The Truth About Cars » German The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Sun, 27 Jul 2014 20:45:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (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 » German ZF’s 9-Speed 9HP Transmission Puts Dog Clutches On The Leash Sun, 09 Feb 2014 03:34:39 +0000 ZF 9HP Transmission, Picture Courtesy of Land RoverIn a week we will post our first full review of the all-new and all-controversial 2014 Jeep Cherokee. The new Jeep isn’t just raising eyebrows for the love-it or hate-it styling. Or the resurrection of the Cherokee badge. Or the constant delays in production. Or the transverse mounted engine. Or the lack of solid axles. None of that laundry list seems to cause as much discussion around the automotive water cooler than ZF’s 9HP 9-speed transmission. Click past the jump for a deep dive into the tranny with more speeds than my bicycle. If you don’t want to explore transmissions in detail, don’t click. You have been warned.

When Derek drove the Cherokee at a launch event he complained about the transmission. When I drove a pre-production model for a very brief hour and a half I was more perplexed than anything. I chalked it up to pre-production programming issues and the fact that the transmission has 50% more speeds than a 6-speed, so I expected 50% more shifting. A month later I was able to sample a different Cherokee with newer software and some of my shifting complaints had been solved but something still felt “wrong.” Now three months later a full production Cherokee landed in my hands and while the shift logic (when and why the transmission would shift up or down) was finally where I thought it should be, the shifts themselves felt different from what I am used to. The reason is all down to clutches, but let’s start at the beginning.

In general terms an engine is most efficient in a somewhat narrow band of RPMs. That exact band varies from engine to engine based on what the designers intended at the time. The longer you can keep the engine in this range of RPMs, the more efficient the car will be. Secondary to this is a desire for improved off-the-line performance, this necessitates ever-lower first gear ratios. The distance between the lowest and the tallest gear in a transmission is called the ratio spread. (You get it by dividing the lowest ratio by the tallest and that gives you a number that represents the delta between first and last.) GM’s venerable 4-speed 4L80 has a spread of 3.3 while their new 6-speed 6L80 has a spread of 6. The deeper first gear and taller 6th allow the 6L80 to deliver better performance and better fuel economy. The reason ZF’s 8-speed 8HP doesn’t have the same delta in performance over the average 6-speed as the 6-speed had over the 4-speed, is easy to explain. The 8HP’s ratio spread is 7, just 1 higher than a 6 speed while the 6-speeds had a 3 point advantage over the 4-speeds. Aisin’s new 8-speed transaxle in Volvo and Lexus models goes a small step further with a 7.59 spread. These can all be seen as progressive improvements. The 9HP is different. With a 4.7:1 first gear and a 0.48:1 ninth gear the overall spread is a whopping 9.8.


On closer inspection you’ll notice something interesting about the 9HP’s ratios. Fifth is the 1:1 ratio where the output shaft of the transmission is spinning at the same rate as the engine meaning there four overdrive ratios. In contrast both ZF and Aisin’s 8-speed transmissions have just two overdrive ratios with 6th gear being the direct-drive (1:1) ratio. As a result the 9HP’s lower gears are farther apart, especially first and second gear. When you look deeper at the numbers you’ll also notice that the 9HP is geared much taller at the top end with 7th gear being approximately equal to 8th in the Aisin or ZF 8-speed units. Many reviewers of the Cherokee noted they never experienced 9th gear during their test drive and I now know why. At 0.48:1 with the 3.2L V6 (3.251 final drive) you have to be going faster than 80 MPH to engage 9th because at 80 your engine loafs around at 1,460 RPM. (The 2.4L four-cylinder in the Cherokee Trailhawk would be going about 1,810 RPM at 80.) According to ZF this results in an impressive 12-16% improvement in fuel economy versus the same final drive ratio and their own 6-speed automatic and 11-15% when compared to their 8-speed.

OK, so the 9HP has plenty of gears, but why does it shift the way that it does? It’s all down to the clutches. While a traditional automatic uses friction clutches in the form of either band clutches or multi-plate friction clutches, the 9HP blends friction clutches and dog clutches in the same transmission case. Dog clutches are “interference” clutches more commonly found in manual transmissions and transfer cases. Friction clutches work by pressing two plates together. The friction between them allows the transfer of energy and it allows one plate to spin faster than the other or “slip.” Think of slipping the clutch in a manual car, it is the same action. Automatic transmissions use this clutch type to their advantage because changing gear doesn’t always require engine power to drop, the transmission simply disconnects one clutch as it engages another, they slip and engage and you’re in another gear. Dog clutches however are different. If you look at the illustration below you can see a dog clutch on the right. Power is transmitted by the tooth of one side pressing on the tooth of the other. This type of clutch cannot slip so it is either engaged or disengaged. This is the type of clutch used inside manual transmissions. When you move the shifter to a different gear, you are physically disengaging and engaging dog clutches. This style of clutch is used because it suffers little parasitic loss and it is simple and compact. The use of a dog clutch in an “automatic” transmission isn’t new, dual clutch robotized manuals use this style of clutch internally as well, but it is the key to understanding why the 9HP shifts the way it does.


Because dog clutches can’t slip, their engagement must be controlled and precise. Going back to the manual transmission example, this is why modern manual transmissions have “synchros” or synchromesh. A Synchro is a mechanism that aligns the dog teeth prior to engagement. Without them you get that distinct gear grinding noise. Synchros work well in a manual transmission because when you are changing gear you are disconnecting the engine with the clutch (a friction clutch), then engaging a dog clutch for your gear selection. Because one end of the transmission is “free” the synchro synchronizes the two sides and then allows the toothed gear to engage. There is a “pause” in power when a shift occurs. If you look at an acceleration chart of a car with a good manual driver and an automatic you will see pauses in acceleration in the manual while most autos just have “reductions” in acceleration. That’s down to the pause required to engage a dog clutch vs a friction clutch that slips and engages without much reduction in power.

Let’s digress for a moment and talk about the DSG. The reason dual clutch gearboxes exist is because of the dog clutch. As I said engaging a dog clutch takes time and precision. This is part of the reason single-clutch robotic manuals like the one in the Smart ForTwo and the RAM ProMaster (and other Euro sedans) have such exaggerated shifts. Double clutch gearboxes get around this by having two gears engaged at all times. DSG style gearboxes are really two manual transmissions in the same case. 1st gear is engaged via the first transmission and 2nd is engaged but not active on the second. Changing gears simply involves swapping (via a friction clutch) from transmission A to transmission B. Once that is accomplished, the transmission A disengages and engages the dog clutches to select the next gear. Going from 2nd to 3rd involves swapping back from transmission B to the already shifted transmission A.

Let’s put it all together now. To save space and increase efficiency, the 9HP uses two multi-plate clutch elements, two friction brakes and two electronically synchronized dog clutches. (The 8HP uses two brakes and three multi-plate clutches.) The way the gearsets are arranged inside the case, shifts from 1-2, 2-3, and 3-4 involve only the traditional friction brake and clutch elements. As you would expect, aside from 1st being fairly low and somewhat distant from 2nd, these shifts feel perfectly “normal.” Under hard acceleration there is a momentary reduction in engine torque (courtesy of the computer to reduce clutch wear) and the shift occurs quickly and smoothly. The shift from 4-5 however is different. The transmission has to disengage dog clutch “A” in addition to engaging a friction clutch. This shift takes slightly longer than the 3-4 shift and the car’s computer makes a drastic reduction in torque to prevent wear of the dog teeth. Shifts 5-6 and 6-7 again happen with the only the friction elements at which point we need to disconnect the final dog clutch for gears 8 and 9 so we get the same kind of torque reduction in those shifts. The result is a transmission that has two distinct “feels” to its shifts, one that has only a slight torque reduction (1-2, 2-3, 3-4, 5-6, 6-7, 8-9) and one that has a more “manual transmission” feel where torque is cut severely (4-5 and 7-8).

2014 Jeep Cherokee Instrument Cluster

Because of the positioning of the two dog clutches in the shift pattern, the torque reduction isn’t objectionable in upshifts. Hard acceleration from a stop didn’t involve 5th gear even in the 1/4 mile. However, once you let off the gas the transmission will shift upwards rapidly for fuel economy settling in 6th or 7th in the 60-65 MPH range and 8th in the 70-75 MPH range.

Downshifts are where the 9HP truly feels different. Because of the design, if you’re in 8th gear and want to pass, the transmission will often need to drop 4 or 5 gears to get to a suitable ratio. (Remember that 4th gear is the first ratio going back down the scale that is lower than 1:1.) To do this the transmission has to accomplish the harder task of engaging two dog clutches. To do this the transmission doesn’t use cone synchros like a manual (too bulky) it uses software. Engaging dog clutches requires a longer and yet more severe reduction in torque than the disengagement because the transmission has to align the clutch and then engage it. In most automatics when you floor the car you get an instant feeling of acceleration that improves as the transmission downshifts. Although there would be moments of power reduction (depending on the programming) during this time, the engine is always providing some force forward. The 9HP’s software on the other hand responds by cutting power initially, then diving as far down the gear-ladder as it can, engaging the dog clutches and then reinstating your throttle command. The result is a somewhat odd delay between the pedal on the floor and the car taking off like a bat out of hell. According to Volvo’s powertrain guys, this shift behavior is one of the main reasons they chose the Aisin 8-speed (shared with the Lexus RX F-Sport) over the ZF 9-speed used by Land Rover and Chrysler.

All of a sudden the “odd” shift feel made perfect sense. In the march toward ever-improving fuel economy the automotive public will continually be introduced to cars that feel different from the “good old days.” Electric power steering numbs the wheel-feel but steer-by-wire promises to artificiality resurrect it. Dual clutch robotized manuals have a particular feel that was accepted by performance enthusiasts but has been a source of complaint for Focus and Fiesta shoppers. For me, understanding why the transmission is doing what it is doing is key to my like or dislike of a car’s road manners. Once I understood what the Cherokee’s automatic was up to, I was able to focus on the rest of the car. What about you? Are you willing to “sacrifice” shift quality at the altar of fuel economy? Be sure to let me know.

Have an automotive technology question? Want to see a deep-dive on another powertrain component?

Let us know by using the contact form at the top of the page!

]]> 132
Review: 2014 Ford Focus ST (With Video) Thu, 09 Jan 2014 14:00:42 +0000 2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior

Hot hatches are all the rage in Europe but represent a fairly small segment of American consumption. The formula is fairly simple, you take a compact hatchback, insert a turbocharged engine, stiffen the springs and add an anti-roll bar that can lift the inner rear wheel in corners if you really push it. The result is the polar opposite of a pony car.


Click here to view the embedded video.


For 2014, the American hot hatch shopper is spoiled for choice. There are a whopping two options: the 2014 Ford Focus ST and the 2014 Volkswagen GTI. If you’re patient enough, VW plans on releasing a new GTI for the 2015 model year and the Mazda rumor mill is rife with 2015 Mazdaspeed3 assumptions. I must therefore rule the Focus ST the most attractive hot hatch in America and put the comparatively boring GTI in last place, or second. However you want to look at it. For performance duty Ford takes the already handsome Focus, lowers it by nearly half an inch and swaps in some new wheels, a front bumper, tweaked spoiler, rear valance and exhaust tips. If you haven’t noticed by now, there is no sedan variant of the Focus ST. Sorry America.

Although the parts list is short, I found the transformation impressive. I haven’t warmed to the Euro nose that the current generation Focus wears while the ST’s more conventional single grille look manages to be both more grown up and more aggressive when compared to the donor car. (Don’t worry, you can get your Focus in colors other than “Tangerine Scream”.) The ST shares hoods with the lesser Focuses (Foci?) there is an oddly large gap between the hood and front bumper that is so uniform (and is on every ST model I have seen) that it must be intentional, however distracting. The reason is that the regular model’s hood doesn’t mate directly with anything as it is styled to be the upper part of the front grille. I have a feeling that if and when the Mazdaspeed3 lands, it will take the crown as I find the Mazda3 the most attractive entry in the compact hatchback segment.

2014 Ford Focus ST Interior-005


Like the Volkswagen GTI, the first thing you will notice about the Focus when you hop inside will be the very European color palate. In other words, black. The soft injection moulded dashboard combines with the black headliner, black carpets and predominantly black upholstery to create a very Germanic interior. All Focus models sport a double-bump style dashboard with the infotainment positioned in a prominent position and the ST trim tops off the binnacle with standard gauges for oil temperature, oil pressure and turbo boost.  This is the same cabin that European shoppers get with one exception: the Recaro seats aren’t standard on our side of the pond. Neither is that 8-inch touchscreen.

Although the ST starts at $23,625 my realistic base price jumps to $25,845 by adding the “ST2″ package which I consider essential. This package adds the 8-inch screen, automatic climate control and the Recaro seats that you see in all the photos and reviews of the Focus ST. The base seats lack the aggressive bolstering or the exceptional comfort of the half-leather Recaro thrones. ST2 shoppers can opt for two-tone seats (as seen in our tester) in blue, yellow or black-on-black. Checking the ST3 box brings the ST up to $28,000 and adds completely leather faced seats (black only), seat heaters, HID headlamps, LED daytime running lamps and standard navigation software.

2014 Ford Focus ST Interior-004

During my week with the ST I put over 1,100 miles on the Tangerine Scream including a 650 mile road trip. The Recaro thrones proved to be supportive, comfortable and superior to the GTI’s seats for long road trips. Unfortunately the rear passengers weren’t as happy since the Focus has a fairly cramped rear seat. Adding the Recaro seats to the Focus seems to drop the rear seat room by a hair as well making the Focus a great deal tighter than the GTI despite the Focus being the longer car by six inches. Where do those inches go? Some of them are consumed by the Ford’s longer nose, but plenty can be found in the ST’s 50% larger cargo hold.

Since I mentioned the Mustang earlier, that tight rear seat is one of the main reasons you’d select a Focus ST over a V6 ‘Stang. Despite being smaller than a GTI, the ST offers two extra doors, three more inches of leg room and a 5th seat belt. In addition to the added passenger room the Focus also boasts 10 more cubic feet of widget storage in the back.

2014 Ford Focus ST Interior-002


Base ST shoppers get basic entertainment to go with their basic seating. All STs come standard with a 6-speaker audio system sporting a 4.2-inch color LCD, SYNC voice commands and a sea of buttons. The unit is housed in the same binnacle as the 8-inch system so there’s plenty of blank space to remind you that you didn’t pony up for the MyFord Touch system. The ST3 package that is my realistic base for the ST solves this by removing the button bank and inserting the screen you see above. Bundled with the resistive touchscreen is an upgraded 10-speaker Sony speaker system with a subwoofer and a center channel. Sound quality in the 6-speaker system was disappointing while the Sony system impressed. One thing to know if that the Sony system tends to have exaggerated treble and bass tuning by default but it is adjustable.

This is about the time when I usually comment on MyFord Touch being somewhat sluggish and suggest that the competition has an acceptable alternative. The alternative however is Volkswagen’s ancient infotainment lineup. All GTIs share the same 8-speaker sound system that slots between Ford’s base and up-level system in both speaker count and sound quality but everything else pales in comparison. The GTI has no SYNC-like voice command system in any model and the base GTI doesn’t even get a color LCD in the cabin. The Driver’s Edition GTI gets VW’s low-cost navigation unit which, when compared to MyFord Touch, is like taking a Palm Pilot to an iPad fight. Hopefully VW will up their game for 2015, but more than likely Ford’s only real infotainment competition will come from Mazda’s slick MazdaConnect system.

2014 Ford Focus ST Engine-002


The last Focus ST was powered by Volvo, a logical choice since Volvo’s S40 and Ford’s Focus were cousins to begin with. This generation Focus is 100% Ford. Instead of the oddly-alluring 2.5L five-cylinder, we get a 252 horsepower tune of Ford’s 2.0L EcoBoost engine cranking out 270 lb-ft of torque. (There is a bit of confusion on the HP numbers, in the video I mention Ford’s initial numbers of 247 HP and 266 lb-ft which was later updated to 252/270. Apparently running 87 octane gasoline in your ST will yield 247 while 93 will get you 252.) This is the same four-cylinder turbo used in the Ford Edge and Taurus except that the boost has been cranked up and it is mated to a 6-speed manual transmission. (As far as we can tell this is no longer the Volvo M66 transmission manufactured by Getrag.)


Compared to the VW, the Focus is 52 ponies more powerful and serves up 63 more lb-ft while the Mustang V6 beats the Focus by 48 horsepower and 10 lb-ft. As you would assume with numbers like that, the Mustang is faster t0 60, but thanks to the turbocharger on the Focus the difference in our testing was just 1/10th of a second and is more down to driver skill and traction than vehicle output. The VW on the other hand can’t makeup for the power deficit by being 100lbs lighter and was 3/10ths slower.

2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior-006

The big difference between a Mustang and a hot hatch is of course which wheels are getting the power. Because the ST funnels all its power through the front wheels, torque steer is a genuine concern. Rather than limit engine power in 1st and 2nd like Mazda did with the old Mazdaspeed3, or use a limited slip differential like Honda uses on occasion, Ford decided to program the electric power steering to compensate. Coupled with the EPAS system is a stability control system programmed to torque vector power across the front using the car’s large front brakes. The system works passably well but not as well as the Ford’s “Revo Kunckle” which they use on their larger cars. Due mostly to the greater output, torque steer in the ST is more pronounced than in the GTI, but much less noticeable than in the old Mazda. I’ve always found mild torque steer in a fast front-driver an entertaining phenomenon so it never bothered me.

Helping the steering tendencies is a variable ratio steering rack that uses a quick 1.8 turns lock to lock vs 2.1 in the GTI, 2.8 in the standard Focus and 3.1 in the V6 ‘Stang. Thanks to the ratio the ST feels very nimble and eager to change direction. Unless you need to U-turn of course which is when you will discover that this tiny hatch has a nearly 40-foot turning radius.

2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior-009

Thanks to a light 3,200 pound curb weight (100lbs heavier than the VW but 300lbs lighter than a V6 Mustang), 235-width Eagle F1 Asymmetric tires and a well tuned suspension, the Focus ST sticks to the road like glue. TTAC doesn’t have access to a skidpad to confirm or deny the Mustang trouncing Gs the plucky hatch can pull, but after a week making passengers sick on winging mountain roads I’m a believer. What makes the Focus more impressive is how neutral the car feels despite being a front-heavy front-driver. It’s more lively, less civilized but more rewarding to drive than the GTI. The V6 ‘Stang does give you rear-wheel- drive dynamics and more shove in a straight line, but I’d be willing to bet I’d be faster around a track in the Focus ST.

What surprised me about the Focus the most however was how livable it is. The suspension is firm but never harsh and my spine didn’t revolt on a 5 hour drive to Los Angeles. Cabin noise was high at 76 dB but that’s not far from the last Golf I measured and average for the economy car segment. Thanks to an active noise generator that opens a valve to pipe sound into the cabin from when at full throttle, normal driving happens without the incessant droning of a Fiat Abarth. While the Tangerine Scream paint job and yellow trimmed seats scream “boy racer”, the truth is the Focus is quite the grown up. With a starting price some $1,300 less than a GTI the Focus delivers a solid value proposition. Fully loaded the difference narrows to less than a grand in cash but more than $3,000 when you factor in the Ford’s greater feature content. While I’m sure that 2015 will bring a VW GTI with more refinement and an improved interior, VW has confirmed the ST will still be the horsepower champion and likely the value leader as well. Compared to that RWD Ford on the lot, the pony car is less expensive but less practical as well. For the cost difference between the Mustang and the ST, you could buy all manner of performance mods for your pony to compete with the ST, but I have a feeling I’d still buy the Focus. For 2014 Ford’s hot hatch is without a doubt the hottest hatch on sale in America, but with Volkswagen planning on sending their 290HP Golf R to the USA and Ford’s own high-power Focus RS rumored, things are just starting to warm up.

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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.3

0-60: 5.95

1/4 Mile: 14.36 Seconds @ 98.5 MPH

Average Observed Fuel Economy: 25.7 MPG over 1210 Miles

Sound Level at 50 MPH: 76.4 dB


2014 Ford Focus ST Engine 2014 Ford Focus ST Engine-001 2014 Ford Focus ST Engine-002 2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior 2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior-001 2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior-002 2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior-003 2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior-004 2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior-005 2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior-006 2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior-007 2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior-008 2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior-009 2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior-010 2014 Ford Focus ST Interior 2014 Ford Focus ST Interior-001 2014 Ford Focus ST Interior-002 2014 Ford Focus ST Interior-003 2014 Ford Focus ST Interior-004 2014 Ford Focus ST Interior-005 2014 Ford Focus ST Interior-006 2014 Ford Focus ST Interior-007 2014 Ford Focus ST Interior-008 ]]> 142
Review: 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T (With Video) Fri, 27 Dec 2013 14:00:48 +0000 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-001

It’s been decades since Cadillac produced the “Cadillac” of anything. However, when car buffs dismiss the only American luxury brand left, they fail to see Cadillac’s march forward. 2002 brought the first RWD Cadillac since the Fleetwoood. A year later the XLR roadster hit, followed in 2004 by Cadillac’s first 5-Series fighter, the STS. Not everything was rosy. The original CTS drove like a BMW but lacked charm and luxury fittings. The XLR was based on a Corvette, which made for excellent road manners, but the Northstar engine didn’t have the oomph. The STS sounded like a good idea, but the half-step CTS wasn’t much smaller and ultimately shoppers weren’t interested in a bargain option. That brings us to the new ATS and CTS. Ditching the “more car for less money” mantra, the ATS has been created to fight the C/3/IS leaving the CTS free to battle the E/5/GS head-on. Can Caddy’s sensible new strategy deliver the one-two punch fans have hoped for? I snagged a CTS 2.0T for a week to find out.


Click here to view the embedded video.


I found the outgoing CTS a little discordant, but 2014 brings an elegant more aggressive refresh. GM’s Art and Science theme has matured from “cubism gone wrong” to shapes that flow and jibe with a larger grille and softer creases. The 5-Series continues to go for elegant and restrained, I find the XF and A6′s design a mixture of plain-Jane and snazzy headlamps while the Infiniti Q5o and Lexus GS are going for flowing elegance.

The demur side profile continues with a simple character line to draw your eye from front to rear. One thing you’ll notice during that eye-movement is the distinct RWD proportions that separate the CTS, E, 5, GS, XF and Q50 from the long-nosed Audi A6 and near-luxury FWD options. Out back the CTS’ rump is a bit less exciting but employs all the latest luxury cues from hidden exhaust tops to light piped tail lamps. I was hoping Caddy’s fins would be further resurrected,  but the “proto fins” on the XTS are absent. Pity. Obvious from every angle is an attention to build quality absent from earlier generations with perfect panel gaps and seams.

Structurally, the CTS has jumped ship to a stretched version of the Alpha platform the smaller ATS rides on. Thanks to the automotive taffy-pull, the CTS is now 2.3 inches longer than a BMW 5-series. However, because of the Alpha roots, the CTS has actually shrunk for 2014 by 3 inches in length while getting 2 inches wider and a 2 inch roof height reduction.

2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Interior-006


GM has proven they are able to create a car that drives competitively and looks sexy on the outside, but interiors have always been a mixed bag. The last gen CTS felt as if it was built with a mixture of custom parts and Chevy hand-me downs. No more. Like the ATS, the Caddy shares little with the rest of GM’s mass market-rabble. It is hard to find fault in the CTS’s dashboard’s combination of injection molded soft touch plastics, leather, faux suede, real wood, carbon fiber and contrasting stitching. Cadillac continues their dedication to shiny touch buttons on the dash and no luxury sedan would be complete without a little gimmicky drama. The CTS’s motorized cupholder lid ties with the XF’s automated air vents for the feature most clearly designed to brag about. I’m not sure how long that little motor will crank away, but it can’t be any less reliable than Jaguar’s theatrical air vents.

Because of the way Cadillac chose to stretch the CTS’ donor platform, cargo and interior space aren’t the primary beneficiaries. This means that rear legroom actually shrinks for 2014 to the smallest entry in this segment by a hair. Trunk volume also drops from a competitive 13.6 cubes to 10.5 which is a 20% reduction compared to the Lexus and BMW and 30% smaller than the Mercedes. The CTS makes up for some of this with comfortable thrones all the way around and when equipped with the optional 20-way front seats the CTS ranks #2 in the segment just behind BMW’s optional 24-way sport seats in comfort. Taller drivers and passengers beware, dropping the CTS’ roof height made the profile sexier but cuts headroom to the lowest in the segment.

2013 Cadillac ATS Instrument Cluster

2013 Cadillac ATS Instrument Cluster

There is one glaring flaw. The decidedly dowdy base instrument cluster is shared with the ATS (pictured above) and the XTS. Our Facebook followers were so put-off by Caddy’s base dials, the fervor spawned a Vellum Venom Vignette. While the ATS is saddled with the four-dial layout, the CTS and XTS have a savior: the most attractive LCD disco dash available. (My tester was so equipped.) Perhaps it is this dichotomy that is so vexing about the base CTS models. If you don’t fork over enough cash, you’ll constantly be reminded that you couldn’t afford the Cadillac of displays.

The 12.3-inch cluster offers the driver more customization than you fill find in any other full-LCD cluster. Unlike the Jaguar and Land Rover screens that simply replicate analogue gauges, you can select from several different views depending on whether you feel like analogue dials or digital information and the amount of information overload you prefer. (Check out the gallery.) My preferred layout contained a high res navigation map, digital speedo, fuel status, range to empty, average fuel economy, audio system information with album art and track information and the speed-limit on the road I was traveling on.

2014 Cadillac CUE - CTS 2.0T-001


I have been critical of Cadillac’s CUE system but 2014 brings some important software fixes resolving the random system crashes and demon possessed touch controls I experienced in the ATS and XTS. After driving the CTS for 852 miles, the CUE system proved rock solid in terms of reliability. Unfortunately, little has been done to address the sluggish response to inputs, unintuitive menus and old-school nav graphics. Despite the still flaws, I have to stick by my words when MyFord Touch landed: I’d rather have slow infotainment than none at all. BMW’s iDrive still ranks 1st for me because the interface is intuitive, attractive, responsive and elegant. BMW continues to add new features to their system and, unlike other systems, the new features in general operate as smoothly as the rest of the iDrive interface. You may be surprised to know that CUE ranks second for me.

CUE’s graphics are more pleasing to my eye than MMI, COMAND, Sensus, MyLincon Touch, Enform or AcuraLink. COMAND’s software should have been sent out to pasture long ago. The graphics are ancient and trying to load any of the smartphone apps is an exercise in frustration. Instead of reinventing their software, Lexus reinvented the input method taking their system from most intuitive to least in a single move. Senus isn’t half bad but Volvo’s screens are small and the software lacks the smartphone integration found in the competition. MyLincoln Touch is well featured but lacks CUE’s more modern look and the glass touchscreen.

2014 Cadillac CUE - CTS 2.0T-006

The scratch resistant glass touchscreen and proximity sensors used by Cadillac are part of what give the system a clean modern look. Most systems use resistive touchscreens which are pressure sensitive and require that the surface of the screen actually move to sense your touch. This means they need to be made of a ductile plastic which is several layers thick. The consumer comparison is to think of your iPhone or Android phone vs a color Palm Pilot from years past. Cadillac uses the screen to allow intuitive finger-sliding gestures and the proximity sensor to reduce visual clutter when your finger is away from the screen. Move you hand closet to the screen and the less critical interface buttons reappear.

Cadillac continues their relationship with Bose, giving the base model an 11-speaker sound system that brings everything but navigation to the party. Our model was equipped with the up-level 13-speaker Bose sound system, navigation software and the optional single-slot CD player hiding in the glove box. Compared with BMW’s premium audio offerings, the Bose systems sing slightly flatter and lack the volume capable in the German options. However compared to Lexus’ standard and optional systems the Cadillac holds its own.

Ecotec 2.0L I-4 VVT DI Turbo (LTG)


Thanks to the new GM Alpha platform, all three engines sit behind the front axle which is ideal for weight balance. Base shoppers get the 2.0L direct-injection turbocharged four-cylinder worth 272 ponies and 295 lb-ft of torque, besting BMW’s 2.0L by 32 HP and 35 lb-ft. On “Luxury” trim and above you can opt for GM’s ubiquitous 3.6L V6 (321HP/275 lb-ft) for $2,700, but I’d probably stick to the 2.0L turbo if I were you. Aside from being lighter, the turbo delivers more torque at lower RPMs and has a more advantageous power delivery which make it a hair faster to 60.

Shoppers looking for more shove and willing to part with $59,995 can opt for a 420 horsepower twin-turbo V6 in the CTS V-Sport that cranks out 430 lb-ft. Despite sharing thee 3.6L displacement of the middle engine, GM tells us that only 10% of the engine components are shared. Sending power to the pavement in the 2.0T and 3.6 models is essentially the same GM 6-speed automatic transmission BMW used to use in certain models of the 3-series until recently. Optional in the 3.6L and standard on the twin-turbo V6 is an Aisin 8-speed automatic that is essentially shared with the Lexus LS.

2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-014


Unfortunately, the first thing you’ll notice out on the road is the coarse sound from under the hood. GM’s 2.0L engine is no less refined than BMW or Mercedes’ four-bangers, but the difference is you can hear the engine in the CTS. In fact, based on the overall quietness of the cabin (a competitive 67 dB at 50 MPH), I can only conclude that Cadillac designed the engine to be heard. I don’t mind hearing the 3.6L V6, but most luxury shoppers would prefer not to be reminded they chose the rational engine every time they get on the freeway. On the bright side, because GM does not offer start/stop tech, shoppers are spared the inelegant starts and stops that characterize 528i city driving.

While I’m picking nits, the 6-speed found in the 2.0T and most 3.6 models lacks the ratio spread and shift smoothness of the ZF 8-speed automatic found in most of the competition. While I prefer GMs 6-speed to the somewhat lazy 7-speed automatic in the Mercedes E-Class, the rumored 8-speed can’t come soon enough. The 8-speed used in the V-Sport (optional on the 3.6L) solves the ratio and marketing issue, but the Aisin unit feels just as up-shift happy and down-shift reluctant as it does in the Lexus LS 460. As a result when you use the shift paddles, your actions feel more like suggestions than commands.

2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-013

The reason I label those flaws as mere nits is because of how the CTS accomplishes every other task on the road. Acceleration to 60 happens a 4/10ths faster than an E350, a half-second faster than the 528i,  a full second faster than a GS350, and practically years ahead of the A6 2.0T. Part of this has to do with the engine’s superior torque curve and higher horsepower numbers, but plenty has to do with curb weight. At 3,616 lbs, the CTS 2.oT is 200lbs lighter than the BMW or Lexus, 400lbs lighter than an E350. The comparable Audi A6 would be the front-wheel-drive 2.0T model with the CVT at 3,726. If you think that’s an unfair comparison, the 2.0T with Quattro is 3,900lbs and does little to correct the A6′s front-heavy weight balance.

As a result of the CTS’s near perfect 50.3/49.7 % weight balance and the light curb weight, the CTS feels more agile and responsive on winding mountain roads, especially when you compare it to the V6 competitors. The steering is as numb as anything on the market thanks to electric power steering, but you can get faint whiffs of feedback now and then and the steering weight is moderate rather than strangely firm in the 528i. Admittedly we’re splitting hairs here when it comes to steering feel, as there is precious little difference between the CTS, GS and 528i. Even the hydraulic system retained in BMW’s 550i doesn’t feel as crisp on the road. Helping out the handling is a standard moderately firm spring suspension or an optional MagneRide active suspension as our tester was equipped. The adaptive dampers feel more refined than in previous versions, despite them not changing the vehicle’s personality much from regular to sport mode. The CTS never felt out of sorts on rough or uneven terrain and despite being moderately firm, never felt punishing. This places the CTS right in line with the modern Germans. Toss in standard Brembo brakes and the CTS is far more willing to hike up its skirt and dance than the establishment competition.

2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-007

For 2014, Cadillac added $6,035 to the MSRP and put “value” on the back burner. At $45,100, the CTS starts $4,400 less than the 528i and $2,600 less than the GS350. Of course the Caddy’s base model has fewer features, so an apples-to-apples comparison brings the delta up to around $1,500 less than the BMW. That’s a much smaller window than there used to be, and it’s not surprising when you consider the CTS’ interior is finally equal to or better than the Germans. The pricing deltas get more interesting as you go up the ladder. The CTS 3.6 is a few grand less than a BMW 535i. In that mash-up, the BMW provides superior thrust but when the road gets winding the CTS is more enjoyable. Then we get to the CTS V-Sport. The V-Sport brings a twin-turbo V6 to a twin-turbo V8 fight. At 420 HP and 430 lb-ft the numbers are stout to be sure, but trail the 443 HP and 479 lb-ft from BMW’s 4.4L V8 and most importantly, the V8 delivers a far superior torque curve delivering all of its torque 1,500 RPM earlier. Still, the Cadillac is 325 lbs lighter, handles better, is $4,830 cheaper and by the numbers gives up little in terms of straight line performance.

The two sweet spots for the CTS are a nearly loaded 2.0T with the LCD disco dash and a moderately well equipped V-Sport. The 2.0T offers the best road manners of its direct competition at a reasonable value. The V-Sport on the other hand offers BMW shoppers an interesting alternative. At an $1,800 up-sell over a comparably equipped 535i and $4,800 less than a 550i, the V-Sport is probably the best value in the luxury segment for 2014. After a week with the middle child Cadillac, GM seems to finally be on the right path with their luxury brand. As long as the XTS is replaced with a large rear driver sedan soon I might even say that the American luxury brand is on a roll. While I can think of a few reasons to buy a BMW 5-Series over a CTS (the base CTS instrument cluster is a good reason), shoppers have no reason to dismiss the CTS as they might have done in the past. Although the CTS is still 20lbs of sound deadening and an 8-speed automatic away from being the Cadillac of mid-size sedans, it is a truly solid competitor.


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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.3 Seconds

0-60: 5.9 Seconds

1/mile: 14.36 Seconds @ 97.5 MPH

Average observed fuel economy: 24.8 MPG over 852 Miles

Sound level at 50 MPH: 67 dB

2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-001 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-002 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-003 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-004 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-005 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-006 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-007 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-008 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-009 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-010 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-011 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-012 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-013 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-014 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-015 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Interior 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Interior-001 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Interior-002 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Interior-003 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Interior-004 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Interior-005 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Interior-006 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Interior-007 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Interior-008 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Interior-009 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Interior-010 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Interior-011 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Interior-012 2014 Cadillac CUE - CTS 2.0T 2014 Cadillac CUE - CTS 2.0T-001 2014 Cadillac CUE - CTS 2.0T-002 2014 Cadillac CUE - CTS 2.0T-003 2014 Cadillac CUE - CTS 2.0T-004 2014 Cadillac CUE - CTS 2.0T-005 2014 Cadillac CUE - CTS 2.0T-006 ]]> 150
Review: 2014 Lexus LS 600hL (With Video) Wed, 25 Sep 2013 11:00:30 +0000 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

The LS 600hL is the pinnacle of Toyota and Lexus engineering. It is the largest Lexus sedan, the brand’s most expensive model, the most expensive hybrid in the world and, with the death of BMW’s V8 ActiveHybrid system, it is once again the most powerful hybrid on sale. Yet the LS 600hL hasn’t had an easy time of things. The large luxury sedan has been lambasted for being the antithesis of green thanks to its EPA combined 20 MPG score. Critics also question whether the 600hL’s enormous premium over the LS 460L can ever be “justified.” I too questioned the logic behind the 600hL at first, but then I spoke with someone who changed my mind. Before we dive in, let’s talk about the elephant in the room. The 600hL starts at $119,910. With all the options checked, you land at $134,875. Without destination. Put your eye balls back in their sockets and click past the jump as we dive into an alternate universe.

Click here to view the embedded video.


I don’t live in a world filled with chauffeurs, champagne and caviar. Heck, I don’t even live in a world with indoor plumbing. (Seriously, my house doesn’t have an indoor shower, but that’s a story for a different time.) This meant I needed help in order to view the 600hL through the right lens. Fortunately I have a family connection with a guy in Atherton who is exactly the kind of guy I was looking for: one with deep pockets. Being the private jet/vacation mansion owning guy I was looking for, I expected him to be put off by the LS 600hL’s simple lines and unmistakably “discount” $71,990 LS 460 roots. Instead he had an opinion I hadn’t considered.

In a town where the money is piled high and deep, but paradoxically being flashy is considered tasteless, the LS 600hL strikes the right balance. Or so I am told. By looking like a lesser LS, it doesn’t scream “I spent twice your salary on my car,” but at the same time your neighbors will know your trust fund is still returning 15% a year. While he agreed that a similarly expensive 2014 S-Class was far more attractive and exciting, he felt it was too “nouveau riche.” From the mouth of babes…

2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior, Rear Seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. DykesInterior
$119,910 doesn’t buy you a leather-clad dashboard standard, if you want that you have to add a few options to your spendy hybrid. No matter what package you add, the age of the LS platform shows in the front seats. Sharing the same mechanisms with the pre-refresh 2012 LS, the seat fails to contort in the same variety of directions as the Germans, or even the cheaper Lexus GS which has more modern seat frames. Still, 600hL buyers are likely to only experience the front seats when Jeevs has a day off.

Because 2013 is more of an extensive refresh than a clean-sheet design, the LS 600hL doesn’t get a fancy LCD instrument cluster, opting instead for a four-dial arrangement with a “wine glass” shaped multi-function display in the center. A full-disco-dash arrangement isn’t a requirement for me as there are plenty of traditional gauges in this segment but I had hoped for more from a luxury car designed in a country obsessed with electronic gadgets. The same thing can be said for the large 12-inch display in the middle of the dash. The display is bright and crisp but the software hasn’t been significantly re-worked for some time making it feel dated.

2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior-009

Gadgets & Infotainment

No 600hL would be complete without the $7,555 Executive Package. For the cost of a used compact car Lexus adds an Alcantara headliner, deletes the middle rear seat for a fixed console, covers the dash in leather, wires up a 120V inverter, and installs the best rear seat available in America.

That seat is the 600hL’s raison d’être. It is also so mind-blowingly insane, I have decided it will hence forth be known as the “Lexus throne”. The 600hL’s throne contorts in 10 ways via controls in the substantial center console and boasts manual butterfly headrests. If that isn’t enough it will also vibrate and massage your royal personage while you put your feet up on the power ottoman. The massaging function isn’t like the systems employed by the German competition in the front seat. Those systems use a series of air bladders that inflate/deflate in a pattern to initiate a massage. The result feels more like a rodent trapped between the foam and the upholstery. The Lexus system uses a system more similar to the pneumatic rollers you find in airport “massage station chairs.” Only classier. And without the stench of the peasantry.

Activating the massage is easy once you get the hang of the 17-button remote control nestled next to the 26-button infotainment remote inside the 45-button console. If you rank your rides by button count, we have a winner. Lexus tosses in a blue-ray DVD player, wireless headphones and a single LCD that drops down from the ceiling. Although the Lexus Remote Touch joystick lives on up front, those being coddled in the rear can forget about the clunky controller and can control many of the car’s functions via the button bank. On the one hand this is less integrated than BMW’s iDrive for rear passengers that allow them top play with the nav system, but it does shield the owner of the LS 600hL from dealing with the evil that is Remote Touch.

2014 Lexus LS 600hL Engine, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes


The wealthy are frequently in a hurry and have the resources to pay Texas-sized speeding tickets. Unfortunately for them, Lexus hasn’t updated the 600hL’s hybrid system for the new model. While I still think of the 600hL’s setup as one of the most advanced hybrid systems in the world, I just can’t call it “powerful” anymore. Rated at 438 system horsepower, it is outclassed by a wide variety of V8s in everything from a Dodge Super Bee to the German’s base V8 options. That’s even before we talk about the V12 luxury barges Lexus is attempting to target. The “old” S65 AMG cranked out 631 horses and enough torque to cause the earth to rotate in the other direction. What will 2014 bring? You can bet the answer will be: more.

Operating much like a Prius hybrid system on steroids, a 385 horsepower 5.0L V8 engine is mated directly to a planetary gearset employing two motor/generator units. The larger motor is capable of 221HP on its own, but the battery pack in the trunk of the LS can only supply 53 HP at a time limiting the EV mode to around 30 MPH. The engine and motors work together to provide seamless and linear acceleration unlike anything on the market save a Tesla Model S. This design is quite different from the pancake motor sandwiched between the engine and transmission that you find in the German hybrids. Lexus won’t comment on how much torque the combined unit is good for, but my gut tells me it is around 450 lb0-ft combined.

Lexus continues to use a 288V Ni-MH battery pack that is similar to the one used in the Lexus RX hybrid. The 1.6kWh battery pack isn’t as space efficient as the more modern Lithium based batteries but had a proven track record and allows high current discharges with a smaller number of cells. Unfortunately it’s not as slim as the trendier cells and occupies a large portion of the trunk. Combined with the plumbing for the four zone climate control and the massaging throne, they slice trunk capacity from 18 cubes to 13 making it difficult to fit large luggage in the rear.

2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes


With 5,500 pounds of luxury sedan riding (yes, you read that number correctly) on an air suspension, you can cross corner carving off your list. I suspect that such activities are frowned upon when the help is driving you anyway, but the weight and relatively narrow 245/45R19 tires mean stopping distances are long as well. Dynamically the LS has always been an excellent vehicle with a well controlled chassis, nearly perfect weight balance and a solid feel. When scaled up to the 600hL, you can tell those traits are still there but they are masked by the weight and the standard adaptive air suspension.

If I might digress for a moment, the LS platform is the perfect vehicle to experience an air suspension in on a test drive. There aren’t many cars that have a standard steel-coil suspension and an air suspension available in the same car and the LS is one. Air suspensions have an entirely different feel to them so when you compare an S-Class with Airmatic with a 7-Series that had only a partial rear air suspension it’s difficult to compare unless you’ve experienced what the air bags do to the feel of the car. I encourage anyone looking in this segment to give the LS a spin with and without the air suspension so you can really be familiar with the changes these systems make to the feel of a car.

Back on topic, let’s talk thrust. At the stoplight races the LS 600hL accelerates faster if the engine is already on. This is fairly logical since some of the motor’s twist would be consumed by starting the engine. Our numbers were taken with the engine “stopped” by the hybrid system which is the normal state of affairs. Thanks to the massive torque from the electric motor and the 5.0L V8, we hit 30 MPH after a scant 2.36 seconds. After this point the heavy curb weight comes into play with 60 MPH happening after 5.44 seconds followed by a 13.96 second quarter-mile. A BMW 750 and Mercedes S550 scoot to 60 about a half second faster while the V12 BMW 760 is a full second quicker. On the flip side even the new 8-speed ZF transmission feels like a farm tractor compared to the Lexus Hybrid Drive system. Acceleration in the 600hL is extraordinarily linear, unbelievably smooth and eerily silent. Comparisons to the Tesla Model S in terms of acceleration linearity and feel are entirely appropriate. All of a sudden the hybrid drivetrain combined with the throne in the back make sense: if I’m being driven, I want a smooth experience. Forget about the driver having fun, it’s all about the party in the back.

2014 Lexus LS 600hL Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

After a week with the LS 600hL I still have problems looking at the expensive cruiser in the “right” way, but I am closer to understanding the point. That point is less about fuel economy (which was 21.8 MPG over all by the way) and more about silently and smoothly cruising below the radar. If that’s your mission, then mission accomplished. The LS 600hL is also the least expensive vehicle that I know of designed with the chauffeured set in mind. Except that makes the LS 600hL the oddest duck I’ve met. Being obviously designed for owners with drivers it makes a value proposition that logically shouldn’t matter to the intended audience. If you’re being driven, the smallest part of the expense structure over the life of a vehicle is the price of the vehicle. Your driver and his benefits are likely to eat the bulk of your budget. My sounding board in this process is still trying to convince me that looking at the LS 600hL in this light is missing the point. Perhaps, but it does explain why the LS 600hL sells in such small numbers. It also explains why he still has a 2010 XJ8.


Hit it or Quit It?

Hit it

  • Best. Back. Seat. Ever.
  • Avatar on Blue Ray never sounded so good.

Quit it

  • Everyone will wonder why you didn’t buy an S-Class.
  • 438 ponies is hardly class-topping in 2013.
  • Despite being told otherwise, 21.8 MPG still seems to be missing the point.


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

0-30: 2.36

0-60: 5.44

1/4 Mile: 13.96 @ 105 MPH

Average Observed Fuel Economy: 21.8 MPG over 623 miles

2014 Lexus LS 600hL Engine 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Engine, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Exterior 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Exterior-002 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Exterior-003 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Exterior-004 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Exterior-005 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Exterior-006 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Exterior-007 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Exterior-008 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Exterior-010 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior-001 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior-002 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior-003 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior-004 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior-006 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior-007 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior-008 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior-009 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior-010 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior-011 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior, Rear Seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior-013 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior-014 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior-015 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior-016 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior-018 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior-019 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior-020



]]> 58
Review: 2014 Acura RLX (With Video) Sat, 17 Aug 2013 02:02:09 +0000 2014 Acura RLX Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Breaking into the Luxury market isn’t easy. Toyota has arguably had the most success with Lexus, the only full-line luxury marque sold in America that isn’t German. Infiniti gave up on trying to go head-to-head with the S-Class and 7-Series when they ditched the Q, and Cadillac has yet to have a complete and coherent strategy. Meanwhile Acura started off strong with the Legend, created a competent E/5 competitor with the all-wheel-drive RL, and then things started to fall apart. Can the RLX bring the brand back?

Click here to view the embedded video.

Why do I bring up Germans in a review of a front-wheel-drive luxury sedan? Because some folks [not everyone mind you] at Acura and plenty of fan boys would like to think the brand runs with the big dogs. In truth Acura has always been a “near-luxury” brand because they lack a full-size competitor to play in the S-Class/7-Series/A8 pool.


In order to look at the RLX through the right lens, we need to nail down the competition. Acura would like you to believe the front-wheel-drive RLX should be pitted against the rear-wheel-drive BMW 528/535, Mercedes E350 and Lexus GS350. I think this comparison has a few problems. First, the RLX isn’t as dynamic as a RWD sedan. Second, Acura’s brand position is a problem. What say our readers? Should the brand matter in comparisons? Should this all be priced based? In my mind the RLX’s drivetrain and the brand’s near-luxury image put the Acura in direct competition with the Cadillac XTS, Lincoln MKS and Volvo S80. What about the FWD/AWD A6? Perhaps, but Audi’s brand is a solid BMW/Mercedes competitor these days.

2014 Acura RLX Exterior-009


Acura’s flagship has always worn elegant and restrained sheetmetal and that continues with the RLX. Up front we get a more muted and better integrated version of Acura’s signature “beak” flanked by multi-beam LED headlamps. The LED high and low beams are standard on every RLX and strike a unique pose as identifiable as BMW’s “angel eyes.”

The RLX’s rump is probably the best looking in Acura’s current product portfolio. I’ve never cared for the jumble of shapes on the TL’s back side, thankfully none of them are along for the ride. In an interesting twist, Acura put the RLX’s quad exhaust tips behind the bumper where you can’t see them instead of integrating them into the bumper cover as in the smaller TL. Looking at the RLX from the side it’s obvious this car has grown. The rear doors give the Acura a more luxurious look than the old RL which had a decidedly Accord-like silhouette. A long front overhang advertises the transverse engine layout in the RLX, but that’s not really a problem with our pre-defined competition since the two Americans and the Swede are all FWD platforms as well.

In my opinion, the RLX’s exterior ranks second behind the 2014 Volvo S80′s clean lines. Yes the Volvo is getting old, but frequent refreshed have helped it age well. I like Caddy’s art-and-science design theme on every Caddy except the XTS where I find the proportions to be awkward. However Awkward trumps the ginormous and bizarre schnoz on the Lincoln MKS.

2014 Acura RLX Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes


The RLX’s interior is one place where I can not only compare the Acura to the Germans, it’s an area where Acura excels. You won’t find a full-on stitched leather dash like the Volvo S80 or the Mercedes E350 with the “designo” package, but you can “option up” a band of stitched leather running across the cabin. Anyway you order your RLX, perfect seams and a tasteful amount of metallic trim are standard. You’ll also find perfect seams and fit and finish quality that would make Lexus blush. What you won’t find is real tree. The choice of fake wood on upper trim levels perplexes me when all the RLX competitors slather the cabin in acres of burl. (Base RLX models get faux-metal trim.) When it comes to interior styling and quality, I rank the RLX above the E350, 528i, S80, MKS, XTS, GS350, and yes, even the A6.

Front seat comfort ranks second in this quartet behind Volvo’s large and supportive thrones. Enlarging the pool only drops the Acura to third place above the BMW 5-series’ standard seats but behind the optional million-way sport buckets. Oddly however, those seats aren’t covered in leather in base RLX models. Want real moo? That’ll be $6,000 more than the RLX’s base $48,450. This may be in line with Lexus’ recent move in the GS, but the RLX’s closest competition comes with real leather standard.

Rear passengers have notably more room than the outgoing RL with legroom and headroom in line with everyone else. While Lincoln and Cadillac cut corners in the back, Acura delivers rich plastics and an attention to detail that places it first in thus class and certainly on par with BMW’s 5.

2014 Acura RLX Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

If one screen is good, two must be better, right? My short answer is: sometimes. The standard two-screen system first debuted in the new Accord and is tweaked for luxury duty donning the AcuraLink name. The concept as explained to me is: the lower touchscreen handles the audio, freeing the upper screen for navigation and other tasks. My beef with the system is: you still need to use the upper screen to navigate your media device as the lower screen simply selects sources and changes tracks somewhat defeating the purpose of splitting the screens. Because of this split personality, and the fact that you have to use the touchscreen, and the knob/dial controller, and the button-bank to navigate the system, AcuraLink comes across as “not fully baked.”

Since my first experience with AcuraLink, the system has grown on me, and in the RLX the dual screens are very well integrated into the dashboard rather than looking like an afterthought as in the Honda. AcuraLink is without question snappier than MyLincoln Touch or Cadillac’s buggy CUE system. I find Volvo’s Sensus interface more intuitive, but you need binoculars to use the microscopic LCD.

Two screens might be standard on the $48,450 base model, but navigation is not. Want maps? That bumps the price to $50,950. For $54,450 Acura will bump the speaker count from 10 to 14, watts from 404 to 588, add sound deadening side glass, rain sense wipers, and folding side mirrors. If you want the Krell audio and all the electronic goodies like radar cruise, lane keep assist, parking sensors, dimming side mirrors, ventilated front seats and heated rear seats that bumps the price of the RLX to an eye watering $60,450. Ouch.

2014 Acura RLX Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes


Acura’s only engine for 2014 is a direct-injected 310HP 3.5L V6 that cranks out 272lb-ft of torque. In typical Acura fashion peak power comes at 6,500 RPM, torque comes to a boil at a lofty 4,500 RPM and the six-pot is smooth as butter at every RPM. 310 ponies used to be something to brag about, unfortunately this is 2014 and the RLX’s mill only leads when you compare it to base engines in the competition. The problem is everyone but Acura offers a more powerful engine option. If you think nobody options up, let’s look at the numbers. Lincoln says over 30% of MKS shoppers opt for their twin-turbo V6 which puts down 19% more power and 30% more torque. My local Volvo dealer says the take rate on the twin-scroll turbo S80 with AWD (300 horsepower and 325lb-ft, 20% more twist) is nearly 80% and I’m not in the snow belt. It remains to be seen how many of the fire-breathing twin-turbo 410 horse V6s Cadillac ships in the XTS, but judging by the competition I expect them to shift a few. The Germans? Their twin-turbo V8s are in a different performance ballpark but the 443 horsepower 550i starts just $3,500 more than the top-end RLX.

Power isn’t the only area where the RLX is at a competitive disadvantage, Acura also dropped their Super Handling AWD system from their flagship. Acura’s torque vectoring AWD, capable of continually varying the FWD/RWD bias, set the old RL apart (and ahead) from the pack. Yes, there will be a hybrid AWD RLX soon we are told, but with a maximum of around 60 horsepower at the rear wheels the 370HP RLX hybrid is likely to retain a strong FWD bias. (The system will not have a mechanical connection between the engine and rear wheels. Instead there will be a ~40HP motor/generator between the engine and transaxle and an approximately 28HP motor at each rear wheel.) The less sophisticated AWD systems found in the MKS, XTS and S80 are suddenly the choice for driving enthusiasts.

2014 Acura RLX Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes


The lack of AWD has a huge impact in the way the RLX drives compared to its predecessor. The old RL was a hoot and a half on winding mountain roads. In comparison, the RLX is three-quarters of a hoot. The old RL was capable of sending the majority of the engine’s power to the outside rear wheel making it corner with precision and confidence. When pushed to its limits, the front-heavy RL understeered predictably. The RLX on the other hand is probably one of the most capable front drivers on the market, easily more capable than the FWD Lincoln, Cadillac or Volvo but slots behind AWD versions of the same.

Acura’s “Precision All Wheel Steer” system (dubbed P-AWS) is the reason for the RLX’s crisp handling. P-AWS differs from other systems on the market in that it can rotate the rear wheels independently of one another allowing the car to toe both wheels in when braking. That might sound odd, but doing so keeps the RLX’s rear end from feeling “squirely” under hard braking, something usually associated with nose-heavy sedans. P-AWS is tuned to “mimic” oversteer as much as possible in corners leading to a peculiar combination of slight torque steer, [very] mild oversteer and a hint of wheel hop all at the same time. This is a confluence of personalities you will find only in the RLX. Helping out is an always-active stability control system. Unlike the stability control on most cars which only intervene when things go pear-shaped, this system is always playing with the brakes trying to “improve” the handling characteristics of the RLX. Paired with electric power steering these systems make the RLX the best handling, but the most artificial large FWD sedan I have ever driven.

2014 Acura RLX Exterior-010

Our RLX was equipped with Acura’s “Lane Keep Assist” system which uses the electric power steering system to help keep you in your lane. Unlike all the other systems on the market, on a freeway the LKA system is almost always providing some level of steering assistance. Acura likens the aid to a ball riding in a “U” shaped trough, the closer you get to the lane lines, the more the system assists. I don’t know if I have formed an opinion on the system yet, but it did work as advertised and can be turned off completely.

If you’ve been keeping score, I found the RLX to be the second most attractive on the outside, have the best interior, second most comfortable seats, best infotainment system, best handling numbers, a middling engine and questionable behind-the-wheel-feel. One might assume this puts the RLX towards the top of the quartet, and perhaps a viable alternative to the Germans. One would be wrong. The RLX is unquestionably a good car, but it’s $3,200 more than a similarly configured FWD XTS, $8,275 more than the  FWD Volvo S80 and $9,990 more than the FWD MKS. Things get worse when you load up the Lincoln and Volvo with the more powerful S80 T6 AWD still $5,000 cheaper and the 365HP MKS Ecoboost AWD $3,000 less expensive. Only Cadillac’s 410HP XTS VSport is more expensive ranging from $62,000-$72,000. The news is just as grim when pitted against the luxury competition with the RLX being $1,300 more than the Lexus GS350, $1,200 less than the Infiniti M37, and only a $3,000 discount compared to the E350 and BMW 535i. The result is the RLX has no “value” proposition to counter the middling engine numbers, FWD bias, road feel and most importantly: the brand image. Sadly I fear the RLX is about $10,000 away from being a great car and $15,000 away from being a game changer. Until Acura realigns their flagship’s capabilities (or shrinks the price tag) the RLX is destined to be the car everyone likes but nobody buys.


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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.38 Seconds

0-60: 5.72 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 14.28 Seconds @ 99 MPH

Average Observed Fuel Economy: 23 MPG over 781 miles


2014 Acura RLX Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Acura RLX Exterior-001 2014 Acura RLX Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Acura RLX Exterior-003 2014 Acura RLX Exterior-004 2014 Acura RLX Exterior-005 2014 Acura RLX Exterior-006 2014 Acura RLX Exterior-007 2014 Acura RLX Exterior-008 2014 Acura RLX Exterior-009 2014 Acura RLX Exterior-010 2014 Acura RLX Exterior-011 2014 Acura RLX Exterior-012 2014 Acura RLX Exterior-013 2014 Acura RLX Interior 2014 Acura RLX Interior-001 2014 Acura RLX Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Acura RLX Interior-003 2014 Acura RLX Interior-004 2014 Acura RLX Interior-005 2014 Acura RLX Interior-006 2014 Acura RLX Interior-007 2014 Acura RLX Interior-008 2014 Acura RLX Interior-009 2014 Acura RLX Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Acura RLX Interior-011 2014 Acura RLX Interior-012 2014 Acura RLX Interior-013 2014 Acura RLX Interior-014 2014 Acura RLX Interior-015 2014 Acura RLX Interior-016 2014 Acura RLX Interior-017 2014 Acura RLX Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Acura RLX Interior-019 2014 Acura RLX 2014 Acura RLX-001 ]]> 143
Review: 2013 BMW X6M – Swansong Edition Fri, 05 Jul 2013 17:43:39 +0000 2013 BMW X6M Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

With Mercedes cranking out AWD versions of their AMG products and Audi finally bringing their AWD “RS” products to America, it was only a matter of time before BMW have in and added some front-wheel motivation to their M5. Just kidding. BMW maintains that the M5 will forever retain RWD. This means the M5 will focus on dynamics and not acceleration. BMW’s answer to this deficiency since 2010 comes in the form of the X5M and X6M cousins.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Why are we looking at the 2013 X6M when 2014 is bringing an all-new X5? Easy, the X5M won’t roll into town until the 2015 model year we’re told and the X6 has yet to be officially refreshed putting its new body back to the 2015 model year in all likelihood. If you want a fast AWD BMW and can’t wait for the refresh, act now.

What is the X6M? I’m glad you asked because I still haven’t decided. BMW would like you to think that it is a new class of vehicle called the SAC or “Sports Activity Coupé.” For some reason I have trouble calling a 5-door crossover that weighs a feather under 5,400lbs a “coupé,” but that’s just me. On a technical level (and to answer the real question at hand) the X6 is an X5 without the third row of thrones and a “liftback” and not a hatchback profile. The steeply raked rear window and overall shape of the X6 make it look smaller on the outside than it is. The X6M is one inch shorter than the M5, four inches wider, nine inches taller, and a full 1,000lbs heavier. 2013 BMW X6M Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Identifying the X6M from the “common” X6 is fairly easy. BMW swaps the hood for a version with a “power bulge” (not functional as far as I could tell) and a new bumper with openings large enough to swallow a Geo Metro. Out back we have quad exhaust tips and aero treatments that scream “look at me!” The most important difference is almost lost in the X6M’s proportions: this SUV wears some seriously wide 315/35R20 rubber on 11-inch wide allow wheels. More on that later.


For a vehicle with a $92,900 starting price the spartan interior of the X6M surprised some of my passengers. It shouldn’t. The X6 wears the same 7-year old interior as the 2006-2013 X5 with only minor tweaks which you’ll mostly find in the back. Up front we have the same injection molded dash as the X5 and X5 but BMW swaps the wood out for brushed aluminum. Call me an old man at heart, but I think a dark stained wood package would be better suited to the X6M’s sports/luxury mission.

2013 BMW X6M Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Front seat comfort is excellent, but again it should be in something this spendy. The comfort level is thanks to BMW’s 20-way power “M sport” seats which allow the seat to contort in more ways than you would think possible. (BMW makes these same seats available on nearly their entire lineup and it’s worth the cost to upgrade.) Out back you’ll notice something is missing at first glance. The X6M is a four-seater by default. If you want the middle rear seat that was lost in the X5M to X6M transition, you’ll have to pay an extra $350 on-top of the $4,050 premium for the X6M’s sloping backside. Apparently stye doesn’t come cheap.

About that liftback; from the X6M’s profile you might assume cargo area would be limited, but at 25.6 cubic feet the luggage compartment is more than adequate for a party of 5. (Although notably lower than the X5M’s 35 cubes.) You might also mistakenly assume the X6M would have more interior room than the M5 sedan but you’d be wrong there too. The M5 somehow offers more legroom and headroom front and back than either the X5M or X6M, something to keep in mind if you’re SUV shopping simply because you’re a tall person.

2013 BMW X6M Exterior LED Headlampsm, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes


iDrive has come a long way since its introduction, and although complicated at times, it’s still the ultimate in-car attraction for my inner nerd. Keep in mind that the Swansong edition X6M doesn’t get latest version of the system found in the new 3-Series. The key differences are improved integration with the heads up display and a media button on the iDrive controller reflecting the relative importance of CDs and media devices in this century. Don’t fret, the older iDrive system runs the same software as the new version meaning the X6M still has all the smartphone app integration you can handle and now fully supports voice commanding the tunes on your USB/iPod. Like the rest of the BMW portfolio, you can Tweet, Facebook, Wikipedia and SMS message while you drive (with the $250 apps option). Compared to Audi’s MMI, iDrive lacks the Google satellite view mapping but the system is more responsive, more intuitive and more polished. I’d like to compare it to Mercedes’ COMAND but that would be like comparing a Space Shuttle to the Model T. For our in-depth look at iDrive, check out the video review.


By now the suspense is killing you. After all, we haven’t even mentioned the M engine under the hood so here we go: Turbo lovers rejoice! Squeezed under the bulging hood beats a 4.4L twin-turbo V8 engine cranking out 555HP and a mind numbing 500 lb-ft of torque. While this engine is quite similar to the X6 xDrive50i’s 4.4L twin turbo V8, there are some significant differences, most notably the broader torque curve. The “pedestrian” 4.4L engine delivers 450lb-ft from 1750-4500RPM while the M-mill broadens the torque plateau to 1500-5650 and the difference is marked behind the wheel. Power is routed to all four wheels via a heavy-duty ZF 6-speed automatic transmission, BMW’s full-tine AWD system and of course, a torque vectoring rear differential. I have seen complaints from the forum fan-boys whining that BMW didn’t put their dual-clutch M transmission under the hood of the X6M, I have to agree at some level.

2013 BMW X6M Engine, 4.4L twin-turbo V8, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

So why not an AWD version of the DCT tranny? In a word: towing. Despite the insane power numbers the X6M is rated to tow a stout 6,600lbs. With more torque on hand than most diesel engines, the X6M had no trouble towing a 5,000lb load that we hitched up making the X6M the second most practical performance vehicle I’ve ever tested right behind the X5M. As if common sense wasn’t enough, the manual reminds you to not use launch control while towing a trailer.


Let’s get some numbers out of the way. The X6M clocked a 4.04 second sprint to 60 with launch control, 4.3 seconds without and 4.5 seconds without launch control and not using the M power mode. What’s the difference? Aside from crisper/faster shifts, launch control adjusts the stability control system and allows the turbos to spool up to reduce turbo lag on launch.  To put that in perspective, the last M6 we had our hands on ran to 60 in 3.75, last month’s CLS63 AMG did it in 4.1, and the high-power Jaguar XKR-S finished the task in 3.83.

2013 BMW X6M Exterior, Wheels, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

What does that have to do with the X6M and why are we comparing sports cars and an SUV? Because of how close those number are. How is that possible with the X6M weighing so much more? It’s all about the grip. 0-60 testing a two-wheel drive high horsepower vehicle takes a certain amount of time and finesse. The X6M needs only a heavy right foot. Aside from the straight-line fun AWD brings, BMW’s torque vectoring rear diff makes the X6M feel incredibly confidant on winding mountain roads. The system allows nearly 100% of the power that would normally be sent to both rear wheels, to be directed to one wheel causing the X6M to rotate with near psychic precision. While TTAC doesn’t have access to a 300ft skidpad, you may be surprised to know that most publications that do record higher horizontal Gs in the X6M than in the M5 and M6. Say what? Thank those insane 315 width tires for that.

For most drivers, the X6M is going to be easier to drive hard on or off the track, up to a point. That 5,400lbs has to be kept in mind and when you have the X6M on very tight corners the curb weight becomes more noticeable. Even so the X6M and X5M are entirely capable of keeping up with the likes of a Porsche Cayman S given the right driver and the right road. Speaking of Porsche we haven’t said anything about the Cayenne yet. There are three good reasons for that. First, Porsche wouldn’t loan us one making the X6M win by default. Second, the Cayenne really competes with the X5M since it’s a traditional SUV shape. And last, the Cayenne Turbo S lists for nearly 50% more than the X6M. Ouch. Yes, the Cayenne is an incredible machine and in truth is the only real competition for BMW’s insane crossovers, but with price tags like that, we should be asking: is the BMW competition for Porsche? Probably not.

Over 816 miles we averaged a surprising 15.4 MPG in the X6M. Surprising how? Because that’s 1.4 MPG more than the EPA combined number BMW advertises, it’s also not terribly far off the 16.5 MPG we averaged in a week in the BMW M5.

2013 BMW X6M Exterior, Rear tires, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

The X6M is quite simply one of the finest BMWs available for sale. I just don’t understand why you would buy one. Sure it’s fast and handles well, but so does the X5M. My problem with the X6M isn’t the X6M itself, it’s that the X5M exists which is a far more practical crossover with none of the drawbacks the X6′s squashed posterior causes. All of that is before you even consider the $4,400 premium you have to pay for a 5-seat X6M over the 5-seat X5M and the loss of head and legroom over the M5. The X6M is absolutely incredible machine, but I can’t help thinking it’s a product searching for a market.



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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 1.66

0-60: 4.04 (4.3 without launch control, 4.5 when not in M-Mode)

1/4 Mile: 12.44 Seconds at 113 MPH

Average Fuel Economy: 15.4 MPG over 816 miles


2013 BMW X6M Engine 2013 BMW X6M Engine-001 2013 BMW X6M Engine, 4.4L twin-turbo V8, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 BMW X6M Exterior LED Headlampsm, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 BMW X6M Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 BMW X6M Exterior-004 2013 BMW X6M Exterior-003 2013 BMW X6M Exterior-002 2013 BMW X6M Exterior-001 2013 BMW X6M Exterior-006 2013 BMW X6M Exterior-007 2013 BMW X6M Exterior-008 2013 BMW X6M Exterior-009 2013 BMW X6M Exterior-011 2013 BMW X6M Exterior-016 2013 BMW X6M Exterior-015 2013 BMW X6M Exterior, Wheels, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 BMW X6M Exterior, Rear tires, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 BMW X6M Exterior-017 2013 BMW X6M Exterior-012 2013 BMW X6M Exterior-018 2013 BMW X6M Exterior-019 2013 BMW X6M Exterior-020 2013 BMW X6M Exterior-021 2013 BMW X6M Exterior-022 2013 BMW X6M Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 BMW X6M Interior-001 2013 BMW X6M Interior-002 2013 BMW X6M Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 BMW X6M Interior-008 2013 BMW X6M Interior-004 2013 BMW X6M Interior-005 2013 BMW X6M Interior-007 2013 BMW X6M Interior-006 2013 BMW X6M Interior-009 2013 BMW X6M Interior-010 2013 BMW X6M Interior-011 ]]> 32
Review: 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i (Video) Tue, 11 Jun 2013 13:00:54 +0000 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

I know a guy who used to own a BMW 318ti. Like most 318 shoppers, he paid way too much because it had a roundel on the front. At some point he realized that 25-grand (in 1997) was an awful lot to have paid for an asthmatic 138-horsepower rattletrap and sold it. Likewise, the fog lifted at BMW and they refocused on volume models. Then came the 1 series, a fantastic little car that hasn’t exactly set the sales charts on fire. The Germans are a persistent people, so for 2013 they are fishing with fresh bait. Click through the jump as we look at the cheapest BMW in America, the 2013 BMW X1.

Click here to view the embedded video.


OK, so BMW would prefer that I called the X1 “the most affordable” BMW in America, but I suffer from political incorrectness. So what is the X1? It’s a crossover of course. While that term has become synonymous with “ginormous FWD soft-roader” the X1 is more of a “true” crossover in that it looks like a cross between a pregnant 1-Series and a mini X5. The result is a handsome BMW version of the Subaru Outback or Volvo XC70. (The X1 is a cousin of the 1-Series (E87) and 3-Series (E90).) Since wagon’s don’t sell well either, BMW stretched the X1 vertically and called it good.

Unlike the X3 and X5, the one thing BMW didn’t do was shorten the hood. As a result, you might almost call the X1 BMW’s latest hatchback. Only that wouldn’t sell as many X1s either. Get it now? Speaking of the X3, the X1 is 6.5 inches shorter and 3.5 inches narrower than its larger cousin.

I should point out a few things before we move on. First up, BMW’s rear hatchback design makes the X1 look less like a Volvo wagon, but also reduces practical load space. My only other quibble outside is that the wheels look a bit small for the X1. What’s your opinion? Sound out below.


2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes


European car companies are accused of making the same sausage available in different lengths. That’s obvious outside as well as inside the X1 where you’ll find the same shapes and many of the same controls/screens found in other BMW products. This parts bin approach pays dividends for the X1 where you get the same shifter and iDrive controller found in six-figure BMWs. (How those six-figure shoppers feel about this is anyone’s guess.) Once you’re done playing with the high-rent knobs, your hands will discover where BMW saved money: plastics. Instead of the soft molded instrument panels used in other BMWs, the X1 gets a hard plastic unit. The black upper portion of the dash has then been coated with a thin layer of soft material to improve feel, while the rest of the dash remains hard. This is an interesting choice when even Buick and Chevrolet have ditched their hard plastic interiors for squishy bits.

Germans car engineers don’t understand America. Sure, they understand driving dynamics and styling, but the Burger King drive-thru is incomprehensible. It’s obvious they are making effort to understand ‘mericans, bless their little hearts, but I think a US field-trip is in order for the guy who designs center consoles in Bavaria. Go to the south, my friend, go to the south. When the X1 arrived, I was starving. Being a lover of convenience, I headed to Taco Bell. It was at that point I noticed I had only one cup holder. Behind my right elbow. After consulting the instruction manual, I found the other one. If you look at the picture below, you’ll see it: a funky little thing that inserts into a slot in the center console to the right of the shifter. When it’s not inserted, you have an odd hole with a springy-cover concealing its depths. When in place, you have a cup holder positioned to splash its contents on your snazzy iDrive knob. You will also have a passenger complain their knee hits it all the time. Want to jam a enormous southern-style Styrofoam drink in your X1? Good luck. BMW: you got the X5 and X6′s cupholders so right, what happened?

2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i, Cupholder, Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Cupholder woes aside, there is little to complain about inside the X1. Front comfort is excellent, even in the base model with an 8-way manually adjustable seat. Our X1 was equipped with the $3,000 M-Sport package which brings aluminum trim, a black headliner, steering wheel mounted shift-paddles and BMW’s excellent sport seats. The optional thrones contort in more ways than I can describe and are one of the most comfortable seat designs in any $30,000-40,000 vehicle. If you can’t find a comfortable position, go see a back surgeon. Something that isn’t standard however is leather. If you want real cow, be prepared to pony up an extra $1,450. If that surprises you, it shouldn’t. Even Lexus is ditching real moo in their latest designs.

Most cars get less comfortable as you move rearwards, and that is certainly true of the X1. Back seats are firmly padded with little bolstering and very straight backs. Thankfully, the seat bottom cushion is not as close to the floor as many small crossovers, although the lack of padding made passenger’s legs just as tired on a one-hour car trip. On the flip side the rear seats recline to soften the blow. Rear legroom and headroom are excellent thanks to the X1′s upright profile and BMW and getting in and out of the X1 is made easy by large door openings. The ever-efficient Germans made the rear seats fold in a 40/20/40 manner allowing you to insert IKEA flat packs and four passengers at the same time. Behind the seats you’ll get 25 cubic feet of cargo room if you load the X1 to the ceiling, and 56 cubes if you fold the rear seats flat. That puts the X1 behind other small crossovers like a RAV4 or CRV but decidedly ahead of a 128i coupé.

2013 BMW X1 xDive28i iDrive, Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes


The X1 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. Unlike the 328i we recently tested, the X1 gets a single USB port. Likely because of cost cutting, BMW located the solitary USB port and Aux input at the bottom of the center stack instead of hiding it neatly away in the armrest of glovebox. If you want to know more about iDrive, click on that video at the top of the review.

Unfortunately not all the iDrive fun is standard. BMW is bundling the smartphone apps, navigation and voice command system for your music devices into a single $2,250 premium package, or a $6,150 “ultimate” package which also bundles power front seats, keyless entry, parking sensors, ambient lighting, satellite radio, auto dimming mirrors and a panoramic moonroof. Of course, adding this package increases the cost of your X1 by 20%, but “least expensive BMW” is a very relative term. Still, iDrive’s tasteful high-res graphics, fast interface and superior phone integration make this the system one of the finest on the market, and I would buy the $2,250 package before I added things like leather or HID headlamps ($900) to my ride. Since this is the bargain Bimmer, you won’t find radar cruise control, collision warning, adaptive suspension systems, heads-up displays or fancy lane-keeping assistants. For the purists in the crowd this is welcome news, but it’s still easy to option your X1 from a base price of $30,800 to around $50,000. Be mindful of that options list.
2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i Engine, 2.0L Twin-Power Turbo, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes


Part of what went wrong with the 318 was the drivetrain. Instead targeting a high fun/dollar ratio, BMW went for “low bottom line” and used an asthmatic 138HP four-banger. Learning from that lesson, BMW fit their new 2.0L N20 turbo engine and 8-speed automatic in the sDrive28i and xDrive28i. Producing 240HP from 5,000 to 6,000RPM and 260 lb-ft of twist from 1,250 to 4,800RPM that’s more oomph than the 3.0L inline engine under the hood of the 128i.

More important than the power number is the weight. A base RWD X2 is 3,527lbs, only 240lbs heavier than the considerably less powerful 128i coupé. Even our heavier AWD X1 sports a HP to weight ratio better than the smaller and more expensive two-door 1. As a result, performance is more than adequate with a 6.5 second run to 60 (2/10ths faster than a 128i) but decidedly “un-BMW” in terms of power delivery. The torque “plateau” starts early but drops precipitously after 5,750 RPM is a stark contrast from BMW’s 3.0L that comes alive at high RPMs (and screams like a banshee). Proving that BMW loves America, we get an optional powertrain not available anywhere else. For $38,600, BMW will jam a 300HP 3.0L (N55) twin-scroll turbo six under the hood. Sadly the quick shifting 8-speed transmission is lost in the process (you get the old 6-speed) and BMW still won’t offer a manual X1 in the USA.

2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes


The N20 isn’t just 33% shorter than the N55, the whole drivetrain is 165lbs lighter. In addition, the 2.0L sits behind the front axle instead of above it. The effect of the weight reduction and nose-lightening is obvious on the track where the X1 is incredibly nimble. That nimble feeling is especially pronounced in the RWD X1 sDrive28i thanks to a somewhat unusual weight balance with less than 50% of the weight on the front wheels. In contrast, the AWD xDrive28i BMW lent us for a week has a near-perfect 50.6/49.4% (F/R) weight balance while the more powerful 3.0L turbo model is nose heavy at 52.1/47.9 %.

Since our X1 was an M-Sport model, our 18-inch wheels were shod with grippy 255-width rubber. To put that in perspective, 255s are rare enough in full/mid-sized crossovers and unheard of in the compact crossover segment. With the front wheels turned slightly, the X1 looks like a kid wearing his dad’s shoes but the extra rubber pays dividends when you encounter a corner. The unexpectedly high grip combined with a neutral chassis dynamics makes the X1 predictable and confident on the road. In many ways the manners of the X1 reminded me of the (much larger) X6M. Just a little. In an unusual move, BMW fits AWD X1s with hydraulic power steering while the base RWD sDrive28i uses BMW’s lifeless electric assist. The difference isn’t night and day, but the hydraulic unit does have more steering feel. Be warned however that neither power steering system provides as much assist as the competition, so your arms may get tired after a long trip on a winding road.

2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i Exterior, Wheel, M-Sport, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Speaking of the RWD model, BMW claims it will get 23/34/28 MPG (City/Highway/Combined) and adding AWD to the 2.0L turbo drops those numbers to a still respectable 22/33/26 MPG. Over 544 miles, I averaged 22.9MPG, largely due the way the X1 devours mountain roads. That oddly brings me to the Mini Countryman, which is really the only competition for the X1 (since the VW Tiguan doesn’t play in the upper-crust playground). This is a perfect example of the right hand stabbing the left hand. The Mini Countryman is a nice enough vehicle, but driven back to back the X1 is a hoot-and-a-half while the Mini’s FWD manners, less powerful engine, similar MPGs and skinny tires register half a hoot. Now I know why the Mini doesn’t come up as a competitive vehicle on BMW’s website.

The 318 proved, there’s more to life than a low sticker price. The X1 proves that given time BMW can make a compelling entry-level vehicle. The X1 is more than just the least expensive BMW on the lot, it may well have the highest fun/dollar ratio of any modern BMW, especially in the $33,800 X1 sDrive28i M-Sport trim (damn that’s a long name). It’s also one of the few vehicles I would actually buy if my money was on the line.


Hit it or Quit It?

Hit it

  • Most fun I’ve had for $30-large. OK. 45-large.
  • Get a BMW with hydraulic power steering while it lasts.

Quit it

  • Too many hard-plastics on the inside for a car that costs this much.
  • The Germans still don’t know what cupholders are for. Maybe its time for a field trip?


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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.42

0-60: 6.55

1/4 Mile: 15.08 Seconds @ 92.6 MPH

Average Observed Fuel Economy: 22.9 MPG over 544 Miles


2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i Cargo Area 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i Engine 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i Engine, 2.0L Twin-Power Turbo, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i Exterior 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i Exterior-001 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i Exterior-004 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i Exterior, Wheel, M-Sport, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i Exterior-007 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i Exterior-006 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i Exterior-008 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i iDrive-003 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i iDrive-002 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i iDrive-001 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i iDrive 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i Exterior-010 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i Exterior-009 2013 BMW X1 xDive28i iDrive, Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i Interior 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i Interior-001 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i, Cupholder, Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i Interior-003 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i Interior-004 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i Interior-010 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i Interior-009 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i Interior-008 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i Interior-006 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i Interior-005 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i Interior-011 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i Interior-012 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i Interior-013 ]]> 96
Review: 2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible (Video) Mon, 15 Apr 2013 19:04:23 +0000

Redesigning retro is a herculean task. You need to change the vehicle enough to be worth the effort, meanwhile maintaining an iconic retro theme. If you don’t change enough, shoppers won’t see a reason to trade in their old flashback for the new time capsule. Change it too much and you’re left with a caricature. The task is so daunting that few even attempt it. (Just look at the one-hit-wonders: PT Cruiser, HHR, SSR and Thunderbird.) VW on the other hand is different. After all they continued to build and sell the same Beetle with minor tweaks for 65 years straight. If anyone can tweak retro and convince people they need it, it’s VW. Sure enough, 2012 was the best Beetle sales year since 1973. As a chaser to VW’s revived retro-mojo, the Beetle is now offered sans-top and VW tossed us the keys to a brown-on-brown model for a week so we could get our 70s on. Can you dig it?

Click here to view the embedded video.


This Beetle, like the old “New Beetle,” sells on nostalgia and cutesy-bubbly good looks. In fact, the first words anyone utters upon seeing a Beetle are: “aww, its cute.” See the problem? How many guys buy “cute” cars? Recognizing the problem, VW set out to “butch things up” with the second generation FWD Beetle. The bubbly-fenders, round headlamps and “smiling” hood lines haven’t left but they have been joined by VW’s corporate “Gillette” grille,  sharper corners and more “masculine” tail lamps. (Or so I’m told.) The redesign also adds an incredible 3.5 inches to the Bug’s width and 5 inches to the length. The extra length means the Bug’s side profile is no longer semi-circular, something of a loss for retro fans. The wider stance and crisper creases do make Herbie look meaner, but the ginormous fenders make him look fatter as well.

Since nostalgia sells, VW offers the Beetle in decade-themed editions. There’s an all-black ’50s edition, a periwinkle turbocharged ’60s edition and the chocolate brown ’70s edition VW lent me (perhaps they knew I’m a child of the ‘ 70s?). Should you not care for VW’s packaged time-travel holidays, you can order your ride a la carte. Any way you order it, your bug will come with a black or beige canvas top which opens in 9 seconds while traveling up to 31 MPH. Why does that matter? Because you can go topless at a stoplight without fear that you’ll hold up traffic when it turns green. Volkswagen manages this feat by having the top drop onto the deck lid rather than going inside the trunk like most modern convertibles do. As a result the operation is faster since the trunk doesn’t have to open, the mechanism is less complex and the classic look of the Beetle ‘vert (with the top that looks like a canvas spoiler) is retained.

Starting at $24,995, sawing the top off your Bug will set you back $5,000 vs the coupe. If that sounds spendy, keep your top on, the convertible premium is higher on some of the competition. The 70s edition convertible (as tested) comes in one trim level with no options at $28,595, $5 more than a base turbo convertible. If you feel like burning oil, the TDI convertible starts at $28,690. The 60s convertible which represents the “top of the line” drop-top Beetle tips the scales at $32,395.


Bug defeminization continues on the inside with fewer round shapes, more creases and VW’s flat-bottom steering wheel. True to the retro mission you’ll find large portions of body-color-matching trim parts inside. That worried me at first but VW appears to be using high quality coatings as none of the painted bits showed signs of scratching like low-mileage PT Cruisers. As a close relative of the Golf and Jetta the Beetle borrows heavily from the communal parts trough, however, that parts sharing doesn’t extend to automatic climate control or power seats.

Despite the lack of power adjustability, front seat comfort in the Beetle was excellent on my long commute. Sadly finding a comfortable driving position took more time than I bargained for due to the bizarre recline knob. The fact that the recline mechanism is controlled by a knob is odd enough, but its position on the side of the seat is awkward to use. If you regularly share cars with your significant other, this could be a sore spot. The Bug’s rear seats have become a tad more spacious in this generation, but should still be considered “emergency” back seats due to a severe lack of leg room. On the bright side, the tall roofline means there’s enough headroom in the back for the average adult to sit upright.

Once upon a time there was no option for leather seats in the Beetle and we have now come full circle. Like a number of other manufacturers, VW has been slowly killing off real cowhide in their cars. For 2013 the only upholstery option in the Beetle convertible is V-Tex leatherette.

Because the lid doesn’t collapse into the trunk, the cargo slot remains 7.1 cubic feet when motoring topless. While that doesn’t sound like much space, it is a huge step up from the old Beetle’s 5 cubes. That’s the difference between an adult fitting in the trunk and not. (You’ll have to watch the video for that explanation.) Unlike most convertibles, the rear seat has a trick up it’s sleeve: it folds down (50/50) to reveal an honest-to-goodness cargo opening.


Sorry ’70s fans, our chocolate brown Bug didn’t come with a built-in CB radio. Burn! Instead shoppers will need to get hip with the 21st century, VW style. Base drop-tops get an AM/FM radio, single slot CD player, Bluetooth speaker phone/audio streaming and VW’s USB/iDevice interface (MDI). Working your way up the ladder, the next stop is the touchscreen audio system which adds HD Radio, SiriusXM Satellite Radio and am MP3 compatible CD reader (why is there no 1990s edition?).

’60s and ’70s edition models come standard (optional on other Bugs) with VW’s 5-inch touchscreen navigation unit (RNS-315). This is the same system found in VW vehicles from the Golf to the Passat. Unlike VW’s large-screen nav unit, this one stores the map data on 4GB of built-in flash memory meaning the database is smaller and less detailed. Compared to the latest offerings from the competition, VW’s nav system is slow, less polished and less intuitive. Instead of using a USB port like everyone else, VW still uses a short proprietary cable in the glove box, a pain if you use your cell phone as your music library. An MDI-iDevice cable comes with the bug, but if you’re not an Apple fan you have to buy the corresponding cable separately from your dealer. Shaking salt on the infotainment wound is a distinct lack of voice commands for your music library, something that is rapidly becoming universal. On the flip side, the 9-speaker Fender speaker system is rad to the max. VW: do me a solid and give the Bug some much needed infotainment love. Dig?


You won’t find a air-cooled engine in this Beetle, this isn’t the ’50s. Base Beetles (and the ’50s and ’70s edition models) use VW’s refreshed 2.5L inline 5-cylinder engine which gets a 20 HP bump to 170 at 5,700RPM while torque creeps up to 177 lb-ft at 4,250 RPM. The sole mate to the 5-banger is an Aisin-sourced 6-speed automatic, not the 6-speed DSG. If you need more shove, you can opt for VW’s ubiquitous 2.0L turbo, good for 200 ponies and 207 lb-ft of twist. A first for America (as far as I know), VW’s topless cruiser can now be had in oil-burning form with the same 140 HP 2.0L TDI powerplant as the Jetta. Both 2.0L mills are mated to VW’s slick-shifting 6-speed manual transmission or for $1,100, VW’s latest 6-speed dual-clutch DSG transmission.

VW’s 5-cylinder engine has received a bad rap in the press due its unusual exhaust note but I found the funky burble strangely pleasant. Liking the exhaust note is important because you’ll be hearing quite a bit of it as you try to motivate 3,200 pounds of convertible. The “half-V10″ is smoother than the current crop of VW 4-cylinder engines and with the bump to 170 HP it is perfectly serviceable for most drivers. The 6-speed slush box is fairly typical for the compact segment: eager to up-shift, reluctant to down-shift and far less engaging than VW’s excellent DSG units.  Thanks to some efficiency improvements we averaged 26.2MPG over 620 miles of mixed driving in the 2.5 even though the EPA rating is 21/27 (city/highway).


The 2.0L turbo is underpowered when you compare it to the modern crop of direct-injection 2.0L turbos from the competition. The engine also has something of a split personality, being both rough around the edges and high maintenance with its coarse sound and appetite for premium gas. If you are willing to pay the toll, your reward is the fastest 0-60 time of the bunch, a full 2 seconds faster than the 9.2 second run our 2.5L tester scored. Is it worth it? Yes. If for no other reason than to get the DSG “automatic” or the 6-speed manual, both of which are more driver-oriented than the tranny choices coupled to the 2.5. Despite sporting a higher 21/30 MPG rating, it wasn’t  cheaper to operate than the 2.5L thanks to its hunger for expensive gas and my heavy right foot.

I had only a limited opportunity to test the 2.0L TDI, but it’s exactly what you would expect. It’s slower than the 2.5L, has only a slight diesel burble inside the car and gets incredible mileage. What you might not expect is that it’s only $1,200 more than a comparably equipped 2.5L Beetle Convertible which is a great deal, if you can find one. Thanks to its 28/41 MPG rating (with the DSG), the TDI can get you from your Berkeley loft to Burning Man and back, if you treat it gently. And important consideration to maximize your funkadelic weekend and make it back to your human studies class on time.

The Beetle coupé uses the same torsion beam suspension as the Jetta and Golf in normal trim and a variant of the GLI’s multi-link suspension when equipped with the turbo engine. Thanks to the extra weight and a desire to maximize trunk volume, all convertible Bugs get the multi-link setup. The suspension swap makes the convertible feel almost as composed as a turbo Beetle coupé on broken pavement, a notable improvement over the base coupé. That doesn’t mean the convertible has any sporting aspirations however, the topless Bug has been tuned for a softer ride, more fitting for a boulevard cruiser.

When the going gets twisty, the polished city ride begins to fall apart. Despite being 20% more rigid than the New Beetle convertible, there’s still plenty of body flex and a hair of cowl shake. This isn’t unusual for a mass market soft-top, but I had hoped for a ride more similar to the stiffer EOS hard top. If your top is up, expect some occasional squeaks from where the top meets the body on broken pavement (even dealer provided testers suffered from this problem.) If the top is down, just expect a less rigid ride than you will find in the Beetle coupé. That’s not to say the Beetle is a wet noodle on winding roads like ye olde La Baron, but it’s certainly not up to the same standard as the new Mustang or Camaro convertibles and even the Chrysler 200 seemed more rigid on the back roads.

How well the Beetle accelerates and handles is unlikely to matter to prospective convertible shoppers. I’m not kidding. There isn’t a drop top I can think of that has better performance metrics than its hard-top donor car, that’s just the nature of the beast. Convertibles are all about open air motoring and style, something thee Beetle, despite all of its flaws, still has in spades. VW’s infotainment options feel like they are stuck in 1990, the lack of power front seats and automatic climate control irk me to no end, and the 2.0L engine needs a testosterone injection, yet the Beetle’s topless charm is enough for me to overlook its flaws. The Bug’s price is even right when you consider a topless Chrysler 200 starts at $27,100. There is only one “problem:” Herbie’s still cute.

Hit it

  • Unique 5-cylinder engine note. (I know, I’m crazy.)
  • Going topless at 31MPH is handier than I thought.
  • The TDI is an excellent value.
  • Still cute.

Quit it

  • VW’s base navigation system is getting old.
  • 200 ponies from two turbocharged liters isn’t anything to brag about.
  • Reclining a seat using a knob is an exercise in frustration.
  • Still cute.


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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.98 Seconds

0-60: 9.2 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 16.83 Seconds @ 83 MPH

Average Fuel Economy: 26.6 MPG over 620 Miles

2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible 70s, Exterior, Side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible 70s, Exterior, Side 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible 70s, Exterior, Front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible 70s, Exterior, Side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible 70s, Exterior, Side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible 70s, Exterior, Side 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible 70s, Exterior, Rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible 70s, Exterior, Rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible 70s, Exterior, Trunk, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible 70s, Exterior, Front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible 70s, Front Wheel, Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible 70s, Exterior, 70s logo, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible 70s, Exterior, Spoiler, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible 70s, Exterior, Front 3/3, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible 70s, Exterior, Side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible 70s, Exterior, Rear 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible 70s, Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible 70s, Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible 70s, Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible 70s, Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible 70s, Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible 70s, Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible 70s, Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible 70s, Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible 70s, Interior, Rear Seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible 70s, Interior, Folding Rear Seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible 70s, Interior, Trunk Pass Through, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible 70s, Interior, Center Console, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible 70s, Interior, Glove Box, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible 70s, Interior, Front Door, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible 70s, Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible 70s, Engine, 2.5L, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible 70s, Engine, 2.5L, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible 70s, Engine, 2.5L, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible 70s, Top Mechanisim, Picture Courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible 70s, Interior, Gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail


]]> 52
Germany In February 2013: Going South Mon, 04 Mar 2013 13:30:57 +0000

Bad omen for Europe: The German car market, considered one of the healthier in Europe, was down 10.5 percent in February, compared to the same month in the prior year. News from other European volume markets are worse.  

Germany’s Kraftfahrtbundesamt, which keeps track of registrations, reports a continuation of a strange and somewhat scary trend:  Compact and mid-sized cars, usually the bread and butter of the German market see losses of more than 20 percent. Growth is in mini-cars (up! 20.6 percent) and in the Upper Class (+ 13 percent).

Among the German brands , Opel (-21.2 percent) and Ford (-19,4  percent) were loss-leaders (the KBA counts Opel and Ford as German, they have been there longer than Volkswagen.)


New car sales in Italy were down 17.1 percent in February, Reuters reports. Sales in Spain were down 9.8 percent, those in France dropped 12 percent.

German data (in German) can be downloaded here.

]]> 8
Malaise-Merger: Opel And PSA To Be Combined Fri, 12 Oct 2012 15:20:02 +0000 Think of it as a merger of the equally sick: PSA’s automotive division (Peugeot Citroen) and Opel could be put into one company, a joint venture between GM and PSA, La Tribune reports with Reuters providing the translation.

Neither company had a comment. According to the “secret plan,” GM would bring fewer cars to the deal, but would inject cash.  The proposal is likely to run into objections from the French government and has yet to be submitted to the Peugeot board, the report added.

La Tribune sees few synergies in a link-up. Both companies are focused on the same market Europe, and compete in similar segments. Both lack presence in growth markets. Combining Europe’s second largest carmaker PSA with Opel would not even create a carmaker larger than Volkswagen.


]]> 36
Review: 2013 Volkswagen CC Thu, 16 Aug 2012 18:33:32 +0000

There was a time when “Passat” was German for “budget-Audi.” Even though the A4 and Passat parted ways in 2005, the Passat’s interior and price tag were more premium than mid-market shoppers were looking for. To hit VW’s North American yearly sales goal of 800,o000, the European Passat (B6) was replaced with a model designed specifically for American tastes. This means a lower price tag, less “premium” interior, and larger dimensions. If your heart pines for a “real” Passat, look no further than the 2013 Volkswagen CC. If it looks familiar, it should. The CC is none other than the artist car formerly known as Prince Passat CC with a nose job. VW advertises the CC as “the most affordable four-door coupé” in the US. All you need to know is: Euro lovers, this is your Passat.

Click here to view the embedded video.


The CC follows the four-door coupé formula pioneered by Mercedes: lower the roof, remove the window sashes and raise the price. Even though “coupé” means two doors and the CC has a pair too many, the silhouette is undeniably elegant. For 2013 the CC’s front was replaced with a more aggressive three-bar chrome schnoz and standard HID headlamps. Out back are new tail lamps that incorporate “CC” shapes into the LED clusters. Unlike many mid-cycle refreshes, the rhinoplasty actually jives with the rest of the car.

Our European cousins see the CC as a styling exercise between the Passat and the Phaeton in both price and size. However, the Phaeton is extinct in America turning the CC into VW flagship sedan on our shores. This presents a problem that doesn’t exist in Europe: our Passat is larger, and being sold to an audience that equates size with status. As a result you wouldn’t automatically assume the CC is $10,000 more expensive, (especially if you equate size with value) until you get inside.


Camcord clientèle value expansive, not expensive cabins.  The CC on the other hand plays further up the food chain. In this light, the CC’s “Euro Passat” squishy dash bits are right at home. Our base-model tester had leatherette seats, faux-aluminum trim and a black-on-black-on-black color scheme. A quick trip to the local dealer proved the no-cost ivory/black and ivory/brown combinations look 10 times better in person than the all-black theme.  If you’ve been frightened away by the pleather on less expensive VWs, the CC’s faux-cow is a different “animal” and was surprisingly convincing.

Because VW is on a mission to streamline their inventory, your interior “goodie quotient” is tied to your trim level and engine choice. This means there are but five different configurations (excluding interior and exterior color choices): Sport, Sport Plus, Lux, V6 Lux and VR6 Executive. (No, that’s not a typo it is “V6″ and “VR6″ for some reason.) The $30,610 Sport model starts with dual-zone climate control and standard 12-way power seats. Sport Plus ($32,850) adds a nav system, DSG transmission and some 18-inch wheels, Lux ($35,335) piles on a sunroof, ambient lighting and real aluminum trim. Jumping up to the V6 Lux($37,730) gets the shopper real-cow, a backup cam, memory seats and a bigger nav screen. The top-of-the-line VR6 Executive ($41,420) tacks on AWD, parking sensors, a power rear sunshade and front seats that heat, cool and massage. With the CC there are no options per se, just dealer sold accessories.

The front thrones are comfortable for long trips and were easily adjusted for my average frame but with the sexy roof-line comes limited headroom. If you’re a taller passenger and prefer your seats and tray tables in the upright and locked position, you may need to look elsewhere. The rear seats present more of a headroom challenge coupled with ingress and egress limited by the sloped door openings. While a center rear seat is now standard, (bringing the capacity up to 5) it was apparently designed for Lilliputians as I was unable to sit in it without cocking my head to the side.


VW’s infotainment systems have been behind the curve for the near luxury market and the CC is no exception. The standard five-inch touchscreen system is a basic unit with a CD player, AM/FM/HD/Sirius radio and iDevice integration. Strangely absent from all models is a USB plug for non-Apple devices. Bluetooth audio streaming (and speakerphone) is standard and works very well however. As with most entries in this segment, you cannot voice-command your iDevice, if you want that, look to Lincoln’s SYNC. If you want snazzy graphics, look to BMW.

Sport Plus and Lux models get VW’s low-end navigation system which uses the same 5-inch LCD as the base model. The screen is low resolution and the processor is slow, but it gets the job done. Eventually. How low is the resolution? 400 x 200 pixels, or about the same as a cheap computer from 1981.

Six-cylinder CC models come standard with VW’s snappier (and snazzier) 6.5-inch navigation system. In addition to improved navigation features, this unit adds 25GB of music storage. Stepping up to the “Executive” CC buys you a color LCD between the speedo and tach, and a 600-watt, 10-speaker Dynaudio system. Sound quality on the base speakers is very good for this segment and the Dynaudio system is excellent with well-balanced audio and volume levels loud enough to satisfy most customers.


Not being related to the US Passat has advantages, the 2.5L inline-5 was left in Chattanooga. Instead, the CC uses VW’s 200HP/207lb-ft 2.0L turbo four cylinder, an improvement of 30HP and 30lb-ft over the 2.5L. While a 15% power bump may not sound like much, the 2.0L’s flat torque curve and choice of 6-speed manual or 6-speed DSG (instead of the Passat’s slushbox) allow the CC to scoot to 60 a whopping 2.7 seconds faster (6.2 vs 8.9). Over 625 miles with the manual CC, we averaged 28.6 MPG despite the EPA ratings of 21 city / 31 highway. We were unable to test a CC with the DSG for any length of time but the EPA claims it will drop your numbers to 19/29 MPG.

As you would assume, the V6 Lux and VR6 4MOTION Executive CCs get VW’s 3.6L VR6 engine. If you’re not familiar with VW’s VR engines, they are a hybrid crossing a traditional “V” engine with a single head like an inline engine. The result is an engine that’s longer than a V6 but shorter than an I6 and uses only two cams total. This 10.6-degree “V” engine is good for 280HP and 265lb-ft of torque. For reasons only VW can explain, the only transmission is an Aisin 6-speed aut0 with or without a Haldex based all-wheel-drive system.

The extra 80HP and 58lb-ft of twist come at the expense of 261lbs in extra mass, all of which is in the nose. Adding AWD increases the weight penalty by another 226lbs so it shouldn’t be a surprise that the AWD CC is not much faster to 60 than the 2.0T. As you would assume, fuel economy drops to 18/27 MPG for the FWD VR6 and 17/25 MPG for the AWD VR6.


The CC’s electric power steering, VW’s typical rubbery shifter feel and soft springs combine to make the CC feel like a large, comfy highway cruiser. On the other hand, the 235-width rubber, light 3,400lb curb weight and German DNA do an admirable job of making the CC 2.0T stable and surprisingly grippy in the bends. If you care more about feel than outright power, the 2.0T is an excellent package due as much to the lighter front end as the well-matched ratios in the manual transmission. Start sea-sawing the wheel and the soft suspension if obvious, but in normal to moderately aggressive driving, the 2.0T will make you grin more often than the VR6

Compared to the Buick GS, the turbo CC is noticeably down on power but feels far more refined without loosing much in the “balls-out handling” category. The VR6 FWD CC on the other hand feels far more likely to plow into the underbrush when it encounters a corner thanks to that extra weight up front. The experience is the same in a V6 Avalon or MKZ. While you can opt for 4MOTION to tame some of the  FWD handling tendencies, it adds even more weight without any increase in the car’s contact patches. Many CC shoppers will be former Passat owners or shoppers brought in by the Passat’s lower starting price and increased showroom traffic. These shoppers will find a car that feels practically glued to the road compared to the Passat sitting next to it, despite the strong family resemblance.

Our Facebook fans wanted to know how the CC stacks up against the Audi A7. Since I can’t imagine too many shoppers actually cross-shopping these two I will keep this short. The CC’s main selling point is the $20,000 lower cost of entry. Yes the A7 has more oomph from a supercharged V6, two extra speeds in its gearbox, a longer warranty and a snazzier interior. The A7′s hatchback design was very handy for carrying large cargo last time we had it, but aside from the trunk the A7 is honestly no more comfortable inside than the CC.

The Passat CC used to make me scratch my head. Why would I want a Passat with less room, fewer seats and a steeper price tag? There just didn’t seem to be a good reason. By taking the America Passat in a different direction, VW seems to have solved both the Passat’s sales problem and give the CC a reason to exist.


 Not a fan of our Facebook page? Too bad, if you liked us on FaceBook you’d know what we have on the front burner. Get on, get social and tell us what you want to see. Subscribe to our YouTube channel while you’re at it.

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

Specifications as tested:

0-30: 2.3 Seconds

0-60: 6.2 Seconds

1/4 Mile:  14.9 Seconds @ 94 MPH

Average fuel economy: 28.6 over 625 miles


2012 Volkswagen CC, Exterior, rear, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volkswagen CC, Exterior, rear, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volkswagen CC, Exterior, 3/4 view, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volkswagen CC, Exterior, side, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volkswagen CC, Exterior, 3/4 view, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volkswagen CC, Front, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volkswagen CC, Exterior, 3/4 view, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volkswagen CC, Exterior, 3/4 view, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volkswagen CC, Exterior, 3/4 view, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volkswagen CC, Exterior, wheel, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volkswagen CC, Interior, gauges, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volkswagen CC, Interior, tachometer, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volkswagen CC, Interior, dashboard, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volkswagen CC, Interior, dashboard, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volkswagen CC, Interior, dashboard, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volkswagen CC, Interior, steering wheel, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volkswagen CC, Interior, steering wheel, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volkswagen CC, Interior, steering wheel, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volkswagen CC, Interior, shifter, 2.0T, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volkswagen CC, Interior, shifter, 2.0T, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volkswagen CC, Interior, rear seats, 2.0T, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volkswagen CC, Interior, rear seats, 2.0T, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volkswagen CC, Interior, rear seats, 2.0T, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volkswagen CC, Engine, 2.0T, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volkswagen CC, Engine, 2.0T, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Volkswagen CC, Engine, 2.0T, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 58
New or Used: A CPO Solution To European Vehicle Snobbism? Tue, 03 May 2011 22:08:29 +0000
David writes:

I know that European vehicle snobbism is often frowned upon here, but I do love the look and feel of German cars better than any other. The downside seems to be maintenance costs, that they are simply not affordable to own.

I’m going to be looking for a car in about the $20-25k range, so my choice is between pretty dull new Japanese cars and a circa 2008 BMW 328i or Mercedes C300. Both of them seems to be really attractive cars, but of course the enthusiast crown always goes to the BMW.

What I’m wondering is if the Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) program might be the answer. I’m sure most of you already know this, but the general idea is that they inspect and recondition low mileage used cars, give them a comprehensive warranty and basically treat them like almost new vehicles. The Mercedes program is the best known, but BMW appears to be coming on strong with an offer of five years free maintenance. On paper that should mean nearly cost-free ownership save brakes and other wear items.

I would of course pay to extend the warranty to the maximum term – I think it’s four years for Mercedes and five for BMW. I drive about 10k miles per year, so the car should remain under that warranty for my entire ownership of the vehicle. After that four or five year ownership period, I would sell or trade it in and repeat the process.

I’d like to hear experiences with these programs, with each manufacturer (and possibly others you feel I should consider). How would you compare the Mercedes and BMW programs? And are there any downsides to this compared with buying a new, lesser vehicle I should consider?

I am the least handy person in the world – if I lifted up a screwdriver and tried to fix something in my car, it would probably explode.

So I’d like to hear …

(1) Anyone have direct experience with these programs, for each make of car? How was the service? I would obviously be putting great trust in the dealer, because I really have little recourse if he doesn’t hold up his end of the deal.

(2) Any negotiating tips? What kind of discount should I expect from the asking price? I am a little surprised that prices for CPO BMWs or Mercedes seem, if anything, a bit lower than what other dealers and private parties are charging on Craigslist.

(3) Any other cars I should consider, and any new cars I should consider that might offer similar driving enjoyment in this price bracket.

Thanks for any thoughts!

Steve answers:

My advice would be to educate yourself. BMW and Mercedes provide very good CPO programs… that are as pricey as can be in this market. With
that warranty you get absolutely no idea how the vehicle has been maintained or driven. So if the prior owner was brutal on that car and didn’t give a lick about changing the oil, you are the new beneficiary of his habits.

My advice would be to go the private owner route. Or at least opt for a car that you can track down the history to the nth degree. When it comes to even near-new cars, Germans tend to be the least able to take abuse. I would sooner shop for a Cobalt or Neon with an unknown history than I would any German car.

Forget the CPO and start with the owner. If you do decide to buy German, I would look locally or even try the Ebay route… and find a very good independent shop that specializes in the brand. You will likely save $5,000+ in the purchase price without an inherited headache. Good luck!

Sajeev answers:

For a short term (less than 5 year) relationship in German sedan love, CPO is the way to go: all of the pleasure, none of the pain. Even if your BMW/Benz goes in on multiple occasions for a singular problem (often the nature of the beast) you rest easy in a gorgeous service lounge, enjoy a free loaner car and generally get the feeling that the dealer will feed you grapes, fan you and powder your ass with the snap of a finger. Wait…that’s more like the “spa” treatment available at this Lexus dealer. So let’s get to your questions.

Question 1: A couple of my friends were royally peeved with the quality and “frequent” visits to both BMW and Mercedes service departments, no matter how convenient their loaner car program. They value their time more than most, expecting a stereotypical Honda/Toyota ownership experience with the trappings of the German luxury sedan. Since that rarely happens, I told at least one of them to consider buying a Lexus, as their service reputations are rather bulletproof.

Question 2: CPO cars can be purchased at auction, with an added fee for re-conditioning, re-filling the warranty, and re-filling the coffers of the dealership, manufacturer and (sometimes) their captive finance arm. But the days of sweet financing on CPO vehicles are probably gone. Therefore you negotiate just like any other vehicle. It’s all flexible, considering the transaction prices at the auctions. Don’t be shy, do it.

Question 3: consider a Lexus IS, with the full CPO treatment. I’m not saying it’s a better car than the BMW or Mercedes, I’m just saying the warranty, service reputation and disturbingly loyal client base is worth your time for a test drive. Think about it.

Need help with a car buying conundrum? Email your particulars to, and let TTAC’s collective wisdom make the decision easier… or possibly much, much harder. In a rush? Don’t be shy about asking to cut in line.

]]> 92
German Investment Funds Prepare Billion Dollar Court Case Against Volkswagen Sun, 01 May 2011 20:43:26 +0000

Volkswagen was all grins when litigating hedgies lost the first round in court in the U.S. (it’s on appeal) and when the public prosecutor in Stuttgart dropped some of the  investigation into former Porsche CEO Wendelin Wiedeking and former CFO Holger Härter (only to add new angles.)  Until the matters are cleared, Volkswagen and Porsche officially are not married, unofficially, they share all available beds.

Now, a new lawsuit causes frozen faces and acid reflux at the very top of Volkswagen: German investment funds intend to involve prominent supervisory board members of Volkswagen AG in a billion dollar court case.

According to Germany’s Wirschaftswoche, the Munich law firm CLLB is preparing the paperwork for a suit brought against Volkswagen. According to the magazine, papers will be filed in September at the court in Braunschweig, right around the corner from Wolfsburg. The suit alleges that members of the Volkswagen supervisory board had known of stock market manipulations by Volkswagen, but had not informed the public – as required by law.

The list of witnesses reads like a who-is-who of German business and politics.  Listed as witnesses are the former Porsche chief Wendelin Wiedeking, VW CEO Martin Winterkorn, VW supervisory board chairman  Ferdinand Piëch, and Germany’s President Christian Wulff, who had a seat on the board when he was premier of Lower Saxony.

Wirtschaftswoche does not know the size of the award the CLLB lawyers are going for, but it assumes it will be around  €2.86 billion  ($4.24 billion).



]]> 0