The Truth About Cars » Four-Cylinder http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Sun, 19 Oct 2014 11:58:25 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Four-Cylinder http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Review: 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/review-2014-honda-accord-hybrid-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/review-2014-honda-accord-hybrid-with-video/#comments Fri, 14 Feb 2014 14:00:43 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=707986 Now and then you run into a car that just “fits”. It’s like finding a perfect shoe, or a comfy smoking jacket. Until now I have been keeping my secret love on the down-low for several reasons. First off, I’ve always thought having a “favorite car” tends to color one’s judgment when comparing cars, so […]

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2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-001

Now and then you run into a car that just “fits”. It’s like finding a perfect shoe, or a comfy smoking jacket. Until now I have been keeping my secret love on the down-low for several reasons. First off, I’ve always thought having a “favorite car” tends to color one’s judgment when comparing cars, so I try to avoid such statements. Secondly, my dalliance with my automotive flame was fleeting. As most of us know, one-night-stands rarely hold up to the scrutiny of a long-term relationship. And lastly, coming out as a hybrid-lover has been difficult. When folks ask me “what was the best car you drove in 2013?” and my answer is “the 2014 Accord Hybrid,” they stare at me like I have three eyeballs.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

The Accord is the mid-size sedan least likely to offend. While some call the tall greenhouse and upright proportions boring, I found them to be elegant and restrained. Indeed the Accord’s side profile reminds me a great deal of former Lexus products, a similarity that was shared by passengers during the week. Several passers by even confused the Accord with a Lexus ES. This is good news for Honda but bad news for Lexus.

Up front the Accord Hybrid wears blue-tinted versions of the regular Accord’s grille and headlamps instead of the Plug-In Accord’s enormous maw. Our Limited trim model was equipped with LED headlamps but lesser trims have to get by with halogen bulbs. Out back the restrained styling continues with hidden exhaust tips, clean lines and plenty of LEDs in the tail lamps. While there are plenty of mid-size sedans out there, the hybrid market is limited to the Accord, Camry, Fusion, Optima and Sonata. In that lineup, I find the Fusion the best looking with the Accord in a solid second place and the refreshed Optima taking third.

2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Interior-002

Interior

Like the gas-only Accord, the hybrid sports a double-bump style dashboard. The first “bump” houses the same tweaked instrument cluster as the Accord plug-in with a large analog speedometer, no tachometer, LED gauges for battery/fuel and a power meter. Inside the speedo is a circular full-color LCD used for the trip computer, secondary nav instructions (if so equipped) and other vehicle information. Housed in the second “bump” is a standard 8-inch infotainment display.

Front seat comfort has long been a Honda strong suit and the Accord is no different with thickly padded and ergonomically designed thrones. The seats are lightly (and widely) bolstered so larger drivers and passengers shouldn’t have a problem finding a comfortable seating position. Because the EX trim of the gas Accord serves as the “feature donor car” for the Hybrid, all models get adjustable lumbar support, 10-way power driver’s seat, dual-zone climate control, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, standard Bluetooth, a backup camera, keyless entry/go and active noise cancellation.

2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Instrument Cluster-001

Thanks to the tall green house and complete lack of “four-door-coupé” styling cues, the Accord’s rear seats are the best in the segment. On paper there’s nothing extraordinary about the rear cabin dimension. The truth is in the sitting. The Accord’s rear seats are more comfortable than a Camry and roomier than an Optima or Sonata. The seat back angle is also the most upright of the bunch allowing easier entry and exit when compared to the reclined Fusion. That reclined rear seat is how the Fusion manages to match the Accord when it comes to inches of head room, but the Accord’s rear compartment is far more accommodating.

As with most hybrids, there’s a trunk penalty to be paid. Thanks to energy dense Lithium-ion cells, the Accord only drops 3 cubic feet to 12.7 cubic feet, and I had no problem jamming six 24-inch roller bags in the trunk. The Li-ion cells mean the gas-only Accord’s smallish trunk translates in to a roomy storage area compared to the other hybrids. Sadly everyone else has managed to preserve some sort of cargo pass-through to the trunk while Honda decided to kill it. Honda wouldn’t say what the reason was, but judging by the battery position there was still room for a cargo slot capable of handling a surf board. Call that an opportunity lost.

2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Infotainment-002

Infotainment

Base models use physical buttons to control the standard 8-inch LCD in the dash, while up-level Accords get the two-screen layout you see above. Bluetooth, SMS voice messaging, Pandora smartphone integration and USB/iDevice control are all standard on base models as is a 6-speaker, 160-watt sound system. The 8-inch LCD handles all infotainment interactions in this base system from playlist browsing to phone dialing. Honda integrates their active noise cancellation technology into the head unit, so keep that in mind if you plan to swap into an after-market unit.

I suspect that most shoppers will opt for the mid-level “EX-L” which adds a subwoofer, 360 watt amp, and a 6-inch touchscreen for audio system controls. For reasons I don’t understand, the touchscreen is surrounded by “sparkly” plastic that looks like someone tossed in some glitter in the last moments of the plastics process. In an otherwise expertly executed cabin this “easter egg” seems out-of-place. This dual-screen setup struck me as half-baked when I first sampled it, and although I think it could still use a few minutes in the oven, I have warmed up to it. Voice commands are easy to use, the system’s layout is intuitive and responsiveness to commands is excellent. However, I still don’t understand why you use the touchscreen for changing tracks and sources, but you have to use the knob and upper screen for changing playlists. I also think it’s a pity that navigation isn’t sold as a stand alone option as you have to pony up $34,905 for the Touring trim to get it.

Front Wheel Drive Biased

Drivetrain

In many ways the Accord Hybrid shares more design themes with the Fisker Karma than a Toyota Prius. Up till now, mainstream hybrids used one of two systems, either an electro/mechanical power split device designed around a planetary gearset like the Ford, Toyota and GM Voltec hybrids, or they sandwich an electric motor between the engine and transmission (Honda, Kia/Hyundai, Mercedes, VW and everyone else). Honda went back to the drawing board and designed a true serial hybrid – as long as you stay under 44 mph. Things start out on the drawing above with a 2.0L, 141 horsepower engine mated directly to a motor/generator that is capable of generating approximately 141 horsepower (Honda won’t release details on certain drivetrain internals so that’s an educated guess). Honda says this is the most thermodynamically efficient four-cylinder engine in production, a title I have no reason to doubt. Next we have a 166 horsepower, 226 lb-ft motor connected to the front wheels via a fixed gear ratio. Under 44 miles per hour, this is all you need to know about the system. The 166 horsepower motor powers the car alone, drawing power from either a 1.3 kWh lithium-ion battery pack, or the engine via the generator and the power control circuitry. Over 44 miles per hour, the system chooses one of two modes depending on which is most efficient at the time. The system can engage a clutch pack to directly connect the motor and generator units together allowing engine power to flow directly to the wheels via that fixed gear ratio, or it can keep operating in serial mode.

When the Accord Hybrid engages the clutch to allow the engine to power the wheels directly (mechanically), power is flowing via a single fixed ratio gear set. The fixed gear ratio is somewhere around a typical 6th gear in terms of gear ratio. This improves efficiency at highway speeds because there is always some loss in power conversion from the generator to the motor. The single ratio is the reason the system must use in serial hybrid mode below 44 mph. There is another side effect at play here as well: below 44 MPH, the system’s maximum power output is 166 horsepower and rises to 196 when the clutch is engaged.

2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-005

Pricing

Starting at $29,155, the Accord Hybrid is nearly $4,000 more than the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid. However, the Accord delivers a high level of standard equipment dropping the real margin to around $1,900. Instead of stand alone options, Honda offers just three trim levels. The next step is the $31,905 EX-L model which adds leather seats, a leather steering wheel, upgraded audio system with two LCD screens, memory driver’s seat, power passenger seat, moonroof, a camera based collision warning system and lane departure warning. While the base model fares poorly in direct cross-shops, the EX-L is a decent value, coming in essentially the same price as a comparably equipped Sonata, Fusion or Optima.

Work your way up to the top-of-the-line $34,905 Touring and you get full LED headlamps, navigation, XM Radio, an adaptive cruise control system and a snazzier backup cam. Although that’s more than a top trim Camry ($32,015), Sonata ($32,395) or Optima ($31,950), the Honda packs more features and when you adjust for the features missing in the competition the difference drops to a few hundred dollars. Meanwhile the Fusion wins the award for the most expensive in this segment at $37,200 with only a few features not found on the Accord.

2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-004

Drive

The Accord Hybrid’s impressive 50/45/47 MPG EPA rating (City/Highway/Combined) is even more impressive when you look at some of Honda’s design choices. First off all hybrid trims get tires one size wider (225/50R17 vs 215/55R17) than the gas-only Accord to compensate for the 230 lb weight increase. Secondly Honda chose to trickle-down Acura’s two-mode damper technology into the Accord. These two choices define how the car feels out on the road with the Accord barely nudging the Fusion out of first place when it comes to overall on-road performance. The Fusion Hybrid Titanium provides better overall grip, but the Accord has better poise and the two-mode dampers operate as advertised yielding to highway imperfections but maintaining a crisp feel on winding back roads. The take away from this is that the hybrid version of the Accord provides the best balance of grip and poise in the Accord lineup while all other manufacturers make you pay a handling penalty (albeit slight in the Ford) for the improved mileage numbers. Meanwhile the Sonata, Optima and Camry designers swapped in 205 width tires for reduced rolling resistance resulting in those hybrid models handling more like value-priced base entries.

After driving Ford’s latest hybrids, I was skeptical of Honda’s fuel economy claims. The last 47MPG Ford we tested ran between 39.5 and 41 MPG over 560 gingerly-driven miles. Keeping in mind that my commute is hilly and highway heavy I had expected the Accord’s numbers to suffer in relation as the Accord’s highway figure is 2 MPG lower than the Ford. I was wrong. I actually averaged better economy during my week with the Accord than I did at the launch event set in the Texas flat-lands (47.8 vs 45.9.) I attribute some of the difference to final tweaking of the software by Honda and some of the difference to California’s milder climate. The numbers struck me as so good I spent three days driving, filling, driving, filling only to discover the fuel economy was spot on. It is at this point I am surprised that Honda chose not to offer some sort of “eco” trim with skinny low rolling resistance tires, grille shutters and a weight loss regime for more even impressive numbers.

Honda’s new hybrid system switches between modes more smoothly than the Sonata and Optima and on-par with the Toyota and Ford systems. The smooth transitions are a good thing since the Accord spends far more time switching between EV and gasoline operating modes on level highways between 55 and 65 MPH. The system will charge the battery up, turn off the engine and run EV until the battery drops to a point that it needs to be recharged. This is different from the others that generally run engine only once you’re on the highway. Honda swiped the Accord’s brake design from their hydrogen Clarity sedan and it is easily the best I have ever driven. Stops are linear without the “grabby” feel you get in Toyota hybrid models if you transition rapidly from mild to moderate braking. Downhill driving in the Accord is also a vast improvement. Most hybrids transition to engine or 100% friction braking when the battery is full but Honda has a trick up their sleeve. Because of the Accord’s design Honda is able to continue using the traction motor to provide braking assistance. Once the battery is full, the software shuttles this energy over to the generator unit and consumes it by spinning the engine. This results in the most consistent braking feel of any hybrid so far.

2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-010

The Accord Hybrid drives like an EV below 44 MPH, much like a charged Chevy Volt and in sharp contrast to the Ford and Toyota hybrids. This is of course because the Accord’s electric motor is the only thing that can motivate the car below this speed. Because of the nature of this drivetrain, there there is definite non-linear relationship between the engine and the wheels. Press the throttle down and the engine catches up in a while, climb a hill and the engine will vary between a wail and a dull roar. While I’m sure that will bother some folks, I don’t mind the noises cars with CVTs make and this Accord is no different. Likely due to come software tweaks since I first drove it, 0-60 times dropped a few tenths to 7.0 seconds flat putting the Accord near the top of the pack in acceleration.

The Touring model Honda lent me featured all of Honda’s latest safety gadgets from the Lane Watch system that displays your right-side blind spot on the car’s 8-inch LCD. I honestly found Lane Watch to be a little gimmicky, even after having experienced it several times before. In a car with limited visibility it might be more useful, but the Accord’s large greenhouse and low beltline give it the best visibility in the segment. Touring trim also gets you a full speed-range radar adaptive cruise control with pre-collision warning. Honda’s radar cruise control isn’t the worst on the market but neither is it the best. The system brakes sharply, reacts slowly to traffic speeding up ahead of you and when you set a speed the car dips 5-6 MPH before accelerating back up to the speed you were driving when you hit the button.

2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-008

With all the numbers tallied the Accord Hybrid is an easy winner. It is more expensive than the competition but that delta shrinks when you account for feature content. The delta becomes immaterial however when you look at our average fuel economy numbers of 47.8 MPG in the Accord and 30 to mid-30s in all of the competition (including that 47 MPG Fusion.) Honda’s hybrid has the best road manners in the pack, the most composed ride, a comfy back seat and a quiet cabin. On my tally list, the Accord’s driving dynamics, fuel economy, performance and comfort more than outweigh my complaints about the cruise control and dual-screen infotainment system.

Being on the down-low, my former last word on the Accord was “The Accord may not be the best looking hybrid on sale, (for me that’s still the Ford Fusion) but the Accord’s simple lines and unexpectedly high fuel economy make the Honda a solid option. Being the gadget hound I am, I think I would still buy the Fusion, but only in the more expensive Titanium trim. If you’re not looking that high up the food chain, the Accord Hybrid is quite simply the best fuel sipping mid-size anything. Prius included.” But now I’ve decided it’s time to come clean. I’d take the Hybrid Accord period. No exceptions, no hair splitting.

 

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

Specifications as tested:

0-30: 2.8 Seconds

0-60: 7.0 Seconds

Cabin noise at 50 MPH: 69 db

Average Observed Fuel Economy: 47.8 MPG over 835 miles.

 

2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Drivetrain 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Drivetrain-001 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-001 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-002 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-003 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-004 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-005 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-006 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-007 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-008 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-009 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-010 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-011 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-012 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-013 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Infotainment 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Infotainment-001 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Infotainment-002 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Instrument Cluster 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Instrument Cluster-001 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Interior 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Interior-001 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Interior-002 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Interior-003 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Interior-004 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Interior-005 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Interior-006 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Interior-007 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Interior-008

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Twincharging Is Volvo’s Replacement For Displacement http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/twincharging-is-volvos-replacement-for-displacement/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/twincharging-is-volvos-replacement-for-displacement/#comments Wed, 29 Jan 2014 14:00:53 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=724490 Engine downsizing is all the rage. Making the engine smaller increases fuel efficiency, reduces emissions and cuts vehicle weight. With ever tightening fuel economy legislation in the United States and CO2 emissions regulation in the European Union, mainline manufacturers are turning to turbochargers like never before. In 2009 just 5% of cars sold in America […]

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Volvo Drive-E Engine, 2.0L twincharged, Picturre courtesy of Volvo

Engine downsizing is all the rage. Making the engine smaller increases fuel efficiency, reduces emissions and cuts vehicle weight. With ever tightening fuel economy legislation in the United States and CO2 emissions regulation in the European Union, mainline manufacturers are turning to turbochargers like never before. In 2009 just 5% of cars sold in America sported turbos, and that 5% consisted largely of European brands like Volvo and BMW with a long history of forced induction. By 2013 that number had more than doubled to 13%. Honeywell expects the number to rise to 25% in the next four years and the EPA tells me that by 2025 they expect 90% of cars sold in America to sport a turbo engine. With turbos becoming so ordinary, what’s a turbo pioneer like Volvo do to keep a competitive edge? Add a supercharger of course.

I recently had the opportunity to sample the new Volvo V60 (expect a first drive review shortly) but the star of the show wasn’t the car itself, it’s what’s under the hood. New engine designs are truly a rarity in the automotive world with engines being tweaked over time to keep them fresh. Volvo’s own modular engine found under the hood of most Swedish cars (and the occasional Focus RS) turned 24 years old this year, but it’s a spring chicken compared to the Rolls Royce L series 6.75L engine that dates back to 1952. Being the engine nerd I am, I spent a new hours with Volvo’s powertrain engineer discussing their new “Drive E” engine family.

Volvo’s new engine family is primarily a clean sheet design, although many design components are descendants of the old “modular” engine family. The line consists of four different variants dubbed T3, T4, T5 and T6. As before, T indicates turbocharged but now the number represents power output rather than the number of cylinders involved. Yes, this is the death knell for Volvo’s funky 5-cylinder because this is a strict four-cylinder lineup. Volvo has said the 149 horsepower T3 and the 188 horsepower T4 won’t be headed to America at the moment, so don’t expect to see a direct competitor for BMW’s downsized 320i from Sweden this year. Instead we get the 241 horsepower T5 and the 302 horsepower T6 under the hood of everything except the XC90.

Volvo Drive-E engine, 2.0L, picture courtesy of Volvo

All engines share a common block design, but what changes is the boost. T3, T4 and T5 engines use a single turbo while T6 adds a Roots-type supercharger in addition to the turbocharger. VW and others have dabbled with twincharging in the past, with VW’s 1.4L twincharged engine finding a home under the hoods of Euro models and putting down 140-180 horsepower. Volvo is taking things to the next step by calling their 2.0L engine the replacement for not just the 3.0L twin-scroll turbo but also the recently departed 4.4L V8.

While supercharging and turbocharging sounds excessive, there is a logic to the madness. While peak torque on the turbo-only T5 just 15 lb-ft lower than the T6 (when in overboost), the supercharger allows the T6 to deliver approximately 140 lb-ft more torque just off idle. The torque curves converge around 1,500-1,600 RPM when the T6 switches over to the turbocharger. From approximately 2,000 RPM to 3,500 RPM torque remains flat on both engines but the larger turbo on the T6 allows it to maintain peak torque all the way past 4,500 RPM. When torque does start to wane it does so more gradually than turbo-only engines.

Aisin AWF8F35 8-speed transaxle, picture courtesy of Aisin

Why not stick with a supercharger alone like Jaguar and other auto makers? The reason is two-fold. Turbochargers operate off of “waste energy” from the exhaust. Exhaust gases spin the turbine which in turn spins the compressor forcing more air into the engine. In truth “waste energy” is a misnomer because there is a horsepower toll for having the turbo interfering with the exhaust stream, but in general this toll is smaller than the power required to operate a supercharger. The downside to a turbo is well known: turbo lag. Turbo lag is the time it takes the turbo to start “boosting.” Although the turbo is spinning at idle, it’s creating little positive pressure. Step on the gas and it takes a while for things to start humming along and boost to be created. That’s why the T5 has a lower torque rating off idle.

Superchargers are typically driven off the accessory belt. Because of the “direct” connection to the engine, they are always creating boost. Because this boost happens in sync with engine RPMs, the response is immediate. On the down side superchargers can consume up to 20% of an engine’s total power output according to Honeywell. This is considered a good trade since they can boot power up to 50%. Because of design trade offs, factory supercharged engines tend to “run out of breath” at higher RPMs which explains why Jaguar’s 5.0L supercharged engine lags the 4.4L and 4.7L twin-turbo German engines by a wide margin in peak torque.

Volvo’s answer to both problems was to use a supercharger for immediate response at the low end. From idle air flows into the supercharger then through the turbo into the engine. This not only improves low end response but it also helps get the turbo up to speed faster. At some point determined by the car’s computer (around 3,500 RPM) the engine opens a butterfly valve to bypass the supercharger and then de-clutches the supercharger to eliminate the inherent loss. This process allows a supercharger tuned for low end response and a turbo tuned for higher RPM running to be joined to the same engine. The result is a horsepower and torque curve superior to Volvo or BMW’s 3.0L twin-scroll turbos in every way, from torque at idle, length of the torque plateau, to high-RPM torque. To further increase efficiency Volvo relies on a variable speed electric water pump for cooling, direct-injection for combustion efficiency and low friction bearings and rings. Volvo’s marketing literature hails this as the answer to the V8.

But is it really? Yes and no. The pint-sized engine allows the XC60 to deliver 29 MPG on the highway in 304 horsepower T6 trim which is a 50% increase over Volvo’s 2009 XC90 V8. Score one for Drive-E. Out on the road, the 2.0L engine delivers more low end torque than any other 2.0L four-banger sold in America giving the XC60 more punch off idle than I expected. The T6’s torque curve may be flatter than Volvo’s sort lived 4.4L V8, but it’s not quite as robust at the top end or at idle. The broad torque band and the Aisin 8-speed auto allowed the XC60 T6 to tie an XC90 V8 to 60 MPH.  Aurally, Volvo’s “burbly” V8 is the clear winner. The Drive-E engine has a distinct (but muted) supercharger whine under 3,500, a definite four-cylinder exhaust note and an eerie silence at idle. Volvo was cagey about any Polestar tunes for their new engine, but I suspect considerable work will need to be done to best Volvo’s own Polestar I6.

My inner engineer is excited by the possibilities of modern forced induction technologies and small displacement engines. I suspect that the vast majority of American shoppers would be hard pressed to notice the difference between Volvo’s twin-charged 2.0L engine and a V8 in the 4L range in terms of power delivery and drive-ability. The constant march towards fuel economy also fills me with sadness. No matter how you slice it, a naturally aspirated V8 has a sound that we’ve grown up associating with performance and luxury. This association is so strong that BMW pipes V8 sounds into the cabins of their turbo V8s because the turbos interfere with the exhaust notes. As our pocketbooks rejoice, join me as I shed a tear for the naturally aspirated inline-6 and V8.

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Review: 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/review-2014-buick-regal-gs-awd-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/review-2014-buick-regal-gs-awd-with-video/#comments Thu, 23 Jan 2014 14:00:11 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=698417 In my mind, Volkswagens used to be the “Euro Buick.” Positioned one note above the mass market rabble,  VW’s Passat shared parts with Audi’s A4, while the Touareg and Phaeton were luxury cars with a mass market logo on the hood. Then Volkswagen decided this was the wrong strategy for them, so they repositioned VW […]

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2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior

In my mind, Volkswagens used to be the “Euro Buick.” Positioned one note above the mass market rabble,  VW’s Passat shared parts with Audi’s A4, while the Touareg and Phaeton were luxury cars with a mass market logo on the hood. Then Volkswagen decided this was the wrong strategy for them, so they repositioned VW as the German alternative to Toyota and Chevrolet. This left a gaping hole in the market for shoppers looking to step into a European near-luxury vehicle that flew under the radar. And then Buick stepped in.Buick’s Opel-based product offensive has transformed the brand from Barcalounger wheels for the octogenarian, to a window into the soul of GM’s German brand. This transformation isn’t an easy one as Buick’s problem wasn’t just blue-haired buyers and slinky-soft springs. Buick is the penultimate middle child. Jammed between Chevrolet and Cadillac, brand B’s mission is to give Chevy buyers something to aspire to and Cadillac buyers something to graduate from.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

When you say “Regal GS” my mind immediately leaps to the fourth-generation Regal (2nd generation W-body) with the supercharged 3.8L V6. When I was car shopping in 2000 I dearly wanted a Regal GS but there were two problems: Buick’s grandmotherly image and the price tag. As a result I bought an entirely different old person car: a Chrysler LHS. But I digress. This GS is an entirely different beast. Buick’s latest middle child is none other than Opel’s largest sedan, the Insignia. Refreshed for the 2014 model year, the differences between the Insignia and the Regal are most pronounced on the exterior where a Buick waterfall grille and logo have been inserted into the same opening as the Opel and ventiports have been added to the hood. And… that’s about it.

Two things are obvious when looking at the Buick Regal: it was designed in Europe and it was designed to to be both a Buick and an Opel from the start. Rather than looking out of place (like the Chrysler 300 to Lancia Thema transition) the Regal looks “meant to be.” Although the Regal is related to the Chevy Malibu, there’s essentially no exterior resemblance. The Regal GS I spent a week in gets the tweaked front and rear bumpers from Opel’s Insigia OPC model which ditches the foglamps for extra ventilation and integrates the exhaust tips into the rear bumper cover. Circling back around to those ventiports: I still think they look silly, but thankfully the Regal has the right number (four) and they are smaller and less conspicuously placed than on other Buick models I could mention.

2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Interior-003

Interior

2014 brings a new interior to the Regal based around a standard 8-inch touchscreen and new center console. Although you will still find a few hard plastics in the cabin, overall materials quality has improved and is firmly competitive with the Volkswagen CC, Audi A4 and Acura TL. Most cabin touch points feel more premium than the more expensive Lexus ES but the Volvo S60/S80 still lead the segment. Non-GS shoppers can opt for a handsome two-tone interior that combines a brown steering wheel and upper dash with a light grey/tan seats and carpet which would be my preference. GS models however are stuck with a very Germanic black-on-black theme. Part of the GS package is an 8-inch LCD instrument cluster and a chunkier steering wheel with sport grips, soft leather and a flat bottom. The disco dash is not as configurable as Chrysler’s 7-inch unit but the graphics are more modern and the system allows you full access to your media device, something uConnect still lacks.

For reasons unknown Buick chose not to borrow the Recaro seats found in the Insignia OPC, opting instead for more aggressively bolstered versions of the standard seat design. This may be because Buick owners are less likely to need the 5-point harness design, but it is most likely because we Americans are fatter so fewer of us would fit in the narrow seats. My 6-foot and slightly overweight frame fit snugly and comfortably in the front seats but the ceiling in the rear of the Regal proved too low for me to sit without cocking my head to the side. The lack of rear seat headroom was disappointing because the Regal offers several inches more rear leg room than the RWD Cadillac ATS and CTS and three inches more than the Volvo S60 and S80.

2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Buick Link

Infotainment

Like the LaCrosse, the Regal and the Opel Insignia now uses a modified version of Cadillac’s CUE. For reasons I don’t understand however, Buick doesn’t get Opel’s interesting touchpad with “finger writing” recognition that Opel has been advertising across the pond. I’m guessing this is so that Buick doesn’t step on Cadillac’s toes. Compared to CUE there are a few other changes for Buick-duty. The expensive glass capacitive touchscreen (looks like a modern smartphone) is swapped for a resistive unit that isn’t as crisp or as glare reducing and we have physical buttons for some system features, a marked improvement over Cadillac’s touchscreen only interface. Aside from these charges, the majority of CUE remains.

Like Ford’s MyFord Touch system, IntelliLink is sluggish in general and sometimes totally unresponsive. The software also suffers from unintuitive menu layouts and old-school mapping software that doesn’t jive with the system’s high-resolution screen. Like CUE, some multi-touch gestures are supported, but the different touchscreen is less able to decipher your intent leading to some frustrating moments. On the bright side, CUE’s selling points remain. The system’s voice command system features natural language commands and instead of treating the USB ports as separate inputs, the system aggregates them into one large music library allowing you to voice command songs without specifying the device.

2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Engine 2.0L Turbo-001

Drivetrain

Nestled sideways under the hood is the same 2.0L direct-injection turbocharged four-cylinder engine that the Cadillac ATS and CTS use. Good for 259 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of twist, this is the same engine that you find in the “regular Regal.” That’s right, no longer does “GS” stand for “more power.” This means the GS looses 11 ponies vs 2013 but the turbo Regal gains 39 vs 2013. To differentiate things, GM does alter the torque curve to deliver all 295 twists at 2,500 RPM instead of 3,000 in the non-GS model. GM hasn’t completely ruled out the 325 horse 2.8L twin-turbo V6 the Insignia OPC uses for the American market, but I’d call it a long shot.

GS shoppers can choose either a 6-speed manual transaxle or a 6 speed automatic, but if you want the optional Haldex AWD system you’re forced to select the auto.  Although the GS uses the same AWD system as the regular Regal AWD, the engineers tossed in an electronically controlled limited slip rear differential. GS trims also bump the suspension up a notch by combining GM’s HiPer Strut technology with active dampers on all four corners. The suspension offers three modes: normal, sport and GS. The feel ranges from European family sedan to firm.

2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Gauges-001

Drive

GM’s HiPer Strut suspension is designed to bring the steering axis more in line with the tire centerline, something you typically find in rear-wheel drive cars. Aligning the axis more closely results in better tracking, less torque steer and a front tire with a more consistent camber across the suspension’s travel. Versus the outgoing model, the front tires contact patch is improved in corners when the front suspension is loaded resulting in higher grip. Coupled with an AWD system that sends 50% of the power to the rear under hard acceleration, we get the first Buick in a long time with virtually zero torque steer.

The downside to the trendy new steering knuckle design is feel. Steering is very precise but suffers from the same Novocaine-laced feedback as everything else out there with electric power steering. Despite a 58/42 F/R weight distribution, the Regal GS has impeccable manners up to 9/10ths, where it starts to lose composure. Trouble is, without steering feedback it’s hard to tell where 9/10ths is located. In contrast, the Volvo S60 T6 AWD and S80 T6 AWD offer less grip but more feel.

2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-007

Driving a FWD Regal back to back with our AWD tester, I kept thinking “there’s just something I dislike about the FWD model”. As it turns out, there is a reason the FWD Regal felt unsettled in the rear over broken pavement, the AWD model gets an entirely different “H-Link” independent rear suspension. Coupled with the active dampers, the Regal felt well composed on a variety of road surfaces despite being tuned firmer than the rest of the American and Swedish competition. Rather than being the softest entry in the segment, the GS is among the firmer.

Put your foot to the floor and the GS will run to 60 in 6.7 seconds, exactly the same as the W-Body Regal GS I remember with fond memories. The difference is, the W-Body’s torque steer made the car feel like it was part car, part carnival ride. The 2014 model tracks straight and true with zero drama all the way to a 15.2 second 1/4 mile. Stacking this up with the competition, the Regal is notably slower than the Cadillac CTS/ATS 2.0T and Volvo’s S60 T5 AWD; and a hair slower than the 3.7L Lincoln MKZ, Lexus ES 350 and Acura TL. Despite similar power figures, the Volvo ran to 60 nearly 7/10ths faster which caused me to question my numbers. However, a loaner provided by a local dealer confirmed my findings. The reason seems rooted both in the GS’ gear ratios and the more advantageous torque curve from Volvo’s funky 5-cylinder.

2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-010

At $37,830 starting, $40,195 with AWD and $44,975 full-loaded, the Regal undercuts the Volvo S60 T5 AWD and Acura TL by a couple thousand across the board (comparably equipped) and is more than $5,000 cheaper than the Lexus ES depending on your configuration. The Acura TL is in its final year of production and is, as you would assume, outclassed by the Regal in most ways. The recently refreshed Volvo delivers better road feel and a slightly more premium interior at the expense of more cash and less grip. The Lexus ES suffers from soft springs, an uncompetitive interior and steep price tag.

Over 611 miles I managed a reasonable 22.1 MPG in the GS which bests the real-world numbers from the V6 competition but comes short of the turbo Caddy and Swede. Why do I keep coming back to Cadillac? Because as hard as GM has tried to keep Chevrolet, Buick and Cadillac from stepping on each other’s toes, the Regal GS is about the same price as the 2014 Cadillac ATS. It’s hard enough to go up against what is probably the second best vehicle GM has ever produced, but it is made doubly hard when there are so many combined Buick/Cadillac dealers. This means you’ll frequently find the Regal GS next to a sharp handling Caddy is on the same lot. Trickier still is the base Cadillac CTS which is slightly cheaper than a loaded GS, and, you guessed it: is often parked right next to the Buick.  Buick seems to have finally gotten the hang of being the middle child and in the process they have given not only Chevy owners but Volkswagen owners something to aspire to. That said, I’d be hard pressed to choose the Regal over an ATS 2.0T.

 

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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.67 Seconds

0-60: 6.7 Seconds

1/4 Mile:15.2 Seconds @ 93 MPH

Average observed fuel economy: 22.1 MPG over 611 miles

Interior sound level at 50 MPH: 68.5 dB @ 50 MPH

2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Buick Link 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Engine 2.0L Turbo 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Engine 2.0L Turbo-001 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-001 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-002 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-003 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-004 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-005 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-006 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-007 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-008 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-009 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-010 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-011 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-012 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-013 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Gauges 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Gauges-001 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Interior 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Interior-001 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Interior-002 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Interior-003 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Interior-004 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Interior-005 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Trunk 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Trunk-001

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First Drive Review: 2014 Mazda3 (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/first-drive-review-2014-mazda3-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/first-drive-review-2014-mazda3-with-video/#comments Sat, 19 Oct 2013 16:17:22 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=582817 The mainstream compact car segment is the perfect example of the infamous “driving appliance.” The Corolla and Civic sell in enormous volume because they are the middle-of-the-road “white bread” option, not in-spite of the vanilla. Unlike many in the automotive press, I don’t find anything wrong with that. In fact, I love me some Wonder […]

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2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

The mainstream compact car segment is the perfect example of the infamous “driving appliance.” The Corolla and Civic sell in enormous volume because they are the middle-of-the-road “white bread” option, not in-spite of the vanilla. Unlike many in the automotive press, I don’t find anything wrong with that. In fact, I love me some Wonder Bread. But sometimes you feel like a pumpernickel, and that’s where the 2014 Mazda3 comes in. Mazda was so excited about their new loaf that they invited me to spend the day with them in San Diego. Want to know if you should spend 5+ years with one? Click through the jump.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior
Accounting for 30% of Mazda’s worldwide volume, calling the Mazda3 their most important product would be putting things lightly. As a result 2014 brings a complete overhaul to every aspect of the 3 and the compact sedan now rides on a platform derived from the larger 6. The “Kodo” design language of the larger sedan has also been brought down to its smaller stablemate to astonishing effect. While the old Mazda3 was all smiles and bubbles, the new 3 is all grown up and aggressive with Mazda’s incredibly attractive grille. Before the 3’s release I was quite torn about who was the fairest of them all but now there is no contest.

2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior headlamps, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

The 2014 dimensions play a huge role in the way the 3 looks on the road. Mazda moved the A-pillar 3.5 inches to the rear making the hood longer, lengthened the wheelbase by 2.5 inches, dropped the height by 6/10ths and made the whole car 1.6 inches wider. So far so good, but somehow Mazda managed to slash the front overhang and increase the wheel-to-front-door distance to an almost RWD like proportion. That would probably have been enough in a segment dominated by slab sides, but Mazda puts two distinctive character lines to separate the 3 from the pack. Out back we have tail lamps that mimic the front styling and your choice of a hatch or a trunk. Opting for the hatch gives the Mazda3 a side profile reminiscent of BMW’s X1, not a bad thing to be reminded of.

Interior
The problem with pumpernickel is that people’s tastes are different. The same thing can be said of the new interior. Rather than scaling down the Mazda6’s dashboard, the engineers went for something slimmer without a “double bump” for the infotainment screen. Taking a page out of BMW’s playbook, Mazda sets the 7-inch touchscreen inside a thin housing perched on the dashboard. Think of an iPad mounted to the dash. The look turned off some but I find the style appealing because it maintains a high screen position while reducing dashboard bulk. Mazda’s new “fighter jet inspired” heads up display is similarly perched on the dash, however, instead of being fixed, it folds itself flat when you turn the feature off. The display is as functional as any other heads-up display I’ve seen but the pop-up trick stuck me as being more gimmick than feature. Mazda tells us the reason for not projecting on the windshield which makes sense if you check out how much HUD compatible windshields go for.

2014 Mazda3 5D interior, Picture Courtesy of Mazda

Mazda says they benchmarked the BMW 3-Series interior which, given that BMW’s 3 went downmarket in some ways makes the comparison valid in  a way that it would have been laughable in 2006. Except for a segment average headliner, the plastics and materials choices in the cabin are all top of the class. (A logical finding since it is the newest as well.) Seat comfort proved excellent with well positioned controls and more side bolstering than you would find in the competition’s non-performance models. Rear seat room was a problem for the last generation Mazda3 and, despite the stretch, this continues to be an area where it lags the competition. For the biggest back seats and the largest trunk, look to the Corolla. Toyota’s 2014 offering has more leg room than the mid-sized Mazda6.

Despite a long list of optional features and gadgets, real leather seating surfaces happen only in the sGrand Touring model with mid-range models sporting faux-cow and lower end 3s wearing fabric.  Some comment has been made in the press about the 3’s 1990s era headliner, but it failed to offend me and here’s why: This segment is all about value and value is about cutting corners. Want snazzy dash plastics and metal trim bits-and-bobs? That headliner is the toll you have to pay and it’s one I’m OK with.

MY2014 Mazda 3
Infotainment and gadgets
If you recall my review of the Mazda 6 a few months ago, you’ll know I reserved my harshest criticism for the infotainment and navigation system. Forget everything I said because Mazda has taken customer feedback to heart. The Mazda3 is the first vehicle to receive MazdaConnect. The system combines a bright 7-inch touchscreen with an iDrive/MMI-like controller knob and button array in the center console. Similar to Infiniti’s systems, you can navigate with either the controller, or the touchscreen, or both depending on what is easier at the moment.

The system is as intuitive and snappy as the Mazda6’s is slow and painful. High resolution graphics, a completely redesigned interface and vastly improved voice commands join to create a system that rivals uConnect, iDrive and MyFord Touch for best in the industry. In that comparison the only things MazdaConnect lacks is smartphone app integration and some form of crash-notifying telematics system. If you want to dive into the details, check out the video.

MY2014 Mazda 3

The minimum point of entry for Mazda Connect is $23,340 because you cab only get it in the iTouring model with a $1,600 option package. Ouch. All models that directly compete with the white-loaf get something that looks like a clock radio molded into the dashboard (see the picture above). The logic was to keep the controls high and in the line of sight for the driver to reduce distraction and it does work as intended even though it looks a little odd. If you’re a high roller Mazda offers a high level of tech for this segment with everything from blind spot monitoring and backup cams available to surround sound, radar cruise control, collision prevention systems that will stop the car below 19 MPH (just like Volvo’s City Safety system), parking sensors and automatic high beams.

2014 also brings Mazda’s new “it’s-so-mild-that’s-not-called-a-mild-hybrid” system to the 3. i-Eloop’s is a mild energy recovery system that uses a large capacitor, variable voltage alternator and a DC-DC converter to recover energy when decelerating. The goal of the system is to limit the parasitic loss of the alternator by charging the capacity when you’re braking so that the car can disengage the alternator and use that power while accelerating or cruising. The system can’t help drive the car, which is why Mazda doesn’t call it a hybrid system, but the claim is that it can give you around one extra MPG in certain city driving cycles. Why so little? Because the alternator consumes less engine power than your air conditioning. The system is only available as part of a technology package and only on the top-end sGrand Touring model.

2014 Mazda3 Drivetrain

Drivetrain
Late in life, the old Mazda3 received a partial SkyActiv drivetrain. The reason it didn’t get fully implemented is obvious when you look at the Medusa below. That bundle of snakes is the Mazda “4-2-1″ exhaust manifold which is designed to prevent the start of cylinder 3’s exhaust stroke from interfering with the end of cylinder 1’s exhaust stroke. The convoluted pipes are there so that the catalytic converter, which is no longer “closely coupled” as is all the rage, heats quickly and less heat is lost on the way to the cat. This enormous contraption simply wouldn’t fit in the old 3 because of the shape of the engine bay and the firewall. To make the 4-2-1 manifold fit in the 2014 Mazda3, it was necessary to form an enormous bulge into the car’s firewall and chassis design, something only possible in a complete redesign process.

2014 Mazda3 exhaust manifold

With the final piece of the SkyActiv puzzle in place, Mazda cranked up the compression ratio on their new 2.0 and 2.5L engines to 13:1. Why not the 14:1 that Mazda advertises in Europe? Because in the USA all engines must operate “safely” on regular 87 octane gasoline by law. The boffins tell us that this results in a 5% loss of efficiency vs the higher compression EU engines that will grenade themselves on lower octane fuel.

The base engine for 2014 is a 2.0L 155 horse four-cylinder that’s good for 150 lb-ft of twist and 30/41/34 MPG (City/Highway/Combined) with the 6-speed automatic. If you have the cash you can upgrade to the 2.5L engine (shared with the CX-5 and Mazda6) which bumps these numbers up to 184 horses and 185 lb-ft while dropping fuel economy to 28/39/32.

The 2.0L engine comes standard with a slick shifting 6-speed transmission that is one of the best manuals in the ever shrinking compact segment. Engagement is precise, throws are moderate and the clutch engagement is linear and well-balanced in relation to the motion of the other two pedals. Sadly this transmission can’t be had with the more powerful 2.5L engine. Don’t shoot the messenger. Most Mazda3s rolling off the lot will use Mazda’s 6-speed automatic transaxle which chases efficiency and a direct feel by engaging the torque converter lockup clutch in every gear, as soon as possible, and as long as possible. While Mazda tells us this is unique to the compact segment, ZF’s 8-speed RWD transmission plays the same trick in the name of efficiency. Manual lovers and speed freaks should know that Mazda is cagey about a MazdaSpeed3 only saying that there would not be one “at launch.” Read between the lines if you like.

2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior-004

Drive

Being the mechanical geek that I am, one more thing caught my interest: the caster angle. That’s the angle that the steering mechanism acts upon the front wheel. Think of this like a clock with vertical being right at 12:00. Most cars out there have a slight caster angle of maybe 12:03 while the 2014 Mazda3 winds it up to 12:06. Why does it matter? Because we have electric power steering (EPAS). EPAS is the modern equalizer and has made all steering dull and lifeless. By dialing up the caster, you dial up the forces that come back up the steering column from the tires. This means that by the time EPAS dulls everything down there’s the hint of something left. I’d like to say it turns the Mazda3 into a Mazda Miata but I’d be lying. Instead what you get is a hint of feedback in corners and a tiny touch of road feel at other times. Because we’ve been living in a feedback-desert, the taste has overly excited some. No it isn’t your 2007 Mazdaspeed3, but it is livelier than the Focus or Civic.

Zoom-Zoom is more about handling than 0-60 times, made obvious by our 7.6 second run to 60 in a hatchback with the 2.5L engine. If you want more speed in the “non-hot hatch segment”, wait for Kia’s turbo Forte  I didn’t get a chance to test the 2.0L model during the event but my “butt-dyno” tells me it should be about 2 seconds slower and right in line with the competition. It’s when the road starts to curve that the difference is obvious. This 3 can dance. The Mazda is quite simply the best handling and best feeling compact car in stock form. Yes, the Civic Si is a hair more fun but it’s not a main stream car, doesn’t have an automatic and still doesn’t feel as connected as the Mazda. With road manners like these, I’m looking forward to a Mazdaspeed3 vs Focus ST shootout, I suspect the 3 might dethrone Ford’s hot hatch.

2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior-009

What about daily driving? It’s all well and good to be the best handling compact, but in order to be a sales success you have to be able to sway some white bread buyers. Sound levels at 50MPH rang in a 73db, below the Corolla but above the Civic. No worries there. The sedan’s ride is on the stiffer side of the segment but quite similar to the Focus, that might be a problem for the average Corolla shopper. The big selling point for most cross-shoppers will be the fuel economy. The sedan with the 2.0L engine and automatic is the volume model and snags 30/41/34 MPG (City/Highway/Combined). That’s one MPG better than Sentra, two better than Civic or Corolla and three better than Focus.  While that doesn’t translate into much cash saved on an annual basis, it is one of the largest purchase factors shoppers site in this segment. I should mention however that the last time we had the Sentra it scored better than it’s EPA rating while the Mazda3 was fairly close to the EPA score. My big take away from this is that Mazda managed to beat the CVT equipped competition’s fuel economy with a more traditional feeling automatic. White bread buyers won’t care about the feel, but the numbers might cause them to take a second look.

With pricing that ranges from $16,945 (sedan) to a hair under $30,000 (loaded hatch) if you check all the option boxes on a Mazda3 hatch, it’s obvious the Mazda spans the price spectrum from white bread in a bag to a paper-wrapped organic artisan cheesy sourdough. Like the Ford Focus, this large price span means the $19,495 iSport and $20,645 iTouring compete with the bulk of Corolla/Civic shoppers while the upper level trims compete with the Ford Focus, Acura ILX, Lexus CT200h, Buick Verano, and the few that shopped Volvo’s defunct C30.

Compared to the Civic and Corolla, the Mazda3 delivers superior dynamics and more premium dash materials in exchange for less tech and no touchscreen infotainment. This is a dangerous trade in a segment known for placing features before fun. On the flip side, the Mazda3 has everything it needs to compete with the Focus, ILX, Verano and CT200h. Mazda’s chassis tuning makes the Mazda the most fun to drive (even considering the ILX 2.4’s Civic Si roots), the infotainment system is entry-level luxury worthy and 2014 brings all full-speed range radar cruise control and ever gadget the Buick and Lexus shopper could want. So is the Mazda3 the perfect pumpernickel for Wonder Bread prices? As good as. Civirolla shoppers who can be convinced to cross-shop will be pleased with Mazda’s sexy exterior, comfortable seats and road manners, but those after large seats and large trunks will return to the white bread alternative. I suspect the near luxury shoppers are the ones that will miss out the most however thinking that nothing this tasty could come in a package with a Mazda logo on it. Their loss.

Mazda flew me to San Diego, put me up in a hotel and fed me stuffed mushrooms.

Specifications as tested

0-30: 4 Seconds

0-60: 7.6 Seconds

Interior sound level at 50 MPH: 73 db

 

2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior-007 2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior headlamps, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior-009 2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior 2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior-010 2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior-001 MY2014 Mazda 3 2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior-002 2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior-003 2014 Mazda3 5D interior, Picture Courtesy of Mazda MY2014 Mazda 3 2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior-004 2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes MY2014 Mazda 3 2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior-006

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Review: 2012 BMW 328i Luxury Take Two http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/08/review-2012-bmw-328i-luxury-take-two/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/08/review-2012-bmw-328i-luxury-take-two/#comments Wed, 01 Aug 2012 13:00:43 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=453998   The 3 series has been the benchmark to which all manner of vehicles are measured. The comparisons go beyond the likes of the A4, C-Class and S60 and include things like M3 vs Camaro, 328i vs Prius. There’s a problem with your largest volume product being put on this kind of pedestal: how do […]

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The 3 series has been the benchmark to which all manner of vehicles are measured. The comparisons go beyond the likes of the A4, C-Class and S60 and include things like M3 vs Camaro, 328i vs Prius. There’s a problem with your largest volume product being put on this kind of pedestal: how do you redesign it? Carefully, mildly, infrequently and only when absolutely required. With increased competition from the Audi A4, a redesigned S60 and Caddy’s new ATS, can BMW afford the same formula again? Michael Karesh got his hands on a 328i back in March, while I spent a week testing the 328i in its natural habitat: the California freeway. (Oh, and we spent some time on Lagua Seca as well.)

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

If you’re not a BMW fan, you might mistake the 2012 3-Series for its predecessor, or at the least assume this is just a different trim level of the same. Despite practically nothing being shared with the outgoing model, the exterior looks like a simple facelift with new front and rear bumpers. According to BMW, that’s just how the target demographic likes it. Since the sheetmetal is pleasing to the eye, who am I to disagree?  If you compare side profiles, you’ll find the 3-Series’ wheelbase has been extended two inches while the entire car has been stretched by four inches. The cabin-stretching results in a more balanced and elegant look than before. If you’re into BMW trivia, because of the 3-Series’ perpetual growth, the 328i is just one inch shorter than a 1998 5-Series. Aficionados will bemoan the loss of LED turn signal lamps. Why BMW chose to move one step backwards we don’t know, but their loss won’t bother many shoppers.

In an attempt to create multiple personalities for the 3-Series, the same basic sedan can be had in five different style packages: Modern, Luxury, Sport, M-Sport, and the base model. Exterior differences boil down to different bumper covers, wheels, a sport suspension upgrade on the Sport trims and different answers to the eternal question: to chrome or not to chrome?

Interior

I never cared for BMW’s “double-bump” dash look that put the infotainment screen in a binnacle of its own. Apparently it didn’t do anything for the BMW’s engineers either. For 2012, your choice of standard 6.5-inch or 8.8-inch iDrive displays is permanently fixed to the center of the dash, sans “hood.” The look is reminiscent of the last generation of pop-up Volvo Nav system, sans-pop and is far more pleasing to my eye. The new screen and the Jaguar-like volume of real-tree are clues to the baby Bimmer’s refocused mission: luxury and technology.

2012 brings more wood, metal and plastic trim options than ever before. Also on offer are several finishes for the portions of the interior you see above in matte chrome. Base models continue to come with BMW’s “leatherette” seating surfaces in two shades, while real-cow surfaces are offered in 7 shades with available piping and contrasting stitching. The front seats in our “Luxury line” tester were extremely supportive during a 4 hour road trip and selecting the “sport” seats allows a range of seat contour adjustment that is class leading. Thanks to the wheelbase stretching, rear leg room is up by a quoted 3/4 inch but the adjusted seating positions (slightly more upright) and the shape of the front seat-backs makes the rear larger. Trunk space has grown more considerably to 17 cubic feet, notably larger than even the American-sized trunk in the Lincoln MKZ, despite the considerable intrusion from the trunk hinges.

Infotainment & Gadgets

The 2012 3-Series gets the latest generation of BMW’s iDrive. The system builds upon the previous versions in small, but important ways. Keeping up with the times, BMW has swapped the CD button for a “Media” button which makes accessing your USB and iDevices easier than in the past. You’ll also find an additional USB port in the glove compartment enabling you to have two USB/iDevices plugged in at the same time with an additional device plugged into BMW’s “dock” in the center armrest.

BMW has also taken the next logical step and integrated the infotainment system with the optional heads-up display. While some may look at this as an all-new distraction, if you’re going to be browsing your playlist, you might as well do it while looking at the road. The full-color image is projected onto the windshield from an in-dash LCD that makes the electrofluorescent HUDs used by GM and Toyota look like a 1980’s flash back.

 

Our 328i tester had the “BMW Apps” package, a $250 option on-top of the $2,150 navigation system and $650 “enhanced USB” and BMW Assist (both of which are required to “app” yourself.) If you’re not a gadget freak like I am, app integration won’t matter much to you. If you like the idea of being able to download an app to enhance your infotainment system years after you buy your car, then apps are for you. The current app suite allows you to Facebook, Tweet and stream internet radio from your iPhone to the car’s radio. The twist for 2012 is an all-new Wikipedia app (that can be used on previous generation BMW vehicles with the app option as well). While this may sound silly, the Wiki app integrates with your GPS to find Wiki articles about nearby points of interest. Once a POI is selected, iDrive will download the Wiki article and using text-to-speech, it will read it to you as you roll. While Ford MyTouch has vastly superior voice command options, iDrive’s tasteful high-res graphics, fast interface and superior phone integration make this the system to beat.

If these gadgets float your boat, they can be combined into one package for $3,100 and includes 4 years of the basic BMW Assist (BMW’s version of OnStar). Before you get too excited by the advertisements however keep in mind you have to pay an extra $199 a year for the “convenience” features of BMW Assist like Google send-to-car and the BMW concierge service.

No new European car would be complete without a bevy of luxury and convenience features, especially not the new 3-Series with its new luxury direction. The extensive list includes: blind spot monitoring, top-view camera, heated steering wheel, heated rear seats, lane departure warning, collision warning, radar cruise control, speed limit help, keyless-go, variable steering, adaptive suspension and automatic high-beams. The 328i may start at $36,500, but its easy to option your entry-level 3-Series up to its $57,000 max if you’re nor careful.

Drivetrain

BMW has long been known for their silky-smooth inline sixes, but you won’t find one under the hood of the 328i. Instead, you’ll find the latest fruit of BMW’s direct-injection-turbocharged love affair: the N20. On the surface there is nothing special about BMW’s all-new, all-aluminum 2.0L turbo engine. After all, everyone from Audi to Volvo has a new 2.0L turbo four-banger, so what’s the big deal? Aside from the shock of finding an engine with 33% fewer cylinders under the hood of a 3-Series, not much, and that’s the big deal. Producing 240HP from 5,000 to 6,000RPM and 255 lb-ft of twist from 1,250 to 4,800RPM, this engine is significantly more powerful than the old 3.0L N52 six cylinder, all while being 20% more fuel-efficient and better in just about every way. Due to the nature of a gasoline direct-injection system, the N20 sounds like a quiet diesel at idle. Thankfully, inside the cabin you’d never know since BMW balanced the N20 extremely well and installed so much sound deadening material that you can’t hear the engine in normal driving.

Drive

You may not be able to hear the N20, but you can sure feel it. The Kansas-flat torque curve that drops precipitously after 6,000 RPM is a stark contrast from the old 3.0L engine that loved to sing at high RPMs. While some may miss the power delivery style of the old naturally aspirated six, the N20’s curve is a better match for the ZF 8-speed and average drivers.

The N20 isn’t just 33% shorter than the old N52, it is also 50lbs lighter and sits behind the front axle instead of above it. The effect of the weight reduction and nose-lightening is obvious out on the track where the 328i felt much more nimble than the 335i when driven back to back. The difference was far more pronounced than I had anticipated. In my book, the increased nimbleness is worth the reduction in thrust. While I’m sure my 335i laps were faster, the 328i was more fun. It’s easy to forget how hose heavy the 335i is until you have an identical car with a few pounds removed from the front.

In the 328i’s natural habitat, the urban jungle, you may find the new Start/Stop feature something of a mixed bag. As you would expect, the system turns the engine off while the transmission is in Drive, is stopped and the driver’s foot is on the brake. As you would expect this results in real improvements in city mileage, but there us a problem. The system is far from smooth.

At the heart of the BMW Start/Stop system is a beefier starter and a “glass-mat” 12-volt battery designed to handle the frequent starting. When the engine is warm and the cabin heating/cooling demands are in the right range, stopping at a light will be followed by a less than graceful shudder as the engine turns off. Next, the car turns the HVAC blower down to a gentle breeze to keep the electrical draw low. (Without a hybrid style battery, capacity is fairly low.) The car will automatically start the engine when you release the brake (or when the car decides the engine needs to run for cabin cooling.) Engine restarts are far from seamless with engine cranking, a shudder and a delay to forward progress while the ZF 8-speed’s hydraulics re-pressurize. Passengers used to smooth start/stop cycles in hybrid cars found the start/stop cycles “abrupt” and “jarring.” I found the fuel savings worth the commotion, but if your tastes differ, BMW offers an “off” button. If you live in a hot climate like Phoenix, don’t expect the system to start/stop too often.

After handing the keys for the BMW back something dawned on me. I’d miss the 328i. That’s not a statement I make lightly, or often. Previous 3-Series sedans just didn’t press the right buttons for me, but somehow the this one managed to poke just about all of them. The combination of handsome looks, good fuel economy, nimble handling and gadgets galore is a siren call for gadget geeks in their 30s. The problem? Is the 328i worth the premium? Or should you just buy a Volvo S60 or Audi A4? Unless you’re the kind of shopper willing to put down 5-Series money for a loaded 328i, then the A4 and S60 will deliver 95% of the experience for less and throw in AWD for your troubles. If however you value driving enjoyment, a slick nav and a gorgeous HUD, then the 3-Series is for you. The 3-Series’ benchmark status? Completely safe. For now.

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

Specifications as tested:

0-30: 1.65 Seconds

0-60: 5.72 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 14.25 Seconds @ 100.6 MPH

Average fuel economy: 32.8 MPG over 1,124 miles

 

 

2012 BMW 328i, Exterior, side 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Exterior, side, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Exterior, wheels, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Exterior, front, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Exterior, front, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Exterior, front 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Exterior, BMW Logo, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Exterior, headlamp, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Exterior, rear, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Exterior, rear 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Exterior, rear, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Exterior, rear 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Exterior, 328i badge, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Engine, 2.0L TwinPower Turbo, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Engine, 2.0L TwinPower Turbo, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Interior, Dashboard, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Interior, Dashboard, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Interior, steering wheel, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Interior, Dashboard, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Interior, center console, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Interior, shifter and iDrive, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Interior, rear seats, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Interior, rear seats, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Interior, rear seats, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Interior, gauges, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Interior, iDrive, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Interior, iDrive, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Interior, iDrive, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Interior, iDrive, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Interior, iDrive, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Interior, heads-up display, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Interior, heads-up display, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i Monroney Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

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Review: 2012 Ford Edge Limited EcoBoost http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/review-2012-ford-edge-limited-ecoboost/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/review-2012-ford-edge-limited-ecoboost/#comments Fri, 06 Jul 2012 17:35:59 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=449592   Once upon a time, in a country known as America, SUVs roamed the land with large-displacement inline 6s, optional V8s, and locking axles. Nobody had heard of a “cute ute.” Of course, gasoline was also under a buck a gallon. Today the landscape is different. While the last energy crisis caused entire vehicles to […]

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Once upon a time, in a country known as America, SUVs roamed the land with large-displacement inline 6s, optional V8s, and locking axles. Nobody had heard of a “cute ute.” Of course, gasoline was also under a buck a gallon. Today the landscape is different. While the last energy crisis caused entire vehicles to downsize, the response to the latest energy “crisis” (and government pressure) has been to downsize engines while leaving the rest of the vehicle intact. Case in point? The Ford Edge EcoBoost. No, this isn’t the 3.5L fire-breathing twin-turbo you’ve heard about before, this is the all-new 2.0L engine that puts the Eco in EcoBoost.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

In 2007 Ford sold over 130,000 Edge CUVs, but sales slid slowly as the financial meltdown and high gasoline costs put shopper on notice. In order to keep things fresh, Ford face-lifted the Edge for 2011. While the proportions remain the same—a wide stance, slab sides, stubby schnozz and a raked windshield—Ford seems to have ditched their attempt at styling the Edge to look smaller. To that end, the formerly demure three-bar “Gillette” grill has been replaced with an Audi-esque billy-the-big-mouth-bass affair covered in all the chrome bling you could wish for. While some were offended by the large expanses of chrome-effect plastic, I think a bold front end is exactly what Ford needs to differentiate the Edge from the plethora of me-too CUVs on the road. That being said, the Jeep Grand Cherokee is still more visually exciting.

Interior

Our Edge tester was a “Limited” trim model. Starting at $34,940 and bringing standard goodies like dual-zone climate control, leather, 10-way power seats, an up-level Sony audio system and Ford’s MyFord Touch infotainment system, the  Limited sits at the top of the Edge food chain. If these goodies don’t piqué your interest, the Edge SEL crosses the infotainment upgrades off the equipment list for $31,400 and the base Edge SE EcoBoost starts at $28,845 with cloth seats and manual HVAC knobs. Regardless of trim level, the Edge’s parts quality and fit-and-finish are easily the best in its class. Even the Limited’s faux-wood trim is plausible in terms of realistic texture and tasteful distribution. The Edge seems to represent Ford’s continuing march toward premium interiors at premium price points. While this is no doubt a good direction for the brand, if you’re looking for a cheap, rough-and-tumble CUV replacement for your old Bronco II, this isn’t it. Strangely, the only real problem I have with the Edge’s interior is that it’s nice enough that I see little reason (aside from some real-wood) to upgrade to the Lincoln MKX. Thanks to the generous, corn-fed proportions, the cargo capacity of the Edge is a large 32 cubic feet expanding to 69 cubic feet with the rear seats folded.

Infotainment

Like the Android vs iPhone debate, infotainment systems spark fierce controversy. No system since iDrive has received as much bad press mixed with forum fan-boy rave reviews as MyFord Touch. Let’s cut to the chase. The 2012 Edge benefits from major software update designed to make the system more responsive and easier to use. During a previous week with the 2011 system, we experienced frequent freezing, random crashes, periodic reboots and the ever-so-popular “blue screen of death.” The 2012 version performed reliably. That’s not to say MyFord Touch is now perfect. The system is still dreadfully slow when compared to iDrive, UConnect 8.4 and Cadillac’s new CUE system. If slow interfaces bother you, just buy an Edge SEL, select every option except the Ford MyTouch system and you’ll essentially have a Limited without MyFord Touch. By doing so you can still get the backup camera and the voice activated SYNC system which work flawlessly. The downside? You won’t get the snazzy 4.2-inch LCDs on either side of the speedometer. Despite the sloth, my opinion is that MyFord Touch is one of the best systems on the market (after iDrive) in terms of functionality, aesthetics and ease of use. Yes the system is painfully slow at times, but I’d rather have a sluggish system that did everything MyFord Touch does than a snappy system that only covered the basics.

Drivetrain

Ah, the section you’ve all be waiting for. Aside from the revised MyFord Touch system, the reason we’re looking at the Edge is the new EcoBoost engine. No, this isn’t the fire-breathing 3.5L twin-turbo monster that Ford is jamming under as many hoods as possible, this is the engine that puts the “eco” in EcoBoost. Ford started out with a 2.0L four cylinder aluminum block, added twin cams with independent variable valve timing, bolted on a Borg Warner (KKK) K03 turbocharger and lathered on the direct-injection sauce. The K03 is good for 16psi of boost which yields 240HP, 270lb-ft of torque and a “claimed” 30MPG on the highway.The observant in the crowd will note that while this is a 45HP decrease from the 3.5L V6, there is an extra 17lb-ft of torque-on tap. Speaking of torque, all 270lb-ft come to the boil at 1750RPM and stay strong to 4,500RPM while the 3.5L V6 peaks at 4,000. As long as the turbos are spooled up, the engine produces more torque at a given RPM than the V6. It’s this broad torque curve that allows the EcooBoost Edge to scoot to 60 only 0.4 seconds slower than the 3.5L V6 despite the drop in HP and the slight delay in off-the-line acceleration. The cost for this gem? $995. Power is sent to the front wheels via Ford’s 6-speed automatic transmission. Why there is no AWD option for this engine is anyone’s guess. The EcoBoost engine idles as smoothly as BMW’s 2.0L DI turbo – in other words, it sounds like a quiet diesel engine.

Drive

Thanks to extensive sound insulation, the only way you would know the 2.0L turbo lurks under the hood is by the way the Edge drives and gulps gasoline. Unlike the fuel-efficient engine choices of the last century, I prefer the way the 2.0L turbo drives to V6. Why? It’s all in the way the power is delivered. With all that twist arriving at low RPMs, the fact that the transmission is programmed to be recalcitrant to shift (for fuel economy) is not only a non-issue, it makes maintaining speed on a mountain grade a smoother affair than the V6 Edge which constantly hunts for the right gear. As you would expect with 270lb-ft on tap, torque steer and one-wheel burnouts are a mere throttle stab away. If I hadn’t driven an EcoBoost and V6 Edge back-t0-back I would have thought the turbo was the faster vehicle to 60 which arrived in just under 7.6 seconds.

The suspension in the Edge is tuned toward the softer side of CUVs, delivering a ride that is compliant and composed over all the broken pavement we could throw at it. This is thanks to the tall 60-series tires standard on the Edge as well as the wide 65-inch track. While I wouldn’t ever call a two-ton crossover a “corner carver,” the Edge is in many ways a grossly overweight Mazda 6 and handles as such. Remind you of a CX-7? It should. On windy mountain roads it can pull up its support hose and feign some dance moves, but it is unlikely the average buyer will ever try.

If you’re shopping for a two wheel drive crossover and need the generous capacity the Edge offers, the EcoBoost model is hand-down Ford’s best offering. If however you’re looking for fuel efficiency in a 5-seat crossover the Edge EcoBoost becomes a less exciting proposition. During our 734-mile week with the Edge we averaged 24.2MPG with conservative driving and plenty of highway miles. While this does represent a nearly 5MPG improvement over the 3.5L V6 Edge on the same driving cycle and a break-even point of around 4 years for the $995 engine option, city dwellers and those with lead feet will find themselves averaging 19-20MPG. Despite the active shutters and a cool, A/C-free coastal California drive, the Edge struggled to average 29MPG with the cruise control set to 65MPH. Despite not living up to its EPA numbers, the EcoBoost delivered a superior driving experience and a true 20-25% improvement in fuel economy meaning. There is just one problem: the all-new Ford Escape. Despite being rated a very similar 22/30MPG, our short stint with the 2.0L EcoBoost Escape proves that its real world average is around 27MPG. While the Escape is smaller than the Edge, it’s also more nimble, handles better, lighter, faster, cheaper and AWD is an option.

 

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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.73 Seconds

0-60: 7.59 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 15.95 Seconds @ 84.7 MPH

Average Fuel Economy: 24.2 MPG over 734 miles

 

 

2012 Ford Edge Limited Ecoboost 2012 Ford Edge Limited Ecoboost-001 2012 Ford Edge Limited Ecoboost-002 2012 Ford Edge Limited Ecoboost-003 2012 Ford Edge Limited Ecoboost-004 2012 Ford Edge Limited Ecoboost-005 2012 Ford Edge Limited Ecoboost-006 2012 Ford Edge Limited Ecoboost-007 2012 Ford Edge Limited Ecoboost-008 2012 Ford Edge Limited Ecoboost-009 2012 Ford Edge Limited Ecoboost-010 2012 Ford Edge Limited Ecoboost-011 2012 Ford Edge Limited Ecoboost, Interior, Dashboard, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Edge Limited Ecoboost-013 2012 Ford Edge Limited Ecoboost-014 2012 Ford Edge Limited Ecoboost-015 2012 Ford Edge Limited Ecoboost-016 2012 Ford Edge Limited Ecoboost, Interior, Ford My Touch 2012, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Edge Limited Ecoboost-018 2012 Ford Edge Limited Ecoboost-019 2012 Ford Edge Limited Ecoboost-020 2012 Ford Edge Limited Ecoboost-021 2012 Ford Edge Limited Ecoboost-022 2012 Ford Edge Limited Ecoboost-023 2012 Ford Edge Limited Ecoboost-024 2012 Ford Edge Limited Ecoboost-025 2012 Ford Edge Limited Ecoboost-026 2012 Ford Edge Limited Ecoboost-027 2012 Ford Edge Limited Ecoboost-028 2012 Ford Edge Limited Ecoboost, Engine, 2.0L Turbo, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Edge Ecoboost Monroney Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

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Review: 2012 Kia Sportage SX http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/12/review-2012-kia-sportage-sx/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/12/review-2012-kia-sportage-sx/#comments Wed, 14 Dec 2011 12:00:34 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=418062 Kia’s mission in America over the past decade was to compete squarely with the likes of Honda and Toyota. Lately however, the plucky South Korean brand seems to have larger aspirations. With the new Optima and Sportage turbos it would appear that Kia may just have budget near-luxury brands in mind as competition. Competition is […]

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Kia’s mission in America over the past decade was to compete squarely with the likes of Honda and Toyota. Lately however, the plucky South Korean brand seems to have larger aspirations. With the new Optima and Sportage turbos it would appear that Kia may just have budget near-luxury brands in mind as competition. Competition is fierce in the CUV market and the cute-ute segment is especially cut-throat with (by my count) no fewer than 11 vehicles that more-or-less compete directly with the Sportage. Among the main competition lurk the likes of the Rav 4, CR-V, Rogue, Juke, Compass, Patriot, Escape, Tiguan, Equinox, RDX and possibly the Q5.

However the 260HP turbo Sportage SX is possibly a different beast, and if you were to whittle this list down to just the 200HP+, turbocharged competition the list gets considerably shorter: Tiguan, Q5 and RDX. As Kia continues their claw upmarket, it should come as no surprise that Acura’s baby crossover should be found in Kia’s crosshairs. The question is: does the Sportage have what it takes to convince entry-level luxury CUV shoppers to stop at the Kia dealer? Or is this just faster competition for the RAV 4 and CR-V? Michael Karesh was able to get a Sportage SX turbo for a day from a local dealer, but what’s it like for a week? Lets find out.

From the outside, the new Sportage strikes a much more aggressive pose than the outgoing model. The clean lines and angular styling echo many of Acura’s latest design cues without being as “me-too” as previous Kia products. The large corporate grill looks at home on the Sportage and possibly better suited to the compact CUV than some of the other products that wear this nose.  While styling opinions vary, one thing seems to be universal: the Sportage’s proboscis is far more attractive than Acura’s ungainly beak.  In addition to the new engine, the SX model also gets large 18-inch wheels, a unique grill, dual exhaust, tweaked sills, aluminum door scuff plates, a different instrument cluster and some optional unique interior trim. Oh, and that T-GDI badge on the rear hatch.

The new Sportage’s interior was something of a let-down after spending a week inside the new Optima. That’s not to say the Sportage’s interior isn’t competitive, it’s just not class leading the way the new Optima SX is. Compared to other new Kia products, there are fewer soft touch plastics and no stitched-dash-trim bits to be found. Still, the interior is notably better than the majority of the competition in truth only a notch behind the likes of the more expensive Acura RDX. Even the new CR-V we crawled around inside during our coverage of the LA Auto Show only matches the Kia in interior refinement. Lesser Sportage trims are available in a two-tone grey motif that looks decidedly up-market,  the SX model however is available only in black, however the black-on-black-on-black interior of our test car made the interior feel a bit too cold and dark for my tastes.  The daring black and orange we saw on the 2011 model seems to have found few homes and is sadly no longer available. In comparison the interior of the RDX is a higher rent for sure, but the difference is mostly in design rather than component quality as the plastics inside the RDX are no more inspiring than the Kia. The RDX serves up similar proportions to the Kia but offers a modest 1.7 cubic feet more cargo room than the Sportage.

As is often the case with specialty trim-lines, it’s what’s under the hood that makes the SX worth the second look (and possible competition for the near luxury crowd). While the base Sportage gets by with a naturally aspirated 2.4L four-cylinder Hyundai/Kia Theta engine good for a middling 176HP and 168lb-ft of torque, the Sportage SX gets the new 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder direct-injection engine from the new turbo Optima and Sonata. The new forced induction mill is tuned for 260HP at 6,000RPM and a beefy 269 lb-ft of torque from 1,850-3,000RPM. Like many turbo engines, the SX’s torque curve is flat, but unlike many turbo engines on the market it tapers off somewhat quickly at the top end. Compared to the heavy hitters in the near luxury segment, the SX tops the forced induction group with VW’s 2.0L turbo delivering 200HP and 206lb-ft of torque, Audi’s 2.0L cranking out 211HP/258lb-ft, and the RDX ‘s 2.3L turbo delivering 240HP/260lb-ft. The Theta turbo also delivers arguably more punch than the Q5’s 3.2L V6 or BMW’s naturally aspirated 3.0L inline-6. The cost for this extra punch? $2,500 more than a comparably equipped Sportage EX.

The RDX and other compact near-luxury CUVs sell on acceleration, sporty handling with a modicum of cargo capacity while the mass-market CUVs seem to focus mostly on upright seating, and this is where the Sportage seems to straddle the fence. Out on the road the light weight (3,466lb vs 3931 for the RDX), stiff chassis and wide 235-series 18-inch rubber conspire to make the Sportage a near equal to the RDX (or dare I even say EX35) when the going gets twisty despite not having Acura’s slick torque-vectoring SH-AWD system. Kia fitted their latest electric power-steering system to the Sportage SX which provides more road feel and feedback than I had expected. When throwing the baby-SUV into corners, the Sportage compares favorably with the premium compact CUVs on the market. What little the Sportage SX gives up to the RDX in handling, it makes up for it in straight line performance running to 60MPH 0.3 seconds faster than the RDX turbo and finishing the  quarter-mile 0.4 seconds faster as well. The SX also ran to sixty 0.4 seconds faster than a 2011 AWD RAV 4 I got my hands on, and 0.7 seconds faster than the Audi Q5 2.0T we tested in April.

Directing the power to the tarmac is the Hyundai/Kia 6-speed automatic transmission and an optional AWD system. Much like the RDX however, AWD is essential if you care about on-road performance as the turbo brings the torque to a boil quickly. (A FWD model we tested suffered from wheel hop and severe front-wheel-peel at the merest press of the go pedal). Kia’s AWD system uses a center clutch pack (rather than a true center differential) that can connect or disconnect the rear wheels at will but (unlink SH-AWD) will never send more than 50% of the power to the back. Sadly Kia chose not to snag the Optima SX’s paddle shifters for use on the Sportage SX, nor did the slightly sportier transmission programming make a cameo. When driven hard, the transmission is eager to down-shift to do your right-foot’s bidding, but its just as eager to up-shift as you brake to enter the next curve. While Kia does provide a manumatic mode, it is a bit slow to react and without paddle shifters, its less convenient to use as well. The RDX’s 5-speed transmission is more willing to dance and the shift paddles make commanding (and staying in) a particular gear easier.

Now to the nitty-gritty: While the base, naturally-aspirated, FWD Sportage starts at a reasonable $18,500, stepping up to the SX turbo with AWD will cost you an extra $9,900, bringing your total to $28,400. The FWD SX may be $2,000 cheaper and deliver 2 more highway MPGs, but trust me, powering all four wheels is worth both costs. Besides, if you cared about economy you’d be buying the base FWD Sportage anyway. Our tester also wore the $2,000 premium package which gets you the panoramic sunroof, power mirrors with turn-signals, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, heated front seats and a cooled driver’s seat. The $1,000 navigation system option bumped our as-tested price to a somewhat steep $32,200. While I (like many of you) gasped at the total, a quick trip to my local Honda and Toyota dealers revealed the Sportage SX is actually a hair cheaper than a comparable RAV-4 (5 seater). Adjusting for options and the engine upgrade, the Sportage SX costs about the same as Honda’s CR-V, but is a significant $6,680 cheaper than a comparably equipped RDX which starts at $32,895 and comparably equipped (to our fully-loaded tester) rings in at $37,995.

There was a time where Kias were the cheap option, once that age ended, Kias became the value option, and today Kia has become a mainstream player. The Sportage is a perfect example of this transition, when Kia’s Sportage rolled into the light in 1993, it was cheap, and, well, cheap. The second generation Sportage was a value option to the main-stream shopper and as such, its faults could be forgiven because of its price. The base Sportage seems to slot firmly in the mainstream CUV line-up with competitive pricing, competitive features and average performance. Meanwhile, the Sportage SX seems to aspire to the near-luxury segment, trying to sell on handling and acceleration. While I’m not 100% sure the Sportage is ready to lock swords with Acura on the CUV battlefield, it is a very solid alternative for CUV shoppers. Of course, I value the “deal” so while the RDX is still the better small crossover, the Sportage SX is a close second and my personal choice, it’s just not quite near-luxury material yet. Wait till the fourth generation for that.

 

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

Statistics as tested

0-60: 6.1 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 14.6 Seconds @ 96 MPH

Fuel Economy: over 629 miles, 23.0MPG

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BMW: Don’t Fear The Four http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/08/bmw-dont-fear-the-four/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/08/bmw-dont-fear-the-four/#comments Tue, 30 Aug 2011 21:20:22 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=409325 It’s been 12 years since BMW offered a four-cylinder engine on a US-market offering, but starting this October, US dealers will begin offering new “TwinPower”four-pot versions of the Z4 roadster and 5-series sedan. And, as BMW’s US-market boss Jim O’Donnell explains to Automotive News [sub], there’s no reason to fear the four… anymore. It wasn’t […]

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It’s been 12 years since BMW offered a four-cylinder engine on a US-market offering, but starting this October, US dealers will begin offering new “TwinPower”four-pot versions of the Z4 roadster and 5-series sedan. And, as BMW’s US-market boss Jim O’Donnell explains to Automotive News [sub], there’s no reason to fear the four… anymore.

It wasn’t in line with our image, because it didn’t have the performance of the six cylinder. We were selling ourselves as the ultimate driving machine and really it wasn’t. Now that the engines have developed so far, it’s not an issue at all.

But now BMW is offering four-bangers because they offer an even better driving experience, right? Less weight, better turn-in, that kind of thing… right?

Uh, not so much, no. O’Donnell continues

CAFE is definitely driving this. This is huge for us. If we get this wrong, it screws up all of our plans in the U.S.

And O’Donnell is right to reference the risks involved. After all, Ford is already learning the hard way that charging high prices for downsized, fuel-efficient engines doesn’t always pan out, as its Explorer Ecoboost was mauled for lackluster performance by even the traditionally toothless Motor Trend. On the other hand, the CAFE-related problems with not offering smaller engines are even worse:

Failure to meet U. S. requirements produces fines of $55 per mile below the requirement multiplied by the total number of vehicles sold, Greg Schroeder, a research analyst at the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Michigan, said in a telephone interview.

Selling 200,000 vehicles with a CAFE 20 mpg below the target, for example, would lead to an annual fine of $220 million. “As the fuel economy doubles they have to change their plan,” Schroeder, the industry analyst, said. “They’re going to have to improve fuel economy, they can’t just sit and pay fines forever.”

But don’t start bemoaning a new CAFE-induced Malaise era just yet: the new four-pot base engine may be down 6 percent compared to the previous entry-level six in the Z4, but it boasts an 18 percent improvement in torque. The new Z4 is .1 seconds faster to 60 MPH than its six-equipped predecessor, while the new four-cylinder 528i should shave .4 seconds off its predecessor’s 0-60 time. But for image-conscious luxury brands, the challenge isn’t simply proving that the performance numbers show progress… after all, they’ve spent decades leading consumers to believe that the number of cylinders was a key to premium-ness.

“The challenge really is for us as a company and you as media to look at how we describe performance, which tradition would tell is the number of cylinders and how big they are, and that determines a premium car or a high-performance car versus another car,” Ian Robertson, head of BMW sales, said in Carmel, California. “That is not the relevant measure anymore.”

That sell would be a lot easier to make if the new four-bangers sounded as good as we know BMW can make them. Check out the following video (starting at around :47) to see what we’re talking about.

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Hyundai: Direct Injection Has Its Limits http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/01/hyundai-direct-injection-has-its-limits/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/01/hyundai-direct-injection-has-its-limits/#comments Tue, 26 Jan 2010 21:55:59 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=343126 We’ve spilled a few pixels on these pages over Hyundai’s dedication to direct injection (DI) technology, even going as far as to crown Hyundai the “new Honda” of motor technology. But DI technology isn’t without its downsides, and Hyundai tells Automotive News [sub] that the technology isn’t likely to appear on future engines with less […]

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We’ve spilled a few pixels on these pages over Hyundai’s dedication to direct injection (DI) technology, even going as far as to crown Hyundai the “new Honda” of motor technology. But DI technology isn’t without its downsides, and Hyundai tells Automotive News [sub] that the technology isn’t likely to appear on future engines with less than two liters of displacement.

Specifically, a 1.6 liter engine, destined for Hyundai’s future compacts like the Accent likely won’t see direct injection, as Hyundai’s North American powertrain director tells AN [sub] “it gets more difficult when you have four valves, the injector and the plug all in a very small-sized bore,” like the 1.6 liter engine under development. But, he adds, “there is still more room to get more fuel efficiency” out of small-capacity engines without DI.

This is an interesting development in that Chrysler is heavily relying on downsized, direct-injected and turbocharged engines from Fiat, including a 1.4 liter engine that will first see action in the US under the hood of the Fiat 500. Though the 500 won’t compete with any Hyundai models, future mass-market B- and C-segment Chrysler offerings are expected to utilize sub-two liter DI engines, meaning they’ll face a challenge in competing with Hyundai’s cheaper, non-DI powerplants.

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