rear axles at any time, and if wheel slip up front occurs the power transfer can exceed 90%.

2015.5 Volvo V60 Cross Country Exterior 18-inch Wheel

Drive

The new programming of the AWD and transmission in sport mode was instantly obvious behind the wheel compared to 2014 S60 T5 AWD I benchmarked back-to-back. The new AWD software  sends noticeably more power to the rear when flogging the CC on winding roads and  transmission shifts are considerably faster and firmer. The change in programming isn’t just about feel, it also took a quarter second off the 0-60 time without an increase in power. The Aisin 6-speed transaxle in Volvo’s product-line has always felt soft compared to the ZF 6-speeds that BMW and Audi used, but this software narrows the gap. The improved bundle scoots to 60 in 6.41 seconds, just under 3/10ths slower than a X4 xDrive28i (that review is coming up soon.)

With the V70 to XC70 transition the engineers softened the suspension, but they took a different path with the CC making this one of the firmer almost-crossover vehicles around. The suspension is more forgiving than the V60 R-Design, but significantly stiffer than the larger XC70 or the Audi allroad. This leads to impressive handling when compared to the allroad, XC70 or even the distant Subaru competition. Something along the lines of a BMW X4 or BMW 328i GT will feel more nimble without a doubt, but they are also significantly more expensive.

2015.5 Volvo V60 Cross Country Exterior

On the surface of things it would seem that the $41,000 V60 Cross Country commands a $4,000 premium over the V60, XC60 or XC70. That sounded logical to me at first, since BMW charges roughly the same to make the X3 less practical create the X4 from the X3. However, when you adjust for the standard AWD, 18-inch wheels, navigation, sport seats, LDS gauges, etc the CC actually ends up being slightly less than a comparable V60 and $1,500 less than the XC70 3.2. (Speaking of the XC70 and the 3.2, Volvo’s big wagon has a confusing engine line-up. Opt for FWD and you get their sweet four-cylinder turbo and new 8-speed auto. Get the middle-trim and you’re saddled with a wheezy naturally aspirated 3.2L engine, but pony up a little extra and you can get the same BMW-fighting twin-scroll turbo 3.0L engine as the V60 R-Design.)

Audi’s allroad is several thousand dollars more than the CC when similarly equipped and is even a slight premium over the XC70 despite being smaller. The rugged Audi handles well, but the Volvo weighs several hundred pounds less and that more than compensates for the less advantageous weight balance in the corners. While the BMW X4 and 3-Series GT may deliver superior handling, they also come with a superior price tag. A comparable X4 xDrive28i will set you back at least $8,000 more.

2015.5 Volvo V60 Cross Country Exterior-001

The Audi allroad and the Volvo XC70 are made for rural living with a Euro twist. The soft suspensions soak up poor pavement in the boonies, the AWD systems are sure-footed on dirt roads and you won’t bruise your kidneys if you decide to drive off the beaten path to check on your trendy alpaca herd. The V60 Cross Country has a different mission in mind. Like the X4 and 3-Series GT, this Volvo was made for folks that live down a short gravel road but drive on high-speed winding mountain roads for most of their commute. In other words, my demographic exactly.

Trouble is, as much fun as the Cross Country was to drive, and how perfectly it seemed tailored to my demographic, the XC60 or the XC70 make considerably more sense. Part of that has to do with the V60’s position as a “styling exercise” than a practical cargo hauler. The XC60 gives up less handling ability than you’d think with twice the cargo capacity and the XC70 gives you more thrust, more luxury, and, again: twice the cargo capacity. The 2015.5 V60 Cross Country is one of the best wagons ever sold in America, but I’d buy a XC70 T6 instead.

 

  Volvo provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review

Specifications as tested:

0-30: 2.5 Seconds

0-60: 6.41 Seconds

1/4 Mile:15 Seconds @ 92 MPH

Average Fuel Economy: 22 MPG

 

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Capsule Review: Chevrolet Spark EV http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/capsule-review-chevrolet-spark-ev/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/capsule-review-chevrolet-spark-ev/#comments Thu, 02 Apr 2015 14:00:32 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1034073 There comes a moment when it’s time to try something new. Like switching to an iPhone after using a Nexus and promptly learning that the iPhone can bend. Or wearing a mechanical watch rather than a quartz watch, only for it to stop ticking after it was on a nightstand for the weekend. Moving to […]

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There comes a moment when it’s time to try something new. Like switching to an iPhone after using a Nexus and promptly learning that the iPhone can bend. Or wearing a mechanical watch rather than a quartz watch, only for it to stop ticking after it was on a nightstand for the weekend. Moving to a house from an apartment and dealing with the perils of home ownership, such as property taxes, having to clean gutters, and the inability to have the building manager fix the broken kitchen faucet. My trying something new involved testing an electric vehicle for a week.

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After all, I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, home to Tesla Motors and ZAP (the hard-core TTAC B&B should know them; there’s even a road test on here of their cars from way back when), and home to dinner parties with prolonged debates about whether electric car ownership is worthwhile. “What if you’re coming home from work and you forgot your phone? You’ll run out of charge retrieving the phone and then there’s no way of getting home.” an attendee might say, while his counterpart might reply, “Well, I’ve saved hundreds of dollars on gas and I haven’t had to visit a gas station. And are these chips and dip vegan?” Since I get asked the electric car question a lot as the “car guy” among my friends, I decided once and for all to test an electric car.

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To live out my electric car experience, Chevrolet had a Spark EV available in the Northern California press fleet, which was delivered to me with 301 miles on the odometer. 55 of those miles involved delivering the car to my driveway from the press car place. So I was effectively testing a brand-new car. Additionally, it should be noted at this point of the review that most of the country cannot buy the Spark EV. It’s only sold in California and Oregon, where the metropolitan areas tend to have a more developed electric vehicle infrastructure. As a result, this review applies to less than fifteen percent of the population, so those of you not within a 10-hour drive of San Francisco don’t have to care as much.

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The first thing I did when I got the Spark was test the performance of the car using the 22 miles of range it arrived with. Its performance was surprisingly good thanks to the torque from the electric motor. It could go from 0-60 miles per hour in around seven seconds, which is on par with most six-cylinder midsize sedans. Chevrolet also got the suspension tuning very right, making the Spark quite fun to drive at low speeds. There’s even a “Sport” button which sharpens up throttle response. With this car, it’s actually possible to create an autocross course around your housing development, and have actual fun doing it, without waking up the neighbors. Just make sure there isn’t too much tire squeal.

Secondly, since spirited driving tends to use up much of the battery, I needed to ensure I could charge it at home. Now, to make electric car ownership worthwhile, it helps to have a 240V outlet in your home to ensure your electric vehicle charges faster. Usually, an electric car can go from empty to fully-charged in one night (usually within 8 hours) with the 240V setup. Thankfully I had the means to “improvise” a home charging facility for the Spark with the 120V outlet that came with the Spark. However, most homes have 120V outlets, which is what my house had. With a 120V setup, it usually takes about 12 to 18 hours to go from empty to a full charge.

Regarding styling, the Spark EV more or less looks like any other Chevy Spark on the road. For me, that’s not necessarily a good thing, as many people will believe your car is a lot cheaper than it actually is. Most people will also believe that you’ll be driving a rental car. I had the fortune to have a Jaguar XF Sport in the driveway before I got the Spark EV, and most of my neighbors did a double take when passing by and noticing the red Spark in place of the XF. Personally, I don’t think homeowners’ associations will tolerate a Spark EV in the driveway.

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Inside, the Spark is airy and has plenty of visibility. It is a narrow car though, with the potential to rub shoulders with your front passenger and the rear seat only accommodating two people, but there is plenty of headroom. The trunk only has enough space for two airplane carry-ons. My test car had the “leatherette” (I consider it vinyl) seats that I didn’t like, largely because of how the material felt and I didn’t like sitting in them after the car had been out in the sun. Personally, I’d try to get cloth seats, but that involves “downgrading” to the 1LT trim level for around $400 less, though the steering wheel won’t be leather-wrapped.

On the highway, the Spark had no trouble keeping up with other cars or getting up to speed quickly. However, you will definitely hear the road noise at speeds above 45 mph. If you’re driving on the highway in periods of low traffic with speeds of 65 to 70 miles per hour, you will hate being in the car. I tried to turn up the stereo to compensate for all that road noise, but it didn’t help things and added to the noise pollution. As a result, the Spark EV is a car you’ll prefer in traffic jams and off-highway environments.

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I have to admit I didn’t use OnStar with the car (the OnStar Turn-by-Turn navigation is free for 3 years), so I don’t know if it’s a viable alternative to an actual navigation system. To get navigation maps projected onto the dashboard screen, Chevrolet MyLink can connect to your smartphone and garner the necessary information using the BringGo app. Downloading and installing the app on my smartphone would have been $50 so I didn’t try it out.

As for the money saved on fuel costs by buying the Spark, the car’s Monroney sticker states that it’s possible to save $8,500 in fuel costs over 5 years compared to the average new vehicle which gets 24 mpg and costs $11,000 to fuel over five years. The $8,500 figure comes from driving 15,000 miles per year at 12 cents per kilowatt-hour. On the other hand, when researching potential cost savings on FuelEconomy.gov, the website gives me an estimate of $5,250 saved over five years, but that’s based on “45% highway, 55% city driving, 15,000 annual miles and current fuel prices.” I’m assuming the Monroney value estimates the price of gas becoming higher with time while the FuelEconomy.gov number tends to fluctuate. But only you can estimate how much money you can save based on your driving habits and knowledge of local charging stations.

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When I had to ensure the Spark had a full battery, I fully charged the Spark EV at my house twice during the week I had it, and the electric bill only went up $10 compared to the same period last year. I’m not quite sure if the Spark contributed the extra money to the electric bill, but I did charge it during peak usage hours once, which may have contributed to the total. Also, many of my local hangouts had charging stations where I could park and charge the car for free for a limit of 2 or 3 hours. As a result, I largely didn’t have to pay for the car’s electricity when running errands. (On a side note, the Plugshare app came in handy when finding charging stations.)

Also, my test car had the “fast provisions” charging capability option, it enables the Spark EV to recharge 80 percent of the battery within 20 minutes utilizing the SAE Combo DC fast charging stations. Unfortunately, there were no SAE Combo DC fast chargers near me to sample. Nevertheless, having one of these nearby will help tremendously with range anxiety, especially if your daily commute is more than 60 miles round-trip.

The MSRP of my test car was $28,785 (before the $7,500 tax credit), with the sole option being the $750 “fast provisions” charging capability and an $825 destination charge. It also includes two years of maintenance. At that price point, Nissan has the Leaf which starts at $29,860 including destination, Ford has the Focus EV at $29,995 with destination, and FIAT’s 500e at $31,800. With the $7,500 federal tax credit and a California tax credit of $2,500, the Spark EV can easily come in below $20,000. (Unfortunately, Oregon doesn’t offer an electric vehicle tax credit.) Furthermore, the Spark EV’s lease rates are reasonable and close to the lease rates of the aforementioned electric vehicles, though their advertised leases are for 36,000 miles. On Chevrolet’s website, the current offer is $176 a month (plus taxes and fees) with $0 due at signing for a 3 year, 30,000 mile lease.

All in all, if you’re among the fifteen percent of the American population considering the Spark EV, I would advise buying it as strictly a commuting and errands car. It would make the perfect second or third vehicle if fuel costs are getting out of hand, you drive around 50 miles every day, and you would like to minimize trips to the gas station. With its $176 per month lease deal with $0 due at signing, the Spark EV is worth thinking about if considering a Leaf, the lease rate of which doesn’t come close. Even if you plan to buy an electric car, the Spark is a good candidate as the net price can go below $20,000 with the federal and California tax rebates.

And if you don’t live in California and Oregon and you’re still considering the Spark, come to nice and sunny California and make a vacation out of test driving the Spark EV. Though be wary of any dinner party invites you come across if you tell people your reason for visiting California. The menu has a good chance of being completely vegan.

Satish Kondapavulur is a writer for Clunkerture, where about a fifth of the articles are about old cars and where his one-time LeMons racing dreams came to an end once he realized it was impossible to run a Ferrari Mondial. He also learned that it’s surprisingly easy to sneak up behind people in an electric car, especially cyclists. 

 

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