The Truth About Cars » 2014 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Tue, 21 Apr 2015 20:31:26 +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 » 2014 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Review: 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee Altitude 4×4 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/02/review-2015-jeep-grand-cherokee-altitude-4x4/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/02/review-2015-jeep-grand-cherokee-altitude-4x4/#comments Fri, 27 Feb 2015 13:00:37 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1008770 The current Grand Cherokee has been a huge success for the Jeep brand. The handsome vehicle is available with four engines, five drivelines, and in many trims, best of which can give the Range Rover a run for its money. The Altitude, introduced for 2014, is an interesting model, where Jeep takes many desirable features, […]

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2015 jeep grand cherokee altitude side

The current Grand Cherokee has been a huge success for the Jeep brand. The handsome vehicle is available with four engines, five drivelines, and in many trims, best of which can give the Range Rover a run for its money. The Altitude, introduced for 2014, is an interesting model, where Jeep takes many desirable features, wraps them in a monotone exterior with sporty black wheels, and prices the package well.

In the past I have reviewed Grand Cherokees with V8 and diesel engines. The Overland V8 felt like a hot-rod with tons of instant power but the fuel economy was predictably poor. The EcoDiesel is a smooth operator with a ton of torque and great gas mileage, but it comes at a high price. Could this nicely optioned V6 model be the happy medium?

2015 jeep grand cherokee altitude front

The Pentastar 3.6-liter generates 290hp, which is more than the hot rod 5.9 Limited did in the late 90s, and 260lb-ft of torque. In this configuration it is mated to a new-for-2014 eight-speed transmission and the base Quadra-Trac I 4WD system with a single-speed transfer case. The EPA rates this combination for 17mpg in the city and 24mph on the highway, with 19mpg combined. Those numbers are very close to the ones I got real world driving, where I averaged about 18mpg with somewhat of a heavy foot around southern Florida.

This engine is surprisingly smooth, quiet, and has plenty of power on tap. Acceleration and highway passing are effortless and it loves to cruise. The transmission has a regular mode, which makes things a little lethargic until you really stomp the gas pedal, and a sport mode which magically quickens the throttle response and changes shift points to where they should really be. There also an evil Eco button which is suppose to save more fuel when engaged but in really it just makes things slower.

2015 jeep grand cherokee altitude interior details

The Pentastar-powered Grand Cherokees are rated to tow a maximum of 6200lbs. Unless towing is a serious buying objective, or you have a perfectly understandable diesel fetish, there is really is no good reason to select any of the other engines for the basic purposes of getting to work or hauling the kids around. The EcoDiesel and V8-powered Grand Cherokees, including the SRT, are rated to tow up to 7400lbs (7200lbs for 4×4 models).

The black twenty-inch wheels, which are wrapped in 265/50 GoodYear Fortera HL rubber, don’t exactly scream “Trail Rated” but the ride is surprisingly smooth and quiet. A tire’s side profile is the percentage of its width, so despite this being a dub, there is still a good amount meat to absorb potholes. I know a handful of people who own the JGC with twenty-inch wheels and none of them has bent a wheel yet. I reviewed the EcoDiesel Grand Cherokee with similarly sized wheels in the winter and that Jeep got through deep (6″-8″) fresh snow surprisingly well. The Altitude has the base coil-spring suspension with conventional shocks, unlike some other models that have the height adjustable air suspension. Like the V6 engine, for a vast majority of people this setup offers a very nice blend of ride comfort, handling, and payload.

2015 jeep grand cherokee altitude side profile

The dash is cleanly laid out with the minimum amount of buttons and just the right amount of knobs. The gauge cluster consists of center screen which is configurable in a multitude of ways via steering wheel controls. The seats are comfortable but could use more support overall, and the headrests have a nice tilt feature which can support your neck on long drives without putting you to sleep. The center console has a cubby for your phone with all connections, two cup holders, and a large segregated closed compartment. The rear seats recline and are split 60:40, but don’t have a center pass-thru. The rear window does not pop up like it once used to.

The touchscreen Unconnect is one of the most user-friendly systems on the market, with soft buttons for all major functions and auxiliary audio controls on the back of the steering wheel. If there is a downside, it’s that the heated seats/wheel controls are also hidden in it. The system streams music over every phone app imaginable, including Pandora and IHeartRadio. Your phone can be connected via Bluetooth, USB, or auxiliary input. There is also an SD card slot. The system even has a hotspot (subscription required) to stream music independently of your phone data program.

2015 jeep grand cherokee altitude other details

The interior is not perfect, however. The visibility is not great and there are blind spots in the back as well as in the front due to a large A-pillar, big side mirrors, and mirror mounts. Being picky, I noticed some wiring and not covered metal body under the seats, visible when you drop something, for instance, and uneven trim around the sunroof when looking from the outside in. The biggest annoyance is the electronic shifter which toggles like a joystick, requiring a look down or at the gauge cluster for gear indication.

The Altitude is priced and positioned between a loaded Laredo and Limited with some options. For $37,095 the Altitude offers SRT-like body-colored claddings, fascia, and grill, glossy black badges, black light trim, and black wheels. Inside are black heated leather and suede seats (the only color choice) and a large 8.4″ Uconnect touch-screen, sans nav. The driver gets a power seat but it lacks the memory feature. Power hatch, 115vAC receptacle, and a remote start round out the Altitude package. Sunroof is $1095 extra, 506-watt audio is $495, back-up camera with sensors is $395, and the destination charge is $995, for a total of $40,075 as seen here.

2015 jeep grand cherokee altitude wheel

The Altitude has many desirable features and it certainly looks good. It is priced well by skipping the features that the majority of buyers won’t care for, but it lacks some things, such as the roof rack. Some options are not available on it, specifically blind spot detection and the active forward collision warning and crash migration which can literally save your life – those are only available on the loaded Limited and higher models. Other versions of the Grand Cherokee provide some very impressive off-road hardware and/or road performance but no one will buy the Altitude for its power or off-road abilities but rather for the peace of mind and functionality that an all-wheel-drive SUV provides.

2015 jeep grand cherokee altitude side rear

Kamil Kaluski is the East Coast Editor for Hooniverse.com. His ramblings on Eastern European cars, $500 racers, and other miscellaneous automotive stuff can be found there. In the past he has owned two Jeeps, a CJ-7 and a TJ Wrangler. His mother just bought a new Wrangler which he may have started modding. 

FCA US LLC provided the vehicle for the purpose of this review while I was thawing out in Florida. 

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UMTRI: US New-Car Fuel Economy Averaged 25.3 MPG In 2014 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/02/umtri-us-new-car-fuel-economy-averaged-25-3-mpg-2014/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/02/umtri-us-new-car-fuel-economy-averaged-25-3-mpg-2014/#comments Tue, 24 Feb 2015 14:00:21 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1006746 The final numbers are in for new-car fuel economy in the United States for 2014, and they are better than they were in 2008. According to Autoblog, the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute found that the average U.S. fuel economy for a 2014 model landed at 25.3 mpg, 22 percent higher than six years […]

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The final numbers are in for new-car fuel economy in the United States for 2014, and they are better than they were in 2008.

According to Autoblog, the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute found that the average U.S. fuel economy for a 2014 model landed at 25.3 mpg, 22 percent higher than six years ago.

The same percentage of improvement holds up when it comes to vehicles rated at 16 mpg or less, where only one in 30 new cars held that distinction. On the other end of the spectrum, one in six new cars garnered a rating of 32 mpg or above in 2014; only 1 percent could say the same in 2008.

UMTRI 2008 - 2014 US New-Car Fuel Economy Comparison Chart

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US Ethanol Exports Reach Near-Record Levels In 2014 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/02/us-ethanol-exports-reach-near-record-levels-2014/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/02/us-ethanol-exports-reach-near-record-levels-2014/#comments Mon, 09 Feb 2015 14:00:30 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=994874 Of the 14.3 billion gallons of ethanol produced in the United States in 2014, a near-record 836 gallons were exported. Per a report by the Renewable Fuel Association, those exported gallons went to 51 countries around the world, with the top five importers being Canada, Brazil, United Arab Emirates, Philippines and India. The amount of […]

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2008 Chevrolet Corvette E85 Indy 500 Pace Car Concept

Of the 14.3 billion gallons of ethanol produced in the United States in 2014, a near-record 836 gallons were exported.

Per a report by the Renewable Fuel Association, those exported gallons went to 51 countries around the world, with the top five importers being Canada, Brazil, United Arab Emirates, Philippines and India. The amount of U.S.-made ethanol exported in 2014 comes second to the amount in 2011, when 1.2 billion gallons were sent abroad.

While most export markets continue to flourish, producers saw a continued reduction of exports to the European Union in 2013 and 2014, the result of tariffs against U.S. ethanol.

On the other side, ethanol imports into the U.S. market fell 79 percent in 2014 from 400 million gallons to just 84 million. The figure is the second-lowest on record, behind the 18 million gallons imported in 2010. The majority of the imported ethanol was Brazil, which sent 60.8 million gallons to the U.S. last year, down 83 percent from 2013’s shipment of 348.2 million.

The industry group hopes to add more markets for U.S. ethanol in 2015, having gone on trade missions in Panama, China, Peru, Japan and South Korea in 2014 to help encourage importation, and vowing to “keep at it until all countries understand the value of U.S produced ethanol.”

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Toyota No. 1 Global Automaker In 2014, Volkswagen Close Behind http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/01/toyota-no-1-global-automaker-2014-volkswagen-close-behind/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/01/toyota-no-1-global-automaker-2014-volkswagen-close-behind/#comments Thu, 22 Jan 2015 14:00:56 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=987066 Once again, Toyota is the No. 1 largest automaker in the world, but Volkswagen is waiting close behind for the chance to take the crown. Automotive News reports Toyota sold 10.23 million units in 2014 with help from its Daihatsu and Hino partners, the first time the automaker sold over 10 million units in a […]

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WEC 6 Hours of Fuji

Once again, Toyota is the No. 1 largest automaker in the world, but Volkswagen is waiting close behind for the chance to take the crown.

Automotive News reports Toyota sold 10.23 million units in 2014 with help from its Daihatsu and Hino partners, the first time the automaker sold over 10 million units in a single year. Volkswagen took second on the podium with 10.14 million, and General Motors took third with 9.92 million.

2014 marks the second consecutive year Toyota has held the top spot, having regained it from GM in 2012 after the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami greatly hindered production for the majority of that year. The automaker originally took the top spot from GM in 2008, the latter having dominated the podium for 80 years prior; Toyota also held the title in 2009 and 2010.

As for 2015, Toyota is forecasting deliveries of 10.15 million due to decreased demand at home and in emerging markets, as well as from falling oil prices and Japan’s increased national consumption tax. Volkswagen, meanwhile, is ahead of schedule as far as taking the crown goes, CEO Martin Winterkorn stating such a thing would occur by 2018 at the earliest before 2014’s results showed otherwise.

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BMW Takes US Luxury Sales Crown Back From Mercedes http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/01/bmw-takes-us-luxury-sales-crown-back-mercedes/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/01/bmw-takes-us-luxury-sales-crown-back-mercedes/#comments Wed, 07 Jan 2015 12:00:48 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=972809 After a year-long battle for the top position on the U.S. luxury sales podium, BMW takes back the crown Mercedes-Benz won in 2013. Reuters reports the Bavarians moved over 9,000 more units by the end of 2014 over the wonder boys back in Stuttgart, coming out to a total of 339,738 for BMW, 330,391 for […]

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After a year-long battle for the top position on the U.S. luxury sales podium, BMW takes back the crown Mercedes-Benz won in 2013.

Reuters reports the Bavarians moved over 9,000 more units by the end of 2014 over the wonder boys back in Stuttgart, coming out to a total of 339,738 for BMW, 330,391 for Mercedes. Both automakers also experienced growth in U.S. sales during the last year, though BMW’s 9.8 percent boost over 2013’s numbers raced past Mercedes’ 5.7 percent increase.

Taking third on the podium was Lexus with 311,389 units sold in 2014, though its rate of growth bested the top two finishers at 13.7 percent over 2013.

Rounding out the rest of the U.S. mainstream luxury pack, Audi took fourth from Cadillac, the latter to be the only make to see a decline in growth in 2014, falling 6.5 percent to 170,750 units; Audi sold 182,011 over the same period, 15.2 percent more than it did in 2013.

Acura and Infiniti took sixth and seventh respectively, with 167,843 to 117,300 units moved. Both also experienced the lowest rates of growth in sales in the outgoing year: 1.5 percent in Acura’s favor, 0.8 percent for Infiniti.

Lincoln finished dead last with 94,474 units sold, but had the biggest rate of growth out of its fellow competitors compared to 2013 at 15.6 percent.

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Coast to Coast 2014: Final destination Los Angeles and Final Albert Review http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/coast-coast-2014-final-destination-los-angeles-final-albert-review/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/coast-coast-2014-final-destination-los-angeles-final-albert-review/#comments Wed, 10 Dec 2014 16:13:35 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=958025 Albert made it to Hollywood * You can see all the USA Coast to Coast Reports here! * This is it! After 5.722 miles or 9.209 km Albert and I have made it across the United States of America from Coast to Coast and have arrived in Los Angeles. This is the final instalment in this Coast to […]

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Albert Hollywood 3Albert made it to Hollywood

You can see all the USA Coast to Coast Reports here! *

This is it! After 5.722 miles or 9.209 km Albert and I have made it across the United States of America from Coast to Coast and have arrived in Los Angeles. This is the final instalment in this Coast to Coast series. It features Los Angeles car landscape and impressions, a final long-term review of Albert and my Top 10 highlights of the trip.

Los AngelesNearly there…

The drive from Palm Springs to Los Angeles is supposed to be a breezy 2 hours, which rapidly escalated to 4 hours due to a gigantic highway traffic jam before and upon entering I10. I know some of you suggested to take the Palms to Pines Hwy (74) straight to the Pacific Ocean for a much more enjoyable experience however we opted for the (supposedly) fastest way as we were running out of time and daylight for Santa Monica Pier snaps before returning Albert the day after. Well to tell you the truth I still wish we took the Palms to Pines option because we ended up taking as much time to reach Santa Monica Pier on the excruciatingly boring I10. Oh well, next time…

Albert Santa MonicaAlbert posing next to Santa Monica Pier

Move over Texas, California is where drivers are truly reckless, whooshing past on the right lane at over 100mph. To their credit though, Californian drivers ended up being very predictable in their recklessness, and provided you expect everyone will drive 20mph above every indicated speed limit, it is actually possible to weave through the traffic at high speed driving a full-size pickup truck, an object getting rarer and rare as we approach Los Angeles.

Santa Monica 1The Pacific Ocean at last

I won’t deny it, I got a little emotional when I spotted the Pacific Ocean for the first time approaching Santa Monica Pier. You don’t realize it, but the USA is a very large country and even though I took a much longer route than I could have (but also I believe much more interesting). Can’t help but think of the first Western pioneers travelling on horsecarts in constant danger of being attacked by hostile Native American tribes. Well done you guys. Or maybe I have it all romanced in my head, having watched too many Western movies.

Los Angeles 2Everyday traffic in Los Angeles CA

Back to reality in LA which is, I’d rather be honest for a minute, just one big fat and endless traffic jam. Take a wrong turn to a different interstate and by the time you turn around and find your way back in stalled traffic, even if you take the first exit humanely possible, you’ve just lost 45 minutes right there. For those of you readers who live in LA: I simply do not know how you do it.

Honda Insight Los AngelesHonda Insight in Hollywood Hills, Los Angeles CA

Squeezing Albert through the tiny (one way?) uphill streets of Hollywood Hills in order to find the perfect spot for his selfie enabled me to discover how Hollywood stars, producers, filmmakers and reality TV personalities (can’t use the word star here) spend their money, but also how faithful they are to their first hybrid love. Proof: this first generation Honda Insight papp’ed above. As a reminder the Insight was the first hybrid car to go on sale in the US in December 1999 – 6 months before the Prius.

Toyota Corolla Los AngelesToyota Corolla in Hollywood Observatory, Los Angeles CA

Unsurprisingly, Los Angeles – and in particular the Hollywood area – is the kingdom of Toyota Prius. They are absolutely everywhere and seeing 3 of 4 in a row in traffic is a common occurrence. After all, it’s Hollywood actors such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz, Sandra Bullock, Natalie Portman, Orlando Bloom or Julia Roberts that essentially did all the advertising for this car, so nothing more logical than seeing it plastered at every street corner in Hollywood. The Prius family (also including the Prius c small hatchback and Prius v MPV) is logically the best-selling nameplate in California. True to form, the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla are also very common in Los Angeles as their respective California state rankings (#2 and #5) indicate. The full Californian Top 10 best-sellers were published here.

But let’s beat around the bush no more – I know a lot of you have been eagerly anticipating Albert’s final review.

So here goes…

Albert Hollywood 1

Albert great

The truck we all know as Albert by now is a Ram 1500 ecoDiesel Tradesman Crew Cab 4×4 Model Year 2014. This is the lowest trim level in the Ram Pickup range. All-in-all and I will say this in all honesty, I have been extremely impressed with Albert. This was the first time I got to drive a full-size US pickup truck over a long distance and I was expecting a laborious drive at best. Turns out, the Ram 1500 combines features from a spacious passenger car, some of the convenience of an MPV, the off-road abilities of a crossover and the practicality of a pickup truck. The best of all worlds? Quite possibly so… Here is what I particularly liked about Albert.

30 mpg

FUEL ECONOMY

  • Reaching a 30 mpg average over thousands of miles – even for a short time after a particularly long highway drive – was in my view the most impressive feat Albert achieved during this Coast to Coast trip. The EcoDiesel 3.0L V6 engine is just perfect for this type of vehicle and trip, in fact it makes you wonder why other manufacturers haven’t launched diesel variants for their base full-size pickups yet.
  • Albert’s fuel economy gauge (below the average) updates in real time, and this is a great way to influence it once you digest what triggers it to go up and down as you drive (Essentially driving as smoothly as possible on the highway). Not rocket science but seeing the instant fuel economy vary second by second is a great way to keep you honest – in a less guilty way than the Prius does.
  • Albert’s final fuel economy over the entire trip stood at an excellent 26.2 mpg over almost 6.000 miles. Had I not spent hours stuck in traffic in both LA and New York it would have been even higher, but I guess that brings the ‘city’ mileage into the combined equation and keeps the average realistic. 26.2 mpg combined is outstanding for this type of vehicle and confirms the Ram really is the most fuel efficient full-size pickup around. These figures are actually markedly better than the official EPA fuel economy figures advertised for this specific 1500 EcoDiesel 4×4 model: 27 mpg highway, 22 mpg combined and 19 mpg city. It is also way better than the equivalent all-new 2015 Ford F-150 4WD models: the ecoboost 2.7L gets 23/18/20 mpg highway/city/combined and the 3.5L gets 23/17/19 mpg.

8. Albert New Mexico

HIGHWAY PERFORMANCE

  • This is one of the areas where I had the least expectations for Albert, in fact I was a little sceptical of how comfortable and/or enjoyable a full-size pickup ride would be on thousands of miles of highway, day in, day out. When I set out on this Coast to Coast trip a few of my automotive press colleagues raised eyebrows asking why oh why did I not opt for a sexier ride like a Ford Mustang. My motivation was simple: I wanted to cross the country in a quintessential American vehicle, and the Mustang ticks that box – granted, but one that defines America’s tastes in vehicles like no other. No other country in the world worships full-size pickups like the US and Canada do. In one word, what makes American consumers different to the rest of the world is those pickups. The Ram 1500 being the fastest-growing pickup in US sales in 2014, it was the perfect choice. I was prepared to sacrifice driving pleasure to experience what the majority of Americans do when they roll their full-size pickup truck around. And the truth is I didn’t have to sacrifice much, or anything for that matter.
  • The 3.0L EcoDiesel V6, on top of being very frugal, has also been set up to not let you down when you need it most. The best example of this happened on Californian highways before hitting standstill in downtown Los Angeles. After being stuck in a gigantic traffic jam on the highway, I had to reach LA before the last sunset of the trip to ensure optimal photo exposure. So for two hours I needed to weave through fast-moving yet heavy traffic as fast as physically possible, flirting with speed limits and changing lanes every 10 seconds or less to be sure to advance to the next inch of free highway space as effectively as possible. A good way to test Albert’s psycho driving skills.
  • Californian drivers, in their regimented recklessness, allow this to happen by keeping traffic fluid but most importantly I am happy to report that no other vehicle was able to link Palm Springs to Los Angeles faster than Albert on that stretch of road while keeping within the limits of the law. The engine and its 8-speed automatic transmission responds without delay when called upon to overtake suddenly, giving you torque when and where you need it. Very reassuring and to my view very satisfying for a vehicle of this weight.
  • Pushing Albert above 100mph in New Mexico did not transform the cabin into a whirring, shaking hell in the least. In fact Albert swallowed the increasing speed levels very stoically indeed. Engine noise is (somewhat disappointingly – I miss the gargling diesel sound) kept to a very low level at all speeds: driving at 60 or 110mph brings almost no difference. Certainly not what I expected from a diesel pickup. Pleasantly surprised.
  • When not in need of nervous driving, the Ram 1500 can easily slot itself into a very precise cruise control you can adjust to the mile and that returns to the pre-set figure once you have accelerated to pass a slower vehicle. A standard ‘set and forget’ system common on most vehicles today but a welcome addition to a set of features that made driving Albert on the highway for 6.000 miles a total breeze. Among them also: an ergonomic driver seat that left me with no back pain even after many stretches of 8-hour drive days in a row. You don’t know my back, but it’s still thanking Albert as we speak.

Albert Charleston

CITY DRIVING

  • Taking the wheel in Uptown Manhattan NY on the first day Albert was delivered to me was daunting. The width of the truck and the tiny, double-parked-to-the-brim one way streets did not seem to agree with each other in the least at the start. For the first couple of minutes only though. Very responsive commands and efficient power steering make Albert extremely manoeuvrable and very predictable in its movements.
  • So much so that once used to the enormous size of the vehicle, reverse parking becomes an effortless manoeuvre you could almost achieve with one thumb on the steering wheel (almost). Although I do consider myself a reverse parking ace thanks to very smart French driving school instructors in my youth, I have to admit I didn’t expect Albert to be more nimble than my mom’s good old tiny Peugeot 206. And it was.
  • Driving Albert in America (even in cities) gives it what you could call an unfair advantage as U.S. roads and streets are for the most part built to accommodate this type of pickup truck’s turning circle, however it does work. U can U turn in one go on a majority of roads.
  • Finally as a confirmation of the very low cabin noise review on the highway, you have to prick up your ears to hear the engine when stopped at a traffic light. Stepping out to snap pictures on a busy Manhattan street, it is impossible to guess whether the engine is running or not.

3. Albert Death Valley 1

SUSPENSION AND HARSH CONDITIONS DRIVING

  • A bout of late-night driving in a particularly weakly-lit suburban Dallas street resulted in Albert having a forced speed date with a sizeable middle-street sidewalk: after the initial surprise, the truck’s suspension absorbed the change of terrain admirably and forgave my mistake to the point where the passengers hardly noticed.
  • Admittedly I didn’t push Albert into truly harsh 4WD driving as Monument Valley’s unsealed and sometimes abrupt drive was as close as it came to being unleashed in the wild. Still, it did the job as a willing workhorse would: flawlessly.
  • Albert hardly noticed we ventured into Death Valley. It seemed he was made for this type of harsh climate, and the climb to Coffin Peak was not even sanctioned by heavy engine cooling panting at the end. Nup, silent. Content. Impressive.
  • Unfortunately I did not have the opportunity to test Albert’s towing capabilities during this trip, however the next US trip will definitely correct this.

Ram 1500 ecoDiesel Albert gearbox

SPACIOUS, NO NONSENSE INTERIOR

  • At $35.805 base price and $40.495 for the model I have driven, Albert is a lot of truck for the money. Two tall adults could easily fit in the truck bed and sleep there for the night. But where I was clearly surprised to find that much space was inside. Albert is a Crew Cab meaning the equivalent of a large passenger car inside, with a truck bed stuck on the back of it. I wasn’t the only one impressed by interior space: showing Albert’s back row to a few moms along the trip raised more than a few eyebrows. Plenty of leg space both at the front and back added to Albert’s extensive width and a middle front seat folding back means you can fit 6 people quite comfortably in this base Ram.
  • Call me stupid but somehow I am used to having a trunk in which to hide my luggage when I drive. Seeing the open truck bed when I took Albert’s keys I had a half-second of horror thinking my photographer would throw a sizeable tantrum at having to leave his $5.000 photo equipment bags for all to see on the back seats at each of our stops. Not to worry: the back windows are heavily tinted so you can store your luggage there without anyone knowing.
  • The dashboard and commands are simple but sufficient and intuitive for the most part. They may not be complete as as we’ll see further down but this is a functional truck to operate smoothly for sure. You can see a more detailed review of Albert’s commands here.
  • There were some clever bonuses that just put a smile on my face every time I used them. Having started to drive at a time where discmans were all the rage (the CD version of a walkman – if you were born after 1990 just ignore this), I just sigh with contentment every time I step into a car with a USB port. Simple pleasures I know. The gearshift rotary dial on the central console (pictured above) replacing the traditional shift lever on the steering column both freed leg space and made me very happy, as well as the coin holder located inside the central container and keeping Albert in touch with its Tradesman label, roots and target market. Finally the cup holders are both tight and flexible enough to unscrew any bottle with one hand while driving. Very handy indeed.

Albert back Death Valley

Albert improve

Some of these improvement points come from the fact that Albert is the very base Tradesman model and therefore has been optioned-out to the max. Still, I would have expected the below features to be included.

HEADLIGHTS

The Ram 1500 Tradesman Crew Cab 4×4 Spec sheet says one of the exterior features is Halogen Quad Headlamps. They are simply not strong enough and I found myself scrambling to action high beams while already being on high beams. Change the headlights if you buy one of Albert’s brothers.

COMMANDS

Although globally intuitive, there are a few missing elements in Albert’s commands. There are no volume and track rockers on the back of the wheel, which means you have to fiddle with the central console every time you want to change anything. It keeps your eyes away from the road for too long and could be fixed by actually adding a right control bar on the back of the wheel: at the moment there is only a left one. The GPS is also MIA, which is kind of a big deal when crossing the country. Luckily the Google Maps app of my iPhone was totally up to the task and the USB port kept it fully charged at all times.

HEAVY RAIN DRIVING

A caveat here is I drove Albert on arrival in Savannah GA in the worst stormy rain I ever got to drive in in my entire life (true story). Cars were literally stopped in the middle of the highway for lack of visibility, or driving off their lane without realising it. Heavy rain driving is my pet hate, and Albert’s wipers, even maxed out, were not fast enough to handle this type of weather which, based on the comments I got from the locals, seems to be rather frequent in that part of the country. High speed driving under heavy rain did not seem like a great idea either as the weight of the truck can mess with clean braking and the tail tends to wobble a little.

TRADESMAN LOOK

By this I mean Albert’s black front grille and bumper. I will confess I have spent the most part of the trip hesitating between liking this look and not liking it so much. And I still haven’t decided. It does make Albert appear rough around the edges and ready to rumble in a good way. Although I do love the chrome of his higher spec’ed brothers…

Albert Hollywood 2

10 highlights

I’ll finish this series by very subjectively selecting my 10 highlights of the trip, they are all linked to the corresponding reports, just in case you missed any of them. I hope you enjoyed the journey!

1. Elvis Presley museum in Memphis

2. Bourbon Street and jambalaya in New Orleans

3. Blue bird café in Nashville

4. Modern living in Palm Springs

5. Driving Albert through Manhattan

6. Majestic Monument Valley

7. Motel-ing it all through the trip

8. Art deco roadside stops along Route 66

9. Surviving Death Valley

10. Real America in Fort Worth – Texas

Stay tuned for more world travels!

The Photo Report continues below.

Matt Gasnier is based in Sydney, Australia and runs a car sales statistics website and consultancy: BestSellingCars which just celebrated its 4th anniversary.

Los Angeles street sceneColourful Los Angeles street scene

VW Beetle Los AngelesVW Beetle in Los Angeles CA

Nissan Sentra Los AngelesNissan Sentra in Los Angeles CA

Toyota Prius Los Angeles2 x Toyota Prius in Los Angeles CA

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Coast to Coast 2014: Among Coffins, Furnaces And Devils In Death Valley http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/11/coast-coast-2014-among-coffins-furnaces-devils-death-valley/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/11/coast-coast-2014-among-coffins-furnaces-devils-death-valley/#comments Thu, 27 Nov 2014 14:36:18 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=952105 Albert’s first incursion below sea level at Badwater, Death Valley CA * You can see all the USA Coast to Coast Reports here! * We now leave Las Vegas to enter the final state of this Coast to Coast trip: California. Crossing the state line, we enter Death Valley National Park and this is the perfect location for […]

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Albert Badwater with sea levelAlbert’s first incursion below sea level at Badwater, Death Valley CA

You can see all the USA Coast to Coast Reports here! *

We now leave Las Vegas to enter the final state of this Coast to Coast trip: California. Crossing the state line, we enter Death Valley National Park and this is the perfect location for an extended photo session with Albert. I give you the Photo Report, California sales data, Death Valley trivia and a review of how Albert coped with Death Valley heat below.

Ford F-150 AmargosaFord F-150 at Amargosa Hotel, Death Valley Junction CA

Just past Nevada is Death Valley Junction, home of the sleepy Amargosa Hotel and… Opera House. Yep. In the middle of the desert. We almost missed this gem and are so glad we persevered despite windows decidedly harbouring a ‘closed until further notice’ look. The Amargosa Opera House, aka Martha Becket’s Opera House (more detail on www.amargosaoperahouse.com), has a fantastic story worth relating here.

In March 1967 while finishing her One Woman Show tour of America, actress, dancer, choreographer and painter Marta Becket came to Death Valley Junction to repair a flat tire at the former service station. While exploring the abandoned buildings, Marta found the old social hall in pretty bad disrepair. She rented the building, moved in and has lived here ever since! Marta began performing to empty seats as she was not known yet, so she decided to paint an audience as murals inside the Opera House. She began performing to a live audience in February 1968 and did so for over 40 years. Now aged 90, Marta still lives in a room in the adjacent Amargosa Hotel, but was resting when we visited. We would definitely have said hi otherwise!

Amargosa (2000), Todd Robinson’s documentary about Marta Becket, won a 2003 Emmy Award for cinematographer Curt Apduhan.

3. Albert Death Valley 1There’s no denying it now Albert…

Less than 20 miles further West from Death Valley Junction is the actual entrance of Death Valley National Park and time for Albert to prove he’s been here with a pose next to the road sign above. It was late September when we visited so still in the midst of summer. As its name indicates, Death Valley is a pretty extreme place to be finding ourselves in. The free Visitor Guide and Map available at information points peppered through the park airs stark warnings for all visitors. Among them:

  • Clothing keeps you cooler. If you are not wearing a shirt, sunglasses and a broad-brimmed hat you are not prepared to walk anywhere in Death Valley! 
  • The most common cause of death in the park is not heat but single car accidents. A moment of inattention can send you, your car and your loved ones flipping into the rocky desert! 

Death valley deaths

But this remains my favourite warning:

  • Do not rely on technology! Your cell phone will not work in most of the park. GPS devices frequently tell Death Valley visitors to turn off well-travelled roads, and take “shortcuts” over the desert and into canyons. Common sense and good judgement are far more reliable

Sadly, Death Valley keeps justifying its name year after year and this Summer there has been 2 heat-related deaths in the valley.

4. Death ValleyThe view upon Death Valley from Coffin Peak

But how hot is it really in Death Valley? Based on temperatures recorded at the official weather station at Furnace Creek down at what felt like the hottest point in the entire National Park, the average maximum temperature is at its coldest in December at 65°F (18°C) but reaches 110°F in June (43°C), 116°F in July (47°C), 115°F in August (46°C) and 106°F in September (41°C). True to form, Albert’s exterior temperature gauge was stuck at a balmy 105°F (40°C) the entire time we were down the Valley. Not that impressive? Wait there’s more…

5. Chevrolet Impala Coffin PeakChevrolet Impala in Coffin Peak, Death Valley CA

The highest temperature ever recorded on earth was at Furnace Creek on 10 July 1913 at 134°F (57°C). A high temperature of 129°F (54°C) is the closest we have come to tying this record and was recorded on 17 July 1998, 6 July 2007 and 30 June 2013. The heat is coming back strong as you can see… Another interesting record is the driest stretch of weather: only 0.64 inches of rain over 40 months between 1931 and 1934.

6. Albert mpg Coffin PeakAlbert’s mpg average right after the Coffin Peak climb – still a very good 24.2 mpg.

One way to escape the heat is to climb the steep paved road to Coffin Peak and Dante’s View, easily the most breathtaking viewpoint in the park, more than 5000ft (1524m) above the floor of Death Valley. From here you can simultaneously spot the highest and lowest points in the contiguous USA: Mount Whitney at 14,505ft and Badwater at 282ft below see level. The climb is harsh but Albert hardly noticed, with no overheating, no engine ventilation on for decades after we parked (contrary to all other vehicles parked here) and a fuel economy average down, granted, but to a still very impressive 24.2 mpg – that’s higher than the EPA average for the all-new 2015 Ford F-150. This would end up being the lowest mpg Albert would display in the entire trip.

7. Chevrolet Spark Coffin PeakChevy Spark and a slew of rentals at Coffin Peak, Death Valley CA

Expectedly, being almost a tourist-only region, 95% of vehicles in circulation in Death Valley are rentals, but interestingly people haven’t seemed to shy away from the smallest, arguably more ‘tender’ options in these harsh conditions like the bright red Chevy Spark pictured above or the Nissan Versa. The traditional rental staples as described in my Monument Valley report are back with a vengeance: Chevy Impala, Tahoe and Suburban as well as GMC Yukon and Yukon XL, along with the Chevrolet Traverse and Buick Enclave as pictured above in Coffin Peak.

8. Albert Coffin Peak 3Albert in Coffin Peak, Death Valley CA

All in all though, the most frequent car in Death Valley is a rental Ford Mustang, seemingly the preferred way to complete a one-day tour from Vegas. I remember last time I was in Vegas there were special offers for 1-day Mustang convertible rentals that made them cheaper than the smallest car available – difficult not to be tempted, and apparently these ‘special’ offers are still on to this date. Talking about the devil/Mustang, I saw a camouflaged 2015 model zip past Albert as well as a hardly-camouflaged Jaguar XE. Death Valley is a notorious extreme weather testing ground and each summer day a couple of manufacturers are torturing prototypes on the valley’s roads. Last time I was here in 1995, I saw a string of Smart Fortwos a full 3 years prior to their European launch, and at the time they weren’t even scheduled for a North American career which made their presence here all the more interesting…

9. Chevron Furnace Creek 1Lucky we didn’t have to refuel here… (in Furnace Creek, Death Valley CA – 22 Sept 2014)

9b. Chevron Shoshone…nor here! (in Shoshone, Death Valley CA – 22 Sept 2014)

Remoteness and being in one of the worst places in the world for a car breakdown have encouraged service stations in the Valley to practice simply outrageous gas prices, a full 2 dollars per gallon above the prices that were the norm in Las Vegas at the time of our visit (see pictures above). These have receded by now but remain way above the national average. According to Gasbuddy.com, as at 27 November the Furnace Creek Chevron station (first picture) was selling Regular Gasoline at $4.22 per gallon and Diesel at $4.51. Shoshone Chevron prices were unavailable, but should still be at a shamefully extravagant $4.50 Gas and $5 Diesel even if they decreased at roughly the same rate as in Furnace Creek. That’s close to double the national average! Funny thing is Shoshone is much closer to ‘civilisation’ than Furnace Creek yet gas prices are even higher.

10. Ford E-350 Furnace CreekFord E-350 in Furnace Creek, Death Valley CA

Furnace Creek perfectly earned its name by displaying a hair dryer-like heated wind that grips you to never leave you alone as soon as you leave the car, making your eyes water. Even though the visitor centre encourages to turn off air con in the car to lessen strain on the cars and minimise the risk of breakdown, I knew Albert wouldn’t let us down, and he didn’t. In fact, our Ram 1500 ecodiesel was at its best in the heat and a mix of gravel roads and seemingly infinite stretches of bitumen. This workhorse is made for galloping.

11. Albert Devils Golf Course 3Albert at Devil’s Golf Course, Death Valley CA

Another attraction right in the bed of Death Valley is Devil’s Golf Course, an immense area of crystallised salt deposited by ancient salt lakes and eroded by wind and rain into jagged spires. So incredibly serrated that “only the devil could play golf on such rough links.”  On a windy day (not when we were there), you can apparently hear a metallic cracking sound as the salt pinnacles expand and contract.

12. Devils Golf Course 2Devil’s Golf Course, Death Valley CA

13. Devils Golf Course 3Devil’s Golf Course, Death Valley CA

14. BadwaterBadwater, Death Valley CA

Finally our last stop in Death Valley was Badwater, the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere (read the Americas) at 282ft or 85.5m below see level. Death Valley belongs to a worldwide geographic rogues. Finding oneself below sea level is an extremely rare occurrence, a map displayed at Badwaters actually shows only 16 other ‘minus’ locations worldwide, including the Dead Sea in Jordan/Israel at -1360ft / -414m, Lake Assal in Djibouti at – 508ft / – 155m and Lake Eyre in Australia at -49ft / -15m. Like most of these locations, Death Valley was not created by a river’s erosion. Movements in the earth’s crust have dropped it to such great depths.

14. Matt BadwaterIt’s bloody hot out here! In Badwater, Death Valley CA

We’ll finish on the official best-sellers in California, although as we have seen earlier, these do not translate into the car landscape of Death Valley, but are rather a reflection of the Los Angeles and San Francisco markets.

Best-sellers in California – Full Year 2013:

Pos Model 2013
1 Toyota Prius (all models) 69,728
2 Honda Civic 66,982
3 Honda Accord 63,194
4 Toyota Camry 56,788
5 Toyota Corolla 52,167
6 Ford F-Series 41,671
7 Honda CR-V 31,850
8 Nissan Altima 31,029
9 Toyota Tacoma 28,182
10 BMW 3 Series 27,026

California is the second state and in this trip after New York to not feature any pickup truck in its official Top 5 best-sellers, with the Ford F-Series ranking at a paltry 6th place, and the Toyota Tacoma at #9. One can argue the Honda Civic is the real Californian best-seller, as the entire Prius family (including the c small car and the v MPV) is accounted for in its sales figure. Honda also brilliantly places the Accord at #3 and the CR-V at #7 while Toyota positions the Camry at #4 and Corolla at #5. Very impressive performance of the BMW 3 Series in 10th place with over 27,000 sales.

Matt Gasnier is based in Sydney, Australia and runs a car sales statistics website and consultancy: BestSellingCars which just celebrated its 4th anniversary.

Many thanks to David Curry for the photos in this report.

15. Toyota Corolla BadwaterToyota Corolla in Badwater, Death Valley CA

Albert Devils Golf Course 1Albert at Devil’s Golf Course, Death Valley CA

AmargosaDeath Valley Junction CA

Amargosa HotelAmargosa Hotel, Death Valley Junction CA

Albert NevadaAlbert in Nevada just before the California state line 

Land Rover Freelander AmargosaLand Rover Freelander at Death Valley Junction, CA

Dodge Ram 3500 AmargosaDodge Ram 3500 at Death Valley Junction CA

Albert AmargosaAlbert at Amargosa Hotel, Death Valley Junction CA

Nissan Sentra Coffin PeakNissan Sentra in Coffin Peak, Death Valley CA

Albert Coffin Peak 1Albert Coffin Peak 2Albert in Coffin Peak, Death Valley CA

Chevron Furnace Creek 2Chevron Furnace Creek, Death Valley CA

Furnace Creek RanchFurnace Creek Ranch, Death Valley CA

Devils Golf Course 1Devil’s Golf Course, Death Valley CA

Albert Devils Golf Course 2Albert at Devil’s Golf Course, Death Valley CA

Chevrolet Tahoe BadwaterChevrolet Tahoe in Badwater, Death Valley CA

Albert BadwaterAlbert in Badwater, Death Valley CA

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Coast to Coast 2014: New Mexico http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/11/coast-coast-2014-new-mexico/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/11/coast-coast-2014-new-mexico/#comments Thu, 20 Nov 2014 14:40:44 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=948473 The Dodge Dart is the hero in town in Albuquerque NM * You can see all my USA Coast to Coast Reports here! * After detailing the history and highlights of the Old Route 66 from Oklahoma to New Mexico, we now pause in New Mexico to analyse the vehicle landscape in Albuquerque and Gallup. This, a special feature on ethnic […]

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1. Dodge Dart Albuquerque 2The Dodge Dart is the hero in town in Albuquerque NM

You can see all my USA Coast to Coast Reports here! *

After detailing the history and highlights of the Old Route 66 from Oklahoma to New Mexico, we now pause in New Mexico to analyse the vehicle landscape in Albuquerque and Gallup. This, a special feature on ethnic car buyers’ preferences and state-wide sales data below.

2. Ford F-250 GallupFord F-250 in Gallup NM

First a bit of trivia about New Mexico: this state is the 5th most extensive (121,589 sq mi or 315,194 km2), the 36th most populous (2.1 million inhabitants) and the 6th least densely populated of the 50 United States. Inhabited by indigenous peoples of the Americas for centuries before European exploration, New Mexico then belonged to the Imperial Spanish viceroyalty of New Spain, then part of Mexico, a U.S. territory before finally becoming the 47th state in 1912. During World War II, the first atomic bombs were designed and manufactured at Los Alamos NM.

3. Ford F-150 GallupFord F-150 in Gallup NM

New Mexico is often mistakenly believed to have borrowed its name from the nation of Mexico. This couldn’t be further from actual facts: New Mexico was originally given its name in 1563 by Spanish explorers who believed the area contained wealthy Indian cultures similar to those of the Mexica (Aztec) Empire. It was only centuries later in 1821 that Mexico, formerly known as New Spain, adopted its name after winning independence from Spain. Interestingly, the two developed as neighbouring Spanish speaking communities, with relatively independent histories.

4. Chevy GallupVintage Chevrolet in Gallup NM

Population-wise, among U.S. states New Mexico has the highest percentage of Hispanics (47%), including descendants of Spanish colonists and more recent Latin American immigrants. We will see a little further that this has an impact on new car sales in the state. It also has the second-highest percentage of Native Americans after Alaska, and the fourth-highest total number of Native Americans after California, Oklahoma, and Arizona – notably Navajo, Apache and Pueblo tribes.

7. New Mexico License plateNew Mexico licence plate

As a result, New Mexico’s culture is unique in the United States for its strong Hispanic and Native-American influences, both of which translated into the state flag: the red and gold colours are inspired from the flag of Spain, while the ancient sun symbol comes from the Zia, a Pueblo-related tribe. Last bit of trivia more closely related to my Coast to Coast Photo Report: we have now driven 4.000 miles since departure from New York City… That’s it for the trivia, now let’s get into the car landscape in the state, with a focus on its largest city Albuquerque as well as Gallup, further down the Old Route 66.

5. Albert AlbuquerqueMy Ram 1500 ecoDiesel Albert in Albuquerque NM

The best-selling models in New Mexico over the Full Year 2013 were as follows:

Pos Model 2013
1 Ford F-150 4,757
2 Chevrolet Silverado 3,601
3 Ram Pickup 3,368
4 GMC Sierra 2,214
5 Ford F-250 Super Duty 1,837

Source: JATO

8. Ram Pickup AlbuquerqueRam Pickup in Albuquerque NM

These figures make New Mexico the second state only so far along my Coast to Coast trip to crown 5 pickup trucks as its Top 5 most popular vehicles, after Oklahoma. Again this can be attributed to the relative rurality of the state but is still a remarkable achievement. At some stages during our crossing of New Mexico in remote areas towards the border with Arizona, up to 60% of all vehicles in circulation were pickup trucks. In Albuquerque, the Ford F-250 lifts its game to almost come as high in popularity as the F-150 as it has sometimes been the case in a few towns so far in this trip. In Gallup NM, the Chevy Silverado seems even stronger than usual and the Ram Pickup’s most popular variant is the Tradesman base model like the one I have been driving (Albert), and this for the first time in this Coast to Coast adventure.

5. Ford Econovan AlbuquerqueFord Econoline in Albuquerque NM

Onto real-life observations in the busy streets of Albuquerque and Gallup. The age of cars is stuck at a much older level than I have been used to during this crossing of the nation, only difference is in New Mexico a lot of these vintage items reach levels of cool unheard of before. Cue 1970s Ford Econovan, 1980s Ford F-150, and a plethora of souped up older generations Dodge Ram Pickups and Chevy Silverados. They say New Mexico is the Land of Enchantment, I say it’s the Land of Car Coolness.

6. Hyundai Elantra AlbuquerqueHyundai Elantra in front of the legendary Frontier Restaurant in Albuquerque NM

In a fascinating turn and in complete contrast to the Top 5 best-sellers state-wise, the most striking element of the car landscape in Albuquerque is the strength of smaller passenger cars, both in numbers and diversity, to a level that I had not seen since Washington DC. I will advance a very simple reason for this phenomenon:  the high ratio of students in town, which houses the University of New Mexico. I saw the first two Fiat 500L of this entire trip in this city, as well as very healthy numbers of Hyundai Elantra, Ford Focus, Nissan Sentra, Versa, Kia Soul, Toyota Corolla and VW Jetta.

8. Albert New MexicoAlbert on the New Mexico state line

But 3 passenger cars stand out even more, and on top of them a complete surprise: the Dodge Dart. A failure since its botched “manual only” launch 2.5 years ago, the Dart has struggled to break into the 50 most popular vehicles in the country. In Albuquerque however, it is as common as the Toyota Corolla or Honda Civic, up there among its competitors in its segment. This is also supported by a very strong heritage of Dodge Neon which was the predecessor to the Dart, discontinued in 2005. So we have an Albuquerque community clearly fond of compact Dodge sedans here, which is an extremely rare feat!

15. Dodge Dart AlbuquerqueMercury Sable and Dodge Dart in Albuquerque NM

Decades of precise vehicle landscape observation in hundreds of cities around the world have given me a solid experience at estimating the best-sellers based on their frequency in traffic, and I rarely get it very wrong. I would see the Dart snapping up a spot in the overall Top 10 Albuquerque best-sellers, at least for a few months since launch. I was not able to confirm nor infirm this observation with hard figures, and if in fact the Dart is at its best in the USA in Albuquerque, this is the most well-kept secret in US car sales statistics as both Melloy Dodge and Larry H. Miller, the two Dodge dealerships in town, repeatedly refused to comment on this (positive) anomaly. Bizarre. If one town has unlocked the Dart’s sales potential, I’d have assumed they’d show off about it. I’m still making the Dodge Dart the Hero in Town in Albuquerque.

9. Toyota Tacoma AlbuquerqueToyota Tacoma in Albuquerque NM

The second passenger car standing out in town is the Chevrolet Impala, and although it is notorious that a large part of Impala sales are to fleets and rentals, Albuquerque is among the towns I have visited so far where it is the most popular, and being neither the most touristic nor the more corporate town of them all, a boost from ‘real’ private sales has to be in order. The third one is a new entrant in my long list of successful cars in various states, regions and cities along this Coast to Coast trip: the Ford Fiesta sedan. Very discreet up until now, a whole herd of them is bustling through the streets of Albuquerque as I write these lines. Here again a perfect student car which could explain its popularity in town.

14. Fiat 500L New MexicoFiat 500L in Albuquerque NM

These last 3 models were the most striking standouts compared to their national ranking, but a large majority of passenger cars are Japanese, with Toyota, Nissan and Honda the most common. I have already covered the fact that as we get closer to the border with Mexico where it is #1 overall with a world-best 26% market share, Nissan’s popularity rockets up. This is also true in New Mexico and Albuquerque, and a recent study of new car sales to ethnic buyers by IHS Automotive confirms it all.

Most ethnic brands - USABrands with the highest rate of ethnic buyers (Source IHS via Autonews)

According to IHS, new vehicle consumption among ethnic consumers, defined as African-American, Asian and Hispanic buyers, is up 8% year-on-year over the first 6 months of 2014 vs. 4% for the overall industry, with Hispanic consumption up an even more impressive 10%, in effect lifting the overall US car market up. Ethnic population growing faster than the national average, this is a very important trend in the U.S. new vehicle market as the share of ethnic buyers in the overall market is bound to become more and more prominent. The side-effect of this is manufacturers doing well with ethnic buyers have great chances to see their national market share outperform the market in the next decade. There should be a red flag here for the Detroit Big 3 as ethnic buyer patterns show a strong preference for foreign brands – albeit most of the cars they purchase still being made in the U.S.

13. Nissan Versa AlbuquerqueNissan Versa in Albuquerque NM. Nissan buyers are 36% ethnic, the highest of any brand.

Unsurprisingly based on our observations during this Coast to Coast trip so far, Nissan is the brand with the highest share of ethnic buyers in America at 36%, followed by Mitsubishi (35%), Toyota (33%) and Honda (31%) while Dodge is the only American brand in the Top 13 brands with the highest rate of ethnic buyers in 5th place with 30%. Could this partly explain the tremendous success of the Dodge Dart in Albuquerque? Notice the exceptional strength of premium marques such as Lexus, BMW both at 29% of ethnic buyers, Mercedes at 28%, Acura at 28% and Maserati at 27%.

Top 10 brands to Ethnic buyersBrands with the highest volumes to ethnic buyers (Source IHS via Autonews)

In terms of market share, Toyota holds almost 18% of the 1.6 million new vehicles ethnic consumers have bought over the first 6 months of 2014 vs. 12.2% share of the overall national market, followed by Honda at 12.2% vs. 8.1% and Nissan at 11.1% vs. 7.9%, Chevrolet at a timid 4th place with 8.6% share vs. 12.6% nationally, while Ford is at an even more unimpressive 8.4% share, that’s almost half the market share it has with the entire American population at 15%.

This is it for New Mexico, next stop is Monument Valley at the border of Arizona and Utah, so stay tuned!

Many thanks to David Curry for the photos in this report.

Matt Gasnier is based in Sydney, Australia and runs a car sales statistics website and consultancy: BestSellingCars which just celebrated its 4th anniversary.

10. Chevrolet Silverado AlbuquerqueChevrolet Silverado in Albuquerque NM

11. Toyota Prius AlbuquerqueToyota Prius in front of the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque NM

12. Ford F-150 AlbuquerqueFord F-150 in Albuquerque NM

16. Ford F-250 AlbuquerqueFord F-250 in Albuquerque NM

17. Albert Nissan Versa Note GallupAlbert and Nissan Versa Note in Gallup NM

Chevrolet Silverado Albuquerque 2Chevrolet Silverado in Albuquerque NM

Toyota Corolla AlbuquerqueToyota Corolla in Albuquerque NM

Chevrolet Impala New MexicoChevrolet Impala in Albuquerque NM

Albuquerque street 3Street scene in Albuquerque NM

Hummer AlbuquerqueHummer in Albuquerque NM

Albuquerque street 1Street scene in Albuquerque NM

Nissan Sentra GallupNissan Sentra in Gallup NM

Albuquerque street 2Street scene in Albuquerque NM

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UC Berkeley Study: Lane-Splitting Safety, Acceptance Increase In 2014 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/10/uc-berkeley-study-lane-splitting-safety-acceptance-increase-2014/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/10/uc-berkeley-study-lane-splitting-safety-acceptance-increase-2014/#comments Mon, 27 Oct 2014 10:00:47 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=935970 Motorcycles passing through slow traffic on either side of the rider is a rarity in the United States, where only California officially gives it the thumbs-up when conditions are safe to do so. A recent study of lane-splitting further confirms the safety and acceptance of the practice. According to Autoblog, the study — conducted every […]

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la-fi-mo-autos-lanesplitting-controversy-safet-001

Motorcycles passing through slow traffic on either side of the rider is a rarity in the United States, where only California officially gives it the thumbs-up when conditions are safe to do so. A recent study of lane-splitting further confirms the safety and acceptance of the practice.

According to Autoblog, the study — conducted every year since 2012 by the Safe Transportation Research and Education Center at the University of California, Berkeley — reports 80.6 percent of riders split lanes on freeways, 70.4 percent on non-freeways, and 62.1 percent on both.

As far as safety goes, 4.7 percent of riders told UC Berkeley they were hit by a vehicle on the freeway, down from 8.6 percent in 2012. Non-freeway riders saw the biggest drop in lane-splitting accidents, falling from 8.3 percent in 201 and 7.4 percent in 2013, to just 2 percent this year.

Finally, the rate of acceptance has gone up among drivers, with 46.3 percent believing lane-splitting to be legal on both freeways and non-freeways, up 9.7 percent from last year’s 36.6 percent.

This year’s study surveyed 1,660 — 951 drivers and 709 riders — from 35 cities in 12 counties in around the Bay Area and Southern California.

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Georgia EV Supporters Prepare To Defend State Credit In 2015 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/10/georgia-ev-supporters-prepare-defend-state-credit-2015/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/10/georgia-ev-supporters-prepare-defend-state-credit-2015/#comments Wed, 22 Oct 2014 11:00:11 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=934722 EV supporters in Georgia are gearing up to save the state’s tax credit from the chopping block after nearly losing it earlier this year. According to WABE-FM, the city of Atlanta is second in the EV ownership game in the United States, falling behind the technocratic capital that is San Francisco. The high ranking is […]

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fisker-and-tesla-and-coda-georgia-electric-car-show

EV supporters in Georgia are gearing up to save the state’s tax credit from the chopping block after nearly losing it earlier this year.

According to WABE-FM, the city of Atlanta is second in the EV ownership game in the United States, falling behind the technocratic capital that is San Francisco. The high ranking is due to the state’s credit of up to $5,000 on EVs, helping to take off $12,500 from the bottom line when the $7,500 federal credit is taken into account.

Were the state credit have been cut, EV sales would fall dramatically. EV Club of the South board member Michael Beinenson says the credit — and not wanting to feel like Ed Begley Jr. — is the main draw for consumers in Georgia. He also hopes that the credit’s terms are merely changed instead of the entire credit being guillotined when the state’s legislature meets again next year, and is preparing to defend it to the bitter end with other like-minded supporters.

The credit was set to be removed from the books in 2014, citing lost revenue in the millions of dollars as the reason; the bill that would have made it so died hours before the 2014 session drew to a close.

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Quick Look: 2015 Honda CR-V http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/10/quick-look-2015-honda-cr-v/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/10/quick-look-2015-honda-cr-v/#comments Wed, 01 Oct 2014 16:21:26 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=922257 It’s hard to believe that the CR-V has been on sale for nearly two decades when the 1985 Civic Wagonvan 4WD is still fresh in mind. But Honda has steadily grown the CR-V from a mere 66,000 units in 1997 to over 300,000 units last year. As it stands, the CR-V is the 7th best-selling vehicle […]

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2015 honda cr-v front left

It’s hard to believe that the CR-V has been on sale for nearly two decades when the 1985 Civic Wagonvan 4WD is still fresh in mind. But Honda has steadily grown the CR-V from a mere 66,000 units in 1997 to over 300,000 units last year. As it stands, the CR-V is the 7th best-selling vehicle in the United States.

2015 honda cr-v rear right

The CR-V gets a typical midlife facelift for 2015, which consists of new headlights (LEDs on all but the low LX trim), a new grille, bumper covers, and taillights. There are also bigger, wheels and a new trim level, dubbed “Touring”. Inside there is an upgraded dashboard with a new infotainment interface, rear seat air vents, and new dynamic safety features. Overall, one really needs to see the 2014 and 2015 CR-V side-by-side to see all the differences.

2015 honda cr-v exterior details

More importantly, Honda made changes that have a greater impact on fuel economy, power, comfort, and safety.

The 2.4L DOHC iVTEC engine now sports direct fuel injection and has a higher compression ratio. This translates to the same 185hp, but an increase in torque from 163 to 181 ft-lbs. Both horsepower and torque now peak at lower engine speeds, and the torque curve is flatter. The five-speed automatic was replaced with a CVT. The fuel economy improves to 27/34/29 mpg on front-wheel-drive models and 26/33/28 mpg on AWD models, both increasing +4/+3/+3 mpg over 2014 models.

Interior improvements consist of more sound insulation for a quieter ride, something that was apparently a frequent source of complaints for customers. There are now air vents for rear passengers but there are no separate controls. The infotainment system is also updated, bringing it in line with current Hondas. It is not a system that I personally love; it has too many options, too many settings, and there is no volume knob, just buttons. A back-up camera is standard.

2015 honda cr-v interior details

Honda has also thrown a slew of active safety features into the 2014 CR-V, all designed to avoid accidents. These include: Forward Collision Warning with Collision Mitigation Braking System (it will stop a car if it sense an accident), Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Keeping Assist, Lane Departure Warning, and Honda LaneWatch. The last is a camera mounted in the passenger side mirror which displays everything that is typically in the blind spot on the infotainment system. These new features are only available on the Touring, which also adds a power liftgate and memory seats – if you want the full suite of driver aides, you’ll have to shell out the big bucks.

During my quick highway drive the car did feel quiet, and a sound measure test performed by my friend did confirm that interior noise has been reduced. A full review will arrive once I spend some more time with the car, but so far, my biggest complaint rests with the CVT. I’m not a huge fan of them, for the usual reasons, but I doubt that buyers of the CR-V will know what a CVT is or even care that it uses one.

In 1999 my mother was shopping for a new car. The then new and hot E46 3-series was high on her list, as was the Acura TL. She ended up with a blue ‘99 Honda CR-V EX (CR-V EX is a horrible nomenclature, by the way, Honda) with a 5-speed manual transmission. The CR-V of that era was spacious, efficient, and affordable. There was a picnic table in the trunk and seats that folded into a bed, a pop-up rear window and full-size spare tire mounted in the tailgate. We take the CR-V and its ilk for granted now, dismissing them as just another soulless CUV. At the time, it was revolutionary.

The 2015 CR-V is a much different and much improved vehicle. But along with those changes it lost some of its personality. It seems that Honda is making more attempts at staying competitive rather than being a leader in independent design. Whether that is relevant or not is up for a debate as sales of each model are higher than ever. The truth is that CR-V buyers, new and repeat, will be getting a much improved vehicle which will only contribute to its popularity. The 2015 CR-V starts at $23,320 for a FWD LX model and goes up $32,770 for the new loaded Touring model with AWD. It is on sale as of today.

2015 honda cr-v dash

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Review: 2014 Lexus GX 460 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/review-2014-lexus-gx-460/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/review-2014-lexus-gx-460/#comments Fri, 26 Sep 2014 13:00:16 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=916530 The various models of the Toyota Land Cruiser are some of the most respected off-roaders in the world. But what works elsewhere in the world does not necessarily work in North America. Dressed up in what is perceived to be luxury, how does this fancy Land Cruiser Prado, as its known everywhere else in the […]

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2014 lexus gs 460 side

The various models of the Toyota Land Cruiser are some of the most respected off-roaders in the world. But what works elsewhere in the world does not necessarily work in North America. Dressed up in what is perceived to be luxury, how does this fancy Land Cruiser Prado, as its known everywhere else in the world, perform in the United States?

2014 lexus gs 460 front

Get in and right away you realize that this is a truck and not a car disguised to look like one. It drives like a truck, it handles like a truck, and it feels like a truck. Guess what, it’s a truck. If that’s not your thing please stop reading and consider buying the excellent Toyota Highlander.

The exterior shape is a classic SUV two cube design. Being a Lexus, it has body cladding and running boards which are supposed to make it look upscale and softer in order to attract someone other than rich adventure travelers. New for 2014 is a Lexus family grill, the contours of which do not match vehicle’s utilitarian side profile, and frankly it looks like an add-on made by an Eastern European aftermarket company.

2014 lexus gs 460 dash interior

Hop into the driver’s seat and you will be greeted by a high seating position and large windows which yield a very commanding, Range Rover-like, sitting position. The whole dash has a very vertical feel to it, much different than anything else on the road. I was disappointed to see that the dash felt more like a Toyota, good quality but not pleasant to the senses, rather than any of the excellent new Lexus cars. All the commonly used controls are nicely laid out and very easy to use. Unfortunately the infotainment screen feels old due to its low resolution and inability to perform more than one task at a time. Instead of a new grill Lexus should have invested the money into the dash.

The rear bench is big, soft, and flat – exactly what it’s supposed to be in a vehicle like this. It does not slide, despite being on rails to allow third row access. The two-passenger third row seats are best used for short rides due to difficultly of access and lack of legroom. The third row folds in an interesting way; the bottom cushions slide under the rear cargo floor and then the seat-backs fold flat to form the cargo floor. With the third row folded, the cargo area is large and tall, something rarely seen in the days of sporty CUVs with sloping roofs. The floor is raised several inches, like on the Yukon, to accommodate the folded rear seats. There is no hatch but rather a large door hinged on the right which is a little heavy to operate. The rear window pops up for quick access, but I wish it rolled down into the door like on the 4Runner.

2014 lexus gs 460 third row cargo hatch details

Power comes from an aluminum 4.6-liter DOHC port-injected V8 which puts out 301hp and 329 lb.-ft. The engine feels heavy and it sounds loud, like a truck is supposed to. Several years ago this power would have been sufficient, but now it is lagging behind its competition. The only transmission choice is a six-speed automatic that is connected to a two-speed full-time 4WD transfercase. Compounded by a 5128 lb. curb weight, the GX gets 15mpg in the city and 20mpg on the highway. It’s not a fast vehicle, as it does not like abrupt full-throttle application, but it is smooth at any speed.

Start driving and you will immediately notice the soft suspension, a trait common to vehicles with real off-road abilities in order to allow axle articulation and traction. All potholes, no matter the size get absorbed, even at high speed but at the expense of handling. It’s not that the handling is bad; it’s just truck-like and not CUV-like. Steering feel and braking are also truck-like. To put it simply, the GX 460 requires a certain amount of respect – don’t drive it like a lunatic.

2014 lexus gs 460 interior details

Astute readers and buyers will be interested in how the Lexus GX 460 compares to the Toyota 4Runner. Underneath the sheet metal, those two are basically the same vehicles. Mechanically, the biggest difference is that the Lexus has a V8 engine, standard third row seats, and a hinged rear door. The 4Runner comes only with a V6 engine but offers a choice of 2WD and 4WD, optional third row seats, and has a tailgate with a roll-down rear window. The difference in power is not really noticeable because of the Lexus’ extra 400lb of luxury weight and the two vehicles drive nearly the same. GX’s advantage comes in maximum trailer towing: 6500 lbs. versus 4Runner’s 4700lbs. People who think of actually taking their vehicles off pavement may want to look into the new 4Runner TRD Pro which comes with locking diffs, fancy suspension, and proper mud tires.

2014 lexus gs 460 front side

The 2014 Lexus GX 460 starts at $49,085. As shown here, $4710 Premium Package adds leather, wood, automatic wipers, LED fog-lights, parking sensors, heated/cooled seats, and touch-screen nav. The somewhat flimsy cargo cover is $150 and the wheel locks are pretty pricey at $81. Total comes down to $54,826 before $910 delivery fee. A Luxury model starts at $60,715 and it includes nicer leather, air suspension, fancy headlights, and many other minor upgrades. If you have been noticing more new GX 460s on the road, it is likely because Lexus has had very aggressive lease rates on them, comparable to a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara, a much less expensive vehicle.

Despite what seems like a lot faults, I personally like this truck, but I do have a general bias toward proven off-roaders. It’s honest; it does not try to be all things to all people like, say, the BMW X5. It feels strong and solid, like it could take a lot of abuse and just shrug it off. Fortunately for those disagreeing with me, the market is full of cars that resemble trucks.

2014 lexus gs 460 rear side

Kamil Kaluski is the East Coast Editor for Hooniverse.com. His ramblings on Eastern European cars, $500 racers, and other miscellaneous automotive stuff can be found there. 

Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. provided the vehicle for this review.

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US Average Gas Price Per Gallon Falling To $3.15 By Year-End http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/us-average-gas-price-per-gallon-falling-3-15-year-end/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/us-average-gas-price-per-gallon-falling-3-15-year-end/#comments Wed, 24 Sep 2014 12:00:34 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=917594 Once upon a time, a gallon of regular could be had for under $3. Then, prices climbed as reduced production and geopolitical uncertainty played their respective roles. However, 2014 could feel like 2010 again as prices tumble back down to $3/gallon. A report issued by GasBuddy last week forecasts that the average national price for […]

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Low Gas Prices Circa 2012

Once upon a time, a gallon of regular could be had for under $3. Then, prices climbed as reduced production and geopolitical uncertainty played their respective roles. However, 2014 could feel like 2010 again as prices tumble back down to $3/gallon.

A report issued by GasBuddy last week forecasts that the average national price for a gallon of regular could fall between $3.15 and $3.25 by the end of the year, with 30 states expected to pump gas for prices below $3/gallon during the period.

The report bases its forecast on three factors: the transition from summer to winter-blend gasoline, the latter easier to produce by refiners; lower crude prices per barrel, led in part by boosted production in areas such as Alberta and North Dakota; and a combination of overall lower consumption over the autumn and winter months, more fuel-efficient vehicles on the road, and fewer younger drivers hitting the road.

Right now, 17 states in the South, East Coast and Great Plains already have stations delivering gas at $3 or less per gallon, with the Springfield, Mo. Metropolitan Statistical Area holding the lowest average at $3.005/gallon. Meanwhile, the West Coast will likely keep the highest prices per gallon during the period, though said prices will see the most severe drops through November and December.

Finally, though 2010 is considered a convenient reference point, GasBuddy states this season’s average won’t match that year’s low point, when the average price/gallon was $2.828.

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Capsule Review: 2015 Ford Escape Titanium http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/capsule-review-2015-ford-escape-titanium/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/capsule-review-2015-ford-escape-titanium/#comments Mon, 22 Sep 2014 12:00:38 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=914362 Today’s cute compact crossovers are slowly replacing mid-size sedans as the most popular vehicle on the market, and with good reason too. They have smaller footprints, are easier to drive, are more versatile, more economical, and AWD systems provide a piece of mind during foul weather. Is the Escape a…wait for it…game changer?   The […]

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2015 ford escape titanium ecoboost side

Today’s cute compact crossovers are slowly replacing mid-size sedans as the most popular vehicle on the market, and with good reason too. They have smaller footprints, are easier to drive, are more versatile, more economical, and AWD systems provide a piece of mind during foul weather. Is the Escape a…wait for it…game changer?

 

2015 ford escape titanium ecoboost dash interior

The interior is unmistakably Ford, with clear analog gauges and the MyFord Touch system high and center. The seats are very comfortable, heated in the front, and the angle of the headrests is adjustable so they will not press against the back of your head like some other Fords. The rear seat is best for two passengers but three adult butts or three booster seats will fit. The rear bench folds flat and is split 60:40. The dash is made of at least four different types of materials which do not always complement one another or match up perfectly, such as where the A-pillar meets the dash. HVAC controls and other buttons are small, low in the dash, and obscured by the shifter. At night the interior ambiance lighting can be adjusted in color and intensity to match your mood.

The MyFord Touch system received a slew of upgrades over the years and is now actually usable by a novice. Some of the touch-screen buttons are small and shorter drivers may need to stretch to touch the screen. Those truly adventurous can opt to shout at the system to get it to do what they want. The system easily connected to my phone and offers a ton of options and features which will likely go unused by most buyers. An Audi or Lexus-like knob would make this one of the best systems on the market.

2015 ford escape titanium ecoboost interior details

The previous generation had large square windows but this one, like the rest of the auto industry, has smaller windows all around. Despite that, visibility in all directions remains surprisingly good. Doors are large and open wide, making the chore of loading kids into the car a task that won’t break your back. Auto up and down on all windows, as opposed to just the driver’s window, is a nice touch. The rear bumper height is low, making loading and unloading easy. The big rear power hatch can be opened by waving your foot under the bumper, but it is slower in operation than other cars.

The top engine choice is a 240hp and 270lb-ft 2.0-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder which is very nicely matched to the vehicle; smooth, quick, and responsive. The six-speed automatic has two driving modes, D and S. In S it downshifts sooner and holds the gears longer, but not too long, where it becomes annoying. The ride is smooth and when tossed into a highway ramp, the Escpape remains neutral and composed, if a bit top-heavy. In this 4WD configuration, the EPA rates the Escape at 21mpg city and 28mpg on the highway. When equipped with a Class II trailer tow package, the little Escape can tow a 3500lb trailer.

2015 ford escape titanium ecoboost exterior details

The 2015 Ford Escape starts at $22,610 for the base SE model with a 2.5-liter naturally aspirated engine and 2WD. Those wanting 4WD need to step up to the SE with the 1.6-liter EcoBoost engine (178hp/184tq) which starts at $26,810. Our Titanium model, with the 2.0-liter EcoBoost ($1195 over the 1.6-liter), starts at $31,965. Equipment Group 301A adds HID headlights, blind-spot detection, automatic wipers, and parking sensors for $1735. Navigation system is $795 and destination charges are $895 for a total MSRP of $35,150. At the time of this writing there was a $750 factory incentive.

The Escape is a nice vehicle overall, but aside from the peppy engine it does not bring anything new to the market. While none of its competitors feel more exciting in any comparable way, it feels like Ford decided to make just another vehicle to fill the market niche. The powerful engine is nice, but this is a price driven category where competitors offer one engine at a much lower overall price.

2015 ford escape titanium ecoboost rear side

Kamil Kaluski is the East Coast Editor for Hooniverse.com. His ramblings on Eastern European cars, $500 racers, and other miscellaneous automotive stuff can be found there. 

Ford provided the vehicle for this review.

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Geely FIA-Certified To Supply Engines For Global Formula 4 Series http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/geely-fia-certified-supply-engines-global-formula-4-series/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/geely-fia-certified-supply-engines-global-formula-4-series/#comments Wed, 17 Sep 2014 10:00:18 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=913634 While Formula 1 fans contend with the new, quieter turbo era — a result of rule changes regarding power for the 2014 season — Chinese Formula 4 fans may be celebrating in the stands next year when Geely-powered competitors roar off the starting line. In a partnership with Narcar, the automaker will begin supplying its […]

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While Formula 1 fans contend with the new, quieter turbo era — a result of rule changes regarding power for the 2014 season — Chinese Formula 4 fans may be celebrating in the stands next year when Geely-powered competitors roar off the starting line.

In a partnership with Narcar, the automaker will begin supplying its 2-liter naturally aspirated motor to the Chinese and global Formula 4 series beginning in 2014. The engine is currently found in both the GX7 SUV and Emgrand EC8 sedan.

Geely’s entry as engine supplier marks the first time any Asian manufacturer has been certified by the by the FIA to provide engines for Formula 4, and will be joining three European manufacturers on the global stage from 2015 forward.

Meanwhile, the engines will help power the local Formula 4 series when the seven-race season begins later this year. The automaker recently provided chassis and engine support to the China Formula Grand Prix, which has been ongoing since 2006.

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Review: 2014 Range Rover Supercharged LWB http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/review-2014-range-rover-supercharged-lwb/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/review-2014-range-rover-supercharged-lwb/#comments Fri, 05 Sep 2014 16:19:45 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=906881 In the early 1990s Land Rover realized that their Range Rovers were often used to chauffeur people of wealth and taste. Designed to be capable off-road, the 100-inch wheelbase unfortunately meant limited rear seat leg room. For 1992 Range Rover Country LWB became available, with a wheelbase stretched additional eight inches, all of it going […]

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2014 land rover range rover lwb long wheel base rear 34

In the early 1990s Land Rover realized that their Range Rovers were often used to chauffeur people of wealth and taste. Designed to be capable off-road, the 100-inch wheelbase unfortunately meant limited rear seat leg room. For 1992 Range Rover Country LWB became available, with a wheelbase stretched additional eight inches, all of it going directly into the rear seat legroom. For 2014, Land Rover is bringing the LWB back.

2014 land rover range rover lwb long wheel base side

The LWB adds 7.3-inches to wheelbase of a conventional Range Rover, all of which goes directly into the rear seat leg room. The current Range Rover does not suffer from lack of leg room but this extra space transforms it into something resembling a Learjet, especially when equipped with the “Executive Seating Package”. This test model retains a conventional three passenger bench that is power reclining and folding and has heated and ventilated outboard seats. Features bundled into the LWB model include an extended center console, which oddly takes leg room away from the middle passenger, power window shades, and a panoramic sunroof.

The front seats remain the same as on the SWB model, which is to say really nice; wrapped in soft leather, supportive, with pillow-like headrests, and ergonomically perfect. These may just be the best seats on the market right now, and they were heated, ventilated, and massaging, too. The massage feature is nice, especially on longer drives, but it is not as intense as the chairs at Brookstone. The current Range Rover retains the signature high seating position and large windows all around yield airy cabin feel and outstanding visibility, all rather trivial traits that are rarely seen in modern vehicles.

2014 land rover range rover lwb long wheel base rear door seat

The gauge cluster is actually a 12.3-inch display screen that is cleanly laid out and easy to manipulate via a steering wheel stalk. The same cannot be said for the 8-inch infotainment touch-screen which is slow to respond and simply outdated. In the touch-screen’s defense, it does perform a lot of functions, and there are hard buttons for the most frequently used ones. The rest of the dash is a showcase of simple contemporary design wrapped high quality materials. The upgraded Meridian Premium Audio 825W system will make even Justin Bieber’s music sound good.

For 2014 Land Rover dropped its naturally aspirated V8 in favor of a supercharged V6. The LWB is available only with the more powerful supercharged V8 engine. 510hp and a very flat torque curve that peaks at 461lb-ft offers instantaneous power at anytime, making the 5320-pound Rover move like a sports sedan, and allowing it to accelerate from zero to 60mph in under 5.5 seconds. Having reviewed the V6-powered Range Rover Sport in the past, I think the V8 is worth every penny of its $10,000 premium on the SWB and Sport, Range Rovers. ZF eight-speed automatic transmission is the only choice. It has normal, sport and manual modes, but with this much power, I found myself just keeping the shift knob in D.

2014 land rover range rover lwb long wheel base dash

We, as the car buying and driving public, are jaded by the driving characteristics of modern cars. For instance, never before would some wanker blogger be able to take a 707hp car on a race track and not die within a minute. The same true holds for this Range Rover – the chassis dynamics and overall handling are downright amazing for a vehicle this size, and simply superior any previous Land Rover product. This was something I realized on an enjoyable drive down the Merritt Parkway, a road where more than a decade ago I came close to rolling a Discovery on.

Much of the handling can be attributed to the air suspension, and associated cleverly named subcomponents, which magically manage to filter out just about all road imperfections while keeping the big Rover composed, and dare I say sporty. While air suspension systems have a lot of critics (disclaimer: I’ve owned two vehicles with air suspension and didn’t have any issues), it may be the least compromised way of retaining comfortable ride, great handling, and big load capacity. The ability to raise and lover this vehicle by as much as five inches is an added benefit. Turning radius is now also large sedan-like, as opposed to tractor-like on older Landies.

2014 land rover range rover lwb long wheel base interior details

It is well known that most Range Rovers never leave pavement, but despite that Land Rover does offer some amazing off-road technology that enables these vehicles to be truly capable (11” ground clearance, 35” water fording), as I experienced some time ago (part 1,2,3). What many people forget is that these vehicles also offer 7716-pound towing capacity with 331-pound maximum tongue weight, and 220-pound roof rack capacity. This is in addition to the 82.8 cubic feet of cargo space and 1600-pound load capacity, all just a little less than the GMC Yukon.


2014 land rover range rover lwb long wheel base interior exterior details

All of this goodness comes at a price. First you pay at the dealer: the base Range Rover starts at $84,225. Do yourself a favor and get the “supercharged” one, which is to say V8, for $101,025. The LWB comes with the V8 and starts at $106,225. The test vehicle was equipped with Vision Assist Pack (cameras, swiveling headlights, blind spot detection) for $1760, Lane Departure Warning for $640, Adaptive Cruise Control for $1295, Meridian audio upgrade for $1825, Four Zone Climate Control Package $4150, parking sensors for $1200, rear seat entertainment is $2400, soft closing doors are $600, and towing package which includes a full-size spare and locking rear diff is $1300. This brings the total MSRP to $121, 390. Then you have to pay at the pump to feed an SUV that sips premium gas to the tune of 14/19 mpg city/highway.

While this is not a perfect vehicle, it is the best Range Rover ever. The LWB adds space that most buyers won’t opt for, not because of the cost but because the elongated body visually throws off the proportions. There are dozens of so-called premium luxury SUVs on the market, many of which cost half as much, but none of them, as we will soon find out, are as refined to the level of the Range Rover.

2014 land rover range rover lwb long wheel base front

Kamil Kaluski is the East Coast Editor for Hooniverse.com. His ramblings on Eastern European cars, $500 racers, and other miscellaneous automotive stuff can be found there. 

Jaguar Land Rover North America, LLC provided the vehicle for this review.

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Vellum Venom: 2014 Mitsubishi Mirage ES http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/vellum-venom-2014-mitsubishi-mirage-es/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/vellum-venom-2014-mitsubishi-mirage-es/#comments Mon, 25 Aug 2014 12:04:13 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=898658   Design School forces considerations outside of a student’s artistic comfort zone: a unique price, demographic, or geography for starters. Just don’t present a pragmatic design based in sociocultural fact: a conventional sedan for the Indian market–isolating the wealthy from their hired help and their untouchable luggage—was a fantastically stupid mistake. Cultural and profit-minded relevance […]

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Design School forces considerations outside of a student’s artistic comfort zone: a unique price, demographic, or geography for starters. Just don’t present a pragmatic design based in sociocultural fact: a conventional sedan for the Indian market–isolating the wealthy from their hired help and their untouchable luggage—was a fantastically stupid mistake. Cultural and profit-minded relevance aside, that’s the not-so-secret secret I’ve mentioned before in this series. Cars are made under a litany of profit-minded constraints, no matter what they may teach in design school.

And some thrive in their design constraints.

1

A slot. Just a slot: no big stupid Audi-esque maw, no poseur Aston Martin grin, no bullshit. The 2014 Mitsubishi Mirage ES is a snub-nosed hatchback working hard to reduce frontal area, with a .28 drag coefficient to boot. It took an unappealing template and made it work with a modicum of functional style and elegant interplay between elements and cut lines.

If only there was an ever-so-slight curve (down into the bumper) to the hood+fascia cut line.

2

Respect the slot…as it slices into the lower bumper.

3

No love for the badge so big that the hood cut line must bend to clear it. This is one excruciating element in modern automotive design, a Britches-Busting Badge dominating many an automotive face for no reason.

Not necessarily Mitsubishi’s fault, but the natural contours of the body must come first.

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Oh Lamborghini, why must you bring credence to this abomination of a branding exercise?

5

Several harmonious elements, all with a “flow” that (attempts to) draw your eyes to a long and sleek form. Like how the grille slot’s earth-bound vanishing points are shared with the lower grille. The Mirage’s lower bumper has devil horns at each corner, arcing to the wheels. Then the fog light’s recess with upward slash into the Mirage’s side.   And finally, hood bulges that mimic the headlight’s contours as it flows to the windshield.

6

Transition to the fender: where’d the flow go? Small and cheap cars wind up with bug-eyed headlights on a stump-like face. All the flowy goodness from the last photo is gone in the name of compact car proportioning.

7

After experiencing these in my 1983 Ford Sierra Ghia in dawn/dusk conditions, the gentle glow of the headlight assembly when in parking light only mode is cool. Glad this bulb made it into the US-spec Mirage.

8

There’s a fake bezel and a fake(?) cylindrical housing inside the bumper’s fog light insert. Looked better before I said that, right?

 

9

The lower grille needs a Prancing Horse emblem à la Ferrari 612 Scaglietti. Mostly to be preposterous, but also to reward the clean integration worthy of more expensive metal: a nice contrast to the uber-subtle slot just north.

10

Too bad there isn’t one texture, instead of false teeth, small rectangles and larger rectangles. A dark-colored bolt would be nice too.

11

Here’s where the small car headlights really stand out. Even with the dimensional constraints, kudos to Mitsubishi for stamping out a reasonably bullet-nosed schnoz for such a short (length) and tall (height) machine.

12

Here’s a tidy cowl area, with the requisite windshield-to-fender modesty panel in black plastic. If only the hood extended further back to (presumably) reduce that panel’s size…and still actually open.

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Large gaps around the windshield somewhat disappoint, but the metal work and paint quality remain respectable.

12_2

I used the term “honest” quite often in my review of this machine, no better proof than this antenna.

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The repeater light and its subtle curve can’t take your eyes away from the DLO FAIL for long. Too bad the fender to A-pillar line can’t merge with the door to A-pillar line without losing the Mirage’s faux-sleekosity. (i.e. push the door cut line forward, making it rather boxy)

13_1

Gray rocker covers are unexpected when exposed unibody metal construction are acceptable for a cheap car. I was expecting blue-painted folds, creases and spot welds! Nice.

14

There’s a reassuring linearity and solidarity in these fast yet upright lines. The B-pillar’s black paint is a nice touch, since the belt line rubber demands a harsh transition from window to door frame. Compare this to something zany like the Nissan Cube.

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A dash of tumblehome evident when opening the door: not bad for a small car that’s surprisingly roomy inside.

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Tighter and more uniform panel gaps wouldn’t hurt.

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The Mirage’s DLO FAIL free rear doors and fixed window free glass was a nice touch at this price. Also note the window’s outline empathizes with the door cut line and the hatchback’s outline.

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The roofline has a Prius-like, teardrop fall. If it wasn’t for the DLO fail, there’d be an elegant flow from door to roof, to B-pillar. The strong bend above the door handle along with its softer partner below adds visual excitement to an otherwise plump and forgettable form.

18

While not as pretty as the close up you saw two photos ago, the upward belt line matches the trajectory of the two sheet metal bends below. The door cut line is on point with the B-pillar, elegantly encasing the rear door.

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Step back and it’s still a cheap 5-door subcompact. No matter what!

20

Wait…are those flush mounted, non pull-lever type door handles? My design pet peeve hurdle cleared, the replacement of a conventional key lock for the ES-grade Mirage’s keyless system is logical, ergonomic and cost-effective.

21

A cheap car gets away with this: plus the passenger’s key lock makes sense if the transmitter fails harder than the DLO on a Chevy Cruze.

22

Man, that’s a huge gas door. Except it’s a normal-sized door on a small car with a seriously short overhang. If only there was a more elegant attachment point for the wraparound rear bumper. Considering this car’s intended market (crowded streets in third-world nations) the wraparound bumpers are more than mandatory.

23

The Mirage’s 14” wheels are static and uninspiring, except not: wheels this small are a treat if you’re sick of rubber band side walls from ill-proportioned mad-tite rims.

24

Another pet peeve: those fake slots do no favors to the wheel’s design. Either have real negative area, or make a flat casting.

25

Much like the Dodge Viper coupe’s helmet friendly roof design, the Mirage has little dimples for the hinges. It’s acceptable when viewed with spoiler’s speed bumps. The huge panel gaps, however…

26

It’s a rare occasion when a car actually needs a spoiler to complete the look, and the Mirage needs it more than a Plymouth Superbird!

27

Too many static elements: strong and steady cut line, downward sloping wedge from the quarter panel to the bumper and another lump that expands toward the bumper’s center section. These lumps aren’t structurally relevant, get a rounder bumper cover to mimic the front end’s bullet look instead.

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Yup, round it off. (EDIT: enlightened reader SamTheGeek mentioned this is for aero, contributing to the Mirage’s fantastic numbers. So nevermind.)

28

The Fallout Shelter reflector logo in the deeply sunken housing brings a smile to one’s face.

29

The Venn Diagram worthy tail light cluster looks outdated by today’s standards. But compare the Mirage’s eyes to the cyborg (no pun intended) look of a Chevy Spark, maybe old and boring ain’t so bad.

29_1

The plasti-chrome emblem was unexpected: no cheapie vinyl-jelly decal? While the bumper’s transition to the hatchback is pleasant enough, the hatchback itself could benefit from pushing the tail light “back” to create an uninterrupted flow from the base of the door to the crest of the tail light.

What was that phrase about the shortest distance between two points? Or just a gentle curve instead. Don’t fight the flow!

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Oh wow, another unconventional handle! And that cute little button again! Replicating a design saves money, and these bits are far from offensive the third time ‘round.

29_3

Imagine if the hatchback did indeed move in a solid, singular sweep from its base to the top of the tail light. No matter, console yourself with the clean lines introduced in the wiper arm.

29_4

The spoiler sure has a well-integrated CHMSL, too bad it isn’t red like the tail lights.

30

Again, problems emblematic with the brand: the logo is too big. Uncomfortably close to the handle and the transition to the rear glass, logos must stop dominating vehicle design. And imagine if the hatchback had a smoother line so it wouldn’t play second fiddle to the tail lights!

Yet here’s proof that fundamentally good, honest design lies in the most unexpected places. While the Mirage’s sins are unacceptable at a higher price, these are white lies and not all out deceit. Never in my wildest dreams could I imagine liking the Mirage to this extent. But whatever, life is full of contrasts.

Thank you for reading, I hope you have a lovely week.

 

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Review: 2014 Mitsubishi Mirage ES http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/review-2014-mitsubishi-mirage-es/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/review-2014-mitsubishi-mirage-es/#comments Sat, 19 Jul 2014 14:55:52 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=868922   Mitsubishi’s website claims the Mirage is a “small car for a big life.” Possible: while I haven’t done a TTAC review in over a year, know that even the rare automotive sampling of a ball of flaming garbage in a catapult possesses a modicum of engineering /styling/marketing prowess. Good cars exist everywhere, which is […]

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Press Cars: just a Mirage? (all photos courtesy Sajeev Mehta)

Press Cars: just a Mirage? (all photos courtesy Sajeev Mehta)

Mitsubishi’s website claims the Mirage is a “small car for a big life.” Possible: while I haven’t done a TTAC review in over a year, know that even the rare automotive sampling of a ball of flaming garbage in a catapult possesses a modicum of engineering /styling/marketing prowess. Good cars exist everywhere, which is worthy of someone’s “big life.”

And contrary to the rash of negative press, the Mirage is an honest machine worthy of a closer look.

DSCN5986The Made in Thailand DNA is unmistakable: the Mirage feels like an aspirational vehicle for a growing middle class in an emerging market. Living outside of the American design bubble has its perks: peep that demure, wind cheating nose bearing no pretense to corporate branding (cough, Aston Martin grilles) for starters. The low-ish DLO provides excellent visibility without resorting to the artificially large/dorky greenhouses of yesteryear’s subcompacts. The top-line ES sports cheerful 14” alloys while color-keyed fog lights add modest flair to the base model’s surprisingly subtle and cool rear spoiler. You know, for a 5-door econobox.

DSCN5990So pop inside the Mirage’s surprisingly inviting cabin: headroom galore, not uncomfortable bucket seats, dressy black lacquer center stack sporting Rothko-worthy HVAC vents, leather(ish) wrapped wheel, power everything, keyless ignition (on the left like a 911) and admirable ergonomics encased in richly grained, tightly constructed plastics that look more expensive than their fossilized demeanor suggests. That infamous road test mentioned airbag flash casting, which my test Mirage had instead on the E-brake handle. To see such cheapness on a new car under 13 grand ($15,195 as-tested) was horrifying I tell you!

DSCN6006Genuine gripes for a car this cheap? No center armrest, and the small cargo area means the (comfortable) rear seats must fold down for modest amounts of luggage. No biggie, except getting them back up without snagging the shoulder belts in the latch mechanism is a challenge. But the inability to stream audio (SoundCloud) from an iPhone 4 via the glovebox’s USB plug got on my nerves. It defaulted to iTunes, which I rarely use. And forget music when Google Maps’ turn-by-turn navigation is on: since I was denied the best Mirage-related song on the face of the earth, here it is.

Click here to view the embedded video.

DSCN6017And while bright colors add necessary excitement to a bottom rung hatchback, my Radioactive Blue Mirage fought its purple-flecked seat fabrics to no end. Cheap cars rightly show their exterior paint around interior window frames, a colorblind seat fabric is necessary. Feng Shui aside, color coding on the (power) door locks wouldn’t hurt: the lever needs a red decal to warn of threats from potential carjackers from an unlocked portal.

DSCN5997Fire up the Mirage and a pleasant (if you appreciate any mechanical sound) bellow from the three-banger mill makes it clear: this is an honest machine from another era. Even with electronics behind the 7 airbags, ABS, electric steering and active handling nanny in tow, the Mirage provides an unhindered driving joy coming from a suspension managing a mere 2051 lbs. Driving dynamics occasionally delight with its flat powerband, even with the CVT in lieu of a proper 5-speed. Bargain basement fun was a simple trick away. Check it:

Dial into the 1-ton Mirage’s occasionally communicative steering and toss it a corner (off-throttle) and the low-rolling resistance, tall profile rubber holds on with modest body roll. Now mash the throttle a good 2 seconds before hitting your intended apex. Do it right and you’ll fling out the corner with all 74 horses’ howling in passionate protest. Try to stop smiling as traffic becomes a dot in the rear-view.

DSCN5984And on the remote chance you built enough steam for a rapid stop, the vented disc/drum combination is more than adequate for the street. Even the twist-beam axle plays well on bumpy roads, further testament to the joy of a lightweight car.

DSCN6007Forcing the Mirage’s CVT into submission is moderately more infuriating than today’s auto-erratic transaxles. Yet, considering the efficiency boost, the autobox is done: the EPA’s 37/44MPG were matched and quickly surpassed. Light traffic (40-50mph) rewarded with a stunning 50.2 MPG from my house to the local Tesla gallery. And that’s with this featherweight’s (surprisingly robust and standard) automatic temperature control HVAC cranked!

As the 3-pot Mirage burbled buzzed idled next to the Tesla, I pondered if these radical electronic wonders are $85,000-ish better than a 50+ MPG hatchback. Is anything really that much better?

10372084_10152226017973269_3590992957388189892_nQuirky shit-can vibe aside, the Mirage cruises like a larger car, spanking the Smart ForTwo in both speed and stability. While acceleration is never rapid, the CVT keeps the Mirage in its powerband, hovering around 5000 revs. Mash the throttle around 70mph and the CVT revs to 6000, netting acceleration no slower than lower speeds. (In Houston, near sea level.) It’s still molasses slow with a loud engine, but with insane aerodynamics (small frontal area, 0.28 cd) it works. Witness this Easter Egg in the owner’s manual: a Highway Patrol speed warning for another journalist.

10452467_10152230027413269_1482059042706384612_nAnd upon the realization that running the Mirage at 10/10ths is a fool’s errand, one’s rewarded with a ride that soaks up both huge potholes and small pavement imperfections with precision. Impact harshness, so prevalent in modern cars with 18+ inch wheels, is literally smothered by Low Carb Panther Love.

Should you buy the Mirage over its sub-15k competition, or any “superior” used car? Maybe, but given the combo of a low asking price, $1000 rebate with 1.9% APR (this month), robust 10-year warranty and new car smell unavailable in used cars, you’d be forgiven for heading straight to a Mitsubishi dealer, using the extra monthly cash for food, gas, shelter, children, baby momma/daddy drama, medical bills, credit card debt, college debt…see where I’m going with this?

The similarly priced Chevy Spark could excel, depending on incentives. A larger, safer used car gives a fighting chance against wayward SUVs threatening a harsh lesson in the Laws of Physics. But Mitsubishi claims the Mirage meets their (modest) sales goals for good reason: it’s kinda fun and gets the job done with mad respect for your wallet.  And I appreciate that.

DSCN5995Your opinion of our society’s demand for easy credit and “need” for new car smell aside, the Mirage is a valid transportation opportunity for many Americans. If a Mitsubishi dealer is within easy reach, a cost-benefit analysis is certainly on the table.

(Mitsubishi provided the test vehicle, insurance and a full tank of gas for this review.)

 

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Cuban New-Car Sales Total 50 During First Half Of 2014 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/cuban-new-car-sales-total-50-during-first-half-of-2014/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/cuban-new-car-sales-total-50-during-first-half-of-2014/#comments Wed, 02 Jul 2014 12:00:46 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=857145 Last year, the Cuban government finally made it legal for its citizens to freely buy new vehicles for the first time since Fidel Castro sent Fulgencio Batista packing in 1959. The people rejoiced right up until they saw the prices on the showroom floor this January, family sedans marked up 400 percent or above as […]

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Cuban Yank tank

Last year, the Cuban government finally made it legal for its citizens to freely buy new vehicles for the first time since Fidel Castro sent Fulgencio Batista packing in 1959. The people rejoiced right up until they saw the prices on the showroom floor this January, family sedans marked up 400 percent or above as if they were Ferraris and Bugattis.

Reuters reports that because of the markup, only 50 cars and four motorcycles left the 11 nationalized lots in Cuba during the first six months of 2014, netting a total of $1.28 million USD in new car sales. The high prices also affect foreign businesses and potential investors, all none too thrilled to seek government permission to import their own vehicles without going through the national showroom floor.

In one example cited by the news organization, a Havana Peugeot dealership wanted $91,000 for a 2013 206, and $262,000 for a 506 of similar vintage, which makes the government’s goal of investing 75 percent of all new-car sales into public transportation easier said than done; most state workers make the equivalent of $20 USD per month.

Meanwhile, used car sales are doing much better, with the average price for a used vehicle — including motorcycles — holding at $23,759. Most of the used stock originates from retired rental car fleets.

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Maserati Sells As Many Units Through June 2014 As It Had For All Of 2013 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/maserati-sells-as-many-units-through-june-2014-as-it-had-for-all-of-2013/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/maserati-sells-as-many-units-through-june-2014-as-it-had-for-all-of-2013/#comments Fri, 20 Jun 2014 11:00:40 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=847945 Maserati may have had a slow 2013 as far as sales go, but the Italian brand is on pace to sell within the first half of 2014 as many cars as it had in the last year. Reuters reports CEO Harald Wester said that while the United States was Maserati’s biggest market, China, Italy and […]

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Maserati-Alfieri-Concept-01

Maserati may have had a slow 2013 as far as sales go, but the Italian brand is on pace to sell within the first half of 2014 as many cars as it had in the last year.

Reuters reports CEO Harald Wester said that while the United States was Maserati’s biggest market, China, Italy and Europe as a whole were making big sales waves for the brand, likely helping it move 15,400 units both in 2013 and the first six months of this year. He added that Maserati was on pace to hit its mark of 50,000 units sold annually by 2015, and 75,000 by 2018 as part of parent company Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ five-year plan.

In product news, Wester proclaimed the Levante SUV would head for the showroom late next year or sometime in 2016, followed by the Alfieri in hardtop and convertible forms. Meanwhile, no new factories would be built, with an effort on filling current plants to full capacity in its fight to best the Germans in the sales game.

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Review: 2014 Honda Civic Coupe http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/review-2014-honda-civic-coupe/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/review-2014-honda-civic-coupe/#comments Wed, 04 Jun 2014 13:46:46 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=836401 Once upon a time, the Honda Civic was like McDonalds: its wide-ranging menu had something to offer for everyone, in an easily-digestible and economical format. There was even a time when the Japanese compact was offered as a sedan, coupe, and a hatchback (and for a brief spell, it even offered some British go-fast goodness!). The […]

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2014-Honda-Civic-Coupe-12-of-29-550x366

Once upon a time, the Honda Civic was like McDonalds: its wide-ranging menu had something to offer for everyone, in an easily-digestible and economical format. There was even a time when the Japanese compact was offered as a sedan, coupe, and a hatchback (and for a brief spell, it even offered some British go-fast goodness!).

The Civic used to be a fantastic thing.

Unfortunately, the ninth-generation Civic was a bad hamburger. When Honda served it up in 2012, they were treated to numerous complaints about the cheap interior, inexcusable road noise, and incompetent suspension. The outcry was so loud that Honda did something they’d never done before.

“Let us reheat that for you,” they said.

I’ll make one thing clear from the get-go: I didn’t get a chance to drive the Honda Civic Coupe in ’12 or ’13. Not that I’m overly sad about it. From the multitude of reviews available, it looks like I didn’t miss much.

However, I did own one of the last sporty-ish, mildly-hot Civics sold on our shores.

My 2000 Honda Civic Coupe, in Canadian Si trim (EX to you Yanks), was certainly no sports car. Yet, with a real trunk, upon which rested a fairly sharp spoiler, and a sleek-yet-subdued body, my silver Civic at least looked the part without being pretentious or trying too hard. Its SOHC VTEC-equipped 1.6-litre D-series four-cylinder gave a somewhat exciting growl above 6,000 revs. The shifter, too, felt very mechanical, providing a certain notchiness when throwing the lever into each gate.

Most of all, I felt connected with my old coupe. It got me back and forth to work each day before doing double-duty as an evening pizza delivery car. We spent a lot of time together and shared many great memories.

Unfortunately for me, and maybe Honda as well, I crawled into the new ninth-generation coupe with some possibly misplaced nostalgia.

2014 Honda Civic Coupe (15 of 29)

My tester was a mid-level EX trimmed coupe with only a single option – the continuously variable transmission, which is new for this year and replaces Honda’s venerable 5-speed automatic transmission. The gearless transmission, along with a big, green ECON button to the left of the steering wheel, dashed all hopes of connecting with the latest Civic.

2014 Honda Civic Coupe (11 of 29)

Powered by a 1.8-litre SOHC i-VTEC four-cylinder engine, the Civic is still motivated by aspirations of driving something faster on your way to the dragstrip. The engine has been slightly improved and now produces 143 hp and 129 lb-ft of torque (up from 140 hp and 128 lb-ft the year before), but you can still do better in the compact coupe segment. The Hyundai Elantra Coupe and Kia Forte Koup, equipped with identical 2.0-litre mills, get 173 hp and 154 lb-ft. If you desire more power, you may want to look across the street.

2014 Honda Civic Coupe (28 of 29)

The new fangled continuously variable transmission may keep engine revs at the peak of the power band, but it’s far from exciting, especially with ECON mode engaged. Fuel economy was the main reason for introducing the CVT, though a real-world average of 29 MPG is far from the official mixed EPA rating of 33 MPG. The difference means you’d pay an extra $184 per year at today’s US average regular gas price of $3.67 per gallon if you drive 12,000 miles per year.

Fuel economy aside, the CVT’s paddle shifters provide some entertainment for the Gran Turismo set, and even some fairly quick ‘shifts’, but those of us familiar with clutch pedals or traditional automatic paddles will be disappointed.

mark

In fact, the only connection made between myself and the Civic Coupe was with the headliner and my skull each time I sat in the car. The EX model tester came equipped with a power sunroof that takes away a serious amount of headroom for a 6’1″ human being. Even with the driver’s seat height adjustment all the way to the floor, my head made frequent contact with the Civic’s ceiling. My only way out of this situation was to go into “gangsta lean” mode, which, now that I think about it, explains the driving position of so many Civic Coupe drivers.

Elsewhere inside, the two-door did provide acceptable ergonomics. Materials were, again, acceptable, but the design did nothing for me in comparison to the knockout interiors in the Mazda3 and Toyota Corolla. Infotainment wise, Honda is still well behind the curve, and that applies to more than just the Civic. Even the Acura MDX, lauded in some circles, has a horribly designed headunit.

2014 Honda Civic Coupe (23 of 29)

It wasn’t all bad, however, as the Civc did provide a good balance between ride and handling. Not all cars need to be sprung like race cars (I’m looking at you Hyundai and Kia) and, gladly, none of my head-on-ceiling contact in the Civic was suspension induced. Steering was slightly vague, though not bad by any margin.

Outside, the Civic Coupe still isn’t going to win any awards for earth-shattering design. While the emergency refresh available this year is certainly an improvement over the launch model, it’s still too close to the eighth-generation model to really be considered all-new. The painted pocket 16-inch wheels are a try-hard move to catch up to the Koreans, while the the overall shape screams “I’m mildly edgy!”

2014 Honda Civic Coupe (14 of 29)

Overall, it seems like Honda is now fully content with resting on their laurels, bringing in repeat customers who’ll never cross shop. Considering this version of the Civic is built solely for North America, maybe Honda just doesn’t want to drop a ton of money into a vehicle with limited marketability. Hell, the Civic isn’t even sold in Japan anymore; Europe gets their own version that’s actually appealing with a nice selection of engines.

However, back on our shores, the 2014 Honda Civic Coupe is a bad hamburger, slightly warmed over.

Mark Stevenson is a freelance automotive journalist based in Nova Scotia, Canada with a certain penchant for dead brands, on both two and four wheels. He’s a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC), former member of Texas Automotive Writers Association (NAMBLA), and the human pet of two dogs – Nismo and Maloo

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AAA Study: Cost Of Ownership Falls In 2014 Due To Lower Fuel Prices http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/aaa-study-cost-of-ownership-falls-in-2014-due-to-lower-fuel-prices/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/aaa-study-cost-of-ownership-falls-in-2014-due-to-lower-fuel-prices/#comments Thu, 15 May 2014 10:00:18 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=820770 In its annual Your Driving Costs study, AAA says the cost of owning and operating a vehicle has fallen on the back of lower fuel prices, though its findings leave a little to be desired with current fuel costs. USA Today reports the methodology behind AAA’s study uses fuel prices from the final three months […]

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Salesman With Customer

In its annual Your Driving Costs study, AAA says the cost of owning and operating a vehicle has fallen on the back of lower fuel prices, though its findings leave a little to be desired with current fuel costs.

USA Today reports the methodology behind AAA’s study uses fuel prices from the final three months of the outgoing year. In 2013, prices were beginning to peak during the collection period, peaking earlier this year before falling to current levels. The club’s manager of technical services, Michael Calkins, acknowleged as much during this year’s announcement, but stated that AAA uses its preferred methodology “for consistency in the results.”

Other factors in lowered O&O costs in this year’s study include the increased fuel efficiency in newer vehicles — a result of increasing CAFE targets — as well as lower tire costs. Also noted: Insurance costs remained stable while depreciation fell 1.71 percent to $3,510 per year for the first five years, and maintenance costs climbed 2 percent to 5.06 cents per mile.

As for the cost of ownership for 2014, sedan owners will see a 2.7 percent decrease overall, with an average cost of 59.2 cents per mile and $8,876 per year based upon 15,000 miles driven annually.

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Capsule Review: 2014 Toyota Corolla S Plus CVT http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/capsule-review-2014-toyota-corolla-s-plus-cvt/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/capsule-review-2014-toyota-corolla-s-plus-cvt/#comments Tue, 06 May 2014 15:12:38 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=815874 “Are you interested in our Thousand Dollar Test Drive raffle?” the saleslady eagerly asked. A row of new Corollas beckoned at the front of the lot; their freshly redesigned maws were hungry for customers.   The car I wound up driving is not the one in the pictures, but this showroom model is exactly the same […]

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“Are you interested in our Thousand Dollar Test Drive raffle?” the saleslady eagerly asked. A row of new Corollas beckoned at the front of the lot; their freshly redesigned maws were hungry for customers. 

 The car I wound up driving is not the one in the pictures, but this showroom model is exactly the same sans a color change. A combination of threatening weather, pollen, and lens glare prevented me from getting any decent shots of the one on the lot. Just as well, because I greatly prefer this car’s red to the other’s less flashy silver metallic. Even if the redesign turns out to be too adventurous for Toyota’s more conservative customers, I’m a fan. The 17” wheels of the S Plus are harmonious with the car’s overall proportions, and unlike the refreshed Camry there’s no DLO fail in the rear side windows. I will say that the racy elegance of the piano black front grille with chrome surround on the S doesn’t translate well into the cheaper trims. On those, you get a wide swath of “I’m poor” unpainted plastic, much like the unfortunate snout of the Chevrolet SS.

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 The interior is the single greatest area of improvement over the old car. Grab the dash, and you can tell that there’s a greater level of solidity in its construction. Luxurious isn’t the word I’d use to describe it, but everything is in easy-to-use good taste. The piano black and painted silver complement the overall cockpit ambiance without feeling cheesy or me-too. The dash felt high to me, but no worse than most other cars on the market right now. The back-up camera kicks on automatically, but I still prefer the rear window: visibility is reasonable but not great.  At 6’ 2” I had no problem getting comfortable and ready to roll.

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 Speaking of comfort, the seats were the best part of the entire car for me. The lumbar support felt great on my aching, recently operated-on back, and the bottom cushion was supportive but not too firm. I didn’t need to use the orthopedic pad I’ve been dragging around with me, and felt fine throughout my test drive. The six-way mechanical adjustment mechanism was great, especially the up-down function. In short, these seats completely outclass the previous-generation car, my xA, the Focus, the Altima, and pretty much anything else I can think of. If you do a lot of freeway driving and are contemplating a car at around this price and size, the Corolla deserves your consideration for those seats alone.

 The version of Toyota’s Entune infotainment system gave me no problems in my brief experimentation with it. It was easy to Bluetooth sync an Iphone 4 and make a long-distance call, which the recipient had no trouble understanding. I didn’t have any songs on that phone so I couldn’t test the music sync, but the menus were easy to understand. The stereo came through loud and clear- no complaints there. The voice-command system employs a training function that adjusts to the driver with time, so it’s difficult to get a feel for it during a short drive. As a millennial that spends a shockingly small amount of time playing with his phone while driving, I have no complaints regarding anything infotainment-related.

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 The only true negatives to the interior are in the back, but they don’t cancel out the strengths of the front. The rear seats don’t fold flat, and the trunk pass-through is disappointingly narrow. I didn’t have enough room to avoid hitting my head on the headliner, which didn’t surprise me: compact car back seats are rarely my friend. Even so, legroom was more than adequate and therefore should be good for just about anyone who isn’t an NBA center.  The biggest gripe I had was the totally flimsy and destined-to-break collapsible rear cup holder. I would rather sacrifice a small amount of center console room to get one or two molded cup holders, especially given the fact that in many cases rear-seat occupants are likely to be children. A couple toddler kicks is all it will take to bust off that chintzy fold-up mechanism. Another more trivial complaint: the map pocket on the back of the passenger seat is unlined. Instead of durable pleather, it’s some type of clingy foam material which felt thoroughly unpleasant on my hand. There’s also the annoying lack of a rear-seat coathook by the grab handle, a useful feature I have utilized in my xA countless times. What are you supposed to do with your dry-cleaning now?

 In terms of overall road manners, it’s a mixed bag. In the Deep South we’re a little short on freeze-cracked pavement, so I didn’t get to test the ride on rough road as much as I would have liked. Despite this, the car felt thoroughly composed over the bumps I did encounter. This was another area of noticeable improvement over the previous generation. That feeling of flouncy, floppy suspension response typical of the old car is much reduced. It didn’t quite live up to the standards of the Focii or the Cruzes that I have ridden in, but I’d hesitate to render a final verdict without having taken the Corolla over a truly rough stretch of road. I will say that the handling is still the most tedious part of the Corolla experience. You rotate the steering wheel, and the car changes direction. If you want feedback, look elsewhere. The brakes are definitely more inspiring though, with a solid pedal feel no doubt helped by the tested car’s 4-wheel discs.

  This car was equipped with the simulated paddle shift option for Toyota’s new CVT. To its credit, it feels remarkably like the shift-it-yourself systems in other cars with conventional torque-converter automatics. Blip the paddle, and the gearchange feels just like a cog swap in an old-school box. If you enjoy those systems, you’ll appreciate the one in this car. As for myself, I can’t really escape the artificiality of the process. When allowed to do its thing, the CVT is a fine automatic transmission that isn’t intrusive or annoying. It will be a perfectly acceptable replacement for the much-maligned 4-speed, which is still in the fleet-level trims. There is some delay in response when you mash the throttle, but not any more than in most automatics. Like many compacts these days, there’s an “Eco” button on the dash that lights up to tell you you’re not driving like a nutcase. The good news is that a true 6-speed manual is available in this trim level, a nice concession to enthusiasts.

 With $860 in freight charges and a $299 set of floor mats, the tested car stickered for $20,869. For that you get Entune with a 6.1” touchscreen, USB, Bluetooth, and an auxiliary jack. You also get the “shiftable” CVT, backup camera, heated power mirrors, keyless entry, daytime running and fog lights, and 4-wheel discs. It’s not the bargain in this segment, but not the priciest either; about in the middle, in true Corolla fashion. The strongest argument I can make for this car is the seats, in addition to the traditional economy and reliability. The sensibility and comfort of the revised interior combined with the newly stylish exterior has gotten me to seriously consider it as a possible successor to my xA; I couldn’t have said that about the previous generation. I didn’t win the eponymous raffle. Even so, I managed to score a nifty logo towel as a consolation prize; you can judge if my opinion has been bought off. More importantly, the test drive got me, an enthusiast, to take the Corolla seriously once again.

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Review: 2014 Lexus GS 450h http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/review-2014-lexus-gs-450h-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/review-2014-lexus-gs-450h-with-video/#comments Mon, 03 Mar 2014 14:00:25 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=750313 Last time TTAC looked at the Lexus GS Hybrid, Jack and I descended upon Vegas, drank too much, shared too much and one of us got purse-slapped (it wasn’t Jack). In other news, Jack found the GS a willing partner on the track, I kept drawing comparisons to the Volvo S80 T6 and Hyundai Genesis, […]

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2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Exterior-004

Last time TTAC looked at the Lexus GS Hybrid, Jack and I descended upon Vegas, drank too much, shared too much and one of us got purse-slapped (it wasn’t Jack). In other news, Jack found the GS a willing partner on the track, I kept drawing comparisons to the Volvo S80 T6 and Hyundai Genesis, and both of us agreed the GS 450h would be the car we’d buy. Despite telling you all that we would have a full review in “a few months,” it has in fact been “a few years.” Since that pair of articles hit, the luxury hybrid landscape has changed dramatically.

2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Exterior-001

The GS used to be the only hybrid game in town, but times have changed and nearly everyone has joined the party. BMW has their turbocharged ActiveHybrid 5, Mercedes just launched the E400 Hybrid, Infiniti has re-badged their M Hybrid the Q70 Hybrid, Acura is finally selling the all-wheel-drive RLX Hybrid and Audi has announced the A6 hybrid will come to America “soon” . This means that the S80 T6 and Genesis are no longer on my list, because we have head-to-head competition now.

Exterior

Lexus used to be known for restrained styling but the current generation GS marked a change for the Japanese luxury brand. In addition to taking on more aggressive front end styling, the GS was the first Lexus to wear the new “spindle” grille. The schnozz that seemed so controversial three years ago seems downright demure today, especially since this form has been adapted to the enormous (and some say questionable) LX 470. Perhaps because the GS was the first to wear the corporate grille, the styling seems slightly awkward from the front 3/4 shot (seen at the top) but looks better in person. Unlike the IS, which gets some sheetmetal swooshes on the side, the GS’s profile and rump are luxury car restrained. Overall I think the Infiniti Q70 hybrid, despite being a little long in the tooth, still wins the beauty contest. The Lexus and BMW are a bit too sedate for my tastes, and the RLX and A6 suffer from decidedly front-wheel-drive proportions when compared to the rest and the Mercedes lands smack in the middle.

2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Interior

Interior

The GS’ interior is dominated by a large and tall dashboard with a strong horizontal theme highlighting a large 12.3-inch LCD. The interior arrangement is certainly dramatic, but causes the cabin to have a slightly oppressive feel in the black shades our tester was cast in. While other car makers are moving to stitched leather dashed, Lexus seems content to blend stitched pleather and injection molded parts together. The combination of textures and  “un-lacquered” bamboo (exclusive to the hybrid) make the interior look Scandinavian. The light wood is more attractive in person than pictures might indicate, and while I question the “renewable resource” marketing on a large luxury sedan, like the hybrid drivetrain, I’m sure it will make shoppers feel special.

Base hybrid models get very comfortable 10-way power front seats, but most of the GS 450h sedans I saw on the lot were equipped with 18-way seats. The high-end throne sports the same types of articulation as BMW’s excellent “sport seats” with an articulating back, inflating bolsters, adjustable thigh support, four-way lumbar and  “butterfly” headrests. Needless to say, if you have trouble finding a comfortable seating position, you’re not human. This puts the GS hybrid at a distinct advantage in front comfort over the Mercedes, Audi and Infiniti models. Out back the GS’s rear seats are spacious, comfortable and optionally heated. While the Lexus and Infiniti fail to offer a folding rear seat, the Mercedes E400 hybrid has a generous cargo pass-through behind its optional 60/40 rear thrones.

Infotainment

Wide-screen infotainment systems are all the rage, so Lexus dropped a 12.3-inch LCD in the dash. The system ditches the intuitive touchscreen interface Lexus used for the better part of a decade for the Lexus joystick (it’s officially called Lexus Remote Touch) but importantly doesn’t alter the software to adapt to the input method. I hate it. It occupies a great deal of room on the center console, and it takes far more hand-eye-brain coördination than a touchscreen. Every time I am in a Lexus I find myself glancing at the screen and fiddling with the little control pad far more than when I’m in a competitor’s luxury sedan. This increased distraction hasn’t gone unnoticed by my better half who constantly nags me about keeping my eyes on the road. Want to enter an address using the on-screen QWERTY keyboard? It’s obvious why Lexus won’t let you do that in motion.

To soften the blow Lexus throws in the same media device voice command interface as the other Lexus and premium Toyota products receive. The system is snappy, managed to figure out every command I threw at and has a more natural sounding voice than MyLincoln Touch. Helping counter the nagging LRT caused (see how that’s not my fault now), the available Mark Levinson sound system can drown out even the most shrill mother-in-laws.

Perhaps reinforcing that Lexus focuses on the “meat” of the luxury segment and not the one-percent, you won’t find the same level of gee-wizardry in the GS as some of the Euro competitors, even in this top-end hybrid model. You won’t find night vision, a full-leather dashboard, expensive ceramic knobs, massaging front seats, or LCD instrument clusters. Instead, Lexus doubles down on perfect seams, quiet cabins, a high level of standard equipment and quantities of bamboo that would Lumber Liquidators make blush.

2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Engine-001

Drivetrain

While the GS 350 recently got an update in the form of a new Aisin 8-speed automatic, the GS 450h continues with just a minor software update. This means under the hood you will find the same direct-injection 3.5L Atkinson-cycle V6 engine and RWD hybrid transmission that launched in 2011. Combined with a 1.9 kWh NiMH battery pack in the trunk the system is good for 338 combined horsepower, 286 of which come from the gasoline engine. This is essentially the same engine found in the Highlander and RX hybrids, but the transmission is more similar to what Lexus uses in the LS 600hL. The unit combines the two motor/generator units with a 2-speed planetary gearset to improve efficiency at high speeds (as in on the Autobahn) but without the AWD system standard in the LS 600hL. The 2014 software update improves “sportiness” in sport mode and now imitates an 8-speed automatic instead of a 6-speed. While 338 horsepower compares well with the 6-cylinder competition, the GS 450h has the unenviable task of trying to be both the most efficient GS and the performance version as well. For reasons nobody knows, the more efficient GS 300h which uses a 2.5L four-cylinder engine is not sold in America.

By design, the Lexus hybrid system is very different from the competition. The two motor/generator units and the electrical circuitry combine with a single planetary gearsest to “act” as a continuously variable transmission. This setup allows the drivetrain to act as a serial hybrid (kind of), parallel hybrid, electric generator, or a pure EV at low speeds. In contrast Mercedes, BMW and Infiniti combine a traditional transmission with a single electric motor that replaces the torque converter. Transitions between electric and gasoline drive modes in these systems aren’t as smooth as the Lexus system because of the clutch packs involved in reconnecting the engine. Meanwhile Acura combines a dual-clutch robotic manual transmission with a twin-motor pack in the rear for the only AWD hybrid luxury sedan in this category.

2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Interior-002

Pricing

GS 450h pricing starts at  $60,430 which is a considerable jump from the $47,700 GS 350, but in true luxury car fashion, you may be disappointed with what $60,000 buys you. Unlike BMW and Mercedes which offer plenty of ala carte options, the GS hybrid comes in three feature levels.  Base models don’t get navigation or snazzy LED headlamps. If you want those toys plus the 18-way front seats, semi-aniline leather, steering headlamps, heated steering wheel, 3-zone climate control, black and white heads up display, blind spot monitoring and a trunk mat, be prepared to lay down $72,062. A fully loaded $76,726 example gets the buyer heated rear seats, headlamp washers, a “high intensity heater” (an electric heater that will heat the cabin faster in cold weather), a windshield de-icer, water-repellent glass, radar cruise control with pre-collision warning, lane keeping assistant, remote engine starter, glass breakage sensor and a rear spoiler.

76 large may sound like an expensive buy, but the ActiveHybrid 5 takes the cake with a starting price of $61,400 and a fully loaded price of $87,185. Acura has been cagey about RLX hybrid pricing but their presentation at the launch indicated they plan on following Lexus’s pricing structure quite closely. Meanwhile, the Mercedes E400 hybrid delivered an unexpected value proposition with a low $56,700 starting price and when fully equipped with features not available on the GS it manages to still be slightly cheaper at $76,095. The Infiniti hybrid hasn’t changed its value proposition despite the name change and the Q70’s $55,550-$67,605 is the lowest in the group. Audi hasn’t announced A6 hybrid pricing but I expect it to slot in around the E400.

2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Exterior-003

Drive

To put things in the right perspective, I have to go back to the GS hybrid’s conflicted mission. Since Lexus decided to kill off the V8 GS sedan in this generation, Lexus doesn’t have a direct answer to the BMW 550i, Mercedes E550, Audi S6, or even the Infiniti Q70 5.6 (formerly known as the M56). This means the GS 450h has a secondary mission as the top-end GS trim while the other hybrids (except for the RLX) are middle-tier options and this puts the GS in an odd bind. Lexus tells us that the reason the GS lacks a V8 is that only 5% of the Germans are shipped with one. While that may be true in Europe, it certainly doesn’t seem to be the case in California.

The split mission is most obvious when it comes to the performance numbers. Despite having more power than the GS 350, the GS 450h is slower to 60 than its gasoline-only stable mate and considerably slower than the BMW, Infiniti, and even the Acura with the only the Mercedes being slower to highway speed. Still, 0-60 in 6-seconds is hardly slow and the GS performs the task with the silence and serenity you expect from a luxury sedan. Although Lexus describes the transmission as an eCVT, this isn’t a belt/pulley CVT like you find in economy cars. As a result, it feels more civilized and less “rubber-bandy.” I found the CVT manners throughly appropriate for a luxury car and the smooth acceleration befits a brand built on smooth drivetrains. Unlike a “real CVT,” engaging the eight imitation speeds is quick and easy with fast shifts from one “gear” to another. Unfortunately this does little for the GS hybrid’s sport credentials and in no way helps it compete with the V8s from the German competition.

2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Exterior-009

Although the GS gives up plenty in the thrust-department, it really shines in the bends. The GS’s chassis is well sorted and nearly perfectly balanced. All GS hybrid models get a standard adaptive suspension system with several levels of damping, but unlike the air suspension in the Lexus LS, the GS’s adaptive suspension is based on electronically controlled struts much like the BMW system. This eliminates the “disconnected” and “floaty” feeling you get with air suspensions found on full-size luxo-barges. When pushed in the corners the GS quite simply feels better than the BMW. Yep. I said it. Today’s 5-series has a more luxurious mission in mind, so the little it gives up to the GS shouldn’t surprise anyone. The Mercedes and Infiniti feel very accurate, although heavy, and the Audi and RLX are a mixed bag. Unless Audi works some unexpected magic, the A6 hybrid will remain decidedly nose-heavy. The Acura RLX, although it has a similar weight distribution problem as the Audi, has a slick torque vectoring AWD system in the back. Not only can the RLX torque vector in power-on situations like a electronically controlled conventional rear axle, but it can torque vector in “neutral” and “power off” situations as well. Although the RLX feels by far the most “artificial” in the group on winding mountain roads, it is one of the better handling sedans and at the moment the only AWD hybrid in this category.

Of course the primary reason for buying a hybrid is to save on gas. Right? Maybe. With a 29 MPG City, 34 MPG Highway and 31 MPG combined rating there’s no doubt that the GS 450h is a fuel sipping 338 horsepower luxury sedan. However at more than $10,000 more expensive than a similarly equipped GS 350 it would take you more than 20 years to “save money.” We did average an excellent 31.5 MPG over 800 miles with the GS hybrid, a notable improvement over the Infiniti hybrid and the short time I spent in the RLX hybrid. Although we haven’t extensively tested the BMW and Mercedes hybrids yet, brief spins in both indicate they will slot in under the GS. There’s one more problem for the GS: Mercedes’ new E250 diesel. No, it’s not a speed daemon, but at 34 mpg combined it not only makes up for the higher cost of diesel with the higher fuel economy, it starts around $9,000 less than a GS 450h as well.

The GS 450h is without a doubt the best Lexus GS sedan available. It gives up little in terms of performance while delivering excellent fuel economy, a quiet and comfortable cabin and most of the gadgets and gizmos a luxury shopper could buy. Trouble is, unless the Lexus dealer is the only game in town, nearly every other alternative in this segment has a list of reasons to buy it over the GS. The RLX has a trendy AWD system despite the discount brand association, the Q70’s brand image isn’t quite as premium but it’s thousands less, the Mercedes takes the sweet spot in the middle known as “value” (how’s that for a surprise?) and the BMW offers the best performance and the biggest list of options if you can afford it. As the top end trim for the GS line the 450h also has troubles coming in just about as expensive as the competition’s V8 offerings but offering no better performance than the GS 350. The biggest problem for the GS however is the price. If the GS 450h was $5,000-$7,000 less expensive,  this would be an easy win. As it is, the GS manages to be the car I liked the most in this segment, but the one I’d be least likely to buy.

 

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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.88 Seconds

0-60: 6.01 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 14.49 Seconds @ 104 MPH

Average observed fuel economy: 31.5 MPH over 800 miles

Cabin noise at 50 MPH: 68 dB

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Only Select Fiat Dealers Will Get Alfa Romeo Franchises http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/only-select-fiat-dealers-will-get-alfa-romeo-franchises/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/only-select-fiat-dealers-will-get-alfa-romeo-franchises/#comments Tue, 25 Feb 2014 12:00:32 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=753569 Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is set to bring Alfa Romeo back into the United States market after a two-decade absence with the 4C, but only the best-performing Fiat dealerships will be selected to sell the first new Alfas when the lighweight $60,000 sports car rolls off the dock in June. The Detroit News reports the majority […]

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Alfa Romeo 4C

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is set to bring Alfa Romeo back into the United States market after a two-decade absence with the 4C, but only the best-performing Fiat dealerships will be selected to sell the first new Alfas when the lighweight $60,000 sports car rolls off the dock in June.

The Detroit News reports the majority of Fiat dealerships who were promised an Alfa wing will not be along for the ride in 2014. FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne stated that his company would only allow “the best-performing Fiat dealers to participate” based on “simple dealer metrics” and efficacy in representing Fiat. Though he also added that said dealers knew who they were, FCA spokesman Rick Deneau countered his boss’s statement, saying that those dealers “have not been identified yet.”

While the 4C will be the only Alfa offering available this year, it will be joined in 2015 by the Giulia, Giulietta and a new Spider co-developed with Mazda, which will also underpin the latter’s new MX-5 roadster. The 4C is motivated by a turbocharged four-pot driving 240 horses out of the back gate, pushing the 1875-pound sports car from naught to 60 in 4.5 seconds.

However, follow-through hasn’t been FCA’s strong suit regarding Alfa’s return, with the brand originally promised to Fiat dealers in 2012, then last year before settling upon June 2014. The return was also promised to come with a full lineup to display in showrooms, but only the 4C will be setting the pace this year as it goes up against the Porsche Cayman and Chevrolet Corvette Stingray.

According to IHS Automotive, selected Fiat dealers will move 500 4Cs in 2014, with 8,400 more in 2015 once more dealers join the fray. IHS also expects Alfa to move 28,000 units in the U.S. by the end of 2016.

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