The Truth About Cars » Alex Dykes http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Sat, 23 May 2015 15:11:46 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.2 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 » Alex Dykes http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com 2015 Volkswagen GTI 2-Door Review (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/05/2015-volkswagen-gti-2-door-review-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/05/2015-volkswagen-gti-2-door-review-video/#comments Mon, 11 May 2015 12:00:47 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1061210 Although GTI sales are on an upward trend, the American hot hatch is a rare breed as there are just three options. We have the aging Ford Focus ST, and a new pair of hatches from Germany: the Volkswagen GTI and the MINI Cooper S. (Yes MINI fans, I’m calling the MINI German.) The last […]

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2015 VW GTI 2-Door Exterior Front

Although GTI sales are on an upward trend, the American hot hatch is a rare breed as there are just three options. We have the aging Ford Focus ST, and a new pair of hatches from Germany: the Volkswagen GTI and the MINI Cooper S. (Yes MINI fans, I’m calling the MINI German.) The last time I reviewed the GTI and Focus ST, the Focus came out on top despite the greater refinement Volkswagen offered. This time we have an all new GTI while Subaru has kicked the 5-door WRX to the curb, BMW has redesigned the MINI Cooper JCW and Ford has “gone Euro” by jamming a 2.3L turbo in the Mustang. Where does that leave the GTI?

Exterior

Although the MK7 GTI looks nearly identical to the outgoing MK6 GTI, park them next to each other and you’ll start to see the differences. This GTI is longer, lower and wider with a significant stretch to the passenger compartment. VW pushed the front wheels 2-inches farther forward and gave the Golf a longer hood for better proportion. The headlamps get an angrier look and the tail lamps ditch the cute round theme for a more aggressive motif.

Sounds like a moderate refresh, right? Wrong. What VW did with the Golf is akin to swapping clothes with a stranger. It may look the same at first glance, but this stranger is different underneath and the clothes fit a little better as well. That’s all possible because this GTI rides on Volkswagen’s new MQB platform which also underpins the 2015 Audi A3. The promise of MQB is to deliver faster product development cycles, lower costs, improve parts sharing and achieve better fuel economy. Indeed, the GTI is lighter than before; however, the weight difference isn’t as dramatic as I was lead to believe at just under 100 pounds. Of course the GTI did get bigger and lighter at the same time, but the top-end 3,086 pound curb weight is about the same as a 2005 GTI.

2015 VW GTI 2-Door Interior-004

Interior

VW was once known as the “discount Audi” in America. But as part of their mission to increase sales on our shores, VW divorced the Passat and Jetta from their Euro twins and started cutting back on their other models. Thankfully, a few models escaped this fate and are still pair-bonded to the model sold in the EU. The Golf is one of them and, as a result, feels a notch above the American Passat in interior quality. From the fabric-covered A-pillars to the soft-touch door panels and dashboard bits, the feel upon entering the Golf in any form is in some ways “more Audi” than the A3. Without a doubt, the Golf has the best interior in this category, which oddly enough applies as much to the $17,995 base Golf as to the $25,095 GTI or $36,595 Golf R. MINI’s recent redesign has seriously improved its interior, but the VW is arguably on par with the JCW model in terms of parts quality despite being $10,000 less in some configurations.

Perhaps the “price” for the interior refinement is a distinct lack of power seating in most models. If you want more adjustability up front, you have to step up to the Autobahn model, which means you also receive leather instead of the attractive GTI tartan fabric. A little known fact about the GTI (and the Golf in general): the three-door and five-door versions are the same length and deliver identical interior dimensions. This means that our seemingly small three-door GTI was able to swallow two 6-foot tall passengers and a skinny third in a pinch. More surprising was the ability to squeeze a rearward facing child seat behind a 6-foot tall passenger up front. That’s different than the MINI which has a cramped back seat and even more cramped cargo hold.

2015_golf_tsi_3989

Infotainment

The redesign of the GTI includes a refresh of VW’s infotainment system. Sadly, this is the one area where revolution would have been preferable to evolution. The VW software lags behind the competition and if you want navigation it is only available in the most expensive trim. All units feature expanded voice commands, finger gestures (like scrolling), and a proximity sensor to clean up the interface when your digits aren’t near the screen. Most of the system’s graphics have been improved and the media interface is more attractive than before (including the elusive navigation software). But, the system still lacks the ability to voice command your media library, and still uses a proprietary VW connector for media devices.

As much heat as MyFord Touch has received over the years, the system in the Focus ST is light-years ahead of this. Since MINI gets BMW’s iDrive on a MINI scale, it takes the top slot in this segment. However, you will have to pay some serious coin as MINI’s options list is long, confusing, and expensive. Volkswagen tells us to expect significant changes “soon” to address the deficiencies, including the VW/Audi proprietary cable.

2015 VW GTI 2-Door Engine-001

Drivetrain

As you’d expect from a hot hatch, a 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder engine sits under the GTI’s hood. For 2015, the 2.0L engine has been reworked to deliver 210 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. That’s a slight power bump but a fairly healthy torque increase over the last gen GTI. Thanks to the turbocharger and direct-injection, we get the expected “power plateau” rather than a curve with all 210 ponies pulling from 4,500-6,200 RPM and all the torque available from a low 1,500 RPM to 4,400. If you opt for the $1,495 performance package, peak power rises slightly to 220 hp from 4,700-6,200 while torque remains unchanged at 258 lb-ft but hangs out for 200 more RPM at the top end.

All GTIs start with a standard 6-speed manual transmission including the top end Autobahn trim. Shoppers can add a 6-speed DSG to any trim. In a nod to enthusiasts, the DSG and performance package are neither forcibly bundled nor mutually exclusive. Standard on all models is VW’s XDS system which has caused some confusion among potential shoppers so allow me to explain. XDS is not a true limited slip differential. Instead, it is an advanced software package added to the car’s ABS and Stability Control systems. The software reads yaw, steering angle, wheel slip, etc and uses the vehicle’s brakes to act as both a limited slip differential and a torque vectoring differential depending on the situation. The system will gently brake the inside wheel in a corner to help “vector” torque to the outside wheel and give a more balanced feel to the car. The system also responds to potential torque steer making all GTI models more civilized.

The performance package adds an electronically controlled limited slip differential; although the design is very different than the eLSDs you see in RWD applications, the function is similar. The VAQ system (Vorderachsquersperre in German) uses a multi-plate clutch pack to deliver limited slip, full locking and torque vectoring across the front axle. VAQ does not replace XDS, instead you get both systems working for you at the same time.

2015 VW GTI 2-Door Manual Shifter-001

Drive

The GTI we got our hands on for a week was a four-door model without the performance package. I’m glad I was able to test a GTI in this configuration because it allows me to say: get the performance package. Not for the additional ponies, or even the trick eLSD, but for the upgraded brakes and the ability to get the $800 dynamic damper package (DDC). The previous generation GTI was so eager to please, it was easy to overwhelm the standard brakes. Although the new model appears to have improved this on base trims, the upgraded stoppers are worth every penny. The standard suspension can feel a little too firm over broken pavement and at times this causes the rear to get unsettled on a poorly paved corner. The DDC package allows the suspension to deliver a more compliant highway ride and a firmer autocross ride. It also helps settle the GTI’s rear end on rough pavement.

Our best 0-60 run rang in at a 5.75 seconds which is an improvement of nearly a half second over the last generation GTI, 2/10ths faster than the last Focus ST we tested and 4/10ths faster than a dealer provided MINI Cooper JCW. If you opt for the DSG, your 0-60 runs will be a hair slower but much more consistent. Interestingly enough, this is only a hair slower than the EcoBoost Mustang.

2015 VW GTI 2-Door Gauges-002

The mission of the hot hatch could not be more different from the pony car. The Mustang is a large coupé with rear wheel drive, sexy lines and V6 and V8 engines that are shared with the F-150 pickup. The hot hatch formula starts with a practical compact hatchback, then you add stiff springs and bolt a turbo charger to a small displacement engine. For 2015, Ford added independent suspension and a 2.3L turbo to the Stang making comparisons more rational.

Obviously, driving dynamics are what separate the GTI from the Mustang, but it’s more about feel than speed around a track. As our friends over at MotorTrend recently discovered, the better balanced rear wheel drive Mustang was actually slower around a figure-eight than the GTI. Although that proclamation surprised some, it didn’t surprise me at all, given the VW weighs nearly 500lbs less. You’ll notice I haven’t said anything about steering feel. That’s because there isn’t any. A wise man once told me to never confuse steering weight with steering feel. The GTI’s tiller is well weighted but the FWD layout and the electric power steering suck all the life out of it.

2015 VW GTI 2-Door Exterior Rear1

Part of the reason the GTI did so well is the standard XDS system which nearly eliminates torque steer. In concept it is quite similar to what Ford uses to control the Focus ST’s front end but in the real world the VW system is more effective. Trouble is, half the fun of having a hot hatch is “riding a bull” – where your foot is on the floor and your hands and mind are fully engaged trying to keep the car going in a straight line. (The old Mazdaspeed3 acted like its steering rack was possessed by demons from hell.) MINIs Cooper JCW slots between the GTI and the Focus ST in civility. Add the VAQ eLSD to the GTI and things go to the next level with very little drama when accelerating around sharp corners. While I found the feeling a little artificial at times, I can’t deny it is faster.

Pricing for 2015 starts at $25,095 for the 3-door GTI and tops out at $35,950 for the 5-door Autobahn edition with all the options. Although VW limits navigation to the top-trim, you can add the DSG to any trim for $1,100, Performance Package for $1,495, steering HID headlamps for $995 and for $695 they will tack on front/rear parking sensors and a radar based collision warning system. If you want the $800 DDC (dynamic dampers), you have to start with the SE trim with the Performance Package ($29,280 3-door, $29,880 5-door). In a nice change from the industry norm, the transmission selection doesn’t alter the availability of the other options and the top-end Autobahn doesn’t force you to get the DSG.

2015 VW GTI 2-Door Exterior Rear-002

Ford’s Ecoboost Mustang starts $300 higher than the GTI while the Focus ST starts nearly $2,000 lower. The MINI is in a universe all to its own with the JCW starting over $8,000 higher. The ‘Stang gets standard HID lamps in the turbo trim making both Ford models less expensive than the VW when comparably equipped. Unlike VW, Ford also allows you to add navigation to their less expensive trims and the ST gets some seriously comfortable Recaro seats in most trims.

At the end of the week, the GTI’s charms were clear: this is a hot hatch with few compromises. The MINI is cute but slower and much more expensive. The GTI has a more comfortable back seat than the Mustang and, although it’s less fun, it is faster in some situations. The WRX isn’t a hatch anymore and if you want an automatic your only option is a soul-sucking CVT. The Focus gives a more raw and direct experience, but the added weight means it’s no faster than the GTI in just about any situation. The final nail in the coffin for the competition is the GTI SE with the limited slip differential, dynamic suspension and the DSG. For $32,000, a GTI equipped in that way won’t be as much fun as others, but with all that and 28 MPG combined, it may be the best daily driver on sale. Sacrilege you say? Perhaps, but that configuration is the truest to the hot hatch concept: make a daily driver as much fun as possible.

Mission accomplished.

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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.5 Seconds

0-60:5.75 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 14.31 @ 98 MPH

Average Economy: 29.8 MPG over 675 miles

2015 VW GTI 2-Door Engine 2015 VW GTI 2-Door Engine-001 2015 VW GTI 2-Door Engine-002 2015 VW GTI 2-Door Exterior Front.CR2 2015 VW GTI 2-Door Exterior Front.CR2-001 2015 VW GTI 2-Door Exterior Front.CR2-002 2015 VW GTI 2-Door Exterior Front 2015 VW GTI 2-Door Exterior Front-001 2015 VW GTI 2-Door Exterior Front1 2015 VW GTI 2-Door Exterior Front-002 2015 VW GTI 2-Door Exterior Front-003 2015 VW GTI 2-Door Exterior Front-0011 2015 VW GTI 2-Door Exterior Rear.CR2 2015 VW GTI 2-Door Exterior Rear.CR2-001 2015 VW GTI 2-Door Exterior Rear 2015 VW GTI 2-Door Exterior Rear-001 2015 VW GTI 2-Door Exterior Rear1 2015 VW GTI 2-Door Exterior Rear-002 2015 VW GTI 2-Door Exterior Rear-003 2015 VW GTI 2-Door Exterior Rear-004 2015 VW GTI 2-Door Exterior Rear-005 2015 VW GTI 2-Door Exterior Rear-0011 2015 VW GTI 2-Door Exterior Side 2 2015 VW GTI 2-Door Exterior Side 3 2015 VW GTI 2-Door Exterior Side 4 2015 VW GTI 2-Door Exterior Side 5 2015 VW GTI 2-Door Exterior Side 6 2015 VW GTI 2-Door Exterior Side 7 2015 VW GTI 2-Door Exterior sIDE 2015 VW GTI 2-Door Exterior Wheel.CR2 2015 VW GTI 2-Door Gauges 2015 VW GTI 2-Door Gauges-001 2015 VW GTI 2-Door Gauges-002 2015 VW GTI 2-Door Interior.CR2 2015 VW GTI 2-Door Interior.CR2-001 2015 VW GTI 2-Door Interior 2015 VW GTI 2-Door Interior-001 2015 VW GTI 2-Door Interior-002 2015 VW GTI 2-Door Interior-003 2015 VW GTI 2-Door Interior-004 2015 VW GTI 2-Door Interior-005 2015 VW GTI 2-Door Interior-006 2015 VW GTI 2-Door Interior-007 2015 VW GTI 2-Door Interior-008 2015 VW GTI 2-Door Manual Shifter 2015 VW GTI 2-Door Manual Shifter-001 2015 VW GTI 2-Door Steering Wheel.CR2 2015 VW GTI 2-Door Steering Wheel.CR2-001 2015 VW GTI 2-Door Steering Wheel

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Review: 2015 Honda CR-V Touring (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/03/review-2015-honda-cr-v-touring-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/03/review-2015-honda-cr-v-touring-video/#comments Fri, 06 Mar 2015 21:24:56 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1004938 Refreshed, redesigned or updated, whatever you want to call the changes to the CR-V for the 2015 model year, it’s hard to argue with this model’s success. The CR-V isn’t just the best-selling compact crossover in America, it’s the best-selling crossover period and the 7th best-selling vehicle overall. With sales success on the line Honda […]

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2015 Honda CR-V Exterior Front

Refreshed, redesigned or updated, whatever you want to call the changes to the CR-V for the 2015 model year, it’s hard to argue with this model’s success. The CR-V isn’t just the best-selling compact crossover in America, it’s the best-selling crossover period and the 7th best-selling vehicle overall. With sales success on the line Honda did what any Japanese company would do: make minor changes that give you more of what shoppers want without upsetting the apple cart. Does that make the CR-V just right? Or is it a compact bore-box?

Honda gave the CR-V its last redesign as a 2012 model year vehicle. The “old Honda” would have allowed the CR-V age unchanged for 5-6 years, but the new Honda seems to prefer making incremental changes to keep things fresh. While the 2012 CR-V wasn’t the same kind of mis-step the press thought the 2012 Civic was, competition is fierce and the 2012-2014 CR-V’s performance and fuel economy weren’t exactly compelling.

Exterior

Because this is a refresh and not a redesign, none of the “hard points” in the vehicle changed. Up front we get more modern looking headlamps with LED DRLs in most models and the fog lamps became rectangular. The grill has lost the Ford-like horizontal slats in favor of a simpler design with a larger Honda logo and a chrome “smile” reminiscent of the Accord and Civic. Changes to the rear are similar with new lamp modules, a tweaked bumper with silver painted inserts, more chrome on the tailgate and a style that still reminds me of a Volvo wagon in a way.

2015 Honda CR-V Dashboard

Interior

The CR-V’s interior slots somewhere between the Civic and the Accord in terms of both quality and theme. The instrument cluster is [thankfully] styled after the Accord with a large central speedometer flanked by three additional physical gauges.  The small monochrome LCD in the center of the speedometer is still a novel concept, but five years after Honda launched this look it is starting to feel dated compared to the large color LCDs you find in some of the competition. The dashboard and doors are a combination of hard and soft plastics which is again a middle road between the Civic and the Accord. For 2015 Honda has added a few extra features to keep things fresh including a standard console armrest, telescoping sun visors and rear HVAC vents. Since the CR-V never suffered from the unfortunate amount of questionable plastics that the 2012 Civic had, Honda spent the interior budget largely on the infotainment system.

2015 Honda CR-V HondaLink.CR2Infotainment

Base CR-V LX models get a 4-speaker 160-watt sound system controlled by large physical buttons and the same small screen that also handles trip computer functions (at the top of the picture above). Thankfully EX and above (which are the majority of sales) use essentially the same 7-inch touchscreen system found in the current Honda Civic with physical buttons instead of touch-controls. Dubbed HondaLink Next Generation, this is not the same system you find in the Accord. Rather it is Honda’s lower cost alternative which I think is also a better value. While there aren’t as many built-in features as you find in the Accord, this system has all the basics like Pandora and Aha streaming, Bluetooth and USB/iDevice integration and available factory navigation. Unlike many systems however it also supports iPhone integrated navigation via a $60 app. (Sorry Android users, there is no love for you at this time.) Unlike the BrinGo navigation we find in certain GM products, this solution doesn’t just store data on the phone and have the head unit render the mapping interface. Instead the iPhone is generating all the video and processing touch inputs but the head unit is displaying the video via an HDMI cable. Shoppers should note that this is not Apple CarPlay but Honda’s own solution that was created prior to CarPlay and is not upgradeable to support Android Auto or Apple CarPlay. For occasional nav users this represents a significant discount over the factory software (assuming you have an iPhone) but there are some limitations. Your iPhone has to stay on the nav app for the system to work, so if you check your email at a stop light, the nav map will disappear. Your iPhone’s data plan will of course get consumed and if you’re out of a coverage area then your mapping will be limited or non-existent depending on how much your device has cached.

 

honda-diagram-1Drivetrain

The biggest change for 2015 is under the hood where we find a revised version of the 2.4L “EarthDreams” four-cylinder engine we saw in the 2013 Honda Accord. For 2015 Honda has added counter-rotating balance shafts to try and help cancel out some of the vibrations. Power stays the same as before at 185 ponies, but torque is up to 181 lb-ft and across a broader range than in 2014.

In order to improve efficiency, Honda does something a little different with this 2.4L engine, they offset the cylinders about 8mm from the engine’s centerline. This trades reduced friction for increased vibration, hence the need for the additional balance shafts. The balance shafts certainly help, but some customers have complained about the added vibration especially at idle and indeed it is not as smooth as the 2014 model. Is the vibration worth a 4 MPG bump in the city and 3 MPG improvement overall? I’d say so, but be sure to sound off in the comment section. Also improving economy is an AWD capable version of the CVT found in the Accord bumping the numbers to 27 / 34 / 29 (City / Highway / Combined) for FWD models and 26 / 33 / 28 for AWD.

Front Wheel Drive Biased Transverse AWD System, Drawing Courtesy of Alex L. DykesAWD Controversy

My favorite Swedish magazine, Teknikens Värld, has a winter capability test where they put the test vehicle on a slope and the front wheels on rollers. The test is to see if 100% of the engine power can be sent to the rear wheels. Note that the 100% is essential here, because the incline and front wheels on the rollers makes sure no traction exists on the front axle. The CR-V failed this test because Honda’s AWD control system is programed to not lock the clutch pack if it detects zero traction up front and 100% in the rear. It also appears that traction control was disabled in the test. (The CR-V is not designed to be RWD essentially.) You will note in the diagram above that this type of system can lock the center clutch pack and get a 50/50 power split front/rear like a vehicle with a traditional transfer case, or it can slip that clutch pack to vary things from 100/0 to 50/50 assuming no wheel slip.

When wheel slip occurs, something different happens. Say just one front wheel sips. The front differential, being an open unit would send power to the wheel that is slipping, this action essentially causes the power balance to shift to the rear up to a power balance around 20/80. Leaving the traction control on, the slipping front wheel would be braked until it was spinning the same relative rate as the others. This would return the system to a 50/50 power balance because even if the front wheel was up in the air, the brakes on that wheel would be “consuming” the 50% of the power on that axle to maintain the power balance. The CR-V’s AWD system is designed to operate in this 50/50 window without issue. With your front wheels on ice and your rear wheels on tarmac, the front wheels will always have some traction and the traction control will help keep things in balance. Similarly in off-camber situations in snow with one wheel in the air, the brake based system will keep things in line. Pop the CR-V up on rollers however and the system things something is wrong.

The bottom line is that the CR-V is not a Jeep Cherokee, it was not designed with locking differentials and not designed with the Rubicon Trail in mind. It was however designed with the urban jungle and 2015 snowpocalypse in mind and 99.9% of shoppers will never even know there was a controversy. If you’re the 0.01% of shoppers that lives in a roller factory, there could be an issue of course. Is the Jeep system “superior?” Yes, but for most folks it’s also overkill.

2015 Honda CR-V EarthDreams 2.4L Engine-001

Drive

The popularity of the CR-V is no surprise when you get behind the wheel. The CR-V drives like a slightly taller Accord which makes sense as the ground clearance has dropped over time as the CR-V has transformed from trucklet to tall wagon. The compact CUV doesn’t handle as well as the Mazda CX-5, but the wide tires, relatively light curb weight and moderately firm suspension certainly place the CUV at top end of the segment.

Thanks to the improved torque band and the continuously variable transmission (CVT) that has a much lower starting ratio than the old 5-speed (13.3:1 vs 11.7:1), the CR-V is notably faster off the line and hit 60 MPH nearly second faster than the 2014 model. Similarly the higher effective “top gear” ratio is the key to the CR-V’s large jump in the fuel economy score. As with the Accord and Civic which also use Honda’s new CVT tech, the CR-V’s transmission changes ratios much more rapidly than the Nissan Rogue’s more traditional CVT. The feel is more like a stepped automatic’s downshift than the rubber-bandy feeling you get in the Nissan.

2015 Honda CR-V Instrument Cluster-001

Thanks to the programming of the CVT, fuel economy has indeed improved over the 2014 model coming in at 27.5 MPG, just 1/2 an MPG shy of the EPA rating for our AWD tester despite my commute over a 2,200ft mountain pass daily. Thanks to the lower torque band of the EarthDreams engine, the CVT can keep the engine at a lower and more efficient RPM more of the time. Unfortunately higher torque outputs at low RPMs tend to highlight the new engine’s cylinder offset which, as I said earlier, trades smoothness for efficiency. Many of you on Facebook asked if I encountered the vibrations that some shoppers have complained about and indeed I did. Was it bad? No. Was it noticeable? Yes. Would it keep me from buying the CR-V over something else? No, because for me the MPG improvement is enough of an incentive to overlook it.

2015 also brings some tweaks to the suspension and sound insulation improving ride and cabin noise by a hair. Perhaps the biggest change for the CR-V out on the road has nothing to do with the driveline or suspension however, it’s the infusion of some Acura driving aids. The new Touring model comes standard with radar adaptive cruise control, a lane keeping system that steers you back into your lane and Acura’s Collision Mitigating Braking System or CMBS which will autonomously brake the vehicle if it believes a collision is imminent and you’re going above 10 MPH. While this isn’t breaking any ground, it does help the CR-V stay competitive with the Forester’s camera-based EyeSight system and the Cherokee’s latest radar based features. The Honda system isn’t as smooth as the Jeep system, but it is more natural than the Subaru system, works better in poor weather where the camera systems become less functional and supports a broader range of speeds.

2015 Honda CR-V Exterior.CR2

Ranging between $23,445 and $32,895 the CR-V straddles the middle in this segment after you’ve adjusted for feature content. The Forester is less expensive and more capable, but the interior is more down-market, no surprise since the standard AWD means it starts about $2,500 less than a comparable Honda. The Cherokee is the most rugged and capable vehicle in this segment but the off-road ability takes a toll on cargo room and handling while bumping the curb weight north of 4,000lbs in some trims. The RAV4’s latest redesign saw the demise of the optional 3rd row and the V6, (the two prime reasons for buying a RAV4 over the CR-V) and the addition of plenty of questionable plastics on the inside. Mazda’s CX-5 handles extremely well but isn’t as comfortable or as large inside and until the 2016 model arrives, the infotainment system is archaic.

Oddly enough, the fact that the CR-V fails to be the best in the segment in any particular category is actually the key to its success. It’s easy to create the cheapest or best off-road compact crossover (the bar is after all kind of low), a little harder to make the best handling crossover, but making a crossover that averages consistently high marks in every category is quite an undertaking. While the CR-V’s AWD system has received bad press, the same thing applies there. The AWD system isn’t the most capable in this segment but it is perfectly acceptable and won’t leave you stranded on your way to Aspen. The CR-V may lack the charm it once had, but it is still the best all-around vehicle in this segment.

 

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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.2

0-60: 7.79

1/4 mile: 16.4 Seconds @ 87.5 MPH

2015 Honda CR-V Cargo Area.CR2 2015 Honda CR-V Cargo Area 2015 Honda CR-V Cargo Area-001 2015 Honda CR-V Console.CR2 2015 Honda CR-V Dash.CR2 2015 Honda CR-V Dashboard 2015 Honda CR-V Dashboard-001 2015 Honda CR-V Dashboard-002 2015 Honda CR-V Exterior Front.CR2 2015 Honda CR-V Exterior Front 2015 Honda CR-V Exterior Rear 2015 Honda CR-V Exterior Side 2015 Honda CR-V Exterior.CR2 2015 Honda CR-V Exterior.CR2-001 2015 Honda CR-V Exterior 2015 Honda CR-V Exterior-001 2015 Honda CR-V Exterior-002 2015 Honda CR-V HondaLink.CR2 2015 Honda CR-V Infotainment 2015 Honda CR-V Instrument Cluster 2015 Honda CR-V Instrument Cluster-001 2015 Honda CR-V Interior 2015 Honda CR-V Interior-001 2015 Honda CR-V Trip Computer.CR2

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Chicago Auto Show: 2014 Kia Forte 5-Door http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/chicago-auto-show-2014-kia-forte-5-door/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/chicago-auto-show-2014-kia-forte-5-door/#comments Thu, 07 Feb 2013 17:09:41 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=476694   Kia has officially entered the traditional hot hatch market today at the Chicago Auto Show with the 2014 Kia Forte 5-door. Based on, you guessed it, the redesigned Kia Forte sedan, the four-door-plus-hatch seems to have Volkswagen’s Golf in its sights with an optional 1.6L direct-injection turbocharged engine good for 201 horsepower. Kia has […]

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Kia has officially entered the traditional hot hatch market today at the Chicago Auto Show with the 2014 Kia Forte 5-door. Based on, you guessed it, the redesigned Kia Forte sedan, the four-door-plus-hatch seems to have Volkswagen’s Golf in its sights with an optional 1.6L direct-injection turbocharged engine good for 201 horsepower. Kia has yet to release full details but with 201 ponies and a curb weight likely to be under 3,000lbs, it should give VW a run for their Euros.

Kia seems to have heard the complaints of hard interior plastics and the model on the show floor is a definite improvement over the first Forte. Kia is also throwing in their revised UVO infotainment systems that seem to look Ford SYNC without the glitches. It may be hard to notice in the pictures, but Kia decided to give the 5-door a more aggressive bumper cover, smaller grille and large lower air intake for a sportier look than the sedan.

2014 Kia Forte 5-Door 2014 Kia Forte 5-Door-1 2014 Kia Forte 5-Door-2 2014 Kia Forte 5-Door-3 2014 Kia Forte 5-Door-4 2014 Kia Forte 5-Door-5 2014 Kia Forte 5-Door-6 2014 Kia Forte 5-Door-7 Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

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Chicago Auto Show: 2014 Kia Cadenza http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/chicago-auto-show-2014-kia-cadenza/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/chicago-auto-show-2014-kia-cadenza/#comments Thu, 07 Feb 2013 17:06:05 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=476721 Kia slipped their new Cadenza sedan into their booth in Chicago. Our launch invitation apparently got lost in the mail because this is the first time a TTAC writer has seen one in the flesh. Based on the Hyindai Azera the Cadenza isn’t the RWD Kia flagship so any have been drooling over. Instead it is one step up […]

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Kia slipped their new Cadenza sedan into their booth in Chicago. Our launch invitation apparently got lost in the mail because this is the first time a TTAC writer has seen one in the flesh. Based on the Hyindai Azera the Cadenza isn’t the RWD Kia flagship so any have been drooling over. Instead it is one step up from the Optima and the only way to get a V6 under the hood of your Kia sedan. Fit and finish looked excellent and the sedan certainly strikes an unexpectedly elegant pose at Kia’s booth. I hit up the Kia PR folks for a tester and they have promised to deliver, check back for a review when that happens. In the meantime, click past the jump for the gallery.

2014 Kia Cadenza 2014 Kia Cadenza-1 2014 Kia Cadenza-2 2014 Kia Cadenza-3 2014 Kia Cadenza-4 Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

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Then And Now: A Short History Of The Altima http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/01/then-and-now-a-short-history-of-the-altima/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/01/then-and-now-a-short-history-of-the-altima/#comments Wed, 09 Jan 2013 18:36:35 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=472684 Camry or Accord? Back in the early 90’s, most non-enthusiasts with who admired certain small cars as long-term transportation modules would wind up at a Toyota or Honda dealer. Civic, Corolla, Camry, Accord. The majority of these blase buyers would price out their Toyonda car with nary a fleeting glance toward the Nissan side of […]

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Camry or Accord?

Back in the early 90’s, most non-enthusiasts with who admired certain small cars as long-term transportation modules would wind up at a Toyota or Honda dealer. Civic, Corolla, Camry, Accord. The majority of these blase buyers would price out their Toyonda car with nary a fleeting glance toward the Nissan side of the world.

Those early-90’s Sentras may have eventually yielded a bulletproof powertrain for the developing world and a wonderful SE-R model as well. But nobody cared back then.  The Stanza? Still stuck in the 80’s school of design  with a 90’s price tag.

Nissan was the least loved child of the Japanese Big 3 among those who least loved cars in general. But then the market slowly changed.

Click here to view the embedded video.

The 1993 Nissan Altima was not a paradigm shift by any stretch of the imagination. Then again it didn’t take much to leap far away from a Stanza. The 1st generation Altima would offer a humdrum 2.4 Liter that produced a respectable 150 horsepower. Upscale GLE models received the fake wood that glorified an otherwise average interior, and SE models would eventually offer a fake sporty bodydress that was all too typical of the time.

Click here to view the embedded video.

The look… was  not quite as sporty as the 1994 – 1997 Accord. Nor was it as conservative as the 1992-1996 Camry. It was in almost all respects a good solid car that had to compete with great solid cars.

Then a few strange things happened with the Japanese midsize car. It stopped being a compact.

Click here to view the embedded video.

The Honda Accord went from a sporty compact to a far larger Camry-esque midsized sedan with a luxury focus.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Toyota brought forth more room with the redesigned Camry. Along with cost containment (<– Click!) and an aggressive pricing strategy that would make it a dominant player for the next 15 years.

Click here to view the embedded video.

The Altima became the forgotten car. In 1998 Nissan launched a 2nd generation that looked almost exactly like the first generation. So much so that much of the public considered it to essentially be the same car as before.

The handling became a little better. The interior was a bit more cheap. The styling was conservative to a near Malibu level of anonymity. You could buy a new Altima and the exterior contours along with an identical level of interior space (108 compact cubic feet) would make the tidy package seem almost a body double with the older model unless you put them side to side.

Click here to view the embedded video.

The Japanese alternatives simply dialed in the same consumer takeout. Toyota quality and affordability with the Camry. Honda quality and affordability with the Accord. The Altima couldn’t quite hit either sweet spot nearly as well and the stunning lack of V6 power in the SE and GLE models made the Altima little more than an afterthought in the high end of the market. Sales were a mere 130,000 units in 2001 compared with 388,000 for the Camry and 414,000 for the Accord.

Something had to be sacrificed at Nissan… and it turned out to be the Maxima.

The 3rd generation Nissan Altima was almost an automotive Charles Atlas compared with the Poindexter of the prior year.  Nissan finally embraced the role of the athletic midsize model in a way that not even the Maxima could duplicate. In fact, the V6 equipped 2002 Nissan Altima would be even more powerful and spacious than the 2002 Nissan Maxima.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Horsepower rang up to 175 for the 4-cylinder and a then prodigious 240 for the V6. The rear seats had reasonable room for the first time, stickshift models finally had zing in ways the Camords could no longer duplicate, and Nissan finally saw fit to bequeath their American supersized Altima with a new platform dubbed FF-L .

It was that decade’s version of the Chrysler LH. Modern, spacious and athletic for an automaker that had struggled to put all three of these qualities into one platform. This platform would give rise to the highly successful Nissan Murano and enabled Nissan to finally embrace the multiple model platform that was essential for profits in the global marketplace. The Maxima and Quest would soldier on in their respective declining market segments with the same underpinnings ,while the Altima models would soldier forward to finally take on the Accord and Camry.

Click here to view the embedded video.

The 2002 Nissan Altima would break through the 200k barrier and put the model firmly in the midsized dimensions where it belonged . Ten years and one D platform later, the 2012 Altima would break through the 300k barrier and seriously challenge the Accord as the second best selling midsized sedan in the United States.

This stunning advancement would hide two unusual realities for the midsized segment.

The first is that the midsize sedan market is penetrating several segments that were once distinct and impervious . Today’s Camrys and Altimas suck an awful lot of customers out of the full-sized, dedicated hybrids, and even the family CUV and minivan markets.

 

The average midsized car is now a full-sized model with all the safety equipment, and nearly all the fuel economy that can be had in any of these four other markets. This is as much marketing driven as it is technology driven.

The 1993 Accord, Camry and Altima offered only 4 trim levels and fewer than three engines (2, 2, and 1 respectively). The 2013 models have anywhere from 6 to 7 trim levels with a dizzying level of potential alternatives. Plug-in, hybrid, coupe, sedan, CUV-like wagon, CVT, Auto, stick. Not to mention that everything from minivans to SUV’s will often use the same exact platform.

Variety in look, and commonality with platform, are now the new reality. Lee Iacocca and the auto industry’s K-Car forebearers would have been proud.

Click here to view the embedded video.

The second reality that tails in well with the greater economies of scale (and fewer suppliers)  is a strong increase in quality standards across the board for all major manufacturers. So much so that quality gaps have now become more a matter of interiors and infotainment technologies, rather than long-term durability.

Not too long ago it used to be that only two midsized models, Accord and Camry, could largely carry the mantle of quality with the general public. Now the subpar quality car is the irritable exception.

Click here to view the embedded video.

For now the Camry is still the king of popularity, particularly the LE models. But the four-cylinder Altima I had for about a thousand miles seemed to be about $3000 better than the Camry LE I had the week before. Even though the price difference was a mere few hundred dollars.

While the Camry LE still offers a variety of hard plastics in the middle of the dash, bare bone door panels, and exposed screw holes in the back of the steering wheel. The Altima S  provides a far stronger luxury bent. With a laced up leather steering wheel and a well padded  interior with a far better overall upscale  feel of quality.

Click here to view the embedded video.

From door handles that weren’t cost contained amorphous cheap plastics. To controls that were less octogenarian and more pleasing to the touch. The reviews by Alex Dykes and Michael Karesh highlight the fact that the Altima is now a more luxurious and fun vehicle to drive than the Camry. Other than making sure the CVT is serviced every 30k, which I encourage for all those here who still have little faith in lifetime fluids, the Altima is virtually without vice.

The six cylinder Altima 3.5 SV does offer a few unique on the road advantages over the four-cylinder model. At between 40 to 60 mph, the six cylinder can turn at between 1000 and 1500 rpm’s, helping the six-cylinder model earn the mantle of the better choice for road warriors that prefer a cruiser oriented driving experience. In a near perfect mix of 50/50 driving, the more upscale Altima also garnered a remarkable 29.5 mpg drive with a similar level of refinement as $50,000 luxury cruisers routinely offered only a decade ago.

Long and the short of it, I found the real world experience of the Altima to be almost as Lexus like as an ES350. Great highway capabilities. The perfect size for a family of four that needs space. A driving experience with sound luxurious isolation and power whenever you desire it.

The interior materials in the Altima are far less luxurious than any full-sized or entry level luxury model. But with a $7,000 to $9,000 price advantage, that’s not too much of a sacrifice. A lot of you may scoff at the thought. But I can see the new Altima heartily chipping away at both markets.

Who woulda thunk back in the day?

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Review: 2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/05/review-2012-honda-civic-natural-gas/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/05/review-2012-honda-civic-natural-gas/#comments Wed, 23 May 2012 16:51:09 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=443940 Since 1998 Honda has been quietly producing one of the cleanest vehicles in America. In 2001 the EPA called its engine “the cleanest burning internal combustion engine in the world.” No, it’s not a hybrid, it’s Honda’s Civic Natural Gas (formerly known as the Civic GX). Until now, the Civic Natural Gas has only been […]

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Since 1998 Honda has been quietly producing one of the cleanest vehicles in America. In 2001 the EPA called its engine “the cleanest burning internal combustion engine in the world.” No, it’s not a hybrid, it’s Honda’s Civic Natural Gas (formerly known as the Civic GX). Until now, the Civic Natural Gas has only been available for retail sale in a handful of states like California and New York. For 2012, Honda expanded sales to 37 states and lent us one for a week.

As Honda dropped off the CNG Civic one bright Tuesday morning, I realized I had absolutely no idea what I had gotten myself into. Like most of the motoring public, I didn’t know much about CNG and it was only when the compact sedan arrived that I asked: “where do I fill this thing up?” Once I found a CNG station, I realized I had no idea how to fill it up either. If you’re dying to know, check out our video below.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

The all-new 9th generation exterior is instantly recognizable as a Civic. While there are virtually no carryover parts from 2011, the changes are subtle enough to be a refresh. Unlike the Civic Hybrid, which gains a few blue-tinted trim bits and some LED brake lights to set it apart from the rabble, the only way to identify the Civic Natural Gas is by the legally required blue diamond CNG logo on the trunk lid. (The sticker is supposed to help emergency responders know that high-pressure gas lurks within.) Limited production means limited options, and you can get your Civic Natural gas in any color you want so long as its light grey, dark grey, periwinkle or white.

Interior

The Civic Natural Gas started out  in 1998 as a cleaner alternative for the meter maids parking enforcement specialists in Los Angeles. Since then, the majority of gaseous sales have gone to fleet customers looking for lower operating costs, a green image and a vehicle that uses the same fueling infrastructure as their vans and buses. Honda’s focus on fleet customers (and their needs) is obvious by the lack of options found on Honda’s retail-focused models. The interior is only available in one color scheme, with cloth seats and only one option: Honda’s touchscreen nav system. You won’t find leather seats, automatic climate control, heated seats, or an up-level speaker package at any price.

 

Drivetrain

Under the hood beats the biggest change: a re-worked 1.8L engine. This is one of the few engines in the world built specifically for CNG. Unlike conversion kits that blow gas into the air intake, the Civic uses a CNG  multi-port injection system. To compensate for the lower energy density of CNG, the compression ratio is increased from 10.6 to 12.7. Despite this, power drops from 140HP to 110HP while torque goes from 128lb-ft to 106lb-ft. Honda toyed with a CVT in the past, but for 2012, the 5-speed automatic from the regular Civic makes a cameo. I’m probably the only car guy to wish the CVT from the hybrid was under the hood as it would have improved the fuel economy

According to the EPA, this engine produces 70-90% lower smog forming emissions, 20-30% lower CO2 and virtually no evaporative emissions when compared to a regular Civic. It’s smog numbers and CO2 numbers are lower than VW’s most efficient clean diesel and it delivers considerably lower NOx and particulate emissions when compared to clean diesels. A side benefit of CNG engines is improved spark plug and oil life as there are fewer impurities to foul either one.

 

Cargo

Sound too good to be true? There are a few problems. First off, natural gas must be stored in a pressure cylinder. By their design, these cylinders are large, need to be placed somewhere safe, and can’t be shaped like your typical gas tank. This means the cylinder is in the trunk and cargo space gets cut in half from 12.5 cubic feet to 6.1. As you can see below, it is still possible to fit two carry-on sized roller bags and some small hand luggage in the trunk, but larger items like large strollers might not fit.

 

About CNG

According to the EPA, CNG is a plentiful and as a result, 87% of the natural gas consumed in the United States in 2011 was produced domestically. The rest came from Canada and Mexico. If you are simply seeking to reduce this country’s dependence on foreign energy without changing your lifestyle, CNG is one of your better options. While there are about 120,000 CNG powered vehicles in the United States, most of them are buses. You want something other than a cargo or people hauler, the Civic is the only factory built CNG vehicle around.

Since virtually all natural gas consumed in America comes from underground deposits created by ancient decaying matter, it’s not a renewable resource in its current form. Unlike gasoline, diesel and liquid propane, natural gas isn’t sold by the gallon. Instead, it is served up by the Gasoline Gallon Equivalent or GGE. At 3,600psi this equates to 0.51 cubic feet of gas. In California we averaged $2.19 per GGE while gasoline was around $4.27 a gallon.

 

Finding CNG can be tricky as there are only 1,000 stations in the US, and half of them are closed to the public. Approximately 250 public stations are available in California with New York and Utah coming in second and third at 101 and 84 respectively. Operating your CNG Civic in a state like Texas could be tricky, with both long driving distances and only 36 stations to fill up at. Most stations are located near airports and industrial areas, so if your commute takes you near these locations it’s an easy sell. While there are home refueling stations available, Honda does not recommend them as they may not sufficiently dry the gas and allow moisture to build up in the tank. The home unit costs $4,900 without installation and is only good for 3,000 GGE of CNG. Although not recommended, it is much cheaper to fill up at home, with an estimated cost per GGE of $1.43 in California. While the CNG station nearest to my home is 20 miles away, there are several on the way to my office and one only 0.2 miles from my office, making commuter-car use a real option for me.

 

Infotainment

Honda’s Civic Natural Gas carries a mid-range feature set despite its price tag. This means that although a nav system is available (the only option on the CNG), upgraded speakers are not. The sound quality is mediocre with dull highs and muddy lows. Remember, this is a fleet-oriented vehicle. The only real reason to get the factory nav system is that it is preloaded with a CNG station database which can be handy if you don’t have a smartphone. If you have a smartphone, stick with the base radio and get a CNG finder app.

 

Drive

Out on the road the Civic Natural Gas drives just like a regular Civic, with less power. From a standstill, 60 arrives in 10.9 seconds, about 2 seconds slower than a regular Civic, but only 3/4 of a second behind the hybrid. When it comes to road holding, the CNG performs essentially the same as a regular Civic LX sedan, since Honda chose not to use low rolling resistance rubber on the CNG like they did on the hybrid.

Savings

You should know that essentially all the tax credits for CNG vehicles have evaporated. This means your CNG Civic is a whopping $6,710 more than a comparably equipped Civic LX and even $2,105 more than a Civic Hybrid. Based on current fuel costs in northern California, it would take 5.5 years for the CNG to break even with the Hybrid and 7.5 with the Civic LX. The Civic Natural Gas has a trump card to play in California: Solo carpool usage. If you live on the left coast as I do, and “enjoy” a “healthy” commute, the CNG may just be the best investment you could make in your family. On my daily commute, being able to drive in the carpool lane saved me 25-35 minutes of commute time per day. That adds up to 125 hours less commuting a year, or 5.2 days less time in a car on my commute. The scarcity of CNG filling stations will continue to ensure Civic Natural Gas sales remain low. However, for those that live near CNG infrastructure, the Civic Natural gas makes an interesting proposition. While it will take nearly a decade to justify the cost of buying one, in states like California where you can use the HOV lane, it presents quite a different reason to buy one. It also makes a compelling case against EVs, as America is the land of coal and gas power plants, the CO2 emissions from the CNG Civic are similar or lower than the Leaf depending on the state you live in.

 

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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 4.2 Seconds

0-60: 10.9 Seconds

Average fuel economy: 35.2MPG over 820 Miles

 

2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas (Civic GX), Exterior, side, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas (Civic GX), Exterior, side, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas (Civic GX), Exterior, side, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas (Civic GX), Exterior, rear 3/4, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas (Civic GX), Exterior, front 3/4, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas (Civic GX), Exterior, front, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas (Civic GX), Exterior, front, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas (Civic GX), Exterior, side, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas (Civic GX), CA carpool sticker, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas (Civic GX), CNG logo, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas (Civic GX), refueling, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas (Civic GX), refueling, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas (Civic GX), refueling, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas (Civic GX), refueling, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas (Civic GX), CNG prices , Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas (Civic GX), Interior, front, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas (Civic GX), Interior, driver's side, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas (Civic GX), Interior, dashboard , Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas (Civic GX), Interior, dashboard , Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas (Civic GX), Interior, steering wheel, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas (Civic GX), Interior, steering wheel, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas (Civic GX), Interior, HVAC controls, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas (Civic GX), Interior, rear seats, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas (Civic GX), Interior, rear seats, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas (Civic GX), Interior, rear seats, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas (Civic GX), Trunk /  Cargo room, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas (Civic GX), Trunk /  Cargo room, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas (Civic GX), Interior, tachometer, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas (Civic GX), Interior, instrument cluster, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas (Civic GX), Interior, fuel economy, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas (Civic GX), Interior, radio / infotainment, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas (Civic GX), Interior, ECO button, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas (Civic GX), Interior, door switches, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas (Civic GX), Engine, 1.8L CNG, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas (Civic GX), Engine, 1.8L CNG, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

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Pre-Production Review: 2013 Scion FR-S http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/05/pre-production-review-2013-scion-fr-s/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/05/pre-production-review-2013-scion-fr-s/#comments Wed, 09 May 2012 13:00:49 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=443221 Scion has had a sordid past. Originally, Scion was Toyota’s solution to a lack of 18-25 year old shoppers. Over the past 9 years however Scion has lost their way and lost their youth. Their median buyer just turned 42. The tC coupe, which started out as a car for college kids, now has a […]

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Scion has had a sordid past. Originally, Scion was Toyota’s solution to a lack of 18-25 year old shoppers. Over the past 9 years however Scion has lost their way and lost their youth. Their median buyer just turned 42. The tC coupe, which started out as a car for college kids, now has a median buyer of around 30. Scion claims the FR-S is a halo car – to me, that means the FR-S will be bought by older drivers (who can actually afford it), attracting younger buyers to their showrooms. Despite being out of the target demographic, Scion flew me to Vegas to sample the FR-S’s sexy lines to find out.

The rear-drive layout, boxer engine and low center of gravity all play out in the car’s distinctive exterior. Toyota claims it was meant to pay homage to classic Toyotas of the past, but if Porsche and Lotus were charged with penning a Scion, this is what it would look like. Our time with the FR-S was limited to a 100 mile drive and about 6 hours of SCCA style autocross and road course track time in a pre-production FR-S. Jack will be flogging a production FR-S on track sometime this summer, assuming the stars align.

Inside, Scion opted for snazzy faux-suede instead of the coarse fabric of the base Subaru BRZ (the BRZ is available with  leather/faux-suede seating in the Limited model). Scion also swapped out the silver dash trim for something that looks like it might be imitating carbon fiber but is actually a motif based on the letter “T.”

Click here to view the embedded video.

Like all Scion models, the standard radio is a Pioneer unit with standard Bluetooth and iPod/USB interfaces. Instead of bringing Toyota’s Entune system to the Scion brand, Pioneer was engaged to bring their “App Radio” into what appears to be its first OEM use. Unlike traditional nav systems, the “BeSpoke” system (as Scion is calling it) is essentially just an iPhone app. The app runs solely on your phone and the head unit merely controls the app and displays the video generated by the phone. This means an iPhone is required for it work (Android phones are not supported.) It also means navigating eats up your data plan and you must be in a cellular service area for it to work. The system is expected to cost under $90 and since it’s an App on your phone, it’s never out of date. Much like iDrive, BeSpoke will also offer Facebook, Twitter and internet radio integration.

Under the lies the fruit of the Subaru/Toyota marriage: a 2.0L direct-injection boxer engine. Although it’s based on Subaru’s Impreza engine, it has been re-engineered to incorporate Toyota’s “D4S” direct-injection tech. The addition of GDI boosts power by 52HP to 200HP. Since the engine is naturally aspirated, the torque improvement is a more modest 6lb-ft bringing the total 151 at a lofty 6,600 RPM, while peak horsepower comes in at seven grand. Despite the online rumors, Scion Vice President Jack Hollis indicated there will be no turbo FR-S.

Since the FR-S is intended to be “baby’s first track car,” Scion’s event was held at the Spring Mountain Motor Resort in Pahrump, Nevada. Out on the track, the FR-S isn’t as slow as an early Miata, but it’s not especially quick either. However, the low center of gravity and light curb weight make the FR-S fairly adept in the corners, whether you’re on track or on an autocross course. The lack of torque is the one major blight, whether on or off track. This deficiency was made more obvious by my trip landing in the middle of a week with Hyundai’s 2013 Genesis 2.0T which delivers more power at far more accessible RPMs, despite its porkier stature.

Unlike most “sporty” RWD cars, the FR-S is tuned toward neutral/oversteer characteristics. When combined with the standard Michelin Primacy HP tires, the FR-S is far more tail happy on the track than the V6 Mustang or Genesis 2.0T. The lively handling is undoubtedly more fun, but inexperienced drivers beware:  getting sideways can be hazardous to your health, not to mention your insurance premiums. Without empirical numbers, I cannot say if the FR-S will out-handle the Genesis 2.0T on the track, however the Genesis feels more composed and less likely to kill you, thanks to a chassis tuned towards understeer and staggered 225/245 series tires (front/rear.) Contrary to the web-rumors, the FR-S is not shod with “Prius tires” as we would know them. The Primacy HP is a “grand touring summer tire” with “lower rolling resistance” tech added. The tire is used on certain Lexus GS, Mercedes E-Class, Audi A6 models and a JDM market only Prius “with performance pack.” Still, the tire isn’t as “grippy” as the FR-S deserves, so buyers should plan on swapping them for stickier rubber ASAP.

Scion’s “single-price with dealer installed options” philosophy continues. Starting at $24,930, the only options are: $1,100 for the automatic transmission, around $900 for the BeSpoke radio and a variety of wheels, spoilers and other appearance accessories. That’s about $1,295 less than the BRZ, although the gap narrows to almost nothing when you add the BRZ’s standard navigation system and HID headlamps. The nicer standard upholstery, more controlled pricing and a plethora of manufacturer supported (and warrantied) accessories make the FR-S a compelling choice vs the BRZ, but speed daemons will want to drive past the Scion dealer and test drive the Genesis 2.oT. If you want an FR-S, be prepared to wait as Scion expects supplies to be somewhat limited starting June 1st.

 Scion flew me out to Vegas, put me up in a smoky casino and provided the vehicle, insurance, gasoline, track time and admission to the state park for the photography.

 Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.6 Seconds

0-60: 6.7 Seconds

Fuel Economy: 22MPG average over mixed roads (track time not included)

 

2013 Scion FR-S, Exterior, Front, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Scion FR-S, Exterior, side, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Scion FR-S, Exterior, side 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Scion FR-S, Exterior, rear 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Scion FR-S, Exterior, Rear, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Scion FR-S, Exterior, Front 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Scion FR-S, Exterior, Front 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Scion FR-S, Exterior, Front grille, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Scion FR-S, Exterior, Front 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Scion FR-S, Exterior, rear 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Scion FR-S, Exterior, rear 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Scion FR-S, Exterior, rear 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Scion FR-S, Exterior, rear 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Scion FR-S, Exterior, rear 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Scion FR-S, Exterior, rear 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Scion FR-S, Exterior, rear 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Scion FR-S, Exterior, Scion logo, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Scion FR-S, Exterior, FR-S logo, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Scion FR-S, Exterior, Boxer Engine Logo, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Scion FR-S, on the track, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Scion FR-S, on the track, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Scion FR-S, on the track, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Scion FR-S, on the track, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Scion FR-S, on the track, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Scion FR-S, Interior, dashboard, Photography Courtesy of Toyota Motors 2013 Scion FR-S, Interior, seats and dash, Photography Courtesy of Toyota Motors 2013 Scion FR-S, Interior, center console, Photography Courtesy of Toyota Motors 2013 Scion FR-S, Interior, seats, Photography Courtesy of Toyota Motors 2013 Scion FR-S, 2.0L boxer engine, Photography Courtesy of Toyota Motors Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

 

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Review: 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/02/review-2012-buick-lacrosse-eassist/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/02/review-2012-buick-lacrosse-eassist/#comments Fri, 17 Feb 2012 16:17:27 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=430222   GM’s track record has been less than stellar. First we had the Saturn Vue Green Line, a very “mild” hybrid that paled next to competitors like the Ford Escape. Next came the extraordinarily expensive 2-mode hybrid system used in GM’s pickup trucks and full-sized SUVs, which cost far too much and delivered far too […]

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GM’s track record has been less than stellar. First we had the Saturn Vue Green Line, a very “mild” hybrid that paled next to competitors like the Ford Escape. Next came the extraordinarily expensive 2-mode hybrid system used in GM’s pickup trucks and full-sized SUVs, which cost far too much and delivered far too little. Finally, we have the Volt – ’nuff said. No wonder GM’s latest hybrid endeavor has come to market with little fanfare, no “hybrid” logos on the vehicle and no hybrid branding from GM. Can we honestly call the 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist a hybrid?

While the LaCrosse’s styling is dominated by slab sides and FWD proportions, the overall look is handsome, even elegant. Compared to the ES350, the Buick looks a touch more sedate while looking less like its kissing cousin the Chevy Malibu. The fairly high belt-line and increasingly popular four-door-coupe roof-line give the 16.5 foot long Buick an almost modern flair (without being so modern as to drive away traditional Buick shoppers.) Despite the modern styling, Buick has stuck to their dubious “ventiports” which make even less sense now than before with our 4-cylinder LaCrosse sporting six portholes. Maybe port 5 represents the motor and 6 is the battery?

While the new LaCrosse’s interior is not class leading in any way, it is uniquely styled. Personally I’m not a fan of the steeply sloped doors but the 40-inches of rear leg room may compensate for that. The dashboard in our tester sported Buick’s new “stitched” dash which is an injection molded plastic dash that has “cuts”  molded in and is then stitched with thread to give the look of a stitched dash without the cost. Overall, the effect works, but the acres of fake wood are less convincing. I understand the need to differentiate between Cadillac and Buick, but the lack of real tree in the LaCrosse is a problem when Buick’s self-proclaimed Lexus competition having plenty of burl-forest standard.


While many hybrid vehicles ditch the folding rear seats due to the battery pack’s location, the LaCrosse continues to offer a pass-through – although it is about 50% smaller than the V6 model’s hole-in-the-trunk. Also on the list of complaints is a trunk that has shrunk to 10.7 cubic feet and is still hampered by trunk hinges that restrict the cargo area. The lost space is given to the hybrid battery pack and associated cooling ducts. Instead of a spare tire in the trunk you’ll find an empty cavity with a tire inflation kit. Why not toss the battery into the unused spare tire space?

The first generation Belt-Alternator-Starter or BAS system GM used in the Saturn Vue and Chevy Malibu “hybrids” was unloved by the press, ignored by shoppers and euthanized after a short time on the market. Instead of trying to resurrect the fantastically expensive “two-mode”  system, GM went back to basics and fixed what was wrong with the BAS hybrid in the first place. GM threw out the ancient 4-speed automatic and replaced it with a new 6-speed unit. The two extra gears allowed Buick to change the final drive ratio for better “hybrid” performance while still having a fairly broad range of lower gears for passing and take-off. Next, they ditched the low-capacity 36V NiMH battery replacing it with a modern 115V lithium-ion pack. The transformation was finished off by a liquid-cooled motor/generator packing three times the punch of the previous generation (15HP and 79lb-ft of torque). In addition to being more powerful, the motor and electronics are designed for nearly continuous use allowing the hybrid system to operate over a broader range of speeds and conditions. The result is a 0.2 second improvement in the LaCrosse’s 0-60 time and a 25% improvement in fuel economy over the outgoing un-eAssisted LaCrosse. Despite the improvements, GM decided to take a cautious approach and is not calling the new system a hybrid, nor are they including the motor’s assistance in the 182 horsepower or 172 lb-ft torque numbers. The ES350, on the other hand, is inexplicably unavailable as a hybrid.

The addition of a battery and motor alone didn’t achieve the 25 MPG city and 36 MPG highway numbers – the Lacrosse eAssist relies on  active grille shutters, altered gear ratios, low rolling resistance tires, a new trunk spoiler, and aero improvements under the car to help get these numbers. The combination of eAssist and the other improvements are what increase the all-important combined economy score from 23 mpg to a 29 mpg. The highway figure of 36 mpg is possible due to the new final drive ratio, which allows the 2.4L engine to spin at a leisurely 2,000 RPM at 70MPH. Without eAssist, this would be a problem upon encountering a slight rise in the terrain as GM’s 6-speed auto is notoriously reluctant to down shift. Fortunately, the 79lb-ft of torque provided by the BAS motor enables the LaCrosse to deal with freeway overpasses and gentle rolling hills without downshifting or slowing. In comparison, the Acura TL delivers 20/29 MPG, the ES350 is less efficient at 19/28 and the Lincoln MKS rounds out the bottom of this pack at 17/25. The Buick is by far the least powerful in this group and some might rightly compare it to Lincoln’s premium hybrid, the MKZ, which returns 41/36 MPG, but the MKZ is a smaller vehicle.


Our LaCrosse averaged 29.9MPG during our 674 mile week with the car. While the start/stop system helped keep the LaCrosse from sipping fuel at stoplights, the system has to idle the engine to run the air conditioning so your mileage in hotter climates is likely to vary considerably. If you value MPGs over cool air, there’s an “ECO” button which tells the car to sacrifice cabin cooling in the name of efficiency. The transmission is fairly smooth, but to aid energy-regeneration, the 6-speed unit is programmed to be as eager to downshift when slowing as it is to upshift when accelerating. No matter what the engine and transmission are doing, the cabin remains eerily quiet due to some extensive work on the sound insulation. This car isn’t just quiet for a near-luxury car, it’s quiet for any car, period. Serenity does have a downside, as my better half was quite put off by the engine start/stops and downshifts when stopping, which were made somewhat more prominent by the silence. Personally, they didn’t bother me at all so be sure to get in a good road test before you live with the car.


On the tech front, our LaCrosse was equipped with the standard 8-inch touchscreen radio and optional navigation system. I found the user interface considerably easier to use than the system in the Cadillac CTS, and was amused by graphics and colors reminiscent of Star Trek The Next Generation. Buyers not willing to spend $1,345 on the optional nav system, can still get turn-by-turn directions via OnStar, although only the first 6 months of the service are free. iPhone and iPod integration are easy to use, and the user interface is very responsive. Unfortunately the maze of physical buttons are not as intuitive as the on-screen menus. Even after a week, I was unable to stab a button in the dark without taking my eyes off the road. Buick offers blind-spot monitoring on the LaCrosse in a $1,440 “confidence package” which also includes steering xenon headlamps and GM’s vacuum-fluorescent heads up display. You can see some images of the HUD in the gallery below. The monochrome display shows basic navigation instructions, speed and a digital tach but falls well short of the polish BMW’s HUD possesses. Absent at any price is adaptive cruise control or collision warning, features available in a majority of the competition including the ES350.

Out on the road the LaCrosse handles just like you’d expect from 3,835lbs of Buick; it squats, dives and serves up plenty of body roll in the corners, but then again so do the Lexus, Hyundai Azera and Lincoln MKS. If you want sporty and can handle the looks, roll into an Acura dealership for a TL. Buick has set pricing for the LaCrosse eAssist at $29,045 for the base model. Should you step up to the “LaCrosse with Convenience Group” at $29,600, you can choose between the 303 HP V6 or the eAssist drivetrain for the same price. AWD LaCrosse models are available only with the 3.6L engine. While Buick is quick to call the engines choice a “no-cost option”, the eAssist base model is $2,830 more than last year’s base four-cylinder model. At essentially 30-large, the base eAssist LaCrosse compares favorably with the $36,725 base price of the ES350.

As our week with the LaCrosse ended I was more confused about eAssist than I was when it started. This confusion has nothing to do with the actual system itself which worked flawlessly and had a decent impact on fuel economy, it had everything to do with GM’s naming conventions. Somehow I’m not be surprised that the first hybrid viable hybrid from GM, mild or otherwise, would receive little fanfare. While the LaCrosse will never set your heart alight with excitement, it combines an excellent ride, cabin noise levels that Rolls Royce engineers are probably trying to replicate and decent fuel economy with a $35,195 as tested MSRP. While I’d probably still buy the more expensive ES350 ($41,240 similarly equipped), the Buick is a solid product with decent mileage at a compelling price.

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

Specifications as tested

0-30 MPH: 2.8 Seconds

0-60 MPH: 7.9 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 16.22 Seconds at 85.7 MPH

Average Fuel Economy: 29.9 MPG over 674 miles

2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Exterior, side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Exterior, side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Exterior, side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Exterior, front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Exterior, front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Exterior, wheels, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Exterior, ventiports, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Exterior, front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Exterior, rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Exterior, rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Exterior, front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Interior, trunk, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Interior, rear seat folded, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Interior, battery cooling, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Exterior, spare tire well, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Exterior, front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Exterior, front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Exterior, front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Exterior, front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Exterior, rear 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Exterior, side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Exterior, grille, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Exterior, ventiports, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Exterior, front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Interior, fuel economy, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Interior, tach, auto stop, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Interior, tach, auto stop, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Interior, infotainment screen, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Interior, center console, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Interior, HUD heads-up display, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Interior, HUD heads-up display, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Interior, HUD heads-up display, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Interior, HUD heads-up display, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Interior, HUD heads-up display, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Interior, infotainment controls, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Interior, infotainment screen, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Interior, ambient lighting, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Interior, ambient lighting, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Interior, ambient lighting, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Interior, passenger's side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Interior, passenger's side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Interior, dash controls, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Interior, headlamp and HUD controls, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Interior, radio and HVAC controls, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Interior, shifter, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Interior, gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Interior, window switches, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Interior, rear seat HVAC, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Interior, steering wheel controls, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Interior, steering wheel controls, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Interior, dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Interior, driver's side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Interior, rear seat, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Interior, rear seat, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Interior, rear seat, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist system, Picture courtesy of General Motors buick-lacrosse-thumb Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

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Review: 2011 Dodge Charger R/T Take Two http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/07/review-2011-dodge-charger-rt-take-two/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/07/review-2011-dodge-charger-rt-take-two/#comments Thu, 07 Jul 2011 10:36:45 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=401752 I have had a love affair with Chrysler that defies logic for years. Back in 1988 my parents had one of the [then] new Chrysler minivans. (Yes, I know a love affair that starts with a minivan has to be unhealthy.) When it came time for me to buy my first car, I had my […]

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I have had a love affair with Chrysler that defies logic for years. Back in 1988 my parents had one of the [then] new Chrysler minivans. (Yes, I know a love affair that starts with a minivan has to be unhealthy.) When it came time for me to buy my first car, I had my eye on a very lightly used  1997 Eagle Vision TSi, then came a brand new 2000 Chrysler LHS, the very pinnacle of the Iacocca years in many ways.Large, FWD, competitive. Then Mercedes came on the scene promising to “synergize” the product development and lineup. The plan sounded good and had a promising start with the Chrysler Pacifica and the Chrysler 300 HEMI C convertible concept which looked so hot I wanted to have ovaries implanted so I could carry its children. Ultimately however the production 300 turned out to be one of the bigger disappointments due to its plastactular interior. Since then, Chrysler had been trying to see how many vehicles can be built from the Chrysler 300. Chrysler soon created the EU-only Chrysler 300 wagon, Dodge Magnum, Dodge Charger and Dodge Challenger to join the 300 sedan. Problem was; there was only enough cash around for a few nice interiors or half a dozen chintzy boxes. Guess which Chrysler chose?

When the Dodge Charger became available in the press fleet, Michael Karesh and I decided to try one out, read his take here. Prior to its arrival I told myself I needed to keep my expectations suitably low, the last rental Dodge Magnum I drove made me want to put my eyes out. Every car buff has heard about the dreadful interiors coming out of Auburn Hills for the past few years, so I won’t dwell on them. Suffice it to say when the Dodge arrived I told myself as I was signing the paperwork “as long as the interior doesn’t look like a Rubbermaid tub I’ll be happy.” Not only were my expectations exceeded, but they were exceeded by a margin I didn’t think Chrysler was capable of anymore.  One slip behind the wheel and I was greeted by squishy plastics, suitably retro gauges, a leather wrapped steering wheel and a ginormous nav screen.

The only negative I found upon first inspection of the new interior was the large metallic/plastic/what-the-heck-is-that?? trim that dominates the driver’s side of the dash. I appreciate the ­­­­­ retro vibe, but the fit and finish just didn’t seem up to the rest of the interior, which is a pity as other than that the interior is finally, and firmly, class competitive. With every step forward must come a bean counter, and that guy was allowed to ditch the Mercedes style keyfob for something that likely comes with a $2,500 Tata Nano. For shame. At least if you opt for keyless go, nobody ever has to see it except you and the lining in your pocket.

Back on the outside, the familiar brash form of the previous Charger is still there but a tad softer. The Charger still screams “American performance”. The grill is suitably brash and the “Toxic Orange” paint our press loaner arrived in would be perfect in a modern day remake of the Dukes of Hazard. The result is a polarizing one; passengers either loved or hated the look, and that’s important for Dodge’s future: many of their best products in the past have elicited similar reactions from shoppers and I hope that never changes.

One push of the start button and the Charger R/T’s main selling point roars to life: the 5.7L HEMI. This V8 beast cranks out 370 ponies and 395 ft-lbs of twist in a segment where a 268 HP Toyota Avalon is considered near the top of the pack. This feature alone sets the tone for the Charger experience like no other. Balancing out those extra ponies is about 700 extra pounds vs the Avalon. Despite the weight difference, our 4,319lb bright orange tester ran to 60 in 5.4 seconds, considerably faster than the 6.2 seconds we managed in the Toyota Avalon we tested last year. Since Chrysler has not fitted the Charger with a fun-sapping brake/accelerator interlock, burnouts are both easy and deliciously fun.

Balancing out the Delta-rocket style thrust the 5.7V Hemi produces are lackluster seats, hard and narrow rubber on the stock wheels and some unexciting fuel economy. The front seats offer no lateral support what-so-ever as the 2011 R/T’s “Road & Track” package no longer includes the SRT seats like the 2010 package did. The stock tires and wheels which are both narrow and lack grip add insult to the slip-and-slide. Luckily the aftermarket has many a solution for the rubber/wheel issue but the seat upgrade will set you back some serious cash, and keep in mind that modern seats have occupant sensors for the airbag system. It’s a shame there is seemingly no factory solution for this problem. Perhaps less of an issue for buyers is the 5.7L HEMI’s fuel economy. Rated at 16/25, our real world economy varied a great deal more than the Avalon. On a flat highway we averaged 27MPG for a 40 mile journey at 65MPH, but my daily commute up and over the Santa Cruz Mountains pushed our 750-mile average down to 18.9MPG, a commute on which the Avalon had scored a 22MPG average.

As you can imagine with such a larger car, headroom is excellent both front and rear. A lunch time trip with five healthy Americans proved as easy and as comfortable as you can find this side of a Mercedes S-Class. In a car this big, you’d expect a big booty, but the smallish trunk lid foreshadows the decidedly mid-size trunk which at 15.4 cu-ft is 7 percent smaller than a Ford Fusion’s cargo spot and only 15 percent bigger than that of the compact Ford Focus. In general, the full-size car label no longer guarantees large luggage capacity. So on paper, the Charger’s smallish trunk is fairly competitive with the likes of the Toyota Avalon (14.4) and Hyundai Genesis (15.9). Compared to the other ‘mericans, the Buick Lucerne boasts 17 cu-ft, and the Ford Taurus’s ginormous booty will schlep 25 percent more warehouse store bagels in a 20.1 cu-ft trunk. On the flip side, the rear seats fold down to reveal a large pass-thru and the wide and fairly flat rear seats make three baby seats across a tight but entirely doable adventure.

For the last decade or so, Chrysler had been well behind the pack when it came to electronic gadgets and decent navigation systems. Fortunately as we have seen in the new Journey, the tide has finally changed. Even the base Charger SE receives Chrysler’s new uConnect 4.3 system which grafts a 4.3-inch touch-screen LCD to the basic radio features.

The base system allows easier browsing of iPods and USB devices than competitor’s systems without a full featured LCD like Lucerne and Avalon. Anyone stepping up from the SE model (which will be most buyers) will be treated to the uConnect 8.4 system (with an 8.4-inch touch-screen LCD) with or without navigation. Chrysler decided to eschew button proliferation making functions like heated seat and steering wheel controls available only within the uConnect interface. The result is a clean dash that is easy to navigate.

Speaking of that 8.4-inch screen, it’s another completely unexpected feature of the new Charger. At 8.4-inches, the screen is large by any measure and includes nice touches like an oleophobic coating so your fingerprints aren’t visible and a strong backlight making the system very readable even in bright sunlight. The system’s graphics are far more visually pleasing to my eye than the new Ford My Touch system, and unlike MyTouch, the system was incredibly responsive and it never crashed. Menus are laid out fairly logically and the available nav system is as easy to use as any hand-held Garmin. This is entirely because uConnect uses an integrated Garmin system for navigation. Unfortunately, neither Chrysler nor Garmin seems to have made voice commands available for entering a destination, leaving you to risk distraction while manually entering the address on-screen. Also missing in uConnect is voice command of your USB music device or iPod ala Ford Sync and My Touch. Ford’s My Touch may be slow and crash frequently, but its functionality has become the bar by which other systems are measured. In this light, uConnect falls short. To be fair, BMW’s iDrive, Audi’s MMI, and Mercedes’ COMMAND (which cost significantly more) also fall short of the MyTouch system in terms of access to your tunes. My local dealer hasn’t been told what map updates will be like, hopefully they will be easy and cheap like the rest of the Garmin lineup. Checkout our YouTube overview to see uConnect in action:

Speaking of that iPod integration, the system refused to recognize playlists on my iPhone 4, albums on my iPod classic, and it occasionally refused to connect to my 1st generation USB iPod. I am told that Chrysler is working on the software bug but I haven’t heard of any final fixes as of June 2011.

Let’s talk value. With a starting MSRP of $30,395 for the Charger R/T (minus the inevitable cash on the hood), the Charger is the cheapest V8 sedan in America. With the Mustang GT starting only a grand less, depending on the deal you work, the Charger could just be the cheapest new car in America with a V8, period. The green in the crowd will of course deride the gas guzzling nature of high cylinder counts, but I think the cheap V8 theme is something Chrysler should hang onto.

How does the competition stack up? Well, if this was 1971 instead of 2011, there would be more competition in the full-size RWD non-luxury sedan segment. With the demise of Pontiac and the Holden derived G8, the Hyundai Genesis is the only non-Chrysler RWD product in this price range and I’m not sure Charger shoppers are cross-shopping that wannabe-Lexus. Our R/T tester rang in at $38,110 essentially fully loaded with radar cruise control, heated steering wheel, navigation and backup camera. This is about $5,000 off the Genesis’ $43,000 single flavor pricing. Admittedly, the Genesis delivers the promise of greater reliability and a more luxurious interior, but I’d still call the Charger a name-defying good deal.

On the FWD front, we have the V8 Lucerne Super for $42,220. I need say nothing more about the Buick other than: yes, it is your father’s FWD V8 Buick. From the land of the rising sun we have the Toyota Avalon with an interior that is more inviting and an exterior style that is far from polarizing. If you want the car that checks all your boxes but elicits little passion, the Avalon is the perfect $38,645 driveway accessory.

Perhaps the most appropriate competition for the Charger, and the biggest impediment to its success can be found in the Ford Taurus and the Charger’s own cousin, the Chrysler 300C. The 300C is to my eye the better looking vehicle inside and out and in my informal cost comparison is essentially the same price at $38,170 (so much for Chrysler clawing their way up-market). Compared to the Taurus SHO however (starting price of $38,155 and $43,900 when equipped comparably to the AWD version of our Charger R/T tester at $39,328), the Charger lacks the full-size cargo capacity, bevy of electronic doo-dads like massaging seats, voice command of most features and the more luxurious interior of the Ford. Ford’s EcoBoost V6 may also be the superior engine with its broad power band capable of matching our observed 5.5 second run to 60 in the Charger, but it lacks that sultry V8 burble. At the end of the day, while I would probably pay the extra five-grand to step into the SHO, I have to admit a large, soft, RWD sedan is all kinds of fun, and for that reason alone the Charger might finally make sense.

2011 Dodge Charger R/T. Picture courtesy Alex Dykes 2011 Dodge Charger R/T. Picture courtesy Alex Dykes 2011 Dodge Charger R/T. Picture courtesy Alex Dykes 2011 Dodge Charger R/T. Picture courtesy Alex Dykes IMG_2513 2011 Dodge Charger R/T. Picture courtesy Alex Dykes IMG_2511 2011 Dodge Charger R/T. Picture courtesy Alex Dykes IMG_2509 IMG_2508 IMG_2506 IMG_2505 IMG_2504 2011 Dodge Charger R/T. Picture courtesy Alex Dykes IMG_2501 IMG_2500 IMG_2499 IMG_2498 IMG_2497 2011 Dodge Charger R/T. Picture courtesy Alex Dykes 2011 Dodge Charger R/T. Picture courtesy Alex Dykes 2011 Dodge Charger R/T. Picture courtesy Alex Dykes 2011 Dodge Charger R/T. Picture courtesy Alex Dykes IMG_2472 2011 Dodge Charger R/T. Picture courtesy Alex Dykes IMG_2470 doge_charger_thumb Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

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Requiem for the A5 Jetta http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/09/requiem-for-the-a5-jetta/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/09/requiem-for-the-a5-jetta/#comments Tue, 28 Sep 2010 17:35:40 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=367066 We’ve seen the writing on the wall for a while: VW is dead set on finally making a profit in North America. In order be profitable, VW has to cut the manufacturing cost of its vehicles. As the Phaeton’s fate showed, America just isn’t ready for a VW that comes with sticker shock as a […]

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We’ve seen the writing on the wall for a while: VW is dead set on finally making a profit in North America. In order be profitable, VW has to cut the manufacturing cost of its vehicles. As the Phaeton’s fate showed, America just isn’t ready for a VW that comes with sticker shock as a standard accessory. With the new “economized” 2011 Jetta in the wings, VW tossed us the keys to a 2010 Jetta TDI Cup Street Edition for a week as a farewell to the A5.

For those not familiar with VW’s TDI Cup racing series:  It’s a single-make racing series sanctioned by the Sports Car Club of America in 2008. The series is exclusive to North America and features modified 2009 VW Jetta TDIs being driven by 16-26 year olds. Harkening back to the simple days of stock car racing, the prizes are a modest $50,000 and “career advancement support” of $100,000, less the $45,000 entry fee charged by VW and the killer with teens behind the wheel: they bill you for damage to the car you drive.

With the series an apparent success, (despite the fact that nobody I spoke to had ever heard of it) VW decided that buyers in North America needed a TDI Cup car in their driveway. Coincidentally, manufacturers start releasing “special editions” of their cars in their autumn years as a raceway way of saying: this model is off to the knackers yard soon. With the GLI now unavailable, VW needed a boy-racer car to fill the gap. In their attempt to spur sales however, VW has fixed all the little items that were never wrong with the “old” Jetta.

The TDI Cup can be distinguished from its lesser brothers by the great gaping maw in the front bumper. It comes with a rear spoiler, side skirts, red painted brakes, large 18” wheels and a supersized price tag. It’s no wonder you can’t configure the Jetta TDI Cup on VW’s web site, you really need to be somewhere where you can be observed having a heart attack so that the kind VW dealer can call 911 for you. Our TDI Cup rang in at a jaw dropping $31,113. You would think that for this price you would at least get leather, but you’d be wrong. You think you’d get some sport seats from the GTI, but you’d be wrong there too. Also not included in the TDI Cup is the engine used in the racing series. Instead of the 170HP 2.0L diesel, the TDI Cup skates by with the standard 140HP / 236lb-ft engine from the regular Jetta TDI. I could understand the decision to use the lower output oil burner if the series’ engine was a one-off, but it’s sold in the EU in a number of different VW models. What gives?

For some reason, auto journalists always wax poetic about the Jetta. The handling is praised, the interior is for some reason always lauded as 99 percent  of an Audi at Wienerschnitzel prices, but when I get in one I have to ask: Why?

Don’t get me wrong, the A5 Jetta is a good place to be, inside and out, but it’s not perfection, and it does not possess an interior worth $31,113. Even the base price of $24,990 without destination charge seems steep for what you get. At least you get a tiny A/C vent in your glovebox that keeps your schnitzel cold.

Out on the road the Jetta does redeem itself with an excellent driving position and feel. The steering is spot on and the steering wheel is a joy to hold with high quality control buttons. The same cannot be said of the latest VW radio however. Its operation is clunky at best. This clash between well executed and slightly off base defines the personality of the TDI Cup car. It looks fast but isn’t, its suspension handles well but VW shod the wheels with some cheap rubber which limits grip. The 6-speed DSG transmission (as tested) is however a willing partner at all times. It seems that VW has worked out some of the kinks from the earlier DSG units as there were only a few moments where you could tell it wasn’t your ordinary slushbox. Starts are smooth, hill starts are confident and it never hunts for gears like many econo-boxes. Our average mileage after a long week of mixed city and highway driving was 40.1MPG – which is downright excellent.

On the Autocross track, the Jetta TDI Cup is a hoot, the handling is self-assured, and having driven one with summer tires instead of the all-seasons our tester was equipped with, I can say it carves corners almost like a GTI. This of course makes sense as the Jetta TDI Cup is essentially a diesel GLI. In a race like the TDI Cup where everyone is driving the same diesel car, speed is unimportant; it’s all down to accuracy in the corners and driver skill. Aye, there’s the rub again: the Jetta TDI is an excellent car, but a sports car for the modern American it is not. The problem keeps coming back to power. Yes, it carves corners with aplomb, but when you exit that turn you’re left with a planted right foot and little scoot. On the race track, this is fine if everyone is in the same boat, but on the American highway drivers will soon discover that Camrys and Accords will outgun your schnitzel-racer every day of the week.

As our week with the Jetta drew to a close, the 2011 Jetta was introduced in San Francisco. I would like to say I am sad to see the A5 Jetta era draw to a close, but if this is the pinnacle, then bring on the New Compact Sedan. With a lower price tag, more of what Americans say they want and new 200HP Jetta GLI promised for next year, I doubt many of these expensive limited edition Jetta Cups will fly off the shelf. At the end of the day, the market spoke, VW listened and we get what we asked for. Of course if you really wanted the best diesel sports sedan for your $32K, just visit the Audi dealer and get an A3 TDI.

Readers who are following TTAC on Facebook were given the opportunity to ask reader questions of the Jetta TDI Cup. If you would like to ask questions of car reviews in progress, or just follow TTAC, checkout our facebook page. FB fans, here are your answers: Aamir: jackrabbit starts didn’t impact the economy as much as I thought, about a 3.5MPG toll on average. Mike F: I was unable to get the DSG to stall, on gravel, wet grass, dry road surfaces and dirt, not sure what C&D did or if VW fixed the issue. David B: Yes it is the middle road between the GTI and the Golf TDI, but for the price the A3 TDI is the better buy.

Volkswagen provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of diesel for this review.

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